Caitlin Flanagan: They had it coming
Ever since the disaster of the 2016 election, Democrats have engaged in (an often pointless) debate about whether President Trump’s supporters were drawn to him on account of economic or cultural grievances. Yes, Hillary Clinton drew more votes, but she was 1,000 times as qualified, and 10,000 times as personally appealing. She should have demolished him—but something drew many voters to Trump instead.
I’m not denying that racism (against President Barack Obama) and sexism (against Secretary Clinton) played their roles. Nostalgia surely played another. But beneath all of that was the American middle class’s belief that the Lori Loughlins and Felicity Huffmans of the world, let alone the Don Rumsfelds and Dick Fulds, aren’t asked to play by the same set of rules. The elite get all the breaks and are shown all the shortcuts. In the meantime, ordinary people are forced to pay full freight. And that’s the point. No matter how noxious he was personally—and despite the irony that he was a perfect example of elite privilege—Trump embodied the country’s desire to hit back. Justice was a long time coming.
Maybe the clearest early manifestation was the Iraq War. After 9/11, the Washington elite claimed that the country needed to neutralize Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Congress and the media largely went along for the ride. But $1 trillion and 5,000 lives and 16 years later, the public has been told that those WMDs had not existed after all. Yet as clear as that became, no one ever took it on the chin. No one from the Bush administration ever took responsibility. Middle-class families paid in both blood and treasure, but the people who had made the worst foreign-policy decision in U.S. history never owned their failure.
Read: The 9.9 percent is the new American aristocracy
The same thing happened during the Great Recession. The nation’s banking elite had lent billions to home buyers without any realistic hope of making good on their debts. Their irresponsible lending not only precipitated a global financial meltdown, but also necessitated a bailout from the nation’s financially stressed middle-class taxpayers. Yet even after being bailed out, the nation’s banking executives never faced any real consequences. No one went to jail. They never had to repay the personal fortunes they’d made by passing out those bad loans. Once again, the middle class was called to bail out the elites who were responsible for the mess while the elites got off scot-free.
And it was the same story arc with the auto bailout. For decades, executives in Detroit had made indefensible decisions. They’d been selling less reliable cars. They’d never found a way to compete effectively with their foreign competition. They’d continually lost market share. But when the bottom fell out and they were forced to ask middle-class taxpayers for a bailout, they never took responsibility. Most of the top brass kept their jobs. And once they’d recovered, they returned to business as usual. The middle class was once again expected to foot the bailout while the execs kept on like it had never happened.