OPINION | American carnage revisited

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WHEN President Trump declared a state of “American carnage” in his 2017 Inaugural Address, Democrats denounced its dark vision and pessimism. Three years later Democrats appear to be converts, or at least that’s how it sounded in last week’s presidential debate.

Joe Biden: “Where I come from, the neighbors I come from, they’re in real trouble, working-class people and middle-class people. When the middle class does well, the working class has a way up and the wealthy do well. But what’s happening now? They’re being clobbered. They’re being killed.” He added that “the wealthy are the only ones doing well, period.”

Elizabeth Warren: Americans “are sick of living in a country” that is “working great for the corporate executives, it’s just not working for everyone else.” She described tens of millions choosing between groceries and medical prescriptions and warned of climate change “that particularly hits black and brown communities.”

Bernie Sanders: “In America today, our infrastructure is crumbling. Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck. Eighty-seven million people have no health care or are uninsured or underinsured. We got 500,000 people sleeping out on the streets tonight.”

Tom Steyer: Corporations “are having their way with the American people and people are suffering,” adding that “this is cruelty for money.”

Amy Klobuchar: “I went to this plant and there was one worker left in that plant. That plant had been shut down because of Donald Trump’s trade policies and because of what he had done to those workers with giving secret waivers to oil companies and ruining the renewable fuel standard. That worker brought out a coat rack of uniforms and he said, these are my friends, they don’t work here anymore.”

Pete Buttigieg: “You know, my part of the country, in the industrial Midwest, I remember when they came around in the ’90s, selling trade deals, telling us, don’t worry about your slice of the pie, the pie will get so much bigger that everyone will be better off. And that promise was broken. The part about the pie getting bigger happened. It’s just that the part about it getting to most people where I live did not.”

It all sounds terribly grim. Except, well, the U.S. economy has been expanding for a decade, the jobless rate is 3.5 percent, and incomes are now rising faster for low-income workers than for their bosses. That includes a 5.9 percent annual increase for the bottom tenth of workers during the Trump Presidency, more than double the rate in President Obama’s second term. The bottom half of households have seen their net worth increase by 47 percent since the 2016 election, according to a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

A late 2019 Quinnipiac poll found 57 percent of Americans said they were better off financially than in 2016 while 22 percent said they were worse off. A Fidelity year-end survey found 78 percent expect to be better off in 2020 compared to 2019.

The party out of power has to make the case for change. But the challenge for Democrats pitching carnage will be persuading Americans that they shouldn’t believe the economy they see with their own eyes.