Sunday, November 17, 2019
I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging. Life’s been busy, and I’ve been working on a long and rather involved article on cosmology, but I’ve also just needed a rest. However, after the events of the past few weeks, especially the impeachment proceedings and the Republican response to it, I simply cannot remain silent. Especially when so many of my coreligionists seem to be caught in a web of lies that they apparently can’t see (or perhaps refuse to see).
A serious question among Latter-day Saints used to be, can a good Mormon be a Democrat? And many Church members seriously doubted that the answer could be yes (despite the fact that President James E. Faust, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Elder Steven E. Snow, and other General Authorities were indeed Democrats). But I would submit that this question has now been turned on its head. When you consider what the Republican Party has become in recent years, I seriously wonder how any informed and morally committed Latter-day Saint can justify supporting this party.
The Republican Party of Ronald Reagan or even of George W. Bush is long gone. It has been going for some time, but it is now fully gone. The GOP is now the Party of Trump, with all that this implies. The Republican Party is now:
1. The Corruption Party. Donald Trump is without question the most corrupt president this country has ever seen. He has indeed drained the swamp, but he has turned it into a cesspool. Every week, sometimes every day, reveals a new outrage, new evidence of how he is using his office for personal gain, how he is undermining democratic institutions, how he is destabilizing not just our country but many of our allies. We have never seen a threat to the Constitution like what Trump presents. He truly believes that no law, no rule applies to him. If Obama had done one-tenth of what Trump has gotten away with, the Republican House would have impeached him in a hurry, and the Republican Senate would have tried to remove him from office. But now they bow to this two-bit huckster, cowed by his popularity among the Fox News–viewing base, frightened to stand up and speak the truth about him and oppose his abuses of power. I am disgusted with two of Utah’s congressional delegation, both of them Latter-day Saints. Mike Lee, formerly an outspoken critic of Trump, called him a “gift” in a recent speech and expressed regret that he was so slow in becoming a “fan” of Trump. And Christ Stewart, who once likened Trump to Mussolini, is now one of his staunchest defenders in the impeachment hearings. That these formerly clear-eyed critics are now willing to sell their souls to this horrible man says volumes about their devotion to party over country and conscience. And they are not alone.
2. The Party of the Wealthy. Trump ran as a populist, but in reality he is exactly what the GOP wanted in terms of economic policy. The only legislative victory the Republicans can boast of when they controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House is the tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. When the new law was passed and signed, I calculated my own taxes under both the old and the new tax codes. My taxes went up slightly under the new law. I work at BYU, and I am not the football coach, which means I am definitely middle class. Now, I will be the first to admit that I should pay more taxes. But so should the wealthy, far more. Instead, they now pay much less. In fact, recent statistics show that the ultrawealthy now enjoy a lower overall tax rate than any other income group.1 In 1950, the wealthiest Americans paid 70 percent of their income in taxes. Now, after the Reagan, Bush, and especially the Trump tax cuts, this group pays just over 20 percent. And, despite what Republicans claim, tax cuts never pay for themselves, which leads to the next point.
3. The Party of Debt. When Obama was president and we were trying to recover from the Great Recession, the Republicans were deficit hawks, preaching austerity, which would have been disastrous. They blamed Obama for the increasing debt, which was actually a result of the recession and the Bush tax cuts, which lowered federal revenues. Deficit spending is necessary during a recession to prevent it from becoming something worse. But when the Republicans controlled the government, what did they do? They passed massive tax cuts during an expansion, which makes no good economic sense. It was just a gift to their donors. The increased investment they promised never materialized, and neither did any sort of serious trickle-down effect. What did happen is what we are seeing now: trillion-dollar annual deficits during an ongoing economic expansion. This is not just irresponsible. It is immoral. They are needlessly saddling our children and grandchildren with massive debt, which at some point will need to be paid off. Everyone likes tax cuts—especially, it seems, the wealthy—but at some point we need to get serious about living within our means.
Republicans like to claim that we need to cut entitlements to bring the budget back into balance. But with 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, most of them without sufficient retirement savings (because of stagnant wages, lost pensions, and their economic responsibility to consume), it will be impossible to cut Social Security or Medicare for many years. With more people falling through the cracks in our top-heavy economy, we really shouldn’t cut Medicaid or other programs to help the poor either. So the only real solution to reducing our mounting debt is to increase taxes.
Contrary to Republican talking points, America is one of the most undertaxed among developed nations. If we were to tax, for instance, at the average rate of other OECD countries, we would have an additional $1.37 trillion dollars each year to help eliminate our deficit and contribute toward such pressing needs as infrastructure or health care. If we were to tax at the rate of the OECD countries with economies most similar to ours, we would have an additional $2.71 trillion each year. So next time you hear the Republican refrain that we are overtaxed, see it for the propaganda it is and ask who such rhetoric is benefitting. It is not you, and it is not your children.
4. The Party of Pollution. Trump brags about getting rid of regulations. But some of the most significant regulations he is rolling back are restrictions on water and air pollution. As of July 2019, Trump had racked up 83 environmental rollbacks. And contrary to his claims, air quality in the U.S. is worse than it was before he took office. “Across 35 major American cities, there were nearly 14 percent more of these [unhealthy air] days in 2018 (799) than in 2016 (702), according to the EPA. The record for the fewest-ever number of unhealthy-air days was set in 2014, during the Obama administration, when there were only 598.”2 And water pollution is similarly on the rise. This is not surprising, given the environmental regulations Trump is reversing.
5. The Party of Gun Violence. I really don’t need to say anything here, but a political party that refuses to enact legislation favored even by a large majority of its own supporters, that offers empty thoughts and useless prayers after each mass killing, and that demonizes the mentally ill every time a massacre occurs, is simply in the pocket of the NRA.
6. The Party of Science Denial. A few Republican politicians, including Mitt Romney, are now seeing the light on global warming. But the party as a whole is still doing all in its power to reverse the gains we’ve made over the past decade or so. The unstable ignoramus in the White House, who thinks he knows more than scientists, is still the Denier in Chief and is set to pull us out of the Paris Agreement next November. Hopefully, his replacement in January 2021 will put us back on the right track, but in four years Trump may have done irreparable damage. This is not a political issue, although the Republicans have done their best to make it one. It is an existential issue, one that our children and grandchildren may never forgive us for. We need to take drastic action now, not in 2021, and certainly not in 2025. Now. Yes, we need a Green New Deal, one that can arrest the rapid change and perhaps reverse it. To do nothing is irresponsible. To do what the Republicans under Trump are doing is unforgivable and perhaps irreversible.
7. The Party that Welcomes White Supremacists. Simple question: which political party do white supremacists flock to? I challenge you to name one white supremacist who is a Democrat. Ever wonder why? This past week, former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh, who has had a change of heart on white supremacy, released 900 emails sent by Stephen Miller to Breitbart, many of them showing “his immersion in an online ecosystem of virulent, unapologetic racism. The Miller of these emails isn’t just an immigration restrictionist, he’s an ideological white nationalist.”3 And who is Stephen Miller? He is the architect of Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Republicans own this, and they have not spoken out against hardly any of it. Like it or not, Republicans, you now belong to a party that leans strongly white supremacist, and this is actually part of Trump’s appeal with his base—the undercurrent of racism that has run largely unseen beneath the surface of party values has not been brought into plain view by Trump.
8. The Anti-Immigrant Party. Trump’s party isn’t completely anti-immigration. It welcomes immigrants, especially well-educated ones, from lily-white places such as Norway. But if you are from Mexico, you’re a rapist or murderer. If you’re from a “shithole” country, you’re not welcome. And if you’re Muslim, forget it. The LDS Church has taken a very different stand on immigration, even illegal immigration. If you’re interested in reading an excellent study that we published in BYU Studies Quarterly a couple of years ago about the economic and social effects of immigration and the LDS Church’s stance on the topic, see Walker Wright’s article.4
9. The Party that Undermines Health-Care. We have the most expensive health-care system on earth, and its results are not favorable when compared with any number of other countries that have embraced various systems that provide health-care for all their citizens. The ACA was imperfect. It allowed too much of the corrupt market to still play a major role. But it was succeeding. So the Republicans have tried again and again to destroy it and replace it with something worse. Right now, they have no plan, except to continue to undermine the ACA and to do specifically what they claimed they wouldn’t do: allow protections for pre-existing conditions to fail. The lawsuit filed by 20 Republican states, including Utah, and supported by the Trump administration would declare the ACA unconstitutional and would, in turn, allow insurance companies to once again deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. And with today’s unethically tilted Supreme Court (remember Merrick Garland?), there’s a good chance the lawsuit will succeed. And, as stated above, the Republicans have nothing to replace it with. Whatever they come up with is guaranteed to be far worse than even a crippled ACA. So, if you want a health-care system that works for every American, you simply cannot vote Republican. On this issue, as on so many others (such as Social Security, Medicare, and voting rights), the conservatives will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.
Of course, there’s a lot more. But these nine points will suffice. I worry about my fellow Latter-day Saints. Many of them are simply uninformed, perhaps not interested enough to get the facts. Others of them are living in the Fox News bubble and are getting a distorted picture of the major issues of the day.
I served a mission in Germany in the mid-1970s. Many of the people I met and came to love were adults in the 1930s and 1940s. I wondered how such decent people could be deceived into supporting or least quietly accepting Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. But after watching so many Latter-day Saints, including some in high positions, embrace the disinformation and propaganda coming from right-wing sources and fall in behind a completely amoral president whose autocratic instincts and lawless behavior are growing worse day by day, I no longer have to wonder.
1. See David Leonhardt, “The Rich Really Do Pay Less Taxes than You Do,” New York Times, October 6, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/06/opinion/income-tax-rate-wealthy.html.
2. Robinson Meyer, “The Air Really Was Cleaner under Obama,” The Atlantic, July 9, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/07/trumps-us-doesnt-have-cleanest-air-record/593500/.
3. Jamelle Bouie, “Stephen Miller’s Sinister Syllabus,” Salt Lake Tribune, November 16, 2020, https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/commentary/2019/11/16/jamelle-bouie-stephen/, published originally in the New York Times.
4. Walker A. Wright, “‘Ye Are No More Strangers and Foreigners’: Theological and Economic Perspectives on the LDS Church and Immigration,” BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2018), https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/ye-are-no-more-strangers-and-foreigners-theological-and-economic-perspectives-lds-church-and. If you download it now, it will cost $1.29. If you wait until January, it, along with all BYU Studies articles, will be free.