This past week I was away celebrating my father’s 87th birthday in the great state of New Jersey.
As I adjusted to the cooler weather, rainy and cold for the entire week, I also had to adjust to a very different political climate. While the South Florida LGBT community falls in lockstep behind Hillary Clinton, the rest of the country might be marching to a different tune.
It was hard to find anyone who supports Hillary in central New Jersey, home of the angry white males. In fact, the mantra I came across was, “Anyone but Hillary.” My younger relatives were surprisingly talking about Bernie Sanders, which gives me some hope for our future generation; but unfortunately, the older crowd is ready, willing and eager to vote for Donald Trump.
Listening to their arguments and justifications, I needed to ponder what was going on here. This is Middle America for heaven’s sake, centralist politics at its best, middle of the road, not extreme rhetoric or beliefs, not the type of crowd one would think about when talking revolution.
These people are now one step away from grabbing pitch forks and marching on Washington. One does not have to look that far to understand why. Actually, all you need to do is take a train ride from Penn Station in NYC to the station in New Jersey where I get off to visit my father to find the answer.
Gazing out the window as the train heads deeper into New Jersey, leaving the great financial capital of the world behind, one can’t help but notice the abandoned factories, the crumbling infrastructure, chain link fences surrounding empty building after empty building. Beyond those crumbling, abandoned factories and warehouses lie towns and small cities that have been left behind, a part of the equation that the Clintons forgot to consider when they were signing Free Trade deals, or when the Republicans spent millions per day destroying and then rebuilding Iraq while at the same time giving tax breaks to the wealthy 1 percent. As the train continues, so do the sights of thousands of lost jobs, lost manufacturing base, and lost dreams, just left to ruin along the train tracks.
Over the past few decades, Middle Class America has been screwed big time. Now that they have finally realized the truth and are demanding payback, the “establishment” seems all surprised at the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
While the wealthy 1 percent keep getting richer, while corporations merge with overseas companies to avoid paying taxes, while the price of higher education pushes young people into shackles of debt, while cities and towns deal with crumbling infrastructure, and while affordable health care is not really so affordable, Middle America has had the rug pulled out from underneath them and has been left lying on the floor with no outstretched hand to help get them back on their feet.
One obvious example of this neglect is the Federal Minimum wage, now at $7.15 per hour. Over the past few decades, this minimum should be at least $11.00 per hour if calculating inflation since the 1960s, and at least $21.75 if adding worker productivity to the equation.
While working Americans have seen stagnant wage growth, not just for a few years, but for decades, the wealthy 1 percent have seen a doubling or even tripling of their wealth during the same period. It is no surprise that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are now so popular. They are tapping into the frustration, anger and reality faced by millions of Americans outside the Washington Beltway and the gilded halls of the few.
No one easily or willingly gives up what they already have. The 99 percent will have to fight and struggle to win back the gains they lost over the past decades. They are angry and frustrated. They will listen to and vote for those who tout their crusade. If what I listened to over the past week up in the Northeast is any indication, watch out Hillary, watch out party insiders, and watch out politicians because we are all in for a very rough ride.
As I return to Wilton Manors and take in the warmth and sunshine, I cannot shake off the ominous feelings from my time up north…’cause once you start to look and realize the truth about the broken American Dream, the social inequalities that are evident all around us, and the demagogues (one described as Lucifer himself) who might become our next President.
Well, life just got a hell of a lot scarier here….