Putting “Getting Things Done” in Context

What has Bernie Sanders done? Only been a consistent leader on progressive issues in over 20 years in Congress (and even before that) and started a political revolution. How’s that? (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 3.0)

As a Bernie supporter dating back to 2016, many things stick in my proverbial craw, but one turn of phrase even today still grinds my likewise proverbial gears. When asked during a Democratic debate in October 2015 by Anderson Cooper whether she is a moderate or a progressive, Hillary Clinton remarked, “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Ooh! Sen. Sanders, did you feel that sick burn?

Without wanting to delve into Clinton’s history and go tit for tat, pointing out all the things she may not have “gotten done”—like, for instance, actually winning the 2016 presidential election—the litmus test of getting things done remains problematic because of how unevenly and borderline disingenuously it gets applied, specifically as it concerns authentically progressive candidates.

For that matter, I’ve witnessed it being used by supporters of one progressive candidate against another. You probably have an idea about where I’m going with this. Anecdotally, I’ve seen some Elizabeth Warren fans take shots at Bernie, asking, for all his 28 years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, what has he, you know, done? Presumably, some of these Warren supporters were Hillary supporters from the last campaign cycle, so the same line of attack about what the senator from Vermont has accomplished may yet be fresh in their minds. For a select few, there may additionally be some misdirected resentment in accordance with the notion Bernie is not a “true Democrat” and was a chief reason why Donald Trump won. Poor Hillary. It’s never her fault.

Key to the do-nothing-Bernie argument is a glance at his legislative record, particularly the legislation for which he was primary sponsor actually getting enacted. His objectors will point out that, in over two decades in Congress, Sanders has only had seven of his resolutions/bills ratified: four from his time in the House, three in the Senate. Five of these motions enacted are germane mostly to his home state, including two pieces of legislation which served to designate post offices after someone specific. Not altogether scintillating stuff. The other two specifically addressed cost-of-living adjustments for veterans and updating the federal charter for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Again, you may find yourself uninspired unless you were specifically impacted by these changes.

What this line of thinking fails to account for is the context in which these bills were introduced. After all, this is Congress we’re talking about here, an institution not exactly known for its prolific productivity. The very GovTrack.us showcase of Sanders’s sponsored legislation linked to above helps explain this reality.

Does 7 not sound like a lot? Very few bills are ever enacted — most legislators sponsor only a handful that are signed into law. But there are other legislative activities that we don’t track that are also important, including offering amendments, committee work and oversight of the other branches, and constituent services.

Right. There’s a bigger picture to be appreciated. On the subject of committee work, Bernie is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Budget and a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; and Veterans’ Affairs committees. So there’s that.

Such analysis also doesn’t consider the over 200 bills/resolutions signed by the president to which Sanders added his name as a co-sponsor since being sworn in as a U.S. Representative in 1991. As it must be clarified, not all of these are watershed legislative achievements. I mean, from my count, nine of these co-sponsorships were related to commemorative coins. Still, to imply inaction on Bernie’s part is misleading.

Moreover, this ignores all the times Sen. Sanders has shown leadership on a bill that, through no fault of his own, hasn’t been passed. Look at his recent offerings. Recognizing the “climate emergency” for what it is. College for All. Medicare for All. Social Security expansion. Raising wages. Lowering drug prices. These were all proposed this year. Just because this legislation is dead on arrival in a GOP-controlled Senate with a Republican in the White House doesn’t confer meaninglessness. It signals the individual proposing it is willing to fight for things worth fighting for.

This is before we even get to the issue of when political expediency “gets things done” but not necessarily in a way that is productive for all Americans. Back in June, Joe Biden touted his ability to work with the likes of James Eastland and Herman Talmadge to pass legislation, waxing nostalgic on the “civility” that could be afforded to all parties.

Beyond the obvious problem that Biden is touting his ability to work with Southern segregationists in—let me highlight this in my notes—2019, that communal effort may not be what it’s cracked up to be. The former VP has received his due criticism from Kamala Harris and other Democratic rivals for allying with segregationists in opposition of busing to integrate schools. Next to his legacy as “an architect of mass incarceration,” as Cory Booker put it, Biden’s willingness to compromise paints him in a rather poor light. It certainly clouds his purported credentials of being a champion of civil rights.

It’s not just with Bernie either. Across the board for Democrats, it seems instructive to view legislative efforts through the lens of what party controls each house and who is potentially waiting to sign a passed bill in the Oval Office. Republicans, led by shameless obstructionist and judiciary stacker Mitch McConnell, control the Senate. Donald Trump, who appears to have a death grip on today’s iteration of the GOP, is president. Should we fault Sen. Warren for watching Trump and Co. dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before her eyes? Should we admonish Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of The Squad for voting their conscience only to see Senate Republicans or moderate Democrats in either house stand in their way?

Centrists like Nancy Pelosi may sneer at progressives who “have their following” only to see their votes outnumbered or their voices drowned out by appeals to civility and expediency. Absent the ability to lead, however, the progress they seek is all but nullified. There’s a reason why figures like Sanders and AOC are so popular when Congress as a whole is not. The policy positions they embrace are, by and large, supported by the American public. What’s not lacking is their commitment. It’s the political will to see their initiatives through.


Key to the Clintonian-Bidenesque “getting things done” mentality is a firm belief in the value of bipartisanship, of reaching across the aisle in the name of advancing legislation. Say the right things. Make the right amendments. Pull the right levers. Eventually, a workable bill will come out. That’s how things are supposed to work, in theory. Reasonable people making reasonable policies.

Amid the dysfunction of today’s Congress, this ideal still appears to hold water with the general public. How else to explain Joe Biden’s continued hold on the top of Democratic Party polls after two poor showings in the debates and despite a history of gaffes and poor decisions? Unless some voters are simply happy enough to have some semblance of Barack Obama’s presidency back. If we could just go back to the days before the era of President Donald Trump, everything would be back to normal, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Biden may reminisce fondly about the days when Democrats and Republicans could get along peaceably or believe that once “sensible” leadership is restored to Washington, the GOP will cut the malarkey and retake the mantle of responsible stewards of the country. He arguably both underestimates the polarization of the current political climate and overestimates his own deal-making ability in doing so, though.

Today’s Republican Party isn’t your granddaddy’s Republican Party, simply put. Not when the president is lashing out against his critics on Twitter daily, getting policy directives from FOX News, and putting the nation on the path to a dictatorship. Not when members of the party are actively denying the severity of our climate crisis or pretending that white nationalism doesn’t exist. Not when party leaders are defending the inhumane treatment of migrants at our border and are sharing derogatory memes about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive colleagues with impunity.

For those of us who aren’t old enough to recall an environment like the one Biden envisions, this is all we know of the GOP, and based on how low it has sunk and continues to sink, there’s every reason to believe it has reached the point of no return—if things were even that good to begin with. Once we take off our rose-colored glasses and re-appraise past decisions from intersectional perspectives, we may come to realize just how devastating certain policies spearheaded by both parties have been for Americans outside the so-called ruling class.

In addition to his checkered civil rights record, Biden’s cozy relationship with the banking, financial services, and insurance industries contrasts starkly with his image as a blue-collar champion. Given a crowded Democratic primary field and ample resources with which to evaluate his overall record, this may turn out to be a liability. That is, even if he earns the party nomination, there’s still the matter of the general election. Trump seemingly defied the odds against Hillary Clinton, in many respects a superior candidate. Who’s to say doubling down on someone like Biden won’t backfire, leaving us with a second term of President Trump? If he’s doing and saying all these reprehensible things now, what will this mean when he gets re-elected and has nothing to lose?

Going back to the days of bipartisan cooperation under past administrations may have its superficial appeal to voters, especially moderate whites who can better afford to be casual political participants. Even that relative comfort may be illusory, however. The climate emergency is not going to fix itself. Nor is the student debt crisis or the health care affordability crisis or our crumbling infrastructure or any other serious dilemma facing our world. Simply put, the stakes are higher now and Obama-era notions of hope and change dissolving into incrementalism aren’t sufficient. It’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take real people power.

Let’s therefore put aside vague, top-down conceptualizations of “getting things done” in favor of mobilizing voters and encouraging citizens to get involved at various levels of government. We’ve got the people. We only need the conviction to see it through. If you’re not on board with a progressive vision for our future, don’t worry about what is politically “feasible” or what can get done. Worry about getting out of the way of those determined to lead.

Hell No, I Won’t Give Republicans Credit

Rep. Justin Amash deserves a modicum of credit for recognizing Pres. Trump’s conduct as “impeachable” as read in the Mueller report. But by and large the rest of his party does not, nor do Democrats merit overwhelming praise either. (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Give the Devil his due.

Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Sure, he may have had a lot of help in doing so. After all, it was, ahem, awfully fortunate to have Russia meddle on his behalf. Also, there was that whole suspiciously-timed letter by James Comey to Congress about reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private E-mail server.

And WikiLeaks had that whole DNC E-mail dump. Oh, and Trump lost the popular vote, but because of our crazy, mixed-up Electoral College, he still won (and subsequently gets to promote conspiracy theories about electoral fraud on the part of Democrats from his bully pulpit). Plus, income and wealth inequality, low turnout, racism, sexism, strategic mismanagement from the Clinton campaign and the Democrats in general, and other factors played a probable role in the final outcome.

But yes, strictly speaking, Trump won in 2016. Do I think he deserves some great degree of credit for this, however? No, I don’t, and my question to you is this: for what do you think he merits praise exactly?

From the very beginning of his campaign, Donald Trump ran on a platform of divisiveness that would be laughable today if A) it weren’t so reprehensible and B) he didn’t actually win. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. By now, this is one set of remarks in a long line of boorish, ignorant rhetoric on Trump’s part. At the time, though, it was stunning to have someone with presidential aspirations utter these words with a straight face. This didn’t come from some character on HBO’s Veep. This was a real person really saying these things. But give the Devil his due, right?

In spite of the expert predictions, Trump didn’t sink his chances right then and there. Instead, he flourished, all the while going after his political rivals on both the left and the right, going out of his way to criticize those who dared to challenge him. Megyn Kelly was only asking him tough questions because she was on her period. John McCain was less of a man because he got captured while serving in the Vietnam War (never mind that Trump himself never served because his father used an allegedly fabricated diagnosis of bone spurs to get him off the hook). Carly Fiorina was ugly. Marco Rubio became “Little Marco.” And was “Lyin'” Ted Cruz even eligible to run for president because of the whole being-born-in-Canada thing? With every jab at a fellow Republican, Trump revealed a new ugly dimension to his character. And his supporters reveled in it.

Truth be told, they still are. Long before potential Democratic challengers were lining up to be the one to take a shot at making him a one-and-done president in 2020, the man was holding the same type of rallies he held in advance of 2016. Eschewing teleprompters, he continued to rage against the changing face of America and to harp on Hillary’s conduct despite having won, all the while taking potshots at the likes of Maxine Waters and suggesting that, as a black woman, she was fundamentally less intelligent than him. LOCK HER UP! IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, GET THE F**K OUT! To you or I, this might feel like Hell on Earth. But to these attendees, it was a party. And for once, they felt like they were winning. Whoever they were anyway.

In Trump, they saw a figure who made them proud to be Americans, who they felt understood how they were being ignored, replaced, talked down to. He tells it like it is. He’s not a politician. He’s the epitome of success. Hey, at least with him it won’t be boring. For whatever reason or mix of reasons, they celebrated his political ascendancy. So what if he allegedly cheated on his wife with an adult entertainer and paid her not to talk about it? So what if he claims to be a religious man but won’t (or can’t) name a particular chapter or verse of the Holy Bible he finds illuminating? So what if he said he would be too busy during his tenure to play golf but has already outpaced Barack Obama in time spent away from the White House with clubs in hand? We’re making America great again. Even if we have to drag you kicking and screaming into that new America which looks a lot like the old America.

Regarding the voters who opted for Trump, then, while we might not absolve them completely for their questionable decision-making and should press them on why they continue to support the president if they still do, we can keep in mind that they are not political experts. They are flesh and blood, not necessarily guided by reason, prone to failings as we all are. It is Trump, meanwhile, who primarily deserves admonishment herein. Purporting himself to be a man with all the answers who alone can fix America’s ills. A man of the people, one lacking polish but one who connects with everyday voters. He’s not politically correct. He’s not a Washington, D.C. insider. He gets it. TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP! Promises made, promises kept.

Except he hasn’t. Where is the wall that Mexico is going to pay for? Where is that big replacement for the Affordable Care Act that is supposed to be loads better than Obama’s signature achievement? Where is the infrastructure investment he promised? What about his vow that we’d make no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security? Or the improved Iran deal we’d be negotiating? Or the notion we’d eliminate the federal debt in eight years? Or that he’d willingly release his tax returns? I’m not saying Pres. Trump has broken all of his campaign promises, mind you. Disappointing as actions like taking America out of the Paris climate agreement and keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay open are, Trump said he’d do them and he did.

Given how much he boasted he would do, however, to brag now about “promises made, promises kept” is to engage in disingenuousness. Judging by PolitiFact’s scorecard, more than half of Trump’s promises have either been broken, have stalled, or have been subject to some sort of compromise. If you include initiatives in the works which have yet to come to fruition, the percentage of promises kept grows yet smaller. This is especially notable for Trump’s most chant-worthy agenda items. BUILD THE WALL? We’re not even close on the steel slat barrier Trump and Co. have envisioned. LOCK HER UP? Last time I checked, Hillary Clinton isn’t behind bars. DRAIN THE SWAMP? Lo, but the president has done nothing but feed its alligators, populating his administration with appointees with ties to Goldman Sachs.

To put it another way, for all Trump has pledged to do, how often has he followed through, and along these lines, how beneficial have these policies actually been for the average American? Probably the biggest “achievement” Trump and his party can claim during his presidency is passing tax legislation that primarily benefits corporations and the wealthiest among us. There’s also Trump’s liability for getting involved in trade wars that see the cost of goods and materials passed on to consumers and put American jobs in danger. Even the relatively strong economy Trump has enjoyed as POTUS was inherited from his predecessor. Though come to think of it, it is rather on-brand for Trump to get a favorable situation handed to him and try to take credit for it afterwards.

When it boils down to it, the only thing for which we possibly could be giving credit to Donald Trump is being a fraud—and that’s not something most of us would agree deserves applause. He connived his way to the White House like his father connived his way out of the draft on his behalf, and later in life, he sold Americans a bill of goods they were only too willing to pay for. As president, he has continued his faux populist charade, all the while making everyone not like him—a rich white Christian male who shares his worldview—either a mark for the con or a target for abuse.

Adam Serwer, staff writer at The Atlantic, wrote about this “skill” of Trump’s amid his penchant for cruelty back in October 2018:

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.

This is the United States in the age of Trump, and that he seems to have taken so much of the Republican Party with him is startling. The GOP as a whole merits scorn for their wholesale failure to adequately condemn him and/or their utter abandonment of their stated conservative principles, as well as their identities as ostensibly decent human beings.

Lindsey Graham? He has turned from a sometimes-critic of Trump to his sycophantic defender. Mitt Romney and Susan Collins? They’re “troubled” by Trump’s actions to the point when they actually have to stand for something—and then they end up toeing the party line when it comes time to vote. Mitch McConnell? He got Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by refusing to do his job, has obliged the president on the use of the “nuclear option” to confirm his awful nominations for key government posts, and has reflexively stonewalled legislation advanced by a Democrat-controlled House as a matter of partisan gamesmanship. And this is what deserves applause?

I’ve heard it said that whereas Democratic supporters feel they need to fall in love with candidates, Republican supporters fall in line and that’s why they keep winning. Based on their control of the White House, the Senate, and numerous state houses and governorships, this may be true in part. Again, though, do I hold this “strategic” approach in any high esteem? No, I don’t. Not when Trump and the rest of his party are pandering to the lowest common denominator, lying, cheating, and stealing their way to victory.

Do the rest of us bear at least some responsibility for allowing ourselves to be manipulated in this way? Hell yes. Our disorganization, shortsightedness, and silence help fuel their misdeeds. But do I propose that the GOP get credit for playing one big shell game and reaping the benefits? Hell no.


It is in the context of us-versus-them, Democrat-versus-Republican, winning-versus-losing binary paradigms that Rep. Justin Amash’s breaking of ranks with his GOP brethren to indicate Pres. Trump has “engaged in impeachable conduct” after reading the unredacted Mueller report is so intriguing. That he would make his conclusions known publicly, jeopardizing his standing within the party and, perhaps more significantly, his financial backing suggests some level of courage more tepid challengers such as Jeff Flake and Mitt Romney lack.

Of course, we the American public may cheer Amash’s going out on a proverbial limb without necessarily subscribing to all his political views. Awash in a cultural tide of black-and-white depictions of public figures and “canceling” anyone who utters something out of turn, we can appreciate Amash’s candor on this issue while still acknowledging the need to hold him accountable on less agreeable positions. This is a conversation about impeachment, not an ideological purity test.

Amash’s defection, if you will, is made doubly noteworthy by House Democrats’ reluctance to push for impeachment as steered by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It certainly eats away at the narrative put forth heretofore that Trump “isn’t worth impeachment.” Here’s a Republican—a Republican!—saying that the contents of the Mueller report are grounds for impeachment.

Elie Mystal, contributor to The Nation, takes it one step further by declaring that Amash “is putting the Democrats to shame.” As Mystal sees it, the Dems should’ve been making the case for impeachment since taking back the House in November but they’re too scared, “as if merely uttering ‘the I word’ will bring a curse upon their house.” He writes:

The Democratic Party strategy has been to wait for somebody else to make the argument that Trump should be impeached, then glom onto it. They’ve been waiting for somebody else to do the hard work of convincing people for them. The New York Times reports that some Democratic leaders are now privately more insistent on starting impeachment proceedings, if only to counter the hardball tactics being employed by the White House. It would seem sheer embarrassment is pushing the House towards the option they should have been advocating for all along.

The Democrats were hoping for Robert Mueller to take care of things on his own, but that didn’t pan out. Or maybe a different Republican “with honor and decency” might have come forward, the expectation of which Mystal characterizes as a “disease” Democrats like Barack Obama and Joe Biden appear to get when winning an election. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn has reportedly defied a congressional subpoena, so he’s out too. Now, against the odds, a “Tea Party joker” who “has positions [Mystal] could easily spend the rest of [his] life opposing” has taken the initiative to assent to impeachment. The Democrats’ cover has effectively been blown.

Mystal ends his piece with this stinging criticism of the Democratic Party:

[Amash] is out there looking like he’s got actual convictions, even as Republicans gear up to primary the hell out of him. He’s not waiting for Democrats or Republicans to make the argument that Trump should be impeached. He’s making it himself. He’s taking it directly to his voters. He’s trying to convince them that he is right. It’s dangerous. He might lose his seat. But as they’d say in the neighborhood: he ain’t no punk.

The Democrats look like the punks. They’re standing on top of a diving board, scared and shivering, hoping somebody would just push them in already and save them from their embarrassment.

Bringing the conversation back to the central issue of who deserves credit, Justin Amash earns some on the subject of impeachment, putting his views above the public stance of party leadership and risking a backlash from party organizers and voters alike. But that’s as far as it goes.

Along these lines, the Democrats get some credit for generally adopting more progressive policy positions than the Republicans. That, however, isn’t that onerous a task given how far off the deep end the Republican Party has apparently gone, and what’s more, the Dems (with a few exceptions) have blown a good chunk of that goodwill in not pushing for impeachment and therefore not communicating they care to hold President Trump accountable. Forget what the Senate will (or won’t) do. Forget how Trump will take it (um, guessing he won’t like it). At a point, you have to stand for something.

As the saying goes, give credit where it is due. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of reason to give credit in Washington these days, least of all not to Donald Trump and his Republican enablers.

Give the Devil his due? Hell no.

Trump’s Bad “60 Minutes” Interview and Worse Economic Policy

good_guy_trump
President Trump gave scarily bad answers in his “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl. But it’s what his administration and fellow Republicans are doing with respect to economic policy that’s truly terrifying. (Photo Credit: Michael Vadon/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The way President Donald Trump operates, it’s not like many of the remarks he made during his recent interview with Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes were particularly surprising or groundbreaking. Many of his comments were riffs on the same songs he has sung before.

Even if they weren’t very earth-shattering or shocking, meanwhile, Trump’s comments were nonetheless disappointing to hear/read as an American who doesn’t share the same set of values. Stahl’s questions ranged across a fairly wide set of topics, but here are some of Trump’s most noteworthy insights:

Trump “doesn’t know” that humans have a role in climate change.

Pres. Trump seemed to walk back one-time comments he made that climate change is a “hoax.” In the same breath, however, he expressed doubt that it’s manmade, and when Stahl pressed him on the overwhelming evidence that it does exist and that we’re contributing to it, he suggested that this climate change could simply reverse somehow and that the scientists advancing the consensus theory have a “very big political agenda.”

That Trump would feign concern for the effects a shift away from fossil fuels might have on American jobs is commendable, at least by his standards. Trying to effectively deny our hand in climate change as part of a political agenda when the scientific consensus is such a strong one, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of thinking we don’t need at this stage in the game when more urgent action was needed yesterday.

Trump suggested there could be “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if found they were behind the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but didn’t provide specifics.

Trump admitted it was possible the Saudi government was behind the murder of Khashoggi, and indicated the vehement denial on the part of the Saudis. He then hinted that weapons deals could be at stake, but as he did with concerns about climate change, he pivoted to worrying about jobs at companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. So, while he acknowledged the possibility of sanctions, Trump doesn’t seem all that committed to endangering business ties with Saudi Arabia because of it. Astonishment of astonishments there.

At this writing, reportedly, the Saudis are preparing to admit Khashoggi died during a botched interrogation. Obviously, the interview was taped prior to these reports. What was worst about this segment, though, was that Trump said the matter was especially troubling because Khashoggi was a journalist, even making an aside about how strange it must be to hear him say that. Yeah, it is, and it comes off as more than a little disingenuous after regularly railing at members of the press and calling them the “enemy of the American people.” Pardon us if we’re not especially enthralled by your promises that you’ll get to the bottom of his disappearance.

Trump claimed that Barack Obama put us on a path to war with North Korea, and qualified his “love” for Kim Jong-un.

Evidently, under President Obama, we were going to war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but now—BOOM!—no more war and Kim is talking about nuclearization. You’re welcome, America. Get that Nobel Peace Prize nice and shiny for “the Donald.”

Within Trump’s logic, it’s his trust for Kim that has been such an essential diplomatic asset. This despite the possibility raised by Stahl that North Korea hasn’t gotten rid of any weapons and may actually be building more. Trump, attempting to further distance himself from Obama, intimated there are no plans to ease sanctions, but Stahl persisted on the topic of Trump’s stated “love” for North Korea’s despotic leader. Trump tried to minimize the language he used as a figure of speech, but Stahl belabored North Korea’s horrid human rights record under Kim and his father.

Trump’s admiration for dictators is nothing new, but hearing him downplay talk of gulags and starvation is yet bothersome. More on this to come.

Trump still has no idea how tariffs work, nor does he apparently have high regard for his supposed allies.

President Trump insisted China is close to negotiating on tariffs and other matters of trade. In the meantime, though, President Xi Jinping (another leader with dictatorial aspirations overseeing a country with questionable regard for human rights) and China are content to retaliate with tariffs, and Stahl questioned how long we will be content to try to strong-arm China into negotiation when it’s American consumers who are bearing the brunt of these tariffs. Is the point to use the people of each country as bargaining chips in an escalating trade war?

Trump argued with Stahl for a while about whether or not he called it a trade war, a skirmish, or a battle, but this is semantics (and he totally f**king did call it a trade war, according to Stahl). Alongside likely overstating our trade deficit with China, Trump once more communicated his faulty understanding re tariffs. What’s more, he seemed ambivalent as to the continued integrity of diplomatic relations with Europe as a function of NATO membership, and grew combative with Stahl on the point of levying tariffs on our allies and inviting disunion. As long as Trump and his advisers hold to the narrative that the United States is being taken advantage of by the rest of the world when it comes to defense spending and trade, the average consumer is the one who will be caught in the middle.

Trump believes that Vladimir Putin is “probably” involved in assassinations and poisonings.

But only probably. Continuing the earlier conversation about Pres. Trump and his love of autocrats, the man would not commit to saying that he believed Putin was behind attacks on critics and political opponents, professing that he “relies on” Russia and that it’s their country, so it’s essentially their business. I’d be eager to know what precisely he means when he says he relies on them, and it’s possible his drift is a more innocent one, but when so much seems to hint at Trump being compromised by Russian ties, it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

This sentiment only grows when considering his hedging on Russian interference in the election and his evasiveness on the Mueller investigation. When prompted by Stahl on meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Trump was quick to rebut by claiming China meddled as well. Even if that were true, however—experts say there is evidence of a pro-Chinese influence campaign at work, but no concrete evidence of Chinese electoral meddling—it’s a deflection. Stahl called him out on this tactic, only to be argued with in the spirit of whataboutism.

Additionally, Trump refused to pledge that he won’t shut down the Mueller investigation. In other words, um, yeah, you should still be worried about Mueller’s fate as special counsel. Particularly if the midterms go poorly for the Republican Party.

That whole family separation thing was all Obama’s fault.

When asked what his biggest regret so far has been, the first thing that jumped to Trump’s mind was not terminating the NAFTA deal sooner. Not the whole taking children away from their parents thing, as Stahl interjected. It’s not exactly mind-bending to witness Trump fail to recognize a policy bent on unmitigated cruelty as his worst mistake, but it still stings like salt in the proverbial wound if you fashion yourself a halfway decent human being.

To make matters worse, Trump defended the policy under the premise that people would illegally enter the United States in droves otherwise. Furthermore, he blamed Barack Obama for enforcing a policy that was on the books. To be fair, Obama’s record on immigration is not unassailable, as his administration was responsible for its share of deportations. But separating families is a new twist on trying to enact “border security,” and it ignores the perils immigrants face upon return to their native land, perils we have helped exacerbate. Try as he might to escape it, Donald Trump and his presidency will be inexorably tied to this heartless policy directive.

The country is divided, but that’s the stupid Democrats’ fault.

According to Trump, the country was very polarized under Obama, but now on the strength of the economy, he can see it coming together. You’re welcome, America. Stahl questioned him on this criticism of Obama and the Democrats’ contributions to political rancor when he and his Republican cronies just won on the Kavanaugh confirmation and he proceeded to immediately lambast the Dems. Trump predictably deflected by saying it’s the Democrats who don’t want the country to heal. They started it! They were so mean to Brett Kavanaugh! What a bunch of stupid babies!

In case you had any doubts, Trump doesn’t give two shits about Christine Blasey Ford.

Continuing with theme of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Lesley Stahl addressed Trump’s mockery of Dr. Ford’s testimony before Congress, asking why he felt he had to make fun of her. Trump says she was treated with great respect. Stahl was, like, really? Trump was, like, anyway, who cares? We won.

That’s right, ladies and germs—the ends justify the means. It’s all about the W. You heard him.

The White House is definitely not in chaos. Definitely not.

The on-air portion of the 60 Minutes interview ended with Stahl asking the president about the media reports of a White House in turmoil. Three guesses as to his reply. If you said “fake news,” you’d be correct. (If you didn’t, what’s wrong with you?) Trump also didn’t seem fazed about the high turnover within his administration. Hey, sometimes it just doesn’t work out! Along these lines, Trump wouldn’t commit to James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, nor would he give a ringing endorsement to Jeff “I’m Only a Racist on Days That End in ‘Y'” Sessions. Not that I have any great love for either of those men, but it’s still messed up when a man like Trump expects unflinching loyalty and yet stands by his appointees only when it’s convenient.

Trump also opined on his feelings of distrust of White House officials, consummate with his assessment of Washington, D.C. as a “vicious, vicious place.” Good news, though, fellow Americans: he now feels very comfortable as POTUS. Many of us might be continuously on edge, but he’s right as rain. Well, at least there’s that.


To some, Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes interview with Donald Trump was disappointing in that it didn’t break new ground. Sure, it further revealed that he is ignorant of how basic economic and scientific principles work, that he possesses a predilection for strongmen, that he will blame Barack Obama for pretty much anything, that he holds absolutely no regard for survivors of sexual assault, rape, and sexual violence, and that he has the temperament (and possibly the intellect) of a grade-school child. But we already knew all this. As noted earlier, it’s more salt in the wound for members of the so-called Resistance, but short of potentially alienating our allies with his public comments—which is not to be undersold or encouraged, mind you—but comparatively, his words are sticks and stones.

It’s where Trump’s actions and those of his administration have effect that should truly frighten us, meanwhile. As he so often does, Matt Taibbi provides excellent insight into the area of biggest concern: the U.S. economy. Stahl noted in voiceovers during the interview that Trump loves to talk about America’s economic success. After all, it makes him look good. Never mind that he may have a limited role in that success and that he inherited favorable conditions from his predecessor, but he wouldn’t be the first president to take advantage of others’ successes.

Trump was notably silent, conversely, when the Dow recently fell 1,377 points over two days amid a stock market sell-off. As Taibbi writes, this event is but a prelude to a larger economic disaster, and it stands at the confluence of three irreconcilable problems. The first is the Federal Reserve raising interest rates as a means of trying to rein in the excess of large companies taking advantage of quantitative easing and zero-interest-rate policy.

This might not be such a problem except for the second factor: the Trump/GOP tax cuts. As economic experts warned prior to their passage, the cuts were based on overly enthusiastic projections of economic growth. When the inevitable tax shortfall occurred, we would need to start borrowing more, as is already underway. Higher interest rates on increased borrowing means more of an economic burden.

All of this comes to a head when we consider the third problem: tariffs. To try to make up for the issues raised by higher borrowing rates and a revenue shortfall, the government this week debuted new Treasury bills in the hopes of generating immediate cash. The potential conflict arises when considering China is the primary buyer of U.S. T-bills and holds over a trillion dollars in American debt.

The assumption is that Chinese demand for Treasury notes will remain unchanged despite the tariffs. However, as Matt Taibbi and Lesley Stahl and others are right to wonder, what happens if the trade war’s tariffs hurt the Chinese economy to the point that China no longer can or is willing to subsidize our skyrocketing debt? It’s a purely theoretical question at this point, and a rhetorical one at that, but the fallout from the intersection of these trends could be devastating. Taibbi puts a cap on the gravity of the situation thusly:

As we’ve seen in recent decades, even smart people are fully capable of driving the American economy off a cliff. What happens when the dumbest administration in history gets a turn at the wheel? Maybe last week wasn’t the time to start panicking. But that moment can’t be far.

Ominous, but perhaps not hyperbole. Noting what happened last time when the economy nearly collapsed, when the next disaster strikes, it will undoubtedly be we, the other 99%, that pays most dearly. Especially as Mitch McConnell and his Republican partners would have it, now clearly eying cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

President Trump may enjoy schmoozing with Lesley Stahl and giving bad answers his base will eat up now. In the short to long term, though, the terrible choices of his administration and his party could prove costly to the American economy, and by association, the global economy. Though he undoubtedly won’t meet with our same burden, he should at least take more of the blame when it does.

Don’t Look Now, but the GOP Is Coming for Social Security and Medicare

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Amen, sister. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Djembayz)

There are any number of highly-publicized programs at the federal or national level which, owing to the magnitude of the government’s struggle in these areas and the perceived battle involved of good vs. evil, they are framed in terms of a “war.” The war on drugs and the war on terror are two salient examples. These “wars,” because they involve so many complex factors—not the least of which is the human factor—tend to be quite nebulous in the way they are fought, especially in terms of cost overruns and pushing the envelope on abrogation of civil liberties and international law, if not blowing up a whole stack of envelopes on the latter count. As with any conflict, too, there tends to be a lot of collateral damage incurred in the fighting. Less publicized, but potentially tragically very real and injurious, is another war facing the nation: that of the war the Republican Party is waging against entitlement programs. In this case, the collateral damage is the welfare of the American people, and its imperilment should have us all paying attention.

Donald Trump, as part of his maneuvering to get into the White House, vowed not to make cuts in programs like Medicare and Social Security. Apparently, though, the Republicans in the House of Representatives didn’t get the message, though to be fair, they and Trump have been far from the unified front. Recently, Republican Rep. Sam Johnson out of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security unveiled a plan that would drastically reduce benefits for the majority of earners, including significantly raising the retirement age and reducing cost-of-living adjustments. While the poorest earners would stand to see gains in their benefit rates as long as they show a history of covered employment (i.e. can’t be one of those lousy freeloaders bringing down the country), provisions like the elimination of income taxes on Social Security would end up costing the program, not working to its benefit.

The obvious caveat in the railing against the GOP’s cost-saving methods is the notion that due to shortfalls in the Social Security trust fund, benefits are not guaranteed indefinitely. In fact, should spending not be significantly reduced or revenues prove insufficient to meet the fund’s needs by 2034, significant spending cuts are scheduled to automatically take place. So, Johnson’s “common-sense” plan is a good thing, right? Not so fast. Not only is slashing benefits as the main solution to the Social Security problem not the only alternative, but critics of the Republicans’ plan suggest it will only exacerbate the situation. According to Linda Benesch, spokeswoman for the progressive-minded organization Social Security Works, under Sam Johnson’s plan, cuts would be more severe than those which would go into effect automatically less than 20 years down the line. Moreover, despite the seeming merit of Johnson’s approach, according to Benesch, the uptick in benefits for the lowest wage earners would pale in comparison to the tax benefits to be realized by the wealthiest Americans. Once more, the Republican Party wants to make things even easier for the rich—when they arguably should be paying more, and even though it may negatively affect millions of Americans and for generations to come.

Social Security benefits are not the only benefits about which Republicans and Democrats are likely to rumble in the near future. As John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle reports, prominent Democrats and the likes of Bernie Sanders are gearing up with relish to go to battle with the GOP on the subject of Medicare, a program with a decades-long legacy of helping seniors meet healthcare costs in the United States. Speaking of Social Security Works, the organization sponsored a press conference some days ago, with figures like Nancy Pelosi, the aforementioned Mr. Sanders, and Chuck Schumer on hand to assert the position of the Democratic Party and liberal-minded people across America that Medicare benefits are off-limits, and to once more remind President-Elect Trump he pledged he would not slash benefits—if only to troll him by doing so.

For the non-Trumpian politicians representing the Republican Party, namely House Speaker Paul Ryan and recent Department of Health and Human Services appointee Tom Price, they have indicated Medicare is a priority, though they have apparently tabled that discussion for the new year. If past conversations on the matter are any indication, though, the GOP agenda on Medicare seems to be a shift toward private plans as opposed to government-paid insurance plans. Though somewhat dated, a 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation study cited by the Wildermuth article which looked at a previous plan proposed by Speaker Ryan found that his approach would force someone retiring at the age of 65 in 2022 to meet twice the out-of-pocket medical expenses as the one enacted under the traditional Medicare program. Noting this history of Republican efforts to make seniors’ benefits disappear, Democrats and millions of concerned Americans are right to be afraid. Very, very afraid.

The attempts by Republicans to gut entitlement programs broadly speaks to two pages out of the GOP playbook when it comes to federal funding and addressing the United States’ bad deficit spending habit. The first, as exemplified by Sam Johnson’s awful Social Security plan, is the refusal to raise taxes on the wealthiest earners, under the premise those companies and individuals at the top will be so overjoyed by their tax-based savings they will in some meaningful way re-invest in the American economy. Maybe they’ll, you know, buy a yacht, or rent a second apartment for their cat to live in exclusively. (If these ideas sound stupid, it’s because they are. Rich people seem to stumble for exotic and pointless ways to throw money at things.)

For all intents and purposes, this is indicative of trickle-down economics, a theory with which most of us should be familiar, even if nominally. The fat cats at the top spend money, thereby creating jobs and magically increasing the wealth of lower-level earners, and in turn, these lower-level earners, because they apparently now have money to blow, contribute to the economy by spending as well. It’s a nice idea—everyone gets richer—even if it blatantly justifies the belief that people at the top of the food chain are there because they are inherently smarter, or harder-working, or what-have-you, and not that they have had any number of advantages including being born into wealth. The only problem is that trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Instead of the benefits of the rich extending to the poor, the wealth amassed by the wealthy tends to stagnate in their hands, especially when stashed in any number of tax shelters and havens domestically or in places like the Cayman Islands that have gained notoriety for their complicity with this financial strategy. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Those within the middle class get pushed to either extreme. Trickle-down economics, eh? More like the rich pissing on the poor.

The other page of the proverbial GOP playbook embodied by the partisan fight over Medicare and other healthcare programs is the knee-jerk push to privatize everything. Private healthcare plans. Private schools. Private prisons. Private eyes. Private parts. Everything private! The presumption is that the private sector, unfettered by the ravages of excessive, suffocating government regulation, and in line with the individual’s desire for choice as opposed to a public sector mandate or hand-me-down, is inherently a superior option. The reality, however, is that this may not necessarily be the case. Even in the days of the Reagan administration and into the tenure of George Bush the Elder, criticism of a burgeoning trend toward privatization of government assets and services was present. In 1991, John B. Goodman, assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, and Gary W. Loveman, CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, Las Vegas, co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review exploring whether or not privatization really serves the public interest. Though there’s a lot to consider within the piece, Goodman and Loveman—or as I would have it, Team GoodLove—aim to shift focus of the debate away from a simple black-and-white discussion of private vs. public, and to consider the role good management should play regardless of ownership. From the article:

Refocusing the discussion to analyze the impact of privatization on managerial control moves the debate away from the ideological ground of private versus public to the more pragmatic ground of managerial behavior and accountability. Viewed in that context, the pros and cons of privatization can be measured against the standards of good management—regardless of ownership. What emerges are three conclusions:

1. Neither public nor private managers will always act in the best interests of their shareholders. Privatization will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest, which includes, but is not limited to, efficiency.

2. Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.

3. When these conditions are not met, continued governmental involvement will likely be necessary. The simple transfer of ownership from public to private hands will not necessarily reduce the cost or enhance the quality of services.

The implications herein, I feel, are important ones. For one, there is no given better alternative between the public or private domain. The more important dimension, it would seem, is whether the goals and incentives of managers and their agents are aligned with the wants and needs of the general public/shareholders. Furthermore, when competition within the marketplace is discouraged or company incentives encourage reckless or otherwise counterproductive/inefficient use of resources, governmental involvement in the form of regulation is warranted. Of course, this regulatory interceding must be kept in check and in balance. Too much heavy-handed, burdensome regulation can stifle productivity and growth, as has been the refrain from conservative Republicans and even small businesses. However, too little intervention on the government’s part has its own perils. Just look at the conditions which led to the Great Recession, or even more recently with giants like Wells Fargo abusing the public trust by creating a high-pressure sales model that encouraged mid-level managers to defraud customers. And to think Wells Fargo’s new CEO, Tim Sloan, wants the U.S. government to roll back regulations! Talk about a disconnect from the public interest!

So, what will Donald Trump’s likely role be in the Medicare and Social Security debate as President of these United States? As is the usual with Trump, no one knows for sure—even with the aforementioned campaign pledges of his to keep his small, child-like hands off these entitlement programs. The concern with President-Elect Trump is that, in light of the notion he lacks substantive policy positions, he will defer to Paul Ryan and his ilk, thereby allowing Republicans to slash and dash their way to a reduced budget. As much of a blockhead as Trump is, though, one would think even he would see that a strategy which puts his adopted party at odds with older Americans—a group that helped him get elected, mind you—seems almost suicidal. You want to keep out foreigners? Nice! We didn’t want to have to learn Spanish anyway! You’re tired of political correctness holding us back? Shit yeah! You’re coming for our hard-earned benefits and money that helps us pay for drugs and other expenses? Uh, wait, back the trolley up there, mister!

See, it’s all fun and games until you go after people’s benefits, especially those which are designed to get them through retirement. And it’s not just current baby boomers and older who have a stake in this. For millennials like myself and younger, the viability of programs like Social Security and Medicare seems like even less of a sure thing, and while some of you may be thinking we’re too busy taking selfies to contemplate such matters, it’s not necessarily true. Though I can’t claim to speak on behalf of the average member of my generation, I personally, by mere virtue of watching sports and absorbing the myriad commercials that air during stoppages of play, see constant reminders about the need to plan for retirement, and need look no further than my favorite team, the New Jersey Devils. They play in Prudential Center in Newark, and viewing their games on TV, I have seen so many commercials with Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and social psychologist, that I feel like I know him personally. We young folk, you know, want a future, too, and with Republicans threatening entitlement programs and, among other things, denying that climate change is real, we’re understandably not thrilled that we may have to take a ferry to get to work as a Wal-Mart greeter when the seas rise significantly above present levels. I’ve heard more than one of my cohorts lament that our generation is royally screwed, and admittedly, it’s hard not to feel like that sometimes.

As noted earlier, and as alluded to in John Wildermuth’s article, Democrats are apparently preparing “with relish” to entrench themselves in an arduous long-term battle with GOP lawmakers about protecting programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. The implicit notion herein is that there is substantial political capital to be gained by standing with average Americans who don’t wish to see their benefits torn asunder by the Republican Party. However, the Democratic Party, as recent electoral events have shown, haven’t really been able to capitalize on the weaknesses of their rival. Many considered Hillary Clinton’s winning the election over Donald Trump a slam-dunk in light of the hateful rhetoric and apocalyptic visions hurled around indiscriminately by Trump and his followers, and maybe they were as out-of-touch as those in whom they believed. But Hillary was a flawed candidate, and the Dems, loyal to a fault and somewhat naïve in the belief “love trumps hate,” stuck by her, only to have the Republican Party nominee take the election despite losing the popular vote, and to have the Republicans retain control of the House and Senate.

They lost, in large part, due to what can only be termed as an abandonment of the working class, not to mention a refusal to embrace more progressive policy elements, such as a $15 minimum wage. The fight over Social Security and similar programs is thus a way for Democrats to re-build a bridge to the America below the upper-middle class and top 1% thresholds, but I would argue their commitment has to be stronger. Having talking heads like Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer addressing the issue is great, but all those carrying the blue flag have to be active and vocal in affirming their party’s and their own personal commitment to participating in that fight now—not just when they’re running for re-election. Especially as the minority in Congress right now, that voice needs to be amplified by a singularity of focus from the people with the most immediate opportunity to affect positive change.

On your and my end, meanwhile, I believe the most important contributions we can make are in terms of awareness and involvement. Concerning the former, at any attempts by politicians like Sam Johnson to craft plans which would significantly dilute the power of benefits programs, we should share this knowledge, and increasingly so when a vote is scheduled either in the House/Senate or even when we are asked to cast out ballots on referenda related to this subject. Concerning the latter, regardless of our own party affiliation of that of our elected representatives, we must hold them to their desire to stand with us on ensuring the safety of our hard-earned benefits for generations to come with calls, E-mails, letters and petitions. I may be pulling a bit of a DJ Khaled in referring to an amorphous “they,” but they don’t want to you know what they’re doing to entitlement programs. They don’t want you involved in the political process. That’s how they win. With specific respect to Republicans, and in one more nod to Khaled, in this era of social media and widespread connectedness, they may have just played themselves.

There’s a war going on over programs like Medicare and Social Security. Which side are you on?