A House Divided Risks Default

Abraham Lincoln

It’s possible the country has avoided the debt ceiling crisis once again, but the disturbing episode has served as another reminder that ours is a terribly divided, polarized nation.  I rarely agreed with the late Rush Limbaugh, but he was certainly correct to question whether America can survive its current challenges, with (at least!) two entirely different value systems and cultures.  As Abraham Lincoln said prior to the Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And unfortunately, the battle over increasing the debt ceiling is a good example of the disastrous end result.  But as true as this might be, I fear it misses the point.

This humble spirit suspects that the only reason House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally agreed to a deal was because some of his big Republican donors told him he couldn’t let the U.S. default, not only jeopardizing our own economy but the entire world financial order.  Call them the Republican donor class, big business, Wall Street, or whatever you prefer, they all overlap and pull the Republican Party’s strings, especially McCarthy’s and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell. If there were ever two people on this earth who are beholden to purse and puppet strings, it’s McCarthy and McConnell.

The Republican’s charge is to keep the tax code as skewed to benefit the wealthy as possible; keep business and the environment as unregulated as possible; keep the American labor force as poor and desperate as possible, and perhaps, above all, keep the ridiculous (and increasingly dangerous!) culture wars raging in order to distract the American public from focusing on the issue(s) that really matter.  Donald Trump may promise his MAGA supporters’ “retribution” against the “woke radical left,” but it’s the puppet masters who should be the target of their wrath.

But this time around, it would appear the puppet masters hit a snag.  As much as they would like to cut every social program, while keeping their own taxes as low as possible, they can’t risk damaging, maybe even destroying, the economic order in which they flourish.  If they had their way they would hoard everything on the monopoly board, but they can’t risk throwing the board up in the air.  Alas, they can only give the MAGA mignons in the “Freedom Caucus” so much leeway before reigning them in.  The danger, of course, not unlike what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, is that the MAGA Republicans in Congress cannot be controlled, and it could already be too late to prevent the destruction they unleash.

The Republican Donor Class Supported a Megalomanic Like Trump when He Lowered Their Taxes, but Now the Stakes are Higher.  

Let’s hope the MAGA mignons in Congress (the likes of Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Green, and Lauren Boebert) understand they cannot overstep their boundaries.  Unlike their hero, Trump, who makes no secret he would enjoy watching the country default (since he’ll probably die in prison anyway, he’d just as soon destroy the entire world before he goes), they might hesitate to destroy the hand that feeds them.  If Trump wonders why his chief opponent for the Republican presidential nomination, Ron DeSantis, is getting all that big-money support, he might consider from whom his power originates. Trump and his band of seditionists came all too close to overthrowing our democracy on January 6th but throwing the monopoly board up in the air is a whole different ball game.

“Trump is the chosen candidate of reactionary billionaires and fanatical opponents of racial and gender equality for a reason. Strip away the thin veneer of “populism,” and what you have in the Trumpified Republican Party is an old-fashioned movement to restrain democratic self-government for the sake of capital and hierarchy. . . It is not that Trump and the Republican Party are opposed to voting and elected office in and of themselves; it’s that they are opposed to a more equitable distribution of wealth and status, which a robust democracy — and only a robust democracy — makes possible. They are opposed to anything that might undermine the domination over others by people like themselves.”

Jamelle Bouie in the New York Times, 9/9/22

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