The Struggle for the Soul of America: All Hands On Deck

Most Americans are well aware of how critical this year’s election is. Nothing less than the survival of American democracy is at stake.

“(T)his election isn’t just about Biden vs. Trump. This is about democracy vs. fascism,” according to Peter Dreier, distinguished professor of politics at Occidental College. Prof. Dreier asserts that if Trump wins a second term, “he will double down on his fascist instincts and foment increasingly overt white supremacist violence, xenophobia, nativism, and anti-Semitism… We will see an unprecedented level of human suffering.” Dreier also believes Trump will:

  • seek to dismantle unions and workers’ rights,
  • slash the already-torn safety net,
  • eviscerate voting rights and civil liberties,
  • hand over more public funds and government services (such as prisons, the post office, health care, national parks, and schools) to big corporations, and
  • try to starve cities and states by denying federal funding for key services.[i]

The American people must take Prof. Dreier’s warning very seriously. When Trump signed the two-trillion-dollar coronavirus-relief package in late March, he rejected Congress’s oversight provision, declaring, “I’ll be the oversight.” A few days later, he fired the special inspector general who was to monitor spending, reporting to Congress anything that seemed amiss. Not long after that Trump proclaimed, “When somebody’s the President of the United States, the authority is total. It’s total.”[ii]

There is less than six months until the election. Americans are overwhelmed by the Coronavirus pandemic and the impact of a crashing economy. For most of us the November election is not our primary concern right now. Many are feeling hopeless about the state of the country as well as powerless to change it. Whatever our preoccupations and feelings may be, we cannot afford to ignore the urgency of this moment. Nor can we allow our disappointment that our preferred candidate is not heading the Democratic Party’s ticket dissuade us from working on this election.

We must act now to save our country from being destroyed by Trump’s “fascist instincts” in a second term.

The most important thing all of us can do from now till November is taking action to ensure that the election is conducted fairly. That includes:

  • developing a massive voter registration drive
  • establishing the universal right to vote-by-mail in every state and territory
  • supporting a concerted effort to expand early voting
  • protecting the U.S. Postal Service from being defunded or privatized to safeguard vote-by-mail
  • creating a public education campaign alerting the public to the great danger of a second Trump term is required as well

Now is the time to act before it’s too late. We all must get involved in one way or another. Join a voters’ rights group, for example:

The Voting Rights Alliance at https://www.votingrightsalliance.org/ ;

The Election Protection coalition at https://866ourvote.org/.

Together we can, and will, save our democracy. 

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

[i] https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/05/05/not-normal-election

[ii] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/studying-fascist-propaganda-by-day-watching-trumps-coronavirus-updates-by-night

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Now, For The First Time, The World Pities The United States 

(Note: This week I’m doing something different. Instead of my view on some aspect of what’s happening in the world, I’m offering a perspective from Ireland. The article below by Fintan O’Toole appeared in the April 25th edition of The Irish Times. O’Toole provides a harsh reality check on what has become of our country.)

 

“The (coronavirus) crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it.

“The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it. There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection.”

Here’s the article in full:

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity. 

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful. 

Will American prestige ever recover from this shameful episode? The US went into the coronavirus crisis with immense advantages: precious weeks of warning about what was coming, the world’s best concentration of medical and scientific expertise, effectively limitless financial resources, a military complex with stunning logistical capacity and most of the world’s leading technology corporations. Yet it managed to make itself the global epicentre of the pandemic. 

As the American writer George Packer puts it in the current edition of the Atlantic, “The United States reacted … like Pakistan or Belarus – like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.” It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – wilfully, malevolently, 

vindictively. It is one thing for governments to fail (as, in one degree or another, most governments did), quite another to watch a ruler and his supporters actively spread a deadly virus. Trump, his party and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News became vectors of the pestilence. 

The grotesque spectacle of the president openly inciting people (some of them armed) to take to the streets to oppose the restrictions that save lives is the manifestation of a political death wish. What are supposed to be daily briefings on the crisis, demonstrative of national unity in the face of a shared challenge, have been used by Trump merely to sow confusion and division. They provide a recurring horror show in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV. 

If the plague is a test, its ruling political nexus ensured that the US would fail it at a terrible cost in human lives. In the process, the idea of the US as the world’s leading nation – an idea that has shaped the past century – has all but evaporated. It is hard to remember now but, even in 2017, when Trump took office, the conventional wisdom in the US was that the Republican Party and the broader framework of US political institutions would prevent him from doing too much damage. This was always a delusion, but the pandemic has exposed it in the most savage ways. 

Abject surrender 

What used to be called mainstream conservatism has not absorbed Trump – he has absorbed it. Almost the entire right-wing half of American politics has surrendered abjectly to him. It has sacrificed on the altar of wanton stupidity the most basic ideas of responsibility, care and even safety. Thus, even at the very end of March, 15 Republican governors had failed to order people to stay at home or to close non-essential businesses. In Alabama, for example, it was not until April 3rd that governor Kay Ivey finally issued a stay-at-home order. In Florida, the state with the highest concentration of elderly people with underlying conditions, governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mini-me, kept the beach resorts open to students travelling from all over the US for spring break parties. Even on April 1st, when he issued restrictions, DeSantis exempted religious services and “recreational activities”. 

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, when he finally issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, explained: “We didn’t know that [the virus can be spread by people without symptoms] until the last 24 hours.” 

This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity. There is, as the demonstrations this week in US cities have shown, plenty of political mileage in denying the reality of the pandemic. It is fueled by Fox News and far-right internet sites, and it reaps for these politicians millions of dollars in donations, mostly (in an ugly irony) from older people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus. It draws on a concoction of conspiracy theories, hatred of science, paranoia about the “deep state” and religious providentialism (God will protect the good folks) that is now very deeply infused in the mindset of the American right. 

Trump embodies and enacts this mindset, but he did not invent it. The US response to the coronavirus crisis has been paralysed by a contradiction that the Republicans have inserted into the heart of US democracy. On the one hand, they want to control all the levers of governmental power. On the other they have created a popular base by playing on the notion that government is innately evil and must not be trusted. 

The contradiction was made manifest in two of Trump’s statements on the pandemic: on the one hand that he has “total authority”, and on the other that “I don’t take responsibility at all”. Caught between authoritarian and anarchic impulses, he is incapable of coherence. 

Fertile ground 

But this is not just Donald Trump. The crisis has shown definitively that Trump’s presidency is not an aberration. It has grown on soil long prepared to receive it. 

The monstrous blossoming of misrule has structure and purpose and strategy behind it. There are very powerful interests who demand “freedom” in order to do as they like with the environment, society and the economy. They have infused a very large part of American culture with the belief that “freedom” is literally more important than life. My freedom to own assault 

weapons trumps your right not to get shot at school. Now, my freedom to go to the barber (“I Need a Haircut” read one banner this week in St Paul, Minnesota) trumps your need to avoid infection. 

Usually when this kind of outlandish idiocy is displaying itself, there is the comforting thought that, if things were really serious, it would all stop. People would sober up. Instead, a large part of the US has hit the bottle even harder. And the president, his party and their media allies keep supplying the drinks. There has been no moment of truth, no shock of realisation that the antics have to end. No one of any substance on the US right has stepped in to say: get a grip, people are dying here. 

That is the mark of how deep the trouble is for the US – it is not just that Trump has treated the crisis merely as a way to feed tribal hatreds but that this behaviour has become normalised. When the freak show is live on TV every evening, and the star is boasting about his ratings, it is not really a freak show any more. For a very large and solid bloc of Americans, it is reality. 

And this will get worse before it gets better. Trump has at least eight more months in power. In his inaugural address in 2017, he evoked “American carnage” and promised to make it stop. But now that the real carnage has arrived, he is revelling in it. He is in his element. As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re- elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics. Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again. 

4

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Our Democracy’s Last Chance

Recently Donald Trump proclaimed: “When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total.”

While he got pushback from both Republicans and Democrats who renounced his authoritarian stance,[1] Trump continues to conduct the office of the presidency without any real restraints. With conservative Republicans in charge of the Senate and the U.S. Supreme Court, the other two branches of government have done practically nothing to impede Trump’s autocratic ways.

Earlier this month, Trump fired intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson because he had “lost confidence” in him. Still, it was hard to miss Trump’s true reason: Atkinson’s finding that a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s Ukraine actions, which resulted in his impeachment, were both “credible” and “urgent.”[2]

A few days later, Trump removed Glenn Fine, the independent watchdog responsible for ensuring the proper administration of the relief act. By getting rid of Fine, Trump eliminated scrutiny of how his administration would be using our taxpayer funds.[3] According to the Washington Post, Fine’s dismissal appears to be part of a larger endeavor to purge oversight of Trump and his cohorts.[4] Trump’s attempt to eliminate independent oversight is just the latest example of his increasing autocratic control over the federal government, as well as Congress’s failure to maintain any real checks on his executive power.

Both the President and Congress are responsible for the demise of our democracy. And, while the Republican Party has supported Trump’s authoritarian takeover of our government, the Democrats, though not nearly as reckless as the Republicans, must share some of the blame for the failure of our government to represent us. Afterall, Big Money and Wall Street clearly dominate both the Democratic and Republican parties. That control laid the foundation for an American plutocracy, which ultimately has led to the authoritarian Trump regime.

By now it should be clear that Americans cannot rely on any party or person to save our democracy from being dismantled by Trump and the Republicans. Only we, the people, have the power and ability to do that. But do we have the resolve and perseverance to turn back the authoritarian tyranny confronting us and build a fairer and more just society?

It is a huge task. We only have six months until the November election. There is no time to waste. Nor, can we withdraw from the election battle or indulge in recriminations against the Democrats for nominating Joe Biden rather than our preferred candidate. The stakes are too high.

Regardless of your main concern, be it climate change, immigration reform, affordable healthcare, income inequality, or some other, if Trump and the Republicans who control the Senate are not defeated in November, your cause will be lost. And, we know that the Trump mob will use every trick available to win re-election.  So, we must focus our energy and resources on what is most important to ensure winning the election. Here are five key strategies:

  1. A massive voter registration campaign
  2. Alerting the public to the extreme threat a second Trump term poses
  3. A concerted effort to expand early voting
  4. Establishment of the universal right to mail-in voting, and
  5. Protecting the U.S. Postal Service from being defunded or privatized

The only way to ensure victory in November is through a huge voter turnout, so large that Trump and the Republicans cannot steal or contest the outcome. Now is the time to act. Get involved in a voters’ rights group like the Voting Rights Alliance at https://www.votingrightsalliance.org/ or the Election Protection coalition at https://866ourvote.org/. Together we can, and will, save our democracy.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

[1]  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/04/14/trump-claim-total-authority-claim-10th-amendment/2988013001/

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/04/04/trump-atkinson-fired/

[3] https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/07/trump-removes-independent-watchdog-for-coronavirus-funds-upending-oversight-panel-171943

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/14/trump-is-waging-war-our-inspectors-general-congress-needs-choose-side/

The Struggle for the Soul of America: How Can Biden Win?

Now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president, what does Joe Biden have to do to unite his party and beat Trump in November?

It’s no secret that the Democratic Party is deeply divided. Biden has the moderate wing of the party solidly behind him. Not so Sanders’ progressive wing, which is not only very disappointed by Bernie’s withdrawal, but also angry that Sanders’ proposals have not been adopted by the Party. How can Biden win them over?

Biden has already taken the first step by acknowledging Sanders for “being a powerful voice for a fairer and more just America.” He commended Sanders for bringing important issues to “the center of the political debate. Income inequality, universal health care, climate change, free college, relieving students from the crushing debt of student loans.” And, he asserted that “we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues.”

Most importantly, Biden recognizes he needs Sanders’ supporters and has committed to reaching out to them as well as to Sanders himself. He concluded, “I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.” (See https://www.axios.com/joe-biden-bernie-sanders-statement-8c1c7005-40e5-4b1a-93ed-8d0d973abd2f.html.)

Sanders’ biggest block of supporters were younger Americans under the age of 45. This week a number of youth organizations, including the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, which altogether represent more than 10 million supporters and potential voters, wrote an open letter to Biden. They sent him a clear, comprehensive and cogent message:

  1. Young people are “poised to play a critical role (in) deciding the next President.” You need our enthusiastic support to unite the party and defeat Trump.
  2. A “return to normalcy” that you’ve called for won’t motivate our members to vote for you. Both major parties have “failed to create a robust social safety net for the vast majority of Americans….we grew up with endless war, skyrocketing inequality, crushing student loan debt, mass deportations, police murders of black Americans and mass incarceration, schools which have become killing fields, and knowing that the political leaders of today are choking the planet we will live on long after they are gone. We’ve spent our whole lives witnessing our political leaders prioritize the voices of wealthy lobbyists and big corporations over our needs. From this hardship, we’ve powered a resurgence of social movements demanding fundamental change. Why would we want a return to normalcy?”
  3. “We need a vision for the future, not a return to the past.…(I)n order to win up and down the ballot in November, the Democratic Party needs the energy and enthusiasm of our generation…Young people are issues-first voters….Exclusively anti-Trump messaging won’t be enough to lead any candidate to victory. We need you to champion the bold ideas that have galvanized our generation and given us hope in the political process.”

The letter then lists a series of very specific commitments the organizations want from Biden. Here are just a few of them:

  • Adoption of the Green New Deal
  • Expand DACA and other policies to protect people from deportation
  • Free undergraduate tuition for public colleges, universities, and vocational schools
  • An annual tax on the wealthiest 180,000 households
  • Adoption of strong anti-corruption reforms
  • Champion a voting system that works for all Americans
  • Get big money out of politics and make the passage of HR 1 a top priority
  • No current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists in your transition team, advisor roles, or cabinet

The youth organizations’ letter concludes that they “will spend more than $100 million …this election cycle. We…need help ensuring our efforts will be backed-up by a campaign that speaks to our generation. Our generation is the future of this country. If you aim to motivate, mobilize, and welcome us in, we will work tirelessly to align this nation with its highest ideals.” (See https://nextgenamerica.org/biden-letter/.)

Others already in Biden’s camp are also urging fundamental change, rather than a “return to normalcy.” Recently Jamie Dimon, CEO of the giant Wall Street firm, JP Morgan Chase, explained that our lack of preparation for the pandemic is part of a larger set of problems facing the country. In his firm’s annual letter to its shareholders, Dimon wrote:

“Our inner-city schools don’t graduate half of their students and don’t give our children an education that leads to a livelihood; our healthcare system is increasingly costly with many of our citizens lacking any access; and nutrition and personal health aren’t even being taught at many schools. Obesity has become a national scourge. We have a litigation and regulatory system that cripples small businesses with red tape and bureaucracy; ineffective infrastructure planning and investment; and huge waste and inefficiency at both the state and federal levels. We have failed to put proper immigration policies in place; our social safety nets are poorly designed; and the share of wages for the bottom 30% of Americans has effectively been going down….We need to acknowledge these problems and the damage they have done if we are ever going to fix them.”

Dimon hopes that “civility, humanity, empathy and the goal of improving America will break through” and that this crisis can bring people together to recognize “our shared responsibility, acting in a way that reflects the best of all of us.” (See https://finance.yahoo.com/news/jamie-dimon-on-covid-19-crisis-114330705.html.)

How far will Biden go in meeting the challenges that both wings of the Democratic Party know must be addressed?  Will he be bold enough in his response to bring the party together and win the election?

Contact Biden at https://go.joebiden.com/page/s/contact-us and let him know your thoughts about what he needs to do to unite the party and win in November.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Once Again, It’s All About the Money

President Trump recently proclaimed that “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” By which he means that the cure of a national stay-at-home order and shutting down the economy would be worse than the further spreading of the coronavirus.

Trump even implied that the deaths of thousands of Americans is not that big of a deal. Afterall, he noted that thousands of Americans die in car accidents every year, but we don’t “tell everybody no more driving of cars.” See https://news.yahoo.com/trump-downplays-coronavirus-threat-again-even-as-number-of-cases-in-us-surges-001339863.html.

For Trump, the bottom line is getting the economy going again as soon as possible, in order to avoid a recession, or possibly a depression, and bolster his re-election prospects. In Trump’s mind, that’s more important than the thousands, some suggest millions, of Americans who will die if the coronavirus is not contained before economic activity is re-ignited.

Of course, no one knows for sure how this will play out. Other countries’ experiences, however, are instructive. In China, where the pandemic originated, researchers have found that stay-at-home orders were a key to stemming the spread of the virus. Now, two months since the Chinese lockdown began, the number of new cases is very low, down from thousands per day at the peak. See https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00741-x; https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/19/asia/coronavirus-covid-19-update-china-intl-hnk/index.html.

Hong Kong’s situation is even more telling. Since the beginning of March when much of Hong Kong’s workforce stopped working from home and returned to their workplaces, the number of reported cases of coronavirus has nearly tripled. See https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/23/asia/hong-kong-coronavirus-quarantine-intl-hnk/index.html.

Meanwhile, Congress is rushing to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package to support laid off workers, collapsing small businesses and suffering corporations. Here, paradoxically, Trump may be correct. This supposed cure for America’s economic woes may be worse than the recession that is about to descend upon us. According to the Huffington Post, “The emergency… legislation that the Senate agreed to on Tuesday (is)…an outrage. It is not an economic rescue package, but a sentence of unprecedented economic inequality and corporate control over our politics…It represents a transfer of wealth and power to the super rich from the rest of us, with the support of both political parties…” See https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-democrats-donald-trump-coronavirus-bill-181622873.html.

The bill provides $367 billion in loans to help small businesses hit hard by the outbreak to keep making payroll, $100 billion for hospitals, and $150 billion for state and local governments. It also provides for Americans who make up to $75,000 to receive a one-time payment of $1,200. A $500 billion fund, which can be leveraged to 10 times that amount, earmarked for corporations that have been economically damaged by the pandemic, will be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional panel in accordance with Democrats’ demands.

However, according to HuffPost, “the oversight terms that Democrats secured are purely cosmetic, replicating the toothless provisions of the 2008 bank bailout that enabled watchdogs to report abuse but not actually prevent or rectify it….Democrats and Republicans have essentially decided to hold a pittance of relief for the people hit hardest hostage to the most reckless and… unnecessary corporate welfare program ever conceived.” .” See https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-democrats-donald-trump-coronavirus-bill-181622873.html.

Former Republican, Rep. Justin Amash called the plan “a raw deal for the people.” He explained that “It does far too little for those who need the most help, while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare, massively growing government, inhibiting economic adaptation, and widening the gap between the rich and the poor.” See https://www.yahoo.com/news/rep-amash-signals-may-single-134541682.html.

Finally, HuffPost analysts believe that “the legislation provides nothing of substance to address the coronavirus pandemic itself…It mobilizes no new resources, organizes no production, improves no medical supply delivery and trains no new nurses. Instead, it moves an enormous amount of money around and puts the Trump administration in charge of its movement.” See https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/senate-democrats-donald-trump-coronavirus-bill-181622873.html.

As of this writing, Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats have not yet signed off on this shameful deal crafted by the devious Sen, Mitch McConnell. Call Pelosi ((202) 225-4965), Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), other House Democrats ((202) 224-3121) and your U.S. Senators ((202) 224-3121) now and voice your strong opposition to another cowardly cave-in to Big Money.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: Welcome to the Apocalypse

I phoned my daughter, Gioia, in Berkeley the other day. She answered my call, “Welcome to the Apocalypse, dad.” While I hadn’t looked at the global situation quite like that before, I had to agree with her. The world as we know it is disintegrating before our very eyes.

This time feels kind of like a calamity of biblical proportions. Something comparable to the Great Flood, except, unlike Noah, we failed to build an ark on which to ride out the storm. Or, maybe what we are experiencing is more akin to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities destroyed by divine retribution for their shameless sins and excessive indulgences. Of course, now like then, many, many innocent people are suffering and dying in the wake of the immoral, depraved behavior of others, from corporate avarice to the extreme political power of the very wealthy to presidential self-dealing.

At the same time, some light is beginning to shine through the darkness. China recently closed all 14 temporary hospitals that opened in Wuhan to treat COVID-19 patients during the worst of the outbreak. Moreover, the U.S.  has begun voluntary testing of a vaccine which protects against the coronavirus. (See https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/10-positive-updates-on-the-covid-19-outbreaks-from-around-the-world/?fbclid=IwAR22A_83gkAB8eLWPy9W3t8Vurj-tbHFUELNzWFH_YzYD-ptcqoNj-7XPzM.)

While this human, economic and political firestorm has been in the making for decades, it certainly has become full blown under the “extremely stable genius” of President Donald Trump. Afterall, he falsely bragged that he saw the pandemic coming “long before it was called a pandemic.” (See https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/05/president-trump-im-an-extremely-stable-genius.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/us/politics/trump-coronavirus.html)

Trump is our modern-day Nero, who played the fiddle while Rome burned. Only Trump played golf while our country and the entire world was in free fall.

We should ask Mr. Trump:

  1. If you actually did see the coronavirus pandemic coming, why did you eliminate the National Security Council’s pandemic response team that could have mitigated the suffering of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans?
  2. Why did you call the media and Democratic sense of urgency, if not the coronavirus itself, a “hoax”? and,
  3. Why did you claim the coronavirus would be gone by April?

These are just a few of Trump’s many blunders and lies that have made this crisis worse and our country’s response hugely inadequate up to this point. Over 10,000 Americans now have the virus and close to 200 have already died.

Of course, the honest answers to these and similar questions all have to do with Trump’s central concern, his political future, rather than the wellbeing of the American people. Maybe, just maybe, this catastrophe will wake up enough of our fellow Americans to how incompetent and unfit Trump is to be president that they will overwhelmingly reject his re-election bid next November. But enough about our Pinocchio, con-man-in-chief president. What can we do individually to mitigate this colossal crisis? Here are just a few suggestions:

First, we need to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus. My partner and I have self-quarantined. We all need to stay home.

Second, washing our hands with soap and water is still the best way to prevent transmission of the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Third, use disinfectants to keep your hands and surfaces free of the coronavirus. (See https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/05/health/epa-disinfectants-coronavirus-trnd/?hpt=ob_blogfooterold)

And, finally, don’t panic. Yes, these are extremely hard times. We are under great pressure and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. However, in order to be most helpful to ourselves and others, we must keep our wits about us. Remember, it’s darkest just before the dawn. A new day will come. We must continue to work together to ensure that that day will bring a more equitable, democratic society with affordable healthcare for all, a mandatory living wage, and a sustainable environment based on renewable energy. Let us look at this terrible episode in our history as a period of deep cleansing required to usher in a new era of fairness, community, respect for our planet and love for all beings.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

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The Struggle for the Soul of America: Is It All About Being Safe?

America is in panic mode. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly. The stock market is plunging. Oil prices are collapsing. And, our president plays golf while the country is falling apart. Meanwhile, Americans are dying and the rest of us are pretty scared. What are we to do?

The best advice seems to be: play it safe. People are taking various precautions: avoiding crowds, canceling travel plans, working from home, keeping their kids home from school, washing their hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, wearing face masks – getting out of the stock market – whatever one can do to be safe.

Politically, the Democrats have turned to Joe Biden to be their presidential nominee. They believe he is their safe choice. “Uncle Joe” has been around for a long time. The American people know Joe. They contend that we can trust him to do the right thing and keep America safe. The Democrats consider Biden to be their safe bet to beat Trump next November.

According to conventional wisdom, nominating Bernie Sanders is too risky. Democrats see Sanders as too radical for American voters. They believe the people would reject his democratic socialism which offers Medicare for all, free public college, a living wage and the wealthy paying their fair share in taxes, among other things. This despite the fact that a majority of Democrats support many of Sanders’ policy positions. (See https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/feb/25/pete-buttigieg/polls-show-most-democrats-many-americans-back-key-/.)

Sanders contends that his policy proposals will bring a huge wave of new voters to the polls. However, primary results have not proven him right. Biden has won most of the recent primaries with his more centrist policy agenda and his more moderate tone.

Consequently, as a longtime Bernie supporter, I’m beginning to realize that it’s not only his policies that is the problem for some Democrats. It’s also the messenger. It’s Bernie.

Bernie yells a lot. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. He might be more effective with the voters he needs to persuade if he modulated his tone a bit.

Bernie has praised some aspects of Communist Cuba.  That makes some people, especially in the vital swing state of Florida, afraid, not safe. He had nothing to gain politically and much to lose by bringing Cuba into the campaign debate.

Bernie has grand proposals with little detail of how they will be paid for. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. He could be more specific about the financial aspects of his policies.

Bernie does not have much support in Congress, which raises the issue of whether he will be able to muster the votes in Congress to pass his initiatives, particularly in the Senate where he will need to overcome Republican filibusters. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. His campaign could have cultivated more Congressional backing for his proposals to demonstrate his ability to work with Congress on his agenda.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bernie calls himself a Democratic socialist without clearly explaining what he means by that term. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. He has failed to simply and plainly demonstrate to the American people that the United States already is, to a significant degree, a democratic socialist country. Most Americans support Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the federal highway system, public schools, the police and fire departments, and many other government programs, all of which are democratic socialism since they are funded by taxpayers’ dollars for the common good. Moreover, federal farm subsidies, oil subsidies and the like are also democratic socialism at work. If the American people understood that they already support and believe in democratic socialism, then they would probably not be afraid of it.

That is not to deny that the corporate media, the Democratic establishment, Big Money and others desperate to hold onto power, have done their utmost to bring Sanders down. Nevertheless, Bernie has made a number of serious missteps. If he had been a better messenger, a better politician, I believe he could have been our next president.

What do you think? Is it too late for Bernie to make up for his mistakes? Is there anything he can do at this point to improve his chances of winning the nomination? Any and all comments are greatly appreciated.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

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The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can the Democratic Party Avoid a Train Wreck?

The Super Tuesday election results effectively narrowed the Democratic primary race to Joe Biden versus Bernie Sanders. While Elizabeth Warren has not withdrawn from the race at this point, she does not appear to have any realistic path to the nomination.

The Democratic Party is deeply divided between its moderate insider, establishment wing and its progressive outsider, anti-establishment wing. If the Party cannot figure out how to bring these two factions together, it may very well be headed for a train wreck at its July convention. Such an outcome would be a disaster for the Democrats, and, most likely, hand Donald Trump the keys to the White House for a second term. That, in turn, would leave our American democracy in shambles. So, how can the two factions unite and avert a train wreck?

A major step toward unity would be for Tom Perez, the chairman of the DNC, to call a summit meeting in the next month. The sooner the better. Perez should invite the campaign chairs of the remaining viable candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, assuming she was still in the race at the time of the meeting. President Obama, Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi should also be strongly encouraged to attend.

The purpose of the meeting would be to develop an agreed upon strategy for uniting the Party regardless of who wins the nomination. While this may not be easy to achieve, having an agreement in advance of the convention before tempers flare and a blowup occurs would be in everyone’s best interests.

Here are some suggestions for an agreement signed by all the candidates that, I believe, would greatly assist in uniting the Party:

  1. The candidates and their campaigns promise to work to unite the Party in coordination with the other wing.
  2. The candidates and their campaigns promise to run positive campaigns that focus on their own achievements, attributes and ability to defeat Trump. They promise not to run negative ads against their primary opponents that could raise fears or doubts about those candidates which could be used by the Trump campaign in the general election.
  3. The candidates and their campaigns promise not to say or imply that any other candidate cannot beat Donald Trump in the general election.
  4. The candidates and their campaigns promise to make uniting the Party a major piece of each of their campaigns for the remainder of the race.
  5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the candidates promise that whoever wins the nomination will nominate for vice president a person from the other branch of the Party. By effectively creating a coalition ticket, this will go a long way toward unifying the Party. It will also demonstrate a sincere desire to work together to find common ground between the two wings. A major failure of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy was her nominating Sen. Tim Kaine for vice president, another moderate. By doing so, she lost some energy and commitment from the progressive wing of the Party, which could have helped her win the election.

Other pieces could be added to such an agreement. But some compact along these lines needs to be made very soon. For the Democrats to be in the strongest position to win the election, they have to come together and produce a huge voter turnout. If the Party does not find a way to truly unite, it will be seriously weakened come November.

Write, call or email DNC Chair Tom Perez  (202) 863-8000/ https://democrats.org/contact-us/; Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer,(https://www.schumer.senate.gov/contact/email-chuck, US Capitol switchboard (202) 224-3121); and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (https://www.speaker.gov/contact, House of Representatives switchboard 202-225-3121) and urge them to convene a summit to develop a unity strategy. For the good of the country and the planet.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Democratic Party Must Revive Its Progressive Values

From FDR’s New Deal to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Democratic Party took pride in being the party of the people. During this period, Democrats championed the rights of union members, women, black and brown minorities, the poor, whoever was getting shortchanged in American society. But when Bill Clinton won back the White House for the Democrats in 1992, the party began losing its way.

Clinton was the chair of the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council, that steered the party away from its progressive traditions and toward a centrist, business-friendly, Republican approach to government. In 1993, he “helped gut America’s manufacturing base by promoting and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA,…” NAFTA failed to protect the interests of working Americans and “signaled that the Democratic Party—the “progressive” side of the U.S. two-party system—had accepted the reactionary economic ideology of Ronald Reagan…” (See https://www.alternet.org/2015/06/15-ways-bill-clintons-white-house-failed-america-and-world/)

In 1996, Clinton worked with Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans to enact the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which gave states control of welfare programs. According to the Atlantic, “‘Welfare reform’ didn’t fix welfare so much as destroy it,…” Twenty-plus years after the passage of welfare reform, the number of poor American children has exploded and black welfare recipients are subject to the system’s most stringent rules. (See https://www.alternet.org/2015/06/15-ways-bill-clintons-white-house-failed-america-and-world/ and https://www.history.com/news/clinton-1990s-welfare-reform-facts.)

In addition, Clinton curried favor with Wall Street at the expense of most Americans by signing into law more financial deregulation legislation than any other president, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. Among the worst acts was his dissolution of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which had protected people’s savings accounts from being used by investment banks on speculative financial deals. This was a major factor leading to the 2008 Great Recession.

When President Obama took over the Democratic Party, he followed in Clinton’s footsteps by bailing out Wall Street while providing little assistance to the millions of Americans who had lost their homes in the Great Recession. By the time Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, the American people were fed up with the Establishment of both parties who favored Wall Street and their big donors over them. That opened the door to the White House to outsider Donald Trump.

Now outsider Bernie Sanders is leading the Democratic primary race. Given the recent history of the Democratic Party, it stands to reason that a major factor in Sanders’ rise in popularity is his rejection of the centrist establishment, Clinton approach of fostering close connections to Wall Street and Big Money. Somehow the party establishment has not gotten the message: The American people are tired of playing second fiddle to corporate America and Big Money interests.

Sanders promises to revive the progressive values of FDR, JFK and LBJ. He’s calling for what most Americans want: a $15/hr. living wage (67% according to Pew Research Center) , healthcare for all (56% according to Kaiser Family Fdn), stricter gun control laws (60% according to Pew), and a Green New Deal (80% of registered voters according to Yale Program on Climate Communication). Yes, it’s radical to the Establishment who want the government to continue protecting its interests at the people’s expense. But it’s not radical to all those who’ve seen little rise in their income, higher and higher health insurance and pharmaceutical bills, more and more friends and family shot to death, and the government doing very little to remedy these and other real problems.

People like MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews are the radical ones. His calling Sanders’ Nevada primary victory akin to the Nazis conquest of France is outrageous. The “liberal” media seems just as threatened by Sanders as the Establishment. They both fear losing their power and influence in the political arena, and don’t get how fed up so many Americans are with Washington and its do-nothing politics.

Trump conned America into believing he would clean “the swamp.” But, he’s only made it worse. If the Democratic Party wants to win in November, it better get behind the man that truly speaks for the people. Bernie looks like the real deal. He appears to be the only candidate who is building a mass movement, including millions of disillusioned and new voters, capable of the wave election needed to sweep Trump out of office. Given the chance, Sanders really could “Make America Great Again.”

Email the DNC at info@dnc.com, Chris Matthews at hardball@msnbc.com, or, call MSNBC at (212) 664-4444 and tell them to stop bashing Sanders and work with him to defeat Trump.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Democrats Must Unite Now!

It’s hard to determine which Democratic candidate has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump in November at this point in the primaries. Since the Democrats’ overriding goal is to beat Trump, it’s even harder to understand why so many mainstream Democrats are bashing Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Party’s current leading contender.

Many Americans believe that a second Trump term could be the end of democracy in the United States. According to Truthout, “there’s an actual (Republican) project to rewrite our Constitution, turning America into a corporate-run oligarchy.” See https://www.truthdig.com/articles/trumps-reelection-could-spell-the-end-of-american-democracy/.

Nevertheless, if Sanders gets the nomination, some observers presume that the Democratic Party will “hope that Bernie Sanders gets destroyed by Donald Trump, and then wag their fingers at the left for the next 20 years until they get another Bill Clinton.” See https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-clinton-machine-will-do-anything-to-stop-bernie-sanders/.

It’s difficult to imagine that the Democratic Party would really rather endure four more years of Trump with the likelihood of the destruction of our democratic republic than a populist Sanders presidency promoting many of the ideals that the Democratic Party has long stood for. But, for a fair number of centrist Democrats that appears to be the case.

The Party seems to think that a more moderate candidate like Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar or Bloomberg would have a better chance of winning the Whitehouse than Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the other progressive still in the race. Party leaders conveniently forget that all the Party’s recent presidential defeats were led by more centrist establishment Democrats like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Al Gore. The only recent Democratic presidential winner was Barack Obama, a relative outsider who excited millions of Americans with his message of “hope and change.”

Could it be that the Democratic establishment is more concerned with maintaining control of the Party than with beating the want-to-be autocrat Trump? Is the party establishment not much different than the Republicans in that it is willing to put party over country? If Sanders wins the nomination, will the Party give its full support to its nominee for the good of the country, or sit on its hands because it didn’t get its way? Which is exactly what the Party fears Sanders’ supporters will do if he doesn’t get the nomination.

The truth is the American people are fed up with Washington insiders from both parties who are more interested in advancing their party and serving Wall Street and their Big Money donors, than they are in supporting Main Street and the concerns of average Americans. Outsider Trump got elected, in large part, because he ranted against the Washington swamp and empathized with angry blue-collar workers ignored by both parties.

The only way Democrats win this November is with a candidate that will motivate voters to turn out in record numbers. Clearly, Trump is a very flawed candidate, but he does have a good economy, a corrupt Republican Party and a strong base behind him. Republicans will purge voter rolls, reduce polling locations and do whatever else they can to ensure Trump is declared the winner.

Consequently, the Democratic presidential candidate cannot just rely on anti-Trump sentiment to take back the White House. Many regular Democrats failed to vote in 2016 because Hillary Clinton did not inspire them. She did not have a clear, strong inclusive message that grabbed voters. Hundreds of thousands of Obama voters in Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee stayed home which gave Trump his margin of victory. Contrary to Clinton’s allegations, Sanders was not responsible for Hillary’s losing the election.

Bottom line: the establishment Democrats and the progressive Democrats, the centrists and the leftists, must come together now. Not after a huge convention fight in July which will likely result in more bitterness and divisiveness, leaving the Party with a great self-inflicted disadvantage going into the general election. Today, every Democrat must loudly and clearly declare that “we are all in this together” and that we will all wholeheartedly support whomever demonstrates he or she has the people’s support by winning the primaries. And, the Democratic National Committee must vigorously promote that strategy right away.

To win in November, the Democrats must unite now under the common purpose of defeating Trump and taking back our country. As concerned citizens, we all must do whatever we can to help make that happen. Here’s what you can do:

Call, write and/or visit your Democratic county and state party leaders.

Call, write and/or visit your elected Democratic Representatives (202-224-3121) and Senators (Toll free 866-338-1015).

Demand that the Democratic moderates and progressives come together for the good of our nation. Divided we fall. United we win.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Moneys Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/how-to-unite-the-democratic-party/blog/. Join the unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.