Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke. I believe a political realignment is underway, and those who fail to discern its outlines could end up powerless and irrelevant.
With all respect to Hillary Clinton, her newly published memoir, “What Happened,” doesn’t really tell what happened. It is perhaps inevitable that she would focus on the daily twists and turns of the campaign. It is understandable that she would blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin and the media for damaging her prospects—and that she would downplay her own strategic and tactical missteps.
But take a step back and look at the election through a wider lens. Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.
That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew—or thought we knew—about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing—and at least the attempted collusion—of the Trump campaign.
But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.
In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.
None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.
My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.
I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either, as evidenced by the way his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration. But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.
Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.
Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking—as is the contrast between what both Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.
Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue—immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.
The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.
But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.
EUGENE ROBINSON uses his twice-weekly column in The Washington Post to pick American society apart and then put it back together again in unexpected, and revelatory, new ways. …
Donald Trump’s base is shrinking, no matter what he tweets to the contrary. Two hundred days into his term, he has few legislative accomplishments to tout — despite Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade — and nobody to blame.
The president is increasingly frustrated that his raucous campaign-like crowds in friendly red states have not drowned out the Russia investigation or poll numbers that have him sinking to below 35 percent approval — and those poll numbers are starting to make congressional Republicans nervous.
Now Republicans have launched a counteroffensive.
It’s still 15 months until the midterm election, but in some ways the campaign is in full swing. House Republicans unveiled a new website on Monday meant to provide counterprogramming that depicts an alternative 200-day timeline highlighting GOP accomplishments and building up a favorite Republican boogeyman: the media.
“House Republicans aren’t distracted by the newest countdown clock on cable news or partisan sniping in Washington, D.C.,” the website, “Did You Know,“ reads. Republicans hope to blame the press for not writing more about their legislative achievements. Trump even took a break from his vacation to send off a barrage of tweets early Monday morning blasting the “Fake News” media.
But unlike the propaganda “real news” videos posted to Trump’s Facebook page in recent months — made to appear as “real” news segments hosted by Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara — House Republicans’ new venture more closely resembles the commercials put out by previous re-election campaigns.
“You don’t care about those things. You care about finding a good job, taking care of your family, and achieving the American Dream, and so do we,” the House GOP’s new ad announces.
Of course, some may recall that House Speaker Paul Ryan promised that “this will be the most productive presidency and Congress in our lifetimes” and initially pledgedto repeal and replace portions of Obamacare by spring and tackle tax reform before the August recess.
Ryan’s gamble on a glossy new campaign meant to distract from his failed policies is likely to pay off. Republican voters have long been primed to distrust the mainstream media. A poll released late last month found that nearly half of all Republicans are in favor of courts shutting down media outlets that publish biased information. A majority of Republicans also said they support fines for media outlets that put out biased or inaccurate news reports.
As mentioned earlier, Trump’s personal Facebook page — not the White House’s Facebook page — has recently taken to producing what it calls “real news” video clips that highlight positive stories ignored by the media as controversy further engulfs the administration. Last week, Lara Trump, the wife of Trump’s youngest adult son, Eric, informed more than 2 million viewers that Trump donated his presidential salary to the Department of Education.
A nearly identical video was posted Sunday by Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, a former CNN contributor who announced her departure from the network only hours before appearing in the pro-Trump propaganda video. On Monday, it was announced that McEnany would become the next spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.
“Thank you for joining us, everybody. I’m Kayleigh McEnany, and that is the real news,” the conservative television commentator said to end her “News of the Week” segment for Trump’s Facebook page.
McEnany’s seamless transition from CNN to “Trump TV” to the RNC is such a transparent circumvention of the fourth estate that even conservative commentator Erick Erickson complained on Twitter: “How very Soviet.”
In fairness, Republicans aren’t trying to hide their propaganda push. The Trump campaign said it plans to use its fledgling Facebook show to “continue to promote real news” and to “talk to Americans directly.”
Sophia Tesfaye is Salon’s Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.
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 subsequentfiring 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.
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.
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.
Republicans in the US House of Representatives unveiled a draconian budget plan Tuesday seeking to cut trillions in funding to programs that millions of Americans depend upon to meet basic social needs. The plan introduced in the Budget Committee takes aim at Medicaid and Medicare in particular, while siphoning off huge funding increases for the military and preparing tax breaks to pad the coffers of the super-rich.
All told, the long-term budget blueprint proposes to slash more than $5 trillion from social programs over the next decade, eviscerating what remains of the social safety net. Most provocatively, it calls for $4 trillion in reductions to “mandatory” spending programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, following public uproar over attempts to dismantle portions of these health care services under the guise of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Connected to the funding cuts are proposals to transform these so-called entitlement programs into limited anti-poverty measures. The plan would introduce spending caps for Medicaid, effectively denying service for millions of poor and disabled people who depend on it for access to health care. Medicare would transition to a voucher-based scheme and apply a “means test” to determine the eligibility of seniors.
Other programs under the ax include $150 billion in funding for food stamps, reduced support for student loans and grants, and additional constraints on Social Security disability coverage. Welfare recipients would come up against additional work requirements. Federal workers would see their pensions gutted.
Alongside these deeply unpopular cuts to social programs are increases for the US military and other “defense” spending, which already outstrips the next seven largest national military budgets combined. Over the next decade, the plan calls for an additional $929 billion to prepare for war and social unrest.
The House Republicans’ plan mirrors in most respects President Trump’s budget proposal released this past spring. In certain areas, however, it is even more extreme. It goes further in boosting the military budget, for example, and proposes attacks not only on Medicaid but also on Medicare. The architect of Trump’s plan, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, praised the House proposal, urging Congress to move it forward.
The House plan also contains a key element of Trump’s agenda in his first year: tax giveaways to the wealthy. If passed it would rewrite both corporate and personal tax codes, consolidating tax brackets and repealing the alternative minimum tax for individuals, while cutting the corporate tax rate and switching to a territorial tax system to only tax domestic income for business.
The inclusion of the tax plan is a procedural gimmick to allow the bill to become law with a simple majority in the Senate, thereby overcoming nominal opposition from the Democratic Party. But it also requires the tax changes to be revenue neutral. The current plan uses many of the same accounting tricks and optimistic growth assumptions as the president’s plan to arrive at that conclusion. However, Trump has favored even larger tax cuts, which add to the deficit despite the mathematical camouflage.
The prospects for the current budget proposal to survive a vote by the full House of Representatives remains uncertain. Already it has generated criticism from both hard-line right-wingers and Republican “centrists” as not going far enough or going too far, respectively. Democrats have denounced the plan. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called it a “toxic budget whose sole purpose is to hand tax breaks to billionaires on the backs of seniors and hardworking Americans.”
Nonetheless, the brutal austerity proposals prepare the way for a “compromise” to emerge that restores some of the cuts but still accelerates the dismantling of social programs. Together with the long-term concept of transferring to several trillion dollars to the wealthy, the plan contains short-term actions, including mandating $203 billion in cuts, to be determined by 11 different committees.
The general program of rolling back the social safety net and anti-poverty programs has in fact been a common one shared by both Democrats and Republicans. The current budget proposal is a somewhat more austere variation of the $4 trillion in cuts proposed by the Simpson-Bowles Commission convened by President Obama, or the $1.1 trillion sequestration cuts enacted by him.
Yet the ruling class sees now an opportunity to advance its agenda. “In past years, our proposals had little chance of becoming a reality,” House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black said. “The time for talking is over, now is the time for action.”
It appears that the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is dead, at least for now. Donald Trump’s unrealistic, grandiose promise will go unfulfilled.
That didn’t work out. After weeks of prevarication and misdirection on the part of people like Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who went on TV last weekend and blatantly lied about the effects of the Senate health care bill, on Monday night two GOP senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, pulled the plug by saying they could not vote for it. Added to the previously announced no votes of Sens. Susan Collins and Rand Paul, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now at least two short. He has admitted that this bill will not pass.
We’ve been here before, of course. The first House bill was pulled and they came back and passed an even worse version. This may not end the way everyone seems to assume it will either.
Both Trump and McConnell acknowledged that the Senate’s BCRA is dead and signaled their support for a “full repeal plus two-year delay until they figure out what the hell is going on” plan. It is not impossible that they could put something else together.
After all, the reasons three of the four senators gave for their unwillingness to pass the bill is that it just wasn’t harsh enough. Repeal and replace with nothing would undoubtedly make them quite happy. That would leave the handful of Republican moderates in the Senate having to do something only Collins has so far been willing to do: take a stand for decency. Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all said that they won’t vote to deny people health insurance. But there’s always a chance they can be appeased with the two-year delay and a fatuous promise to fix everything before then. Nobody should relax until it’s clear that this is all well and truly dead.
This repeal-and-delay plan was originally proposed back at the beginning of the year but faced a huge uproar, mostly from the health care industry, which cannot run its businesses with this kind of uncertainty about the financing, rules and regulations under which they must operate. A handful of senators balked at the time, including Bob Corker of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who said, “I don’t think we can repeal Obamacare and say we’re going to get the answer two years from now.” Both Paul and Collins were against it too, as were many of the Republican governors who also have to plan their budgets.
But what really scared them off that time was public opinion. Only 20 percent of Americans were in favor of repeal-and-delay five months ago. It’s hard to imagine that after they’ve seen what kind of horrendous plans the Republicans tried to ram through the Congress they’ll be more favorably disposed today. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans prefer Democrats to handle health care by 55 to 36 percent.
The Republican leadership exemplified by House Speaker Paul Ryan thought they had come up with a clever way to have their cake and eat it too. If they could repeal the Affordable Care Act and then take their big victory lap, that might satisfy their base that they were getting things done — after which they could pretend they were creating some kind of “new” health care system that would kick in gradually. The simple fact was that they had no idea how to cover the people who are currently covered under the ACA and they knew it. Their best hope was to ease people back into their previous anxiety and despair and blame Obamacare for it.
Donald Trump has said many times that he believes the best political move would be to keep Obamacare in place and help it fail, so he and his party could blame the Democrats. If Republicans can drag this out a couple of years and guilt Democratic lawmakers into signing on to some inadequate Band-aids in order to spare a few lives, that would really be sweet.
It will also be sweet for the Democrats when they run ads against every House Republican who voted for that AHCA atrocity under the assurance that they would “fix it in the Senate.” If the Democrats do manage to eke out a new House majority it will be the health care albatross that brings down the GOP. They can name him Donald.
But whether Republicans manage to push through repeal-and-delay or just drop it altogether, liberals and progressives need to reckon with the fact that this is not the end. There will never be an end.
Republicans have been trying to destroy the American safety net for decades. They’ve been hostile to Medicare and Medicaid since the day they were passed. They’ve been running against Social Security for 82 years. (They just tried to privatize it in 2005!) They will never stop attacking the ACA either.
This isn’t just about profits or ” free markets.” Consider that this Senate bill was opposed by all the so-called stakeholders: the insurance companies, the hospitals, doctors and even big business. It still has 48 out of 52 votes in the Senate. Conservatives simply do not believe that people have a right to health care. They see it as a commodity like any other, something which you should not have if you cannot pay for it.
By way of crude illustration, recall when libertarian godhead Rep. Ron Paul ran for president in 2008. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him during a debate what an uninsured man who became catastrophically ill and needed intensive care for six months should do. Paul replied, “What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody …” The audience then erupted into cheers, cutting off Paul’s sentence. Blitzer followed up by asking “Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” Members of the audience clapped and shouted “Yeah!”
Or there was this remarkable moment from an Obamacare town hall in 2009:
The sainted Ronald Reagan made his name speaking out against “socialized medicine” for years, memorably warning that if the government passed Medicare, we were all “going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
Nobody who believes that human beings have a right to a government guarantee of health care, security in their old age and society’s support should they be unable to work should ever rest on their laurels. Those who don’t agree will never stop trying to take those things away.
Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.
How did it come to pass that of the two political parties, the Democrats — who have long fought for the underdog, civil rights, consumer protections, universal health care, the minimum wage and for unions against powerful interests that try to crush them — have now been branded in large swaths of the country as the party of the establishment and the elites?
And how did it come to pass that Republicans — whose policies, regardless of stated intent, benefit polluters, entrenched interests and the upper brackets of American wealth — are now seen by many as the anti-establishment populist party which delights in flipping off elites on behalf of the Everyman?
For the moment, keep Donald Trump out of this conversation — after all, Democrats have been hemorrhaging seats in statehouses and Congress for decades. Also set aside any talking points about which party’s policies truly benefit forgotten Americans or which short-term trends show up in the polls.
More important for Democrats is whether they can rewrite the political narrative that now has them on the side of the establishment and Republicans on the side of sticking it to the man.
If Democrats want to regain their electoral stride and recapture defiant voters who once saw the party as their advocate and voice — the same voters they need to establish a sustained governing majority throughout the land — they must think less about policies per se than about how those policies translate to messaging and brand.
Just as consumers purchase products not merely for what they do but for what they say about the people who buy them, voters are drawn to narratives, brands and identities as much as the policies that affect their lives. These narratives give voters meaning, define who they are, and become an essential part of their identity and self-image.
What’s most toxic in American politics today — as it has been throughout our history — is to become the party associated with domineering overlords and supercilious elites who seem to enjoy wielding power over the rest of us.
To some extent, the Democrats have only themselves to blame for their elite, establishment image.
Few question the party’s need to build its campaign coffers in what is now an arms race for political dollars. But by cozying up to Wall Street and the privileged — and appearing more at ease hobnobbing among them than among those who work in factories, small businesses and call centers — Democrats have sent a subtle message about the people they prefer to associate with and seek out for advice. To many Americans, it reeks of hypocrisy at best.
Republicans, who unapologetically celebrate wealth as a symbol of American dynamism, face no such messaging dissonance.
But perhaps more important is the jujitsu maneuver that Republicans have used to turn one of the Democratic Party’s strengths — its good faith use of government to level the playing field and help the little people — into a weakness.
From the New Deal through the ’60s, the Democrats were able to show that government was an essential tool to correct market inequities, protect the little people from unchecked power and special interests and ensure that the American birthright included safeguards against crippling poverty and misfortune.
Government, most Americans believed, was their defender and their voice. In 1964, according the the American National Election Studies, more than three-fourths of Americans said they trusted government most of the time or just about always. It was the Democrats that stood for grass-roots change and the Republicans who represented the powerful and resistant establishment.
Democrats then expanded their vision of a righteous government by exercising its power to fight segregation, discrimination, environmental blight, corporate malfeasance and consumer hazards — and to advance health care as a right and not a privilege. All of that seemed to follow the New Deal script of government as a force for good.
But with Richard Nixon channeling George Wallace’s racialized anger at the federal government and Ronald Reagan saying that the only way to christen our shining city on a hill is to free up aggrieved entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens stifled by burdensome red tape and regulations, the Democratic association with government began to turn noxious.
As Reagan put it in his 1981 inaugural address, we should not allow “government by an elite group” to “ride on our back.”
For four decades now, Republicans have succeeded in framing Democrats as the party that uses government to bigfoot rather than aid the American people. Democrats may celebrate public servants for keeping our food safe and our lakes healthy, but Republicans have successfully portrayed them as a humorless bureaucrats who salivate at the urge to exert power and control over taxpaying Americans.
And Republicans have very artfully created a counternarrative, turning the market into a synonym for liberty and defining it as an authentic expression of American grass-roots energy in which small businesses and entrepreneurs simply need freedom from government to shower benefits on us all.
Of course the market’s magic may be more mythical than real — given that powerful corporations and interests dominate and exploit it often at the expense of workers — but that inconvenient fact is immaterial to the brilliant messaging advantages Republicans have derived from it.
Indeed, in the Republican playbook it’s the teachers, unions, environmental groups, professors and civil rights organizations that constitute the establishment whereas Koch and other industry-funded astroturf groups are the real gladiators fighting the status quo.
But it’s not just the Democratic association with government that Republicans have used to brand it as the party of the establishment and elites. Republicans have also turned the table on the liberal values that Democrats embrace.
Beginning in the 1960s, liberals have sought to flush prejudice, bigotry and discriminatory attitudes from society by turning diversity into a moral value and creating a public culture intolerant of misogyny and intolerance. On the surface, that should be a sign of national progress.
But conservatives — with help from an unwitting or overly zealous slice of the left that too often overreaches — took these healthy normative changes and cleverly depicted them as an attempt by condescending and high-handed elites to police our language and impose a politically correct finger-pointing culture.
In effect, conservatives have rather successfully portrayed liberals and Democrats as willing to use cultural and political power against ordinary Americans. They want to take my guns, regulate my business, dictate who I can hire, and tell me what I can buy, which doctors I see, how I live, when I pray and even what I say — so goes the conservative narrative.
That their definition of “ordinary Americans” is quite narrow — meaning whites and particularly men — is beside the point because it’s the political branding that matters, not the fact that liberal economic policies and efforts against bigotry and discrimination have helped millions of ordinary Americans.
Our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural DNA to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.
Taken together, Republicans have successfully defined Democrats as a party of bureaucrats, power brokers, media elites, special interests and snobs who have created a client state for those they favor, aim to control what everyone else does and look down their noses at the people who pay the taxes to fund the same government that Democrats use to control their lives.
And why is this so damning for Democrats? Because our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural DNA to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.
Read past the first paragraphs of our Declaration of Independence and it’s all about King George III and his abuses of power. Our Constitution encodes checks and balances and a separation of powers. Our economic system rests on antitrust law, which is designed to keep monopolies from crushing smaller competitors and accumulating too much power.
So if large numbers of Americans see Democrats as the party of entrenched elites who exert power over the little people, then Democrats have lost the messaging battle that ultimately determines who prevails and who doesn’t in our elections.
And let’s be clear: Donald Trump didn’t originate this message in his 2016 campaign; he simply exploited, amplified and exemplified it better than almost any Republican since Ronald Reagan.
The Bernie Sanders answer, of course, is to train the party’s fire at banks, corporations and moneyed interests. After all, they are the ones exerting unchecked power, soaking up the nation’s wealth and distributing it to the investor class and not the rest of us.
And to some extent that has potential and appeal.
But remember, most Americans depend on corporations for their jobs, livelihoods, health care, mortgages and economic security. So it’s much more difficult today to frame big business as the elite and powerful establishment than it was when when workers manned the union ramparts against monopoly power. Working Americans today have a far more ambivalent relationship with corporate America than they did in the New Deal days.
Somehow Democrats have to come up with their own jujitsu maneuver to once again show that theirs is the party that fights entrenched power on behalf of the little people. Liberals have to figure out how to merge their diversity voice with the larger imperative of representing all of America’s underdogs. These are not mutually exclusive messages.
Democrats can preach all they want on health care and Trump and the environment. But if they don’t correct the larger narrative about who holds power in America — and who’s fighting to equalize that power on behalf of us all — then whatever small and intermittent victories they earn may still leave them short in the larger battle for the hearts and souls of American voters.
Despite Europe’s clear disdain for President Trump it seems as though he’s over there every other week. In fact he’s arriving in France on Thursday at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron to help celebrate Bastille Day and have dinner at the Eiffel Tower. Considering that Trump has implied repeatedly that Paris is nothing but a hellhole these days, it’s a testament to just how desperate he is to get out of Washington. The heat is on and he wants out of the kitchen.
You have certainly heard that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer to get some promised dirt on Hillary Clinton that was represented as being part of a Russian government program to help Trump get elected. Now we know their breathless protestations that they didn’t know nothin’ about no Russians were lies, and we also know that this particular tawdry scheme reached into the highest levels of the campaign. We’ll have to wait for the next shoe to drop. There is always another shoe.
There was one new story on Wednesday that added an interesting detail to the saga and points to a possible larger conspiracy. McClatchy reported that House and Senate investigators as well as the Justice Department are looking at the Trump campaign’s digital operation, one of Jared Kushner’s pet projects (financed by big-daddy benefactor Robert Mercer), to determine if it may have worked with Russia’s sophisticated micro-targeting and propaganda program during the 2016 campaign.
This raises once again the question of just what was going on in the Republican Party during this period. After all, it wasn’t just Donald Trump who benefited from Russian hacking. The GOP-dominated House majority was a major beneficiary as well.
Remember, the congressional leadership knew in 2015 that it was happening. Reuters has reported that the so-called Gang of Eight (Republican leaders in Congress) was told that Russian hackers were attacking the Democratic Party but that the information was so top secret they could not share it. As we know, hackers attacked the Democratic National Committee and the personal email of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. But they also hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and information gleaned from that hack was put to use in some 2016 campaigns for Congress.
A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. […]
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.
This was the day after news had broken that the Russians had hacked the DNC and Ryan and McCarthy had just come from a meeting with the Ukrainian prime minister, who “had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.”
Republican leaders kept this from the public for a year, then lied repeatedly about it when confronted until someone produced an audiotape, at which point McCarthy, Ryan, et al., said it was just a joke. Maybe it was. But we know for sure that this idea about Trump being under Putin’s thumb was in the ether in GOP circles even as the party was getting ready to nominate him as its presidential candidate.
Fast forward to late August when the intelligence community was becoming frantic over the evidence of Russian interference and Director of National Intelligence John Brennan held private classified briefings with eight top congressional leaders, telling then that there was evidence the Russians were helping Donald Trump and that unnamed advisers to the Republican nominee might be working with them. In September, intelligence officials convened a big meeting with the Gang of 12, meaning the House and Senate leadership along with chairmen and ranking members of committees on intelligence and homeland security. It was assumed this would result in a “show of solidarity and bipartisan unity” to protest this threat to the integrity of the American democratic process.
That was an erroneous assumption. The Republicans refused to sign anything that implicated the Russian government, only agreeing to tell state elections officials to beware of “malefactors” attempting to hack election software. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly “an act of partisan politics.” That was that.
There’s a lot of punditry every day bemoaning the fact that President Trump refuses to admit that the Russian interference in the campaign happened, seeing it as a stubborn (and insulting) rejection of the U.S. intelligence community and a dangerous unwillingness to take needed action to prevent it happening again. But really, why is Trump the only one on the hook? The Republican leadership has turned a blind eye to what was happening since 2015. They knew. They may have even known more about it than Trump did, at least in the beginning. They did nothing about it then and have shown no signs that they plan to do anything in the future.
It’s not all on Donald Trump. He may been the principal beneficiary but the leaders of his party aided and abetted the crime. We may just learn that they benefited from it too.