Briefly, before a candidate discussed how well endowed he was from the debate stage, the 2016 presidential campaign was about income inequality. This is a worthy discussion, but it could use more context.
Most reportage gives the average wage in America as $45k. But two-thirds of Americans make less than that. Arguably a more useful number is $30k, the median salary—what half of Americans actually make less than.
The difference in average and median comes down to a big outlier: the incomes of the top 1%. The total wages paid to this group—those making $250k a year and up—adds up to about a trillion dollars, the total wages of everyone in the bottom half.
This issue hasn’t gone away with the Bernie campaign. Economic anxiety in this bottom 50 percent is the subtext of calls to “build a wall” and “stick it to China.” Ethnic nationalism aside, the idea is that less competition from abroad for these bottom-half jobs should mean higher wages. In other words, "build the wall" is a jobs plan.
As income inequality continues, more ethnic nationalism is the surprising result. Brexit, an obvious example, broadly was a revolt against European immigration in Britain that also had deglobalizing effects. In both Brexit and "build a wall," expert consensus is exactly the opposite of popular sentiment: economists say globalization is a net positive, even for the working class.
Essentially, we are re-fighting a debate from the 90s, but instead of Naomi Klein and a few others in the left against globalization, it’s a largely populist movement of middle-earners who suspect the top 1% is selling them out. If we were looking for a real policy discussion to have amid all the vulgarity of decision 2016, this could be it.