Paul Capelli, a high school classmate of mine, began his life in humble circumstances. He was born in Italy, where his father died when Paul was two.
Paul’s widowed mother emigrated with him to the United States a few years later, and they settled in a blue collar neighborhood in Boston. She worked in factories and he sold newspapers on street corners to make ends meet.
Through a combination of a good education, hard work, creativity and a few breaks along the way, Paul eventually climbed the ladder on Madison Avenue, where he developed a successful international advertising agency that handled huge accounts for companies such as Coca Cola and GoDaddy. Paul now lives in a restored villa in Italy with his aging mother where he and his partner host vacation travelers and manage vineyards and olive groves.
Unlike many fortunate people, including some prominent politicians who like to boast about the American Dream but who never had to scramble for it personally, Paul has not forgotten where he came from. He and some of my other high school friends communicate these days on Facebook, where Paul and I are apt to share our mutually held progressive views on politics.
About a week ago, before the passage of the behemoth tax reform package that Republicans just rushed through Congress in time for Christmas and before their slim majority in the Senate was due to shrink even further, Paul shared this succinct take on Trump’s bill: “Before you mess with my taxes, I would like to see yours.”
Would that really have been too much to ask for? Every other presidential nominee in the last 50 years, and every other sitting president since Kennedy has shared their tax returns with the American people. But Donald Trump, whose potential and real conflicts of interest and sources of income should have been and still are a source of great concern to anyone who understands why our founding fathers forbade emoluments, was brazen enough to simply refuse to disclose that information, and collectively the voters gave him a free pass on that, just as they did when he bragged about his own sexual assaults.
Have we become so jaded after witnessing one indignity after another coming in the form of juvenile, narcissistic tweets from the Oval Office that we have lost our capacity for outrage and our sense of decency and fairness? Have we learned nothing whatsoever from the empty promises of trickle-down economics over the last forty years, even as we continue to watch our middle class shrink while the top 1 percent gobble up even more of our nation’s income?
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that an electorate, which selected a billionaire Celebrity Apprentice as president, now stands stunned and at least temporarily impotent as a Republican Congress passes out modest tax reductions for the middle class as a way of camouflaging the bulk of their giveaways to large corporations and the wealthy.
And over the coming months and years, as deficits resume their upward climb to the tune of a projected additional $1.5 trillion, don’t be surprised when those same Republicans in Congress will announce gravely that spending cuts have to be made in health care and social security.
With a sober understanding of President Trump’s current unpopularity, and with a worried eye toward their own precarious and shrinking majority, Congressional Republicans have just made a huge gamble on this tax reform legislation.
After eight years of solid progress in the economy, they have scorned that basic, homespun adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They ignored the economic successes of the Clinton and Obama presidencies, which followed modest tax increases to upper income earners, and instead they tripled-down on the trickle-down bets of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
They also jeopardized the recent expansion of health care coverage by eliminating the individual mandate, a move which is projected to swell the ranks of the uninsured by thirteen million people.
The short-term result is that President Trump and the Republicans in Congress “got a win.” As for the rest of us, only time will tell. But if past is prologue, don’t expect too many crumbs to fall from a rich man’s table. Not all the 1 percent are as fair and decent as Paul Capelli.
John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph, except when he is travelling.