Our Next President

12,000 people showed up on a Monday night in Minneapolis to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seven months before the Minnesota primary election. After she spoke, she spent three hours taking selfies with anyone who wanted one. I think it’s time to put the “Nevertheless She Persisted” bumper stickers on the cars.

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Correction:  It was at Macalester College in St. Paul, the other Twin City. Still very impressive, of course.

It Isn’t Unbelievable. It’s Happening.

I mean, it’s unbelievable. I think members of the Republican Party are in a coma right now, is what I think. And at some point they’ll wake up and say, What’s happened? [Laughs] And then we’re going to tell them, and they’re going to go, Really?

The interviewer: Is it a coma because of their allegiance to President Trump? 

There’s a tribal instinct, and a willingness to only absorb that that supports what you currently think. Anything that is dissonant information should be rejected. And I think it’s true for both political parties, to be honest with you.

That’s John Kasich, former congressman and governor of Ohio, being interviewed in The Washington Post. He’s one of the few well-known Republican politicians willing to criticize the Abominable President.

To be honest, Kasich isn’t being honest at all.

We know that today’s Republicans are wide awake. They know they’re supporting a would-be dictator, because the evidence is so obvious. From Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian:

Put simply, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation is behaving like an authoritarian dictator, one who threatens democracy in his own country and far beyond.

Mr. Freedland admits that the president’s buffoonish behavior is a major distraction, but goes on to cite his demonization of a vulnerable minority, which has led to “breaking up families [and] caging children in hot, fetid, disease-ridden camps”; his blatant profiteering from the presidency; his desire to create “a hereditary dynasty” (as if his daughter truly belongs among the world’s leaders); his fawning over murderous, overseas “strongmen”; his obstruction of justice; his stunning dishonesty…. The list goes on and on and on. Yet professional journalists continue to treat him with respect.

I have no doubt that most Republicans would fall in line behind a competent would-be dictator, as long as they believed he would guarantee their hold on power and they wouldn’t face retribution if democracy were restored. They are quite comfortable with authoritarianism.

Secondly, it simply isn’t true that “both sides” are the same. Kasich’s knee-jerk “both sides do it” recklessly minimizes how extreme the Republican Party has become. It’s been shown that people on the left get their news from a wider variety of sources, including what is now called the “mainstream” or “reality-based” media. We are also less likely to follow a leader. In fact, one recent study places the Republican Party (the red circle) at the extreme right among the world’s political parties. The Democrats (the blue circle) are much closer to the middle.

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John Kasich is sometimes asked about running for president in order to give Republicans an alternative to the incumbent. It’s unlikely he’ll do so because he doesn’t think he would win. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thinks the president should be in jail, but won’t start an impeachment inquiry because she doesn’t think the Republican Senate would convict him. Digby Parton of the Hullabaloo blog sums it up:

Our history is replete with ugliness. Progress has been made in fits and starts. But we are going backwards at warp speed at the moment. People with the worst impulses of the American psyche are in power and they are out of control.

We are quickly becoming a global pariah. And for good reason.

She then tells about a lawyer born in Iran who has lived in Germany for 40 years and is a German citizen, who was denied a visa to attend the funeral of his son, a student who died in a car crash in America, where his mother lives. The German lawyer was approved for a 10-year long visa when Obama was president. This month he was denied entry by U.S. officials, who decided, based on no evidence, that he was using his son’s death to immigrate to America. She continues:

Meanwhile, we are putting little children in cages and leaving them in dirty diapers without enough to eat. 

The president says they should decide not to come to America and then this wouldn’t happen to them. Basically, he’s punishing babies and children for the actions of their parents. 

And his followers — tens of millions of our fellow Americans — are applauding that sadistic policy. 

Yet the leaders of the opposition appear to be completely impotent…. They’re coasting — while the country hurtles backwards. 

Congress’s main phone number is (202) 224-3121.

Elizabeth Warren’s Plan for Economic Patriotism

Robert Kuttner discusses “Warren’s Astonishing Plan for Economic Patriotism” at The American Prospect:

I have been a fan of Elizabeth Warren for a long time. Her combination of deep knowledge of how American capitalism works, her capacity to narrate the lived experience of American working families and tie it to radical reforms, and her sheer integrity are unsurpassed.

Her rollout of one brilliant policy proposal after another and her ability to connect those to a political understanding of the American situation has been just stunning. But Warren’s latest plan is in a class by itself, even for Warren. She calls it an Agenda for Economic Patriotism.

Warren’s proposal does nothing less than turn inside out the globalist assumptions pursued by the past several administrations, Democrat and Republican alike. Where they have pursued more globalization of commerce as an end in itself (and as a profit center for U.S.-based multinational corporations and banks), Warren’s goal is to bring production and good jobs home.

Even better, she knits it all together with a coherent plan, beginning with a new Department of Economic Development “with the sole responsibility to create and defend quality, sustainable American jobs.”

The new Department will replace the Commerce Department, subsume other agencies like the Small Business Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office, and include research and development programs, worker training programs, and export and trade authorities like the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The new Department will have a single goal: creating and defending good American jobs.

Globalization didn’t just happen, Warren points out.

America chose to pursue a trade policy that prioritized the interests of capital over the interests of American workers. Germany, for example, chose a different path and participated in international trade while at the same time robustly—and successfully—supporting its domestic industries and its workers.

Warren proposes that every tool of American national policy be directed towards the goals of reclaiming domestic industry and producing good jobs for American workers.

This, in her phrase, is the essence of economic patriotism and is the opposite of what most American-based banks and corporations do.

These “American” companies show only one real loyalty: to the short-term interests of their shareholders, a third of whom are foreign investors. If they can close up an American factory and ship jobs overseas to save a nickel, that’s exactly what they will do—abandoning loyal American workers and hollowing out American cities along the way.

Specifically, she calls for leveraging government-subsidized R & D to promote domestic good jobs. If the research and development that goes into new products is funded by American taxpayers, those products will be built by American workers. Warren also wants management of the value of the dollar to take into account the impact on domestic production.

In her Green Manufacturing Plan, which Warren is also releasing today, she further proposes the federal government allot $150 billion every year for the next decade to purchase renewable, green, American-made energy products, which in itself would amount to a 30 percent increase in the government’s annual procurement.

In addition, she values these new tools of domestic economic development for regional development potential as well, so that good jobs can be spread to the nation’s regions that have been left behind by the bi-coastal shift of capital. And she wants government procurement to be used explicitly for domestic production and job creation. Warren also proposes a dramatic expansion of worker training to rendezvous with the anticipated new jobs.

If China can commit its national resources to promotion of domestic industry, through plans such as Made-in-China 2025, and even democratic Germany can commit a great deal more economic planning than we do, says Warren, it’s time for America to start planning a future of cutting edge industries and good jobs. Every four years, the Department of Economic Development would produce a National Jobs Strategy, and all trade-related policies would fall under the new department.

Consider what Warren has done with this proposal. For starters, she has blown away the assumptions of several decades of U.S. trade policy, in which the invisible hand is supposed to allocate production based on principles of laissez-faire. But as painful experience has demonstrated, free-market economics doesn’t work any better globally that it does nationally.

While other progressive critics have offered telling indictments of America’s trade policy, Warren is the first to nest that critique in an affirmative strategy for reclaiming good jobs and fostering cutting edge industries. By doing so, she underscores her distance from corporate Democrats and allies herself with working people.

… While [the president’s] version of economic nationalism is all swagger, symbol, and shotgun retaliation. Warren’s would actually deliver tangible benefits for the voters who turned [to him] in desperation….

Warren has also reclaimed the virtue of patriotism for the progressive left, and connected it to something urgent and with real meaning, as opposed to the right’s use of patriotism for symbols, military adventures, and worse. The Prospect recently addressed this need in E.J. Dionne’s essay on the important work of John Judis.

As this remarkable plan is debated, the usual suspects in the political center not to mention the orthodox economists are going to go nuts. Just wait for the editorials and columns. Warren will be damned as a protectionist and worse…. But the supposed gains of “free trade” are among the most overrated free-market myths.

America’s finest industrial hours came during World War II, when national planning was a necessity and trade was shut down. The postwar boom was an era when trade came to just about five percent of GDP, and prosperity was broadly spread. Trade is fine as the tail on the economic dog, but it becomes perverse when trade is the tail that wags the dog (even more so when the master is corporate).

With this plan, Warren has begun an overdue debate that she deserves to win, both intellectually and politically.  And she has demonstrated once again her potential as a powerful force against [the president].

And against others in the Democratic field. Joe Biden may be the candidate working class voters would rather have a beer with, but what will he have to say about this proposal? Let his constituents eat free trade? Having supported NAFTA, extending permanent “normal” trade relations to China, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Biden’s pro-worker bona fides leave a good deal to be desired.

For several months, I’ve been arguing with the naysayers who tell the usual story of Warren being too much the “shrill schoolmarm” who will never reach working class voters, or being politically vulnerable as “Pocahontas.” I’ve watched Warren’s stunning success talking candidly about race, and observed skeptics crediting her political, rhetorical, and policy acumen, as she keeps slowly moving up in the polls, benefiting from those lowered expectations.

This latest proposal demonstrates once again what makes Warren a once-in-a-lifetime progressive leader.

Not Taxing the Rich Is What’s Radical

David Leonhardt of The New York Times points out that not taxing the rich is the radical idea:

Imagine for a moment that a presidential candidate made this speech:

My fellow Americans, I’m here today to tell you about my economic plan. Each year, I will require every middle-class family across this great country to write a check. We will then pool the money and distribute it to the richest Americans among us — the top 1 percent of earners, who, because of their talent, virtue and success, deserve even more money.

The exact size of the checks will depend on a family’s income, but a typical middle-class household will hand over $15,000 each year. This plan, I promise all of you, will create the greatest version of America that has ever existed.

You would consider that proposal pretty radical, wouldn’t you? Politically crazy. Destructive, even. Well, I’ve just described the actual changes in the American economy since the 1970s.

Economic output — known as G.D.P. — per person has almost doubled over this period. But the bulk of the bounty has flowed to the very rich. The middle class has received relative crumbs.

If middle-class pay had increased as fast as the economic growth, the average middle-class family would today earn about $15,000 a year more than it does, after taxes and benefits. Instead, that middle-class family effectively forfeits the money to the rich, year after year after year….

The extreme redistribution of income — upward — has multiple causes. Some of them, like technological change, stem mostly from private-sector forces. But government policy plays a crucial role. Tax rates on the wealthy have fallen sharply. Labor unions have been undermined. Big companies have been allowed to grow even bigger and more powerful. The United States has lost its lead as the most educated country in the world.

More often than not over the past 40 years, our government has helped the rich at the expense of everyone else. As a result, economic inequality has reached Gilded Age levels.

In the face of these trends, the radical response is to do nothing — or to make inequality even worse, as President Trump’s policies have. It’s radical because soaring inequality is starting to threaten the basic fabric of American life. Many people have grown frustrated and cynical. Average life expectancy, amazingly, has fallen over the past few years.

Over the sweep of history, the main reason that societies have declined, as the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have written, is domination “by a narrow elite that have organized society for their own benefit at the expense of the vast mass of people.” The name of Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s book on this phenomenon is, “Why Nations Fail”.

It’s worth keeping all of this in mind when you hear critics (or journalists) describe the economic proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates as “radical.” They’re not radical, for the most part. The proposals are instead efforts to undo some of the extreme economic changes of recent decades and to ensure that most Americans workers — not just a narrow elite — fully benefit from economic growth.

The proposals also happen to be popular, broadly speaking. On social issues, like abortion and immigration, the country is deeply divided. But clear majorities support higher taxes on the wealthy, higher taxes on corporations, more education funding and expanded government health insurance. No wonder: Americans don’t resent success, but they do resent not receiving their fair share of economic growth.

The coming primary campaign will be a good time for the candidates to hash out which specific ideas make sense and which don’t. So far, the agenda looks pretty good. Elizabeth Warren has a plan to increase workers’ power within companies — and help them get larger pre-tax raises. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris want to lift the after-tax pay of the middle class and poor. Kirsten Gillibrand and others support reducing major living costs, like child care and education.

Perhaps most important, some Democrats have begun pushing for a wealth tax — to reverse the upward redistribution of the past 40 years. Warren has proposed an annual 2 or 3 percent tax on large fortunes. Bernie Sanders has proposed a big increase in the inheritance tax.

These wealth taxes are a classic example of policies that are less radical than their opponents claim. Do you know who already pays a wealth tax? Middle-class Americans. It’s called the property tax, as Noah Smith of Bloomberg Opinion has noted. Every year, homeowners pay a percentage of their house value in tax. A house, of course, is the biggest asset that most families own. If middle-class families can pay an annual tax on their main source of wealth, wealthy families can, too.

The United States as we have known it — optimistic, future-oriented and more powerful than any other nation — cannot survive the stagnation of mass living standards over many decades. I’m glad to see that some political leaders understand this and are trying to recapture a core feature of American life….

For these progressive taxes to be enacted, the Democrats will have to take the White House and the Senate in 2020 and hold onto the House. The Senate will be competitive, but the Republicans probably have the edge, given the particular states that will have Senate races.

Meanwhile, Republicans want to eliminate the estate tax, which they recently weakened. As of this year, it only applies to estates worth more than $5 million.

On a related note:

On Tuesday, a pair of baffled [Fox News] anchors referred to [talk about higher taxes on the rich] as a movement “against capitalism.” It is a dubious assertion, because by that definition the U.S. has only been a capitalist country since the 1980s, when Reagan knocked the top tax rate even lower and conservatives convinced enough legislators that “a rising tide lifts all boats” was a substitute for economic policy. But in their efforts to find an explanation for why so many people are turned off by unfettered, unregulated, and unaccountable capitalism, they turn to Charles Payne of Fox News Business. His explanation: Schools have brainwashed kids with lessons about “fairness.”

A Brief Note On What May Happen

Jasmin Mujanović, a political scientist, wrote the following on Twitter yesterday:

Assume for a second that the US is in the midst of a constitutional crisis (it is). Notice how the stores are still open, your bus completed its usual route and the game is still on? That’s what makes genuine crises terrifying, because they (co)exist for so long within our normal expectations of life.

They continue to do so all up until the point that they don’t. When the news is no longer something you can turn off, when it’s on your street, at your kid’s school, in your community, it’s too late for “resistance”. Then it’s largely a matter of individual survival.

That’s why both scholars of authoritarianism/sectarianism and/or survivors of such regimes have implored you to organize and inform yourself now, when it is still “normal”, when it’s still “someone else’s” child, when it’s a question of archaic rules of order.

The last two days have brought credible allegations of major dysfunction and crisis within the US government. There are fundamental questions regarding the integrity/legitimacy of the 2016 election. It’s unclear what, if any, steps have been taken to secure the mid-terms.

The fact that it is unclear who is genuinely in charge, what the civilian/military chain of command is, what would happen in event of a major security crisis, suggests the situation has already catastrophically deteriorated.

Until there is a concerted and consistent civil society and Congressional effort to restore accountability and leadership in the White House, it is difficult to see any of this ending without major instability of the sort unlike anything Americans have seen in generations and possibly ever.

Mr. Mujanović is probably too pessimistic. Somehow the federal government will continue to muddle through despite having a dangerously unfit person in charge of the Executive branch and a supine majority in charge of the Legislative. But there is no guarantee.

That’s why it is crucial that the Democrats take at least one house of Congress in the upcoming election. If that happens, at least half of Congress will once again take on its constitutional role and operate as an equal branch of the government. 

The midterm election is only 61 days away. We all need to do what we can in order to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. We need to encourage all reasonable people to register and vote. That’s how we can begin to address the current crisis,  restore some sanity to the federal government and avoid the dark future Mr. Mujanović fears.