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Watershed moment of political realignment?

Within a nation convulsing from pandemic, economic collapse, racial reckonings and failed leadership, a political realignment is taking shape that may herald a new era.

Americans, long at odds across political and cultural divides, are uniting in opposition to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party he leads.

Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by significant margins in opinion polls. GOP control of the Senate is at risk. Any hope of Republicans capturing the House is abandoned.

The House Democratic majority, sensing opportunity, is pushing an ambitious progressive social agenda in advance of the elections they hope will sweep the party into control of both the White House and Congress.

In late June, House Democrats voted to expand health benefits in the Affordable Care Act and approved a social justice bill of policing reforms. They introduced a climate change package to eliminate greenhouse gases and a huge infrastructure and mass transit investment.

Polls have long revealed a solid American majority favoring action on climate change. More recently, as COVID-19 challenged America’s health system, the Affordable Care Act protections have gained favor. Since the execution of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May, Americans have voiced strong support for correcting historic racial injustice.

Despite the popularity of these measures, the bills have no chance of becoming law this year. They will be parked in the same legislative cul de sac where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has left most House measures since 2018.

Being on the wrong side of American public opinion is familiar turf for both Trump and McConnell. This year the two men also may be on the wrong side of history.

The 2020 election may prove a watershed of enduring political realignment. America’s 40-year experiment with free-market capitalism unfettered by regulations or social obligation could be coming to an end.

In the 1960s, Republicans embraced an economic theory that free-market capitalism was better than government at providing mass prosperity. The philosophy preached that society benefitted most when its economy was managed by profit-motivated self-interest.

Ronald Reagan personified that philosophy in 1980. The subsequent decades of deregulation, privatization and tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals earned the name Reaganomics. It became the ideological underpinnings of the economy for two generations in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Reaganomics delivered incredible profits for American corporations and spectacular fortunes for the Wall Street financial sector. It did not produce a good outcome for most Americans. Middle-and working-class Americans were squeezed by stagnant wages, cuts to social programs and the decline of private sector pension plans.

The widening gap has sapped American confidence. A recent Gallup survey found that Americans are feeling less pride in their country than at any time since the question was first asked in 2001. Most think the country is moving in the wrong direction.

They have good reasons. The United States compares poorly against other advanced Western democracies across a range of social welfare metrics including income inequality, minimum wages, health care insurance and tax rates on the wealthy.

We are living in times of profound and prolonged crisis. In times like these, transformative societal changes emerge.

That’s what House Democrats signaled last month. Although the measures are going nowhere in the Senate, the House legislation is a clear marker of the direction Democrats plan to travel. The House proposals are in lockstep with the positions Biden advocates.

Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are telling pollsters they want higher tax rates on corporations and the wealthy. Nothing can correct income inequity better than a progressive wealth tax on the super-rich and on corporations.

More taxation and regulation of corporations does not mean a rejection of capitalism. Despite the predatory greed and Darwinian carnage inherent in capitalism, no economic system ever devised is better at delivering an abundance of affordable goods and services to the masses.

By now, however, we should have learned that free-market economics is no substitute for good governance and rigorous regulatory oversight. American prosperity is dependent on a robust and activist government prioritizing the general welfare of citizens, security for families and renewal of communities.

Democrats are telegraphing to voters that if they win it all in November, that’s the direction they will be heading. Americans increasingly are saying November can’t come soon enough. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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