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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Human Hand Grenade

In a way, I agree with the Republican grandees. And that is uncommon.

Donald Trump is a human hand grenade, lobbed into the central room of the mind of the Grand Ol' Party. The amount of wreckage and rearrangement he is creating is wondrous to behold.

I watched the images of black protesters being marched out of Trump rallies by his goons, and passing a crowd that was hard to put it into words jeering, throwing things, punching.

The intensity of the mob was palpable and it was heated up by Trump into a kind of Roman circus with the punishment of minority demonstrators offered for the thrill and delight of the unruly crowd which was almost entirely white.

That is going to bring a reaction.

So I saw on TV the chaotic scenes inside the University of Illinois at Chicago pavilion, and then our own news page showed a photo of dark streets outside with police lined up to control protesters, who I have little doubt meant business.

Some Chicago-style payback was due. And the Trump rally was aborted.

But in a way the Republican grandees deserved it.

A brash rough con man is the natural opponent of the smooth, moneyed con men that have run the Republican party for so long, with their money backing candidates who sing the song of liberty and less taxes in order to get votes, and then do the bidding of those who paid their way.

That talk right there is the influence of Bernie Sanders and my once-Socialist aunt.

So just as Trump has moved the discussion way off to the right and just about over a cliff, Sanders has shifted everyone in his party, his primary opponent included, to the left. And the range of opinions that can be expressed in a column is stretched.

So all of us who at times in the past may have complained that the two old parties offered mostly talk, and fairly similar centrist policies, can no longer complain. There is here and now in our nation about as clear a line as you can get in politics, between left versus right, between soak the rich to pay for free college tuition versus kick out the illegals while bombing the Middle East and making great deals.

But there is a kind of little melody, a musical phrase that is heard above the din on both sides, and that is the sound of disaffection and anger with the way things are. That tune is playing on both left and right.

Sure, a politician normally runs on change, as Obama did. But this is different.

Both Trump and Sanders are deeply opposed to the trade pacts that have lowered trade barriers, normally a very good thing for an economy, and they are answered with a roar of approval.

But they could not get such a bang from just those who lost trade union jobs, for one reason or another.

There has to be more. And I think that more is the chasm that separates the very rich from the rest of us, one that has not been so wide for an awful long time and one that now seems unbridgeable.

A long time ago, I wanted to write a book about Denmark, because the place fascinated me, an interest shared by a few politicians lately.

Denmark was fair and generous to its people. Old people walked and shopped in the streets. Large groups of kids brightly bundled against the cold played in parks watched by day care workers, 75% subsidized by the state. People were taxed at a high rate, but the average pay was much higher than in the U.S., while education and health care were free.

Researching for that never-completed book in Copenhagen's grand central library, I remember looking at a set of stats that compared income distribution among the western nations. The stats showed loud and clear that the United States had far and away the greatest disparity in income. The land of the free was the land of the unequal.

The closest competitor in terms of income inequality was Great Britain, but it really was not close, and well lower on the scale of inequality were the European nations, with prosperous Denmark at or near the bottom. I was looking at those stats more than two decades ago.

Our nation has not improved on that disparity in the years since. It has exacerbated it, because the principal engine for reducing income inequality is obvious. It is progressive taxation. And Republican-driven policies and compromises over the last decade have lowered taxes at the top end of the income scale.

So now it is a different kind of payback, a different and much bigger chicken that is coming home to roost. The realization has spread that in terms of living their lives, ordinary Americans are not "number one" in the world anymore.

And the long-running con by what my aunt calls the "upper upper" that what's good for the rich is good for all has at last been blown.

And that is why the Republican grandees were worried. Trump is better at their game.

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