Rise of the American Aristocracy

It takes a fair stretch of the imagination to come up with a reason that Republicans are obstructing fair governance in Congress. The looming fiscal cliff, or fiscal curb as some like to call it, will impose hardship on many people, all of them poor. If the automatic spending cuts and tax increases take effect, almost all the truly adverse effects will be felt by the poorest among us.

Republicans love to make claims about their political ideology, which include such glowing emotional phrases as “family value”, “pro-life”, “Christian”, “Freedom and liberty”. Yet for people who belong not in the rarefied atmosphere of wealth, pomp and privilege, but in the suburbs, the inner cities, the ghettos, districts with dying schools and drugs on the street, or places littered with trailer parks and gangs, none of these terms apply.

With every move that Republicans make in Congress they show that they have little respect for real families, families that struggle to put food on the table, to pay for rent, or transport to a job, for heat and air conditioning, for medical care. The fiscal cliff embeds cuts to essential programs to help the poorest, to raise taxes on the poor and struggling families.

Unemployment insurance, extended by Obama, will end. As it is, the insurance is a paltry amount, barely enough to pay for meals for a family, never mind the rent. At an average $290/wk, recipients live below the official poverty level. Unemployment is a difficult road to travel, with jobs scarce, employers still not hiring at a decent pace, people are forced to settle for menial jobs with no prospect for advancement.

The payroll tax is normally set at 6.2% of income for employees. That rate was cut to 4.2% in 2011/12, giving employees a decent break from taxes. For many, that meant a little more to cover the essentials. For someone earning $20k/yr, that amounts to $400 in extra income. Living close to poverty, that certainly would come in handy. With the arrival of the fiscal cliff, that tax break will be lost.

For people on low incomes, an additional tax break was enacted by Obama that gave low-income taxpayers a child tax credit. For a taxpayer earning the minimum wage, this child tax credit will revert from$1725 to $165. Conservatives make claims to family values, and yet will take food from the mouths of babes.

The lack of conscience is palpable. Precisely what about this might be considered a family value? To give someone on minimum wage, which Congress refuses to raise, a$1560 tax increase is unconscionable. They are effectively driving millions of working people back into poverty.

While I have less sympathy with those not living close to the poverty line, it is nonetheless a fact that those earning between $100k and $500k, will also be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax. This tax was originally intended to prevent the wealthy from taking certain deductions, ensuring that they would pay a certain tax rate. As the wealthy have found ways around the tax, more and more ordinary Americans, those that are well-off, but not wealthy, have been snared by this tax.

In addition to the above changes, tax rates will revert to Clinton era rates for every American, including the wealthy. This places enormous stresses on the economy at precisely the wrong time. The economy is very slowly recovering from the worst financial crisis in eighty years, and this is not the time to create more obstacles to overcome.

The wealthy have done exceedingly well out of the financial crisis, as the stock market recovered, more than doubling over the past three years. Since most of the stock market wealth is owned by the wealthy, the Middle Class and the poor have not done nearly as well.

Incomes have stagnated, people have lost decent jobs, manufacturing and many service sector jobs have been outsourced, leaving many Middle Class Americans wallowing in a sea of debt, under-water mortgages, and college loans to be paid. For the poor, the situation is no less dire, with jobs increasingly difficult to come by.

Congressional Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure that this parlous state of affairs continues unabated. John Boehner, speaker of the House has steadfastly refused to meet the President half way on anything, insisting on more spending cuts and no tax increases on the wealthy.

Spending cuts always target the poor, since they come off programs like food stamps, and school meals, Medicare and Social Security. Boehner continues to favor the extremely wealthy over the vast majority of Americans. When did this extremist ideology come to pass for Christian values? Is this what Christ taught? The man who borrowed a donkey for his ride into Jerusalem?

How does losing your job, or a credit for your child, or paying more taxes, or losing more services translate into freedom? Freedom from what? The need to eat, or pay for your rent, or a decent meal for a child? All this so that the wealthy can buy another car, another house, another gold umbrella stand? In which alternate universe does this translate to freedom? If you are hungry, or do not know where the rent is coming from, or whether you can afford to take your medication, are you free? Is that liberty?

How do people who voted for this greed machine, the Republican Party, sleep at night? If you are taking food from a child’s mouth by cutting school food programs, or destroying the trades-union that ensured that your workplace is safe and that you have a pension, can you continue to live without guilt?

The wealthy continue to buy Washington, for that is what the Republican Party has become, the instrument of rapacious corporations. The same corporations that refuse to provide health care for their workers, or basic medical coverage, or a pension that will help the elderly live a reasonable life.

A man worth hundreds of millions of dollars ran for President n a platform that included more breaks for businesses, for the wealthy, placing a greater burden on the poor and the Middle Class. I must ask, why do people vote for this greed machine and against their own self-interest?

The majority of Republican voters will never be wealthy, they will live their lives in broken towns and tenements, watching their schools deteriorate, their children live dead-end lives. What do they have to gain from this? Does it emerge from an apocalyptic vision of Earth drummed into them in countless houses of worship? Or do they detest government so much that they would see their own lives deteriorate just so that government can disappear?

Do they not realise how much more difficult anarchy is than orderly governance? Do they truly believe that in the absence of government their lives will improve? Most people have little idea precisely what government does for them, how it improved their parents lives.

The wealthy care little for the travails of the lower classes. They can flit between their multiple homes, from Cancun to St Tropez or the growing opulence of the far east without having to deal with the Great Unwashed. It is this distance between them and the working poor that destroys their ability to empathise with others.

It is dangerous for democracy, for stability. We have been through times like this in the past, and though we are not close to the depravity of those times, it may well happen here. It is not too late for Congress to act like adults and do the right thing for the majority and not for the plutocrats.

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