The question of whether the US should, or can, sustain a foreign policy that is increasingly out of synch with the views of the people is one that should be taken seriously in a democratic country. If the American people have no appetite for further intervention, then that should be a major consideration for any president or policy maker. If those leaders believe the policy is essential for US interests or security it is their responsibility to build public support for that policy. A failure to build that support is a failure of leadership and ultimately of democracy as well.
In the last two months, income inequality has quietly fallen out of its brief prominent place in the public debate and discussion. It still mentioned by some economists and some progressive pundits, but something has changed. A few months ago the President of the United States was making speeches about income inequality; the new Mayor of New York placed that issue front and center in his inaugural address; and the Pope, of course, was drawing the most attention the issue by pointing out the contradictions between dramatic income inequality and the teachings of the Catholic Church. All that seems like a long time ago now.
Perkins' Kristallnacht comparison seems to be based on two ideas. First, in recent weeks wealthy tech workers in San Francisco have faced both rhetorical attacks and physical harassment, notably on their way to work on special buses operated by Google, Apple and other technology companies. Workers being harassed by angry, if largely unarmed and entirely non-lethal groups of protesters and Jews being stuffed into cattle cars by a heavily armed state apparatus and being sent to death camps appears to be a nuance lost on Perkins. Equally significantly, while state sponsored anti-Semitic demonstrations preceded actual genocide under the Nazis, harassment by fellow citizens, without support or encouragement from the state, does not lead inexorably, and rarely at all, to genocide or anything like it. To ignore that crucial reality is Reducto ad Hitlerum that is both offensive and ignorant.
Addressing income inequality will require legislation, but it will also require changes in our society and, indeed, our values. Before we address income inequality, we must recognize that it is a problem and that, for example, this is now a country where most children born into poverty, live their whole lives in poverty and where the opportunities enjoyed by the children of the wealthy are dramatically different from those of poor children. Recognizing this is a first step towards solving our economic woes, so it is no surprise that the resistance to even acknowledging this remains intense.
The American political system as it is currently constructed is wildly unprepared to focus in any meaningful way on income inequality. The fact that a few platitudes by a Democratic president qualified as a major statement on income inequality is evidence of this. The political system is defined by one party that is committed essentially to making the economically powerful richer and more powerful, and another that is too timid and too dominated by moneyed interests of their own to be able to take a strong position on income inequality. Democrats may be more willing to address issues like marginal tax rates or extending benefits to the unemployed, but these proposals, while generally positive, clearly do not seek to address the fundamental problem of income inequality.