Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanksgiving and Tax Cuts

Speaking in New York's Madison Square Garden in October 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously reminded Americans of the dangers posed by "business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering," which "had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage  to their own affairs." FDR reminded his audience "that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." On that occasion, he expressed his hope that in his Administration those "forces of selfishness and lust for power met their match."

As Americans prepare for our annual Thanksgiving holiday, 81 years after that famous speech, we see instead the sad spectacle of a Congress, whose majority remains committed to further enriching and empowering those very "forces of selfishness and lust for power."

Tax cuts can be thought of as a form of congressionally authorized theft from the public interest and the common good in favor of private and special interests. Obviously it would be possible to craft tax policies in ways which, by serving the special interests of the middle and working classes, could thereby promote the public interest and the common good of society as a whole. The tax policies presently in the process of being enacted by the Congressional majority, however, are evidently intended to do the opposite.

Fittingly, before it was even passed (by a 227-205 vote in the House of Representatives), Bishop Frank Dewane, Bishop Oscar Cantu, and Bishop George Murry, representing the USCCB's Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee, International Justice and Peace Committee, and Catholic Education Committee, spoke in opposition to this terrible plan, noting how "this proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy. This is simply unconscionable." 

Thanksgiving is the quintessentially American holiday, and we do well this Thanksgiving to recall what the settlers who founded this feast aspired to accomplish in this new land. As John Winthrop memorably expressed it in his 1630 sermon, A Model of Christian Charity:

We must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make other's conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.  …For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.

Prosperity and the passage of time may make us feel more secure and contented than befits a truly pilgrim people  In the great ongoing struggle for the heart and soul of America, the pilgrims’ legacy recalls an important dimension of our life together. Our New England forefathers knew only too well what we as a nation forget only at our peril, that what is worth hoping for in our individual and collective lives requires a real community in which we all recognize our mutual dependence upon one another in a single society - a value ill served by privileging those who are already far too wealthy.

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