Category Archives: Democratic Party

Democrat Jones’ Victory in Alabama: Beyond #MeToo


Election graphic from Washington Post

In a stunning political upset, Alabama Republican Roy Moore was defeated in Tuesday’s special Senate election. A complex combination of factors, involving shifts in multiple demographic groups, gave Democratic challenger Doug Jones electoral success in a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Despite the accusations of child molestation against Moore, 91 percent of those voters who identified as Republican still voted for him, as did 63 percent of white women. However, there was a significant swing of suburban voters against the Republican candidate, and white rural Republicans stayed home. A detailed analysis in the Washington Post explained: “Typically reliable and sizable Republican wins in the rural North and South of the state evaporated into razor thin margins. Between that and an increased margin in the Black Belt, Jones was able to eke out a 21,000-vote victory, while Republicans normally win by more than half a million votes … These swings can be seen in counties majority white and black, Republican and Democrat. And that means it couldn’t have just been a surge in African American turnout, or just rural Trump voters staying home, or just Republicans crossing over to vote for Jones. Jones’ campaign was able to achieve a combination of the three that drove him to victory.”

The increased margin among African American voters reflected an exceptionally high mobilization of this community, with grassroots activists joining an important ground campaign to get out the vote. The New York Times reported that black voters at Jones’ victory celebration had long found Moore’s brand of evangelical politics distasteful. “But many others said that the Jones campaign uncorked the intense feelings of alarm and distaste that many African-Americans harbor toward President Trump, who had given Mr. Moore his full-throated endorsement in the campaign’s final days.” Jones was not particularly known in the African American community, but he had a track record of successfully prosecuting two white Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four African American girls, and in the last weeks of the campaign he turned out to black churches and gained support from African American personalities, including Obama.

Michael Nabors was at the celebration with his wife, Ella. He told the Times that black voters were paying attention to Mr. Moore’s comments in September, in which he said that America was last “great” during the days when slavery was legal. He added that “they paid attention to Mr. Jones’s most famous case as a prosecutor. ‘Those four little girls are on their feet tonight at 16th Street Baptist Church, celebrating,’ he said. ‘They’re celebrating in spirit’.”

But despite the complex of factors at play in the historic result, the #MeToo women’s movement was quick to claim the credit for Moore’s defeat. Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty called the result “a watershed moment for the national movement around the issue of sexual abuse,” and Tarana Burke, the founder of the “#MeToo” movement tweeted: “I hope the 9 women who accused Roy Moore feel some vindication tonight.” Mother Jones reporter Pema Levy told Democracy Now “You can absolutely look at this election last night through the lens of the “Me Too” movement and say that they had a huge victory.”

The danger is that the Democratic party leadership will also view the victory through the lens of the #MeToo movement and will fight the next election with the same failing strategy of foregrounding identity politics and attacking Trump’s character, instead of energizing their base and independents by focusing on core issues of healthcare, tax cuts for the rich, jobs and housing.

This tendency of leading Democrats to prioritize corporate-friendly identity politics is manifested in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand coordinating statements by Democratic politicians that forced Al Franken to leave his Senate seat. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Franken stepped down one day after nearly all the Senate’s Democratic women — and most Democratic men, including the top two leaders — called for him to resign. Democrats appear determined to grab the moral high ground in an environment in which they hope sexual harassment becomes a wedge issue in the 2018 midterm elections — even if it costs them popular colleagues and political icons.”

Franken was a dogged and effective questioner of Republican appointees, including Jeff Sessions, then a senator, during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general in January. He pressed Sessions about reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, which he denied, later recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation which led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. He would have been a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and his downfall removes a rival from Gillibrand’s own ambitions.

The Hill commented: “Those sympathetic to Franken suggested it was craven for her to be the first out with a statement Wednesday calling for him to resign, and suggested she was both seeking attention and building her brand on a fallen progressive hero. Gillibrand has won headlines with her action that could be useful if she chooses to run for president in 2020 against what could be a crowded field. … ‘All this reeks of is political opportunism and that’s what defines Kirsten Gillibrand’s career,’ one Democratic strategist said. … When it came to Franken, Gillibrand was ‘twisting in the wind until the goose was cooked and then saw an opportunity,’ the strategist added.”

Law professor Zephyr Teachout writes: “I also believe in zero tolerance. And yet, a lot of women I know — myself included — were left with a sense that something went wrong last week with the effective ouster of Al Franken from the United States Senate. … Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality. As citizens, we need a way to make sense of accusations that does not depend only on what we read or see in the news or on social media. …

“We need a system to deal with that messy reality, and the current one of investigating those complaints is opaque, takes too long and has not worked to protect vulnerable women and men from harassment. And the current alternative — off with the head of the accused, regardless of the accusation — is too quick, too easily subject to political manipulation and too vulnerable to the passions of the moment. We don’t have the system I’m suggesting. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on process. … As citizens, we should all be willing to stay ambivalent while the facts are gathered and we collect our thoughts. While the choice to fire the television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were the choices of private companies, condemning a sitting lawmaker is a public choice and one our representatives should make judiciously.”

The absolutist nature of the political climate tends to create a moral equivalency between those like Franken and those like Trump or Moore. This has given opportunists an easy way of denigrating and neutralizing their political opponents, since context is omitted and all allegations are assumed to be true. A parallel development across the Atlantic in the UK has seen claims of anti-semitism and sexual harassment made against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the course of vicious infighting within the British Labour party, even while the Tory government is falling apart over Brexit. In the case of one Labour MP, Clive Lewis, the party exonerated him after multiple witnesses made clear he could not have done what had been alleged. But there are other party members and MPs, like Luton North’s Kelvin Hopkins, who are still waiting their due process.

Denial of proper investigation and due process means that the media coverage of accusations and forced resignations is obscuring real problems of racism, ongoing sexual harassment for average women and men, and political corruption, as well as the real oppression of women and families – such as class war measures like defunding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the US while giving huge tax cuts to the rich. While high profile cases get pilloried in the media, punitive policies against middle and working class women go unchallenged. Only when the Democratic party addresses the unequal power and wealth relations that structure harassment and predation in our society will the opposition to Trumpism and the Republicans be a rallying point for the different constituencies that are needed for victory and real change.

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Filed under Uncategorized, US policy, African Americans, British Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, Democratic Party, #MeToo movement, Feminism

The Coming Fall of Humpty Trumpty: Republicans Can’t Put Him Back Together Again


Humpty_Trumpty

Trump’s disastrous presidency is not only undermining the legitimacy of the US government, but also fracturing the Republican political coalition. His second Muslim travel ban has been blocked by federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland, and while he is forging ahead with budget plans that increase military spending and slash the social safety net, he is provoking resistance at every level of civil society.

Congressional Republicans are in disarray over their pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Hardline tea-partiers in the House, with gerrymandered constituencies guaranteed to give them a comfortable reelection, have a visceral ideological opposition to any law offering subsidies to the low-paid. More moderate Republicans in the Senate, however, do not want to lose the expansion of Medicaid that House Speaker Paul Ryan wants so badly to cut.

Greg Sargent writes: “By embracing Paul Ryan’s plan, which would dramatically slash taxes on the richest Americans while massively rolling back coverage for the poorest Americans, [Trump] is losing touch with the ‘populist’ message and ideological heterodoxy that helped drive his appeal to working-class voters. … But we are now learning that to cover as many people as Obamacare does, you have to spend far more money than the priorities of congressional Republicans will permit. Indeed, as the CBO report showed, the GOP plan gets a big chunk of its savings by cutting Medicaid spending by over $800 billion, resulting in 14 million fewer people benefiting from it — thus allowing an enormous tax cut for the rich. These are the priorities that Trump has now fully embraced, and his conservative populist allies understand the political danger of it.”

If Trump supports Ryan’s plan he will have openly betrayed those who voted for him believing his promises for bigger and better healthcare. If he doesn’t, he faces losing the legislative support of the tea-partiers. Either way, his administration’s first major piece of legislation is breaking apart on the ideological divisions in his party. Trump shows little ability or inclination to use his position to force the two sides together, and his disdain for mastering the details of complex legislation hobbles his desire for a quick and easy legislative win.

The Washington Post reports that the possibility Trump will sell out his base by going along with congressional Republicans has opened up a split among Trump advisers. “Some of them appear to be balking at such a course of action — and it’s telling that one of them is Stephen Bannon, because he is the keeper of the eternal flame of Trump ‘populism’,” it said. Republican strategists are also influenced by the vociferous protests at town hall meetings that have impacted the terms of political discourse. While Republicans have dismissed them as the work of paid liberal activists, they know that their core constituencies will punish them if they support legislation that will take away benefits the public depends on.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for example, was unprepared for the depth of anger from his town hall attendees. According to the Huffington Post: “a 25-year-old constituent pressed the senator on whether he intends to preserve the Affordable Care Act’s treatment protections for people with preexisting conditions. She then explained she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissues and blood vessels. ‘Without coverage for preexisting conditions, I will die,’ she said. ‘Will you commit today to replacement protections for those Arkansans like me who will die or lose their quality of life or otherwise be unable to be participating citizens, trying to get their part of the American dream? Will you commit to replacement in the same way that you’ve committed to repeal?’ The auditorium erupted in cheers as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.”

This may be why Cotton suggested last week that the push by his fellow Republicans to pass a healthcare reform bill was risking the GOP’s House majority. Don’t “walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate,” he warned.

The healthcare issue would seem to offer a perfect opportunity for the Democratic party to make political gains. But while party activists were involved in organizing protests at Republican town halls, the Democratic establishment is hanging on tightly to the control of leadership positions. Obama personally intervened to persuade Tom Perez to run for DNC chair in order to prevent Keith Ellison, who is associated with the populist surge within the party, from gaining the position. However, as the Washington Post pointed out: “In 2016, Sanders won the support of just 39 of the DNC’s 447 voting members — all of whom, infamously, were superdelegates to the party’s convention. Nine months after Sanders’s defeat, Ellison won the votes of 200 DNC members. Some, like the AFT’s Randi Weingarten, had been Clinton supporters, but plenty had been brought into the party by Sanders. … But in states where Sanders performed strongly in 2016, just as many activists were already in the middle of a takeover. It just didn’t happen in time for Ellison.”

Although Perez had to acknowledge this change by making Ellison his deputy, the Democratic party’s ability to head a grassroots movement is hindered by its corporate character. Struggles outside the party structure, such as the fight for union recognition at Nissan in Mississippi, are creating new coalitions of protest groups that are the main basis of changing the political climate.

Alternet reports that organizers across the country are working to build large popular assemblies to empower and connect communities targeted by Trump’s assaults. “With roots in the U.S. Black Freedom movement, Latin American encuentro and left formations across the globe, such forums appear to be gaining steam, as growing crowds cram into packed community meetings to plot out strategies for resistance. … While some popular assemblies are connected to regional organizations like the Atlanta-based Project South, others are springing up independently. ‘People are building new mechanisms of community power,’ David Abud, regional organizer from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told AlterNet.”

“Ayako Maruyama and Kenneth Bailey work with the Design Studio for Social Intervention in Boston. Since November, their organization has created a ‘Social Emergency Response Center,’ modeled after natural disaster emergency response centers, but designed to respond to the current political crisis. … Akuno underscored that ‘it is a constant struggle to build popular assemblies, keep them functioning, keep them vibrant, keep them responsive to the issues of the day and keep them from being sectarian vehicles. When done right, when done at its best, I think assemblies are the most profound tools of bottom-up, participatory democracy that holds the interests of the communities, unlike any other vehicle I have ever worked with’.”

Naturally not much of this reaches the mainstream media, obsessed as it is with Trump’s twisted tweets. However, the resurgence of civic activism is creating a new politics that will overcome the divisions within the 99 percent and bring together coalitions that will carry out a vital defense of pluralist democracy.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Party, donald trump, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized, white working class

Americans Expose Trump’s Quackery, Demand Affordable Health Care


Trump’s increasingly aggressive presidency has created widespread resistance in places not previously reached by American progressives and has enraged the Democratic party’s rank and file who are pushing their own representatives to ensure non-cooperation in Congress and impeachment as soon as possible.

But Trump’s supporters are unmoved and remain convinced he is carrying out his promises to shake up the establishment. They are just not concerned about the particulars of policy and cheer on his dysfunctional press conferences – which are performances especially for their benefit – and his characterization of the media as the “enemy.”

According to the Washington Post: “Those who journeyed to Trump’s Saturday evening event on Florida’s Space Coast said that since the election, they have unfriended some of their liberal relatives or friends on Facebook. They don’t understand why major media outlets don’t see the same successful administration they have been cheering on. … Many acknowledged that the president’s first month could have been smoother, especially with the rollout of the travel ban, but they said the media has overblown those hiccups — and they’re glad to see the president fight back.” Tony Lopez, 28, a car dealer who drove to the rally from Orlando, told the Post: “The media’s problem is that they keep wanting to make up stories so that he looks bad. It doesn’t work. He’s talking right through you guys.”

The danger for the American public in Trump’s presidency is both the empowerment of the security state to suppress immigrants and democratic rights, and his supporters’ unquestioning acceptance of Trump’s authoritarian rule with its alternative take on empirical reality. Trumpistas imagine him as a strongman who will sort out the Washington swamp in a way that will improve their lives. A Trump voter in Pennsylvania, Lee Snover, described him as enforcing “medicine for the American people,” a deeply troubling image evoking Mussolini’s blackshirts. But the Republican drive to cut social programs will hit these voters hard and bring them into opposition to Trump and his quack prescriptions for the body politic. The safety net is especially critical for Trump voters in states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio that flipped to Trump in 2016, giving him a small majority from those who believed his promises of restoring jobs.

If there is one issue in particular that will divide moderate Republican voters from diehard Trumpistas it is the affordability of healthcare, not allegations of ties with Russia or Trump’s business interests. Republicans in Congress have made virtually no progress on their election pledges to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They are deeply divided between Tea Party radicals, who want to eliminate the law no matter what, and those who fear the reaction from constituents if Medicaid expansion under the ACA is removed. The Washington Post reported: “Republican senators who represent states that expanded Medicaid — including Bill Cassidy (La.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — huddled last week to discuss concerns that a House GOP repeal bill could leave millions of their constituents without insurance. While no consensus emerged, many lawmakers said they could not support an aggressive repeal bill that could harm so many of their constituents.”

Although Trump and his spokesmen dismiss the growing grass-roots protests over ACA repeal as the actions of “paid demonstrators” or “sore losers,” the New York Times points out that Democratic party organizers are struggling to keep up with the groundswell of activism “that has bubbled up from street protests and the small groups that have swelled into crowds outside local congressional offices. …  Some of the most creative activity is coming from people who are new to political activism. In Plymouth, Minn., Kelly Guncheon, a financial planner who described himself as an independent, has organized a ‘With Him or Without Him’ meeting for Representative Erik Paulsen, a Republican who has not scheduled any of his own. … Mr. Guncheon, like other new activists, said he was not looking to traditional political groups for guidance. ‘In this new culture, this new era, we have to figure out new ways to do things,’ he said. ‘There’s certainly no leadership at the head of the Democratic Party, or the state party’.”

Democratic representatives are also feeling the heat. In New Jersey, Josh Gottheimer faced an unexpected crowd of his constituents “concerned that the Democrat would not be an effective bulwark against the president, and others said they had become politically active for the first time since Trump’s election. …  ‘A lot of us are new to this type of activist movement. I’ve never done anything like this before,’ said Jennifer Russo, 44. Her advice to the congressman: ‘My stance is that now is not the time to be conciliatory’.”

Republicans, though, are facing greater opposition from their own voters, who are finding Obamacare more attractive now the possibility of repeal is real. And the growing popularity of single-payer is reaching the Republican base. Pew Research found that the idea that government should be responsible for ensuring health coverage has risen strikingly among lower- and middle-income Republicans since last year, increasing 20 percentage points among those earning under $75,000 per year. Moreover, it is finding justification within the Christian ideology that many of them share. An emotional speech by a constituent of Republican representative Diane Black at a town hall meeting in Murfeesburo, Tennessee, is worth quoting in full:

“My name is Jessi Bohon and I’m in your district. It’s from my understanding the ACA mandate requires everybody to have insurance because the healthy people pull up the sick people, right? And as a Christian, my whole philosophy on life is pull up the unfortunate. So the individual mandate, that’s what it does. The healthy people pull up the sick. If we take those people and put them in high-risk insurance pools, they’re costlier and there’s less coverage for them. That’s the way it’s been in the past, and that’s the way it will be again. So we are effectively punishing our sickest people. And I want to know why not, instead of fix what’s wrong with Obamacare, make companies like Aetna that pulled out and lied to their consumers about why they pulled out, and said they pulled out because Obamacare was too expensive, but they really pulled out because of a merger. Why don’t we expand Medicaid and have everybody have insurance?”

CNN’s video of her speech went viral – but the news agency eliminated the last sentence about expanding Medicaid (see the full video here). The Atlantic magazine saw in it a political possibility: “Were they to take the plunge, Democratic candidates could run as challengers in upcoming elections on a third way of health reform: neither extending unpopular pieces of a program nor rolling back coverage, but giving everyone Medicare. And if the Democratic Party were to support universal health care, that might put pressure on Republicans, who wouldn’t want to lose voters who fear loss of coverage or doctors under a massive repeal.”

The left should not miss the implications of this political shift. While Democrats in Congress can do little against the Republican majority, their angry rank and file are in a position to insist on policies that will unite Americans across party lines and expose Trump as the quack he is.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Democratic Party, donald trump, health care, Obamacare, social justice, Uncategorized, white working class

After Only Two Weeks, Trump’s Buccaneer Presidency Falls Foul of the Constitution


Donald Trump has made an unprecedented attack on a federal judge, calling him a “so-called judge” and blaming him and the court system “if something happens.” The Bush appointee, James Robart of Seattle, suspended Trump’s immigration executive order on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and places an undue burden on the state of Washington and on its 25,000 residents from the 7 countries that it singled out; moreover, the judge held his ruling applied nationwide. The government appealed the decision, but the US appeals court denied its request for a reinstatement of the ban without further legal argument.

Trump’s anger reflects the significance of this decision, which asserts the responsibility of the government to the public and the constitution, not the executive. Juan Cole described the ruling as “incredible” and “tremendous.” “Robart stood up for the residents of Washington state who were unconstitutionally deprived of basic rights by the [executive order]. He also stood up for the economy of Washington state and its ‘tax base,’ playing turnabout with Trump by arguing that what he did is bad for the economy! … Robart is saying that residents of a state in the US have rights that the president cannot simply erase by fiat. He is further saying that institutions of the state itself, including universities, have a right to pursue their work unmolested by discriminatory policies.”

Constitutional lawyer Marci Hamilton described the conflict as “an epic confrontation between the presidency and the constitution,” while the attorney general of Washington state, Bob Ferguson, told reporters: “We are a nation of laws. Not even the president can violate the constitution. No one is above the law, not even the president. This decision shuts down the executive order immediately – shuts it down.”

The extremism of Trump’s executive orders has activated the Democratic base with a speed that has taken its own representatives by surprise. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, faced protesters outside his own home in Brooklyn who cheered and jeered as they held signs with slogans like “Buck Up Chuck”; “Resisting Trump Is Your Primary Duty”; and “Filibuster Filibuster Filibuster.” Gothamist reported: “Patrick Youngkin, a member of CWA Local 1102 and a former Marine, shouted gleefully, bringing the crowd to a fury. ‘I fought for the right to protest, I fought for the right to assemble, and hold elected officials accountable,’ he said. ‘Senator Schumer, your constituents, we’re going to take this fight to the street. But it’s your duty as Senate minority leader to take this fight to the floor’.”

The country is divided between those who believe that Trump is acting to keep them safe and those who are vigorously resisting him. The number of voters who support impeaching him has risen to 40 percent. But what will seriously undermine his presidency is the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no viable replacement. Legislators say they are inundated with requests for town hall meetings to discuss the issue: the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that tea-party darling David Brat complained that he has been hounded by female constituents opposed to the repeal of the ACA. “Since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go,” he said. “They come up – ‘When is your next town hall?’ And believe me, it’s not to give positive input.”

In Roseville, California, police had to escort a Republican congressman from a meeting with his constituents. According to the Sacramento Bee, “facing a packed auditorium and raucous crowd, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock on Saturday defended his party’s national agenda and voiced strong support for President Donald Trump’s controversial executive actions to scale back Obamacare, ban visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. ‘Vote him out,’ hundreds of demonstrators chanted outside the Tower Theatre in downtown Roseville, the Republican-heavy population center of McClintock’s sprawling congressional district. … Attendees, some carrying signs that read ‘Resist,’ ‘Dump Tom McTrump’ and ‘Climate change is real,’ pressed McClintock to denounce Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, acknowledge the science supporting the human causes of climate change, and oppose Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting refugee admissions to the U.S.”

Trump won’t succeed in creating the kind of working class jobs he promised during the election campaign for industries that are already failing. His populism is fake: the true basis of his support within the ruling elite is from aggressive financial operators like Goldman Sachs, heavily represented in his cabinet. Yves Smith says that while many business professionals are upset with Trump’s win, “the ideology that he represents is very much in line with the logic of corporate raiders, many of whom, like him, went to Wharton Business School. And many elite professionals, in particular lawyers and consultants, profited handsomely from the adoption of the buccaneer capitalist view of the world and actively enabled much of its questionable thinking and conduct.”

Trump had little to say on the campaign trail about wages or job protections, despite posing as a champion of American workers. “Make America Great Again” really meant conflating workers’ interests with those of American billionaires. What is characteristic of his presidency is his plan for a new executive order to scale back the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, part of a sweeping plan to dismantle much of the regulatory system put in place in the wake of the 2008 banking collapse. “This guy is a fraud,” Bernie Sanders told CNN on Sunday, pointing out that his Cabinet appointments and advisers directly contradict his pledge to take on Wall Street by re-instituting the Glass-Steagall Act, a regulation that separated commercial and investment banks, which was repealed under Bill Clinton.

Josh Marshall comments: “The unifying message of Trumpism is nationalism, and particularly an aggressive, zero-sum nationalism. … That is the focus around which all the actions of these rancorous 13 days come together into a unified whole – aggressive attacks on friends and foes alike, threats of tariffs against non-compliant foreign states, clampdowns on immigration, etc. … Trump is cozying up to the Wall Street barons he campaigned against. He’s about to throw 25 million Americans off their health care. ‘We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank, because frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can’t borrow money,’ he said again today, while he also talks about vast tax cuts for his wealthy friends and tax increases for many ordinary working and middle class families. This is a perfect evocation of government by the richest, for the richest, by the rich – and from the President’s own lips.”

Not all Trump voters are authoritarian white nationalists. Many voted for him despite their dislike of his crude propaganda because he presented himself as ready to make drastic political changes that would restore their living standards and job security. As Trump attempts to blame Mexicans and immigrants for the failure of his promises, Democratic activists need to turn out to the heartlands and campaign vigorously for a universal healthcare system that all can afford, free education, and stopping bank foreclosures on homes. In other words, a Sanders agenda that focuses on ending wealth inequality, making the billionaires pay their taxes, and that sweeps away the party leadership’s prevarications.

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Filed under Democratic Party, donald trump, executive orders, immigration, muslims in america, Uncategorized

Water Wars Herald Fightback against Trump’s Presidency


Media speculation about Donald Trump’s wild and contradictory policy tweets is focusing on the wrong thing. Trump used Twitter during the election to create political turbulence that concealed his authoritarian objectives, revealed more clearly by the consistency in his extremist cabinet picks: they are all from the top executives of business and military organizations where they were able to give orders which would then just get done. That won’t happen with the federal government.

The election has created an unstable political structure, where the orientation of the executive branch is in conflict with the federal bureaucracy, something whose conservatism embodies the results of past social struggles in its laws and restrictions. This instability has been years in the making: for the entirety of Obama’s administration Republicans have campaigned to subvert government and make it less effective. They were able to do this because of long-term social processes connected to deindustrialization and demographic change that not only generated middle-class fear but also undermined political legitimacy.

Each of Trump’s cabinet picks seems designed to put longstanding opponents of the regulatory activities of each agency in charge. For example, Scott Pruitt, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, installed as head of the EPA; Andrew Puzder, a fast-food chain executive and viciously hostile to the living wage campaign, as Labor Secretary; and Betsy DeVos, a charter-school activist and big Republican donor, as Education Secretary. Trump is surrounding himself, Ayn Randian style, with people who want to shrink the federal state to a minimum and act as a conduit for big business.

During his election campaign, Trump’s rhetoric built on many years of big business’s political disinformation strategies, “devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress. … In the 1970s, scientists at Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew that their products were changing the climate, but the company nonetheless funded think tanks and organizations dedicated to denying the existence of global warming, such as the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Donald Trump has appointed Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, while Myron Ebell, who heads Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, directs the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s anti-‘global warming alarmism’ Center for Energy and the Environment, an outfit straight out of the tobacco lobby’s handbook.”

Political science professor Leo Panitch argues that, compared to the more internationally-oriented Bush administrations, staffed by Republican patricians, Trump’s cabinet “has very little autonomy from the capitalists that it represents.” His insistence on recruiting authoritarian “deal-makers” is a shift away from neoliberal “rule-makers” like Robert Rubin who wielded power under the Democrats; but, Panitch says, “then it becomes more difficult for a state to act as the Executive Committee, as Marx once put it, of the whole bourgeoisie. It makes it more difficult for them to do a reading of what’s in the class interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole and, in that sense, what’s in the national interest of a capitalist United States, in a global capitalism. And this could lead – it could lead – to a lot of jerkiness and scandals and dysfunction in such an administration.”

The state of Michigan is a prototype of just such dysfunctional Republican rule and it also shows how the burgeoning mass opposition to it can develop outside of the two-party political structure. Just one of the many scandals of its Republican administration is the unjust denial of unemployment benefits to claimants by an $45 million automated system, which was found to be wrong in 93% of cases. And all indications are that the source of the Flint water supply health disaster lies in governor Rick Snyder’s austerity policies. Four former Flint officials, including two state-appointed emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, have been charged with criminal conspiracy to violate safety rules.

ACLU investigator Curt Guyette, who helped bring the health crisis to light, told Democracy Now: “it was all an attempt to save money. They said that by using the Flint River for two years while a new pipeline was being built, bringing water from Lake Huron to Genesee County, they would save about $5 million. And so, their charge is to cut expenses, to bring the budget in balance, and at any cost. And in this case, the cost was the contamination of a city’s water supply. … they were in such a rush to save money and use the river, that they went ahead before it was safe.” Guyette added that the decision to use the river “ultimately came out of the Governor’s Office.”

Nayyirah Shariff, a director of “Flint Rising”, a coalition of activists and advocates in Flint, travelled to Standing Rock in North Dakota to support the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline. She said: “we’re in this nascent stage of these water wars. And hopefully, what’s happening at Standing Rock—we have the same corporations and the same ideology that is pushing for DAPL. It’s the same ideology that created the emergency manager law, this thing for austerity and privatization and resource extraction for short-term gain, without the impact—without humanity being in that equation.”

The emergency manager law was introduced by governor Rick Snyder and his administration to slash expenditure on schools, pensions, and welfare after giving a multi-billion-dollar tax break to corporations and the rich. As Michael Moore explains: “Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as ‘dictators’ over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million!”

The idea of emergency managers was pushed by a Republican think tank called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has urged the state since 2005 to employ drastic measures to fix budgets of local towns (in crisis because of the cuts in state funding) by sending in state-appointed financial czars who have the power to override elected officials and tear up union contracts. The group is closely tied to the Republican establishment in Michigan and its funders include the Koch brothers and the same Betsy DeVos who Trump has appointed Education Secretary.

The crisis in Flint is not over: residents still pay the highest water rates in the US (average $200 per month) for water they cannot drink or cook with, and have long-term health problems arising from lead poisoning. But the town’s plight would never have come to national attention if it had not been for its residents who faced arrest when they challenged officials who claimed the water was safe, and on their own initiative contacted the EPA before working with researchers from Virginia Tech to prove the water contained poisonous quantities of lead. They are continuing to fight the state of Michigan and, through groups like Flint Rising, are calling for the prosecution of governor Rick Snyder.

The Michigan Democratic party also reflects the political corruption of the state: its officials are still rigging elections for the discredited party leadership. Sanders supporters were physically ejected from a meeting to vote on delegates to represent Michigan on the Democratic National Committee, when they protested the lack of transparency and openness in the nomination process. “This [presidential] election was a repudiation of elitist politics. The establishment had their candidate and they lost,” said Sam Pernick, president of the Young Democrats of Michigan. “It’s time we started listening to the grassroots. If we have to do the work ourselves, we will. We won’t be stopped by violence and we will continue to peacefully protest and to actively work to change the party from within.” Pernick and other activists are organizing meetings across the state to encourage youth and progressives to engage with the state and local Democratic Party, and to push for reforms.

To break from the corporatist Democratic leadership – which cravenly is suggesting cooperating with Trump’s phoney infrastructure spending – requires a fight from both within and without the party. The resistance of Flint residents to being treated as expendable is a signal of the kind of opposition Trump will face when his corporate-friendly policies begin to bite and voters realize there will be no new working class jobs for them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Democratic Party, donald trump, fast-food workers, Flint, Michigan, Uncategorized

Trump and May: Wrecking the Social Compact in the U.S. and Britain (if we let them)


Despite the different social contexts, there are significant transatlantic parallels between the political situation in Europe and America. Sarkozy’s humiliation in France’s centre-right presidential primary has been attributed to a “revolt by the French people against the political class” by François Fillon, the winning candidate. In the US, the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to a Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen achieving presidential office, against the wishes of the political class. Now the centralization of executive branch powers that continued under Obama will be handed over to Trump, whose politics are scaringly shallow.

In the UK, after the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the Conservative party establishment quickly asserted control over its anti-EU faction. Prime Minister Theresa May rode the Brexit tiger by moving the government sharply to the right, but while she maintains a Thatcher-like image of unflappable control, in reality she is improvising from day to day in negotiations over the country’s transition. She hints she will keep key industries in the single market while being able to reduce immigration from within the EU, which European leaders have already denounced as unacceptable.

Her Cabinet is reportedly split to the point of paralysis over what strategy to follow. A recent memo by a Deloitte analyst pointed out that more than 500 separate commercial treaties would have to be re-negotiated in the event of a hard Brexit (leaving the single market), which would need the recruitment of another 30,000 civil servants and would be far “beyond the capacity and capability” of the government.

Across the Atlantic, the Washington Post argues that “Trump took the elements of an independent candidacy — the lack of clear ideology, the name recognition of a national celebrity and the personal fortune needed to fund a presidential campaign — and then did what no one seemed to have thought of before. He staged a hostile takeover of an existing major party. He had the best of both worlds, an outsider candidacy with crosscutting ideological appeal and the platform of a major party to wage the general election.”

Now that he has been elected, however, Trump has turned to the Republican establishment for help in building his administration. Trump’s initial appointments, including the neo-fascist Steve Bannon, appear to be aimed at appeasing his energized base – the tea party and hard-right racist wings of the Republicans – but he is already negotiating with establishment figures like Romney and Priebus and has embraced Paul Ryan’s budget plans.

Political theorist Theda Skopcol writes that after his unexpected election victory, Trump’s inner circle “provided little in the way of expert allies to help him fill tens of thousands of federal government jobs and plan comprehensive policy agendas. Especially on the domestic side, Trump has responded by immediately outsourcing much of this work to experienced GOP officials, including key players in his emergent White House and in Congress who have long been groomed by the Koch network. After apparently denouncing and opposing GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan during the election campaign, President-Elect Trump did a quick about-face to fully embrace Ryan and his radical government-shrinking policy agenda.”

This means the Republican-controlled government will ram through the Koch policy agendas of privatizing Medicare, cutting taxes even more for the rich, busting unions, deregulating business and abandoning environmental regulation. Some Democratic politicians like Chuck Schumer advocate holding Trump to fulfil the more populist of his campaign promises. But this can only sow illusions about the new administration: it will be the most corrupt, anti-labor and anti-jobs government in the U.S. since 1776.

Trump’s plan for rebuilding infrastructure, for example, which sounds like it would create construction jobs, is in reality “a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. … Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring.”

Skopcol points out that “Liberals and Democrats could be so focused on Trump’s racial and international policies that they fail to mobilize widespread American popular support to save programs like Medicare. Ironically, however, the pending Koch-inspired eviscerations of the U.S. social insurance system are likely to disillusion many of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ voters. … With total GOP control of Washington DC about to happen, the Koch network dream of an enfeebled U.S. domestic government is on the verge of realization. Unless Democrats learn to speak clearly and organize in many states and counties, no one will even be available to make the key changes visible or explain what is happening to disillusioned voters.”

That’s the key issue: Democrats must speak clearly and organize against the dismantling of social entitlements, but that means overcoming the corporate Wall Street Democrats who are responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Committee criticized Clinton for not addressing the central issue of a rigged economy that was so important to voters. “The Democrats need to be willing to say that our economy is rigged against the little guy, our democracy is corrupted by big money and we will fight Trump’s pro-corporate agenda and dedicate ourselves to fixing this rigged system,” he said.

And Robert Reich slams the Democratic party for its corporate perspective. “The entire organization has to be reinvented from the ground up. The Democratic Party has become irrelevant to the lives of most people. It’s nothing but a giant fundraising machine. … “This new Democratic Party has got to show very vividly that Donald Trump … is fraudulent. And expose that fraud. And offer people the real thing, rather than the fake variety. … we need a political party, a progressive, new Democratic Party that’s going to be organizing in every state. And not only for the state elections, but also organizing grassroots groups that are active on specific issues right now in many, many states – including many of the groups that worked for Bernie Sanders – that need to be connected.”

While being in the forefront of the fight against the racist policies of the state, the left must participate in this struggle to change the Democratic party from within, as the only organization that can coordinate national resistance to Trump’s presidency. Millions of Americans are afraid of what they expect to happen and want to know what to do. They urgently need a roadmap of how to succeed in the fight for adequate housing, health, jobs, and a $15 minimum hourly wage; and a clear strategy to defend constitutional civil liberties and the hard fought gains of the Civil Rights Era. That makes it necessary to campaign on issues that will unite disparate groups and undermine Trump’s political support. A major battle inside and outside Congress to defend Medicare is an ideal opportunity to drive a wedge between Trump and those who supported him in the belief he cared about the needs of ordinary people like them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Medicare, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized

WTF – Trump? America Runs on White Entitlement


Political commentators are explaining Donald Trump’s victory as the revenge of the white working class on the US political elite. The New York Times says it amounted to “a historic rebuke of the Democratic Party from the white blue-collar voters who had formed the party base. … To the surprise of many on the left, white voters who had helped elect the nation’s first black president, appeared more reluctant to line up behind a white woman.” The fact that Hillary Clinton relied on identity politics for much of her campaign and marginalized Bernie Sanders’ message that Americans had the right to healthcare, college and a living wage, was a major part of her undoing.

According to Juan Cole, Trump’s appeal to white workers was his rhetoric of economic protectionism, attacks on NAFTA and TPP over outsourcing jobs, attacks on Clinton’s well-paid speeches to Wall Street, and anti-immigrant sentiment. He added: “The Democratic Party’s refusal to do anything about Wall Street mega-fraud in 2009 and after came home to roost. In other words, the Clintons were inextricably entangled in the very policies that white workers saw as having ruined their lives.”

Hillary Clinton was probably the worst candidate the Democratic party could have chosen for this election. Author Thomas Frank blames the Democratic liberal establishment for selecting “an insider when the country was screaming for an outsider … She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. … And so Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest.”

For many citizens, the deindustrialization of large swathes of the country due to corporate globalization and the economic recession has destroyed the American dream – or illusion – an expectation of an ever-increasing standard of living.

But while attention is focused on the white working class, the white professional middle class also voted for Trump in large numbers. The racism of his attacks on Mexicans, Muslims and immigrants did not deter these voters from choosing the Republican ticket. Actual exit polls showed “the election result seems to have been more about the clear backing of America’s white and wealthy voters for Donald Trump – including white graduates, and white female voters. Far from being purely a revolt by poorer whites left behind by globalisation, who did indeed turn out in greater numbers for the Republican candidate than in 2012, Trump’s victory also relied on the support of the middle-class, the better-educated and the well-off.”

This was exemplified in Florida, which the Washington Post described as “a microcosm of the story in many contested states. Clinton and her allies had helped spur record turnout among Democrats and Latino voters in early voting, but Trump rapidly made up ground on Tuesday with record turnout in exurban communities and GOP-leaning counties.”

“People like me, and probably like most readers of The New York Times, truly didn’t understand the country we live in,” wrote Paul Krugman. “There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy. And there were many other people who might not share those anti-democratic values, but who nonetheless were willing to vote for anyone bearing the Republican label.”

So the ideology of white exceptionalism or white entitlement, which has its ultimate roots in slavery, was excavated from the national psyche and laid bare by the Trump campaign, attracting white supremacists and neo-nazis. CNN commentator Van Jones described it as “a white-lash against a changing country. It was a white-lash against a black president in part, and that’s the part where the pain comes.”

Populist resentment of political elites converged with white nationalism in the Trump “movement.” But what will happen when, like the British Brexiteers, he reneges on his promises to create jobs and disrupt the status quo? The Republican party is split between its Senate establishment and its fired-up base, but Trump’s policies are identical to those of mainstream Republicans except for his stance against trade deals.

The Guardian reported from Youngstown, Ohio: “Trump has set expectations for the presidency extraordinarily high. Millions of people voted for his promise to achieve an improbable reversal of the decades-long structural decline in American manufacturing. By November 2020, the voters of Mahoning County will expect results. ‘I want him to bring America back,’ said Kerri Smith, a 48-year-old carer for disabled children and a former Democrat. ‘Bring back the jobs, bring our country back’.”

There is now no question of renewing the bipartisanship that Obama attempted unsuccessfully to establish with the Republican leadership after 2009. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will have a much greater weight within the Democratic party: The New York Times noted “there is unlikely to be much appetite among Democrats for conciliating Mr. Trump, and — as Republicans found over the last eight years — the loudest and most potent voices in the party are most likely to be those of blunt ideological opposition.”

Already, thousands have protested against Trump’s victory across the USA, from Massachusetts to California. College students and activists angrily cried “not my president,” since Clinton won the popular vote, but not the electoral college. At Berkeley High School, California, about 1,500 students, or half of the entire student body, walked out of class before 9 a.m. in protest of Trump’s victory. Students tweeted “#NotMyPresident,” and pledged to unify.

“I was just devastated,” said Drae Upshaw, a 19-year-old college student in Oakland. “I come from a Mexican community. I have family and friends crying tonight in fear that Donald Trump will deport them.” Demonstrations spilled out on to the streets from a number of University of California campuses, an estimated 2,000 people rallying at UCLA.

One bright spot in this electoral cycle is the defeat of hardline anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, a major supporter of Donald Trump, when his bid for re-election was overturned by Latino voters in the state. “The people Arpaio targeted decided to target him. He lost his power when undocumented people lost their fear,” said immigration rights activist Carlos Garcia. Arpaio’s so-called “saturation patrols, sweeps in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in and around Phoenix, were routinely done without evidence of criminal activity, violating federal safeguards against racial profiling,” reported the New York Times. Arpaio faces the possibility of jail time himself, after federal prosecutors announced they’re charging him with criminal contempt of court over his refusal to end unconstitutional immigration patrols in Arizona.

The liberal left needs to get over its quest for ideological purity and align itself with mass social struggles – resistance to a rapid enforcement of Republican authoritarian policies will grow. Grassroots campaigns need to be linked with efforts to unseat rightwing Republicans at state level and in the next round of congressional elections, despite the gerrymandered constituencies. This will mean confronting the Democratic administration which is wholly to blame for Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, liberal establishment, Uncategorized, white working class