The tax bill passed by the Senate last night — which will ultimately be reconciled with the House bill and signed into law by President Trump — is the most egregious act of class warfare in recent American history. One that strongly suggests we are well into a political realignment that should change the way people think about partisanship and ideology.
At the outset, let us agree that there is nothing “conservative” about the tax bill, at least as far as that term is typically and objectively employed. Indeed, it is directly hostile to all of the values for which conservatives usually claim to stand:
- It’s not a cost-savings measure. In fact, it’s insanely expensive and terrible for the federal budget;
- It’s not incremental and was not enacted with prudence and restraint. In fact, it’s outrageously bold, ill-considered and wide-sweeping;
- It’s not based on empirical, reality-based financial calculations. In fact, it’s premised on a long-debunked lie about the causal relationship between tax cuts and economic growth.
- It’s not based on lessons learned in the past or historic policies which are time-tested. Rather it’s radical and disposes of norms with which the majority of citizens are happy, comfortable and familiar;
- It’s not premised on the principles of working to get ahead and keeping what one earns. In fact it greatly favors inherited wealth and financial speculation and provides unearned handouts to a distinct group of people.
If the tax bill is not a conservative document, it should not be described or understood in the context of “conservative vs. liberal” politics as we’ve come to know them. There is something else driving it.
That something else is class. The tax bill is, unquestionably, an attack by those who are rich on those who are poor, aimed at the former acquiring benefits at the expense of the latter. Indeed, this view of it is the only way in which it makes any shred of coherent sense.
It is not a conservative bill, as demonstrated above. It is not even a Republican bill, really, given that it does not serve the interest of even a majority of Republicans who aren’t in Congress. We’ll see this even more vividly when, as already threatened, those who supported the tax plan seek to pay for its budget-busting measures via drastic cuts to domestic programs like Social Security and Medicare on which the middle class and the poor depend, both Democrat and Republican alike. The bill can only be seen, logically, as the rich taking from the poor.
People want to pretend that political fights in this country don’t line up along class lines. They want to believe that, unlike most other countries, ours is a classless society. We’ve prided ourselves on it and have long acted as if the United States is exceptional in this regard. I certainly grew up believing it.
It may even have actually been true for a few decades, as America did, in fact, experience a time where social and economic mobility was far more possible here than it was in most other countries and the standards of living for working people and wealthy people roughly corresponded with one another. We were, from the end of World War II until some time in the 1980s, I think, a society in which we were generally speaking, in it together.
That no longer holds. We’ve seen it empirically in the exploding level of wealth and income inequality over the past 25 or 30 years. We’ve experienced it anecdotally as, however high the Dow Jones climbs and however low the unemployment rate sinks, the standard of living and the future prospects of so many in this country have stagnated or declined. There is a disconnect between the well-being of the wealthy and the well-being of the rest of America that puts lie to the notion that our society is a classless one in which everyone is in the same boat, heading in the same direction.
At the moment, it just so happens that most of the support for this new America comes from Republican politicians, but there is nothing inherently partisan about being in the bag for the rich. Lots of poor and middle class Republicans, in fact, are going to be hit hard by this law and many wealthy Democrats, while superficially opposing it, will not consider it to be as serious a matter as bills that do effect them directly. Silicon Valley and Wall Street, after all, are filled with Democrats who will benefit from it and who are actively behind its passage.
In this, Republicans in Congress have finally brought to the surface that which has been bubbling just beneath for some time. The interests of the wealthy are the priority, the interests of the poor and middle class are meaningless. The philosophical and ideological tenets which, at one time, formed the political fault lines in this country — conservatism and liberalism, Republican values and Democratic values — are now mostly empty labels which have lost substantive meaning. Politicians will still give lip service to those familiar concepts, but we are what we do, not what we say we are. Based on the actions of this Congress, the fault lines are now newly and clearly marked.
On one side are those who are interested in making the lives of most Americans, the poor and the middle class included, better. On the other side are those whose primary interest is doing the bidding of the wealthy. It’s that simple and that clear.
Every politician must choose their side, just as the members of Congress just chose their sides this week. Every voter must take note of which side their representatives stand. Once that happens, I strongly suspect our political system is going to realign itself in historic ways, as it has every 40-50 years or so throughout our history.