The Power of the People is Stronger Than the People in Power

If I am being completely honest I had no idea what to expect when 2017 dawned. Being only seven weeks removed from an absolutely baffling election, I still had not wrapped my head around what happened or how. I could not understand how Donald Trump had been elected. Some of what I read made sense, other parts made absolutely none. The man seemed like an absolute insult to the office he would soon occupy and an even bigger middle finger to the party that had just elected him. As an American, I remember being legitimately fearful for our country, especially the vulnerable portions whom he seemed more than willing to demonize and cast blame upon. I just seemed to be enveloped in an overarching feeling of despair that I could not shake, there was no lens I could look through with enough aperture to brighten my perspective at the time. It was just darkness, nothing more, nothing less.

Yet as I write and look back across a year in time, those feelings seem so unfamiliar and distant. There is no longer a pervasive sense of dread nor an impenetrable darkness surrounding me. The feelings of hopelessness have subsided, the apathy atrophied. Today I write not with sorrow for America, but instead with hope inspired by my fellow Americans. It is not a hope born of an unsuspecting change in our leader, but instead of a movement his actions have inspired. Let me be clear, the man has been as bad, if not worse, than pretty much anyone expected him to be.

In a lot of ways Donald Trump has amplified and exemplified the worst impulses of a leader. He has proven time and again to be an insecure man, seemingly incapable of ever stepping out of the spotlight, consistently creating intellectually confounding controversy with ever escalating egregious statements and actions for no apparent reason. He has replaced diplomacy with reckless tweets, nuclear saber rattled with unstable leaders, made verbal love with brutal dictators, withdrawn from centuries old allies and alliances and abdicated America’s leadership role in the world that generations of Americans have fought, and some died, to protect. Furthermore, he has cozied up with a man and country who sought to undermine our democracy while wholeheartedly dismissing the assessments of our very own intelligence experts. Through his reckless actions America’s international standing has diminished, our soft power – the ability to influence without the use of force – has been destroyed, and our moral leadership bankrupted. For whatever his outwardly facing failures have been, his actions within America and towards fellow Americans have been even more damning.

Mr. Trump has revealed himself to be more comfortable with dividing people along lines of gender, class, race, ethnicity, creed, and color than uniting them. His instinctual affinity to dangerously stoke the flames of xenophobia and racism to his benefit has been consistent throughout his first year in office, often times instigating societal clashes and creating points of conflict at moments when we needed unity the most. He has used moments of tragedy for political gain, exposing a level of callousness and narcissism never before witnessed in the Oval Office. At every turn, the person most entrusted with the responsibility of uniting us and being a steward of good will and moral leadership has targeted our darker, baser instincts, choosing to rely on the most divisive elements of tribalism for personal gain instead of calling upon our better angels for the betterment of society.

Donald Trump is a man who consistently shuns common decency and respect in favor of disgraceful innuendo and the belittlement of political opponents, or really, anyone who chooses to disagree with him. He has provoked disunity and discord, diminished the rule of law capriciously, and attacked the very foundations of democracy in an all out effort to erode the ability for anyone to diminish his power. The President of the United States has attacked free speech, disrespected the rights of protesters and attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of their grievances, while engaging in the active diminution of the free press.

In vilifying the press he has sown seeds of doubt among his followers in one of the most important institutions of free society and democracy. He claims that anything he disagrees with or perceives as a slight against him is “fake news.” His infatuation with the term has emboldened like-minded despots throughout the world to dismiss the legitimate issues afflicting their countries, and in turn, further undermined our leadership role abroad. Yet, fault is not his alone.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue we can find disappointment as well. The complicity with which Congress has watched the evisceration of political norms and common decency, the onslaught on our democratic institutions, and the equivocation on our commitments to the world, our allies, and the environment has been outrageous. The lack of moral fortitude by our elected leaders has been disheartening. The double speak of self-serving politicians has been unsurprising but still disappointing. The withering of self-respecting Republicans, falling into line behind a man who has denigrated almost every value the Republican party has claimed to stand for, has been embarrassingly sad to watch for the party of Lincoln. After eleven months of controlling Congress and the White House Republicans finally passed a significant piece of legislation, but at what cost to the soul of the Republican Party and the Americans they represent? The final bill ended up being nothing more than a fiscally reckless giant give away to the rich funded by the poor, the net result being a giant transfer of wealth from those who need it most to those who deserve it least.

Yet even with the absolute incessant onslaught of absurdity emanating from the Oval Office, and the muted response and disheartening lack of courage to check the President by Congress, 2017 has also brought out the very best in America, given me hope, and reaffirmed by faith in this nation. In the face of everything Donald Trump has done to tear us apart, Americans have come together, reaffirmed our pledge to our nation and each other, and refused to allow this country we love to be destroyed by a man whose only allegiance is to himself.

Hate has been met with love, bigotry with tolerance, discrimination with inclusion, callousness with compassion, ignorance with understanding, lies with truth, and cynicism with hope. Starting on the very first day of his presidency, with the Women’s March, and almost every single day since – in protests big and small, in acts of defiance personal and public – President Trump has met a resistance that has refused to be sidelined or diminished, or go silently into history. Average citizens from every corner of this country have linked arms with perfect strangers, become politically active in ways they never have before, and confronted a man whose excessive bravado is only matched by his lack of conviction and decency – and they have done so not with hate for the man but instead with love for America and their fellow citizens.

As much as we dislike the man, we love our country even more.

For eight years we were blessed with a man who shared that love for the United States and an administration who gave us hope, who inspired us, who asked of us our trust that he would do the right thing, and maybe in retrospect that wasn’t the best thing after all. Maybe we were spoiled. Maybe we got complacent. Maybe we forgot what we were fighting for. Maybe we let our guard down. Maybe some of us didn’t vote because we just figured it would be okay. Maybe we found hope in the wrong place and trusted too much.

Today I still write with trust in America and hope for our future, but it’s no longer inspired by one man or dependent upon our other elected leaders. Today my trust and hope rises from the masses of resistance, from the millions of individuals across this country who have bound together, refused to back down, and said enough is enough. My hope springs from a reservoir of good will filled by those who have stood up for equality and kneeled down for justice, who have rejected hate and bigotry and have been killed by the hatred they protested against, who spoke up for the voiceless and defended the vulnerable, who have combatted false claims of fake news with the veracity of content that cannot be arbitrarily dismissed, resisted attacks upon our democracy and nevertheless persisted with dignity and grace and an unyielding commitment to that self-evident timeless proposition written into our founding documents that, “All (wo)men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

A lot of us may have started this year with despair, a seemingly all-encompassing dread that we just could not shake, but I assure you that I am ending 2017 with hope. This year we reaffirmed that our power, the power of the people, will always be stronger than the people in power, and in doing so, vindicated the eternal hope I have for America. All of you have proven over the course of this year that the old adage that there is nothing so wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with Americans still rings true. I believe in America because I believe in all of you. Today I write with hope for America and trust in Americans, for I know that we are no more bound by our past, than we are set free by our future. Onward to 2018!

What Throwing a Baseball at a Wall Taught Me About Democracy

When I was a kid I practiced pitching and fielding a baseball by throwing it against a cinder block wall as precisely as I could. More often than not, I hit or was at least close to my target. For years the thousands of throws I made against that wall did not seem to phase it. The cinder blocks I targeted never showed any noticeable signs of wear and so I just thought whatever effect the ball had on the wall was negligible if any at all. Even after all of the abuse the wall had taken it seemed that it was no worse for the wear, no weaker than it was prior to my first throw, but then something funny happened.

One day I wound up and threw the ball at the wall just as I had countless times before, but this time it did not come screaming back off the wall for me to field. No, this time the ball hit the wall with a softened thud and dropped to the ground below. I thought that it was quite odd and decided to take a closer look as to why the ball did not respond as it always had. When I got close enough to see, there it was: an indention in the wall, a triangular section slightly caved in by the impact of the ball, three cracks emanating out from the center. I looked closer and noticed that the grout used to hold the blocks in place had also loosened around the area I aimed at most often, an apparent gradual weakening from the impact of the baseball over the years.

Though the block finally gave way, I quickly realized that it was not just that one throw that had caused it to crack. In fact, as I looked closer at the blocks in the area I noticed a number of smaller, almost unnoticeable fissures, the type of tiny cracks that likely gave way to the larger, more noticeable one that occurred that day. It was at that moment I realized that sometimes the destructive impact of our actions is not always immediately apparent, that sometimes it takes time for a construct to weaken enough to break.

I realized that no matter how hard I could throw the ball, I would have never been able to break that brick in such a way if it were not already weakened by the thousands of other impacts that ball had made with that wall previous to the fateful one that day. What became evident to me as I looked at the once solid wall was that even the most rigid, seemingly impenetrable of objects can be weakened over time, that the cumulative force of many impacts can be greater and more destabilizing than a singular strike. It made me realize that nothing created by humans can withstand humanity should they choose to destroy it, even if that destruction takes place over a long period of time in which the underlying damage goes unnoticed.

I offer this story not simply as a testament of youthful ignorance and the power of learning through experience, but as a warning to anyone who thinks that America will inevitably survive forever. American democracy, as I have written before, is strong. Two-hundred forty-one years of war and peace, set-backs and progress, serene calm and teeming turmoil will attest to that fact. Over the course of that history our democracy has shown itself to be both, rigid enough to withstand challenges and malleable enough to accommodate change.

Yet, as I think about the political environment in which we currently find ourselves, I cannot help but think back to that wall from my youth. That wall that for years had stood strong, seemingly unfazed until one day it gave way from the cumulative force of my actions. For all of American democracy’s outward strength and historical resilience, it is not much different than than that wall, not so strong that it cannot be broken, and certainly not immune to forces acting against it.

If that wall represents our democracy – then each illegitimate claim of fake news, each degradation of America’s fourth estate, each effort to diminish the public’s trust in the free press – is another weakening blow of the the baseball slamming against it. If the integrity of the wall is American’s trust in government, then each lie spoken by our president produces a new, hardly noticeable but very troublesome, crack in that wall, each untruth further eroding the stability with which it stands. If the daily onslaught of the president and conservative media on the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation represents a day or week or years worth of baseballs impacting the wall, then the cracks in the foundations of our democracy are certainly deepening each day. If, when our democracy is attacked by foreign adversaries, our president refuses to acknowledge the threat, then the subversion of our democracy is not just from outside but from inside as well, and there in lies the greatest threat of all.

For democracies rarely succumb to the weight of external pressures, but instead are far more likely to be destroyed by the corrupt intentions of nefarious leaders whose subversive actions produce inequitable outcomes, exacerbate the gap between the haves and have nots, lays waste to well established norms that once held society together, and who manipulate laws to ensure they are above the law itself. While the individual impact of the threats listed above could never fell America’s democracy on their own, much in the way a single impact of the baseball could not crack the cinder block, the cumulative weight of them if unchecked and perpetuated through time, could eventually coalesce and produce an environment in which a leader could do exactly as many once democratic leaders have done in turning their democracies into dictatorships, slowly eroding democratic norms until eventually they were gone altogether.

However, there’s one very important difference between the wall I used to throw a baseball against and America’s democracy. Where as the wall stood defenseless and static, with nothing but empty space sitting behind it, America does not. In the void which occupied the center of the cinder block stands a nation of millions of Americans who generation after generation have defended this nation with courage and unity of purpose against threats both foreign and domestic. Our history tells us that we can, when alerted to a common threat, unify and come to the common defense of our Union.

What that requires however is an engaged citizenry ready and willing to challenge our leaders and to never be complicit in the undermining of our democracy. It requires that we pay attention, speak up, take action, and hold our leaders accountable. It requires us to say enough is enough, for our leaders to draw redlines in the sand that warn, if crossed, punishment equitable to the egregiousness of the transgression committed will be administered. Furthermore, if our leaders fail to take action and honor their oath to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”, it requires us to honor our responsibility as citizens of the United States that we replace those leaders with ones who will honor their oath and protect our nation.

I have heard many people suggest that any talk of America’s democracy being under attack today as misguided fear mongering. That somehow what we’re witnessing is no different than in years past, that it is simply a bunch of hot air being exhaled from a divided nation, but don’t you dare be fooled. There is nothing normal about what is happening at the top of our government right now. History is ripe with stories of people and countries who thought they were safe, until of course they weren’t. Somewhere there lies a figurative cemetery of democracies whose institutions and protections were taken for granted until they no longer existed at all. In all of the days and years I spent throwing a baseball against that wall I never thought it could actually break the cinder block, until one day of course it did. The question we face today is not whether or not there are forces acting against our democracy, for assuredly they are. No, the question we face today is how long until the cumulative force of those actions produces damage that cannot be reversed, and even more importantly, what are we going to do to prevent that from ever happening?

Our Representatives Are Failing Us

Politicians never learn. They just don’t. They might be, for all intents and purposes, the most highly educated and least intellectually malleable group of human beings that have ever existed. I’m not joking. It doesn’t matter their party affiliation, they are, almost every single one of them, afflicted with the same destructive tendency to constantly make political calculations while seemingly being perpetually married to the inability to put aside their own personal interests and ambitions for the greater good of the people they serve. They consistently choose their political viability over the interests of their citizens, apparently being incapable of learning anything aside from the ability to talk out of both sides of their mouth while keeping a straight face.

It’s disgusting, callow, tone deaf, cynical, selfish, embarrassing, anti-productive, and honestly, disheartening to witness.

On Tuesday, in a true electoral shocker, a Democrat named Doug Jones defeated a Republican in the one of the reddest, most conservative states in the entire country. The voters of Alabama didn’t just reject a terrible Republican candidate in Roy Moore however. In fact, polling data suggests that was only a small part of why Doug Jones won. The bigger, much more important message they sent than the obvious, “we don’t support purported pedophiles”, was the one delivered to Washington and seemingly accepted by the same politicians who would betray that message not even a day later.

With their ballots Alabamians said that they were tired of the smallness of our politics. By rejecting Roy Moore they showed that they were fed up with the debilitating partisan rancor that has poisoned our discourse and devolved our democratic debate. In choosing a candidate who sought to unite rather than divide, who chose inclusivity and civility over repulsion and disrespect, the voters of Alabama said that they were over the cynical politically calculated divineness that has increasingly infected and diminished the effectiveness and dignity of our public servants.

Yet not even 24 hours later, nothing had changed. This fact became crystal clear to me while I was watching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify on Capitol Hill regarding the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election meddling by the Russians. With each passing word of each statement that Republicans and Democrats made during the hearing it became obvious to me that no lesson had been learned, that no accurate reading of the political tea leaves had been ascertained by the people who needed it most. It was evident to me that however tremendous the electoral earthquake that rocked Alabama the night before was, that its tremors had not reached Washington, D.C.

What I witnessed watching the hearing amounted to nothing short of the purest form of partisan political spectacle that I have seen in quite some time. The sad thing is, the performance wasn’t being performed by political talking heads, but instead by elected officials who were doing their best to play the role of political blowhards. A group of politicians who were more interested in producing sound bites that could be used in their next campaign advertisement than the objective fact finding Congress is tasked to do in their oversight responsibilities of the Executive branch…and let me tell you, they nailed the performance.

But in doing so they failed all of us. Miserably. Completely. Profoundly. They failed us.

With each withering, politically calculated statement they uttered, they diminished the legitimacy of the hearing they over saw and the dignity of the office they occupy. With each partisan attack they launched toward Mr. Rosenstein, they destroyed, word by word, whatever confidence we could have that they were apolitical overseers of an investigation of profound importance to our country. With each interruption of Mr. Rosenstein, they proved that they were not there to listen, but to talk, not to find answers but to assess blame on the basis of incomplete facts. With each sharp retort to an answer they did not agree with, they proved over and over that they were not there to accept fact as it stood, but to bend truth to their opinion. Over the course of the hearing, Democrats and Republicans alike, proved once again that they are incapable of learning anything aside from some ill conceived form of self-preservation.

The most disheartening thing about the entire spectacle is that in their behavior and their dereliction of duty our representatives only helped to diminish our democratic institutions further, which ironically was the intent of Russia whose intervention into our election was the reason the oversight hearing was occurring in the first place. What good is the separation of powers when one branch will not even admit we were attacked by an adversarial Russia and another abandons its oversight duties? By being unable to take off their partisan caps and retreat from their respective corners, both parties failed all of us again and proved how truly tone deaf politicians are and how deafening the echo chamber in Washington really is.

When our elected officials are more interested in scoring political points than securing our democracy, who will save us the next time our democracy is under attack?

America’s democracy is strong, but it is not impenetrable. Just because it can bend and stretch, flex with the passing of time and accommodate change that might destroy another country’s governing institutions, does not mean that it cannot ultimately be destroyed. While it has weathered many storms over the past two centuries, there is no guarantee that it can or will weather whatever storms may come. On Tuesday voters in Alabama stood up and said enough is enough and in doing so reminded all of us that when our institutions and values are threatened, the best defense we have is the over 300 million Americans not serving in our government but who occupy the office of citizen. On Wednesday, with their political grandstanding and refusal to put the interests of the people ahead of their own, a collection of our representatives reminded us that we cannot be disengaged or complacent in our duties as citizens. If those currently holding office will not protect our democracy, then ultimately that duty falls upon all of us to be those, as President Barack Obama said in his farewell address, “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy”, and elect representatives that will join us in our common defense.

Reflections on New York City

It all looks so small from up here, the buildings that scrape the sky in which I now fly that just earlier towered over my head. It all looks so quiet, the seemingly silenced streets and avenues that just earlier screamed with horns, sirens, and the whispered accents of people from lands foreign to me. It all looks so still, the hustle and bustle, frenetic pace of everyday New Yorkers, seemingly paused from the window I look out from.

New York City is, an enigma. A city of inexplicably disorienting coexistent contrasts of reality. Whatever concept you have of it prior to visiting is quickly and almost systematically broken down by the visited experience. A place seemingly offended at the thought of being categorized as any one thing over another, insistent upon asking those who visit to reevaluate and debate their own preconceived notions of what New York City is and then forcing you to continue doing so over and over.

New York City is both BIG and small, a place where complex towering structures of concrete, glass, and steel almost audibly, incessantly scream, “Look at me!” exist alongside intimate cafés where life seems simple and people speak with hushed tones amidst dim lighting usually reserved for a bedroom. The giant outwardly facing structures betrayed by their tight interior spaces, forcing people into quarters so close that you’re forced to accept a level of immediacy with strangers that would normally be reserved only for the closest of acquaintances. It is a city where sidewalk bounded buildings give way to dirt trails in parks so expansive that they seemingly melt away the concrete jungle that envelops them.

New York City is gritty and refined. A place where high end fashion is balanced by the grit of its inhabitants. Where the nuance and subtlety of fashion and design is negated by the unambiguous attitudes and straightforward demeanor of New Yorkers. A people whose attitude seems to be shaped by the place they live, but unbound by the possibilities it offers and unwilling to be defined by the observations of outsiders. A city whose most critically acclaimed play in recent memory juxtaposes refined choreography and a flawlessly designed set with a cast so diverse that it flips a silent bird to our founders who betrayed their words with their deeds and a script that bombastically proclaims, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”

New York City is rich and poor. A place where the intoxication of wealth on Wall Street is sobered by the abject poverty of a couple living in sleeping bags on a stoop not even a block from the steps of the New York Stock Exchange. It forces upon you a critical examination of the world in which we live and the inequity of outcomes our society produces. It exists as a glaring example of the everyday struggle between those who have and those who have not. The clearest representation of the most imbalanced of today’s struggles between those who control the levers of power, who possess unimaginable amounts of money on 5th Avenue and those who struggle with much smaller, but more primal issues of survival, like keeping food on the table and a leaky roof over a family’s heads in the Marcy projects.

New York City is old and a new. A clash of not just old money and new wealth, but also one of classic architecture and contemporary design. A city where a single photo can capture a church built in the 1700s by the settlers of a repressive empire and a brand new 1776ft tall glass tower whose nickname is Freedom that rose from the ashes of the Twin Towers and whose very existence reaffirms the city’s commitment to liberty and to never back down. A place so diverse in its aesthetic that no matter where you go to you can capture the starkest of contrasts between conflicting styles. An almost incoherent conglomeration of contrasts, a place where cobblestone streets surround glass skyscrapers that somehow, inexplicably, combine and work perfectly together.

New York City is light and dark. It is a city of both, the blinding lights of Times Square and the dimly lit streets of Brooklyn. Move one block east or west off of a main thoroughfare and the shine of the city fades to a dull glow of an intimate restaurant of serene park. Descend an escalator from the lights of Broadway and you enter an underworld of grungy subway walkways whose illumination is swallowed by the tunnels the subway disappears into. Ride the subway and you’ll observe a city composed of every hue and race of humanity, converging from every country, speaking every language around the world forming one mass of energy that seemingly burns without end.

New York City is bold and aggressive, shy and mysterious all at once. Aggressive in the way it beckons you to come hither and mysterious in the way it refuses to be defined. Bold much in the way a woman wears a revealing dress to draw your attention and shy in the way she refuses to reveal herself. She desires your attention, not your understanding, more comfortable with being a fantasy than a reality, a concept of your imagination rather than a defined object. The city thrives on the ambiguity of being undefined, only threatened by the thought of someone discovering its true meaning. It revels in the chase, but refuses to ever actually be caught, preferring to be something different to everyone than the same thing to anyone.

The sheer volume of the anonymity that is the blood which pulses through the veins of New York City could allow me to write endlessly about the different disorienting contrasts the city throws at you simultaneously, but alas I have not that much time. As I look down, out of the window of this rapidly ascending plane, New York City looks small, quiet, and still – yet I know that it is anything but that – and in that betrayal of my perception, New York City’s heart continues to beat, it is alive and content, for it is still, undefined.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Let’s say you’re driving down the road at the posted speed limit of 70 mph, your car is running well, and you are on track to be home right on time. If, aside from a few bumps in road or an unforeseen disaster, you will almost certainly end up where you need to be and when, without changing anything, would you risk driving an extra .5 mph given the probability that you would receive a $10,000 ticket for barely going any faster?

Would such a tiny increase in speed, barely noticeable to even the keenest of observers, be worth the risk?

If your answer is no, and I am going to assume that most of your answers will be (because I am assuming that you all are sane human beings), then you should oppose the tax bill that Republicans are progressing towards signing into law. Here is why: replace the 70mph in the scenario with an economy that is already close to full employment and growing at an annualized rate of 3%. Then replace the .5mph increase in speed, of which its benefit can hardly be felt, with a .8% increase in economic growth. Take the $10,000 ticket and replace it with (a minimum) of $1,000,000,000,000 of additional debt that the new tax bill is expected to produce when adjusted for projected growth. The result (a .8% increase in economic growth at the cost of $1 trillion of additional debt) is the accepted consensus of the Joint Committee on Taxation (a non-partisan tax policy analysis organization) on what effect the new tax bill will have on the United States and our fiscal fortunes.

What Republicans are trying to jam through Congress will almost have no positive effect on the economy at a huge cost to Americans and further endanger our ability to borrow and spend money in the future when such a need might actually exist and be necessary to get the economy moving again (for example 2009). This bill is nothing more than a sheer act of political desperation by a party who has held all of the governmental levers of power since January and has quite simply failed to do anything of importance for the American people. Instead of focusing on things that could actually make a difference in American’s lives, such as figuring out a way to lower health care premiums or more effectively prevent gun violence, Republicans have instead latched themselves onto a bill that makes absolutely no sense in principle and will barely benefit the people who need it most. Their political calculation is that they would rather imperil the fiscal future of American generations than their own political lives.

It’s absurd.

The hypocrisy of these lawmakers is astounding. Here you have party who dragged Democrat’s feet over the coals for 8 years for driving up the deficit (when it was absolutely necessary to do so), willingly and proactively, seeking to pass a bill that will do the exact same thing. The big difference is – today there is absolutely no need to take such fiscally reckless action and no evidence that it will actually have the effect of fueling exceptionally fast economic growth that Republicans are claiming.

If you think back to 2009, when the stimulus bill was signed into law, the economy was in free fall. The banks were on the verge of collapse, the mortgage industry was in ruins, Americans were watching their savings and investments evaporate faster than they could comprehend. The economy was losing 700,000 jobs per month, the unemployment rate was racing towards 10% nationwide, and businesses were shuttering their doors at an alarming rate. It was by all accounts the worst financial situation the United States had found itself in since the Great Depression.

It was clear that something BIG needed to be done and so Democrats signed into law a number of bills that while, yes they drove up the deficit, also helped to stabilize the economy, put people back to work, reigned in the predatory practices of big banks and mortgage companies, and set the country on a path that would produce the longest uninterrupted stretch of employment gains (one that still continues today) in the history of the United States. Not only did the economy recover, but the stimulus paid for itself over the following years in measurable and sustainable economic growth. Yet, given all of that, the only thing most Republicans wanted to talk about was the growing deficit.

Incessantly, for the eight years of the Obama administration, you heard over and over about the fiscally reckless actions that Democrats were taking. How their spending was putting future generations at risk and how we were hurtling towards a fiscal cliff at an alarming rate. Hell, it is the one issue that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan built his reputation on. The deficit is Paul Ryan’s brand, it is his baby, it might be what he prays to at night…or at least I thought it was. He rode that horse from being a young congressman no one had ever heard of to becoming Speaker of the House in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

The thing is, Republican’s arguments were not falling upon deaf ears. I heard what they were saying and I thought it was a reasonable worry to have. I know from being in debt myself, that the further you get in it, the harder it is to get out, and the more money you spend trying to do so. So I understood the urgency with which Republicans were talking about it, especially when you are talking about the fiscal health of an entire nation, something that affects each and every American in one way or another. It was not that I disagreed with them in principle, I just felt it was necessary to spend, and yes add to the deficit, in order for the economy to recover at the time. To this day, given the economic recovery that occurred, I do not think that was a misplaced belief. However, my belief in the sincerity of Republican’s concerns about the deficit apparently was misplaced.

Which is why I think the tax bill about to be passed by Republicans is the most absurd and hypocritical thing I have seen politicians do in a long, long time. When you sit there and fear monger a nation about deficits and debt for eight years and then turn around and have your FIRST major piece of legislation increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion, but potentially as much as $2 trillion, you are, by the letter of the definition, a hypocrite. Instead of taking the opportunity to actually address the deficit at a time when the economy is moving along quite well, which is the prudent thing to do, Republicans have instead decided to enact tax cuts that result in a huge transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top at an unnecessary cost to the American taxpayer, while simultaneously imperiling our ability to address future financial crises.

Even the proclaimed benefits, “the biggest tax cut in history”, are a farce. Well, actually let me restate that. If you are wealthy, or a corporation, you might very well receive the biggest tax cut in history since somewhere between 60-80% of the tax breaks will go to the top 1% of income earning individuals. For everyone else, the claim is a boldface lie. If you are a middle or lower class individual, you will barely receive a tax cut. If you do receive a tax cut, unlike those for corporations, it will expire within the next ten years. What might also effect you is the billions taken from Medicare, or the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate that will result in 13 million more uninsured individuals and higher premiums. If you are a farmer, some of your subsidies are going away. If you work for Customs and Border Patrol, some of your funding is also going away. If you are a student trying to pay for college, loans will probably be harder to receive.

And for what?

So the wealthy can keep more of their money? So corporations can increase their profits when their profits are already at record heights? So special interests can see to that their priorities take prominence over average Americans, again? So big banks can shelter their money in offshore accounts and not pay taxes? So oil companies can drill in the Alaskan Arctic Refuge? So investments in clean energy, such as wind and solar can be phased out? So you can no longer claim state and local tax deductions? So you can work harder and someone else can benefit more? So we can dig deeper the ditch of the debt we are already sinking in?

These questions are not rhetorical. They are the stark reality and the consequences of this disastrous tax bill about to be passed by Republicans without a single Democratic vote. So please do not be fooled when politicians tell you that this is the single biggest tax break for Americans ever. For some Americans, sure. For most of us, no, not at all. For those of us who have to work hard day in and day out – who do not have the luxury of having a tax lawyer on retainer to lessen our dues, who receiving a decent tax break would make a monumental difference in our ability to meet the needs of ourselves and our families, who play by the rules even if they are skewed against us – this bill really does nothing for us at a huge cost and risk to our future.

So I don’t know what your answer was to the question I posed at the beginning of this post. As far as I’m concerned, I would rather stay in my lane and do 70 all the way there instead of risking my financial future for negligible benefit. The older I get, the more I realize that the most expedient route is not necessarily the best – so give me the scenic one, the one that might not get me there the fastest but will allow me to enjoy the ride all the more.