This will be running as my weekly op/ed in the newspapers of my very Republican congressional District (VA-06).
Such things are rarely displayed so blatantly, but there it is. And the implications for the challenge facing America could not be clearer.
“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” Those are the words of Republican congressman Chris Collins from New York.
Collins’ report is but one bit of testimony among many showing what is now generally understood: that the reason the Republicans are desperate to pass their tax cut is that – with next year’s elections coming up — they feel an urgent need to satisfy their “donor class” so they’ll get the money to fund their re-election campaigns.
But let’s set aside for a moment what that shows about those Republicans. Let’s look instead at the “donor class” that’s insisting that the politicians they bankroll deliver the legislation the donors want.
Who are these big donors?
They are billionaires. (Some of whom have become so prominent in the political world that their names crop up in countless political stories: e.g. the Koch brothers, who have created a whole universe of entities through which they exert political power; the Mercers, who have supplied the money to launch Steve Bannon and Breitbart media; and Sheldon Adelson, one-time backer of Newt Gingrich and more recently of Donald Trump.)
What do these donors want?
We can tell what they want from the two big measures the Republicans have worked hard –even using desperate measures — to pass this year: the health care “reform” bill, which was really a tax-cut bill; and the “tax reform” bill, which is – again – really a tax-cut bill. Both bills – according to objective analysis (e.g. from the Congressional Budget Office) would transfer a huge amount of wealth to the “donor class,” and both would do so at the expense of millions of average Americans.
It would be bad enough if this were just a story about the party in power taking America on a path chosen by some powerful few, rather than “by the people.” But it’s worse. Much worse. Because the powerful few calling the shots here are people of a particular sort, people animated by a spirit whose twistedness could hardly be clearer.
This is about billionaires wanting a lot more money.
Already wealthy beyond even extravagant needs, these people are willing to sacrifice the well-being of millions of others – many of whom are struggling to provide a decent life for their families – in order to get still more wealth for themselves.
This is not in any way a general condemnation of very rich people. There are almost 600 billionaires in America, many of them living fine, decent lives. Many use their wealth to make the world a better place.
But then there are those few – the ones demanding that the politicians they think they’ve bought do their bidding — whose insatiable craving for riches has driven them to make the government of the United States an instrument to enrich them still further.
Our spiritual traditions have recognized that such a path reveals emptiness at the core.
The philosopher Alan Watts once said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.” That captures the brokenness of the spirit shown when billionaires sacrifice the well-being (even the lives) of others to grab still more wealth.
People driven by such a profoundly broken spirit — possessed by a greed for which even billions are not enough — are the last ones we should want determining America’s future.
But these are the people whose demands the Republican Party –in its own hunger for power — are scrambling to meet. Such is the Faustian bargain that the Republican Party has made in our times.
Faust was the mythic figure who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for satisfying his worldly desires for wealth, power, sexual conquest. As such stories symbolize, making power or wealth into one’s god – putting no other values before them — entails losing one’s soul.
The challenge America faces in its current politics, therefore – like so much else in the human world – is at bottom a spiritual challenge.
Andy Schmookler – award-winning author and former candidate for Congress in VA-06 – is writing a series titled “A Better Human Story,” which can be found at http://abetterhumanstory.org/.