They aren’t even pretending any more. Trump and his whole kleptocracy clearly intend to grift their way through this whole pandemic, damage be damned.
If he somehow wins re-election, the American Experiment will not be continued. We will face dark times, both as a nation and a species. The planet simply cannot sustain four more years of Trump.
So I need instead to engage in wishful thinking. I need to look past him.
I need to imagine, as I’ve done before, a Trump thrashing this November. And by thrashing I mean Democrats don’t just beat him, they overwhelm the Senate as they did the House in 2018. As I said, wishful thinking.
I will ignore the two months between election and inauguration, which could be the most dangerous two months in the history of the republic. If Trump loses, he knows he’ll be indicted on more counts than we can count. So he’ll spend that “transition” time trying anything and everything to save his own neck. As there is no bottom to his villainy, the question will be how deep a hole he digs us into by January.
But let’s wishfully think we can somehow get to January intact, with a wounded but still functional federal government. What then? What will be the agenda? How do we take yes for an answer?
We say yes to taxing and spending.
Spending? We all know there are massive needs, long-underfunded. The virus, and the depression it precipitates, will add a huge new layer of need, on top of the already urgent demands of infrastructure and environment. So yes, there will be spending. For a hole this deep, and needs this immediate, Democrats are surely looking north of $10 trillion over the next year.
How do we pay for that? Where will the money come from?
As always, it will come from three sources: taxes, borrowing, and cost cutting. How we get to any combination of these will be a battle royal in the first hundred days of the new administration.
Cost cutting will not be on the table, the inevitable Republican bloviation notwithstanding. Political deals will be made and resources will shift. Costs will be shuffled around to whack any moles that pop up. But an overall drop in government expenditures is unthinkable. We won’t be saving, we’ll be spending.
And we’ll be borrowing. On a colossal scale. For some reason, other countries are still willing to lend us money, even with interest rates close to zero. They still see the U.S. government as a safe place to park their money, and they are, in effect, paying us to let them keep it here. So unless they change their minds — and seeing our response to the pandemic, they might — they will keep buying billions and billions in T-bills, treasury notes, and other government-issued debt.
This borrowing orgy will drive our deficit into the stratosphere. And strangely, we’re already seeing — wait for it — bipartisan support for deficit spending. Bipartisan. That’s not a typo. We’ll see what comes of it, but there is no doubt borrowing will be front and center.
But the real fight will be about taxation. Our revenue situation as a country was severely crippled before the pandemic. That $2 trillion tax scam Republicans rammed through in 2017 already meant we were deeply overdrawn, kicking the can down the road for no reason beyond simple greed.
Now the pandemic is running up a tab that we’ll need billionaires and large corporations to pick up. Both groups have had license to plunder for far too long. Even they should understand that the pandemic is an existential issue — that their own future solvency could depend on the survival of a working society. They should be kicking in voluntarily (and to be fair, some are). But we can’t rely on their good will.
There needs to be a major clawback of that $2 trillion tax scam, and it can’t stop there.
There must be higher tax brackets for higher incomes, and that includes corporations. Corporate taxation is a running joke. Too many companies play fast and loose with the tax laws. Too many end up paying nothing. Elizabeth Warren has been screaming about this for years. And she has the receipts. She knows exactly what they’ve been getting away with. Which is why she scares them so much.
Speaking of Warren, her wealth tax would come in handy right about now. Billionaires know as well as we do that their wealth is obscene. That they need to give back to the society that made their fortunes possible. The good ones should welcome this. The bad ones won't get a choice.
There are other forms of taxation we’ve yet to try. My favorite is the transaction tax, which takes less than a penny per dollar from the purchase of any stock or bond. It could raise many billions per year — which we can definitely use — and it would only be paid by investors. Who will surely howl in pain. Let them.
If any good is to come of this hideous crisis, we need to see an aggressive tax-and-spend agenda on all fronts — virus, healthcare, infrastructure, environment. It'll be the New Deal on steroids. Everybody’s in. Everybody puts up their fair share. At this point, anything less makes no sense.
As I said, wishful thinking.