America’s state capture

               “The world sees how bad the United States is.”

                                           — Donald J. Trump, 2017

The tax bill is heralded as Trump’s big legislative win. In fact — having built his fortune as a grifter — it’s his biggest scam. At over a trillion dollars, probably the biggest heist in history.

Republican lawmakers duly performed a leader-worship extravaganza sickening for a democracy. One commentator called it ring-kissing; but what was kissed this Emperor’s clothes don’t cover. These sycophants do it because Trump laps it up. Foreign governments too have figured out how flattery turns him to jelly.

“State capture” means looting the state for private benefit. The term was coined in South Africa, where President Jacob Zuma and his business cronies, the Gupta brothers, hardly even bother to hide their corruption.

Zuma

Zuma was the example I cited when, after our 2016 election, I wrote that giving bad men power never makes them better. That such men have a golden opportunity to prove doubters wrong, and become heroes. But they never do. Creeps only become creepier.

The latest is Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa. Following one of the baddest baddies ever, he too had a golden opportunity.

Mnangagwa

So awful was Mugabe that it wouldn’t have taken much for Mnangagwa to look like Gandhi by comparison. And he promised a new leaf. But already it has the same putrid stench as the old leaf.

In South Africa, Zuma’s presidency has nearly ruined the achievement of the country’s transition to democracy. But there’s hope. The ruling ANC party met recently to choose Zuma’s successor, and he failed to swing the vote to his ex-wife (or to derail it). The winner — by a whisker — is Cyril Ramaphosa — just possibly a good man.

Trump is not. He too could have proven naysayers wrong; instead he’s proven we underestimated his badness. Yet a third of Americans still love him. Compare Brazilian President Temer’s approval rating of just three percent. Three! And he’s much less bad. But the difference is that Brazilians see clearly, not blinded by the disease afflicting America: partisanship trumping everything.

And so we get this tax bill — probably the foulest legislation in U.S. history, combining cravenness of intent with hugeness of impact. Looting the Treasury to the tune of over a trillion, mainly to benefit fatcats like Trump himself. His saying it will actually cost him money — “believe me, believe me” — is a stupendous lie. Among the bill’s biggest beneficiaries are what are called “pass-through” business entities. Of which Trump owns approximately 500.

And in the debates, Trump said the “carried interest” loophole, which also benefits him, should surely be scrapped. Was it? Of course not.

The entire bill is one big lie. No, two. First the lie that it’s a gift to “the American people” when it’s overwhelmingly for corporations and the richest, ultimately paid for by the rest. And the lie that it will pay for itself, and benefit the less affluent, by stimulating the economy.

Mnuchin’s teeth

No serious economist agrees. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin lied through his teeth (literally; his normal speech mode) about his own department’s analysis of the bill’s impact.

As both economic and social policy this is insane. Republicans railed against Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill as a budget buster, at a time when the economy was desperate. Today’s economy is, in contrast, humming nicely, with unemployment less than half, yet Republicans slate an even bigger unneeded stimulus. One that in fact will eventually harm the economy by increasing the megatonnage of our national debt bomb.

I mentioned social policy. Ever hear the word “inequality?” Trump was elected, in large part, because of middle- and working-class economic anxiety. Yet it’s the rich this tax bill coddles.

And it sets the stage for worse to come. Targeted next is “entitlement reform.” Indeed, the long looming fiscal hemorrhage of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., is worsened by the tax giveaway, making reform even more imperative. What’s needed is curbing welfare for the rich. But will Republicans do that? If their tax heist is any clue, they’ll instead use that very legislation — which slashes the money available for social programs — as a pretext for a “reform” cutting those programs for the neediest while preserving hand-outs for the people who . . . donate to their campaigns.

Merry Christmas! Make America great again!

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