America’s wealth inequality is a domestic IED, ready to ignite

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Last Thursday, July 14, Bastille Day, marked the storming of that infamous Paris prison in 1789, which ignited the French Revolution. Given what many believe are dire conditions in the U.S. today, are we in America headed for a Bastille-like assault on government? 

If the statistics reported last week by Capital & Main are remotely correct, the smell of cordite may be in the air and a domestic IED (improvised explosive device) waiting to detonate. 

Consider the report: “The top 0.1 percent and the bottom 90 percent of American households hold close to the same amount of wealth. …It’s one of the statistics most frequently cited to describe the problem of economic inequality in the United States today. Here are some others: Nearly two-thirds of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. An estimated 41 percent—135 million people —-are considered either poor or low-income. Eighteen percent of households earn less than $25,000 a year. Even before the pandemic hit, one in four Black families had a net worth of zero.”

When this economic inequality is combined with a society that is increasingly embracing incivility and political violence, a level of political polarization unseen since 1861 and the presence of perhaps 400 million firearms, it has the makings of a domestic IED.

Divisions between red and blue are driving the nation further apart on ideological and emotional grounds. Consensus is also missing on action over virtually every issue, from abortion and access to ballot boxes to education, guns and police. That about two-thirds of Democrats do not want President Biden to run for reelection in 2024 is another symptom of a failing political system. 

Depending on the poll, more than three-quarters of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. This prompts two critical questions. First, who among the Democrats and Republicans could lead the country in a better direction? And second, who or what might ignite this domestic IED, intentionally or otherwise?

With the 2024 presidential election 28 months away, no one can confidently answer the first question. At this point in previous elections, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump were by no means clear winners or even competitive. It would seem implausible, though not impossible, that 2024 could see a repeat of Biden versus Trump. But in today’s bizarre world of politics, no scenario can be entirely dismissed.

The answer to the second question of who might ignite this IED is easier: America’s most disruptive president, Donald Trump, should he run again. But pledging to end America’s wealth inequality would be his ticket back to the White House. Properly organized, many millions of Americans could be recruited to this movement.

Ironically, even if the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 leads to criminal proceedings, that could be to Trump’s advantage. A trial would tear the nation apart along party lines over prosecuting a former president. As Trump summoned his followers to Washington to reverse a “stolen election” on Jan. 6, he could do the same in this case but on a nationwide basis.

Should the Jan. 6 Committee hearings go nowhere, Trump could still create a modern-day equivalent of storming the Bastille not to reverse an election but to correct an outrageous wealth disparity.  

Trump is not the only possible IED igniter. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping understand the danger this wealth inequality poses to America and do not lack the means to help detonate this IED in the U.S.

Many will dismiss these warnings, as did Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But make no mistake: America’s wealth inequality is an IED that’s ready to detonate.

Harlan Ullman, Ph.D, is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and the primary author of “shock and awe.” His latest book is, “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and that World at Large.” Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.

Tags 2020 presidential election income inequality Jan 6 house commitee January 6 riots Wealth gap Wealth inequality in the United States
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