Here’s a question: When was the last time Democrats elected a president by suggesting all corporations are evil and no one should be rich in America?
But at Wednesday’s Las Vegas, Nevada, debate, and for much of this election cycle, some candidates and their supporters appear to believe the Democratic version of a dog whistle is the path to political success. Say the word corporations, and people will bark. Say “billionaire” often enough and people will bark. It’s not all that much different from some conservatives who do the same whenever they hear the words “liberal” or “immigrant.”
But if this were truly a winning message, President Donald Trump would not have been elected. So why would that message work any better today than it did four years ago?
Consider the irony that this message of anti-wealth was so loudly voiced by candidates debating in an artificial town built in the middle of nowhere for the sole purpose of attracting people who come there in the hope of striking it rich.
People flock to Vegas and to gambling in part because they have lost hope of gaining wealth from work. They ought to be mad about that, and they should arguably even vote based on that anger, but they don’t realize the game is rigged both in Vegas and the economy.
Ask a lot of Americans if they would vote for someone who wants to raise their taxes to pay for better education or save the planet from climate change and plenty will say, “Hell no!” Ask if they’d wager their savings (or their Social Security income) on a longshot bet in the hopes of getting rich, and they’ll fly across the country to do so.
The fact is most Americans may resent income inequality and bemoan their own economic status, but bashing the rich does not solve their real problems any more than pulling the lever of a slot machine.
This is not to say that wealth inequality is not a huge problem in our nation. It is. And it is also true that some corporations act irresponsibly, and some break the law. There is nothing wrong with pointing out those realities and proposing policies to deal with them fairly.
But it is equally true that a great many people who are wealthy, especially in Seattle, are extraordinarily generous and have given huge amounts of their money, time and talent to the public good through charity and through taxes. They have made products that make our lives better, and they have made good money and done good things with it. What is more, many of the jobs in this country have been created and exist today thanks to corporations. Shut down the corporations and what happens to the jobs?
Even if one does envy the super rich, at some deep level many people are just naturally suspicious of policies that boil down to, “I’m going to take someone else’s money and give it to you.” That message just sticks in the craw of people who intuitively feel it’s not right and who also believe that, hey, if I were rich, I wouldn’t want you taking my money to give it to someone else.
So even though it’s absolutely true that we must do more to improve the lives of those who are not sharing in the wealth, and we must rein in those who act in bad faith and harm the country, in order to do that, we must defeat Trump. Bashing all corporations and all wealthy people is just a bad bet. It’s not justified or accurate, and it is not going to win the election.