Thanks in part to President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, the American economy is booming like never before.
Unemployment is at 50-year lows. Unemployment for women, African-Americans and Latinos is at all-time lows. The stock markets set records on an almost daily basis, wages are rising at levels not seen in nearly a century, inflation is nearly non-existent, and business and consumer confidence remain near all-time highs.
But the Overton window – the rough and ever-moving borders of America’s political continuum – have shifted to the point that Joseph Overton, the libertarian think-tanker for whom it is named, “might be aghast to learn that his ‘window,’ having become famous after his death, is now invoked to describe America’s great, unlikely backlash against the system he defended so ardently: capitalism.”
That was the premise of “How America’s Elites Lost Their Grip” by Anand Giridhardas, editor-at-large of Time magazine.
Americans might not like this “capitalist reckoning” any more than the NFL likes Colin Kaepernick, Giridhardas wrote, but has reached “new intensity … because the economic precariousness, stalled mobility and gaping social divides that have for years fueled the backlash now had an improbable sidekick: plutocracy itself and the win-win ideology that has governed the past few decades.
“This year, America’s ultra-elites seemed to bend over backward to lend support to the idea that maybe the system they superintend needs gut renovating. As a political movement bubbled up to challenge their wealth and power, the elite’s own misbehavior trickled down. And where the two met, ideas that once seemed unutterable started, to many, to sound like the future.”
Basically, Giridhardas tries to make what amounts to campaign literature for Bernie Sanders sound like a trend story about the political upheaval that soon could lead to a socialist takeover of America.
“For years, there have been voices trying to denormalize this state,” he wrote. “There were protests in Seattle in 1999, there was Occupy in 2011, there was the [Democratic Socialist Alliance], there was the World Social Forum to rival the World Economic Forum, there was, eternally, Bernie Sanders saying the exact stuff he is still saying today, there were civic groups trying to organize workers and poor communities, there were outcasts in Silicon Valley warning that Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t really about human connection.”
But America “was in the grips of … hyper-capitalism.” This was “the intellectual stadium in which the country played. There was a left side of the field, warier of capitalism’s extremes, and the right side of the field, prone to capitalist boosting. But the stadium, as Overton understood, demarcated the boundaries of the debate for most people: Capitalism, more or less as we practice it, is our system, and it is the best system, so how do we tweak it to make it better?
“Then, in 2016, something happened. Sanders ran for president. He built a formidable national movement, powered by small donations, and won 22 states – mind you, as a democratic socialist in the United States of America.”
Sanders “discredited capitalism as a conscious project” and received “unexpected, unintentional help from the man who would become president. Trump ran as a flamboyant capitalist, wary of certain aspects of capitalism, but promising that his capitalist mind and his capitalist fortune would make him a uniquely gifted, uniquely incorruptible president. When that turned out not to be the case, Trump not only damaged himself but the idea of the selfless billionaire savior too.”
It’s hard to know all of what Giridhardas meant by it not being the case that Trump was “incorruptible.” He was exonerated of all charges after a two-year $40 million investigation run by donors to his opponent’s campaign, and the impeachment inquiry over the president’s relationship with Ukraine produced so little in the way of persuasive evidence that it no longer is clear Democrats have the votes to pursue impeachment.