With the U.S. government funded until the end of September, Congressional Democrats, whose party lost spectacularly at all levels in the 2016 election, decided that it was an appropriate time to take a victory lap. This public celebration was premature for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that, within a few days, the House passed a bill to repeal and replace the signature domestic achievement of President Obama’s 8 years in office, the Affordable Care Act (although it still faces major hurdles in the Senate).
Showing her usual tone deafness in terms of telling the difference between political calculation and the day to day struggles of ordinary American citizens, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the loss, “An opportunity,” in a public statement after the vote.
Instead of focusing on what the repeal might mean in terms of the 2018 midterm elections, she might have been more effective if she’d mentioned that the Republican initiative, if it passes through the Senate will, “deregulate the health insurance industry, eliminate the ACA’s patient protection standards, eliminate cost controls and subsidies, and set the stage to turn government-delivered care for poor people into a system of rationed benefits and coverage.”
The much needed outrage was supplied by the large number of protesters who immediately descended on the capital.
Rather than taking the very small win of keeping the government running for a few more months in stride and damaging the President’s standing with his base by praising his willingness to negotiate, the corporate Democrats, who rarely miss the chance to snatch defeat out of the hands of victory, spent most of the week gloating about the lack of legislative accomplishments over his first 100 days in office.
The AHCA (American Health Care Act), a bill that takes the country even further away from the universal coverage that is the norm in all but the poorest parts of the world, was the famously testy President’s response and the reaction of Pelosi and other Democrats was to try and spin it as a win.
Government by decree
The argument that the new President is short on accomplishments ignores the many actions he’s already taken by fiat, most of them receiving very little media coverage. While it’s true that some of these executive orders will be overturned by the courts, they’ll still do damage in the meantime.
While the Chief Executive does appear less anchored in reality with each passing day and doesn’t seem all that interested in policy, people like Vice President Mike Pence, a smooth political operator adored by the country’s Christian theocrats, are moving forward with their own radical agendas.
On the same day the health care bill passed the House, the Vice President’s promised executive order regarding ‘religious liberty’, which will give religious leaders the right to endorse political candidates or policies from the pulpit, was signed by the President. It also seeks to enshrine the right to discriminate on religious grounds.
One of the few things that President Trump has been consistent on, both on the campaign trail and in office, is demonizing the undocumented and immigrants in general. Statistics just released by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement show that the plight of undocumented people has been getting worse over the last three months, whether or not the President is able to keep his unrealistic promise to build a wall on the country’s southern border.
Arrests of undocumented people are up by almost a third since he took office and almost 9,000 of those taken into custody have no criminal record, the main reason given by the President for the crackdown.
As explained by Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, “The biggest change under Trump is a broadening of how ICE agents are free to interpret who should be deported. The expanded powers came courtesy of new immigration enforcement policies the president introduced in January executive orders.”
The new leeway given to border agents allows these relatively low level civil servants to deny asylum claims without investigation or, reportedly, legal representation. This, despite the fact that, in a statement, Customs and Border Protection told The Intercept’s Cora Currier, “CBP has not changed any policies affecting asylum procedures”.
How officials from police to border agents choose to interpret and enforce the law is the reality for most people, regardless of what’s in the books. This is especially true of the poor, who usually lack the resources to seek redress when they are wronged.
A bonanza for polluters
Probably the only thing being hurt more than the poor and the working class by Trump’s rightwing agenda is Mother Nature. It’s beginning to feel like a sad replay of the George W. Bush era, with extra doses of coal and climate change denial.
One of the President’s first executive orders restarted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, reversing two major environmental victories of the last eight years. The latter was also a slap in the face to the growing movement for indigenous rights.
This probably didn’t surprise Native people who have had dealings with the President in the past. As reported by the Washington Post, Trump has a long history of disparaging American First Nations, once taking to the Howard Stern show to deny their very identity, saying, “I think I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations.”
Executive orders aimed at reversing progress on environmental protection and regulation have been an almost completely unremarked upon constant since January 20th. In one of the most recent, on April 28th, the president ordered, “a review of Obama-era bans on offshore oil and drilling in parts of the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans,” likely paving the way for untouched regions to be opened up to the depredations of the fossil fuel industry.
Rather than explain the important precedents that are being set by these actions, including a review of National Monuments protected by the federal government and allowing mining operations to go back to polluting the nation’s streams, the media spends its time talking about unreleased tax returns and allegations of foreign meddling in the 2016 election.
Outside of the domestic sphere, in the area of foreign policy, where the US President traditionally has the most freedom, and where the media and most of the opposition are joined lockstep in promoting militarism,Trump has handed over almost all of the responsibility to the former generals he’s filled his Cabinet with.
This is dangerous in part because these men are trained in war not politics or diplomacy and they are already drawing the country further into conflicts in Syria, Somalia and Yemen, cheered on by the usual suspects in Washington who have muted their previous criticisms of the President’s foreign policy.
The grassroots efforts to fight this reactionary government, from the airport occupations to the mostly peaceful May Day actions, have been a model of civic engagement and civil disobedience that activists should be proud of. Alongside genuine grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter, a real American left seems to be coalescing for the first time in many years, offering some hope for the future.
Unfortunately, it appears that the political opposition is still more interested in donor money than addressing the needs of voters. This is a real problem of representative democracy that we’re seeing across the Western world, including here in Canada. It doesn’t seem to matter who one votes for, nothing ever seems to change. For all his bluster, in terms of policy and in just a little over 100 days, Trump is already a part of the Establishment .