Council on Foreign Relations: The Future of Democracy Symposium: Session Two: Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession: We really don’t know the consequences of this degree of income inequality: the distribution of income was never this bad before, and it continues to get worse.
We did have, in the thirty years before the New Deal, a whipsaw.
First, we saw the rise of the progressive movement. Lots of people, even people for whom America was then doing very, very well, begin to say: "Wait a minute, this can’t go on. There’s something fundamentally wrong!"
Thus you had Teddy Roosevelt attacking the "malefactors of great wealth". You had Andrew Carnegie saying "he who dies rich, dies disgraced"—and that, in fact, if you leave anything at all to your children, you should be ashamed of yourself.
But then we had the whipsaw.
Harding and Coolidge were proud to say that the business of America is business. They are eager to say that our real problem then was that we had too manyof these Italian and Polish and Jewish and other immigrants—people who really are not white at all, and should not be counted as such.
And then we had the re-whipsaw: in 1933 came the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, and the decisive decision that the wealth-supremicist and anti-immigrant WASP-supremicist line of the 1920s was not the way that we were going to go.
This degree of income and wealth inequality has consequences. It does make politics unpleasant because there are important monetary stakes at risk. And we are not guaranteed a good outcome that keeps America its utopian "City upon a Hill" best self.
This is true especially because—look, we’ve been tiptoeing around President Trump all of this morning so far. It is a really strange situation. It has a lot of "if he were nots":
If he were not president, Trump’s family would already have moved for a guardianship ad litem, given the quality of decisions he has been making.
If he were not so authoritarian, we would be profoundly sad that someone—hate him, love him, simply be amused by him—has been such an entertaining celebrity, who has left his mark on this city of New York.
And if he were not so deranged, we would be in the streets demanding the constitutional order be observed and wondering just what we should do when someone begins taking him seriously and literally when he says that the Washington Post and Catherine Rampell her are the enemies of the people, when he says what we really need to do is get rid of the judges, when he says we should let the guys in the mirrored sunglasses in the security agencies do their thing.
It is not an America I ever thought that I would live in, I must say...
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