Saturday, November 19, 2016

Editorial: Snakes vs. Scorpions

Donald J. Trump parlayed a strong vein of anger and discontent with Washington establishment politics among white voters into a come-from-behind victory. His campaign united such disparate groups as the Ku Klux Klan, “alt-right” white nationalists, Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State, which celebrated the election of the con man who will be a recruiting boon for Islamic jihadists when he enters the White House.

We don’t understand how anybody could have watched the presidential debates and come away with the opinion that the real estate mogul and “reality” TV star had the temperament to be president, but the ongoing slander of former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton over the past two years, abetted by FBI Director James Comey in the closing days, took its toll and Trump conned just enough people to win the election.

The election apparently was decided by Democrats who voted with their butts on Nov. 8 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Clinton won the popular vote nationwide, but her campaign failed to turn out many of the voters who carried Barack Obama to victory in those key states — though some of those Democrats turned out to vote for Trump, and stayed in the Republican column to elect Republicans to the House and Senate.

Compounding the problem, Democrats failed to regain control of the Senate. They unseated two Republican senators, as Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) easily defeated Sen. Mark Kirk (R) in Illinois and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) narrowly defeated Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire, but Democrats failed to defeat vulnerable incumbents in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Indiana rejected former Sen. Evan Bayh’s comeback bid and Sen. John McCain (R) survived a spirited challenge in Arizona. The GOP maintained a 51-48 advantage, awaiting a Dec. 10 runoff for the Senate in Louisiana in which the Republican is favored.

If Republicans keep the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes for a bill to pass, Democrats might be able to block the worst bills and nominees, but several Democratic senators are up for re-election in red states in 2018 and they might feel pressure to work with Republicans. Also, if Democrats are obstinate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might move to eliminate the filibuster.

The biggest disappointment was Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s victory in his rematch with former Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive Democrat, in Wisconsin. Feingold led in polls for much of the last year before pro-Johnson Super PAC ads attacking Feingold tightened the race and the Republican tide in rural areas overcame the Democrats.

The good news is that, if Trump got a mandate, it was to enact populist reforms of Wall Street financial speculators and reverse trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement that have resulted in the loss of American manufacturing jobs. He also promised to protect Social Security and Medicare and suggested he would expand support for family leave.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan is determined to privatize both Social Security and Medicare and expansion of family leave will be a hard push through a conservative Congress. Establishment Republicans don’t trust Trump any more than Democrats do, and Trump’s operatives reportedly are discussing how they can hurt “Never Trump” Republicans who were critical of Trump’s movement. When Trump and his aides meet with congressional Republicans, it could become a battle of snakes vs. scorpions.

Trump might split Republicans as he backs off from repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Conservatives are pushing for the law to be ripped out “root and branch,” which would threaten insurance coverage for 20 million Americans, but Trump said he favors keeping popular provisions such as the prohibition against companies denying insurance for pre-existing conditions and ability of parents to insure their children until age 26.

Clinton had proposed reforms of Obamacare, such as a proposal to give insurance buyers access to a “public option“ — a government-run health plan that would compete with private insurers.

But the public option is not going to happen under Trump. Neither is any action to reduce carbon pollution to fight climate change, which Trump believes is a hoax created by the Chinese. He promises to give the all-clear to oil and coal companies to increase fossil fuel production and he’ll approve all necessary pipelines, regardless of their impact on water supplies.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Trump will get to nominate a new justice on the Supreme Court to take the seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia last February. That probably will shift the high court back to the hard right. If aging liberal justices leave the court, it would give Trump the opportunity to lock in a right-wing majority that could take jurisprudence back to pre-New Deal conditions and clear the way for an all-out assault on organized labor and regulations. Trump also gets to fill 99 seats on lower courts after Republicans refused to confirm most of Obama’s nominees in the last year.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said they are willing to work with President-elect Trump on populist issues that benefit working Americans, but they are ready to fight him on his xenophobic proposals to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall across the southern border.

Trump named Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and Stephen Bannon, a leader of the “alt-right” movement as chief executive of Breitbart News, as his top presidential strategist. Trump also signaled that he would name Washington lobbyists and Wall Street bankers to his administration and he intends to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that sought to bring Wall Street back in line after the excesses during the administration of George W. Bush.

Republicans once again have been rewarded for their efforts to sabotage the economic recovery. They resisted the Democratic economic stimulus pushed by President Obama in 2009, which helped turn around the economy after the Great Recession of the George W. Bush administration. Democrats in 2009 also saved General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy, which played a large part in preventing the economy from cratering — particularly in Michigan and Ohio. But Republicans gained control of the House and many state legislatures in 2010. Since then, Republicans have blocked all attempts by President Obama and congressional Democrats to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, which would further stimulate the economy, at a time when the need is great and the cost of borrowing money was near a record low.

Democrats need to regain the trust of rural Americans, but not at the cost of embracing harassment of Latinos, Muslims, gays and other “Outsiders.” The Democratic Party should adopt reforms that would reduce the role of monied interests, while it organizes millions of people into an activist army that can peacefully resist the bad things that are about to happen in Washington and also at state capitols.

The Democratic Party needs to regroup for the 2018 elections, when Democrats and their independent allies will be defending 25 Senate seats while Republicans will defend eight.

Democrats need to start recruiting a new generation of progressive candidates to challenge Republicans in 2018 and 2020 and they should stand for progressive populist policies so there is no longer confusion over which party represents working-class interests.

Also, pray that the health of liberal Supreme Court justices holds up. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2016

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