Take Back the Narrative

The Republican Party has a message to America’s poor: You’re on you’re own.

House Republicans joined the effort in July, unveiling a budget resolution that the Associated Press says “proposes trillions of dollars in cuts to the social safety net and other domestic programs while sharply boosting military spending,” a budget blueprint that is consistent with one unveiled by the president earlier this year, even if the numbers might differ.

The GOP House plan calls for about $200 billion in benefit cuts, along with “trillions of dollars in cuts to the social safety net and other domestic programs,” according to the AP. It also proposes Medicare “reform” — or the dismantling of the current program in favor of a voucher plan.

It’s unclear whether the budget plan can get through the House, given reports of conflicting priorities among Republican lawmakers, but the conflicts are less about broad priorities and more about specific numbers. There appears to be broad agreement in the party on the outlines of the plan: Gut the social safety net and consolidate tax brackets as a way to cut taxes for the wealthy.

Which is exactly what the Trump teams wants to see.

“The administration urges the House Budget Committee, the full House and the Senate to move forward on a pro-growth budget resolution that supports the administration’s goals of a strong national defense, fiscal responsibility and sustained economic growth,” Mick Mulvaney, White House budget director, told the New York Times.

Responsibility — that’s the buzzword in Republican circles. Fiscal responsibility. Personal responsibility. Just not a social responsibility in the form of government aid to those in greatest need, or adequate medical assistance to seniors or the poor.

This thinking underpins everything the GOP is doing — from these cuts to regulatory roll backs to major tax cuts for the rich. And it means greater inequality and growing poverty, if anything resembling either GOP budget resolution is approved.

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality index produced by Oxfam and Development Finance International already ranks the United States near the bottom among wealthy nations in its commitment to reducing the gap between rich and poor, according to the Guardian. The US currently ranks 23rd on the index, according to the Guardian. It “would fall a further six places ... if Trump’s tax reform effort is successful.”

The report, issued in July, is unlikely to shift the debate. The GOP has demonized government for decades, and the party and its most adamant supporters tend to believe the poor deserve their fate.

Chauncey DeVega, writing in Salon, describes conservatism as a “type of motivated social cognition that by its very nature is hostile to members of groups on the lower rungs of the social hierarchy.”

It’s why the left needs to do more than resist, or focus on Republican legislators. Progressives have had success in preventing the worst from happening, but Trump controls the narrative. And defense of the status quo is a limited strategy.

Progressive need to keep resisting, of course, but it’s time to do more. We must seize the narrative and present an alternative vision for where the country should go.

We need to start with a national $15 an hour minimum wage and a lower Medicare threshold (let us buy in at 55). But we can go farther — a living wage or, better yet, a national minimum income; an expansive public housing plan; single-payer healthcare; paid sick and family leave, universal daycare, and free public college.

And despite the GOP effort to paint us as broke, the money is there. It’s just in the pockets of people like Trump and the other millionaires, billionaires, and corporations who game the system.

Donald Trump won election in 2016 by speaking like a populist while genuflecting toward the rich. The left needs to reclaim populist language and press our agenda aggressively if we are to reverse our political decline.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email grassroots@comcast.net; blog, kaletblog.com; Twitter @kaletjournalism; Facebook.com/hank.kalet.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2017


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