The year 2000 marked a grim milestone: ““The Great American Escalator, which had lifted successive generations of Americans to ever higher standards of living and levels of social well-being, broke down around then—and broke down very badly,” writes Nicholas Eberstadt, the political journalist.
Peggy Noonan, writing about Mr. Eberstadt, gives her view in the WSJ of the big, burgeoning hunk of voters who came forward in 2016 with a new definition of what “popular, centrist GOP policies would look like—more economically nationalist and more socially and economically populist.”
Mr. Eberstadt, in a Commentary piece titled “Our Miserable 21st Century,” writes that the year 2000 marked a grim milestone: “The Great American Escalator, which had lifted successive generations of Americans to ever higher standards of living and levels of social well-being, broke down around then—and broke down very badly.” He traces the economic factors, including dismal labor-force trends: “The plain fact is that 21st-century America has witnessed a dreadful collapse of work.” The top is doing fine but not the bottom: “21st-century America has somehow managed to produce markedly more wealth for its wealth-holders even as it provided markedly less work for its workers.”
Physical health has deteriorated for a significant swath of white America, “thanks in large part to drug and alcohol abuse. All this sounds a little too close for comfort to the story of modern Russia, with its devastating vodka- and drug-binging health setbacks. Yes: It can happen here, and it has. Welcome to our new America.”
Mr. Eberstadt (author of Men Without Work) quotes a 2016 study: “nearly half of all prime-working-age male labor-force dropouts—some seven million men—take pain medication daily. That “adds a poignant and immensely sad detail to this portrait of daily life in 21st-century America: In our mind’s eye we can now picture many millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and not looking for jobs, sitting in front of screens—stoned.”
Referring to an interview with Tucker Carlson conducted Wednesday night on Fox News with Speaker Paul Ryan, Ms. Noonan argues that the elimination of the GOP’s health-care taxes to the wealthy cuts to the political heart of the matter.
Mr. Carlson questioned the new bill’s elimination of a tax on wealthy investors. “Looking at the last election, was the message of that election really, ‘We need to help investors?’ I mean, the Dow is over 20,000. Are they really the group that needs the help?”
Mr. Ryan answered that the tax had been imposed by ObamaCare. “The trillion-dollar tax cut that this bill represents—that is part of the trillion-dollar tax increase that was in ObamaCare to finance ObamaCare.” It deserves repeal: “It’s bad for economic growth.”
Mr. Carlson: “But the overview here is that all the wealth, basically, in the last 10 years, has stuck to the top end. That’s one of the reasons we’ve had all the political turmoil, as you know. And so, kind of a hard sell to say ‘Yeah, we’re gonna repeal ObamaCare, but we’re gonna send more money to the people who’ve already gotten the richest over the last 10 years.’ I mean, that’s what this does, no? I’m not a leftist, it’s just—that’s true.”
“I’m not that concerned about it,” Mr. Ryan replied. Republicans promised to repeal ObamaCare, and they are.
As Ms. Noonan notes, perhaps Mr. Ryan and the GOP should be concerned.