A country’s moral compass loses its North when the measure of Value is transactional rather than principled.
Most of mine arrive at tax time.
As a result of quitting the rat race and a ridiculously high-paying job in 2009 – great timing – my annual bottom line has been riding a North Shore swell of tax brackets. Given America is a country based on reaction rather than foresight – that means neither Tax Man nor Obamacare Navigator has a clue about my health insurance qualifications… ours is a wonderful public health system1.
With 1099s abound, I’m once again required to change my Obamacare status. And once again – regardless of the peak or trough of the income wave I ride – I feel as if the financial waters are just high enough to threaten drowning. For the majority of Americans – The Middle Class – barely keeping our heads above the economic waters is The Way We Get By.
Thusly bathing in my own Schedule C self-pity, Trump voters came to mind… and they began to make a little more sense2.
The middle class isn’t vanishing: it’s being pulled under water.
When cable news pundits talk about “the vanishing middle class” they use the same criterion: income level. That fits into the standard talking point: the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. But it’s not the correct way to have this conversation because it ignores the human factors: feeling and motivation.
If there’s hope for the political left to empathize with the political right – and gods have mercy vice-versa – then we need to understand the real economic problem motivating the Republican Party base: feeling like they’re drowning. Yes, there are über nationalists and alt-right forces in Trump’s coalition, but they didn’t win him the White House, the everyday middle class worker did. Those are the people democrats need to win back.
What politicians leave out of the middle caste dialog has nothing to do with income level, but the feeling of drowning in America’s economy. Why is a decent income is no longer enough to live a decent life? Why does “the greatest country in the world” have a growing economic loophole in its systems through which the middle class falls? We earn too much for subsidies and credits, but too little for tax shelters and write-offs.
The wealth gap is a symptom of a deeper problem. There’s much more than just an Obamacare loophole. The middle class loophole exists everywhere from mortgage loans to tax incentives, taxable income to retirement rules.
As economies evolve, social systems need to adapt just as much as workers do – that America’s hasn’t is why the middle class is suffering.
The issue goes beyond the cost of gas, milk, health insurance, and Harvard economists jabbering about inflation. The undertow pulling the middle class out to sea is the American value system: profit is a virtue and self-worth is measured by bank balance.
When a country bases decisions entirely on transactions, it justifies sacrificing its principles.
The middle class isn’t shrinking: it’s fallen into the loophole of America’s Social Contract. That’s not a problem of income or wealth gaps – that’s a problem of the moral compass of a nation. As a People, we’re far too happy to stick it to the other guy if it means getting the better part of the deal. Look deeper and we see right wing America perfectly willing to tear apart families and blacklist entire countries if such actions are within the promise of more money and stopping their Fox News induced nightmares. Trump’s executive orders aren’t actions, they’re transactions.
A country’s moral compass loses its North when the measure of Value is transactional rather than principled. It gets even worse when that country elects a transactional president.
A social structure based on transactions allows people to justify pushing other citizens down. It turns politics into a War and the economy into a bloodbath – to the victor goes the oil.
When the goal of Social Interaction is to get the better outcome from every encounter, people no longer view one another as individuals, but as commodities. They build walls, bloat the military, and do everything possible to eliminate the competition. If a policy doesn’t benefit them directly – if they don’t gain from the transaction – then they don’t vote for it. Empathy wanes, selfishness rules, and Donald Trump is elected president.
America was founded on principles. What we are now is very different. If people made the simple change of basing decisions on principle rather than transactional outcome – then with a lot of luck – the middle class loophole might shrink and stop pulling so many of us under Water.3
1 Eh? back
2 Well… not the dog whistle racism, scared of their own shadow, women belong in the kitchen, build walls (real and metaphorical), demonize dissent, and endlessly chanting “USA! USA!” parts of Trump voters… but economic desperation overriding social responsibility and therefore voting for Puppet Trump… yes… I can understand that part. back
3 …or at least… maybe during our work commute we’ll get cut off by a few less “winners” driving leased BMWs … … doubtful.