The Trumpublicans are intent on manipulating the shock of Donald Trump’s victory to roll back much of the New Deal and Great Society; ram through unvetted Cabinet appointments intent on undermining the legal mandate of the very Departments they are charged with leading; legitimize unprecedented conflicts of interest; and intimidate opponents, professional civil servants, and the press, in a rapid blitzkrieg, before the opposition even knows what hit them.
This is a classic case of what Naomi Klein termed “The Shock Doctrine” in her 2007 book of the same title.
A quick tutorial on The Shock Doctrine: In times of political, economic, or social crisis (including wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, economic panics, coups and other dramatic political upheavals) oligarchic forces push through otherwise unpopular “free market” and neoliberal reforms – including deregulation, privatization, tax cuts for the elites, and massive cuts to the social safety net, in the hope that that the resistance won’t have time to organize.
In more “normal” times, such fundamentalist neoliberal “reforms” would be so unpopular that they would largely be politically unachievable.
But, according to Klein, economist Milton Friedman, the guru of fundamentalist free-market capitalism,
“articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum … He observed that ‘only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.’ … And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible [neoliberal] change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the ‘tyranny of the status quo.’ He estimated that ‘a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another opportunity.”
I would posit that the Trump’s victory – unexpected by just about everyone – is exactly the kind of crisis that potentially allows the oligarchy to use the Shock Doctrine to do its dirty work.
While the oligarchy may find Trump a bit unseemly personally, they see him as a “useful idiot” who can be used to ram through otherwise unpopular reactionary economic and social policies before anyone can stop them.
If they succeed, a century of reforms going back a century to the Progressive era, the New Deal, and the Great Society could be rolled back in a matter of months and we could be facing a new Gilded Age.
Let’s look at a little of what’s happened since November 7th, even before Trump has been inaugurated:
- Trump has brought racist white nationalists and Islamophobes like Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn into the top echelons of the White House.
- He’s relentlessly attacked the intelligence services for bringing to light Russia’s campaign to influence the election in his favor.
- In the dark of night, Senate Republicans took the first vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, even though they have no idea what to replace it with.
- The Trump transition team demanded that the Department of Energy turn over the names of scientists working on climate change.
- This is particularly scary since the House Republicans reinstated an obscure 1876 rule that allows any single member of Congress to add an amendment to any appropriations bill to cut the salary of any government employee or group of employees to $1.00, gutting 130 years of protections for a professional civil service.
- Trump has declared war on the intelligence services, accusing them of acting like Nazis, while repeatedly praising Vladimir Putin.
- Trump has done nothing meaningful to eliminate his myriad of conflicts of interest that make it unclear if any Presidential decision is for the benefit of the country or his businesses.
- Congressional Republicans are plotting an agenda to roll back financial and environmental regulations, slash taxes on corporations and the wealthy, defund Planned Parenthood, and allow individuals from states with open carry laws to bring their guns into states in which they’re illegal, all within the first hundred days or so of the Trump administration.
- Trump has appointed a menagerie of swamp creatures to his Cabinet, mostly billionaires with a record of opposing the very legal mandates of the Departments they will be pledged to lead. Here’s just a sampling of this basket of deplorables:
- Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy: The Department of Energy is one of the three Cabinet Departments Perry wanted to abolish, except in his infamous “oops” moment, he couldn’t even remember its name. One of the Department’s key responsibilities is ensuring the safety of America’s nuclear weapons, a vital task in which he has no experience. Get ready to “duck and cover”.
- Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor: The anti-labor, anti-union CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardees. He opposes increasing the minimum wage and wants to roll back Obama’s rule restoring overtime pay to middle-class workers. The Labor Department’s legal mission is “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights,” a mission Puzder has spent his career fighting against. He’s the last person you’d appoint if you actually wanted to increase the living standard of American workers of any race.
- Scott Pruitt: Head of the Environmental Protection Agency: A climate change denier, he’s repeatedly sued the EPA to roll back environmental protections. Four or eight years under the leadership of men like Pruitt could make climate change irreversible, leading to global catastrophe.
- Betsy DeVos: Secretary of Education: A billionaire by birth, DeVos has spent years undermining public schools and trying to channel taxpayer money instead to private, for-profit, and religious schools.
- Tom Price: Secretary of Health and Human Services: Repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the “free market” may not be Price’s biggest negative. He also wants to privatize Medicare and cut funds for Medicaid
- Jefferson Beauregard Sessions: Attorney General: Sessions began his career trying to jail civil rights workers who were close to Martin Luther King for trying to register African Americans to vote. He’s called the Voting Rights Act a “piece of intrusive legislation” and opposed the Violence Against Women Act. Although Sessions pledged to uphold even laws he disagrees with, the Attorney General has wide discretion to decide which cases to bring. Expect him to turn a blind eye to voter suppression.
- The “Department of Goldman Sachs”: After relentlessly attacking Ted Cruz’s wife for working at Goldman Sachs and Hillary Clinton for giving them paid speeches, Trump has appointed at least 6 Goldman Sachs alumni to top Economic posts: They include “foreclosure king” Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary, current Goldman COO and President Gary Cohn as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, Goldman’s legal advisor Jay Clayton as head of the Security and Exchange Commission, and Breitbart News owner Steve Bannon as Chief White House Strategist. Expect radical deregulation of Wall Street and pray that we don’t experience a 2008-style crash or worse.
- Meanwhile Mitch McConnell is railroading Trump’s appointments through the Senate hearing process at lightning speed, before most of them, have even filed their disclosure forms or ethics agreements, in the hopes they will be confirmed before more negative information about them becomes public or the opposition has time to rally.
In classic Shock Doctrine strategy, Trump and Congressional Republicans are doing so many things so fast to fill the swamp, entrench the kleptocracy, and harm ordinary Americans, that it’s almost impossible to keep up.
Having lost the popular vote by nearly three million and won the electoral vote by a collective 85,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Trumpublicans are acting as though they have a popular mandate to shred the social safety, cut taxes on the wealthy, eviscerate environmental protections, deregulate the banks who crashed the economy in 2008, and ignore blatant conflicts of interest by Trump and his appointees that cast doubt on whether they’re acting on behalf of the nation or their personal financial gain.
Faced with the Trumpublican Shock Doctrine Blitzkreig, the response must be massive resistance–in the streets (including non-violent civil disobedience),i n mainstream and alternative media, in neighborhoods, towns, cities, and states, in Congress, in elections at every level of government, in the courts, and inside regulatory agencies.
The idea, put forward by some Democrats, that we should wait to see whether Trump and the Republicans actually follow through on their plans, and seek areas of bi-partisan agreement, must be definitively buried. It must be made clear that any Congressional Democrat who follows such a path will face an aggressive primary challenge.
It’s incumbent upon everyone who cares about democracy and the common good to fight back.
As for House and Senate Democrats, their job is to use every available rule and tool to delay and obstruct the Trumpublican agenda.
Among other things, while Senate Democrats can’t filibuster Trump’s appointments, they have the power to require that every appointment subject to confirmation require 30 hours of debate.
That alone can tie up the Senate for several months, delaying the rest of the Trumpublican agenda while giving time for citizens to organize resistance and Trumpian scandals to marinate and escalate.
While Republicans can eventually pass some of their agenda by using budget reconciliation which doesn’t allow for a filibuster, most Republican legislation will be subject to the filibuster, which Democratic Senators should use as often as necessary and not be intimidated by charges of obstruction.
Keep in mind Shock Doctrine strategist Milton Friedman’s observation that a new administration only has six to nine months to achieve major changes. So delay can mean victory.
Keep in mind, too, that the conflicts of interest by Trump and many of his appointees are likely to lead to multiple scandals.
Remember that in 1972 Richard Nixon won the largest electoral victory in American history and only a little more than a year late resigned under threat of impeachment.
Trump is entering office with only 37% approval ratings, the lowest in recorded history, Hillary Clinton won a popular vote majority. The most hardened Trump supporters may forgive even his most heinous sins, but many ordinary working class and middle-class Trump voters may quickly discover that he’s not acting in their interests. He also may rue his decision to pick a fight with the intelligence community before entering office.
Bill Clinton, George W. Bush (second term), and Barack Obama lost their Congressional majorities only two years after being elected President, and the same could happen to Trump. If the Democrats can even gain three Senate seats in 2018, they can block most of the Trumpublican agenda, much at the Republicans did with much of Obama’s agenda after 2010.
It’s easy to feel hopeless in the face of the Trumpublican Shock Doctrine. But falling into despair and inaction is simply unacceptable.
If the millions of citizens who care about the future resist and fight back, the Trumpublican Blitzkreig can be defeated. The future of the nation and the planet is in our hands.