Democrats demonize wealthy to deflect from disastrous agendas

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“When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.” Philosopher Rousseau said those words about the French Revolution more than 200 years ago, but they could well have been a talking point in the Democratic debates this week. The candidates brushed aside questions about raising taxes to pay the trillions of dollars promised for free college, universal health care, reparations and new homes for African Americans, free health care for the undocumented, massive investment in historically black colleges, and other “big ideas” that various candidates pledged.

What they all agreed on was that the “rich” would pay for much of it. The loudest in this declaration of class warfare was New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who promised that “we will tax the hell out of the wealthy.” The growing Rousseauian chant to “tax the rich” is, of course, hardly new in politics. However, the current age of rage makes this call more menacing. Suddenly, the wealthy are being portrayed as virtual predators of the poor.

Senator Elizabeth Warren even seemed to poke the chest of an imaginary tycoon in declaring she was coming for “your Rembrandts, your stock portfolio, your diamonds, and your yachts.” I previously wrote that her concept of a wealth tax appears unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Warren continues to pledge to impose taxes on the most wealthy in our nation, at 2 percent for those with more than $50 million in assets and at 3 percent for those with more than $1 billion in assets. Not to be outdone, De Blasio promised more with a wealth tax on everyone worth $10 million or above.

The demonization of the wealthy continued as candidates spoke of how the 1 percent was like a class of robber barons avoiding taxes or paying little back to society. Others like Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez call to increase the tax rate to 70 percent from the current 37 percent for income over $10 million. Just for the record here, the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 37.3 percent in taxes, more than the bottom 90 percent that paid 30.5 percent in taxes. The top 50 percent paid 97 percent of total individual income taxes. That means that the bottom 50 percent of taxpayers are paying basically no income taxes.

To qualify as the top 5 percent of earners, your household needs to make $300,000 or more. To qualify as one of the top 10 percent, the cutoff is around $118,000. That does not mean that the wealthy should not pay more in taxes. However, Democrats are undermining their push for higher taxes by pledging trillion dollar programs as if those would involve chump change. Want a house? Senator Kamala Harris will help pay for it if you are African American. Want free college tuition? Almost all the candidates are promising it. Hate your college loans? Gone by Senator Bernie Sanders.

Warren created a lasting meme during the debate when she gleefully rubbed her hands together after saying that she would take some of the wealth of fellow candidate and former congressman John Delaney, a businessman worth $65 million. For Republicans, it is the meme that will keep on giving well after the 2020 election. Warren relished the idea of grabbing the wealth of Delaney and others as she promised freebies to every key group of swing voters. Like many politicians referring to “my” programs, the glee is in the spending, not in the making of the money.

With polls showing him at a practical zero in terms of national support and currently less popular than Trump in his own city, De Blasio left Rousseau behind and went full Robespierre in promising essentially a reign of tax terror for the wealthy. De Blasio declared that he “would go further than any other 2020 candidate to reshape society.” He dismissed the need to explain where the necessary trillions in tax dollars will come from with a casual, “There is plenty of money in this country. It is just in the wrong hands.” He promised to lead the proletariat, “When I am president, we will even up the score.” De Blasio has even promised to hit citizens who are renouncing their American citizenship with a 40 percent “turncoat tax.”

De Blasio did not explain how he would deduce which people are actually changing citizenship for tax reasons or how he intends to tax citizens of another country. However, that does not matter when you are “reshaping society.” His portrayal of tax increases as a type of caged hunt for fat cats is, of course, ridiculous. The problem is that the wealthy can leave. Now that New Yorkers cannot write off their higher taxes on their federal forms, many indeed are fleeing and, faced with a $2.3 billion budget shortfall, even Governor Andrew Cuomo has admitted, “This is the flip side. Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich. The rich leave, and now what do you do?”

The loss of those top earners can be devastating. The top 1 percent, who are being constantly attacked by Democrats, pay for nearly half of the income tax revenue in New York City. A family of four earning $175,000 will pay 25 percent of their income in New York in taxes, in contrast to the 14 percent paid by the same family in Florida. The wealthy can leave not just the state of New York but the entire country. Many wealthy foreign investors are also unlikely to come to the United States to simply end up in a De Blasio tumbrel on their way down to the Internal Revenue Service.

Our tax system remains a mess and there is a real wealth disparity that must be addressed. However, we have to do so in a constitutional and logical way, including possible tax increases. Moreover, President Trump and the Republicans in Congress have proven to be as irresponsible on spending as the Democrats. Both parties have continued to lift the debt ceiling and, with the spending bill, Trump will have added over $4 trillion to the national debt, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated. Our total national debt surpassed $22 trillion earlier this year.

Rather than deal with the economic meltdown caused by such a debt load, Democrats pledge to hunt down the wealthy, and Trump bizarrely insists he can wipe out our debt in eight years. They are kicking the can down the road to the next generation, while class warfare is a platform item for the left. Aerosmith has a theme song ready for the Democratic National Convention. It is called “Eat the Rich.” While it does not complain about all the “diamonds, yachts, and Rembrandts,” it does denounce the wealthy for their “poodles and pills.” The rest makes a catchy sound byte that you can literally dance to.“There is only one thing that they are good for. Eat the rich. Take one bite now. Come back for more. Eat the rich.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bill de Blasio Democrats Election Elizabeth Warren Taxation

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