President-elect Joe Biden campaigned aspirationally on a vision of uniting a country many see as severely, if not hopelessly, divided. After all, while Biden amassed over 80 million votes, the most votes ever tallied by any candidate in a presidential election in U.S. history, Trump hauled in the second-most votes ever, finding the support of over 70 million American voters.
Republicans continue to block legislation to provide relief to tens of millions of Americans as well as the state and local governments that provide services and employment to them. Their hand-wringing, it seems, is rooted in the worry that providing relief, such as extending enhanced unemployment benefits, will eliminate any incentive, or coercion, for people to seek employment and return to work.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently announced his opposition to any kind of relief packages for states, advising instead that states pursue the route of declaring bankruptcy. Since current federal law, for good reason, prohibits states from declaring bankruptcy, McConnell likewise voiced his support for altering the law itself.
Back in 2004, Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas? elevated the state as the textbook case of how the Republican party has been able to leverage a platform of conservative social values to sway the electorate to vote against its economic interests. Railing against abortion, affirmative action, big government, elitism, political correctness, and the like, Republicans surfed the wave of voters’ cultural outrage to election victories and then performed the bait-and-switch.
As Frank tells the story, these officials, instead of delivering on these platforms, engaged in unbridled deregulation and tax cuts, gutting the public sphere on which people depended, such as the educational system, and concentrating wealth in a fewer and fewer hands at the people’s expense.
In 2018, Kansas voters suddenly got “woke,” deciding they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. They elected Democrats Laura Kelly as Governor and Sharice Davids to the House of Representatives.
They felt the reality of Republican Governor Sam Brownback’s Kansas, where it became apparent that, lo and behold, massive tax cuts did not pay for themselves, much less increase state revenues, but rather resulted in severe austerity conditions. For example, the school year was shortened due to revenue shortfalls attributable to his criminally huge corporate tax cuts, exposing that these Republican fiscal and tax policies were not benefiting the economic health of the state or creating a higher quality of life. Brownback’s cuts to education were so egregious that they were deemed unconstitutional by the state’s supreme court. Bobby Jindal wreaked similar havoc in Louisiana back in 2016, granting massive tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations, leaving the state in economic chaos and facing massive cuts to education and basic social services. Republican Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner followed the same playbook, razing the state’s public sphere in the name of restoring economic health by lowering taxes and destroying unions.
As I wrote back then, voters paying attention should have seen what the GOP had in store for them should a Republican win the presidency in 2016. And Trump has indeed realized this vision, lavishing exorbitant tax cuts to the wealthiest among us and to corporations, resulting in the accelerating deterioration of the economy as well as gutting the public sphere. His budget cut proposals as well as the
policies of his Education Secretary Betsy Devos