Tonight is Yom Kippur and around the world millions of Jews will attend synagogue and begin fasting as they atone for the sins they committed this year - and strive to do better in the year to come. It’s a day of introspection and self-examination, which is something that should perhaps be universally embraced, given the last several days in American politics.
Let’s start with Republican senators. On Tuesday, Roy Moore, noted homophobe and bigot, won the GOP Senate primary in Alabama. On Wednesday, Republicans underwent collective amnesia about him.
“Don’t know anything about Roy Moore,” said Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
“I’ve never met the gentleman,” said Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
Senator. Dean Heller of Nevada “wasn’t paying attention” to Alabama.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio told Politico, “He’s going to be for tax reform, I think. I don’t know, I don’t know him.”
Portman should know about Moore, because among other things, Moore believes that homosexuality should be illegal and that gay sex is evil. That should be a problem for every American, but especially for Portman, whose son is gay. He wrote about it four years ago in explaining his new-found support for same-sex marriage.
Of course, Portman knows who Moore is; and of course he knows about Moore’s abhorrent views regarding the LGBT community. He just appears to believe that cutting taxes for rich people is more important.
Portman is not alone in his preference for tax cuts over integrity or dignity. Take Gary Cohn, the head of President Trump’s National Economic Council. Last month, Cohn, who is Jewish, did an interview with the Financial Times in which he spoke about his “distress” over President Trump’s refusal to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation. But, “as a patriotic American,” he was “reluctant” to leave his job, because of his “duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of the American people.”
This week, Cohn was the point man for the White House’s unveiling of its tax reform proposal, and he took that opportunity to lie to those same American people. He claimed that “the wealthy are not getting a tax cut under our plan.” This is not true. According to an analysis done by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the top one percent of American households would receive 50 percent of the benefits from the bill.
He also said that the average American family that makes $100,000 a year will receive a $1,000 tax cut, which would allow them to “renovate their kitchen” or “buy a new car.” In reality, median household income is around $56,000 and kitchen renovation and new cars cost a heck of a lot more than $1,000.
Cohn, however, can at least say that he’s not directly harming Americans. That would be a job for the Department of Health and Human Services. This week it was revealed that the department is actively preventing its regional directors from participating in Obamacare open enrollment programs. This comes on the heels of HHS’s decision to cut the advertising program for Obamacare enrollment by 90 percent. This behavior is clearly intended to sabotage Obamacare, but will have the practical effect of preventing Americans from signing up. It’s an effort that could end up costing lives.
This only adds to the atonement checklist for HHS Secretary Tom Price, who is already under fire for having taken hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of private, charter flights at taxpayers’ expense. Though even on this issue he’s not the only Trump Cabinet member with some explaining to do. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also used chartered and even military flights for travel, including to his hometown in Montana. s administrator Scott Pruitt has used private planes paid for by taxpayers to the tune of $58,000.
Price has been guilted into reimbursing the government for some of the costs of his travel (though only a fraction of it). He said, “I regret the concerns” his actions had raised, which is not how atonement works. Price appears to regret only that he got caught.
While all of these stories are troubling, they pale in comparison to the larger administration failure in responding to the ongoing humanitarian emergency in Puerto Rico. Since being ravaged by Hurricane Maria the island’s electrical grid has been knocked out, more than half the island has no water, and the federal response has been inadequate at best.
When one compares the administration’s handling of Maria in comparison to the devastation in Texas and Florida it’s not hard to draw a sobering conclusion — namely that the Trump White House is short-changing Puerto Rico for reasons that have to do with the ethnic make-up of the island. These suspicions are the natural by-product of a president who beats up on immigrants, talks about “good people on both sides” in the context of white supremacist rallies, and has spent much of this week attacking black football players for taking a knee during the national anthem.
Indeed, Trump’s abhorrent behavior this week – and let’s face it, every week of his presidency – is an unfortunate reminder that when it comes to the need for atonement, there’s a lot to go around.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.