BY JOE CONASON
While commentators chastise congressional Democrats for lacking a cogent message for midterm voters, does the opposition really need to say much more than “to hell with Trump”? If so, they can start hammering a theme that will unite the party base, attract wavering supporters and blister the hide off this president for a monumental broken promise.
The killer issue is perfectly obvious: infrastructure.
Everybody knows that the collapsing highway bridge in Genoa, Italy, a typically tragic and costly disaster, could have happened anywhere in the United States – indeed, it has, and it will again. Presumably that was why candidate Donald Trump promised a massive public works reconstruction program almost as fervently as he vowed to “build the wall.” With his usual lying braggadocio, he said again and again in 2016 that a Trump Administration would create “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.”
Like his wall, the public works program is nowhere to be seen. Unlike the wall, however, rebuilding infrastructure is critical to our future.
Rather than fulfill his pledge to the nation’s workers and families, Trump furtively sold them out for a tax cut that benefits him and his family. Congressional Republicans, who have spent their careers gnawing at America’s physical heritage like so many termites, never intended to let Trump appropriate adequate funding to repair roads, bridges, airports, seaports and all the other infrastructure that undergirds the national economy.
Without substantial investment soon, our competitive capacity will shrink as other countries grow. Our daily lives will be dominated by traffic jams, airport delays, transit accidents and all the troubles of a disintegrating public sector. Our health and safety will be at risk to increasing air and water pollution, as will our educational and research advantages.
Again, everyone in government knows these basic facts. Yet over the past 25 years, ever since they first gained control of the House of Representatives under Newt Gingrich, they have preferred cutting taxes on their rich donors to creating decent jobs and a livable country for their constituents. They have opposed every serious attempt to fund reconstruction spending that would begin to meet the real need – now estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers at $4.5 trillion by 2025.
The least to be said for Trump is that he seemed to understand the dire condition of America’s physical plant, which includes not just highways but everything from the dilapidated electric grid and leaking reservoirs, to waste management facilities, levees, dams and, yes, schools. At some point, he proposed a plan to spend $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, which would have been a start.
But his plan was never real, because it included only $200 billion in new federal spending and depended on private sector “partnerships” to provide the rest. Republican leaders rejected even that tiny gesture in favor of a gigantic skewed tax cut that squanders $1.3 trillion to make the rich richer.
That’s right: Congressional Republicans spent almost exactly the same amount Trump had promised for infrastructure spending on those unpopular tax cuts. They took your construction jobs, your roads and bridges, and your children’s future, and they cashed them in to lavish more tax money on people who already have far too much. This is such a simple, damning equation that even politicians should be able to explain it to voters.
What the Democrats should say, too – if they can find the courage – is that we are committing a crime against our children by depleting the great national inheritance bequeathed by our parents and grandparents, leaving only memories of a better time. Finding the ways and means to rebuild America is an economic necessity today – and a moral obligation to those who will follow us. The Republicans will never do it, and neither will Trump. Which is one of many good reasons why they must go.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer