I’ve been immersed in local politics for the past few weeks, trying to put some of my ideas on Democratic messaging into practice, in support of Bridget Fleming’s campaign for Congress (from the Suffolk County congressional district that Lee Zeldin just gave up to run for governor). Her Republican opponent, Nick LaLota, has been faithfully regurgitating the usual GOP talking points on inflation, crime, immigration, etc. But one of his recent social-media posts struck me as worth unpacking, because of what it says about the whole distortion field that the Trump era has plunged the nation into.
LaLota, like almost every Republican, is attacking the Democrats on the economy, claiming that the Inflation Reduction Act is simply “another Green New Deal spending package … that does nothing to bring down prices now.” But the only provision that he specifically takes issue with is the $80 billion in added funding for the Internal Revenue Service — warning that it means “87,000 new IRS agents” will be coming after you. It’s an echo of the argument many top Republicans have been making. “God help us,” said Lindsay Graham, “when you get 87,000 new IRS agents who are looking under every rock and stone to get money out of your pocket.” Others have warned, even more darkly, that the funding will enable the Biden administration to “weaponize” the IRS against its political opponents.
The argument is even more dishonest than usual, but also quite revealing. On its face, helping the IRS collect the money it’s owed should be the least controversial part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Each year the U.S. government loses out on an estimated $600 billion in unpaid taxes, the great bulk of it from rich taxpayers and large corporations. The extra $80 billion (over 10 years) for the chronically underfunded IRS will help the agency step up its enforcement and recover at least some of that money. The investment will almost certainly pay for itself many times over.
Just what do Republicans not like about making sure rich people pay their taxes? (And they’re overwhelmingly rich people; the head of the IRS has vowed that there will be no increase in audits of taxpayers making less than $400,000 a year.) Partly, of course, it’s just the latest manifestation of the “government is the enemy” mindset that has been a staple of Republican politics for years. But there’s also the clear implication that the IRS is just another government agency being deployed as a political weapon by the party in power.
The psychological concept of projection has long been the key to understanding many of the Trump crowd’s more outlandish political arguments. What they accuse others of doing and thinking, all too often, is simply a projection of what they themselves do and think.
Why was the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago (in Trump’s telling) the work of corrupt FBI agents taking revenge on a political enemy? Because that’s exactly how Trump — who fired FBI director James Comey and leaned on his successors to pursue political foes like Hillary Clinton — wanted the agency to run.
Why is the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection a political “witch hunt” being directed and orchestrated by the White House? Because that’s just how Trump expected his own Justice Department to operate — as former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman confirms so stunningly in his new book.
Indeed, we learned not long ago, Trump tried using the IRS in the same way — unless you believe that Comey and his former deputy Andrew McCabe were targeted for tax audits after landing on Trump’s enemies list through sheer coincidence. So it’s hardly a surprise that Trump and his allies would assume (or at least encourage their followers to assume) that any plan to beef up the IRS must be a plot against the hard-working people who voted for Donald Trump.
The message is as obvious as it is depressing: We’re corrupt, therefore everybody must be corrupt. That’s the pernicious mentality that Trump has foisted on the nation, and that Democrats must fight to dispel. It’s hard work. But it starts with paying your taxes.