IMHO: The politics of dreaming big can make more stories like mine possible

IMHO: The politics of dreaming big can make more stories like mine possible

by Cesar Ruiz

Communications Committee Member, SCDP

Politicians love telling stories about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. “In America, hard work and perseverance can lead to success.” It’s simple and sounds nice, but also harmfully misleading. Everyone has a different life context that comes with its own obstacles.

I was born in Clearlake, California and raised by a single immigrant mother. In Mexico, she did not have access to education beyond elementary school. Work opportunities were limited and paid little. She came here with hopes of one day creating a better life for her family.

Better became a reality. I graduated from UC Berkeley in 2017 with a degree in Business Administration and now work at Twitter on our civic integrity initiatives. America delivered on every hope and dream my mom had for me. Across the political spectrum, people point to stories like mine as an example of what makes our country great. There’s good reason for it. These stories don’t happen anywhere else in the world.

However, I’ve also seen that hard work can only get you to the doors of opportunity. Government determines whether or not those doors will be barricaded, wide-open, or completely locked off to you. 

If I didn’t have Pell Grants, affording college would have been impossible. The Affordable Care Act made it possible to stay on my mom’s health insurance. Food stamps helped me offset high cost of living in the Bay Area. The list of ways our government has supported me is a long one. Without ambitious policies that were fought for by Democrats, I wouldn’t be where I am today. No amount of hard work could change that.

What ambitious policies can do

I view my story less as a sign of government success and more so as a sign of government potential. Today too many people get left behind. There are many people who work harder than I ever have, and they struggle to get by because of circumstances outside of their control. That’s why I support ambitious government policies that protect our most vulnerable and invest in all of us equitably. Universal Health care and childcare. Free college.  Affordable housing. A living minimum wage. A Green New Deal. There’s no reason why government can’t make stories like mine the norm for anyone who wants to work hard for the life they want.

Despite how little I had as a child and no matter how bad the odds were stacked against me, my mom never said my goals were too big or unrealistic. She didn’t consider my potential capped at the moment I made it one step further than she did. To this day, she still pushes me to keep going further. Our party would benefit from embracing her spirit. The only limit to what we can accomplish is the limit we are willing to accept.

When the pandemic first upended our lives, Congress came together with an unprecedented bipartisan relief bill. The CARES Act was historic but failed those who needed the most help. Since then, 644 U.S Billionaires have collectively become $1,000,000,000,000 richer. People who lost their jobs got a single $1,200 check and an extra $600 a week in unemployment for only 4 months. Many small business owners could not get PPP loans because wealthy corporations cut to the front of the line. Compare that to what other Democracies have done for their people. We can be better.

When everyone pays their fair share

The reason we don’t have universal healthcare, childcare, free college, affordable housing, or even better public transportation, isn’t because we don’t pay enough taxes. We pay plenty. The simple truth is corporations and the ultra-rich don’t pay their fair share. And to be clear, by “fair share” I don’t mean making the rich pay more than us. If you count all of the taxes paid for every income bracket, the average American pays between 25%-30% of their income in taxes. The billionaires who collectively became a trillion dollars richer during the pandemic pay less than 20% of their income in taxes. Why do we let those who have the most pay the least?

What other countries spend on health care and infrastructure, we choose to spend on low taxes for the super wealthy. If Billionaires paid as much in taxes as the rest of us, then all of a sudden even the most expensive or ambitious policy looks pretty affordable.

Taxes and patriotism

I hate taxes when my money is wasted to build vanity border walls and keep children in cages. I view taxes with a feeling of deep patriotism when they help those in need or support public institutions for everyone. We are more prosperous when we work together.

With the end of the pandemic near and the start of a new presidency around the corner, we have the opportunity to usher in a new era for our country. Let’s not waste it. The politics of courage and dreaming big can make America whole again and defeat the next Trump who comes our way.

Related links:

CBSNews – U.S. billionaires gained almost $1 trillion in wealth during the pandemic

The Triumph of Justice – This site has information on taxes paid by each income bracket. While I used numbers from a few years ago, this site is updated to reflect currently available data. The gaps between the rich and everyone else remain.