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Why Ben Sasse Is Wrong (Again)

Ben Sasse is not only a U.S. Senator but he is also an author. (He is an ineffectual senator with no major legislative accomplishments.) Sasse fancies himself as some kind of historian and philosopher. His most recent book was titled: “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal.” In this publication, Sasse tried to explain America’s current political polarization and why we allegedly hate each other.

Sasse blamed our current state of polarization on the theory that we’re now more lonely than ever. He blames this alleged state of loneliness on technology and tribalism. Sasse believes that politics can’t solve this alleged problem and presents a vague “solution.”

The junior Nebraska Senator believes that we can reduce polarization by having our kids believing in what he calls “principled pluralism.” Sasse has defined this concept as follows: “And principled pluralism means I want to understand my neighbor’s view, and I want to have dinner with him or her, and I want to argue and persuade and maybe listen enough to learn or be persuaded. But what I want to be sure is we agree that the public square isn’t going to try to solve those problems by violence or coercion. And that’s what principled pluralism really is. Government is not going to solve all those problems, government’s supposed to, its best form in the American system, just maintain a framework for ordered liberty, so the really important communities can flower. And those around your dining room table.”

Can you figure out what he was talking about? In my opinion, it’s just a bunch of double speak and gobbledygook aimed at making us overlook the true causes of polarization in the U.S. The genuine cause of our current polarization is the high degree of inequality in this country and its domination by a handful of powerful and wealthy elites. Sasse would like to avoid this conclusion because his policy choices have supported the top 1% and further entrenched their wealth and power.

At the present time, the U.S. is experiencing its highest degree of inequality since 1929. After adjusting for inflation, the current hourly wage has approximately the same purchasing power it had back in 1978. As a matter of fact, average hourly earnings adjusted for inflation peaked in 1973. Perhaps that would explain the anger and polarization that concerns Sasse.

According to the 2018 World World Inequality Report: “From 1980 to 2014, for instance, the bottom 20 percent of earners in the U.S. saw their after-tax income rise by just 4 percent. By contrast, the top 10 percent saw their post-tax income more than double over the same period. Income gains at the tip of the distribution were even more extreme, with the top 1 percent nearly tripling their post-tax income, and the top 0.001 percent realizing income gains of over 600 percent.”

This huge redistribution of income upwards was no accident. Since 1981, the rules for capitalism have been changed to favor the wealthy and big business. Membership in unions has declined from 30% to 10% of the work force. The top marginal tax rate has been lowered from 70% to 35%. Anti-trust enforcement has been largely non-existent. Workers are making less money and we are paying more for goods and services due to the fact that most markets are dominated by a handful of big companies.

The political power that the elites exert to maintain this current corrupt version of capitalism also explains the anger and polarization that Sasse tried to address. According to 2014 study, the U.S. isn’t a democracy — it’s an oligarchy. This study concluded that: “ (E)conomic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Perhaps the U.S. isn’t as polarized as Sasse and the “liberal” mainstream would like you to believe. According to a NY Times opinion piece by Tim Wu of March 5, 2019, titled “The Oppression of the Super Majority,” there is a high degree of consensus on policy in this country: “About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.”

It’s pretty evident that Sasse’s thesis is wrong. Sasse and his fellow D.C. Republicans created this dysfunctional and corrupt system that has left most Americans behind. They will continue to try to blame the economic woes of the middle class on anybody but the reactionary GOP donor class that funds their campaigns.

It is our job as Democratic activists to get this message out. We need to be as relentless as the radical right. Simply stated, we heavily outnumber the top 1%. If we turn out to vote, nobody can stop us. That’s why we won in 2018 and that’s why we will again in 2020! Let’s do it!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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