November 26, 2020

THE NEW REPUBLIC: The Biden Popular Front Is Doomed to Unravel: It may turn out that Donald Trump was the one force keeping the Democratic Party together.

The coming weeks may see the reemergence in backrooms and boardrooms of the tensions that loomed over the 2020 Democratic primaries. Let us review the three power centers in the party as they existed then:

The new economy. Two titans of the finance world (Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer) sought to win the Democratic nomination by funding their own and various down-ballot candidacies. (Both would eventually back Biden.) There was also one impecunious primary candidate who had some original ideas about the tech world: Andrew Yang. The new economy provides wealth for so few people that it can never command the party’s rank and file. But it exercises a dizzying gravitational pull on its leaders.

Socialism. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were its candidates, the former in a doctrinal way (unions, benefits, income redistribution), the latter in a way adapted to strike more precisely at modern power relations (financial regulation, economic rights), which she denied was any form of socialism at all. Each was a more dire threat to the interests of people like Bloomberg and Steyer than anything the tax-cutting, deregulatory Republicans might produce. This is the great drama of the Democratic Party: They are the party of the 1 percent. They are also the party of expropriating the 1 percent.

Civil rights. The party’s glue is civil rights, broadly understood. Civil rights long meant looking out for the practical and principled interests of Black people—naturally a commitment on which cooperation with socialists is possible. But over the decades, civil rights has also become a regulatory and judicial system for advancing the interests of other groups, including immigrants (elite and mass), women executives, two-income gay couples, and lawyers—commitments more consistent with those of the Democrats’ plutocratic wing. The role of civil rights as reconciler-of-contradictions can be compared to that of anti-Communism in the tripartite Reagan coalition of the 1980s, which appealed in one way to Christians who thought the country ought to be more fraternal and in another to businessmen who thought it ought to be more rapacious. . . .

Trump didn’t sell out his supporters. In fact, his presidency saw something extraordinary, even if it was all but invisible from the country’s globalized cities: the first egalitarian boom since well back into the twentieth century. In 2019, the last non-Covid year, he presided over an average 3.7 percent unemployment rate and 4.7 percent wage growth among the lowest quartile of earners. All income brackets increased their take. That had happened in the last three Obama years, too. The difference is that in the Obama part of the boom, the income of the top decile rose by 20 percent, with tiny gains for other groups. In the Trump economy, the distribution was different. Net worth of the top 10 percent rose only marginally, while that of all other groups vaulted ahead. In 2019, the share of overall earnings going to the bottom 90 percent of earners rose for the first time in a decade.

How about that?

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