The tax bill that passed the Senate in the wee hours of Saturday morning is atrocious — a giveaway to the wealthy and the corporate sector, rocket fuel for the plutocratic tendencies of our time, a recipe for substantial pain further down the income scale, and a near-certain guarantee of much bigger deficits and vastly higher national debt down the road.
But its passage does not mean that "America died," or that "American democracy died," or that "millions of Americans died." It's not "mass murder." The Republicans who passed it are not "psychotic drooling animals." A "coup" is not "underway." The GOP has not "killed the middle class in America." We do not live in a world in which "there's no America now."
Shortly after President Trump's inauguration I suggested that to clarify their thinking, critics of the administration and the Republican Congress should work to divide events in Washington into three categories: the normal, the abnormal, and the truly alarming. To judge by the reaction of many liberals, the Republican tax bill clearly falls into the last and most ominous of these. This is ridiculous. Yes, the bill is bad, enacting sweeping changes to the tax code that make sense only if you think that progressive taxation is a moral abomination, or if you believe in the most fantastical version of trickle-down economics.
But here's the thing: The Republican Party believes both. It's what the party has stood for consistently since Reagan, and in some respects all the way back to the Gilded Age. Thanks to gerrymandering and Democratic Party malfeasance, the Republicans hold a lot of power in our political system right now, and they're using it to advance these preferred policies.
That's how politics in a democracy works. Elections matter. If Democrats hate the consequences of the 2016 election, as they should, they should oppose those consequences on substance and then hang the dead weight of these terrible policies around the neck of every Republican running for office in 2018.
What Democrats should not do is treat the passage of the tax bill as the end of democracy in America. Because it isn't.
The Trump era is filled with examples of behavior that is in fact truly alarming — including the flagrant shredding of norms of presidential behavior that won't be easy or in some cases even possible to reverse once the current president leaves office. But the tax legislation in itself isn't alarming. Republicans passing a massive tax cut that benefits the wealthy and sticks it to the rest of the population is as normal as anything in our politics. Yes, there were some abnormal aspects to the white-knuckled process by which the Senate passed the bill — by a bare majority, and with last-minute major changes made up until a couple of hours before the final vote. But these institutional norms have been in decay for many years, and Democrats have done their fair share of contributing to the breakdown.
The fact is that if the Democrats take control of Congress and the White House, they will be able to change anything they want with regard to tax rates — from a minor increase to the drastically reduced corporate rate to a complete overhaul that restores more progressive taxation or even pushes it much further, as the highly energized left wing of the party would very much like to do.
That's what keeps the GOP tax bill from being truly alarming: What has been passed by a majority of representatives can be reversed by a future very different majority of representatives. That's not the end of democracy. That is democracy. Denying this may help liberals to jack up their fundraising totals, but it makes them sound like hysterics, while also helping to poison our political culture by spreading disinformation. The tax bill is bad enough. Why does it require an added dose of hyperbole and adrenaline?
Liberals can do better, and they must do better, if they hope to turn back the Trumpian tide.