Virtually all events that come to our national attention today, such as the Parkland, Florida, high school murders, the election of Conor Lamb of Pittsburgh to the U.S. House of Representatives, the debate over our national response to the opioid crisis, the debate over guns, and others point dramatically to the fact that two Americas have emerged. One is college educated, white collar, liberal and mainly coastal. The other is high-school educated, blue collar, conservative and mainly mid-country. Very clearly, we have an urgent need to bridge the large and growing gulf between these two Americas.
Numerous potential flash points exist between our two Americas: income and job security; communities and education; guns and violence; immigrants and minorities; and government’s role, to name just a few.
A short reflection will suggest that major disparities exist between coastal and mid-country America and that the potential flashpoints relate mainly to perceived and actual inequities. Stated in sociological terms, all Americans have rising expectations: better education and income; better housing and lifestyle; better neighborhoods--in short, the “good life."
With some notable exceptions, coastal America generally has been able to meet these expectations; mid-country America has not. In fact, mid-country America actually has lost ground while expectations have increased. Thus, we also have the issues of growing economic and well-being disparities between our two Americas. As has been documented repeatedly throughout history, increasing expectations that remain unmet can become the basis for unrest and acting out in any group.
Effort by all
Healing the gulf between the two Americas will require considerable effort by all. On one hand, our tax and fiscal policies will need to change. On the other, new opportunity structures will need to be developed. Let me briefly address each of these strategies in turn.
Most Americans would agree that our current tax policy is not sufficiently progressive. This has permitted those with the largest incomes to accumulate considerable wealth, while those with the smallest incomes cannot make ends meet from week to week. A considerably more progressive tax system, with tax rebates or no tax at the bottom of the income structure and much higher taxes at the top could begin to correct this glaring disparity.
Similarly, our national fiscal policy needs modification. For quite some time, this policy has emphasized economic growth and low inflation; it has not emphasized full employment. As we go forward, full employment needs to be incorporated as an explicit goal with the others.
Simultaneously, new opportunity structures need to be developed for those in mid-country America. Many citizens from mid-country America will need to have the opportunity to learn new job skills in order to participate in the new global economy. These will include areas such as information and technology, as well as more traditional service and skilled careers. Such training also will need to be accompanied by the creation of new small businesses that employ these newly skilled workers. Entrepreneurs need to be given tax incentives to create these businesses in locales that currently are job deserts.