Expected Countervailing Forces To Trumpism Are Failing – OpEd
By Ralph Nader
Let’s give dangerous, dictatorial, corporatist, lawless, unstable, Donald Trump his due. He has shown us just how weak our various countervailing institutions and constitutional standards are in checking the excesses of the most impeachable President in American history.
After three and a half years of corruption, cronyism, chaos, illegal wars, and destruction of law enforcement protecting people from corporate ravages, Trump a bigoted, racist, serial fabricator, and boastful savage serial predator has not only gotten away with everything but has doubled down on everything. He has intimidated almost everyone with any power or influence into submission or silence.
This unprecedented feat rests on many abdicators:
1. Congress — The most powerful constitutional branch is disgraced by the Republican controlled Senate led by the evil Mitch McConnell, a corporation masquerading as a human, bent on installing an autocratic judiciary entrenching the corporate state and blocking bills that may put the interest of the people above the business lobbies. Legislation ranging from omnicidal denial of climate disruption to living wage to universal health care and scores of other measures passed by the House dies in the Senate. He also goes along with everything Trump does like an opportunistic lap dog. By comparison, in 1974, Nixon was urged to resign by Republican Senators, including Barry Goldwater, over one count of obstruction of justice and one defiance of a Congressional subpoena submitted by the House. Trump renders those violations, including defying dozens of House subpoenas, in spades as a daily burst of continued law-breaking. “Moscow” Mitch and Trump have abandoned the people for the plutocracy.
In the House, Nancy Pelosi chose one impeachable offense (the Ukraine matter) out of a dozen ongoing, daily violations constituting “high crimes and misdemeanors” (See the December 18, 2019, Congressional Record — H 12197). She could have had held public hearings on numerous continuing impeachable offenses containing “kitchen table” issues but rejected this consequential opportunity to make the Senate Republicans defend Trump in hearings that would have filled the news with his misdeeds and crimes. Trump now accurately believes that he has been inoculated by Congress from House investigations into his walking impeachment behavior daily.
The House didn’t even exercise its plenary power to enforce subpoenas without having to resort to the courts and then endure years-long delays. Trump laughs when he is sued having learned how to game and escape scores of lawsuits during his failed bankrupt business career.
Senate complicity and House cowardliness have damaged the constitutional status of this inkblot Congress in unforgiveable ways.
2. The Courts — Increasingly Trumpitized, the federal courts are validating corporate powers and Presidential outlawry with five of nine votes on the Supreme Court. Before Trump, the courts approved extreme presidential powers by inaction, using the medieval English doctrine of “no standing to sue” or saying the case involved “political questions” between the White House and Congress. Other abdications secure dismissal due to “state secrets” in cases brought against the government or on vague assertions of “inherent” presidential powers.
3. The Democratic Party — In duopoly politics, the public has to rely on the incumbent opposing party to check Trump. A thin reed indeed. Well-funded Democratic Congressional campaigns guided by Nancy Pelosi have lost 4 of the last 5 Congressional races to the worst Republican Party in history. Its anti-worker, anti-consumer, and fanatic determination to repeal environmental protections, that are opposed by a hefty majority of the citizenry is shameful. But Republicans are hungry for power and draconian in their unabashed voter repression and gerrymandering. In the last twenty years Republicans have captured a majority of state legislature and Governors, the Senate, and greater occupancy of the White House. As Republican Kevin Phillips wrote years ago, “the Republicans go for the jugular while the Democrats go for the capillaries.” This party is incapable of introspection or revising or renewing its mission.
Most Democrats resent ideas from third party platforms and scapegoat the Greens or any other progressive party that advances new ideas. Election reversing Electoral College, costing the party two presidential elections in 2000 and 2016 induces no opposition. The civic drive called National Popular Vote grows without the Democratic Party’s full backing.
Only Trump’s madcap self-destructive performance gives the Democrats the edge. Without Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party reverts to not having answers to the question: What does the Party stand for?
4. The Military — Trump has cuffed them around, interfering in military discipline, firing their popular Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. But he has given them more money than they asked for and flatters “the troops” at every turn. What’s not to like? Only after Trump’s belligerent misuse of the military to disperse a crowd of peaceful demonstrators did a few military leaders criticize the draft-dodging Bunker Boy Trump.
5. The Intelligence Agencies and the FBI — No President has ever openly berated these agencies, fired officials, and changed their leaders, including the historically untouchable FBI, other than Trump. He also has fattened these budgets as he allowed their traditional missions except when they declined to support his personal vendettas. They swallow their pride and temper their anger.
6. The Mass Media — It used to be that Presidents restrained themselves from attacking the media, apart from a few grumbles. Trump shouts, “fake news,” and “enemy of the people.” His large twitter following is his own media, along with Fox cable news and heal-clicking syndicated radio talk show soliloquists, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Levin, etc.
It’s worth recalling the days when Lyndon Johnson dreaded Time Magazine turning against him on the Vietnam War or Republican Presidents worried about displeasing widely read conservative journalists and columnists. Today’s leading conservative columnists tear into Trump regularly (Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, Bret Stephens, Michael Gerson, George Will, etc.) and Trump doesn’t even shrug. Perhaps this is partly because they largely avoid the conclusions of their own convictions — it is time to demand Trump’s resignation.
7. Labor Unions — Union membership since the 1980s is down to 10% from 35% of the labor force. Organized labor is weakening from automation, the gig economy, and globalization. Its leaders are frightened by the third of their membership voting for Trump. With the headquarters of the AFL-CIO a block from the White House, one would have thought that the House of Labor could have arranged for many demonstrations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The AFL-CIO should be filing lawsuits and mounting legislative efforts to counter this anti-labor champion of Wall Street over Main Street. Instead, Trump largely gets a free ride except for some tough speeches and online criticism from unions. Trump doesn’t lose any sleep over union chiefs who don’t even use Labor Day media to make labor’s case against Trump. Union members who are Trumpsters are not embracing the union message about Trump’s colossal betrayal of his campaign promises — whether its wages, pensions, job security, workplace safety, and labor standards for collective bargaining gutted by his stacked NLRB. Trump ignores unions because he knows they’re scared into inaction toward him. The expectations of a broad and dramatic attack by AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka on Donald Trump and his anti-worker policies never materialized.
8. Organized Lawyers — These “officers of the court” and their bar associations should be first responders to this arrogant usurper of the rule of law and constitutional observances. Trump says, “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president” and acts daily on that impeachable boast. The American Bar Association (ABA), is asleep. Today’s American Bar Association (ABA) reminded that in 2005–2006, they sent three white papers to the Bush/Cheney regime citing their unconstitutional actions, was asked by me and constitutional lawyer, Bruce Fein, to continue in that tradition. But the ABA continues to do nothing. In the face of daily massive law-breaking, this is a knowing and astonishing abdication! The ABA should look to the lawyers working with the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights or the Brennan Center for Justice for examples of what the legal professionals should be doing. Another recent encouraging initiative came from nearly 2000 former U.S. Department of Justice employees, many of these lawyers, who called for Attorney General William Barr to resign.
9. Organized Religion — Historically, split internally between supporting changes for or against justice, the National Council of Churches’ leadership has been fretting about taking on Trump (he violates seven of the Ten Commandments). They fear losing some of their southern congregations that have to cope with the more organized hypocritical evangelical leaders. Many of these evangelical leaders are willing to overlook Trump’s unchristian actions and position because he nominates anti-choice judges, who favor reducing separations of church and state.
When I asked the National Council of Churches — about this immoral savage serial predator, who boasts and lies and has paid hush money to silence his accusers: Isn’t Trump’s immorality racism, and bigotry enough for you, the custodians of the society’s moral standards, troubling? They do not disagree, but they do nothing to oppose Trump. This was the once liberal church that opposed Vietnam and Iraq wars and was on the frontlines during the civil rights movements, now, is frightened into inaction.
10. Organized Women — Knowing that a CNN poll last November reported 61% of women favored the impeachment and removal of Donald Trump as President, where are the activists from MeToo, Time’s Up and many other advocates who supported the eviction of Democratic Congressman John Conyers, Senator Al Franken and New York Governor Elliot Spitzer for doing one percent of what Republican Trump has done? Where are the reporters and editorial writers, who dug deep into super predator Trump, but have declined to make such violent behavior a major campaign issue? Where are the members of Congress, led by Senator Gillibrand, who have gone cold on these serious assault charges by over twenty women?
Trump fears Congressional hearings, more than the several tort lawsuits dragging on indefinitely in the courts. All 89 Democratic women in the House of Representatives declined to respond to my lengthy letter of early February (which I hand-delivered to their offices) requesting a House inquiry. Total silence from Nancy Pelosi on down, including male legislators who are happy to pass such responsibilities on to their female counterparts.
Isn’t it time for organized women to take on Trump in this election year?
11. University World — Once feared by Nixon, the campuses are AWOL, with few exceptions. Speakers at packed rallies and auditoriums that launched civic movements in the past decades are not even invited by today’s celebrity-driven, iPhone obsessed, and identity politics-focused students. Once the incubator of major uprisings — civil rights, women’s liberation, anti-war, nuclear arms control, and safeguarding the environment — today’s faculty and students, with few exceptions, scarcely are interested in how their predecessors galvanized and changed our country for the better.
12. Organized Science — Never has there been a more anti-science President, cutting budgets, even for work on possible pandemics, letting his henchmen in regulatory agencies override or push scientists out of the civil service. Trump forbids the use of the words “climate change” at the EPA and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). He plays a quack doctor in his news briefings talking about bleach or dangerous, untested drugs to treat Covid-19.
It is true that scientists mounted a large demonstration by the White House in the spring of 2017, but the follow-up faded away. Trump is a gravely unstable and so ego-consumed that he can hurl empty contradictions of science at man-caused climate disruption, asserts that wind power causes cancer, contradicts scientific knowledge about Covid-19, and the necessity for early alerts and caution. He has played quack nutritionist permitting more junk food in school lunches fueling the child obesity epidemic. From this invincible arrogance and ignorance (giving himself an obscene score of a perfect ten for handling the Covid-19 pandemic) hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, gotten very sick and the rest left starkly defenseless and unprepared for future dangers by the White House.
Scientists and their many institutions, such as the AAAS, have a very strong case to make before the American people that Trump is a national security danger. However, they have kept their dread and outrage largely to themselves. Even when Democrats controlled Congress in 2009–2010. the professional associations of scientists were unable to revive the key Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), that Newt Gingrich defunded. Based on its record, OTA would now be checking junk corporate science, boondoggle weapons systems, climate denials by Trumpian type quackery, and informing policy makers and the public about the problems with the technologies of Silicon Valley, to name just a few areas where political fiction eclipses facts.
13. Big Business — The plutocrats of Wall Street have ways of objecting to maniacal sociopaths in the White House. Big business CEO’s hate unpredictability. They secure their nominees in key positions to steady the raving arms of erratic politicians who threaten instability. But Trump knows their weaknesses, in particular their short-term thinking. To shut them up, Trump gets rid of health, safety, and economic regulations that protect people. He appoints destroyers to key executive branch positions and the courts. He gives the fat cats huge tax escapes beyond their dreams of avarice. And Trump signals that crony capitalism of the corporate welfare state will keep expanding. Add the Federal Reserve juicing the stock markets and the customary opportunistic business leaders moves into partnership with Trump’s corporate state is sealed. None of this excuses some enlightened super-rich, who despise Trumpism, from organizing collective action or funding civic groups to challenge monstrous activities of the White House.
14. More Progressive Allied Countries –By extolling brutal dictators by name, musing out loud that he would like their power, Trump has alienated and directly insulted allied leaders like Justin Trudeau of Canada and Angela Merkel of Germany. He has rebuffed world leaders on climate disruption and pandemic cooperation, taking a nihilistic, mocking position that has lowered our country’s esteem in the world. Trump has declared himself the man of perfection, “a stable genius,” who never makes mistakes, and has nothing to learn from other heads of state on any matter, including the Trump enhanced Covid-19 catastrophes. U.S. allies appear intimidated by the raging bull with his unlawful sanctions and careening trade restrictions.
15. The Fired Influentials — Trump has fired key cabinet and other high officials he once praised and unleashed a torrent of foul-mouthed insults against those he has exiled from his administration. Instead of mounting with their prolific contacts, a “Stop to Trump Movement,” from the conservative right, that could include retired influential military and business executives, most have largely receded into a life of economic comfort and dejection. These fireds include National Security Administrator Jim Mathis, Trump chief of staff General John Kelly, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who have told friends they believe the delusionary ignorant, unstable moronic Trump is a clear danger to our country. Nonetheless, apart from a few op-eds, Trump’s ongoing intimidation and humiliation practices and tweets seem to have daunted them and many others from organizing to defend our democracy. However, after Trump’s gross behavior calling in the military to stop peaceful domestic protests, prominent retired generals have taken Trump to task loudly and clearly.
16. The Civic Community — Leading citizen advocacy groups like the ACLU, NAACP, the Brennan Center for Justice, Public Citizen, Common Cause, People for the American Way, and many other national and local associations have gone after Trump with hammer and tongs. Several lawsuits have blocked or delayed some of Trump’s deregulatory and discriminatory ravages. But they have not stopped Trump’s wrecking crew of corporatists and clenched jaw ideologues from giving our government wholesale and boastfully to the corporate supremacists from Wall Street to Houston. They have been unable to up the ante such as in developing new strategic confrontations, effective provocations, and mass rallies against Trump at every turn. They need the energy of the streets and its non-wonkish vernacular to give Trump his own rhetorical medicine, including roars of “lock him up” at rallies, nicknames that bullies like Trump deal out but can’t take and exposing his harmful betrayals of all the people. Some of Trump’s “anybody but Hillary” voters who after nearly four years of non-stop perfidy and fabrications are ready for “anybody but Trump.”
17. The Streets and New Leadership — The internet and iPhone may have distracted the younger generations into thinking that tweets and virtual realities can quicken the pulse of democratic moments. Good luck. The evidence of history requires reality and interpersonal galvanizing in ways that the worlds of Google and Facebook cannot provide. The accumulation of anti-Trump social media cannot compare with relentless encircling of the White House by relays from 250,000 people committed early to demanding, with the rigor of evidence, rhetoric, artistry and media savvy, that this multiple Moloch must resign.
Amidst the daily provocations of hate, incompetence, corruption, and serial violations of the Constitution and statutes, Trump bludgeons workers, consumers, environment, patients, pensioners and most cruelly children. The invisible so-called “kitchen table” issues of increasing poverty, in attention to climate chaos while the budget busting American Empire is provoking new arms races at the expense of grave domestic necessities must dominate political debate and civic education.
Yet, until the Minneapolis police officers provoked recent recurring demonstrations everywhere, including in front of the White House, the streets have been far too quiet given the most accelerating disabling of our institutions, democratic standards of justice, and taking our nation into reverse toward a dark age that the Trumpsters are institutionalizing.
Mass movements usually arise from massing in the streets around a series of felt injustices and reforms. These arousals are followed up by less than one percent of the citizenry committed to continual engagement and focus on the officials in legislatures and other decisional forums indentured to the corrupt status quo. It is noteworthy that all non-war justice movements in the U.S. were driven by just that small number of civic activists — one percent or much less — backed by a growing, more aware public opinion. As I wrote in my little book — Breaking Through Power: Its Easier Than We Think — this small number of people did it again and again throughout American history — from the abolitionists to women suffrage to the 19th century farmer, labor populist/progressive drives — often associated with third parties; right down to the civil rights, environmental, and consumer accomplishments of recent decades.
This “other” one percent can jumpstart itself. However injections of funds from a few progressive super-rich, to hire 2000 to 3000 full time, linked organizers spread through 435 congressional districts can sharply shorten the time span needed to take control of Congress and most of its 535 members who have to heed focused voters far more than campaign money.
Such civic energies in the past prodded the institutions noted above out of their inaction, intimidation, and excuse making into the civic arena. Good forces for a just society can be contagious.