The Forgotten Man

Trump was right when he told America “I am your voice.” We thought he was crazy, a narcissistic heir to a real estate fortune who lived in an ivory tower whose only job was being a reality TV star? He was the one who spoke for the forgotten man, the blue collar guy the recovery hadn’t reached yet? “Come on,” Obama chided. “Come on.”

But it was true. Entitled Trump was genuinely angry he wasn’t getting more attention and more free stuff and so he himself was the forgotten man he was talking to. No one has gotten more from government than the forgotten man. He was the first recipient of welfare (called “Relief” in the thirties) and he got jobs through the WPA. He got Social Security for when he got older. When the War came he was drafted and though it’s a tough way to make a living, he got a job in an era of depression. When he came home he got the GI Bill to send him to school and help him buy a house. The state university systems exploded to help him send his kids to college and there were Pell grants too. He got Medicare in the sixties.

Then he got…Nothing.

There were no more big handouts after Medicaid and that was only for old people. Which the forgotten man wasn’t yet.

In the meantime, he was asked to accept integration. Fair is fair, but change is…well, change. Then there was a recession as the Republicans started shipping his jobs overseas and raising the cost of oil through OPEC, Henry Kissinger’s plan to pay to arm Iran against the Russians by sticking it to the American driver. Reagan told the forgotten man he was getting a tax cut, but instead raised his taxes on Social Security. Meanwhile General Motors spent a billion dollars to automate the auto industry and break the UAW. Bush had a war against an opponent so weak it went quickly and spectacularly well (maybe because the enemy was so weak we didn’t really need to fight him in the first place) which cheered the forgotten man up but didn’t really give him anything. Clinton had the biggest expansion since WWII but it didn’t help the forgotten man much, since it was mostly in the tech sector and real estate and finance. Maybe he got a little trickle down. Trickle down was all Reagan promised; it was all the forgotten man got.

Obama tried to give him health care but the Affordable Care Act was really a poison pill designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation to stifle any attempt at universal health care, which was something the forgotten man wanted desperately. He had always gotten his health care through his work, but now he was only partially employed or desperately self-employed and therefore not covered—or he was employed but constantly negotiating away salary increases for prolonged free health benefits. When Obama promised health-care, the forgotten man heard Medicare For All. When he found out Obamacare meant health through work—already a problem—or a mandate to sign up through an exchange, the forgotten man was pissed. This sounded like a change he was going to have to swallow. He thought he was going to get something. He hadn’t gotten anything in a long time. Instead he was going to have to pay for something.

In the meantime he had been told he had to show respect to all sorts of people on whom he used to be able to take out his anger for not getting stuff. The black thing had been going on since the sixties. They called it equality but he saw it as privilege. Then the gays got in on the act in the nineties. For some reason he was supposed to feel sympathy for the Mexicans who did the crap jobs he couldn’t afford to take and who smiled at him because they did not understand what he was saying. Just when he needed to curse out the niggers, spics and faggots, he had to watch his mouth because it wasn’t politically correct. Probably a Jew plot.

Then Trump came along and said it was okay to let it out. With Trump, the forgotten man could shout Jew-S-A into a TV camera without fear anyone would furrow a brow or shake his head. And if they did, they were part of the dishonest media. Because now the forgotten man was forgotten no more. He was getting attention. Trump wasn’t promising to give him anything. Maybe there would be some jobs building that wall he was never going to build but they would be way down south and the forgotten man wasn’t going to relocate that far for a temporary job. Anyway, there were a lot of spics down there; they’d probably undercut him and get the jobs anyway. But his voice would be heard. You can’t beat that.

Actually you can. And Bernie almost did. If Trump got most of the attention he did because he was already famous as a TV personality, Bernie was just the opposite. He was obscure even in the Senate, a place where nobody gets famous people and famous people go to become obscure. (John Glenn, Bill Bradley.) But he was on to something. The forgotten man wanted to be given something. The forgotten man was told socialism was bad and this guy was a socialist, but the forgotten man had been losing money for a long time. Redistributing the wealth didn’t sound so bad anymore. Especially if you didn’t put it that way. “The system is rigged against the little guy.” That’s the way to say it. Because it was true. The hedge fund guys—whatever a hedge fund is, something shady no doubt—made out like thieves and paid a lower tax rate than their secretaries. Income equality, whatever that was, sounded pretty good.

But somehow Bernie got beat in the primaries and while Clinton adopted a lot of his positions, you would never know it to hear her talk. Bernie’s free college tuition became free tuition in state colleges if you make less than blah, blah, blah. The woman was a hard worker but a bad messenger. Am I getting something or not?

So Trump was the voice of the forgotten man—anger and vitriolic—and Hillary was an elitist or something. She wasn’t giving the forgotten man anything he could figure out or maybe she was too principled to say she was trying to buy him. Even though that’s all he wanted to hear.

So is there hope for the Democratic Party? Sure. Get someone who can deliver a message. Hollywood is full of them. All the Trump children could do it, and they would for a price. Then decide what you want to give the forgotten man.

The first thing he wants is respect, so tell him what he wants to hear. We need your special skills to reach our potential. Then give him stuff. First a public works project like the WPA. The roads need work and these can and should be union jobs. Borrow the money. Rates are low and infrastructure will pay for itself in increased profitability. Nothing is a better investment than infrastructure. Just ask the ancient Romans. And work breeds respect.

Then Medicare for everyone. They system is already in place and it’ll be free. We’re paying 18% of GDP for limited, ineffective health care now. Britain and Japan pay about 6%-8%; Germany and Switzerland about 12%. They cover everyone cradle to grave. There will be huge savings. Then add a new level to the payroll tax. Social Security hits a cut off around $108,000. Put on a new tax, same rate as Social Security, starting at that level. If that doesn’t pay for the new system right away, it will in a few years when the savings kick in. Most people won’t feel it. You can exempt people who pay for insurance through work—if they don’t want to switch to Medicare for All—or eliminate the tax deduction businesses get for paying for employee insurance moving everyone onto Medicare for All. Whichever makes more sense financially. Somebody at the Brookings Institute probably already knows. The doctors may balk, but as more people come in with Medicare For All, they’ll have to adapt. Sure that’s change, but it’s a change the forgotten man can live with.

There are a lot of other things the Dems can give to the forgotten man. College debt. College tuition. Raise the minimum wage. I know Hillary promised this, but I never heard her say it on TV—and I watch almost as much TV as Donald Trump—so she might as well not have said it. And even then it was not $15 an hour but $12 and maybe there was a phase in…? Blah, blah, blah. Bernie might have been a one-note candidate, but he stayed on message. You knew what he was selling.

We have to remember the forgotten man. As soon as we do, he’ll come home to the Democrats.

Author: leonardrysdyk

Leonard Rysdyk is the author of more than a dozen novels, stories, articles and poems. His work has appeared in many publications including Snow White, Blood Red, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Aboriginal Magazine and the New York Review of Science Fiction. A professor at Nassau Community College, he teaches literature (including science fiction), cultural history (including the history of science) and is an acknowledged innovator in the field of Computer Aided Instruction (CAI), a subject on which he has lectured and consulted.

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