We’ve been lied to. And too many of us believed the lies. Popular sovereignty has been replaced by the sovereignty of the wealthy. Our government now serves the billionaire class when it should be working for the common good of all of us.

Let’s look at the record:

  • Donald Trump campaigned to restore dignity to a maligned middle class.
  • He promised to cut taxes on the middle class and bring back lost jobs.
  • He promised to raise taxes on the wealthy, even if it hurt him personally.
  • He promised that he would never touch the benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

He hasn’t kept his promises. Instead, he and the Republican Congress just passed an enormous tax package that does nothing significant for the middle class. It permanently lowers taxes on corporations and allows the wealthiest to pass additional millions to their heirs without taxation. And it gives a huge tax cut to our wealthiest.

President Trump’s personal savings are estimated to be $11 million a year. To finance this revenue giveaway, the national debt will rise by about $1 trillion. For the middle class, this tax “reform” bill provides a temporary tax cut of about $80 a month.

Having created a debt crisis, Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell now conclude that the only solution to the crisis is to lower benefits for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other safety net programs.

How did we reach this point? The answer is partly in plain sight, and partly well obscured. For decades the Koch brothers and a circle of fellow billionaires have coordinated an attack on any government programs that raised their taxes or assisted the middle class. They have now achieved their goals.

These developments took place in a less restrictive environment of campaign financing. The Citizens United case allowed corporations to make independent expenditures, with no limits, on behalf of their favored candidates. Most of these expenditures are hidden from public view through dark money, “social benefit corporations.” Hundreds of millions have been spent by these corporations in recent elections.

Citizens United was followed quickly by a case that increased the permissible amount of personal contributions parties and individual candidates. Now a single family may contribute over $7 million every two years to party committees and congressional candidates.

In one of the truly revealing and surprisingly honest statements of his campaign, President Trump stated that when he makes campaign contributions to candidates, he expects something in return. So too it is with the billionaires. Their goals are simple: more money for themselves and less for the middle class and the poor. After contributing millions to elect a compliant Congress and president, they expected a payoff. They got it with this tax bill. These events will long be remembered as the epitome of government in service of the wealthy.

But there is reason for hope.

Early our history, Benjamin Franklin said that we would have to fight to keep our democracy. He was right, and now is the time to engage in this fight. As the recent election in Alabama demonstrated, we can succeed. It won’t be easy and it will require effort and commitment.

We must volunteer our time. We must, if possible, make small financial contributions to candidates who reject the politics of greed. And most importantly, in the next election we must get ourselves, our families and our friends to the polls to vote. Together we can elect for a new generation of public servants who are dedicated to serve all of us.

We can do it.

Jon Ellingson was majority leader of the Montana Senate from 2005-2007, a state legislator from 1995-2007 and a MOLLI instructor at the University of Montana in 2014. He is an attorney in Missoula. 

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