If the GOP Extremists Have Their Way
It’s a world where the shabby cruelty of "Pottersville" and Mr. Potter looks just fine
These days I often find myself reflecting on Pottersville, the fictional world in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, experienced by our hero George Bailey after he decides to end it all and gets his wish to never have been born. Unlike the cheery neighborliness of Bedford Falls, Pottersville is a nasty, dispirited place, one in which the richest man in town keeps getting richer while the townspeople live in his shabby shacks and struggle to survive.
Oh, they get their amusements there—bars and billiard halls, strip clubs and a boulevard of neon lights—to distract them from the grim life served up by Mr. Potter. But this is a place where the wacky kindness of an angel named Clarence is reason for cruelty and a bar full of laughter and mockery.
Amid the continuing battle to pass the Build Back Better bill that would help usher in a world where everyday Americans can count on paid leave, child care, elder care, two years of community college, clean electricity and a genuine effort to confront the climate crisis, and more—a vision which every Republican is poised to reject—it’s worth imagining what the world would be like if increasingly extremist Republicans got their wish to install the world they are bent on making.
Much like Pottersville, this is a place where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, where multi-trillion-dollar tax breaks for the wealthiest are hailed and increases to the minimum wage are seen as unnecessary indulgence. Programs like Social Security and Medicaid would be cut, touted as nothing more than socialist welfare programs that make people lazy.
This is a place where no one would be required to get vaccinated, classrooms would no longer teach about slavery, science would be denied or viewed as mere propaganda, higher education would be mocked as elitist, school funding would be cut (except for expanded religious education), and teachers that did not teach a prescribed agenda would be removed from their jobs.
The idea of legislating affordable health care never would have happened. The poor would get sicker while the rich would continue to receive increasingly advanced medical treatments. Meanwhile, contraception would be unaffordable or unavailable for most people, abortion would be banned in every state, funding for child care and pre-school would be denied as welfare, and single mothers would be condemned for their poverty and failure.
Public discussion of climate change would be eliminated and the unavoidable presence of wildfires, hurricanes, floods and drought of increasing frequency and intensity would be acknowledged as God’s will. As more and more foreign citizens displaced by the effects of climate change appeared at the borders, access would be denied, walls would be built, and these fellow humans would be demonized as criminals only arriving to steal from God-loving Christian Americans and commit violence.
So too, regulations for clean water and air would be eliminated, fossil fuel companies would be lionized and further subsidized for their contributions to modern life, and expansion of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels would be rejected as a villainous attempt to wreck the US economy.
Of course, the very notion of racism would be condemned, while the expanding populations of people of color would be seen as an evil effort to replace the dominant white culture. Police forces would be expanded to put down non-white people who protest the mistreatment, the poverty and the violence facing their neighborhoods.
Federal voting rights legislation would not exist, while states would enact draconian laws to keep the wrong people from voting and ensure white rule. They might not publicly state that they supported the end of democracy, but they would ensure that their people decide the outcome of elections and any criticism would be rejected as another attempt to reject the truth of the ballot box and rig the results.
Talk of kindness? Speeches about the common good and public purpose? This would be laughable. Unthinkable. Praise for strong men like Putin and Trump? Honorable. Necessary. With the elimination of a free press and removal of political opponents and other critics (sometimes in televised executions), the strong and the rich will be hailed and the poor and the weak will be ridiculed. And everyone will say Merry Christmas.
After George Bailey is dragged through the dark picture of a broken world had he not been born, his prayer to live again is answered. He returns home to discover that all the problems that seemed insurmountable and devastating could either be fixed or were not so terrible after all. But that depended on the townspeople coming together to help a guy in need and make things right.
That moment of insight—when George realizes the life-affirming majority is stronger than those trying to bring the world down—remains a lesson for our times.
Addendum: Of course, this is a quick snapshot, providing just a glimpse of an alternate world where extremist Republicans get their way. Much has been skipped, perhaps some of the most egregious possibilities glossed over. You are more than welcome to tell me what I missed.
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