What happens when inequality, the canyon separating rich and poor, actually becomes dangerous?
Historically we usually see the rise of crowd pulling far-right populists, ideologues who point the finger of blame at vulnerable minorities, candidates who would ordinarily be laughed off the stage at any other time but this one.
That's why the inconceivable, a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz presidency, is starting to look conceivable now. And this development, if it actually happens, will almost certainly not “make America great again.”
Instead it will lead to an unpredictable new era of yeehaw militarism conversely tied to an era of political isolationism, with wall building and border closings. The famous beacon of freedom will become a gated community (no Mexicans, no Muslims) and the great democratic experiment will sadly conclude with a “closed” sign placed on the Statue of Liberty.
It could happen. It's very close to happening now.
After the financial collapse not many people know just how exposed our financial markets still are. Our too big to fail financial institutions have only gotten bigger since 2007.
Why did we allow this? Because we work longer hours for less than our parents our or grandparents. It's hard to reform an entire financial system when your own finances are perpetually on the line.
Greed, of course, is a much more powerful stimulant than common sense and it still rules our banks and money markets, which managed not to reform themselves after the banking collapse of 2007 (which, by the way, we are still paying for).
The collapse did more than just cost us financially. It shattered a crucial public trust, making way for the rise of sulfurous candidates like Trump and Cruz. We watched as financial heads walked away from the far reaching economic vandalism they had perpetuated without so much as a dressing down.
Not one CEO was forced to return so much as a single paycheck for setting off that financial bomb we're still paying for. If they lose they still get to keep their money. Heads they win, tails they win. It's everyone else who loses.
The sense of looming crisis appears to be driving voters toward more and more hardline ideological positions on the right and left, on a global scale. The need to find a scapegoat is self-evident too.
Voters under 40 in particular appear to be in a mutinous mood. For them the status quo is no longer really an option. Obamacare is only a start, and often a bad one, but college tuition is increasingly unaffordable or bankrupting them, while jobs are poorly paid, without a sustainable career path. They aren't thinking at all about a return to a Clintonian golden age that they don't even remember.
Instead they want far reaching, radical change. They want to hit the national reset button.
But the crisis in our politics has most of its roots in our unregulated financial markets. We have watched in Ireland and the United States the way gilded CEOs can make decisions that alter the life path and trajectories of individuals and nations, bringing us all untold suffering, without significant consequence to themselves.
It's the ultimate bait and switch. Politicians talk about leveling the playing field while the financial markets actually tear it to shreds. We cannot belong or find shelter in a nation where every ideal of the common good is mocked or ripped apart by predatory capitalism.
These days money travels and taxes stay at home. The global markets simply aid the highest earners in their international shell games, and they only address the rest of us when the bill for all this abuse comes due.
Our politics has been poisoned by these financial shenanigans. Profits are all, the public good is a joke.
All the old verities have been turned on their heads. Plutocrats position themselves as populists. They call for a restoration while plotting to unmuzzle the markets even more.
The historic levels of inequality we now live with didn't arise through some kind of magic. They were carefully planned for through the nonstop deregulation of the Reagan era.
But the plan was to deregulate the free market, not turn it into an unprincipled beast that devours the very capitalist system itself.
Deregulation now turns every decision into a bottom line, one that puts the interests of the shareholders and managers above all others. Everyone else gets screwed.
If that sounds familiar it's because that's what happened to our economy, our society and our politics.