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This Inauguration Day, The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

The time has come to stop viewing and start doing, writes Steve Almond. Pictured: A pedestrian stand at the intersection of barricades dividing areas of standing room on the National Mall in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, as preparations continue for Friday's presidential inauguration. (John Minchillo/AP)
The time has come to stop viewing and start doing, writes Steve Almond. Pictured: A pedestrian stand at the intersection of barricades dividing areas of standing room on the National Mall in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, as preparations continue for Friday's presidential inauguration. (John Minchillo/AP)
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COMMENTARY

This morning, our nation will swear in a new president. I won’t be watching. Nor will I be writing any more pieces about his intemperate tweets or his adolescent feuds. Allowing that garbage to distract us is what got the guy elected. It was the central ingredient in his big con.

Because it caused us to turn away from what we should have been looking at all along: policy.

This morning, our nation will swear in a new president. I won’t be watching.

According to a study conducted by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, just 10 percent of the 2016 election coverage focused on policy.

Well, now the campaign is over. The president and his allies in Congress now have the power to ruin millions of lives through foolish and destructive legislation, laws and executive orders and amendments that will coddle the wealthy and punish the poor and vulnerable.

The most obvious example is the Republican effort to roll back the Affordable Care Act. President Obama’s signature law had one goal: to make health care more accessible, which it did. More than 20 million Americans — most of them poor, many of them sick or living with pre-existing conditions — joined the ranks of the insured.

Republicans are now eager to repeal the law, with no realistic plan to replace it. Why do they want to do this? To help rich people get a little richer. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, rolling back Obamacare will cut taxes for the top one percent, and raise taxes for poorer families. It’s a despicable course of action that will cause an estimated 18 million Americans to lose their insurance, and premiums to skyrocket.

Next, the GOP will target the common sense financial reforms of Dodd-Frank, which were crafted to keep Wall Street and the big banks from fleecing consumers, and sending the economy into another recession. This feat of deregulation will do nothing to help 99 percent of Americans. Instead, it will put them at risk by re-opening Wall Street’s floodgates of greed. And why? So the top one percent can sop up more gravy.

The GOP will then seek to revamp the tax code by cutting rates on the wealthy, and shredding the social safety net, starting with Medicare.

I’m not setting out some wild-eyed, paranoid vision of the Republican agenda. This is the program party leaders have publicly outlined. None of these measures will help the struggling workers of Michigan or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin — or anywhere else. They are designed, simply and openly, to further the divide between rich and poor in this country.

Had Americans chosen to focus on these policies during the campaign, we might have had a different result. But we were too busy gawking at the carnival of distractions.

This is the structural advantage the GOP enjoys in the modern political landscape: Its policies are wildly unpopular, but its candidates almost never have to talk about them in any depth.

The new administration, along with some conservatives in Congress, have rhetorically targeted vulnerable communities: immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women who choose to exercise their reproductive rights, and so on. They now have the power to pursue policies that will persecute these groups.

We’ll also see if the President-elect plans to use the U.S. military to fight his various personal ego battles. And whether the GOP’s disdain for science will cause them to imperil future generations by ignoring, or accelerating, climate change.

Had Americans chosen to focus on these policies during the campaign, we might have had a different result. But we were too busy gawking at the carnival of distractions.

Unless Americans step up and start to exercise their right to protest — to organize, to march, to lobby, to put down their precious devices and hit the streets — millions of actual human beings will suffer by these cruel and senseless policies.

Those who wish to prevent that suffering must turn away from the antics of our new president. We must educate ourselves about the GOP policy agenda and its tragic consequences. And we must reacquaint ourselves with the basic political tools by which Americans have fought harmful and morally corrosive leadership.

The time has come to stop viewing and start doing.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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