Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0


I agree with the recent statement by feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser that Donald Trump’s victory can be attributed to three types of supporters: genuine haters; traditional conservative Republicans; and working class voters who have been hammered by neoliberal policies of the past four decades. The first is the smallest, and the latter is large enough to have given the election to Bernie Sanders, for whom many would have voted in the crucial Rust Belt states lost by Hillary Clinton.

Neoliberal policies since the 1970s—“free trade”, outsourcing, immigration, busted unions, and stagnant wages; governmental austerity for the poor and lower taxes for the rich; Wall Street investment for the rich and debt for the rest—have combined to transfer a significant amount of yearly national income from the bottom 50% to the top 1%. A recently-published data set by respected economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman confirms the perceptions of those who feel that professional elites, whether Democrat or Republican, have had the “meritocratic” game rigged in their favor.

These methodologically-sound and compelling data show that from 1980 to 2014, the bottom 50% of individuals lost an aggregate 5% share of national post-tax disposable income, while the top 1% gained a similar amount. In terms of 2014 dollars, the combined effect of those policies mentioned above has been the transfer $573 billion of yearly income.

In individual terms, this means that in 2014, 117 million earners over age 18 were left with an average of nearly $5,000 less in disposable income than each would have had if her share of national income had remained constant since 1980. In effect, every 50 of these bottom 50 percenters was forced to collectively transfer $250,000 to one individual in the top 1 percent, a group comprised of 2.3 million adults over 18 (average age 56; 85% men).

The result of this transfer is an average of $17,700 in post-tax disposable 2014 income for the bottom 50%, $830,000 for the top 1%. Whereas the average one percenter made 26 times the average 50 percenter in 1980, that factor was 47 in 2014. The past two years signal no new trend, whatever the exaggerated claims of Obama apologists.

These data show that incomes of the one percent are increasingly comprised of capital income, return on investments. Half the incomes of the one percent, and 2/3 of the .1 percent, are comprised of such “earnings”. The bottom 50% has no financial wealth to speak of, and a relatively paltry amount of housing wealth that is matched by indebtedness of various kinds, exacerbated by marginalized employment and stagnant wages, healthcare-for-profit, and higher education for debt.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump violated some of the sacred tenets of neoliberalism, especially regarding “free trade”. Thus he was disowned by the political establishment of both parties. While his promises of decreased economic inequality will surely prove hollow, that was no reason for swing voters—including white women—to turn to Clinton, whose condescending attitude to the bottom 50% was rightfully perceived as authentic, unlike everything else about her except her warmongering.

David Green lives in Champaign, IL and can be reached at davidgreen50@gmail.com.