ALPERN AT LARGE--In California, in Michigan, in New York, in Florida, and throughout the nation, the economy of the COVID-19 pandemic and pre-election strategies have fast-forwarded and heightened the cultural divides lingering throughout our nation: whether it's capitalism or socialism, or a combination of both, the big issue of "who gets paid, and who gets crumbs" is becoming louder than ever.
Income inequality is something that both the Right and Left are increasingly aware of, and although their answers often differ on how to resolve that problem, perhaps the BIGGEST problem to be addressed is the growing prevalence and awareness of ruling elites that are just fine with this inequality.
So why did Donald Trump take over the GOP, and why did Bernie Sanders and AOC become so powerful within the Democratic Party? Although each party's cheerleaders and media outlets look with cynicism at the rise of Trump, Sanders, and Ocasio-Cortez, only a few of us (maybe some of you reading this) have the objectivity to recognize how the Democratic and Republican bases feel abandoned by their traditional leadership.
Does the Democratic base feel comfortable with mega-rich individuals like Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and others speaking for them? Although many Democrats will vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris like their lives depend on it, the meteoric rise in their net worth (and former President Barack Obama's wealth, to boot) is one that is easily decried by both Republican opponents and Democratic voters alike.
Ditto with the Republican base--both former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and the late John McCain are and were both billionaires, and they are two of the most DESPISED individuals among the average Republican voter. Donald Trump is a billionaire, but it is perceived by the aforementioned Republican base (rightly or wrongly) that his net worth has tumbled because he took on the New York elites (a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt, so to speak) to advocate for Joe and Jane Six-Pack.
So we live in a nation where "globalism" and the "rich-poor divide" have once-respected and admired individuals such as Paul Ryan, as well as Hillary Clinton, resented by individuals who once ardently voted for them...and the issue of letting both legal and illegal immigrants flood the nation with a record number of unemployed (and under-employed!) Americans during the pandemic isn't going away:
1) Labor unions factor prominently into this: Americans' approval of labor unions remains very high, and perhaps higher than ever due to the growing perception of a two-tiered economic stratification becoming permanently engrained into our nation, and throughout the world (again, the globalism reference).
It's no secret that large labor unions have historically supported the Democratic Party, but smaller and more local unions (think manufacturing and the energy industry), and many within large labor unions who disagree with their leadership, are supporting President Trump because they want a job at all. This phenomenon could dramatically affect the 2020 elections results in swing states.).
It's not the purpose of this column to be pro- or anti-green energy, or to be pro- or anti-fracking, but the desire of an American to feed his/her family and keep a roof over their heads is one that will strongly influence the perception as to who is more "pro-blue collar", Joe Biden or Donald Trump? This question is particularly prominent in the now swing state of Pennsylvania.
2) The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed small businesses, and arguably the single greatest failure of BOTH parties' leaderships is the failure to keep them open at the very outset. The fear of the virus spreading in March/April was legitimate, but keeping businesses shuttered should have sharply ended at that time.
Democratic leadership was, rightly or wrongly, too focused on which businesses should stay open or closed, and arguably showed downright cruelty to small businesses--particularly in California and in Michigan.
Republican leadership was, rightly or wrongly, too focused on "rights and freedom" to recognize that the COVID-19 virus doesn't give a damn about either, and when Arizona, Texas, and Florida opened up prematurely (and with a dramatic end to wearing masks) they had to shut down hard, hurting their own local economies (with small businesses getting creamed and destroyed the worst).
Neither side sufficiently advocated for the "put on your masks, take precautions, and get to work!" approach that would have promoted both safety and economic growth, and hence Labor Day 2020 is one where many have gone without income for by far too long.
It's easy to suggest that President Trump, or the Democratic governors who oppose him, are the ones to blame, but it's by far more intellectually honest to suggest that both are guilty of not doing better, and with a balance sheet that ends up being roughly equal in a world where politics eclipsed science and economic principles.
3) The need for unionization and benefits for working Americans has always, and will always, remain at odds with the desire of individuals to work privately, at their own pace, and (sometimes) to work for under the table cash that is tax-free.
Many who work for Uber and Lyft were and are delighted to work in such a manner (the so-called "gig economy"), but Sacramento ended that...and individual contractors (often the neighbor next door) lost this source of income because of the desire of Uber and Lyft to not be forced to declare their workers as employees.
Of course, employee status requires benefits. Sacramento politicians (who, during the pandemic and even before it, always got paid and always got first-rate benefits) demanded that Uber and Lyft were reneging on the obligation to provide benefits (supported, predictably, by powerful state labor unions), while Uber and Lyft clung to the principles of running their own businesses as they saw fit.
Of note is that there was NOT a lot of feedback from the drivers most impacted by the mandate that they be employees, so this November's election cycle will feature Proposition 22, which would exempt app-based transportation and delivery companies from providing employees benefits to certain drivers, as one that might be as highlighted as the Biden/Trump campaign.
The debate over individual entrepreneurship versus employer obligations remains loud and large, and it's to be wondered if the current pandemic (which has made many a private entrepreneur, particularly those fighting for any bit of income they can get, feel stepped on by local and state government) will shift opinion to the left (employee benefits), or to the right (entrepreneurship).
One way or another, it absolutely CAN be concluded that California, as with New York and other states with high taxes and high employer obligations, is shoving many of those who are needed the most for economic revival and survival into other states.
4) Safety and security, civil rights of minorities, and the requirements of law and order also reign supreme among labor-related debates. Many large corporations have backed Black Lives Matter (BLM), Inc., but many small businesses have decried what they perceive as excessive rioting and destruction that have forced them to close and/or see their businesses physically destroyed by rioters supported by BLM, Inc.
Which is not to say that BLM, Inc. can be fairly blamed for the wanton destruction we've seen in Northwest and Midwest cities (Antifa and other professional rioters are more likely to blame), but the businesses and malls being attacked, destroyed, and looted (NOT a myth or conspiracy theory) are caught up in a society that wants BOTH civil rights and law and order, and wants BOTH police reform and economic stability.
Hence the support of large police unions for President Trump comes at an interesting time. Many who might have previously held police unions as the source of inappropriate (and downright immoral) coddling of bad apples among their own numbers re increasingly recognizing that police officers are overworked ...
... and perhaps underpaid (would YOU, the reader, want to be a police officer right now?).
As West Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin raises the key point of all Los Angeles City employees needing to tighten their belts, and as the Los Angeles Police Department's unions raises the equally key point that they're under physical and political assault the question goes out:
Would the need to rein in our police be as important had we, as a society, backed them when the civil unrest began in earnest? Has the equation changed now that things have gotten so out of control?
Are small and large businesses, once perhaps skeptical and annoyed by police excesses (including excessive benefits and overtime pay), changing their tune because police are needed more than ever for our economy to survive?
In short, and to summarize, the need for labor rights (including the right to work and get enough income to survive) is more complicated and critical than ever. And those who cling to an assertion that it's all an easy question with a simple answer are probably those who are getting paid and are not at risk of losing their income as are so many hapless and fellow Americans.
But labor rights, and our economy in general, WILL be front and center in the upcoming November 3rd elections.
(CityWatch Columnist, Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband and father to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He was termed out of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) twice after two stints as a Board member for 8-9 years and is also a Board member of the Westside Village Homeowners Association. He previously co-chaired the MVCC Outreach and Planning Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of the MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was previously co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, the grassroots Friends of the Green Line (which focused on a Green Line/LAX connection), and the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Ken.Alpern@MarVista.org. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)