Two competing visions for America’s post-pandemic future

Abdul El-Sayed, the epidemiologist and former candidate for governor of Michigan, recently told The American Prospect that politics during the coronavirus crisis is like a “bucket on a swivel … The drops come into the bucket until it tips one way or another. We need to make sure it tips the right way.”

It’s an apt analogy, and two developments this week offer a glimpse of which way the bucket might soon tip.

First, the good news. On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a new progressive tax on big businesses that will raise more than $200 million a year for housing, local business assistance, and community development.

The move couldn’t have come soon enough. Like so many local and state governments, Seattle is facing a massive budget shortfall due to the public health and financial crisis, estimated to be at least $300 million.

As we wrote back in April, the answer to the crisis is the exact opposite of the anti-government ideology that’s come to dominate politics over the past four decades. Our public institutions, like local health departments and public schools, need more resources right now, not less. So, let’s do the simple thing that’s right in front of us: raise taxes on those who can afford it.

What Seattle accomplished is truly remarkable. The city has the most regressive tax system in Washington State, the state with the most regressive tax system in the nation.

So, what shifted? Maybe the greatest public health crisis in a century is exposing who is winning and who is losing? Maybe it was the millions of people protesting after the police killing of George Floyd? Maybe it was growing opposition to Seattle’s biggest employer, Amazon, which spent millions of dollars to defeat prior attempts at progressive taxation?

“We’ve rejected cynical attempts by outside forces to maintain a status quo that protects power brokers at the expense of the little guy,” said Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents the only Seattle district that is majority people of color.

Now, the bad news. Today, we released a new report along with True North Research and Bold Rethink on the longtime efforts to kill the U.S. Postal Service. It was written by Lisa Graves, a prolific writer and researcher who was featured in Ava DuVernay’s documentary on mass incarceration, “The 13th.”

Long story short: the pandemic has pushed the already-struggling agency to the brink of financial collapse right when we need it the most. The Postal Service lost $651 million last month, as regular mail deliver continues to drop.

But the most trusted and popular institution in America hasn’t been struggling by accident. Since the 1970s, a concerted effort to popularize the fringe idea of privatization has been advanced with the support of one man: the billionaire and libertarian ideologue, Charles Koch, chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Industries.

Koch has cultivated an “echo chamber of special interest groups,” as journalist Jane Mayer calls his organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the newly formed Honest Elections Project. He’s pushed fringe ideas like privatizing the Postal Service from the Libertarian Party to the Republican mainstream. And now Americans for Prosperity is pressuring Congress to vote “NO” on the HEROES Act, while expressly opposing any effort to “bail out the Postal Service.”

The Postal Service is an American institution. It’s the country’s second largest civilian employer, employing high numbers of veterans and African-Americans. It’s vital to democracy, making sure people receive ballots and get their votes counted. It’s a universal public good, serving everyone regardless of income level or where they live.

Destroying the Postal Service is part of a larger vision shared by Koch, President Trump, Mitch McConnell, Jeff Bezos, and other conservatives and billionaires. Their goals are clear: cut corporate taxes, slash regulations, limit democracy, and undermine the notion of public.

Yet, as Seattle showed, we can stop them—it’s just up to us. We can’t let the bucket tip in their direction, or 18 million people unemployed and 134,000 deaths is just the beginning.

More on making government work for all of us:

  • Oklahoma passes Medicaid expansion. Last week, voters in Oklahoma—the reddest state in the nation—approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid. NPR
  • Racism as public health crisis. Minnesota’s Hennepin County passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. ABC News
  • Duckworth pushes water privatization. Private water companies want to use a potential federal infrastructure bill to accelerate privatization. Why is Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) carrying water for them? The American Prospect
  • Chicago Public Schools taking back control of cleaning and maintenance. Chicago Public Schools plans to end its maligned relationship with Aramark and Sodexo in an effort to regain control over the cleaning and maintenance of its hundreds of buildings. Chicago Sun Times
  • California town boots private ambulance company. In May, the California city of Chula Vista decided to cut ties with American Medical Response (AMR). Why? To save money, quicken response times, and reduce the cost of ambulance rides to residents. The San Diego Union-Tribune
  • Did you know? Touch-screen displays, GPS, the internet, and even Siri were the product of public research funding. Tech companies like Apple and Amazon need to pay their taxes. Retweet this

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