Donald Trump is actually the president?! How the hell did we get to this point?
Once upon a time, the GOP had a valid ideology.
They revered the free market, considering it the foundation of a free society. I took the Left’s view, that a market with no regulations becomes predatory -with wealth concentrated at the very top, little opportunity for mobility, and thus those who defended it became, knowingly or not, what Truman said the GOP stood for: Guardians of Privilege.
So we disagreed on how much interference (in their phrasing) or protection (in the Left’s) is needed. Sometimes the disagreement was bitter. But it was still just a difference in ideology, at least.
No more is it about the free market. The billions in corporate welfare prove that they are more than happy to intervene in the business world.
Now, it is just about cruelty.
Seen in that light, Trump should not be a surprise. He is many years in the making.
I’m going to restrict this trip down Memory Lane to the economy, because if I addressed the GOP’s increasingly prehistoric stance on social issues, we’d be here all day. And yes, there are surely far more compelling and substantive examples. These are just the moments that resonate for me.
#1) First stop, the year 1986. President Reagan was repeating one of his very favorite anecdotes about the problem of so-called “frivolous lawsuits”:
“In California, a man was using a public telephone booth to place a call. A drunk driver careened down the street and… crashed into the phone booth. Now it’s no surprise that the injured man sued. But you might be startled to hear whom he sued: the telephone company and associated firms.”
Now, in Reagan’s telling, the “injured man” was looking for a payday. And the corporation was unjustly targeted, a victim of an individual’s greed.
Now, the facts: The phone booth door jammed, a fact of which phone company had been made aware, hundreds of times. Witnesses reported seeing the man, Charles Bigbee (he deserves the dignity of his name), frantically struggle to pry open the door, in abject terror, to no avail. He survived, but lost a leg, among other profound injuries. His livelihood as a janitor was now gone. He couldn’t afford basic medical expenses, let alone the needs of daily living.
Reagan always used his version though, because it suited his narrative. This is the template, you see. The formula. Assail the character of the poor, or anyone who questions the sacredness of the corporation.
#2.) Next stop: Bush and his now infamous encounter at a town hall with a divorced mother of three who worked three jobs just to get by. His words to her:
“That’s fantastic. Uniquely American.”
Yes, I understand he was intending to praise her work ethic. But to anyone who wasn’t a complete Marie Antoinette, it was clear. Her demeanor, her expression, her tone of voice. She was not looking for a quick, cliched pat on the back before being ushered off the stage, forgotten. She was looking for a lifeline.
And he just did not hear her.
Had it been me, I’d have stammered:
“3 jobs? Why? Who’s watching the kids, checking their homework, and thus making sure the cycle of poverty is broken? No one should have to work 3 jobs to get by in the richest country in the world. We need to change this….”
Bush, in his inability to fathom struggle (and disinterest in trying), thought it was ‘fantastic’.
#3.) Next stop: the 2012 presidential election.
In an early debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if a man without medical insurance should still receive treatment if it was necessary to save his life. The crowd was unanimous. No, he should not, and they cheered: “Let him die!” It was so very chilling from the “party of Christ” that I had to turn off the TV.
In a subsequent debate, Newt Gingrich was asked about his suggestion that we fire school janitors & replace them with the poor kids, as “payment” for subsidized lunches. Let the poor kids scrub the toilets in their schools if they want to eat. (Maybe they can do it while their richer peers tackle reading or math?) When he doubled down — poor kids need to learn the value of work! — he received the night’s only standing ovation.
I though of Dickens and wondered what was next. No school for poor kids, at all? Back to the factories?
Of course, both of those men lost the nomination to Mitt Romney. Thus, he’s our next stop.
#4.) In an interview on the housing crisis (recall: massive at the time, since it was the Great Recession), Romney said:
“Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up, and let it turn around and come back up.”
Breaking that down into steps:
- Lose your home to the bank.
- My wealthy friend will scoop it up at a rock-bottom price.
- You pay monthly rent to my friend on the home you used to own.
- When the market recovers, *maybe* you can buy it back at a higher price.
Okay, this is clearly a double-win for the wealthy investor. First, the monthly rent paycheck, and then the profit from the re-sale of the home when the market rebounds.
But I wondered: How does that solution help that struggling family in the house, or the middle class as a whole? It doesn’t. Not one bit.
Of course, he thought that half the country — excuse me , 47% — won’t “take responsibility for their lives”, so why would he consider the real effect of his policies, or if they might exacerbate inequality? He, like all the modern GOP, believes poverty and financial struggle are character issues. Moral and/or intellectual deficiencies.
(Incidentally, in that very same interview, Mitt assured us that “the banks are feeling the same thing you’re feeling.” I thought: Really, Mitt? The same thing? Are the banks deciding between groceries and rent this month?
I’ll conclude with one of the more symbolic examples: the GOP on the Estate Tax.
Republicans oppose it (re-naming it the “death tax”)’ and just last year, GOP reps on the congressional floor voted — in yet another merely symbolic vote — to repeal it. Again. Grover Norquist, at one time the most powerful Republican in Washington with the “Norquist pledge”, called the estate tax: “the morality of the Holocaust.”
First, to define it. It’s the tax on the part of inheritance exceeding 5.4 million for individuals, 10.9 million for married couples. The portions less than those amounts are not taxed. The GOP protests are:
— “The money has already been taxed.” No. On sums that large, much if not most is unrealized capital gains. Furthermore, even if it had already been taxed, the conveyance of moneys from one party to another is always taxed. Even basic sales tax is a double tax, and a regressive one at that.
— “These estates are family businesses or farms, which will go bankrupt with the taxation.” No. Of the very tiny handful of estates who’ve been affected at all, all had ample liquid assets to cover the taxes. Besides, there are loopholes for the farm or business.
In short, there is no valid reason to oppose it as ferociously as they do, other than — well, I defer to Mr. Truman’s acronym.
Advocates of maintaining an Estate Tax know that it was first created to help (in however small a way) prevent dynasties. We’re supposedly a representative democracy, not a feudal society, not a kingdom. Besides, it’s estimated to bring in 300 billion over a ten-year period. As inequality worsens, thirty billion a year could, for one example, fund a decent amount in early childhood education, which professionals agree is among the most effective ways to democratize opportunity.
Alright. My very condensed and haphazard trip down the “road to Trump” is concluded.
Now, I understand that an army of GOP-voting regular Joes struggling to keep roofs over their heads will lambaste me for these words.
They’ll label me a socialist, a word they don’t understand but, like Pavlov’s bell, gets a programmed response. For decrying the reality that virtually all new wealth created in the past 30 years went to a handful of people at the top, and corporate profits keep soaring and breaking records while our wages stagnate, they’ll dismiss me as jealous, lazy, I’d rather whine than take responsibility, and so forth.
I accept that, and understand there is no hope of swaying anyone who believes. I suppose my hope with this is simply to remind everyone else how critical this fight is. Decency must prevail. It must.
We can’t just defeat Trump’s administration; we must demolish it, and thus send a message, affirming to the world and ourselves: We are not complete assholes. Yes, we’ve plenty of terrible moments, shameful moments. But we’re not this. We’re better than this.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Article originally published June 30, 2016. Updated to reflect changes since the election.