Where we’re at

While it’s true that being appalled by Trump is terrific sport, we should be careful not to let it overshadow what’s going on policy-wise in the meantime. Trump’s appointees are quietly trying to implement an agenda that the right has been craving for years, but has been unable to deliver in the light of day.

There’s a limit to what they can do, thank goodness. Many of the regulations of the EPA, for example, have been encoded into law, and are beyond the reach of the executive branch alone. We can be grateful for the incompetence of the Republican congress.

They’re also hamstrung by Trump’s infantile rants, or rather by calls to condemn them. You’d think it would be a simple thing to respond to the atrocious statements coming out of the WH by just reiterating statements members of the Republican party have said many times before, but the problem is that they don’t want to risk alienating Trump for fear of halting the afore mentioned slow, stealthy march of the right-wing agenda by his minions.

They’re walking a delicate line. If they let him go too long, the risk becomes losing control of congress, but if they stand up to him too soon, they risk derailing the progress toward conservative policies they’ve been lusting after for years.

Many years ago, when I ran a crew of surveyors for a couple of penny-pinching bosses, the crew truck I was driving broke a front axle at 60+ mph on the highway. I managed to coax it to the shoulder, and called my boss. I told him what had happened, and that the right front wheel was barely hanging on by a tie rod. He said, “Could you nurse it home?”

The wheels are slowly, steadily coming off the Trump administration truck, one at a time. I have a feeling that congressional Republicans are just trying to nurse it home.  Disaster, from their point of view, is almost inevitable.  I’m mentally preparing myself for the pleasures of schadenfreude.

Tradition under fire?

White Christian males in America have forever been the gold standard of uprightness. They have assumed that their beliefs, traditions and moral compasses have defined the values of the nation. They have seen themselves as the epitome of all that is right and good in America, or indeed, the world, and the measure of all that is evil has been the extent of deviation from their cherished beliefs.  They have seen themselves as righteous enforcers of these principles, guardians of beauty and goodness, arbiters of social place, gatekeepers of heaven.

Never mind that these values have changed substantially since the foundation of the country. Never mind that they once included the right to enslave any human being of a culture they deemed inferior and a set of superficial features they found lacking. Never mind that they included, in my own lifetime, the right to execute summary injustice upon those same formerly enslaved people for having the audacity to behave as if they were equal. Never mind that, even today, a whole set of dubious “rights” is invoked in the repression of those people.

Never mind that, despite a constitution which claims all are equal, these ideals include the right to exclude anyone who differs from the prestige demographic from those very rights.

Of course they’re furious. Of course they’re frightened, convinced their cultural and moral hegemony is being mortally threatened.

They’re right; it is, and good riddance.

Courage, America, s’il vous plait

At this writing, the governors of 24 states, all but one of them Republican, have announced they will block the settlement of refugees in their states. It seems clear they don’t have the authority to do that under the constitution they are always on about revering, but it makes for political fodder in a year leading up to a major election. Conservatives contrast themselves from liberals by claiming they respect loyalty and duty above all. Such generalizations mean nothing if you can change the particulars any time a risk is involved.

I don’t generally bandy about words like courage and cowardice; God knows I’ve fallen short too many times in the past. But the bar for the settlement of refugees seems low enough even for someone like me. Yes, there is some risk involved, but relatively little. Only one of the attackers in Paris was identified as a possible refugee, the rest were either French or Belgian citizens. Even that one case is far from clear. The fact that the Syrian passport survived the suicide bomber’s destruction suggests it was meant to be found. French police are looking at the validity of the passport as a result.

In spite of your favorite movie or video game, courage is not a matter of acting without fear; it is acting in spite of fear, because a greater good will result. Surely we Americans, so proud of our toughness, can accept the small risk involved with the settlement of refugees from the very people we are so afraid of.

Actually, it would be comforting, in a weird way, to think all of these governors were simply cowards, but I think their real motivation lies in the realm of politics. The Republican party’s lifeblood is fear. They miss no opportunity to exploit it to their advantage, and this latest move falls right into place alongside their rhetoric about Mexican immigrants. This, to me, is far more despicable than mere cowardice, over which one may have little control.

I’ll keep this short. Do you remember all those veterans you were falling all over yourselves to thank last week? Well, this is your opportunity to step up and accept a small amount of risk, and show what you’re made of. That will make all that gratitude so much more meaningful; it won’t look so much like you were just glad to be off the hook for courage.

The Republicare debate

The conservative fury over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is disingenuous, at best, and outright fraudulent at worst.  The American public seems to have a memory limited to only a few months; almost no one remembers that the ideas forming the foundation of the ACA began life as the Republican alternative to the Clinton attempts to reform the system in 1993.  The alternative, introduced by John Chafee, and even the alternative to the alternative, submitted the following year by Don Nickles (that’s Nickles, not Rickles, although the confusion is understandable) contained most of the provisions of the bill that today is called Obamacare.  Most notable were provisions that mandated individuals to buy insurance, and the formation of exchanges.  Clinton’s efforts were, in any case, hounded out of contention by conservatives on both sides of the congressional aisle, and economic bombardment from the health insurance industry.

But because reforming health care was one of the major pillars of Obama’s campaign for the presidency, and because he won handily, Democrats began working on it soon after he was sworn in in 2009.  Most favored a single payer plan: in a nutshell, nationalized health care, like every other industrialized nation in the world, and a few who are not industrialized, enjoys.  It was immediately clear, however, that conservatives in Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, would never go for it, due to their paranoia about socialism (which they don’t seem to understand, but we’ll set that aside).

Because most of the provisions of the earlier Republican alternative plans had been passed into law in Massachusetts in 2006, and because this law was not only very successful, but wildly popular among conservatives, who were beside themselves with praise for it, it was decided that this would form the basis of the new Democratic reform proposal, in order to ensure bipartisan support.

Unfirtunately, they forgot one small detail: soon after the election, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell stated on the Senate floor that the number one priority of his party was to limit Obama to one term.  So much for bipartisanship.  It was clear that Republicans would do whatever they deemed necessary to achieve that goal, even to the point of directly contradicting their own position on the provisions of the health care reform they themselves had put forward a few years earlier.  In 1993, not one single Republican made the slightest whimper concerning the constitutionality of the insurance mandate.  In 2009, it suddenly became a constitutional crisis.  What had changed?  Certainly not the constitution; it was the matter of who would benefit politically if the bill passed.

It is often pointed out that no Republican in Congress voted for the final version of ACA.  That is certainly true.  Hardly anyone points out that it passed anyway, because voters had elected more Democrats than Republicans.  Remember majority rule?  Republicans don’t, except when they’re the majority.  GW and his congressional cronies lost no time gutting every Clinton program they legally could, many by executive decree, when it seemed unlikely it could pass Congress.  Now that Democrats control the Senate, Republicans moan about being left out, by which they mean the majority won’t immediately cave in to their demands.

All of this could be dismissed, with a lot of eye rolling,  as business as usual, but for two things:

First, the conservative Supreme Court has decided that corporations can spend as much as they please on political advertising.  Virtually all of political advertising these days is negative.  The end result is that people are daily bombarded with negativity about not only programs that corporations fear will affect their profits, but also about the government in general.  The strategy seems to be obstructionism from the political side, mitigated by a stream of “a-pox-on-both-their-houses” advertising from the corporate side.  Keep pounding that stuff, and people start to believe it.  Amazingly, in spite of this, Obama was reelected with a larger majority that his first term, in an election that was characterized in no uncertain terms by conservatives as a referendum on Obamacare.  They not only lost the presidential race, but also lost seats in both houses of Congress.  Suddenly, mysteriously, it turned out not to have been a referendum after all.

Second, since many state legislatures are controlled by conservatives, widespread gerrymandering all but guaranteed safe seats for conservative Republicans, effectively insulating them from blowback for their obstructionism.  We see the result every day.  Conservatives say the most outlandish things, and suffer no consequences.

What to do?  First of all, gerrymandering must be made illegal.  I am fully aware that Democrats are just as guilty of this, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.  Unfortunately, nothing will help much without reversal of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates of corporate political money, much, if not most of it from multinationals with no particular loyalty to the United States.  You’d think that that, at least, would be unconstitutional.

At the very least, I hope I have set the record straight, although, to be honest, I know this little posting has about the effect of a blow dart in a hurricane.