On the Road to Kleptocracy

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

House Speaker Paul Ryan leaves the House Chamber after voting on the Republican tax bill

With the passage of the Republican tax bill, there’s no longer room for doubt: The big heist is on. The looting of the national commons is well underway, and now those behind it feel no need to hide it.

Let’s face it—this is why they allowed President Donald J. Trump to happen. He may not have been the first pick of GOP leaders, who would have preferred a more subtle approach, something that looked more like the invisible hand of the market than outright pillage. But once Trump had the nomination locked up, they fell in line. However ugly things might get, a bonanza awaited the crowd that carried Trump across the White House threshold.

You’ve likely heard by now that 83 percent of the gains to taxpayers in the bill go to the top 1 percent, ranked by income. How the tax cuts for middle-income earners are modest and temporary, while the cuts for corporations are robust and permanent. How many middle class people in blue states will actually take a hit. How 13 million people are expected to land among the ranks of those with no health insurance, thanks to the monkey wrench thrown into the works of Obamacare through the repeal of the individual mandate. How social programs that allow everyday Americans to get ahead or simply stay alive are set to be starved.

Taken alone, the tax bill is an abomination. Taken in the context of the institution-breaking behavior of this administration, it’s but one battle in a march of conquest. There’s nothing subtle here: The riches of the nation are being stolen from the people.

Consider the planned follow-up to the mere abomination. House Speaker Paul Ryan is promising a “welfare-reform” package that takes aim at Medicare and Medicaid. The tax bill will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, yet Ryan blames Medicare, the program that keeps older Americans alive and functioning. For years, Ryan has advocated a voucher system to replace Medicare, a system likely designed to allow natural selection to take its course. Who needs weak, frail people, anyway? They’re no longer part of the machinery of production.

Poor people, too, are marked for early death in the ideas floated for the so-called welfare reform package. Medicaid, the program through which poor people obtain health care, will have work requirements if Ryan has his way. If you work for minimum wage and become physically unable to work the three part-time jobs it requires to keep a roof over your family’s head, dispense with any expectation of a long life.

Public lands are being reclassified to allow for the plundering of their resources. The shrinking of the Bears Ears National Monument will be known in history as a pivotal moment in the seizure of the nation’s assets by private and corporate interests, just as it will be recorded as yet one more time white people cheated and harmed Native Americans.

They’re even stealing our words. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is forbidden to use the phrase “science-based” in its budget request, something truly sinister is up. Science poses a problem for the administration, because it argues against the looting, putting its costs on display. For good measure, the word “fetus” was also included in the list of seven words the CDC is forbidden to use in the request. You see, the religious right is in on the take. They’ll do their bit to turn out voters for the looters, so long as they get to reshape reality in any way that deprives women and LGBTQ people of their rights. Language shapes reality. In banning the word “fetus,” the administration clearly seeks to scrub the notion of a fetus as something distinct from a “baby.” Banning the word “transgender” serves to erase existence of an entire, scientifically recognized category of vulnerable people. And it dispatched the solicitor general to argue against the civil rights of same-sex couples in a case currently before the Supreme Court.

Right now, the president of the United States owns a hotel in a federal property, in violation of its lease, which agents of foreign powers apparently feel compelled to patronize, all to the benefit of the president’s own family. The logo on the Trump International Hotel dominates Pennsylvania Avenue. And that’s the little grift. Just a president using a building that belongs to the American people for his own profit.

From its failure to staff the State Department and other agencies to its intimidation of the government’s climate scientists, the Trump administration is taking a sledgehammer to the institutions that maintain any semblance of a humane society. There’s nothing subtle here, no elegant scheme. Just a naked grab for the goods, and the whole of the Republican coalition is in on the take—even those base-level voters who are being economically screwed by the guys they elected. The booty for them is validation of their contempt for people of color and the aspirations of women.

They’re stealing our land. They’re stealing our health. They’re stealing our words.

If we let it continue, they’ll have succeeded in stealing our very souls.

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