You have permission to edit this article.

Navarrette: Scare tactics are tricks of the trade for politicians in both parties

  • Comments
Ruben Navarrette

Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO — There is a familiar demagoguery surging in America.

One of the two major political parties is exploiting the economic anxiety that many people still feel even as we seem to be reaching the ninth inning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The party is hunting for scapegoats, and trading on prejudice. People are being pitted against one another.

The party’s leaders spin simplistic tales of victims and villains. They tell people — in bigoted code language — that there are undesirables among us who break rules, usurp benefits and cheat to get ahead. Hardworking U.S. taxpayers are supporting these freeloaders, they say. It’s not right.

I speak, of course, of Democrats and their recently amped-up war on the haves on behalf of the have-nots.

Which political party did you think I was talking about? And what kind of demagoguery did you assume was at play?

Racism? You’re half correct. It’s an “-ism” all right. Rank classism.

In his State of the Union Address to Congress in April, President Joe Biden promised the American people: “I will not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000.”

The Biden administration defines “wealthy” as an individual earning at least $400,000 annually, or a married couple making at least $450,000. Under the Democrats’ plan, both would face a top tax rate of 39.6%.

Yet, in the same speech, the president then cynically pivoted toward his Democratic base and tossed out a slab of red meat:

“But it’s time for corporate America, and the wealthiest 1% of Americans, to just begin to pay their fair share. Just their fair share,” Biden said .

Common sense tells us that Biden’s math is sketchy. Cost of living is a real thing. A couple earning $450,000 in Billings, Montana, is probably living larger than one that makes $450,000 in Boston.

Democrats say they need this revenue to fund a massive infrastructure bill that would likely cost at least $1.5 trillion and could easily cost as much as $3.5 trillion .

Classism rhetoric isn’t about paying for roads and bridges any more than nativism rhetoric is about securing the border. This is about liberals’ riling up their base on the left, just like conservatives do with their base on the right. It’s about scoring points, and raising money for reelection.

You may have noticed that the catch phrase “pay their fair share” has been playing on a loop for several weeks. The class warfare must be working for liberals, or they wouldn’t keep declaring it.

According to a Pew Research Center survey in April, 80% of Americans said they are “significantly” bothered by the feeling that some corporations and wealthy people don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes.

Now Republicans can scoff at these figures if they like, even chalk them up to ignorance.

That’s adorable. I notice that the GOP is perfectly fine benefiting from ignorance when Americans tell pollsters that they oppose “open borders.”

I’m fairly confident that people earning $400,000 per year are paying their fair share in taxes. Just as I know for a fact that the U.S.-Mexico border is not open. There are too many agents, guns, fences, vehicles, sensors, lights, helicopters, boats, drones and holding cells for that to be true.

But, in both cases, so what? In politics, facts only get you so far. Perception counts for a lot.

In fact, the phrase “pay their fair share” must be working the same manipulative magic for the left that bumper sticker slogans like “seal the border” or “deport all illegals” seem to work for the right.

While Republicans have mastered the dark art of scaring up votes from white people by stoking fears about the demographic changes caused by immigration, Democrats have shown — in the debate over taxes — that they can give as good as they get by tapping into envy and resentment.

I don’t care who plays these games. This isn’t leadership. It’s cheap and destructive behavior that destroys our democracy. Yet, it’s constantly served up to the American people by both parties with a sinister grin.

Recommended for You

— Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. Email

Today's Bible verse

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33

Featured Businesses