Why Must Americans Walk Life’s Tightrope Without a Safety Net?

Republicans are about to seize control of the US House of Representatives, where the Constitution says all taxation and spending must originate. And the result won’t be difficult to predict.

This Spring will be the 20th anniversary of my radio program. During that entire time, I’ve run a contest for anybody who can name even one single piece of legislation from the past 40 years (since Reagan) that was:

+ authored by Republicans,
+ principally co-sponsored by Republicans,
+ passed Congress with a Republican majority,
+ signed by a Republican president,
+ and benefited average working people or the poor more than it did the GOP’s donor class.

Outside of a feeble-attempt bill to regulate spam callers during the first Bush administration and legislation reversing the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, nobody has ever won the autographed book prize.

Every developed country in the world has some variation on a free or low-cost national healthcare system, and free or subsidized higher education.

In most developed countries homelessness is not a crisis; nobody goes bankrupt because somebody in their family got sick; and jobs pay well enough and have union pensions so people can retire after 30 or 40 years in the workforce and live comfortably for the rest of their lives.

But not in America. Republican politicians have fought tooth-and-nail for generations to prevent any of those things from happening here.

Which raises the question: “Why?”

Why do Republican politicians promote hateful messages and cruel policies? Why are Republican-run states the real “shithole” parts of the US with the highest rates of poverty, violence, early death, disease, and illiteracy?

What motivates these Republican politicians to say they’re for the “little guy” when the only policies they pursue are to cut taxes on the rich, gut unions, destroy public schools, and ship jobs overseas?

It’s not about ideology.

Republicans don’t hate Social Security and Medicare, for example, because they’re afraid that those programs are going to somehow turn America into a “socialist” country. They hate those programs because they’re paid for with tax dollars, and greedy Republicans hate to pay their fair share of taxes.

It’s not about racism, although it often appears that way.

The reason Republicans work so hard to keep Black and Brown people down is because they subscribe to a weird economic theory that “requires” an underclass who do most of the hard work for very little money. Thus, morbidly rich Republican “donors” — being part of the overclass — can reap the benefits of increased corporate profits while keeping their taxes low so they can stuff the extra cash into their money bins.

If their use of racist language and Confederate iconography brings in a few more low-IQ white voters, that’s just icing on the cake. They can use the racist yahoos to get themselves reelected so giant corporations will continue to stuff their SuperPACs with lobbyist cash they can use for their own retirement.

It’s not about charity.

Republicans say that the housing, healthcare, and other needs of poor people should be taken care of through “private philanthropy” instead of government. What they’re really saying is that they don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes to maintain a healthy society.

By cutting government support for poor and working-class people, as Anand Giridharadas documents so well, those very average Americans will become more dependent on the noble philanthropists among the billionaire class and less bonded to their own nation’s government.

It’s not about Christianity, although they’re constantly invoking Jesus for everything from pushing the death penalty on women who want to get an abortion to giving bigots the legal right to discriminate against gay, lesbian, and trans people.

Jesus never once mentioned abortion and decried bigotry, but they regularly ignore and even flout His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and His warnings in Matthew 25. They protect multimillionaire evangelists’ tax-free status, and the preachers repay them by preaching politics from the pulpit.

It’s not about saving Americans from the pandemic or concern for public health.

Trump used the Defense Production Act, for example, to force mostly Brown and Black meatpackers back to work, not to keep Americans safe. As long as the factories are humming and the stock market is rising, a few hundred thousand dead Americans are just collateral damage.

It’s not about conservatism.

They’re not interested in slowly or “cautiously” improving society, or “conserving” anything other than the balances in their own checking accounts. They like to use the word “conservative,” but they’ve rendered it meaningless at best and code for “racist” at worst.

It’s not about making the world a better place.

Republican politicians deny climate change, deregulate industries that poison our air and water, and do everything they can to screw working people out of unions, good wages, and decent benefits. They’re totally down with pesticides that are killing our pollinators while they poison our atmosphere with their carbon emissions, all just to make a buck.

It’s not about having a better-educated electorate or populace.

They’ve spent decades trying to destroy our public education system that was, in the 1960s, the envy of the world. When they did away with free and low-cost college education during the Reagan years they kicked off almost $2 trillion worth of student debt which is preventing people from starting families, opening small businesses, or even buying their first house. But it sure is profitable for Republican-donor bankers!

It isn’t about “culture.”

They do a good-old-boy NASCAR/Duck Dynasty routine to bring in the rubes, but there’s no way Donald Trump would ever invite the average Republican voter with a giant flag and a pickup truck to any of his golf clubs, nor would Ted Cruz want to vacation with one of them or their families in Cancun.

It’s not about “gun violence.”

As long as their investments in weapons manufacturers are profitable and the problem of gun violence is limited to poor- and working-class Americans, Republican politicians don’t give a rat’s ass about “gun safety.” Although they’re happy to use guns as a wedge issue to bring in male voters who are insecure about their own masculinity.

It’s not about “protecting our children.”

The main through-story of the GOP attacks on queer people is that “they’re coming for your kids.” If Republican politicians actually cared about our kids, they’d do something about America being the only country in the world where gun violence is the leading cause of childhood death.

Republican politicians know that most pedophiles are straight men, but attacking defenseless minorities has been the cheap trick of craven demagogues from the eras of crusades, pogroms, and witch burnings to this day.

It’s not about immigrants taking jobs from working-class Americans.

After “reforming” our immigration laws in 1986, Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the laws against wealthy white employers hiring people who are here without documentation (even though those employers were — and are — committing a crime by hiring undocumented workers).

As a result, entire industries like construction and meatpacking that once provided good union jobs have been de-unionized, their former American-citizen union employees replaced by low-wage workers without documentation.

And when the spotlight gets shined on those industries, Republicans are more than happy to put poor, hard-working Brown people in jail, but there’s no way they’re ever going to go after wealthy white employers. The Trump administration, for example, kicked off the midterm election year of 2018 by raiding over ninety 7-Eleven stores, hauling off undocumented Hispanic people for the cameras they invited to the arrests. Not a single employer went to jail, although they were the ones who initiated the “crime.”

Republican politicians don’t give a damn about your job, particularly when they can find somebody else to do it cheaper, although they do have to put on a little show from time to time to keep the racists happy.

It’s not about putting America or Americans “first.”

Reagan and Bush the Elder negotiated NAFTA and revived the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) so businesses could offshore entire factories. Since the Reagan administration instituted neoliberalism in 1981, over 60,000 factories have left America, taking along with them at least 15 million jobs.

Donald Trump‘s rewrite of NAFTA even gave American companies a huge new tax break if they’d move their factories from America to Mexico.

At the end of the day, all Republican politicians care about is money. Greed is their principle animating force, and what binds them to their morbidly rich donors.

The greed embraced by Republican politicians — and the billionaires and CEOs who fund them — is why average Americans can’t have nice things. It’s why we and our children must walk the tightrope of life without the same safety net other countries — from Canada to Costa Rica, France to Taiwan — offer their citizens.

It doesn’t matter to Republican politicians how many Americans die unnecessarily, how many of our fellow citizens struggle in misery and poverty, how many children’s growth is stunted or bodies and brains are poisoned by industrial and mining waste being poured into our air and rivers.

As long as the money keeps rolling in and the GOP’s billionaire patrons keep paying less than 3 percent in income taxes, greed is all Republican politicians care about or are willing to fight for.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.