Explaining the Divide of Americans
There is no question that our nation is divided. It seems, at every turn, we have major difference in the direction of our country. We see this exhibited in close national elections. We see this in Supreme Court decisions many are decided by a 5-4 majority. On many top issues, there are sometimes more than two sides. Trying to wrap my head around these differences, I have come across an explanation which may be valid. This essay is my attempt to explain our current reality.
- Sept. 2018
In talking to various people around the country, I realize there is a vast divide in the perception of these people. One example is the topic of the “rich”. Our politicians speak about we need to tax the rich to pay for the various needed programs. They need to pay their “fair“ share. Yet, when you ask people, who do you consider to be the “rich”? You get a surprising variety of answers.
Here is a rough benchmark of what the government thinks of our economic status.
1. Poverty level, for a family of 3 is income below $20,000.
2. Working poor - between $20-$50K
3. Middle Class - between $50K - $200K
4. Rich - above $200K.
By the way, the median income for our nation is $59K. That means, 50% of our population makes below $59K, and 50% of the population makes above that amount.
Here is where our perception differences come into play. If you ask a conservative who they consider to be rich, they will say people making above $200K.
If you ask a liberal, and they will say people making above $100K. That is a huge discrepancy.
How does that translate into tax policies? So, when you hear a Democratic politician saying we need to tax the rich...he is referring to people making $100K and above. For Republicans, that is considered middle class. In some parts of the nation, like in the Northeast, and especially in NYC, an income of $100K is by no means ”rich”, not even close. Considering the high cost of living and the high local taxes and real estate taxes, an income of $100K is barely essential. Of course, in some Southern states, it may very well be consider “rich”.
What is a “fair” share? When I ask some liberals to give me a percent, they won’t say.
The fact is, in my neck of the woods, suburb of NYC, I am already paying over 35% in combined taxes of Federal, State, Local, Property tax, School tax and sales tax. Do you think that is fair? Meanwhile, we are told almost 50% of the population do not pay any income taxes, some are even getting tax credits. Again, perception is very different. To some conservatives, we are already paying more than our fair share while liberals wants even higher progressive tax from the “rich” individuals and from the evil corporations.
Another big difference is the perception of large Corporations. For most Republicans, they believe in the free market system and on capitalism in creating wealth and prosperity. This is how companies form and compete and succeeds and grow to be large international corporations. They have shareholders who expects dividends and profits for doing business. These companies in turn, hire workers and provide them with benefits to obtain loyalty. These business operate on the principle of greed. They are designed to award people that are top performers. They hire the best and pay competitive rates and expect a return on their investments. The profit motive is the biggest incentive to innovate and improve and be more efficient and drive costs down.
Therefore, corporations are good in the eyes of Republicans.
On the other hand, if you ask Democrats what they think of corporations, they will invariably say they are greedy and expoits their workers and ruin the environment in chasing after the mighty dollar. Another word, corporations are evil entities that needs to be kept in line by our government which is the watchdog over abuses. They support a strong union that will fight for the workers against these companies and obtain better wages and benefits for the workers. After all, these corporations are nothing without the hard work of the people on the line.
Who is right? The answer is both sides have merits. It depends where you are coming from. Over the past 100 years, we have gone through an industrial revolution. We had problems with monopolies and price gouging... We had problems with companies that dump chemicals to pollute our rivers and air. Over time, we have created laws to address these abuses. We have OSHA and the EPA and the SEC and FDIC and a host of other federal agencies to deal with these problems.
What is needed is a balanced approach. We need the free enterprise system to encourage innovation but we also need regulations and governance to level the playing field and prevent abuses and criminal activities on the part of these companies. Recently, the term “crony capitalism” has been used to describe a new phenomenon. Where a large company uses its assets and legal clout and lobbies the government to provide them with special priviledges and tax deals. They donate heavily to candidates running for office and they in term are beholding to them when it comes to legislation or tax or trade policies that will benefit these companies. In a word, they are buying influence and corrupting our democracy. The elected officials are not looking out for the people who elected them. Sounds familiar?
What is the solution? The answer is we need corporations to do what they do. They are the innovators and job creators. They are ones investing in new drugs development, and plant construction projects, and oil drilling and all kinds of stuff we need as consumers. What is needed is for government to keep a watchful eye over them and not allow them to buy influence and in effect gain an unfair advantage over others. That is keeping a level playing field. Our laws and politicians should be to maintain that posture and let the free market do its magic.
A third point of contention is on the role of government. There is two parts to this question. What is the role of a federal government as stated in our Constitution? And then, how effective are the programs that the government gets into using our tax dollars? It is both a governance issue and a fiscal issue. What functions are needed and how much we need to fund them?
On the Republican side, they believe in a limited government of doing what is necessary and no more no less. The bulk of the tasks should be deferred to State and local government where they are closest to the problem and would know the best solutions. They also believe in private solutions when possible since they are generally cheaper and more efficient and has better accountability.
On the Democratic side, they tends to want bigger government programs. They believe in a one size fit all philosophy. If it is good in one State, it must be good for all States. They don’t trust the local government to do the “right” thing.
It is not like we haven’t had experience in this. We‘ve had over 60 years of real data. Ever since the 1960s, President Johnson’s war on poverty, we had programs after programs...yet, the poverty rate has not dropped by much. There are two schools of thought on this.
On one hand, some say these programs are full of abuse and fraud and the bureaucracy eats up most of the resources and the people that needed the help seldom gets it. On the other hand, some say the programs are not sufficient to meet the needs and they need to expand them and put more resources and funding into them.
Who is right? You decide. Use your own judgement.
The Deep State
In recent news, there is talk of a “deep State“ operating in our government. The media and Democrats ignore this saying it is a conspiracy theory and here-say. Conservatives believes it to be true by the fact that so many are critical of the Trump administration and his attempt to drain the swamp. Another terminology referring to a deep state. By the way, these are people working in government from both party affiliations. They don’t like outsides coming to Washington and upseting the apple cart. Now we have James O‘Keefe of Project Veritas revealing hidden videos of people working in government and at the same time subverting it. Very disturbing.
On The Supreme Court
Right now, we are in the middle of a Supreme Court nomination. Judge Kavanaugh is being nominated by president Trump to sit on the highest court of the land. This current debate on his confirmation is central to what Americans think about the court. By all measures, the judge is well qualified and has the intellect and temperament to sit on the bench. However, nearly half the Senate and by extension half of our country‘s citizens will not accept him. Why?
It comes down to their perception and understanding of our Constitution. We on the conservative side belief a justice to be an originalist. One that will rule based on their strict interpretation of our founding document and that the laws passed by Congress are deemed either Constitutional or not. That is their only function.
On the liberal side, they actually believe these judges are capable of changing our laws based on our current experience. They refer to this as the concept that our Constitution is a “living document.“ One that can be interpreted to have new meaning in a modern society.
These are two very different views. This current debate over judge Kavanaugh is centered on this point. Underlying this, of course, is about the right to abortion. Since 1973, the court has ruled that abortion should be legal. The liberals wants to preserve this ruling at all cost and they cannot allow the court to reverse itself even though by all measures, half of our citizens have strong opinion and reservation about granting this right unconditionally.
How far they will go is what is shocking about this process. It appears we have learned nothing from history. The same tactics were used against Clarence Thomas back in the 1990s. It was ugly and hurtful on so many levels. It was also a bad precedence. Now in 2018, with the #me-too movement in full swing, they have resorted to accusations that goes back 35 years in the past against this man just to prevent his appointment. It is just as the judge said, a “twilight zone“. How can these senior, experienced Senators, sitting on the judiciary committee, go down this path? They know what our law is, or should know, and yet they chose to go down this dark path just to avoid this appointment and in the process destroy a fine man and our judicial system. It has turn the whole presumption of “innocent until proven guilty“ on its head. How low can they go?
In summary, my contention is that our perceptions drive our public opinion. Depending what they are, it does not have to correlate with reality. If we perceive something to be one way, we act accordingly or vote accordingly. Politicians feed on these perceptions and in fact capitalizes on them to divide us.
In most cases, we all want the same things. We are in agreement more than we disagree. The difference is our approaches to the solution. Our perceptions are vastly divergent thus we end up with different approaches to solving the same issues.
When it comes to poverty in America, on one hand, some wants us to move to a socialist type of government like they have in Europe. They have a very high tax system which in effect redistribute wealth so that most people are taken care of by the state. The downside is they lack the incentive to work harder and get ahead. They are happy with the status quo.
On the other side, conservatives wants to put people to work. They value individual initiative. We believe people are generally happier when they work for their keep and are self sufficient. We want a small safety net to protect those that really need it but not welfare for the masses. As Ronaold Reagan once said, I think the best possible social program is a job. How true is that.
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© 2018 Jack Lee