Opposition, Not Deference

No, Mr. President! You are wrong! Entirely Wrong!

I understand there is a natural tendency to put a brave face on the stunning rejection of your legacy and your party. From the start, you have always been willing to make conciliatory gestures to the opposition. Your hopeful electoral refrain, “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America,” still rings, if somewhat falsely, in our ears.  But, your assurances to Mr. Trump, “that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed” is misguided. If Trump and the Republicans succeed, the country and the world will fail in ways we can’t even measure right now.

Other liberals, like David Remnick in the New Yorker, have also urged a conciliatory approach, saying, “deference is owed” to President Trump. Why is it that only liberals/progressives have to be conciliatory and show deference when there is no reciprocity from the Republican side? When President Obama was elected, they did everything they could to de-legitimize his Presidency and for 8 years stonewalled all he proposed, including his Supreme Court nominee, in contravention of the Constitution. They did the same thing with President Clinton. As Neal Gabler said on Moyer’s and Company, “Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time …”

This isn’t the normal electoral transition of yesteryear when there was a fairly broad, center-oriented consensus on the values and priorities of the two parties – not the handoff, say from Truman to Eisenhower or to Kennedy, or even some of the later transitions. We have entered new territory where the Republican Party and its new leader represent a deeply reactionary shift in national values and priorities, based on calculated appeals to racism, misogyny, xenophobia and magical thinking, even though for many voters it was still, “The Economy Stupid.”  The problem with this kind appeal is that it becomes the default position for activating your supporters once you run into opposition while governing. It’s a formula for permanently dividing the country by inciting one group against another. There is no clearer avatar for such divisiveness than Steve Bannon. For hard right people like Bannon, there is no conciliation or compromise, except on terms dictated by them; something liberals never seem to understand.

During the campaign, Chris Christie instigated the scurrilous chants of “lock her up,” referring to Mrs. Clinton and the over-blown scandal regarding her private email server. After the election, when Trump officials refused to rule out the possibility that Trump would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mrs. Clinton, Christie piped up that all the rhetoric was “just politics.” Just politics? It is a vicious type of politics, typical of people like Christie and Trump for whom winning is more important than any damage or division they might inflict along the way. If jailing one’s political opponents was the standard to be applied, then President Obama would have been fully justified in prosecuting many senior officials of the Cheney/Bush administration who were guilty of certifiable war crimes as defined by the Nuremburg precedents.

We now wait to see if Mr. Trump will implement his campaign promises. Some are bizarre, like ensuring that Americans can still afford to play golf, to more sensible ones like saving Medicare and social security without cutting benefits. The latter, of course, runs counter to the Republican creed, so it remains to be seen if they fall in line behind Trump on this issue. As the complexity of these issues has begun to sink in, Trump has already started to back track on some of his more improbable boasts, like deporting all 11 million illegal aliens; now it’s just two or three million criminals and rapists. He can’t deport all of them, after all, because there would be no one to change the sheets in his hotels.

The basic question is whether the Republican Establishment will capture Trump, or he will be his own man. Either prospect is frightening.  He is already being cocooned by a phalanx of Republican re-treads (like Rudy Guiliani), corporate lobbyists (who like vultures are poised for the kill), alt-right wing nuts (Bannon) and anti-science stooges (like Myron Ebell, slated to gut the EPA). Mrs. Clinton was criticized for her links to Goldman Sachs, but Trump’s choice for Treasury Secretary is Steve Mnuchin, a former partner at Goldman Sachs and a favorite of Trump’s Wall Street backers. So it doesn’t matter who is leading the parade, Wall Street still calls the tune.

Some of the campaign promises Trump made should be easy to fulfill, since they may only require an Executive Order or the sequestration of government funding. For example, his promise that “we are all going to say “Merry Christmas, again,” should be a breeze. Or, “I will take care of women,” one for which he has a well-established track record. “Never take a vacation while serving as President,” should be easy, unless the job is a more taxing than he thinks. “Be Unpredictable,” already in the bag. “Stop spending money on space exploration until our potholes are fixed,” just requires cutting off money to NASA. They will be happy. “Never be in a bicycle race” (à la John Kerry) is a no brainer – he’s probably too out of shape, in any case. “Never refer to the leader of Iran as Supreme Leader,” mini me will do. “Make the President of China eat a McDonald’s hamburger,” when he comes to town, rather than a State Dinner – a huge budgetary windfall and meets the promise to bring back torture. “Say things that are politically incorrect,” he’s been there, done that, lets move on.

Other promises may require heavier lifting, and even run counter to existing Republican dogma or be unconstitutional, a less important consideration for Republicans, of course. Some examples:

(1) Rebuild the country’s aging infrastructure (at a third of the cost). This is one President Obama has been advocating since the 2008 financial crisis, but has faced Republican obstruction at every turn. Moreover, this involves Keynesian pump priming, which should send shudders through every Randian heart. But in reality, all of the Republican bleating about deficits and balanced budgets will be blithely tossed aside as they rush to meet Trump’s goal of 6% annual growth rate, and massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

(2) Get rid of Obama care and replace it with something “terrific” that is “so much better, so much better.” He has already backtracked on this promise, saying he would keep parts of it, without explaining how he could tear down part of the structure without causing the whole edifice to collapse, or drive up health care costs even more in the process. The prospect of leaving 20 million Americans without health insurance has slowed them down a bit.  The truth is there is no way to have affordable health care so long as private insurers are providing the coverage, but maybe he will work a miracle.

(3) Build a wall along the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. He’s quibbled a bit – maybe it could be a fence, at least parts of it, which is already the case. Since his election, Mexican officials have made small squealing sounds like a drowning chipmunk. It’s not clear they can or will resist paying for the Wall. If Trump decides on all out war, he promises to impound all remittance payments taken from the wages of illegal immigrants, cut foreign aid, institute tariffs, cancel visas for Mexican business leaders and diplomats and increase fees for visa border-crossing cards and port use. Trump can severely punish Mexico, but will the people of Mexico stand for such humiliation? Maybe they will have their own revolution and throw out their spineless leaders.

(4) Tell the CEO of Ford Motor Company that unless he cancels plans to build a massive plant in Mexico, the company will face a 35% tax on cars imported back into the United States. He made a similar threat against Carrier, and its parent company, United Technologies that is planning to move 1400 jobs to Mexico, promising to hit them with 35 percent tariffs on any furnaces and air-conditioners imported from Mexico. He’s also going to force Nabisco to make Oreos in America again. Strong-arming American companies, has not been among the fun things that Republicans like to do. For those of us old enough to remember, Jack Kennedy tried this approach with steel industry executives. It worked in the short run, but probably helped to reduce the President’s life expectancy. Maybe Trump has some magic formula for twisting arms, or perhaps he’ll just make them an offer they can’t refuse. The Carrier case will be the first test of Mr. Trump’s unusual charms, and if he manages to keep that company in the US, he will prove what sissies Democrats have been over the years.

(5) He promised a number of actions to increase the likelihood that more people will be killed by gun violence. He would get rid of gun-free zones at schools and military bases and ensure that concealed-carry permits are recognized in all 50 states. He’s going to find ways to arm more of the good guys, like him, who can take-out the sickos. He will get rid of the ban on certain types of guns and magazine so “good honest people,” can own whatever guns they want. At the same time, he’s going to have more minimum sentencing so that any violent felon who commits a crime using a gun will face at least five years in prison with no chance for parole or early release. He seems to believe that “violent felon,” is a pre-existing condition, rather than what happens when one of his “good guys,” commits a crime using a gun.  He becomes ipso facto a “violent felon.” Trump seems intent on creating more of them.  He will also sign an executive order calling for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of killing a police officer. Since many of the actions he is promising fall within the authority of individual states, it will be educational to see how he populates the country with even more guns than we already have.  Perhaps he will organize a national shoot-out at the O.K. Corral.

(6) Trump has a special package of goodies for people of the Islamic persuasion. He has promised to ban most foreign Muslims from entering the United States, except dignitaries, business people, athletes and others who have “proven” themselves. How you “prove” yourself has yet to be defined. He is also going to bar Syrian refugees from entering the country and kick out any that are already here, even if they are perfectly innocent.  American Muslims will get no better treatment, despite protections guaranteed by the Constitution.  Mosques will be under heavy surveillance and some might even be shut down in violation of the constitutional right to freedom of religion. He may also create a Muslim database to track the activities of American Muslims. But on the bright side, he is promising to legalize marijuana, which may come in handy for those suffering under his draconian policies.

(7) Trump promised to reverse many of our country’s existing environmental regulations, called climate change a hoax and vowed to scrap the Paris Climate Agreement signed by more than 190 countries. While Trump, and many of us older people, won’t be around to suffer the consequences of such a disastrous policy change, our grand children will get the bill for his negligence. The sad fact is that policy makers have been unduly slow in responding to the threats of climate change, considering that the first efforts to address the issue started in 1992. Unfortunately, we may have already passed the tipping point, where the negative effects of climate change start feeding upon themselves to create rapidly worsening conditions. “Taken together, concentrations of CO2 and methane have passed the threshold of 400ppm set as the upper limit of safety by the International Conference on Climate Change.” Any retreat from the Paris Agreement means years of further delay in making even a modest response to the threats of climate change. It is ironic that some people are making plans to set up a colony on Mars to try to revive a dead planet, while here on earth we are refusing to take actions that will prevent our planet from becoming like Mars – uninhabitable. Trump is not the person who is going to lead us in the right direction on this issue.

When you review all of the promises Trump has made and the people he has already appointed, you realize that those protestors, who have taken to the streets, have thrown up a kind of instinctive resistance to the dangers posed by a Trump administration, with his confused mix of populist economic nostrums and regressive social and cultural appeals. Bernie Sanders tried to cut the baby in two by saying, “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic, and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.” This assumes, however, that Trump’s choices are binary. What is the position when Trump pursues policies to improve the lives of working families, but at the same time reverts to the kind of negative appeals already employed in this campaign? Where do we stand then?

Many of our fellow citizens decided to take a chance on Trump, to dive head first into an empty swimming pool, hoping for the best – that “change at any price,” is better than the status quo.  We are tied to the fate of our country by the decisions of the electorate, but there is no need to climb aboard the Trump train, just yet. So, no, Mr. President, there is nothing I want to do to help Mr. Trump or the Republicans succeed.  Based on their past performance, I have very little faith they have anything on offer that merits my deference or support.

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