The Real-Life Drama We Are Living Through

Mark Twain (amongst others) said, “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.”

 

The political drama we are living through right now, especially this past week, or maybe ever since T was elected, exceeds any fictional portrayals we have seen in any novel, TV program or movie for dramatic action and psychological tension. Maybe the actors we are seeing in the White House or Congress do not equal the imaginative portrayal of the perfidy of villains or the courage of heroes we have seen in fiction, but that is arguable. What Trump and the GOP lack in imagination, for example, they exceed in the daring and reality of the evil they do and the pain they cause.

 

Unlike many fictional dramas, this one began at a point of high tension and expectation. It began last Sunday, when Attorney General Barr released his own summary of the Mueller Report announcing the end of the investigation. He did not turn the Mueller Report over to Congress or to the American people, as was the case when President Clinton was investigated. He instead chose to tell us his version, to give us the Barr Report instead.

 

There were two main conclusions in the Barr Report. One, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Although it did establish that Russia did work to interfere in the election.) Two, regarding obstruction of justice, or whether the President acted in a criminal manner to interfere in the Mueller investigation, the Barr Report announced that the Mueller Report supposedly did not draw a conclusion, but said that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Therefore, according to Barr, there was no obstruction of justice.

 

A tremendous hush rose over the land, especially amongst the majority of Americans. My heart dropped through the floor. We all knew Barr was a Trump loyalist. So why hadn’t the Democrats better prepared for this? I felt the political world was falling apart.

 

After two years of almost daily revelations of Russian contacts and of acting in Russia’s interest, of lies, threats of violence and assaults on the character of anyone who opposed him, on Mueller, FBI agents, reporters, Senators, Congresspeople, Judges, immigrants, women, children, people of color, even some members of his own cabinet and his own hatchet man, of financial crimes and of using the Presidency to advance his own financial interests ⎼ it felt like all the cries for justice were suddenly silenced. All the expectations that the Mueller Investigation would finally expel the evil that had infested our nation were shattered.

 

Even before the report was released, the GOP were priming the news media and much of the media bought in to the GOP messaging. CNN reported that one person at the White House said, before Barr released his summary, “’We won’ and the campaign has been absolved because there weren’t any charges related to conspiracy or obstruction.” A Trump campaign adviser told CNN: “It’s a great day for America…”

 

But once Sunday afternoon rolled around and Barr released his summary report, the GOP and their propaganda outlets went wild, shouting so loudly and repeatedly it was difficult, at first, to hear anything else but the silence in between the shouts. “There would be no further indictments to come,” said Barr. “Complete exoneration,” said the GOP. “A tremendous relief. ” GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, a Trump loyalist, claimed: “After 22 months of a special counsel and 2 years of congressional investigations, it’s over. The clock has finally struck midnight on the ‘Russian collusion’ fantasy. No collusion.”

 

This is how the week began. This is Act One. The exposition and conflicts were largely spelled out.

 

And then Act Two. First, the cries for vengeance. The GOP claimed the real criminals were the press and the Democrats. T said, “There are a lot of people out there who have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country.” There would be new investigations, but this time, it would be into all those who dared to accuse the President of any crimes or misdeeds.

 

I felt my level of tension rising and was worried about who the GOP would try to indict.

 

Democrats, after at first trying to shift the focus from the reports and investigations to other issues, important economic issues, finally began to fight back. The level of conflict rose. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, the press and the Democrats began to realize that they really hadn’t heard from Mueller at all. Barr was clearly not a neutral party. They asked about what was being hidden by Barr. Why is the report being kept secret not only from the American people but from Congress?

 

Many examples of collusion with Russia were enacted right in our face, in public, a fact Democrats, including Congresspeople Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, made clear. The way this report was being handled or mishandled was not what was needed to restore any faith in the rule of law by the people of this nation. It wasn’t Barr’s place to summarize anything or hide the evidence but instead to turn it over to Congress and the people.

 

On Thursday, the nine Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter calling for Adam Schiff to resign as chairman of the committee. At the congressional hearing on Russian interference in the election, Republican Congressman Mike Conaway stopped the hearing to read the GOP letter, which said: “Your actions both past and present are incompatible with your duty as chairman.” T also called for Schiff to resign.

 

But then Schiff had his chance to be a hero and he played his part with courage and insight. You can see it all on MSNBC.  In the hearing he responded to Conaway and the other Republicans by spelling out, clearly, passionately, even poetically a list of examples of collusion and possible criminal behavior by the President and his supporters over the last two plus years. His response to the GOP attack had all the power of the best dramatic fiction. He said,   “You [The GOP] think it’s ok” that members of T’s campaign were willing to accept dirt from the Russians. “I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic, and yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”

 

What will be the climax? On Friday, Barr said he will give a redacted version of the Mueller Report to Congress and later the public. Democrats said they plan to subpoena the report and possibly Mueller and Barr. Will the subpoenas be successful? What will the report actually say? Or what might Mueller say? Is this the beginning of Act III?

 

Rep. Schiff spoke out again, saying the Attorney General was not, as he had claimed, compelled by the law to redact the report and hide it from Congress. Barr’s actions, and even his original appointment and confirmation, create the precedent for Presidents under investigation in the future to nominate and fire Attorney Generals to protect themselves, not the American people.

 

If Barr succeeds in placing himself between the Mueller Report and the American people, as the arbiter of truth and law, he could position the President above the law and turn the Presidency into an autocracy.

 

Will there be a catharsis, a cleansing of the nation by going through this drama? Will this struggle yield a stronger democracy or destroy what is left of democracy? And what will our place in the drama be? When and how will we, the people, act? The tension is still rising. The consequences couldn’t be much higher.

 

This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

The Impoverishment of Main Street Tax Plan

The destructive Republican denial of health care bills have temporarily been defeated, so now the administration and many Republican congressional leaders are calling for tax cuts and a revised tax code. Once again, they are dangling in front of Americans something many of us desire, in this case more money and a simpler tax code, but the reality is something far different.

 

Remember, these are the same people who proposed health care legislation supported, at one point, by only 12% of Americans. It would have denied health insurance to up to 32 million people now covered by the ACA and undermined it for millions more. In this tax bill, they are taking aim once again at the economic life and health care of most Americans in order to give tax cuts to the wealthy. If it’s a new day, and these Republicans are in power, it’s a new assault on what so many of us hold dear.

 

First of all, the legislation was conceived behind closed doors by only a small group of Republicans, who are also planning how to prevent a Democratic filibuster. Secondly, the bill would flatten the number of tax brackets from seven to three and give tax cuts mainly to the rich and corporations. The poorest of us would actually face a 2% rate hike (somewhat mitigated by an increase in the standard deduction and a larger child tax credit), while the rich get a 4% cut. It would cut the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax. Mr. T says he would not benefit from this tax cut, but depending on what his actual income is, he could be saving millions.

 

Possibly to get the support of Senator Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans, the bill includes a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.

 

The tax plan would cost possibly $2.4 trillion over ten years. How would it be paid for? Supporters say the decrease in taxes would lead to an increase in the economy and thus in government income. But this is highly questionable. The trickle down theory, which states that giving more money to the rich would lead to more jobs and income for the poor and middle class, did not work in the Reagan or Bush years or any other time. President Bush greatly increased the deficit (by 2019, his cuts would be responsible for 40% of the national debt) and his economic policies led to the great recession of 2007, a great increase in unemployment and income inequality. President Reagan did cut taxes in his first year in office. But tax revenues dropped precipitously, the debt increased to almost $3 trillion, unemployment and income inequality soared⏤but he had enough sense to actually eliminate many of his tax cuts when he realized his tax plan was causing dire consequences.

 

This new tax proposal would lead to an increase in the disparity between rich and poor and would raise the deficit considerably just when the government is calling for increases in defense spending, and infrastructure in the US badly needs an overhaul.

 

Democrats say Republicans plan to pay for the tax cuts by cutting the programs the poor and middle class depend on: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. ⏤just as, back in May, they planned to do with the budget. As Bernie Sanders put it, the plan would be Robin Hood in reverse: taking from the poor and middle class to give to the rich. The tax cut would be the vehicle for the few to undermine the rights, power, and freedom of the many. It must be opposed.

The Central Importance of A United Resistance and Decreasing the Concentration of Wealth and Inequity

Opposing the Republican minority-elected President cannot be simply a Democratic version of “the party of No.” It cannot be concerned just with revealing lies and resisting racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and all sorts of phobias like homophobia, Islamaphobia or xenophobia, etc. To fight racism, etc., we must first unite to resist the destruction of what’s left of democracy, free speech and the freedom of the press. We need more political equity. But to accomplish that, we must also work to improve economic equity and a sense of shared humanity. In a functioning democracy, these three work together.

 

Last week, the Republican administration took things to a new level. The President spoke to Congress about “a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.” He spoke about Black History Month and ending threats to Jewish Community Centers. He spoke as if he cared about supporting “the torch of truth, liberty, and justice.” This was scary because even I wanted to hear such words from his mouth, words calling for real unity and caring. He is seemingly getting coached on how to sound reasonable while his choices and history scream otherwise. This is the same person who appointed Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General, and Steve Bannon, former head of the alt-right Breitbart News, to be his general adviser. According to an NPR program during the campaign:

 

“The views of the alt-right are widely seen as anti-Semitic and white supremacist…. They see political correctness really as the greatest threat to their liberty,” Nicole Hemmer, University of Virginia professor and author of a forthcoming book Messengers of the Right, explained on Morning Edition. “So, they believe saying racist or anti-Semitic things — it’s not an act of hate, but an act of freedom.”

 

This is a President who called the media “the enemy of the people.” Who said protestors were not in genuine disagreement with his policies but were being paid to disrupt town hall meetings. Republican governors and legislators have followed this lead by calling for severe punishments for protestors. This administration is not about protecting America or securing jobs for people. It is about ending democracy and increasing their personal wealth. The DNC, as well as those who hate the DNC and are still fighting the Hillary vs Bernie fight, need to remember this or risk being irrelevant or worse. If we don’t unite, our very right to disagree without dire consequences will be taken from us. In fact, the very air that sustains our life might be taken from us.

 

Yet, to resist this administration successfully will mean insisting on increasing economic equity. This is the second concern. We must learn from the Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders movements, as well as others of the more distant past, which spoke to a great majority of Americans, even to some of those who supported Mr. T. (Listen to Bernie Sander’s response to Mr. T’s address to Congress.) Most Americans desire an economy that works for all and provides jobs for the unemployed and the not satisfactorily employed. Mr. T did speak of jobs. But he did not address working conditions, guaranteed health care, and a pension, as part of a good job. He did not acknowledge the crucial role public schools can play in “leveling the playing field” and in preparing children not only for work but for all of life. All these issues are related. It is not just a job people want, but to be treated as a valuable being, with a right to meaningful work. This I think speaks to most everyone. And we need to add the right to give our children a habitable planet with a climate that readily sustains life, human, animal and insect.

 

The US, according to a report cited in Fortune Magazine in 2015, is the richest nation in the world but the most inequitable of the 55 nations studied (including European nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Columbia and Russia, etc.). If you didn’t know this, read on. If you look at the US economy, the richest 1% own 40% of the wealth. (I will be using many figures from Mathieu Ricard’s book, Altruism, published in 2015. Ricard is a Ph.d. in genetics and Buddhist teacher. His figures are well documented and seem in line with other reliable sources.) Twenty-five years ago, the top 1% owned 13% of the nation’s wealth. In 2015, Oxfam said that by the following year, 1% of the richest people worldwide will control over 50% of the world’s wealth.

 

Ricard points out that in 1880-90, J. P. Morgan said “he would never agree to invest in a company where the directors were paid over 6 times the average wage.” In 2011, the bosses were paid 253 times more. Over the last 30 years, 90% of Americans saw their incomes increase by only 15%. For the wealthiest 1%, the increase was 150%. Between 2002 and 2007, the top 1% scored over “65% of national income gains.”

 

What are the consequences of such inequality and concentration of wealth? According to Ricard and the International Monetary Fund, income inequality “slows growth and triggers financial crises.” Quoting directly from the IMF summary report (See IMF, 2015): “We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down…” as opposed to what many Republicans claim. Instead, concentrating wealth undermines the economy. For example, one million people with a decent income will buy more products and stimulate the economy more than one person with a billion dollars—unless he or she gives it all away to public schools or spends it on improving mass transit or such, or starts a worker managed business, for example, where the workers get a fair share of the income created and the climate isn’t undermined by its products.

 

The Citizens United decision, the worsening political situation in the US, as illustrated by 8 years of Republican Congressional refusal to compromise during the Obama administration, and the election by less than 26% of eligible voters of this Republican President (only 52% voted and Mr. T. received less than half of those), are all direct results of increasing the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Mr. T is trying even now to reduce even further the input of Democrats and any who oppose him. When was the last moment in American history that the vast majority of citizens were so excluded from the formal political process? Was it before the 19th amendment was passed granting women’s suffrage? Or was it before the civil war, before the 13th amendment was passed ending slavery? Or was it before the revolution, when the colonies were ruled by a monarch? Is this the time of greatness the Republicans say they yearn for?

 

The price the US pays for this inequality is immense. Ricard provides data from scientific research and several international organizations, including the UN, which show that “for each health care or social indicator (physical health, mental health, school success rates, …obesity, drug addiction…infant mortality, and the well-being of children in general) the results are significantly worse in countries where inequality is highest.”

 

Is it any wonder that there can’t be a democracy if 1% of the people own so much of the wealth? The rich can buy power, occupy the media, and intervene in the judiciary. Just look at Betsy DeVos, who contributed thousands to the coffers of Republican Senators—but did those Senators who were paid by DeVos recuse themselves, or were even asked by fellow Senators to recuse themselves, from voting for her nomination to Education Secretary? Conservatives argue that the rich have the freedom to use their wealth. But what happens when one person’s freedom prohibits that of another, or of many, many others?

 

For too many people, the acquisition of wealth is fast becoming the primary value of life. Other people are no longer thought of as fellow breathing, feeling beings; other species and the world itself⏤all are thusly reduced to being valued only in terms of the wealth they can be used to produce. Compassion, respect—these just interfere with what’s “truly important.” Long term or big picture issues—not important except to the degree they guarantee increased wealth. This is the third area of concern, our sense of a shared humanity and a judiciary that could preserve equity and justice in the law.

 

It is mainly for this reason people feel threatened, Democrat or Republican, Leftist or Conservative. So many of us value family, love, companionship, compassion, fairness, the beauty of the earth, a sense of meaning in life, maybe a sense of a spiritual or religious dimension. The importance of all these values is now threatened. The acquisition of immense wealth is becoming the religion of the rich, turning the rich into a great threat to the lives of the vast majority of Americans, and to the overwhelming majority of people worldwide.

 

**Photo by Kathy Morris.