Donald Trump’s finally gone, but if Joe Biden wants his return to normalcy to be any more successful than his predecessor’s appeal to greatness, he’ll need to take on the real issues dragging red and blue America down: economic torpor, ever increasing inequality, and policies that diminish people’s prospects of making it into or maintaining their positions in the middle class.
These pressures are felt most among the young, a third of whom suffer from anxiety disorders and who collectively have very low levels of optimism about the future—with good reason. Many express their frustration in shockingly violent ways, sometimes by dressing up as “riot ninjas.”
What we have been witnessing—during the protests this summer and after the canard of a “stolen” election—reprises the often inchoate peasant rebellions that happened periodically in Medieval Europe. More troubling still are similarities with the German Weimar Republic, evidenced by the mass support of a would-be despot in the White House, rising anti-Semitism, an out-of-control upper bureaucracy, a politicized media, and the rise of armed militant groups at both extremes of the spectrum in a modern version of the street fights between Communist and Nazi street gangs, committed to bashing each other and undermining basic civil order. Acquiescence and outright approval for looting, burning and even takeovers of urban neighborhoods were widespread among progressives this summer. The people who stormed the capital on Jan. 6 may see themselves as “patriots,” but they acted more like Nazis.
Ultimately the problem is twofold. As in Weimar, many of the leaders on both sides have little use for convention or Constitution; one side endlessly winks and nods at political violence in the service of the “right cause” and wants to limit contrary speech, eliminate the electoral college and pack the Supreme Court; the other has embraced certifiable conspiracy theories and mob violence to try and overturn an election their candidate lost. Trump may be gone and largely disgraced, but a new American-style fascism still seems to be looming as control of information is increasingly in the hands of a few unelected tech companies. This control over the media is something people from countries which have experienced one-party dictatorship firsthand, like Russia’s dissident Alexei Navalny, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Mexico’s President Andres Obrador, now rightly warn us about.
During Trump’s first three years in office, America’s working class had experienced significant wage gains for the first time in decades, along with historically low unemployment numbers for minority workers. But COVID wiped out these gains, particularly among minorities and millennials, further accelerating the inequality and lack of mobility that have led America closer and closer to a precipice.
The poor have borne the brunt of the pandemic itself, as well as its economic impacts, in part, a new paper suggests, because they are far less able to socially distance either at home or at work. The worst death rates have generally been concentrated in places like New York’s outer boroughs, the South Side and West Side of Chicago, and south and east Los Angeles County, as well as rural pockets like native American reservations and along the Mexican border.
Read the rest of this piece at the Daily Beast.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.