Poor people aren’t necessarily voting against their own self-interest when they support tax cuts for the rich.
America is built on the idea that individuals can build themselves a better future. Even if social mobility has declined, that fundamental ideal remains. With it in place, one can believe that his/her current tax bracket isn’t static, so a vote for lower taxes across the board could very well be beneficial for that voter in the future. (Note: Basically all tax cuts “for the rich” are just across-the-board tax cuts; it’s not as if marginal rates are being raised on people in the $9,326 – $37,950 bracket while being cut for people in the highest bracket. In an environment of general reductions, of course rich people benefit since they pay so much tax. For instance, in 2014 the top 1% paid 45.7% of income taxes. This is more than the entire bottom 90% combined.)
I, Tonya was not a movie about tax brackets. Nor was it a movie really about ice skating. It was about domestic violence.
Which is kind of amazing given how powerful Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) seemed. It’s easy to craft a narrative that if women were just strong enough, they would be able to extradite themselves from abusive relationships. Remove the “blaming the victim” aspect for just a moment and consider what seems more likely: an Olympic athlete is beaten by her husband, or a poor waitress is beaten by her husband.
You gotta go with the latter, right? An intuitive reaction says that people are more likely to stay in terrible relationships when there aren’t better options. And an Olympic athlete must have better options.
Or so I thought. It turns out that humans are quite complicated.
And terrible too. The violence in I, Tonya was some of the most uncomfortable violence I’ve witnessed in a long time.
This is where tax brackets and domestic violence converge: solely living in future-based thinking may mean that current issues are never properly handled. The mindset dissolves the problem in the future – this situation is awful, but I’ll just become famous and then nobody will beat me – in such a manner that there’s always a new way to dissolve it – OK, I’m famous now and still being beaten, but I’ll just make a little more money and then I’ll be able to find a better man.
But we absolutely want people to believe in self-reliance and optimism. And it does work. People do escape domestic violence and people do begin having 39.6% of their earnings taxed after newfound success.
So what’s the conclusion here? Ahhh. Why was I thinking about tax brackets? Ahhh.
Let’s try this: You aren’t being defeatist by admitting that your current situation isn’t ideal, and you aren’t reducing your chance of future victory by accepting that it may never happen or that it may not cure all your ills. This latter point runs against the current “self-help” culture of maximum self-belief, but I don’t buy that delusion (alleging 100% certainty in an uncertain world) is superior to an honest assessment.
The key is really an assessment that isn’t blinded by preposterous optimism or pessimism. That “self-help” culture I just disparaged is a reasonable reaction to people who complain far too much and claim far too little control. The victims. The people who believe that past is more important than the present (I heard this somewhere, but can’t remember where). The type of person Tonya was portrayed as, at least in the sense that the audience was made to think she was a victim (even though Tonya never really acted like one).
How do we reconcile this? How do we both accept that Tonya was dealt some poor cards and that, yes, she can deliver on very high standards? Or how do we appropriately empathize that someone was born into a poor family and still appreciate that, yes, he/she can climb to a better tax bracket? Probably by applying to others the compassion we grant ourselves, and then by asking for honest feedback from others so we don’t fall too far into “compassionate” rationalization both with ourselves and with others.