For those expecting the Republican Party to suddenly find their collective conscience and denounce Donald Trump’s reported outrageous ‘shithole’ statements reference Haiti, El Salvador and the continent of Africa – don’t hold your breath. These elected officials had no problem either cosigning his many other racist statements/policies or simply ignoring them in order to get a win and get their agenda through. Whether it was referring to Mexicans as “rapists” and people who brought drugs and crime, or calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country, or stating that there were “some very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville and so much more, Trump gave the GOP every opportunity to disavow him and distance themselves from him and yet they did anything but. Some feigned outrage at times, a few stated that he did not represent the Party, but you know what? In the end, they realized that he was their ticket to get what they wanted and they all subsequently obeyed the marching orders. It’s like the old adage goes: Democrats want to fall in love; Republicans just fall in line.
Last weekend at Camp David, Trump and GOP leaders held a presser in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated the following: “From a right-of-center point of view, 2017 was the most consequential year in the many years that I’ve been here in Congress.” That’s a hell of a statement. There is however a harsh reality to these words that gets lost in the daily endless focus on Trump’s tweets, outbursts and the Administration’s own self-made drama. Granted, some of that does deserve a spotlight and a response (i.e. these latest despicable comments), but also remember that while everyone’s attention is preoccupied, social progress in this country is being stripped away, the divide between the wealthy and the rest of us has expanded ever more, courts are being shaped with increasingly conservative judges (including the Supreme Court of course), the safety net hangs in limbo, civil rights and voting rights are regressing, net neutrality is a thing of the past, all kinds of governmental protections are being eliminated and new mechanisms for disenfranchising voices are being concocted every single day. And that was just 2017.
Trump set a record for the most federal appeals court judges confirmed in the first year of a Presidency with 12 appointments (for context, Obama confirmed only 3, Bush 6). Or as McConnell put it, “the most in the first year of any Presidency since the circuit court system was set up in 1891.” These judges – many of them young and therefore able to serve at length – will help craft the outcome of important cases for years and years to come. In addition to Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, Republicans are working steadily to shape other courts in their favor in this manner. These courts play a pivotal role in society. As Diane Feinstein recently highlighted, in 2015 alone, more than 55,000 cases were filed in federal appeals courts. “So it’s extremely important who is confirmed to these lifetime positions … In a way, circuit courts serve as the de facto Supreme Court to the vast majority of individuals who bring cases,” she said. “They are the last word.”
For some 30+ years, Republicans have tried to get their beloved tax cuts passed but it wasn’t until Trump came along that they were finally able to do so. Providing immense and permanent corporate tax cuts, as well as cuts and benefits to the wealthy has been a lifelong goal for people like McConnell, Paul Ryan and many on the right. Now thanks to Trump, they used him to make their wishes come true. Let that sink in for a moment: something they wanted to get done for three decades finally came to fruition because they have Trump in the forefront and were able to make everyone believe that nothing was getting done and that it’s all just chaos all the time. Meanwhile, they have very succinctly passed the biggest overhaul of the tax code. What a strategy.
When Trump was on the campaign trail, he promised to stop Muslims from entering the country. Though he later tried to alter that statement a bit, the essence of it was the same: terrorism is only committed by Muslims, therefore we should start banning them. When the first version of the ‘travel ban’ was announced nearly a year ago, there were intense protests around the country at airports, on city streets and everywhere in between as people stood in solidarity with the Muslim community. It was a great moment, but unfortunately, as future versions of the ban were rolled out, those demonstrations significantly dissipated if not completely fell off the radar. The result? The Supreme Court has thus far allowed the third version of the ban to proceed (with a few exceptions) as legal challenges continue and the court itself looks to be fast-tracking the case after the Trump Administration filed an appeal just this week. Did we see protests en masse? Sadly, no. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s own stats, the number of travelers from the banned nations (predominantly Muslim-majority nations) has already dropped dramatically.
During the pivotal 2016 election and in his first year in office, Trump often proudly touted that he utilized Twitter to stay connected to his supporters and bypass the ‘fake news media’ to get his message out. Attacks on the press aside, he makes a valid point: social media engines like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others allow Trump to say whatever he wants, discredit whatever he doesn’t like, attack whoever he wants and shape the narrative that he and his Administration want to present. In fact, it was this tremendous use of messaging and social media engagement that helped propel him into the highest office in the land. Now that he is there and Republicans are busy using the opportunity to get everything done on their wish list, they’d like to ensure that nobody else has the same kind of megaphone that Trump did. By effectively killing net neutrality, the Republican-controlled FCC wants to make it more difficult for independent voices, thought and movements to exist. This could have dire consequences for everything from community organizing and social advocacy to political awareness and journalism itself.
Now, one of the biggest sore spots for President Trump is the fact that he lost the popular vote – and by nearly 3 million at that. Last week we learned that the President disbanded his long-criticized ‘voter fraud’ commission. There were some reports that the commission may be moved over to DHS (and therefore away from public view), but thankfully that isn’t happening (as of now anyway). While this is good news, it doesn’t negate the fact that voter suppression tactics have been at play for years and have increased recently. Things like new voter ID laws in dozens of states (that are predominantly Republican controlled) and the removal of voting protections – like eliminating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act itself – have created mechanisms whereby the historically marginalized are marginalized yet again.
Just this week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments surrounding Ohio’s voter purge program which essentially removes voters if they fail to cast a ballot in two years and fail to respond to a notice from their local board of election or vote during the following four years. As Ari Berman of Mother Jones points out: “Ohio has purged two million voters since 2011; 840,000 of those purges have resulted from infrequent voting.” Just as with voter ID laws, these purges disproportionately impact communities of color and the poor. What happens with the Ohio purge case will have national consequences for how other states will conduct themselves. One thing that didn’t receive enough attention in coverage of the 2016 election was precisely how voter suppression impacted such a consequential Presidential race. As the midterm elections fast approach, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
2018 has just begun, and things are already off to a fast-paced start with breaking news seemingly every five minutes. Bannon is out, Wolff’s book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times’ best sellers list and Trump makes racist comments (file that one under not-breaking news). But if we examine beyond the master distracter and the reality TV factor, we’ll see that our country is being reshaped by those that are busy stopping and reversing every measure of progress we’ve ever achieved. Paul Ryan has already stated that one of his goals for this year is to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs, as well as other ‘entitlements’. If you care at all about the plight of the most vulnerable, this should be setting off alarm bells and it’s just one of the items to keep an eye on in this new year.
Trump’s reported ‘shithole’ comments are vile, inexcusable and beneath the dignity of the office that he’s been lucky enough to hold. But what may be even more disgraceful is the fact that there is an entire establishment that is willing to ignore it all just so they can get everything they want and everything their donors want. If people like McConnell and Ryan want to exercise actual leadership and speak out, that would be nice, but don’t be shocked if all they continue to do is deflect and play golf.
As difficult and as challenging as it may be at times, it’s important to look beyond the spectacle to see the people who are churning the butter - and what exactly they are feeding us.