Trump’s scorched-earth budget: $1.7 trillion in cuts to vital social programs

By Kate Randall
24 May 2017

On Tuesday, the White House unveiled a $4.1 trillion fiscal 2018 budget that proposes to take the ax to social programs that protect the health and welfare of millions of American workers.

The budget amounts to a scorched-earth attack on all aspects of social life. It would claw back social gains made by workers over the past century and slash funds to programs that raised millions out of poverty, particularly since the 1960s.

The proposal is not simply the brainchild of the fascistic-minded billionaire who occupies the White House or the criminal oligarchy he represents. It is the culmination of decades of attacks on social conditions and programs by both big-business parties.

While the Democrats have aimed their fire at the president from the right, pursuing their campaign, along with the “liberal” media, to escalate the US military confrontation with Russia, the Trump administration is forging full steam ahead to advance its ultra-reactionary domestic agenda.

After feigning outrage at the budget’s proposed cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy, the Democrats will eventually fall into line and work with the president to come up with a dirty compromise. The end result will be a budget that makes the most sweeping attacks on core social programs in US history.

The budget, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” is a 52-page declaration of war against the working class. The document spells out $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.

It takes as its jumping-off point an attack on Medicaid that would eviscerate the health insurance program for the poor. It then moves on to gut food stamps, welfare and Social Security disability benefits.

An assault on immigrant rights and a parallel buildup of forces to police the border is next on the agenda. The military would receive a 10 percent boost in funding, including many projects already planned by the Obama administration.

Federal workers’ jobs and benefits are targeted. The proposed budget also includes hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to scientific research, environmental protection and the arts. No area of social life is to be left unscathed.

Social programs

Medicaid: The centerpiece of the budget is an $800 billion cut over the next decade to Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, jointly administered by the federal government and the states, which presently covers more than 74 million Americans.

Taking its cue from the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed May 4, the Trump budget would put an end to Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit based on need, replacing it with per capita funding or block grants to the states.

As part of its effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, the AHCA would also end the expansion of Medicaid benefits to those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, resulting in 10 million beneficiaries being booted off the rolls.

The budget proposal notes: “States will have more flexibility to control costs and design individual, State-based solutions to provide better care to Medicaid beneficiaries.” These are code words for the states to institute work requirements, introduce or raise premiums and co-pays, cut benefits or throw enrollees off the program altogether.

Food stamps: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, would be slashed by $193 billion over a decade, a 25 percent reduction. The budget calls for “a series of reforms to SNAP that close eligibility loopholes, target benefits to the neediest households, and require able-bodied adults to work.” The program currently serves 44 million people.

Social Security: The president who vowed not to touch Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is also proposing an attack on Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income program, which provides cash benefits to the poor and disabled.

The proposal bemoans the fact that people with disabilities currently have low rates of labor force participation. The budget aims to save $72 billion over 10 years, undoubtedly resulting in large numbers people with disabilities being struck from the rolls with no social safety net.

Welfare: Welfare benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) since the Clinton administration’s “reform” of welfare in the 1990s, will be slashed by a staggering $272 billion over a decade, again by reducing federal funds and shifting responsibility to the states, which will institute work requirements and other restrictions to reduce benefits and remove people from the rolls.

Federal workers: The budget would cut $63 billion by increasing federal employees’ payments to their defined benefit Federal Employee Retirement System, as well as eliminating cost-of-living adjustments for existing and future retirees. There are also plans to privatize the air traffic control system, saving $70 billion.

Immigrant rights: The budget proposes to implement a “merit based” immigration system, reducing the number of immigrants with lower levels of education. The proposal notes that in 2012, “76 percent of households headed by an immigrant without a high school education used at least one major welfare program, compared to 26 percent for households headed by an immigrant with at least a bachelor’s degree.”

In an effort to keep out less educated immigrants portrayed as a drag on social spending dollars, the budget includes $44.1 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $17.7 billion for the Department of Justice for “law enforcement, public safety and immigration enforcement programs and activities.”

The president’s plan calls for hiring 500 new Border Patrol Agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement law enforcement personnel in 2018. The budget proposes an additional $1.5 billion above 2017 levels for “expanded detention, transportation and removal of illegal immigrants.”

The budget also calls for investing $2.6 billion to plan, design and construct a physical wall along the Mexican-US border to keep out immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Latin America, a cost that the president claimed during his campaign would be paid by Mexico.

Science and the environment: Massive cuts in spending on scientific research, medical research and disease prevention are in the 2018 budget request, including but not limited to:

• National Cancer Institute: $1 billion cut
• National Heart, Lung and Blood Institution: $575 million cut
• National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases: $838 million cut
• National Institutes of Health: budget cut from $31.8 billion to $26 billion
• National Science Foundation: $776 million cut.

Spending on the Arts: The Trump budget proposes to eliminate federal funding for the following:

• The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
• The Institute of Museum and Library Services
• National Endowment for the Arts (begin shutting down in 2018)
• National Endowment for the Humanities (begin shutting down in 2018).

Military: The budget includes $639 billion of discretionary budget authority for the Department of Defense, a $52 billion increase above the 2017 continuing resolution level. The proposal stresses that this spending is to be “fully offset by targeted reductions elsewhere”—i.e., through the draconian social spending cuts detailed above.

Tax cuts: The budget outlines a number of tax breaks, which will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. These include repealing the 3.8 percent Obamacare surcharge on capital gains and dividends and abolishing the estate tax (the “death tax,” according to Republican jargon).

The president’s proposal also points to the “anticipated economic gains that will result from the President’s fiscal, economic, and regulatory policies,” including tax cuts, which it claims will reduce the deficit by $5.6 trillion over a decade compared to the current fiscal path.

The budget assumes that economic growth will reach 3 percent by 2021 to help balance the budget by 2021. This rosy prediction is belied by numerous sources, including the Congressional Budget Office, which projects 1.9 percent annual growth, and the Federal Reserve, which projects a 1.8 percent growth rate.

Taken together, the spending cuts proposed in Trump’s “American Greatness” budget proposal constitute the wish list of a ruling oligarchy, which is dispensing with the idea that a civilized society has a responsibility to provide its citizens with basic social necessities.

WSWS 

The GOP’s biggest budget lies

Debt isn’t a big problem and it’s not caused by social spending — and Republicans aren’t better economic managers

The GOP's biggest budget lies: Take these down, and progressives will start to win

Mitch McConnell; Paul Ryan (Credit: AP/Evan Vucci//Getty/Mark Wilson)

In mid-March, President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” proposal drew widespread criticism for its short-sightedness,senseless cruelty and betrayal of his base. It was bad for science, education, the environment and public health, and even for Norman Rockwell-style popular programs like Meals on Wheels. Congressional Republicans freely criticized it immediately, despite its red-meat military spending hikes. “These increases in defense come at the expense of national security,” said renowned hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to Trump’s proposed deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs. But in early May, the budget deal to keep the government open was a clear victory for Democrats, leading Trump to call for a government shutdown in frustration.

That’s hardly the end of the budget fight, though. Both Trump and congressional Republicans are preparing to do it all over again, despite how unpopular the first go-round was, and despite how damaged they are politically by the widening Trump-Russia scandal. Which is why it makes sense to take a step back and look at some of the big-picture lies shared by all Republicans — and far too many Democrats as well.

Three of these in particular completely disorient any attempt at sane, sensible budget discussions: First, the idea that the debt is a huge problem and should form a framework for budgetary decision-making. Second, that the debt is due to social spending, mostly on the welfare state. Third, that Republicans are “more responsible” and “better managers” than Democrats. For Democrats and progressives to win this fight — both short-term and long-term — they will have to take on these big lies. Let’s examine each of them in turn.

The idea of the federal debt as a huge problem has a very long history. Andrew Jackson was the only president to ever get rid of the debt — which he hated especially because of his own personal experience — but that lasted less than two years. The dominant rhetoric — echoed by President Barack Obama in 2011 — is to see national debt as household debt writ large, reflected in the title of his weekly radio address on Feb. 12 of that year, “It’s Time Washington Acted as Responsibly as Our Families Do.”

Obama framed his address in terms of a story told to him in a letter from a woman named Brenda Breece, a special-ed teacher in Missouri whose husband had to take early retirement after nearly four decades working at a local Chrysler plant. They had to scrimp and save, but that’s not all. “Like so many families, they are sacrificing what they don’t need so they can afford what really matters,” putting their daughter through college, Obama said. Then he continued:

Families across this country understand what it takes to manage a budget. They understand what it takes to make ends meet without forgoing important investments like education. Well, it’s time Washington acted as responsibly as our families do. And on Monday, I’m proposing a new budget that will help us live within our means while investing in our future.

My budget freezes annual domestic spending for the next five years — even on programs I care deeply about — which will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade.

At Washington Monthly’s blog, Steven Benen said it showed “how to use the wrong comparison the right way,” since Republicans were bound to invoke that very same “family budget” metaphor, but without the emphasis on investing in the future. It was a valid point, of course, and surely reflected how Obama himself must have felt. But that’s really only a defensive parry, and fundamentally at odds with the sweeping promise of “hope and change” on which Obama was elected in 2008. Benen passed over that, but he did point out how fundamentally wrong this rhetoric was:

The line has a certain intuitive charm that much of the public likes, which masks how wrong it is — the government needs to step up even more to keep the economy going when families and businesses pull back. It’s how FDR and Democrats ended the Great Depression in the 1930s, and how Obama and Dems prevented a sequel in 2009.

The need for government to spend more when private spending falters is one of the most basic insights of macroeconomics. It goes to heart of why macroeconomics and microeconomics are different fields, each with its own logic. How whole economies work differs from how individual economic entities do, just as team performance differs from individual performance in any team sport.

The insight — long neglected — dates back to Bernard Mandeville’s controversial 1714 book, “The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits.” Thrift might be individually virtuous, Mandeville argued, but general prosperity was increased by expenditure rather than by saving. It was actually a difficult struggle for Franklin D. Roosevelt to realize this. A brief summary page from the FDR library tells the tale: “FDR: From Budget Balancer to Keynesian.” Roosevelt started out as a conventional thinker, in basic economics:

Roosevelt believed that a balanced budget was important to instill confidence in consumers, business, and the markets, which would thus encourage investment and economic expansion. As the economy recovered, tax revenues would increase making budget balancing even easier. This traditional view that deficits were bad was also supported by public opinion polls.

But these beliefs simply didn’t match the dire conditions of the times. So for years Roosevelt maintained his fundamental belief, bracketing it with the recognition that he faced an extraordinary situation:

From 1933 to 1937, FDR maintained his belief in a balanced budget, but recognized the need for increased government expenditures to put people back to work. Each year, FDR submitted a budget for general expenditures that anticipated a balanced budget, with the exception of government expenditures for relief and work programs.

All through this time, Roosevelt assumed that once the emergency had passed, things would return to normal, the extraordinary measures would be put away and a balanced budget would return. He argued passionately for the basic human decency of the path he embarked on, in a speech during his 1936 re-election campaign:

To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would have been confiscatory, or we should have had to set our face against human suffering with callous indifference. When Americans suffered, we refused to pass by on the other side. Humanity came first.

It was only after that, however, that Roosevelt had his own rude awakening. In 1937, he did as he had always promised, based on how much things had improved:

From 1933 to 1937, unemployment had been reduced from 25% to 14% — still a large percentage, but a vast improvement. FDR’s reaction was to turn back to the fiscal orthodoxy of the time, and he began to reduce emergency relief and public works spending in an effort to truly balance the budget.

The result was a renewed economic plunge — the recession of 1937-8. It was only in response to this unexpected turn of events that FDR finally adjusted his fundamental frame of reference. Some of his advisers still pushed for the conventional balanced-budget approach, but others accepted the theories of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that “permanent budget deficits or other measures (such as redistribution of income away from the wealthy)” were necessary “to stimulate consumption of goods and to maintain full employment.” Consequently, it was “the reduction of federal spending that these advisers viewed as the cause of the recession,” and FDR came to agree. In is 1938 annual message to Congress, he defended his decision, noting how self-contradictory his critics were:

We have heard much about a balanced budget, and it is interesting to note that many of those who have pleaded for a balanced budget as the sole need now come to me to plead for additional government expenditures at the expense of unbalancing the budget.

With the onset of World War II, opposition to deficit spending vanished, and full employment ensued. By the end of the war, public views had changed as a result:

The obvious connection between deficit spending and economic expansion was not lost on many Americans, including business leaders who much preferred large deficits to Keynes’s alternative of massive redistribution of wealth through taxation as a way to sustain America’s prosperity in peacetime.

Four decades later, Reaganomics would represent a perverse twist of this realization. Despite lip service to the contrary, Reagan produced record deficits to sustain prosperity while dramatically concentrating wealth. Although Reagan claimed he would magically balance the budget in four years, he actually did quite the opposite. From Harry Truman through Jimmy Carter, every presidential term but one — the Nixon/Ford term from 1973 to 1977 — had seen the debt shrink as a percentage of GDP. It fell from a peak of 117.5 percent during World War II to to 32.5 percent by the time Reagan took office, and has never been anywhere near that low since. It jumped more than 20 percent during Reagan’s two terms, and Bill Clinton has been the only subsequent president to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio.

But let’s not lose sight of what Roosevelt accomplished, in creating the foundations for America’s broad middle class, which had never existed before on such a scale:

FDR’s support for deficit spending was yet another shift in the relationship between the government and the people that took place during his Administration. President Roosevelt expressed his vision for a country where each citizen was guaranteed a basic level of economic security most eloquently in his Economic Bill of Rights speech on January 11, 1944:

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

These were the hard-won lessons of the Great Depression and World War II, but as so often happens in history, those who did not live through that suffering only learned the lessons second-hand, and never knew them in their bones. So we lost our way again, which is why we got Reagan in the 1980s and now have Donald Trump. We need to remember what made the American middle class great in the first place: a commitment to activist government spending money on public needs when the private sector fell short. Short-term debt-obsession was the enemy of everything Roosevelt accomplished — not a guide to sound economics.

Now for the second big lie, that the debt is primarily due to welfare-state social spending. Here I’d like to quote myself from 2011 (“Enshrining the lies of the US’ 1%“):

Indeed, as Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson explained just over a year ago, in their paper “A World Upside Down? Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession”, all of the US long-term federal debt is due to just three oligopoly sectors: the military-industrial complex (the backbone of empire, with bases all around the world and almost half the world’s military spending), the medical-industrial complex (with twice the per capita costs of other systems), and the financial sector (which has recently cost trillions of dollars in lost wealth and economic activity).

All three of these are enormous cash cows for the one per cent, and equally enormous cost-centres for the 99 per cent. Without the costs imposed by lack of competition, regulation and accountability in these sectors, the US would have no long-term debt problem. We would be paying it down, rather than running it up.

In that paper’s abstract, the authors write:

In an era of unbridled money politics, concentrated interests in the military, financial, and medical industries pose much more significant dangers to U.S. public finances than concerns about overreach from broad based popular programs like Social Security, which is itself in good shape for as many years as one can make credible forecasts.

Concerns about Social Security are vastly overblown, they note, and uncertain worries about two decades from now should not dominate our attention. Medicare is another matter, only because the American health care system as a whole is so expensive. They drew on an analysis by Dean Baker, which compared projected health care costs in the U.S. with projections based on the cost structures of other countries.

The U.S. spends a far higher percentage of its GDP on health care than any other country. It also gets less health for it than any other major country, in the sense other countries do just as well or better on most health indicators, though they spend much less.

Why is no mystery, despite all the sound and fury of the health care “debate.” The U.S. health care system is in no sense a competitive marketplace. Instead, it is a chain of private oligopolies connected to each other by streams of payments administered by a vast, non-competitive private insurance network and the federal government. Producers and insurers together dominate government policymaking, at both federal and most state levels.

The rate of cost increase has been reduced under the ACA since the paper was written, but we’re still far from universal coverage, and the problems of oligopoly remain — most notably in the way insurers have withdrawn from some marketplaces. The failure to even include a public option in the ACA left insurers in positions of tremendous coercive power. And GOP repeal plans could wipe out all the ACA gains and leave us facing a grim future.

The military-industrial complex, the authors note, is commonly taken to make up about 20 percent of the budget, but if we include all related functions — homeland security and intelligence agencies, plus significant parts of other departments, including Energy, Transportation and State — with the military share of the debt, that total nearly doubles: “One careful effort at a more comprehensive reckoning suggests that perhaps 39% of the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget goes toward defense.”

Finally, there’s the enormous costs inflicted by the financial meltdown of 2008, triggering the Great Recession, and the high probability of future such disasters. These costs are obviously more difficult to assess than the excessive costs of the U.S. health care system. But they are certainly much greater than the amounts involved in the Social Security system, much less Meals on Wheels.

This sort of realistic appraisal is not a popular perspective among political elites, who are largely funded by the oligopolies involved. But it is popular with the public — see Bernie Sanders’ approval ratings as one indication. Yet, these major sources of long-term debt pressure never seem to enter the deficit-cutting debate.

Now for the third big lie, the claim that Republicans are “more responsible” and “better managers” than Democrats are, an assumption that permeates the air whenever the economy is discussed. I’ve already referred to the fact that Republican presidents since Reagan have been terrible at managing debt reduction, but the point at issue is a broader, more fundamental one: There is no aspect of economic management where Republicans do as well as Democrats. None whatsoever. Here, the best single source is a slim volume, “They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010“ by Eric Zuesse. As explained in the publishers’ synopsis:

The Democratic and Republican Parties are virtual opposites of each other in their economic records, going back to the earliest period for which economic data were available, around 1910. More than a dozen studies have been done comparing economic growth, unemployment, average length of unemployment, stock market performance, inflation, federal debt, and other economic indicators, during Democratic and Republican presidencies and congresses, and they all show stunningly better performance when Democrats are in power, than when Republicans are. These studies are all available online, and they are all summarized and discussed in this path-breaking book, which settles, once and for all, the question of whether there’s any significant economic difference between the two Parties. Not only is there a difference, but — shockingly — it always runs in favor of Democrats in power.

Democrats are superior for the economy as a whole — GDP growth, unemployment rate, inflation — for the stock market, and for controlling government deficits too. One example Zuesse cites is from Kevin Drum, back in September 2002. Responding to a story in Slate reporting that since 1900, Democratic presidents have produced a 12.3 percent annual total return on the S&P 500, but Republicans only an 8 percent return,” Drum wrote:

This is actually an old story, and Slate doesn’t know the half of it: Democratic administrations, it turns out, manage virtually every facet of the economy better than Republicans.

Drum analyzed the three main statistics cited above — GDP growth, unemployment and inflation — from 1948 to 2001, and included a time-lag. “In the same way that a pitcher is responsible for runners left on base even after he’s been replaced,” he wrote, “presidents should be responsible for a few years of economic performance after they leave office.” Choosing a variety of time-lags, the results were all the same:

3 Yrs 4 Yrs 5 Yrs
GDP Growth
Democrats
Republicans
3.56%
3.35%
3.78%
3.16%
3.71%
3.21%
Unemployment
Democrats
Republicans
5.06%
6.16%
5.04%
6.18%
5.01%
6.21%
Inflation
Democrats
Republicans
3.33%
4.36%
3.07%
4.60%
3.20%
4.48%

No matter what time-lag you choose, Democrats post higher GDP growth, lower unemployment, and lower inflation.

This is just one of multiple examples, and the value of Zuesse’s book is that it brings them together. “The myth that conservatives are better for the economy than are progressives, is driven not by the masses but by the elite, the insiders who benefit from this deception,” he writes. But even that’s a dubious proposition sometimes, when — as under George W. Bush — things really go off the rails.

Whatever happens in the months ahead, whatever specific gambits the Republicans trot out, it will always serve us well to keep in mind these three big lies, and remind others why and how they are so wrong: Debt is not a dominant economic problem and should not frame our budgetary decision-making; debt is not primarily due to social spending; and Republicans are not “more responsible” or “better managers” of the economy than Democrats. Take down the big lies, and the little ones will fall apart much more easily.

 

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

THE CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT

Allan Lichtman predicted Donald Trump’s victory — now he calls for his impeachment

Professor who has correctly called every election since 1984 tells why the current president must be ousted

It is debatable whether President Donald Trump should actually be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. But at this point it is no longer debatable that there should be an impeachment investigation.

As Allan J. Lichtman of American University pointed out in an interview with Salon on Tuesday, “Impeachment should only proceed when it threatens the society.” There are three ways, Lichtman argued in our conversation — and contended in his new book “The Case for Impeachment” — in which Trump’s presidency poses a clear threat to the lawfulness of our government:

1. The numerous conflicts of interest that Trump has refused to address (his dozens of trademarks in China being among many examples).

2. The overwhelming circumstantial evidence suggesting collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian intelligence.

3. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, which would constitute obstruction of justice if it happened — as Trump himself has suggested — because Comey was leading the investigation into the alleged collusion with Russia.

Calling for an impeachment investigation does not require us to prove these charges rise to the level of criminality. It only compels us to prove that there is sound reason to believe they could be true — and unless you are a mindless partisan, that is clearly the case now.

Lichtman himself is something of a celebrity due to his vaunted predictive powers. In 1981 he developed a set of 13 true-or-false questions that assess political, economic, geopolitical and social conditions to determine whether the incumbent party will win the presidential election or not. He has used that model to accurately forecast the outcome of every presidential contest since 1984, albeit somewhat complicated in the years when there was a popular/electoral college split.

As Lichtman pointed out in our interview, the advantage of an impeachment investigation is that it would place the future of an inquiry completely out of Trump’s hands. A special prosecutor or special counsel like Robert Mueller, after all, could be fired at whim by the president. (Consider the case of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor fired by Richard Nixon in the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973.)

The House Judiciary Committee, on the other hand, is part of the legislative branch, which puts it beyond Trump’s reach. If the committee decides by a majority vote to recommend articles of impeachment for the entire House of Representatives to consider, it would then be up to America’s elected representatives to decide whether Trump should join Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on the ignominious list of American presidents who have been impeached.

Should the House vote to do so, the president’s fate would then be in the hands of the Senate.

Realistically speaking, it is extremely unlikely that a House of Representatives controlled by a Republican majority would ever vote to impeach Trump, or that a Republican-controlled Senate would then vote to remove him from office (barring an unforeseen smoking gun worse than anything we have seen so far, of course).

For a president to be removed from office, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict him or her on the impeachment charges brought by the House. So in the current Senate, even if every single Democrat (and both independents) voted to remove Trump from office, 19 Republicans would have to join them. Yet even with all of the untoward revelations that have come out about Trump to date, only five Republican senators have gone so far as to support the appointment of a special prosecutor.

To be fair, it’s not clear that that the Democrats can be entirely trusted on this issue either. Let’s say that Democrats manage to retake control of the Senate and House in the 2018 midterm elections — a long shot, but not outside the realm of possibility. That opens the door to impeachment in 2019, right? Well, yeah, but if Trump were to be forcibly removed from office before the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic candidate that fall would presumably face off against President Mike Pence, who could very well be free of Trump’s political baggage.

Pence could still lose such a hypothetical election, of course, but he could also wind up benefiting from the public goodwill that often props up new presidents when they take office under emergency conditions, as was the case for Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford. So Democrats may have a political incentive to keep on harping on Trump’s scandals, but they may have less incentive to drive him from office, even if it becomes clear he has broken the law.

It’s lamentable that partisanship has reached a point in this country where the needs of justice can be ignored due to petty self-interest. And yet, even under this dark cloud, there is a silver lining. It is difficult to conceive of a situation whereby the Republicans would move against one of their own in such a historic fashion. But if they did so, the mere fact that leading Republicans had finally decided that Trump’s behavior was unacceptable would demonstrate the necessity of removing him from office.

Similarly, if Democrats were willing to risk the possibility that Pence could serve as much as 10 years in the White House after Trump’s forced removal (under this scenario, the 22nd Amendment would allow Pence to seek two terms of his own), that would be powerful evidence that they had sacrificed their own political self-interests so as to protect the integrity of the greater political system.

Let us not forget that a recent poll found 48 percent of Americans would support an impeachment of President Trump. If appeals to patriotism aren’t enough to sway Republicans and Democrats in Congress, there is a practical political case that could do so as well. As Lichtman noted, public opinion was crucial in turning the Republican Party against Richard Nixon in 1974.

“Impeachment,” he said, “will only really happen if the people want it.”

There is one final and absolutely critical point to be made here: The case for impeaching Donald Trump exists independent of any criticisms of his policies. As I noted during the interview with Lichtman, the impeachment of Andrew Johnson was clearly motivated by partisan and policy disagreements rather than any serious criminal offenses on his part, a fact that makes that event a permanent blot on the legacies of the politicians responsible for it rather than a mark of merit.

“I make it clear that Trump should not be impeached because he’s unconventional, because you don’t like his style or because you disagree with his policies,” Lichtman explained. “I disagree with a lot of policies of presidents, but I haven’t written a book before on the case for impeachment. I quote the great expositor of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton in ‘The Case for Impeachment.’ It points out, impeachment should only proceed when there is such a severe abuse of power by the president that it threatens the society itself.”

This is the situation in which we find ourselves. One can only hope that the Republican and Democratic parties will rise to the historical moment, lest they be proved unworthy of it.

 

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.

What Would Happen If Donald Trump Were Impeached?

NEWS & POLITICS
The latest whirlwind of news about Trump, Comey and Russia has again stoked the chorus for impeachment. Here’s how it might happen.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Around midday on Monday, Congressman Al Green, a Democrat from Texas, held a press conference to call for the impeachment of Donald Trump. The firing of FBI director James Comey, Green said, was an obstruction of justice falling clearly into that basket of “high crimes and misdemeanors” prescribed in the Constitution as grounds for impeachment.

Green should have waited a day. Because by the time the sun went down on Tuesday, advocates for Trump’s impeachment had a lot more to work with.

On Tuesday evening, the New York Times reported that Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said to Comey, according to Comey’s notes on the meeting. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

The White House denied the report, which was subsequently confirmed by numerous media outlets.

The Comey news broke before Washington had a chance to catch its breath from Monday’s shocking revelation. Late on Monday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that Trump had divulged highly classified material to Russian diplomats in an Oval Office meeting last week – material so sensitive that homeland security officials scrambled to place calls to US intelligence agencies afterwards to warn them that the information had leaked, via the president’s mouth, to Moscow.

Trump told Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak about spying by an unnamed US partner that had revealed an alleged Islamic State plot involving laptop computers and airplanes, the Post reported.

The White House trotted out national security adviser HR McMaster on Monday evening to call the Post report “false” – but then the president, on Tuesday morning, as much as confirmed it on Twitter, although he did not specify the information was classified.

“As president I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining … to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump wrote. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against Isis and terrorism.”

The episodes have once again stoked the chorus calling for the impeachment of Trump, a chorus that has steadily built over the four months of the Trump presidency.

Some Democratic lawmakers immediately questioned the legality of Trump’s alleged statements to Comey, with Senator Dick Durbin saying it “again appears to cross the line into the obstruction of justice”. Elijah Cummings, a top congressional Democrat, said, “clearly we’ve got a smoking gun and a lot of dark smoke.”

As for Monday’s bombshell, legal analysts say that Trump is correct in noting his “absolute right”, as president, to share information as he pleases. The president’s discretion overrides any categorical classification, and there has been no assertion that Trump broke a law by allegedly sharing the information.

The president may, however, have broken his oath of office, according to analysis at Lawfareblog, whose top six analysts joined in a byline to write: “It’s very hard to argue that carelessly giving away highly sensitive material to an adversary foreign power constitutes a faithful execution of the office of president.”

The blog notes that allegations of oath violations have been central to every previous case of impeachment or near impeachment.

“Let’s not minimize it,” legal scholar Alan Dershowitz said on CNN late Monday. “Comey is in the wastebasket of history. Everything else is off the table. This is the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States. Let’s not underestimate it.”

The case against Trump was, to some minds, already strong. A campaign is under way to impeach Trump for allegedly violating constitutional bans on receiving certain gifts. Others have argued for an arcane application of constitutional law under which the vice-president and cabinet together might declare the president unfit to serve.

Green was not alone in seeing the firing of Comey as the last straw. As FBI director, Comey was leading an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian operatives. Trump told interviewer Lester Holt last week that the Russian investigation was on his mind when he fired Comey.

“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’,” Trump said.

To many ears, the lines were a blank admission of obstruction of justice à la Nixon. In a Saturday Night Live parody of the scene, Holt, played by Michael Che, stops the interview to ask his production team: “So … did I get him? Is this all over?” Holt listens to his earpiece. “No, I didn’t? Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters any more?”

Who has been impeached before?

Two presidents, Bill Clinton (1998) and Andrew Johnson (1868). (Congress may also impeach judges.) Articles of impeachment were passed against Richard Nixon by a congressional committee, but Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on the matter, meaning that technically he was not impeached.

Impeachment does not mean expulsion from office. Under the constitution, impeachment happens in the House of Representatives if a majority approves articles of impeachment previously approved in committee. Then impeachment goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is required to convict the president, upon which he would be removed from office.

Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached in the House but then acquitted in the Senate and remained in office.

What can a president be impeached for?

“Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”, the constitution says. Needless to say, there’s debate over what all those terms mean.

Johnson was charged with breaking the law by removing the US secretary of war, which, in the aftermath of the civil war, was not his decision as president to make. Clinton was charged with obstruction of justice and with perjury, for allegedly lying under oath to a federal grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Had Nixon not resigned, he might have been convicted in the Senate on one of three charges: obstruction of justice, abuse of power or defiance of subpoenas. In any case, Gerald Ford, who was Nixon’s vice-president and who succeeded him, pardoned Nixon of any crimes a month after Nixon resigned.

Can a president be removed apart from through impeachment?

Theoretically, yes, under the aforementioned 25th amendment, which was ratified relatively recently, in 1967, to clear up succession issues made painfully urgent by the assassination of John F Kennedy.

The 25th amendment describes a process by which a president may give away power owing to his or her own disability, and a separate process by which power may be taken from a president owing to disability or inability.

The key players in the second case are the vice-president and the top 15 members of the cabinet. If the former and a majority of the latter decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”, they submit that information in writing to the House speaker (currently Paul Ryan) and Senate president pro tempore (currently the Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch) and just like that, the vice-president would be acting president.

The president may challenge such a decision, at which point a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress would be required to stop the president from regaining power.

It’s conceivable that Trump would not go quietly if his cabinet and vice-president Mike Pence were to gang up on him.

How long do impeachment proceedings take?

There isn’t much precedent to say, but the Clinton case proceeded through Congress relatively quickly, in about three months. That example may be misleading, however, owing to the years-long investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton, including the Lewinsky affair, by the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, which preceded it. Starr handed his report and research to the House judiciary committee, which therefore had no need to conduct a time-consuming investigation of its own.

Who’s saying Trump should be impeached?

About 46% of Americans who responded to a Public Policy Polling survey in February, for starters. Public opinion matters because for impeachment to happen, Congress must act, and elected officials sometimes hang their principles on opinion polls.

It’s notable that Nixon, a Republican, faced impeachment in a Congress controlled by Democrats, and Clinton was impeached by a Republican-controlled Congress. For Trump to be impeached, members of his own party would have to turn on him.

That’s why Republican base approval of Trump is so important. If Republican voters do not abandon the president, Republican members of Congress are not likely to.

On the other hand, the Republican Congress might conceivably be enticed into action by the prospect of dumping Trump in exchange for someone they are far more comfortable with: Pence, himself a former congressman and a much more predictable traditional conservative.

Several congressional Democrats have called for impeachment proceedings of some kind. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said on the House floor in February that if Trump did not divest business holdings and take other actions, then “we’ll have to take other actions, including legislative directives, resolutions of disapproval and even explore the power of impeachment”.

What might Trump be charged with?

Bonifaz, of the Impeach Trump Now group, argues that Trump’s failure to divest from his businesses has already produced frequent violations of constitutional rules for emoluments, or gifts. Investigations into associations with Russia by Trump or his proxies could conceivably produce some kind of disloyalty charge. If Trump has to testify at some point about any of this, he could face a Clinton-style perjury charge. Abuse of power? Obstruction of justice? It seems as if, should Congress get to the point of charging Trump, they may have a buffet of potential charges to choose from.

What would it take in practice to trigger enough Republicans into action?

Republicans had promised to impeach Hillary Clinton as soon as she took office. But what they might not have remembered is that two-thirds of the Senate is required to convict a president of impeachable offenses. The Democrats are in the minority, but they do have 48 Senate seats out of 100.

The most important factor for Republicans in deciding whether to go after Trump would seem to be the disposition of Republican voters. If the people turn on the president, Congress may follow.

Might Trump resign before he’s impeached if there’s a smoking gun, as Nixon did?

What kind of mood does Pence seem to be in? Is he implicated? In the scenario of a Pence succession, it would be up to the current vice-president to pardon Trump or not. Maybe Trump would be more likely to get out of the way and avoid all or some impeachment proceedings – in this truly hypothetical scenario – if Trump felt reassured that Pence, upon acceding to power, would pardon him.

Could he refuse to comply with proceedings?

Only two months into the Trump presidency, we’ve already heard warnings, issued by members of Congress, about this or that constitutional crisis being afoot: Trump impugns judges; Trump overrides legislated regulations; courts block executive actions. There are many opportunities for further constitutional crises during the Trump years, and a Trump refusal to go along with prospective impeachment proceedings is certainly easy to imagine. In which case: who controls the military?

Could he refuse to step down if he’s found guilty?

See above.

Would Pence go down with him?

Not likely. There’s a school of thought that says a key reason the Republican congressional majority would assent to a Trump impeachment is because then they would get the president they really want, Pence. The closest historical precedent to a double whammy of this kind is the resignation in a bribery scandal of Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, in 1973, a year before Nixon went down. But the alleged crimes were unrelated.

Elections have consequences. Is this all actually just a fantasy for liberals and conservative purists who cannot accept that Trump won?

Reasons this might not be true include the fact of Trump’s historically low popularity rating at the two-month mark. Trump sits at 38% approval, according to Gallup, 20-some points behind the historical average for first-term presidents. Additionally, Trump seems to be flying unusually close to the sun, in terms of his conduct as an elected official. During his campaign he refused to release his tax returns on the grounds that the usual rules did not apply to him. His refusal to divest from his businesses as president, on similar grounds, could lead him into legal hazards that other presidents have avoided. And the investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia continue. Finally, Trump is truly a Washington outsider, which could increase his vulnerability to acts of bureaucratic infighting or hidden treachery, as evidenced by the incredible number of leaks from the intelligence community so far.

On the other hand, the election of Trump has been a particularly painful blow to the progressive psyche, more so even perhaps than the re-election of Bush as the atrocities of the Iraq war mounted in 2004. Republicans suffered for eight years from what some of their critics called Obama derangement syndrome, becoming so wrapped up in their opposition to the president that any sense of greater purpose seemed sometimes to be lost. Are progressives and conservative purists suffering from Trump derangement syndrome? It’s possible. We’ll find out.

Julia Carrie Wong contributed reporting to this story

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/what-would-happen-if-donald-trump-were-impeached?akid=15583.265072.65H-Cd&rd=1&src=newsletter1077076&t=20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New research on why Republicans hate poor and sick people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This survey from Pew continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America is “a democracy on life support — it can’t breathe”

Philosopher Henry Giroux on the culture of cruelty and Donald Trump:

Author of a new book on Trump’s rise says we face “something so dark, so real, so evil” with no clear precedent

Philosopher Henry Giroux on the culture of cruelty and Donald Trump: America is "a democracy on life support — it can’t breathe"
(Credit: Getty/Jim Watson/Shutterstock)

Next week we will mark the 100th day that Donald Trump has been president of the United States. Tens of millions of Americans are still in a state of shock. These 100 days have made them feel like enemy outsiders in their own country.

It was said some years ago that “when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” This left the American people unprepared for how neofascism came instead in the form of Donald Trump, a reality TV star, racist, bigot, con artist and professional wrestling aficionado.

How did the United States arrive at this moment?

The American news media betrayed its sacred role as guardians of democracy who inform the public so that they can be responsible citizens who make informed political decisions.

There is a deep crisis of faith and trust in America’s political and social institutions. America’s political culture is highly polarized and divisive. The Republican Party has embraced a strategy of destroying the existing political rules and norms that make effective governance possible. Today’s conservatism is regressive and reactionary. It is an enemy of the commons and of the very idea of government.

Racism, bigotry and nativism compelled Donald Trump’s voters to act out in a nihilistic temper tantrum.

Voter demobilization and gerrymandering have subverted democracy and given Republicans a political chokehold on the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his country’s intelligence agencies to undermine the 2016 presidential election by manipulating the American news media and Republican voters in favor of Donald Trump.

But none of these forces would have been so powerful if not for a deeper cultural rot and moral weakness in American society. This is what philosopher Henry Giroux has described as the “culture of cruelty.” It is the intersection of creeping authoritarianism, militarism, surveillance, violence by the state against its citizens, gangster capitalism and extreme wealth inequality, the assault on the very idea of community and government, widespread loneliness, and social dominance behavior against the Other.

How did the culture of cruelty help to create the political and social circumstances for the election of Donald Trump? Is the United States now a fascist and authoritarian state? What are the issues that could potentially unite the American people to create a more humane society and to resist the cultural and political forces that helped to elect Trump? Are Trump’s voters victims? Is American democracy in a state of crisis and permanent decline? What should resistance look like in this moment?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Giroux, a professor of English and cultural studies at McMaster University in Canada. He has written dozens of articles and books, including “America at War with Itself” and the forthcoming “The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism.”

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

What does it feel like from your point of view, having written so much about the culture of cruelty and authoritarianism, to watch it unfold in the United States in real time? 

I’ve been writing about the potential for authoritarianism in the United States for 20 years. This is not a new discourse for me. What has often surprised me is not that it unfolded or the new liberal orthodoxy that increasingly made it appear more and more possible. What shocked me was the way the left has refused to really engage this discourse in ways that embrace comprehensive politics, that go beyond the fracturing single-issue movements and begin to understand both what the underlying causes of these authoritarian movements have been and what it might mean to address them.

You have to ask yourself, what are the forces at work in the United States around civic culture, around celebrity culture, around the culture of fear, around the stoking of extremism and anger about issues? About a media that creates a culture of illusion, about the longstanding legacy of racism and terror in the United States. I mean, how did that all come together to produce a kind of authoritarian pedagogy that basically isolated people, and made them feel lonely? All of a sudden they find themselves in a community of believers, in which the flight from reality offers them a public sphere in which they can affirm themselves and no longer feel that they’re isolated.

Are Donald Trump’s voters victims?

I think the notion of victim is really a bad term because it takes away any pretense for agency and social responsibility.

I try to crystallize it down to, “They voted to hurt people.”

That’s right. Exactly.

The corporate news media has refused to admit this. They want to rehabilitate these folks as having “buyer’s remorse.” That is absurd. The vast majority of Trump’s voters do not regret a damn thing. When you actually go out and look at the data it is clear that Trump is a Republican. Trump supports their agenda and conservatives are happy he is doing their bidding.

We know the anger that most of Trump’s voters were supposedly mobilized around was not against the rich. It was not about income inequality. It was about racism. It was about white supremacy. It was about inflicting pain on people. It was about taking away social provisions that even they would benefit from in the name of a false appeal to “individual freedom” and “liberty.”

This also gets us to how American liberals and progressives are seemingly unable to craft powerful narratives.

My take is that if they go to the root of the problem, they indict themselves. I think that language becomes for them simply a question of coding that often hides what they’re basically responsible for in terms of the culture of cruelty, barbarism and violence. When you talk about the mass incarceration state, you’re talking about Democrats. If you want to talk about drone strikes and private armies, you’re talking about Democrats. I think people who look to liberals for some sort of salvation in this country are fooling themselves. We need a third party and we need to stop equating capitalism and democracy.

What do you think will happen in America in the future?

I think that what we’re going to discover is that no society can exist when there’s no social fabric to bring them together. The emotional quotient has been so lowered, the bar is so low now that the only thing that people feel basically is around questions of violence and idiocy. That’s a lethal combination. It’ll be interesting to see how people talk about this issue in the future, in ways where they try to understand how the very notion of agency itself was destroyed, commercialized, commodified and turned into something that was weaponized.

Donald Trump is the crystallization of everything wrong in this country. It is funny to watch the talking heads on television and elsewhere wring their hands. They are trying to argue that Trump won despite being a misogynist, sexual abuser, bigot, racist and white supremacist. I argue that Trump won precisely because he was all of those things.

Donald Trump is the distillation of an attack on democracy that has become more cruel, more brutal and more poisonous, more militarized and more violent since the 1970s. To simply view him as eccentric, to view him as some kind of clown who now has tapped into a certain element of the culture, is to really miss the point.

What do you think are three or four specific policy goals or initiatives that could potentially bring together Donald Trump’s voters and the majority of Americans?

The first thing that has to be talked about, without any question whatsoever, is a national health care plan. Second, we need a social wage, a universal wage. Third, we need a jobs program.

Bernie Sanders was talking about many of these issues. Why do you think they did not resonate enough to win him the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination?    

It did not resonate because he is seen as part of the Democratic Party. He was a fool. I do not understand why he did this. Once Hillary Clinton won the nomination, it became embarrassing. All of a sudden Sanders is talking about issues that the Democratic Party hates. He’s talking about issues that the Democratic Party runs away from. Yet he’s arguing for issues that are basically very progressive within a structure that’s incredibly reactionary. What the hell is wrong with him? Does he not get it?

To return to questions of language, the news media has decided to legitimate white supremacists by calling them the “alt-right.” I view this as an act of surrender and cowardice.

I never use the word “alt-right” in my work. Never. I talk about white supremacists. I don’t use the words “fake news.” I talk about lies — state lies, state-manufactured lies.

What do you think resistance should look like against Donald Trump and his regime?   

Direct action. We need to talk about an economic strike. You need to bring groups together all over the country to shut it down. The country has got to become ungovernable. There are going to be moments here that even you and I will be shocked by. Trust me: This is coming. You are now living in a terrorist state. This is what the essence of totalitarianism is about. It’s organized around terror, and that’s exactly what this administration is about. I think more and more people will organize and more and more people will realize that this can’t be simply about local demonstrations. I think the only way that the Trump administration can deal with dissent is to attempt to humiliate people — but even more importantly, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions there will be a systemic expansion of what I call “punishment creep,” where every facet of society will be criminalized.

If you were to give a diagnosis for the health of American democracy, what would it be?

It’s a democracy that’s on life support. It can’t breathe. I don’t think we are tipping over into neofascism. I think we’ve tipped over. It’s just a more subtle form of neofascism than anything we’ve seen in the past. The argument that we have to have concentration camps to talk about fascism is nonsense. As any theorist of fascism will tell you, if it comes to America, it will come in different forms.

Are you ever afraid? Do you ever say to yourself, “My God, how did we get here?”   

I remember in 1980, watching Ronald Reagan get elected. I remember being around friends. At the time, I was teaching at Boston University. I thought, “Holy shit! This is really a turning point.” But it didn’t hit me existentially the way the Trump election did. I woke up the next day and I felt paralyzed. I felt that we had entered into something so dark, so real, so evil that there was really no precedent for it in terms of its all-encompassing possibilities for death, destruction and violence. I had a hard time functioning for about a week. I think in some ways there’s a residue of that I can’t shake, that now informs my work.

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