What’s the Real American Story?

Robert Reich

Robert Reich Former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Professor at Berkeley

Donald Trump has perfected the art of telling a fake story about America. The only way to counter that is to tell the real story of America.

Trump’s story is by now familiar: he alone will rescue average Americans from powerful alien forces – immigrants, foreign traders, foreign politicians and their international agreements – that have undermined the wellbeing of Americans.

These forces have been successful largely because Democrats, liberals, “socialists,” cultural elites, the Washington establishment, the media and “deep state” bureaucrats have helped them, in order to enrich themselves and boost their power. Not surprisingly, according to Trump, these forces seek to remove him from office.

What makes Trump’s story powerful to some Americans despite its utter phoniness is that it echoes the four tales Americans have been telling ourselves since before the founding of the Republic.

To combat Trump’s fake story, we need a true story based on facts, logic and history. But in order for that true story to resonate with Americans, it must also echo the same four tales.

The first tale: The Triumphant Individual. 

It’s the little guy or gal who works hard, takes risks, believes in him or herself, and eventually gains wealth, fame and honor. The tale is epitomized in the life of Abe Lincoln, born in a log cabin, who believed that “the value of life is to improve one’s condition.” The moral: with enough effort and courage, anyone can make it in America.

Trump wants us to believe he’s the Triumphant Individual. But in fact he’s a conman who inherited his wealth and then spent his career shafting his employees, contractors and creditors.

In truth, America has many potential Triumphant Individuals. But in order for them to do well in the new economy they depend on three things that Trump doesn’t want them to have: a good education, good medical care, and the right to join together to demand better pay and better working conditions.

The second tale: The Benevolent Community 

This is the story of neighbors and friends who pitch in for the common good. It goes back to John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, delivered onboard a ship in Salem Harbor in 1630. Similar ideals of community were found among the abolitionists, suffragettes and civil rights activists of the 1950s and 1960s. The moral: we all do better by caring for one another.

Trump’s fake benevolent community is a nationalism that requires no sacrifice from anyone. But today’s real benevolent community necessitates all of us doing our parts for the common good. The most fortunate among us, for example, must pay their fair share of taxes so that everyone can have what’s needed to triumph. A rising tide of productivity and wealth will lift all Americans.

The third tale: The Mob at the Gates 

This is the story of threatening forces beyond our borders. Daniel Boone fought Indians, described then in racist terms as “savages.” Davy Crockett battled Mexicans. Much the same tale gave force to cold war tales during the 1950s of international communist plots to undermine American democracy. The moral: we must be vigilant against external threats.

As with the other tales, this one has an important element of truth. America battled Hitler and other fascists in the second world war. The Soviet danger was real.

But Trump wants Americans to believe that today’s Mob at the Gates consists of immigrants, foreign traders and democratically elected governments that have been our allies for decades or more.

Wrong. These days the real Mob at our gates are thugs like Vladimir Putin and other tyrants around the world who are antagonistic toward democratic institutions, intolerant of ethnic minorities, hostile toward the free press and eager to use government to benefit themselves and those who support them.

The fourth and final tale: The Rot at the Top. 

This one is about the malevolence of powerful elites – their corruption and irresponsibility, and tendency to conspire against the rest of us.

This tale has given force to the populist movements of American history, from William Jennings Bryan’s prairie populism of the 1890s through Bernie Sanders’ progressive populist campaign in 2016, as well as Trump’s authoritarian version.

Trump wants us to believe that today’s Rot at the Top are cultural elites, the media and “deep state” bureaucrats.

But the real Rot at the Top consists of concentrated wealth and power to a degree this nation hasn’t witnessed since the late 19th century. Billionaires, powerful corporations, and Wall Street have gained control over much of our economy and political system, padding their nests with special tax breaks and corporate welfare while holding down the wages of average workers.

In this, the rich have been helped by Republicans in Congress and the White House whose guiding ideology seems less capitalism than cronyism, as shown time and again through legislative and regulatory gifts to Big Pharma, Wall Street, Big Oil and Coal, Big Agriculture, and giant military contractors.

America’s true story shouldn’t end with Trump’s authoritarianism and nativism. 

An end that’s far truer to America’s ideals is a reinvigorated democracy. This will require a benevolent community free from the crony capitalists who have corrupted America.

That chapter is up to us.

***

Reposted from RobertReich.org

Robert Reich served as the nation’s 22nd Secretary of Labor and now is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His latest book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, is now in bookstores. His earlier book, “Supercapitalism,” is out in paperback. For copies of his articles, books, and public radio commentaries, go to www.RobertReich.org.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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