While eight Republican candidates graced the City of Milwaukee with their presence here, a thousand or so demonstrators filled the streets in the area of the debate to highlight what is actually important to a significant number of Americans. This contrast, so glaringly apparent to the demonstrators, and the majority of Americans nationwide, did not seem to penetrate the minds of the candidates except to express views at odds with the reality of the lives of people living at the margins of our society. Neil Cavuto of Fox Business did mention the demonstrators outside, but as a backdrop to permit candidates to avoid the real issues behind what those very demonstrators sought to remind people about.
Ben Carson, when asked about the minimum wage issue, misrepresented the facts. He asserted that when the minimum wage is raised greater unemployment ensues. It is actually the reverse, as those receiving an increase spend the money to get what is badly needed for their families, and retailers and those that supply them have to hire more people to meet the increased consumer demand in the marketplace. Carson also suggested that young black men receive even lower wages than the current minimum in order to give them experience in the job market. The reality would be that employers would hire more teens that would meet that lower tier and a great number of older retail employees, and those in the service sector generally, would be out of work and on unemployment insurance, food stamps and public assistance. At the higher current rate of $7.25 an hour, families with single moms already require these things as it is. There was no fact checking by the Fox News Business panel asking the questions. Not one Republican candidate supported a minimum wage increase. The average age of fast food workers for example, is 35, and not sixteen to eighteen years of age.
Donald Trump said that we could not raise the minimum wage as we need to compete with China and the rest of the world. Notably if we do that we are talking about going down to somewhere below a buck an hour. China and Vietnam both offer hourly wages in that range.
Carson suggested, no said, American workers should work harder to reap greater benefits from our economy. Workers HAVE been doing that for decades, and with increases in productivity, but without sharing in those gains. Working Americans of all backgrounds save for the most affluent have seen their wages and salaries be stagnant since the Reagan years of the 1980’s. That is notable.
This on the very day service employees at the bottom of the wage scale demonstrated for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour and a Union to help them keep it in 270 American cities. The Republican deafness to what the actual lives of the very people that would be impacted by the minimum wage issue have been telling the nation was stunning, though in keeping with what they have been for many years.
Immigration as a national issue did receive a good deal of attention from the moderator panel but it was directed toward how to remove so called “illegals” from the nation and not what to do about them as human beings. Donald Trump continued to double down on his policy of removing some eleven to twelve million undocumented immigrants. “Frankly, we have to stop illegal immigration. It’s hurting us economically,” he said. Factually, these people do work in large numbers in our economy.
They pick the fruit and vegetables we eat on our dining room tables, they do a lot of service work in restaurants busing tables and washing dishes, and they work as landscape employees on our yards, and do a lot of maid work and even sometimes act as nannies for our children. Their work tends to be in areas, and at such low rates of pay, that even white working class Americans have not even sought to compete with them. And these people pay billions in sales taxes. Their children go to school and to college and a good number have even entered the white collar job market. Others have gone into our military and risked and given their very lives for a nation of which they are not legally a part—but dream and hope to be.
Latinos looking with hope to the two Latino members among the Republican candidates for President had little to hope for. Marco Rubio continued to run away from his earlier support for the immigration bill languishing in the Senate in a kind of never-never land and not even brought before the House of Representatives for the last year and a half. Ted Cruz followed Trump’s lead and indicated we are a nation of laws and strict enforcement of our immigration laws was his approach. Only the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, spoke of the human cost of such deportation and enforcement strategies indicating that “the crying of the children” and separation from family actually entered into what his party wants to do about the so called “immigration problem.”
Since the debate employing Fox News Business moderators and questioners was about business, the economy, and taxes that did receive extensive attention. Essentially, the entire candidate panel favors huge tax cuts of anywhere from two to six trillion dollars, almost entirely for the very wealthy and corporations to stimulate economic growth. They also oppose any tax increases. Income tax rates would be anywhere from a flat ten percent to sixteen percent. That would have to be paid for in further cuts from spending outside that of the military and business subsidies amounting to over three hundred billion dollars. Of course, if let’s say other candidates of some other party or parties would favor some tax increases, the cuts would be smaller and could be directed at the entire budget and tax policies of the nation.
Even Stuart Varney of Fox Business has said on air more than once that these plans would bankrupt the country. Comments about how high taxes were and are permeated the discussion. Factually, since the 1980’s taxes have been lowered by all Presidents and the Congresses in place since then. Reagan, and Clinton did raise taxes somewhat but the overall level of taxes is much lower than it was under that radical leftist Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a Republican. (Younger readers note the sarcasm here. Eisenhower was a self- identified “middle of the roader”).
State governments have lowered business taxes from around fifteen percent to one or two percent or eliminated them entirely. Those lost revenues had to be made up by cuts to social and public aid programs. The American people are essentially asked to foot the bill for what business in each of the fifty states is no longer doing. That is ignored entirely by Republicans running for the nation’s highest office and for Governorships each election cycle.
Regarding Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, Republican candidates offered various forms of privatizing portions of the two “entitlement” programs; and the third recognizing that the poor have few health options. Concerning Obamacare or the Health Affordability Act Republican candidates criticized its effectiveness and said they would repeal the program once they were in office. They did not oppose, and some even favored cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits to make these programs work better as to cost.
But the contrast offered by those outside the debate in the streets was following the first question by Neil Cavuto, totally ignored. It is a reality Republicans shy away from as it counters their narratives of merit, work, large growth in the economy that investors, hedge fund managers, corporations, and the wealthy are most concerned about.
In fact, at several points both debate panel questioners and candidates hinted that their audience were not ordinary Americans at all. White middle class and working class Americans were included but only by extension.
Struggles for Justice has been drawing these contrasts between Republicans and the legions of ordinary people, so many of them of color, as human concerns and social justice are at the center of what we are about. Even the religion of so many Republican candidates runs counter to many of the policies they espouse. Candidates for President ought to be considering all Americans and not just a select few, as they will in theory at least be governing all of us. Too often that is not factually true. This disconnect fuels dissatisfaction, frustration and even bigotry and hatred among the electorate.
There was a real battle over foreign policy among the candidates. Trump and Rand Paul sought to avoid what we’ve been doing over the past fourteen years. The others in various ways wanted to support more intervention abroad and the new and continued warfare that they made explicit in their comments. Marco Rubio proved the most hawkish in this debate, arguing for major U.S. deployments in Iraq and Syria to destroy Isis. More than one candidate argued for a no-fly zone over Syria making a confrontation with Russian air power more likely. In fairness, Hillary Clinton favors a no fly zone. How did foreign affairs enter into a business and taxes debate you ask? Well, investors and businesses want to know how our foreign policy will impact them.
Those in the streets outside the Milwaukee Theatre debate venue included a large contingent of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. With the debate offering people of color as mere props that contrast was deftly made by the demonstrators. The AFL-CIO was there on behalf of American working people. And local justice and public interest organizations provided support too.
The local newspaper of record, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, offered no front page story on the demonstrators who are local. Only a photo eight pages into the paper showing a confrontation between a man opposed to the demonstrators and some of the demonstrators was offered. This observation is salient in that here were local groups from Milwaukee itself, with all its continued urban problems. The continued high unemployment and lack of economic development in certain black neighborhoods and to some extent Latino ones was judged not to be worthy of examination. The debate on a national level reflected among questioners and candidates offered an excellent opportunity to ask demonstrators about how that was actually playing out in our local streets and neighborhoods and how real people actually live.
The problem with how local police actually police and interact with people of color in the city was there to comment upon with the prominence of Black Lives Matter at the heart of the demonstrators. But it was not addressed at all. The continued violence born of this lack of economic opportunity so touted by Republicans as central to them in their success narrative was not there, nor was the disturbing level of murders among our youth in Milwaukee, and innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. We know how Republicans feel about guns.
The big night when the debate came to Milwaukee was as if real people who face the greatest challenges in our nation right now were as if they were no longer there or even were important enough to consult.