Middle America at the Precipice

The storming of the United States Capitol was appalling. There is no excuse for it. There should be no mercy for those involved in the invasion. While the gathering outside was a constitutionally protected form of free speech, those who crossed the line from protestors to rioters should be given no quarter. I have said the same with regard to the endless parade of protests turned violent in Portland, Oregon, and other places where local officials have too long tolerated the rioting as just an extension of the protests. And while the mainstream media has gone to great lengths to separate the protestors from the rioters in these cities they did not do so in the Capitol riot. Nor did social media sultans. They have basically labeled everyone at the protest as a rioter. For them free speech is only protected if it agrees with their political opinions – I wanted to say “convictions” but that implies a level of intelligence that is lacking in the mainstream media. If you want to restore peace, if you want to heal the political wounds, if you believe in democracy, the first place you begin is assuring that a firm hand is applied equally to all those who would drift from protest to violence.

Which brings me to the purpose of this column.

For decades a substantial body of the American middle class has been ignored by both liberals and conservative alike. While they both claim to speak for them, they both have, in fact, simply ignored them. Both sides believe that Middle America is too busy tending to their work and their businesses, raising their families, worrying about whether they can afford their dreams, and sacrificing to make ends meet in hopes of a retirement without worry of poverty, to actually understand the Byzantine world of politics and government. Or to hold these politicians to account for promises often made and never fulfilled. They also believe that Middle America can be reliably counted on to pay their taxes on time, obey the law and avoid conflicts. And they have been right.

Middle America is like the family dog. No matter how you ignore it, no matter how much attention you pay to others, no matter how much you demand of it, Middle America and the family dog are always there, always happy to see you and anxious to please you again. I don’t say that to demean Middle America, partly because I include myself in Middle America, but mostly because I recognize that that is what it takes to make America work, to make democracy work, to maintain law and order, to provide for an orderly state. Without Middle America there would be no America – you would have a country of the very wealthy enslaving the masses and hiring mercenaries to protect them – like China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. or like the members of Congress.

And while Middle America is generally happy it recognizes the unfairness of government rule as it has evolved. They recognize that the rich get richer, the poor never advance and that Middle America is shrinking because there are now more people riding in the wagon than pulling the wagon. In America today there are more people dependent on government in whole or in part for their livelihood than not. That includes actual welfare recipients, public employees, retired public employees, Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries, Medicaid beneficiaries, companies like Tesla who derive a substantial part of their revenue from selling carbon credits, and other environmental offsets, and similar corporate programs. And they recognize that despite their pleas and protests few in government are listening – their voices are drowned out by the inflow of cash from special interests.

In the past four decades there have been politicians who have seized upon the discomfort of Middle America – President Richard Nixon, President Ronald Reagan and now President Donald Trump. Sometimes it proves a disaster – Mr. Nixon called on “the silent majority” but was a crook, he was impeached and forced to resign. Sometimes it proves a brilliant success – Mr. Reagan brought the country out of post-Viet Nam war acrimony and the national malaise caused by the ineptness of President Jimmy Carter. And sometimes it produces both – Mr. Trump rescued the country from the economic stagnation caused by the burdensome taxes and regulations caused by President Barack Obama, managed the realignment of interests in the Middle East to block Iran, and oversaw the creation and distribution of at least four vaccines in record time to counter the 2019 China virus pandemic – the states in contrast have fumbled the actual administration of the vaccine to date. However, in the end, he so personalized the issue of election fraud with unsubstantiated allegations that he embarrassed many of those in Middle America upon whom he depended. ((Let’s not be misled here. There was voter fraud and it was widespread. However, the allegation that it actually changed the outcome of the election is one easily made and difficult to prove and yet the burden lies with those who make the allegations. In this Mr. Trump failed repeatedly.)

Mr. Trump confused a movement he created and a cult of personality that he embraced and which eventually consumed him. The former can continue without him while the latter will die for lack of oxygen. But the former can only continue if new leaders are willing to embrace his accomplishments and speak as vigorously as to the needs as did Mr. Trump. (There will always be a debate as to whether the achievements of Mr. Trump’s administration could have been accomplished without his boundless bluster and willingness to counter punch – particularly with the mainstream media.) Anyone seeking to lead this movement must be aware that liberal/progressives, their allies in the mainstream media and denizens of “the swamp” will use every means at their disposal to destroy them personally (they do that because they cannot win in an argument over policy or direction).

But here is the problem. Most who would seek to lead this movement mistake their election as the goal rather the perpetuation and growth of the movement. There are few leaders who can do both. (I would include in the group that can Ambassador Nikki Haley (R-NC), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and former Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli and I would include in the group who cannot, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), former Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) or any of the fair weather conservatives like George Will.) It will be a hard slog because maintaining a movement is about playing the “long game” in order to make systemic changes and dislodge a system that rewards only those willing to pay to play. You may remember the hard nose policies and advocacy of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she drew Great Britain out of the socialist swamp created by her predecessors (Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, and James Callaghan – socialist to the core). She serves as a model for undaunted grit. In the end such a movement does not accomplish its goals with an election of a person. Any such an election is simply a building block for those who will persevere today and those who come after.

The movement begun by Mr. Trump represents a dramatic change in the recent historical alignment of the national parties (Democrat and Republican) and even the alignment of the historical political conservative and liberal/progressive ideologies. While Democrats have always purported themselves to being the champions of the working class, that is no longer true. They have become the champions of government dependency, public employee unions, illegal immigration and identity politics. And while the Republicans have always purported themselves to be the champions of mainstreet business, that is no longer true. They have become the champions of corporate boardrooms and country club living.

Here is the alignment now envisioned by this new movement: mainstreet business, working men and women (including private sector unions) and legal immigrants (now the standard for the American dream). The new alignment provides an opportunity for triangulation. Leave the non-productive sector (public employee unions, welfare dependents and the identity politic mavens to the liberal/progressives. Leave the corporate boardrooms and the country club set to the Republicans. And wrap the productive heart of America into a new majority.

Unless Middle America rises up to demand a seat at the table, you will be consigned to paying for the excesses of both wings of politics with no greater voice than you have today.