Opinion: In Washington, power puts itself on display


Before it adjourned last week for Thanksgiving, the U.S. Senate already had a lot on its plate, so to speak. Republicans were struggling with the Roy Moore fiasco, Democrats with the Al Franken revelations, and both parties were wrangling over the fate of a “tax-reform package” that uses a relatively small and temporary reduction in taxes for the middle class to disguise a massive giveaway to the wealthy and to corporations.

Those two issues — tax policy and sexual misconduct — might at first blush seem very different, but in truth they share a common root. Both involve power — political power, economic power, systemic power, celebrity power — and how it can be abused by those who wield it over other human beings. As Lord Acton reminded us, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,”

Take the $1.5 trillion tax-cut bill over the next decade. Of that total, $1 trillion comes in the form of business and corporate tax cuts, which are permanent. Another $200 billion comes from the permanent elimination of the estate tax, which affects only estates of $11 million or more for a couple. Just $300 billion — one fifth of the total — comes in the form of temporary tax cuts for individuals, and roughly half of that $300 billion accrues to the 6.2 percent of American households making $200,000 or more a year. The rest — roughly $150 billion — is shared among everyone else.

Put another way, for every $1 in tax relief for the vast majority of Americans, corporations and the wealthy will pocket $9. That, ladies and gentlemen, is power looking out for power. As we are witnessing, it almost dares its opponents to try to stop it.

That has also been true, up to now at least, of powerful men using their positions as a license for misconduct. Like many before him, Franken had apparently feared no consequence back in 2006, when he attempted to impose himself on a woman less famous and less well-equipped to fight back. As he himself acknowledged last week, “there’s no excuse” for his behavior, and there is not.

In the chorus of condemnation, however, one voice stood out, badly off-key. “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” President Trump taunted in a tweet, blithely ignoring more than a dozen first-hand accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct lodged against himself. Such a statement is explainable only as the act of a man who believes that he has transcended accountability altogether, that he can touch but not be touched.

You can view American history a lot of different ways, but from one basic perspective it is a 250-year-old effort to mitigate the dangers of power, to use government to reduce the size, scale and danger of power differentials and to ensure that government itself doesn’t become a means by which brute power is wielded.

On the matter of sexual harassment, we are witnessing an important, historic and certainly overdue moment in which norms and laws are changing on behalf of the less powerful who have always had to suffer in silence. Power differentials rooted in race are in flux as well, forcing difficult adjustments for many. But in government and the economy, I’m afraid, we are witnessing the opposite. We are watching as the justified frustrations and anger of the less powerful are being hijacked by the powerful to serve their own purposes, to reinforce and make permanent the advantages that power provides.

As Lord Acton also reminds, “Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

The left just wants a DACA deal done and finished
The left just wants a DACA deal done and finished

The fate of thousands of Dreamers should not depend on the political whims of the members of Congress and the president. From the Orlando Sentinel: Both parties need to step up their game on DACA and avert a government shutdown. From Cleveland.com: Message to party leaders – both Democrats and Republicans will be blamed if there is no DACA deal...
The right is ready for DACA as long as there is a strong border behind it
The right is ready for DACA as long as there is a strong border behind it

Is diversity really what we want in the United States? Plus, a look at DACA from a Dreamer’s perspective and from the governor of Florida. From The Citizen Times: A DACA recipient argues his case for a deal to keep Dreamers in the U.S. From Florida Gov. Rick Scott: How can someone be against securing our borders in this day and age? From the...
Opinion: Trump, meet a hero whom you maligned

In 1885, a poor, uneducated 16-year-old boy arrived in our country from Germany at a time when immigrants were often looked down on by affluent Americans. This boy was ambitious and entrepreneurial, and, despite language problems, he earned some money and then traveled up to the Klondike during the gold rush to operate a hotel that became notorious...
Opinion: Republicans must lead in upcoming abortion debate

This year, as every year, I will be joining the hundreds of thousands who will be arriving in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, noting the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand in our country. The event has taken place every year since 1973 and will continue to take place every year until this disastrous...
Opinion: We have a racist in the White House

For U.S. Sen. David Perdue, memory works in a very odd way. Or so he claims. Last Friday, Perdue and a colleague, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, told the world that they “do not recall” racist comments made a day earlier by President Trump in an immigration meeting. That lack of recollection seemed astonishing. In that meeting, Trump...
More Stories