In the lead article in the April 25 issue of The New Yorker, “Deepest Cuts,” award-winning author and staff writer George Packer wrote: “The most persistent and corrosive feature of American life over the past three decades is income inequality.” According to the New York Times, the richest one percent of Americans take home 24 percent of all income generated in the U.S. In 1976, they were taking home nine percent. That’s the key statistic for the economic trend of the last three decades. Timothy Noah in Slate wrote: “The U.S. now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.” Really! This, I believe, is the America that congressional Republicans are trying to make permanent and, from the looks of things, they are conning us well and succeeding. I’ll describe the methodology of the con in a moment.
Packer wrote, in “Deepest Cuts”: “The Republicans now hold just one house of Congress, yet they have controlled the terms of the debate, because they understand that budget battles are far more than numbers, and they’ve made the ideology behind their various bargaining positions startlingly clear: government should be reduced to gasping for air.” Have you been feeling squeezed lately too?
Grover Norquist, leading conservative tactician, put it this way: “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” And they’ve been pushing that goal long and hard and with fierce determination. Make no mistake - along with the government they’re attempting to drown, they will waterboard American workers and the middle class to keep us all gasping and vulnerable as hard as they can, for as long as we let them.
The Big Con works like this: When the Republicans are in power, they run up huge deficits. Think Reagan deregulating the savings and loan industry, which gave rise to massive fraud and theft, which, in turn, lead to the use of our taxes to salvage the industry and protect people’s savings, which left the federal government with its largest deficit in history up to then. What was the Republican response to the deficit they created? “Cut spending! Cut spending for all those programs (that help people but) that we can no longer afford.”
There’s your con. They create a money crisis that becomes the excuse to financially starve the government that they have defined as “the problem” rather than the solution, except, of course, when they want bailouts. We are being conned, manipulated, and bled.
The George W. Bush tax cuts for the rich were another way to starve the government. To that, add the endless, unwinnable war in Afghanistan and the unfunded invasion and war in Iraq, both of which feed the military industry while taking money away from programs for people, our infrastructure, research, education, and other good things, and you have the further erosion of positive government activity as you drain money into destructive activity.
Former Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, under the heading of “reform,” managed to slip in financial deregulation of the banking industry at the very end of the Clinton administration by dumping the Glass-Steagall Act, which was one of the pillars of banking law since its passage in 1933. Glass-Steagall had erected a wall between commercial banking and investment banking that kept depository banks from doing business on Wall Street. With the demise of Glass-Steagall, Wall Street became a wild gambling casino and we are still paying for those excesses. The bankers, however, are doing just fine after trillions of dollars of our tax money bailed them out. Now, billions remain available to them to borrow at near zero interest. What an amazing deal for them and what a con on us to allow it!
This, sadly, is the bedrock of the current Republican vision of America, where the unions, the workers, and the middle class are kept weak and desperate while banking and corporate money grows.
And the trillions amassed by corporations, banks, and the very, very rich can flow in unaccountable, unlimited amounts (Citizens United) to fund the political campaigns that will keep it all going, and “keep” most members of Congress at millionaire status. Plus, a great many of them have lucrative jobs in the private sector waiting for them when they leave the government. Sweet deal for people supposedly representing us, isn’t it?
It all depends on keeping the rest of us conned into giving up the provisions and services of the government that serve people, through the taxes we properly pay for these things, because there is a “deficit crisis.”
The discussion is so well controlled that raising taxes, especially on the upper-income people (who, by the way, have been earning about 10 percent more in every year of the last decade despite the financial crunch that’s hit most of the rest of us) isn’t even brought up.
Also, there is no talk of, much less action for, real tax law reform so that American corporations that earn gazillions in profits are required to pay something, anything, in taxes. G.E and Exxon/Mobil (the most profitable corporation in the world in 2008) not only paid no income taxes for 2010, they got rebates from the government! That’s just amazing. We are so conned, and so easily bullied into a corner we don’t belong in.
Truth and justice have been ground underfoot in this whole conning process. Those principles are lost in the exchange—gone missing from the debates within our government and drained from the national discussion. With them go the principles of democracy. That’s the ultimate con and will be the ultimate loss if the con isn’t exposed and stopped.
Jefferson said, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” I believe that both awareness and action are needed now to preserve our great endeavor and to protect the institutions that we cherish.