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Forcing enemies to debate can sometimes be a victory. A well-crafted proposal can provoke opponents into making foolish statements to use against them. The political right, whose brand is incoherent rage, has few defenses against this tactic. For them, even discussing certain ideas is a defeat.
Unlike rightwing trolling, left legislative provocations should demand something the left legitimately wants, just nothing worth paying a political price for. Leftists and liberals can push minor bills, designed to enrage the right into attacking the proposal. Leftists and liberals profit when they provoke the right into saying the quiet part out loud, providing sound bites that will repulse voters across the political spectrum.
Let me give a little example I call the “Make The Bastards Pay” tax. This would be a 100% tax on certain luxuries that are so extreme they rub everyone’s face in wealth disparities. The proposal would enumerate rather than categorically define what was taxed. The list would be short but piquant. It might include:
- Superyachts – personal pleasure crafts 400+ feet, or that include an Olympic sized swimming pool or a 100-seat movie theater, or have their own dedicated service yacht,
- Mansions– any single family dwelling over 12,000 square feet,
- Fifth yachts, fifth homes and personal private jets,
- Alcoholic beverages costing over $1,000 per serving,
- Single serving sandwiches costing over $100,
- Savory sandwiches incorporating actual gold metal. Note that gold adds no taste to food, and is not digestible. It is a decoration that gives the eater the privilege of literally pooping gold.
A “Make the Bastards Pay” tax need not consist of these exact items, though I think they are all good choices. The point is to single out a few excessive luxuries that self-satirize and self-mock, with no attempt at completeness. The lines are drawn generously; both mansions and superyachts start well before the sizes given, for example. At the same time these are choices that will enrage the wealthy right, who hate having their entitlement to these luxuries questioned.
Note that this tax outlaws nothing. It simply requires that those who pile expensive indulgence upon expensive indulgence cut the rest of us in on the action. It advances two of three parts of the activist holy trinity – agitation and organization, but not education. It is tactical, not strategic – an appeal to emotion.
That limitation is also a strength. Focusing on infuriating spoiled rich wanker consumption makes it easy to paint opponents as senseless or corrupt.
Passing the “Make the Bastards Pay” tax into law would be emotionally satisfying, but supremely unimportant. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax would hit the rich much harder, and generate orders of magnitude more revenue than a sumpturary tax of this sort. So would almost any progressive tax proposal, including some quite modest ones. But a number of rich Senators, Congresscritters and prominent far-right politicians would take this luxury tax extremely personally – either on their own behalf or on behalf of major donors. If AOC, who drives the right mad anyway, were to introduce this as a bill I guarantee that Republican legislators would trip over their male privilege and say things that could be used against them – including Republican women.
When the time came to fight seriously for a wealth tax, or a bigger capital gains tax or any progressive economic advancement, reformers could cash in the political capital earned during the “Make the Bastards Pay” fight. Liberals and leftists could remind voters that the same people fighting them today also opposed taxing high priced sandwiches dedicated to letting Richie Riches poop real gold.
Rage normally works for the right, because they are experts at crafting messages that sound idiotic to leftists and liberals, but appeal to many workers. That’s not so easy to do when attacking this type of proposal. Rightists would inevitably slip and say things that sound stupid and offensive to everyone.
Some might argue that this provocation can’t succeed because this article admits it is a form of trolling. However, most trolling is obvious button pushing. Often people who know better can’t resist responding. Even so, that objection might be true for the right of 30 years ago. When a not-bright Reagan or Bush was in charge, they would listen to the advice tactically smart dirty tricks experts gave. But today we have Donald Trump and MTG. The current far right leaders are 2nd and third generation, raised believing lies that were once only for suckers. Oh there are still plenty of smart right wingers. But the top ranks of the right are filled with failsons and faildaughters. A large part of the leadership of the right consists of rich dumbasses who believe that they are the smartest people in the room and won’t listen to anyone. There are plenty of this type in the Congress and Senate, in TV studios, in boardrooms and political organizations. A multitude of them can be counted on to respond stupidly to the “Make the Bastards Pay” tax even though I’ve just told the clueless mofos exactly what we are doing. I’m not underestimating the enemy. Its just that the smart ones lost control of their stupidest and craziest elements decades ago.
It is not as though we need a majority of prominent Republicans to fall for this, though that is not out of the question. A few extremists who can’t shut up , even for the sake of political survival, will do just fine. Republican strategy in the 21st century is centered around the art of the hissy fit. “Watch out or I might get mad” is their basic bullies’ trick. It is past time their weaponized rage was used against them.
At the moment the right is on the verge of eliminating the few semi-democratic features our political system has. Let’s not sneer at any tactic that slows the conversion of our oligarchy with minor democratic characteristics into a full-fledged authoritarian dictatorship.