The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Heart of Our Dilemma

The Struggle for the Soul of America is a weekly blog focusing on issues related to the current state of our country, the 2020 elections and the urgent need for the American people to act to save our democracy. I hope you will find the blog worth your time, encourage others to read it, and join in the struggle for the soul of America. Previously published blogs in this series may be found by clicking on the blog link on the home page of  my website, https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/.

The impeachment trial of President Trump that started today is a major battle in the struggle for the soul of America.  On one level it’s all about politics, pitting the Democratic majority in the House against the Republican majority in the Senate. On closer examination, however, it’s about upholding the Constitution, the highest law of the land. Specifically, under the Constitution it is an abuse of his executive power for Trump to solicit a foreign power to assist him in his re-election campaign. Moreover, it is an obstruction of Congress’s impeachment power for Trump to fail to produce documents or to order government officials not to testify when Congress has lawfully subpoenaed them.

But, it goes even deeper than that. The fundamental question that Trump’s impeachment trial raises is who are we as Americans and as a nation. Does our country truly stand for the basic principles of fairness and justice, and that no one is above the law?

Unfortunately, the Senate does not appear inclined to address these fundamental issues. Despite taking an oath to impartial justice as jurors in the trial, many senators would rather play politics than stand up for American values and conduct a full and fair trial in order to make an impartial judgement based on all the facts. Isn’t the Senate, let alone the American people, entitled to see all the documents and hear from all the relevant witnesses? In effect, the soul of the Senate, its ability to be fair, true to its oath and protect the Constitution, is also on trial.

At this critical juncture in our country’s history, I believe each one of us must do some serious soul searching and ask: How far am I willing to go and what am I willing to sacrifice to ensure that my country maintains the rule of law and continues on the path toward a truly representative democracy?

In response to my initial blog last week, someone wrote to me and suggested I replace “struggle” in the name of the blog with something more positive. He felt that most people “don’t…want to struggle.” While I tend to agree with his perception, I think he inadvertently struck at the heart of our dilemma. While we are in a life and death struggle for the survival of American democracy, most Americans don’t have the time and/or the inclination to actively engage in this fight as if their freedom and, perhaps, even their lives depend on it. If we are not willing to face this struggle head on, we will never be able to muster the courage, make the sacrifices and produce the resources to save our country from those who are actively engaged in transforming it into an autocracy, or worse.

Of course, we do not want to struggle. But, do we really have a choice? Whether it was ending slavery, gaining women’s suffrage, defeating Nazi Germany, establishing civil rights, or any other major battle in American history, being willing to struggle and sacrifice was central to overcoming the opposition and prevailing.

That brings us back to Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. We cannot just sit back and watch it unfold on TV. We must stand up and make our voices heard by calling senators, writing letters to the editor, demanding the trial include witnesses, marching in the streets, calling in to talk radio shows, sitting in at Congressional offices, whatever it takes. We are the foot soldiers in this battle for the soul of America. It is up to us to turn our country around.

Bruce Berlin

This blog is an extension of my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. Please share my blog on Facebook, on other social media and with your email lists. Feel free to make comments or ask me questions. Subscribe to the blog at the top, left hand side of the blog page on my website, https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/how-to-unite-the-democratic-party/blog/, and keep sharing it with everyone. Let’s connect and build an unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin is a retired, public sector ethics attorney. He 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, the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution, and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

The Struggle for the Soul of America 

Today I’m initiating a new weekly blog, The Struggle for the Soul of America. It will focus on issues related to the current state of our country, the 2020 elections and the urgent need for the American people to act to save our democracy. I hope you will find the blog worth your time, encourage others to read it, and join in the struggle for the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin

A Pivotal Time in Our Country 

The 2020 elections will be a defining moment in the history of the United States. This year may well rival the Civil War as the most pivotal time in our history in determining the future direction of the nation. For all of us who care about this country, it’s time we join together in the struggle for the soul of America. Our country desperately needs us.

This is not about political parties. Nor is it about liberal versus conservative ideologies. Rather, the critical issue is what are the values we hold dear and would be willing to fight for. Do we truly believe in justice, equality, fair play and the rule of law? Or, are we willing to forfeit our democratic heritage and allow money and power to control our nation?

A great many Americans – Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike – are appalled by the direction in which our country is headed:

  • The increasingly huge gap between the ultra-rich and most Americans.
  • The undue influence over public policy by corporate America and the One Percent.
  • The disregard for the environment and the ever-mounting disasters of the changing climate.
  • The corruption, disdain for the common good and the loss of our democracy.

Our nation is fast becoming a plutocracy, a state ruled by and for the very wealthy. Too many of our political leaders have been bought by and do the bidding of the extremely rich and powerful. Sadly, they lack the will and the wisdom to halt the decimation of our democratic processes and set the nation on a positive course for the public good. Members of both political parties bear some responsibility for the crippled state of American democracy.

In fact, I would argue that we are all ultimately responsible. The vast majority of we Americans have stood by and watched as our nation has been overtaken by corporate America and the ultra-wealthy. At the same time, only We, the people, can save our country. The question is do we collectively have the heart, the courage and the strength of character to take on and overcome the greedy and powerful? Now is the time we must answer that call.

While many are at a loss as to what to do, a great number of us have not been personally affected by this terrifying breach in our democracy and fail to fully grasp the national tragedy we are facing. Too many Americans are either too comfortable, on the one hand, or, on the other, too busy surviving day-to-day to answer the call. Consequently, those of us who recognize the impending catastrophe and have the time and resources must sound the alarm and organize the masses.

This blog is an extension of my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America. From week to week, the blog will examine critical issues we face and explore ways we can resolve them. Here’s how you can help. Share my blog on Facebook, on other social media and with your email lists. Feel free to make comments or ask me questions. Subscribe to the blog at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com, and keep sharing it with everyone. Let’s connect and build an unstoppable movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

Bruce Berlin is a retired, public sector ethics attorney. He 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, the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution, and a practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Vote To Save Our Democracy

It’s no secret that our democracy is under attack by Big Money. The 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, which declared money is speech and corporations are people, alerted many Americans to just how critical the situation is. And, it’s only gotten a good deal worse since then.

With one party controlling the White House and Congress, our system of checks and balances has broken down. Whether it’s the appointment of federal judges, the protection of our environment, or issues of trade and tariffs, what the President and his party want becomes law. For all intent and purposes, bipartisan policymaking is dead.

Moreover, our country is more divided than since at least before World War II. For the most part, each side believes the other side is evil. At the same time, however, a clear majority of Americans agree on quite a bit. For example:

  • 97% support universal background checks for gun purchases (Quinnipiac University National Poll, February, 2018)
  • 77% want comprehensive immigration reform (Harvard-Harris Poll, January, 2018)
  • 65 % favor alternative energy development over expanding fossil fuel resources (Pew Research Center, January 2017)
  • 62% believe the federal government should ensure healthcare for all              (Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, July, 2017)

And, more than three-quarters of Americans, 78% according to an Issue One-Ipsos National Poll (July, 2016), desire new laws to reduce the influence of money in politics.

None of these very popular policies have any chance of becoming law under the current administration. Clearly, our government does not represent the will of the great majority of the American people. While there are many reasons for this, the power of Big Money to unduly influence politicians and government policy to favor corporate America and special interests is the single most important factor. And, it’s been this way for a very long time.

Unfortunately, Washington politicians are not about to fix our corrupt political system. Other articles in this newsletter indicate what New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (NMMOP) is doing to correct this abuse of power, which is destroying our democracy. But we can’t do it alone. Here are three things you can do to help:

First, join NMMOP (Go to nmmop.org) in our work to eliminate the corruption of our government by Big Money;

Second, vote for candidates who will also fight to overcome this Big Money plague on our country: and

Third, send this blog to your friends, family and colleagues and encourage them to get involved. It’s going to take a mass movement to end this corruption and build a vibrant democracy of, by and for the people.

I hope to see you at the polls on Election Day and at our next general meeting on Saturday, November 17 at 10:00 a.m., at LaFarge Library, 1730 Llano Street in Santa Fe.

Bruce Berlin, President, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics

Let’s Reframe Gun Control To Focus on Our Safety

Gun violence has become a raging epidemic in the United States. And it’s not just due to mass shootings. On average 93 people die from gunshot wounds in this country everyday.1 In 2016, more than 38,000 people were killed by firearms.2 What can we do to stem this horrific tide of violence?

Over 90% of Americans, including 86% of Republicans, support universal background checks.3 At the same time, the majority of us believe it’s practically impossible to fight the all-powerful gun lobby. We watch these tragedies escalate and feel helpless to prevent the next one: 58 innocent people are randomly killed, 527 others injured by a lone gunman at an outdoor concert4; young children are murdered in their schools; and others killed in their church or at the movies.

Now no place is safe. None of us can feel secure when we could easily be the next victim of gun violence. Our personal safety, as well as that of our loved ones’, is in real danger. The truth is we can no longer afford to sit back, waiting around like ducks in a shooting gallery. We all must get involved now.

While a movement to prevent gun violence is growing throughout the country, a massive campaign to increase the public’s understanding of this issue is essential. This became really clear to me during a conversation I had on my flight to Philadelphia last Thanksgiving. As I spoke to the woman seated next to me about the ever-increasing gun violence in our country, she explained that she was a gun owner who supported universal background checks. An intelligent, former defense contractor, this mother of three children then startled me by noting she opposed gun control. I was confused. How could this be?

Like many gun owners, she believed gun control meant the government wanted to take away her guns. I responded that gun control is about keeping people safe, not gun confiscation. But clearly she was listening to the message of the gun lobby, which prevents even the most common sense gun control laws from being enacted, such as keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, domestic violence abusers, even known terrorists. Clearly, we need to better educate the public about the meaning and purpose of gun control.

So how can we articulate the gun control message more effectively? What if instead of emphasizing gun control, there was a Movement for the Safety of All Americans? If the problem were framed as a domestic and public safety issue rather than a gun control matter, perhaps we could build greater demand for conquering this national epidemic.

When people feel that a problem personally affects them, they are much more likely to become involved in solving it. The history of mass movements in America bears that out. From Women’s Suffrage and Labor to Civil Rights and LGBTQ issues, mass movements have arisen to demand that the nation address the critical needs of millions of its citizens. The threat that gun violence poses to our safety is not being met with the urgency, resources and all-out response this crisis requires. Making the prevention of gun violence a nationwide, public safety emergency could galvanize the nation to cure this epidemic.

Mass movements have always faced very strong resistance from the status quo. The gun lobby has an extremely strong grip on many members of Congress. In 2014, gun rights advocates spent over $30 million on campaigns and lobbying while gun control reformers spent less than $10 million.5 (See nmmop.org to help get Big Money Out of Politics.) Still, the polls indicate that the people overwhelmingly want gun control. As Americans’ resolve to defeat gun violence grows, our resignation that it is hopeless will dissipate.

Therefore, we must all get involved. Here in New Mexico, you can join New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence (www.newmexicanstopreventgunviolence.org).

If you live in another state, find a similar organization to support and help build the grassroots effort for the safety of all Americans. Our mass movement can beat back the gun lobby and force our state legislatures and Congress to act despite the opposition. Together we can make America safe again!

  1. See https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/#DailyDeaths.
  2. See https://www.yahoo.com/news/much-really-know-gun-violence-200525739.html.
  3. See https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2057.
  4. See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/us/las-vegas-shooting.html.
  5. See https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/how-loaded-is-the-gun-lobby/

America’s Dying Democracy: Can We Revive It?

The Twenty-first Century has not been good to America’s democracy. However, the recent upset victory by Doug Jones in Alabama and the results of Virginia’s election last month indicate that a democratic resurgence may be brewing. Still, American democracy is now on life support. How did this happen?

            The 2000 Election: It all started when the U.S. Supreme Court halted the full recount of the people’s ballots in Florida and declared George W. Bush president in December 2000.1 With a five-to-four decision, you could effectively argue that one Supreme Court justice’s vote has determined the course of American history ever since. Despite Al Gore’s winning the national popular vote by more than a half million,2 the Electoral College with the Court’s help put Bush in the White House: Hardly a democratic outcome.

            The Iraq War: Then, in March 2003, President Bush took the country to war against Iraq. Even though our Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war, the President usurped its authority in a futile attempt by the administration to gain control over Iraq’s vast oil reserves.3 This autocratic decision to invade Iraq enhanced the power of the presidency and diminished the authority of Congress: another blow to our democracy.

            The 2004 Election: Next came Bush’s re-election in 2004. Again, there were serious questions about the electoral process, especially in Ohio. The National Election Data Archive (NEDA) conducted an analysis of the 2004 Ohio presidential election, which provided convincing evidence of an outcome-altering vote miscount4 that handed Bush his margin of victory. America’s democracy was being shredded without any real resistance from the people.

            The Wall Street Bailout: While the election of Barack Obama in 2008 appeared to provide renewed hope for democracy, the Democrats and the new president soon demonstrated their own disregard for the needs and desires of the people. The bailout of the big Wall Street banks, which did practically nothing for the multitude of average Americans who had lost their homes and/or jobs during the Great Recession, as well as the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute those responsible for the country’s financial collapse, indicated Obama’s willingness to please his Big Money donors at the expense of many of the people who voted him into office. Despite controlling both houses of Congress, Obama and the Democrats failed to seize the opportunity to halt the country’s march to plutocracy. Putting the bankers who had committed massive fraud in jail may well have curbed Big Money’s appetite for corrupting influence and overreach. Moreover, it would have given Americans more faith in our government and less reason to turn to a faux populist like Donald Trump. Once again, the democratic process had failed the American people.

            The 2016 Election and the Trump Presidency: In 2016 Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the presidential election by almost 2.9 million votes.5 Nevertheless, Trump became president by winning the Electoral College vote. Since then, we have learned that Russia interfered in the election, and that the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians in order to win the election.6 In the eleven months of Trump’s presidency, he has attacked the press, the judiciary, religious groups, minorities, women and, most recently, the FBI. Anyone not actively supporting Trump automatically becomes an enemy of his government. This is what authoritarian leaders do to crush democratic values and gain more and more control.

            The Current Republican Tax Bill: This bill, which is about to become law, is the product of America’s advance toward autocratic rule. How else can you explain the fact that only 32 percent of Americans support the legislation; Trump’s favorable rating is only 34 percent; and the Republican Party’s favorable rating is just 24 percent?8 Congressional Republicans have pushed through this highly unpopular bill without any public participation, not a single hearing, nor any Democratic input. In fact, they are the minority party, having won their Congressional majority through their gerrymandering of districts to win seats they would not have otherwise been able to capture. As we have noted, Trump is also a minority president, having lost the popular vote by close to 3 million. Yet, he and his Republican allies are ruling with an iron fist. American fascism is on the rise.

            Saving Our Democracy: Unfortunately, the Democratic Party, with only a 36 percent favorability rating and its own leanings toward plutocracy, has been unable to restrain the Republicans’ thirst for autocracy. The only force capable of reversing this authoritarian wave is the American people. The #Me Too movement, along with the recent Alabama and Virginia elections, provide some glimmer of hope. The question is will the American people come together and create the massive, grassroots movement required to break this autocratic thrust and revive our democracy.

            Numerous organizations are working to rebuild our democracy. Common Cause, Move To Amend, American Promise, Take Back Our Republic and Represent.us are just a few of the national groups leading the way. Here in New Mexico, Indivisible, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics and Retake Our Democracy, among others, are engaged in this critical work. The more we are all actively participating in this effort, the greater the chances of its success. Watching and worrying as our democracy disintegrates won’t help. You can do something. Get involved before it’s too late.

 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_v._Gore.

2 http://www.leinsdorf.com/Gore%20Wins%20the%20Election%20by%20538.htm

3 http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/19/opinion/iraq-war-oil-juhasz/index.html.

4 http://www.electionmathematics.org/em-exitpolls/OH/2004Election/Ohio-Exit-Polls-2004.pdf.

5 http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/21/politics/donald-trump-hillary-clinton-popular-vote-final-count/index.html.

6 https://globalsecurityreview.com/russia-trump-2016-u-s-election/.

7 https://www.salon.com/2017/12/11/the-republican-tax-plan-is-the-most-unpopular-bill-in-30-years/.

8 https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/12/11/even-without-roy-moore-the-gop-is-in-a-downward-spiral/

Where Are the Democrats?

While Donald Trump and the Republicans struggle to pass any meaningful legislation, there is one thing they know how to do well. That is, grab the public’s attention in order to enlarge and intensify their base of support.

            Long before he declared his candidacy for president, Trump was in the spotlight claiming Barak Obama was not a legitimate president, falsely asserting Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. At the same time, House Republicans, though they knew they didn’t have enough support in the Senate, voted again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, in a very visible effort to sabotage the president’s signature piece of legislation and rally their base.

            Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. Trump is in the White House and the Republicans control Congress. But where are the Democrats? Yes, they rolled out their “Better Deal” package of economic reforms back in July,1 but how many Americans even remember that three months later, let alone got excited by it then?

            Since Trump became president, there have been a multitude of speeches, tweets and decisions that the Democratic Party could have pounced on to galvanize support for its fight for everyday Americans of all races and ethnicities. Trump’s failure to unequivocally denounce the white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville is a primary example. Another is his ongoing feud with gold star families who have lost loved ones serving our country. Yet another is Trump’s use of the presidency for his personal financial gain in violation of the Constitution. And then, there’s the Republican Party’s bankruptcy of values in their continuing to back Trump, knowing he is utterly unfit to be president.2

            So, where are the Democrats, the “opposition party,” when our country desperately needs them? Why haven’t they risen to the occasion?

            The sad truth is the Democratic Party does not have the courage, boldness or vision to overcome Trump and his Republican cronies. Since Obama was elected president, the Democrats have lost over 1,000 elected positions across the country. Rather than offering Americans a visionary agenda that would inspire their base and draw in new voters, party leaders like Nancy Pelosi timidly stick to the center of the political spectrum despite polls that indicate the majority of Americans want more progressive programs like Medicare for All. In fact, Democrats have achieved their greatest political and policy successes when they have ignored the “centrists” and promoted bolder policies like the New Deal and Medicare.3

            Even worse than maintaining their middle-of-the-road positions, old guard Democrats are actively blocking the Party from moving to the left. At a recent Democratic National Committee meeting, Chairman Tom Perez, who became chair earlier this year only due to the strong backing of the Obama-Clinton wing of the Party, ousted from DNC leadership positions four long-serving officials who represented the so-called “Sanders wing” of the Democratic Party. These officials all had backed Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison over Perez for the chairmanship. Consequently, despite it’s call for unity, “the Democratic establishment is ruthlessly tightening its grip on the party.”4

         This does not bode well for the Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections. A divided party is a weak party. Why would Sanders supporters turn out if all they will get in return is more of the same centrist policies that don’t come close to meeting their needs or desires? Is total control of the Party more important to establishment Democrats than winning elections, stopping the Trump/Bannon takeover of our country, and improving the lives of most Americans? The Democratic Party needs to do some serious soul-searching now, before it’s too late.

1 See https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/08/why-the-democrats-better-deal-is-political-suicide.

2 See https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59e7dc46e4b0e60c4aa367cb.

3 See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/10/25/why-centrists-will-sink-democrats-if-they-havent-already.

4 See http://inthesetimes.com/article/20627/dnc-purge-ellison-perez-bernie-sanders-left-center/.

 

The Shameful Republican Congress

The political pressure cooker in Washington is nearing the boiling point. Republican Senator Bob Corker’s (R-TN) recent public proclamations that “the White House has become an adult day care center” and that President Trump was risking World War III are just the tip of the iceberg. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson thinks Trump is a f—king moron. And, Chief of Staff John Kelly is continually scrambling to manage Trump’s constant outbursts. Our nation is in deep trouble.

Meanwhile, a great number of Republicans in Congress agree with Corker’s assessment that Trump lacks the stability and competence to succeed as president. An October 12th L.A. Times editorial declared that it is “beyond question…that many Republicans in Congress and around the country and even in the president’s own Cabinet consider him a potential menace to the country: an under-qualified man of poor judgment, a bellicose hothead who returns small slights with disproportionate attacks. “1

Nevertheless, despite the mounting danger that Trump poses to the nation, Republicans are not calling for hearings to determine whether to impeach the president. It seems Republicans are more concerned with achieving tax cuts for their wealthy donors than they are with protecting the nation from an unstable, incompetent commander-in-chief. Republican sources reportedly have indicated that they want to enact tax reform before considering impeachment.2 Sadly, they are not ready to place the future of our country ahead of party politics.

Republicans are between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they want to achieve at least some of their legislative agenda and they need Trump’s support to do that. On the other hand, the Republican Party brand is being seriously tarnished by Trump and establishment Republicans would like nothing better than to remove him from the White House.

Unable to repeal and replace Obamacare, congressional Republicans’ main objective now is a major overhaul of the tax code. If they turn on Trump, any chance of their accomplishing this goal would disappear and their re-election prospects would diminish as well. In fact, they are afraid of Trump’s base. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former alt-right advisor, is already preparing to primary practically every sitting Republican senator running for re-election next year.

At the same time, Trump has attacked many Congressional Republicans and blames them for failing to pass his legislative priorities, even though he, himself, has done little to help them achieve his agenda. While only 29% of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, 79% of Republican voters still support Trump.3 Consequently, with few exceptions like Sen. Corker, Republicans on the Hill are unwilling to publicly express their displeasure with the president despite the fact that a great many of them would like to see the Trump administration end.4

While Corker’s comments have shed some light on congressional Republicans’ true sentiments, what will it take for those same legislators to turn on Trump? On Monday, October 16th, the president falsely asserted that former president Barack Obama and other presidents did not contact the families of American troops killed in duty.5 He made that claim despite the fact that Trump, himself, had not called to console the families, nor had he spoken publicly about the four Green Berets killed in an ambush in Niger two weeks ago. Since then, Trump chose to spend a good deal of his time playing golf, picking a fight with the NFL players over their right to protest, and mocking Sen. Corker’s height, instead of paying his respects to these fallen warriors and their families.

Trump’s failure to pay tribute to the families of these soldiers brought this response from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich:

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner – and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers – is as low as it gets.  We have a pathological liar in the White House: unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this President should be ashamed because they know it better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”6

That congressional Republicans continue to ignore Trump’s inexcusable behavior and utter unfitness for the presidency is the greatest shame of all, and the gravest danger to our country.

1 See http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-corker-trump-20171011-story.html.

2 See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-impeachment-latest-robert-reich-former-republican-senator-unhinged-tax-bill-us-a7996341.html.

3 See http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/24/politics/cnn-poll-republican-party-approval/index.html.

4 See http://www.newsweek.com/trump-impeachment-articles-republican-impeach-685831.

5 See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/us/politics/trump-obama-killed-soldiers.html.

6 See https://www.yahoo.com/sports/gregg-popovich-president-trump-soulless-coward-225829012.html.

American Politics in Moral Free-Fall

            A dark cloud hangs over our country. With the recent Las Vegas mass murder and our government’s pathetic response to the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico, America’s fall from grace quickens. While Donald Trump embodies much of that darkness, all of the blame for the ugly state of our country’s politics cannot be laid at his feet. Both political parties bear a good deal of the responsibility. When it comes right down to it, all that seems to matter to our politicians is winning and the money it takes to come out on top.

            Back in 2009, not long after Barak Obama was elected president, the Republican Congressional leadership agreed to a “strategy of all-out resistance” to the new Democratic president.1 Despite Obama’s considerable efforts to reach out to Congressional Republicans, they continually refused to work with him.2 Beating our first African-American president was much more important to the Republicans than helping millions of Americans obtain health insurance. That was the case despite the fact that Obamacare was fashioned after the conservative Heritage Foundation’s market-based proposal which Republican Governor Mitt Romney had already implemented in Massachusetts.3

                  Obama and the Democrats put politics before people as well. Rather than helping millions of Americans avoid losing their homes during the Great Recession, the Obama administration chose to direct almost all of the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds to the Wall Street banks whose corrupt and fraudulent practices were largely responsible for the country’s economic collapse.4 Moreover, Obama refused to extract foreclosure relief measures from our nation’s biggest banks in return for the huge bailout they received. Apparently, Obama and his big banker appointees cared a great deal more about the president’s campaign contributors on Wall Street than they did about average Americans on Main Street. No Wall Street bankers went to jail for the grave damage they had caused the country.5

            Since then, our politics have only gotten worse. During the entire eight years of the Obama presidency, the Republicans were the ‘Party of No.’ Unprecedented in modern American history, they refused to work with the president on practically any issue. While they were unable to defeat Obamacare, the GOP’s obstructionism assisted them in attaining numerous victories. Not only did the Republicans win back the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014, but they also denied Obama a Supreme Court appointment, won the White House in 2016 and placed their own conservative justice on the Court once Trump became president.

            Meanwhile, the Democrats continued to cozy up to Wall Street and their Big Money special interests rather than provide programs that would be most beneficial to the American people. That was the case even with Obamacare. While the program did extend healthcare to millions of previously uncovered Americans, it failed to offer a ‘public option,’ which would have helped keep consumers’ costs down. Instead of fighting for an alternative choice to compete with the insurance industry, Obama and Congressional Democrats sided with the private insurers and excluded the public option from the legislation.

            Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign further demonstrated where the Democrats’ loyalties lie. Clinton attended numerous gatherings hosted by her Big Money donors while failing to address the pressing concerns of blue-collar workers. But for the groundswell of support for Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election, the Democratic Party platform would not have focused on those issues either. Nevertheless, Clinton refused to endorse reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act and other strong Wall Street regulations, much to the delight of her wealthiest supporters.

            Trump and the Republican Party are also tied to Big Money, probably even more so. Despite his campaign promises to the contrary, Trump has not drained the Washington swamp. In fact, he has enlarged it by filling his cabinet with billionaires, who, like him, are more interested in profiting personally from their positions than they are in enhancing the public good. Take Steve Mnuchin, for example, one of several wealthy former Goldman Sachs executives now in Trump’s Cabinet. During the 2008 financial crisis, Mnuchin chaired OneWest Bank, which used fabricated and “robo-signed” documents to secure evictions, and routinely dispossessed the homes of senior citizens and people of color.6

            As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin helped draft Trump’s new tax plan. Under this scheme, taxes will go up for many families that are just scraping by while the rich benefit. These tax increases will not pay for health care, food, or housing, but will provide the basis for lowering taxes on the wealthy, resulting in the richest one percent of families in the U.S., including Mnuchin’s, receiving an increase in income of 8.5 percent after taxes.7 This is just one of many giveaways for corporations and multimillionaires offered in the Republicans’ tax plan.

            Is there any way to stop this moral free-fall in American politics? Throughout our history Americans have risen up in mass movements — be it for women’s suffrage, labor, the environment or LBGTQ rights — and successfully demanded a reformation of our country’s values and priorities. Isn’t it time we do it again in the name of fairness and economic justice for all Americans?

Bruce Berlin is the president of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (nmmop.org) and the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America.

1 See http://swampland.time.com/2012/08/23/the-party-of-no-new-details-on-the-gop-plot-to-obstruct-obama/.

2 See http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/73971-obamas-first-year-yields-few-results-in-drive-for-bipartisanship.

3 See http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/11/13/romneycare-vs-obamacare-key-similarities-differences/.

4 See http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/secret-and-lies-of-the-bailout-20130104.

5 See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency.

6 See https://newrepublic.com/article/133368/donald-trumps-finance-chair-anti-populist-hell.

7 See https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/10/03/lets-stop-gops-biggest-grift-all.

 

Lessons from the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my 22-year old daughter, Gioia, stirred my soul like only peak experiences can. For five days last month we were immersed in the Canyon’s magnificence, completely cut off from the outside world. What a gift! Engulfed in a timeless hallowed space, every moment felt sacred.

Captivated by this ancient canyon, I began to discern a deeper perspective on life in our country as well as on planet Earth. We, Americans, are such a tiny spec of history. Nearly two billion years old, the Grand Canyon opens up a most profound lens from which to examine our lives.

In the 100+ degree, dry heat of the Canyon, life is truly precious. Everyone on our voyage (24 people in six rafts) looked out for each other’s health and safety. We made sure we all had enough drinking water, sunscreen and protective clothing. Running the rapids, we paddled in harmony to avoid being capsized by the five-foot or greater waves crashing over us. Hiking in the Canyon, we extended a helping hand to one another as we climbed up steep granite rocks. We understood our welfare, perhaps even our lives, depended on our mutual support.

Outside the Canyon, however, Americans don’t often hold that belief. Yes, we have our communities and neighborhoods where people work cooperatively to plant gardens or watch out for burglars. But, generally, Americans like to go their own way, the preferred choice of a private vehicle over mass transit being the textbook example. Moreover, we think we know best and distrust those with contrary opinions. Consequently, we are less inclined to engage with others outside our familiar circles to develop more inclusive solutions to a communal issue. Frequently, it takes an immediate crisis for most Americans to pull together for the common good.

This phenomenon is plainly evident in our nation’s current politics. While both the country’s healthcare system and infrastructure, among other major concerns, badly need improving, our politicians are too tied to their respective parties, not to mention their big money donors, to work together on broad-based answers to these problems. After many months of bickering, it took the disaster of Hurricane Harvey and the pending Hurricane Irma catastrophe for Congress to finally pass meaningful legislation to assist the American people.

While many factors determine our actions and attitudes, one influence appears to stand out when I reflect on my unifying experience in the Grand Canyon compared to the more diffuse, often divisive, atmosphere in the rest of our country and the world. It’s the sacred space of the Canyon that made all the difference.

In the depths of the Canyon, there were no competing voices. No TV commercials. No op-eds. No Big Money influencing one’s views. Not even any bills to pay or emails to answer. There was nothing between the grandeur of the Earth, our precious home, and me. Yet, that space was not empty. It overflowed with Spirit, and filled my heart and soul.

I wonder what it would take for each of us to rise above all the noise and confusion of our modern world and live in that sacred space where unity, the common good, was our primary goal. Of course, that’s a huge challenge. But if we each took it on, I’m certain our country, as well as the planet, would be so much better off. Are you willing to give it a try?

What Do We Do Now?

If ever there was a time to stand up and actively work for what we want our nation to be, that time is now. Our country desperately needs all of us. The future of our democracy rides on We, the people.

            Today all Americans who believe Donald Trump is destroying the fabric of our American values must come together and create the strongest possible response to Trump’s white supremacist threat to our nation. Most Americans are upset, if not outraged, with Trump’s reaction to the neo-Nazis’ violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a little more than a week ago. In fact, Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic advisor, was reported to be “disgusted.” Business leaders, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, even conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May criticized Trump’s failure to condemn the neo-Nazi demonstration.

            Still, no Republican on Capitol Hill has called for Trump’s resignation or impeachment despite his multiple transgressions against the American people and our Constitution, since he became president. More than 40 percent of the public now thinks Trump should be impeached, and he is losing support among his base as well. Moreover, a recent poll (taken just prior to Trump’s response to the violent demonstration) indicated only 29 percent of whites without a college degree, a key element of his base, “approve strongly of how Trump is handling his job.” While 13 percent also said they somewhat approve, 43 percent said they strongly disapproved, and 6 percent said they somewhat disapproved…”*

            Trump’s approval rating is now just 10 points higher than Richard Nixon’s when Nixon resigned after his party abandoned him amid the Watergate investigation. Nevertheless, without Republican lawmakers calling for his resignation or impeachment, Trump will remain in the White House.

            Meanwhile, what do the rest of us, who believe Trump is utterly unfit to be president, do? Clearly, it’s time for a coordinated, massive response for the good of our Republic. What might that look like?

            First, we must make our voices heard loud and clear, demanding that Congress initiate a formal investigation into whether to impeach the president. We must mount a huge lobbying effort, including letters to the editor, petition drives, demonstrations and sit-ins at Congressional offices at home and in DC. Congressional representatives, Republican and Democrat alike, must be barraged with calls for Trump’s impeachment. They must understand that if they do not actively support impeaching Trump, their constituents will vote for someone who will in the 2018 elections. The more they hear from us, the more likely they are to open an investigation.**

            Second, we must initiate community dialogues with our neighbors about the present state of our country, Trump’s lack of moral leadership, his apparent obstruction of the special prosecutor’s investigation, his misuse of the office of the Presidency for personal gain, and his responsibility for the growing divisiveness in our nation. We must build a very broad-based, mass movement to remove Trump from office.

            Third, we must call out Trump’s racist supporters, whether they are in the streets, the media or the halls of Congress. Americans need to know who is enabling Trump and the white supremacists’ movement that violates all the principles our country has long stood for. We have to isolate their movement, do whatever we can to eliminate its influence in our country, and develop safeguards against this ever happening again.

            Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must build a government of, by and for the people. Our mass movement must address the needs of all Americans, including those whom Trump conned with his fake populism. We each must look into our hearts and answer the call to revive democracy in America.

            How do you answer the call? Here are some local organizations that you can contact to get involved in this movement:

Indivisible (https://indivisiblesantafe.org/); New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (http://nmmop.org/); Retake Our Democracy (https://retakeourdemocracy.org/); and Chainbreaker Collective (https://chainbreaker.org/).

* See http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/poll-40-percent-now-support-trump-impeachment-n793251 and http://www.salon.com/2017/08/02/new-poll-reveals-donald-trump-is-losing-support-from-a-key-part-of-his-base/.

** See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/07/12/a-house-democrat-has-filed-the-first-articles-of-impeachment-against-president-trump/.