Never before has a check from the IRS to taxpayers carried the name of the President of the United States.
But then again, never before has the country had a showman television reality star serving as the Commander-in-Chief.
So this week, when millions of checks ranging from $1,200 up to $3,400 are cut to taxpayers all over the country, the autograph of Donald J. Trump will be printed on the memo line in the bottom left corner, just another example of how the highest office in the land has become the marketing machine for an egomaniac that has unabashedly put his name on hotels, golf courses, airlines, steaks, wines, and now, the largest government handout in history.
The checks are part of the $2.2 trillion relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump last month to help individuals and businesses during this unprecedented shutdown in hopes of arresting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The money will be a welcome help to taxpayers but will not come close to replacing the income that millions of people have lost during the self-quarantine period that’s already lasted a month.
Over 22 million people have filed for unemployment benefits as companies have either reduced employees’ hours, furloughed workers, or closed their doors indefinitely when customers and orders suddenly disappeared. Experts predict that up to 25% of the workforce could become unemployed in the short term.
People need help, more than just a one-time $1,200 check that won’t even cover one month’s rent or mortgage for the average family, but it’s a good start.
But the checks will surely become a symbol of how broken our federal government is in responding to national emergencies when the best they could come up with was a few thousand dollars to families but approved hundreds of billions of dollars for corporations and the wealthy. Just like the paper towels Trump throw at Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria devastated their island, these checks are an embarrassingly inadequate Band-aid for those truly in financial distress.
But Trump’s demand that his name appear on the checks is more than just a brazen political stunt to gain favor with voters in an election year, or a ploy to appear to be solely responsible for cutting those checks.
His name on the check exemplifies the complete abandonment of some of the Republican Party platform’s core tenets that used to include support for free markets, limited government, states’ rights, balanced budgets, and fewer social safety net programs to help at-risk families.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the President’s embrace of large social programs that distribute money to individuals regardless of their needs, a complete abandonment of the once-paramount “needs-based” tests that Republicans demanded when Democrats tried to improve welfare and other public assistance programs. The checks were a shotgun solution, giving an equal amount of money to everyone without regard for how much they were impacted by the crisis. For those that have not lost their jobs or income, it was a windfall; for those that lost their livelihoods, it’s not enough to put food on their tables or secure their living situation for very long.
But the checks are only a small part of the strong centralized government controls that Trump has employed in his ham-handed attempt to manhandle the national economy as he tries to keep his re-election campaign promises of making America great again.
Trump has famously used punitive trade tariffs to force China and other countries, even our closest trading partners Mexico and Canada, into new trade deals under the pressure of haphazard import duties that have cost American consumers billions of dollars as he tried to protect American industries that cannot, and maybe should not, compete for low-wage jobs. China hasn’t paid those higher tariffs; American importers and, therefore American consumers, paid billions more for the same goods, and American workers still didn’t get millions of jobs back from third world countries.
Instead of negotiating with trade partners to gain meaningful agreements to make trade more fair, Trump has used the federal government to game international trade with early-20th Century-style protective tariffs.
Trump has also bullied the Federal Reserve into lowering interest rates and dumping trillions into the financial markets to prop up a dangerously illiquid system that is sending warning signals of an impending crash but had been buoyed by cheap money and direct government interventions. Trump wants to control the flow of money by directly managing interest rates and printing more money. That isn’t laisse-faire, the economic ideal that the less the government is involved in the economy, the better off business will be—and by extension, society as a whole.
Trump has argued that he, as President, has ultimate power to direct states to re-open after the coronavirus crisis, directly challenging the individual power of states, reminiscent of the fights over states’ rights versus strong a strong federal government that led to the Civil War.
Trump has also continued to increase federal spending without any offsetting budget cuts, leading to a trillion-dollar annual deficit each of his first three years, even before the COVID-19 crisis. This year alone, Trump’s actions to offset the impacts to the economy have raised our national debt and annual deficit to historic levels.
Last week, the US national debt reached a historic $37.6 trillion or about $280,500 per American taxpayer.
Nowhere in the public discussions in his first three years in office or now during this crisis has Trump or the Republican leadership even mentioned the debt which used to be one of the GOP’s signature issues. Republicans used to demand balanced budgets, budget cut offset for new spending, and sequestering that triggered automatic cuts, but not anymore. Now, Trump is just printing more money and leaving a huge debt burden for our children.
And last week, Trump began arguing for actions to increase oil prices when he made calls to both Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, asking them both to decrease their oil outputs to raise worldwide oil prices. Trump even suggested paying American oil producers to NOT drill for oil to further limit output and drive prices up, resulting in high gasoline prices at the pump for American consumers. No President has ever argued for higher prices at the gas pumps, until now.
Trump has enacted, supported, and championed policies that have historically been considered Democratic, or even Socialist: central control of the economy, protectionist trade tariffs, expensive social programs to redistribute income to citizens, and increased debt to pay for it all.
For generations, Republicans have attacked Democratic as being too liberal and willing to spend taxpayer dollars on programs that created lasting debt for future generations.
Democrats, in their defense, have supported expanding social programs, but at least they advocated for higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for them.
Now, Trump and the Republican Party he carjacked in 2016 are driving the most socialist presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal response to the Great Depression.
Trump has tried and done more to directly control the economy than any Republican since Abraham Lincoln’s Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War; policies that divided the country nearly as much as the causes of the war itself.
Surely Republicans can’t be too happy becoming a Party of bigger government and fiscal irresponsibility, but that’s exactly what they have let themselves become by following Donald Trump down a dangerous road guided by his impulsive urges to please his base without holding any principled position grounded in political theory except his own aggrandizement and perceived victory.
Just a few months ago (that now seems like years ago) Trump was calling Bernie Sanders a Socialist and planned to use the Vermont Senator’s liberal policies against him in what Trump hoped would be their matchup in the General Election when it seemed Sanders would be the Democratic nominee.
Since then, Joe Biden took the delegate count lead and now Sanders has dropped out and endorsed Biden, along with Elizabeth Warren and even Barack Obama
So Trump can no longer call any Democrat a Socialist with a straight face when he’s the one sending out trillions of dollars with his autograph emblazoned on the checks.
Trump has morphed the Republican Party into a mass of groupies following their egomaniac leader down a meandering path with no clear end, and it will take years, if not generations, to recover from the devastating economic impact of unrestrained spending coupled with his huge tax cuts for the rich and big corporations.
We will all reap what he has sown.