The bizarre and surreal has become commonplace in our Trumpian age. We heard yet another jaw-dropping and incredible example last week when Fox News host Steve Hilton interviewed Ivanka Trump, asking her what she felt about Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.
As laid out by Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey, in addition to an extensive list of proposals to reduce and carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, their Green New Deal includes large scale jobs guarantees to ensure “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security to all people of the United States.”
Ivanka responded with the customary Republican talking points. Echoing back conservative charges that Democrats promise people “stuff” to get their votes, the well-coiffed and couture-appointed heiress calmly and deliberately asserted, “I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last four years. People want to work for what they get.”
“So I think this idea of a guaranteed minimum is not something most people want. They want the ability to be able to secure a job. They want the ability to live in a country where there is the potential for upward mobility.”
Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, saying, “As a person who actually worked for tips & hourly wages in my life, instead of having to learn about it 2nd-hand, I can tell you that most people want to be paid enough to live. A living wage isn’t a gift, it’s a right. Workers are often paid far less than the value they create.”
Ocasio-Cortez nailed a fundamental problem within the economic system as currently constructed.
“In fact,” she continued, “wages are so low today compared to actual worker productivity that they are no longer the reflections of worker value as they used to be. Productivity has grown 6.2 x more than pay.”
She and others have highlighted the massive inequities resulting in the largest wealth chasm between the top-of-the-top and the remainder of the population.
She is correct that a living wage is a human right, one where people should be able to support themselves and their families without having to work two or more jobs to simply pay for the very basics.
Developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow studied extensively the topic of human motivation, and he posited a theory that humans possess an innate hierarchy of needs that drives their behaviors and activities.
For individuals to have a real chance of attaining their true potentials, for them to attain “self-actualization,” he argued that their basic needs, their primitive survival and physiological needs, must first be met before they can advance to more complex aesthetic and cognitive needs.
These initial “Deficit Needs” include four levels of requirements without which the individual feels a deficit. The initial two levels, though, are where the government must intervene whenever anyone goes without.
These include Survival Needs and Physiological Needs to maintain health including oxygen, water, protein, minerals and vitamins, pH balance, temperature (98.6 or near), sleep, the ability to get rid of wastes (CO2, sweat, urine, feces), and to avoid pain.
Several forward-thinking legislators and economists are looking at strategies – possibly not-so-coincidentally falling within Maslow’s first and second levels of needs – that are working in other democratic countries with significantly smaller wealth gaps and physically healthier populations.
Some of these policies include, but are not limited to:
· Government-sponsored guaranteed universal healthcare
· Government and pharmaceutical companies negotiating reasonably-priced affordable prescription drugs
· High quality government-sponsored education
· Affordable child care for working parents and guardians
· Maternal and paternal paid family leave and paid vacations
· Need-dependent housing subsidies
· Guaranteed sustainable minimum wages, and in some nations, minimum annual incomes
· Income guarantees for a secure retirement
· Equitable progressive tax rates with no special loop-holes for corporations and the rich
No, this is not pie-in-the-sky idealism. It is, rather, food-on-the-table realism.
Several extraordinarily privileged individuals and families throughout the generations have signed a “contract” by giving of themselves and their material wealth to improve the chances and conditions of people in the world community.
A good number of members of the Kennedy clan, for example, took up the challenge articulated by President John F. Kennedy on the Capitol grounds that cold January day in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
John, his sisters and brothers, and generations of their descendants were weaned on the notion that with privilege comes responsibility forming a contract (commitment) to make society and the world a better place than when they entered it.
Some of the tangible outcomes from this family contract include the Peace Corps, VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America), Special Olympics, increased unemployment benefits, infrastructure improvement, the Civil Rights Law of 1964 and the Voting Rights Law of 1965, heating oil supplements for people in need, funding for public education and for the arts, increases in the minimum wage and social security benefits, improved housing, and many others.
While possibly motivated by good objectives, other people have failed miserably in their implementation, and, thereby, have created dangerous disconnections between their intent and their impact.
Quite obviously Ivanka Trump has no credibility in dictating proper policies for the working-classes in the United States. She, her daddy, and her siblings bask in wealth, privilege, and a sense of entitlement.
The Trumps represent the privileged who simply take what they have for granted seeing it as “normal” and earned. To them, enough is never enough.
The United States must no longer have to wait for the metaphoric “kindness of strangers” to contribute to the common good. We can no longer depend on the wealthy, the philanthropists, the Buffets, the Gates Foundation, or any charitable foundation to solve the massive inequities in this country.
Finally, and largely due to the highly visible courageous discussions initiated during the 2016 political campaign by Senator Bernie Sanders, the term “Democratic Socialist” is no longer an epithet, a dirty word thrown around by the owning classes to undermine challenges to their seemingly unbounded wealth far in excess of their actual needs and at the expense of the workers who created it.
If the United States is to survive as the experiment in democracy on which it was founded, it must, we must, redesign its economic policies and structures closer to those proposed by Sanders, Warren, and Ocasio-Cortez.