This past Thanksgiving came and went, with many millions of Americans enjoying a time of family, kinship, prayer, delicious meals, and an increasingly virtual Black Friday shopping spree.
However as the first Thanksgiving in “Trump’s America”, partisan politics seems to have inevitably crept in as part our nation’s recent worrying trend towards the politicization of nearly every aspect of our daily lives.
With Senator Chuck Schumer suggesting bringing a talking points card to Thanksgiving dinner to talk about the GOP tax reform plan, the DCCC releasing a “guide to surviving Thanksgiving with your Republican family”, among many other politically-marinated Thanksgiving messages from both sides of the aisle, it appears politics is at risk of dividing our communities and even families more than ever at this hyperpolarized time in American history.
Indeed last November this already was evident, as studies showed that family members on opposing political sides spent on average half an hour less time together and 53% of Americans dreaded the thought of discussing politics at Thanksgiving, increasing to 58% this year, according to a NPR/PBS poll.
Research has shown that DC’s deep polarization is not a figment of our imagination, but is almost certainly the highest it’s been in our lifetimes and even maybe in history. It seems DC’s hyper-partisanship has now started to seep down to the lives of Americans across the nation.
Among the many things to be thankful for this season, ranging from a booming stock market, the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years, and a military that has successfully shattered Daesh in the Middle East, is that Americans seem to be by and large trying to ignore this political noise and focusing on family, community, and commerce.
With so many contentious public policy issues seemingly revealing sharp divides between us, and with some on both sides of the aisle at times pushing it to hysterical extremes, it is worth reflecting this Holiday season how blessed of a time and country we live in.
We live in an era that sees the highest life expectancy in US history. While there are deficiencies that need addressing, large majorities of Americans have reliable access to basic necessities such as housing, food, and healthcare, as well as to the most extraordinary selection of recreation and entertainment ever available.
With Internet services in full maturity, and only a few clicks on our computers or smartphones separating us from an order for every product imaginable, countless hours of video, music, and reading material, and communications with nearly anyone, it really is quite a time to alive.
Perhaps even more important, we live at a time of extraordinary liberty. With enormous freedom and mobility to choose everything from our living location to our lifestyles and occupations, nearly every American has the ability to craft a life to their choosing in ways unimaginable to previous generations.
Lastly, despite the seemingly hostile world environment, we in fact live in one of the most peaceful times in all of human history. While there are still very real challenges from both state and non-state actors, the fact remains that compared to nearly every other time in history we are required to shed less blood and sacrifice in comparison.
In contrast, it is worth noting that we are a time when the American Dream is also being challenged in many ways by how technological advancement is fundamentally transforming our economy.
While we are still on the early edge of this change, as data science technologies further become integrated into the economy we will see this trend accelerate with serious public policy questions to resolve.
In the meantime, despite the seemingly endless daily torrent of degradation, pessimism, and hostility in our national discourse, it is worth taking a moment to remember our blessings, what we have in common with one another in our communities, and our existence as free citizens in the greatest country in the world.
House Republicans achieved a major legislative victory this past week with the passing of the transformational, yet also controversial, $1.5 trillion tax reform bill. Passed 227-205, with every Democrat and 13 Republicans voting against it, it is undoubtedly a major step forward in simplifying America’s long-tangled tax code as well as encouraging increased private-sector activity.
Tax reform has long been a pipe dream in the halls of modern Washington, let alone in the minds of countless Americans across the country as they plan and prepare their taxes each year. While there have been several tax cuts and reforms in recent years under both the Bush and Obama administrations, true fundamental tax reform has not been seen since the 1980’s with Reagan’s tax cut bills.
According to a Fox News poll earlier this year, over 73% of Americans wanted significant tax reform this year. As always, where such coalitions fall apart are in the details.
While it cannot be said for sure that the House tax bill as passed is truly as monumental a reform as Reagan’s tax code revamping, it certainly goes beyond just shifting the scales as recent tax bills have and rather goes to restructuring some of the fundamental assumptions of our tax system.
The House tax bill is primarily based on the Reaganite premise of spurring economic and business growth, rather than redistribution, to create increased innovation, wealth, and jobs, which then lead to a rise in overall economic conditions and opportunities for middle and lower class Americans.
Indeed the bill’s free market theoretical basis is in part why its scoring by various agencies and organizations has been so inconsistent, and thus partly why it ended up sadly being almost a strict partisan vote.
The bill would almost immediately result in tax reduction and simplification for ordinary Americans, with the standard deduction being doubled, bracket simplification from seven to four, and dramatic modification of many deductions and credits.
However the real potential boon from the tax bill is in how it will affect business activity, whether by large corporations or small businesses. By reducing the corporate income tax rate from 35%, currently among the highest in the developed world, to 20%, among other more technical provisions, the bill is likely to dramatically spur investment and spending by companies in America rather than parking their money overseas.
Now the million-dollar question is if the Republican Congress and Trump Administration will be able to grease the political wheels and actually get their first major legislative reform bill passed. As we’ve seen with the Obamacare repeal and replace fiasco over the past few months, DC right now remains in many ways as gridlocked as it has been since 2010.
Unlike the time between 2010, when Republicans retook Congress in the Tea Party wave, and when the Trump administration took office, the gridlock appears to not be from two parties in power in a divided government who simply could not agree on anything in this hyperpolarized time. Rather, it seems Republican internal strife has been the main detriment to getting a conservative agenda passed.
Given that the 2018 election cycle is already well underway, and with Democrats seemingly energized and motivated by anti-Trump sentiment as we saw in Virginia’s election results earlier this month, undoubtedly Congressional Republicans want to be able to point to a significant legislative achievement to turnout Republicans voters who want to see a reason to go to the polls. The tax reform bill may be that big opportunity.
Just as impactful, the tax reform bill might be President Trump’s first major legislative victory. The President has been able to make significant and often very-impactful policy change through executive action, but nonetheless a legislative win offers both a policy victory as well as significantly bolstering his political image at a time when it is shaky, among both Republicans and otherwise.
With the Senate developing its own version, particularly regarding the child tax credit, of the tax bill to be soon voted on as well, it looks like even among Republicans there will still be a lot of maneuvering and deliberating before we see if the bill actually makes it through.
In the meantime, the fireworks in DC continue as we all get used to this “New Washington.”
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.