Many of us would like to believe that this new Republican party under Trump is something of an anomaly: a one-off populist phenomenon that doesn’t really represent conservatives in America, nor the American people at large. Yet, the GOP’s recent tax bill reveals a party that follows a long line of Republican thinking that can be traced back to the Reaganites of the 1980s. The recycled and tired concepts include: a fantastical belief in trickle-down economics, the rolling-back of “big” governmental programs (except for national defense, of course), and the alleged empowerment of Americans through unfettered capitalist competition. Also included is a strong, evangelical Christian bent: a devolution of power from the federal government to states and eventually to individual churches and religious schools, and “protection of the unborn.” Indeed, these are all included and mentioned in the tax bill, even the anti-abortion line. This tax legislation represents a concerted Republican attempt to prove to themselves and the public that they still have the moral and political will to bind together and further upper-class, business-minded, white-American interests. And dare I say, they succeeded.
What will be the worst effects of this legislation? The continual breaking down of the concept and the reality of “public institutions,” for a start. This, again, is a popular GOP concept since the Reagan era, when government was framed as evil, lethargic, ineffective and almost, un-American. In the continuing fight over the meaning and image of the United States, perhaps this represents a final chapter of sorts: the nail in the coffin that kills public schools, including famed higher education institutions, a rescinding of tax breaks that make viable state spending on local initiatives (including education), an irreversible reward to corporations and high-income earners. This legislation is so total in its attack on non-elite interests, and indeed on anything that smacks of “public,” that it will take years of “public” action to overturn the damage to American workers, middle-class earners and students. The scarier reality is that this legislation accurately represents the will of the citizenry, in which case, either things will have to get much worse before reversing the trend rightward, or, welcome to the renewed America of the 1980s.
Is this the “great” America so frequently referred to in Trumpian speeches and rhetoric? Perhaps. A curious example of this vision of America lies in the heartland state of Kansas. In 2010, Governor Sam Brownback was elected on a platform of drastically cutting government spending and taxes in order to boost individual wealth. The result was quite the opposite: the state quickly lost pace in job growth, lower income citizens were made poorer because of sales taxes higher than income tax, and its education finance system was so underfunded that it was declared unconstitutionally low. Gov. Brownback’s policy was overturned by his own Republican-run legislature in 2017, and he left the post shortly after. Yet, the contenders that stand to win the governorship want to continue his goal of a zero percent income tax. And former Gov. Brownback? Trump named him as “ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.” Welcome, again, to the great America.