There were plenty of things to object to in last night’s Republican debate: Donald Trump’s praise of a program called “Operation Wetback,” Ted Cruz’s flagrant innumeracy, and Rand Paul’s paranoid hand-wringing about hard money, amongst other staggering abuses of reason and decency. One seemingly unremarkable statement, however, stood out to me as a neat little summary of just how far the Republican Party has distanced itself from any sense of the polis in politics: Marco Rubio’s assertion that “families that are raising children are raising the future taxpayers of the United States”
This is a striking conceptual baffle in two senses. First, on the lips of a man who likes to talk endlessly about the aspirations of his parents arriving in America, and who belongs to a party that wields “family values” like a mace, it is shocking to see child-rearing cast as nothing more than an exercise in national accounting. When Rubio’s parents, Mario and Oriales, set out for the United States, I very much doubt that a dream of young Marco completing his 1040 forms was the uppermost ambition in their minds. Second, for today’s Republicans, there are few actions so repugnant as paying taxes, and few days so shrouded in sinister ill-repute as April 15. Why then reduce the moral richness of parenting down to the mere breeding of taxpayers?
I am a taxpayer, and a willing one at that: indeed, I think my taxes are remarkably low for what they buy. But I very much do not think that my primary role as an American, and as a now-adult child of my parents, is to shave off a fraction of my income each year to Washington. Why do we have children? To continue the story of humanity. Families that are raising children are raising the future poets, soldiers, inventors, teachers, shopkeepers, builders, friends, neighbors, and lovers of the United States—not its taxpayers.
Yet Republicans (not just Rubio) have come to treat the relationship between citizen and state as no different than the one between buyer and seller: that is, as a customer rather than a citizen. This is the same palsied feeling of community purpose that was enshrined in the last debate’s title: “Your Money, Your Vote.” And it is the one which drives Republican voters to behave increasingly like furious customers spewing bile at a helpless customer-support representative, whipped into spitefulness by the feeling that they have overpaid for some faulty product.