Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Within days — maybe the very day after I’m writing this, November 30, 2017 — the Republican-controlled United States Senate is going to strike yet another powerful blow on behalf of the Right-wing counterrevolution in the U.S. today. They’re going to pass a highly reactionary, regressive tax bill that will hugely benefit corporations and super-rich people — not only presently existing super-rich people but their descendants — and hurt almost every American who isn’t part of the 0.01 percent.
And they’re going to do it at the end of a mockery of traditional legislative process — what Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) called “regular order.” They’re going to pass a bill that makes sweeping changes in virtually every aspect of how Americans relate to their government with only one committee hearing and at most 20 hours of floor debate. They’re also going to pass it with zero support from the Democratic Party. Historically attempts to rewrite the U.S. tax code have been bipartisan, but not this one: it is a weapon of mass destruction in an ideological war being waged by a party that has rejected any notion that equality and fairness are virtues.
The heart of the Republican tax bill is a reduction of the nominal tax rate on corporations from 35 to 20 percent. I wrote “nominal” above because there are so many deductions and loopholes in the current tax law that virtually no corporation actually pays 35 percent of its earnings in taxes. Many, in fact, pay little or nothing. In addition, by eliminating the standard allowance — the part of your tax return where you write in the number one for yourself and add one for each of your “dependents” — and making other adjustments to skew the tax codes in favor of the rich, the bill is going to raise taxes for more than 80 million Americans.
What’s more, by eliminating the estate tax, it will bring the U.S. closer to the sort of hereditary aristocracy our founders feared creating, in which money will continue to concentrate, generation after generation, in the families that have it now. At the same time the bill directly attacks college students and others pursuing the traditional paths of upward mobility in this country.
It’s also an assault on the very notion that government should ever tax the rich to benefit the not-so-rich. The Senate version of the bill totally eliminates the ability of taxpayers who itemize deductions to take their state and local taxes off their federal tax burden. The point of this is to penalize states like California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts which have chosen to tax their better-off residents to benefit their not-so-better-off ones.
Once such taxpayers can’t take off state and local taxes from their federal returns, it will become politically impossible for any state to sustain expensive social programs with their own revenues because even their most generous-minded residents won’t be able to stand the tax burden. The idea — and it’s quite explicitly stated by the people pushing this bill — is to drive every state down to the level of places like Mississippi, where taxes are low and state government does little or nothing to help its poorer citizens.
With each new incarnation of the tax bill, it looks even worse. The Senate slipped into its version of the bill the elimination of the “individual mandate,” the provision of the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”) that requires every American either to carry health insurance or to pay a penalty to the government.
Nonpartisan analysts, including the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), have estimated that up to 13 million Americans could lose access to health coverage if this passes, either because it will cause chaos in the private insurance market or it will force insurance companies to raise premiums so high insurance will be unaffordable. The CBO also estimates that people who would still have insurance would face an average 10 percent increase in their premiums. This is essentially a “stealth” provision to accomplish what the Republicans tried and failed to do with their bills to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
Various drafts of the tax bill — there are many, and according to the Politico Web site (https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/30/mccain-to-vote-for-gop-tax-bill-270511), the contents of the bill are still in flux — include provisions that single out such typical Republican targets as graduate students and the tech industry (which in at least one version didn’t get the generous tax credits for repatriating profits stored in foreign countries other big corporations got).
And as Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, came to New York at the end of November to tell Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert, the current Senate bill imposes a punitive 20 percent excise tax on goods made in Puerto Rico and brought onto the U.S. mainland. That’s proof, in case we still needed any, that the Republican Party does not think of Puerto Rico as part of the United States (which it is) but as an alien territory from which we need to be “protected.”
The Republican tax bill is a perfect expression of the Libertarian ideology that dominates the Republican Party and to which virtually all GOP officeholders adhere. I’ve written about Libertarianism a lot in these pages before, but just to recap: Libertarians believe it is none of the government’s damned business to tax the most fortunate to help the less fortunate. They fundamentally reject Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, as well as all other social-welfare programs, because they regard them as “enslaving” the rich to help the not-so-rich.
Libertarians also believe in economic inequality. While other people — including some who call themselves “conservatives” — lament the increasing economic inequality in the U.S., Libertarians love inequality because they regard the rich as the “makers” who create economic value and everyone else as the “takers” who demand wealth and income they do not deserve. Indeed, Libertarians believe that in a true “free market” economy, wealth is an indicator of personal capability and social worth: if you’re rich, that proves that you are better than the common run of humanity and therefore you deserve more.
Also, Libertarians are completely opposed to civil rights laws — they believe that people ought to have the right to discriminate as a part of “economic freedom” — and they hate environmental protection. Libertarians believe that the spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism is so strong it can literally set aside the laws of physics (the hero of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, which is to Libertarianism what Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto and Capital are to socialism, invents a motor that runs on air and then organizes the disappearance of all the entrepreneurial capitalists in the world to prove that it can’t run without them), and therefore laws to protect the environment are just one more encumbrance those pesky “takers” in government and among the masses try to impose on the superior capitalist “makers.”
President Trump didn’t campaign as a Libertarian — he basically posed as a European-style Right-wing nationalist conservative who promised to spare Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for “real Americans” (i.e., U.S.-born white men) by blocking immigration and thereby protecting the jobs of “real Americans.” But, as I’ve argued in these pages before, he’s certainly governed as a Libertarian. He’s savaged the environment (when he lists his accomplishments, among the items he always cites are pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and authorizing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines), blocked pro-consumer regulations, fought civil-rights protections and been open about his racism.
The Republican tax bill now before Congress, which Trump probably had little hand in writing but which he certainly supports wholeheartedly, is a perfect expression of Libertarian economic and social priorities. It will slash taxes on the rich while raising them for virtually everybody else. It will be paid for with gaping cuts of over $1 trillion in funding for Medicaid — the government health program (Medi-Cal in California) that pays for about one-fourth of all health care in the U.S., including one-half of all births — and nearly $500 billion in Medicare.
It will essentially repudiate the entire history of the United States since the 1880’s, when corporations and super-rich individuals not only openly bribed politicians to make laws that would make themselves richer and everyone else poorer, but sometimes (as with railroad magnate and U.S. Senator from California Leland Stanford, essentially the Donald Trump of the 19th century) bought political office for themselves. It’s especially ironic that there are still political commentators who call Trump a “populist” when his policy proposals, and especially this tax bill, are exactly the kind of soak-the-poor, coddle-the-rich policies the original American Populists of the 1890’s were rebelling against.
A Done Deal
Don’t hold out hope that somehow there will be enough divisions within the Republican Senate caucus to sink this monster of a tax ripoff. On November 28, when the U.S. Senate passed its last procedural hurdle before the final vote on this tax bill — the motion to proceed (i.e., allow it to be voted on), the vote was on strict party lines, with all 52 Senate Republicans voting yes and all 48 Senate Democrats voting no. (So much for the idiotic idea promoted by alt-Leftists in pathetic, impotent “alternative parties” like the U.S. Green Party and Peace and Freedom that there is “no difference” between the Republicans and the Democrats.)
Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), who’d both previously told reporters they had vague “reservations” about the tax bill, voted for the motion to proceed. So did all three Republican Senators whose “no” votes sank the last attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Arizona) — and McCain and Murkowski have both publicly pledged to vote for the final bill as well. Ignore everything you’ve read or heard from the pundit class about “civil war in the Republican Party.” On this — and in general on their commitment to wipe out all progressive programs from the 1890’s to today — the Republicans in both houses of Congress move in lock-step with an absolute, unshakable loyalty to the Libertarian ideology.
The Republican tax bill is a done deal. Let me repeat that: the Republican tax bill is a done deal. There will be no dramatic last-minute Senate votes by so-called “mavericks” to sink this. This tax bill is too pure an expression of Republican ideology for the party to allow any waverers to sink it. It is also too important a priority to the mega-donors the GOP relies on to finance its campaigns — the Mercers, the Kochs, the DeVoses, the Adelsons, the Popes and others — for the Republicans to allow it not to pass.
Republican Congressmembers have been surprisingly honest about that. A number of them have given on-the-record interviews — and others have leaked it off the record — that the big donors to the Republican Party have made it clear that if they do not get this huge tax cut for themselves and their companies (and their heirs), GOP Congressional candidates needn’t bother asking them for money in 2018. As Betsy DeVos, sister of Blackwater founder and missionary Erik Prince and Trump’s Secretary of Education, bluntly — and publicly — said, she and the GOP’s other “big donors” demand “a return on their investment” in the Republican Party — and this tax bill is that “return.”
That’s why the Senate Republicans are pushing through a bill that, according to polls, is opposed by about half the country — the percentages have ranged from 49 to 52 percent opposed, 25 to 28 percent in favor, 20 to 25 percent undecided, but all the polls agree that by nearly 2 to 1 Americans who have come to an opinion about this bill are against it. That’s also why the attempts of people with disabilities to stage the kinds of direct action they did so powerfully to block the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act — including sit-ins in Congressional offices and a stark, dramatic disruption of the Senate Finance Committee hearing at whch the bill was reported to the floor — haven’t had the same effect this time.
Once the tax bill passes and President Trump signs it into law, not only will he finally have a legislative accomplishment to show for his first year in office — something his critics have been ragging on him about — it will be a doozy. It will be the most important victory for the radical Right, the oddball coalition of economic Libertarians and social conservatives who don’t trust the government to regulate the economy but want it to micromanage people’s sex lives, since Trump’s election on November 8, 2016. It will be a huge step forward in the Republicans’ determination to wipe out every vestige of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society.
It is a clear answer to the oft-asked question from the 2016 campaign, “When does Donald Trump think America was ‘great,’ and to which he thinks we need to return to ‘make America great again’?” The answer is the 1880’s, when it was totally legal for wealthy individuals and corporations to bribe politicians and openly buy elective office, either for themselves or their loyal servants in the political class. It was a time when labor unions were illegal and segregation and discrimination against people of color was legal. It was a time when cities took civic pride in how black their air was with coal-fueled industrial production and environmental protection wasn’t even a concept in politics.
The Republican tax bill is a concerted attempt by the Republican Party, its politicians and its campaign funders to return America to a state without Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, a minimum wage or any other encumbrances on the absolute power of wealthy individuals and corporations. It is virtually certain to pass; and, once passed, it is likely to be successful. It will be a game-changer in future political organizing on both sides of America’s ideological divide, with the Right ascendant and the Left essentially restricted to damage control. Just 3 ½ weeks after voters in Virginia, New Jersey and other U.S. states that were having elections in November 2017 decisively and overwhelmingly rejected the Republican Party and its policies, this tax bill will enshrine them into law and fundamentally remake America in the swaggering, bullying wealth-über-alles spirit of Donald Trump and his fellow 0.01-percenters.
I must say that I made a rare mistake after November 7, 2016: I let myself get optimistic about the political future of this country. I started a commentary on the Democrats’ election victories that was supposed to be a vision of hope as well as a warning that, now that they had won races across the country essentially by promising not to be Donald Trump, they needed to be serious about governing and in particular about delivering on their promise of a society that works for all people. But events move so fast in Trump’s America — they “swirl,” as one literary critic wrote about Shakespeare’s plays in general and Macbeth in particular — that election already seems like ancient history, like a mere blip in the Right’s road to absolute triumph.
Here’s What I Wrote on November 8, 2017
I began writing this article on November 8, 2017, the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s surprise election as President of the United States. Ironically enough, the anniversary was greeted by the first good political news the Democratic Party has had in nearly a decade. Until November 7, 2017 the 2010’s had been one unrelieved disaster for the Democrats — and for the progressive coalition a lot of former Presdent Barack Obama’s supporters believed his 2008 election would usher in — after another. The Democrats lost the House of Representatives in 2010 — and, arguably more important, they got killed in elections for governors and state legislatures that year, so Republicans could and did stack electoral districts against them in the once-a-decade process of redistricting.
Obama squeaked to re-election in 2012 but the Democrats suffered further losses in elections for state houses and Congress. Indeed, so good were the Republicans at gerrymandering following the 2010 census and their virtual sweep of state governments that even though more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans to serve in the House of Representatives, the GOP kept their House majority anyway. In 2014 the Republicans regained control of the U.S. Senate, and in 2016 the Democrats got slaughtered nationwide. The Republicans not only with the Presidency, they held onto the Senate (despite math that favored the Democrats) and they got the largest House majority they’d had since 1928, just before the Great Depression that spawned the New Deal Coalition and 36 years of Democratic dominance from 1932 to 1968.
The results of the off-off-year elections on November 7 were a different story. Democrat Ralph Northam not only won the governorship of Virginia against Ed Gillespie — who’d begun his campaign as a moderate Republican but by the end of it was fully embracing the Trump agenda, bashing immigrants, “sanctuary cities” (of which there are none in Virginia) and protesting football players, and embracing gun rights and Confederate war memorials — he did so by nine percentage points, four points better than the final pre-election polls had indicated. What’s more, he took his entire ticket into office with him, including Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor candidate who is the first African-American elected to statewide office in Virginia since governor L. Douglas Wilder in 1989 — and came within one vote of a majority in the House of Delegates, the lower chamber of Virginia’s legislature.
Democrats also got good news in New Jersey, where Phil Murphy was elected governor over Republican Kim Guadagno, who’d served as lieutenant governor to the spectacularly unpopular Chris Christie. Murphy won by a 13-point margin. Voters in Maine, which Trump carried in 2016 and whose governor, Paul LePage, said last summer he deliberately plants false “news” stories about himself and the country would be better off without newspapers, passed an initiative to expand Medicaid health-care coverage by nearly 20 points — though LePage is doing his level best to block it (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/11/8/1713945/-Maine-s-Referendum-on-Medicaid-Still-Faces-Uphill-Battle) and the Trump administration, in its ongoing jihad against the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”), has monkey-wrenched any state seeking the federal waivers needed to expand Medicaid.
Democrats also picked up three state legislative seats in Georgia. They won mayoral races in Charlotte and Fayetteville, North Carolina. They defeated the incumbent mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city. Democrats held on to the mayoralty of St. Petersburg, Florida. In Washington state, the Democrats won a special election to secure a majority in the upper house of the stage legislature and elected open Lesbian Jenny Durkan Mayor of Seattle, the city’s first female mayor since the 1920’s. St. Paul, Minnesota elected its first Black mayor, Melvin Carter.
Progressive lawyer Larry Krasner won his bid to be district attorney of Philadelphia in a race of which the Philadelphia Inquirer said, “[T]he 56-year-old was assailed from the start of his campaign by critics as unsuitable for the job — as an attorney best known for taking on civil rights cases and suing the Philadelphia Police Department. It was for some of the same reasons that he drew support from activists demanding criminal justice reform from an office they deemed unfair[.]” Mayors in New York City and Boston were overwhelmingly re-elected (though the Boston mayor, a Democrat with a past as a labor leader, defeated an even more progressive Black candidate). About the only good news for Republicans were a few victories in special Congressional elections, notably Provo, Utah Mayor Jack Curtis, who was elected to replace the retiring Congressmember Jason Chaffetz.
Perhaps the best news for America’s Queer community was the victory of open Transgender activist and journalist Danica Roem for District 13 of the Virginia House of Delegates. In a case of karmic justice if there ever was one, she unseated two-decade incumbent Bob Marshall, who had proudly boasted of being “homophobe-in-chief” in Virginia and had pushed through the state’s controversial bill to ban Trans people from using the restroom corresponding to their gender identity. Not that Roem made that her signature issue: her campaign signs said, “Fix Route 28 Now!” — referring to a terribly congested roadway a lot of people in her district depend on to get to and from work. In her victory speech, Roem cited her victory not only as a defense of equal rights for Trans people but a defense of journalists against the ceaseless attacks by President Trump and his supporters on the media as “fake news.”
And Roem wasn’t the only openly Trans person to win a U.S. election on November 7. African-American Andrea Jenkins won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council. Tyler Titus was elected to the school board in Erie, Pennsylvania. And Lisa Middleton became the first Trans person elected to a non-judicial office in California when she won a seat on the Palm Springs City Council — which after this year’s election will consist exclusively of “out” Queer people.
And Here’s What Things Look Like Now
As I noted before that historical digression, events move so fast in Trump’s America the above seems like not only old news, but ancient history. Since then we’ve had not only the zip-through of the Republicans’ horrible tax bill, which as of this writing stands on the verge of near-certain passage in the U.S. Senate (and, likely, quick enactment into law because instead of following the usual practice of appointing a “conference committee” of both House and Senate members to resolve difference in the bills, I suspect House Speaker Paul Ryan will simply bring the Senate version to a vote in the House and get it to Trump’s desk that much sooner), but the rising scandal over sexual harassment in workplaces in general and politics, entertainment and the media in particular.
Contrary to popular belief, the sexual harassment scandals that have quickly brought down such formerly powerful and prominent people as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Al Franken and John Conyers is a net benefit for the Republicans, not the Democrats, in today’s twisted partisan landscape. The reason is that people who are considered likely to vote Democratic care about it far more than people who are likely to vote Republican. In fact, I would argue that the sexual harassment scandals are as great an existential threat to the Democratic Party as failure to pass the current tax bill would be to the Republicans.
That’s because the Democratic Party long ago lost the votes of white men. The last Democratic Presidential candidate to win a majority of white male voters was Lyndon Johnson … in 1964. Democrats win elections these days only when they can mobilize enough women and people of color to vote for them to neutralize their disadvantage among white men. Barack Obama won the Presidency in 2008 and 2012 because as a person of color himself, he was uniquely able to mobilize voters of color, especially African-Americans, to vote for him in record numbers.
Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because as a white woman she didn’t have the appeal to voters of color Obama did, and she didn’t get a comparable boost among female voters because, unlike people of color, women aren’t an economically and socially oppressed minority group with a class interest in common. Donald Trump not only mobilized white male voters to turn out for him in much greater numbers than they had for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, he won a majority of white women as well.
Women range all over the political map in terms of socioeconomic status, education levels, religious commitment and belief (since the radical religious Right emerged as a political force in the 1980 election one of the key predictors of whether people vote Republican or Democratic has been how often they go to church), and views even on such so-called “women’s issues” as reproductive choice and equal pay for jobs of comparable worth.
Though the so-called “gender gap” isn’t as broadly decisive in elections as many Democrats believe (or want to believe), it nonetheless does exist. Women are on the whole more likely to vote for Democrats than for Republicans, and out of all demographic groups of women the one that most overwhelmingly prefers the Democratic to the Republican party is college-educated women in white-collar professional jobs. These are exactly the sorts of women most vulnerable to the kinds of sexual harassment and exploitation that have been reported from Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose et al.
Because the Republican voter base is overwhelmingly male, Republicans running for office can afford to make light of sexual harassment, or even commit it themselves. Clarence Thomas, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Donald Trump (the sequence is purely chronological) all won high office after being credibly accused of harassing and even assaulting women. Indeed, Trump was seen and heard on nationwide TV in the infamous Access Hollywood tape not only making highly sexualized, demeaning remarks about women but saying that because he was a “star,” he could get away with groping them.
And from the latest polls in the special election to fill Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat December 12, it looks like Roy Moore is about to join that list. What Moore has been accused of by multiple women is disgusting, and some of it is illegal (or would have been if it had been reported within the statute of limitations), but President Trump and the Alabama Republican Party have come down hard on Moore’s behalf and said point-blank that all Democrats are so terrible that no matter what Moore may or may not have done, he needs to be elected to keep the Alabama Senate seat in Republican hands and make sure the GOP’s already narrow 52-48 Senate majority doesn’t become even more precarious.
In order to preserve their share of the women’s vote and their branding as the “party of women,” Democrats have to move hard against any of their officials who are accused of sexual misconduct. That’s why San Diego Democrats came down so hard on newly elected Mayor Bob Filner in 2013. Filner was a local progressive icon whose voting record on women’s issues was everything the National Organization for Women (NOW), National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and other major national feminist organizations could have wanted. He was also a bizarre sexual harasser who remarked to the veteran professional women on his staff that he’d like them to come to work without wearing panties, and made so many other demeaning comments about them that liberal Democratic activists came together in June 2013 to force him out of office.
The troika who went after Filner — former City Councilmember Donna Frye, public interest attorney Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez, lawyer and brother of Lorena Gonzalez (then head of San Diego’s labor movement and now a state assemblymember) — couldn’t have cared less that Filner had been the first Democrat elected as Mayor of San Diego in 20 years. They also couldn’t have cared less that in all likelihood, if he were forced out as Mayor, a Republican would succeed him — which indeed happened. Their public statements were that his treatment of women was so intolerable he needed to go, Realpolitik considerations be damned. Their real interest was in protecting the Democratic “brand” against an elected official whose private behavior towards women threatened to brand the entire Democratic Party as hypocrites, paying lip service to women’s rights in public while treating them like shit in private.
All those wonderful Democratic electoral victories I wrote so joyously about on November 8 came about because their campaigns were especially successful at mobilizing women to vote. Indeed, many of the grass-roots candidates who took on established Republican politicians and beat them were women. But women will only turn out en masse for Democrats when they feel the Democrats are on their side, not only politically but personally.
Hillary Clinton didn’t make that case in 2016, partly because of her personal baggage on the issue. When Bill Clinton was impeached and nearly removed from office in 1999, the social consensus was that Hillary, the cheated-on spouse, was a victim, and a lot of people who opposed the impeachment did so because they felt that if Hillary were willing to forgive him, they should be too. A decade and a half later, the spouses of sexually abusive men are judged considerably more harshly, routinely referred to as “enablers” and almost equally at fault when their men misbehave. That’s why New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand, who sits in Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat and represents the same constituency she did, recently said that Bill Clinton should have resigned over the sexual scandals instead of fighting and eventually winning acquittal in the Senate.
As Amy Davidson Sorkin wrote in the November 27, 2017 New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/27/liberals-and-sexual-harassment?mbid=nl_Weekly%20112017&CNDID=48795007&spMailingID=12403837&spUserID=MTgxNTc4MjMxMTQ5S0&spJobID=1281914575&spReportId=MTI4MTkxNDU3NQS2), “When Hillary [Clinton] ran for President in 2016, she may not have gauged how profoundly Bill Clinton’s record with women would hurt her. Just a month before the election, after the Access Hollywood” video emerged, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals, he brought [Juanita] Broaddrick and [Paula] Jones to a Presidential debate.” (Paula Jones was the woman whose sexual harassment suit against Clinton had led to special counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of him, the exposure of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and his impeachment. Juanita Broaddrick had gone even farther and accused Clinton of outright rape.)
“Clinton dismissed this as a stunt, meant to throw her off her game,” Davidson Sorkin wrote. “But the key audience for it was purple-state women, particularly middle-aged or older working-class women, who might identify with Broaddrick, or be receptive, based on their own experience, to the contention that, as Trump put it, Hillary was Bill’s ‘enabler.’ (Polls after the election showed that Clinton performed less well with those voters than her campaign had hoped.) For others, Clinton’s decision to make her husband an active part of her campaign—and the potential First Spouse—constrained it.” And no doubt Hillary’s tight connection with another wife of a sexually errant Democratic officeholder — close political advisor Huma Abedin, then-wife of disgraced (and now imprisoned) former New York Congressmember Anthony Weiner — didn’t help her either.
So in order to protect their political “brand” and attract the overwhelming turnouts among women (especially white women) they need to overcome the Republicans’ advantage among men (especially white men), Democras have to cut loose immediately any Democratic officeholder credibly accused of sexual misconducts. Republicans, with a voting base containing a far larger percentage of men, don’t have to be nearly as harsh. Also, despite Republicans’ claim to be the party of “family values,” Republicans have proven themselves less likely than Democrats to base their votes on a candidate’s personal conduct.
Republicans keep their eyes on the ideological prize, voting not on who the candidate is but what he (or she) says s/he will do. Candidate Donald Trump promised Right-wing (anti-choice, anti-Queer, pro-business) judicial appointments, expanding fossil-fuel production over environmentalist objections, repealing the Affordable Care Act and building a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s delivered on the first two, and he can legitimately claim that the others are being blocked by obstructionists in the Congressional establishments of both major parties.
Those Democrats and Leftists who think the Trump Presidency is doomed because his public approval ratings in polls have hovered between 30 and 38 percent need to be reminded that on the day before he won the election, his approval rating was at 36 percent. He got 46 percent of the vote, clearly because that additional 10 percent may not have “approved” of him as a person, but they decided he would be better on the issues they cared about than the hated Hillary, a figure so demonized by the American Right that subscription solicitations for the American Spectator magazine contained a cartoon literally depicting her as a witch.
Likewise, Roy Moore is going to win the Alabama Senate race, partly because a lot of voters will believe him when he says the attacks against him were made up by “Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Socialists” (as a Gay Socialist I feel inordinately proud to be so high up on Roy Moore’s enemies list!; partly because a lot of Alabamans, particularly from evangelical religious backgrounds, don’t think what Moore is accused of is so bad (for a fascinating commentary on why, see Kathryn Brighthill’s fascinating commentary in the November 12 Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-brightbill-roy-moore-evangelical-culture-20171110-story.html); but mostly because Alabama Republicans (and Republicans in general) don’t care how good (or bad) a man he is as long as he can be counted on to vote the way they want him to.
The extent to which the sexual harassment scandals pose an existential threat to the Democratic Party (and not to the Republicans) was brought home this week. On Monday, November 27, Nancy Pelosi, former House Speaker and current leader of the Democrats in the House, gave an interview on the NBC-TV show Meet the Press in which she called John Conyers an “icon” and said she would insist on due process in the House ethics investigation of his conduct with women on his staff before taking a position on whether he should remain in office.
That was the “wrong” answer politically, and it met with almost immediate big-time blowback from Republicans and Democrats alike. It sent a signal to women voters that neither Republicans nor Democrats can be counted on to protect you: both parties will circle the wagons to protect their own who are accused of sexual harassment, while blasting away at people from the other big party facing similar charges.
Three days later, Pelosi got the message and, as CNN reported (http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/30/politics/nancy-pelosi-john-conyers-resign/), called on Conyers to resign and said on November 30 what she should have said November 27: ““It’s very sad and the brave women who came forward are owed justice. I will pray for Congressman Conyers and his family, and wish them well. However Congressman Conyers should resign. … No matter how great a legacy, there’s no license to harass or discriminate. In fact it makes it even more disappointing.”
In short, precisely because they are so dependent on mobilizing and motivating women voters to overcome their major disadvantage among men, Democrats have to have a “zero tolerance” policy towards sexual harassers in their ranks. Republicans don’t. That’s why John Conyers and Minnesota Senator Al Franken will be forced out of office in disgrace, as Elliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner and Bob Filner were, while Donald Trump and Roy Moore will serve in office and be treated with full honors and deference by their Republican colleagues.
Electing Democrats the Only Way to Stop Trump
The Democratic Party is certainly not perfect. I think Senator Bernie Sanders got it right when he said in his campaign that the Republican Party was “controlled” by Wall Street and the Democrats were “influenced” by it. The war between conservative Democrats who think the way to push their party forward is to move to the “center” and accept a good part of the agenda of the business community in return for their campaign donations, and progressives who want to challenge Wall Street (as Sanders did) instead of sucking up to it (as Hillary Clinton) did has been going on at least since 1896, when William Jennings Bryan successfully challenged incumbent President Grover Cleveland for the nomination, won but then lost the election to Republican William McKinley.
One can certainly assemble a long laundry list of all the faults of the Democrats, all their failures — either due to incompetence or to “centrist” willfulness — to push forward a progressive agenda. Nonetheless, as the events of the Trump administration are proving, when it comes to a rational choice between America’s two big political parties, the Democrats are far, far preferable to the Republicans. They may not be as aggressive in protecting workers, consumers or the environment as we would want them to be, but at least they aren’t actively opposed to them the way the Republicans are.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the starkness of the party-line vote with which the motion to proceed on the Republican tax bill passed the Senate — all 52 Republicans voted for it, all 48 Democrats voted against — itself proves that, contrary to the idiotic mewlings of several generations of “alt-Leftists,” there are profound differences between the two major parties on the issues progressives and Leftists care about. And what’s more, thanks to the structure of American politics — particularly that we elect our legislatures in single-member districts on a winner-take-all basis — for progressives and Leftists the Democratic Party is the only electoral game in town.
It wasn’t always thus. In the 1890’s and even up to the 1930’s, there was a sufficient base of progressives and even radicals in the Republican party that Leftists could play the two big parties off against each other to see who could give us the better deal. The reformation of the Republican Party as a consistently ideological far-Right party began in 1912 — when former President Theodore Roosevelt sought to win back the Presidency against his more conservative successor, William Howard Taft, was unable to wrest the GOP nomination away from Taft (largely due to internal process-rigging much like what Bernie Sanders endured from the Democratic National Committee in 2016) and formed his own party — and it was basically completed with the nomination and election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Therefore, once again, when it comes to participation in electoral politics, for American progressives and Leftists the Democratic Party is the only game in town. Noam Chomsky realized this when, much to the disappointment of many of his anarchist admirers, he endorsed Democrat John Kerry over Republican George W. Bush in 2004 and gave, as his reason, that it was essential for the short-term interest of the American Left that “the reality-based wing of the ruling class be in power.” That’s even more of a consideration given that Trump has reached heights of irrationality Bush could only have dreamed of — especially his schoolboy taunts against North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which threaten to start a nuclear war, and his outright demonization not just of “radical Islam” but Islam itself as our enemy in the “war on terror.”
The continuation of the Trump administration and the Republican regime in Congress must end for America to have a future that doesn’t look like The Hunger Games. And under the rules of American politics, the only way to get rid of Trump and the Republicans is to elect Democrats. Electing Democrats is a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve the social change we desire. It will also be necessary to continue street actions to demand that the Democrats keep their promises to the progressive and Left communities that help elect them, and to organize contests within the Democratic Party (as Bernie Sanders and others from his movement have already done) to target pro-corporate Democrats for primary challenges and replace them with progressive Democrats.
As I’ve written in these pages before, in past periods of progressive ferment in American history — the 1890’s, the 1930’s, the 1960’s — the American Left understood that you cannot achieve social change just through electoral politics, and you cannot achieve it just through direct action. It takes both. Our only road out of the political, economic, environmental and moral sinkhole the United States of America is becoming under Trump and the Republican Congress is to stay committed both to electing Democrats and using direct action to pressure them to fulfill the progressive agenda.
The Right-wing “Tea Party” of the early 2010’s successfully pursued this dual strategy on the other side, using both direct action and primary challenges to drive the Republican Party farther Right while remaining in the GOP instead of pursuing the will-o’-the-wisp of an alternative party. We on the Left need to do the same if we want America — the America we grew up in and believed could be made even better, the America that protects and takes care of all its citizens instead of pitting them against each other in dog-eat-dog competition — to survive Donald Trump and the Republican ideological onslaught of which he is the leader and the public face.