During the 2016 election (and 2012, and 2008…), we all had those voices on social media repeating that same old, tired adage:
The Republicans and Democrats are all the same. They’re just as corrupt, believe almost all of the same things, and neither do anything for the good of the American people.
This line of thought is usually espoused most vocally by advocates of third parties and those who desire the smug comfort of feeling they’re above the dichotomous fray of left-vs-right. Frustratingly, it can also be deployed by ideological purists looking to belittle the attempts at compromise by others, while excusing beliefs of their own that can border on delusional self-sabotage. I’m looking at you, Susan Sarandon.
To be fair, there is a level of legitimacy in finding equivalence in both parties. Both suffer from chronic corruption; both are beholden to special interests; both hold intensely interventionist views on foreign policy; both have candidates who tend to get amnesia as to their campaign promises once in office. Both parties tend to treat their friendliest media outlets as little more than outrage-inducing propaganda mills that inevitably only deepen the embittered divisions of American society. As a liberal-leaning registered Democrat, I believe these factors justifiably contribute to the increasing image of the Democratic Party as a poor champion for progressive values.
But oh, boy. If ever there was a week offering crystal-clear evidence that these two parties are not the same and do not both offer Americans false choices, last week was it. You can dislike Hillary Clinton all you want; she was certainly a flawed candidate. But the actions of the Republican Party over the past week were so egregious that Clinton, Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi look like modern-day Roosevelts — any of them — by comparison.
Let’s start with the horror show that is the Republican tax bill. Whether we’re discussing the version of the bill that passed the House of Representatives or the version that just passed in the Senate, the results are the same: great for the wealthy, lukewarm (at best) or outright terrible (at worst) for the rest of the country. Remember when progressives roundly mocked Clinton’s plan to raise taxes marginally on the wealthiest Americans as a “total letdown” to those who demand that we redress income inequality? Or when then-candidate Trump promised to “cut taxes tremendously” for the middle class? I do. Maybe at the time I could have understood doubting Clinton and buying into Trump, but today? I hope those progressive critics enjoy watching the wealthiest Americans save millions through the reduction of the alternative minimum tax, which was meant to prevent the wealthy from stacking deductions in the first place. I hope those middle-class Trump voters don’t look too hard at the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes, or the elimination of the personal exemption deduction. Clinton was only asking for a 4% tax surcharge on the wealthiest Americans while freezing tax rates for middle-class Americans. Basically the same thing, right? No.
Then there was the Trump administration’s hostile and legally dubious takeover of the position of Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by that budgetary bulldog Mick Mulvaney. The CFPB was created in the wake of the Great Recession to be a watchdog of the financial industry. It was a brainchild of Elizabeth Warren’s Wall Street-crusader mentality and Barack Obama’s political goodwill, and while it has returned over $11 billion in relief to scammed consumers, many consumer activists lambast it as failing to combat risky financial practices. Mulvaney, a former three-term Congressman, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the very same industry he’s now charged with regulating. Somehow I highly doubt those allegedly soft-on-Wall-Street Democrats would have given us an Acting Director whose most reaffirming moment thus far was a promise not to “blow up” his own agency, which he once called a “total joke.”
Want more? Nothing has been more night-and-day between the parties of blue and red than their respective approaches to “net neutrality.” Sure, Obama’s critics on both the left and right were always quick to harangue his administration as an ever-expanding monster of government oversight. But how quickly we forget that, back in 2015, his administration backed a decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt rules for net neutrality based on Title II of the Communications Act, thus prohibiting Internet service providers from speeding up, slowing down or otherwise blocking any content, applications or websites that they don’t want users to access. This week, however, Trump’s appointed FCC chair, Ajit Pai, submitted a plan to repeal these regulations. A former Verizon lawyer and “free market solves everything” ideologue, Pai has been made aware of how unpopular this move is across the political divide. During the few weeks of unfettered Internet access we might have left, Obama supporters will ironically hopefully feel free to remind everyone that elections have consequences; you cannot just passively assure yourself that nothing will change for the worse when the two major parties switch power.
None of this even begins to cover to endless cesspool that is our President’s Twitter feed. It would take an unnerving and dark imagination to imagine Obama simultaneously elevating and legitimizing racist hate groups while giving the equivalent of a digital middle finger to Theresa May, prime minster of our closest ally, the United Kingdom, all in one social media thread. While Trump’s apologists dismiss his posts as harmless distractions, they still have real effects. An American President is currently being condemned in European parliaments as a fascist. That would be baffling and alarming to anyone who passed away before 2015.
None of this is to say that America should excuse the obvious shortcomings of the current Democratic Party. None of this is to say that its critics are wrong when they call for liberal reform. None of this is to say say that the GOP, base and establishment and all, doesn’t deserve ridicule, at minimum, for falling under the spell of the world’s greatest conman. This is simply a reminder to the passive voters of America, to the endless cynics who still think elections are a reality TV contest with barely tangible results between a donkey and an elephant. For the majority of Americans, life will become actively worse when we fully begin to feel the results of one or all of the actions of this past week, and of next week, and of the week after that and the week after that. If nothing else, 2017 should be a lesson in learning that it really does matter which party runs the country. The rough truth is that for Democrats — especially for the purist critics on the far left — there remains a very long proverbial walk back to power, allowing everybody plenty of time to stew.