Saturday, January 28, 2017

EDITORIAL: Trump’s Alt Reality

If the first 72 hours are any indication, we are in for a wild ride through an alternate reality, which Donald Trump and his advisers are setting up in the White House. In Trump’s world, facts are negotiable, but their values are set by the chief executive.

We happen to agree with Trump on much of his stated trade policy, in stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership and renegotiating other trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, to protect American manufacturing. But we don’t have confidence he’ll follow through.

First, Trump is a liar. As of Jan. 23, PolitiFact, the independent fact checker run by the Tampa Bay Times and affiliated news organizations around the country, had judged 352 statements by Trump over the past six years and found 70% were either “mostly false” (19%), “false ” (33%) or “Pants on Fire” (18%). Only 4% of the examined statements were rated “true.” In the past month, Trump has kept up the mendacity.

At best, Trump has a reckless disregard for the truth. He often runs his mouth without reflecting, such as when he told CIA officials at a public event Jan. 21 that the Islamic State probably would never have existed if the US had seized Iraq’s oilfields, an act that would have violated international law. Then Trump added, “OK, maybe we’ll have another chance,” as if that quote won’t enrage nationalists in Baghdad and Mosul.

We also don’t have confidence that new trade deals Trump would negotiate would protect the rights of workers and the environment.

In his inauguration address, Trump impersonated a populist when he said, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs …”

There is a lot of wealth in Washington, D.C., but the real money flowed through Wall Street to the richest 1% in the nation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is flirting with 20,000, more than triple its value in March 2009, when President Barack Obama was digging out of the mess George W. Bush left him, and Republican congressional leaders were pledging to obstruct Obama at every turn.

Despite the GOP’s worst efforts, Obama and the Democratic Congress passed a stimulus bill that helped to revive the economy, kept GM and Chrysler in business, passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which didn’t go far enough but went further than Republicans wanted, and curbed the worst abuses by financial speculators. Among other things, Dodd-Frank set up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help consumers resolve complaints against banks, credit unions, securities firms, payday lenders, mortgage servicing operations, debt collectors and other financial companies. And the Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010 and nicknamed “Obamacare” by Republicans, helped 20 million Americans get health care but interfered with insurance companies’ right to increase their profits by denying coverage to people when they got sick. The banksters never forgave Obama and the Democrats. Trump has imported several of those Wall Street denizens into the White House, including at least a half-dozen alumni from Goldman Sachs, and Trump’s plan to repeal both Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act puts the lie to his populist pose.

Trump’s Goldman Sachs crew includes Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary who left GS to scoop up California’s IndyMac savings and loan in 2009, renamed it OneWest Bank and made a fortune foreclosing on distressed homeowners. Gary Cohn was the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs before Trump picked him to head the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer who specialized in mergers and acquisitions and has defended Goldman Sachs and other banks in regulatory proceedings, is Trump’s choice to head the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Trump’s top donor, hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs alumnus Anthony Scaramucci, will serve as a senior White House advisor. Dina Habib Powell, a GS executive, will serve as senior counselor for economic initiatives. And Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign CEO and now a senior White House counsel, was a vice president of Goldman Sachs in the 1980s before he joined the entertainment industry and became head of

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of State, was not connected with Goldman Sachs and never had an office on Wall Street, but being chairman of Texas-based Exxon Mobil has its privileges. And workers should not expect much help from Trump’s choice for Labor secretary, Andrew F. Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant chains. Puzder opposes raising the minimum wage and expanding eligibility for overtime pay. He also is an advocate of automation, since machines are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, told the New York Times Puzder was “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people.”

Ronnie Cummins of Organic Consumers Association noted that Trump “has signaled loud and clear his intent to maximize the profits of giant corporations—like Exxon Mobil, BP, and Monsanto and Bayer (whose merger he’s set to approve)—on a scale never before seen in our lifetimes. Public and environmental health be damned.

“Trump has appointed a slate of millionaire and billionaire corporate cronies to key, powerful positions, with orders to immediately set to work rolling back any regulations or policies that even hint at cutting into corporate profits. We will have an EPA Administrator, an Energy Secretary and a head of the CIA who largely reject the international scientific consensus that human behavior is a contributing factor to global warming.”

Trump was clearly bothered by the taunts that he was short on legitimacy when his winning campaign was found to be boosted by Russian hackers, WikiLeaks and Republican voter suppression efforts in key states. He got an Electoral College victory despite the fact that Hillary Clinton outpolled him nationally by more than 2.8 million votes. So Trump on Jan. 21 sent White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer out to blast the news media for reporting on the massive Women’s March on Washington and other cities around the country, the day after the inauguration. Spicer claimed that “members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.” He insisted the crowd that watched Trump’s inauguration was greater than the crowd for either of President Obama’s inaugurations, though photos clearly showed the Trump audience didn’t fill the Mall, and DC Metro reported traffic lagging the day of Trump’s inauguration, compared with previous inaugurations and the morning of the Women’s March.

PolitiFact reviewed Spicer’s statements and, after reviewing the “misleading or inaccurate evidence” the new White House press secretary provided, the nonpartisan fact-checking site concluded: “We rate Spicer’s claim Pants on Fire.”

The following day, when presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press to explain Spicer’s “falsehood,” she replied that he “gave alternative facts to that.”
It’s useful for reporters as well as the general public to know they can’t trust Spicer or Conway any more than they can trust Trump.

We already miss President Obama, but we caution those who hope for Trump’s impeachment: That would just put Mike Pence, who might be a more dangerous right winger, in the Oval Office. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017

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