The Tax SurpriseBill Fletcher Jr. / March 8, 2019
The mainstream news has been covering an interesting story. People who were expecting significant tax refunds are, in very large numbers, either getting a minimal refund, no refund or having to pay the IRS. This, after the man Spike Lee has named “Agent Orange”—Donald Trump—promised a massive tax benefit for middle-income people.
When I first started reading and seeing these stories, I wondered why anyone was surprised. After all, in the lead up to Trump’s tax bribe, economists across the board were warning that this was a scam to benefit the rich. They were telling the average taxpayer that this was not going to work to their benefit. And, while the majority of the public has generally opposed the tax bribe—reform—it was still the case that the actual implications of the tax bribe took too many people by surprise.
After more than 40 years of listening to right-wingers call for tax cuts and watching the public’s reaction I have come to a few conclusions.
First, when it comes to taxes, much of the public hears what it wants to hear. If someone says that there will be a cut and they can provide minimal evidence to that effect, such an argument can be a winner. Even when one demonstrates that it is a lie, the possibility of tax relief serves as a seductive song that softens the brain.
Second, there are those who wish to believe that tax cuts for the rich really are positive because they themselves, despite not being rich, may at some point be rich. I realize that this sounds completely convoluted, but it turns out that there are those who believe that they will at some point in the future be rich and they do not wish to be penalized. This is called magical thinking.
Third, there is a disconnect in the minds of many people between public services and taxes. There is also a racialized element here, by the way. A friend of mine told me a story about arguing with some Trump supporters and they were suggesting that they only wanted to pay for the things that they needed and not pay “…for someone else…” He asked them whether they drove on roads, pointing out that those roads were paid for by the taxes of many people who may or may not use particular roads. The discussion came to an abrupt halt.
Many of us act as if ‘things’ happen on their own and that they need not be funded. Or, worse, that our tax money is being used for allegedly un-deserving populations. Thus, there is a willingness to go for the right-wing arguments for tax cuts even when such tax cuts may cut one’s own throat.
Welcome to another day in the United States of Agent Orange. Make sure that you test that bridge before you cross it. There may not be enough tax money to keep it standing.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com. He is the author of the mystery The Man Who Fell From the Sky.