Op-Ed: Wisdom of the Ages by Carol Voyles

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As we await the next tweet and find ourselves scrambling in its aftermath, an historic perspective can offer relief. It not only reminds us of what we can accomplish working together, it is comforting to know our forefathers battled “fake news,” too — although not in quite so many venues. George Washington wrote a letter to Alexander Hamilton explaining that he would be getting out of public office because he no longer wanted to be “buffeted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers.”

Our forefathers did not always agree, but having experienced monarchy, they came together to “promote the general welfare.” Land, the primary measure of wealth then, was available to our settlers at little or no cost. South America headed in another direction. Oligarchs claimed it all.

Opportunity was ours, but we have since journeyed from having a president who could not tell a lie to accommodating a willful disregard for truth. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner suggested Republicans must be “kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Our president has claimed we’re paying 90 percent of NATO’s way when we’re paying 22 percent; but we’re more concerned about what’s going on at home. Paul Ryan’s assurance that the tax plan is “for middle class families in this country who need a break” was music to our ears.

It’s looking like this “great Christmas gift” will cover the rising cost of gasoline or our Costco memberships. We do appreciate that, but the lion’s share is being funneled to the top when we already have CEO salaries hundreds of times our wages and a Great Depression level of income inequality.

Will Rogers warned us about “trickle down,” and our government has kept detailed records since. Our Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census Bureau, and U.S. Treasury are reliable sources of precisely the undisputed data we need when our elected representatives harbor “alternative facts.”

We have a businessman in the White House, but it’s looking like his plan will add significantly to our debt. This may not be surprising. We can see that Republican administrations increased our nation’s debt by 431 percent as a share of our economy from 1979 through 2016. Democratic administrations, also serving five terms in office, increased it by 143 percent.

To put this in terms we might more easily relate to, Bush increased our debt by 101 percent and Obama by 74 percent. Democrats reduced deficits, but if President Trump spends the way he plans, the dollar amounts projected will add almost as much debt in in his first term as Obama did in two terms — and Obama had been handed our deepest recession.

All of these outcomes are impacted by our system of checks and balances and economic cycles; but Republican administrations defied all odds to hand us 9 of our 10 last recessions. Given a legislative majority and harboring a fondness for marketplace self-regulation, they delivered our Great Depression, Savings and Loan Crisis, Subprime Mortgage Crisis, and Great Recession.

If we truly want to “make America great again,” we’re aware that our economy has grown more during Democratic administrations since 1945. We’ve also created nearly three times as many jobs during Democratic administrations; and not surprisingly, higher wages and superior healthcare outcomes are found in Democratic states.

Governor Hogan is fond of pointing out that Maryland is doing better now than when O’Malley was governor. We always appreciate moving in a positive direction, but surfing a recovery has clearly been an advantage over being handed our deepest recession. Comparing our performance to a neighboring state’s could tell us more.

Our rate of job creation was higher than Virginia’s while O’Malley was governor, and we’ve been creating jobs at a slower rate since Governor Hogan took office. On the positive side, our governor is embracing bipartisanship somewhat more enthusiastically since Trump was elected.

Billionaire investor and author Ken Langone could lead us in a positive direction. He loves capitalism, as the title of his book suggests, but he also prioritizes positive outcomes and recognizes the 1950s as the premiere decade of our Golden Age of American Capitalism.

Our veterans got free education and no-money-down mortgages. We had livable wages. CEO salaries just 20 times an average employee’s were taxed over 90 percent at the top. And yet capitalism thrived as our middle class acquired 30 percent more purchasing power and our economy grew by a record 37 percent. We were paying our WWII bills, too.

Not surprisingly, Pew Research found that 73 percent of us trusted government to “do what is right” in 1958, while just 18 percent of us trust government today. Coincidentally, we also had more Democratic presidents and only Democratic legislative majorities in both houses of Congress for all but 4 years between 1945 and 1995.

The Republican Revolution found us “expanding our freedoms and rolling back the regulatory state,” or in lay terms, “getting government out of our way.” We elected more Republicans, and we got tax cuts. We also have the 2nd highest level of income inequality, the 3rd highest level of poverty, and the 4th highest infant mortality rate among the 36 industrialized nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. With just 8 of those OECD nations spending less, we may be getting what we pay for and ranking far too close for comfort to Mexico in too many categories.

The Wall Street Journal has reminded us that consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy and is languishing at a 5-year low. We’re doing our best, but we also have less opportunity for advancement. A United Nations report has concluded that “the American dream has become the American illusion.”

Over a century ago William Jennings Bryan suggested, ”There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through onto those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, prosperity finds its way up and through every class.

”That has been our experience, and resentment has been cited as the reason Donald Trump is president. As author Matthew Stewart observed, “In order to make all of America as great as Trump country, we would have to torch about a quarter of total GDP, wipe a similar proportion of the nation’s housing into the sea, and lose a few years in life expectancy.”

On the positive side, fewer working age adults are contributing to lower levels of unemployment and could contribute to higher wages, and GDP growth is responding positively to tax cuts in the short term; but our current plan is forecast to maintain an extreme level of income inequality and be accompanied by large deficits, relatively low levels of infrastructure investment, and a slowing economy as tariffs levied on our allies lead toward recession.

We may be a deeply divided nation, but we agree that Congress is broken. We have no deal on immigration, no deal on health care, no deal on gun control, no deal on spending, no deal on NAFTA, no deal on China trade, no deal on steel and aluminum imports, no deal on Middle East peace, no deal on Syria, no deal on Iran, no deal on climate change, and while our military was undercut, no deal we can count on with North Korea.

Despite rumors of 200 more being laid off at Mid-Continent Nail Corporation due to the 25 percent tariff on steel imported from Mexico, the 60 employees already laid off remain largely supportive of our president. Some believe we shouldn’t do business with Mexico at all, but it may concern others that our banks won’t do business with Donald Trump. He refuses to show us the money, but Donald Jr. has assured us it is “pouring in from Russia.”

Plato warned of demagogues exploiting fear and prejudice, shutting down reasoned deliberation, and replacing democracy with tyranny. Athens remained a democracy, but nations have since fallen under the sway of demagogues primarily because people are hurting, not an excess of democracy.

It is up to us to make government work for us, and demanding accountability and voting accordingly will bring positive change. We might recall businessman Donald Trump advising, “I’ve been around a long time, and it just seems our economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.”

Fortunately, we don’t have to take his word for it.

Carol Voyles is a retired art director of educational media at Kettering Medical Center of Ohio and freelance designer and illustrator of children’s educational media and publications. Now residing with husband Robert in Sherwood, she has moved in the opposite direction of the many retirees becoming artists on the Eastern Shore and has served as Treasurer of the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee and Vice President of the Democratic Forum.

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Letters to Editor

  1. I don’t know what planet Ms. Voyles is living on, but her fractured fairy tales are always amusing, yet sad. She is under the false impression that this country is failing under President Trump. Too bad. She will ultimately be proved wrong. We conservatives will continue to fight for our ideals regardless of the dilusional liberals.

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