A progressive response to Trump’s inaugural

It takes creativity to fashion an effective strategy that would restore democratic power to all people equally.

Photo Credit: Donald Trump

I voluntarily embargoed much mention of DJ Trump in my writing about last year’s election, other than to report the consistent poll findings that he had a fair chance of defeating Clinton but would lose in a landslide to Sanders. Now that he is President he becomes part of the story of corrupt politics that I do write about. With Trump resident at the apex of the system of plutocratic corruption, the embargo on adding to the glut of words in the mass media about Trump since 2015 hereby ends.

As a salesman who will pitch what you want, whether or not he has it stocked in his inventory, Trump claimed the heart of his political mission to be the restoration of democracy from the politically corrupt system that has usurped it. His opening statement to the country with this message was mainly addressed to those swing and independent voters who put him into office and who, even before inauguration day, had apparently already deserted Trump to produce his historically low favorability ratings. A Quinnipiac poll (Q3) showed a large majority of independents (54% to 32%) had acquired an unfavorable view of Trump by that time. This constituted a 28% shift in two months by his decisive constituency. Exit polls showed Trump winning independents’ votes by 48% to 42% (“49 to 41 percent margin among independent [white] women and by 57 to 31 percent among independent [white] men”).

These were voters, many having voted for Obama, who rejected the corrupt Clinton machine in the hope that a billionaire who campaigned against corruption might just already be rich enough to display integrity in governance for a change and not sell policy to the plutocrats who largely preferred a Clinton restoration.

But such hopes were quickly belied by Trump’s appointees who largely emerged from that same swamp Trump had promised to drain. Not one of them represented an authentic anti-corruption constituency. Meanwhile Trump’s own dismissive attitude toward his vast and unremedied conflicts of interest, including commission of a potential constitutional “high crime or misdemeanor,” suggested to many that he had no intention of maintaining any less corrupt a government than the Clintons would have been expected to run in their own Clinton Foundation style of cashing in on conflicted interests.

Trump, still the slippery-with-the-facts huckster we know from his real estate and reality TV careers not to mention his campaign, in his very first formal address to the whole country, sought to sell the idea that he believes: “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” This reference to the bipartisan corruption which has subverted representative democracy since the Supreme Court first legalized money in politics in Buckley v Valeo (1976) is both important and true. It resonates with the dominant political message of 2016 which likely elected Trump. Polling indicates that it is the issue that is highest in the concerns of voters from both parties but which nevertheless remains resolutely unaddressed by the corrupt establishment.

But Trump’s claim that “January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again” is far from reality. Trump’s revelation in Art of the Deal that he thinks “a little hyperbole never hurts” applies here. He claims to lead, perhaps even embody, “a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.” Trump’s inaugural message promises that his presidency, by itself, will rescue representative democracy from its systemic corruption by plutocrats like himself.

This is patent hucksterism “carefully crafted to deceive.” First, of course, the Declaration of Independence established the consent of the governed as the guiding principle of the United States of America. The world saw that and many other democracy movements long before Trump discovered this was a winning campaign issue for him in 2016.

As President, Trump only controls the executive branch. Even in the highly unlikely event that he were to wage a robust anti-corruption campaign in that branch, and from his bully pulpit, Congress is a bipartisan systemically corrupt tool of plutocrats that will remain so until major strategic reforms are implemented by that separate branch of government.

And then there is that pesky third branch, the Supreme Court, which continues to expand its plutocratic jurisprudence which caused the loss of democracy by its legalizing of plutocratic corruption. Trump gives no indication that he understands that he will need to use his appointment power to reform the Supreme Court if he is going to undo the epochal damage it has wrought and kept his promise to restore control of government to the governed.

Finally, and most importantly, Trump followed his extended statement of this overall mission with no mention of any plausible strategy for turning back a systemically corrupt government to the control of its citizens by eliminating corruption. Without a strategy to prevent the plutocracy from buying corrupt politicians or politicians from delivering policy to paying plutocrats it is implausible, under Trump or anyone else, that government will be controlled by “the people” anytime soon.

For example, the most immediate means Trump can deploy to seize control of government from a corrupt plutocracy and return it to its citizens would be to appoint a Supreme Court justice who adamantly rejects the judicial supremacist power the Court has usurped to overturn federal and state anti-corruption laws. The whole legalization of political corruption since Buckley, appears to hinge on this single appointment of Justice Scalia’s replacement that is now on Trump’s desk. But there is no indication whatsoever that what Trump claims to be his priority concern “at the center of [his] movement” will provide a litmus test for this highly pertinent upcoming appointment. He instead has said that the anti-abortion predilections of candidates for the Court will provide his litmus test.

That Trump has failed to appoint even a single person who could be identified with the anti-corruption mission that he claims will animate his administration, or with anything but orthodox Republican plutocracy and its right wing alliances, not only gives the lie to his hollow rhetoric about a purported “movement,” but also presages the kind of Supreme Court nominee he is likely to send up to the Senate for confirmation.

The public’s response to Trump’s speech has not been to hold him responsible for his claim to lead a pro-democracy movement. If Trump is going to claim leadership of this priority progressive issue then progressives are entitled to demand that he reveal a credible strategy for returning control of government from corrupt politicians back to the people who the bipartisan establishment systematically betray for the benefit of pay-to-play plutocrats. Instead, the loudest response has come apparently from the corrupt Clinton wing of the Democrats and their professional activist allies who themselves lack any credible strategy for getting money out of politics and restoring democracy. A march was organized by “leaders of non-profits, academia, politics and business matched up with donors” to pursue the same divide and conquer identity politics of the Clinton campaign. Identity politics arises from those plutocratic hierarchies that result from the lack of equal political rights.

It seems the same people who gave us Trump by supporting Clinton against Sanders are now intent on using up all the oxygen that fuels the outrage against Trump on the same diversionary identity politics that lost the election to a faux populist by nominating Clinton. Instead of addressing the issue of democracy and the political corruption that has undermined it, as the Sanders’ campaign did, this activity diverts attention away from the plutocracy to tactics devoid of strategy for achieving any concrete democratic gains.

What is needed is a progressive movement to attract Trump’s former followers who no longer believe his democratic pretenses, having seen his plutocratic appointments. This movement should challenge the legitimacy and source of funding of the Clinton Democrats’ and their identity politics which elected Trump, not energize them from the deep well of resentment against Trump. It takes little organizing skill to unite people of color, LGBT, and the minority of white women who supported Clinton in a march expressing their solidarity against their common opponent. Such a march does not communicate much new information to others, except possibly the frustration of those liberal Democrats who are responsible for imposing Trump on the world because of their opposition to Sanders and their support of plutocratic corruption that Clinton represented.

It takes creativity to fashion an effective strategy that would restore democratic power to all people equally so that liberals can achieve their priority goals which plutocrats have often blocked in their four-decade alliance with the right. “Stop the #SwampCabinet” constitutes a worthy provisional demand. Also needed is a credible positive strategy to effectively drain the swamp, as Trump promised but has not even attempted to deliver. Advocacy of such a positive strategy to restore democracy is the test of the bona fides of any movement seeking to harness opposition to Trump, as much as it is of Trump himself.

“* This article is based on the author’s most recent book, Strategy for Democracy: Why And How To Get Money Out of Politics,” which is currently available as a free ebook.”


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Rob Hager, a Harvard Law graduate, is a public interest litigator [Agent Orange, Bhopal Disaster, Three Mile Island, Silkwood, Joe Harding, Parks Twp., Avirgan v. Hull. (am'd. compl. & mot. to dis. only), etc.] who filed amicus briefs in the Montana sequel to Citizens United and has worked as an international consultant on anti-corruption policy and legislation with the United Nations' and other development agencies. Rob Hager's most recent book, “Strategy for Democracy: Why And How To Get Money Out of Politics,” is currently available as a free ebook.