By RON GUILLOT
This Fourth of July was celebrated by a nation in conflict, more politically divided than it’s been since the Civil War. In virtually every community, the rift has grown wider and more contentious, with less common ground. But while reasonable people may disagree about certain political issues, most genuinely want what’s best for their country.
Most, but not all. There is a substantial group of rich Americans who are proud to wrap themselves in the flag and declare their love for the country while at the same time using their wealth and power to manipulate the government to their own ends. These millionaires and billionaires are happy to destabilize our democracy, sponsor extremists and undermine the will of the people if it means further enriching themselves.
The worst part is that they have succeeded. Our laws and regulations overwhelmingly favor the rich and powerful, and the tax code, one of the federal government’s most important tools for structuring our economy, gives the ultra-rich massive discounts and loopholes while putting the majority of the burden of funding our country on working families.
If we want to unite our country and bring people together to find a common path forward, we need to reclaim the idea of what it means to be a patriot. It doesn’t mean wearing a flag pin or supporting the government no matter what. It means putting the well-being of your country and your countrymen ahead of your own.
For rich people, it means embracing your responsibility to give back to the country that has made it possible for you to be so successful in the first place and pay your taxes.
As a wealthy American, I’m a member of a group called the Patriotic Millionaires. The name is a bit in-your-face, but it was a deliberate choice to put “patriotic” in our name to take back the definition of what it means to be patriotic from the misguided “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” idea that has become so pervasive in our country, especially within the majority of rich circles.
We believe that paying our fair share in taxes to our country is core to our patriotism, and we actively fight to raise taxes on ourselves and our wealthy peers. Unlike so many rich people who use their money and influence to shape the government in a way that ensures their gain at the expense of the country, we want to use our power to create a better future for all Americans, not just rich people like us.
The wealthy people who try to avoid paying taxes often attempt to defend themselves by saying they wouldn’t mind paying more so long as it went to causes they believed in. But that’s not how democracy works. In our republic, we send our tax dollars to our elected officials, who vote on how to spend them. If we, the people, don’t like what they spend them on, then we collectively vote them out. In short, no individual taxpayer can attach strings to their tax dollars, no matter how wealthy they are.
The belief that many rich people have, that they know how to spend their money better or more effectively than those who elect our representatives, is misguided. It is also incredibly arrogant of them to think they know what’s best for everyone just because they have money. This mindset is the last gasp of an old elite class desperate to cling to the vestiges of the unequal system that propelled them forward at the expense of keeping everyone else down.
Leaving the critical systems that millions of Americans depend on in their everyday lives, such as education or infrastructure, up to the whims of a few wealthy elites instead of a democratically elected body of representatives is unpatriotic and irresponsible. Doing so would be treating America as an oligarchy instead of a democracy.
Real patriotism is recognizing that your country gave you an immense opportunity to succeed and doing what you can to ensure every American can have that same chance. Patriotism is about what you’re willing to give up for your country, what you’re ready to sacrifice with no gain or return. Refusing to make that sacrifice unless several specific conditions you personally decide on are met is the furthest thing from a selfless act to support the country as you can. Nothing is less patriotic than refusing to contribute to your country unless it benefits you.
This Independence Day, as we remember the millions of people who have sacrificed so much to get our country to where it is today, it’s time for the American people to start expecting more from wealthy Americans. If this group of rich folk cares about this country as much as they say, they can start by paying their taxes.
Ron Guillot is the vice president of sales at HeartBeam and an investor in equities, options, and direct start-ups. He is a member of the Patriotic Millionaires.