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The Return of the Dreaded Debt Monster

Yes, January 20th will be a big day. Yes, Donald Trump will step down, or be forcibly removed, or something. Yes, Joe Biden will be sworn at — oops, sworn in — as president.

But that day will be eventful for another reason. It will mark the official return of the Debt Monster — that terrifying creature that eats your future and steals from your grandchildren, but never shows its face until Democrats take control of the government. You can hear the snarls already.

As we all know, the national debt signals the end of the world as we know it, but only to Republicans. And only when Democrats are in charge. In Republican administrations, the debt doesn’t matter in the least. Nor does the deficit, which isn’t the same thing, but for now let’s use them interchangeably.

Republican administrations unfailingly add to the national debt — and as aggressively as they can — while taking great care not to let any of the benefits trickle down to taxpayers like, say, you.

The national debt now stands at roughly $27 trillion, and Republicans are saying “What, me worry?”

But on January 20th, a switch will flip, and Earth will once again slip out of its orbit. Listen for the carping as they excoriate those wasteful Democrats for not immediately paying off the debt Republicans ran up.

Joe Biden will enter office with a rather long list of neglected emergencies to attend to. But the chorus of dire warnings about the Debt Monster will almost surely drown out any reasonable discussion of anything meaningful. Except, possibly, confederate monuments and Hunter Biden’s taxes.

By all rights, we probably should have spent an extra $5 trillion this year. That was an intelligent estimate being floated six months ago for what it would take to begin to put the country back together from the twin catastrophes of Trump and Covid.

By now, it should be twice that much. Instead, it won’t even be a fifth. We’ll most likely be getting an anemic $900 billion. And that comes begrudgingly, from Republicans whose indifference to death never fails to shock.

There are lots of things that $900 billion won’t cover, but the one that really jumps out is aid to the states, which are desperate for an infusion of cash, lots of it, and soon.

Every governor — red state and blue — will soon go into the red. If they’re not already. Payrolls won’t be met, teachers will be laid off, schools will be closed. Funding for police, fire, and sanitation will dry up. Public health — a fairly hot topic at the moment — will be shuttled to the sidelines.

Mitch McConnell doesn’t give a shit. When he calls emergency aid “a bail-out of blue states,” there are no words to describe how vicious a lie that is. Especially when you remember how many red states — like his own Kentucky — take far more from the federal government than they contribute in taxes. It’s blue states that bail out red states — and both are screaming for help.

Mitch has it exactly backwards. Which pretty much describes his whole party’s behavior over the last forty years.

Mitch is more than willing to let hundreds of thousands of people die so that billionaires can enjoy their tax cuts. His contempt for the dying clearly extends to his own constituents, the ones who just re-elected him. When he calls himself the Grim Reaper, he thinks he’s making a joke. In reality, nobody spreads the death around like Mitch.

But then, Mitch knows what’s really important — or at least he will in another few weeks: the debt.

So what do we do about the Debt Monster when it wakes from its four-year slumber? What do we do about the piggy Republicans, wallowing in their own hypocrisy?

The first thing we can do is forget about the hypocrisy. You can scream yourself hoarse about the two trillion dollars that Republicans blithely gifted to corporate America, but most people don’t even understand the hypocrisy. And if they do, they don’t care.

I know, it’s galling. But there’s a new survey from Vox that illustrates what actually does work.

Apparently, when people are asked about the national debt — with no context to the question — they consistently say it’s a bad thing, and in need of attention. That’s dead wrong, but not surprising.

But when you give it some context — when you tell them what that debt is buying, when you ask them to choose between the debt and other possible priorities — their attitudes change dramatically.

When they’re asked to compare the importance of the debt to, say, the importance of a robust Covid relief bill — it isn’t even close. Two-thirds of respondents say we can’t spend that money fast enough.

The responses are almost exactly the same when it’s the debt versus expanded unemployment benefits. Or the debt versus another round of $1,200 checks. Or versus aid to state and local governments. Or Covid testing, or fast access to vaccines, or adequate resources for schools.

To each of those choices, two-thirds of respondents said, in so many words, show me the money.

The survey didn’t ask about universal health insurance, the climate crisis, infrastructure, reproductive rights, or racial injustice. But other polls have consistently shown for years that the same two-thirds (or more) of all Americans want all those things. Even if the country has to take on more debt to pay for it.

So next time someone tries to scare you with the Debt Monster, that’s how you smack them down. Ask them which they prefer: debt or death.

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