Mother Jones


In 1980 the federal deficit was soaring and Ronald Reagan campaigned on a singular promise: He planned to cut taxes on everyone, but especially the rich. He insisted that those benefits would quickly trickle down to everyone and supercharge the economy. Throw in some social safety net cuts, Republicans said, and the whole plan would pay for itself.

They were wrong. The rich got lower taxes all right, but the economy flatlined and the deficit skyrocketed. I should know: I graduated from college the same summer the tax cut passed, and I spent the next three years managing a Radio Shack waiting for the economy to get back on its feet. In 1982 Reagan was forced to raise taxes to make up for his cuts, and he continued raising them throughout his presidency.

In 1993 Bill Clinton passed a tax increase to reduce the deficit. Republicans insisted it would do no such thing. In fact, they said, it would cripple the economy.

They were wrong. The economy boomed, and for the first time since the Roaring ’20s the deficit turned into a surplus for four consecutive years.

In 2001—and again in 2003—George W. Bush passed a tax cut. Once again, Republicans said it would supercharge the economy and pay for itself.

They were wrong. All we got was a jobless recovery and a housing bubble that wrecked the economy. It produced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

At the beginning of 2013, as part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Barack Obama forced Republicans to accept a tax increase on high earners. But even though the bill passed with bipartisan support, some Republicans insisted it would kill the economy.

They were wrong. The deficit declined and Obama produced the longest economic recovery in American history—one that was still going strong until the coronavirus pandemic killed it.

Finally, in 2017, Republicans passed yet another tax cut. This one primarily benefited corporations and the rich, and once again Republicans insisted it would supercharge the economy and pay for itself.

They were wrong. No—scratch that. They lied. They knew the evidence of the past 40 years as well as anyone, but they sold the public a bill of goods anyway.

Why? Because for all of Donald Trump’s bluster, this was the one thing he really, truly had to do. It’s the one thing the Republican Party’s big donors insist on. They don’t care about immigration or tariffs. Not much, anyway. But they care about lower taxes.

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