The Rest of Us Get the Lickspittle


The Republicans lined up enthusiastically last week for the Senate tax bill. No hesitation, no second thoughts. They are all in (or at least 51 of them) for the McConnell-Trump knavery.

Each of them knows, or should, the following: The United States is the wealthiest country on Earth. It also has higher poverty, and especially, child poverty rates, than any other advanced nation. It has the advanced world’s greatest income inequality – the largest gaps between rich and poor. It has among the worst economic mobility rates – if you’re born poor here you are more apt to stay that way than in other major countries. Our radical economic polarization continues to rise annually. We are the richest, the poorest and the most unequal nation in the world.

So what is their remedy? They voted to borrow over a trillion dollars to create the largest tax cut in history – calling it a cut – but it will raise taxes for the bottom half to give gigantic cuts to the richest corporations and the one percenters. The bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that, on average, taxpayers earning $75,000 or less will end up paying more in taxes. The bottom 80% will enjoy a cut of 0.3%, one third of a percent. The top 1% will get about 20 times that. Thirteen million will lose their health care.

Alan Auerbach, a University of California-Berkeley tax expert who does research with the head of President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, said most all of the benefits “go to very high-income people.” Calling this abomination a middle class tax cut is a mocking lie. Can you imagine voting to tax penniless graduate students to give further largesse to millionaires and billionaires? Can you imagine cheering it?

Thomas Piketty, who has taught the world so much about yawning and dangerous economic disparity, writes that inequality in the United States right now is “probably higher than in any other society, at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.” Still, apparently, it’s not high enough for Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley professor who has done more than anyone to explore the challenges of American economic immobility, said the “bill is the reverse of what we need at a time of populist backlash against inequitable gains from globalization in advanced economies.”

Republican leaders have been clear that potentially disastrous impacts don’t matter. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) reported: “My donors are basically saying get it done or don’t ever call me again.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said failure to pass the give-away would crush the Republican Party and “the financial contributions will stop.” Gary Cohn, the White House’s leading economic advisor, made clear “the most excited group out there about the tax plan are the big CEOs.” This is the first amendment Citizens United lusts for.

Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page published a huge study two years ago, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. It concluded: “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened … the preferences of the average (citizen) appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” All that matters, they determined, are the dictates of the donor class. The two professors could have short-circuited the massive project and just interviewed Burr and Tillis.

This is not a mistake. It is not a policy error or miscalculation. It is a crime. It is a middle class crushing penalty, not a boon. And for many poor people, poised to lose healthcare, it is a potential death warrant.

The senators declared – if millions are in poverty, tough shit. If the poorest are required to pay more and left again in the shadows without medical treatment, we’re unmoved. Our paymasters have spoken. We are their lapdogs and lickspittle. For us, those at the bottom don’t actually exist. All that matters is the money.

Our senators taunt us as well. This is not the world’s greatest democracy, they effectively explain; it is an oligarchy, a calamitous banana republic. Don’t be so naïve. America has nothing to do with liberty and justice for all. We are the walking, talking, embodied proof of that. Get used to it.

Gene Nichol is Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law and in 2015 started the Poverty Research Fund at the University of North Carolina School of Law after the UNC Board of Governors closed the state-funded Poverty Center. He is also President Emeritus of College of William & Mary.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2018

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