On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up with CNN on my TV so I could witness something truly remarkable. For a complete hour news cycle, it was pretty much all Men Behaving (Very) Badly, all the time. Much of the 60-minute span focused on the new allegation du jour – the leaked nude photos of conservative Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton, and questions about whether he'd threatened to sic the Capitol Police on the leaker in retaliation. But there was also the ongoing Roy Moore follies in Alabama, and — for partisan balance — a new sexual misbehavior allegation or two involving Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
On one hand, the airing of these grievances against powerful men in high political places — all accused of using their position and their privilege to abuse, demean, devalue, and threaten women in some way — was more proof that a full-blown social revolution is underway in America. And, as I've written recently, it's long overdue. And the fact that CNN considers this story worthy of such extensive coverage is an affirmation of that. But …
On the other hand, I also listened in vain for the dog that did not bark. What about all the stories that CNN wasn't covering that hour, as it focused on the predatory sex habits of the rich and famous. Nothing was uttered in that hour about the GOP tax scheme to use deficit spending to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars into the wallets of the super-rich and the bank accounts of the biggest corporations. Or the just-announced push by the Federal Communications Commission to cripple the open internet. Or the latest scientific funding that a fast-melting Antarctic ice shelf could inundate the world's great coastal cities … even as the Trump administration races to install climate-change deniers in key government posts.
Then, as the 72 holes of a Very Trump Thanksgiving dragged on, the president's inane tweets — such as his "I am breaking up with you" preemptive potshot at Time magazine for when it doesn't name The Donald its Person of the Year next month — hijacked the news cycle. It was a reminder of the growing dismay that many Americans feel over such an unstable and small-minded man — almost certainly afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder, and that's a best-case scenario — with possession of the nuclear football.
Trump is the new omnipresent "awful" in America — openly racist (his Twitter wars with black athletes, his whiff on Charlottesville), misogynistic (lack of female U.S. attorneys and judges, his own sexual-abuse scandal), corrupt, impulsive, and thus dangerous. That is the "news" — literally, what's new — in 2017, and it's hard for many folks (this columnist included) to focus on anything else.
But "Trump awful" isn't the only "awful" front and center in American politics these days. Indeed, "Trump awful" co-exists and builds upon — even as it often stands largely outside of — a second powerful force that has been steadily gaining steam for more than a generation. It is this second force that — back when Trump was just a Manhattan developer up to his neck in Chapter 11 paperwork — was already out doing the hard work of crushing the middle class, enriching the powerful, and planting the dark seeds of doubt about science, our free press and our democratic norms.
Let's call it "GOP awful" — the more traditional strand of modern conservatism that brought us income inequality, climate-change denial, and many of the other pathologies that Trump either tolerated or adopted in order to win the Republican presidential nomination while satisfying his last-chance ego drive for the White House. The irony is that with "Trump awful" the bright shiny object that's impossible to ignore, "GOP awful" is on the brink of its greatest and most diabolical victory ever, the biggest legal wealth grab for the rich and powerful in the history of the United States.
It's hard to say what's more alarming about the GOP tax scheme as it takes shape in Washington — the economic and political havoc that would be wreaked by its enactment, or the speed and lack of a well-organized opposition as this little-understood and even less-debated piece of bad legislation races toward President Trump's desk. Here are just a few of the ways that "GOP awful" is producing an awful new tax code.
It will saddle our children and grandchildren with a whopping $1.5 trillion in new debt (in its most recent version), not for any productive purpose like new roads or solar farms, but largely to pay for mega-rich families such as the Trumps to pass their wealth down to their heirs, and for large corporations — already making record profits — to funnel even more money to their investors.
For middle-class Americans, who have been struggling to tread water for the last three decades and who, in large numbers, looked to Trump last fall thinking he'd fight The Establishment on their behalf, the GOP tax scheme is largely a con job; in the early year of the bill, the benefits to the middle class are notably less than those paid out to the richest of the rich, and by 2027 — under the Senate version — more than half of middle-class and upper-middle-class families would actually be paying more in federal taxes.
To try to appease its handful of deficit hawks, the Senate bill seeks to pay for its corporate and billionaire tax cuts by ending the health-insurance mandate, which would mean 13 million would lose their coverage. That's right — some Americans will literally be dying for a corporate tax cut.
More so than any previous tax overhaul in American history, the current GOP proposals were crafted with the clear idea of punishing Americans with opposing political views, by taking aim at deductions for state and local taxes, which tend to be largest in states like California, New York, and New Jersey, which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and which won't vote for a Republican in 2020 even if global warming doesn't prevent hell from freezing over. Likewise, the bill vacuums up dollars from folks like grad students and even the $250 deduction that doesn't even cover the supplies that most teachers (not big GOP fans, generally) in poor districts such as Philadelphia or Chester have to buy for their kids.
What's so terrible about corporate tax cuts? The concept isn't inherently evil, but the idea is being sold on the back of a frequent Trumpian falsehood that U.S. Big Business is the highest taxed in the world (not even close). But the bigger lie is the one told by both Trump and top Republicans on Capitol Hill — that corporate tax cuts are needed to help "the job creators." But companies have no obligation to spend their tax-cut dollars on new jobs, and the overwhelming evidence is that they won't. Their No. 1 responsibility is to their shareholders, and that's who will pocket this money. It's the ultimate case of Wall Street over Main Street.
Is it any wonder that poll after poll has shown the tax plan is wildly unpopular among voters — at least, the ones who are actually paying attention? So why even do it? Here's where the concept of "the two awfuls" in U.S. politics becomes so important.
"Trump awful" honestly could not care less about any of the details of the actual bill. The president's childlike, dictator-flavored dream is to sign grandiose legislation that will demonstrate his own oversized importance and stroke his insecure ego. He's thrilled to leave the dirty work to someone else. This marriage of "Trump awful" and "GOP awful" is one of convenience; the president needs someone to pass legislation and the Republican Congress — after eight years of Barack Obama — has someone with an itchy signature finger eager to sign whatever pro-corporate and pro-millionaire dreck they can come up with. The blessing for regular folks is that none of this dreck has passed … yet.
So "GOP awful" is racing to pass this bill and prove to the nation that its legislators — after (thankfully) flubbing repealing Obamacare — are truly capable of passing something, anything. If the lawmakers were smart, they'd pass an actual middle-class tax cut — but that would offend the hedge-fund billionaires, the oil-rich Koch brothers, and the other large donors who 2018 Republicans desperately need to fund their campaigns, to win anything in the face of voter anger over "Trump awful." And unlike the original full-blown repeal of Obamacare — the terribleness of millions of people losing their health coverage something the average angry voter could easily grasp — there's just enough smoke and mirrors in the tax scheme to bamboozle not just citizens but too many in a too-gullible media.
Hopefully, America won't wake up to CNN some morning in the next couple of weeks to learn — wedged between the latest Hollywood sex predator and Trump's Twitter war with a black hockey player (I'm guessing here) — that the biggest wealth grab in America was passed with little debate, little media coverage, and little public protest. This would be a very good time to call your congressman or senator, or even take it to the streets as if the very foundation of American democracy were fundamentally threatened by this tax bill … because it is. It's going to be so easy to be distracted by Trump's tweets and his fundamental unfitness for the presidency, but the real action is on Capitol Hill. Just remember, there's not one but two "awfuls" in the American body politic, and "Trump awful" isn't the one grabbing for your wallet this week.