If you have a weak stomach, the GOP convention promises to be emetic.
Not only will Donald Trump, a certified thrice-married birther, be accepting the nomination of the party that gave us Abraham Lincoln and, much more recently, decades of braying about traditional marriage, but you’ll also have the abdomen-churning pleasure of watching his children and his third wife speak directly to the nation.
Meanwhile, both living former Republican presidents and the GOP’s last nominee for president will be spending the week trying to pretend that 2016 isn’t happening.
For anyone who cares about America, decency and tolerance, this convention will be an informercial for what’s gone wrong. But the inclusion of the Trump family suggests there could be useful message broadcast out of Cleveland — if only in the subtext of Trump and his older children’s speeches.
To understand why, lets look at some numbers.
Amidst the constant stream of grim news that has marked this fateful yar, we actually got some good news this week. The latest data from the IRS shows that the incomes of the bottom 99 percent of Americans grew 3.9 percent in 2014, which just happens to be the year Obamacare went into effect. It was the best yearly growth for working families since 1998.
In the same year, the top 1 percent saw their income grow at an even faster 7.7 percent.
America’s richest families have captured most of the real income growth since the recession ended in 2009, continuing a trend that began in 1980 of massive and luxurious gains for the few million people at the top while the 300 million or so other Americans enjoy almost no new wage increases from the most radical series of technological advances that have ever been crammed into four decades.
Privilege. It quickly become one of the most politicized words in the English language as we were told to “check it,” or were accused of envying it while getting rich on a few dollars a day in food stamps. But privilege is the beating heart of the twin crises of our time — climate change and inequality. Some billionaires just really resent being asked to not boil the planet or pay taxes, even if the inevitable alternative is famine, drought, and massive social unrest.
And foremost among these billionaires is the likely Republican nominee for president, who will be the first presidential nominee in almost fifty years not to release his tax returns, despite two dozen promises to do so.
Donald Trump has promised to make climate change worse by refusing to believe it’s actually a real problem. And his solution to economic inequality?
Cutting taxes for the rich and their corporations, slashing regulations that protect workers and the environment, and completely eliminating the inheritance tax.
Getting rid of any taxes on the giant inheritances that a tiny fraction of Americans who have won the lottery of birth and stand to gain millions from their relatives’ deaths has long been a Republican passion project. Congress, which tends to be far richer and far more likely to be the beneficiary or benefactors of great inheritances, has shockingly obliged.
The tax was nearly eliminated by conservatives until it was reinstated after President Obama’s re-election in 2012.
The right has done an amazing job of getting the public on their side in this issue, which is a tribute to their marketing abilities. Bloomberg‘s Barry Ritholtz explains:
In 2013, 2,596,993 Americans died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 5,000 of them paid a tax after that mortal event. To be more accurate, their estates paid whatever tax was owed. That means 2,591,993 Americans died that year without paying any tax.
In other words, just 0.19 percent of all deaths in 2013 resulted in a tax. When 99.81 percent of all deaths don’t create a taxable event, calling it a death tax is mathematically nonsensical.
What is the actual trigger for this taxable event? If your estate is worth less than $5.43 million dollars in 2015 (or $10.86 million dollars for a couple), you are exempt from the federal estate tax.
Republicans have made this perfectly sensible and necessary tax unpopular by branding it a “death tax.”
“Why would someone use the phrase ‘death tax’ when more than 99 percent of deaths don’t result in a tax?” Ritholtz asks. “Because he is either a) innumerate, b) ignorant or c) trying to deceive you. There are no other possibilities.”
Remember when Trump said he was taking on “global elites?” Apparently he’s doing it that by making sure that his kids’ kids’ kids’ never have to fly coach.
In exchange, we get around $320 billion added to our deficit, which is about 160 times the funding to fight Zika that President Obama has requested and that the GOP Congress has refused to fund without cuts and other important civic needs like flying the Confederate Flag. Or almost as much as we’ll “save” by passing costs on to seniors if we enact Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan.
Democrats need to fight the fire that’s burning up our economy with fire. They should start calling the inheritance tax a “global elite tax.” Mostly because it is one.
Some of these global elites will be functional and somewhat impressive people like Ivanka Trump. And some will have the dull stares of Trump’s two older sons, who some genius nicknamed “Uday and Qusay.”
The children of the wealthiest, who are sucking up most of the gains of the economy, will earn multiples of what most Americans will earn in a lifetime on the day their parents die. The least we can do is expect they’ll be taxed for it the same way you’re taxed for the money you sweat all week to earn.
Of course, the greatest commercial for a “global elite tax” on inheritances is Trump himself.
He likes to brag that he started off with “a small million dollar loan,” which was anything but small in the 1970s and was also matched exponentially by a $70-million loan guarantee from his father, who was still paying him a six-figure salary into the 1980s and was still bailing him out in the 1990s.
Denying that even this booster rocket filled with privilege aided his ascent gives Trump the fantasy that he’s self-made — that he some how overcome his childhood of attending schools and making connections that gave him access to wealth and power beyond the imagination of most Americans.
Opponents of affirmative action often talk about the stigma the beneficiaries of the program must carry knowing they got some assistance from a program designed to expand our economy’s gene pool. But those who benefit from the inbreeding of wealth suffer no stigma. Instead, they get to invent myths in which they’ve conquered all with the help of small loan, ignoring the millions of Americans who have to take on loans in hopes of earning the college degree and doing better than their parents.
Of course, Hillary Clinton’s descendants will benefit from the great machinery of wealth perpetuation conservatives have built, even if she wasn’t born into privilege as Trump was. And she, like most rich people, is structuring her wealth to avoid estate taxes.
But at least she’s not trying to destroy any hope that we can move beyond an economy that has been captured by the malefactors of great wealth.
While Trump cuts taxes for the richest, Clinton’s plan makes sure that millionaires pay at least the same tax rates as nurses and adds a surtax for those who earn over $5 million to fund services like universal pre-K. She would also raise the estate tax on her family.
Our winner-take-all economy has led to a winner-take-all political system in which birth increasingly determines success in life.
When the Trump kids speak, it’s our chance to see the global elite in their natural environment — on a platform built by their parents’ success. When you see them there, think about setting them free from the burden of dependency as we take on the feudalism of the global elite.
Copyright 2016 The National Memo