Bernie Madoff must be sitting in prison thinking to himself, “Schmuck, that’s how it is done!”
That’s because the con just pulled off by Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and very nearly every Republican on Capitol Hill would have every great fraudster in American history from Ponzi to that tubby guy behind the Backstreet Boys marveling at its scope, boldness, and brazen criminality.
But before we give these scoundrels too much credit, we need to recognize just how much of their con was, as they say in show biz, “sampled” from other scammers. These have included everything from the bait-and-switch (promise a “middle-class tax cut” on the campaign trail and deliver one for the rich and powerful) to the long con (play on the weaknesses of the sucker, take him through the twists and turns of meaningless distractions that go nowhere, then grab his cash). Another Madoff favorite that was regularly used was “cooking the books.” Estimates of benefits to the middle class were overstated, while the impact on the deficit was understated dramatically.
In fact, someone really ought to investigate what kind of financial skullduggery was used to keep the potential deficit impact just low enough to allow Senate rules to let the bill be passed into law with a simple majority. The limit is $1.5 trillion. The bill was scored at more than $1.4 trillion. And virtually all independent analysis suggests that is far too rosy. Convenient, no?
Trump and Co. have also turned to the dark arts of the political past to work their scheme. These included stirring up a “base” with racism and fear of the other to get them to support you enough for you to have their way with them. Here they use a technique well encapsulated by former President Lyndon Johnson, who described it saying, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on, he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
There is a bitter irony in all this, course. While Trump was on the campaign trail stirring up the fears and anger of a white male base against brown people, black people, immigrants, and women, he was colluding… yes, colluding… with the richest and most powerful white men to hurt these guys like no “other” could. With McConnell and Ryan and their merry band of thieves they engineered a massive wealth transfer with their tax heist that will shift billions to the richest Americans and pay for it with cutting programs and limiting comparable benefits to the poor. Trump, who railed against Wall Street, protected their carried interest. Trump, who said the bill will hurt him, gave a billion-dollar gift to his kids through the estate tax and millions more to them by inserting a special package of benefits for real estate firms like his.
As is well-known, 83 percent of the benefits of the current tax bill go to the 1 percent, but that is just the start of this pernicious plan’s pain for everyone else. While there are modest savings for average families, they go away within a decade, while the benefits for corporations and the richest Americans were made permanent. Furthermore, the $1.5 to 2 trillion that non-partisan experts suggest will be added to the deficit will have to be paid for somehow. Ryan has already said the next priority will be cutting entitlements to help pay for it. But investment in everything from infrastructure to military spending will have to be restrained or reduced or cut heavily as a consequence of this bill. That will hurt both the poor and growth. And inequality, the greatest threat to national cohesion and stability, the trigger that Trump and his Wall Street and corporate fat cat buddies used to get him elected, will grow.
That’s key here. The meme among political journalists was that the key to Trump’s victory was tapping into the alienation of the middle class. But the real secret was that the GOP establishment got behind him when they realized Trump could play the suckers in the middle class in order to advance their personal and corporate enrichment agenda. In other words, they used Trump’s appeal with those who were struggling to feather their own nests.
And of course, they used Trump too. In this, they were just like another big winner from this nationwide grand theft, Vladimir Putin. Putin of course is one of the biggest thieves of our time who, while earning low six figures for his day job, has managed according to some estimates to squirrel away perhaps $200 billion. But he is more than that. And right now what he is most set on stealing away with is the prestige, standing, and strength of the United States on the world stage.
We’ve all seen his election handiwork. And now we are seeing its hugely costly consequences. Big victory for oligarchs from Russia and the United States, and a big loss not just from those who can afford it least but for the entire United States of America and all those countries that have depended on U.S. leadership for so long.
In fact, among the Americans who won’t pay a big price for this week’s tax travesty are guys like Bernie Madoff who are sitting in the slammer admiring a master con in which the criminals add to their obscene wealth and the suckers who supported them are the ones who are penalized.