God has a sense of mischief, at least. Thursday, just two days after Donald Trump started talking up his beautiful martial demonstration, North Korea held its annual military parade! Check out the minute-long clip the government released, and picture Trump watching it and telling Hope Hicks, “Yes, I want that, a red carpet; but mine has to be longer. And redder, much redder.”
This parade idea is abominable, of course. All the same, it isn’t the hill that Democrats and liberals should die on. Yes, it’s authoritarian and creepy. But it’s also another example of one of these manifestations of Trumpismus that take up too much space in our brains, like his tweets. We obsess over these things at the risk of being driven insane.
Spend too much time staring at the terribleness around Trump—looking at you, Rob Porter—and you risk missing arguably bigger outrages, like the Oklahoma children going to school just four days a week, which received some fresh attention this week as the state is forced to grapple with its budget crisis.
That maybe doesn’t make our heads explode the way Trump does, but it should. While our brains are all Trump-Trump-Trump, this is the kind of horrible thing that’s going down off-camera. The four-day school week has actually been ongoing in some parts of the Sooner State for a couple years now, and it’s only part of the story. Prisons are on the edge of crisis, they’re so overcrowded. Rural hospitals and nursing homes are on the brink of closing. State highway patrol officers have had mileage limits imposed on them. Over the last several years, the state has the distinction of making the biggest cuts to education of any state in the union—nearly 25 percent per pupil.
Why? Massive tax cuts. Oklahoma’s hardly alone here. Kansas is the most famous example, but there are many others. It’s all the handiwork of a handful of men—the Koch brothers, the people at the American Legislative Exchange Council (partially funded by Kochworld), and Grover Norquist and his destructive “taxpayer protection” pledge.
The pledge seems to have played an especially salient role in Oklahoma. Only relative minorities of the Republicans in the state legislature’s two chambers have signed the pledge—just seven out of 38 GOP state senators, and 17 of 74 state house members. But that’s enough to block stuff. Crucially, Gov. Mary Fallin signed it too.
So they ran the state into the ground. And now, lo and behold, what are they going to do? They’re finally considering a tax increase! “We have two clear choices,” Fallin recently said. “We can continue down a path of sliding backwards, or we can choose the second path, which is to say ‘Enough is enough! We can do better! We deserve better! Our children deserve better, too!’”
As if she had nothing to do with it. As if she’s coming in to clean up someone else’s mess. She’s cleaning up the mess she made. And she has the nerve to stand up there and say our children deserve better?
I don’t know about you, but that makes my head explode no less than Trump’s parade. And it’s not just Oklahoma. Nearly half the districts in Montana, and others in Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon are also down to four days. In state after state after state, all kinds of services are being cut and higher education costs are soaring. And on top of that, federal budget cuts in Washington are costing states millions of dollars on housing, hospitals, mental health, the environment, you name it.
We’re caught in a vise grip of two different ugly Americas. On the one hand, we have Trump—his madness, his lawlessness, his destruction of our norms and institutions. He is abetted in that by many Republicans, like Devin Nunes and Orrin “greatest president ever” Hatch. Then on the other hand, we have non-Trump conservatism that is trying to turn this country back into the place it was a hundred years ago, where the social safety net is scant and public investment is minimal and a full school week is only an option, if the market allows for it. Who needs an education to go deal fentanyl anyway?
Trump is the more immediate threat to the republic. But in many ways, the non-Trump threat is the more insoluble one. Trump can be beaten in 2020, and a Democrat can begin restoring norms on day one. But what conservatives are doing on disinvestment is harder to beat. To do that, Democrats have to stand up and tell people that their tax cut is harming them in these other ways and connect the dots so that voters see it. But doing that would open them up to charges that they’re big taxers, and most Democrats are still afraid of all that. So with no one willing to connect those dots for them, the people vote for tax cuts without end amen.
And of course, the two threats go together. A president who is a servant of the people, who understands the checks on his constitutional authority, wants an intelligent populace. An authoritarian leader who wants military parades for his glory also wants an ill-educated and malnourished and uncared-for people. The worse off they are, the more likely they are to fall for spectacle.
Oklahoma, which went 68 percent for Trump, is apparently happy to show the way.