The Democratic Party’s moment of truth

Published 11:51 am Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Contributing columnist

Can the Democratic Party rise to the challenge created by the national and planetary emergency of global warming? Will it answer the swelling popular demand for universal healthcare? As it gets ready to fight for control of the government in 2020, it needs to answer two questions: (1) Will it try to accommodate an increasingly bizarre and dysfunctional GOP? and (2) Will it continue to allow corporate profits to dictate public policy?

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Democrats need to answer these two questions honestly. It’s not enough to acknowledge them without deciding. That would be the same as re-affirming our crumbling status quo.

The trap of bipartisanship

The Republican Party has lost any claim to legitimacy and respect. It has cultivated a base that combines racists, nativists, sexists, homophobes, evangelical science-deniers and Christian nationalists. These groups share a fear of losing their tribal identity and security as members of a white, patriarchal Christian empire.

The GOP has managed to fuse this toxic Americanism with market fundamentalism. Republicans interpret the jingoist notion of the U.S. as “leader of the free world” to mean that the U.S. heads an alliance of nations dedicated to freeing corporations from government oversight. This was the kind of leadership shown by National Security Advisor John Bolton when he flew to Brazil to have “a broad and productive discussion” with the newly elected fascist President Bolsonaro of Brazil.

Donald Trump was the bespoke messiah for a ripened GOP base. He embodies their arrogance and gnawing insecurity. He is happy to reassure them with lies about what they most fear, and encourages them to affirm themselves by channeling his machismo and his disrespect for “losers.” They are grateful for the apparent respect they get from this gilded man who has cultivated the appearance of great success in business.

Congressional Republicans have largely remained loyal to Trump, whether from agreement with him or from fear of retaliation by their base. They must ride the ugly beast they have summoned, and they deserve whatever happens if they try to dismount. Or — to change the image — the GOP congressional caucus is like a carful of submissive clowns trying to keep up with an Abrams tank commandeered by a child. We can only imagine how much destruction will occur before someone brings the mayhem to a halt.

After being reminded by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh of his promise to his base to build an ugly and useless wall on our southern border, Trump refused for weeks to sign a bill funding 25 percent of government operations until he got money for his wall. This cut off the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of government workers, and deprived countless vendors and contractors of income they will never recover. I hope the Democrats continue to reject this extortion attempt. Yielding would create an ominous precedent for Trump and future presidents.

The word “bipartisan” loses any positive connotation when dealing with the GOP. They have shown a willingness to place the fate of the nation in the hands of an infantile narcissist, a morally vile man who doesn’t give a damn about the “general welfare.” Their fanatic market fundamentalism lets them see the federal government as nothing more than an agency for maximizing investor and corporate profits.

They wish to privatize every government function in the stupid belief that only profit-driven enterprises can make effective contributions to the social good. Their contempt for government let them look the other way while Trump assembled a cabinet of incompetents and grifters, anti-secretaries of departments they want to subordinate to private interests (e.g. Betsy de Vos, Scott Pruitt or Ryan Zinke). Compromise with the GOP in its present state should be seen as a necessary evil rather than a goal.

The goal of government

Democrats can’t let the chaos created by Trump’s incompetence distract them from deciding what they stand for. The shutdown is only the latest symptom of a party driven by market fundamentalism and the regressive culture of its base. Democrats must not limit themselves to running against these symptoms. They need to run against their cause — the GOP’s distorted vision of American society.

The preamble to the Constitution asserts that the federal government is to provide for the “general Welfare of the United States.” Economic growth and maximizing profits cannot be equated with promoting the general welfare. The latter is an end, an intrinsic good for society as a whole. Economic growth and increasing profits are not ends; their only value is as means to the general welfare. Very often they enhance the general welfare, but we now realize how much harm they can do.

Even as global warming accelerates, the U.S. is expanding its fossil fuel extraction more quickly than any other nation. As our forests burn and our coastal cities are flooding, the Trump administration pitches natural gas and coal at the climate change conference in Katowice, Poland. For Trump and the GOP, enlarging the profits of the fossil-fuel industry takes precedence over having a livable environment. In our “democracy,” it doesn’t matter that 92 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans support the Green New Deal popularized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The lobbying might of a parasitic, for-profit healthcare industry condemns the U.S. to spend twice as much (in combined public and private money) per person on healthcare as other advanced countries with government-administered universal health insurance. In 2017, the total American medical bill was $3.4 trillion, which means we are wasting approximately $1.7 trillion per year.

Yet according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. lags behind these other countries in crucial measures such as rates of overall mortality, premature death, and preventable death. As PBS reports, “About 44 million people in this country have no health insurance, and another 38 million have inadequate health insurance.”

We know that the Republican Party refuses to deal with global warming and with our inadequate healthcare system. The Democratic Party has to decide whether it cares enough about the “general Welfare” to act.