Madison Wisconsin Cairo Egypt
Wisconsin Union Protests Prove the Midwest Is Now America’s Middle East
By Doug Schoen
With a strong democratic tradition and an equally strong history of confidence in our institutions, the American people – on both the right and the left – have long believed with absolute confidence that the United States is immune to the kind of threat to stability that has rocked and is currently rocking the Middle East – in countries like Egypt Bahrain and Yemen.
This is no longer true.
The United States today is a country that lacks fiscal stability, political stability, and economic stability.
It is clear, with the tens of thousands of public employees that have descended on Wisconsin’s Capitol Hill to protest Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit union bargaining– following a week during which 14 Democratic State Senators fled the state and went into hiding to deprive the Senate of a quorum and Madison Wisconsin’s schools were forced to close due to a district-wide teachers union “sick out”–that the legislative process is breaking down.
Put simply, the Midwest has effectively become our Middle East
Indeed, the same factors that drove the movements for change in Tunisia and most recently in Egypt, are now evident in the United States today.
There is an unprecedented degree of anger and division within the American electorate which has culminated in an all-pervasive crisis of confidence and legitimacy.
This crisis in confidence and legitimacy was responsible for the growth of the Tea Party movement last year, which quickly became as powerful if not more powerful than the two major parties.
Put simply, the economic collapse and the failure of the political establishment to address or even acknowledge the broad based anger with our political system and the decline in our economic position has produced the same sense of economic and political dislocation and deprivation that fuelled the protests in Tahrir Square.
Other indicators show that confidence in our political institutions is at an all time low, the degree of income inequality is higher than any country in the western world, and the rate of incarceration is among the highest in the world.
For the majority of the American people the American Dream is all but dead. Few think they will do better than their parents, and solid majorities are convinced they will not have enough money to provide for their retirement.
Put simply, an increasing number of Americans perceive that they are falling farther and farther behind economically with little chance of turning things around, and they lack any confidence in our institutions to address these serious problems.
And overwhelmingly they hold our leaders both responsible and ultimately accountable.
Moreover, there has been no serious effort – either from the left or the right – to address, or even acknowledge the long-term structural problems that our country is facing.
In Washington there has been an absolute lack of consensus to address the nation’s most vexatious problems: the debt, the burgeoning budget deficit, cutting spending, and the like.
And given unprecedented levels of youth unemployment, income inequality and economic, social and political dislocation, it is clear that we simply cannot continue indefinitely under the current dynamic.
Today, the rate of joblessness among individuals aged 16-24 is at its highest level on record overall, and unemployment among black teenagers is an astounding 40.6%, and was as high as 50% last year
When the officially unemployed are added to the underemployed and discouraged workers who have given up seeking jobs, close to one in five Americans is included–with most having little immediate chance of improving their circumstances.
To be sure, while we are very fortunate to have avoided so far any social dislocation or unrest, it is simply assuming too much to believe that we will be able to stay on the present course without some sort of catastrophic result.
So what is to be done?
There is no one answer, to be sure, but there are some obvious starting points.
We need there to be both Presidential leadership and Congressional support for real bipartisan processes to balance the budget, reform the tax system(both personal and corporate), and stimulate the economy.
Indeed, with 46 states facing crippling budget deficits, with public employees taking to the streets, with our lawmakers simply not having the money to govern, with long-term structural unemployment being ignored by our lawmakers – it makes far more sense for us to think about the possibility of a Black Swan event in the United States as a crumbling of social stability, legitimacy, and economic stability then it does to ignore these warning signs of what could be a potential crisis.
At state level this means real collaboration between Democrats and Republicans, along with union leaders and legislative leaders, to make the hard headed decisions necessary to eliminate deficits and responsibly pare back unaffordable health care and pension benefits.
In the absence of serious and sustained efforts, what we have seen for the last couple of weeks in Madison, Wisconsin will become increasingly evident throughout our cities and states.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and author of the new book “Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System” published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.