Category Archives: Democratic Party

The political ground is shifting: Chicago rejects the Democratic party machine


The Democratic party establishment is struggling to keep control of its message. In last year’s congressional elections, a number of left candidates gained office, including Ilyan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who have been speaking out against Trump’s anti-immigration policies and facing hostility and attacks from Republicans and the media.

Former president Barack Obama joined the fray on Saturday, accusing the left of enforcing standards of political “purity” by suggesting that rightwing Democrats could become targets for reselection in the party primaries. He was responding to Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of 26 Democrats who joined a Republican vote for undocumented immigrants to be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they attempted to buy guns.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic party strategists believe that centrist policies are needed to unseat Trump, and have sidelined left positions such as the abolition of ICE, Medicare for all, free public higher education, a $15 minimum wage, and action on climate change – all of which are now part of mainstream discourse, thanks to Bernie Sanders’ campaign for presidential nomination. However, the evidence from last week’s municipal elections in Chicago indicate shifts in both the party and the electorate.

On April 2, Chicago voters elected Lori Lightfoot by a landslide as the city’s first African American woman and openly gay mayor. But they also elected at least five socialists to the city council, fragmenting the Democratic party machine controlled by outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Intercept reported that three members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won runoff races, joining two others who won outright last month. Jeanette Taylor, a community activist who led a month-long hunger strike to reopen Dyett high school in Bronzeville, won the 20th Ward. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, another well-known community organizer, replaced an incumbent in the 25th Ward who had held the seat for more than two decades. In the 40th Ward, Andre Vasquez toppled one of the most powerful members of City Council and an Emanuel ally – Pat O’Connor, who held the seat for nearly forty years. In addition, “there were a handful of candidates who have significant ties to the labor left and other political movements that predate the rise of DSA, like the Chicago Teachers Union’s 2012 strike.”

Chicago has long been ruled by a monolithic Democratic party machine, with close ties to the Clintons and Obama. Rahm Emanuel served as Obama’s chief of staff before running for mayor. His decision not to seek a third term enabled a host of challenges to incumbent aldermen with strong connections to the machine. According to In These Times, the challengers ran on demands raised by social movements in the city, including instituting an elected, representative school board and creating a Civilian Police Accountability Council to oversee the Chicago Police Department. “They also built on the work of community organizers who have opposed large-scale tax increment funding (TIF) projects that often fund luxury developments. One of the most controversial TIF projects is a proposed $95-million West Side police and fire academy, a priority of the outgoing Emanuel administration. Local residents and activists argue that this funding could be better invested in schools, mental health facilities and other resources.”

The election was hard fought, with Emanuel’s allies spending heavily on television and digital advertising to support candidates aligned with the political establishment. But candidates from the left were able to break through the patronage system and created a city council more representative of the city’s diversity. “In the largely Hispanic 33rd Ward, democratic socialist Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez ended the night ahead of incumbent Deb Mell, who was appointed by Emanuel after her father and former Ald. Richard Mell stepped down in 2013. The Mells have long served as a powerful political family in the city, and Rodríguez-Sanchez’s potential victory stands as a shot across the bow to the machine.”

Emanuel’s grip on the party was loosened after he suppressed police video of the shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald, who was shot 17 times while walking away from officers. Emanuel’s refusal to take any serious action against the notoriously corrupt and violent Chicago police department lost him the support of the Democratic party’s base. According to University of Illinois history professor Barbara Ransby, “The Laquan McDonald case was really the pivot of this election in a lot of ways. It was the issue that Rahm Emanuel couldn’t run away from. And he couldn’t run away from it because of the relentless pressure by a whole network and coalition of organizations, from Black Lives Matter Chicago to Assata’s Daughters to #LetUsBreathe Collective to Black Youth Project 100. So, putting the pressure on Rahm not to run, or letting him know that this was going to be the fight of his life if he did run, was part of what shaped the election as it unfolded.”

The newly-elected mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is a former prosecutor and also has questions to answer about her role as chair of the police board and reluctance to prosecute police, despite promises for police accountability and reform. Aislinn Pulley, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Chicago, commented: “We should view this election cycle as the beginning of a seismic shift against the neoliberal project that has resulted in privatization, militarized policing and destruction of many of our community institutions and resources.”

Ransby writes about the new cohort of activists like Pulley in The Nation, where she explains that many of them gained their first experiences of organizing in campaigns to oust State Attorney Anita Alvarez and Police Chief Garry McCarthy for their roles in the Laquan McDonald case. Another critical issue was “the 2015 City Council Reparations Ordinance for survivors of police torture, which was the culmination of a five-year struggle for accountability in the Jon Burge torture scandal. And it is impossible to escape the shaping influence of the Black Lives Matter Movement (now a part of the larger national coalition, the Movement for Black Lives), which not only birthed a new political ethos—one that goes beyond simplistic notions of representational race politics—but also emboldened a new grassroots force of powerful leaders, many of them women.”

While the old guard still clings to power in Chicago, in certain areas it was decisively defeated. The key to this success was activists’ grassroots mobilizing on issues important to citizens, incorporating left solutions to the city’s urgent social and economic problems. Decades of political corruption won’t be overturned in one election cycle, but last week’s results indicate that voters are moving away from identity politics and responding positively to a new generation of activists with a bottom-up, left agenda. Obama and the Democratic leadership are out of touch with the changes in the party and the electorate. Bernie Sanders is still the candidate who has the most appeal to the overwhelming desire for change.

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Filed under African Americans, Black Lives Matter, chicago teachers, Democratic Party, Fight for 15, Obama, political analysis, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

Ilhan Omar and Chris Williamson: A Tale of Two Parties


omar

It’s very instructive to compare the difference in treatment of Minnesota Democratic representative Ilhan Omar (above) and Derby North MP Chris Williamson. While Omar got crucial support from within her party in defence of her right to speak out about the influence of the Israel lobby (AIPAC) in Washington, Williamson was pilloried by the Labour party deputy leader Tom Watson and hung out to dry by centrist MPs when he defended the reputation of the party against accusations of being “institutionally antisemitic.”

The Democratic leadership of the House had drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in what was seen as a direct rebuke of remarks Omar was alleged to have made. But other Democrats pushed back: Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote, “We must not equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.” New York Congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’”

The reaction from the left of the party forced the inclusion of Islamophobia and the hatred of “African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others” in the resolution, which passed the House by an overwhelming 407-23 last week, with only Republicans voting against. NBC News reported that Omar issued a joint statement with fellow Muslim lawmakers Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and André Carson of Indiana, calling the vote “historic on many fronts. It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry.”  They also said they were “tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy. … Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress.”

In the speech which attracted the attacks from the Democratic establishment last week, Omar said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby … that is influencing policy?” Immediately after she made this remark, Democrat Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which Ilhan Omar sits, as well, then accused Omar of making a “vile anti-Semitic slur.” And Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) claimed on Twitter that “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”

She also faced hostility for tweets published on March 3 saying, “I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks … I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.” Paul Waldman commented in the Washington Post that “she didn’t say or even imply anything at all about Jews. She said that she was being asked to support Israel in order to have the privilege of serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which was true. … Her argument, to repeat, isn’t about how Jews feel about Israel, it’s about what is being demanded of her.”

Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies and Jewish Voices for Peace pointed out that, in any case, the attacks were nothing to do with what she had actually said. “It’s about the fact that she is a Muslim African immigrant, a Somali refugee, who is talking about Palestinian rights, who is talking about the power of the Israel lobby, and the big pharma lobby, and the lobby for fossil fuels. And that’s not OK. … She was talking about members of Congress, not Jews, who are forced to pledge some kind of affiliation, support, loyalty, whatever you want to call it, to Israel to maintain the privileging of Israel in U.S. foreign policy … She wasn’t talking about any individual people, Jews or otherwise, having so-called dual loyalty. She was talking about the kind of pressure that is brought to bear on members of Congress to be uncritically supportive of Israel; a kind of pressure that does not exist for any other country in the world.” Moreover, because she is a Black Muslim woman who wears her hijab in Congress, she is more likely to attract false accusations because she conflicts with the accepted image of a Congressional representative.

In the UK, when Derby North MP Chris Williamson said “we’ve been too apologetic” over antisemitism allegations, seeking to stress the history of the party in fighting all forms of racism, 38 centrist MPs demanded his suspension from the party, and got it. Williamson was targeted because he is a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and has been touring constituencies throughout the country calling for democratic reselection of parliamentary candidates. It was because of who he is, not what he said.

In the US, Democratic congresspeople now more adequately reflect the diversity of their constituents, thanks to the primary process of selecting representatives which elevated Moslem, Native American and Latino candidates to Congress. It’s different in the UK, where the parliamentary Labour party represents a New Labour consensus that is both anachronistic and hostile to supporters of Corbyn. Anti-imperialist politics upsets these MPs partly because of the influence of organizations like “Labour Friends of Israel,” which acts as a pro-Israeli lobby within the Labour party.

The aim of the anti-semitism smears is to silence critics of Israeli foreign and domestic policy, as well as the state’s quasi-diplomatic efforts to influence government support. In the US, this aligns with the “decades-old strategic ties between U.S. and Israeli military, security, geo-political and nuclear goals. Those ties—between the Pentagon and the IDF, the CIA and the Mossad, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump with their shared antagonism to Iran and eagerness to partner with Saudi Arabia—are all far more important in maintaining the Washington-Tel Aviv alliance than any embrace of Israel by the U.S. public,” notes Bennis.

While in the US the controversy has opened up a media debate about whether AIPAC’s influence in Washington is too strong, even the New York Times calling out its boast that it was responsible for encouraging the Democratic leadership to go after Ilhan Omar, the media in the UK is uniformly blasting Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party, and even equating anti-capitalism with anti-semitism. This campaign merges the hostility of centrist MPs to the enhanced power of the party membership with the sheer panic of the establishment at the prospect of a government collapse over Brexit which could result in a Corbyn-led Labour government. There could not be a stronger argument for the re-introduction of mandatory reselection for Labour MPs, in preparation for the inevitable general election.

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Republican Supreme Court Triumph Against Background of National Discontent


Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a new Supreme Court justice is a pyrrhic victory for the Republicans. It achieves a solid right-wing majority on court decisions, but reduces the legitimacy of these decisions in the eyes of the public and the legal system.

His ranting attack on the Democrats at the hearing removed all pretence of judicial impartiality – it “pulled the cloak off the Wizard of Oz” as law professor Stephen Gillers put it, shattering public belief in the Supreme Court’s independent authority. It also exposed the supposedly moderate Republican senators who capitulated when Kavanaugh “pivoted to a pure message of aggression, anger and promises to fight the recognized set of political enemies that bind him to his mass and elite supporters … Early Thursday afternoon, Kavanaugh’s nomination was on life support. He went full Trump. And it worked,” Josh Marshall commented. “A scion of the [Washington] beltway political elite who received the country’s finest elite education, he made his name in the Bush White House. He is the epitome of the pre-Trump conservative establishment. Yet we can see here how seamless the transition was to full Trumpism, as it was for all the Republican Senators who rushed to his side after his Thursday afternoon performance.”

The right-wing bias of the court is now decidedly out of tune with the public on many issues, nullifying its role as a moderating bastion of government. The New York Times reported: “Several priorities of the conservative legal movement already conflict with public opinion. The movement’s biggest target is Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that identified access to abortion as a constitutional right, yet a poll in July by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal showed an all-time high in public support for the decision, with 71 percent saying that Roe should not be overturned. The conservative wing of the court has also focused on upholding voting restrictions, gerrymanders and purges of the registration rolls. In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the same justices opened the door to a massive amount of spending to influence elections. Polls show, however, that more than 70 percent of Americans don’t like extreme partisan gerrymandering and want to overturn Citizens United.”

The importance of judicial appointments is clear from the pushback of some federal judges against Trump’s immigration laws and the separation of children from parents seeking asylum at the border. For this reason, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made the justice system a partisan battleground. According to the Washington Post, “he’s been very attuned to the power of the courts and made judges a top priority. He has described the 2016 blockade of Merrick Garland after Antonin Scalia’s death as one of his proudest achievements.” He is ready to push through 30 more lifetime District and Circuit court nominees before November’s mid-terms, though under Senate rules Democrats could delay them.

It is a dangerous moment in US politics because the Republicans have spent the years since Nixon encouraging a racist pushback against civil rights legislation, building an aggrieved and aggressive right-wing base that connected with white supremacist movements in the course of Trump’s election campaign. Josh Marshall sums it up: “The politics of aggression, norm-breaking, the penchant for conspiracy theories, the increasingly explicit white nationalism – these were all present in 2014, 2010 and in a more attenuated form in 2004. What Trump did was, through some malign and impulsive intuition, fuse these together into a workable politics. He took what was still the underbelly of Republican politics, which nevertheless provided it with the bulk of the GOP’s motive force, and made it the face, the brand.”

But what it also poses is how the public can claw back legal protections from state assaults. The guilty verdict on Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for killing black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 shows a significant shift in public appreciation of state repression of African American youth. A dashcam video showing Van Dyke unloading 16 gunshots into the 17-year-old was allegedly suppressed ahead of the mayoral election in 2015, and mayor-elect Ralph Emanuel, a Democrat, together with the Chicago police department, was accused of overseeing a cover-up. In These Times reports: “In the aftermath of the video’s release, activists staged massive protests across the city, shutting down major business districts and thoroughfares. Soon after, then-Police Chief Garry McCarthy was fired by Mayor Emanuel. And later, States’ Attorney Anita Alvarez lost a high-profile election to reformer Kim Foxx. Last month, Emanuel announced that he will not be seeking re-election for a third term, meaning that the three most prominent officials associated with the alleged cover-up will soon no longer sit in their previous positions of power.”

The release of the video came after strenuous efforts of civil rights lawyers who challenged the city’s right to withhold it for more than a year. Together with civil rights organizers, “community members in and around Chicago refused to let justice die along with McDonald. It was not the notable activists and national leaders we see on television who ensured this story did not end like so many others before. It was the citizens who cared about their community and about justice being done,” writes the executive director for Human Rights Watch, Nicole Austin-Hillery.

Building mass opposition movements is important, but so is the battle for control of the state – as the sustained efforts of right-wing Republicans demonstrate. It has to be fought on all fronts. The Democratic base is furious at Kavanaugh’s appointment, but this has to be directed at mobilizing those who do not usually vote to come out in the November mid-term elections. That could overturn the Republican hold in both the House and the Senate, allowing the possibility of a renewed investigation into Kavanaugh’s misleading testimony and his potential impeachment.

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Judge and Fury: Kavanaugh’s Rage Exposes the Festering Politicization of Justice


For the last few days, America has been transfixed by the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. The entirely believable testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford was contrasted with Kavanaugh’s aggressive, blustering, and enraged response at her accusations’ damage to his shot at a lifetime Supreme Court judgeship.

The Court is the highest and most visible part of the justice system which is theoretically independent of the legislature and the executive branches of US government. Whatever happens with Kavanaugh’s appointment, the Court’s independence and the Senate’s legitimacy are now facing intense public scrutiny. That is why, after voting in favor of Kavanaugh on committee but then being confronted in an elevator by two angry victims of sexual assault, Senator Jeff Flake brokered a week-long delay on the final Senate vote in order to allow the FBI to conduct an investigation.

The Washington Post reported: “After this [hearing], public perception is going to increasingly be that it’s more a political body than a judicial one,” said Benjamin Barton, a law professor at the University of Tennessee who studies the federal judiciary. “To me, this will be a disaster for them.” Added Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia. “The court is a political institution, yes, but as much as possible it’s critical for the justices to be — and be regarded as — impartial, trustworthy and above the political fray. The justices have reason now to be concerned.”

Republican support for Kavanaugh is only the latest in extreme partisan interference in the normal workings of the justice system, with Senate leader McConnell delaying and frustrating Obama-era appointments until Trump’s election enabled them to fill hundreds of lower-court vacancies with conservative judges. The transformation of the judiciary into a weapon of mass incarceration is a project more important to the Republican leadership, it seems, than their success in the House and Senate mid-term elections.

The New York Times commented: “Party leaders have concluded that supporting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, in the face of sexual assault accusations against him, will all but ensure that Republicans lose control of the House in November even as their fortunes may improve in some tough Senate races. … Even as Mr. Trump and Senate leaders acceded to an F.B.I. investigation into the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, Republicans say they did so grudgingly. Privately, they are determined to press ahead with the confirmation process despite the political risks and the possibility that Republican senators may still defect and oppose the nomination in the end.”

The Republican Senate committee members attempted to blame the Democrats for disrupting their staged confirmation by raising Dr. Ford’s objections. Kavanaugh himself raged: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” which apparently impressed Trump enough to tweet his support.

But the Democratic representatives are voicing a muted version of public hostility to the corruption of the political system that has been festering for many years before Trump took office. Kavanaugh is closely connected to this corruption: in earlier hearings, he lied skilfully about his involvement with formulating the legal justification for torture under the Bush administration, about his extreme partisanship during the Starr attempt to impeach Clinton, and the 2000 Supreme Court verdict that gave Bush the presidency.

The Democrats on their own could not prevent Trump and the Republicans from shifting the Supreme Court sharply to the right, endangering the Roe v. Wade decision and civil rights generally. But the glare of the spotlight on the raw machinations of power may well force a retreat on Kavanaugh’s elevation – who, despite the revelations about his character, will remain in an influential position on the Washington D.C. Appeals Court.

In any case, the Republican party has now clearly branded itself the party of white male entitlement, attracting those railing against the modern world that they believe “is hostile to their individual rights, political power and social status.” But in doing so, they are alienating themselves from the mass of people who don’t regularly vote, and may well be inspired to do so in November after the hearing’s demonstration of exclusive class privilege and of hostility to women.

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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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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