When Tax Law Becomes Bullying

The GOP is sprinting to pass a tax bill that will decimate the middle class, but there's still time to stop them.

Photo Credit: Christopher Penler / Shutterstock

The GOP’s “tax law” is much more than tax legislation. It is a far-reaching power grab that bullies working people in the name of helping them to embrace a 21st century social order modeled after the 1890s Gilded Age, created  by “Robber Barons” such as J. D. Rockefeller,  J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. If seen as bullying, it will help rising protests that might still stop or mitigate the bill.

Most people see bullying as something that happens among kids in schools, a far too narrow view. Whether on the schoolyard or in public and political life, bullying happens when great inequalities of power are abused to force others to comply with the most powerful, in this case the super-wealthy donors of the Republican Party, their corporate and banking allies, and a hyper-conservative Republican Party headed by a bully-in-chief, Donald Trump.

The tax law is systemic bullying coming in two parts. First, it represents the coercive use of tax law by a tiny elite to engineer an unpopular “regime change at home.” Second, the new regime forces the majority of the public to submit to a new Gilded bullying society.

The social order that the tax law will help lock into place is:

  • A society run by a capitalist "nobility" that could preserve enormous family wealth and power for generations. The new tax law eliminates or radically reduces the estate tax, allowing the new oligarchs, including President Trump, to pass all their wealth on to their heirs.

  • A class system in which corporations bully workers, sometimes violently, to keep them in line. In 1894, during the Homestead strike against a Carnegie steel plant, Carnegie enlisted the militia to kill striking workers, seeking to undermine unions, a top goal of the Reagan counter-revolution.

  • A pre-New Deal capitalist model stripped of public goods. The new tax law creates a trillion dollar deficit that will be met, as GOP leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have already said, by a massive program of spending cuts in jobs, education, the environment, and social welfare, including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, thus expanding a socially crippling “public goods” deficit along with the fiscal deficit.

  • A pre New Deal capitalism without the progressive taxation created in 1913 after the Robber Baron era. While Reagan started the process, the new GOP regime is using the tax law to create an extremely regressive tax system, with about 90% of the tax benefits going to the top 20% over ten years according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, intensifying the extreme power inequality that fuels all bullying.

Gilded Age bullying fueled  a mass progressive populist movement of ordinary Americans who felt bullied and realized they had to fight back. In 1892, they created a People’s Party seeking to take public control of Wall Street. They failed, but gave birth to the movement creating the progressive income tax and the New Deal.

As Americans look at the reality of the House and Senate bills, they also are starting to fight back. In Red and Blue states, thousands of protests against the Tax Law are now springing up on the streets and in Congressional offices. Such protests, organized by unions and popular groups such as Not One Penny and Indivisible, stopped the repeal of Obamacare. They may now be igniting around the tax bill a mainstream conversation about capitalism and institutionalized bullying.

Even if the tax bill passes, that new conversation will fuel growing resistance to an extremely unpopular tax law, GOP Establishment and President. Tax laws can be reversed – and the GOP should be careful about what it hopes for.

Passing this “giant Christmas gift” to the rich will likely fuel deep public revulsion. Social movements allied with the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party are mobilizing to launch a “repeal and replace” tax bill, and might just spark the broader anti-bullying politics that can truly help the “forgotten men and women.”







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Charles Derber is Professor of sociology at Boston College and co-author of Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.

Yale Magrass is Chancellor Professor of sociology at University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and co-author of of Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society.