Last Thursday, Speaker of the House and erstwhile Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan spoke with the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman at the Newseum in Washington about Congress’ full docket opening new fronts in the top-down class war.
They covered the Trump administration’s move to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy granting work authorization and temporary protection from deportation to 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, along with Trump’s short-term debt limit deal with Democrats and Ryan’s plans for tax cuts.
For years, Ryan shrewdly cultivated an image of himself as the Sensible Wonk. For years, he largely got away with it, because simple-minded political journalists are easily conned, and because the Paul Ryans and the Koch brothers and the George W. Bushes and the Newt Gingriches and the Ronald Reagans of the world have spent decades selling convenient untruths about how the economy actually works. In reality, history has repeatedly shown that the simplest way to fight poverty is by taxing the rich and giving the poor money. That’s really it! But in the galaxy-brain school of economic thought of which Ryan is an acolyte, rich people keeping more money for themselves will help poor people more than giving that money to poor people would.
The worst part of Ryan’s talk was the stomach-churning realization that Paul Ryan may, somehow, be getting even better at spinning and obfuscating his actual policy objectives (making the rich richer at the expense of the rest of us) with reasonable-sounding jargon like “reforming the income system” and “poverty trap” and “3 percent growth.” The GOP’s platform is not one of cut-to-the-bone austerity, no; it’s “reform”! They don’t want to throw single mothers off welfare rolls to further pad the pockets of the 1 percent, they simply want to give them a hand up out of that darn old poverty trap, and what’s better for that job than the invisible hand?
But the most interesting exchange did not relate to Ryan’s tired economic agenda. It came when Weisman brought up the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville last month that killed Heather Heyer. “What responsibility does the Speaker of the House have to speak out on these kind of moral questions?” he asked.
“It’s not just the Speaker of the House,” Ryan said. “I think we all have a responsibility. Anybody in a position of leadership, or anybody who’s raising children, or just in society, has a responsibility to stand up for what you believe in. This is why I said through and through, this moment, there’s no moral equivocation here. There is good and evil in this issue. Look, protesting in a violent way is bad all around, but this was a pure form of hatred. This notion that some human beings are intrinsically superior to others, that whole concept is wrong. It’s false. It’s evil. And we have to be really clear about things like that.”
He added: “I worry that we’re going to just get this normalized in our society. And we’re going to say, ‘Ah, it’s just those neo-Nazis. Big deal.’ No no no. We’ve got to be outraged every single time. And so what I worry about, and this is the point I was trying to make there is, we can’t get numbed to this. We can’t just turn on the TV and think, ‘Ah, it’s just the neo-Nazis again.’ We have to be outraged every single time, so they never occupy normal space in our civil dialogue, in our civil society, in our country. That’s the point I’ve been trying to make.”
Oh? Is that the point you’ve been trying to make, Mr. Speaker? You’re worried about a white supremacist ideology becoming normalized in our civil society? Gee, how could that have come about?
Just speculating here, but suppose there was a very rich American businessman who was able to cynically use the U.S. tax code to enrich himself while stiffing his employees. Suppose further that that man built his entire identity upon his self-made wealth, despite the fact that his father gave him a million-dollar loan when he was getting his start in industry. And suppose that this man, through the magic of capitalist patriarchal society, came to believe that he and people like him are genetically superior to people who are not like him. Finally, suppose that this man somehow became president, despite numerous investigations, outstanding ethical violations, and overall lack of qualifications for the presidency, setting aside his own personal flaws. And suppose that, coinciding with this man being elected president, an explicitly white supremacist worldview began expressing itself more loudly and openly in American political debates.
If that were all to (again, hypothetically) happen, one person in that scenario who might be able to restore justice to Americans who felt besieged by this president would be the Speaker of the House, who has the sole authority to introduce articles of impeachment against that president. If the Speaker of the House did not forcefully speak out against the president himself, and instead chose to cynically go along with the president’s hate, as long as it meant more tax cuts for the wealthy, it could be argued that the Speaker of the House, more than any single person in America—including the president himself—is himself normalizing white supremacy every day. Hypothetically.
Paul Ryan should scare you. He is a machine built with one purpose: To ingest donor money in one end and spurt out donor-friendly policy through the other, using language designed to make his bankrupt philosophy sound intellectually legitimate. Even more frightening is how craven the Trump era has revealed him to be: He is so dedicated to his purpose that he will not just abide but enable white supremacy for as long as it is convenient to him. It is important not to be numbed to his astounding moral bankruptcy.