GOP Social Darwinism

Different members of the current GOP coalition focus on different issues, leading to day-to-day chaos in how the GOP governs, but the right-wing coalition nevertheless has a clear strategy for sucking the nation back to a brutal, 19th century Social Darwinism whose internal logic and goals need to be understood.

The trees of daily political maneuvering easily conceal the forest of the long-term planning. Whatever one may think of the morality or values of the extreme right-wing coalition that now totally controls the GOP, this strange conglomeration of billionaires fighting a piratical class war, Bannonites openly determined to destroy democratic government supportive of the common man, and hate-consumed racists does have a very clear long-term strategy. A certain class of billionaire may measure life by dollars and not care whether you are white or green, male or female: he just wants your money…and a very big, intrusive military to protect his overseas investments. Other members of this coalition may simply want an expansive U.S. military for broader imperial reasons and not care who gets rich as long as their military toys come first. Others dream of every man free to stand as tall as he can, free to get rich, free to starve, but never, ever being helped by government. And more than a few evidently want to keep women and racial minorities in their place. That domestic discrimination may not be the goal of the militarists but works just fine for them when applied globally.

“Big government” has little to do with it: the billionaires and militarists love big government when it buys lots of high-tech weapons or props up out-dated industries or consists of laws to legalize financial gambling with other people’s money and fraud against consumers by corporations. What they don’t like is government welfare “wasted” on the poor. Keeping our environment clear or providing a medical safety net for everyone burns up good money that could fund that nice little thirty billion a year in welfare for Big Oil or to supplement the largest war budget on the planet.

It is entirely unfair to accuse the GOP of having no values. It has values and its legislative strategy clearly reflects those values. It was no surprise that the current tax bill gave billions to the rich, no surprise that it is set to create a trillion plus 10-year deficit, and it will be no surprise when that deficit is used as an excuse not to make corporations pay their fair share and not to trim the obese Pentagon…but to further undercut social services for the 99%. It’s a set-up, and we just got caught.

The GOP’s management of government may be bumbling and secretive to a degree incompatible with democracy, but the overall strategy of the governing coalition is true to its values: the money should go to the billionaires and the generals; the common man is no more part of history than the predator’s dinner.

 

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Morality and ‘Winning’

Given the idea recently popularized in certain circles that “boys will be boys,” that females are there to be grabbed, that young girls—being “pure”–are even more surely there to be grabbed, it is only natural that such boys—even those who long ago reached that age we term “of maturity”–will consider “winning” more important than morality. In this view, stuffing the U.S. Senate with accused serial predators seeking such “pure” girls would naturally be far better than electing another “Schumer/Pelosi puppet,” particularly when that “puppet” happens to be the courageous defender of Americans against KKK murderersKKK murderers.

Making Millionaires Great Again

Despite, or perhaps because of, the impact of the 2016 election, the popular will across the U.S. is becoming increasingly progressive, i.e., increasingly in favor of a more level playing field for all, regardless of status at birth. But Trump represents the traditional hereditary elite, whose modern form is–like Trump himself–composed of those born to wealth…and he is doing it quietly, by replacing a generation of judges. Trump defeated the majority via the Electoral College, then after election used divisive racial policies, and now is trying to evade popular will by appointing regressive judges…judges who will take America back to the 1920’s.

Although Hillary received several million more votes than Trump, Trump defeated the popular will via the Electoral College. With that start, the wall of opposition he ran into after the election hardly seems surprising, particularly since he loudly continued his divisive electoral strategy. That electoral strategy was stunningly effective in part because Trump convinced marginalized and frustrated white workers that he would represent them better than complacent, conservative Democrats of the “Clinton elite” were doing. Obama, who had beaten Hillary earlier precisely by talking progressive, in the end had neither the backbone nor the power to pull the Democrats out of their conservative, pro-Big Finance stasis. Thus, by 2016, the center of the Democratic ruling elite remained about where it had been before Obama’s election – so conservative that it ended up alienating its own base and its Progressive wing…under the stimulating leadership of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. That Hillary, running an astoundingly tone-deaf election, could still defeat Trump by millions of votes in the popular vote, says much about where the American people see their interest lying, but since they really did not have much choice by the final election, they gambled on an outsider.

Now, a year later, that outsider is in the running for the least popular President ever. So what is he to do? Listen to the people? Turn his back on Wall Street and offer those frustrated unemployed or marginally employed workers whose parents had held fabulous industrial jobs in the 1950s and 1960s a new deal? Well, no, how could a billionaire accustomed to associating with other billionaires possibly think through such a fundamental rethinking?

Instead, Trump has naturally remained true to form, and The Guardian has neatly described his current strategy for maintaining his power in the face of ever-rising national opposition:

…the makeup of America’s judges is quietly becoming the site of one of Trump’s most unequivocal successes: nominating and installing judges who reflect his own worldview at a speed and volume unseen in recent memory. Trump could conceivably have handpicked more than 30% of the nation’s federal judges before the end of his first term, his advisers have suggested, and independent observers agree.

Opposed repeated by incumbent judges, his popularity stagnating at historic low levels, stumbling in Congress, Trump is playing what may be his last domestic card for imposing his anti-environmental, anti-social, pro-corporate preferences: remaking the courts in the image of the pre-New Deal courts of the 1920s to “make millionaires great again” by reversing all the progressive gains made over nearly a century of struggling to create a political system designed to offer people a level playing field regardless of their financial, sexual, religious, or racial status at birth.

 

Freedom Stands on the Foundation of an Independent Judiciary

The key to establishing an authoritarian regime is executive control over the judiciary.

Power corrupts. No office or institution or individual can totally and forever be trusted with unlimited power, and to impose the burden of such mindless trust upon any human or institution would constitute an unfair temptation. It follows that freedom is a plant that will wither in the political desert lacking transparency. Transparency is the bright sunlight that allows the political garden of freedom to grow. But transparency–officials acting openly so citizens can monitor their behavior–is not enough to cultivate freedom any more than plants can grow, even in sunlight, without roots to transfer nutrients, and the taproot of freedom is the independence of the judiciary.

Power is radioactive. Just as uranium is a bountiful source of electricity, so is political power a bountiful dynamo for generating social development. But just as uranium can either slowly pollute or devastating explode and destroy the physical environment, so can political power slowly pollute or suddenly devastate the social environment and the system of government.

To minimize the threat of political power turning malignant, modern societies employ both illumination from outside the government and portioning out of power within the government. The former facilitates public monitoring of the public’s chosen representatives; the latter balances different groups of power-holders off against each other. Awarding some powers to states, some to the center, those unspecified to the people; awarding some powers to the executive branch, some to the legislative; and–most importantly, ensuring that no one and no institution is above the law by protecting the independence of the judiciary from the rest of the executive branch are the control rods that enable the radioactive fuel of social development to be consumed without a political explosion.

If control over the judiciary is the key to dictatorship, then the independence of the judiciary is the key to liberty. Liberty requires much more: an informed and committed populace, a marketplace of ideas in which media and individuals may safely criticize leaders, elections not for sale and open to reform movements…but the internal ability of the government to discipline itself by protecting the judicial professionals from corruption by officials is the most crucial weapon for the defense of the people’s liberty.

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Senator Jeff Flake:

A lot of people are concerned about where we’re going … the vitriol that we now see daily, the kind of behavior that the President has exhibited, saying over the weekend, or on Friday, saying the FBI should go after the President’s political adversaries….To have a President say that, that is not normal and we shouldn’t accept it as normal.

Senator Lindsay Graham:

The president of the United States is in charge of the executive branch, it’s not his job to be telling the attorney general to be prosecuting a particular individual or group. It is the attorney general’s job to do that….We have a rule of law that is independent of political influence, and when you call on your attorney general to prosecute your former opponent, that is crossing the line

Senator John McCain:

We are asleep in our echo chambers, where our views are always affirmed and information that contradicts them is always fake. We are asleep in our polarized politics, which exaggerates our differences, looks for scapegoats instead of answers, and insists we get all our way all the time from a system of government based on compromise, principled cooperation and restraint.
All the while the associations, rules, values and aspirations that comprise the international order we have superintended for three-quarters of a century are under gathering attack from regimes that desire a world less just and less free and more corrupt. And they are under attack from forces within liberal democracies themselves, parties that preach resentful nationalism rather than enlightened self-interest, nativism rather than equal justice.

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

Slurs, lies & trash talk won’t stop the FBI from doing its job. This isn’t a dictatorship. It’s our democracy. And it’s stronger than you.

Senator Bob Corker:

President Trump’s pressuring of the Justice Department and FBI to pursue cases against his adversaries and calling for punishment before trials take place are totally inappropriate and not only undermine our justice system but erode the American people’s confidence in our institutions.

Former Attorney General Sally Yates:

DOJ not a tool for POTUS to use to go after his enemies and protect his friends. Respect rule of law and DOJ professionals. This must stop.

 

 

Draining the GOP Senate Swamp

When high officials who have been accused of endangering the nation can simply sneer, toss out a couple childish insults, and change the subject, the concept “democracy” no longer has much meaning. It doesn’t take a dictatorship; it just takes a majority of top officials looking the other way.

Given the extremely serious nature of the charges against Trump made in recent days by three GOP Senators—Corker, McCain, and Flake, the lack of substance in Trump’s meeting with GOP Senators on Oct. 24 (as described by The Hill) was shamefully unprofessional, to the point of Senatorial dereliction of duty. Trump stands charged some of the most prominent leaders in his own party of irresponsible, reckless, immature behavior threatening domestic unity and national security.

Senator Corker: Trump’s recklessness threatens to put the nation “on the path to World War III” [New York Times.]

Senator McCain:  “To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.” [The Hill.]

Senator Flake:  “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons.” [CNN.]

But apparently not a single Senator bothered asking the President to respond substantively to these charges…charges representing some of the most thoughtful, substantive remarks on the state of the union and U.S. national security heard this century from a Republican politician.

Charges of provoking World War III or debasing the union are not charges to tossed out and dropped. That Trump chooses to evade the charges and instead respond with insults says much about the accuracy of these Senators’ verbal arrows. That they could make such charges, which—if accurate—surely merit impeachment, and then simply walk away, is almost unthinkable. That the whole rest of the Republican Senate majority could smile inanely and eat lunch with the accused speaks volumes about the pathetic poll numbers of a Congress broadly perceived as inept.

Senator Cruz’ remark is among the most blatant examples:

“We’ve got a job to do, damn it, and so all of this nonsense, I got [sic] nothing to say on it. Everyone shut up and do your job, is my view.” [The Hill.]

One can only wonder why Senator Cruz evidently does not think “abandoning our ideals” or “degrading” the country or risking nuclear war might be a threat meriting Senate attention.

Tax and Obstruct

As immature and distorted as a tweet is likely to be, the tweets of a master can nonetheless be highly informative.

Donald Trump tweeted, “The Democrats only want to increase taxes and obstruct.” If I tweeted back, I might ask, “Which is worse – lying or deceiving by omission?” Well, the answer depends on the thoughtfulness of the reader.

Trump is absolutely correct that Democrats want to increase some taxes:

  • Democrats (at least the progressive ones) want to increase taxes on Wall St. moguls who gamble with other people’s money. When you get rich off the money of others, you should behave responsibly with it. Derivatives and all the even more risky financial instruments derived from derivatives are not exactly rational ways of investing or developing the economy.

  • Democrats want to increase taxes on socially harmful behavior: taxes are a much more effective and humane way of encouraging good behavior than jail.

  • Democrats want to increase taxes on the super-rich, who don’t even begin to compensate society for their extravagant privileges.

  • Democrats want to increase taxes on corporations that cheat on their taxes.

And we could easily propose some additional tax increases – raising taxes on war profiteers, for example.

Trump is also correct that the Democrats want to obstruct some forms of behavior:

  • Democrats want to obstruct financial corruption.

  • Democrats want to obstruct neo-Nazi, white supremacist, racist violence.

  • Democrats want to obstruct political repression of the media and attacks on responsible free speech. [Urging a mob to burn down your neighbor’s house, for example, would not be “responsible free speech.”]

  • Democrats want to obstruct divisive behavior.

  • Democrats want to obstruct efforts to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

  • Democrats want to obstruct attacks on Constitutionally mandated civil liberties.

  • Democrats want to obstruct tax policies that further enrich the super-rich at the expense of everyone else.

  • Democrats want to obstruct the twisting of the health care system into a system to coddle the rich and leave the poor behind.

  • Democrats want to obstruct war for profit.

Yes, Democrats want to increase some taxes and obstruct some nefarious plots. Democrats should thank Donald Trump for shining the spotlight on the fundamental divide separating progressive Democrats from regressive Republicans…and persist.

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Reality is of course not quite that simple. Not only are there one or two cases of Democrats still grossly beholden to Big Finance and Big Pharma and Big Oil, but shocking evidence of progressive attitudes among certain Republicans has recently come to light. Progressive Democrats would be well advised to extend their hands in friendship…

Human Rights in the Mideast

Effective foreign policy requires convincing other regimes that you are serious. It is hard to be taken seriously if you don’t have standards, clearly expressed and fairly applied.

With the Administration’s undercutting of the Western-Iranian nuclear agreement, the current critical issue with Iran is the status of this nuclear agreement. Some have tried to confuse the issue by bringing up the state of Iranian domestic civil liberties and human rights, which should be kept completely separate from nuclear policy. If a nuclear bomb hits you, you will not be worrying any more about the human rights record of the jerk who dropped the bomb. But certainly human rights is a legitimate issue for us all to discuss, so what would be a sincere, serious approach to the problem of domestic extremism by the Iranian regime against its own people?

We might go for broke and define a human rights vision for all humanity including ourselves. Such an approach is useful, but even the U.S. refuses to support UNESCO at the moment, so–while great visions are worth evoking as goals, they tend to have limited immediate effect.

Aiming a little lower in order to make more progress in our lifetimes, define a human rights vision for the Mideast. Words are cheap–go for it.

Or, actually implement a sincere policy to promote the vision, which means treating everyone (let’s limit this to the Mideast for now) equally. The most crucial human rights crises in the Mideast at the moment include Turkish repression of its Kurds, Saudi air war in Yemen, Israeli repression of Palestinians, and Iran’s repression of all its citizens.

When Washington applies the same human rights standards to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran, then we Americans will have a foreign policy position to be proud of…an a foreign policy position that the rest of the world might actually take seriously.

Presidential Mental Decline

Given the extraordinary range of power that has accrued with the rise of the Imperial Presidency in recent decades to the individual who happens to be President, national security rests on the mental capacities of that one person. The implications of gradual cognitive decline are ominous.

The 25th Amendment responded to the long overdue realization among the ruling elite that the U.S. needed a more thoughtful means of dealing with a Presidential incapacity to govern. We the People may breathe a tiny sigh of relief that this amendment is in place, but the relief it provides is more theoretical than real since the Cabinet members thereby empowered to remove a disabled President were after all selected by the President and approved rather casually by Congress.

Mental incapacity could be the instantaneous result of a stroke but is more likely to emerge gradually as brain functioning declines, with the President (like any individual) struggling both to conceal and overcome whatever decline in mental faculties he or she happens to notice. As such a decline becomes apparent to associates, their natural inclination will be to assist the President in covering up initial and perhaps arguably minor limitations. (“Do I really need even to discuss this with my doctor? I feel fine; it will go away; I can deal with it.”) And as the medical situation worsens, supporters in the know will get desperate (“The nation needs you! Don’t give up! We’ll help you!”)

It is becoming clearer every day that Congress should have considered far more carefully than it ever does whether or not the President’s top appointees have the backbone and maturity to make the decision to remove the person who personally handed them their crowning career success…simply because of mentally disturbed behavior. Traditionally, Cabinet secretarial appointments tended to be offered to people of national stature who might be expected to have the professionalism and independence to enable them to stand up to a President demonstrating mental incompetence but refusing to resign. Today, how secure would America be putting national security in the hands of the Cabinet and Vice President?

Having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes. In a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there’s actually very little to stop him. The whole system’s built to insure rapid response if necessary. So, there’s very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary. [James Clapper, Former Director of National Intelligence, as quoted by PBS.]

It is also becoming increasingly clear that considering the integrity of Cabinet nominees is far from sufficient: legal changes to make fundamental Presidential powers more collective are urgently needed. Presidential freedom to govern by executive order is far too open to abuse, despite a landmark effort by the Supreme Court to restrict Presidential freedom to rule by decree. Even more urgent is putting Presidential authority not just to make war (unconstitutional but now regularly used via all manner of fraudulent mechanisms giving the President personal control over a wide range of military options) but specifically to launch nuclear war. For the U.S. to be secure, the decision to launch nuclear or any other type of attack with weapons of mass destruction urgently needs to be removed from the control of a single human, since we are all inevitably susceptible to mental or physical breakdown.

In sum, we face the urgent need for implementing an imposing set of reforms:

  1. specifying some process for insuring the highest possible standards for Cabinet appointments;

  2. specifying legal restrictions on/reviews of Presidential executive orders;

  3. specifying legal measures to restrict the ability of the President unilaterally (without the consent of Congress) to engage the U.S. in military action abroad;

  4. specifying legal measures to make collective the decision to employ nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

Disgusting Irresponsibility

Words matter, e.g., crying fire in a crowded theater. If public personalities with particular influence over society–e.g., a CEO, a newspaperman, a politician, a government official–were knowingly to tell a lie with serious implications for justice, national security, or social stability, surely we can all agree that the guilty person should be held accountable. In the current case of alleged White House desires to enormously enhance the size of the U.S. nuclear bomb force, the danger of misinformation is equally enormous: for reporter or politician to lie about such a crucial national security issue would indeed constitute “disgusting irresponsibility” and–in a democracy–the public has a need to know.

Congress should immediately launch a bipartisan House and Senate ethnics, intelligence, or foreign policy committee investigation to review the evidence and hold responsible anyone who lied. Be it lies about nuclear policy or efforts to censor the media, inflammatory speech by public personalities constitutes a metaphorical dropping of matches that can light real fires.

Lying

The term in office of Presidents who lie should be “challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”

Words matter. The word of the President matters the most of all. Pay heed.