This week's overhaul of the U.S. tax code is a betrayal of a century of progressive reforms, and a return to the morally corrupt dominance of the robber barons.
WASHINGTON — Dec. 20, 2017, will live on as a day of disgrace and dishonor.
It will be remembered as the day when a government of, by and for the people became a government of, by and for wealthy campaign donors — and of, by and for wealthy Republican politicians themselves.
We thought the corruption, self-dealing and social indifference of the Gilded Age were long behind us. But we underestimated the raw nerve of President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and fellow Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
This Triumvirate of Privilege has returned us to the "age of betrayal," as writer Jack Beatty called the years of the robber barons. The goal has always been to roll back the social advances that the country has made since the Progressive Era. On Wednesday, the demolition crews in the House and Senate struck a devastating blow.
The tax law loots the federal treasury on behalf of major corporations and the richest people in America. It sharply shifts the nation's tax burden onto wage and salary earners whom Trump, Ryan and McConnell treat as serfs expected to bow before the wielders of capital, including real estate titans such as the president himself. It also creates an utterly unstable tax code. So many new opportunities for evasion were stuffed into this monstrosity that not a single person who voted for it can fully know what its effects will be.
Now comes stage two.
This lobbyists' wish list was passed with unconscionably reckless haste because those who confected it didn't want mere citizens to grasp what they were doing. In this, they failed. The polls make clear that citizens, including many Republicans and many Trump supporters, know exactly whom this bill will benefit, and whom it will hurt. No tax cut in recent memory has been so unpopular.
Now comes stage two. Having delivered our government to their privileged friends and benefactors, Trump, Ryan and McConnell will make sure that Washington does even less for the vast majority of Americans. Ryan speaks eagerly of wanting to "reform" Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and programs for those with low incomes. Rarely has the idea of "reform" been so degraded, invoked to undermine measures that make our country a bit more just. Then again, it's also rather cheeky that they're using the "reform" label to describe this tax boondoggle.
Ayn Rand, the philosophical hero of Ryan's youth, believed that the masses stymied the creative genius of the entrepreneurs and the business classes. Somewhere, the author of "The Virtue of Selfishness" is smiling.
But the radically reactionary character of what Trump, Ryan and McConnell have done has one benefit: It brings clarity to our political condition. Those who would restore both social decency and fiscal responsibility must respond with political discipline and strategic wisdom.
All except the willfully blind must now acknowledge that, sadly, the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is dead. Friends of sane budgeting and compassionate health-care coverage placed their hopes in three Republican senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine. Each expressed grave doubts about this bill — and then folded.
Trump will keep lying on the bill's financial impact on him.
Corker's explanation of his switch from "no" to "yes' was so without substance that the "Corker kickback" became a trending term, referring to a last-minute real estate break slipped into the bill that appears to be of great benefit to him, and to Trump. Motivations can be debated, but we need an open accounting of who in Congress will profit from this new tax regime. The same goes for Trump. Voters do not take kindly to moving money from their own pockets to the bank accounts of those they elect.
And every social and health-care spending cut that Republicans proffer must be met with specific proposals to repeal particularly egregious giveaways in this tax law. The followers of Trump, Ryan and McConnell must be forced again and again to decide whether to further enrich billionaires and wealthy heirs, or to provide food for working families and health care for children and the elderly.
Then there is Trump. He will keep lying about the bill's financial impact on him. Some of Trump's die-hard supporters will keep cheering when he calls out kneeling NFL players. But so many who wanted to believe what he said about draining the swamp and standing for our country's "forgotten men and women" understand that they have been kicked to the curb. Eventually, even the most accomplished charlatans show us who they really are.