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Time to Get Mad


Over the last few weeks, I have somehow found the time to watch Ken Burns’ documentary series on the Vietnam War. Through multiple perspectives, the film tells the grand sweep of a story that is at times frustrating, emotional, profound, sad, enlightening, uplifting, and demoralizing. There are many things I already knew, and a lot that I didn’t, including the details of battles and troop deployments. One interesting item of note was an interview with recently captured Navy pilot John McCain, who was dazed and disoriented but stoic, and sadly unaware of what tortures would await him over the next few years.

The bravery of McCain and other soldiers is astounding. At the same time, I want to focus on another aspect of this series, because of its resonance today. I speak about the anti-war protests led by young people around the country. These young adults and teenagers were motivated to speak out against a war they considered unjust and for which many were reluctant to risk their lives. One theme that repeats itself in their protests and in their later interviews is how they felt that the president and other leaders lied to them; policy makers knew for some time that the war was unwinnable, but they continued to advocate for it and send troops to fight and to die.

It is hard to escape similar feelings of disillusionment today. Thinking about McCain, I am sure that his war experiences were what drove him to be a Senator who, for years, forged a reputation as a man of principle. And with a few minor exceptions (such as foisting Sarah Palin on us), he maintained these standards, even in the eyes of those of us who generally don’t agree with him.

All of this makes his capitulation in favor of the congressional tax bill so disturbing. He and other Republicans reputed to be people of principle (Flake, Collins, Murkowski) have helped unleash a plan that clearly exacerbates the wealth divide, picks winners and losers among regions of the country, includes a not-so-hidden bomb on middle class taxpayers, and callously hacks away at needed benefits and write-offs for graduate students and teachers. And much has been written about the needlessly hasty process by which this plan was developed. Few hearings were held, Democrats were not involved, and analyses of tax experts were not considered. All of this stands in contrast to the last tax reform, in 1986, which took two years to proceed, went through extensive analysis, and ended up with the votes of 97 Senators.

When something of this magnitude is rushed through in such a fashion, at least two things must be true. One, the backers don’t want the public to know the full extent of it. In this case, this is because the bill is based on lies—that it will primarily help the middle class, that the Trumps will be worse off, that it won’t affect the deficit, etc.

Two, with such haphazard planning and forethought, there are bound to be unintended consequences. And though free market advocates such as economist Stephen Moore claim that the corporate tax cut to 20% will be balanced by the elimination of corporate loopholes (meaning, he insists, that some business will pay less), savvy tax attorneys and accountants will uncover ways to manage the system. This will be especially true now, because even if the Senators didn’t read the bill fully, you can be damn sure that these tax professionals will.

For people on my side of this and other issues, this seems to be a time of despair. We have a compromised, lying president who is racist, ignorant, ill-informed, and inflammatory with his rhetoric, and who puts his own interests above all else. Republicans have gone along with this, and now they have their tax bill, which I’m sure makes their donors happy. We have a gutted State Department at the time of grave international risk, and an Energy Department, run by an oblivious Secretary, that is charged with managing tons of nuclear waste. We have an Environmental Protection Agency that is protecting corporate interests rather than the environment. On top of all this, facts don’t matter, trusted news sources are attacked, and voting rights, women’s rights, and minority rights are under severe threat.

This leads me back to the student protests against the Vietnam War. The young people at that time changed policy—they helped turn public opinion against the war, got President Johnson to decline to seek re-election, and eventually led to new laws to rein in the president’s war making powers. They made some missteps, particularly when some resorted to violence and when they maligned those who courageously served in the war, but the point is that action led to change.

The stakes now are different from and less obvious than those during the Vietnam War. Then, young men often protested out of genuine fear of being sent to fight for a cause few believed in. Now, the issues are more abstract, but here are some that hopefully hit home:

  • The tax bill is likely make it harder for young people to pay for college and graduate school. By potentially reducing revenue, it may lead to cuts in core programs they and their parents may need, such as Social Security and Medicare.

  • The president totally misunderstands foreign policy and is making war with North Korea more likely, putting people’s lives at risk.

  • Climate change will affect today’s young people, by creating harsher weather conditions and eventually obliterating coastal areas. More people will die as a result.

  • Anti-immigration policies will have an adverse effect on our society. These potential immigrants are not competing with our citizens; they are creating business and capital, and without their contribution the economy will suffer.

  • Women in many states will have less freedom, or no freedom, to choose how to manage their reproductive lives.

  • White supremacists, emboldened by this administration, will get stronger and threaten lives of people who don’t fit in to their Euro-centric view of the world.

In previous posts, I have mentioned the activism of my two sons and my niece. Ben, Tim, and Zoe—I turn to you now and to your generation. The future of our country is up to you. Your government is lying to you. They are making policies and decisions based on misinformation and untruth. The NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, and other sources are not “fake news”. There is no Muslim threat; the danger of terrorism takes on all stripes. The tax bill will not hurt the Trumps, and it will hurt middle class families. No one analyzed the bill, even if they say they did. Scientists are clear on climate change, even if some say the jury is out. And more. Don’t buy the lies.

You need to do what your counterparts did in the 1960s and 1970s. Get mad. Take action. Protest. March. Get your friends involved. Register people to vote. Be brave. Persist. It worked then, although news was hidden and slow to surface, so the protests only started after 30,000 or so troops had already been killed. You have much more information available to you, so don't wait. I’m doing my part in small bits, volunteering with some local groups. But this is on you, because decisions made today will affect you and your children.

People who lie and make bad policy need to feel uncomfortable and ashamed. Most of all, they need to be fired. The next election is not that far away.

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