It’s manifestly obvious that Trump is an incompetent boob, grandfathered into the presidency by virtue of that mother of all mulligans served up by our founding fathers: rich white guy can’t win the support of the majority, so kick it to the electoral college. (Apparently Trump’s win came as a real shock to his family and himself.) That said, it would be a mistake to suppose that his ignorance is in any way blissful for the opposition – quite the contrary. The President and his party are making tremendous strides across a broad front, setting policies that will take a generation to turn around. Nothing less than that.
I’ve written about the speed-dating approach to judicial appointments; suffice here to say that Trump has broken a first-year record on this. (These are lifetime appointments, mind you, and his picks are ghastly from a left-progressive standpoint.) He has also made a full frontal assault on regulations, removing the ban on fracking on public lands, fines for abusive nursing home care, safety requirements for blowout protectors on deep-water oil drilling operations, the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own, and so on. Other great accomplishments of the last year include loosening the already weak DOD restrictions on civilian casualties, trashing net neutrality despite massive, broad-based opposition, and canceling national monument status for large swaths of land in western states, thereby opening them up for resource and mineral extraction. There’s a lot, lot more, but I will stop there.
As we start the new year, we are faced with some truly grave prospects regarding this administration and the GOP agenda more broadly. Trump’s terrifyingly childish nuclear threats are bad enough in and of themselves – this tragic-comic display could easily result in terminal thermonuclear war, no joke. If we survive the year, we will be grappling with part two of the wrecking crew’s plan to tear down what’s left of America’s social safety net, from the ACA to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – programs we all rely upon to some extent. In that respect, this is merely an extension of a long-term project; a “generational” obsession, to borrow Speaker Ryan’s favorite modifier. That is going to be a fight, my friends.
So 2018 is looking a lot like more of 2017. No rest for the weary. Just keep your marching shoes handy, and plan on voting as if your life depended on it.
There’s a lot to say about the Republican’s craven plan to push through a massive tax plan in a matter of days. I needn’t point out that the final bill is likely to be a cobbled together mess, one that we’ll be struggling with for many years to come if it ever finds its way to Trump’s signing hand. Nor do I need to repeat the obvious fact that this is a tremendous giveaway to the richest Americans, to corporations, and to the GOP’s donor base, one that demonstrates the degree to which the Republicans’ supposed concern over budget deficits is just another ploy.
What I find most infuriating about this legislation is that it is being proffered at a time when its chief beneficiaries – the richest of the rich – are doing just fine, thank you very much, and corporate America is sailing from strength to strength. The last thing they need is more money in their pockets. This is also a time when our armed forces are deployed in conflicts all around the world. Trump just signed into law a $700 billion defense bill, subject to repeal of the sequester agreement. When we’re spending this kind of money and putting people in harm’s way, why the hell are we cutting taxes? What effing justification is there for that? It is beyond shameful, frankly.
Even worse, this is just part one of a two-step routine the Republicans have been rehearsing for a generation now. Step one: cut the hell out of rich people’s taxes, and blow a huge hole in the federal budget. Step two: almost immediately afterward, feign panic over a ballooning deficit and use that as a rationale to cut core social programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other extremely popular programs. They have tried this numerous times before, with only limited success. This time might be different, as they are more craven than in previous decades and control every lever of power. They really don’t need any Democratic votes to push these cuts through.
The GOP has always hated Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, largely because they are defined benefit, pay as you go institutions. To the current crop of crazies running Congress, insurance is now tantamount to Soviet-style top-down socialism. Don’t think they won’t try this: Paul Ryan has been working on setting this up for many years. We have to be ready to fight back, or you can kiss these vital public institutions goodbye.
That fight begins with killing this tax bill. Best get started.
Trump’s health care repeal and replace failed this week and of course he blamed it on everyone but himself. Then he turned around and told the New York Times that his horrible attorney general’s decision to recuse himself was “unfair to the president”. Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow was pondering how what Sessions did might be termed “unfair”, apparently forgetting that our president has the mind and emotions of a five year old, so everything that doesn’t go entirely his way seems to him to be totally unfair. That’s why we’re spending millions of dollars on a commission to hunt down evidence of non-existent massive voter impersonation by immigrants – at least non-existent in the world we all inhabit, if not in Trump’s tiny mind. So we’re doing it because his loss of the popular vote was “so unfair”. (Next the Pentagon will be tasked with hunting down his dream goblins.)
It’s not just pure childishness, of course. When Trump picked the racist Sessions (attracted to the Trump campaign by the racist Steve Bannon) as attorney general, he thought he was hiring a lawyer to represent his own personal interests. That reflects not only his narcissism but also his profound ignorance with respect to the role of the AG.
I can only wish that Trump voters would get some vague idea of the dimensions of presidency and of how powerful a country this is. More than most jobs, the presidency can’t just be done by anybody, even if anybody can be elected president. That office is at the head of a massive global imperial enterprise that makes Trump’s company look like a lemonade stand. It’s easy to make mistakes when you’re president, and those mistakes can have enormous and lasting consequences. But the president does not just act for him or herself – s/he has a responsibility to all of us in everything s/he does. This president doesn’t get that. When he talks to Putin for 3.5 hours without having someone to capture what is discussed, he is acting like the government is just some cheesy corporation he acquired somewhere.
As I’ve said many times before, Trump is not the only problem we have. He is, in fact, just a symptom of a far broader problem – that of a Republican party that has gone off the deep, right end. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are in some ways more destructive than the dunce Trump, and far more cynical. Trump at least has the lame excuse of ignorance; congressional Republicans know what they want and who it hurts. They wrecked the economy the last time they held the presidency, openly obstructed even the flimsy, middle-of-the-road Obama agenda, stole a Supreme Court seat, and much more than that. If we’re to make any real progress in this country, we need to stop them as well.
Don’t be distracted. This mess is down to all of them. They all need to be held accountable at the ballot box.
Okay, can we all agree on something, people? Try this: the President of the United States is a remarkable dolt who knows nothing about anything outside of – perhaps – real estate and licensing his trademarks. His grasp of American history is tenuous at best and indicative of illiteracy at worst. He always seems to return to the subject of slavery and the Civil War, perhaps because he is surrounded by crackpot white supremacists who fill his empty head with their hateful opinions and convenient factual inaccuracies. The comments about Andrew Jackson are just the latest example, though when he talks about people like “Sharpknife” Jackson he seems actually to be talking about himself.
It’s not at all surprising that Trump thinks that he himself could have prevented the Civil War. As a master-level narcissist, he thinks himself capable of anything. And even when he can’t accomplish anything, he celebrates and brags about it like he did. This week, when the House of Representatives passed their latest version of the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace debacle, Trump had the GOP House caucus come to the White House for a little victory dance. (My own representative, Claudia Tenney, could be seen in the second row, right behind the doltish Kevin McCarthy, taking selfies with another Republican congresswoman. Watch for that in an opposition campaign ad next year.)
Okay, so maybe that just proves that Republicans – including the massively overrated pseudo-wonk Paul Ryan – never watched Schoolhouse Rock and maybe they really just don‘t know how a bill becomes law. (They haven’t passed a real lot of them since taking control of the House.) Or maybe this is just Trump’s way of rubbing our faces in the fact that he got his way this time. It’s the kind of tactic Trump is famous for, of course. I suspect if he ever stopped bragging about himself, he’d fly around the room like a toy balloon someone let loose. The facts don’t matter – this is an attitudinal presidency, running on gall and braggadocio, tossing steaks out to the base pretty much every week.
It’s not a joke. The policy implications of this president will be enormous, maybe irreparable. We’re obviously going to have to fight for every inch, and this week the prize went to them.
I think Sam Seder on the Majority Report said it best this week: the core of what the Republicans are doing is not policy, it’s ideology. It’s obvious every time they open their mouths. The policies they are advancing can only be seen as efforts to implement their extremist ideas, regardless of how negatively they affect large swaths of the population. They try to hide behind bogus concern for the well-being and “freedom” of ordinary people and “businesses”, but that’s a thin disguise. Listen to them talk for more than thirty seconds and the real agenda comes through, loud and clear.
Take Speaker Ryan (please). He seems dedicated to souring people on the very idea of insurance. Ryan repeats the claim that 1% of the insured incur 23% of the costs of coverage. Even if his numbers are correct, isn’t that what insurance is supposed to do? The system is based on the notion that everyone doesn’t typically get sick at the same time – everybody pays into the system, and much of those funds are diverted to those who need health care at any given time. Important safety tip: That can be ANYBODY. You may feel great on Wednesday and get a dire diagnosis on Thursday, or get hit by an effing truck. Reality has a way of turning “makers” into “takers”, in Ryan’s parlance.
Another thing our Ayn Rand-admiring Speaker spouts with some frequency is this notion of “rights” without intervention from the state. He claims breezily that we may all have a right to health care, but that doesn’t mean the government should guarantee that right. So … what is this “right” – the right to buy something? By the same token, we all have the right to buy a Mercedes or take a trip to the south of France. Ryan makes it sound as though the government is violating your rights and infringing upon your freedom by, say, providing Medicare when you’re elderly. They MAKE you pay for it, right? That’s force!
I just heard a right-leaning Texas health policy activist on NPR decrying Medicaid expansion because people will be “dragged into it”, as if providing a free health coverage option for people on limited incomes is an attack on their liberty. Trump’s budget director Mulvaney is justifying their proposed cuts to meals on wheels and after-school nutrition programs by claiming that they are “not showing any results.” On the school nutrition programs, “there’s no evidence they’re helping kids do better in school,” says Mulvaney. Again, from an ideological perspective, this makes perfect sense. Whereas for most sentient human beings it would be enough that we are contributing to the nutrition of the young, the old, the most vulnerable, to these jackals, there has to be some positive, quantifiable value they can take to the bank. Disgusting.
Trump is not the only problem we have, folks. It’s this whole GOP mindset, subscribed to by some Democrats as well, but squarely within the Republican wheelhouse. That’s the real fight.
Another banner week for the just-born Trump administration, beset by a growing scandal around purported contacts with Russia, rocked by the forced resignation of anti-Muslim National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, scrambled by contradictory messaging from both surrogates and the President himself, and so on. Trump’s truly bizarre Thursday press conference saw him describe his White House as a “running like a fine-tuned machine.” Probably seems that way to someone as deluded as he appears to be. I’m not even including the very public situation room they convened at a restaurant table inside Trump’s Florida resort – a night that saw some crony posing for a photo with the dude who carries the nuclear football. Eek.
Late in last year’ campaign, when the T-man seemed to be burning out of control, I wrote a blog post titled “Burning Man” wherein I suggest that the candidate was like “a crazy-ass Frankenstein’s monster set on fire and spreading his conflagration to everything he touches. Better that he should do it during the campaign than in the oval office, am I right?” It hadn’t occurred to me at that time (a) that Trump would likely win under those circumstances and (b) that, if he did win, he would govern in much the same manner. Clearly both (a) and (b) have turned out to be the case. We’re going to see four years of this, people. Fasten your seat belts.
What can be done? Well, resist, of course. Join or start an Indivisible group in your area. Call or visit your Congress members and demand action out of them, not just to counter the Trump agenda, but to work against the Paul Ryan/Mitch McConnell program that is threatening every corner of American life, from health care to financial security to environmental sustainability and so on. We need to be active in our own communities, working for real change, but we also have to focus a good bit of our efforts on an electoral strategy that will give us some leverage. Democrats stand little chance of winning back the Senate in 2018. The House is uphill as well, but it’s likely the only chance we have. That means flipping seats in places like upstate New York.
This will take work, and lots of it. Activism alone won’t hold back this tide of bad policy – we need some political gains at the state and federal level, particularly in advance of the next reapportionment fight in 2020. It’s a thin straw, but it’s the only one we have.
Well, we got through the first week alive. That’s the good news. I had the creeping fear that Herr Mr. Hair might mistake the biscuit for his smartphone one early morning and, in an attempt to throw Twitter shade on Alec Baldwin, mistakenly launch World War III. That didn’t happen, but it has been a busy start to what promises to be a very problematic presidency. There has been the usual flurry of shiny media objects, which in Trump world amounts mostly to diversion tactics, drawing the press’s attention away from the crucial legislative and executive actions that form the core of the Republicans’ reactionary agenda.
The most effective way of distracting the media is by attacking them head-on, which we saw last weekend when Sean Spicer marched into the White House press room and delivered a stern lecture to the fourth estate, mostly based on outright lies and falsehoods. It was a remarkable performance, worthy of a pre-teenager, and pure Trumpist arrogance/ignorance. All presidential administrations lie; the Trump cadre, however, is distinctive in that they tell painfully obvious lies – lies that require no research to disprove. Many of their transparent lies are rooted in Trump’s overheated ego: the whining about the relative size of his inaugural crowd, the fable about millions of fraudulent votes in California, and so on. The press should just slap the “lie” label on this trash and soldier on.
It’s what lies behind the lies that should be our focus. The voter fraud accusation is the opening salvo in Trump’s effort to nationalize the ongoing GOP war on minority voters. This will start with an investigation along the lines of his inquiry into Obama’s birth certificate. (“You won’t believe what my people are finding.”) And while the mainstream press has reported that Trump’s fellow Republicans have backed away from this, Paul Ryan’s response was instructive. He essentially said that voter fraud was a “concern” in Wisconsin that the state addressed through voter I.D. legislation and other measures. Those responses helped deliver that Wisconsin to Trump, of course. So, with respect to legislative “solutions” to so-called voter fraud (i.e. voting on the part of people who don’t typically vote for them), Trump and Ryan are on the same page.
Bottom line: Keep your eye on Congress and on the executive orders and memorandums flying out of the White House, and respond accordingly. That’s where the real fight is now.
Hope you’re all rested and fully recuperated from your holiday festivities. Looks like we have some heavy lifting to do, and it’s not clear to me that we’re going to get a lot of help from the institutional Democratic party. The fact is, we are going to have to push them to do the right thing at least as hard as we push the Republicans (a.k.a. our one-party state) not to do the wrong thing. Nothing new, right? Any time anything useful gets done in America, it’s because there’s an army of activists locking arms and pushing it forward. Progress doesn’t arrive in a sedan chair, eating sweetmeats; it’s dragged kicking and screaming every inch of the way. That’s what we’re looking at, once again, as we work to preserve the remnants of our social safety net, keep ourselves out of devastating overseas conflicts, and protect the most vulnerable among us.
The challenge this time around is being able to move fast enough to make a difference. The GOP-run Congress is going to ram a stack of legislation through over the next few weeks that will disable the ACA (so called “Obamacare”), cut back or restructure (privatize) Medicare and Medicaid, cut Social Security (perhaps privatize as well), and more. We need real-time information on specific legislation that’s being proposed, voted on, etc. Sourcing that will be crucial. We also need to organize on a local, Congressional district level, to apply pressure where it will have the greatest impact.
Some of the organizing work appears to already be in motion, at least as far as setting a template for activists to follow. There’s this new group called Indivisible (http://www.indivisibleguide.com/) that has assembled a kind of activist cookbook for lobbying individual representatives. The group that grew out of the Sanders campaign – Our Revolution – is also pulling some of this together, as well as more longstanding groups like MoveOn.org. I think that part of it is taking shape, but the information component is still a little sketchy. If anyone has any insights on how to get timely, detailed information on pending legislation, let me know (use the comments field on this post).
I hope to work with some neighbors on lobbying our new tea party Congressperson (most reactionary representative we’ve had in my lifetime, I believe). I strongly suggest you do the same. Start today. Aloha.
After shock comes anger. I don’t think I’ll move on to negotiating – anger seems about right, particularly with the news emanating from President-Elect Trump’s transition team. His closest adviser will be the spiritual leader of one of the alt-right’s most popular web sites, Breitbart, so you know this is going to be a volatile time from the standpoint of those issues Breitbart tends to report on. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, perhaps? That would certainly put black people’s minds at ease. I think Trump may be considering Cap’n Crunch for secretary of the Navy. Sounds like a good pick, though he’s rumored to have a crunchberry problem.
Okay, so what will Trump’s victory mean from a policy standpoint? Well, if he’s anything remotely true to his word, we are likely to see the most reactionary policies ever advance in our lifetimes passed through congress and signed into law. This is not just about Trump – this is about a extremist Republican party that becomes even more virulent every time it returns to power. We had the Reagan-Bush cycle, which was far to the right of anyplace we had gone politically since the Great Depression. Then there was the George W. Bush presidency, shot through with neocons and a decidedly more autocratic approach to governance, powered by the disaster of 9/11. Now: a Republican electoral trifecta – president, senate, and house, all in the hands of an even more reactionary strain of this very destructive party.
What will that look like? Well, we have a pretty good idea. Look at Wisconsin when Blind Scotty Walker took the reins. Look at North Carolina when Pat McCrory was elected (though he may have lost this year, we’ll see). Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Trump will do something very similar – put together a pre-baked raft of reactionary programs into a series of bills, pass them over any objections, and sign them into law in the first few weeks of the ass-clown in chief’s administration. They will also do everything they can to lock in their gains, passing voter i.d. restrictions, confirming ultraconservative justices at various levels, and attacking the remaining institutions of the liberal-left: public sector unions, Planned Parenthood, and so on. That’s what we’re looking at, and judging by Ryan’s various activities over the past year, they are likely to use budget reconciliation on a lot of this legislation. My guess, too, is that the filibuster will be disabled or destroyed quite early on, as well.
So hold tight, people. We are going to have to fight like hell to preserve what ground we can. Elections have consequences, as we will soon see.
Want a good reason to vote next month? Here’s one: Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” agenda, which he will drive home like lightning if his party is successful on election day. With a Republican congress and a Trump presidency, Ryan can pass the most regressive political program ever contemplated on the national level. At the core of this agenda will be another raft of massive tax cuts for the rich, including a 20% cut for corporate taxes, which will drain trillions of dollars from the Federal budget and (no surprise) prompt austerity action on social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
On top of that, the “Better Way” will use reconciliation votes to repeal sections of the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion. Ryan tested his caucus’s ability to use this tactic on non-fiscal legislation this past term when he brought an ACA repeal vote via reconciliation. This will be repeated next year, but with a Republican president, their vile legislation will get a signature. Ryan will be able to move forward with converting Medicare to a voucher. You can already hear right-wing pundits floating the concept of expanded Health Savings Accounts as part of their “repeal and replace” strategy – that and the seemingly evergreen notion of allowing insurance to be sold across state lines. This should be great comfort to the hundreds of thousands thrown off of Medicaid by their so called “better way.”
Whatever your misgivings about Hillary Clinton (and I have plenty), voting for her is the best way to shut Ryan down. I strongly suggest you also consider voting down-ballot for Democrats. There’s an outside chance that Dems could take the House and a stronger opportunity to retake the Senate. That’s our best opportunity to ensure that we’re not massively losing ground over the next four years, even if we’re not leaping forward in great strides. I feel strongly enough about this that I have been volunteering for our local Democratic candidate for Congress (Kim Myers), mostly because her principal opponent is an anti-choice zealot who once referred to the head of the Oneida Nation as “spray-tan Ray” in a Trump-like drunk tweet. Classy.
There’s plenty we need to do to build a more progressive, equitable, and sustainable political reality. Voting is a very small but important part of that. It’s the best way at this point to say “no” to Paul Ryan’s agenda. Let’s stop that mother cold.