Donald Trump literally knows nothing: The moronic fiction of his “really, really good” health care plan is now obvious

Trump’s idiotic pronouncements on health care can’t conceal that he has no plan and doesn’t understand the details

Donald Trump literally knows nothing: The moronic fiction of his "really, really good" health care plan is now obvious
(Credit: Getty/Saul Loeb/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Photo montage by Salon)

President Donald Trump’s ridiculous plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would be slightly less disgusting if we were confident that he knew what the hell he was talking about. Throughout the past two years, though, it’s impossible to point to a single instance in which anyone, including Trump’s staff and supporters, could say that he totally nailed the nuances of the issue. Not once — ever.

Sure, he’s regularly claimed that the ACA is collapsing, contrary to the recent scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. He’s also mentioned that the ACA is a disaster. Same situation. He’s mentioned that under his replacement plan, everyone will have coverage that he or she loves and will save a lot of money in the process.

Oh, and he said something about keeping the ACA’s language about pre-existing conditions and “children living with their parents.” He noted the latter on a small, seldom-watched show called “60 Minutes,” despite the fact that there’s nothing in the law about covering kids who live with their parents. Yeah, it’s one of the top two most popular aspects of the ACA, and he couldn’t accurately describe it:   The law allows adult children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 — regardless of where they live.

Perhaps Trump’s ignorance about the law is allowed to slide because his supporters know even less about the ACA than he does. Though it’s not just when Trump talks about the ACA that he sounds like an eighth-grader bluffing his way through an essay exam. That describes everything he says about health care in general. The president who chose health care reform as his big legislative goal in his first 100 days doesn’t know anything about how health care works.

As part of his effort to resurrect a major legislative crash and burn, what’s been nicknamed “Trumpcare,” the president fielded a question last week about the status of his negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right hotheads largely identified with members of the Tea Party.

During a joint press conference with the president of Italy, Trump said, “The plan gets better and better and better, and it’s gotten really, really good. And a lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon; I’d like to say next week, but it will be — I believe we will get it, and whether it’s next week or shortly thereafter.”

Words have no meaning for Trump.

“It’s gotten really, really good” isn’t the language of a man who’s familiar with the details. In fact, he can’t say anything specific about anything related to health care, for two reasons. First, he just doesn’t know. Generally, the ongoing rule about Donald Trump is that he knows nothing. Second, the details of Trumpcare, at least in terms of what’s being discussed partly in secret, totally undermine his promises for universal, affordable coverage. Discussing those details out loud would expose the game. Oh and incidentally, “gotten really, really good” might sound familiar because it’s the same awkward phrase Will Ferrell once used in a George W. Bush parody video back in 2004 (check the YouTube clip at 40 seconds in). In other words, at least until recently, describing how things have “gotten really, really good” was merely a joke at the expense of stupid people. Now the actual president talks like that. Hashtag Make America Great Again.

Nevertheless, if Trump were to actually tell us what’s in the latest version of Trumpcare, he might have to acknowledge that there’s no legislative text; there’s no actual bill yet. Nothing exists on paper. He’d also have to acknowledge that this new iteration won’t be more affordable and indeed that many more people will be kicked off their insurance policies under the new “really, really good” version of Trumpcare than would have lost insurance under the now-defunct American Health Care Act.

Donald Trump literally knows nothing: The moronic fiction of his “really, really good” health care plan is now obvious.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson called Trumpcare 2.0 “comically bad.” But that language understates the awfulness of what’s being debated. Robinson reported last week that proponents of this new version are claiming it would protect essential health benefits (covering things like “hospitalization, maternity and emergency care” according to Robinson) and protect people with pre-existing conditions.

But here’s the catch. States will be able to opt out of covering essential health benefits. We can assume most red states will opt out, not unlike the way they opted out of the Medicaid expansion, for no other reason than they hate Obama. Smart. (By the way, the new version preserves the slow phaseout of the Medicaid expansion.) States can also opt out of the pre-existing conditions language as long as they create “high risk pools.” Of course this is totally unacceptable because Trumpcare 2.0 doesn’t prevent insurers from charging dramatically higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions — basically rebuilding the pre-ACA system of gouging and usury against people who need health care the most.

Making matters worse, especially in the near term, it appears as though Trump is planning to use subsidy payments to customers with existing ACA marketplace policies as potential ransom in the forthcoming battle over a potential government shutdown. To put it another way, if the Democrats don’t agree to support appropriations to build Trump’s ridiculous border wall, Trump will withhold subsidies for literally millions of ACA customers. That means Trump haters in blue states and, yes, Trump fanboys in red states, too. Everyone living below 400 percent of the federal poverty level will lose their subsidies unless the Democrats vote for Trump’s pointless wall, which (not insignificant) was supposed to be financed by Mexico.

If both sides fail to agree, the government will be shut down as of Saturday. So Trump is basically saying, “Yeah, I promised Mexico will pay for the wall. But now that I’m reneging on a major platform plank like the weasel I am, I’m going to hold the lives of millions for ransom.” Yes, this is the bargaining position of the chief executive who pledged in his inaugural address to be the people’s president. America first, etc.

Really, really gotten good? You decide.

Again, we have no choice but to wonder whether Trump has even the slightest idea what’s at stake. Does he know how many of his red-blooded MAGA-hat wearing loyalists will lose their subsidies in this ludicrous cash grab for the border wall? Do his loyalists know? I doubt it. Does he even understand how and why the ACA subsidies are distributed? Does he realize how obvious it is that he’s entirely clueless about what will happen in a government shutdown or that his health care plan will lead to far worse outcomes than the current situation — even if the ACA marketplaces collapse, as he has predicted?

Does he know that the marketplaces are only a part of a more comprehensive pair of Obamacare-related bills containing critically important consumer protections, which are supported by majorities of Americans? No way. He knows none of it. It’s worth repeating this maxim because the more we internalize it, the more we embrace the horror, the better: Trump knows nothing.

 

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.

Cornel West – Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment

The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto

Nancy Pelosi
‘The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The distinctive feature of these bleak times is the lack of institutional capacity on the left – the absence of a political party that swings free of Wall Street and speaks to the dire circumstances of poor and working people. As the first 100 days of the plutocratic and militaristic Trump administration draw to a close, one truth has been crystal clear: the Democratic party lacks the vision, discipline and leadership to guide progressives in these turbulent times.

The neoliberal vision of the Democratic party has run its course. The corporate wing has made it clear that the populist wing has little power or place in its future. The discipline of the party is strong on self-preservation and weak on embracing new voices. And party leaders too often revel in self-righteousness and self-pity rather than self-criticism and self-enhancement. The time has come to bid farewell to a moribund party that lacks imagination, courage and gusto.

The 2016 election – which Democrats lost more than Republicans won – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders was but the peak of the iceberg. In the face of a cardboard Republican candidate equipped with pseudo-populist rhetoric and ugly xenophobic plans, the Democratic party put forward a Wall Street-connected and openly militaristic candidate with little charisma.

The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare were pushed aside by the corporate wing and the populist wing was told to quit whining or take responsibility for the improbable loss.

The monumental collapse of the Democratic party – on the federal, state and local levels – has not yielded any serious soul-wrestling or substantive visionary shifts among its leadership. Only the ubiquitous and virtuous Bernie remains true to the idea of fundamental transformation of the party – and even he admits that seeking first-class seats on the Titanic is self-deceptive and self-destructive.

We progressives need new leadership and institutional capacity that provides strong resistance to Trump’s vicious policies, concrete alternatives that matter to ordinary citizens and credible visions that go beyond Wall Street priorities and militaristic policies. And appealing to young people is a good testing ground.

Even as we forge a united front against Trump’s neofascist efforts, we must admit the Democratic party has failed us and we have to move on. Where? To what? When brother Nick Brana, a former Bernie campaign staffer, told me about the emerging progressive populist or social democratic party – the People’s party – that builds on the ruins of a dying Democratic party and creates new constituencies in this moment of transition and liquidation, I said count me in.

And if a class-conscious multi-racial party attuned to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic and anti-militaristic issues and grounded in ecological commitments can reconfigure our citizenship, maybe our decaying democracy has a chance. And if brother Bernie Sanders decides to join us – with many others, including sister Jill Stein and activists from Black Lives Matter and brown immigrant groups and Standing Rock freedom fighters and betrayed working people – we may build something for the near future after Trump implodes.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointment

New Behind-the-Scenes Book Brutalizes the Clinton Campaign

‘Shattered,’ a campaign tell-all fueled by anonymous sources, outlines a generational political disaster

A new book by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes examines what went wrong during Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Justin Sullivan/Getty

There is a critical scene in Shattered, the new behind-the-scenes campaign diary by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, in which staffers in the Hillary Clinton campaign begin to bicker with one another.  At the end of Chapter One, which is entirely about that campaign’s exhausting and fruitless search for a plausible explanation for why Hillary was running, writers Allen and Parnes talk about the infighting problem.

“All of the jockeying might have been all right, but for a root problem that confounded everyone on the campaign and outside it,” they wrote. “Hillary had been running for president for almost a decade and still didn’t really have a rationale.”

Allen and Parnes here quoted a Clinton aide who jokingly summed up Clinton’s real motivation:

“I would have had a reason for running,” one of her top aides said, “or I wouldn’t have run.”

The beleaguered Clinton staff spent the better part of two years trying to roll this insane tautology – “I have a reason for running because no one runs without a reason” – into the White House. It was a Beltway take on the classic Descartes formulation: “I seek re-election, therefore I am… seeking re-election.”

Shattered is sourced almost entirely to figures inside the Clinton campaign who were and are deeply loyal to Clinton. Yet those sources tell of a campaign that spent nearly two years paralyzed by simple existential questions: Why are we running? What do we stand for?

If you’re wondering what might be the point of rehashing this now, the responsibility for opposing Donald Trump going forward still rests with the (mostly anonymous) voices described in this book.

What Allen and Parnes captured in Shattered was a far more revealing portrait of the Democratic Party intelligentsia than, say, the WikiLeaks dumps. And while the book is profoundly unflattering to Hillary Clinton, the problem it describes really has nothing to do with Secretary Clinton.

The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.

In fact, it shines through in the book that the voters’ need to understand why this or that person is running for office is viewed in Washington as little more than an annoying problem.

In the Clinton run, that problem became such a millstone around the neck of the campaign that staffers began to flirt with the idea of sharing the uninspiring truth with voters. Stumped for months by how to explain why their candidate wanted to be president, Clinton staffers began toying with the idea of seeing how “Because it’s her turn” might fly as a public rallying cry.

This passage describes the mood inside the campaign early in the Iowa race (emphasis mine):

“There wasn’t a real clear sense of why she was in it. Minus that, people want to assign their own motivations – at the very best, a politician who thinks it’s her turn,” one campaign staffer said. “It was true and earnest, but also received well. We were talking to Democrats, who largely didn’t think she was evil.”

Our own voters “largely” don’t think your real reason for running for president is evil qualified as good news in this book. The book is filled with similar scenes of brutal unintentional comedy.

In May of 2015, as Hillary was planning her first major TV interview – an address the campaign hoped would put to rest criticism Hillary was avoiding the press over the burgeoning email scandal – communications chief Jennifer Palmieri asked Huma Abedin to ask Hillary who she wanted to conduct the interview. (There are a lot of these games of “telephone” in the book, as only a tiny group of people had access to the increasingly secretive candidate.)

The answer that came back was that Hillary wanted to do the interview with “Brianna.” Palmieri took this to mean CNN’s Brianna Keilar, and worked to set up the interview, which aired on July 7th of that year.

Unfortunately, Keilar was not particularly gentle in her conduct of the interview. Among other things, she asked Hillary questions like, “Would you vote for someone you didn’t trust?” An aide describes Hillary as “staring daggers” at Keilar. Internally, the interview was viewed as a disaster.

It turns out now it was all a mistake. Hillary had not wanted Brianna Keilar as an interviewer, but Bianna Golodryga of Yahoo! News, an excellent interviewer in her own right, but also one who happens to be the spouse of longtime Clinton administration aide Peter Orszag.

This “I said lunch, not launch!” slapstick mishap underscored for the Clinton campaign the hazards of venturing one millimeter outside the circle of trust. In one early conference call with speechwriters, Clinton sounded reserved:

“Though she was speaking with a small group made up mostly of intimates, she sounded like she was addressing a roomful of supporters – inhibited by the concern that whatever she said might be leaked to the press.”

This traced back to 2008, a failed run that the Clintons had concluded was due to the disloyalty and treachery of staff and other Democrats. After that race, Hillary had aides create “loyalty scores” (from one for most loyal, to seven for most treacherous) for members of Congress. Bill Clinton since 2008 had “campaigned against some of the sevens” to “help knock them out of office,” apparently to purify the Dem ranks heading into 2016.

Beyond that, Hillary after 2008 conducted a unique autopsy of her failed campaign. This reportedly included personally going back and reading through the email messages of her staffers:

“She instructed a trusted aide to access the campaign’s server and download the messages sent and received by top staffers. … She believed her campaign had failed her – not the other way around – and she wanted ‘to see who was talking to who, who was leaking to who,’ said a source familiar with the operation.”

Some will say this Nixonesque prying into her staff’s communications will make complaints about leaked emails ring a little hollow.

Who knows about that. Reading your employees’ emails isn’t nearly the same as having an outsider leak them all over the world. Still, such a criticism would miss the point, which is that Hillary was looking in the wrong place for a reason for her 2008 loss. That she was convinced her staff was at fault makes sense, as Washington politicians tend to view everything through an insider lens.

Most don’t see elections as organic movements within populations of millions, but as dueling contests of “whip-smart” organizers who know how to get the cattle to vote the right way. If someone wins an election, the inevitable Beltway conclusion is that the winner had better puppeteers.

The Clinton campaign in 2016, for instance, never saw the Bernie Sanders campaign as being driven by millions of people who over the course of decades had become dissatisfied with the party. They instead saw one cheap stunt pulled by an illegitimate back-bencher, foolishness that would be ended if Sanders himself could somehow be removed.

“Bill and Hillary had wanted to put [Sanders] down like a junkyard dog early on,” Allen and Parnes wrote. The only reason they didn’t, they explained, was an irritating chance problem: Sanders “was liked,” which meant going negative would backfire.

Hillary had had the same problem with Barack Obama, with whom she and her husband had elected to go heavily negative in 2008, only to see that strategy go very wrong. “It boomeranged,” as it’s put in Shattered.

The Clinton campaign was convinced that Obama won in 2008 not because he was a better candidate, or buoyed by an electorate that was disgusted with the Iraq War. Obama won, they believed, because he had a better campaign operation – i.e., better Washingtonian puppeteers. In The Right Stuff terms, Obama’s Germans were better than Hillary’s Germans.

They were determined not to make the same mistake in 2016. Here, the thought process of campaign chief Robby Mook is described:

“Mook knew that Hillary viewed almost every early decision through a 2008 lens: she thought almost everything her own campaign had done was flawed and everything Obama’s had done was pristine.”

Since Obama had spent efficiently and Hillary in 2008 had not, this led to spending cutbacks in the 2016 race in crucial areas, including the hiring of outreach staff in states like Michigan. This led to a string of similarly insane self-defeating decisions. As the book puts it, the “obsession with efficiency had come at the cost of broad voter contact in states that would become important battlegrounds.”

If the ending to this story were anything other than Donald Trump being elected president, Shattered would be an awesome comedy, like a Kafka novel – a lunatic bureaucracy devouring itself. But since the ending is the opposite of funny, it will likely be consumed as a cautionary tale.

Shattered is what happens when political parties become too disconnected from their voters. Even if you think the election was stolen, any Democrat who reads this book will come away believing he or she belongs to a party stuck in a profound identity crisis. Trump or no Trump, the Democrats need therapy – and soon.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/taibbi-on-the-new-book-that-brutalizes-the-clinton-campaign-w477978

Separating fact from fake news

Danny Katch, author of Socialism…Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human Liberation, considers how the left can analyze the world in the Trumpian era of “alternative facts.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

ALL GOVERNMENTS lie, as the independent journalist I.F. Stone once said. But not all governments lie as proudly as those led by Donald Trump.

This guy started his presidency issuing an easily disprovable falsehood about the size of the crowd at his inauguration, a typically Trumpish blend of silly and creepy, like a dictator declaring that from this day forward the sky is officially orange (or climate change is a hoax). He lies so often that a whole category of his lies are denials of previous lies.

Corporate-owned media outlets generally obey the unwritten rule that the spokespeople for government sources should be treated as credible–regardless of how many times they’ve been caught lying–but the new president’s obvious disdain for the truth pushed many of them to adopt a more Stone-like stance of skepticism.

But Trump only needed to lob some missiles and bombs in enemy lands to restore the press back to its natural state of blind trust in authority. The Pentagon announced that it dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” in eastern Afghanistan, and there was little mainstream questioning of the government’s claim that this monstrosity with a mile-wide blast radius managed to only kill bad guys.

Clearly the left has to take a different approach, and treat the word of the U.S. government as we would that of any individual with a similarly long history of murder and mendacity.

But if we don’t trust the government–and, by extension, many of the mainstream news reports that simply repeat government talking points–then how do we get our information?

The left doesn’t have the resources to replicate all of the bureaus and investigative reporting of media corporations. Progressive media like Democracy Now! and Truthout (or even your humble correspondents at SocialistWorker.org) can sometimes deliver important scoops, but radicals have no choice but to rely on larger outlets for much of our information.

The defining difference between the left and the corporate media is not that we have different facts–because we often don’t–but that we have different frameworks for interpreting and drawing conclusions from those facts. That’s important to keep in mind at a time when “alternative facts” are becoming a growing problem on the left as well as the right.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OUR STARTING point at SocialistWorker.org is that, as mentioned, we don’t trust “our” government.

But we should be consistent like I.F. Stone and be suspicious of all governments–especially those like the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which has tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of people and lied about its crimes with a boldness that would make Sean Spicer bow down in admiration.

This is unfortunately not a universal method across the left. Like the closed circuit of right-wing websites passing the same fabrications back and forth about disease-spreading immigrants and “black-on-black crime,” there are a growing number of websites recycling dubious speculations about “false flag” operations in Syria designed to discredit the Assad government.

These conspiracy theories not only suck a few people down the “truther” rabbit hole, but they also create a deliberately muddled atmosphere on the left that can make new activists think they need to read detailed studies of the property of sarin gas just to have an opinion on something that couldn’t be more clear: the Assad government is monstrous.

SocialistWorker.org has drawn that conclusion not because the U.S. government says so, but because millions of Syrians have said so–including those who have been killed, jailed and exiled in the process.

That gets to the next element of our framework for evaluating facts and understanding the world. We may not trust governments, but we listen closely to ordinary people, particularly when they are organized in large-scale protest movements.

Protesters can lie, of course, and protest movements are subject to manipulation, whether by foreign agents or homegrown opportunists. But our starting assumption when hundreds of thousands or millions of people take to the streets is that they are not mere puppets of a foreign power.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HERE’S THE thing about government lies: They’re usually not very effective–and in reality, they don’t need to be.

When the cops kill another unarmed African American and claim he was charging at all five of them with a pair of scissors, they don’t get away with it because we all believe them–certainly not those of us who live in the neighborhood. They get away with it because cops are allowed to murder unarmed Black people. The lie is just a formality.

Or take the lies that the Bush administration told about Iraq having “weapons of mass destruction,” which some now cite as “precedent” for the U.S. lying about Assad using chemical weapons.

There are two false assumptions that have developed in recent years about the big WMD lie.

The first is that most people were tricked by the lie into supporting the war. In fact, the U.S. population was pretty much split down the middle, and the protests against the Iraq invasion before it happened were some of the largest in U.S. history. Like killer cops, the Bush administration went to war with Iraq not because they were able to fool us, but because they had the power to disregard popular will.

The second myth is that the WMD lie was essential for the war. In fact, it wasn’t necessarily the belief in WMDs that led people to support the invasion, but the other way around. Just as people who want to drill for more oil find a way to not believe in climate change, people who wanted the invasion to happen convinced themselves that Saddam Hussein had his finger on the button of an arsenal of WMDs.

As for our side, while we certainly didn’t believe the Bush’s lies–especially when they were contradicted by the person charged with inspecting Iraq for WMDs–many of us wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Iraq did indeed hide chemical or biological weapons. After all, the U.S. had considered Saddam Hussein an ally until he became an enemy.

Our opposition to the war wasn’t based on believing that Iraq didn’t have WMDs, but on the anti-imperialist understanding that the United States isn’t a force that would protect the world from those weapons.

Similarly today, opposing the U.S. waging war on the Syrian government doesn’t require us to believe the Assad regime didn’t carry out the recent poison gas attack (which it almost certainly did)–any more than protesting the Ferguson police murder of Mike Brown required us to know that Brown hadn’t first robbed cigarillos from a convenience store (which he almost certainly didn’t.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE LEFT that needs to grow into a force that can challenge Donald Trump has to be one that doesn’t create its own alternative facts to fit into our alternative politics. On the contrary, we have to do our best to gather and interpret new information from all available sources in order to keep up our understanding of a constantly changing world.

This dynamism is another element of our political framework, and it’s admittedly more complicated than simply trusting what the leaders of protest movements say more than governments. Assessing the changes in inter-imperial rivalries and the competing political tendencies inside opposition movements is not an exact science, and it requires a willingness to debate and change one’s mind.

But there’s a basic outline for understanding the U.S. role in the Middle East that’s clear. For years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. goal was regime change to install puppet governments across the region. Those plans were laid to waste, first by the failed occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and then by the 2011 Arab Spring rebellions, which turned “regime change” into a revolutionary demand that the U.S. government instinctively opposed.

That’s why the Obama administration was very cautious about backing rebels in Syria even as Assad turned the country into a killing field that sprouted both ISIS and a mass exodus of refugees to the surrounding region and some to Europe. And it’s why Trump came into office talking even more openly about working with and not against the Syrian regime.

Yes, the U.S. government has lied to go to war, and it will undoubtedly do so in the future. But we can assume that it isn’t lying about Assad’s sarin attack, not because Trump of all people is a trustworthy president, but because he didn’t want to go to war against Syria.

(Of course, reports like this New York Times article make it unclear if the Trump administration is even competent enough to know whether or not it’s lying.)

Fifteen years ago, the 9/11 conspiracy cult did damage, not good, to the antiwar cause, and more than a few decent leftists were sucked into the abyss of all-night Internet sleuthing and “you must be in on it, too” paranoia.

Their problem wasn’t that they were wrong that the U.S. government was probably hiding details about 9/11–like the involvement of Saudi Arabia. The problem was the illusion that if only they could uncover the “truth” and bring the conspiracy to light, we could get back to the normal decency of American capitalism and empire.

Today, it’s critical that the left exposes Trump’s lies, rather than counter them with our own. Otherwise, instead of winning millions of new people to our side, we’ll just add to the general cynicism that you can’t trust anything you read anywhere.

http://socialistworker.org/2017/04/20/separating-fact-from-fake-news

Obama lives it up in the lap of luxury

By Niles Niemuth
18 April 2017

Photographs published over the weekend show former US President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama in the lap of luxury, frolicking in Tahiti on holiday with rock musician Bruce Springsteen, Hollywood star Tom Hanks and media tycoon Oprah Winfrey on the Rising Sun, a super-yacht owned by billionaire entertainment magnate David Geffen.

The response from the entertainment press to the brief glimpse into the Obama’s lavish getaway was unabashedly glowing: “American Royalty Gathered in the South Pacific” gushed Vanity Fair, “Barack and Michelle Obama Are Hanging Out With Oprah, Tom Hanks, and Bruce Springsteen on a Yacht,” squealed New York Magazine.

Geffen’s superyacht The Rising Sun in 2006

All of those among the aristocratic coterie who gathered around Obama on the world’s sixth largest motor yacht are either multi-millionaires or billionaires. Oprah has an estimated net worth of $3.1 billion; Hanks has a net worth of $350 million; Springsteen, with a net worth of $345 million, had an income of $60.5 million in 2016.

Geffen, an early backer of then Senator Obama’s campaign for the presidency in 2007, is among the richest people in the world, with an estimated net worth of $6.5 billion, placing him in the highest echelons of the top 0.01 percent.

The former president has spent much of the first three months since he left office in January hobnobbing with the elite of the elite. In February the Obamas traveled with an entourage of 100 secret service agents and aides to British billionaire Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island.

While the Obamas’ combined net worth, estimated at a measly $24 million, pales in comparison to their travel companions, the 44th president and his wife have wasted no time in cashing in on his eight years in the White House, which saw a stock market boom and record corporate profits, making the already fabulously wealthy even richer.

A $65 million deal announced in February for two books from the couple is only an initial down payment for services rendered. It is expected that they could earn nearly $300 million off of book deals, speeches and pensions.

This is not the end of the former president’s earning potential. He will have help from his wealthy friends in his efforts to become one of the wealthiest ex-presidents in American history. Billionaire director Steven Spielberg has been working with Obama to develop a “narrative” for his life post-presidency.

Those overseeing the construction and operation of the Obama presidential library and foundation have set a fundraising floor of $800 million for the center, which will be built on Chicago’s Southside.

In the waning days of his presidency, Obama openly fantasized about the possibility of joining the highly profitable world of professional sports and taking part ownership of a professional basketball team, something well within the realm of possibility given his wealth and connections. If he decides to go this route, Obama would join other celebrity NBA team owners like Michael Jordan and Mark Cuban, both billionaires. One should not be surprised to someday see an Obama-branded Nike high-top shoe.

While there never was a golden age—many presidents, including George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and JFK were quite wealthy—things have come a long way. Thomas Jefferson had to sell his personal library to pay off his creditors. Visitors could walk up to the door of Harry S. Truman’s home in Independence, Missouri and share tea with the former president and his wife, Bess.

Today, the former president vacations at exclusive $3,000-a-night Tahitian resorts and travels the world on the yachts and private jets of billionaires. The Obamas are paying $22,000 a month to rent a “quasi-mansion” in the exclusive Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC. They will share a neighborhood with billionaire President Donald Trump’s multi-millionaire daughter and son-in-law and chief advisers, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as well as billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

While always a bastion of corruption, there is a new and distinctive odor emanating from the White House and the halls of Congress. Extreme wealth is not only the outcome of holding public office, it has in fact become the rule for holding office; most Congressmen are now millionaires.

Those who hold office, and the corporate executives at whose pleasure they serve, live in a separate world from the vast majority of Americans. They have access to the best medical care the world has to offer; can skip humiliating security screenings at the airport and fly first class or in private jets without fear of being dragged off the plane; eat the best food; and drive or get driven in the most expensive cars.

The presidency and a spot in the administration are seen as tickets to even greater wealth. Filled with billionaires and multi-millionaires from the outset, the Trump administration has taken this process to its logical conclusion. Trump and his associates no doubt see their time in the White House as a shrewd business maneuver and expect to follow in the footsteps of the Obamas.

WSWS

Trump’s stance on climate change is a gift to the Chinese

America’s loss is China’s gain:

America’s whiplash-inducing reversal on climate change is China’s gain. Here’s why

America's loss is China's gain: Trump’s stance on climate change is a gift to the Chinese
China’s President Xi Jinping waves after speaking at the CEO summit during the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Lima, Peru, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)(Credit: AP)
This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

In January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech in which he framed both himself and his country as the answer to Trumpism — as proponents of globalization and as proponents of climate action.

“All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations,” Xi said of the Paris Agreement, without explicitly mentioning Trump’s assertion that the US may withdraw from it. “We should join hands and rise to the challenge,” he told the elites gathered at the conference. “Let us boost confidence, take actions and work together for a bright future.”

China’s bid to become the world’s climate leader is more than just a noble enterprise. Of course, staving off the worst impacts of climate change will spare Chinese lives, and limiting sea level rise will help to protect Chinese cities and the agricultural regions on which the country’s enormous population depends. But there are also reasons for China to green its economy that aren’t explicitly tied to climate: China is tired of the smoggy cities, and the attendant health issues, that come with coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, renewable energy represents a growth area for the country’s economy, which could be facing stagnation. In fact, worldwide, the Paris Agreement is expected to generate $19 trillion in wealth — and China hopes to capitalize on the opportunity.

The United States and China were once the world’s key allies in the fight against climate change. In November 2014, President Barack Obama traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Few knew it at the time, but their meeting would produce an agreement that paved the way for the Paris negotiations.

In that November 2014 announcement, Obama said the United States would commit to cutting emissions immediately — by up to 28 percent by 2025 — while Xi promised to put in place policies that would lead to China’s emissions peaking by 2030. The deal was denounced by conservatives in the United States as a giveaway to China, but the notoriously coal-loving country exceeded its promise and expectations by quickly ramping up renewables. Obama, meanwhile, put in place the Clean Power Plan and other regulations aimed at cutting America’s CO2 emissions.

The United States and China had thrown up some the biggest stumbling blocks during past U.N.-orchestrated efforts to put a climate deal in place. The fact that they were now openly acknowledging, through joint, public pronouncements, that climate change must be confronted and that both countries would put in place policies that did so, was a turning point in the two-decade-long effort to cement a global deal.

The following December, a year and a month after Obama and Xi’s announcement, the Paris Agreement was finalized.

Since signing the agreement, China has continued to encourage growth in renewables. By 2020, the country hopes to get 15 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources, a push that the government will fund with a $361 billion investment in renewables and nuclear energy that will create 13 million jobs for Chinese citizens. That would put China on track to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, the country, which was at one time bringing two new coal power plants online every week, has seen its coal consumption fall three years in a row and is canceling construction on coal plants, anticipating there won’t be much use for them.

The United States, on the other hand, has moved in the other direction. This week, Donald Trump started the process of undoing Obama’s climate change programs, and hasn’t made up his mind yet about whether to exit the Paris Agreement or simply ignore it. Surrounded by coal miners at yesterday’s executive order signing, Trump triumphantly announced that rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan would revive the US’ failing coal industry, though in practice his policies, which may be good for coal CEOs, are unlikely to create many jobs due to automation and other technological advances.

China, meanwhile, is looking for another country to replace the US as its partner in global climate efforts. The EU might be able to step into the role. Beijing has asked Brussels to schedule the annual China-EU summit for earlier this year than usual, with climate change as one of the items on the agenda.

Perhaps the greatest irony in this whole saga is Donald Trump’s go-to reason for dismissing climate change: That it is a hoax perpetrated to aid the Chinese.

Climate change is not a hoax perpetrated to aid the Chinese. Ironically, President Trump’s failure to address it makes way for China to thrive, both economically and diplomatically.

But there is another hoax at play here: The claim, repeated just recently by Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, that there is still debate among climate scientists about whether global warming is caused by humans. That hoax was foisted on the American people by polluting companies and the think tanks they fund, repeated again and again by faux experts who specialize in sowing doubt.

One such expert is Trump’s transition team head, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He spent years casting doubt on climate change — and before that, worked for tobacco companies to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking. Ebell was most recently found at an annual conference put together by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, where he was among those fretting that Trump’s climate change-denying EPA head and oil company CEO secretary of state were, in fact, too pro-environment to fully prevent climate action. “Secretary Rex Tillerson may be from Texas and he may have been the CEO of Exxon, but he is part of the swamp,” Ebell said.

The oil industry, which once funded this sort of propaganda, has created a monster it is powerless to stop. Many companies, including Exxon, which played a prominent role in obfuscating climate science, want the president to stay in the Paris Agreement, which will, in the short term, incentivize countries to turn away from coal electricity and potentially embrace natural gas, a product in which the oil industry is already heavily invested and is more than happy to sell. The president, however, remains skeptical of the agreement and of climate science, as his advisers battle among themselves — the plutocrats versus the nationalists — to determine whether the administration will keep America in the climate change agreement or bail.

That Trump has bought into polluters’ hoax so thoroughly is America’s, and the world’s, loss — but in the short term, it’s China’s gain.

http://www.salon.com/2017/04/02/trumps-stance-on-climate-change-is-a-gift-to-china_partner/?source=newsletter

Oligarchy in America

Naming the System

In democracies, the demos, the people, rule; not social or economic elites.  This was the understanding of philosophers in Athens twenty-five centuries ago, and it remained the consensus view well into the modern era.

The received wisdom was that, like anarchy, democracy is a theoretical possibility that can be instructive to reflect upon, but not an ideal that anyone of sound mind would actually endorse.

With the emergence of capitalist economic relations, however, and, along with it, the rise of the nation state, the traditionally marginalized demos became a factor in the politics of societies on the way to modernity.

In that context, democracy took on more positive connotations.  The transformation was well underway by the time of the French and American Revolutions.

Enlightenment thought played a role in fashioning those world historical events and in promoting understandings of their significance.  It was thanks to Enlightened thinkers that the idea took hold that nation states are comprised of citizens.  The idea is that, in principle, basic rights and liberties should be distributed equally; that, within the political sphere, equality reigns.

Because it demanded the rule of only a part of the citizenry, the demotic part, the old understanding of democracy eventually gave way.  In effect, the concept was scrubbed of its class content.

Needless to say, equal citizenship does not make social and economic inequalities go away.  It does, however, establish a kind of political equality – at least in theory.   In practice, self-described democracies have sometimes accommodated egregious political inequalities.   This was what the civil rights movement in the United States was mainly about; and it has been, and still is, a major concern of feminists in the United States and around the world.

The standard understanding of political equality is formal, not substantive.  Eligible citizens get one and only one vote, and are therefore formally or procedurally equal with respect to collective decision-making.  That some citizens may have more influence in determining outcomes than others – not because they are more persuasive in deliberations, but thanks to their economic and social power – is not thought to offend the idea of citizenship as such.

Thus the rule of the demos became the rule of an undifferentiated citizenry; and we nowadays deem states democratic if they institutionalize free, fair, and competitive elections.  Sometimes other practices associated with more traditional understandings of democratic theory are required as well — especially those that assure that the public is informed and that political choices are debated without fear or intimidation.  However, these protections have more to do with liberal restrictions on what states can rightfully do than with democracy as such.

Because, in the real world, facts on the ground make the idea of rule by an undifferentiated citizenry seem ludicrously hollow, and because contemporary and traditional understandings of democracy diverge so profoundly, it can be, and often is, misleading to use the word “democracy,” as we customarily do, to denote both classical and contemporary understandings.

But because the tables have turned, because the word “democracy” nowadays has positive connotations, defenders of the status quo are reluctant to give it up.

There have been theorists, however, who, being more concerned with getting concepts straight than with using them to justify the status quo, prefer not to contest the concept, but would rather reserve it for instances in which it plainly applies.

In practice, this means using “democracy” almost exclusively in normative contexts, and in discussing the work of the great democratic theorists of the past.   It means acknowledging the fact that, for descriptive political science, the concept is as useless as the ancients believed.

Thus the late Robert Dahl suggested that instead of calling regimes like the one in the United States “democracies,” we ought to use the term polyarchy instead.

Etymologically, that word connotes the rule of the many.  The “many” Dahl had in mind were overlapping elites.  They need not all be based on wealth.  In actually existing polyarchies – or “Western democracies,” as they are more familiarly known – organized labor and civil society groups of all sorts can and do figure in the political power structure too.

From the time of the Bolshevik Revolution to this day (in sectarian circles), hard Left political parties and unaffiliated leftwing intellectuals would distinguish themselves from one another by advancing competing views of the political economy and class nature of the former Soviet Union.

Maoists and some Trotskyists called the Soviet system “state capitalist.”  There were many, not always compatible, views of what that notion implies.  For Communists, the Soviet Union was a workers’ state.  Orthodox Trotskyists agreed – but with the caveat that it was “bureaucratically deformed” to such a degree that Soviet Communism betrayed the ideals of the Revolution that gave it birth.

Building on the foundations Dahl laid, it is tempting to describe the political regime in the United States in a similar fashion.    In that spirit, and at the risk of seeming facetious, I would venture that the United States is a polyarchy with plutocratic deformations.

In plutocracies, the rich rule.  America’s plutocratic deformations are “exceptional,” compared to those of most other polyarchies, but they are not qualitatively different.  In capitalist societies, capitalists are rich, and states in capitalist societies serve their interests.  If only in this sense, the rich rule.  In nearly all cases, however, they rule in more direct ways as well.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) insisted that a condition for the possibility of democratic governance is “that none should be so rich as to be able to buy another or so poor as to be forced to sell himself.”  Nearly everyone agrees; the incompatibility of democracy with grossly unequal distributions of income and wealth is a tenet of both classical and modern democratic theory.

Polyarchies are democratic enough to be undone by gross inequalities too.  All Western democracies are more polyarchic than democratic, and they all suffer, to some extent, from deformations brought on by income and wealth inequality.  Neoliberal economic policies have made the problem worse everywhere.

However, the American polyarchy has suffered more than most; in the United States, plutocracy is out of control.

Of the many reasons why, perhaps the most important is the inability of the American state to limit political spending.  The Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens’ United ruling nowadays gets all the attention, and it deserves all the blame it gets.   It should be remembered, however, that this is only the latest in a series of Supreme Court decisions, going back at least to Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, that effectively identify political spending – and therefore political corruption – with Constitutionally protected speech.

Democracy Tamed

Until well into the nineteenth century, the political class in the United States, and its counterparts in Great Britain and elsewhere, restricted the franchise to white male property owners.

For determining how many representatives in Congress states would be allotted, slaves counted for three-fifths of a citizen.  But they were not able to vote, of course; they were the property of their owners.  Freed blacks fared no better.

Native Americans couldn’t vote either; neither could many of the (mixed race) inhabitants of the lands the United States took from Mexico in the first half of the nineteenth century.

And although dissenting voices were raised from the earliest days of the republic, white women were denied the franchise too.   The consensus view among men, and among many women as well, was that the rightness of that arrangement was too obvious to require justification.

The exclusion of propertyless white males was more problematic.  There were plenty of extant justifications to draw upon, however.  Property holders in Great Britain and their Western European counterparts had been dealing with the issue for some time, and the arguments were well worked out.

The general strategy was to take on board and then adapt the old arguments against the rule of the demos – especially the idea that for collective deliberation and decision-making to work properly, decision-makers must be educated and informed, and must have ample time to devote to deliberative processes.  Propertyless white males, having neither the time nor the resources to develop the requisite capacities, fall short on this account.

This ostensibly high-minded rationale aside, the underlying reason why the franchise was restricted to persons of property was that the last thing property holders wanted was an electorate full of poor and desperate persons.  They feared that the propertyless would use the power of the state to seize and redistribute their wealth.

Their fears were reasonable.  In the aftermath of the French Revolution, wealth and income egalitarians did call for extending the franchise in order to advance their cause.  The Chartists in Britain were the most important example, but they were not alone.

However, as the nineteenth century wore on, it became increasingly clear that the well off had little to fear.  The rise of political parties that mediated between individuals and the state was an important part of the reason why.  The party system that emerged enabled elites to channel popular aspirations in ways that left private property secure.

With its potentially counter-systemic implications neutered, democracy could finally serve as an ideal that everyone could, at least in theory, endorse.

Thus property qualifications proved less robust than racial, nativist and patriarchal restrictions of voting rights.

Under military protection, blacks could and did vote and hold office in defeated Southern states during Reconstruction.  In short order, though, they were effectively disenfranchised for the next hundred years; and, to this day, in practice, if not in theory, their right to vote remains precarious.

In the final decades of the nineteenth century, women did win the right to vote in a few Western territories and states, but it was not until 1920, after decades of struggle, that the women’s suffrage movement finally succeeded in forcing Congress and the states to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.

These victories notwithstanding, white supremacy and patriarchy survived extensions of the franchise in much the way that private property had decades earlier.  It takes more than voting to dislodge entrenched power.

There is no doubt, however, that while progress has been uneven, the virulence of white supremacy and patriarchal domination has diminished over the past several decades.  The gains seem irreversible too; not even the malign forces behind Donald Trump can turn back the clock on this.  No doubt, voting is part of the reason why, though it is unclear how large a role it has played.

Ironically, though, over the same period, income and wealth inequality and other problems associated with plutocracy have gotten worse; voting hasn’t helped with that at all.   Indeed, many less well off voters nowadays vote for candidates and policies that make the problems associated with plutocratic rule worse.  So much for expropriating the expropriators through the ballot box!

There are many reasons why this has happened: false consciousness comes immediately to mind; it is surely part of the explanation.  For evangelicals and others with retrograde social views in the United States, so is “values voting.”

But the most important part of the explanation, in the American case, is the lack of a real opposition party that the system in place does not thoroughly marginalize.  The Democratic Party is useless for that.  To be sure, even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been known to mouth off about the evils of inequality.  But you don’t need a bullshit detector to see that they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Trump phenomenon is both a symptom and a cause of this sorry state of affairs.  It seems anomalous, because Trump’s persona is so outrageous, and because it is plain that no one with his temperament should be anywhere near the seat of power, much less anyone as clueless as he.   It doesn’t help either that his cabinet is full of nincompoops and that his advisors are even worse; or that, for the time being, he is pursuing reactionary social and economic policies at home, and a reckless and basically incoherent agenda in foreign affairs.

But the fact is that were he now to disappear from the scene – say, by getting himself impeached or by quitting, as he has done before in his capacity as a casino tycoon and real estate mogul — it will seem, in retrospect, that while, during his tenure in office, he raised the profile of the polyarchy’s plutocratic deformations to new heights, he did not fundamentally alter the nature of the regime.

If, however, Trump somehow stays on – because his vanity demands it and because Democrats permit it – it may look instead, in retrospect, that, at this moment, we are indeed on the brink of a radical transformation; that our flawed polyarchy is about to become something America has never quite seen before, even in the robber baron days — a full-fledged oligarchy.

Oligarchy Trump Style

Oligarchy, the rule of the few, is the problem we are facing – not fascism.  Trump is no fascist, not even a “friendly fascist,” as Ronald Reagan was sometimes said to be.

For one thing, he has no coherent political vision, fascist or otherwise; for another, he lacks the stature of a true fascist leader.  Calling the Donald a fascist actually demeans fascism.  This might seem like a good thing to do.  But the description is anachronistic, and things are what they are.  It would be foolish to trade off clarity for a dubious rhetorical advantage.

It is true, though, that Trump is a magnet for the kinds of people who, in the right circumstances, become fascists; social psychologists call them “authoritarian personalities.”

The description applies, however, only to a subset of Trump voters.  Most of them were not so much voting for Trump as against Clinton and, insofar as they understood what she represented, against Clintonism – against the neoliberal turn, against liberal (“humanitarian”) imperialism, and against America’s perpetual war regime.

The great German Social Democrat August Bebel called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools.”  In that spirit, we might say that “Trumpism is the anti-Clintonism of fools”; or rather that it would be, if saying that didn’t require dignifying Trump’s politics by putting an “ism” after his name.

Trump has unleashed the furies, the forces of darkness.  Plenty of people – Muslims, Hispanics, persons of color, women, and white workers too – are suffering on this account, and if he isn’t stopped, it will get much worse.  Even so, he will not leave America a fascist state.  The danger he poses to the political realm is of a different nature.

If he is able to ditch the largely beneficial rules and regulations he and his minions inveigh against, and if he can get Congress to enact the spending programs and tax cuts he says he favors, some very rich malefactors will do very well under his reign.  Plutocracy will flourish.

But even allowing that, as “dialecticians” would say, quality arises out of quantity, this will not change the fundamental nature of the regime.  America will still be a polyarchy — with large and growing plutocratic deformations.

It would be a regime changer, though, if Trump were to turn the rule of the many into the rule of the few.  This is what he seems to be doing, right before our eyes.

He is not just forming a “kitchen cabinet” and relying upon it inordinately.  He is relying upon people he thinks won’t betray him, and turning the reins of government over to them.

However, his is no ordinary oligarchy.  His oligarchs didn’t find him; he found them.  And, with one major exception, they aren’t even plutocrats who have grown too big – or too rich – for their britches.

“Oligarchy” has had unusually bad press in the United States of late– thanks mainly to the resurgent Russophobia that Americans of a certain age imbibed with their mother’s milk, and thanks to the fact that Democrats and their media flunkies are doing all they can to stir it up – not just to delegitimize Trump but also to deflect blame for the thrashing they took in the last election away from themselves and onto an enemy Republicans hate as much as they do.

Delegitimizing the Trump presidency is a worthwhile project, but there are less reckless ways of going about it than antagonizing a nuclear power.  Inasmuch as Trump is his own best delegitimizer, there are countless ways.

Were left-leaning pundits to go after Trump for moving the country in an oligarchic direction, they would actually be doing some good.  However, they prefer to go after him by linking him not to the homegrown oligarchs he is actually empowering, but to the oligarchs of Russia and the former Soviet republics, the evil “other.”  That way they can get Trump and get Russia too.

Russian oligarchs and their counterparts in other former Soviet republics are, for the most part, well-connected cronies of leading politicians – especially Vladimir Putin, the man Democrats and Republicans of the John McCain variety love to demonize.  The official line is that they reek of corruption; that our plutocrats are angels in comparison.

It is true that the Russian system is corrupt.  The corruption started when, with Western – especially American – help, Russia’s regression to capitalism got underway.  At first, the beneficiaries of that debacle were kleptocrats, connected to the old nomenklatura and, in some cases, to organized crime.

They made off like the bandits they are, setting the tone for what would follow as the system matured.  The corruption has never gone away.

We in the United States have our share of corruption too.  Trump fooled a lot of people campaigning against it; on the principle that it takes one to know one, he got them to think that, being on their side, he had the will and ability to “drain the swamp.” Where is Sarah Palin now that we need her to ask how that “swampy drainy thing” is going?

The way that it’s going is that he is bringing the swamp into the White House itself.  He is doing it by putting together a kind of ma and pa oligarchy that does nothing to diminish the level of corruption and that is manifestly less competent than anything Russophobic liberal pundits can find to complain about in Russia today.

Reduced to its core, the Trump oligarchy is comprised of a Trump, a Kushner, Steven Bannon and, scariest of all, Robert Mercer.

The Trump is, of course, daughter Ivanka, purveyor of baubles and fashion.  The line on her is that she is an intelligent and savvy businesswoman.  In fact, she owes her success in business to the Trump name, and she knows as much about politics as the average thirty something who was born into the gilded world of the nouveau riche.

The Donald trusts her because she is family and because, as he would be the first to say, she is hot.  Also, he needs her to be his acting First Lady.

I have high hopes, by the way, for the actual First Lady.  Circumstantial evidence and common sense – supported by serious gossip – all suggest that she increasingly regrets the Faustian bargain she made with the Donald.

If she would do the right thing, Melania Trump could do more good for her (adopted) country than any woman with access to presidential genitals since Eleanor Roosevelt — more even than Monica Lewinsky or Nancy Reagan.

But for his dalliance with the former, Bill Clinton would have had a shot at ending Social Security “as we know it,” just as surely as he and Hillary ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children; and but for the latter’s faith in astrology and her and therefore her astrologer’s influence over the villainous old Gipper, all kinds of mischief would surely have resulted.

The Kushner is Jared, Ivanka’s husband.  It was a match made in capitalist heaven.  They both have sleaze ball dads who know how to work the system.  They both grew up with more money than God.

A difference is that the Kushners couldn’t capitalize on their name, even if they wanted to, whereas the Trumps are past masters at it.   Also Jared’s father, unlike Ivanka’s, has done time.

Another difference is that Ivanka’s dad could care less about religion, except when his marks are evangelical Christians, while Jared’s is an Orthodox Jew.  So is Jared, and therefore now Ivanka as well.  The Kushners are also rabid Zionists, ethnic cleansers whose “philanthropy” aids the settler movement in Occupied Palestine.

Two mediocrities; two chips off the old block.  With oligarchs like these, how could Trump not “make America great again?”

Having identified a vacuum there to fill, Bannon, an apostle of the formerly fringe, now mainstream, far Right has managed to make himself Trump’s guru.

He is the one largely responsible for bringing serviceable cartoon characters like Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller into the Trump fold.  Without them and others of their ilk, Trump would now be little more than a barely remembered figure from a nightmare, and he would be even less able to govern than he currently is.  Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer are just not enough.

Bannon can also be credited with bringing a semblance of ideological coherence to the Trump campaign by drawing on the thinking of pre-World War II clerical fascists and their intellectual descendants in Europe today.  Their ideas give a nationalistic and Islamophobic coloration to the retrograde social and economic policies that Republicans traditionally champion.

How odd for a guru coaching a billionaire pretending to be an American “populist” to draw on sources rooted on the wrong side of the Dreyfus Affair, and for God-fearing, down home American Protestants not to mind the foreign and Catholic inflections.  But there it is!

It was pointed out during the campaign that the adjective “loathsome” attached to Ted Cruz’s name in much the way that “fleet footed” attached to Achilles’.  Bannon picks up on the Cruz vibe too – especially when he echoes the old Reagan nonsense about how government is not the solution, but the problem.

To make his point, Bannon appropriated, and forever sullied, the word “deconstruction,” depriving obscurantist literary theorists of one of their most cherished concepts.  Bannon and therefore Trump say that they want to deconstruct the government by which they mean reduce it down to a vanishing point – all, that is, except those parts of it that advance the class interests of the Trump and Kushner families and their class brothers and sisters.

This would include its means of domestic repression and world domination.  They want to expand all that – indeed, to throw money at it — even at the cost of offending the deficit hawks in the House and Senate, and in the larger Republican fold.

To soften the blow, Bannon and the others saw to it that those government agencies which actually serve the public would be led and staffed as much as possible by nincompoops opposed viscerally to the agencies they lead.

Even if Trump goes, this will be an enduring part of his “legacy.”  With the Donald out of the picture, we would have Mike Pence, a bona fide reactionary, in charge.  How pathetic that this is something to look forward to!

Then there is Mercer.  If Jane Mayer’s scrupulously careful investigative reporting (“fake news” in the Trump lexicon) is even remotely on track, Mercer money has effectively bought the White House – not because the Donald is on the take, he doesn’t need to be, but because he is in way over his head and Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, are, under Bannon’s direction, helping him muddle through.

In his pre-Dick Cheney days, when he too would get in over his head, the man who is now only the second worst President in modern times would rely on Bush family fixers to get him through.  Mercer is currently doing much the same for the man who knocked George W. out of first place.

Mercer, it seems, is weird as they come; daughter Rebekah, not so much.  She reportedly relishes her power and influence as the First Lady of the alt-Right.

Her father, however, hardly ever speaks.  In recent years, limitless riches seem to have brought out the inner Gatsby in the man.  He has taken to indulging a taste for Long Island estates, luxurious yachts, and lavish parties.  But even now, in comparison, Clarence Thomas, in his capacity as a Supreme Court Justice, is positively loquacious.

Mercer is an extreme libertarian and also a devote not just of the usual conspiracy theories, but also of the idea that, for example, global warming is good for the planet and that nuclear accidents and even nuclear wars really aren’t that bad.

How could such a man become so rich and therefore powerful?  The answer seems to be that, for writing computer codes useful to the financial firms he runs, he is something of an idiot savant.

Idiots savants who, for example, multiply and divide very large numbers in their heads end up in freak shows.   What Mercer is uncannily good at is as socially useless.  But it also happens to be ridiculously lucrative in our twenty-first century capitalist world.

And so Mercer and his daughter find themselves in a position to turn their fantasies into state policies that, thanks to their zeal and Trump’s fecklessness, could do irreparable harm to the human race and the planet itself.

All oligarchies are bad.  The one that Trump is laying on us could make the others, even the Russian one that Democrats and their pundits rail constantly against, look good in comparison.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/31/oligarchy-in-america/