Op-Ed: Liberals ignore Middle American anxiety

Chicago Tribune writer
KRT MUG SLUGGED: MC CARRON KRT PHOTOGRAPH VIA CHICAGO TRIBUNE (KRT401-June 13) Chicago Tribune columnist John McCarron. (jdl22340) 1995 (COLOR)

We can still lose this thing.

A lot of my fellow progressives are ditsy with over-confidence after watching the buffoons and know-nothings frothing and fumbling at the GOP presidential "debates."

It's time to sober up.

Because while The Donald has been trumpeting his ego and Ben Carson has been re-imagining his childhood, progressives have been busy infuriating the Great American Middle with a series of gaffes — both cultural and economic — that are making the other side look reasonable.

Some recent lowlights:

— The Obama administration's Department of Education has censured Palatine Township High School District 211 in suburban Chicago for not providing full access to a girls' locker room for a physically male student who is intent on being a transgendered female. The school board has offered to curtain off dressing stations in the room, and the student would be required to use one. The DOE's Office for Civil Rights says that won't do: Grant full access or risk losing $6 million a year in federal funds. Similar battles are sure to follow nationwide as the LGBT movement, having won on marriage, presses for more.

— The appalling slaughter of young black children and teenagers by other young black children and teenagers, now a full-blown epidemic in Chicago, is being blamed by several high-profile African-American thought leaders on ... the legacy of white racism. Black intellectuals like journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates are talking not about a need for black America to re-examine its values ... but the need for government reparations. Reparations!

— On the economic front, the Obama administration just delivered a one-two punch to America's beleaguered working stiffs. The White House agreed to yet another lopsided "free trade" pact with a handful of low-wage countries ... then killed off the Keystone XL pipeline that would have created thousands of good-paying jobs.

Sure, there are two sides to these stories.

Gay and transgender kids do need to be accommodated, within reason. Black lives do matter. Existing affirmative action programs, from college admissions to contractor set-asides, have worked well and ought to be continued. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which President Barack Obama is recommending to Congress, is supposedly a better deal for U.S. workers than that "giant sucking sound" still echoing from our NAFTA deal with Mexico. And yeah, cooking and refining those Canadian tar sands won't do anything to ease global warming. Yet by harping on these issues, Obama has been greasing the skids under the Democratic candidates hoping to succeed him. And front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton only makes matters worse by taking every opportunity to loudly decry the supposed inequalities faced by women, minorities and transgender people.

Only U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., seems to understand the restless anxiety, outright fear and red-faced anger overtaking the Great American Middle. Only Sanders seems to get the terrible implication of these two newly released statistics: The average working white guy is earning no more today than he did in 1973; and there's been an unprecedented decline in life expectancy among middle-aged whites as the un- and under-employed succumb to suicide or cirrhosis.

Meanwhile, our nation's business leaders — with rare exception — worship as never before at the altar of their One Commandment: Maximize Shareholder Value. It is now demanded by "private equity" mega-investors that corporations either offshore or automate jobs as much as possible; that they relocate headquarters (on paper, at least) so as to minimize U.S. taxes; that they exploit every "niche" opportunity, however unethical, such as jacking the price of off-patent yet still-critical drugs wherever there's scant competition in the marketplace.

This is what infuriates the Great American Middle and has them casting about for saviors like Donald Trump. It's not a lack of transgender bathrooms or the perceived slights endured by women and minorities. Liberals had better wake up, or we'll be waking up to a terrible surprise next Nov. 9.

John McCarron teaches, consults and writes on urban affairs. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.