“I am so frustrated with the obvious changes going on between my dad’s age and now,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivering a stem-winder of a midday keynote address Tuesday at the Ideas Conference, hosted in Washington by the Center for American Progress to celebrate its 15th anniversary. “It’s like we inherited this incredible house from our parents and we trashed it.”
….Without stinting the importance of the civil rights movement, he also argued Tuesday that “you don’t even need to use race as one of the lenses” to understand how kids born into low-income families are disadvantaged in life. He said explicitly that when he read Hillbilly Elegy and other work about poor rural whites, it reminded him of his neighbors in Newark. “My neighbors are incredible folks who work hard — in many cases, they work harder — than their parents did, but they’re making less money.”
Here’s the closest I can come to showing how median income has changed over the past half century for Booker’s neighbors in Newark:
This chart is not perfect. “Newark” includes the entire Newark metro area, not just the city itself. And there’s no data for median income, so I had to perform a rough-and-ready conversion of per-capita income to median income based on national data. That said, this chart probably understates Newark’s income growth anyway. It includes only ordinary wage income, not income from dividends or interest or capital gains or Social Security or any other government transfers. Nor does it include noncash income like Medicaid or CHIP. If you add in all those things, the life of the average Newark resident hasn’t gotten 50 percent better since 1975, it’s gotten more like 100 percent better.
I find myself in a weirdly precarious position these days. I pretty firmly believe that the explosion of income inequality since 1980 has been a disaster for America. Sluggish income growth, which eventually turned into completely stagnant income growth, has sapped the spirit of the average middle-class worker, who grew up still believing that life was supposed to get better and better every year thanks to the growth of the American economy. By the early 90s that had turned into a faint memory, and after 2000 it was just a sick joke. Meanwhile, the rich just kept on getting richer and richer as wages were squeezed in order to set aside a bigger and bigger share of corporate profits for executives and wealthy shareholders. The whole thing was profoundly disheartening. What was the point of that whole “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” thing if lawyers and CEOs and Wall Street bankers were just going to hoover up all the money for themselves?
And yet, even in the era of Trump, Booker’s hyperbole bothers me because I think it motivates unwarranted despair more than it motivates action. For him to say that folks in Newark are working harder than they were 30 or 40 years ago is almost certainly untrue, and to say they’re making less money is absolutely untrue. I hate to hear stuff like this partly because I value the truth, but even more so because telling people how miserable they are makes them discouraged, not raring for a fight.
That said, Booker would be a good messenger for the message Democrats should embrace: unapologetic class warfare that doesn’t pretend we’re all miserable wretches. Bernie Sanders tried the class warfare part of this, of course, but Booker has a couple of big advantages over Sanders. First, he’s not a socialist. He grew up in a comfortable, suburban, middle-class household, and that makes him a much more acceptable messenger.¹ Second, he’s black, which means that he knows (or should know) how to deliver this message without the racial tone deafness that sometimes dogged Sanders.
This is the main point of Yglesias’ post, in fact. The question is, how do Democrats run a racially sensitive presidential campaign without alienating the working-class white voters they need? One answer is to run a class-based campaign that will obviously benefit people of color, but without actually saying so explicitly. This is sort of a mirror-image dog whistle: blacks and Hispanics understand and accept what you’re not saying, while white folks don’t know anything is happening at all. Barack Obama did this on a smallish scale, but in the same way that Sarah Palin paved the way for a more effective Palin, perhaps Sanders paved the way for a more effective Sanders.
A more effective Sanders couldn’t expect much corporate support. But the fact is that a class-based campaign doesn’t really have to be especially anti-corporate. You can be fully in favor of a business-friendly economic climate (as I am) while also believing that the profits it generates should be more broadly shared (as I do). And if Trump has re-taught us anything, it’s that people love enemies. For Trump, it was China. For Booker it could be Wall Street. Why not?
¹Maybe this is fair, maybe it’s not. But it’s true. Politics isn’t always fair.
or the alternative, in which your graph does not represent reality. PCE and CPI seem to exclude housing, health care, and education. And if I understand the author right, they took per-capita (average/mean) income data and "converted" it to median data somehow? average income is the view on income that tends to hide inequality. I have failed to find a nice graph of 50-year poverty levels in NJ or Newark, but I have my suspicions about what they will show.
First of all, this is not a criticism of Pete Williams, one of best network news reporters out there. It’s more a broader comment about how we deal with mass atrocity gun violence, how we think about its causes. A few moments ago, Pete Williams was on air on MSNBC providing the latest details of the shooting in Texas and the accused shooter, who is now in custody. Williams provided these latest details, including the suspect’s name and the fact that initial looks at his social media profiles show no evidence of connections to extremist groups, either foreign or domestic. Then he said that because there is no evidence of an extremist ideology, “why this happened, of course, remains a huge mystery.”
Here’s the video.
This is more social comment than anything. Not a criticism of Williams. But odd moment here when he notes no evidence of extremist beliefs, then says how it’s a total mystery why this happened. Is it really a mystery? This happens all the time. pic.twitter.com/AefZGYkVrU
Is this really a mystery? This happens all the time. It happens all the time. It is almost always a young man or boy in late adolescence who enters his school or the school he used to go to and tries to kill as many people as possible rather than any particular person.
Now, to be clear, I know what Williams meant. Again, not a criticism of him in any way. It’s a broader point. He’s saying we haven’t seen any evidence of the shooter pledging fealty to ISIS or spewing far-right conspiracy theories or militia rhetoric. But I think this shows how we really miss the point of why any of these things happen.
The impulse, which is rooted mainly in young men and pretty much exclusively men, is the origin of these things. Depending on where they’re situated they express these murderous rages through an Islamist idea system, or a militia or white supremacist idea system. But I think it’s a mistake to see these different forms of extremism as the cause of these shootings. School shootings are a contagious phenomenon in American society which virtually always involves boys in late adolescence who have histories of rage and alienation and play that out in mass atrocity attacks at their school, which for them is their social world.
We can all see that they are highly choreographed, often using the same set of strategies to maximize fatalities, sometimes with new innovations which are then folded into the ritual of attack. What we call extremist ideologies are really just the languages these guys glom onto to articulate and understand those impulses. This doesn’t mean extremist groups and extremist ideologies don’t matter. For some, they clearly provide a language and a rationale and even a sense of righteousness to their actions. For some that helps bridge the path between extreme rage and actual violence.
But if that’s absent, it’s no mystery. Because it’s a mistake to see them as the real driver. Again, this happens all the time. The motive is pretty clear: angry and alienated young man, a late adolescent consumed with rage and alienation who lives in the United States and thus has become a devotee of the cult, the ideology of the redemptive school shooting atrocity. The ideology is really the cult of the mass shooting, in which the gun, with all its cultural and political omnipotence, plays a central role. Every school shooter learned from the history of school shootings, mimicked the strategies, was in a sense acting out a ritual which has become deeply rooted in our culture. We know the motive. We know the ideology: rage and alienation transmuted through mass gun violence.
There were a lot of questions raised by Trump supporters yesterday about when President Trump referred to people as “animals.” The argument is that he wasn’t referring to immigrants or even undocumented immigrants in general. He was supposedly referring to hardened MS-13 gang members. That’s not true. The comment comes in an interchange with a county sheriff in which the sheriff complains about how the state laws in California have made it harder for her department to work with ICE. I went back and grabbed the longer exchange so people can watch for themselves.
The exchange is with Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims …
There’s been a lot of question about whether he was taken out of context when he referred to “animals” and that he was supposedly only talking about MS-13 gang members. That’s not quite true. It’s actually a broader discussion about who local PDs can work with ICE. Watch. pic.twitter.com/QxxsEP1XCa
Here’s the official transcript of what you just heard.
SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, sheriffs in California are now in an untenable position when it comes to trying to figure out — now, we have state law, we have federal laws, and here we are stuck in the middle. Sheriffs, especially, because most of us run our county jails.
When there became a legal challenge to the 48-hour holds for ICE, it was very frustrating for us. So what I did is I invited ICE to put their officers in my jails so they’re able to do their work. We didn’t have the staffing to be able to help figure out who they wanted to talk to or didn’t. I said, come on in, work with our people to keep our community safe. Two weeks later, Mr. President, Kate Steinle was murdered.
Now, I wasn’t the only sheriff to do that. Sheriff Youngblood did, Sheriff Christianson. And it was perfect — because we didn’t have to take our time, with our staff, to do anything. ICE was in there doing their work in a safe, controlled, environment. And then, the initiatives started happening — the TRUST Act, the TRUTH Act, and finally, SB 54, the Values Act. And that is causing us all kinds of turmoil.
So here we are, stuck in the middle, trying to decide. We have federal law, we have state law. And that’s why I welcomed Attorney General Sessions’s lawsuit, because that will provide us the clarity that we need and direction that we need. What do we do? Because here we are.
And I appreciated Mr. Homan and ICE. We had a great relationship; we still do. But now ICE is the only law enforcement agency that cannot use our databases to find the bad guys. They cannot come in and talk to people in our jail, unless they reach a certain threshold. They can’t do all kinds of things that other law enforcement agencies can do. And it’s really put us in a very bad position.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a disgrace. Okay? It’s a disgrace.
SHERIFF MIMS: It’s a disgrace.
THE PRESIDENT: And we’re suing on that, and we’re working hard, and I think it will all come together, because people want it to come together. It’s so ridiculous. The concept that we’re even talking about is ridiculous. We’ll take care of it, Margaret. We’ll win.
SHERIFF MIMS: Thank you. There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it.
THE PRESIDENT: We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals. And we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.
The dumbest laws — as I said before, the dumbest laws on immigration in the world. So we’re going to take care of it, Margaret. We’ll get it done. We’re going to ask that man right there, because that man can do it. (Laughter.) Right now he’s the most important man in the room. Kevin can do it.
To me, the full context is about as damning as the President’s context in isolation. The comment isn’t restricted to MS-13 gang members. It’s a more general discussion of state laws interfering with Sheriffs’ ability to work with ICE to facilitate deportations. So it’s really about anyone swept up into the criminal justice system, for everything from the most trivial to the most heinous acts. More generally, the clear thrust of Trump’s comment is that the country is being overridden by a wave of criminal aliens even though there is voluminous evidence that immigrants, legal and not, commit crimes at significantly lower rates than the native-born. There’s no salvaging this hideous comment.
I think it’s important to add that labeling classes of people subhuman is really always wrong. It leads to horrific actions. That’s still true even if we’re talking about people in gangs who do commit horrific acts.