Golden State sets the standard for resistance to Trump agenda

California’s big pushback:

Attorney General Xavier Becerra and progressive legislators are fighting back against the Trump agenda

California's big pushback: Golden State sets the standard for resistance to Trump agenda
Donald Trump; Xavier Becerra (Credit: AP/Alex Brandon/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

After Donald Trump’s shocking meltdown on Tuesday afternoon, it’s even clearer that progressives need effective strategies to blunt the effect of having a conspiracy-theory-driven, racist authoritarian in the Oval Office, backed by a congressional majority that is still too afraid to offer meaningful checks on his worst behavior. The good news is that some of the nation’s biggest cities and states remain controlled by Democrats. Activists and politicians in those states are looking for meaningful ways to throw wrenches in the Trump agenda.

At the top of that list is California, which not only has the largest population of any state but is controlled by progressive Democrats (relatively speaking) who seem ready and eager to fight Trump, especially on the issues of climate change and immigration. (New York is the next biggest state controlled by Democrats, but intra-party warfare has crippled the ability of progressives to get much done.)

California fired a significant shot across the bow at Trump on Monday, when state Attorney General Xavier Becerra declared that the state would sue the Trump administration over threats to withdraw law enforcement grants if the local and state police refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to deport immigrants. The lawsuit will be joined with an earlier one filed by the city of San Francisco.

“It’s a low blow to our men and women who wear the badge, for the federal government to threaten their crime-fighting resources in order to force them to do the work of the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement,” Becerra said during a press conference announcing the suit. California received $28 million in law enforcement grants from the federal government this year, money it could lose if the police prioritize actual crime-fighting over federal demands that they focus their resources on deporting people.

“The government’s plan for deporting millions of people in this country is to coerce local law enforcement to be their force-multipliers,” explained Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the ACLU of California.

Pasquarella noted that most deportations currently occur because of an encounter with local law enforcement. By resisting pressure to step up efforts to persecute undocumented immigrants, she said, California can make it safe for people to “access basic services that are vital to our state and communities without fear of deportation, like schools and hospitals and libraries and health clinics.”

Some Democrats in the state are trying to take this idea even further, backing SB 54, titled the California Values Act. According to The Los Angeles Times, the bill would prohibit “state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.”

While SB 54 is still being worked over in the legislature, California has already made progress in resisting the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal Obama-era actions to fight climate change. In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill extending a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions until 2030. The bill passed by a two-thirds majority in both the State Assembly and Senate.

Many environmentalist groups have come out against the bill, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Still, compared to the federal government’s evident retreat, it’s progress in the right direction. California has the largest state economy in the country, and demonstrating that climate action does not have to undermine economic growth could go a long way towards convincing other states to take similar action. This, in turn, could help the country meet the goals set by the Paris Accords, defying Trump’s efforts to pull the United States out of the historic climate change agreement.

This strategy to resist right-wing policies and protect California residents predates Trump, to be clear. While much of the country was experiencing an unprecedented rollback of reproductive rights — with numerous red states passing alarming new abortion restrictions while anti-choice activists fought insurance coverage of contraception in the courts — California moved to make birth control and abortion easier and safer to get.

In 2013, responding to research showing that abortions provided by nurse practitioners and midwives are safe, Brown signed a law giving those groups authority to offer abortion services. Brown has also signed off on three provisions to make it easier for women to get birth control: Letting pharmacists dispense it without a doctor’s prescription, requiring that health care plans cover contraception without a co-pay, and allowing women to get a full year’s worth of birth-control pills at a time.

These policies were already in place before Trump’s election, but they are all the more necessary now that the president is backing conservative efforts to make contraception more expensive and harder to get. It has also helped create a model for progressive cities and states to resist reactionary policies pushed by the federal government, which is already inspiring Democrats in other states. Chicago, for instance, is also suing the federal government over the threat to sanctuary cities.

There’s a deep philosophical irony here, because for decades now conservatives have claimed they wanted to reduce the power of the federal government and hand more decision-making authority to the states. That was always a disingenuous pose, of course. This conservative “principle” was largely invented to justify state resistance to Supreme Court decisions and federal legislation legalizing abortion, desegregating schools and protecting voting rights.

Still, it’s nice to see states like California calling the Republican bluff and showing that their supposed devotion to “small government” dries up the second states and cities move to protect human rights, instead of to attack them. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has always held himself out to be a small-government conservative, for instance. But his reaction to state and local officials who claim the power to set law enforcement priorities for themselves has been to accuse those officials of being law-breakers. This hypocrisy is already obvious, and it may soon be exposed in court.

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

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

Donald Trump hasn’t just tolerated this upsurge of fascist violence — he enabled and encouraged it.

A white nationalist demonstrator walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

 

It’s a dark moment for America — and our president personally made this possible

Now is an era of sadness and despair in America. Not only have right-wing extremists and Nazis, mostly composed of deeply entitled and privileged young white men, marched openly in our streets, pushing well beyond free speech by committing acts of deadly violence and terror against counter-protesters, but it’s become abundantly clear that our chief executive — the president of the United States — is both an enabler and a sympathizer of their lost cause.

There have been many occasions throughout the past two years when Donald Trump has made me embarrassed to call myself an American. There is his disgraceful and unpresidential behavior, often made obvious multiple times daily. There is the disturbing reality that he’s been politically successful both despite and because of his erratic bullying, which is not reflective of a strong leader but rather a fledgling authoritarian, ignorant bigot and amoral toddler.

On Saturday, however, Trump revealed himself to be far worse, given his barely unspoken, between-the-lines support for white supremacist goon squads and, yes, Nazi terrorists inside our national borders, marching in our streets.

It was bad enough that Trump has surrounded himself with “alt-right” white supremacists like Sebastian Gorka, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. It was bad enough that Trump constructed his entire political message around a racist dog-whistle, appealing explicitly to the “forgotten men and women” of America. (There was little mystery about what color they were.) It was bad enough that throughout his campaign and presidency so far, Trump has pandered to aggrieved white people angry about Black Lives Matter and the first black president, while he simultaneously demonized nonwhites, be they immigrants or citizens. And then, in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday, he vindicated all our suspicions with the most atrocious presidential remarks delivered in generations.

While victims of the graphic, horrifying terror attack in Charlottesville were still covered in freshly drawn blood, including and especially the late Heather Heyer, the president meekly denounced the “hatred, bigotry and violence” of the day. By itself, that would have been passable. The president instead decided to add his own apparently improvised qualifier: “on many sides, on many sides.”

In other words, the white supremacist who rammed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters, killing Heyer and injuring 19 others, is on the same level as the counter-protesters who didn’t kill or severely injure anyone that day. This according to your president, the ironically dubbed “leader of the free world.” The president’s “many sides” line also appeared to link the deadly Charlottesville terrorist attack with Black Lives Matter protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and other activists who, again, haven’t engaged in any acts of terror whatsoever nor are linked in any way to the Holocaust and other atrocities of World War II.

Making matters worse, the president refused to condemn the Nazis and white supremacists who assembled in the name of defending, in this case violently, the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville and — perhaps more importantly for them — expressing their perceived grievances in an age of broadening equality and civil rights. Again, it’s worth repeating: The president refused to condemn Nazis — actual, self-identified neo-Nazis with their snappy World War II German cosplayer regalia, their matching Nazi helmets, their khaki slacks and their combat boots.

We know exactly why Trump refused to say what so many other prominent Republicans and Democrats said in response. We know that Trump performs exclusively to his base. No one else matters beyond those represented best by his googly-eyed rally-attending disciples. These are people who largely do not identify as racists or Nazis, but who seem perfectly comfortable sticking it to perceived outsiders as well as the liberal benefactors of those “others.” We know that Trump has no problem with relentlessly blasting his enemies, yet neo-Nazis and white supremacists are somehow off limits.

Indeed, the only people Trump consistently refuses to condemn are Nazis, such as the Unite the Right goons in Charlottesville, and authoritarians such as President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, and, of course, Vladimir Putin. Trump was perfectly comfortable comparing the American intelligence community with “Nazi Germany” a few months back, but he defiantly refused to condemn the actual Nazis marching in his backyard, 90 minutes south of the White House.

Trump was more than happy to attack his own attorney general and his own party’s Senate leader. He condemned war hero John McCain. He repeatedly condemned the judges of the Ninth Circuit. Hell, Trump condemned both “Saturday Night Live” and Nordstrom. But he’s afraid to condemn despots like Putin or the Nazis who attacked American citizens in Charlottesville. Why? I think we know the answer.

By now you’ve probably seen the shocking video of the organizer of the Unite the Right gathering, Jason Kessler, being chased away by antifa protesters and others still hurting from Saturday’s tragedies. Knowing that our president, in addition to being a pawn of the Kremlin and a profound embarrassment to the nation, also happens to be an apparent sympathizer with Nazis and white supremacists, it’s past time that we make some hard choices as citizens.

Do we collectively demand the swift resignation or impeachment of the president for his trespasses, or do we continue to endure this tyrant through the next election, even though Trump’s accomplices in Moscow might well seek to skew the election in his favor again? Do we continue to tolerate Trump and his team of racist advisers and the actions of the pathetic young men they’re animating? If after only 207 days, neo-Nazis are so empowered by a sympathetic president to commit murders as they did on Saturday, what will America look like 207 days from now? What will America look like after Trump appoints more top officials while “deconstructing the administrative state” and dealing in unnecessary nuclear brinksmanship? Let us choose not to find out.

We’ve endured incompetent presidents before. We’ve endured criminals in the Oval Office before. But we’ve never had both a Nazi appeaser and an apparent Russian puppet in the White House before. Now we’re beginning to see the real and fatal consequences of allowing a terrifyingly incompetent villain to ascend to this station, and matters can absolutely get worse. There’s no silver lining here, just a raw and mandatory urgency for Donald Trump to be legally ejected from his intolerable stewardship of the American presidency.

 

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon.com. He’s also the host of “The Bob Cesca Show” podcast, and a weekly guest on both the “Stephanie Miller Show” and “Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang.” Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Elon Musk may be a “visionary,” but his vision doesn’t seem to include unions

Tesla required employees to sign confidentiality agreements which prevent them from discussing workplace conditions

Elon Musk may be a “visionary,” but his vision doesn’t seem to include unions
(Credit: AP)
This article originally appeared in In These Times


Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been making more headlines than usual lately. Shortly after the business magnate claimed he had received governmental approval to build a hyperloop from New York to Washington, D.C., he got into a public argument with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the future of artificial intelligence. Musk also recently made comments regarding the production of Tesla’s new Model 3, a battery-electric sedan. “We’re going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell,” he told journalists.

It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes “manufacturing hell,” but it might also be difficult to ever find out. That’s because, since last November, Tesla has required employees to sign confidentiality agreements which prevent them from discussing workplace conditions. This policy has faced increased criticism since February, as workers at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. plant have expressed concern over wages, safety and their right to unionize. They have reached out to the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) union, which is now intervening.

Last week, some of those workers made specific demands. A group called Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee sent a letter to the company’s board members seeking safety improvements and a clearer promotion policy. The letter cites 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the last full year for which such information is available. “For that year, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that our injury rate was higher than that of sawmills and slaughter houses. Accidents happen every day,” reads the letter. The committee also addressed Tesla’s resistance to workplace organizing: “We should be free to speak out and to organize together to the benefit of Tesla and all of our workers. When we have raised this with management we have been met with anti-union rhetoric and action.”

Attention was originally drawn to the factory’s organizing fight after Tesla employee Jose Moran published a Medium post on February 9. Moran raises safety concerns, writing that, a few months ago, six of the eight people on his work team were on leave due to workplace injuries. He also breaks down problems with the factory’s wages. According to Moran, workers at the Tesla factory make between $17 and $21 in Alameda county, an area where the living wage is more than $28 an hour. Moran wrote that some of his coworkers make a two-hour commute to work because they can’t afford to live near the factory.

“Tesla’s Production Associates are building the future: They are doing the hard work to build the electric cars and battery packs that are necessary to reduce carbon emissions. But they are paid significantly below the living wage for one adult and one child in our community,” Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director of the local worker advocacy group Silicon Valley Rising, told In These Times via email. “We believe that green jobs should be good jobs, and that they have a right to organize and advocate for themselves and their families.”

The day after Moran published his post, employees passed out literature containing the piece during a shift change at the factory. According to an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by workers, and obtained by Capital and Main, this prompted management to schedule a meeting where workers were told they couldn’t pass out information unless it was pre-approved by the employer. The same NLRB charge accuses Tesla of illegal surveillance and intimidation.

Moran’s piece, and the subsequent accusations, were taken seriously enough to be addressed by Elon Musk directly. In an email to employees, obtained by Buzzfeed, Musk declared that safety concerns ignored vast improvements established in 2017. Tesla also put out a statement echoing Musk’s claims. The company’s data points to a 52 percent reduction in lost time incidents and a 30 percent reduction in recordable incidents during the company’s first quarter.

Musk promised a “really amazing party” for workers after the Model 3 reached volume production. In addition to the party, the factory would eventually include free frozen yogurt stands and a roller coaster. “It’s going to get crazy good,” he wrote. As for Moran, Musk claimed he was a paid UAW plant and that he had looked into his claims and discovered they weren’t true. The UAW, he explained, “does not share our mission” and their “true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.”

This wouldn’t be the last time Musk would use such language in regards to a union. Six months after Tesla acquired Germany’s Grohmann Engineering, Musk found himself clashing with the country’s dominant metalworkers’ union, IG Metall. The union intervened to insist that Tesla straighten out a wage discrepancy that had some workers claiming they were making 30 percent less than union rates. Musk sent a letter to Grohmann employees offering a one-time bonus — an extra 150 Euros a month — and Tesla shares instead of a pay increases that the employees desire. “I do not believe IG Metall shares our mission,” reads the letter.

“We’re a money-losing company,” Musk told The Guardian in May. “This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing.” Two months after that interview, Automotive News reported that Musk had been the highest paid auto executive of 2016, exercising stock options worth $1.34 billion. Musk’s incredible economic success hasn’t exactly been generated via an unfettered free market. According to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times in 2015, Musk’s companies have benefited from billions in government subsidies.

Whether or not Tesla’s board members are receptive to employee demands, it seems clear that the workers’ struggle is not going away anytime soon.

Here’s how the Trump administration has been handing over government to businesses

The first six months of the Trump administration have seen a decrease in the effectiveness of regulations

Here's how the Trump administration has been handing over government to businesses
(Credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

President Donald Trump’s assault on regulations designed to keep Wall Street in check is going quite well, as a check on the first quarter of his presidency has found that fines levied by government regulators has decreased substantially.

The U.S. has cut the amount of fines against institutions issued by two-thirds, compared to last year. As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, that would put it on track for a low not seen in seven years:

Penalties levied against firms and individuals by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in the first half of 2017 were down nearly two-thirds compared with the first half of 2016—putting regulators on track for the lowest annual level of fines since at least 2010, the Journal found. Fines of $489 million in the first half of 2017 compared with $1.4 billion in the 2016 period.

The SEC levied some $318 million in penalties during the first half of 2017, a search of federal court documents and all publicly available records on the agency’s website and data provided by Andrew N. Vollmer, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, showed. Last year, agency actions yielded $750 million in penalties during the same period, an agency spokesman said. The SEC declined to disclose its own tally of 2017 penalties; the agency didn’t dispute that the total value of penalties fell in the first half of 2017 compared with the same term in 2016.

Agency officials were quick to point out that a six-month sample shouldn’t be considered indicative of the government’s regulatory mechanisms — the WSJ pointed to large payouts in two major cases that accounted for a large portion of the $1.4 billion mark in 2016.

Wall Street lobbyists have also been pushing the administration to “lower the size of financial penalties,” the Journal said. And as regulators expect Trump to continue with a “business-friendly” approach, increased oversight doesn’t look likely in the future.

If being lax about enforcing the laws isn’t enough, the administration has been pushing for businesses to be writing them, too. According to McClatchy, business executives have been working in secret “advisory groups” that haven’t been disclosing what they’ve been working on.

Can’t enforce the laws if there are no laws to enforce.

Donald Trump, a classic case of affirmative action for the wealthy, wants to take it away from the disadvantaged

President often claims he’s “like, a smart person” — but he didn’t get into Wharton on his academic merits

Of all the issues facing higher education today — skyrocketing student debt, for-profit colleges ripping off its students and government subsidies, declining college enrollment – President Trump has chosen to make it harder for black and Latino students to get into college.

The Trump administration is preparing to sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

Apparently Trump objects to affirmative action for African-Americans and Latinos, but not to affirmative action for the super-rich and the well-connected. That’s how Trump got into the University of Pennsylvania in 1966.

Over the years, Trump has frequently referred to his Ivy League credentials as evidence of his intelligence. In a 2004 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I got very good marks. I was a good student. It’s the best business school in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

In 2011, Trump told ABC News, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country,” referring once again to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said during a campaign speech in Phoenix in July 2015. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in August 2015, Trump described Whartonas “probably the hardest [school] there is to get into.” He added, “Some of the great business minds in the world have gone to Wharton.” He also observed: “Look, if I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I’m the super genius of all time. The super genius of all time.”

During a CNN-sponsored Republican town hall in Columbia, South Carolina in February 2016, Trump reminded the audience that he had gone to Wharton and then repeated his boast: “Look, I went to the best school, I was a good student and all of this stuff. I mean, I’m a smart person.”

Last December, in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Trump repeated those same words to explain why he didn’t need daily updates from intelligence professionals about national security threats, a tradition that goes back to President Harry Truman. “I’m, like, a smart person,” he told Wallace.

He did it again on Jan. 21 of this year, the day after his inauguration, during a visit to CIA headquarters. Trump’s scripted remarks turned into a rambling rant that included attacks on the media and his insistence that as many as 1.5 million people attended his inauguration. In the middle of his tirade, Trump felt the need to tell the nation’s top spies that he is a bright guy. “Trust me,” Trump said, “I’m, like, a smart person.”

Trump has repeated that claim many times. Each time, it isn’t clear if he’s trying to convince his interviewer or himself. Indeed, anyone who feels compelled to boast about his academic pedigree and how smart he is clearly suffers from profound insecurity about his intelligence and accomplishments. In Trump’s case, he has good reason to have doubts.

Trump surely knows he didn’t get into Wharton on his own merits. He transferred into its undergraduate program after spending two years at Fordham University in New York, where he had no significant achievements.

“No one I know of has said ‘I remember Donald Trump,’” Paul F. Gerken, a 1968 Fordham graduate and president of the Fordham College Alumni Association, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Whatever he did at Fordham, he didn’t leave footprints.”

In her 2001 biography, “The Trumps,” Gwenda Blair reported that Trump’s grades at Fordham were not good enough to qualify him to transfer to Wharton. According to Blair, Trump got into Wharton as a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer who was a high school classmate of Trump’s older brother, Freddy. The college’s admissions staff was surely aware that Trump’s father was a wealthy real estate developer and a potential donor.

Other than his father’s money and his family’s connections, Trump had no qualifications that would have otherwise gotten him into Wharton. (Most people who mention Wharton refer to its prestigious MBA program, but Trump was an economics major in the undergraduate program.)

In high school at the New York Military Academy, Trump was not an outstanding student. He didn’t organize his fellow students to tutor underprivileged kids or raise money for cancer research. In his senior year, he was removed from his post as captain and transferred to a job on the school staff, with no command responsibilities. According to his fellow students, Trump wasn’t able to control the cadets under his command.

Moreover, for years Trump exaggerated his academic accomplishments at Wharton. On at least two occasions in the 1970s, the New York Times reported that Trump “graduated first in his class” at Wharton in 1968. That’s not true. The dean’s list for his graduation year, published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus newspaper, doesn’t include Trump’s name. He has refused to release his grade transcripts from his college days.

The fabrication that Trump was first in his class has been repeated in many other articles and books about Trump, but he has never bothered to correct it.

Upon graduating from college, Trump didn’t have to apply for jobs or go through interviews with potential employers who would judge him on his merits. Instead, his father Fred Trump handed young Donald the keys to his real estate empire.

Despite this, Trump often tries to portray himself as a self-made entrepreneur. “It has not been easy for me,” Trump said at a town hall meeting on Oct. 26, 2015, acknowledging, “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”

But an investigation by The Washington Post last year demolished Trump’s claim that he made it on his own. Not only did Trump’s father provide Donald with a huge inheritance and set up big-bucks trust accounts to provide his son with a steady income, Fred was also a silent partner in Trump’s first real estate projects. According to the Post:

Trump’s father — whose name had been besmirched in New York real estate circles after investigations into windfall profits and other abuses in his real estate projects — was an essential silent partner in Trump’s initiative. In effect, the son was the front man, relying on his father’s connections and wealth, while his father stood silently in the background to avoid drawing attention to himself.

Born into privilege, Trump got into Wharton through family connections and then inherited a fortune. Now his administration is preparing to thwart efforts by colleges and universities to recruit students of color who had to overcome obstacles that Trump can’t even imagine. The Justice Department memo uncovered by The New York Times described its plan as challenging “intentional race-based discrimination,” referring to programs designed to bring more minority students to college campuses.

Affirmative action programs were designed to help qualified students who lack the sorts of connections that Trump used to get into Wharton. The purpose is to level the playing field by helping students who have had to cope with considerable economic and social disadvantages, including racism.

No selective university or college simply uses grades and test scores in deciding which students to accept. Colleges accept students whose high-school grades and SAT scores meet a basic threshold, and then give extra points to students with various characteristics, based on such factors as athletic or artistic ability; urban, suburban or rural background; demonstrated commitment to public service; attendance at public, private or religious high schools; and ethnic and racial backgrounds. All of this is done to create a diverse student body.

The Justice Department memo noted that the anti-affirmative action project will be run out of the Civil Rights Division’s front office, comprised of Trump administration political appointees, rather than its Educational Opportunities Section, which is staffed by career civil servants who normally deal with issues involving schools and universities. This suggests that the entire scheme is designed as a political gesture to Trump’s base of conservative white supporters who view affirmative action as a form of reverse discrimination.

Candice Jackson, acting head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (who would certainly play a key role in the administration’s attack on affirmative action), once complained that she was discriminated against for being white while she was a student at Stanford.

But an even more egregious form of discrimination is the kind of class privilege that allowed a second-rate student like Trump to get into Wharton, depriving a more deserving but less well-connected student a spot in that elite institution. Now, as president, he wants to deprive tens of thousands of truly worthy students the opportunity to overcome disadvantages and become our nation’s future leaders.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame” (Nation Books).

Robert Reich: Republicans think Donald Trump is “out of his gourd”

According to a former GOP congressman, Republicans are planning to bail on the president in favor of Mike Pence

In a Facebook post published on Monday, Robert Reich, former labor secretary under Bill Clinton, reported a conversation with one of his friends, “a former Republican member of Congress.” If this GOPer is as in-the-know as he claims to be, President Donald Trump could be in quite a bit of trouble.

According to Reich, his friend is hearing from his former colleagues who still serve that “Trump is out of his gourd.” He also claims that “stuff with [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions is pissing them off,” presumably a reference to how Trump has undercut his own attorney general over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. The colleague also pointed to Trump’s hiring of “horse’s ass” Scaramucci as communications director, a matter that may have been remedied by Trump’s subsequent firing of the same “horse’s ass.”

The Republican also said that his co-partisans are worried that Trump will hurt their reelection chances in 2018 and 2020 and “want him outa there,” although he doubts they’ll impeach him without special counsel Robert Mueller coming up with a “smoking gun” (he also doubts that Trump will fire Mueller).

So what does he think the plan is?

“Put someone else up in ’20,” Reich’s friend said. “Lots of maneuvering already. Pence, obviously. Cruz thinks he has a shot.”

Reich’s friend also claims that Republicans believe Trump has become mentally unstable. He attributed Trump’s firing of former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and undermining of both Sessions and Tillerson to an alleged belief that they are plotting to cite the 25th Amendment, which allows a president’s cabinet to remove him from power if he’s mentally incompetent, in order to remove Trump from power.

Reich said his friend dismissed any notion of disloyalty by Sessions and Tillerson as “ludicrous” but insisted that “Trump is fritzing out. Having manic delusions. He’s actually going nuts.” As a result, “my betting is he’s out of office before the midterms. And Pence is president.”

It is important to note that some of these predictions seem a tad disconnected from political reality. For one thing, the fact that Trump and his right-wing surrogates have been gradually building up a case for firing Mueller suggests that, at the very least, the notion that he could do so should not be dismissed out of hand. Similarly, there is no evidence from other media outlets that Trump believed Priebus, Sessions and Tillerson were plotting against him.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Republican Party has so far only stood up to Trump when it comes to the specific issue of sanctions against Russia. Aside from that issue, their approach toward the president has been fearful bordering on obsequious, so it’s a stretch to say the least to imagine them plotting against him behind the scenes.

This morning I phoned my friend, a former Republican member of Congress.

Me: What’s going on? Seems like the White House is imploding, and Republicans are going down with the ship.

Him (chuckling): We’re officially a banana republic.

Me: Seriously, what are you hearing from your former colleagues on the Hill?

Him: They’re convinced Trump is out of his gourd.

Me: So what are they going to do about it?

Him: Remember what I told you at the start of this circus? They planned to use Trump’s antics for cover, to get done what they most wanted – big tax cuts, rollbacks of regulations, especially financial. They’d work with Pence behind the scenes and forget the crazy uncle in the attic.

Me: Yeah.

Him: Well, I’m hearing a different story now. Stuff with Sessions is pissing them off. And now Trump’s hired that horse’s ass Scaramucci — a communications director who talks dirty on CNN! Plus Trump’s numbers are in freefall. They think he’s gonna hurt them in ’18 and ’20.

Me: So what’s the plan?

Him: They want him outa there.

Me: Really? Impeachment?

Him: Doubt it, unless Mueller comes up with a smoking gun.

Me: Or if he fires Mueller.

Him: Not gonna happen.

Me: So how do they get him out?

Him: Put someone else up in ’20. Lots of maneuvering already. Pence, obviously. Cruz thinks he has a shot.

Me: But that won’t help them in the midterms. What’s the plan before then?

Him: Lots think he’s fritzing out.

Me: Fritzing out?

Him: Going totally bananas. Paranoia. You want to know why he fired Priebus, wants Sessions out, and is now gunning for Tillerson?

Me: He wants to shake things up?

Him (chuckling): No. The way I hear it, he thinks they’ve been plotting against him.

Me: What do you mean?

Him: Twenty-fifth amendment! Read it! A Cabinet can get rid of a president who’s nuts. Trump thinks they’ve been preparing a palace coup. So one by one, he’s firing them.

Me: I find it hard to believe they’re plotting against him.

Him: Of course not! It’s ludicrous. Sessions is a loyal lapdog. Tillerson doesn’t know where the bathroom is. That’s my point. Trump is fritzing out. Having manic delusions. He’s actually going nuts.

Me: And?

Him: Well, it’s downright dangerous.

Me: Yeah, but that still doesn’t tell me what Republicans are planning to do about it.

Him: Look. How long do you think it will be before everyone in Washington knows he’s flipping out? I don’t mean just weird. I mean really off his rocker.

Me: I don’t know.

Him: No all that long.

Me: So what are you telling me?

Him: They don’t have to plot against him. It will be obvious to everyone that he’s got to go. That’s where the twenty-fifth amendment really does comes in.

Me: So you think…

Him: Who knows? But he’s losing it fast. My betting is he’s out of office before the midterms. And Pence is president.

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.