The idea that the rich have too much wealth at the expense of everyone else has taken off in recent months. There’s even talk of “banning billionaires” and there are extremely popular policy proposals looking to significantly raise taxes on the ultra-rich coming from legislators like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Americans have supported raising taxes on the rich for a long time. But the ultra-rich, Republicans, and anti-tax extremists like Grover Norquist have kept that popular sentiment at bay. Partly with rhetoric about “freedom” and partly by philanthropic deeds, not to mention a right-wing media ecosystem (itself full of rich pundits) that portrays them as benevolent, self-made geniuses.
Then came Lord Dampnut.
With (self-proclaimed) billionaire Donald Trump occupying the White House and daily revealing what a profound moron and amoral con-man he is, the veil has been torn off. It’s easier to see that many billionaires are grifters that at best, stumbled into their wealth rather than the self-made entrepreneurs that we’ve been told they are.
Before, Americans wanted to tax the rich to pay for specific policies like Medicare-for-all, public college, and repairing infrastructure. Now, Americans are beginning to see it as a moral issue. These days, the reasoning goes that taxing the ultra-wealthy will tamp down extreme wealth inequality. They believe that someone shouldn’t start out with that much of an advantage in life, especially given what kind of people they turn out to be.
It’s a truism in American politics that there’s a natural tendency for public opinion to swing in opposition to whichever party is in power. Still, I think it’s fair to say that the public’s reaction to Trump has been more intense than it would’ve been under a President Jeb Bush. Trump has energized liberals and progressives on issues, like women’s rights, in resistance to the president, which has inspired record numbers of women to run for public office.
There are also other factors, such as outrage over the Great Recession, the Occupy Wall Street protests, and Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign which focused heavily on wealth inequality pushing the Democratic Party (the rank-and-file at any rate) to the left regarding economics. Also, our rich president, his super-rich Cabinet, and the millionaires on mainstream news TV have repeatedly demonstrated how out of touch they are with regular people when it comes to financial issues.
Finally, Trump has set himself apart from all other modern presidents by keeping his tax returns secret, bringing up daily questions about what he is trying to hide. Inadvertently shining a constant light on how the rich often get away with not paying their fair share.