Is the Trump administration a government masquerading as a reality television show, or a reality TV show pretending to be a government? It has everything one could expect from a reality TV show: lies, greed, sleazy business deals, conspiracy theories, international intrigue, scandals, criminal investigations, sex, rich people behaving badly, supporting cast members being fired weekly, hubris, hate, bigotry, incompetence, misuse of government funds, and nepotism.

If one wanted a real president and a real government instead of a reality TV show, you would hope for integrity, competence, decency, intelligence, inclusiveness, respect for others, honesty, fiscal responsibility, respect for the law, and hard work. But we have what we have.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, we have a group of factually challenged right-wing extremists who, having hijacked the once venerable Republican Party, are in control of Congress and playing “make believe.” You remember “make believe” from your childhood. You made mud pies and told your mother they were chocolate. She pretended to believe you.

Well, Republicans in Congress are making mud pies and telling the American public they are chocolate. They told you their health care bills would lower cost, expand coverage, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and allow states to do great things with a lot less money. Luckily, responsible groups with pencils, calculators, reasonable intelligence and the ability to use facts and analysis, including the Congressional Budget Office, discovered that most of the things Republicans were saying were simply not true. Mud pies.

Republicans seem determined to take money from poorer Americans and give it to the wealthiest ones, who apparently do not have enough. As silly as this sounds, their legislative proposals seem to bear this out. The first health care bill would have taken about $880 billion over 10 years from less fortunate Americans’ health care. This was done in part to pass a tax cut, largely benefiting wealthy Americans, with only 50 votes in the Senate by claiming it was revenue neutral.

Now we have the outline of a Republican tax cut plan – do not call it “tax reform” as it is not reform — which will benefit wealthy Americans the most, raise the rate on the poorest Americans, and provide a mixed result to the middle class. As generally presented, it would increase the deficit by $2 trillion to $5 trillion over a decade. Mud pie.

The recently passed House budget resolution reflects a $1 trillion cut in Medicaid, part of $5.8 trillion in overall cuts to non-defense spending, so that they can again pretend a tax cut bill is revenue neutral. Do not expect the budget cuts to happen. Instead, should such a tax bill be enacted, expect a huge increase in the deficit and a national debt that exceeds international norms. Fiscally responsible Republicans? Of course not. Make believe and mud pies.

Do we need good, solid tax reform in the U.S.? Of course, we do. It needs to be carefully developed by the people with calculators, facts, and integrity, and with inclusiveness and open debate. Not by Republicans playing “make believe.”

We are a great country. Forget “making it great again.” That’s political balderdash. Americans are, despite some less desirable folk at the fringes, a kind, hopeful, and honest group. People raise families, have hopes for their children, value education, and work hard. We debate our different viewpoints, but we will help any neighbor in distress as the recent hurricanes demonstrate. We value science, engineering, and, yes, facts. American innovation has done wonderful things with these as their foundation. We constantly improve, to better treat all our citizens fairly, to improve our environment, to keep people safe and secure, to provide economic opportunity to all, and to help others around the world who are less fortunate. We are imperfect, yes. But do not let anyone tell you we are not great.

This great country should expect more from its government than reality TV and mud pies. But that's what we have.

David Darby is retired in Billings after a career in public policy, including senior positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

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