Pop culture references have invaded the modern political discourse due to the emergence of millennials. It might also be due to the general decline of the American public sphere. Whatever the reason, Harry Potter, Voldemort, Darth Vader, the Rebellion, the Hunger Games, etc., have all become touchstones for expressing both thoughts and emotions for the early Trump era.
Infantilization expresses itself in odd ways.
One pop culture reference conveniently dodged but absolutely perfect is when a pundit mentions that a particular event could be a politician’s “Only Nixon could go to China” moment. The line is from one of the many Star Trek films, but perfectly encapsulates a politician reaching across the aisle or ocean and doing something unexpected and unusual. The additional key, lost on many 21st century Americans, is that Nixon had been so fiercely anti-communist and so quick to label anyone soft on communism that only Nixon himself could reach out to China and sell it to America.
Observers may point to Bill Clinton’s success at this, but he in fact did not execute on that strategy. Clinton’s plan as a president economically was written and executed by his advisers from Wall Street, which would become Democrat dogma. America just did not know it yet, as it was being birthed in the early ’90s. Clinton did sign an expansion of tough crime laws. This was not new with Clinton; he had been a pro-death penalty Democrat as governor of Arkansas.
After the Gingrich 1994 congressional sweep, Clinton employed the triangulation strategy well. It was not just that sweep, but the passage of Prop 187 in California, which expressed the native unrest with the flood of Mexican immigration. In the ’94 California elections, Prop 187 cruised to victory. Not just that win, but the 15-point victory for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in California, who linked his campaign to Prop 187, was enough to scare Clinton, since California was in the middle of its elect a new people program. In the fall of 1996, Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform Act of 1996, which accomplished nothing, but neutered accusations of Clinton signing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which defanged Republican campaign attempts to paint Clinton as a social liberal. These were moves with the campaign in mind and not so much the long-term voter coalition game.
President Donald Trump does have before him an opportunity to both have a “Nixon goes to China moment,” neuter the opposition’s narrative, and strike at the Left’s high-low coalition. Currently, Trump and the GOP are drawing up their tax cuts, which will throw America further into debt and possibly test the world’s tolerance (better put central banker tolerance) for American debt. President Reagan pushed through a massive tax reorganization early in his presidency to face multiple challenges over the issue of deficits. Reagan did raise taxes in different ways, working with Rep. Tip O’Neill. After the 1981 tax reform bill, Reagan took back half of the taxes he had cut!
Trump may face a similar situation, either through external pressure, opposition wins in Congress, or simply as the narrative for the 2020 presidential election approaches. Trump could attack the high-low coalition by offering a suite of tax reforms that attack different areas than income to not suck money out of the economy. Attacking the high, which donates and votes disproportionately for the Left, Trump could propose a wealth tax on the 1%.
This would really be an echo of Huey Long’s idea from the ’30s. The media and banks even see this coming. The mechanics of this could be played with to target as fine a group as possible. Anyone who has a net worth over $5m (or $20m) has to pay 1-2% of that amount each year. It would be like the estate tax, except you paid it while living. Warren Buffett complains he does not pay enough in taxes. This would quiet his moaning; it would also solve some of our fiscal problems.
The Left’s own memes can be turned on themselves. Trump could say, “Wealth? I hear people say it’s concentrated, too concentrated. The 1% this, the 1% that. My plan asks the 1% for just 1%. They can pay this. I know this because I’m a member, in fact, one of the richest members who can pay my share.” In the realm of public discourse, this would neuter the Left’s faux cries about wealth inequality. It would help break up some of the concentration on the high end.
The press for such a tax would be too rich to ignore and neuter outrage, if any, from the Left’s normal priest class. It’s repeatedly pointed out how thirty, a dozen, or even just eight men, hold as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. Bill Gates would be forced to come up with a billion. The Waltons would pay $1.6B. And the Koch brothers would pay $1b.
If a 2% wealth tax was applied to everyone who had a net worth over 5 million, the revenues would be roughly $700 billion a year. That’s just about the right amount to get the budget to where it starts to make sense. This tax increase would not come out of current income, and therefore the economy would not be whacked.
If this were a bridge too far for Congress and its donor puppet masters, Trump could alter the capital gains tax rate, so that it goes back to being taxed as regular income. Now a narrative thrown at this is how it would hurt small investors, which is comical considering how the average American only owns stocks via mutual and retirement funds. To deflect that argument, the tax code could allow for the lower, old capital tax gains rate on capital gains under $100,000 over one’s lifetime and then capital gains above $100,000 would be taxed as regular income. Once again, Trump would be hitting the high, neutering opposition narratives, and as a billionaire investor, playing Nixon going to China.
These are suggestions that hit the high in the Left’s high-low coalition. There must be a way to hit the low, which is currently paying nothing at all in taxes. To freeze the Left, Trump could approach the idea of a national sales tax or value added tax. In a progressive manner, he could make it two tiered, with a low 2% for purchases under $100,000 (example) and then 5% for purchases over that amount. Invoking his name again, Warren Buffet supported this idea in the past. By making it tiered, it becomes more of a luxury tax than anything else. Subsidization of the underclass does go on, but with this, America could collect 2% from them for when they buy $150 Nikes.
Red states have been moving towards reducing income taxes while raising property and sales taxes to diversify revenue streams, which encourages people to make more money and also rewards middle class voters.
Applying a similar system at the national level would work to Trump’s advantage as he tackles the current high-low structure of the Left. Resistance to such taxes would work against the Left’s ancient economic memes, and continue Trump’s outside and change themes. Only Nixon could go to China, and only a braggadocious billionaire could propose a wealth tax.