For much of the 20th Century, one of the labels that American politicians of a progressive bent feared most was the accusation that they were engaging in “class warfare.”
Even for many on the left, the concept of class warfare – that is, of attempting to motivate and mobilize people of low and/or modest income to rise up against the wealthy – was widely frowned upon as antithetical to the nation’s longstanding tradition as a broadly middle class (or even class free) society. Forty years ago, the iconic liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed the idea of waging class warfare against the rich in America as “uncouth.”
Today, sadly, this aversion to class warfare seems quaint – and not because the left got over its queasiness about the subject. In 21st century America (a nation in which three individuals own more than the bottom half of the country combined), class war has been declared and is being waged – often in blitzkrieg form – by the wealthy and the politicians they control in Washington and in dozens of state capitals.
For a classic and egregious recent example of class warfare in action, one need look no further than the competing conservative tax “reform” proposals now working their way through the United States Congress. Notwithstanding the “thou dost protest too much”complaint of House Speaker Paul Ryan that progressive critiques amount to – you guessed it – “class warfare,” the blatantly extractive and trickledown nature of these proposals is evident in both the broad strokes and the fine print.
At their hearts, both the House and Senate tax proposals are – as usual – about slashing taxes on the wealthy and thereby starving core public structures and services that support the middle class. As veteran federal budget analyst Sharon Parrott of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained recently, the planned tax cuts for the rich are part of a “Republican two-step fiscal agenda” that she accurately describes this way:
“Step 1: Tax cuts for the high-income households now, driving up deficits – House and Senate tax bills would increase deficits by $1.5 trillion and give largest tax cuts to the top-earning households and profitable corporations.
Step 2: Use higher deficits to justify cuts in critical programs such as: Medicare, Medicaid, Job Training, College Aid, Food Assistance.”
None of this is particularly new or surprising, of course. Republicans have been pushing tax cuts for rich individuals and profitable corporations for many decades. What makes the current wave of conservative proposals especially insidious, however, are the mean-spirited details.
The proposals making their way through Congress would, among other things:
▪ Make it harder for student struggling with student loan debt to deduct the interest they pay,
▪ Do away with tax deductions for Americans with high medical expenses and further sabotage the Affordable Care Act,
▪ Slash the estate tax on the tiny fragment of the super-wealthy currently subject to it,
▪ Remove the deduction for state and local taxes in exchange for lower income tax rates– a move that will further benefit the rich and discourage people from paying state and local taxes,
▪ Raise taxes on schoolteachers by ending a deduction they can currently take for up to $250 for money spent on classroom supplies.
Other provisions would end the tax credit that helps parents adopt, eliminate a tax credit that spurs investment in poor communities, make disability accessibility more expensive for small businesses and take away critical income from immigrant families with kids. Other mischievous provisions would end the bar on churches endorsing political candidates and even abet the anti-abortion agenda by giving fetuses legal status as people for purposes of college savings plans.
As far reaching as the proposals under consideration are, however, the most amazing thing about the GOP tax blitz might well be the reception it is receiving from some on the far right. Last week, the ultra-conservative National Review attacked Republicans for daring even to retain a higher income tax rate for some millionaires. According to these critics, such a provision amounts to – we’re not making this up – “class warfare.” Apparently, as far as the Trumpists and other conservative true believers are concerned, the biggest problem in modern America is that rich people don’t have enough money to trickle down to everyone else.
The bottom line: Plutocrats and their apologists have been waging class warfare in this country for decades and the budget proposals currently wending their way through Congress are just the latest blatant examples. Americans would do well to acknowledge the true nature of the fight that has been thrust upon the country and move quickly to demand that their elected representatives declare, once and for all, which side they are on.
Rob Schofield is the director of research at NC Policy Watch.