The Charade Continues, by Martin Westerman, 6/22/20

Once upon a time there was a kid standing on a street corner holding the strings to a bunch of helium balloons, and selling them to passersby. A policeman came along and said, “Kid, do you have a permit to sell those balloons?” And the kid opened his hand and said, “What balloons?”

In Steve Bennen’s new book Impostors, he describes how contemporary Republicans have quit governing and become a “post-policy party.” They may present themselves as officials who are ready to take problem solving seriously, but they only focus on pursuing and maintaining power. At war with expertise, evidence and data, they’ve basically embraced nihilism, gaslighting, and bait-and-switch scams to fool people into voting for them. In office, they avoid relying on anyone who knows about policy or can hold them accountable, work to pack federal courts with creationist-theocratic, anti-woman, pro-corporate judges, inject Christian theocracy into military and civilian affairs, make deals to benefit their wealthy supporters, and transfer public money into private pockets.

Let’s look at two examples.

Cutting the federal payroll tax to stimulate the COVID-depressed economy. Independent Media Institute reports that as COVID continues unabated, Trump & Rs’ are proposing to replace Social Security’s dedicated revenue with deficit-funded general revenue. It looks like a gift – middle-class tax relief, but instead undermines a dependable source of retirement income for working Americans. It’s “fiscal stimulus” bait with an insecurity switch, a stealth attack on Social Security. One should only give up something good to get something better. This isn’t the case here.

Tax cuts don’t solve coronavirus problems, robust public health responses do. The Trump administration isn’t providing those, but it’s gaslighting America by pretending it is. Better options to stimulate a COVID-depressed economy: provide paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, and treatment for all. Make a one-time, progressively-structured direct payment; restore and expand the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and/or provide greater economic stimulus – all more targeted and equitable, and none placing administrative burdens on employers.

Big winners in this proposal: large corporations and employers, CEOs, U.S. Senators & Representatives, and members of the Trump administration. Big losers: salary and wage earners. As wages go down, so do benefits. State and local employees who do not participate in Social Security also get nothing. By law, Federal Insurance Contributions Act payments (payroll taxes) can only be used to pay Social Security insurance benefits. Social Security has no borrowing authority, and it does not and cannot add even a penny to the deficit. As the late President Ronald Reagan eloquently explained, in his words, “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.”

Re-opening the economy: As Ayoka Karis Warren wrote on Facebook in April 2020, forcing the Georgia economy to re-open is a very calculated move by GA Governor Brian Kemp. He mandates that restaurants reopen, whether they do or not. “I file for business interruption insurance, it does not go through since I am “allowed” to operate at full capacity. My landlord can demand all his money, since I am now allowed to fully operate. Furloughed staff that is collecting unemployment insurance has to come back to work or I have to let them go. Their unemployment insurance then goes on my tab, and if things blow up again, they are still on my tab, not the state’s, since they are no longer employed. This is about screwing the working class and small business, not about helping them.”

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the job of Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, was to divert attention from the people who really ran the galaxy. Trump may see that as his Presidential role; as a reality show host, he is adept at it. And anybody who runs for President must be long on ego. But they must also appear to be personable, at which Trump is not adept. Any successful President must also play with interest groups and voting blocks, but with a sense of their effects on individuals. To succeed, they rely on advisors with their fingers on the pulses of people and events, so they can make the most equitable possible big decisions – about domestic & international economics, social, infrastructural, strategic and defense policies.

When we say we’re in a war for the survival of America’s institutions in 2020, we mean for the structure of what makes America a successful country: recognizable and dependable policies, supported by good research and experience. In 2016, America elected a clone of Loki, God of Chaos, as President. Chaos doesn’t work for governing 350 million Americans. Good policy does. Not un-policy.