Stephen King: Tax Me, for F@%&âs Sake!
The iconic writer scolds the superrich (including himselfâand Mitt Romney) for not giving back, and warns of a Kingsian apocalyptic scenario if inequality is not addressed in America.
Chris Christie may be fat, but he ainât Santa Claus. In fact, he seems unable to decide if he is New Jerseyâs governor or its caporegime, and it may be a comment on the coarsening of American discourse that his brash rudeness is often taken for charm. In February, while discussing New Jerseyâs newly amended income-tax law, which allows the rich to pay less (proportionally) than the middle class, Christie was asked about Warren Buffettâs observation that he paid less federal income taxes than his personal secretary, and that wasnât fair. âHe should just write a check and shut up,â Christie responded, with his typical verve. âIâm tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, heâs got the ability to write a checkâgo ahead and write it.â
Heard it all before. At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist view that firing teachers with experience was sort of a bad idea), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, âHow come Iâm not paying 50?â The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebeeâs in Jersey City, but plenty of other people of the Christie persuasion did.
Cut a check and shut up, they said.
If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.
Tired of hearing about it, they said.
Tough shit for you guys, because Iâm not tired of talking about it. Iâve known rich people, and why not, since Iâm one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing âDisco Infernoâ than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. Itâs true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesnât go far enough.
What charitable 1 percenters canât do is assume responsibilityâAmericaâs national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich canât fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, âOK, Iâll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.â That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.
And hey, why donât we get real about this? Most rich folks paying 28 percent taxes do not give out another 28 percent of their income to charity. Most rich folks like to keep their dough. They donât strip their bank accounts and investment portfolios. They keep them and then pass them on to their children, their childrenâs children. And what they do give away isâlike the monies my wife and I donateâtotally at their own discretion. Thatâs the rich-guy philosophy in a nutshell: donât tell us how to use our money; weâll tell you.
The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but theyâre giving right-wing creepazoids. Hereâs an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it wonât do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where food fish are now showing up with black lesions. It wonât pay for stronger regulations to keep BP (or some other bunch of dipshit oil drillers) from doing it again. It wonât repair the levees surrounding New Orleans. It wonât improve education in Mississippi or Alabama. But what the hellâthem liâl crackers ainât never going to go to Deerfield Academy anyway. Fuck âem if they canât take a joke.
Hereâs another crock of fresh bullshit delivered by the right wing of the Republican Party (which has become, so far as I can see, the only wing of the Republican Party): the richer rich people get, the more jobs they create. Really? I have a total payroll of about 60 people, most of them working for the two radio stations I own in Bangor, Maine. If I hit the movie jackpotâas I have, from time to timeâand own a piece of a film that grosses $200 million, what am I going to do with it? Buy another radio station? I donât think so, since Iâm losing my shirt on the ones I own already. But suppose I did, and hired on an additional dozen folks. Good for them. Whoopee-ding for the rest of the economy.
Tired of hearing about it, they said. Tough shit for you guys, because Iâm not tired of talking about it. Iâve known rich people, and why not, since Iâm one ofthem?
At the risk of repeating myself, hereâs what rich folks do when they get richer:they invest. A lot of those investments are overseas, thanks to the anti-American business policies of the last four administrations. Donât think so? Check the tag on that T-shirt or gimme cap youâre wearing. If it says MADE IN AMERICA, Iâll âŠ well, I wonât say Iâll eat your shorts, because some of that stuff ismade here, but not much of it. And what does get made here doesnât get made by Americaâs small cadre of pluted bloatocrats; itâs made, for the most part, in barely-gittinâ-by factories in the Deep South, where the only unions people believe in are those solemnized at the altar of the local church (as long as theyâre from different sexes, that is).
The U.S. senators and representatives who refuse even to consider raising taxes on the richâthey squall like scalded babies (usually on Fox News) every time the subject comes upâare not, by and large, superrich themselves, although many are millionaires and all have had the equivalent of Obamacare for years. They simply idolize the rich. Donât ask me why; I donât get it either, since most rich people are as boring as old, dead dog shit. The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners and Eric Cantors just canât seem to help themselves. These guys and their right-wing supporters regard deep pockets like Christy Walton and Sheldon Adelson the way little girls regard Justin Bieber âŠ which is to say, with wide eyes, slack jaws, and the drool of adoration dripping from their chins. Iâve gotten the same reaction myself, even though Iâm only âbaby richâ compared with some of these guys, who float serenely over the lives of the struggling middle class like blimps made of thousand-dollar bills.
In America, the rich are hallowed. Even Warren Buffett, who has largely been drummed out of the club for his radical ideas about putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to patriotism, made the front pages when he announced that he had stage-1 prostate cancer. Stage 1, for Godâs sake! A hundred clinics can fix him up, and he can put the bill on his American Express black card! But the press made it sound like the popeâs balls had just dropped off and shattered! Because it was cancer? No! Because it was Warren Buffett, he of Berkshire-Hathaway!
I guess some of this mad right-wing love comes from the idea that in America, anyone can become a Rich Guy if he just works hard and saves his pennies.Mitt Romney has said, in effect, âIâm rich and I donât apologize for it.â Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us wantâthose who arenât blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn moneyâis for you to acknowledge that you couldnât have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged. That itâs not fair to ask the middle class to assume a disproportionate amount of the tax burden. Not fair? Itâs un-fucking-American is what it is. I donât want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means thatâsorry, kiddiesâyouâre on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to payânot to give, not to âcut a check and shut up,â in Governor Christieâs words, but to payâin the same proportion. Thatâs called stepping up and not whining about it. Thatâs called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesnât cost their beloved rich folks any money.
This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. Itâs a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (âLet them eat cakeâ) or Ebenezer Scrooge (âAre there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?â). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isnât fairly addressed, last yearâs protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.