The war on democracy in America: Radical strategies on taxation, national debt and the common good

Part 4 of 4

Republican legislators in Congress, fearful of being primaried out of office by the Tea Party fringe right, but in violation of the Tea Party’s and the GOP’s long-standing opposition to so-called fiscal irresponsibility, nevertheless bought the new budget deficit argument and  voted to proceed with  Trump/GOP budget and tax bills adding $1.5 trillion  to the national budget deficit to pay for tax reductions, of which the lion’s share, some $1.2 trillion (or 80 percent) of the total, would go to the tax-avoiding wealthiest one percent, further increasing the world-record wealth disparity in America.

As a carrot to induce the remaining 99 percent of Americans to go along with the deal, token tax-reduction benefits were offered to the middle class and to the “little people” (who actually pay their taxes) such as doubling the standard deduction, while at the same time stripping away such benefits as the personal exemption and limiting deductions for state and local taxes. This latter innovation had the additional political advantage of penalizing residents of higher-tax “blue”  states, such as California, Connecticut and New York, more than residents of lower-tax “red” states, which had voted for Trump.  Benefits for wealthy investors and corporations were made permanent, while benefits for everyone else (the common good) were made temporary, contingent on imagined future availability of surpluses in the face of greater national deficits. 

The extreme right-wing political elites thereby reversed the logic and ideals of tax fairness, equal opportunity, civilized democracy and human rights by increasing the already astounding disparity of income and wealth in America, ignoring the observation of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., that, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Once again, America is faced with the fundamental question posed by the 20th-century disaster of the Gilded Age and the resulting Great Depression: Does constitutional government represent Wealth or the People?  

The best answer to this question was the warning by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis that “We must make our choice: We may have democracy, or concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.” In short, we can sit back, let the extreme right take over, and let democracy perish, or we can stand up, fight back, elect responsible officials and “Make America safe for democracy.”

To top it all, the radical right has all but openly invited Putin’s Russia not just to hack the 2016 U.S. elections, but also to help undermine democracy in America and throughout Western Europe. The quid pro quo behind this collusion was for the incoming U.S. administration to promise to ease sanctions on, and take no further action against, Russia for invading and occupying Russian-speaking Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.  

Our home-grown oligarchs, the president among them, have consistently refused to condemn the wrong-doings of their Russian counterparts. The radical right and the Trump administration have given Putin’s Russia a free pass in spite of frighteningly clear evidence that Russia has the technological capacity not only to hack the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections, but also to sabotage U.S. nuclear reactor power plants  and shut down the U.S. electrical grid. There’s a name for jeopardizing U.S. national security in this way, and giving aid and comfort to enemies of the United States. Call it treason.

Although the Russia connection is under official, lawful  investigation, the gravity of the situation is obscured by a distracting string of personnel firings, the obvious aim of which is to terminate the investigation. To do so would constitute a clear case of impeachable and criminal obstruction of justice. Behind it all is an endless and unlimited stream of “dark money” calculated to undermine and destroy democracy in America — if we let it. 

Pursuant to these extremist efforts to undermine democracy in America, the current Trump administration is doing everything it can to undo years of work by responsible Democrats and moderate Republicans  on behalf of the human rights, and the well-being,  “health for all,” and protection of the environment. Some of the hardest-hit Americans are the very core of Trump backers, deceived by a master showman. With Trump in a position to name two to five Supreme Court justices, he is in a position to bias the jurisprudence of the Court for many years to come.

Many of the facts and quotations I have cited above are derived from two excellent research sources: 1.) Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money - The Hidden History of Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” (Doubleday 2016) for the role of our homegrown oligarchs in funding the assault on American democracy; and 2.) Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains — The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” (Viking/Penguin Random House 2017) for actual speech quotations from the Kochs and their anti-American  Libertarian platform. You may wish to pick up these two books as soon as you put down Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” (Henry Holt 2018), or Isikoff & Corn’s “Russian Roulette”  ( Twelve - Hachette 2018), or Madeleine Albright’s “Fascism - A Warning” (Harper 2018). The true facts are all there. 


Anthony Piel is a former director and general legal counsel of the World Health Organization.