The face of Republican evil: It’s not Donald Trump

Mitch McConnell’s gruesome health care scam reveals the corrupt, antidemocratic character of the entire GOP

In the hellish months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, a dark parlor game of sorts has cropped up in liberal circles that I like to call “Would an Impeachment Even Be Worth It?” With the full acknowledgment that it’s unlikely to happen as long as Republicans are in charge, participants still sip cocktails and ponder out loud the question of whether booting out Trump on his butt would be enough to save our democracy, considering the fact that the Republican slimeball taking his place would invariably sign a bunch of retrograde legislation setting back this country decades.

These discussions break down into two camps: those who think Trump presents a unique threat to our democracy and replacing him with someone in the succession line, like Vice President Mike Pence or House Speaker Paul Ryan, would at least preserve our democratic norms; and those who think the corruption started long before Trump and has spread throughout the Republican Party, rotting it from the inside out.

Consider me in the latter camp, which makes me kind of unpopular in these discussions. Unfortunately, my view that the Republican Party as a whole is irredeemably antidemocratic has been borne out, yet again, in the process that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put into motion to destroy the Affordable Health Act, a process that will likely take out the U.S. health care system as we know it.

One could even argue that bog-standard Republicans, under the leadership of Ryan and McConnell, represent an bigger threat to our democracy than Trump, possessing as they do more competence and cunning than the TV-addled overgrown toddler in the White House.

As Heather Digby Parton, writing for Salon, recently detailed, McConnell has arranged to have the Senate version of the House’s American Health Care Act (which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would ultimately leave 23 million Americans uninsured) written in secret, with no hearings, no public discussion and no real debate. Republicans are barely even pretending the reason is anything other than the obvious: The bill is so terrible that it defies the will of people of all political stripes and sensibilities, whom legislators supposedly were elected to serve. When called out on this obvious fact, Republicans are just smirking or squawking “fake news” but not actually offering any contravening evidence.

McConnell’s contempt for the processes, much less the defining principles, of democracy couldn’t be more apparent. But he doesn’t really care. No doubt the election of Trump helped confirm the rising sense among Republicans that they can wipe their collective butts with the Constitution, flip the bird at their constituents and not really worry about losing many seats. Republican voters might not like it, but they like liberals, black people and feminists even less, so they will show up and dutifully vote against the Democrats every time. Losing health care access isn’t great, but for conservative voters, admitting that liberals might have a point is a hell from which there is no escape.

This Republican contempt for democracy was evident long before Trump started grasping for the presidential nomination with his stubby orange fingers. McConnell was so unwilling to accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s two substantial presidential election victories that the Republican leader refused to acknowledge Obama’s right to nominate a Supreme Court justice after Antonin Scalia’s death. Not only did that work out perfectly for McConnell — he got Neil Gorsuch onto the high court, instead of rightful nominee Merrick Garland — but it proved once and for all that bedrock conservative voters don’t care about niceties like the rule of law or government by the people. They just want to punish women for having sex and gripe about “Obama phones,” and don’t care if the price paid is the ultimate ruin of this country.

Trump didn’t make Republicans corrupt. They were already there. That’s why he hasn’t really needed to do any arm-twisting or commit blackmail, no matter how much he’d like to, in order to get a GOP-controlled Congress willing to look the other way when presented with a growing pile of evidence that something weird is going on with Trump and the Russians.

It’s easier to not care if Russian intelligence is actively seeking to subvert U.S. elections for those who aggressively try to deny voting rights to millions of Americans, especially people of color and younger voters who insist on voting for Democrats.

At this point, the Republican rejection of democracy is an established fact. The only question is how far the ruling party is willing to take it. The antidemocratic, secretive process surrounding the GOP’s health care bill suggests there may be no real limit.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

Donald Trump’s presidency is fake news

The administration keeps delivering “policy announcements” that are little more than hollow media spectacles

A television set is on in the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 15, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump had a “bill signing” on Monday. After delivering some televised remarks, he sat at a small desk emblazoned with the presidential seal, signed a document, and handed out pens to assembled members of Congress. But the actual document he signed was not a bill, never passed through Congress, and had no legal effect whatsoever.

Instead, what Trump signed was a set of “principles” for his plan to hand air traffic control duties to the private sector. The document was purely symbolic; no one has even introduced new legislation to enact these principles, though the basic gist of them was derived from an older proposal.

Add Trump’s “principles” to the long and growing list of White House announcements that have zero legal import or policy ramifications. Another entry: the very same day as Trump’s pantomime bill signing, Brookings Senior fellow Bruce Riedel announced that the administration’s much-ballyhooed $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia is, in fact, “fake news.”

“There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts,” wrote Reidel, citing “contacts in the defense business and on the Hill.”

“Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday,” he added. “None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.”

When Trump doesn’t yet have a fake policy to fake-announce, he sometimes pledges that one will be announced soon, and chalks that up as an achievement in of itself. (As Bloomberg noted this week, every White House proposal seems perpetually to be “two weeks” away from unveiling.) Other times, he boasts about wholly imaginary legislation, as when he said last week that his “tax bill is moving along in Congress” and “doing very well.”

There is no tax bill.

For the win

President Trump is not embellishing his agenda with fictitious achievements. The pretend bill signings and symbolic declarations are his agenda. This was clear from the very beginning of his presidential transition, when he claimed to have spared numerous jobs from outsourcing by negotiating deals with individual manufacturers. The details of his agreements with businesses like Carrier invariably turned out to be less than spectacular — but even if he had delivered everything he promised, strong-arming one factory owner at a time was never going to have a meaningful impact on the employment rate across entire sectors of the economy.

Then again, the employment rate was never the point. Trump’s announcements netted him a series of uncritical headlines and some upbeat cable news coverage. For the transition team, that counted as a policy “win.”

The problem with such victories, besides their essential hollowness, is that they’re intrinsically fleeting. Plus, like all bids for positive media attention, they depend on novelty to make a splash. It wasn’t long before Carrier-style deals were yielding diminishing returns in the PR department.

But once Trump entered the White House, he had other tools at his disposal. So he and his team hastily promulgated a series of sloppy, legally dubious executive orders that he could describe as policy victories. Those included, most famously, his misbegotten travel ban curtailing arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries. While these orders looked like displays of untrammeled power at first, the took on a slightly different color once the judicial branch got involved.

The administration’s frantic push to repeal Obamacare — regardless of the dire consequences for millions of Americans — was similarly driven by a need for some kind of “win” that would light up Anderson Cooper’s A-block for a few precious minutes. This is not speculation; as Politico reported in April, administration officials pushed for a rushed House vote to replace the health care law specifically so Trump “could tout [it] as a major legislative victory before… his 100th day in office.”

When the bill to strip 23 million people of their health insurance did eventually get through the House (albeit after the 100-day deadline) Trump celebrated with a Rose Garden ceremony, despite not having a final version of the legislation to sign.

But at least that was a real piece of legislation, which had passed at least one chamber of Congress. As the president’s approval rating continues to collapse and the odds lengthen that he’ll get any other major legislation through either the House or the Senate, the White House has now defaulted to touting “achievements” that are little more than jerry-rigged performance art.

Some of these non-policies can invigorate Trump’s base, or provide the temporary illusion of momentum. But few have translated into anything approaching a real legacy. And none of them have arrested the inexorable downward slide of the president’s approval rating — quite the opposite, in fact. Based on the Gallup daily tracking numbers, it looks like taking away millions of people’s health coverage and ripping up multinational agreements to mitigate climate change are unpopular even in the abstract.

The secret of any good con is knowing when to take the money and beat a hasty departure. But Trump’s con landed him a four-year term in America’s highest office; his efforts to extend that grift for the duration have not, so far, been particularly successful.

Will the Democrats ever stand for something?

If Democratic Party leaders want to be an alternative to the Republicans, they sure have a funny way of showing it, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer

HILLARY CLINTON resurfaced last month from her long post-election hibernation with a message: “I’m back to being an active citizen–and part of the resistance.”

And just so everybody knows, if it hadn’t been for Russian hackers and FBI Director James Comey bringing up her e-mails, “I’d be your president,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Considering the crisis of the Trump administration right now, the Democrats’ claims about Russian meddling in the election look more believable than before. But as for this losing the election for Clinton, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

And as for Hillary Clinton being part of a “resistance,” well…come on now.

All the Russian meddling in the world wouldn’t change the fact that core supporters of the Democratic Party didn’t turn out for Clinton because she represented everything they didn’t like about Washington politics–a devoted servant of Corporate America and the political establishment’s status quo.

So even though she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Clinton let Donald Trump, the anti-immigrant, misogynist, Islamophobic billionaire, get close enough to steal an Electoral College victory because the Democrats offered so little for voters to turn out for.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

DESPITE THIS, the Democratic Party–which ought to be in a good position to challenge a politician as unpopular as Trump–is still debating what it should do next. Some party leaders are concluding this isn’t time to lead, but time to start compromising on key issues.

Issues like abortion.

In April, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) threw its support behind Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a self-described “pro-life” Democrat.

After a storm of criticism from pro-choice forces, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, DNC Chair Tom Perez–who appeared on a stage with Mello alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders–was forced to publicly reaffirm the party’s support for women’s right to choose.

But some Democrats didn’t get the memo.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made sure instead to emphasize that, yes, the party welcomes anti-choice Democrats. “It’s kind of fading as an issue,” Pelosi told the Washington Post. “It really is.” Pelosi advised Democrats to concentrate more on the issues that affect “working families.”

Of course, abortion isn’t a fading issue–the Republicans have made sure of that by successfully restricting women’s access to abortion services in dozens of states.

Furthermore, characterizing reproductive rights as an issue that “working families” don’t care about–in a country where one in three women have an abortion, many likely in “working families”–is out of step with reality.

Support for abortion rights is one of the main issues that at least rhetorically distinguished the Democrats from the Republicans, and now at a time when it’s so important to take a side, party leaders are discussing whether it might alienate voters they want to attract.

“You know what?” Pelosi said to the Post. “That’s why Donald Trump is president of the United States–the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That’s how he got to be president. Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively, by that.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SO UNDERLYING this dispute about whether abortion is a Democratic issue is another discussion about what the party has to do to win over the audience of people who were attracted by Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric in 2016. Leading party figures are opting to downplay so-called “social” issues, like abortion, racism or LGBTQ rights, in favor of “economic” issues.

This warped view of who workers are–the workforce is disproportionately female, people of color and LGBTQ people–and what their concerns include reveals how out-of-touch Democrats are with the people who vote for them. It’s also the case that even by these wrongheaded standards, the Democrats’ populist economic rhetoric is no better in practice for working people than Trump’s.

The fight over health care is an excellent example. In May, House Republicans went after the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), voting for a plan that would eliminate some of the few positive aspects of Obamacare, such as the expansion of Medicaid and a guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

And what was the reaction from Democrats? Something close to rapture. The party that claims to stand for working people stood by and watched as Republicans shredded the ACA in the hopes that this would fatally damage the Republicans with voters.

While most human beings reacted with shock and outrage, Democratic leaders celebrated the fact that the Republicans’ nightmare might help them win a victory in 2018 congressional elections. Democratic strategist Caitlin Legacki summed up the strategy to the New York Times: “Our best shot at stopping the Republicans has always been to let them cannibalize themselves, and this proved that.”

Meanwhile, as Democrats cheered on the Republicans’ passage of Trumpcare, real people with real health care needs face the daily threat of not being able to afford to get well.

Trumpcare is highly unpopular–only 17 percent of the population said it supports repealing and replacing Obamacare with the Republican plan, according to a Quinnipiac Poll. But there is growing frustration with Obamacare, too.

Obama’s health care plan may have included some important reforms, but it also kept in place the worst aspects of for-profit health care, and the result was that insurance became even more expensive for workers.

When Trump and the Republicans threatened to make health care even more inaccessible, they gave Obamacare and the Democrats a lifeline, at least as far as public opinion is concerned. In this context, many people felt they had no choice but to defend the lesser-poison status quo of Obamacare.

Democratic politicians are making similar political calculations when it comes to protecting immigrants under attack from Trump’s new amped-up deportation regime.

In April, as state lawmakers debated making California a “sanctuary state” to stand up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to cut off federal funding to states that didn’t cooperate with ICE and immigration enforcement, some Democrats were cautioning against going too far.

“It may feel good to take certain actions, but that could result in real hurt on the ground,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the New York Times. “My responsibility is to make sure that I bring resources back to my city that come from tax dollars we send to Washington.”

“The civil rights movement was not won by calling Bull Connor a racist,” Garcetti said. “He was a racist. But it was won by saying we should be at that lunch counter.”

Garcetti is forgetting the most important thing that happened at those lunch counters: protest.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IF GARCETTI’S strategy of concede and retreat sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The Democrats used the same strategy during Election 2016–when they nominated Hillary Clinton, the status quo candidate with a history of serving wealth and power, as the candidate they were sure would win easily against Trump.

The party behind Clinton’s “campaign of militant complacency,” as author Thomas Frank put it, never even considered that the people who actually vote might be dissatisfied with the status quo she embraced.

In other words, at a time when many people are looking for more radical solutions, the mainstream Democrats are offering something that’s even further to the right of what already exists. And since they won’t actually stand for something, they continue to fall back on the fact that Trump and the Republicans are just worse.

This reality will lead even the best activists–people who care about changing the world a thousand times more than Nancy Pelosi–to conclude that the most important thing we have to do in the next year is get more Democrats into office, no matter what the compromise.

Thus, Bernie Sanders, who himself is staunchly pro-choice, reached the same conclusion as Pelosi that not every Democrat has to be pro-choice to get his support.

The Democratic Socialists of America unfortunately succumbed to this pressure too when it issued a statement in response to Sanders’ support for Heath Mello in Omaha that refused to take a stand and instead advised its members to “trust our grassroots.”

But trusting the grassroots means taking a stand for its political concerns.

It goes without saying that Hillary Clinton isn’t part of any “resistance.” There is, however, a resistance being built. It had its beginnings before the 2016 election, but having Donald Trump in the White House has led more people to think about that we need to get ourselves organized.

Many people will look to the Democratic Party to take the lead in the anti-Trump opposition, but the Democrats haven’t yet, and show no signs at all of doing so. We have to take part in grassroots organizing that stands up to the attacks of both Republicans and Democrats–and that offers an alternative to the status quo Washington politics we’re expected to accept.

 

https://socialistworker.org/2017/06/01/will-the-democrats-ever-stand-for-something

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: “We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake”

“Malignant reality is taking hold” in American politics

Psychiatrist Bandy Lee: "We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump's mental health issues. . . . Our survival as a species may be at stake"
Bandy Lee; Donald Trump (Credit: Yale/Getty/Mark Wilson)

President Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States and the world.

He has reckless disregard for democracy and its foundational principles. Trump is also an authoritarian plutocrat who appears to be using the presidency as a means to enrich himself and closest allies as well as family members. Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget is a shockingly cruel document that threatens to destroy America’s already threadbare social safety net in order to give the rich and powerful (even more) hefty tax cuts. His policies have undermined the international order and America’s place as the dominant global power. It would appear that he and his administration have been manipulated and perhaps (in the case of Michael Flynn) even infiltrated by Vladimir Putin’s spies and other agents. The world has become less safe as a result of Trump’s failures of leadership and cavalier disregard for existing alliances and treaties.

Donald Trump’s failures as president have been compounded by his unstable personality and behavior. It has been reported by staffers inside the Trump White House that he is prone to extreme mood swings, is cantankerous and unpredictable, flies into blind rages when he does not get his way, is highly suggestible and readily manipulated, becomes bored easily and fails to complete tasks, is confused by basic policy matters and is unhappy and lonely. And despite bragging about his “strength” and “vitality” during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump appears to tire easily and easily succumbs to “exhaustion.” Trump is apparently all id and possesses little if any impulse control. He is a chronic liar who ignores basic facts and empirical reality in favor of his own fantasies.

Between the scandals and the emotionally erratic behavior, Donald Trump would appear to be a 21st-century version of Richard Nixon, to date the only American president forced to resign under threat of forcible removal. In all, this leads to a serious and worrisome question: Is Donald Trump mentally ill? Moreover, what does Trump’s election reveal about the moods and values of his voters? How are questions of societal emotions and collective mental health connected to the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in America? Do psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals have a moral obligation to warn the public about the problems they see with Donald Trump’s behavior?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist at Yale University who specializes in public health and violence prevention. She recently convened a conference that explored issues related to Donald Trump’s emotional health and how mental health professionals should respond to this crisis. The proceedings from this conference will be featured in a forthcoming book expected later this year.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. A longer version can be heard on my podcast, available on Salon’s Featured Audio page.

How did a person like Donald Trump become president?

My being a psychiatrist, I will inevitably see things from that lens. I also tend to think about the social context that gives rise to the current conditions. For me the big shift in our society has been the increasing inequality, and with that a certain segment of the population will end up suffering from an undue amount of poverty — a relative poverty actually, deprivation, a lack of education, a lack of health care and mental health care. All those things will contribute to worsening of collective mental health.

As a clinician, when you watch Trump’s behavior day after day — his lying and obfuscation, his apparent confusion and anger management issues — what are you thinking?

I’ve been thinking from the very beginning that he exhibits many signs of mental impairment. I recently organized a conference on this at Yale. Afterwards, there has been almost an army of people who have shared with me how they have been wanting to speak about this issue. I did not expect to get such a massive response.

What are your peers’ specific concerns and what are they afraid of?

This situation has come to such a critical level. In fact, a state of emergency exists and we could no longer hold back. We have an obligation to speak about Donald Trump’s mental health issues because many lives and our survival as a species may be at stake.

What are two or three things you could cite about Donald Trump’s behavior that causes you the greatest concern, worry or alarm?

There are certainly the symptoms that he displays. He has a great need for adulation. He is angry if reality does not meet his needs. People have been expecting him to settle into his role and become normal or more “presidential,” but that does not ordinarily happen among those with such personality traits. In fact, what we’re seeing is a creation of his own reality, a reality that will meet Trump’s own emotional needs and the need to impose that reality on others. It is his imperviousness to facts and reality that could place us all at great risk.

On one hand, he can just be cantankerous, moody, angry and a spoiled child. I’ve described him as a man-child or a clown king. But how do we separate that from saying, “OK, there is something going on clinically”?

One does not make the other mutually exclusive. In fact, one can both be immature and a jerk, dangerous and ill-intentioned. In other words, bad as well as mad. It’s really the combination that makes it so toxic and unpredictable that we felt that there was a need to speak out.

How should the “Goldwater rule,” the ethical requirement not to diagnose a person you have not examined, be balanced with mental health professionals’ responsibilities as American citizens and members of the global community?  

In  an ordinary situation where matters were not so intense, we could balance out our political activism and separate that from our professional goals and actions. But when there is such a grave mental disability that is affecting the public sphere, the political sphere, such as in the current position of power, then those lines get blurred. Given that all human health exists in an ecological system, there is no rule that politics will never enter the sphere of health or the mental health profession. Right now we’re seeing that it does.

When we have a president who asks, What is the point of having nuclear weapons if we cannot use them?, who urges our government to use torture or worse against prisoners, who urges his followers at political rallies to beat protesters up so badly that they’ll be taken out in stretchers, and suggests that his followers could always assassinate Hillary Clinton if she were to be elected president, there is something very wrong. All this attraction to violence, threats of violence, boasts of his own violence and sexual assaults, and incitements to violence — all these have an effect.

As a clinician, how do you figure out the causal arrows? Is Trump causing an increase in violence or is his presidency a reflection of deeper cultural problems in America?  

Certainly it’s not a one-way path. It happens both ways in that we have elected a president who was somehow very attractive to his voters. But then he stokes and amplifies certain elements in the population that in turn create more conditions for violence and danger.

Why do you think more of your peers have not spoken about these concerns? Are they afraid of professional consequences? Personal threats of violence?

One of my colleagues said this was not the way she wished to spend her life — in other words, to spend the rest of her life paying for an expression of her opinion by fighting lawsuits, by fighting for her license. There was a fear of having her license taken away. Yes, the fear was present then and it is present still now, such that when I was editing this book, I had two co-editors who initially signed on, but the more they heard about the possibility that their license could be in danger, that they could somehow be targeted for this, they pulled out.

How did you overcome that fear and anxiety? It’s easier to be a bystander to history. It’s easier to say, “I’ll let somebody else do it.” Instead you actually chose to do something.

In my case, it became a grave enough emergency that my conscience would not let me rest in peace if I did not do something about it.

As a psychologist, as a human being, as a citizen, why do you think some people choose to be bystanders and others decide to act?

Bystanders do make a lot of difference. Human rights abuses could not happen if bystanders spoke up or did not approve.

On a practical level, how do you think a president should be psychologically evaluated before taking office? What do you think the actual remedies could be for dealing with Donald Trump now? Can we invoke the 25th Amendment, so that if enough people diagnose this man and there is enough of an outcry he will be removed?

I think by sounding the alarm about his mental instability and position of power that some kind of consensus as to a process would be developed. As for the 25th Amendment, I don’t think that’s really a psychiatrist’s domain. But that is certainly one avenue that has been proposed and it’s the only one that would be possible in terms of a case of mental impairment. I think what needs to happen next is a collaborative discussion among people of different fields. We could speak to the president’s mental impairment, the effects of that impairment and the dangerous situation we’re in. Other people could speak to the best political and procedural way to do something about that finding. Those would be lawmakers and politicians.

What do you think the United States is going to look like after Donald Trump leaves office?  

He has exacerbated the pathological patterns of our culture. What would happen if the presidency continues? I think more damage will be done. In fact, the latter part of the book consists of some of the effects of his policies, including repealing the Affordable Care Act, his immigration policies, his tax laws and his military policies. All these things could have ramifications and reverberations throughout —his environmental policies, his educational policies. In fact, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton said at the conference that Trump’s style of governing could be described as “anti-governing.” I believe we’re at a crossroads.

We can either amplify and encourage Trump and his followers’ pathology, or we can stop it and look for ways that are more life enhancing, healing, corrective. When you see a person falling into illness, the deeper the illness grows, the less aware they will be of their illness. The more insistent they will be on destructive ways rather than ways that are healing and constructive. At a later point, doctors and hospitals will be the thing that they will avoid at all costs. That is why sometimes physicians have to hospitalize against the person’s will or put them on a stretcher. The reason why the law allows that, that society allows that is because they feel better and then they thank you for it.

That is why simply respecting the choices of the electorate when the electorate is not entirely well can spiral into situations like fascism. Remember fascism is not necessarily an ideology. It could be on the right or the left. It is also an emotional experience to a certain political structure, and people will cling to it regardless of how destructive it is to their lives, regardless of what path it takes them toward. The pull is emotional, not ideological or even rational. It’s a situation that needs intervention, healing and treatment. The way to do that is to improve societal conditions.

Why do Trump’s voters continue to support him even when his and the Republican Party’s policies will hurt them economically and in other ways as well?

Because it’s an emotional compulsion. It’s an emotional reaction. It’s not anything rational. Trying to reason with them will not help. It’s really the conditions that have to change. Malignant reality is taking hold. It’s a kind of pathology cohesion that normalizes corruption, violence and harm, and there will come a the point where we’re no longer disturbed by it. At that point, all kinds of human rights violations, wars and loss of life become possible. Mental health professionals have to become witnessing professionals who continually point out this dynamic and call it out for what it is, so that it does not become normalized.

The Trump administration, and I might argue to a large extent the Republican Party, has been leading up to a need to impose a distorted reality and a kind of imperviousness to facts onto others. Facts and evidence almost do not matter. What matters is the emotional commitment to either an ideology or what they believe will make America great again, restore their position, or give them the kind of pride or self-esteem that they feel they have lost.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

Moore: Medicaid cuts were “central to our plan all along,” contrary to Trump’s public statements

CNN’s Stephen Moore accidentally confirms Trump was lying about commitment to protect Medicaid

CNN’s Stephen Moore accidentally confirms Trump was lying about commitment to protect Medicaid
(Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This post originally appeared on Media Matters.

Discredited right-wing economic pundit and former Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore accidentally let slip that gutting the Medicaid program “was central” to President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare, despite the president’s repeated assertions that he would not touch the program. The statement corroborates admissions Moore made at a private event last July, when he claimed that Trump would fund massive tax cuts and reckless spending by dismantling programs that provide basic living standards for millions of Americans.

During the May 8 edition of CNN Newsroom, Moore — CNN’s “senior economics analyst” — was joined by University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee to discuss the merits of billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett’s argument that the Trump health care agenda amounts to little more than a tax cut for the rich funded by cuts to health care subsidies for low-income Americans. Goolsbee pointed out that Trump’s health care legislation “cuts taxes for high-income people by hundreds of billions of dollars” at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid, which Trump promised “he would never cut.” Moore interjected falsely: “He never said that we weren’t going to reform Medicaid,” arguing, “That was central to our plan all along.”

Moore’s claim was debunked on air by co-hosts John Berman and Poppy Harlow, as well as Goolsbee, who cited Trump’s tweets and public statements as proof that he had broken his promise to protect Medicaid. Reporters who tuned in for the performance also noted Moore’s false statement. Moore accepted Berman’s correction before quickly pivoting to talking points extolling the virtues of converting Medicaid to block grants, which would also amount to a massive benefit cut for recipients.

Moore’s secondary claim that gutting Medicaid was “central to our plan all along” drew little notice from the fact-checkers, but it sheds light on Trump’s real agenda. According to a September 7 article from HuffPost political reporter Christina Wilkie, Moore had outlined Trump’s often contradictory economic plans during a “question-and-answer session” at a private July 14 meeting of the conservative Council for National Policy (CNP) in Cleveland, OH. During the event, Moore suggested that Trump planned to pay for his costly economic agendaby removing supposedly onerous public protections imposed by the federal government and enacting “draconian public assistance reforms and cuts in social services.” Since taking office, Trump has proposed a budget and health care agenda that would fulfill those promises. As the article noted, Moore’s zeal for tearing down anti-poverty programs, including Medicaid, seems to undermine Trump’s claim that he would focus on “looking out for the downtrodden.” It also confirms that imposing this harsh agenda — and lying about it — was indeed “central to” the Trump team’s economic plan “all along.”

 

http://www.salon.com/2017/05/13/cnns-stephen-moore-accidentally-confirms-trump-was-lying-about-commitment-to-protect-medicaid_partner/?source=newsletter

The Republican Party is sociopathic: If you didn’t know that already, the health care bill should make it clear

Republicans have long since left normal politics behind and veered into irresponsible, sadistic misbehavior

The Republican Party is sociopathic: If you didn't know that already, the health care bill should make it clear
Paul Ryan; Donald Trump; Kevin McCarthy (Credit: AP/Getty/Salon)

On Thursday, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in order to give the richest Americans and corporations billions of dollars. To accomplish this, Republicans will deny tens of millions of Americans who have chronic and preexisting health problems access to affordable medical care. The Republican Party’s plan to punish the sick and to kill the “useless eaters” has expanded its targets to include women who have been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence or suffered from post-partum depression. The Republican plan will also hurt disabled people, senior citizens, new mothers, pregnant women, children in special education programs and babies. It is estimated that at least 43,000 Americans a year will die if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

This is quite literally the politics of life and death. Republicans in Congress have chosen to place their fingers on the scale in favor of the latter.

After finding “courage” prior to their vote from watching the movie “Rocky” and supposedly drawing inspiration from Gen. George Patton, these Republicans — a group largely comprised of rich, old white men — basked in the glow of their “success” while they drank beer and took photos with President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden. In all, it was a macabre and perverse bacchanal of plutocratic greed and civic irresponsibility.

The Republican Party is sociopathic: If you didn’t know that already, the health care bill should make it clear

The vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was also a reminder of two very frightening and disturbing truths that most of the mainstream corporate news media will ignore.

Conservatives lack empathy for their fellow human beings. The Republican Party’s hostility to the poor, the working class, the elderly, immigrants, Muslims, refugees, the homeless, the vulnerable, gays and lesbians, children, people of color — and yes, the sick — is not an aberration or deviation from their voters’ basic desires. For those not of the right-wing tribe, a decision to strip away health care from millions of people does not make rational political sense. But for those inside the right-wing echo chamber, such a decision speaks to basic psychological and social impulses: It reinforces the demarcations separating “us” and “them,” the deserving and the undeserving, the righteous and the sinful.

In 2010, Ravi Iyer examined data that demonstrated the divergent role of empathy for conservatives and liberals. He observed:

The more interested in politics a conservative is, the lower his (or her) level of empathy. Liberals move in the opposite direction: the more interested in politics they are, the more empathetic. … In the 2010 election, 42 percent of voters identified themselves as conservative; 38 percent said they were moderate; and 20 percent said they were liberal. If that division obtains in 2012 and beyond, the proportion of conservative to liberal voters in the electorate should give liberals pause, especially insofar as they expect elected officials to propose and pass legislation the underlying purpose of which is to help those most in need.

Iyer’s observations would prove prophetic. In the 2016 presidential election, the empathy divide motivated millions of white conservatives and right-leaning independents to support Donald Trump: The opportunity to punish the Other paid a psychological wage, even if Trump’s actual policies would economically hurt the “white working class” voters who installed him in the White House — with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Republican Party is sociopathic. As detailed by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, exhibiting three or more of the following traits is sufficient for the diagnosis of sociopathy:

  • Callous unconcern for the feelings of others
  • Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms and obligations
  • Incapacity to maintain enduring relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them
  • Very low tolerance to frustration, a low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence
  • Incapacity to experience guilt or to profit from experience, particularly punishment
  • Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders adds these two qualifiers:

  • Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead

The Republican Party’s policies on health care, the economy, the social safety net, law enforcement and racial issues, and its attitudes toward women, gays and lesbians, and other vulnerable and marginalized groups fit many of these criteria. In their reactionary, revanchist and destructive approach to political community and the commons, modern American conservatives in general also exhibit many sociopathic traits.

Organizations and communities elevate to positions of power those individuals who best embody their values. So it is no coincidence that the Republican Party’s current leader, Donald Trump, exemplifies many of the traits common to sociopaths.

A lack of empathy and an embrace of sociopathy has helped to make the Republican Party in its current form largely exempt from the rules governing “normal politics.” The Republican Party now represents a form of right-wing politics that has more in common with extreme religious fundamentalism than it does with post-Enlightenment rationality. In combination with a compliant American news media, gerrymandering, voter suppression, a highly effective propaganda machine, manipulation of the rules governing procedures in the House and the Senate, and a large conservative base that has been conditioned toward compliance, lies and authoritarianism, the Republican Party will likely maintain control of the United States on a local and state level for the foreseeable future.

The pundit and chattering classes want to believe that the “adults” in the U.S. Senate will stop Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s latest effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act. They also think that Trump’s voters will turn on him once his policies begin to negatively impact them in material and tangible ways.

These so-called experts have little to no credibility: They are the same people who believed that Trump would never be elected president. These supposedly astute observers of the American scene misunderstand this cultural moment because they presume reason and human decency where there is only madness, greed, bigotry, rage, racism, sexism and nihilism. To acknowledge these matters is not to surrender to them. It is necessary, if good and decent human beings who believe in the best of America are to equip themselves to fight back and win.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

New research on why Republicans hate poor and sick people

The “pro-life” party has become the party of death:

New data and the health care debate reveal how Republicans feel about poor people who get sick: They deserve it

The "pro-life" party has become the party of death: New research on why Republicans hate poor and sick people
Trey Gowdy; Paul Ryan; Kevin McCarthy (Credit: AP/Susan Walsh/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Gary Cameron)

On Thursday, Republicans in the House of Representatives will attempt to force through a health care “reform” bill that is likely to leave millions of Americans without health insurance, especially those who suffer from chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It has been estimated that if the Republican Party is successful in eliminating the Affordable Care Act that at least 43,000 Americans a year will die from lack of adequate health care.

The Republican Party is pursuing this policy in order to give millions of dollars in tax cuts to the very rich. President Trump, who is a billionaire, would financially benefit if Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA.

It is abundantly clear that Trump and his party possess a deep disdain for sick people, the poor and other vulnerable members of American society and wish to do them harm.

For example, several days ago Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said this during an interview on CNN:

My understanding is that [the new proposal] will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people — who’ve done things the right way — that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.

These comments are abominable. Does Brooks believe that babies and children with serious illnesses deserve their fate, or that those who have “done the things to keep their bodies healthy” and still develop chronic diseases like cancer have done things the “wrong way”? The Republican Party’s war on the American people and the common good should be condemned by all decent human beings. Any Republicans who vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act should be publicly shamed and voted out of office.

But an important set of questions still remain: Why do Republicans and conservatives have such disdain for the weak, the vulnerable and the sick? Why do they want to kill the “useless eaters?” What does this tell us about how Republicans and conservatives view the world, as well as their relationships and obligations to other human beings?

A new survey from the Pew Research Center offered some helpful insights on these questions:

In assessing why some people are poor, 53% think it is because of circumstances beyond their control, while 34% attribute it to a lack of effort. There has been little change in these opinions in recent years, according to a survey in December.

By about three-to-one (66% to 21%), Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say hard work, rather than a person’s advantages, has more to do with why someone is rich. By nearly as wide a margin, Democrats and Democratic leaners say the opposite: 60% say a person is rich because they had more advantages than others, while just 29% say it is because they have worked harder.

As with many other issues, partisan differences in views of why people are rich and poor have increased in recent years. Since 2014, the share of Republicans who say a person is rich more because they have worked harder than others has risen 12 percentage points, from 54% to 66%. Democrats’ views have shown less change.

This survey from Pew continued:

Republicans are more likely to say the reason someone is poor generally has more to do with of a lack of effort (56%) than circumstances beyond a person’s control (32%). By 71%-19%, more Democrats say that circumstances beyond one’s control are generally more often to blame for why a person is poor. The share of Democrats who link a person being poor to a lack of effort has declined since 2014 (from 29% to 19%).

A belief in the “just world hypothesis” is a unifying theme in Pew’s findings: Republicans and conservatives are more likely to hold the erroneous belief that good things happen to good people and that individuals who suffer disadvantages in life that are out of their control are somehow responsible for their circumstances. The just world hypothesis is a fallacy.

In reality, people exist in a society where their life trajectories are largely determined by impersonal social and political systems. Nevertheless, the just world hypothesis can be compelling. It allows the privileged, the powerful and the rich to rationalize their opportunities: “I earned it! Those people are lazy!” “Good things happen to good people! Those people are immoral and made bad choices unlike me!” “Their problems aren’t my responsibility!”

Pew’s recent findings also demonstrate the enduring power of the Horatio Alger myth and the conception of meritocracy in America society.

The Horatio Alger myth — a belief that hard work and motivation determine success in America — had its origins in a series of dime-store novels written between 1860 and 1899. These absurd stories of success during the Gilded Age were derided and mocked even then by serious social reformers as well as luminaries such as Mark Twain.

The claim that America is a meritocracy, where talent and hard work are more important than good fortune or accidents of birth, goes far back into our history. It was also captured in a famous dystopian short story from 1958 by Michael Young, about a world in which people were constantly evaluated by tests and other means to ensure that the “best” people rose to the top. Of course, this supposed meritocracy was grossly unfair and unequal to the vast majority of citizens.

Social scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that American (and Western) society is extremely hierarchical and that family wealth and income — as well as race and gender — are more important than “hard work” in determining a given individual’s intergenerational class mobility.

Pew’s findings echo in the debate about health care policy, which reflects the belief among Republicans and conservatives that those who seek assistance from society have no right to receive it. If people do not have the resources to provide adequate health for themselves and their families, that’s their own fault. Most important, the sick deserve their illnesses; the healthy and strong have earned their advantages.

Once again, the repeated efforts by the Republican Party to repeal the minimal protections offered by the Affordable Care Act serve to remind us that conservatism is a type of socially motivated cognition that minimizes any sense of human obligation and connection to other people, outside a narrowly defined kin or other peer group.

Today’s version of American conservatism is also a celebration of selfishness — and a belief that true freedom and liberty are based on a perverse individualism with little sense of common decency or linked fate with someone’s fellow citizens. Today’s American conservatism also embraces an extreme form of neoliberalism whereby human worth and dignity are determined by profit-and-loss statements and capitalism and democracy are confused with one another. Ultimately, American conservatism is a value system that is antisocial, anti-democratic and anti-freedom.

There is a moral obligation to speak plainly and directly in a time of crisis. To wit: The Republican Party’s so-called health care reform is designed to kill, injure and bankrupt the poor, the sick and the weak, in order to line the pockets of the 1 percent. As Republicans have repeatedly shown, the supposed “party of life” is actually the “party of death.”

It is long overdue that the American people begin to use this more accurate language to describe the Republican Party, Donald Trump and the right-wing voters who support them. The debate about “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act is not about normal political disagreement or budgetary priorities. It is about who should live and who should die and whether that should reflect how much money you have in your bank account.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.