If you’re having trouble understanding just how thrilled Republicans in Congress and the White House are about the passage of this profoundly unpopular tax package, look no further than last Thursday, when Mike Pence and Ben Carson actually prayed to Donald Trump.
They didn’t pray with him or for him, or even at him.
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They prayed to him, lavishing honeyed compliments on him for everything from the bill (which he assisted by staying almost completely out of the way) to his courage in facing down the “fake news.” Pence would have thanked him for the bountiful grain harvest and the dearth of wolves in the woods, but they ran short on time.
They prayed to him as the articulated realization of a dream three generations in the making, the supply-side savior, the God of Trickle-Down made flesh, with Reagan the Father smiling beatifically down from his heavenly steed like Death on its white horse.
The GOP donors who demanded this tax bill fiasco have gotten what they wanted, the GOP gets to run on “See, government doesn’t work” with their campaign coffers full now that they’ve broken government again, and so they prayed to Donald Trump and gave voice to their joy, and it was a creepy dispiriting mess.
If you want to understand how monstrously cynical this all is, look no further than the bill itself. Not what’s in it — too late for that now — but its actual status.
Is it a law yet? Yes, as of Friday morning.
That is only part of the story, however. There was a lot of talk in GOP circles last week about waiting to sign the bill until after the new year. Signing it in 2017 would mean Medicare gets plundered to the tune of $25 billion immediately in 2018, and the Republicans would have to run with that around their necks in the midterms.
If Trump had waited until January to sign it, the plunder of Medicare would be delayed until 2019, saving the GOP some immediate campaign grief, but they’d all have to wait until January to have the big press signing party. Mr. Trump does not like his banner headlines delayed.
GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine found the solution on Thursday with a continuing resolution that prevents the bill’s automatic cuts to Medicare from happening next year. “As a result of Senator Collins’ efforts,” reads her press release, “the legislation protects Medicare.” It does indeed … until after the midterm elections. Cuts to Medicare in this bill total $250 billion over 10 years.
And they had their signing party. “Tremendous,” Trump crowed from behind his desk. “Fantastic.” Also, “Corporations are literally going wild,” he said. And he smiled, and smiled.
They aren’t finished yet. It took a while for these bellycrawling aristocrats to find the legislative car keys, but the engine is running in the red now, and Paul Ryan is just getting started. Fix Medicare? Right, the same way you “fix” a building by swinging a wrecking ball.
Ryan, who collected Social Security benefits during his student years, will have that program and all its siblings rendered to tatters if he can. Doug Jones, the Alabama wild card, and one other hesitant senator may be all that stands in his way. Trump, who swore a mighty oath to protect Social Security and Medicare during his campaign, won’t stop him. He likes signing things. He likes his signature so much, in fact, that — as Charlie Pierce might say — he’s probably playing with it in the yard right now.
I am supposed to be using this space to talk about Christmas, about the tree furnishing my floor with needles, about how I am utterly incompetent in the wrapping department, about food and family, the hell of shopping and maybe some snow on the big day. My daughter, now half-a-year away from 5, and how did that happen, is fully committed to Christmas. She met Santa at the YMCA last week and looked him up and down like a poultry inspector at a Tyson plant. He passed.
I am supposed to be talking about that, but this is a Christmas like no other in living memory. We are, each and every one of us, watching the guide wires supporting this country snap under the weight of a homegrown televised fascism that appears finally ready to become the juggernaut it thinks it is. The vice president and a cabinet secretary prayed to Donald Trump over an outrageously damaging bill that won’t immediately eviscerate Medicare only because the GOP wants to survive the midterms. Where do you go from there?
Down, it seems. Always down.
I left something for myself under the tree this year, and I hope you do the same for yourself in whatever way best suits your approach to the season. Not long ago, I offered a plea to all of you for endurance, that you never allow any of this to become normal or routine. The present under my tree goes with that, a matched set if you will.
You can’t hold it in your hand. There is no form to it, only a gossamer idea made of warm calm that will find its way into your blood. It never stays for long, of course, but it will be there when you need it, and you will. A small space in time for peace is a blessing beyond measure in this age of troubles. No one else can give it to you, and the times will actively try to steal it from you. Gift this small thing to yourself. You deserve it.
Endurance, hand in hand with peace, will find justice one day. Three kings, following an ancient star. It’s an old story, but aren’t they all.
Merry Christmas. Peace be unto you.