There’s a popular internet meme going around that says:
“Say you’re in a room with 400 people. Thirty-six of them don’t have health insurance. Forty-eight of them live in poverty. Eighty-five are illiterate. Ninety have untreated mental illnesses. And every day, at least one person is shot. But two of them are trans, so you decide ruining their lives is your top priority.”
Consider some of the basic realities of life in modern America:
— Almost 30 million Americans lack health insurance altogether, and 43 percent of Americans are so badly under-insured that any illness or accident costing them more than $1000 in co-pays or deductibles would wipe them out.
— Almost 12 percent of Americans, over 37 million of us, live in dire poverty. According to OECD numbers, while only 5 percent of Italians and 11 percent of Japanese workers toil in low-wage jobs, almost a quarter of Americans — 23 percent — work for wages that can’t support a normal lifestyle. (And low-income Japanese and Italians have free healthcare and college.)
— More than one-in-five Americans — 21 percent — are illiterate. By fourth grade, a mere 35 percent of American children are literate at grade level, as our public schools suffer from a sustained, two-decade-long attack by Republicans at both state and federal levels.
— Fully a quarter of Americans (26 percent) suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year: over half of them (54 percent) never receive treatment and, because of cost and a lack of access to mental health care, of the 46 percent who do get help, the average time from onset of symptoms to the first treatment is 11 years.
— Every day in America an average of 316 people are shot and 110 die from their wounds. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for American children, a situation not suffered by the children of any other country in the world.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg of statistics about how Americans suffer from Reagan’s forty-year-long GOP war on working-class and poor people.
— Almost half (44 percent) of American adults carry student debt, a burden virtually unknown in any other developed country in the world (dozens of countries actually pay their young people to go to college).
— Americans spend more than twice as much for healthcare and pharmaceuticals than citizens of any other developed country. We pay $11,912 per person per year for healthcare; it’s $5,463 in Australia, $4,666 in Japan, $5496 in France, and $7,382 in Germany (the most expensive country outside of us).
And we don’t get better health or a longer lifespan for all the money; instead, it’s just lining the pockets of rich insurance, pharma, and hospital executives and investors, with hundreds of billions in profits every year.
— The average American life expectancy is 78.8 years: Canada is 82.3, Australia is 82.9, Japan is 84.4, France is 83.0, and Germany is 81.3.
— Our public schools are an underfunded mess, as are our highways and public transportation systems. While every other developed country in the world has high-speed train service, we still suffer under a privatized rail system that prevents Amtrak from running even their most modern trains at anything close to their top speeds.
Given all this, it’s reasonable to ask why Republicans across the nation insist that the country’s most severe problems are teaching Black History and trans kids wanting to be recognized for who they are.
If you give it a minute’s thought, though, the answer becomes pretty obvious. We have a billionaire problem, compounded by a bribery problem, and the combination of the two is tearing our republic apart.
The most visible feature of the Reagan Revolution was dropping the top income tax bracket for the morbidly rich from 74 percent down to 27 percent and then shooting the tax code so full of loopholes that today’s average American billionaire pays only 3.4 percent income tax. Many, like Trump for decades, pay nothing or next to nothing at all. (How much do you pay?)
But for a few dozen, maybe a hundred, of America’s billionaires that’s not enough.
Afflicted with the hoarding syndrome variant of obsessive compulsive disorder, there is never enough money for them no matter how many billions they accumulate.
If they’d been born poor or hadn’t gotten a lucky break, they’d be living in apartments with old newspapers and tin cans stacked floor-to-ceiling; instead, they have mansions, yachts, and virtual money bins worthy of Scrooge McDuck.
That in and of itself wouldn’t be so problematic if those same billionaires hadn’t worked together to get Clarence Thomas to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Citizens United case a few billionaires helped bring before the Supreme Court.
After Thomas and his wife, Ginni, were showered with millions in gifts and lavish vacations, the corrupt Supreme Court justice joined four of his colleagues — several of whom (Scalia, Roberts) were similarly on the take — to legalize political bribery of politicians and Supreme Court justices.
The rubric they used was to argue that money isn’t really money; it’s actually “free speech,” so the people with the most money get to have the loudest and most consequential voices in our political and judicial discourse.
To compound the crisis, they threw in the notion that corporations aren’t corporations but, instead, are “persons” fully deserving of the human rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution — including the First Amendment right of free speech (now redefined as money).
In the forty-two years since the start of the Reagan Revolution, bought-off politicians have so altered our tax code that fully $51 trillion has moved from the homes and savings of working class Americans into the money bins of the morbidly rich.
As a result, America today is the most unequal developed nation in the world and the situation gets worse every day: many of our billionaires are richer than any pharaoh or king in the history of the world, while a family lifestyle that could be comfortably supported by a single income in 1980 takes two people working full-time to maintain today.
In the years since the Court first began down this road in 1976, the GOP has come to be entirely captured by this handful of mentally ill billionaires and the industries that made them rich.
As a result, Republican politicians refuse to do anything about the slaughter of our children with weapons of war; ignore or ridicule the damage fossil fuel-caused global warming is doing to our nation and planet; and continue to lower billionaire and corporate taxes every time they get full control of the federal or a state government.
The price of all this largesse for America’s billionaires is defunding the social safety net, keeping the minimum wage absurdly low, and gutting support for education and public services.
While there are still a few Democrats who are openly and proudly on the take (Manchin, Sinema, the corporate “problem solvers” in Congress), most of the Democratic Party has figured out how severe the damage of these neoliberal policies has been.
In the last session of Congress, for example, the For The People Act passed the House of Representatives with near-united Democratic votes (and not a single Republican) and only died in the Senate when Manchin and Sinema refused to go along with breaking a Republican filibuster.
The Act would have rolled back large parts of Citizens United by limiting big money in politics, providing for publicly funded elections, restoring our political bribery laws, and ending many of the GOP’s favorite voter suppression tactics.
All of this, then, brings us back around to that meme that opened this article:
Why are rightwing billionaires funding “activist” groups and politicians who’re trying to end the teaching of Black History and make the lives of trans people miserable?
When you think about it a minute — and look at the headlines in the news — the answer becomes apparent: as long as we’re all fighting with each other about history or gender, the “hoarding syndrome billionaires” and their corporations are free to continue pillaging America while ripping off working people and their families.