Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
Increasingly, it seems like Donald Trump has paved the way for Republicans to get away with statements that are nearly as outrageous as his own. Take the shameless claims the Republicans have used to push for the tax bill over the past two months. In case you’re having trouble keeping up, here’s a brief rundown of a few times Republican officials made it perfectly clear they prioritize the wealthy over the poor:
Sen. Lindsey Graham claimed that “financial contributions” to the GOP “will stop” if the party couldn’t push through a tax rewrite.
Sen. Chuck. Grassley said he was tired of government assistance programs aiding Americans who are stuck in poverty because they’re “spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
Congressman Chris Collins admitted, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again’.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch stated, “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.”
In the good old days, politicians used to pretend they served their constituents. What happened? Why are our elected officials now so emboldened to make statements that outright insult the American people? Because of our president, of course. It may be that, amidst Trump’s tweets baiting Kim Jong-un to launch a nuclear bomb, or his endorsements of white supremacist groups in the UK, Republicans know that the news cycle will drown out any of their especially dicey comments. Or, more ominously, it could be that Trump’s election has made politicians feel they can truly say and do anything without fear of losing their seats. It isn’t that the bar has dropped to a new low; it’s that the bar to hold our politicians accountable has completely disappeared.
In our new Trump era, the president has paved the way for GOPers to publicly proclaim their disdain for the poor and their preference for the wealthy.
It’s well documented that Trump’s lies—which now number over 1,600 since the beginning of his time in office—have created a new normal in American politics. His campaign demonstrated an unprecedented level of hostility toward women, people of color, religious minorities and immigrants—and it worked. In a way, he’s flipped the script on the stereotypical dishonest politician. Since Watergate, Americans have been suspicious of politicians and their closed-door motives. Elected officials have always lied and made false promises, and that’s been considered a staple of our flawed democracy. They’ve always taken money from private interests and corporate lobbyists. What’s remarkable is that in 2017, Republicans seem to be turning against their old ways, taking on a Trump-like brazenness as they make bold claims like the ones we saw around their push for the tax bill. They’re not merely lying: now they’re telling us outright the harsh truth of the wheeling-and-dealing that takes place on Capitol Hill.
Sometimes, this bold new honesty works to their advantage, making them seem more trustworthy. When the repeal debates over the Affordable Care Act were underway in June and July, liberals lauded “brave voices” like John McCain and Suzanne Collins who opposed Mitch McConnell’s plot to undo Obama’s health care expansion without any plan for its replacement.
Those on the left thanked heaven for moderate Republican voices, as they celebrated the repeal’s failure. Now, those esteemed “moderate voices” have turned against their constituents. Of all the Republican senators, only lame duck Sen. Bob Corker voted against the Senate’s version of the tax bill.
“I wanted to get to yes,” Corker said of his vote against the Senate’s tax bill. “But at the end of the day, I am not able to cast aside my fiscal concerns and vote for legislation that I believe, based on the information I currently have, could deepen the debt burden on future generations.”
This is a boldness we don’t normally see in Republican lawmakers. Corker has similarly been praised for his honest remarks about Trump’s outlandish lies, claiming that “when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling and the name calling” will be Trump’s legacy. Of course, it’s easy for Corker to be brave. He’s not up for re-election.
What Trump supporters think they love about their man is his willingness to tell it like it is. Political correctness culture has made it dangerous for Republican elected officials to say what’s really on their (and their constituents’) minds. They dance around their homophobia by talking about an assault on religious values; they skirt past their xenophobia by claiming undocumented immigrants are taking away American jobs. Trump’s election showed them that a certain veil has been lifted. Not only is it no longer dangerous, it’s now politically advantageous to trash-talk poor Americans, black athletes or you name it: anyone whom their white conservative base despises and vilifies. Trump hasn’t made America great again, but he’s made it acceptable for Republican politicians to be honest about their racism and classism on a level this country hasn’t seen since the Jim Crow era.
The only question that remains is, are GOP lawmakers saying these vile things because they truly believe them? Or because they are pandering to the same base that gave Donald Trump the White House? The answer depends on whom you ask. Either way, there’s a new normal for elected officials in Trump’s America, that openly welcomes oligarchy and no longer bothers to pretend that democracy is at work.
Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.