Why “Two Cents” is the new (and better) “Build the Wall”

New Hampshire Democrats cheer for Elizabeth Warren. 09/07/19

The stadium is packed. The air is abuzz with anticipation. The candidate takes the stage and the crowd goes wild. At the mention of the campaign’s signature proposal, the crowd bursts into a furious chant repeating a simple phrase over and over again. The candidate stands there smiling, soaking in the acclaim.

It could be a typical scene at a Trump campaign rally. But this crowd isn’t wearing red MAGA hats, they’re decked out in mint green Persist t-shirts and matching feather boas. Their superhero is not Donald Trump, but Elizabeth Warren; and they don’t want to build a super wall — they want to tax the super rich.

Their chant — “Two Cents” — refers to Warren’s plan to levy a 2% annual tax on all household net-worth above $50 million. As Warren puts it, these ultra-millionaires can keep their first fifty million, but gotta pay two cents for every dollar after that. It’s a program that taxes the 0.1% to benefit the 99.9% in the form of universal childcare, free public college, healthcare, and more.

The tax plan is vastly different from Trump’s 2016 promise to construct a wall along our entire southern border, but it’s taking on a similar role in the campaign. Here’s why Warren’s “Two Cents” chant is this election cycle’s “Build the Wall.”

1. The crowds love it

Warren’s reception at the New Hampshire Democratic Convention was a sight to behold: two straight minutes of standing ovation before she even said a word. No other candidate generated such enthusiasm among the crowds, nor inspired them to take up chanting. The booming “Two Cents” response is the kind of organic participation that makes a rally fun and exciting — creating a sense of momentum, power, and unity for the campaign.

Listen to New Hampshire chant “Two Cents” with Warren

2. The haters hate it

In 2016, Trump’s “Build the Wall” was rightly criticized for its racist and xenophobic implications. While Warren’s tax mantra doesn’t carry the same vitriol, her plan is still sure to stir up widespread opposition — especially among conservative media quick to label any taxation as “socialism.” However, like the reporting on Trump’s polarizing wall, this sensational attention will only gift Warren with increased media coverage and an emboldened base. Last election, Trump showed us that any news is good news; if Warren’s winning the coverage war, she’s winning.

3. It’s tangible

Build the Wall” was successful because it is, well, concrete. It’s easy to visualize what success looks like: a literal border wall from sea to sea. Similarly, it’s easy to imagine making change for a dollar and dropping two cents in the penny jar. Most people don’t understand the finer points of fiscal policy or graduating tax brackets, but anyone can hold a picture of two pennies in their mind. And, importantly, anyone can see that if you’ve got fifty million dollars to spare, two cents is not too much to ask.

If you’ve got fifty million dollars to spare, two cents is not too much to ask.

4. It’s symbolic

While their tactile nature makes these chants catchy, it is their symbolism that gives them power. “Build the Wall” was never just about a wall — it’s a stand-in for Trump’s entire array of exclusionary and nativist immigration policies. Likewise, “Two Cents” underscores Warren’s whole narrative of wrestling our democracy out from the hands of the ultra-wealthy and corporate elites. As the wall symbolizes protection from the wiles of an imagined foreign immigrant enemy, so the pennies symbolize protection from the domestic threat of extreme inequality.

5. It might die in Congress

Trump’s wall found favor at his campaign rallies, but failed to win over a U.S. Congress leery of divisive and wasteful spending. Likewise, Warren’s tax plan might sputter on the Hill — especially if the Republicans keep control of the Senate. But that’s a problem for another day; for now, give the people what they want to hear!

6. It might win her the White House

The most important similarity between “Build the Wall” and “Two Cents?” One carried Trump to the White House, and the other might do the same for Warren. It’s hard to understate the importance of voter enthusiasm in a competitive multi-way primary. It’s what buoyed Trump above the reach of much more seasoned politicians, and what steadied him through a minefield of scandals. With “Two Cents,” Warren is giving voters something to cheer for, and it might just propel her all the way through the primaries and into a loud and enthusiastic 2020 election night victory speech.

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News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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Charles Skold

Charles Skold

Millennial & bi in Portland, Maine. Thinking about politics & believing in justice. @CharlesSkold

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