Vail Daily column: Why ‘forgotten’ Americans miss economic rebound
May 13, 2017
In the second debate among GOP presidential candidates, Carly Fiorina saluted Lady Liberty and Lady Justice, the statues flanking the Supreme Court Building's main entrance.
Her speech soared. She sketched a majestic vision, first of Lady Liberty at work. "Lady Liberty stands tall and strong," declared Fiorina. "She is clear-eyed and resolute. She doesn't shield her eyes from the realities of the world, but she faces outward into the world nevertheless as we always must, and she holds her torch high. Because she knows she is a beacon of hope in a very troubled world."
Lady Liberty's light flickers among "forgotten" Americans whose spirits are depleted. Their towns look bleak because Main Street's businesses are boarded up and factories closed.
Why has prosperity passed by these stouthearted citizens who once formed a prosperous manufacturing class? Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump each focused on their plight. Bush II promised his "compassionate conservatism" would aid them. Obama keyed on the plight of those caught in income inequality, challenging our nation that such financial disparity is "the defining challenge of our time."
President Trump touched hearts of these God-fearing, willing-to-work-hard "forgotten" Americans. He convinced them he felt their pain, would fight against its injustice and would immediately right these wrongs once he occupied the Oval Office.
Unfortunately, the Wall Street rich keep on getting richer while "forgotten" Americans get poorer. Their hopes for economic advance are slim to slow going.
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Why is this? President George W. Bush promised better days to middle-class Americans and blue-collar citizens who aimed to reach this level. He gave two tax cuts to every American and curbed investment regulations so Wall Street financiers could make big money that eventually would end up in little guys' pockets.
Instead, Wall Street manipulators bundled worthless mortgages and sold them to investors who only cared that housing prices soared. Then a collapse rocked the nation. Investment banks Bear Stearns and the Lehman Brothers went under. Mortgage titans Freddie Mac and Fannie May were cut down at the knees and survived under government conservatorship. Bush tore the heart out of classic conservative confidence in the market correcting itself. He bailed out the banking system that employed the chief culprits causing this fiasco.
When President Obama took office, he faced a fiscal crisis dubbed the Great Recession. The economy was losing 700,000 jobs a month. After the sub-prime mortgage crisis tanked, Obama approved a nearly $1 trillion stimulus plan. He instructed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to piggyback it on Bush's prior bailout legislation. Such stimuli would jumpstart the economy. In his memoirs, Geithner admitted that Wall Street's brightest, who largely caused the crisis, were the only ones who knew enough to fix it. They pocketed huge payouts to correct this mess.
In his inaugural address, President Trump promised, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer." He painted dreary pictures of their lives caused by "a small group in our nation's capital (who) has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country." Wall Street and Washington profited from the Great Recession, Trump said.
His remedy? Not unlike that of his presidential predecessors: Make it easier for Wall Street's bankers to make money. Relax regulations on financial advisers in respect to what they tell clients. Simplify investing schemes. Slim federal regulatory agencies.
Notice this pervasive pattern during the last three presidencies: benefit Wall Street banks, who in large part caused financial misery that depletes "forgotten" Americans' pocketbooks.
Obama and Trump supposed that once Wall Street bankers make enormous sums, they will reinvest these profits in the economy to create jobs, open factories and restore healthy income to citizens. What if these bankers park millions offshore because of an uncertain economy? What if they shield their money in trusts for their family tribes? What if the top 1 percent benefit most from an advancing stock market that's not an investment option for "forgotten" Americans strapped for cash?
What are rarely mentioned are fiscal plans to bolster "forgotten" Americans that require redistribution of income in addition to benefits from free-market earnings.
The Bible suggests a different ethic to help "forgotten" Americans. It's based on sharing rather than accumulating. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction …" (James 1:27).
Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated a vision for economic fairness. He believed in a regulatory government working in tandem with free enterprising workers. In 1967, King declared, "The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power."
King warned, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." Our nation must give economic hope to "forgotten" citizens by building monetary game plans that benefit "forgotten" citizens.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God's history come alive.
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