We can beat back the Reign of Trump–if we unite in a movement for Populist Justice

This is what populist justice looks like

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Buckle up, friends. Most Americans are about to be detoured onto a rough and rocky back road called “Trump Way.” The autocratic tycoon was unabashed on the campaign trail in promising his victory would ensure millions of people a dire future, including mass deportations of immigrants, refugee bans, and frontal assaults on women. But they’re not the only ominous prospects. It will surprise many of the working stiffs who voted for the blustery billionaire to learn something he didn’t communicate in his hectoring, “truth-telling” speeches: His little-discussed economic agenda is filled with provisions that would permit 1-percenters to travel more luxuriously than ever in the smooth, fast lanes of life, while the middle class and the poor are flagged onto Trump Way for a hairy, four-year ride of even more downward mobility. The proposed package includes:

  • Immediately seizing control of the National Labor Relations Board, turning it into a corporate bulldozer to destroy workers’ rights, particularly the right to organize unions;
  • “Yuuuuge” new tax cuts for corporations and the superrich, busting the budget for addressing human needs;
  • Privatization of such basics as public education, Medicare, and Social Security;
  • Deregulation of corporate profiteers–from Wall Street banksters to Big Oil polluters;
  • Eliminating the federal minimum wage;
  • Freeing corporations from rules that prohibit discrimination in hiring, paying, promoting, and firing workers.
Cartoon by Brian Duffy

Why were voters not aware of Trump’s “little secret agenda”? Not only because he wasn’t about to boast about such unpopular policies, but also because the mass media were so dazzled by the bawdy spectacle of Trump’s tweets, spats, and on-stage tirades that they ignored fundamentally important aspects of his presidential intentions. In fact, his entire career as a luxury property developer and brand-name marketer of himself has been built on broken promises to workers, routine scamming of suppliers and partners, blatant self-dealing, crony capitalism, and lies. Note that only ten days after his election, Trump rushed to pay a $25 million hush-money settlement (mostly tax-deductible) to shut down a trial that would have laid bare his sleazy ripoff of thousands of low-income students at his fraudulent Trump “University.” That con game alone tells us who our next president really is: an incorrigible swindler.

At 70 years old, his nuclear-level of narcissism and gluttonous sense of entitlement are ingrained. Throughout his presidential run, we saw his pleasure in singling out and demeaning people as “losers,” including: “nasty” women, black protestors, disabled people, unionists, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Muslims, the poor, environmental activists, and anyone who criticized him. How he treats us commoners won’t change because he’s “President” Trump. [Gosh, it’s gonna take a long time before I can say that with a straight face.]

So, yes, buckle up. But more importantly, buck up!

The unity of human dignity

Naturally, a triumphant Trump has left many of us baffled, disgusted, and/or terrified. But, please, we have to shake off these immobilizing emotions ASAP–because we Lowdowners and progressives everywhere have important work to do. The forces of oligarchy and repression are hoping we’ll surrender to despair, withdraw in fear, or even flee to Canada. But come on, the fiery democratic spirit of grassroots Americans has sustained and advanced our nation’s fundamental ideals of fairness and justice in even darker times–the Civil War is just one example.

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The fight is on! It’s time for us to double down on what we at the Lowdown see as the progressive community’s shared campaign for Populist Justice. Essentially, it’s the integrative struggle for human dignity, combining our many separate fights for justice into a powerful and righteous whole, an all-for-one/one-for-all effort against the economic and political elites who are determined to subjugate us. To battle them, start by realizing two essential facts about us.

First, we can beat back the brutishness the Reign of Trump promises–if we seriously unite in becoming “us.” That means acting on the reality that our various groups really are in this together. When the Muslim community is attacked, for example, all of us non-Muslims need to recognize that’s an attack on every progressive, from union members to climate change activists.

As pointed out in the August Lowdown, racial and economic injustice are inseparable. Making this connection is especially important now, for the corporate media are simplistically declaring that Trump won because white, working-class men rebelled against the rising swirl of multiculturalism. Here’s a typical expression of this “white man’s angst,” offered up by Republican establishmentarian, New York Times columnist David Brooks:

“Members [of the white working class] have seen their skills devalued, their neighborhoods transformed, their masculinity delegitimized, their family structures decimated, their dignity erased and their basic decency questioned. Marginalized, they commonly feel invisible, alienated and culturally pessimistic.”

But, David–while all of that is true, guess which other groups would fit that same description (delegitimized masculinity, aside)? Black working-class members! Ditto for Latinos. And women. In fact, the entire working class.

Of course, the corporate powers (and those who prosper by serving them) have long divided working people by pitting un-powerful groups against each other. So it’s up to us to stop playing along. We now have an urgent need to organize and harmonize as one progressive family that can and will mobilize as a whole to defend and advance the interests of each and every part, rallying around respect for human dignity and the common good.

Second, despite the ominous fact that Republicans are now in charge of the Oval Office, the Senate, and House, have total control of 25 state governments and partial control in 20 more, and presumably, soon, the Supreme Court, all is not lost. One big positive is this: We–progressives–did not lose. Before you accuse me of losing my grip, hold on a second. I know–it’s awful to think that a charlatan like Trump would be elected by the American people and, yes, Trump’s voters included a startling number of union members, Latinos, women, and others who’ll be pounded by his reign. (I’m reminded of the comment by Dick Tuck, a puckish California political activist, after he lost his bid for a US Senate seat in 1966: “The people have spoken, the bastards.”)

But wait! Only a small minority of “the people” voted for Trump. Look at the numbers:

  • 47% of eligible voters didn’t go to the polls. Many couldn’t stomach the Repubs, but were also unable to believe that the Dem establishment would stand up for them.
  • 25% of the electorate actually cast their ballots for Trump.
  • 64.6 million Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, making her-not The Donald–America’s popular choice. She defeated Trump by more than 2 million votes. His victory comes from the Electoral College, not from a popular mandate.
  • 60% of those who did vote for Trump said they don’t trust him.

Here’s another fact: Those of us fighting for populist justice are stronger than we’ve been in decades. But how can that be, since Trump is headed to the White House? Because the vast majority of people agree with the ideals, issues, and ideas of progressive populism, not with Trumpism. Even his supporters were not voting for what they’re about to get–a disguised package of plutocratic/autocratic horrors they actually oppose.

Trump was not elected on issues, but on anger. Yes, white supremacists, misogynists, nativists, and xenophobes did turn out to support his naked bigotry, but many Trump voters simply heard him speaking one truth repeatedly: “The system is rigged” by and for the elites. That group of voters was filled with a deep, seething fury created by corporate, political, and authoritarian elites who’ve been flattening the majority of people for years, then callously stepping over them as if they don’t exist. To them, Trump was a great big bois d’arc stick they could grab to thump the whole smug establishment upside its collective head.

Trump has no ability or inclination to alleviate the depth of this anger and despair, as revealed by the plutocratic and autocratic proposals and people he’s bringing inside the White House. As for his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Trump’s efforts so far have merely exposed a slew of creeping swamp creatures: Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, The Newt, Mike Pompeo, Steve Bannon, Chris Christie, Michael Flynn, Betsy DeVos, and Wall Street insiders. Where’s the change in that old gang of corporate hacks?

Progressives need to be quick to read between this administration’s lies and call them out on each one. One gargantuan lie they’ve already trotted out is a trillion-dollar program to rebuild America’s public infrastructure. Sounds terrific–indeed, infrastructure investment was central to Bernie Sander’s populist, can-do agenda. So, hip-hip-hooray!

But hold your applause, for the Trump plan is just another corporate boondoggle. Rather than a straightforward, New Deal-style investment of tax dollars in things like high-speed rail or green energy projects, the Trumpsters intend to hand the job and our money to corporate giants that (1) will reap huge profits from the construction projects (a la today’s military contractors); and (2) will end up owning the public buildings, systems, roads, etc. they build. It’s nothing but a taxpayer-funded scam to privatize our public assets, turning them into long-term profit centers for corporations and big investors.

Grassroots anger, far from dissipating, will increase as the billionaire’s phony “populism” proves to be yet another swindle. This means that a vibrant, cohesive, and growing populist justice movement will be more important–and have greater opportunities–than ever. Polls–along with the still-building enthusiasm for Sanders’ progressive populism and the grassroots successes of new upstart coalitions across the country–show that we can tap people’s justifiable anger to implement positive, populist ideas that help everyone do better and move the country forward. Indeed, despite Trump’s Electoral College win, it’s encouraging that voters this year gave landmark victories to a cornucopia of progressive candidates and populist ballot initiatives.

Progressive firsts

While the total number of women in the next Congress remains the same (ranking the US 97th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s legislative representation), we should take heart that five progressive women of color are going to the US Congress: Pramila Jayapal, a Bernie-endorsed candidate, stunned Washington State’s Democratic establishment by winning 56 percent of the vote in the 7th Congressional District, making her the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives. Stephanie Murphy defeated longtime Republican lawmaker John Mica in Florida to become the first Vietnamese-American woman in Congress. Tammy Duckworth got 54 percent of the vote in the Illinois US Senate race, defeating the GOP incumbent to become a “threefer” of Senate firsts–the first Thai-American, woman combat veteran, and female disabled veteran. Kamala Harris won 62 percent of the vote to win California’s US Senate race, making her the first Indian/Black-American senator. And Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada defeated three candidates to become the first Latina elected to Senate.

Other progressive breakthroughs include the first openly bisexual governor, Kate Brown of Oregon, the Working Families Party candidate; the first Somali-American woman, Ihlan Omar, winning a thumping 80 percent of the vote for a Minnesota legislative seat; the landslide defeat (at long last) of tyrannical Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio by Democrat Paul Penzone; and even in Texas, a pick-up of four legislative seats by two Latino and two Latina Democrats.

Direct democracy

The people themselves enacted tremendous advances through dozens of ballot initiatives:

  • Wins for workers. All four states that put minimum wage increases and other pro-worker initiatives on the ballot passed them: Arizona and Washington (57 and 58 percent respectively) passed minimum wage hikes and paid sick time, while 55 percent of voters in both Colorado and Maine approved upping the minimum wage. Meanwhile, a regressive attempt in South Dakota to reduce the minimum wage for teenagers failed spectacularly (71 percent against), and an anti-union push in Virginia to make it a right-to-work (for less) state was rejected (53 percent against).
  • Opposing Citizens United. Two initiatives calling for a constitutional amendment to repeal the disastrous Supreme Court edict passed: California (53 percent) and Washington (63 percent). Also Missouri voted to put limits on campaign contributions to state candidates (69 percent); and South Dakota limited PACs, required more disclosure about donations, and set up an ethics commission (52 percent).
  • Legislative pay. Minnesota voters took away the power of state lawmakers to set their own pay, creating a bipartisan commission to set their salaries and banning all legislative spouses, staffers, and lobbyists from the commission (77 percent).
  • Marijuana. Medical use of marijuana was approved in three more states–Arkansas (53 percent), Florida (71 percent), and North Dakota (64 percent). Four states legalized recreational pot-California (56 percent), Massachusetts (53 percent), Maine (50.2 percent), and Nevada (50.4 percent).
  • Other victories. Progressives won education reform fights in California, Maine, and Oregon; Maine okayed a landmark election reform called “ranked choice voting” or “instant runoff voting”; South Dakota put a 36-percent cap on the exorbitant interest rates charged by predatory payday lenders (76 percent); California and Oklahoma passed important criminal justice reforms by big margins; and Massachusetts overwhelmingly voted (78 percent) to stop factory farms from imprisoning animals in tiny, inhumane confinement cages.

Get a grip

Let us now channel FDR, a real president. In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt calmed a jittery nation with a simple, yet powerful thought: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Eighty-three years later, Trump & Company are instead proposing a firestorm of frightful things. Proposing, however, doesn’t mean enacting. You and I can stand in the way of that. Rather than fear the bully, our civic duty is to get in the bully’s face. Starting now, progressives must aggressively and fearlessly rise in force against every regressive and repressive effort the bully-in-chief makes.

Remember this important fact: Trump is a minority president. He lost the popular vote by millions. A small minority bothered to vote for him, and a tinier portion yet supports his extremist program. He comes into office as the least popular, least trusted president in modern times, and he’s staffing his administration with a freak show of super-rich elites, spewers of unfiltered hate, incompetents, and right-wing screwballs. In a word, it’s a kakistocracy-government by the very worst people in society.

Even as we fight off the monstrous uglies they throw at us, however, our most important work is to:

  • Expand and enrich our majority by deliberately diversifying leadership and learning to relate to and support each other;
  • Champion big, bold ideas that draw people into a unified Populist Justice Movement, energizing millions to implement America’s historic democratic ideals;
  • Bring those ideas and ideals home to our localities and states, where our people power can make an immediate difference by winning issue campaigns and electing our movement’s people to office–and then holding them accountable.

It’s a big task, but–as with generations before us–We the People can handle it.

That is, after all, where democracy comes from.


Do something

WHILE YOU MAY BE TEMPTED TO SEEK Canadian citizenship, the US of A needs us now more than ever. Reaching out, speaking up, and taking part are urgent priorities. It may help to remember that, although Democrats will be in the minority in the House and Senate, the majority of the people who voted in the national election voted for Democrats. Remind the Dems that they aren’t the minority party–they’re the opposition party. Keep your representatives on speed dial (you can get their numbers at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov). Request meetings in their district offices with other concerned citizens, get to know their staffers’ first names, and let them know that you plan on being consistently engaged.

Meanwhile, let’s get out of our “bubbles” to hear what other folks–including people who voted for someone else and people who didn’t vote–are thinking, saying, and doing. Invite folks over to talk issues. To get started, check out www.livingroomconversations.org/about.

I’m making moves!

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