Hazardous to Public Health and National Security

Margaret Sullivan, former public editor of The New York Times, now writes about the media for The Washington Post. Today, she unloads on Fox News and suggests a corporate boycott. Her column is called “Fox News is a hazard to our democracy. It’s time to take the fight to the Murdochs”: 

I happened to be watching Fox News on election night when the network startled the political world by calling Arizona for Joe Biden.

It was a weird moment, without the fanfare that usually accompanied the announcement that a state was being put in one column or another. A few hours later, the Associated Press made the same call.

But many other news organizations, including The Washington Post, took days to reach that daring conclusion. For them, Arizona’s vote count simply remained far too close. . . .

And Txxxxworld was enraged. Losing the traditionally red state would make it that much harder to proclaim that the election was so close that it must in fact have been stolen by the Democrats. It would disrupt the Big Lie narrative. Former president Donald Txxxx’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, even called Fox honcho Rupert Murdoch to complain. But Fox News stood behind the call, which turned out to be correct.

But a lot has changed since then. Last week, two key members of Fox News’s decision desk abruptly departed the network. One was laid off, the other has retired, and some insiders are calling it a “purge.”

Apparently, at a network that specializes in spreading lies, there was a price to pay for getting it right. (“Fox News isn’t a newsgathering organization,” surmised press critic Eric Boehlert, arguing in response to the purge that its White House credentials should be revoked.)

In recent days, Fox has taken a sharp turn toward a more extreme approach as it confronts a post-Txxxx ratings dip — the result of some of its farthest-right viewers moving to outlets such as Newsmax and One America News and some middle-of-the-roaders apparently finding CNN or MSNBC more to their liking.

With profit as the one true religion at Fox, something had to change. Ninety-year-old Rupert Murdoch, according to a number of reports, has stepped in to call the shots directly. Most notably, the network has decided to add an hour of opinion programming to its prime-time offerings. The 7 p.m. hour will no longer be nominally news but straight-up outrage production.

Why? Because that’s where the ratings are.

And in a move that should be shocking but isn’t, one of those who will rotate through the tryouts for that coveted spot will be Maria Bartiromo, whose Txxxx sycophancy during the campaign may well have been unparalleled. She was among those . . . recently forced under threat of a lawsuit to air a video that debunked repeated false claims on her show that corrupt voting software had given millions of Txxxx votes to Biden.

At the same time, Sean Hannity, who likes to blast Biden as “cognitively struggling,” and Tucker Carlson, who tries to sow doubt about the prevalence of White supremacy, have become even more outlandish as they try to gin up anti-Biden rage within their audiences.

Even James Murdoch, while not naming names, blasted the harm that his family’s media empire has done. “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very much so,” he told the Financial Times. “Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”

But it’s his father and his brother, Lachlan, who run Fox, not James.

How to get the Fox News monster under control? I do not believe the government should have any role in regulating what can and can’t be said on the air, although I often hear that proposed. That would be a cure worse than the disease. But let’s not count on the hope that the Fox-controlling Murdochs will develop a conscience.

No, the only answer is to speak the language that the bigwigs at Fox will understand: Ratings. Advertising dollars. Profit.

Corporations that advertise on Fox News [such as Procter & Gamble, Amazon, Kraft Heinz and Verizon] should walk away, and citizens who care about the truth should demand that they do so (in addition to trying to steer their friends and relatives away from the network).

Big companies would never do that, you say? Don’t be so sure.

The Post reported last week that the 147 Republican lawmakers who opposed certification of the presidential election have lost the support of many of their largest corporate backers. General Electric, AT&T, Comcast, Honeywell, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Verizon all said they would suspend donations to members of Congress who voted against certifying Joe Biden as president.

This shows, at the very least, that there is a growing understanding that lying to the public matters, that it’s harmful — or “insidious,” in the words of James Murdoch. And that some corporations don’t want to be a part of that.

When you think about Fox News’s role in the 400,000 lives lost to the pandemic and in the disastrous attack of Jan. 6, it’s even fair to call it deadly.

So if reality-based America wants to communicate clearly with Fox News leadership, they’ll have to do it in a language they understand. The language of money.

Unquote.

Sullivan later called attention to an additional point of attack:

Your cable/satellite TV provider pays subscriber fee to carry @foxnews. That cost is passed directly to YOU. Typical household pays #FoxNews $2 per monthh = $20 per year via their cable satellite provider, regardless whether they watch it. DEMAND @comcast @Xfinity #UNFOXMYCABLEBOX.

It wouldn’t hurt if the rich and famous who appear on the Fox Network or rub elbows with the Murdoch clan or serve on their boards of directors began to exert pressure too. Unfortunately, for the most part, such people consistently ignore my suggestions. 

There May Be No Bottom

Now that the voters have almost certainly chosen Joe Biden as our next president, I looked at some of the stories I’ve been avoiding. These are all headlines from The Atlantic:

“A Large Portion of the Electorate Chose the Sociopath: America will have to contend with that fact.”

“The American System Is Broken: It should not take the largest voter turnout in U.S. history to guarantee that a president rejected by the majority . . .  stops being president.”

“Trump Is Powerless to Stop the Count: The president has run up against something he cannot control.”

“The Polling Crisis Is a Catastrophe for American Democracy: If public-opinion data are unreliable, we’re all flying blind.”

But there are two articles that are especially disturbing. The first is “Trump Won’t Accept Defeat. Ever: His forever campaign is just getting started” by Anne Applebaum:

While you watch Dxxxx Txxxx’s presidency stagger to what appears to be its ugly end, always keep in mind how it began: Txxxx entered the political world on the back of the “birther” conspiracy theory, a movement whose importance was massively underestimated at the time. Aside from its racist undertones, think about what a belief in birtherism really implied. If you doubted that Barack Obama was born in the United States—and about a third of Americans did, including 72 percent of registered Republicans—then that meant you also believed that Obama was an illegitimate president. That meant, in other words, you believed that everyone—the entire American political, judicial, and media establishment, including the White House and Congress, the federal courts and the FBI, all of them—was complicit in a gigantic plot to swindle the public into accepting this false commander-in-chief. A third of Americans had so little faith in American democracy, broadly defined, they were willing to think that Obama’s entire presidency was a fraud.

That third of Americans went on to become Txxxx’s base. Over four years, they continued to applaud him, no matter what he did, not because they necessarily believed everything he said, but often because they didn’t believe anything at all. If everything is a scam, who cares if the president is a serial liar? If all American politicians are corrupt, then so what if the president is too? If everyone has always broken the rules, then why can’t he do that too? No wonder they didn’t object when Txxxx’s White House defied congressional subpoenas with impunity, or when he used the Department of Justice to pursue personal vendettas, or when he ignored ethics guidelines and rules about security clearances, or when he fired watchdogs and inspectors general. . . . 

Not all of this was Txxxx’s doing. Many Americans had lost trust in democratic institutions long before he arrived on the scene. One recent survey showed that half of the country is dissatisfied with our political system; one-fifth told pollsters that they would be happy to live under military rule. Txxxx not only exploited this democratic deficit to win the White House, but he expanded it while in office. And now his political, financial, and maybe even emotional strategy requires him to damage America’s faith in its democracy further.

He is launching that strategy right now. . . .Txxxx is no good at governing, but he has long understood, with the intuition of a seasoned con man, how to create distrust, and how to use that distrust to his advantage. . . . 

Now, having spent months talking darkly about the rules being rigged against him, he has laid a set of traps designed to discredit and demean the electoral system so that some Americans, at least, lose their faith in it. This has been said by others, but it bears restating: That Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan did not finish counting their votes on Tuesday night is no accident. In all of these states, Republican legislators prevented their election boards from counting postal votes before Election Day. In the midst of a pandemic that Democrats take more seriously than Republicans do, after Txxxx himself told his followers that voting by mail was suspect, the partisan gap between in-person and postal voters was always likely to be stark.

Txxxx anticipated that vote totals might begin to shift in Joe Biden’s favor. That was why, when he spoke at 2:20 a.m. on Election Night, before results were even remotely clear, he declared the vote “a fraud on the American public” and announced that “we don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.” That’s why Republicans had already launched a rash of frivolous lawsuits, designed to create the appearance that something was wrong. . . .

This is a carefully planned strategy, not a temper tantrum, and it may have several stages. The first could take the form of a Hail Mary pass, a brazen and illegal attempt to stay in office. . . . Both the rhetoric and the flurry of ridiculous lawsuits are intended to create a misleading impression of electoral fraud so deep that some Republican state legislators could even be tempted to ignore the ballots and simply appoint an Electoral College delegation to vote for Txxxx. The head of the Pennsylvania Republican Party mentioned this as one of his “options,” although the Republican majority leader of the state Senate explicitly shot that idea down.

But even if Txxxx’s Hail Mary pass quickly fizzles, even if his attempt to stay in the White House is drowned out by the reality of the vote count and a tsunami of “Biden won” headlines, that doesn’t mean Txxxx will admit that the election was fair—ever. . . . It is in Txxxx’s interest, and a part of the Republican Party’s interest, to maintain the fiction that the election was stolen. That’s because the same base, the base that distrusts American democracy, could still be extremely useful to Txxxx, as well as to the Republican Party, in years to come.

. . . Just as Txxxx once helped convince millions of Americans that Obama was illegitimate, so he will now seek to convince Americans that Biden is illegitimate. “Biden Is Fake” Facebook groups will be used to gin up Republican votes and support for Republican causes; emails with “Phony Biden” in the subject line will be used to raise money. Txxxx’s campaign has already blasted out a fundraising text with the following message: “Pres Txxxx & VP Pence: It’s so urgent we BOTH texted you. Dems & the Fake News want to STEAL this Election! 1000%-MATCH to FIGHT BACK! Act NOW” . . . Laura Ingraham of Fox News is already engaging and enraging her millions of followers by tweeting about the “continued abuse of our electoral system by corrupt Democrat officials.”

Other Republicans will join this cause, because they too can raise money and attract breathless fans by indulging that latent distrust. The newly elected senator from Alabama . . . Tommy Tuberville is already tweeting . . . that the Biden campaign is cheating: “It’s like the whistle has blown, the game is over, and the players have gone home, but the referees are suddenly adding touchdowns to the other team’s side of the scoreboard.” Never mind that the game is not over . . . Tuberville can now use the myth of Biden’s “illegitimacy” as an excuse not to cooperate with the new president, not to help pass any further pandemic-relief legislation, not to make the coming four years a success for Biden—or for America.

The Txxxx family being what it is, expect the illegitimacy myth to be exploited for commercial purposes too. Paradoxically, Txxxx’s loss may well increase the loyalty of his most ardent fans, who will be angry that he has been unfairly deprived of his rightful role. They will now become loyal purchasers of flags, ties, MAGA hats, maybe even degrees at a revived Txxxx University. They could become the customer base for Txxxx TV, a media company that will set itself up as the rival to [Fox News].

As the financial and legal pressures now bear down on Txxxx—the hundreds of millions of dollars he owes, the tax and fraud investigations that are on their way—he will need a political base more than ever. Expect Txxxx and his children to portray any and every legitimate legal action against them as political persecution: “They are trying to get me because I oppose the fake president.” Expect them to continue to seek headlines, day after day, with out-of-control press conferences, carried live on Txxxx TV, streamed on Facebook, featured on the front page of the New York Post. . . . 

Above all, though, the Biden illegitimacy myth will function as a prop for Txxxx’s own fragile ego. Unable to cope with the loss of the presidency, unable to accept that he was beaten, Txxxx will now shield himself from the reality of defeat by pretending it didn’t happen. His personal need to live in a perpetual fantasyland, a world where he is always winning, is so overpowering that he will do anything to maintain it. In his narcissistic drive to create this alternative reality, he will deepen divisions, spread paranoia, and render his supporters even more fearful of their fellow citizens and distrustful of their institutions. This is a president who never had America’s interests at heart. Do not expect loss to change him [or make him go away].

The second article is related: “Fox News Hits a Dangerous New Low: The most-watched news network in America is choosing to mislead its viewers about the state of the election” by Megan Garber:

Here are some of the things that happened yesterday evening on the most-watched news network in America: The minority leader of the House of Representatives announced, absolutely falsely and with no pushback, that “President Txxxx won this election.” A former speaker of the House argued that, in the name of democracy, the U.S. federal government should “lock up” state election workers. One of the most-watched TV hosts in the country implied to the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania legislature should override the will of the state’s voters to appoint its own electors. Lindsey Graham responded, gravely, “Everything should be on the table.”

Fox News, which spent years flattering Dxxxx Txxxx and his fictions, is finishing what it started. The network that first helped bring Txxxx to political power is now working—despite a fair election that seems poised, as of this writing, to be won by his opponent—to keep him there. Fox’s popular prime-time opinion programs, throughout this week, have functioned as a Txxxx-campaign ad by another means. But last night’s shows reached a dangerous new low. The Fox News Channel, this week, had the opportunity to reckon with reality; instead, the network chose to mislead its viewers about the state of the election, and to foment mistrust in the workings of the American electoral system more broadly. It chose the fate of Dxxxx Txxxx—and the ratings that come from the viewers who love him—over the fate of American democracy.

“As poll workers continue to slowly tabulate results,” Sean Hannity said last night, “we have serious reports of irregularities and fraud and not allowing vote counters to observe counting. Which is a matter of law. And they continue to come in, these reports, from all over the country.”

The reports have been coming from the Txxxx campaign itself. They have not been validated. They have been, in some cases, thoroughly debunked. “Txxxx,” The Washington Post noted yesterday, in an extensive summary of his campaign’s long-running attempts to claim voter fraud where there is none, “has offered no evidence that the election’s integrity has been compromised, and none has been found. In fact, cybersecurity experts in the Txxxx administration and local officials say the process has been smooth despite the unusual historic circumstance of a deadly pandemic.”

That did not stop the misinformation on the news network. On Wednesday evening, Laura Ingraham—who had spent part of the day in the White House with the Txxxx campaign—claimed that Democrats were trying to “destroy the integrity of our election process with this mail-in, day-of registration efforts, counting after the election is over, dumping batches of votes a day, two days, maybe even three days after an election.”

The election results trickled in as they did because the pandemic has changed the logistics of how Americans vote: New circumstances led to new systems, as they should. And the lag in vote counting is partially attributable to Txxxx himself: His campaign, operating on the conventional wisdom that in-person and same-day voting favors Republicans, spent months telling its base not to vote by mail. [And as noted above, Republican legislators in some states made sure the counting would be delayed.]

None of that was explained to Fox’s viewers. In fact, if you watched only Fox to get election results, as so many Americans do, you could reasonably forget that America is currently living through a steadily worsening pandemic. Instead, on Fox this week, “fraud” has been a refrain. Political actors who have various vested interests in a second term of Txxxx have filled the network’s air with baseless claims of Democrats’ malfeasance and, consequently, the wide-scale failures of a free and fair election.  . .  Fox’s viewers were . . . told, again and again, that an election whose outcome they might not like is the same thing as an election that has been stolen.

Senator Ted Cruz: “What we’re seeing tonight, what we’ve been seeing the last three days, is outrageous. It is partisan, it is political and it is lawless. We’re seeing this pattern in Democratic city after Democratic city, with the worst in the country right now is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “You have a group of corrupt people who have absolute contempt for the American people, who believe that we are so spineless, so cowardly, so unwilling to stand up for ourselves, that they can steal the presidency … No one should have any doubt: You are watching an effort to steal the presidency of the United States.”

Senator Lindsey Graham: “The allegations of wrongdoing are earth-shattering … So Senate Republicans are going to be briefed by the Txxxx campaign Saturday, and every Senate Republican and House Republican needs to get on television and tell this story.”

[Their statements] worked to create a fog of uncertainty and indignation around the election. During an exceptionally fragile week in America, [they are] taking a line from Steve Bannon’s old playbook—flood the zone with shit—and modifying it for the present circumstances. They are flooding the zone with “fraud.”

They are also, in the process, undermining the “news” element of Fox News. [The] news-side anchors who have been leading much of the network’s election coverage this week, have spent much of their own airtime pushing back against daytime guests who have echoed the Txxxx campaign’s baseless claims of fraud. They have repeated the need for evidence when it comes to validating those claims; they have emphasized, as well, how absent that evidence has been. . . .

But those most basic efforts at checking the president’s lies mean little when, on the same network, powerful members of the United States government, encouraged by Fox’s opinion hosts, are talking openly about arresting poll workers and staging coups. . . .

Data Analysis, Surprising and Not

Surprising news from The New York Times:

— Actual Coronavirus Infections Vastly Undercounted, C.D.C. Data Shows —

The prevalence of infections is more than 10 times higher than the counted number of cases in six regions of the United States.

The analysis is part of a wide-ranging set of surveys started by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to estimate how widely the virus has spread. Similar studies, sponsored by universities, national governments and the World Health Organization, are continuing all over the world….

“This study underscores that there are probably a lot of people infected without knowing it, likely because they have mild or asymptomatic infection,” said Dr. Fiona Havers, who led the C.D.C. study. “But those people could still spread it to others.”

She emphasized the importance of hand-washing, wearing cloth masks and social distancing to stop the spread of the virus from people without symptoms. [Getting tested is an excellent idea too, even if you have no symptoms.]

The numbers indicate that even in areas hit hard by the virus, an overwhelming majority of people have not yet been infected, said Scott Hensley, a viral immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania….

“Many of us are sitting ducks who are still susceptible …,” he said.

Not surprising news (not surprising at all) from The Washington Post:

Three serious research efforts have put numerical weight — yes, data-driven evidence — behind what many suspected all along: Americans who relied on Fox News, or similar right-wing sources, were duped as the coronavirus began its deadly spread.

Dangerously duped.

The studies “paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others,” wrote [The Post’s] Christopher Ingraham in an analysis last week.

Here’s the reality, now backed by numbers:

Those who relied on mainstream sources — the network evening newscasts or national newspapers that President Txxxx constantly blasts as “fake news” — got an accurate assessment of the pandemic’s risks. Those were the news consumers who were more likely to respond accordingly, protecting themselves and others against the disease that has now killed more than 123,000 in the United States with no end in sight.

Those who [like the “Leader of the Free World”] relied on Fox or, say, radio personality Rush Limbaugh, came to believe that vitamin C was a possible remedy, that the Chinese government created the virus in a lab, and that government health agencies were exaggerating the dangers in the hopes of damaging Txxxx politically, a survey showed….

“That’s the real evil of this type of programming,” Arthur West of the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics, … told the Times of San Diego. “We believe it delayed and interfered with a prompt and adequate response to this coronavirus pandemic.”

Unquote.

Mass manslaughter, anyone?

These Things Didn’t Hurt Them Much

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi apparently still believes starting an impeachment inquiry would hurt the Democrats in the 2020 election. It’s hard to understand why, since publicizing the president’s clear unfitness in televised hearings and forcing Republicans to endorse his behavior, if they chose to, would almost certainly hurt the Republicans.

David Roberts, who writes for Vox, cites an article that says impeaching Bill Clinton didn’t really hurt the Republicans (even though Clinton’s misbehavior was infinitesimal compared to this president’s). Mr. Roberts is angry and has a question:

Impeaching Clinton didn’t hurt Republicans much; stealing the 2000 election didn’t hurt them much; launching a disastrous war based on lies didn’t hurt them much; walking the US blindly to a global recession didn’t hurt them much.

Running a series of fraudulent investigations into fake Obama scandals didn’t hurt them much; gerrymandering didn’t hurt them much; abusing the filibuster didn’t hurt them much; stealing a Supreme Court seat didn’t hurt them much.

Working with hostile foreign power to elect a criminal didn’t hurt them much; running multiple concurrent state-based schemes to suppress or deny minority votes didn’t hurt them much; running concentration camps for children on the border didn’t hurt them much.

Building a whole parallel media apparatus devoted to propaganda didn’t hurt them much. Lying — relentlessly, endlessly, about climate change, about crime, about immigrants, about taxes, about EVERYTHING — didn’t hurt them much.

The U.S. right’s accelerating evolution into a party of lawless minority white rule, which has involved shitting all over truth, decency, and every democratic norm still standing, has not hurt them much. A really good question to ask is: why?

Well, one reason is that there are plenty of Americans who relish Republican bad behavior. Concentration camps for children? Hey, their parents shouldn’t have brought them here. The president is using his position to rake in the cash? That shows he knows how to play the game. All politicians are crooked anyway.

Another reason is that having “a whole media apparatus devoted to propaganda” helps a lot. The right has a national television network (Fox Television) and cable channel (Fox News) that both push right-wing propaganda while claiming to be more accurate than their middle-of-the-road competition. Talk radio shows all over the country push the same propaganda. The internet offers a steady stream of the same nonsense. These outlets feed off each other, creating a vast echo chamber. As a result, it’s easy for Americans who lean right to absorb Republican Party bullshit 24 hours a day. They can avoid the networks and newspapers that practice traditional journalism and, if they hear something troubling anyway, they can reject it as “fake news” from the “liberal media” since it’s not what they heard on Fox and Friends.

Thus, when Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican congressman, declared that the president should be impeached, one of his constituents was curious:

Cathy Garnaat, a Republican who supported Amash and the president said she was upset about Amash’s position but wanted to hear his reasoning. She said that she will definitely support Trump in 2020 but that Tuesday night was the first time she had heard that the Mueller report didn’t completely exonerate the president.

“I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn’t heard that before,” she said. “I’ve mainly listened to conservative news and I hadn’t heard anything negative about that report, and President Trump has been exonerated.”

Millions of our fellow citizens don’t know what the hell is going on, either because they aren’t paying attention or because they’re immersed in “news” and commentary that’s seriously misleading. Throw in voter suppression, gerrymandering, the absurd Electoral College system, the over-representation of lightly-populated rural states in the Senate, outrageous hardball politics, journalists who fear being criticized by the right, feckless Democratic politicians and some fortuitous circumstances (James Comey’s big mouth, for example) and it’s easy to understand why the Republican Party isn’t hurting at all.

It doesn’t look like Bloomberg, Soros, Gates or Bezos are going to buy Fox and clean house, so how can we fight the Fox infestation? One thing we could do is find a way to make Fox TV and Fox News less profitable for the Murdoch family. Elizabeth Warren declined to be interviewed on Fox because she didn’t want to make it look like a legitimate news operation. If more politicians, actors and other notables refused to appear on Fox, if Fox’s corporate sponsors were pressured to take their business elsewhere, if Fox was subject to a national boycott, maybe the Murdochs would change direction. We need to do something, because, as a famous Republican once said, back when it was honorable to be a Republican, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

P.S. — If you want a taste of what they’re seeing, take a look at this random selection.

Not Taxing the Rich Is What’s Radical

David Leonhardt of The New York Times points out that not taxing the rich is the radical idea:

Imagine for a moment that a presidential candidate made this speech:

My fellow Americans, I’m here today to tell you about my economic plan. Each year, I will require every middle-class family across this great country to write a check. We will then pool the money and distribute it to the richest Americans among us — the top 1 percent of earners, who, because of their talent, virtue and success, deserve even more money.

The exact size of the checks will depend on a family’s income, but a typical middle-class household will hand over $15,000 each year. This plan, I promise all of you, will create the greatest version of America that has ever existed.

You would consider that proposal pretty radical, wouldn’t you? Politically crazy. Destructive, even. Well, I’ve just described the actual changes in the American economy since the 1970s.

Economic output — known as G.D.P. — per person has almost doubled over this period. But the bulk of the bounty has flowed to the very rich. The middle class has received relative crumbs.

If middle-class pay had increased as fast as the economic growth, the average middle-class family would today earn about $15,000 a year more than it does, after taxes and benefits. Instead, that middle-class family effectively forfeits the money to the rich, year after year after year….

The extreme redistribution of income — upward — has multiple causes. Some of them, like technological change, stem mostly from private-sector forces. But government policy plays a crucial role. Tax rates on the wealthy have fallen sharply. Labor unions have been undermined. Big companies have been allowed to grow even bigger and more powerful. The United States has lost its lead as the most educated country in the world.

More often than not over the past 40 years, our government has helped the rich at the expense of everyone else. As a result, economic inequality has reached Gilded Age levels.

In the face of these trends, the radical response is to do nothing — or to make inequality even worse, as President Trump’s policies have. It’s radical because soaring inequality is starting to threaten the basic fabric of American life. Many people have grown frustrated and cynical. Average life expectancy, amazingly, has fallen over the past few years.

Over the sweep of history, the main reason that societies have declined, as the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have written, is domination “by a narrow elite that have organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people.” The name of Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s book on this phenomenon is, “Why Nations Fail”.

It’s worth keeping all of this in mind when you hear critics (or journalists) describe the economic proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates as “radical.” They’re not radical, for the most part. The proposals are instead efforts to undo some of the extreme economic changes of recent decades and to ensure that most Americans workers — not just a narrow elite — fully benefit from economic growth.

The proposals also happen to be popular, broadly speaking. On social issues, like abortion and immigration, the country is deeply divided. But clear majorities support higher taxes on the wealthy, higher taxes on corporations, more education funding and expanded government health insurance. No wonder: Americans don’t resent success, but they do resent not receiving their fair share of economic growth.

The coming primary campaign will be a good time for the candidates to hash out which specific ideas make sense and which don’t. So far, the agenda looks pretty good. Elizabeth Warren has a plan to increase workers’ power within companies — and help them get larger pre-tax raises. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris want to lift the after-tax pay of the middle class and poor. Kirsten Gillibrand and others support reducing major living costs, like child care and education.

Perhaps most important, some Democrats have begun pushing for a wealth tax — to reverse the upward redistribution of the past 40 years. Warren has proposed an annual 2 or 3 percent tax on large fortunes. Bernie Sanders has proposed a big increase in the inheritance tax.

These wealth taxes are a classic example of policies that are less radical than their opponents claim. Do you know who already pays a wealth tax? Middle-class Americans. It’s called the property tax, as Noah Smith of Bloomberg Opinion has noted. Every year, homeowners pay a percentage of their house value in tax. A house, of course, is the biggest asset that most families own. If middle-class families can pay an annual tax on their main source of wealth, wealthy families can, too.

The United States as we have known it — optimistic, future-oriented and more powerful than any other nation — cannot survive the stagnation of mass living standards over many decades. I’m glad to see that some political leaders understand this and are trying to recapture a core feature of American life….

For these progressive taxes to be enacted, the Democrats will have to take the White House and the Senate in 2020 and hold onto the House. The Senate will be competitive, but the Republicans probably have the edge, given the particular states that will have Senate races.

Meanwhile, Republicans want to eliminate the estate tax, which they recently weakened. As of this year, it only applies to estates worth more than $5 million.

On a related note:

On Tuesday, a pair of baffled [Fox News] anchors referred to [talk about higher taxes on the rich] as a movement “against capitalism.” It is a dubious assertion, because by that definition the U.S. has only been a capitalist country since the 1980s, when Reagan knocked the top tax rate even lower and conservatives convinced enough legislators that “a rising tide lifts all boats” was a substitute for economic policy. But in their efforts to find an explanation for why so many people are turned off by unfettered, unregulated, and unaccountable capitalism, they turn to Charles Payne of Fox News Business. His explanation: Schools have brainwashed kids with lessons about “fairness.”