02:38 - Source: CNN
The real life 'Downton Abbey'

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Sally Kohn: GOP Rep. Aaron Schock had his office decorated like "Downton Abbey"

She says it's the perfect metaphor for GOP policies that have brought U.S. inequality historically worse than in the "Abbey" era

Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

It’s an almost too-perfect metaphor. This week brought news that a Republican member of Congress has decked out his office in the style of the mansion in “Downton Abbey,” the BBC series that Americans – struggling against income inequality of historic proportions – somehow can’t get enough of.

Maybe it’s because we can relate. The United States is fast becoming a real-life example – or worse – of the upstairs/downstairs inequality portrayed in the show. And it’s Republican policies that got us there and are making it worse.

Sally Kohn
Sally Kohn

On Monday, Ben Terris, a reporter from The Washington Post, toured the Downton-inspired office of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Illinois. Terris described the outer office: “Bright red walls. A gold-colored wall sconce with black candles. A Federal-style bull’s-eye mirror with an eagle perched on top.”

“It’s actually based off of the red room in ‘Downton Abbey’ ” a woman at the front desk told him.

An interior designer from a company called (no joke) Euro Trash showed the reporter Schock’s private office. It’s another red room, “[t]his one with a drippy crystal chandelier, a table propped up by two eagles, a bust of Abraham Lincoln and massive arrangements of pheasant feathers,” he wrote.

Schock’s decorator said the choice to imitate Downton Abbey’s ostentatious halls was made because the congressman is “fresh-minded and forward-thinking.” Um, sure, for the 1870s maybe – when the inequitable accumulations of the robber barons and the subsequent Great Depression were but a twinkle in our forward-thinking eyes.

Now under some scrutiny for accepting the free services of the Euro Trash decorator (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate), Schock insists he’s never even seen “Downton Abbey.” But he’s sure lived it – if not in his brand spanking new aristocratic office than as a resident of the Republican Party.

Here’s “Schock-er”: Income inequality in the United States right now is worse than in post-Edwardian England, the era depicted in “Downton Abbey.” The richest Americans today take home a higher share of our nation’s income than the aristocratic lords and ladies of 1920s England.

What’s more, low-wage employees – such as fast food restaurant workers and Walmart cashiers – take home a smaller share of our nation’s income than the butlers and cooks did back then. That unequal reality is even more gaudy than Aaron Schock’s office.

And it is without question the direct result of Republican policies. Tax cuts for the wealthy and the deregulation of business have ensured that the share of wealth enjoyed by big business and the top 1% has continued to climb, even in the recession.

In fact, the top 1% suffered only one-third of the income loss during the recession but have basically reaped all the gains of the recovery. Meanwhile, despite overall economic growth and the growth of worker productivity, most Americans have seen their wages stagnate or even decline.

The working poor in America today may have wireless telephones, automobiles and indoor privies, but they still very much live in basement of the U.S. economy.

When the Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas cut taxes with a severity and speed never before attempted by any other state, he was actively cheered on by conservatives. His stated goal was to get the tax rate down to zero.

The result? The economy in Kansas plummeted.

Job growth has failed to keep pace with the national level. Giant revenue gaps led to drastic cuts in public services such as schools. Credit rating agencies even cut the state’s previously stellar bond rating. And 100 Republican leaders in Kansas endorsed a Democratic candidate to replace Brownback as governor because, they said, Brownback’s tax and budget cuts had so severely hurt the state’s working class and middle class families.

Narrowly re-elected, Brownback announced recently that he will now raise taxes in Kansas to fix the state economy.

As if the failure of GOP anti-tax, anti-government economics hadn’t already been proved by the record wealth and corporate profits at the top juxtaposed against record numbers of poor people and low-wage workers relying on food stamps, Kansas should be seen as the final nail in the coffin.

Wealth from the top does not “trickle down” to the bottom to lessen inequality. It never has. It’s time for Republicans to do more than talk. It’s time they admit that their precious economic theories are actually the poison sickening our economy.

Republicans in Congress might have a mini-PR scandal on their hands with the revelations about Schock’s office. But it’s the massive moral crisis that should be weighing on their shoulders, hearts and minds.

Republicans need a new, populist economic theory that helps the majority of Americans and not just the elite 1%. But to get there, they’ll need a fundamental shift of perspective and priorities to say the least.

Maybe start with redecorating.

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