Trump’s Deadly Narcissism

CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, a majority of Americans believe that Donald Trump is unfit to be president. That’s pretty remarkable. But you have to wonder how much higher the number would be if people really knew what’s going on.

For the trouble with Trump isn’t just what he’s doing, but what he isn’t. In his mind, it’s all about him — and while he’s stroking his fragile ego, basic functions of government are being neglected or worse.

Let’s talk about two stories that might seem separate: the deadly neglect of Puerto Rico, and the ongoing sabotage of American health care. What these stories have in common is that millions of Americans are going to suffer, and hundreds if not thousands die, because Trump and his officials are too self-centered to do their jobs.

Start with the disaster in Puerto Rico and the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.

When Hurricane Maria struck, more than a week ago, it knocked out power to the whole of Puerto Rico, and it will be months before the electricity comes back. Lack of power can be deadly in itself, but what’s even worse is that, thanks largely to the blackout, much of the population still lacks access to drinkable water. How many will die because hospitals can’t function, or because of diseases spread by unsafe water? Nobody knows.

But the situation is terrible, and time is not on Puerto Rico’s side: The longer this goes on, the worse the humanitarian crisis will get. Surely, then, you’d expect bringing in and distributing aid to be the U.S. government’s top priority. After all, we’re talking about the lives of three and a half million of our fellow citizens — more than the population of Iowa or metro San Diego.

So have we seen the kind of full-court, all-out relief effort such a catastrophe demands? No.

Admittedly, it’s hard to quantify the federal response. But none of the extraordinary measures you’d expect to see have materialized.

The deployment of military resources seems to have been smaller and slower than it was in Texas after Harvey or Florida after Irma, even though Puerto Rico’s condition is far more dire. Until Thursday the Trump administration had refused to lift restrictions on foreign shipping to Puerto Rico, even though it had waived those rules for Texas and Florida.

Why? According to the president, “people who work in the shipping industry” don’t like the idea.

Furthermore, although it’s more than a week since Maria made landfall, the Trump administration has yet to submit a request for aid to Congress.

And where’s the leadership? There’s a reason we expect visible focus by the president on major national disasters, including a visit to the affected area as soon as possible (Trump doesn’t plan to visit Puerto Rico until next week). It’s not just theater; it’s a signal about urgent priorities to the rest of the government, and to some extent to the nation at large.

But Trump spent days after Maria’s strike tweeting about football players. When he finally got around to saying something about Puerto Rico, it was to blame the territory for its own problems.

The impression one gets is of a massively self-centered individual who can’t bring himself to focus on other people’s needs, even when that’s the core of his job.

And then there’s health care.

Obamacare repeal has failed again, for the simple reason that Graham-Cassidy, like all the other G.O.P. proposals, was a piece of meanspirited junk. But while the Affordable Care Act survives, the Trump administration is openly trying to sabotage the law’s functioning.

This sabotage is taking place on multiple levels. The administration has refused to confirm whether it will pay crucial subsidies to insurers that cover low-income customers. It has refused to clarify whether the requirement that healthy people buy insurance will be enforced. It has canceled or suspended outreach designed to get more people to sign up.

These actions translate directly into much higher premiums: Insurers don’t know if they’ll be compensated for major costs, and they have every reason to expect a smaller, sicker risk pool than before. And it’s too late to reverse the damage: Insurers are finalizing their 2018 rates as you read this.

Why are the Trumpists doing this? Is it a cynical calculation — make the A.C.A. fail, then claim that it was already doomed? I doubt it. For one thing, we’re not talking about people known for deep strategic calculations. For another, the A.C.A. won’t actually collapse; it will just become a program more focused on sicker, poorer Americans — and the political opposition to repeal won’t go away. Finally, when the bad news comes in, everyone will know whom to blame.

No, A.C.A. sabotage is best seen not as a strategy, but as a tantrum. We can’t repeal Obamacare? Well, then, we’ll screw it up. It’s not about achieving any clear goal, but about salving the president’s damaged self-esteem.

In short, Trump truly is unfit for this or any high office. And the damage caused by his unfitness will just keep growing.

Paul Krugman.

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Frustrated young white men are facing class divisions more than racial divides

Why can’t white supremacists confront the fact that the source of their economic problems are white economic elites?

Why can't white supremacists confront the fact that the source of their economic problems are white economic elites?
(Credit: AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet

There’s no disputing the white anger and rage seen in Charlottesville, even if conservative publications like the National Review say these “angry white boys do not have a political agenda.”

Their anger is real and grievances differ, even if they took the old path of joining mobs spewing racist filth. Yet these white supremacists are blaming the wrong slices of society for their angst.

Racial divides are not what’s plaguing vast stretches of white America — deepening class divides are. If you think about who is to blame, it is mostly powerful white capitalists and their government servants that decimated regional economies in recent decades.

Many Democrats keep saying inequality is the top economic issue, as Eduardo Porter wrote for the New York Times in a piece that recaps the party’s national political agenda. However, the conventional wisdom that Democrats need to “recover the support of the middle-class — people in families earning $50,000 to $150,000, whose vote went to Mr. Trump,” especially in swing states “where three-quarters of voters are white” — is not acknowledging the roots of America’s latest outburst of white supremacy.

“Our economy is in very serious trouble. Ten or fifteen years from now, the standard of living of our average citizen may actually be lower than it is today,” writes Steve Slavin, author of the new book, “The Great American Economy: How Inefficiency Broke It and What We Can Do To Fix It.” “Large swaths of the suburbs will be slums, and tens of millions of Americans will have joined the permanent underclass. There will be three separate Americas — the rich and near rich, an economically downscaled middle and working class, and a very large poor population.”

Slavin cites eight major economic trends, pointing out that almost everyone who is not living in wealthy enclaves — usually coastal cities or inland hubs — is facing a downward spiral that’s been decades in the making. These are the same stretches of suburban and rural America that elected Trump, elected the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, where hate groups are concentrated, and where many of those arrested in Charlottesville come from. They hail from the losing end of the trends Slavin cites and forecasts for the country.

It may very well be that the external circumstances of the whites protesting are “pretty good,” as the National Review’s Kevin Williamson writes, compared to non-white America. That’s even more reason to condemn their visceral rage and hate speech. But as Slavin notes, the national economy and sense of well-being is on a downward slide that accelerated in recent decades.

Those responsible are largely white politicians, white business executives and more recently the graduates of elite business schools — where the curriculum involved outsourcing domestic industries that once allowed people without degrees to prosper.

The culprit here is primarily class — even though race and class are often synonymous. If anything, the downwardly spiraling sections of white America today eerily resemble inner cities in the 1960s, where non-whites called for economic justice. Those urban cores were abandoned after two decades of white flight to the suburbs and manufacturers also leaving.

Here are eight overarching economic trends that Slavin notes have clobbered the middle class, working class and poor.

1. Manufacturing has mostly vanished. Notwithstanding Trump’s announcements that a few companies based overseas are returning, factory jobs have largely disappeared from the interior of America, where from World War II through the 1980s they anchored cities and counties.

2. Many cities have fallen into decline. Starting after WWII, the government and industry promoted suburbia, abandoning scores of cities to the mostly non-white poor. Detroit’s carmakers bought and dismantled public transit. That led to today’s costly transportation needs with a nation of commuters paying a lot for private vehicles, gas and insurance and spending hours away from home.

3. Health care costs have left wages frozen. Average wages have not seen increases, after being adjusted for inflation, for decades. A big part of the reason is businesses that provide health insurance have to keep paying more to insurers rather than employees. Meanwhile, insurers keep finding ways to draw on what’s left in people’s pockets.

4. Public education is vastly underfunded. Suburban schools in wealthy enclaves might be fine, but nationally half of high school graduates are not at the same level as graduates of other countries and their better achieving peers. That forecloses opportunity.

5. The government is not reinvesting in America. This is not simply about neglected roads and bridges. The U.S. government supports a beyond bloated military industrial complex that accounts for 40 percent of global spending on weapons. This may be domestic spending, but it is not spending on domestic needs.

6. The criminal justice system is bloated. Here too, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any industrialized nation; a predatory system that targets lower-income people and creates taxpayer-funded private police forces.

7. The make-work private sector’s useless jobs. This isn’t just the growth of service industries, but “more than 15 million Americans hold jobs that do not produce any useful goods or services,” such as bill collectors, telemarketers, sales reps paid on commission, etc., Slavin writes.

8. The bloated financial sector. This is Wall Street’s diversion of savings from productive investments to speculative ventures, where money is made from tracking the movement of other assets or the public is sold repackaged securities that generate fees.

In every one of these eight areas, wealthy whites in positions of power and privilege have made decisions that collectively have set the country on the path to today’s downward economic spiral. Right after World War II, the federal government would not lend money to black veterans to buy homes in newly expanding suburbs. They gave real estate investors like Fred Trump, the president’s father, money to build what became urban housing projects where many occupants were non-white renters.

There were not many non-white executives in Detroit when the auto industry acted to destroy public transit systems. There were not many non-whites on corporate boards in the 1980s, when the first wave of moving manufacturing abroad hit. The business schools minting sought-after MBAs were teaching predominantly white students to take operations to countries where labor was cheaper, or extolling the virtues of businesses like Walmart that decimated entire Main Streets across small-town America.

The list goes on and a pattern emerges — a class division, more so than race — which has deepened and afflicts America today. As Slavin writes, “Perhaps the most persuasive indicator of our nation’s economic decline is that millennials are on track to be the first generation in our nation’s history to be poorer than its parents’ generation. In January 2017, CNBC reported, ‘With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated, according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.’”

The Young Invincibles are a progressive group concerned about health care, higher education, workforce and finance, and civic engagement. But their name could also be used to describe the belligerent attitude of the white marchers in Charlottesville.

As Williamson writes derisively in the conservative National Review, “What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians—may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis.”

But Williamson only hints at what they seem to want — and it’s exactly what Slavin nails. These angry whites are being bypassed by structural changes in the economy that are narrowing their options. Needless to say, most people in dire straits do not embrace violence and racism. But it seems the heart of their grievances appear to be based on class frustrations, not race. If the white marchers want to blame someone, they ought to point their fingers at the wealthy whites on Wall Street and in Washington.

 

Salon

Trump is the ultimate fulfillment of consumer capitalism

Trump embodies the triumph of spectacle over reality more than any previous president, but he’s no anomaly

As Donald Trump’s inability to govern has become increasingly evident over the past six months, the White House has essentially transitioned into a full-blown reality TV show, with enough melodrama and petty infighting to fill several seasons worth of primetime network television.

The president, it seems, has given up all pretense of sanity as his administration has spiraled out of control. He now appears to approach his current job of running the United States government in the same way that he approached his career as a reality TV star. Top officials in the Trump administration have become virtual contestants, vying for the affection of their capricious boss and hoping he won’t mention their names in his next unhinged Twitter rant.

This transition into an dysfunctional reality TV show came to a head two weeks ago, when the president hired Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci, the cartoonish and vainglorious Wall Street investor, as his communications director. Like a fame-hungry contestant on “The Apprentice,” the foul-mouthed financier wasted no time in marking his territory and attacking his fellow sycophants, calling then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic,” while threatening to fire his entire staff.

By the end of his first week, Priebus had been forced out, Scaramucci’s wife had filed for divorce, and then, on Monday, “The Mooch” himself was eliminated from the Trumpian Thunderdome also known as the White House.

As all this drama unfolded, Trump’s agenda took yet another blow with the implosion of the Republican health care bill in the Senate, leaving the president with no major policy achievement to speak of in his first six months in office. Though Trump has repeatedly claimed to have accomplished more than any of his predecessors in his first months in office, the truth is that he has overseen the most incompetent and amateurish administration in modern history. As Ryan Cooper recently put it in The Week, “the hapless incompetence of this administration is virtually impossible to exaggerate.”

The president’s first six months have confirmed what many people already knew: Trump’s image as a savvy and smart businessman with an extraordinary deal-making ability is a complete sham: the president didn’t know the first thing about running a government when he ran for office. The New York billionaire (if he is indeed a billionaire) has spent his entire adult life carefully cultivating his image as a masterful deal-maker and builder, plastering his name onto anything and everything (including many properties that he does not own) and greatly exaggerating his net worth. Trump has always been more spectacle than substance, and like a used car salesman rolling back the odometers, he made countless promises during his campaign (he would repeal and replace Obamacare “on day one,” for instance) without any real plan on how to fulfill these promises. Just like his career, Trump’s campaign was all spectacle, no substance.

Not surprisingly, then, as Trump’s true nature has become more apparent and his incompetence on full display, the spectacle surrounding his White House has only grown more outrageous. Like a Ponzi-scheme operator whose promised returns become more ridiculously bullish as investors flee and the coffers drain, the president’s rhetoric has become more grandiose and detached from reality as his presidency has gone off the rails. One can expect the circus to grow more preposterous still as the Trump administration continues to implode.

For many Americans, the spectacle will always be enough; whether or not Trump is ever successful in terms of policy, the image he projects on television screens will continue to convince millions. It is comforting to think of our reality TV president and his political rise as some kind of anomaly, but that’s not true. Donald Trump is a product of late capitalism, and the spectacle will continue to dominate in a world where all aspects of life have been commodified and each person has become just another customer.

In his classic work “The Society of the Spectacle,” published 50 years ago, French theorist Guy Debord expounded on what he called the “spectacular society,” in which the modern capitalist mode of production “presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.” The society of the spectacle, postulated the founder of the political-artistic collective known as the Situationist International, had developed over the 20th century with the rise of mass media and the commodity’s “colonization of social life.”

“Understood on its own terms,” wrote Debord in his aphoristic style, “the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance . . . In all its specific manifestations — news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment — the spectacle epitomizes the prevailing model of social life.”

Half a century after Debord published his influential treatise, the society of the spectacle has given rise to a president who epitomizes the prevailing model of social life, where appearances often predominate over reality.

“In a world that really has been turned on its head,” observed Debord, “truth is a moment of falsehood.” One could be forgiven for assuming that he was describing our world today.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Chomsky: How the U.S. Developed Such a Scandalous Health System

NEWS & POLITICS

It all started after World War II, but now public support for universal health care is higher than ever.

By C.J. Polychroniou / Truthout

August 3, 2017, 10:15 AM GMT

Noam Chomsky discusses the recent climate agreement between the US and China, the rise of the Islamic State and the movement in Ferguson against racism and police violence.
Photo Credit: screen grab via GRITtv

In a new book of Truthout interviews, Noam Chomsky discusses capitalism, US imperialism, Black Lives Matter, the refugee crisis and cracks in the European Union, the dysfunctional US electoral system, the climate crisis and more. Order Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change today with a donation to Truthout!

In the following excerpt, originally published at Truthout in January 2017, shortly before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Chomsky discusses the historical and political factors that have created and maintained such a shamefully profit-driven health system in the United States.

C.J. Polychroniou: Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) states that the right to health care is indeed a human right. Yet, it is estimated that close to 30 million Americans remain uninsured even with the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in place. What are some of the key cultural, economic and political factors that make the US an outlier in the provision of free health care?

Noam Chomsky: First, it is important to remember that the US does not accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — though in fact the UDHR was largely the initiative of Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the commission that drafted its articles, with quite broad international participation.

The UDHR has three components, which are of equal status: civil-political, socioeconomic and cultural rights. The US formally accepts the first of the three, though it has often violated its provisions. The US pretty much disregards the third. And to the point here, the US has officially and strongly condemned the second component, socioeconomic rights, including Article 25.

Opposition to Article 25 was particularly vehement in the Reagan and Bush I years. Paula Dobriansky, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in these administrations, dismissed the “myth” that “‘economic and social rights constitute human rights,” as the UDHR declares. She was following the lead of Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who ridiculed the myth as “little more than an empty vessel into which vague hopes and inchoate expectations can be poured.” Kirkpatrick thus joined Soviet Ambassador Andrei Vyshinsky, who agreed that it was a mere “collection of pious phrases.” The concepts of Article 25 are “preposterous” and even a “dangerous incitement,” according to ambassador Morris Abram, the distinguished civil rights attorney who was US Representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights under Bush I, casting the sole veto of the UN Right to Development, which closely paraphrased Article 25 of the UDHR. The Bush II administration maintained the tradition by voting alone to reject a UN resolution on the right to food and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (the resolution passed 52-1).

Rejection of Article 25, then, is a matter of principle. And also a matter of practice. In the OECD ranking of social justice, the US is in twenty-seventh place out of thirty-one, right above Greece, Chile, Mexico and Turkey. This is happening in the richest country in world history, with incomparable advantages. It was quite possibly already the richest region in the world in the eighteenth century.

In extenuation of the Reagan-Bush-Vyshinsky alliance on this matter, we should recognize that formal support for the UDHR is all too often divorced from practice.

US dismissal of the UDHR in principle and practice extends to other areas. Take labor rights. The US has failed to ratify the first principle of the International Labour Organization Convention, which endorses “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise.” An editorial comment in the American Journal of International Law refers to this provision of the International Labour Organization Convention as “the untouchable treaty in American politics.” US rejection is guarded with such fervor, the report continues, that there has never even been any debate about the matter. The rejection of International Labour Organization Conventions contrasts dramatically with the fervor of Washington’s dedication to the highly protectionist elements of the misnamed “free trade agreements,” designed to guarantee monopoly pricing rights for corporations (“intellectual property rights”), on spurious grounds. In general, it would be more accurate to call these “investor rights agreements.”

Comparison of the attitude toward elementary rights of labor and extraordinary rights of private power tells us a good deal about the nature of American society.

Furthermore, US labor history is unusually violent. Hundreds of US workers were being killed by private and state security forces in strike actions, practices unknown in similar countries. In her history of American labor, Patricia Sexton — noting that there are no serious studies — reports an estimate of seven hundred strikers killed and thousands injured from 1877 to 1968, a figure which, she concludes, may “grossly understate the total casualties.” In comparison, one British striker was killed since 1911.

As struggles for freedom gained victories and violent means became less available, business turned to softer measures, such as the “scientific methods of strike breaking” that have become a leading industry. In much the same way, the overthrow of reformist governments by violence, once routine, has been displaced by “soft coups” such as the recent coup in Brazil, though the former options are still pursued when possible, as in Obama’s support for the Honduran military coup in 2009, in near isolation. Labor remains relatively weak in the US in comparison to similar societies. It is constantly battling even for survival as a significant organized force in the society, under particularly harsh attack since the Reagan years.

All of this is part of the background for the US departure in health care from the norm of the OECD, and even less privileged societies. But there are deeper reasons why the US is an “outlier” in health care and social justice generally. These trace back to unusual features of American history. Unlike other developed state capitalist industrial democracies, the political economy and social structure of the United States developed in a kind of tabula rasa. The expulsion or mass killing of Indigenous nations cleared the ground for the invading settlers, who had enormous resources and ample fertile lands at their disposal, and extraordinary security for reasons of geography and power. That led to the rise of a society of individual farmers, and also, thanks to slavery, substantial control of the product that fueled the industrial revolution: cotton, the foundation of manufacturing, banking, commerce, retail for both the United States and Britain, and less directly, other European societies. Also relevant is the fact that the country has actually been at war for 500 years with little respite, a history that has created “the richest, most powerful and ultimately most militarized nation in world history,” as scholar Walter Hixson has documented.

For similar reasons, American society lacked the traditional social stratification and autocratic political structure of Europe, and the various measures of social support that developed unevenly and erratically. There has been ample state intervention in the economy from the outset — dramatically in recent years — but without general support systems.

As a result, US society is, to an unusual extent, business-run, with a highly class-conscious business community dedicated to “the everlasting battle for the minds of men.” The business community is also set on containing or demolishing the “political power of the masses,” which it deems as a serious “hazard to industrialists” (to sample some of the rhetoric of the business press during the New Deal years, when the threat to the overwhelming dominance of business power seemed real).

Here is yet another anomaly about US health care: According to data by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US spends far more on health care than most other advanced nations, yet Americans have poor health outcomes and are plagued by chronic illnesses at higher rates than the citizens of other advanced nations. Why is that?

US health care costs are estimated to be about twice the OECD average, with rather poor outcomes by comparative standards. Infant mortality, for example, is higher in the United States than in Cuba, Greece and the EU generally, according to CIA figures.

As for reasons, we can return to the more general question of social justice comparisons, but there are special reasons in the health care domain. To an unusual extent, the US health care system is privatized and unregulated. Insurance companies are in the business of making money, not providing health care, and when they undertake the latter, it is likely not to be in the best interests of patients or to be efficient. Administrative costs are far greater in the private component of the health care system than in Medicare, which itself suffers by having to work through the private system.

Comparisons with other countries reveal much more bureaucracy and higher administrative costs in the US privatized system than elsewhere. One study of the United States and Canada a decade ago, by medical researcher Steffie Woolhandler and associates, found enormous disparities, and concluded that “Reducing U.S. administrative costs to Canadian levels would save at least $209 billion annually, enough to fund universal coverage.” Another anomalous feature of the US system is the law banning the government from negotiating drug prices, which leads to highly inflated prices in the United States as compared with other countries. That effect is magnified considerably by the extreme patent rights accorded to the pharmaceutical industry in “trade agreements,” enabling monopoly profits. In a profit-driven system, there are also incentives for expensive treatments rather than preventive care, as strikingly in Cuba, with remarkably efficient and effective health care.

Why aren’t Americans demanding — not simply expressing a preference for in survey polls — access to a universal health care system?

They are indeed expressing a preference, over a long period. Just to give one telling illustration, in the late Reagan years 70 percent of the adult population thought that health care should be a constitutional guarantee, and 40 percent thought it already was in the Constitution since it is such an obviously legitimate right. Poll results depend on wording and nuance, but they have quite consistently, over the years, shown strong and often large majority support for universal health care — often called “Canadian-style,” not because Canada necessarily has the best system, but because it is close by and observable. The early ACA proposals called for a “public option.” It was supported by almost two-thirds of the population, but was dropped without serious consideration, presumably as part of a compact with financial institutions. The legislative bar to government negotiation of drug prices was opposed by 85 percent, also disregarded — again, presumably, to prevent opposition by the pharmaceutical giants. The preference for universal health care is particularly remarkable in light of the fact that there is almost no support or advocacy in sources that reach the general public and virtually no discussion in the public domain.

The facts about public support for universal health care receive the occasional comment, in an interesting way. When running for president in 2004, Democrat John Kerry, the New York Times reported, “took pains… to say that his plan for expanding access to health insurance would not create a new government program,” because “there is so little political support for government intervention in the health care market in the United States.” At the same time, polls in the Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, the Washington Post and other media found overwhelming public support for government guarantees to everyone of “the best and most advanced health care that technology can supply.”

But that is only public support. The press reported correctly that there was little “political support” and that what the public wants is “politically impossible” — a polite way of saying that the financial and pharmaceutical industries will not tolerate it, and in American democracy, that’s what counts.

Returning to your question, it raises a crucial question about American democracy: Why isn’t the population “demanding” what it strongly prefers? Why is it allowing concentrated private capital to undermine necessities of life in the interests of profit and power? The “demands” are hardly utopian. They are commonly satisfied elsewhere, even in sectors of the US system. Furthermore, the demands could readily be implemented even without significant legislative breakthroughs. For example, by steadily reducing the age for entry to Medicare.

The question directs our attention to a profound democratic deficit in an atomized society, lacking the kind of popular associations and organizations that enable the public to participate in a meaningful way in determining the course of political, social and economic affairs. These would crucially include a strong and participatory labor movement and actual political parties growing from public deliberation and participation instead of the elite-run candidate-producing groups that pass for political parties. What remains is a depoliticized society in which a majority of voters (barely half the population even in the super-hyped presidential elections, much less in others) are literally disenfranchised, in that their representatives disregard their preferences while effective decision-making lies largely in the hands of tiny concentrations of wealth and corporate power, as study after study reveals.

The prevailing situation reminds us of the words of America’s leading twentieth-century social philosopher, John Dewey, much of whose work focused on democracy and its failures and promise. Dewey deplored the domination by “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda” and recognized that “Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,” even if democratic forms remain. Until those institutions are in the hands of the public, he continued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

This was not a voice from the marginalized far left, but from the mainstream of liberal thought.

Turning finally to your question again, a rather general answer, which applies in its specific way to contemporary western democracies, was provided by David Hume over 250 years ago, in his classic study Of the First Principles of Government. Hume found nothing more surprising than to see the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and to observe the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is brought about, we shall find, that as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. ‘Tis therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.

Implicit submission is not imposed by laws of nature or political theory. It is a choice, at least in societies such as ours, which enjoys the legacy provided by the struggles of those who came before us. Here power is indeed “on the side of the governed,” if they organize and act to gain and exercise it. That holds for health care and for much else.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

 

C.J. Polychroniou is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He is the author of several books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of publications.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/noam-chomsky-united-states-health-system-scandalous?akid=15940.265072.79gE2c&rd=1&src=newsletter1080585&t=15

Bernie Sanders brilliantly responds to President Trump’s threat of stripping Congress’ health insurance

The Democratic socialist says all Americans should have the same health care that members of Congress have

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders turned the table on President Donald Trump in an interview with Jake Tapper Sunday, pointing out that he ironically agreed with the commander in chief on one issue of health care.

To start the interview, Tapper asked Sanders what he thought of Trump’s threat to revoke lawmakers’ health insurance. Members of Congress receive gold-level Obamacare policies that are largely subsidized by the government.

Sanders pushed his universal health-care agenda in his response to the question.

“I would turn that around a little bit and say to the president of Unite States that, yes, every single American, in every state of this country, should be able to get the health care that members of Congress have,” the senator from Vermont said.

Sanders did not mince his words when it came to Trump’s cynical plan to defeat Obamacare by undermining the exchanges and driving insurers out of the markets.

“It’s incomprehensible that we have a president of the United States who wants to sabotage health care in America, make life more difficult for millions of people struggling now to get their health insurance that they need,” Sanders said.

“Maybe the president should stop his tweeting for a while and understand that America today is the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people and the solution is not to throw tens of millions of people off of health insurance,” he added.

Sanders suggested that Congress returns to regular order, so that they can come up with solutions to make the health care system in America better. He said that there should be a public option available for all Americans.

 

Trumpcare is dead, at least for now: But the health care fight will never end

McConnell-Ryan health plan collapses as conservatives bolt — but progressives have no victory to celebrate

It appears that the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is dead, at least for now. Donald Trump’s unrealistic, grandiose promise will go unfulfilled.

That didn’t work out. After weeks of prevarication and misdirection on the part of people like Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who went on TV last weekend and blatantly lied about the effects of the Senate health care bill, on Monday night two GOP senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, pulled the plug by saying they could not vote for it. Added to the previously announced no votes of Sens. Susan Collins and Rand Paul, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now at least two short. He has admitted that this bill will not pass.

We’ve been here before, of course. The first House bill was pulled and they came back and passed an even worse version. This may not end the way everyone seems to assume it will either.

Both Trump and McConnell acknowledged that the Senate’s BCRA is dead and signaled their support for a “full repeal plus two-year delay until they figure out what the hell is going on” plan. It is not impossible that they could put something else together.

After all, the reasons three of the four senators gave for their unwillingness to pass the bill is that it just wasn’t harsh enough. Repeal and replace with nothing would undoubtedly make them quite happy. That would leave the handful of Republican moderates in the Senate having to do something only Collins has so far been willing to do: take a stand for decency. Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all said that they won’t vote to deny people health insurance. But there’s always a chance they can be appeased with the two-year delay and a fatuous promise to fix everything before then. Nobody should relax until it’s clear that this is all well and truly dead.

This repeal-and-delay plan was originally proposed back at the beginning of the year but faced a huge uproar, mostly from the health care industry, which cannot run its businesses with this kind of uncertainty about the financing, rules and regulations under which they must operate. A handful of senators balked at the time, including Bob Corker of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who said, “I don’t think we can repeal Obamacare and say we’re going to get the answer two years from now.” Both Paul and Collins were against it too, as were many of the Republican governors who also have to plan their budgets.

But what really scared them off that time was public opinion. Only 20 percent of Americans were in favor of repeal-and-delay five months ago. It’s hard to imagine that after they’ve seen what kind of horrendous plans the Republicans tried to ram through the Congress they’ll be more favorably disposed today. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans prefer Democrats to handle health care by 55 to 36 percent.

The Republican leadership exemplified by House Speaker Paul Ryan thought they had come up with a clever way to have their cake and eat it too. If they could repeal the Affordable Care Act and then take their big victory lap, that might satisfy their base that they were getting things done — after which they could pretend they were creating some kind of “new” health care system that would kick in gradually. The simple fact was that they had no idea how to cover the people who are currently covered under the ACA and they knew it. Their best hope was to ease people back into their previous anxiety and despair and blame Obamacare for it.

Donald Trump has said many times that he believes the best political move would be to keep Obamacare in place and help it fail, so he and his party could blame the Democrats. If Republicans can drag this out a couple of years and guilt Democratic lawmakers into signing on to some inadequate Band-aids in order to spare a few lives, that would really be sweet.

It will also be sweet for the Democrats when they run ads against every House Republican who voted for that AHCA atrocity under the assurance that they would “fix it in the Senate.” If the Democrats do manage to eke out a new House majority it will be the health care albatross that brings down the GOP. They can name him Donald.

But whether Republicans manage to push through repeal-and-delay or just drop it altogether, liberals and progressives need to reckon with the fact that this is not the end. There will never be an end.

Republicans have been trying to destroy the American safety net for decades. They’ve been hostile to Medicare and Medicaid since the day they were passed. They’ve been running against Social Security for 82 years. (They just tried to privatize it in 2005!) They will never stop attacking the ACA either.

This isn’t just about profits or ” free markets.” Consider that this Senate bill was opposed by all the so-called stakeholders: the insurance companies, the hospitals, doctors and even big business. It still has 48 out of 52 votes in the Senate. Conservatives simply do not believe that people have a right to health care. They see it as a commodity like any other, something which you should not have if you cannot pay for it.

By way of crude illustration, recall when libertarian godhead Rep. Ron Paul ran for president in 2008. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him during a debate what an uninsured man who  became catastrophically ill and needed intensive care for six months should do. Paul replied, “What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody …” The audience then erupted into cheers, cutting off Paul’s sentence. Blitzer followed up by asking “Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” Members of the audience clapped and shouted “Yeah!”

Or there was this remarkable moment from an Obamacare town hall in 2009:

The sainted Ronald Reagan made his name speaking out against “socialized medicine” for years, memorably warning that if the government passed Medicare, we were all “going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Nobody who believes that human beings have a right to a government guarantee of health care, security in their old age and society’s support should they be unable to work should ever rest on their laurels. Those who don’t agree will never stop trying to take those things away.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Trump rejects his poll numbers as fake news — but even his voters are starting to notice the scam

Even voters who bought into Trump’s reputation as tough-talking deal-maker are starting to glimpse the truth

Stressed and agitated about all the “fake news” about Russia and his son’s legal predicament, not to mention the ongoing train-wreck of his legislative agenda, Donald Trump decided to spend the weekend watching and tweeting about the U.S. Women’s Open tournament at his New Jersey golf club. It had to make him feel a little better, since the profits from these golf properties go into his own pocket.

According to this report from McClatchy’s Anita Kumar, Trump is unique in that respect even as a business owner, much less a president of the United States — who would normally be assumed to be too busy to make personal appearances for publicity at his profit-making businesses virtually every week.

Trump’s Twitter feed indicated he was having a nice time, at least until the Washington Post unveiled its new poll numbers:

The ABC/Washington Post Poll, even though almost 40% is not bad at this time, was just about the most inaccurate poll around election time

That was a nice try, but the poll showed that Trump is actually at a 36 percentapproval rating, which is the lowest rating of any president at this point in his presidency since Harry Truman. He is down six points from his 100-day mark; his disapproval rating is at 58 percent, with 48 percent “strongly disapproving” — levels never reached by Bill Clinton or Barack Obama and only reached in George W. Bush’s second term. He can tweet that it’s not bad all he wants, but it’s bad.

And it has to be mentioned that for all the right’s yammering about the election polls being wrong, they actually weren’t. The national average on the day before the election showed Hillary Clinton winning by a 3.5 percent margin, and she won the national popular vote by about 2 percent — easily within the margin of error. People were shocked on election night because they just couldn’t believe that he’d pulled off a weird inside straight in the electoral college, not because the polls had been rigged against him, which seems to be an article of faith among his faithful followers.

In any case, this poll shows that Trump is slipping badly with independent voters, 38 percent of whom approved of his leadership back in April. Only 32 percent are behind him now. Democrats aren’t even worth counting at 11 percent. Yes, Republicans are still in his corner for the most part: Eighty-four percent approved of him in April and 82 percent approve now. Experts suggest that a president is in real trouble when approval among his own party dips below 80 percent, and that hasn’t happened yet.

One of the most astonishing results in the poll regards the Russia scandal. Six in 10 Americans believe the Russian government tried to influence the election while 31 percent don’t think it happened and 9 percent are unsure. Sixty percent of the public believe it happened, and 67 percent of those people think the Trump campaign was complicit.

But here’s the weird number:

The number of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who think that the Russians sought to influence the election, and that the Trump team intentionally helped them, has fallen from 18 percent in April to 9 percent now, indicating even stiffer GOP resistance to the idea. Among leaned Democrats it’s gone from 60 to 64 percent, not a significant shift.

The more Republicans hear about it, the less they believe it happened. And we aren’t just talking about Trump true believers. This is all Republicans, even ones who held their noses to voted for him. Considering the information we have, it would be fair to say “we don’t know what really happen,ed” but for Republicans to think there’s less evidence today than there was three months ago is bizarre.

Still, a majority of Americans (52 to 37 percent) think Trump is interfering in the investigation and 63 percent think Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with someone he believed was from the Russian government, in hopes of collecting dirt on Hillary Clinton, was inappropriate. So there’s that.

While the Russia scandal may inform people’s views of Trump’s leadership, it’s his own behavior on the world stage that has 48 percent of the country believing that U.S. global leadership is weaker since Trump was inaugurated. Only 27 percent think it’s gotten stronger. That was supposed to be his big selling point — his unique talent for making deals with foreign leaders. But only a little over one-third trust Trump in any negotiations with foreign countries.

Fifty-five percent say that Trump is not making much progress on his goals, which is probably a relief to most of them, particularly when it comes to health care. That GOP bill continues to be about as popular as E. coli: Only 24 percent support it. More troubling for Trump and the GOP is that they’ve lost older voters and white women without college degrees on this issue. Older voters vote in midterm elections, and women without college degrees make up a large portion of the population that will be affected by the possible loss of health care. They might just vote in larger than usual numbers too.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll will be released later this week, but they teased their results with one interesting observation: Trump’s base may finally be eroding a bit. They sampled voters in counties that either flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 or where Trump did much better than Mitt Romney, and found that Trump’s support is slipping.

In those counties where Trump did much better than Romney, he beat Hillary Clinton by a combined 65 to 29 percent. Today he’s down to 56 percent approval. In the counties that flipped to Trump from Obama, the president’s approval rating is just 44 percent. He won those overall with 51 percent last November.

All of these numbers are dismal for the president. The big question is the reasoning behind it. Gallup has some answers. It’s not so much that people disagree on issues, which isn’t all that surprising since Trump is all over the map on those. Sixty-five percent of people who disapprove of his performance in office say it’s because of his character, personality and competency, specifically criticizing his bad temperament, arrogance, obnoxiousness, lack of experience, selfishness, racism and sexism, lack of knowledge, wishy-washiness and use of social media.

Certainly one can assume that Democrats, at least, are hostile to Trump’s stands on issues as well, but because of his bad character and incompetence they don’t feel that anything he says on the issues one way or the other is trustworthy. That’s his problem: Donald Trump is demonstrating his unfitness for the job, right out there for everyone to see, every single day.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.