Decency in Discourse

Apr 26, 2011

For some years, I have argued in favor of what has become the ultimate heresy in today’s political world. I think those of us who can afford it should pay more taxes.

No, not so people who are too lazy to work can sit on the couch and watch The Price is Right. Nor am I intent on subsidizing the birth of large numbers of out-of-wedlock children to non-working families, though I’ve been accused of that in less gentle terms.

The only welfare I am interested in is that which applies to the common good. Michigan in particular needs roads that do not look and feel like the surface of the moon. We need bridges that aren’t dropping concrete fragments onto the cars below.

We need cities that work and that don’t look like World War II movie sets, and most of all, we need a better educated work force. We need public schools that not only properly educate students, but prepare them for more education. Today, a high school degree is simply not enough to give anyone a shot at a decent paying job.

Being willing to pay more taxes to achieve a well-functioning state with prosperous and happy people is not altruism. You don’t have to be very enlightened to see that this would be in everyone’s best interest. Naturally, you can disagree.

Governor Rick Snyder apparently does; he is betting the future on a gamble that new jobs will come roaring in if we drastically lower the business tax. He is so firmly convinced of that, he is willing to make drastic cuts in education to make it happen.

That seems too risky to me. But let’s say this in the governor’s favor. He isn’t saying those who oppose his ideas are socialists who hate America and want to destroy our economy.

However, there are a distressingly large number of people out there who do think anyone who disagrees with them is evil.

Every time I’ve written about taxes I get a barrage of patronizing, nasty invective. Communism doesn’t work, one man told me. Hadn’t I learned anything from history? He threw in a few obscenities and signed his letter “Howard Roark,” the hero of a mesmerizing and nutty Ayn Rand novel.

Wonder where he was coming from. The nastiness and name-calling are not, however, limited to the right. Last week I said attempts to recall Governor Snyder would be a waste of time. Getting enough signatures would be virtually impossible and, in any event, I did not think the governor had done anything to justify being recalled. This provoked a flood of flaming postings on Facebook and elsewhere.

I was accused of selling out to big money and the far right, having unnatural relations with the governor, wanting to starve children, and was asked how I could sleep at night.

That’s how you communicate if you are fifteen years old and in a paintball fight. But it isn’t any way to work things out in a complex democracy grappling with real problems.

We’ve had one civil war in this country. It started a hundred and fifty years ago this month, and left people hating each other for generations. My suggestion is that we start by agreeing that one civil war was more than enough.