The 20th Century Called and Wants Its Rhetoric Back
This nation often denies opportunity while pretending that it is a true meritocracy. We see it now as President Trump tells white suburbia that he will protect the American Dream for them by denying housing opportunities to lower-income people. We know what this is code for.
Politics built around racial division only advantage the wealthy and powerful. Yet the strategy persists. The harmful cocktail of contempt that some policymakers apply only to lower-income people is hypocritical. Large corporations receive massive bailouts with little oversight. Wealthy individuals who game the system to avoid paying their fair share of taxes often avoid any consequences. And while the government provides assistance to each of us in some shape or form (the mortgage interest deduction is a big one), politicians often reserve their ire for low-income people who need help getting medical care or putting food on the table.
Our federal tax code reflects the degree to which this double standard is embedded in our systems. The personal income tax 1040 form sections relating to the income sources of the affluent — investment income, capital gains, etc. — accommodate the discretion of the filer, providing myriad classification and elective options.
The sections relating to provisions that largely benefit low- and moderate-income taxpayers take an entirely different tone and approach. Relatively simple credit calculations are wrapped in layers of conditions (and pages of tax forms) that exclude many family compositions common to low-income households. The people who most need tax credits have to go to great lengths to prove that they qualify — a level of scrutiny that ends up blocking people who really need the help.
To get the kind of change that we need in tax and broader public policies, we must reject political discourse that seeks to sow race and class divisions to benefit only the wealthiest. Being rich doesn’t equate to deserving more. To say so is a corruption of an American Dream that holds access to opportunity as its most sacred tenet.