The list of problems created or enabled by the Trump Administration grows on a daily basis. Even if the Republicans lose in November the long-term damage of deregulation, corruption, incompetence, conservative court appointments, and divisive hate speak, will take many years to repair. Racists and far right agitators will not simply fade away after election day or inauguration day, neither will the big-money interests that support the dismantling of state institutions meant to promote the common good and enforce some restrictions against unchecked corporate power.
Defeating Donald Trump on November 3 may be the top priority but by no means should that mean a full and blind commitment to the Democratic Party. Consider how the Democrats have contributed to two problems cited in many current news stories: the inability to pass a second major coronavirus relief bill, and the many troubles confronting the U.S. Postal Service (and all the implications that has for voting by mail in November).
The Failure to Redirect Military Spending
In July, senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Ed Markey (MA) introduced an amendment to cut the military budget by ten percent and redirect that money toward health care, education and housing in poor communities, in other words, to help those who have been among the hardest hit by the health and economic devastation of COVID-19. The amendment was voted down by the Senate and 37 Democrats joined Republicans in passing the full $740 billion military budget. A similar bill in the House, introduced by Representatives Barbara Lee (CA) and Mark Pocan (WI) was voted down with 137 House Democrats joining Republicans.
In a similar vein, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March 2020 had serious deficiencies that made it necessary for Democrats to propose a second relief bill that was blocked by Senate Republicans, setting the stage for Trump to swoop in and sign some executive orders which, to some, makes him look like a hero.
The CARES Act was largely negotiated by Nancy Pelosi while most members of Congress were at home quarantining themselves. David Dayen’s critique in The American Prospect is sharp, and I highly recommend it, but here’s the gist of what he had to say:
“When the Coronavirus spread and lockdowns buckled the economy, Republicans knew exactly what they wanted — protect large corporations and investors — and pursued it unerringly. Pelosi had no coherent agenda to fall back on…. There was leverage … to make real and lasting demands for coronavirus relief [but] … she deliberately slowed allowing members to vote remotely or through a proxy while lawmakers were locked down at home. Because of this, during the crucial months of March and April, Pelosi became a one-woman House of Representatives, unilaterally writing legislation or negotiating with Republicans, and presenting the finished product to House members, take it or leave it. This effectively disenfranchised hundreds of millions of Americans and limited the Democratic Caucus to issuing press releases while Pelosi did the work of governing. But this power grab wasn’t put toward anything resembling a clear goal.” This is how Republicans got the aid they wanted for corporate America while much-needed aid to states was omitted.
DeJoy de Job Killer
In a similar way, Democrats show serious concern for the state of the U.S. Postal Service, often pointing out that Trump’s Postmaster General appointment, Louis DeJoy, is a major Republican donor with no direct experience in the Postal Service, and that the USPS has had unreasonable fiscal requirements imposed on it. These are valid criticisms. DeJoy’s corporate background suggests that he’s a hatchet man, downsizing companies to increase their rate of profit. Labor Notes called him an “expert job-killer” and DeJoy’s companies (New Breed Logistics and XPO Logistics) have racked up a disturbing record of overworking and underpaying the remaining employees.
Observers have pointed out for years (in part, through catchy Facebook memes) that in 2006 Congress passed a requirement for the USPS to prefund pension and health funds for 75 years into the future. While 50 years may be closer to the correct number, the requirement appears to be unique for public or private services. In other words, the requirement to prefunding pensions and health benefits for many decades to come has put an undue financial burden on the USPS, thus making it ripe for calls to restructure it, cutback service and workers, and automate more and more of its operations — right up DeJoy’s alley.
The conditions placed on the USPS are parallel to the 75 year projections made by the Social Security Trustees, projections that are often used to justify major reforms or even privatization of the system. Incidentally, the Social Security system is fine for now. It currently has $2.9 trillion in its Trust Fund. These imposed requirements also fit with the national trend of attacking worker pensions as unaffordable, unsustainable, and fiscally irresponsible. Many of these attacks are led or enabled by Democrats. In my own state of New Jersey, Senate President and Democrat Steve Sweeney has been one of the strongest forces for “pension reform” and his proposals are supported by the libertarian Reason Foundation.
My point is that the out-of-this world prefunding requirement placed on the USPS was made mandatory in a bi-partisan vote. You can’t even look up which Democrats voted for it because in the House it was passed by a voice vote (which is only done when the vote is not at all close) and in the Senate it was passed by unanimous consent). So, the USPS is partly in this state because of either a lack of foresight or a careless disregard by Congressional Democrats. Or, maybe it’s the fact that they are too caught up in the rhetoric of “fiscal responsibility” professed by Republicans for decades (when it’s convenient).
Not all Democrats are bad but too many are complicit. Let’s give kudos to long-time NJ Congressman Bill Pascrell for his thoughtful and informative defense of the Postal Service in the Washington Monthly. Read it. It will make you smarter. Who else would manage to fit baseball legend Larry Doby into this discussion?
National Security Democrats
There are two other issues on my mind recently that make me uneasy about the Democratic Party. The first is their fixation with Congressional candidates who have close ties to the National Security apparatus. Mainstream Democrats love candidates who seem more patriotic and better defenders of the U.S., i.e. true-blue Americans who know how to defend our country from enemies abroad. Part of this is an attempt to capitalize on Trump’s propensity to favor authoritarians, or to try to make deals to get other nations to help him get reelected (e.g. Ukraine, Brazil, and China, so far). But I think a bigger reason is the Democratic Party is largely in line with corporate power and their international interests. They consistently approved increases in the military budget and with very few exceptions they consistently back endless unsuccessful wars, foolhardy interventions and coup attempts, and the rhetoric of U.S. exceptionalism.
I think the rise of candidates such as Amy McGrath (KY, US Air Force), Abigail Spanberger (VA, CIA), Mikie Sherrill (NJ, US Navy), Jason Crowe (CO, US Army), Elissa Slotkin (MI, CIA), regardless of their positions on particular issues, promotes militarism as well as faith in institutions that have a long history of misleading the public (and even Congress) and conducting operations against progressive governments or leaders around the world.
The other issue that I think needs some deeper examination is The Lincoln Project. First, it should bother just about everyone that their ads are much better than anything being put out by the Democratic Party. Again, the Democrats are ceding leadership and tone-setting to Republicans. But on a deeper level, isn’t the Lincoln Project an attempt to rehabilitate the Republican Party in the eyes of the American Public? It’s good that they are disassociating themselves from Trump, and hopefully they will move some voters to vote for Biden. Enemy defections are great but if you have to rely on them to be your vanguard spokespeople, then you have no vision. I don’t think we should be celebrating or contributing to the Lincoln Project in any way. As some have pointed out, aren’t these just a bunch of Republicans who supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who have fought to overturn abortion rights, privatize Social Security, and did nothing to curb gun violence in the U.S.?
Or, as Jeet Heer put it writing in The Nation “To the extent that the ads articulate any political vision, it is a desire to return to the hard-line military aggression of the George W. Bush era.”
The Democrats’ lack of vision, purpose, and leadership, is very concerning in this historically dangerous time.