U.S. Workers Are Making More Money, but There’s a Catch

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“Yeah, Brad, the pay is great, but I haven’t seen my wife and kids in seven years!” (Image retrieved from quickmeme.com.)

Most Americans are making more money than they did 25 or 30 years ago. They are working more hours, too. On the face of things or in a vacuum, these trends might seem like fortuitous circumstances for the workers of the U-S-of-A. When we sift through why these phenomena are occurring, and how they may be related, meanwhile, our glasses may not appear quite as rose-colored regarding the employment picture in this country.

A recent report by Jacob Passy for MarketWatch sheds some light on why higher wages and longer hours might not be all they’re cracked up to be. As Passy explains, citing data from the Economic Policy Institute’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual earnings for people in their “prime working years”—age 25 to 54—have increased by some 30% from 1979 to 2016, even after inflation. The bad news? This is often not mediated by an increase in wages/salary, but because people are working more to meet increased costs of living. To make things worse, and as you might expect, the extent to which people need to work to offset their expenses increases as their earnings level goes down. While all income groups saw an increase in hours worked in 2016 relative to 1979—on average, 7.8%—American workers in the bottom fifth of earners saw an increase of 24.3% over the same span, easily dwarfing the rates of increase for top earners (3.6%) as well as representatives of the middle class (9.4%). This is particularly problematic because there are limits inherent in any employment situation. For starters, there are only so many hours in a day, not to mention so many hours that establishments are liable to be open for business. Couple this with the notion that most workers do not make their schedules—rather, hours tend to be set by supervisors—and that availability of shifts might be further constrained by corporate strategy and concerns about profitability, and you’ve got quite the situation on the hands of American workers.

Not depressing enough yet? Wait—there’s more. As Passy reports, and as EPI researchers also found looking at data from the same span, more men in their prime working years are “disconnected from work.” Translation: they’re unemployed and not looking for work. From 1979 to 2016, the rate of men in their prime disconnected from work rose from 6.3% to 11.9%; women saw a decrease over that span from 29.8% to 24.1%. Once more, the picture is bleaker for certain populations, namely people of color, and specifically, black men. According to the EPI statistics, black males are twice as likely as white and Hispanic men to not be working, and when they are working, they work fewer hours, on average. Imaginably, employment rates are worse for those without a college degree, let alone high school diploma or GED equivalent.

This all comes to a head when talking about financial situations of workers across ethnicities, as Passy goes on to explain. Citing additional research by the Pew Research Center, he writes that, on average, white families possess just over $120,000 more of wealth than families of color. In addition, concerning the disparity in earnings, African-American and Latino households are more likely to be financially “underwater,” and children from poorer households—which does not necessarily mean those from minority populations but frequently does—are found to be less likely to achieve educational milestones that lend themselves to career success and increased wages. Talk about your vicious circles.

Skeptics of this information or others who would dismiss the trends about blacks and Hispanics/Latinos might point to stereotypical notions of them being deficient in moral fiber, lazy, and/or unintelligent. This is, of course, racist and unmitigated bullshit, but it’s an explanation that suffices for many, and even if I were to question it with logic and statistics, they would be loath to believe it, so let’s just leave that line of thinking aside and try not to slam our heads against hard objects out of frustration. On the work side of things, however, that people are working more irrespective of class or ethnicity is more difficult to explain than by simply denigrating minorities or the poor for their perceived lack of effort. Though I’m sure that won’t stop some people from trying. After all, people are working more. They’re being more productive. Gosh darn it, they’re illustrating the American spirit with their can-do attitude. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Maybe. But this also might be a space to consider how this feeds into concerns about the work-life balance in this country relative to other developed nations. Kerry Close, in a 2017 article which appeared in TIME Magazine, explored in a case study of sorts how France differs from the United States on its approach to work schedules and work-life balance. In terms of the raw numbers, yes, Americans do work more than their French counterparts, working an average of 1,790 hours per year to France’s 1,482, as measured by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). American workers are also more productive in terms of raw output and income per capita.

As Close tells, though, this was not always the case, and up until as recently as the 1970s, French workers actually put in more hours than we did. What led to this shift? While it may be no surprise to advocates of organized labor, the efforts of unions and collective-bargaining agreements were essential to this movement. Citing the research of Dartmouth economics professor Bruce Sacerdote, Close explains that in response to rising unemployment in the 70s, French unions advocated a “work sharing” policy that would decrease the number of hours logged by individual workers in favor of more people being afforded the ability to work. These policies, owing to their appeal, helped unions grow stronger and represent more workers, leading to the securing of valuable time off, which persisted even after the employment situation in France improved. As Sacerdote notes, today, France has 25 federally-mandated vacation days, allowing most employees to be off at the same time.

25 days off? That’s preposterous, you may be saying! How do those snail-eating Frenchies get anything done? As with isolated statistics about more hours worked and more money made by American workers having the power to mislead, that the U.S. exhibits a higher raw output and income per capita than France belies the benefits that the latter country experiences by offering more vacation time and other perks. Firstly, concerning those mandated days off, having most employees off concurrently means productivity doesn’t suffer in the same way as it does when people stagger their vacations in the United States, such as with the informal “break” that occurs between Christmas and New Year’s. As for the higher output per capita, again, this is a question of productivity. Giving people a more liberal amount of time away from work and permitting them to fully disconnect from the office—yes, even from work E-mails—tends to make them more productive when they are in the office. Thus, as Close indicates, it is not so much that European culture is by nature inclined to a more relaxed workplace, but that systems like that of France’s evolved out of a response to specific economic circumstances and out of genuine concern for the standard of living of a wide swath of the nation’s workers. In other words, while it’s a good thing that Americans work as hard as they do, in this instance, there certainly would seem to be such a thing as too much of a good thing.


At the heart of this discussion about benefits and stagnant wages is the role that unions play in negotiating for fairer wages, increased benefits, and safer working conditions, among other things. In saying this, I acknowledge public opinion on unions in the United States tends to be mixed; though Gallup polling on approval of labor unions has more recently seen an uptick in favorable responses, not long ago, in the wake of the Great Recession, approval had plummeted to a sub-50% level. Christ, my own father once uttered the phrase, “Unions are what’s ruining this country,” and when he found out Bernie Sanders was a backer of organized labor, he quickly dismissed any idea of supporting him. Just stab me in the heart, why don’t you, Pops?

Perhaps more significant within the same research were divides in responses based on party affiliation, as well as the consensus outlook on the future of unions. On the subject of Democrat-vs.-Republican splits, while favorability of unions has risen even among GOP supporters, Democrats (81%) are about twice as likely as Republicans (42%) to approve of unions, with independents squarely in the middle (61%). Meanwhile, on the subject of union influence and strength, while more respondents expressed the desire to see unions have more influence than they did when Barack Obama was in office, more than 70% of those surveyed expect unions to become weaker or stay the same. This isn’t particularly inspiring noting labor union participation as a subset of all American workers has steadily been on the decline over the past 40 to 50 years, and even less so when you consider the middle class’s share of the nation’s income has been on a similar decline over the same span.

This is before we even get to the case now before the Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME, which once against pits unions against the wealthy and conservative leaders of industry, not to mention the Republican heads of state and lawmakers who actively aid and abet the weakening of unions. The case, which specifically involves whether or not public-sector employees should be mandated to pay union fees even if they are not members and how this relates to First Amendment rights, is another iteration in the larger battle over what is termed “fair-share” representation by labor advocates. Opponents of these fees such as Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (Mark Janus, plaintiff in the case, is a resident of Illinois) and other GOP figures who preside over statehouses have been instrumental in advancing “right-to-work” legislation which limits the extent to which unions can collect dues from non-members or compel employees to join unions.

Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, and others of a like mind, counter that fair-share fees are warranted because union leaders advocate on behalf of members and non-members alike. The case is expected to be decided along ideological lines, which could prove disastrous for public-sector unions, assuming Neil Gorsuch joins other conservatives in voting to undercut their power. Plus, by invoking the First Amendment, the precedent set by this ruling could pave the way for any number of legal challenges to other dues of a similar nature outside the realm of labor law. Or it could strengthen union resolve and end up blowing up in the faces of the conservative donors backing Janus (yup, where there’s anti-union smoke, there’s likely to be a Koch Brothers fire a-burnin’). Needless to say, the results could be very messy indeed.

Regardless of your opinion on unions, that wages have stayed mostly flat while the cost of living has gone up, and that people are making more money and working more hours, are two trends which aren’t up for debate. That there is a presumably causal relationship between these observed effects makes this all the more, as Jacob Passy puts it, “depressing.” If earnings are being used to offset expenses and people have to work more and more to make ends meet, this limits a family’s ability to save and prepare for the future, let alone spend time together. For all the talk of “making America great again,” the American dream, for many, is seeming like a pipe dream more than ever.

I’m Embarrassed to Be An American Right Now

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I feel ya, man. I feel ya. (Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Caruso/NorthJersey.com)

Think President Donald Trump is doing a good job in his present role? Yeah, well, sorry to inform you, but you’re in the minority on this one, and in fact, this may well be the first time you’ve been considered or have considered yourself to be a part of a minority group. Hey—cheer up—there’s a first time for everything.

You may not care about this bit of happenstance, or may decry the polls as inaccurate or even “fake,” but here’s the information we at least are given. As of February 24, according to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating nationally stands at just 43%. Philip Bump, meanwhile, writing for The Washington Post, has a more nuanced look at polling data, both current and from the 2016 presidential election. In a shocking—shocking!—twist, Bump finds that the only group or groups with a majority approval rating for the President is/are Republicans and whites without college degrees. Independents also garner a majority when FOX’s polling data is considered, but they are at or below 40% for the other five major polls (CBS News, Gallup, McClatchy-Marist, NBC-SurveyMonkey, Quinnipiac University), raising questions about FOX’s methods, FOX News’s viewership, or both. As you might expect, Pres. Trump fares worst among Democrats, and particularly poorly among black and Hispanic women. The Republican Party already has had a persistent problem with these demographics, and if Trump’s numbers are any indication, that inability to draw support from them has only been amplified.

What Philip Bump’s analysis does not show, however, and where my level of interest is primarily, is where Donald Trump’s supporters and defenders rate on their views of some of his more notable policies. That is, they may approve of Trump on the whole, but they also may be concerned about particular aspects of his and the Republicans’ agenda. Jennifer Rubin, who authors the Right Turn blog, a conservative opinion conduit under the Washington Post banner, recently penned an article going into depth about some of the issues that matter most to Trump supporters, and thus, might give us a starting point in conducting such an analysis. In particular, Rubin cites three matters of domestic policy that Trump promised to address if he were elected, and as such, three matters that might matter to his base of support should he not follow through: ObamaCare/the Affordable Care Act, tax reform, and border security.

On the first count, Jennifer Rubin noted that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, for one, sure has been sending a lot of E-mails out to Republican supporters, but with each successive message and little substantive material revealed with each iteration, the situation smacks of the GOP being long on talk of repeal and short on a credible replacement. How bad is this lack of a cohesive strategy to deal with the ACA? Well, let’s just put it this way: if Republican lawmakers like Senator Bob Corker know of a superior plan with which to supplant ObamaCare, they either possess quite the proverbial poker face, or they have no g-d clue. Put Corker, perhaps surprisingly candid about this subject, in the latter category. When asked about the Affordable Care Act by Huffington Post, Sen. Corker admitted he was unaware of any set plans, though he opined that this could be a good thing in that the GOP should take its time on any set proposal. What’s more, Senator Corker questioned the very theory of what the Republicans were trying to do, in particular, regarding the role of revenue:

If you repeal the taxes on the front end and you end up with, say, a Medicaid expansion, or even if it winds up being refundable tax credits, you’re still expending dollars. And if you repeal all the sources of income on the front end, then it’s difficult to me to see how you ever get to a place where you actually fund what you’re expending. And then you’ve self-created the doc-fix scenario, where each year it just keeps getting extended, you’re piling up the deficits, because I don’t see Republicans voting for a tax increase. That’s why to me it’s important that this happen simultaneously. I don’t see a scenario where people are pushing to insure less people. You’ve got to have money to pay for that.

On the second count, Rubin explains that tax reform was liable to be a problem in Republican circles to being with, and with the prospect of a theoretical border tax on companies who import goods produced in facilities located outside the United States, or even raw materials not readily available domestically that must be procured abroad, the movement for reform is further muddied and therefore far from unified. There is concern among industry leaders that such a border tax would force businesses to pass the related cost onto the consumer, a notion that could place companies large and small in jeopardy if this comes to fruition. So, in short, tax reform looks sketchy as well. Potentially 0-for-2—not especially encouraging for Donald Trump and the GOP.

Last but not least, we have border security. First, there’s the issue of the wall at the Mexican border, which is expensive and ineffective. Second, there’s the issue of targeting sanctuary cities, which has encouraged threats of pushback from the cities and regions that stand to be affected by the associated executive order, including that of local lawmakers and law enforcement. Thirdly, there’s the whole travel ban, which has tied up the White House in litigation and is as unpopular if not more so than these other provisions. The seeming absurdity of the wall has made its prospects somewhat dim, though nothing is over until it’s over, and reportedly, we are mere months away from assignment of the contracts to build a monstrosity at our southern border. That considerable resistance has been felt on the other aspects of Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, however, makes it all the more likely that the wall and hallmarks of the other issues—ObamaCare and tax reform—will be met by similar legislative gridlock.

If this is so, the Democratic Party could capitalize on any related loss of support. Jennifer Rubin closes her article by talking about what President Trump and the GOP would need to do to maintain their appeal to their collective fan base:

If those issues [the ACA, border security, taxes] aren’t going to produce concrete legislative results, how else could Trump and Republicans earn voters’ continued indulgence? In essence, Trump promised a better life for the down-and-out in the Rust Belt and the resentful anti-elitists everywhere. What will be the evidence of that? Unemployment presumably would need to go even lower, coal jobs would need to return, and productivity would have to spike, resulting in wage growth. Take-home pay would have to rise, at the very least. And accomplishing those end goals may be even more challenging than passing an Obamacare replacement.

Whatever Trump thought he’d deliver may prove elusive because the problems of working-class Rust Belt voters are the result not of “foreigners stealing their jobs” or “dumb trade deals,” but long-term, knotty problems that have no easy solutions. Trump certainly has no idea how to make the transition to a 21st-century economy while making sure millions don’t get left behind. He never even talks about juicing productivity, let alone puts forth a plan to do so.

In sum, if Trump does not deliver on his major policy initiatives and does not bring about an economic renaissance for the “forgotten man and woman,” will they stick with him and with GOP majorities or stay home in 2018? Like it or not, 2018 will be a referendum on Trump and Trumpism. That’s why Democrats shouldn’t be too pessimistic about their near-term political prospects.

Rubin, if you ask me, gives the Democrats too much credit. Still, her point about the political dangers Donald Trump’s extreme positions and boastful rhetoric present is well taken. If matters of economic performance, health care reform, and immigration policy are key concerns for Trump supporters/Republican voters, unfulfilled promises may cast a pall over the party as a whole. For those of us Trump detractors on the outside looking in, the hardest part of it all would likely be the waiting until Trump’s and the Republican Party’s house of cards falls down.


Let it be stressed that the topics addressed by Jennifer Rubin represent only a subset of what those who voted for Donald Trump may actually care about. Then again, it likely is a rather large subset; according to CNN exit polls taken during the presidential vote this past November, a significant amount of those individuals who chose Trump did so because of their concern about terrorism and illegal immigration. What Rubin’s analysis does not consider, though, and what is vitally important to confront because Trump’s list of executive orders since he was sworn in includes a number of mandates on this dimension, are social issues. President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, as discussed above, because it so strongly impacts the Hispanic and Muslim communities, can be considered under this purview. For other groups whose rights have been under attack by the Republican Party for some time now, their freedoms have similarly been targeted, although perhaps not as dramatically as, say, deportation raids or a ban on entry into the United States. The reinstatement of the so-called “global gag rule” which pulls American aid to organizations that discuss abortion as a family planning option. The decision to remove protections for transgender students in schools over their use of bathrooms. The revival of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline projects. The reversal of a late-tenure policy enacted by President Barack Obama that prevented coal-mining operations from dumping their waste in streams. I’m sure I’m missing some, but this gives you an idea of the adversarial tone Pres. Trump has taken toward environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, and women. It begs the question from those of us onlookers who never supported Donald Trump in the first place: who’s next? African-Americans? Other religious minorities, including atheists? Democratic socialists? People with disabilities?

This disconnect with the consequences of the Trump administration’s actions, and those aided and abetted by Republican majorities in Congress and the GOP’s own regressive agenda (e.g. the dismantling of the ACA), I believe, informs to a great deal the oft-referenced cultural divide between those on the left who champion equality for all as a raison d’être, and those on the right who feel political correctness limits us as a nation, as well as those on the far-right who legitimately subscribe to the view that whites are superior to people of all other races. Even if the majority of Trump supporters aren’t racists, and indeed defend his policymaking or their vote for him as based on economic or political principles, it becomes that much more mystifying to us non-supporters why Donald Trump’s more jeered-at actions and words aren’t a bigger deal. This includes Trump’s “greatest hits” from the campaign trail, seeing as we are only a few months removed from the presidential race, not to mention the idea there is no statute of limitations on being a douchebag. How are we supposed to accept Trump’s insinuation that Mexico is a country full of drug lords and rapists? How are we supposed to ignore the belittling of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter? How are we supposed to forgive and forget his callous remark that when you’re rich and famous like him you can grab women “by the pussy”? How are we supposed to tolerate the denigration of Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of fallen United States Army Captain Humayun Khan? How are we supposed to react positively when Trump and members of his Cabinet reject the science that illustrates the role man plays in climate change?

Speaking of adversarial tones, and to invoke that last environmentally-conscious thought, what is concerning to many Americans and what should be concerning to yet more is the apparent attack of the White House and of supportive right-wing media on facts, on freedom of the press, on science, on transparency, and on truth. President Donald Trump is flanked by flunkies like Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller who defend his ranting and raving on Twitter; deny past statements made by the President despite recorded, verifiable proof; excuse his putting forth of opinions based on false or misleading statistics; flout ethics rules and standards of journalistic integrity; hand-pick members of the press and news organizations who are favorable to Trump to ask questions during press conferences and even to attend certain events; intimidate dissenters and intimate reprisals for those who criticize and challenge their credentials; make up events such as the Bowling Green Massacre, misdirect or refuse to answer direct questions from reporters; and suggest “alternative facts.” They lie constantly, and even go as far to depict the mainstream media as the “enemy of the people,” a sentiment so reprehensible it caused Chris Wallace of FOX freaking News to come to Barack Obama’s defense, saying even he never called them an enemy. This is the kind of behavior we’d expect out of Nazi Germany or even Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the United States of America.

As for Putin and Russia, that members of the Trump administration, the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization, and even President Trump may—may!—be compromised by their ties to Russian interests should concern all Americans. Along these lines, why shouldn’t we be allowed to see for ourselves to make sure? What exactly happened that provoked the resignation of Michael Flynn, and if it were known about his transgression in speaking to Russian officials even earlier, why did he have to resign at all? That is, why wasn’t he removed from his post then and there? Why are we more concerned with the size of electoral victories and Inauguration Ceremonies than the breadth of Russian interference in our elections and hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s communications and the affairs of other citizens? Why are we so intent on lifting sanctions on Russia and, in the process, disregarding the reports from our own intelligence community? And for f**k’s sake, what is in your tax returns that you don’t want to show the world, as other Presidents before you have done? If there’s nothing to hide, why not, in the name of transparency, turn over all the cards? For someone who demanded accountability for Hillary Clinton concerning her E-mails and for Benghazi, and who helped spearhead an absurd campaign to prove Barack Obama was secretly born in another country, and likely would have done for Ted Cruz if he had somehow captured the Republican Party nomination, the hypocrisy speaks volumes—and by now, none of us should be surprised to hear it.

The totality of this trampling of individual liberties and American interests for the sake of one man’s vanity, alongside the collective failure of Republican lawmakers to condemn Donald Trump and to stand against his excesses, as well as the abandonment of the working class by the Democratic Party for the sake of corporate and wealthy donors, and the unwillingness of pillars of the media to stand with one another and to stand up to Trump rather than to simply seek out a boost to ratings and website clicks—all this in no uncertain terms and to be quite frank makes me embarrassed to be an American right now. I know I’m not alone in these feelings of shame, either. Going back to the analysis of our friend Philip Bump, according to recent polling by McClatchy-Marist and Quinnipiac University, a majority of Americans are embarrassed by Donald Trump as President.

Granted, there is a large partisan divide on this question—while 58% report feelings of embarrassment overall, Democrats really push the average up; a similar majority of Republicans, though not quite to the extent Democratic respondents report being embarrassed, say they feel “proud” of the job Trump is doing (independents, in case you wondering, by slightly more than the poll average are embarrassed by Trump). It’s still early in Trump’s tenure, mind you, and there’s a chance that voters for the two major parties are more likely to hew closer to center as we go along. By the same token, however, they could just as well become more and more entrenched in their views. If nothing else, this underscores the profundity of the aforementioned cultural divide—and the magnitude of the effort needed by Democrats and members of the Resistance to defeat Donald Trump, congressional Republicans, and other down-ticket members of the GOP. For progressives, simply replacing establishment Republicans with mainstream Democrats may not even be enough.

I already concede my readership is limited, and thus, the likelihood of any Trump supporters reading this blog is slim to none. Nonetheless, in closing out this piece, my final considerations have this audience in mind. First, let me say something on the subject of criticism. I am critical of Donald Trump in this post, as I have been leading up to the election and ever since. By and large, these are not personal attacks, and at any rate, disagreeing with the President based on the issues and calling him out when we believe something he says or Tweets to be false is OK. In fact, it’s one of the hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Our elected leaders are people, not gods, or even the supposedly infallible Pope. They are prone to error, if not deliberately misleading statements. Disagreeing with them doesn’t make you any less patriotic or mean you don’t love America, as was the case if and when you decried Barack Obama for any and all he didn’t do during his two terms. Nor does it make the press the enemy of our people. It is in the American tradition to stand up to authority when we deem it worthy. Sure, you may deride me as a crybaby liberal snowflake and tell me to move to Canada, but by criticizing my ability to criticize, you’re flying your American flag right in the face of what it means to be a free person in the United States. Besides, you may scoff about people leaving the country, but even if they don’t leave, foreign nationals from countries not affected by the travel ban likely will start to refuse to come here. Great—you’re thinking—keep them over there! Right, except for the idea foreign nationals who come to live, study, and work here are vital to the U.S. economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from the period between 2009 and 2011, immigrants’ share of the country’s economic output was 14.7%, larger than their share of the population. That’s no small potatoes, and just one reason why a climate in this nation that immigrants and concerned citizens alike feel is inhospitable is dangerous for the United States of America.

The other message I have for Trump supporters, if you’re listening, is that though some of us may resist against the President, his advisers, his Cabinet, and Republican leadership, we don’t hate you. We want you as part of a unified United States, as redundant as that sounds, and we certainly will need you if we are to elect people who we feel will be better representatives for their constituents two and four years from now. That’s why I encourage you, in earnest, to think about what President Donald Trump has done, is doing, and will do for you. Forget about other people if you need to—even though that isn’t exactly encouraged. As noted earlier in this piece, Trump has made a lot of promises. Politicians usually do, even if he doesn’t consider himself one. But he’s the President now, and he should be held accountable for what he says and does. If all his talk ends up being just that, and you find your life and that of others’ lives around you hasn’t dramatically improved, remember what I and others have said. And get angry—angry enough to do something about it. Like, contacting your senators and representatives angry. Not so much shooting up the place angry.

With each story of undocumented immigrant parents ripped away from their children, headstones being toppled over at Jewish cemeteries, and violence and insults directed at our Muslim brethren, scores of conscientious Americans and I are angered, saddened, and—yes—embarrassed about what is happening in our country. We may love America deep down, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily love everything about it, nor should we be expected to. And while we all bear some level of culpability, chief among us members of the Democratic and Republican Parties and the media, let us not exonerate our Commander-in-Chief. In fact, we should hold him to a higher standard, as we have done with the previous 44 holders of his office. This is not Donald Trump’s America, or that of any one person. It is all of ours, and anyone who would elevate himself above that equality written about by our Founding Fathers should be embarrassed in his or her own right.

The Resistance Starts Now

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Resistance is not futile. At this hour, it is essential. (Photo Illustration: Yahoo News; Photo Credits: Getty Images, AP).

If you’ve read or perused this blog, chances are I’ve already telegraphed, to a large extent, my nerdy tendencies, but in case you needed any more evidence in this regard, here’s a reference that will buttress any suppositions you may have had. In the Star Trek universe, there exists a race of cybernetic beings rather uncreatively named the Borg. They seek not to advance politically or amass wealth, but to consume technology, as well as to, in the words of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as the Borg alter-ego Locutus, assimilate other peoples into their collective so as to “raise” their “quality of life.” They hurtle through space in craft that resemble giant metal cubes. They are not aware of themselves as separate individuals, only as units within the collective. Perhaps most strikingly, the Borg do not like taking no for an answer. When not informing you of your imminent assimilation and subsequent loss of personhood, they are kindly explaining to you that “resistance is futile.”

While I, at the time, found the writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation to be some of the best on television, I still feel a lot of it holds up today. I say this perhaps in spite of the allegorical nature of the Borg, which is so readily apparent the full-sized U.S.S. Enterprise would be harder to miss. The Borg, in their monomaniacal pursuit of technological advancement and “cultural” assimilation, are a warning about the perils of collectivism and the pervasiveness of technology, carried to the extreme. The latter count, for one, is duly noted; take a look at any group of people waiting on line, for example, and note how many of them immediately take to their smartphones. On the former count, too, blindly following leadership in its various forms or adhering to cultural or societal norms risks agreement simply to avoid conflict or independent thought, not to mention the ascension of individuals to power who rely on authoritarianism and the conditions which lend themselves to their success. You probably know where I’m going with this. The Borg have a Borg queen. In the United States’ current political climate, we have Donald Trump, incoming President and would-be emperor.

As noted, the Borg collective confronts each species—and effective assimilation target—it meets with the idea “resistance is futile,” and once more making the comparison to today’s American politics, many people not entirely thrilled about a Trump presidency have taken to familiar standbys like “it is what it is” (death to that phrase, if you ask me) and “what can you do?” buying fully into the concept of top-down leadership. As others might argue, however, resistance is not only not futile, but mandatory at a time like this. Such explains the movements of Robert Reich and others which makes resisting Donald Trump their raison d’être. Reich, who founded Inequality Media, a non-profit organization designed to help educate the American public about how income and wealth inequality in this country has manifested and grown over time and what can be done to reverse this trend going forward, recently authored a video piece outlining an agenda for members of the resistance to combat the types of regressive reforms Trump is expected to enact during the first 100 days of his presidency. The following is my summation of the 12 points to this agenda—I hope you weren’t planning on going anywhere for a while—with some additional commentary regarding potential difficulties in successfully meeting the goals therein:

1. Contact your senators and representatives.

I know, I know—we’re always told this, but seriously, though—get in the habit of reaching out to your elected officials. As far as I am concerned, I feel fortunate as a New Jerseyan to have two U.S. Senators in Cory Booker and Bob Menendez who I believe share a number of the same positions on the issues as I do, and feel similarly about Representative Bill Pascrell in exemplifying some of the best values the Democrats have to offer. Others might not be as lucky to be so well represented, but this doesn’t mean we should take the good ones for granted, nor does it mean we should necessarily forsake those legislators who don’t seem as keen to oppose Donald Trump’s and the Republicans’ conservative agenda. Tell them to oppose it, though, and to oppose Trump’s awful appointees. These candidates for top positions in his Cabinet should be vetted and confirmed, not rubber-stamped.

2. March and demonstrate.

You’ve probably already heard about the Women’s March on Washington which is slated to occur the day after the Inauguration (January 21). Reich calls for additional marches in the following months, though, to reinforce the solidarity felt among those afraid for their families, their health, their rights and their safety, as well as that of people who were demonized and bullied throughout the election cycle. Blacks, immigrants, Latinos, the LGBTQIA community, Muslims, Native American Indians, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault, women—the list goes on. Some may decry these as the actions of a bunch of sore losers, or too little too late, or that they play identity politics to make groups feel better about themselves without effecting real change, or that they will do nothing to bridge the divide experienced between those who brand themselves as everyday Americans and the supposed liberal elites. There might be a kernel of truth in any number of these charges, but this doesn’t mean you can’t go to one of these marches and demonstrations as a casual observer and see what you can learn. It may not be for the exact right reasons, but from where I’m sitting or standing, anything organized in opposition to Donald Trump as President is for a good cause.

3. Uphold sanctuary cities and states.

The applicability of this item may vary depending on your proximity to an international border, but the sentiment behind it may well hold true no matter where you hang your proverbial hat. In my home state, the mayors of Newark, Jersey City, Union City and other municipalities have affirmed their city’s commitment to not detaining undocumented immigrants per ICE’s request unless accompanied by a judge’s order. Republicans have made the horror stories particularly salient in recent years, but allowing people to be held for the mere purpose of possible deportation, especially those who have been in this country for some time and have contributed to their communities and economies, seems like a waste of municipal, county and state law enforcement when immigration is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, if not an example of overreach on the part of the U.S. government officials. Reich urges non-cooperation on the part of we the people, and without probable cause, this would appear to be a just cause.

4. Boycott Trump real estate, hotels and brands.

Done. Of course, this is easy for me, as I don’t make it a habit to support Donald Trump financially if I can. Also helping matters: as a discerning shopper, I try to avoid products and services that are effectively likened to hot garbage, which is apparently the level of quality of Trump’s new hotel in Washington, D.C. What Robert Reich proposes, meanwhile, is a bit more difficult: boycott those retailers that carry Trump products, even if you don’t plan to purchase those individual items. Especially when Ivanka Trump’s fashion line is considered, the list of stores and retailers to potentially stop frequenting contains some significant names, and it includes the likes of Amazon, Bloomingdale’s, Kmart, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Overstock.com, Sears, TJ Maxx and Walmart. These are some big-deal companies, no doubt, so it would take some effort to avoid some or all of them (a yet more expansive list can be found at grabyourwallet.org). Still, it can be done, and what’s more, the official site for #GrabYourWallet offers a script/template you can follow when contacting these companies’ customer service departments and representatives. Sorry, Ivanka. I’ll pass on your various handbags.

5. Write letters & op-eds to the editor of your local newspaper.

Reich encourages you to pen these types of pieces to help communicate the dangers and fallacies of a Donald Trump presidency, including that agenda of his for the first 100 days, and to maintain a steady flow of these arguments. That’s right—keep ’em coming! Like Krabby Patties off of Spongebob’s grill! Yes, I’m an adult!

6. Contribute daily to social media with truthful, up-to-date facts and actions relevant to the movement to resisting Trump.

You know—keep reminding people of how shitty Donald Trump’s behavior and intended policies are.

7. Contribute to opposition groups.

Robert Reich offers a few suggestions, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Common Cause, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Economic Policy Institute, and, of course, Inequality Media, but you’re free to donate to the organization of your choice which you believe stands for the kinds of values Trump, his cronies, and other conservative Republicans won’t defend. You know, like, maybe Planned Parenthood, which the GOP aims to de-fund at the federal level, because they apparently think they should be able to tell women what to do with their own bodies. These kinds of organizations.

8. Make #ResistTrump visible.

Arm bands, bumper stickers, lapel pins—if it’s got #ResistTrump on it so people can see, you’re good to go. I’m not exactly the most craftsy person myself, so I sympathize with you on this point, but as of yet, online merchandise for “the Resistance” seems fairly sparse, and not for nothing, ugly. So, for now, you might just have to bite the bullet and start a DIY project or make friends with someone who’s good at creating things like the aforementioned items. Maybe bake them some cupcakes to sweeten the deal (or, yes, buy those, too).

9. Get involved with and promote progressive politics at the local and state levels.

Reich has a few major suggestions regarding topics to address, such as environmental reform, progressive tax reform, higher minimum wages, stopping gerrymandering, and helping to put an end to mass incarceration, but again, pick a cause and run wild with it. Certainly, the ability of workers to form and promote unions is something worthy of defense, despite Republicans’ and corporations’ attempts to weaken the bargaining power of these trade associations. Wherever rights are being abrogated, resources are being misused, or justice is proving not-so-blind, there’s an issue to get behind and a reason to get involved.

10. Abolish the Electoral College.

That’s right—you abolish it, all by yourself! OK, so one person by his or her lonesome isn’t going to dismantle the Electoral College, but lending your support and voice to the movement to supplant our wacky present electoral system in favor of the popular vote can only help. I’ve written at length about my feelings about the Electoral College, and if the electors won’t stand in the way of a tyrant in the making like Donald Trump, we may as well just do away with the damn thing. The likes of South Dakota and Wyoming be damned!

11. Reach out to independents and Trump supporters.

I know—this may seem like the last thing you want to do right now on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, but hear me out. And hear them out, assuming you can stand it. Especially for those voters who went for Barack Obama in 2012 only to turn around and cast their ballot for Donald Trump in 2016, ask them what about Trump’s agenda they find so appealing. If Democrats are to make any headway in taking back the House and the Senate, as well as governorships and seats in local legislatures, they’re going to have to win back the support of independents, working-class Americans and others who have lost faith in the Democratic Party. The Dems may not have burned these bridges, but they need to act fast to repair them in time for the midterms in 2018 and the presidential election in 2020.

12. [YOUR IDEA GOES HERE]

No, seriously. Here’s where you can choose your own political adventure. Reich doesn’t offer much in this regard by design, but does suggest you meet with family and friends to discuss what you can do to put your own spin on the Resistance. I don’t know—maybe wear a silly hat when you do it? Hey, give me a break—I’m still working on my own #12!


Before the election, some prospective voters were wondering whether or not we should just vote for Donald Trump , blow up the political system as we know it, and rebuild our democracy in a more progressive way. I was not among this lot, and while I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, I didn’t choose Trump either, my reasoning being that I didn’t trust him with the fate of our country any more than I would trust a pack of hungry coyotes to watch over a small kitten. As you well know and are coming to grips with, the American people chose the orange-skinned one to lead our nation for the next four years. I believe they chose poorly. Regardless of whether or not Donald Trump’s election would theoretically be better for the country because it would hasten some sort of revolution, the reality is that Trump is set to lead our nation until 2020 or his impeachment—whichever comes first. Thus, out of necessity, a resistance must be formed, grown and maintained. Resistance, in this case, is not futile. It is essential. Resistance against hate. Resistance against tyranny and scaremongering. Resistance against bullying and ganging up on people online and offline. Resistance against the dissolution of fact and the erosion of ethics. Resistance against a political party and a system which puts the corporation and wealth above empathy and other hallmarks of humanity. Resistance against a world that allows a man to lie, cheat, deceive and steal his way to personal success. Resistance against that which we know is clearly wrong.

The Resistance starts now. Are you in?

You Down with TPP? Yeah, You Shouldn’t Be

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Many would insist that the TPP would be better used as TP, and based on its language which primarily benefits rich corporations and wealth investors, it’s hard to argue against these sentiments. (Photo Credit: Alex Milan Tracy)

Want to see the negative side of party politics? Take a gander at the divisions that exist within the Democratic Party with respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and you’ll see how solidarity for the sake of solidarity means that choices can be made for constituents in a way that serves only the political apparatus and goes against what lawmakers themselves believe.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a successor to the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP), which was originally signed in 2005 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. In terms of membership for the TPP, in addition to the four aforementioned nations already serving as parties to the TPSEP, as of February 4, 2016, eight additional countries are named as signatories: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam. In terms of the stated justifications for the U.S.’s participation as a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the International Trade Administration, a subset of the Department of Commerce, illuminates the reasons. Per the ITA page on the TPP:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will reduce the cost of exporting, increase competitiveness of U.S. firms, and promote fairness. It also reflects our values on issues including labor, the environment, and human rights. TPP delivers for middle-class families, supports jobs, and furthers our national security.

The agreement will eliminate tariffs, lower service barriers, and increase transparency while also increasing competitiveness by instituting stronger intellectual property rights protection and establishing enforceable labor and environmental obligations.

The TPP will promote fairness by ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of U.S. goods and services; establishing rules for fair competition with State-owned enterprises; and providing the same rights and protections for U.S. investors that foreign investors currently enjoy in the United States while protecting the inherent right of governments to regulate.

Through this agreement, the United States is seeking to support the creation and retention of high-quality jobs at home by increasing American exports to a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economies.

If all that doesn’t have you sold, according to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, “The TPP is a modern and tough trade agreement, reflecting our values on labor, the environment, and human rights,” and to quote Under Secretary Stefan Selig, “TPP will give U.S. business improved access to eleven Pacific Rim markets collectively representing 40% of global GDP.” Wow. The TPP sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Just for kicks, why don’t we consider what people outside the Obama administration have to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, shall we? Robert Reich, a well-regarded economist and someone who has served in the administrations of multiple presidents, was initially bullish on free trade, but has since changed his tune in light of what he sees as a seismic shift in the nature of trade agreements. As Reich underscores in a blog post about the “new truth about free trade,” while the “old-style” agreements of the 60s and 70s increased demand for American goods and, therefore, stimulated domestic job growth, the “new-style” agreements enhance profits for corporations and wealthy investors while keeping wages low, such that the motivation on the part of big companies is based on direct foreign investment, not trade. In terms of corporations’ benefits, deals like the TPP are all about access to new markets and customers as well as greater protection of their intellectual property. Reich explains:

Recent “trade” deals have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders, because they get better direct access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.

They also get better protection for their intellectual property – patents, trademarks, and copyrights – and for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.

That’s why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the Trans Pacific Partnership – the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.

That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. And it would allow them to challenge any nation’s health, safety, and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits – including our own. But recent trade deals haven’t been wins for most Americans.

By making it easier for American corporations to make things abroad, the deals have reduced the bargaining power of American workers to get better wages here.

Clearly, Robert Reich is not enamored with the Trans-Pacific Partnership—and he is not alone. Bernie Sanders has been a vocal opponent of the TPP, as he has been with respect to other free trade deals in the past such as CAFTA, NAFTA and PNTR with China. (Sanders has been notably silent, meanwhile, on Fanta, but that is because it is a line of beverages. With, for whatever reason, up-tempo Latin music and dancing girls.) You can read his prepared statement on the agreement here, but here’s an excerpt from the document:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy. It will also negatively impact some of the poorest people in the world.

The TPP is a treaty that has been written behind closed doors by the corporate world.  Incredibly, while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process.

Further, all Americans, regardless of political ideology, should be opposed to the “fast track” process which would deny Congress the right to amend the treaty and represent their constituents’ interests.

The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR).  These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories. These corporately backed trade agreements have significantly contributed to the race to the bottom, the collapse of the American middle class and increased wealth and income inequality.  The TPP is more of the same, but even worse.

Hmm, between what the Obama administration says about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders and others have to offer, there is a lot to bite off and chew, and much of it contradictory. Might we get a viewpoint (and thus, even more to ingest) from an independent source, one that is both nonpartisan and nonprofit? Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute believes unequivocally that putting the provisions of the TPP into force would be bad for workers in the United States and in other member countries. From his press release:

The TPP, which is an agreement to manage trade and investment on behalf of large corporations, will put downward pressure on wages of workers in the United States, and will likely lead to growing trade deficits and job displacement. Both outsourcing and the growing use of parts from non-TPP countries will lead to rising imports, increasing trade deficits and job losses in the United States. Meanwhile, core issues like currency manipulation and abusive labor practices in Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, and Brunei are addressed only in weak side agreements, or agreements that cannot be enforced for at least five years, if at all.

By extending U.S. copyright and patent protections to consumers in the rest of the TPP, which will dramatically increase the prices of prescription drugs, the treaty will shift billions in profits to big pharmaceutical companies while denying access to life-saving medicines to countless poor consumers. The agreement will encourage the growth of outsourcing to low-wage export platforms in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, and create a back door for dumped and subsidized imports from China and other non-TPP members to enter the United States duty-free or at preferential TPP tariff rates.

The United States could have negotiated an effective TPP that addressed currency manipulation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and harmonized financial regulations upwards. Instead, the TPP supports a race to the bottom in international regulations that will primarily benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers and consumers in the United States and other TPP countries.

Not really a ringing endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is it? Scott’s arguments seem to fly directly in the face of the assertions put forth by Secretary of Commerce Pritzker et al. as reasons why the TPP should be put into force. According to him, we won’t be gaining jobs, but losing them, with wages remaining depressed. Those protections for intellectual property rights touted by the Department of Commerce? Among other things, they would likely cause the cost of medicines to skyrocket, and regardless, put more power in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. And what about some of these other issues? Currency manipulation? Environmental standards? Financial regulations? Overall, Robert E. Scott seems to point to an accord that favors corporations and leaves their powers in trade amongst the signatories dangerously unchecked. While heavy-handed regulation of industry (“red tape””) can have deleterious effects on businesses, lax restrictions are an issue in their own right. To think about this in another way, as a general rule, many tend to be wary of any legislation which gives more power to corporations that are already so influential in the political sphere—myself included.


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If the Trans-Pacific Partnership were so great, the details would have been made more readily available sooner. That says something. (Photo Credit: SumOfUs/Flickr

If you’re wondering why you didn’t hear about something as monumental as the TPP prior to the 12 member nations signing it in February of this year, this is not entirely a coincidence, and on top of all the purported negative economic effects of putting it into force, the legislative aspect of America’s involvement with the treaty is a bone of certain contention, and is worth its own academic study. Michael Wessel, a liaison to two statutory advisory committees, international co-chair for the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential campaign, and a former commissioner on the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, penned an op-ed on Politico detailing the secretive nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s negotiations. As Wessel explains:

The text of the TPP, like all trade deals, is a closely guarded secret. That fact makes a genuine public debate impossible and should make robust debate behind closed doors all the more essential. But the ability of TPP critics like me to point out the deal’s many failings is limited by the government’s surprising and unprecedented refusal to make revisions to the language in the TPP fully available to cleared advisors.

If cleared advisors weren’t even afforded a full text, logically speaking, what chance did the rest of us have? It’s not like the concerns within the text, leading up to President Obama signing on behalf of the United States, were unimportant ones, either. Michael Wessel goes on to say:

Questions pervade virtually every chapter of the proposed agreement, including labor and the environment, investor-state, intellectual property and others. The answers to these questions affect the sourcing and investment decisions of our companies and resulting jobs for our people.

In particular, the issue is with the idea of “fast track” legislation. What is Fast Track, you might ask? Well, let’s go to the Clinton-era version of the White House website to find out, which looks like it was made on Angelfire, Geocities, or something of that ilk. (Love those animated American flag GIFs!) On a page devoted specifically to Fast Track, we find this information:

The Constitution gives Congress exclusive authority to set tariffs and enact other legislation governing internation trade. The President has the Constitutional authority to negotiate international agreements. If the President negotiates a trade agreement that requires changes in U.S. tariffs or in other domestic laws, that trade agreement’s implementing legislationmust be submitted to Congress — or the President must have Congress’ advance approval of such changes.

Fast track is an expedited procedure for Congressional consideration of trade agreements. It requires Congress to vote on an agreement without reopening any of its provisions, while retaining the ultimate power of voting it up or down. The three essential features of any fast track authority are:

(1) extensive consultations and coordination with Congress throughout the process;
(2) a vote on implementing legislation within a fixed period of time; and
(3) an up or down vote, with no amendments.

Ultimately, fast track gives the President credibility to negotiate tough trade deals, while ensuring Congress a central role before, during and after negotiations. The authority puts America in a strong position to negotiate major trade agreements and maintains a partnership between the President and Congress that has worked for more than 20 years.

Sounds great, right? Except for the notion its critics liken it to “rubber stamping” legislation, and specifically, the Obama’s administration employ of it with respect to the TPP has come under fire from numerous Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Michael Wessel notes the difference in tone set between Bill Clinton’s approach to free trade pacts and that of his Democratic Party presidential successor in that same Politico piece:

Bill Clinton didn’t operate like this. During the debate on NAFTA, as a cleared advisor for the Democratic leadership, I had a copy of the entire text in a safe next to my desk and regularly was briefed on the specifics of the negotiations, including counterproposals made by Mexico and Canada. During the TPP negotiations, the  United States Trade Representative (USTR) has never shared proposals being advanced by other TPP partners. Today’s consultations are, in many ways, much more restrictive than those under past administrations.

All advisors, and any liaisons, are required to have security clearances, which entail extensive paperwork and background investigations, before they are able to review text and participate in briefings. But, despite clearances, and a statutory duty to provide advice, advisors do not have access to all the materials that a reasonable person would need to do the job. The negotiators provide us with “proposals” but those are merely initial proposals to trading partners. We are not allowed to see counter-proposals from our trading partners. Often, advisors are provided with updates indicating that the final text will balance all appropriate stakeholder interests but we frequently receive few additional details beyond that flimsy assurance.

To stress, while we may know more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership today subsequent to Obama’s signing, leading up to that event, despite the insistence of his administration that the TPP is meant to encourage transparency, negotiations were recognizably opaque. As its detractors are quick to point out, this has a lot to do with the influence of various industries in its development—industries not exactly known for their regard for the American people. In particular, corporations already well versed in outsourcing, pharmaceutical giants and Wall Street firms had a hand in its authorship, and it shows in the language. The TPP allows big companies to challenge laws of member countries that it deems would unfairly and detrimentally affects its profits, in doing so suing these nations in international tribunals rather than domestic courts and giving little thought to environmental safeguards, food safety standards and human rights records of those countries who serve as a party to the agreement. By protecting and potentially strengthening patents for monopolistic drug companies, the TPP lets them keep prices artificially high, maximize profits and thereby prevent the people who really need their products from being able to afford them. In addition, the TPP bars foreign governments from instituting controls on the flow of capital in and out of their respective nations, which lends itself to market instability and the risk of financial crisis. In short, the Trans-Pacific Partnership works mainly for the wealthy corporations and investors which made their political presence felt—without much regard for workers domestic or abroad, and for that matter, the general public.


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President Obama, front and center here, is a proponent of the TPP despite dissent within the Democratic Party. Because of party politics, however, Democratic loyalists won’t challenge him on the agreement’s flaws. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

OK, so the TPP is a hot mess, right? Bernie Sanders has ten reasons why he thinks it’s a train wreck in the making. Elizabeth Warren, who has been bandied about as a potential vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton, also has voiced her concerns about this treaty. Shit, even Hillary herself has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I don’t know to what extent she actually believes it’s a bad idea—Hillary conveniently reassessed her position on the TPP after Sanders started gaining ground on her in the race for the Democratic Party nomination, and after she herself declared the TPP the “gold standard”  in free trade deals—but she most recently has said she opposes it. So, as far as the official Democratic Party platform goes in advance of the election, this should be a slam dunk, shouldn’t it?

Not so fast, Skippy. We’re forgetting about the part party politics has to play, and as far as slam dunks are concerned, no one in the Democratic Party is going to throw down on Barack Obama—figuratively or literally. Dude can ball. President Obama, unlike Clinton, Sanders and Warren, believes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I mean, he should if he’s signing it. Obama penned an editorial for the Washington Post earlier this year regarding his support for the TPP, and had this to say in closing:

I understand the skepticism people have about trade agreements, particularly in communities where the effects of automation and globalization have hit workers and families the hardest. But building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy would only isolate us from the incredible opportunities it provides. Instead, America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around.

That’s what the TPP gives us the power to do. That’s why my administration is working closely with leaders in Congress to secure bipartisan approval for our trade agreement, mindful that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to pass the TPP. The world has changed. The rules are changing with it. The United States, not countries like China, should write them. Let’s seize this opportunity, pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and make sure America isn’t holding the bag, but holding the pen.

President Obama gives a lot of information within his essay, but this last bit speaks volumes to me. Regardless of any other pointed economic justifications in favor of the TPP, America’s involvement as a key party to the accord, when it comes to brass tacks, is about authority, about marking our economic territory in the face of an emerging China. It would not be unfair to suggest, therefore, that Obama’s actions in advancing the TPP are taking a strong position for the sake of furthering a narrative about the U.S. economy, and not necessarily for the strong position in which it puts American workers.

Thinking once more in terms of the drafting of the Democratic Party platform, therein lies the rub. Many Democratic leaders may privately find fault with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but for the sake of party unity—that ideal apparently prized above all others among establishment Democrats—they wouldn’t dare to challenge the most powerful Dem in all the land, even one who’s a lame duck on his way out. Either that or it’s loyalty—to a fault. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Peter Nicholas quotes one platform member and Clinton supporter as saying, “I thought it was important not to embarrass President Obama. Later in the article, Nicholas describes a testy exchange between a Sanders supporter and an Obama-phile, with the latter reportedly accusing the former of “giving a middle finger to the president.” Bernie Sanders and his delegates have consistently voiced their opposition to the TPP, but because they refuse to play the party politics game, and in Sanders’ specific case, because he has only been a Democrat for a short time, they, evidently, are the assholes. Even though they may have a more legitimate claim than their critics to the kind of progressive agenda that the Democratic Party truly needs.

For Democrats to be more worried about Barack Obama’s feelings and legacy with respect to their support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership when real lives in the United States and in the other member countries hang in the balance is unconscionable, or as Robert Reich puts it, “incredibly stupid,” if for no other reason than it gives Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the TPP, NAFTA and like trade deals, more ammunition leading up to the general election. That so many mainstream Republicans support the agreement, a treaty which favors Big Pharma, multinational corporations and Wall Street because they helped write it, should’ve been a tip-off that this bit of foreign economic policy is ill-advised for a party which is trying to sell itself as the working person’s party. As unpopular as NAFTA has proven in labor circles, concerning the TPP, which has been referred to as “NAFTA on steroids,” any support on the part of the Democratic Party communicates the wrong message as to whose corner the party is in—namely that of moneyed interests over the public interest.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been signed by President Obama, but has yet to go into full force, as Congress has yet to vote yea or nay on its adoption, so there’s still time for the public to voice its rejection of what the TPP in its current form represents; for your part, I encourage you to sign any number of petitions that have been started in protest against the agreement. If the Democratic Party’s elite were smart, they would come out more strongly against its passage by the House and Senate. As evidenced by their inability or unwillingness to move beyond party politics on this issue, however, establishment Democrats are proving they are neither very courageous nor smart. Come November and in the years to follow, they could very well find themselves adding “rueful” to this list of descriptors.