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My Point of View: What Republican Party elitism is really all about

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

I’ve got some seeds to plant, so let’s keep the conversation about elitism going.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

In last week’s column, Brad Kramer didn’t mention that it’s a very recent trend for corporations to give less support to Republicans than Democrats. Much of that withdrawal of support pivots around the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection led by Trump supporters.

Reuters examined 10 corporate PACs and found their donations in January cratered by more than 90% compared to those in January 2017. All 10 suspended contributions to the 147 lawmakers who blessed the deadly insurrection by voting against confirmation of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, including our congressman, Jim Hagedorn.

Is it “elitist” to reject a violent insurrection that sought to block a duly, democratically elected leader, Joe Biden, from peacefully taking over the reins of power? Is it “elitist” to reject vicious and ludicrously transparent election lies?

It’s unlikely that the PACs will keep their pledge, unfortunately, and even if they did follow through, individual donations through online platforms like ActBlue and WinRed have become grassroots fundraising juggernauts for candidates from both parties.

Rep. Peggy Bennett and Brad Kramer think they’re being anti-elitist by pointing out that “big box stores” were able to stay open during the pandemic, never mind that shutdown orders hinged on selling essential goods, not size of business. At the same time, Bennett doesn’t think the people who earned large incomes during the pandemic should have to pay a slightly higher marginal state tax rate on their income above $250,000 ($500,000 if filing jointly), which is estimated to affect the top 1.8% of returns.

Here’s what Republican elitism really comes down to — passionate defense of individual fortunes representing a sliver of the electorate. It’s cultivation and preservation of concentrated power.

Unless you have at least $11.7 million in assets ($23.4 million for a married couple!), you are not in the class the Republican Party protects most loyally, but please imagine you will get there, especially if you help the GOP get rid of enough regulations.

The thing is, regulations often don’t add costs, they redistribute them. Instead of imposing costs on workers, consumers, residents who live near industrial corridors and environmental resources we all depend on, regulations force business owners and corporations to accept those expenses. This means fewer profits but better worker safety and consumer health, higher home values, better public infrastructure and a healthier environment. The benefits of capitalism accrue much more broadly, not just to a few.

Thus, regulations are anti-elitist, and they reduce wealth inequality. Lawmakers like Peggy Bennett and Jim Hagedorn badmouth regulations and work to dismantle them.

One of the most egregious examples of lack of regulation is the deaths of over 450,000 Americans due to prescription painkiller addiction and overdose. The Sackler family, which owned Purdue Pharma, reaped more than $10 billion in profits from sales of Oxycontin even though evidence reveals they understood the powerfully addictive nature of their product early on.

The Sackler family is now fighting to both keep half its blood-soaked fortune and also shield itself from future opioid lawsuits.

Republicans’ passionate defense of individual fortunes made this wretched situation possible in the first place.

Republicans are also in favor of defunding the police — but just for wealthy people. When the IRS formed an expert team in 2009 to scrutinize intricate global tax dodges by the ultra wealthy, Republicans slashed the IRS budget as soon as they regained control of Congress. With the IRS team effectively declawed, one billionaire tax cheat, Georg Schaeffler, ended up paying just tens of millions (pennies on the dollar) instead of over one billion in back taxes and penalties.

This is not equal justice under law, and this kind of corruption hurts all of us, especially in a rural community. Most of us aren’t any kind of rich, we won’t lose a red cent of an inheritance to estate taxes, and our limited fortunes are tied together.

What do we lose due to corruption? We lose public goods related to infrastructure, education and environment, and these are things we don’t miss if we fail to imagine what they could look like.

Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan is giving us permission to imagine them, and if Biden is able to steer his plans through Congress, he could be the greatest president for rural America since FDR.

My grandfather revered FDR for helping his non-elite family stick on their farm through the Dust Bowl, for bringing electricity to their house and barn, for reviving his hope as a young man. It was still crystal clear in his memory sixty years later as his once imposing physical frame withered.

It’s been a long, dry spell out here in rural. It’s planting time, and great things are possible.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.