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Voluntary taxes, personalized risk, and vax politics
That’s the common thread here. Toxic Individuality is the philosophy that pervades the contemporary GOP and, let’s be honest, isn’t too far out of mind for many mainstream Democrats either. Toxic Individuality is why the PAGOP refused to offer Commonwealth-wide aid to help us withstand and fight the pandemic at the start and, instead, worked for a year more or less only to undermine the Governor’s emergency orders, except for when they worked to undermine our elections.
Just last week, finally, the legislature passed, and the governor signed, a $912 million bill that offers aid. Most of the money is federal, and all of it is targeted: help for bars, restaurants, and hotels, for private education (yeah…), for renters and landlords. $570 million is for that last bit. The $145 million in state funding comes from our workers compensation fund and will go to struggling bars, restaurants, and hotels, who definitely need it.
On the whole, this bill is a good thing, but it is also way too late and way too little help. The moment the state headed into necessary quarantine mode, the legislature should have been working around the clock to get money to folks to help them out, to let them stay home, which would have done wonders for controlling the spread of the virus. But, naw. Instead…well, we get to vote on a state constitutional amendment this May that would more or less eliminate the governor’s capacity to respond to emergencies with important states of emergency declarations.
So we got that. And we got a whole bunch of seditious wannabes undermining faith in our elections. Stay tuned for more there, because without a doubt the PAGOP will be pushing forward legislation intended to make it harder to vote.
Ah, the spoils of Toxic Individuality, where all risk is personal! That’s why the PAGOP has consistently responded to Covid by shouting about how we need a fully open economy, how Covid was an exaggerated threat, and how democracy is unhelpful to their autocratic ambitions. They personalized risk by refusing to treat a pandemic as a pandemic. Instead, personal responsibility is their only lens: wash your hands, wear a mask…wait, no, you can’t do that! That would violate your personal rights! So, ummm, no personal responsibility per se, more like, you get to personally suffer because the PAGOP doesn’t care about you. Corporations made billions! Trickle down economics, baby! That means we’re all doing swell!
Vaccinations Are Good But…
Now, with vaccinations accelerating in our county (We’re doing really well on that front! Among the best in the state! Really!), we are seeing the myopia of personalizing response. We should be communicating the single most important aspect of vaccinations: shots in arms. Instead, politicians now pretend controlling a pandemic can be limited to keeping the “more vulnerable” safe, and they are working to shame or block vaccinations of folks they deem not at risk. The shorthand of that is teachers, who in some places are not being vaccinated even though they are being forced back into classrooms. Again, kudos to Crawford County, where our local teachers are getting vaccinated. In other states, though, we have literally seen health offices raided, their vaccines confiscated, because doctors had the audacity to vaccinate teachers. Our favorite local rep, by the way, is looking into that here at home, because it apparently doesn’t seem fair to him, all these teachers getting shots, and other workers who have had to face in-person work without adequate PPE getting shots too. I guess he’s not into that.
It’s the PAGOP playbook, intended most of all to sow discord and make people mad, so their politicians can get anger-votes to hold their dysfunctional majority. All they have to do is direct the anger at their political “enemies,” and they don’t even have to pass legislation. Protect the vulnerable, they shout! So just like they did at the beginning of the pandemic by…umm…well sure they had no plan for protecting the vulnerable except the words, but that’s fine. It’s personal! And now…well they still have no plan other than ideological stumping. And if the pandemic continues to churn because of their political ambitions, that’s fine by them.
This brand of “conservative” sees no value in real community, only angles in personal power. Electability. We saw similar failure of community-focus this week in truly terrible local newspaper coverage on vaccinations, by a truly ideologically slanted local paper (I mean, Ben Shapiro and Star Parker on the op-ed page regularly?), that decided to see conspiracy in shadows that don’t exist, targeting one easy-to-target local institution and neglecting to mention all of the many local companies that have been coordinating with our medical center for shots.
Remember: shots in arms is the goal of community health. The more the better, no matter who. And coordinating with local employers is a good idea because it is efficient, fewer no-shows, fewer wasted vials, more people getting vaccinated, which builds toward the actual herd immunity we need. Not the false version of that the GOP loved, where lots of people just get sick and die, and we don’t actually build anything close to community-wide immunity. But the stores stay open. And the profits keep rolling for the big companies even while small companies go under. That’s a pattern, too, of Toxic Individuality. Lives are expendable, including or especially the lives of the folks who keep voting for you.
No Taxes But Can You Spare a Dime?
This might seem unrelated, but I don’t think so. This week, a Republican Rep in the state House made a fascinating (bizarre and absurd) proposal. Recognizing that the state needs more revenue, but also recognizing that his party refuses to consider a progressive tax structure that would do so in a fair manner, he proposed legislation that would allow people to donate extra taxes to run the government. Read the memo here. As some social media commentators have written, it’s essentially a GoFundMe for state services. It also makes taxes an individual choice. Which is, let’s just say, fascinating. No. It’s moronic.
This proposal happens at the same moment that the GOP is foaming at the mouth about Governor Wolf’s budget proposal, and in particular his tax proposal. They seize on the “biggest tax increase ever” part…which is technically true. But they conveniently ignore that his plan hacks the system to give refunds to the majority of Pennsylvanians, so overall taxes actually go down for families earning under $85k. Families under $50k or so would see all of their state taxes disappear. High wage earners pay a bit more, and the state collects revenue it needs. Read about it here. A key takeaway: only the top-earning 1/3 of Pennsylvanians would actually see their taxes increase.
Wolf’s proposal effectively creates the progressive tax system we need, which saves money for those who struggle, and slightly increases taxes for those who can afford it. PA has what’s called an “upside down” tax system, where moderate and low wage earners pay a higher percentage of their income to taxes than do rich folks. That is, well, obviously not good. Unless you’re rich. Unsurprisingly, state reps who earn $90k (so would pay slightly more) are outraged!
Imagine being a Rep for a District with a median per capita income under $30k and trying to sell people on how awful that tax increase is, y’know, the one that would save most folks money? Self-interest at its best. Or, what we might call…Toxic Individuality.
What You Should Be Doing This Week
Whether you are the one who is going to run against these incumbents (you are, right?), or whether you are a voter who wants change, you should make a plan to act on the righteous anger you’re feeling. Apply pressure by canceling subscriptions to, say, newspapers that work against the common good, or by withholding your business from local companies that support the shitty deal we get around here.
Toxic Individuality. It’s all about the one, never the community, never the Commonwealth. Which is why, ironically, we are suffering together as a state. Selfishness only works out when you are the most powerful. Like our three state reps and our state senator who earn more than triple the median per capita wage, yet still oppose measures that would help struggling people recover. Which is why you’re running, right? Because we can’t afford that kind of politics.