In the past few weeks, President Donald Trump has, in no particular order: tweeted out anti-Muslim propaganda, disgraced a ceremony honoring Navajo code talkers with a racist slur of Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” called Kim Jong-Il “little Rocket man,” lied about not benefiting from the tax plan that will line his pockets, revived his bizarre birther claims about Obama’s birth, and questioned the authenticity of his infamous Access Hollywood bus tapes.
News coverage of this nonstop carnival barking has missed the real story of the past month, however. These antics are a distraction from the pernicious GOP agenda that is moving through Washington with amazing speed.
Virtually unified Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate are on the verge of passing a truly grotesque tax bill that would give more than 60 percent of its benefits to the richest 1 percent of Americans, while those making $75,000 or less will end up paying more in taxes. The GOP is ready to hand global corporations a $500 billion tax bonus for booking profits in foreign tax havens. They’re happy to protect the obscene “carried interest” tax deduction that gives billionaire hedge-fund managers a lower tax rate than their secretaries, even as they eliminate deductions for student-loan interest, and add taxes on to graduate students for tuition waivers.
Republicans are also poised to tax Americans on the income used to pay for state and local taxes, while allowing corporations to deduct those same taxes. Trump’s major contribution has been to push for measures—elimination of the estate tax, elimination of the alternative minimum tax, lower taxes on “pass through” income—that will fill his own pockets.
The tax bill Republicans are trying to ramrod through the Congress provides a clear reminder of the real threat: the rabidly ideological Republican Party, which is looting the country just as it would have under a President Rubio or Romney. Trump had no clue about the policy and played little role in selling it.
Trump has also turned his economic policy over to Goldman Sachs bankers who are propelling deregulation of finance and rollback of environmental and consumer protections. Trump’s cabinet isn’t a bunch of outsiders but made up for the most part 0f Republican politicians and donors eager for the assignment. Now they’re plundering the executive branch. Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, is about to disembowel the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Scott Pruitt has neutered the Environmental Protection Agency. Jeff Sessions is leading a rollback of civil rights and criminal justice reform.
Beyond the economy, Republicans are busy rigging the system in other critical ways. Young, right-wing, pro-corporate ideologues are packing federal courts at alarming rates. Trump makes the appointments, but he mainly draws from lists prepared by the right-wing Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. After obstructing a record number of Obama nominees to the federal bench, Senate Republicans are now trampling over longstanding legislative procedures to get as many judges on the bench as quickly as possible.
What we face in Washington and in statehouses across the country is a right wing that’s ideologically committed to laying waste to the public sphere—the sinews of our economy, the comity of our politics, and the quality of our most basic public services. Trump isn’t the exception; he’s simply the sideshow. Right-wing populism was just the garb he donned for the campaign. What’s left of it is largely limited to his incoherent trade posturing and the wall.
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 the agenda, and put the bills on his desk. That’s exactly what is happening now.
Surely, ousting Trump would be satisfying, and many liberals are hanging their hopes on Robert Mueller. This would at least allow those afflicted with Trump-derangement syndrome to stop yelling at their televisions, but it isn’t sufficient. The “resistance” has to get serious about the hard stuff of politics: winning elections up and down the ticket.
Democrats must organize to ensure that Americans register and vote in large numbers and end Republican rule. Railing about Trump’s immaturity, ignorance, and instability won’t get it done. Even his supporters get that. His own secretary of state calls him a “moron.” Progressives need to help voters also understand the damage wrought by Republicans from states like Kansas to the nation’s capital. And Democrats need to make clear that there is an alternative that would serve the country and its people, not plunder the nation in the interest of the few.
This is going to be hard work, but it must be done. Robert Mueller won’t clean the stables, no matter how that investigation turns out. The media’s 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.
Progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley, Keith Ellison, and Pramila Jayapal are among the few Democrats that seem able to define the choice and the stakes. Progressive movement groups like Our Revolution, People’s Action, Black Lives Matter, Indivisible, MoveOn, Working America, and others need to continue to build and drive a massive volunteer door-to-door mobilization. The tide of energized women voters can make a dramatic difference. In 2018, the election will be nationalized, but Trump will not be on then ballot. Voters must clearly understand the stakes.
Robert L. Borosage is a leading progressive writer and activist.