Every day, the media feasts on Trump’s lurid antics. Don’t fall for it. He’s a distraction, the clown show. And while he’s barking outside the big top, the GOP is inside, cutting away at our economy and the very essentials of our public life.
The tax bill Republicans are trying to ramrod through the Congress provides a clear reminder that the real threat we face is a rabidly ideological GOP, now in full control of all branches of government, in Washington and in 26 states.
Now, virtually unified Republican caucuses in both Houses are on the verge of passing truly grotesque tax legislation that will give more than 60 percent of its benefits to the richest 1 percent in the nation, while raising taxes on nearly all working families.
Rule by tweet
Trump tweets out anti-Muslim videos from a far-right British hate group, earning condemnation from our closest ally. He turns a ceremony to honor Navaho code talkers into a disgrace, with his racist slur of Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”
He reprises his infantile insults of North Korea’s nuclear-armed leader, lies about not benefiting from the tax plan that will undeniably line his pockets, revives his bizarre birther claims about Obama, and risibly denies the authenticity of his now-infamous Access Hollywood bus tapes. And that’s all before General Flynn’s plea deal made Russian meddling round-the-clock news once again.
But this isn’t just about Trump. He’s the mountebank, a false populist betraying his base. He is an infantile narcissist, playing to the crowds – or at least to talk media.
They call it “reform”
Only three Republican Senators stood in the way of the GOP’s bid in July to deprive million Americans of health insurance, as a prelude to their tax cuts. Trump had no clue about that policy, and played little role in selling it.
GOP lawmakers are now ready to hand global corporations a $500 billion tax bonus for booking profits held in foreign tax havens. They claim to defend the middle class, yet are happy to protect the obscene “carried interest” tax deduction, which gives billionaire hedge fund managers a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
They’ve declared war on higher education, eliminating deductions for student loan interest, and adding taxes on to graduate students for tuition waivers. They’ll double-tax American families on what they already pay to state and city governments, while they allow corporations to deduct theirs.
In the Senate, only one Republican – Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee – stood up to vote no on the tax giveaway, and he doesn’t need to face voters again.
Then they have the gall to call this crap “reform.”
Trump’s major contribution to the tax bill has been to lie about its content while protecting measures – elimination of the estate tax, elimination of the alternative minimum tax, lower taxes on “pass-through” income – that will fill his own pockets.
Meanwhile, Trump’s judicial appointments aim to pack the courts with young, pro-corporate ideologues, but he’s not the one who finds them. They come from lists prepared for his administration by the right-wing Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation.
These vacancies result in part from Republican obstruction of Obama’s appointments. Trump’s nominees are being railroaded through the Senate by a unified Republican majority, which lines up behind a leadership willing to trample the Senate’s normal procedures. Trump claims these victories as his own, but doesn’t drive them.
Steve Bannon got headlines for pledging to “deconstruct the administrative state,” but he’s just the publicist. Trump has turned his economic policy over to Goldman Sachs alumni who want to deregulate finance and roll back environmental and consumer protections.
The plundering of public services is steered by cabinet members eager for the assignment. These include ideologically extreme politicians, like former Rep. Mike Mulvaney, who’s preparing to disembowel the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, former Rep. Scott Pruitt at the EPA, former Texas Governor Rick Price at Energy, and Betsy DeVos, the high-rolling GOP donor who now helms the Department of Education.
The Attorney General, former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, leads the rollback of civil rights and criminal justice reform.
These are the extremist insiders who are now the Republican mainstream.
An inside job
This isn’t a revelation, but it’s worth repeating. Trump’s ability to outrage around the clock distracts us from the real challenges we face. This isn’t a one-nut deal. Trump isn’t driving a populist revolt.
Right-wing populism is just the garb Trump donned to get elected. What’s left of his populism is his incoherent posturing on trade and his insistence on building “The Wall” along our southern border.
Trump’s race-baiting politics of division, too, are nothing new. They’re a Republican Party staple: Trump is just far more shameless in how he speaks.
The real threat we face in Washington, and in statehouses, is an increasingly extreme Republican Party that is ideologically committed and politically disciplined in its efforts to lay waste to the public sphere.
They’re cutting away at the very sinews of our economy, the comity of our politics, and the quality of our most basic public services. Trump may sound different, but he’s just the barker outside their big top. The grisly deed is being done on the inside.
Liberal pundits like Ezra Klein are now trying to “normalize” talk of impeaching Trump. MSNBC and CNN report on every twitch of the Russian investigation. Surely, ousting Trump would be satisfying. It would at least allow liberals afflicted with Trump derangement syndrome to stop yelling at their televisions. But it isn’t sufficient.
But now the Resistance has to get serious about the hard stuff of politics – winning elections up and down the ticket, in every state. We have to organize to ensure Americans register and vote in large numbers and end Republican rule – not just Trump.
Continuing to about Trump’s immaturity, ignorance and instability won’t get the job done. Even his supporters get that. His own Secretary of State calls him a “f…g moron.”
Progressives need to help people understand both the damage wrought by Republicans from states like Kansas to the nation’s capital. We need to make clear that there is an alternative that will serve the nation and its people, not plunder it for the few.
Trump’s ignorance and impulsiveness terrify all sensible people. His grotesqueries embarrass. His peddling of hate and venom divides. But he isn’t the motor force of the agenda that is undermining this country. He isn’t driving the ship into the shoals. He’s simply the showman selling tickets to the show.
Republicans have been very clear about this. They trumpet their historic opportunity to drive their agenda – privatization, deregulation, tax cuts, spending cuts, undermining public education, rolling back public health care, curbing public retirement security, and bolstering a military to police the world for global capital.
When it looked like Mitt Romney might defeat Barack Obama in 2012, the impish operative of the right, Grover Norquist, reassured movement conservatives not to fear Romney’s supposed moderation. All we need, he argued, is a president with “enough working digits to handle a pen.” Republicans in the Congress will provide the agenda, he assured, and put the bills on this president’s desk to sign.
Norquist’s prediction has come to pass. But thus far, Republicans have proven less prepared for this golden opportunity than he assumed. House Speaker Paul Ryan was as big a fraud as Paul Krugman warned. Health care repeal was a debacle. Their plan to cut taxes is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in history. But their incompetence only slows the damage they are doing, it does not end it.
Cleaning the stables
We have real work to do. Robert Muller and the Russian probe won’t clean the stables, no matter how that turns out. The media feasting on Trump’s antics and outrages won’t do it. The resistance is vital, but not enough. Americans in large numbers must rise up and throw the bums out.
Elections – no matter how gerrymandered, no matter how many votes are suppressed, no matter how corrupted by big money – still offer that possibility. That will take new energy and activists organizing across the country. The established Democratic Party has proven itself incapable thus far of meeting this challenge.
Progressive leaders like Sanders, Warren, Brown, Merkley, Ellison, and Jayapal need to define the choice and the stakes. The surge of women voters and candidates can make dramatic difference. Progressive movement groups like Our Revolution, People’s Action, Black Lives Matter, Indivisible, MoveOn, and Working America need to continue to build and drive a massive volunteer door-to-door mobilization.
In 2018, the election will be nationalized, but Trump will not be on the ballot. Voters need to understand just what the stakes are, and it’s our job to tell them.