Political Animal

End Zone: The Failure of Trump’s Assault on Kaepernick

To paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “white privilege” is a hard thing to describe, but I know it when I see it–and boy, did I see it in Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s remarks today about Donald Trump’s attack on blacklisted former NFL star Colin Kaepernick:

Mnuchin literally cannot comprehend the nature and significance of Kaepernick’s protest. It’s foreign to him, and to the President he so obsequiously serves.

It must twist Trump’s guts to see his pal Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, condemn his assault on Kaepernick. It must twist his guts to see so many NFL players stick up for Kaepernick today. It must twist his guts to know that he blew this one bigly.

Trump has made Colin Kaepernick a martyr to millions of Americans–Americans who will turn away in disgust from an organization that has treated the former San Francisco 49ers star with scorn for speaking his mind, Americans whose outrage towards a President who thinks Kaepernick should just shut up will only increase. Kaepernick has become this generation’s Muhammad Ali, an athlete in his prime who made a tremendous sacrifice in the name of his values. Even people who don’t like pro football now recognize Kaepernick as a hero.

I’ve mentioned before that Kaepernick is being treated “like a 1950s Hollywood screenwriter accused of Communist sympathies.” It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Trump actually called upon Congress to bring back the House Un-American Activities Committee, with an eye towards the political persecution of athletes and other celebrities Trump and his base view as “disloyal” to the country. Would House Republicans go for such an idea? Would you put it past them?

In his famous speech from the 1999 football film Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino declared:

We’re in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me. And, we can stay here, get the s— kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell one inch at a time.

By attacking Kaepernick, Trump has increased the motivation of those who oppose his amoral agenda. He has pumped more fuel into the engine of the Resistance. We are in hell thanks to Trump–but we will climb out of that hell. One inch at a time.

Even if Democrats Win Back Congress, Medicare for All May Be Doomed

Do you really think they have any idea what they’re in for?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and the handful of Democratic Senators supporting Sanders’s Medicare for All initiative certainly deserve credit for getting behind such a bold effort–but they are profoundly naive if they think a bill establishing such a policy will make it through either house of Congress even if Democrats reclaim Capitol Hill next year.

It’s hard to understand the logic of going into a war without a strategy to win it, and it seems that Medicare-for-all supporters still have no strategy for dealing with attacks on the concept by right-wing media entities. Polls suggesting widespread support for Medicare for All are, frankly, irrelevant at this point; it’s unlikely that those poll numbers will remain high once Wingnut World contaminates the concept.

If there is a realistic prospect of Medicare for All making it through either house of Congress in 2019, we will see the right move as a phalanx, using its considerable resources to exploit race and sexuality in an effort to kill the bill. Fox News and Breitbart will be filled with commentaries warning about the prospect of “illegal aliens” and “young gangbangers” getting “free” health care with “your” tax dollars, and conservative Christians being forced to pay for “transgender surgeries” and “abortion on demand.” The right-wing commentators hired by CNN and MSNBC to “prove” their “objectivity” will also pound away at these themes, and, inevitably, the Chuck Todds of the world will suggest that “working-class Americans” have a right to be upset by the prospect of their “hard-earned tax money being wasted.”

How will Medicare for All advocates respond once race and sexuality are weaponized in this fashion? If they don’t have a plan to neutralize these sorts of attacks, Medicare for All will be stillborn.

From a health-care perspective, Hillary Clinton is absolutely right to suggest that a greater expansion of progressive media is necessary to counteract right-wing lies. Perhaps if such projects as Air America Radio and Current TV hadn’t been abandoned, those entities could have made an impact in terms of pushing back against anti-Medicare for All nonsense. Alas, considering the current media culture in the United States, Medicare for All advocates could be walking into a gunfight unarmed.

Remember when Rush Limbaugh smeared the Affordable Care Act as a form of reparations? That rhetoric will be mild compared to what the right wing plans to unleash against Medicare for All–and supporters of expanding health-care access will have to figure out a way to push back with fire and fury against both right-wing efforts to characterize Medicare for All as the redistribution of wealth to the “undeserving” and the mainstream media’s willingness to give wingnut arguments equal weight to sensible ones.

I’m profoundly cynical about whether Sanders and his Democratic colleagues are ready for any of this–either now or two years from now. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Medicare for All legislation winds up turning into Medicare for Some, watered down severely in an ill-conceived effort to silence right-wing criticism about the effort’s supposed “handouts” to the “dependency class.” I desperately want to believe that the final version of Medicare for All legislation will be as bold as Sanders’s rhetoric, that it will indeed expand needed care to every resident of this country, that it will bring a long-overdue end to that Gipper-era garbage about government being the problem and not the solution. I desperately want to believe we can have world peace, too, and we all know about the prospects of that happening.

The Course to Chaos

When, precisely, did the Republican Party “snap”?

The exact moment when the GOP went rabid will be debated for decades: you may recall that last year, I argued that the point of no return for the Republican Party was August 1, 1988–the day Rush Limbaugh’s Sacramento, California-based right-wing talk show was nationally syndicated for the first time, allowing the man who had talent on loan from Satan to effectively take over the GOP and eliminate virtually every last trace of reason and rationality from the party. However, a strong case can be made for two other occasions that signified the GOP’s descent into dementia.

The first occasion was seventeen years before Limbaugh’s national syndication, on August 23, 1971, when attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote an infamous memo calling upon special interests to pool their considerable resources to push back against consumer advocacy groups, environmental activists and other concerned citizens derided by the right as “do-gooders.” As Greenpeace noted in 2011:

The overall tone of Powell’s memo reflected a widespread sense of crisis among elites in the business and political communities. “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack,” he suggested, adding that the attacks were not coming just from a few “extremists of the left,” but also and most alarmingly — from “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including leading intellectuals, the media, and politicians.

To meet the challenge, business leaders would have to first recognize the severity of the crisis, and begin marshalling their resources to influence prominent institutions of public opinion and political power — especially the universities, the media and the courts. The memo emphasized the importance of education, values, and movement-building. Corporations had to reshape the political debate, organize speakers’ bureaus and keep television programs under “constant surveillance.” Most importantly, business needed to recognize that political power must be “assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.”

Powell emphasized the importance of strengthening institutions like the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce] — which represented the interests of the broader business community, and therefore key to creating a united front. While individual corporations could represent their interests more aggressively, the responsibility of conducting an enduring campaign would necessarily fall upon the Chamber and allied foundations. Since business executives had “little stomach for hard-nosed contest with their critics” and “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate,” it was important to create new think tanks, legal foundations, front groups and other organizations. The ability to align such groups into a united front would only come about through “careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”

This memo inspired the creation of any number of wingnut think tanks established for the sole purpose of moving the American political system in general, and the Republican Party in particular, as far to the right as possible in order to protect the the interests of the financiers of these think tanks. (The so-called “Kochtopus” is a perfect case in point.) Powell was in the majority on two atrocious Supreme Court rulings–1976’s Buckley v. Valeo and 1978’s Bellotti v. First National Bank of Boston–which effectively gave special interests more power over American politics broadly and the GOP specifically. Thanks to these rulings, it became virtually impossible for progressive-minded Democrats and actual moderate Republicans to thrive in an atmosphere polluted by the toxin of big money.

Over two decades later, and a half-decade after the rise of Rush, came another moment (and other memo) that arguably constituted the end of exceptions to extremism in the GOP. On December 2, 1993, future “anti-Trump” Republican operative William Kristol urged the GOP to lay waste to President Clinton’s health-reform efforts. As Josh Marshall observed in 2013:

It’s edifying again to go back to the brilliant and notorious ‘Kristol Memo‘ of 1993, an encapsulation not only of the massive defiance strategy against Health Care Reform but in many ways the initial manifesto of manufactured gridlock as a political strategy that now rules our national politics. Kristol, of course, is Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, Fox News and more. But at the time he was only coming into his role of ur-GOP big think strategist – a role which has dimmed somewhat in recent years but grew through the 90s and well into the Bush administration. Going back to Kristol’s basic argument about the political effects of Health Care Reform is key.

Not only would passage of Health Care Reform in 1994 not hurt Clinton’s reelection prospects in 1996, he wrote, “the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse–much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.”

Take this out of con-speak and you have a very candid statement that health care reform would work. Average people would like it. And it would “rekindle” the belief that government activism can be part of the solution in helping sustain and protect the middle class. Kristol was clear that this would not only [be] an ideological defeat but also a political one inasmuch as Democrats are the party of government.”

A direct path can be traced from Kristol’s memo to the GOP’s no-holds-barred war against the Affordable Care Act and federal efforts to address human-caused climate change. The Kristol vision held that Republicans will necessarily lose ground if they accept the premise that government can play a role in ameliorating social ills. Therefore, the goal should be obstruction of governmental efforts to address problems at any and all costs, in the hopes that an intimidated mainstream media and a short-attention-span electorate would blame the Democratic President supportive of said governmental efforts for a supposed failure to effectively negotiate and compromise. Kristol’s words were nothing short of sociopathic: in essence, given a choice between seeing Americans lose their lives or seeing himself lose an ideological argument, he’d chose the former. It is that same mentality that has now given us the moral atrocity known as Graham-Cassidy.

Perhaps 1971 was indeed the tipping point; Powell’s memo helped to turn the GOP into the handmaiden of polluters and plutocrats. Perhaps 1993 was the tipping point: Kristol’s memo paved the war for Republicans to effectively choose the death of innocents over their own ideological dishonor. Or, as I have previously argued, perhaps 1988 was the tipping point: Limbaugh’s loathsomeness coarsened America’s political culture, making it relatively easy for Donald Trump to snatch the presidency last year. No matter what moment you chose as the tipping point, it’s clear that the Republican Party has fallen over–and perhaps our democracy as well.

Hurricane Havoc and the Climate Conversation

Will they say this was the moment when America finally grew up on climate?

After the multi-billion-dollar impact of Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, it’s safe to say that if the ideological barriers preventing Americans from working together to solve the climate crisis have not been knocked down yet, those barriers will never fall. It’s not easy to be optimistic after nearly thirty years of intransigence and obstruction on climate…but as former Secretary of State John Kerry observes, such optimism may indeed be warranted:

The felt needs of communities and businesses are also ripening a new bipartisan consensus. We can’t prove that climate change caused any single weather event, but scientists tell us that we can expect more of them with greater frequency as the impacts of climate change worsen. Extreme weather events don’t come with a (D) or (R) after names like Harvey and Irma, and there’s nothing political about the havoc increasingly injurious storms have wreaked in places like Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and the Caribbean.

Hurricane Katrina created environmentalists out of business people and civic leaders as never before, because they know that coastal economies cannot endure if we don’t protect and restore wetlands and meet the climate threat. There’s nothing partisan about wildfires burning in the West, which have already charred an area larger than the state of Maryland, or 100-year droughts that hurt farmers and ranchers. Governors like Jerry Brown of California and Jay Inslee of Washington, who live the reality of these challenges every day, attest to the growing demand for action bubbling up among their respective constituents. Across the country, mayors, governors, and business leaders answered President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement with their own pledges to meet the commitments of Paris — or exceed them.

These are American issues, not partisan ones, and they’re galvanizing a new coalition that doesn’t blur party lines; it erases them. I do remember a time in the Senate when the environment was a bipartisan issue. I believe it will be again, not out of nostalgia but out of necessity — because Americans from every state and every sector of our economy are demanding it. The felt needs are ripening the moment. Now it’s in your hands to make the most of the harvest.

After Senator John McCain ended his eight-year-long silence on the threat posed by the climate crisis, acclaimed climate scientist Michael Mann declared:

The era of Trump, as adverse as it might feel when it comes to climate action, may ironically be creating a divide within the Republican Party that could end up leading to a governing coalition for action on climate. I don’t think we can rule that out…The Trump phenomenon (of extreme climate denialism) has created space for moderate Republicans to reassert themselves, and I think that’s what we’re seeing happen.

It’s quite likely that McCain dropped his climate concern in 2009 because he figured that Barack Obama would wind up getting the lion’s share of the credit for the passage of a climate bill. Mann suggests that McCain is concerned about his legacy, and it’s hard to imagine McCain wanting to be remembered as a man who put his own ego ahead of the interests of subsequent generations.

As for Republican members of the House who have expressed interest in working on solutions to the climate crisis, we should consider the idea that not every Republican has the luxury of trafficking in Inhofe/Pruitt/Limbaugh denialism. Disavowing climate science is a manifestation of political privilege; one doesn’t run around calling climate science a hoax unless one is absolutely confident of reelection. While far too many House and Senate Republicans can rely upon constituencies brainwashed by three decades of Limbaugh and two decades of Fox into believing that settled science isn’t settled, not every Republican member of Congress has it that good–and the ones who don’t are under intense pressure to distance themselves from denialism.

Something’s got to give. It’s been nearly a decade since Congress took serious action on climate. Even if there is a changing of the guard in the House and Senate in the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections, Republicans facing newfound pressure to act on climate will still be a part of the mix on Capitol Hill. The question is: in 2019, will there be enough climate-concerned Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to pass, by a veto-proof majority, strong legislation to reduce carbon pollution? If not, there should be storms of protest by the public.