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A Republic…If You Can Keep It

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Fagin, Richard E. Dela Menardiere and Robert E. Doyle, Jr.
June 3, 2022

In 1787, on the evening of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution (which would then go to the colonies for ratification), Benjamin Franklin was asked, “Well, Mr. Franklin, what do we have, a monarchy or a republic?” His reply, “A Republic… if you can keep it,” reflected how tenuous this new experiment in self-governance is.

This experiment of the American republic is now in peril of collapse because of a disconnect between what the bipartisan U.S. political establishment promises and what it delivers. It goes back to a shrinking, “angry” middle class, which is falling behind by many demographic measures. These measures perpetuate a “white grievance” felt by America’s largest single identity group—the white middle class—which, as well as minority groups, has suffered greatly as economic inequality has ballooned. 

What drove the protestors and other doubters to be so vehement on January 6, 2021, in challenging the outcome of the 2020 presidential election that they staged a violent protest at the Capitol for the first time in our country’s history?

We ask the question: “What is different in the United States today that has given rise to violence, threats of murder and mayhem and an actual storming of the Capitol of the United States?”  

Coming out of the Great Depression and World War II, this nation enjoyed an explosion of optimism and freedom deriving from programs to convert a war time economy into one for peace. By the 1990s, both men and women had to work to support their “ideal” lifestyle—one they were told was their birthright. All the while, technology was changing the world of work. Jobs that were plentiful only a generation before were decreasing. New jobs required more education, which was becoming ever more expensive.

The ranks of the disaffected were the middle class who did all the “right” things. They fought in our nation’s wars; they paid their bills; they sent their children to college in greater numbers so the kids could go further in a competitive society than their parents had. Now, one of the greatest fears of the dominant population in our society is that “others” are taking their jobs and commanding the attention of legislators to adopt “progressive” ideas that, in their view, won’t touch the white middle class. Worse yet, these ideas add government programs to middle class taxes, something taxpayers believe won’t benefit them.

A key driver is changing demographics. In the coming decades, white Americans will no longer be in the majority: statistics project that the United States will be “minority white” in 2045. Further, middle class incomes are stagnant.

The retreat from work among less-educated, primary wage-earning adults, especially men, is well-documented. This population sees these events and outcomes as a betrayal: “We worked hard. We fought in the wars, paid our taxes and obeyed the laws. What did it get us?” “Our children will be the first generation to not do as well as their parents.” “Something must be deeply wrong for this to be happening to us!” they shout.

Additionally, there is continuing controversy about voting laws and their asserted abuse. Twenty-nine states have made changes to their voting laws, making it more difficult to vote under the guise of tightening the process to give confidence to its integrity.

Against this backdrop, we offer some steps to address the legitimate concerns of those who are opposed to what they see as wrong with our democracy.

  • We should raise the minimum wage for the 20 percent of American workers who earn less than $15 per hour. While some are concerned that jobs will be lost, that issue has been overblown; most studies do not show a great impact. We propose that the minimum wage requirements should be indexed in the same manner as retiree and other employee wages are raised, putting more money in the hands of people who need it for a decent existence and help the economy overall. 
  • Policymakers can help deliver broadly shared wage growth through monetary and budgetary policy that prioritizes full employment, tightening the labor market so employers have to offer pay increases to get and keep the workers they need. Tax and other policies can help ensure economic gains do not accrue to too great of an extent to the top one percent, as is currently the case. Policies that will help create jobs and reach full employment include keeping interest rates under control until wage growth reaches 3.5 to 4 percent and enacting employment programs targeted toward hard-hit communities.
  • It is time for subsidized child care. It is no longer realistic to expect women in the workforce to juggle a job with the high cost of child care. While those in the middle class are struggling to keep up, it is not fair that the tax code enables the very wealthy to avoid taxes through deriving certain types of income. Some form of a minimum tax should be enacted for corporations and individuals so those that derive the largest economic outcome pay a reasonable share to support the lives of those that make it possible.

In conclusion, we advocate for a society and its government that seeks to find a reasonable balance between those who have wealth and those who make acquiring that wealth feasible in a just society. There is a great imbalance felt by the middle class and minorities. In the long run, it is in the interests of those who have done well to set a floor, below which no one in our society struggles just to exist. There is not enough money or wealth that will protect the wealthy from crime or insulate them from the homeless unless, through their taxes, the government provides relief and assistance to those not as successful (or lucky).

Unfortunately, 36 percent of Americans—almost 100 million adults across the political spectrum—think “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast we may have to use force to save it.” Yes, there’s a republic with “one person, one vote” in the United States today. It will not last much longer unless we take immediate corrective actions. In the words of Albert Camus, “Democracy is not the law of the majority, but protection of the minority.” 

Author: Robert F. Fagin (retired), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia; Masters in Public Administration (MPA), American University; U.S. Government Senior Executive Service (SES), administrative management; Vice President, Finance and Administration, University of North Florida (UNF); Treasurer, UNF Foundation; Executive Director, Chief Financial Officer for Palm Beach County, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

Author: Richard E. Dela Menardiere (retired), Bachelor of Science (BS) Industrial Engineering, University of South Florida; Master of Science (MS) in Management Systems, American University; Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Systems Acquisition; U.S. Government Senior Executive Service (SES), manager of procurement, grants and facilities. He can be reached at [email protected].

Author: Robert E. Doyle, Jr., (retired) Bachelor of Arts (BA) Political Science, College of the Holy Cross; Masters in Public Administration, (MPA), Southern Methodist University; U.S. Government Senior Executive Service (SES), manager, chief operating officer, director of finance and management and senior advisor of major federal agencies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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