When Trump Was Right (Reality Edit)
I started this post in September, when I thought Clinton was a lock.
I planned to release it after her election. At the time, I was getting very frustrated with liberals and their failure to look critically at their own candidate and the way they were selling her. I did not predict her loss, by any means, but I was already steeling myself for the abrupt shift in congeniality I was about to face as my friends and allies celebrated the election of the first woman president (a glorious milestone to be sure) while I shifted back to the left to criticize the sitting Democrat for her inevitable adherence to neoconservative imperialism and slavish kowtowing to banks and corporate boards.
I supported and voted for Sanders in the primary, though I now wish I tried a lot harder. When it was clear he would lose, and that Trump would win the primary, I quickly jumped off the #BernieOrBust train for fear of what it could do to voter turnout. Trump was an existential danger, enough to not only keep me from voting Green but also pushed me to canvas on behalf of Clinton, and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, in an attempt to fend off a potential white nationalist presidency. We on the left should punt this time, I thought, get Clinton into office and maybe take the Senate, and then organize from the fringe in 2018 to get her a Congress too liberal to allow her to do anything stupid.
As Clinton’s lead in the polls yawned to a garish 12%-15% around the time of Pussygate, the media was giddy, and my Facebook feed was laughably optimistic. The only mention of her emails was a bold dismissiveness that they mattered at all. Bring up their contents such as:
- emails from consultants and Clinton insiders detailing the ways they made the Clintons and themselves rich through access to their positions as ex-President and Secretary of State (and future President),
- how their aides shut Chelsea Clinton out for not understanding the ‘ways things work around here,’ and
- how the memos shined a light on how Clinton would govern – through political expediency and longstanding relationships, some with the same regimes that are funding terrorists like ISIS in Syria and abroad
- and you’d get one of three reactions:
1) What, do you want Trump to win?
The most common response to any criticism of Hillary Clinton from the left was this most predictable of canards. Any vocalized wonder about her judgment, her integrity, her policy positions (which are to the right of Obama on several key issues, such as national security) was a dangerous venture into a subject that-could-not-be-named. As if voters on the fence about Clinton would hear something new about the most negatively propagandized American politician since Abraham Lincoln circa 1863. Never mind that such an examination was critical to understanding the race her opponent was running and how to counter his message, it’s sort of a good idea to critically discuss the policies and temperament of the person you’re about to elect to the most powerful office on Earth. Trump’s absolute failure to meet those standards was well established. But what would Hillary be like? Such a question was heresy. The only acceptable thing to do on Facebook, and on late night talk shows, was to defend the absurdity of the comparison (despite that such a comparison is what all the undecideds were doing because it’s THE BASIS FOR AN ENTIRE ELECTION) and to further delve into how unfit Trump would truly be. Do not speak of the Clinton Foundation, because someone impressionable might be listening.
2) It’s just Russia interfering in our elections!
I have never seen a more shameless exploitation of weak-sauce jingoism and kneejerk Cold War zombie ideology than how liberals in the media and in the Clinton campaign itself tried to scapegoat Russia for the contents of her own emails. Sure, they hacked the DNC and leaked it to Wikileaks. They probably did the Podesta emails too. But how can any thinking person conclude that once the content of those emails were made public that Russia or any hacker had any culpability for their impact. Was there a ton of misinformation in the system, much of it pushed by Russian info-trolls, sure! But to try and grab that association and pin it to Trump was such a desperate and mind-boggling tactic that I still can’t wrap my head around it. People don’t give a fuck about Vladimir Putin and they’re not afraid of Russia. Why Clinton’s camp thought this was a winning strategy comes from hanging around too many Cold warrior neocons and thinking their opinions translate at all into public sentiment.
3) We already knew that!
This is my favorite, because it revealed how little people actually cared about what kind of president Clinton would be. They wanted the storyline to play out as expected, for Hermione to win in spite of the putrid misogyny that she no doubt has faced her entire life. But when it was shown that Clinton and her aides had been cynically manipulating their messaging to appeal to the left with a clear plan to shift right as soon as the electorate would allow, instead of holding her to account we were told, “Well of course she will, that’s what she does. She’s a pragmatist.”
But you guys had just finished telling us how she’s a true progressive and will fight for all of us! We were told how her extremely late flop on gay marriage and TPP and superpredators and the Iraq War were aberrations, and that she was just as good as Bernie, but smarter! Charges that she was close to banks were lies! But then, we read her emails. Turns out that she was as right-centrist and wishy-washy as any Democrat has ever been, and when that was called out, liberals had no problem skipping the shock and danced right past rationalisation and acceptance to “of course she is, when was it any other way?” We have always been at war with Eastasia.
But then she lost.
Because she did lose. One irritating sports cliche that gets repeated after a favorite is toppled by an underdog is ‘did X really win, or did Y lose?’ By any measure, Clinton had the advantage. She had the money, she had the media, she had a head start because the DNC paved the way, she had the most popular politician/wife combo since the Kennedys campaigning on her behalf, and she had LENA DUNHAM. (Too bad she didn’t have the FBI.) What more could you need to win a national election? An out-of-control magnesium fire on the deck of a cruise ship full of underage models? SHE GOT IT.
So while this blog post was originally intended to point out that, despite his best efforts, Trump made a few claims and proposed a few policies that we should actually listen to, now it’s going to be a concession to the reasons Trump won, and the very very very very few things he promised that I actually hope he’ll follow through with.
1) End Support of Jabhat Al-Nusra and Affiliates, and Stop Antagonizing Russia
Anyone who knows me knows that my number one concern about presidential politics is war and peace. The reason for this is simple: it’s something presidents actually control 100% (don’t let the Constitution fool you) and it has the biggest impact on the lives of all of us, most so the ones we intend to bomb. The United States has been at constant war since its inception, with only a few breaks in the fighting, and the only time it did anyone any good was when we fought ourselves.
Hillary Clinton has pledged an escalation of our involvement in the Syrian civil war, on the side of the groups fighting to depose Bashar al-Assad. Other states are our partners in that effort, including Turkey (sort of), Iraq (kind of but not really), and the freedom loving monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Oh, and Al-Qaeda.
Why does Clinton want to help Al-Qaeda take over Syria? Well, it’s complicated. Suffice to say she is against ISIS, when they’re fighting against us, at least, and she is against the murderous Al-Assad who gasses his own people, but not for that reason. Syria is a proxy war, where we fund bands of ethno-religiously motivated extremists to other fight ethno-religiously motivated extremists funded by Russia and Iran. Turkey is fighting extremists who support Assad, but also fighting our allies like the Kurds, since their goal is territorial integrity, and they don’t want a massive armed hostile force on, or within, their borders. Really, that’s the motivation for pretty much every actor in this conflict – fighting vicious, genocidal enemies who are too close for comfort – except for us. We’re there to protect our allies and maintain the ‘balance’ of geopolitics in the region, by which we mean the security interest of Israel, our allies in Saudi and Egypt, and a general forward position against the southern Russian Federation.
So why shouldn’t we participate in a key conflict to try and bring it to a hasty end, with the outcome that serves our interests best and hopefully minimizes suffering for the Syrian people? Simple – IT AIN’T THAT SIMPLE. First of all, our main factions on the ground are horrible, horrible people. The Al-Nusra front, an off-shoot of Al Qaeda that has changed it name a bunch of times at the request of the State Dept (to avoid restrictions on arming literal terrorists) have been executing civilians in the areas they capture, including public shootings of pregnant women.
When people ask why the terrorists hate us so much, it’s because the American government funds the decimation of their homes and families for geopolitical power. Assad is a tyrant and should face justice. But we should never back groups like this, regardless of their aims and how they link up with ours.
If Trump stops this cooperation and rolls back our collaboration with Saudi and the gulf monarchies then I will praise him for it. It was unlikely that Clinton ever would have done such a thing.
Likewise, Trump was right that constant intervention near Russia’s borders is needlessly provocative, and could lead to WWIII. When he asked rhetorically ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had better relations with Russia?’ the answer was still yes. I don’t believe it’s up to the United States to maintain the existence of the Baltic states at the cost of a potential nuclear conflict. I don’t think it’s our job to maintain a global invasion force to keep gas prices low for Germany and France. I think it would be great if we could cooperate with Russia once in a while. Is Putin a piece of shit who assassinates journalists? Yup. But if that’s you’re only qualm, see above. A United States at peace with Russia is a United States, and Europe, and planet Earth, that continues to exist.
2) The Tax Code Benefits the Wealthy and Needs Reform
We may never see the tax return of a wealthy presidential nominee again. And why should we? Trump just won without ever producing his, bucking a decades long unwritten rule of politics that turned out to be not much of a rule at all. Trump’s explanation for why he avoided it is profoundly honest – most people wouldn’t understand what it contains and it could only be used to smear him despite him doing everything legally. He’s right!
Income taxes (and their mingling with business taxes as Trump’s no doubt were) are designed to do a few things: 1) fund the federal government while 2) pushing the tax burden to the middle and top of the income tree and 3) incentivize certain types of savings and investment through byzantine rules governing ‘tax expenditures.’ While Congress can barely pass a spending bill once a year, there is always an appetite for tax cuts, and where the feds think a strategic tax cut might help – say, on child care (as Trump proposed) or on green energy production (as Obama and Clinton have) – Congress can pass a ‘tax cut’ which is actually a way of spending cash before its received, all through the tax system.
The problem with managing government revenues in this way is that all these rules quickly become a massive tangle of competing credits and refunds, compounding and recursive benefits, carried forward balances and deductions that add up to a tax regime to complicated for almost anyone to understand, least of all everyday taxpayers and least LEAST of all lawmakers. The only people who can afford to take advantage of these rules are people who can afford to pay experts to understand it for them – the wealthy. There are entire teams of lawyers and accountants paid to look for legal and optimized ways to reduce tax liabilities for large companies and wealthy individuals. These folks make six-figure saving the rich seven or eight. And there are a lot of ways to do it.
Unfortunately, when Republicans talk about tax reform they don’t mean eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy. They almost always mean increasing the tax burden on poorest 50% (who pay almost no income taxes, but pay PLENTY of other taxes including employment tax, Social Security and Medicare, sales tax, state income tax, gas tax, etc. etc.), sightly reducing if on the middle (remember that $300 check George Bush sent you in 2002?) and greatly reducing it on the top end of the spectrum. They do this by lowering marginal tax rates on high earners. Tax brackets work by taxing each share of your income below a certain level. All the money you make under about $20K, not taxes. $20-40K, taxes a little. $40-80K, taxed more, etc. People who earn over $250K have that upper part of ther income taxed a bit more. But for people who make way more than $250K, they have a lot to gain from a small adjustment down in that bracket. And the government has a LOT to lose. Bernie proposed adding more brackets to the top so we could tune this better. That was a great idea.
The other thing people talk about regarding tax reform is ‘loopholes.’ This is an overused term. Quirks in a law that are used outside of their intended purpose are loopholes. Using a tax deduction that works exactly as its meant to, like, say, deducting a $970M over ten years to effectively reduce your tax liability to zero, is not a loophole, that’s just called paying your taxes as they’re due. The purpose of that particular feature of our tax code is to encourage people to take business risks, so that they pay taxes when they’re doing well, but can get some credit back for keeping their businesses open when they’re not doing so well. It is abused, monumentally, to the point that the effective tax rate of a US corporation is only 12.6%, instead of the 35% rate that’s actually in the law. And that’s without considering how Apple and other major companies keep their profits offshore in Ireland to avoid paying US tax, and just borrow against instead.
Does Trump have any intention to reform this aspect of the tax code? Probably not. He did call out one specific feature called the ‘carried interest’ loophole which allowed hedge fund and private equity managers (like yours truly) to pay a reduced 15% income tax instead of the standard 25-35% rate based on a categorization of their income. This would not make a big difference in federal income, but it would at least remove a totally unnecessary advantage for the same assholes who continue to fuck up our economy every ten years.
So there’s that. But while all of us fret over the sweeping authoritarian presence our government will be in the next eight years, the one thing you can be 100% sure of is that the rich will have their taxes cut significantly in the name of growth, that said growth will never materialize, and that eight years from now the fucking yokels who voted for this turn will be right back at our doorstep asking for change. Let’s hope we can finally offer them something different, because…
3) The Democratic Party is an Abject Failure at Almost Every Level
Look, I’m not trying to pile on, but sure, I’m piling on. I voted for Clinton, despite my better angels, because I want to see an ever-so-generally progressive government in place before I start to nitpick in the particulars. Game theory clearly shows that backing insurgents within the party like Bernie Sanders leads to much more concrete results than backing third-party outsiders like Jill Stein or abstaining altogether. But through the age of Obama, when immediately following a devastating recession, key major policy victories, and a resurgence of the liberal presence media, the party lost control of Congress (permanently, it seems) and has failed to regain any ground at the state or federal level since. And despite a 2012 presidential victory by the aforementioned most popular politician in two or three generations, the Democratic Party, its consultants, fundraisers, donors, supporters in the media, and its foot soldiers on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit and Facebook have completely failed to build a majority coalition that could govern the country. Its policy positions are vague except where they matter least, and the solutions they offer for regular people are completely blunted by a resignation that none of it will work anyway, because the Republicans win so damn much.
Bernie Sanders understood this and ran a miracle of a campaign, one that managed to stay 95% positive regarding his opponent while addressing the real concerns of the entire Democratic coalition – union workers, people suspicious government power and foreign intervention, people of color, students, teachers, and environmentalists. He ran a model campaign that energized the youth, a development that Democrats have always ignored at their own peril, and the nation’s. And when returns came in last Tuesday, it was obvious that Change was once again in the air, and Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment had none to provide, more by design than by neglect.
In its place, the Democrats offered a rah-rah version of progressivism tied to celebrity and call-out culture and a smug assumption that they were right about everything, even the things about which they were objectively wrong. Feel the economy isn’t working for you? You’re wrong! Unemployment is way down! Feel like government benefits the wealthy and not regular people, you’re wrong! We helped you by forcing you to buy health insurance from private companies! Deportations were at record highs through the Obama years? Nope! It’s the Republicans’ fault for not passing immigration reform, dummy!
Despite what was a mostly good faith effort to show a positive vision of an inclusive America, liberals did what they always do, and assumed that everyone who didn’t see it their way were idiots and should be mocked. And in many cases, they’re right, bigots and morons should be mocked. But when they say the Devil cannot stand mockery, they don’t mean he withers like the Wicked Witch of East and goes away, it means he fights back, and if you don’t have anything to defend yourself with, you’re gunna lose. Especially if your mockery had as collateral damage most of the voters you’re trying to court.
The bottom line is that the Democrats annointed Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy, and then treated Bernie Sanders and the generation he mobilized like a gnat to be swatted away even as he foretold of the imminent death of their party. They got high on their own supply, and when anyone called them on it, they called them a sexist, an alarmist, a ‘child asking for freebies,’ or a troll. By failing to create a true coalition of the working class, one that combated intolerance and bigotry with solidarity and hope, instead of elitism and memes about Game of Thrones, they doomed themselves for a generation. It was their duty to secure the Supreme Court and the rights of queer people, and voting rights for all, and they failed. It was their duty to protect Social Security and Medicare, the two most unassailable policy positions in American politics, and they failed to even mention them. It was their job to provide a vision for the future that was even an iota more plausible and inclusive than the vague ramblings of a jingoist ex-playboy who didn’t pay his taxes, and they failed. They failed all of us. And we failed ourselves by relying on them.
It doesn’t matter now. Trump may show a glimmer of ‘bipartisanship’ here and there, maybe he’ll be to the left of his own generals on Syria and Russia. Maybe he’ll pick a fight with a Republican congress over tax cuts for Wall Street in order to fire up his base and keep them on his side, and not Paul Ryan’s. I think the best case scenario is that someone in his party criticizes him and he goes nuclear (metaphorically speaking) on the entire US government and brings this shithouse into the dirt.
And maybe the Democrats that hold current office resign en masse and make way for a new generation of activists focused on key policies like Medicare-for-all, universal basic income, radical climate change action, a dismantling of police and military power at home and abroad, and an unapologetic commitment to workers rights to fair wages, benefits, and a share of the profits. We need a Democratic Party that is energized by the things that bring together working people regardless of their various tribal associations, while unapologetically defending the rights of minorities from those in our country motivated by bigotry and fear. We need to stop comparing ourselves to heroes from fantasy and science fiction and start building a truly heroic movement that all Americans can get behind, or we will never see the end of Trump, his most vile supporters, and his horrible, horrible children.