America: Democracy in Reverse

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Whenever this many rich people celebrate together, be wary.

America is sometimes characterized in its most exultant propaganda as the shining city upon a hill, history’s greatest experiment in self-governance. In the wee hours of December 2, though, it failed to live up to that marvelous hype. What happened in the United States Senate that day was a travesty that can accurately be described as democracy in reverse. An unpopular group of lawmakers passed an extremely unpopular bill, which will eventually be signed into law by an extremely unpopular president for the benefit of a small number of citizens.

So unpopular are the major pieces involved that if you combined the ratings for President Trump, Senator Mitch McConnell, and the Republican tax plan, approval still wouldn’t be unanimous. McConnell, one of the least popular lawmakers in the country, stands at 33 percent approval. His fellow Republicans are also, by and large, unpopular and losing ground. President Trump’s approval rating is 35 percent, and the tax plan itself is approved of by a meager 29 percent of Americans.

That such deeply unpopular people could pass such deeply unpopular legislation, which will impact every American for generations to come, means we have a major crisis of democracy. Part of the problem is low voter turnout. Unpopular Democratic alternatives and widespread voter suppression go a long way toward preventing any significant opposition from mobilizing at the ballot box. Perhaps most prohibitive, though, is the role of money in politics. It’s virtually impossible to run a winning campaign for national office without substantial contributions from corporate special interests.

Over the last several months, as Republicans struggled to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass tax reform, that reality was clearer than ever. Republican donors openly threatened their servants in Congress, warning them to “Get it done or don’t ever call me again,” according to one representative. One donor used a particularly telling analogy: “I can’t borrow money to build a building and then not follow through, which is what these guys are doing.”

Rich donors expect results from the politicians they pay. It’s not surprising, then, that a party funded by multi-billionaires would enact policies that are unfavorable to ordinary people. Americans rightly view the GOP tax plan as a huge giveaway to the rich. For much of the poor and middle class, the bill actually may represent a substantial tax increase, even as cuts are made to services that millions of them rely on.

It’s not just on the tax bill. Trump’s signature campaign issue, construction of a wall along the Mexican border, is opposed by 56 percent of Americans. And his proposal to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, likely to open the land up for oil and gas exploration, is mixed at best, with two thirds of Utahans opposed to shrinking Escalante – a position that also puts them at odds with most of their state leaders.

Voter turnout is always comparably low in American elections. But given his radically corrupt and unpopular agenda, it’s particularly galling to note that Trump was elected by a meager 26 percent of eligible voters. Majorities of the American people regularly describe him as vulgar, untrustworthy and unfit for office. He is out of step with most Americans on virtually everything, and yet he is free to pursue the most radically far-right platform Americans have seen in generations.

Tax reform still has a long way to go. The Senate and House bills must be reconciled with one another. Members of Congress were given mere hours to read the nearly 500-page document before it was voted on, and some members hastily added in handwritten notes that could introduce more bugs and loopholes to the code. But Republicans have taken a giant step toward giving their billionaire donors what they want more than anything: even more money.

In 2014, an academic study concluded that the United States is an oligarchy – a society controlled by the rich. There’s very little that’s genuinely democratic about the American system of governance. Democrats, in their race with Republicans to the well of big money, have sold out and left more than half the country effectively unrepresented. Trump’s appointment of Goldman Sachs alumni and Koch Industries lackeys to high government positions has all but formalized the complete takeover of the US government by corporate interests.

How it came to be that one of the most unpopular presidents, leading one of the most unpopular parties, passed one of the most unpopular legislative agendas in history is something that anyone who takes public will seriously must reckon with. Unless trends in voter suppression and political financing are reversed, history will deem America’s bold experiment in self-governance a failure.

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Republicans abandon all pretense of public service

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President Trump appears with two powerful members of his administration, both Goldman Sachs alumni. Gary Cohn is on the left and Steve Mnuchin is in the middle.

If there’s one thing the Republican Party can be counted on to do, it’s lower the tax burden of wealthy Americans. They’re in the midst of an effort to do so right now, and one bill recently passed in the House of Representatives. But the bill is massively unpopular, with only 25 percent of Americans approving of it. Republicans have a remarkably candid response when pressed as to why they are pushing such unpopular and destructive legislation: it’s to please their donors. Continue reading

Why Roy Moore is the biggest political story of the moment

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Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, left, shakes the hand of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Arguably the most important political story happening right now is the ongoing scandal involving Roy Moore. Once the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore was removed for his lawlessness. Despite this, voters in Alabama – following a relentless campaign by the far-right website Breitbart – made Moore the Republican nominee to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate. Moore’s virulently homophobic, theocratic ideology already made him controversial to his own party, but last week’s allegations that he preyed on teenage girls made Moore look truly vulnerable. Continue reading

A tale of two responses: Trump on attacks in Vegas, Texas and New York

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The president adopts a voice of calm after white terror attacks, and a voice of venomous outrage after Muslim ones.

Three high-profile atrocities have occurred on American soil in the span of five weeks. On October 1, a man opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel window and shot more than 600 people, killing 58 of them. On October 31, a man drove a truck into a crowd in New York City and killed eight people. And on November 5, a man shot and killed 26 people at a church in the small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

At least since 9/11, the protocol for atrocity in America is militarism and nationalism if the perpetrator is a dark-skinned Muslim, thoughts and prayers for the victims if the perpetrator is white. In these recent events, President Trump’s tweets gave us a healthy sample of each. Continue reading

How high taxes and a mixed economy made America great

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Much like our own era, the turn of the 19th Century was dominated by wealthy interests and corruption. The progressive political movements that responded to it brought America into its greatest era of general prosperity.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” triggered an important conversation in American politics. On one hand, it was vague enough that Americans could write whatever fantasy they wished onto it. On the other hand, it forced us to ask: when was America great? Depending on your position in the social-economic-racial strata, the answer might be never. But there’s one era for which most Americans share a nostalgic sense of glory: the first few decades after World War II.

We were riding high then. The Greatest Generation had just won the planet’s deadliest and most far-reaching conflict to date. In the following decades of the 1950s and 60s, the American middle class boomed and prosperity was widely shared among the population. People of color made meaningful civil rights gains as the evils of white supremacy began to be more forcefully confronted. And all while the American dream was being realized, the country was the highest-taxed it has ever been. Continue reading

Roy Moore and the stunning cognitive dissonance of Breitbart

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Christian fascist Roy Moore defended himself by telling family values conservative Sean Hannity he did “not generally” date 16- and 17-year-old girls when he was in his 30s.

Anyone who logged into Breitbart over the last couple days saw the site’s usual sensationalist, large-font headlines, but they may have sounded disjointed if read all together. On one side, a vocal defense of Republican senate candidate Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who has been accused by four girls of pursuing inappropriate, underage relationships with them. On the other side, a string of enthusiastic articles about the takedown of liberal Hollywood by sexual harassment and assault allegations.

One headline, “Judge Roy Moore on Hannity Radio: ‘Allegations Completely False,’” appeared next to the headline, “#OscarSoRapey: Harassers, Enablers Prepare to Celebrate Themselves for Five-Month Awards Season.” Another headline quoted Steve Bannon: “‘Same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post’ Dropped Trump Tape, Roy Moore Hit Pieces… ‘Purely Part of the Apparatus of the Democratic Party’.” next to that article was one about a man who was allegedly beaten by immigrants in Germany after aiding an underage girl – precisely the type of girl Moore is accused of preying on. Continue reading

With Trump criticism, Limbaugh reveals the core of Republicanism

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Rush Limbaugh in a customary pose.

On his radio show last week, far-right commentator Rush Limbaugh used the word “dictatorial” to describe President Donald Trump’s demands that NFL team owners force players to stand for the National Anthem. Said Limbaugh, “There’s a part of this story that’s starting to make me nervous, and it’s this. I am very uncomfortable with the president of the United States being able to dictate the behavior and power of anybody. That’s not where this should be coming from.”

Limbaugh’s comments were covered giddily by much of left-wing media. Headlines and commentary suggested he had broken with Trump. But even if the remarks did represent a break from Trump – Limbaugh stressed repeatedly that they did not – there’s still no cause for celebration. Because Limbaugh’s real point isn’t that President Trump was out of line, but that if anybody is going to restrict First Amendment rights for the players, it should be the team owners.

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America needs a shrink

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A new book by mental health experts examines the deteriorated psyche of the American president.

Last week a group of psychiatrists released a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. It caused a controversy not only because of its claims about the president, but also because the psychiatrists appeared to break with their profession’s ethical tradition and diagnose a public figure from a distance. They aren’t alone. Some 60,000 mental health professionals have signed a petition stating, “Donald Trump manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.”

Plenty of Trump observers might think that obvious, but it’s a stunning development. Never before have so many mental health professionals warned us about a public figure. And members of Trump’s own party have come to similar conclusions. Senator Bob Corker recently called the White House an “adult day care center” and charged Trump with recklessly setting the nation “on the path to World War III.” The mental instability of the man in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal is well worth taking seriously.

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Breitbart comments reveal disconnect of Trump supporters with reality

BB commentThis is a screen shot of the top comment, and the top replies to it, on a Breitbart article covering President Trump’s bizarre “Calm before the storm” statement. Late Thursday night, Trump made the remark at a gathering of military personnel and, when asked to elaborate, only said, “You’ll find out.” This is clearly a man built by the media – only now, the cliffhanger isn’t whether or not he’ll fire Meatloaf, but whether or not he’ll plunge the globe into a catastrophic nuclear war.

Looking at Breitbart for five minutes every now and then can occasionally be an eye-opening experience. There is usually little to learn in the body of a story, but a quick look at the headlines and comments can reveal some uncomfortable truths about how a broad segment of the “white working class” thinks and how their worldview is sculpted. Continue reading

Carnage in Las Vegas makes the need for stricter gun control clearer than ever

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People scramble for cover as a gunman opens fire on a crowded concert from his hotel room window.

Mass shootings are so commonplace in America that news outlets can practically recycle old stories verbatim, changing only the names of the suspects, the locations, and the number of dead. When pundits are summoned to give their opinion, those responses, too, are predictably rote. Whether it’s said once or it’s said a thousand times, though, there is only one solution to America’s epidemic of gun violence: stricter regulation of the weapons in question. Continue reading