The Struggle for the Soul of America: A Time for Serious Soul-Searching

While the country dodged an authoritarian bullet by electing Joe Biden as our next president, we are far from out of the woods. This is truly a time for some deep national reflection.

Our country is deadlocked. Almost half of America believes the election was stolen and Donald Trump should be president for another four years. Despite the administration’s massive corruption and self-dealing,[1] over 73 million Americans voted to give Trump a second term. While the president has lost over 30 lawsuits challenging the 2020 election,[2] a great many Americans continue to stand by him.

At the same time, more than 260,000 Americans have died from COVID 19 while Trump has refused to employ the immense powers of the federal government to curb the spread of the virus. As he continues to ignore this public health crisis, millions of Trump’s supporters still believe the virus is a hoax.

Meanwhile, as deaths from the virus continue to mount, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is attempting to undermine Biden’s future efforts to control the pandemic. Mnuchin is placing $455 billion in unspent coronavirus relief funds into an account that requires further congressional authorization to access, even though Congress had previously allocated the funds for emergency relief programs back in March.[3]

Plus, the Senate and House won’t put their differences aside for the good of the country. Once again, they have failed to pass a bill to help the millions who are suffering from the virus or have lost their incomes. Cities and states are also overwhelmed and desperately need federal assistance to keep their public health and other essential services operating.

Why is it so difficult for the country to come together to defeat this terrible common enemy, COVID 19? What don’t we understand? Why are we failing?

Political Science Professor Katherine Cramer at the University of Wisconsin points to a key factor underlying this dilemma. She explains:

There is a deep well of people in this country…who are sure the system is not working for them….(My book explores) the feelings of resentment many rural people in Wisconsin felt toward the urban elite. When Donald Trump won in 2016, partly by tapping into this resentment…I became aware just how surprised many in the cultural elite were about the challenges facing rural communities and the fact that many people living in these places feel they are not getting their fair share of attention, resources or respect. The shock at the closeness of the 2020 race suggests we are still unaware of the depth of this resentment.…What is the infrastructure that allows the hardships of so many to remain invisible?[4]

Mark Bauerlein, professor emeritus of English at Emory University, put it this way:

Ordinary Americans looked at the elite zones of academia, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington itself, and saw a bunch of self-serving, not very competent individuals sitting pretty, who had enriched themselves and let the rest of America slide,…putting the rank and file down for years.

(Trump) pinpointed them as the problem—the reason factories and small stores had closed, unemployment was bad, and PC culture had cast them as human debris. And millions cheered. …The outburst was a long time coming. Trump gave it an outlet, and the scorn for men and women at the top of our country is now widespread and frank. It’s not going to pass any time soon.[5]

John Austin, director of the Michigan Economic Center, offered this solution to the problem:

(U)nless we address the root economic causes of many American voters’ anger and social alienation, we will remain a divided nation, with many remaining susceptible to the message of demagogues like Donald Trump.[6]

But the questions remain: Will Biden and his new Administration really get it? Will the Republicans continue to block progress in addressing these root economic causes?

Are they up to the challenge? To succeed, Sen. Bernie Sanders believes that “Democrats in Congress and the incoming Biden administration ‘must have the courage to take on the powerful special interests who have been at war with the working class of this country for decades.’”[7]

Will they? It is up to us to make sure they do, or we will lose what’s left of our representative democracy to the next populist authoritarian who comes along.

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.


[1] https://www.republicreport.org/2020/ten-reasons-trump-is-the-most-corrupt-president-in-u-s-history/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/us/elections/trump-campaign-lawsuits.html

[3] https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/11/25/flat-out-sabotage-already-underway-mnuchin-tries-put-455-billion-covid-funds-out

[4] https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-showed-us-america-005554050.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/11/25/prevent-another-right-wing-authoritarian-even-worse-trump-sanders-says-democrats

The Struggle for the Soul of America: People Power Can Win the Election

With less than four months before the election, the time to get involved is now. Even if Joe Biden was not your first, second or even third choice for president (He wasn’t in my top three either.), you cannot let that get in your way of taking action to rescue our country.

This election is really not about Joe Biden and whether he’s progressive enough, or fill-in-the-blank enough. Rather, the election is about saving our country from four more years of Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency and a Mitch McConnell-controlled, Republican Senate. If we fail to do whatever we can to oust Trump and his cronies, thus allowing them to run the country for four more years, what’s left of our tattered democracy will be destroyed. Additionally, our rights as citizens will be greatly diminished, or worse.

Many of us feel hampered by the need to quarantine due to the coronavirus. Others are feeling helpless in the face of Trump’s pervasive corruption, lies and fear mongering. What can one person do in the midst of the pandemic that can really make a difference?

The two most powerful forces in politics are money and people. We watch in disgust as big bucks unduly influences acts of Congress on a routine basis and often policy decisions in the White House as well.  Nevertheless, together we had the people power that helped end the Vietnam War. Together, we had the people power that gave the LBGTQ community equal rights. When enough of us work together, the American people are very powerful. And, together, we have the power that can throw Trump and his gang of sycophants out of office in November.

Right now we can exercise our power from the comfort and safety of our own homes. And all we need is our phones. Here are a few suggestions of how you can use your phone to help win the election and save the country:

  1. Call your friends and neighbors. If they don’t already get it, explain to them how critical this election is to — our safety, our healthcare, our children’s future, the makeup of the Supreme Court, the air we breathe and the water we drink, our immigrant families, our way of life as Americans, and practically anything else we can imagine. Then, urge them to get involved in the elections. Ask them to go to https://votesaveamerica.com/ and volunteer.
  2. Pick a swing state where a Democratic challenger can beat a Senate Republican. If you live in New Mexico, for instance, Arizona or Colorado are two nearby states that have competitive Senate races that Democrats can win. We can help take control of the Senate away from Mitch McConnell and put it in the hands of responsible leadership. Contact a voting rights organization in states (for example, Arizona Advocacy Network at https://www.azadvocacy.org/) and volunteer to assist in their efforts to protect voting rights and defend clean elections.
  3. Contact the campaign of a Democratic Senate challenger in any state with a winnable race and offer to make phone calls advocating that voters support the Democratic candidate. Former astronaut Mark Kelly (https://markkelly.com/) has a very good chance in Arizona as does former Governor John Hickenlooper (https://hickenlooper.com/) in Colorado.

These are just a few of the ways you can help save our country. The more of us who jump in, the more powerful we are and the more likely we will win in November. So, let’s get to work. Our country needs us now!

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: 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: 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.

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: 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.

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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/.

 

Democracy Convention: A Call To Transform Our Political System

Four hundred political organizers and social change agents from around the country recently gathered for the third national Democracy Convention in Minneapolis from August 2 to 6. I came away from that experience energized and feeling that the progressive movement is alive and well in America.

While the conference had numerous themes, its overriding mission was: To bring people together to build a strong Democracy Movement for transforming of our political system into one that truly represents and serves the working people of our country.Sponsored by Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution, the convention clearly made major strides towards its goal.

The convention addressed the full gamut of people’s concerns, including racial justice and immigration, health and education, money in politics, environmental protection, peace and economic equity. One convention thread emphasized the need to strengthen the rights of people over corporations in the U.S. Constitution. Richard Monje, Vice President of Workers United/SEIU (Service Employees International Union), pointed out that the Constitution actually protects private property at the expense of We the people. He advocated for including workers’ and economic rights in the Constitution.

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Director of Move To Amend, one of the main convention sponsors, proclaimed that the moral argument for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is what will bring people together to demand a 28th Amendment. Move To Amend supports the We the People Amendment that states money is not speech and corporations are not people.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI), the First Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, kicked off the Saturday morning program. He declared that we need to “fix our democracy” by: (1) enacting a Constitutional Right to Vote Amendment and related laws to protect the integrity of our elections; and (2) eliminating Big Money from the election process. Rep. Pocan also called for a People’s Budget that would prioritize the needs of the American people and cut out corporate handouts and tax loopholes.

 

While I found that the Convention presented many stimulating solutions to the critical issues facing our nation, a central question still had to be addressed: how to move these ideas into actual policy? Nick Brana, former National Political Outreach Coordinator for the Sanders for President campaign, had one answer that attracted many convention attendees. A founding member of Our Revolution, Brana called for a new progressive party. He noted that Americans are disillusioned and deserting the two major parties. Brana asserted that almost half the country now identifies as Independents. He believes that a viable, progressive third party could be formed by bringing together half of the Independents, half of the Democrats, some Republicans and many Americans who previously have refused to participate in our elections.

Brana argued that progressives must institutionalize their message by forming a third party. He likened progressives’ involvement in the Democratic Party to an abusive relationship. The Party keeps promising to change, but it continually goes back to the same old abusive behavior of favoring Corporate America and Wall Street over the people. According to Brana, breaking this destructive pattern requires that progressives form their own party. Then the Democratic Party will be forced to change to avoid mass defections, or it will continue to shrink and finally collapse. If the Party does not return to its FDR roots, Brana argued, this new third party will become a major people’s party.

The premise of Brana’s thesis is that the Democratic Party has no incentive to change without the challenge of a third party. With the help of Harvard Professor Cornel West, he is putting his theory to the test. Together they are convening the People’s Convergence Conference (convergence2017.org) in Washington on September 8th to 10th. The conference will examine the way forward for the progressive movement. They have invited Sen. Sanders to attend a “Draft Bernie Town Hall” at the conference.

Whether Sanders will accept the invitation and agree to lead a new third party is doubtful. Nevertheless, we are living in very dangerous times. Our democracy is being threatened by authoritarian leaders both at home and abroad. The American people have lost faith in the ability of our Establishment institutions to work for them. The Democracy Convention provided hope that together we can transform our political system and save our democracy.

Are Democrats Headed in the Wrong Direction?

            With the Republicans unable to achieve any legislative victories and stuck with a very unpopular president, the Democrats would appear to have a golden opportunity to regain a great deal of political power in the 2018 elections. Under such circumstances, you would think the Party would naturally turn to its strength to generate voters’ support and build momentum for a winning campaign.

            For some strange reason, however, the Democratic Party doesn’t see it that way. According to the International Business Times, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) believes that placating its wealthy donors is more important than motivating its progressive base. (See http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/democratic-group-angers-progressives-bets-conservative-wing-wall-street-money-win) Thus, the DCCC is “coordinating with the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 18 moderate Democrats that has shriveled in numbers and power in recent years…The DCCC’s appeal to the center coincides with significant funding for the group from finance executives and other wealthy donors…”

            Apparently, the DCCC fails to recognize that this same strategy was a major reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Democratic turnout last November was down because Clinton failed to excite the Party’s liberal base with a strong progressive message. Instead she played it “safe” in line with her Wall Street backers and many Democrats stayed home. (See https://www.forbes.com/sites/omribenshahar/2016/11/17/the-non-voters-who-decided-the-election-trump-won-because-of-lower-democratic-turnout/#2b3f928e53ab)

I would venture this same strategy has been a primary factor in why the Democrats have lost approximately 1000 elected offices across the country since Barack Obama became president.

            On the other hand, Bernie Sanders’ campaign proved that a candidate with a strong progressive platform motivates Democrats and can attract huge numbers of both new voters and small, individual donations. Nevertheless, the DCCC persists in following its proven losing strategy. Why?

            I can see only one reason: It’s all about the money. The Democrats, much like the Republicans, are tied to their Big Money donors. They believe that they can’t win without those big bucks to pay for TV ads, mass mailings, etc. The truth is Democrats can’t seem to win with them. If the Democrats don’t nominate candidates who inspire their base and give them a real choice, then they will not turn out on Election Day. The Democratic base will not follow the DCCC down the Republican-light, move-to-the-center path. That path leads to a dead end both for the base and the Party.

            Therefore, forward-thinking voters, in and out of the Democratic Party, must make their voices heard loud and clear. We are fed up with the Democrats and their failure to stand firmly for the working people of this country. The 2018 election may be the Democratic Party’s last chance. If they don’t get behind their base and back candidates who support the progressive agenda that the great majority of Democrats, as well as a good number of Independents and even Republicans, favor, then it just may be time to build a progressive, third party that will.