The United States Senate is poised to approve a tax bill that will, more than any other action it has ever undertaken, change the face of America. And not for the better.
The tax bill that is before the Senate is five hundred and fifteen (515) pages long. I have spent some of my professional life reading statutes, and it is not easy. A clever mind can weave all kinds of things unnoticed into a statute, and you can just imagine how many lawyers and tax experts spent untold hours weaving things into those 515 pages. Yet that bill was presented to Congress just a week or so ago, and the proponents of the bill have refused time to review the bill and have also refused to hold open debate about the details of the bill. Once it has been passed, those clever little items will come out to reward the authors.
For now, though, we do know several important things. First, this bill is intended to allow a far more thoroughgoing concentration of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller group. See, for instance, the elimination of the estate tax, which will benefit only a fraction of one percent of Americans, and which will allow the largest of estates to continue to grow unchecked. It is likely that the passage of this bill will cause more than ninety percent of American wealth to be held by a fraction of one percent of the population.
Second, the enactment of this bill will cause the national debt to grow to an intolerable level. When that happens, and it will happen fairly soon, we, and likely our children, will have to pay for that increase by significantly reducing Social Security benefits and Medicare and Medicaid coverage. It will also mean a reduction in medical and scientific research and serious cuts in public education from kindergarten to doctoral programs. All of this will mean an increase in poverty and a decrease in the availability of health care, for the poor and the elderly, but also for the general population.
But there is a third thing, and this is the scariest one. American democracy has been based on, and perhaps even defined by, an openness to all to the opportunity to make a decent living and afford at least a modicum of comfort and financial security. It has been possible for almost all to live comfortably at a certain level, and it has also been possible, through hard work and ingenuity, to achieve great heights, intellectually and financially and creatively. This is what has made America a beacon for the world. It has also created a certain feeling of mutual identity among Americans. The differences between coasters and heartlanders, as significant as they sometimes seem, nevertheless allowed each to accept the other as true Americans. Minnesotans and Texans each have unique characteristics, and perhaps even unique languages, but they will all agree that they are all Americans. Significant wealth never created the radical caste differences in America that have so long defined other cultures. In fact, those who present themselves as superior because of their wealth are commonly derided as just deluded snobs.
This bill, by guaranteeing the intense concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few, will inevitably turn America into a de facto plutocracy. There is, after all, a finite amount of wealth in the world. It is far more difficult than it once was to increase that amount, and so the only way to concentrate wealth is to take it from the many and give it to the very few. That is precisely what this bill will do. How and why our legislators allowed such a thing to happen in America will be a subject of study for centuries. What we need not study now, what we already know from the sad lessons of history, is that impoverishing the many for the benefit of the few always results in violence. That is what I fear the most.
I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing Americans from all regions and all walks of life. They all share the characteristic of being people of good will. South or North, West or East, the people of America are warm and giving people. They live their lives for their children and their neighbors and for those in need. They do that because they themselves have modest demands, and they have had those demands mostly satisfied. Their streets are not paved with gold, but they are paved. Their homes are not castles, but they are warm and comfortable homes. They have, by and large, enough and more, and these good people give both of their abundance and their substance. That is what Americans are.
What I fear is that this bill, if enacted, will be a step toward the end of that America. It will lead to slashing education, slashing medical and scientific research. It will slash the aid we give to the less fortunate. And, for all of us, it will make it tougher — much, much tougher — to achieve even that basic level of comfort and security that has allowed us to be the warm and open people we have been for so long.
Gloomy, I know. Likely? I fear. Please show me I am wrong.