With the advent of Donald Trump, what was once covert in the Republican message has become overt. Yesterday's dog whistle is today's screaming siren. Case in point: anti-immigrant bigotry, which was most recently expressed in Donald Trump Jr.’s recent “Skittles”-themed Twitter attack on Syrian refugees.
Think about that. Don Jr. compared people who are fleeing horrific violence to ... tiny candies. This emotional inability to distinguish human beings from inanimate objects, and therefore to empathize with their suffering, seems to border on the sociopathic. Even Wrigley, the candy's manufacturer, distanced itself in a statement that said: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don't feel it is an appropriate analogy.”
But anti-immigrant arguments aren't always based solely on fear or dehumanization. Economically vulnerable populations are often told that immigrants “take our jobs” and drag down wages.
Is it true? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine appointed an interdisciplinary task force to look at that question. It found that, on the contrary, “immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the United States.”
Immigration, the report says, has “little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term." Native-born teenagers who have not finished high school may work fewer hours, at least in the short term. (They won't lose jobs.)
As far as the downside goes, that’s pretty much it.
On the upside, “the prospects for long-run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants” who create jobs for highly-paid and lower-income workers alike. And the study found that recent immigrants tend to have more education than earlier immigrants.
“Immigrants,” the report concludes, “are integral to the nation’s economic growth.”
But if immigrants aren’t weakening wage growth and job prospects, who is? Perhaps no group bears more responsibility for the plight of the middle class than billionaires. An IMF study confirms that increasing inequality, especially at the very top of the wealth and income scale, is weakening economic growth.
“In contrast,” the report found, “an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher … growth.” And higher growth means more jobs.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a world-leading expert on inequality, writes, "Our middle class is too weak to support the consumer spending that has historically driven our economic growth." But instead of ensuring that lower-income and middle-class people share in economic growth, the opposite has been happening: even after last week’s improved economic news, most of the economy’s gains are still going to the wealthiest Americans.
The 0.01 percent -- the 16,000 wealthiest Americans -- have as much wealth as 80 percent of the nation’s population, some 256,000,000 people. Their shared wealth comes to $9 trillion. And at the end of 2015, a mere 536 people in the United States had a collective net worth of $2.6 trillion.
We now know what we have long suspected, thanks to political science research published at Princeton University: political decision-making in this country is driven by corporate and ultra-wealthy elites, not by the democratic majority. This oligarchical usurpation of influence has led office holders at all levels to implement policies that kill jobs, depress wages, and increase inequality.
These policies include government spending cuts, tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations, bad trade deals (which Trump says he opposes; he team suggests otherwise), and economically destructive deregulation.
Billionaire cash is also impeding efforts to reduce the climate change and environmental destruction that has already caused irreparable harm to the planet – harm that could rapidly accelerate if the climate-denying Trump becomes president.
Know what also reduces inequality, helps create jobs, and raises working people’s wages? Unions. It isn’t immigrants who are weakening the collective bargaining power of the American worker. Billionaires like the Koch Brothers are financing anti-union court cases and flooding our political system with cash to eliminate one of the 99 percent’s most effective tools for economic self-improvement.
Right-wing corporations and billionaires are conducting class warfare on the 99 percent and environmental warfare on the planet. That's why we need to enact a new, broad agenda: higher taxes on the wealthy, an increased minimum wage, strengthened workers’ rights, sweeping environmental measures, and greater government spending for critical needs like infrastructure health, and education.
To safeguard democracy, we'll also need fundamental campaign finance reform.
To be sure, not all billionaires are trying to take your job, cut your pay, steal your democracy or destroy your planet. Donald Trump claims to be a billionaire. (Who can know for sure?) But we can't condemn all billionaires because of what Trump and his ilk have done. They're human beings, for God's sake, not pieces of candy.
And about those candies: We now know that the Skittles photo in Donald Jr.’s tweet was taken by a refugee and used without payment or permission. The immigrant who took that picture is contributing to the cultural and economic life of his nation.
Too bad we can’t say the same about the guy who pilfered his photograph.