We’ve been lied to. And too many of us believed the lies. As a result, we lost democratic control of our government. Popular sovereignty has been replaced by the sovereignty of the wealthy. Our government now serves the billionaire class when it should be working for the common good of all of us.
Let’s look at the record:
Trump campaigned to restore dignity to a maligned middle class.
He promised to cut taxes on the middle class and bring back lost jobs.
He promised to raise taxes on the wealthy. He even promised that he and his friends would actually pay more in taxes to fund the middle class tax cuts.
He promised that he would never touch the benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He promised to drain the “swamp” of the elites while restoring the lost dignity of the working middle class.
He simply is not doing what he promised. Instead he and the Republican congress just passed an enormous tax package that does nothing significant for the middle class. It permanently lowers taxes on corporations and allows the wealthiest Americans to pass additional millions to their lucky heirs with no estate tax. And it gives a huge tax to our wealthiest. For example, President Trump’s personal savings have been estimated to be $11 million a year. To finance this revenue give away, the national debt will rise by about one trillion dollars. For the middle class, this tax “reform” bill provides a temporary tax cut of about $80 a month.
Having created a debt crisis, Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell now conclude that the only solution to the crisis is to lower benefits for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs.
How did we reach this point? The answer is partly in plain sight, and partly well obscured. For decades the Koch brothers and others have coordinated an attack on any government programs that took money from their pockets in taxes or that assisted the common folks. They did this in a variety of ways and were joined by a circle of fellow billionaires.
These developments took place in a less restrictive environment of campaign financing. The Citizens United case allowed corporations to make independent expenditures, with no limits, on behalf of their favored candidates. Most of these expenditures are hidden from public view through dark money, so called “social benefit corporations.” Hundreds of millions have been spent by these corporations in recent elections. Citizens United was followed quickly by a case that increased the permissible amount of personal contributions parties and individual candidates. Now a single family may contribute over $7,000,000 every two years to party committees and congressional candidates.
In one of the truly revealing and surprisingly honest statements of his campaign, President Trump stated that when he makes campaign contributions to candidates, he expects something in return. So too it is with the billionaires. They want more money for themselves and they reject the importance of assisting the poor and the middle class. After pouring millions into electing a compliant Congress and President, they expected a payoff and they got it with this tax bill. These events will long be remembered as the epitome of government in service of the wealthy.
But there is reason for hope.
Early our history, Benjamin Franklin said that we would have to fight to keep our democracy. Now is the time for all of us to engage in this fight. As the recent election in Alabama demonstrated, we can succeed. It won’t be easy and it will require effort and commitment. We must volunteer our time. We must, if possible, make small financial contributions to candidates who reject the politics of greed. And most importantly, in the next election we must get ourselves, our families and our friends to the polls to vote. Together we can elect for a new generation of public servants who are dedicated to serve all of us.
Let’s do it!
-- Jon Ellingson is a lawyer in Missoula. He served in the Montana Legislature from 1995 to 2006, and was Senate Majority Leader, 2005-06.