January 24, 2021
A big word is being used by media and politicians, to described the feelings of those who rioted at the US Capital on January 6. What does it mean?
“To disenfranchise is defined as to take away someone’s right to vote or to deprive someone of power, rights and privileges.”
We have disenfranchised millions of Americans, predominantly working class non-college citizens. They were not denied their right to vote, but they were perhaps denied two things: They were denied the attempt to overturn a fair election on the basis of alleged fraud which was rejected in some 60 court appeals and by the 50 states and the Electoral College; but, they were indeed denied other elements of personal power, rights, and privileges.
Let’s lay the false allegations of a fraudulent election at the feet of the outgoing President. Had he acknowledged the election to be fair, anytime prior to January 6, after all his court challenges were exhausted, it is likely his followers would have dropped that cause of their disenfranchisement.
But everyone now knows that much of the disenfranchisement among our working class has been growing for decades. It has grown into a combustible cocktail of anger which erupts periodically across the US. Storefronts are broken into and buildings are set on fire.
Bill Maher said, “maybe they just hate windows.” But it’s much more than that. Breaking windows is just the expression of frustration against “the establishment.” Most of them would acknowledge they never intended to simply wreak havoc on our small businesses, it’s just that those are the storefronts on the streets where they march and experience the frenzy of group excited frustration with all that has been denied them.
Let me double back to the unproven assertion I have argued for years in a variety of ways, simply this: For the majority of our disenfranchised, the root cause is lack of opportunity. That means that I don’t have decent job choices, decent wage opportunity, cannot get training or education for myself or my family, can’t afford good health care, can’t afford good housing, and never seem to have enough to even be sure of food. I have nothing for emergencies, even as simple as car repair. I can’t get to work without my car because maybe I live far out of the city in which I work because rents are too high close to my work. I am disenfranchised, and my friends are too, and we are angry. Very angry.
The very basic frustration arising from lack of opportunity has morphed and hardened into a level of hatred for those imagined to be responsible. It has galvanized around other frustrations, such as objections to gun rights being threatened or abortions being allowed. But it is hard to imagine that most extremists (right or left) simply developed their anger and commitment based on hating people of color, hating globalization, or simply being pro-choice or pro-life, or any of the other (and many) non-economic elements of the protests.
Maybe some do not identify their frustrations with their economic woes. But I argue that the vast majority of our disenfranchised, the protestors and those not yet protesting but perhaps vulnerable to future protests or even future violence, are coming from a fundamental frustration with lack of opportunity.
How is it that almost 50 years of government since the 70s has not delivered a fair shake to our working class? US inequality is the highest among developed countries. US poverty remains near the levels of 50 years ago. Our federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t been raised since 2009. That’s $15,080 per year. That means trying to find an apartment costing $500 per month. There aren’t any of those in San Francisco. My previous blog post lists a number of added negatives brought on by the pandemic.
So, why have both Democrats and Republicans failed to deliver improvements to our working class? America is unique in its ethos of independence. We are not big on community and the collective good. We call that socialism. We believe everyone can make it if they try, no matter their gender, religion, race, or color. Almost no matter their handicaps. We discount the value of good parents and friends, and especially the value of government in helping us achieve. While there have been some notable periods of greater fairness (after WW II and with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, a neoliberal economic policy took hold in the late 70s and has sustained. Unmanaged globalization didn’t help. Since then, no President of either Party has made a strong commitment to fixing it, and weak attempts have been easily rebuffed by Conservatives, decrying “the welfare state.” In fact, our contribution to social welfare is less than that of any other developed country, after taxes. In fact, advanced countries with much higher social welfare operate very successfully for all–e.g., Denmark or Norway.
What can be done? Here’s the top of my list:
- Pandemic relief to individuals and small businesses
- Raise the minimum wage
- Commit to reducing poverty, inequality and opportunity–set quarterly goals and reporting measures, publicize them
- Establish a Commission charged with finding solutions to improved opportunity for our working class, members from bi-partisan politics, local governments, universities and small and large businesses, as well as academia. Require reports quarterly, share findings publicly, no matter how negative
- Government not to create solutions, but to establish incentives, such as tax credits, to reward businesses and communities which create solutions resulting in more living wage jobs
How many riots like January 6 must we experience before we see the nearness of real mayhem? Is a revolution the only way for us to make a little sacrifice and do right by our working class?