“Shall Not Perish from the Earth”
As in Lincoln’s time, so too in ours. Our work is so different, but in one critical way the same. We are called upon to save our “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In our time it is not only the Revolutionary and Civil War dead who must not have died in vain, but also all who have sacrificed since, in world wars fighting militarism and fascism and in battles for freedom here at home, in the struggle for civil rights and equality for all. And we must also save our country for our children, whose birthright should be a free and a just nation.
A government is of the people when its citizens are enfranchised and fairly represented. In our time, gerrymandering and voter suppression in tandem with economic patterns that concentrate voters in cities, hand outsized advantage to small, rural areas and skew representation. The electoral college likewise disadvantages the popular vote, so that we have, once again, a president* elected by a minority. Finally, a government is not of the people if its elections are infiltrated and attacked by enemies – and then those attacks are ignored by their beneficiaries.
Our government is by the people when its work is carried out by its representatives. Not just the representatives of one party actively working to suppress the influence of the other. And most definitely not when the power of government is given over to one person alone. This, especially, is what our founders feared and strove to prevent.
Finally, our government is for the people when it strives to serve all those who make up our nation and to guarantee them the rights upon which this nation was founded. A government which acts to disenfranchise and to persecute or which acts to reward its supporters and punish its opponents fails this test.
This week we saw the continuing fall-out from a White House hemorrhaging staff. Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs and continued to insist, against every responsible opinion, that trade wars were beneficial and could be “won”. While his move, like so many, seemed driven by pique, ignorance and temporary political advantage (he’s afraid of a loss to Conor Lamb in the special election this coming week in Pennsylvania), it was also a sign that there were no advisors who could hold him back. This is a sign of both weakness and danger: weakness, in that the administration is so decimated it is losing the capacity to act, and danger in that Trump’s autocracy is being strengthened. His convention declaration, “I alone can fix it” rings as an alarm in our ears. This is what our founders warned us against.
Likewise mid-week Trump suddenly announced that he would meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un later this spring. Again, this was Trump unconstrained by advice or understanding. It was effective theater, providing a huge distraction from the competing story of Trump’s payoff to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, but also presents a huge risk. A summit would confer status and acceptance upon Kim, without providing any clear benefit to the US. There is a clear danger that Trump, again acting as the autocrat, will get played. Even if he doesn’t, the autocracy is danger enough.
Chaos and confusion, yes. But leading to autocracy. This is not government by the people.
Government for the Few
- The administration continues to undermine attempts to stabilize the Affordable Care Act markets. This, in addition to the removal of the Act’s individual mandate as part of the tax scam package, may drive premiums up by as much as 90% over the next three years.
- Jared Kushner, despite losing his top security clearance and despite his many conflicts of interest, continued diplomacy with Mexico, excluding the US ambassador from the talks. The Trumps continue to treat our presidency as their royal court.
- Jeff Sessions came to California to sue the state for efforts to protect its residents from the increasingly abusive behavior of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Governor Brown and others accused him of lying for political advantage.
- Climate change continues to get dramatically get worse, as the administration works overtime to cut regulations and sell off protected land to special interests.
And In Other News
- The Stormy Daniels case – in which the former porn star sought the right to talk publicly about her alleged sexual affair with Trump shortly after his son was born – continued to move forward. At issue are several things: Trump’s lawyer, “fixer” Michael Cohen, may have violated federal election law by paying an undeclared $130,000 to hush Daniels’s story. If Trump received evidence (photographs, film, texts, etc) from the deal, those assets, potentially worth millions, were never declared. Finally, Daniels maintains that since Trump never signed the agreement it is null and void and she is at liberty to tell her story. We can see through all of this that Trump is susceptible to being blackmailed over sex.
- The Florida State legislature passed a bill that raises the minimum age to purchase firearms, imposes a three-day waiting period and bans bump stocks. The bill also strengthened police and mental health services and allowed for the arming of certain school personnel. It was a stunning rebuke to the NRA – who by week’s end sued to reverse the law – and a huge first step for the Parkland teenagers. It will not be their last victory.
- Public school teachers in West Virginia were successful in their “wildcat strike”, forcing the state to give them a 5% wage hike. This may prove a model for teachers in other Republican-dominated states, such as Arizona and Oklahoma.
- Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach continued to struggle in the case Fish v Kobach, a challenge to the state’s restrictive voting law. Kobach, the law’s author, claims that proof-of-citizenship is needed to stop non-citizens from voting. Thus far the judge has seemed to be unimpressed by Kobach’s defense, either its legal process or its substance.
- Robert Mueller’s investigation seemed to widen as it was disclosed that he had secured the help of another witness, George Nader, beginning in January. Nader has told Mueller, among other things, that the Seychelles meeting prior to Trump’s inauguration was meant to set up a secret back-channel to Russia by the incoming administration. Why would they want to do this? The most obvious answers are either that a) they were in such a rush that they couldn’t wait a couple of weeks until they were in office or b) they didn’t want the US government to know what they were doing. Guess which one my money is on?
- Trump gave a rally in Pennsylvania for weak Republican candidate Rick Saccone. Republicans have poured over $9M into the House special election, as Democrat Conor Lamb has closed the polling gap with Saccone in a district that went for Trump by 20 points. Conor still needs our help with text and phone banks. His win there would be huge. Let’s get him over the top!
As we work to restore our “government of the people, by the people, for the people” we will continue to have a conundrum. There is only one party committed to this proposition, as the Republicans are completely and tragically in thrall to a would-be dictator.
Yet to fight for the government that is our birthright means that we must still strive for a government that includes everyone’s representation and that functions to serve the needs and interests of all. Lamb, like Doug Jones in Alabama, has emphasized the need for government to work and to serve the people. This is the right message and platform – and yet it’s also a delicate path to tread when the other side won’t play fairly. Somehow we need to both defeat fascism and to restore democracy, not just against a foreign enemy but within, amongst our fellows.
This week we’re working to turn out the vote for Conor Lamb and to lay the groundwork for the critical 2018 elections around California. It’s imperative for us to take back the House if we’re to guarantee that our nation not perish at the hands of dictatorship. Join us as we Act to Win.
It’s also vital that we “play defense” and work to stall and reverse the attacks against our democracy. Join us, too, as we Take Action to let our representatives know what we need from them.
By Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org.
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, here’s a summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.