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.