Timothy Weaver, Ph.D.

One of the major parties in the US has become a party that chooses to lead by subtraction. The party has pushed a singular agenda since Reagan—subtracting programs that help the middle and working classes.

Start with the subtraction of federal funding for higher education. This has had a dramatic impact on the middle class because the family’s share of college costs has sky rocketed leading to a massive debt bubble for children of these families. The net benefit of this subtraction has gone to the rich in the form of tax cuts. The other negative recipients of this kind of subtraction are the middle and working class families with children in Pre-k through high school.

As Republicans have subtracted payments at the federal level for local public schools, and shifted more of those funds to private schools, the burden on state and local tax payers has gone up. This is a regressive tax because it hurts middle and working classes more than their rich neighbors. It particularly hurts children of middle and working class families in more rural parts of the country. They are less able than their wealthier counterparts on the coasts to make up the short fall in federal assistance to education. But, ironically, these areas have become the strongholds of the Republican Party.

The subtraction of funds for infrastructure and especially roads and the internet has profoundly affected the middle and working classes. The rich can afford to fly in private jets and be helicoptered to destinations, while the middle and working classes waste hundreds of thousands of hours in traffic jams and dealing with dial up speed internet service. The rich can afford the highest speed internet service money can buy. The net benefit of this form of subtraction—the rich who are not directly impacted but who receive huge tax cuts to help them enrich themselves even more.

More and more restrictive bills have been passed in recent decades to limit eligibility for SNAP and other food aid, the basics of human decency. More policy, if we can call it that, by subtraction. Who benefits? The rich because their taxes can be reduced still more while millions of middle and working class families wait hours in line at charitable food banks. This entire matter has become obscene and odious.

The Republican Party, having voted unanimously in the House and Senate against the Affordable Care Act (with 1 single exception), has attempted 70 or more times to subtract the ACA once it became law. This was a truly middle and working class benefit program, extending health care to middle and working classes that otherwise was unaffordable. The Medicaid expansion was rejected uniformly by nearly every Republican led state, yet it provides at federal expense health care to millions of uncovered Americans. The Republicans repeatedly attacked the law and falling one vote short in the Senate to repeal it, the GOP went to court to subtract this popular middle and working class program. That case is still pending.

The Party of Subtraction has seized upon another policy to sustain them in power by literally subtracting opposition voters from access to the polls. This started in Georgia a few years ago with massive voter purges based on criteria aimed surgically at minority voters. Only because of the heroic work of Stacey Abrams was this sabotage of voting rights offset. The effort continues with recent legislative actions in 40 states to reduce early voting, Sunday voting, polling places, mail in voting, ballot collection boxes and a host of actions aimed at subtracting opposition voters.

In several states the GOP and legislatures have moved to subtract local prerogatives to take action in the best interest of local counties, cities and towns. The governor of Georgia sued the mayor of Atlanta to enforce a state law prohibiting cities from enforcing mask wearing. State after state controlled by Republicans have followed suit. This is the party that had been preaching local control for decades.

In the matter of subtracting local control, it is clear how this is aimed at the middle and working classes. When political control shifts from local bodies to the state level the capacity of middle and working classes to influence policy actions is severely limited. Such people can attend local council meetings, school board meetings, water board meetings and exert influence. When power shifts to the state level, the rich become far more influential because they have the means to lobby for what they want. Local people do not.

The Party of Subtraction is slowly strangling the middle and working classes right under their noses. Step by step it is possible to trace this strategy back to its architects—Nixon, Reagan, George W. Bush, Trump, Gingrich, Koch brothers, and their Greek choruses in right wing media. Should it surprise anyone that great friend of the working class, Tucker Carlson, comes from a wealthy family? Most of these media patrons of working Americans are multimillionaires having nothing in common with their viewers.

Yet, and here’s the conundrum wrapped in a puzzle inside an enigma—the very voters who keep the Party of Subtraction in power are the voters being savaged by their policies. Huh? Can that be? Is this the biggest fraud on the voters ever perpetrated in the history of the world? What explains it? Propaganda that would make the Nazi’s blush? A self-perpetuating phenomenon in which middle class angst has translated into self-destructive tendencies?

Those familiar with the famous behavioral sink studies will know what I mean by the last question. In those studies rats were allowed to multiply until their cages became extremely overcrowded. Instead of acting logically, or as logically as rats can act, the entire colony developed counter intuitive strategies such as homosexual behavior and sudden unrat like violent attacks on each other. The colony developed loners which could not cope and perished. The entire colony died off eventually because the learned patterns of reproduction and socialization were literally forgotten.

The net consequence of all of these actions is stagnation and frustration among middle and working class Americans. Wages have remained unchanged net inflation for the past 40 years for families at the median and lower income brackets, while incomes of the rich have soared. Families that once could own homes, buy new cars, invest in stocks and sent their children to college are finding this way of life slipping away from them. Families are remortgaging their properties and depleting their savings in order to maintain a middle class lifestyle. Part of that lifestyle is sending their kids to college. This is the only avenue for most in the middle and working classes to move forward on the social status ladder. Their children have become the victims of a huge debt bubble caused by the federal government cutting back higher education support.

The stress on the middle class is being met with counter intuitive actions. The continuing support for the Party of Subtraction is illogical. The forming of radical right wing paramilitary groups, the defiance of easily understood science regarding the pandemic, the rising support in rural areas for the Republican Party—these are all counterintuitive and illogical.  It is illogical and counterintuitive given that the party they increasing support is destroying the very foundation of middle class progress in the 20th century: labor unions, local control and access to higher education and health care.

How long will this continue? My analysis suggests it has reached a zenith and next will move the other way. It is merely a matter of time. Keep tuned. Given enough time we shall know the answer.

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