On Wednesday, President Trump unveiled his administration's tax plan, with plenty of details for the wonks to dig into. Just kidding — there were few details. Instead, the speech Trump gave was the kickoff of a propaganda campaign, a snow job the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, since the last time Republicans sold America a tax cut for the wealthy.
Or excuse me, "tax reform." The GOP's noble and public-spirited thirst for reform is undying, and whenever they get the political power to do it, you can be sure that cutting taxes will be the most important item on the agenda. Other initiatives may or may not make it to their to-do list — a war here, a rollback of Democratic policies there — but they will always, always, always try to cut taxes on the wealthy.
Seven months into this administration, we've waited long enough. The twist this time is that President Trump is selling the cuts not just as good for everybody, but specifically as an attempt to help the ordinary joe, the reg'lar fella, the struggling and downtrodden and dispossessed.
"We're here today to launch our plans to bring back Main Street by reducing the crushing tax burden on our companies and on our workers," Trump said, kicking off a campaign that White House aides described as an "unrigging" of the economy, echoing back to one of the ideas Trump ran for president on. You remember — the system, he said, was run by and for the fat cats, and he'd give it back to you, the people. Which is why he stocked his administration with Wall Street veterans, billionaires, and corporate titans. Both his treasury secretary and chief economic adviser hail from that hotbed of populist idealism known as Goldman Sachs, and they and the rest of the Trump team will be working hard to make sure that this plan will be aimed right at the pocketbooks of the common folk.
Which is why it's just a coincidence that their legislation will do things like cut the corporate income tax and lower tax rates for the wealthy. And the fact that the Koch brothers (combined fortune: $84 billion) are preparing an all-out media assault to support passage of the plan? Why, that can only be because of their shared conviction that the most efficient way to help the little guy is to help the big guy.
If this strikes you as a gigantic load of B.S., it might help to think of rich people like seed pods. Once you give them some more tax cuts, they will become so swollen with wealth that they burst, sending clouds of magical prosperity seeds upon the wind to drift about, then finally alight on the rest of us. This wondrous story is possible because of the Tax Fairy.
The Tax Fairy, you see, is the one who gives tax cuts for the wealthy their limitless power, the power to produce such an explosion of economic growth that they not only pay for themselves but make everyone rich. If you were impolite you might point out that tax cuts have never done that, and we had a test of the Trump theory not long ago, in the presidency of George W. Bush. Bush passed two significant tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and rather than lifting us into a glorious new economic dawn, what ensued was years of weak growth in GDP, jobs, and incomes, culminating with the worst economic cataclysm in 80 years.
But never mind that — learning from the past is for those whose faith is impure. Nevertheless, there are doubters even within the White House. According to some reports, the ambitions for the bill are already being scaled back. Perhaps the corporate income tax rate will be reduced from 35 percent to only 20 or 25 percent, not the 15 percent Trump had originally hoped. And, horror of horrors, Trump's advisers "are also weighing leaving the top individual tax rate, which they wanted to lower to 35 percent, at its current 39.6 percent level."
I'm sure that when Paul Ryan read that, he stopped blasting his lats long enough to squint his eyes and say determinedly, "Not on my watch." Loopholes, shmoopholes — if we can't lower the top rate, why are we here? Not long ago Democrats demanded that any tax changes not provide a net benefit to the top 1 percent, and Republicans all but laughed in their faces. So that top rate is coming down, don't you worry.
The new plan will also almost certainly include the elimination of the estate tax, which would mean that a wealthy heir like Ivanka Trump (to take a random example) would be unburdened of the need to pay taxes on her inheritance when it comes through. What is she, some kind of grimy scullery maid getting FICA withheld from her meager paycheck? Please. We can all agree that an America where Ivanka has to pay more than the bare minimum her father can arrange is not the kind of America we want to live in.
Since he first made himself into a public figure, Trump's brand of shamelessly vulgar consumption was always aspirational: It said that if you play your cards right (and maybe plunk down a few grand on Trump University), you too might ride around in your own airplane, decorate your home like a Russian mobster, and trade in each wife for a younger one once she hits her 40s. So too is the Republican tax plan. It says to us unwashed masses, "If you work hard and succeed, one day you too might have government bend over backward to ease your burden." If the theory works, we'll all put our noses to our respective grindstones in the hopes that one day we might be the beneficiaries of such Republican largesse. And then we'll know they were right all along.