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To Stop Project 2025 and Trump, Democrats Must Tackle Inequality

by Hannah Stokes-Ramos and Frances Moore Lappé, June 21, 2024


Originally published on Common Dreams, June 21, 2024


The latest development in the battle against a possible Trump takeover of our government is the Stop Project 2025 Task Force to combat the conservative Project 2025 agenda.


If Trump were elected, the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 would replace as many as 50,000 federal employees with those more amenable to Trump’s directives. It would reduce the independence of the Department of Justice, stop FBI efforts to fight disinformation, and end diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across the government. Its goal? To eliminate administrators and legislators who refused to break the law or standard protocol to follow Trump’s orders.


In all, Project 2025 would greatly expand executive power and diminish the power of Congress.


By the end of the Trump administration in 2021 our democracy had sunk to a new low in international rankings, reports Freedom House, founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. We’d dropped in just a decade by 11 points on a 100-point scale, ending up on par with Panama and behind Argentina. Sweden-based V-Dem institute concluded that Trump “undermined American democracy substantially during his previous tenure, not least regarding media freedom, judicial independence, and executive oversight.” Trump also famously praised autocratic leaders around the world.


Expanding executive power under a second Trump term could therefore mean disaster for our democracy.


Understandably, across party lines Americans are worried about our democracy. Earlier this year a CBS poll found 70 percent of Americans consider democracy a major issue in the coming election, while 82 percent said the same about the economy. Additional polls have found similar percentages.


And here is an additional and worrisome puzzle. Roughly the same share—only about a third—of Americans, whether Red or Blue, believe democracy will be safe, be it Biden or Trump next in the White House.


So, Democrats have a lot of work to do.


In 2018 Democrats won key battleground areas as they focused on protecting democracy. But today, while of course President Biden must focus on free and fair elections, that is not enough. Biden and all Democrats must commit to curbing political corruption from corporate-political donations through various channels, which reached almost $344 million in the 2022 midterm, according to OpenSecrets, split 45 percent/55 percent between Democrats and Republicans.


And while Democrats are right to focus on preserving core individual rights and freedoms like the right to abortion, they also must address the pain and humiliation of those feeling left behind by their government. To understand the roots of why Trump’s anti-establishment talk has such appeal, we see a taproot:


Inequality.


After all, what was so great about the America that MAGA just can’t let go of?


True, half-century ago race, gender, and sexual oppression were even more rampant, but note well: In that time economic inequality was at an all-time low.


We had stronger unions, a more robust middle class, and a higher minimum wage relative to the economy. One (predominantly white male) income could support a family, even from many blue-collar jobs.


This is not our America of today.


We’ve been falling backward. Rhetorically, MAGA proponents seem to refuse to let this happen. Democrats seem only weakly to acknowledge that it is happening. Neither party is addressing its roots. So, there’s a huge opportunity here.


But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let’s review some facts.


America’s economic inequality was at a low point from the 1940s to 1970s, but Reaganomics brought a sharp increase, even outpacing by far inequality in Europe. Between 1979 and 2016, the share of wealth owned by the top 1 percent compared to the bottom 90 percent completely flipped.


By 2016, the top 1 percent had 39 percent of all wealth, while the bottom 90 percent were stuck with a mere 26%. Today, the bottom half owns just 2 percent of the wealth. In 1970, the top 100 CEO’s earned $45 for every $1 earned by the average worker, but by 2014, those CEO’s made 844 times the average worker.


And, where did this extra income come from?


The hard labor of working Americans. An often-cited graph shows U.S. productivity in output per hour growing almost four-fold since 1945. But since the 1970s, real median family income has nearly plateaued. Benefits from greater productivity have gone to the top, not to the workers.


But has the broad public at least managed to benefit from this great increase in productivity and wealth via taxation used for public good? If you guessed no, you’re right. Since the 1980s, wealth by held by the top 0.1 percent has quadrupled, while its tax rate is unchanged.


But is economic inequality really something we should be worried about? Whether Republican or Democrat, the answer is “yes.” Aside from basic justice, the IMF itself reported that economic inequality is bad for overall economic growth.


Perhaps even more insidious, inequality is bad for democracy. For one, it erodes trust in political institutions - “economic inequality may affect citizens' perceptions of the responsiveness of the political system. It may also affect their perception of their own potential to influence political processes,” explain Simon Bienstman and colleagues about their recent article in the European Journal of Political Research.


Thus, to skirt the real threat of Project 2025, Democrats must vigorously acknowledge the root of anti-establishment sentiment, leading so many Americans to feel a loss of status and identities right now. And not just in better messaging, but by offering strong, substantive policy promises addressing the root: America’s shamefully unjust economic inequality.



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