On the road, on taxes, on times that need a-changin

Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

-American Tune, by Paul Simon  1973

Those words were written and poignantly sung during a time when you could say our national innocence was being lost. In the previous ten years, we witnessed the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK. We were staggering to the end of our disastrous war in Vietnam.  We had learned that our government could not be trusted to tell us the truth or to do the right thing. Watergate was revealing that the president was, in fact, a crook.

Yet, Congress rallied and reassured us that the Constitution and the rule of law still prevailed. There were lines that could not be crossed, depths to which we would not fall.

Until recently, I have believed bulwarks still stood that would protect the country from self-destruction. The most recent proof of this was surviving the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The U.S. and possibly the world economies were pulled back from the brink of meltdown by the courageous actions of administration and federal officials from both Bush and Obama presidencies. Subsequent bipartisan (Dodd-Frank) legislation sought to prevent future such calamities.

Since then, however, the political currents have been increasingly contaminated with twin pollutants– money and lies– which is enfeebling our democracy and emboldening the ever-growing hegemony of corporations and the ultra-rich. Citizens United gave the green light (and abolished speed limits) to a buying spree of political influence and elections. Meanwhile, politicians, in service to their corporate and rich donors, have been practicing and perfecting a deceitful sleight of hand. Show your base what they want to see, tell them what they want to hear, all the while scheming to enrich the wealthy at the expense of, well, everyone else.

About a month ago, we learned about the Paradise Papers, a trove of over 11 million financial documents, leaked from an anonymous source to a German newspaper and then given to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Together with the Panama Papers, released a couple of years earlier, they contain details of some of the estimated $20-30 trillion that is kept in tax-free havens around the world by companies and wealthy individuals, large numbers of whom are American.

I mention this only as a backdrop for this week’s craven display in the Senate with the GOP tax bill. No hearings. No meaningful debate. No opportunity for Senators to read the over 500 page bill, let alone to have public reaction. Get it done as quickly as possible to avoid scrutiny and evaluation. In spite of the mantra of talking points– tax cuts for the middle class, grow the economy– this legislation is blatantly skewed to favor the very same bunch who are already avoiding taxation on much of their trillions.

Naturally, there must be some on the right in Congress whose motivation is not primarily to further plump up donor fat cats. It is clear that some are also guided by a belief that government must be starved and shrunk. They may see enduring a mad president as a worthwhile tradeoff for the decimation of departments such as the EPA and State. Just as our stalwart senators have held their noses with one hand while grasping their long-sought tax “reform” with the other.

So, now we find ourselves in another “age’s most uncertain hour” and we wonder if Lady Liberty will stick with us again, long enough for us to muster new defenders. And, if so, who will they be?

Last evening, as the tax bill loomed closer to passage, Steve Schmidt, Republican consultant and former McCain campaign (2008) manager, tweeted this:

Indeed. Though there are plenty of Boomer sexagenarians and quinquagenarians (honest, I looked it up!) on the Senate floor as well.

I’m wondering if there has not been some hubris in my stating, more than once, that the purpose of this blog is to help leave things in better shape for our younger generations. After all, Boomers and older who are in power, whether corporate or political, are far more likely to be endemic to the problem than key to the solution. As for the rest of us, well, we have had our chance … and Trump is in the White House. When he spoke of “American carnage” at his inauguration, it turns out to have been in the future tense. And here we are.

If I am despairing of our politicians, it looks like I am turning to our songwriter-poets. Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s the battle outside raging
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
Cause the times they are a-changing
Maybe a little premature, but I think this is where we are heading. A friend, a reader of this blog, sent me a link to a post from yesterday’s The Atlantic It starts with, “The baby boom is being evicted from the penthouse of American politics. And on the way out, it has decided to trash the place. That’s probably the best way to understand the generational implications of the tax legislation Republicans are driving through Congress.”
It echoes Steve Schmidt’s tweet in saying that younger generations are destined to be the biggest losers in this bill. “What’s very clear through all of this is that the group that most pays are the younger people,” according to Eugene Steuerle, the co-founder of the non-partisan Tax Policy Center. Yet, by 2018, more Millennials than Boomers will be eligible to vote. By around 2024, more Millennials will be turning out to vote than Boomers. Post-Millennials, those born after 2000, will start voting in the same time frame, widening the generational advantage. Incidentally, “While about 80 percent of the baby boom is white, over two-fifths of Millennials and nearly half of the post-Millennials are not.”
That looks to me like times will be a-changin. The energy and vision will come from those younger than we are. Our role will be diminished, but need not disappear. Our old road is rapidly aging. Once sturdy bulwarks are in disrepair. When younger generations are building new ones, will we get out of the way or lend a hand? In a couple years, when Paul Ryan or whoever announces the “Entitlements Reform Act”, will we stay in our aging road and fight for ourselves? Or, will we accept some personal losses and fight to save Social Security and Medicare for future generations? Will we embrace changing times? Will we work to restore an America of the people, by the people, and for the people?

One Reply to “On the road, on taxes, on times that need a-changin”

  1. Well, I’m depressed now. It’s discouraging how many political decisions are being made by wealthy, white men with no regard for others who are not as fortunate. Have they no conscience or care for the future?

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