Members Only | November 11, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Beware of ‘trickle-down equality’

The same magical nonsense as trickle-down economics.

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Editor’s note: Subscribers get one email a day with my commentary in it. But some want to hear from the rest of the Board throughout the week. They want each piece emailed to them. If this is something you’d like, let me know by replying to this message. Meanwhile, here’s Brandon Bradford. Read him now before he gets famous! –JS

The US has a fascism problem. In its culture, in its hero worship, in its ideological makeup. Donald Trump was the culmination of that. 

His supporters tried to whitewash the specifics, but they believed in a fascist hierarchy. There’s no other explanation. Even for the current Republican Party, made of power-craving vultures whose only plan for America is inflaming white race hatreds and removing rights (voting, reproductive, et al.), January 6 should have been too far. 

Fascism isn’t something I say lightly. 


Abuses of power and cults of personality can happen across the spectrum, but the current version of conservatism is something fascism easily maps over. The starting point on the right is “fascism now or fascism later” and it’s intertwined with conversations about politics and society we have everyday 


Abuses of power and cults of personality can happen across the spectrum, but the current version of conservatism is something fascism easily maps over. The starting point on the right is “fascism now or fascism later” and it’s intertwined with conversations about politics and society we have everyday. They are repeated and fundamentally false. A few ideas you’ve heard more than once:

  • You’ll get more conservative as you get older. 
  • I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative. 
  • We need a race-blind society. 

These ideas build off of one another, because their foundations aren’t rested on ideals, but ends.

You’ll get more conservative …
It’s generally believed the left is young and idealistic while the right is pragmatic and logical. The presumption is as generations age and accumulate wealth, they give up challenging political and social systems because it’s in their best interest to keep things going as-is. I’ve always found this idea unconvincing for a few reasons.

  • What it means to be a conservative has shifted drastically as the far-right radicalization of the Republican Party has progressed to the mainstream over the last two decades.
  • Society has tended to get more liberal each generation. The arc of US history, in attempts to live up to the ideals we preach, is constantly moving left.
  • Society is more aware of systemic issues in education, finance, law, energy, and societal exploitation. The GOP has no plan for any of these. It hasn’t for 20 years. Its stance is to figure it out when in office. Hope the Democrats actually put some plans in place while they pivot for more power. It’s culture wars all the way down.

Maybe if Millenials and Gen Z had the same access to wealth, the same investment in wealth’s political advantages and the same ignorance to the power structures that mold American society — maybe if all that, then yeah. Maybe they would skew more conservative as they age. 

Maybe if they had been raised without the awareness of how power structures pool resources, and of how laws around housing and finance exacerbate compounded advantages coming from wealth. 

However, given that Millenials and Gen Z on average are three to four times poorer than Baby Boomers, grew up with multiple financial crises as well as a melting planet in an interconnected world, they are far less inclined to be skewing to the right. Which leads to:

“I’m socially liberal but …”
What is presumed is that equality is disconnected from equity. The modern generation knows that’s false. There’s no equality without equity and without access. In an intertwined, positive-sum economy, there is no such thing as socially liberal but fiscally conservative

That phrase is about prioritizing money. Infrastructure they dislike? Waste. Infrastructure they like (i.e., that supports their own wealth)? Vital. It’s an amorphous, 10,000-foot term that falls apart under any scrutiny. It justifies propping up defense contractors while cutting down education. It’s a smokescreen and it always has been. 

“We need a race-blind society”
You’ve heard this from the right in phrases like, “I don’t believe race exists, so I’m not going to acknowledge it,” and on the left in, “If we fix class issues, we will fix race issues.” They never seem to get to how, because you can’t fix problems made specifically with race in mind by ignoring that it exists. All their solutions require magic or time travel. 

It’s this: Completely change the past and the inequities it contains. Or this: Completely change the minds and experiences of everyone on the planet, all at once. A race-blind society without fixing engrained inequities ends up treating democratic baselines — like freedom, respect and empathy — as finite resources that those in power will dole out at their convenience. Or the “market” will dole out to those who are deserving of them. I call this trickle-down equality. 

Trickle-down equality is the same magical nonsense as trickle-down economics. It focuses on changing society in superficial ways that ultimately protect the systems exacerbating the root problems. 


There’s no equality without equity and without access. In an intertwined, positive-sum economy, there is no such thing as socially liberal but fiscally conservative.


On the right, trickle-down equality manifests itself in respectability politics — the model minority myth or means-testing food stamps. On the left, trickle-down equality deradicalizes and undermines the core goals of a movement to placate entrenched communities in power. 

If you find yourself rising up to the subjectively elite class, they will placate your worries with comforts instead of community. This often happens with movement leaders who find themselves with a captive audience, a platform, but didn’t find the amount of political success they hoped for. Slowly whitewashed down to be toothless representations of the political group they are now paid to speak for, as pundits and podcast hosts whose brand is “fight the power” in-between appearances on CNN panels, “both sidesing” slavery. 

Real equality — real equity — is about specifics. About actionable, comprehensive plans. About making sure plans address issues in ways that really do raise all boats. In the sometimes fractured coalition that is the American left, a sizable portion, over decades of in-fighting, has been centered around policies that leave communities behind.

Move left
Fascism paves over nuanced challenges inherent in fixing our country’s problems — by ensuring those out of power don’t have a choice. 

To combat this, we must try to be cognizant of our worldview. We must be targeted in our support. We must listen to community allies. Most importantly, we have to be aware of how conservatives control the conversation. We cannot meet a mentality that doesn’t believe in a democratic society in the middle. You want to fight fascism and push America towards the values it preaches? Move left, friend. Move left.


Brandon Bradford covers the politics of urban and environmental policy for the Editorial Board. A renewable-energy projects expert and manager living in San Jose, Calif., he's also a relentless fried chicken sandwich snob. Follow him @BrandonLBradfor.

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