For Republicans, it’s dangerous to focus on the moment — accusations that President Trump is a racist, DACA and avoiding government shutdowns — but the more enduring threat to the GOP’s grip on power are charges of insensitivity about inequality.
In a market economy, some inequality is necessary to reward innovation and hard work, but too often class differences are abused by cynical politicians.
Inequality can be too extreme. Future prosperity is not well served when the children of the poor and working classes are trapped in dysfunctional communities and denied access to decent schools, universities and other means for escape.
In a democracy, politicians can exploit those conditions with quite destructive consequences. Fraudulent social security disability pensions, food stamps, subsidized housing and free health care are significantly responsible for many able bodied adults dropping out of the workforce. Within a few years, those render most recipients unfit for gainful employment and create a class of voters beholding to promiscuous politicians.
Democrats have a simple explanation for inequality — it is the maniacal outcome of a culture dominated by white males. Hence, it is immoral and should be slain by an elaborate system of redistributionist policies and regulations that relentlessly punish a whole class defined at birth by gender and race — white males.
Affirmative action, regulations imposed by the California Fair Pay Act, Labor Department mandates for quotas on hiring and firing and federal rules enabling university accuse-to-convict rape tribunals and bold-faced persecution of conservative scholars form only a short list of rancid acts and insidious violations of universally embraced principles of justice and human rights.
It’s all menacingly self-reinforcing. Undeserved public assistance and preferences dulls ambition, slows growth and exacerbates inequality. In turn, those create greater opportunities for liberal politicians to preserve their power and positions by promising new punishments on innocent productive citizens.
Now progressives want to streamline the process by providing everyone with a guaranteed annual income. Vote buying and retribution gone wholesale.
It is not inequality ordinary Americans dislike. They recognize the need to reward creativity and ambition but have contempt for unfair advantages. In particular, those bestowed by rich parents on children or politicians to campaign donors and demographic groups that vote in blocks for leaders who deliver reliably on their demands.
Rural and small town America has been devastated by globalization and technological change, failing schools and poorly crafted free trade agreements. President Obama responded with additional handouts, gender rules for school bathrooms and more flawed free trade deals.
The voice candidate Trump heard deep in the heartland was from disaffected and economically disenfranchised white voters. They are tired of politicians patronizing their plight, the liberal media denigrating their values and intellectuals lemming global governance. Most importantly, they want jobs not handouts, opportunities not finger pointing and guilt.
The Republican tax cut will make American-based businesses more competitive and lift economic growth a bit, but it will mostly raise prosperity on the two coasts and among communities served by top-flight universities — for example, Ann Arbor and the research triangle in North Carolina.
Rifle shot trade actions for aluminum, solar panels and a few other products may provide some deserved relief from unfair import competition but don’t offer a systemic solution for subsidized Asian imports and a continually growing trade deficit with China.
Overall, the Trump administration and Republican Congress — much like President Bush and his Republican Congress before them — are hardly addressing the genuine concerns of the great mass of voters who put them in power. Yet, the clients and executive class of the liberal state see the GOP as an existential threat to their systems of privileges and persecution so carefully erected during the Clinton and Obama years.
The recent elections in Alabama and Virginia sent a clear message. The coalition that profits most from their insidious systems of entitlements and preferences so carefully erected by successive Democratic governments is energized to turn every election into a Dump Trump referendum and to turn out in great numbers, whereas the Republican base, disappointed, doesn’t have the same mojo.
Mr. Trump would do well to refocus his energies on disassembling the apparatus of political correctness in practice and implementing radical trade reforms, or reconcile to the GOP losing control of Congress in 2018 and the presidency in 2020.
• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
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