The Plutocrats Strike Back

During his campaign in 2016, Donald Trump made an effort to reach out to the Black community, repeating the phrase, “What have you got to lose?” It was clear to many of us—including 90-some percent of that community—that we in fact had a great deal to lose if he won the election. It is now beyond the first 100 days since the Trump inauguration and the surprise is not what he has been doing but how fast he and his congressional allies have moved to reverse several decades worth of progress in social programs and policies favoring equity and diversity. Even many Trump voters are also discovering that they had something to lose; federal support programs and environmental controls and consumer and worker protections, among others. It is almost as if the oligarchs—those who own the GOP and, apparently, Trump—are moving to punish all of us who presumed to vote for Bernie Sanders and for the other candidates who pledged to rein in Wall Street and “drain the swamp”.

Almost immediately upon Trump’s inauguration the White House web site removed the pages dealing with civil rights, LGBT rights, and global warming. This was the early warning sign. Trump then nominated cabinet leaders who have a history of opposing the mission and activities of the agencies they have been selected to lead. The Bush (43) and Reagan administrations also did this with some agencies, but Trump has expanded the strategy. His appointees have now moved in many ways to purge environmentalists from the EPA and consumer advocates from the Consumer financial Protection Bureau, and in general to make federal agencies more “business-friendly”.

Through a series of executive orders, he also increased the cost of mortgage insurance for FHA mortgages, placed a freeze on all new federal hiring (except for the Border Patrol, to which he wants to add 5,000 members), required all reports and publications from the EPA and USDA to be approved by the White House, reinstated the Bush-era ban on funding for NGO’s that provide abortion information, called for reversal of the federal actions blocking the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, and attempted to place a total ban on refugees from seven Islamic nations. He also actually reversed an Obama regulation that required investment advisers to work on behalf of their clients (rather than promoting the investments that mostly benefit the adviser).

Meanwhile the Republican-led congress, reinvigorated by their self-proclaimed “massive electoral mandate”, moved forward with their plans to cripple the advances made by the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), to drastically restructure Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, to slash taxes on corporations and the wealthy, to forward vast new funding to the military-industrial complex, and to roll back Dodd-Frank and most of the financial controls that were enacted to stabilize the economy after the 2008 recession. This is just the beginning.

Obviously the next two years of Republican dominance will be a wholesale assault on the social safety net, the environment, consumer rights, minorities, immigrants—all of the issues that candidate Trump had promised, and much more, except, of course, for his promises to push back on the financial sector and imports from China. Therefore, it seems as if this is a good time to pass out virtual awards to recognize the efforts of the people who made all of this possible:

The Clarence Thomas “raise the ladder behind you” award to everyone who is now on Social Security and Medicare and who voted for Republicans. It has, after all, been obvious for decades, to anyone who has been paying attention, that the Grand Old Party is dedicated to getting rid of all vestiges of the New Deal and the Great Society. Yes, the GOP politicians have claimed that they will protect the benefits of current recipients (a large part of the GOP voting base). Unfortunately, that means that anyone who will depend on Social Security and Medicare in the future is out of luck. So, regarding the aging Republican base, we might ask why it is that so many current seniors don’t give a damn about retirement funding for their children and grandchildren? Yet the joke may be on them (and us, too) as well: Trump’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, believes that he was chosen to promote significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits to current recipients, despite assurances by Trump and the GOP.

The Wizard of Oz “don’t look behind the curtain” award to the GOP-controlled congress. Now that Republicans have control of both the legislative and executive branches (and soon the judiciary also?) they are pushing forward with their true agenda—privatizing both Social Security and Medicare and, ignoring their promises to older voters, cutting cost-of-living increases for current recipients and slashing Medicare funding. And as for the other remnants of the social safety net, expect Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps) funding to be slashed, and for those programs to be converted to block grants so that the states can take all that federal money and use it for something else, after private-sector money managers take their cut. You can almost hear Wall Street salivating as they push their lobbyists forward to “help” write the new rules.

The Chauncey Gardiner “see what you want” award for all those who selectively ignored political promises that clearly would adversely affect them: A two-way tie between (1) union members who voted for Trump despite his proven anti-labor, anti-worker record and his expressed desire to lower the minimum wage, and (2) anyone dependent on the Affordable Care Act who voted for Republicans anyway, despite their repeated efforts to repeal it. Yes, President Trump is fulfilling his promise to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and may yet rewrite NAFTA, but his cabinet choices show that he also plans on rolling back decades of progress in worker rights, consumer protections, and health insurance. Two examples of this are fast food exec Andrew Puzder as Secretary of Labor and Tom Price at Health and Human Services. As for those people who believed Trump when he said he would create more jobs? Sorry, neither he nor his GOP colleagues know how to do that, but they clearly know how to hold the line on raising wages and benefits for workers.

The Ralph Nader “doomed to repeat history” award to Jill Stein and Green Party voters who ignored the fact that one, and only one, of the two viable nominated candidates (and, likewise, only one of the two major parties) supported the EPA and the established science on global warming. The GOP candidate, and his party, were blatant climate deniers. The Democrats were not. Instead of recognizing this, the “Greens” focused on Clinton’s corporate ties and her past support for NAFTA, and their overemphasis on the green of money rather than the green of our planet had the effect of helping depress the leftist vote.

The P.T. Barnum “one born every minute” award to President Donald Trump. He used his reality TV strategies effectively to keep his name in the media, giving him an endless run of free publicity. He embraced the old adage that “all publicity is good publicity” and took it to the extreme, not apologizing for whatever antisocial behavior or lies he had exhibited (in fact, often denying or refusing to acknowledge the existence of his own actions or statements). He and his team identified many current popular mythologies, unfounded fears, and unrealistic desires and used them to craft a series of broad and delusive promises to attract people who wanted to believe. Unfortunately too many people did accept his lofty promises, despite his continuing failure to provide any details about how he would implement them.

The Thomas E. Dewey “victory is ours” award to all the polling companies, analysts, and media outlets that were giving Clinton a “90-plus percent likelihood” of winning the election. The true likelihood was that their projections had the effect of depressing the turnout for Clinton and energizing the Republican base. State-level polls and the media myth of the “solid blue wall” of midwestern states also meant that the Clinton campaign reduced their efforts in “safe” states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The J. Edgar Hoover “purposeful public relations” award to James Comey, the supposedly non-partisan FBI director who, claiming the necessity of keeping congress informed, repeatedly raised the issue of Clinton emails and characterized Clinton as “extremely careless”, while simultaneously suppressing any information about ongoing investigations into Russian involvement in the Trump campaign. Given his past partisan behavior, both during the 1990s Whitewater investigations and in his support for enhanced interrogation during the Bush era, Comey should never have been appointed as FBI director. He has now been fired, a highly political act rationalized by bogus charges, so his short career mirrors, in abbreviated form, Hoover’s rise to prominence and rapid fall into dishonor.

The Robert Heinlein “alternative reality” fiction award, to Sean Spicer for his continuing efforts to explain why his boss said the things he did, or why he didn’t say what we thought we heard, or why what he said was really what he believes and what we should believe as well. There are countless examples of Spicer’s effectiveness in his role as media interpreter for the Trump campaign and the Trump White House, far too many to list here and many of them predating Kellyanne Conway’s use of the descriptive phrase “alternative facts”. Thanks to her, we now have terminology that can be applied whenever we perceive evidence that Trump spokespeople like Conway and Giuliani and Spicer are indeed inhabiting a parallel universe.

Thanks in large part to all of these people we now all find ourselves in the alternative Trump universe, the one in which the empire strikes back. The resulting resistance has been active and has forced some concessions, but as Steve Bannon recently noted about his administration, “We didn’t come here to do small things.” Sadly, the Trump/Republican victory program will continue for at least the next two years, limited only by a crude tool called the filibuster, which can all too easily be bypassed. I would say that democracy rules, but, as in 2000, we can’t even say that. Mazel tov, and may you live in interesting times.

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