Chained Boats

“A rising tide lifts all boats” they’d say, and my mother would snort and say “except the ones chained down.” This has been my metaphor for understanding Republican politics for decades. It may help you come to terms with Trumponomics.

I have spent most of my life here in Southwest Virginia and I can tell you that Appalachia has a lot of chained boats. No matter what J. D. Vance says, they didn’t chain themselves. Keeping the boats chained down is how the rich people here have always made their money.

And now that rural Republicans have such outsized control on the Federal government, they are exporting the same strategy out to the rest of y’all, so listen up.

There’s a lot of “Republicans are so desperate for a tax bill win they are willing to stupid things” stories in the press. Irresponsible, yes. Accidental? Not in the least.

They know full well what they are doing. They are not stupid. And they are not apathetic. “Republicans cut taxes even though it will gut medicare” gets it entirely wrong. There is no “even though.” It’s a two-fer.

Here’s a story: when I graduated from college in 1996 I took a job at my hometown newspaper creating and running their first web site.

The ad director and the newspaper publisher liked to take me around to various meetings with business people. The ad guy because he was trying to find a way to monetize the website (no real ad networks then) and the publisher because my presence proved the newspaper was on the cutting edge.

I can’t remember which of these two took me to the Chamber of Commerce to talk about bringing technology jobs in. It could have been either of them. I think it was both. But towards the end, one of the Commerce guys said “whatever we do it is important that we do not increase the cost of labor in this region. That is a very important selling point for us.”

In other words: it’s all well-and-good for you to have your little technology toys, but remember: we need to keep some boats chained down.


So how do you chain down a boat? Other than actual chains, which we are totally using. It’s pretty easy: you manufacture economic desperation, then you exploit it for cheap labor and political influence. Right now we can point to just about any economic or cultural policy pushed by Republican leadership and see that it does exactly this.

Taxing students for the value of waived tuition? That puts higher education out-of-reach.

Defunding senior care? Drains bank accounts of seniors and their adult children. Turns more adults into caregivers; makes them less mobile, less capable of investing in themselves and their children.

Increasing economic barriers to birth control. You know what that means, right? If you are poor you cannot have sex. What’s going to be the result of that? A lot of kids. Children, precious as they are, tend to create a lot of economic desperation, which is why poverty rates track easy access to birth control so tightly. You only do this if you want more poor people.

What about the rather startling and sudden Republican turn towards blatant racism? Culture war is a staple of right-wing populism because it’s such a good deflector of political rage. If you can blame black people, the gays, or the Muslims for misery maybe no one will realize the real culprit is you.

I could go on. These strategies are well-honed. The political messaging has been effective in rural areas for decades. Right now Republicans see the possibility of taking this approach national, which is why they are so willing to risk nuclear war with North Korea. Actually, nuclear war with North Korea might be good for them, too. That’s a scary thought.

You can forget “freedom” and “democracy” and “American values.” At least with the Trumpist brand of Republicanism, the only result that matters is that rich people win at the expense of poorer people. Money is money, but having everyone else over an economic barrel? That’s power.

These policies only seem poorly thought-out if you think a large middle class, fluid wealth, political empowerment, and the eradication of desperate poverty are more valuable than low wages.

Republicans say they support small business, encourage entrepreneurship, make safer cities, defend freedom, and support families. Their policies increase risk, increase dependency, and immiserate their own constituents.

If they cared, they would do something different. If they were apathetic, pure chance would suggest they’d occasionally do some good. But they don’t. The damage they do is intentional.

So if you want to understand Republicans, stop asking if they know what damage they are doing. Stop laughing at how stupid they are. They don’t care. All they care about is chaining down your boat.

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