“Listen my children, and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”
Those words come to us from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His 1860 poem commemorates the famous 1775 trip taken by a Boston silversmith, Revere, and a lesser-known personage, William Dawes. They rode over separate routes through the New England darkness to warn the people of Lexington and Concord that British troops would march out of Boston the following day to confiscate cannons and ammunition stored in a rural barn.
Most people have never heard of Dawes. One can only assume Longfellow chose Revere because his name lent itself better to rhymes than Dawes. I doubt millions of schoolchildren would have been forced to memorize the poem had it read:
“Listen up kids, and hold your guffaws; here’s the story they tell about old William Dawes.”
Just doesn’t have the same resonance, does it?
Anyway, both men warned the countryside of the impending invasion, the minutemen were ready, and they drove the Brit troops back to Boston. After shots were exchanged and soldiers were killed, there was no turning back. Weeks later, when word crossed the ocean, Parliament sent 50,000 troops and the Revolutionary War began in earnest.
Although not an official national holiday, the third Monday in April (close to April 19, the date of the Battles of Lexington and Concord) has been celebrated since 1894 as Patriots Day. This year, Patriots Day falls exactly on the 19th.
The date is commemorated with speeches, a parade, a Red Sox game, and the most famous footrace in America, the Boston Marathon.
From its inception, the race was a national news story. Eight years ago, the race became a larger story when a terrorist bombing killed three people and injured hundreds. After that frightening day, the fact that the Boston Marathon takes place on Patriot’s Day took on added significance.
For me, I always feel as if my personal Patriot’s Day takes place a few days earlier, on April 15th. That is when our federal income taxes are due (this year, due to COVID, we have a later deadline). Most people hate paying taxes and have trouble understanding how I can possibly celebrate the day in which we have to hand over money to the government. But hear me out.
I have never been a member of the military. I don’t work for the government. Therefore, I don’t have any tangible way to contribute to the continued greatness of my country, state, and local community — except by paying my taxes without complaint.
I view paying taxes as a patriotic act. I don’t always agree with the way those collective funds are spent, but in general I see my taxes as a way to contribute to the greater good.
As I said, most people despise taxes. Even Ben Franklin, when asked about the potential success of the new Constitution, shrugged and said, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
Taxes and results
Over the past decade, the self-labeled “Tea Party” movement coalesced around several ideas, but the most prominent was opposition to taxes. Studies showed that these people were predominantly — but not exclusively — white, male and wealthy. So this group, having enjoyed the benefits of this nation — a strong military, nationwide (although crumbling) infrastructure, access to education, a professional diplomatic corps that make international trade and a strong economy possible, and myriad other things — opposed paying the taxes that made their privileged life possible.
Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for.
Of course, taxes are not always levied fairly. There is no question that the wealthy and corporations pay less than their fair share. This fact was driven home to me during the 2012 election when the presidential candidates revealed their tax statements (as have all candidates in the past half-century except Donald Trump). Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate, made $42.5M in 2010, but paid 13.9% of that as tax. That same year, I made about $50,000 in my job as a teacher, but paid over 20%. As a result, after taxes, Mitt had to make ends meet with $36 million, while I was left with about $40,000. As this personal example shows, the tax system, an incredibly complex animal, has been back-loaded with so many loopholes that many of the wealthiest people pay a lower tax rate than the middle class.
As we have recently learned, the more unscrupulous among the rich pay virtually zero taxes while claiming to have billionaire status. I don’t care what party you support, this is flat-out wrong.
It is not just wealthy individuals who have benefitted from friendly tax laws. Corporations, too, have seen their rates go steadily down for 40 years. During the 1950s and 1960s, a period of unparalleled U.S. economic growth and unchallenged dominance in world trade, rates fluctuated between 48% and 53%. Our economy was rocking and rolling, so no one could argue that the high tax rates hurt corporations in any significant way.
Even in the 1980s, rates hovered in the mid-40s until the Reagan corporate tax cuts began a downward trend that continued under the two Bush presidents and Bill Clinton. Still, those rates were in the mid-30% range.
In 2017, however, Trump rewarded corporate allies by dropping the rates from 35% to a historic low of 21%, where it remains.
Now President Biden wants to raise corporate tax rates gradually, from 21% to 28%, to pay for desperately needed infrastructure improvements. Conservatives are screaming this will destroy our economy, but there is no evidence this would be the case.
It’s time to quit whining and do what I do every year at tax time: look at it as a patriotic act, pay your fair share, and whistle a chorus of “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” as you sign the forms.