How the GOP Can Rejoin the Real World

The Republican Party used to be reasonable. Worthy people used to be members, and leaders. The platform was reasonable. Now, in the age of Trump, and state parties built on deceit and sheer racism, all reason is gone, and the GOP has sunk to the bottom. If the party is to survive, it will have to jettison everything and rebuild based on real principles. Here are some things they might think about.

1. Quit your obstructionism and get to work. During the Obama administration you have devoted literally your entire effort to opposing everything President Obama promoted, and paid no attention to the welfare of the nation. That was your publicly stated goal, an anti-goal, and not what Congress members are elected to do.

You have been remarkably unproductive. You have refused to consider new laws. You have been on vacation for unprecedented periods. You have blocked hundreds of civil appointments, leaving dozens of departments severely shorthanded. This has cost the country hundreds of millions, contrary to your belief that it would save money. You have even failed to fulfill your constitutional mandate to consider the president’s non-controversial nomination for the vacant Supreme Court chair.

This obstructionism has made it necessary for the president to function mostly by executive authority during the past four years. The country is supposed to function by rational debate within Congress, but you have simply abdicated your responsibility and devoted full time to obstruction.

2. Create wealth for the poor, not the rich. Giving huge sums of wealth to the very wealthiest results in ever increasing inequality and poverty. The rich do not build factories and hire workers; they hoard their wealth and put it in financial manipulation investments that help no one.

The quality of democracy does not depend on how much wealth the richest have; it is determined by the quality of life for the poorest. Amazingly, the quality of life for the poorest depends most on equality of opportunity and the satisfaction of essential needs, including medical care, education, and old age security. High income is unimportant.

Several Republican governors have tried yet again to prove what has been disproven many times. Tax breaks for the rich in these states predictably resulted in reduced revenue, which then made it necessary to reduce crucial budgets such as education and public safety. It also resulted in job loss. The rich do not create jobs and economic equality. Better pay among low income folks does that.

This means that the GOP, if it is to adopt its own principles from just 70 years ago, will have to acknowledge that policies that work toward a just distribution of the national wealth will in fact create more equality, employment, and national wealth.

3. Embrace science. Science is nonpartisan. It is not necessary to “believe in” science, because science is completely independent of belief. We discover how the world works through the techniques of science.

Climate change is the best current illustration of discovering reality through science. We were warned by hundreds of scientists decades ago about the extreme danger that global warming would eventually create, because that’s what findings in their various fields indicated, and now all their predictions are coming to pass. Every year is hotter than the last, nearly every month is hotter than the previous year. Weather extremes of all sorts are creating increasingly expensive havoc and sending lives topsy-turvy.

The tragedy is that the GOP and corporations whose profit depends on climate change not happening have for decades denied what cannot be denied simply because to accept it would limit their greed. Corporations spent many millions to prove the climate wasn’t changing when it clearly was, and now we all will pay for this greed. The tragic fires and floods we are currently experiencing are two expensive ways we will pay, but far worse events are coming.

Science has something to say about religion too. Republicans can embrace the real parts of every religion that are important to people’s lives, but the Constitution forbids a state church, and we cannot conduct state business based on unsupportable beliefs.

Religion is very important to billions of people, but heaven and hell are not actual places that can be located. The GOP must accept what we know now: that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, that Earth is 4.5 billion years old, that human life evolved from the same life that everything else evolved from, resulting in the human species just 200,000 years ago, and much more.

4. Quit resisting restrictions on weapons of war. Nobody needs an assault weapon any more than they need a mortar or a flamethrower. There are very valid reasons to forbid certain persons from having any kind of gun at all. Don’t worry, the Second Amendment is not going away, but we have gotten ourselves in a hell of a fix because of so many millions of guns, too many in the hands of dangerous people.

There are plenty of other things the Republican Party can do to rejoin the real world, but these few suggestions will give you a good start. We need the GOP, but we cannot afford any more fantasy governing.

Hear the Hater Complaints

Donald Trump has done an excellent job of whipping up irrational hatreds, mostly of angry whites. He has taught them that hate is now acceptable, so they feel free to get in the faces of ordinary peaceful people and scream, their faces contorted with rage, that whatever person of color is currently in front of them has ruined everything and should go back where they came from. Some of them pull out a gun and shoot people dead, which of course Trump does not believe he is at all responsible for.

It’s really, really hard to see these people with anything but contempt, but I believe we must ignore the violence, the ignorance, the beliefs in conspiracy theories and all the rest, and ask, “Do these people have a real complaint, or is it all far right fringe irrational rage?” Certainly, their understanding of the economy is weak, and they would do well to learn how to evaluate reality.

We must realize we are not going to change these people into peaceful, tolerant folks. They have been bubbling with irrational hatreds all their lives. The only chance is with the next generation, or maybe the generation after that. Take college. Today’s haters are generally under-educated, and they may not care whether their kids learn anything, let alone go to college. They may feel that college is a waste of time and money—and for them that may be true. That belief may stem from the longstanding poverty and lack of opportunity that surrounds them. It’s a reality that college might not change.

Paul Theroux is a traveler and writer who studiously avoids the rich people in his extensive world travels, and spends all his time among the poor. In The Deep South he seeks out the many poor Americans, white and black, for whom centuries of deep poverty make life a daily struggle. These are the ones who often don’t make it into government statistics on unemployment. Some of them, black and white, are angry and racist. But they do have something to say, and they have an understanding about poverty and lack of opportunity that most of us don’t. In this book they point out several ways the government has failed them, some of them unnecessary failures.

The best thing that could happen at an angry Trump rally is a calm dialogue with some of the haters. By avoiding their prejudices and asking these persons about their lives, especially their economic history, we might learn some valuable things. We know little about them because we dismiss them after hearing their prejudices and hatreds, and because we believe they are hopeless.

There isn’t a chance in the world that a Trump presidency would be anything but a disaster for such people, because he would continue to give money to the very rich, following a roundly disproven belief that this will bring universal affluence. It does no such thing, as several Republican state governors have again proven when their state revenue crashed, making it necessary to drastically cut the budgets of crucial services such like schools. But that doesn’t deter Trumpsters, who hear only Trump’s anger and false accusations, and not the lack of rationality and the contradictions in what he says.

But Democratic presidencies also err in addressing poverty and unemployment. As I have remarked here previously, my belief is that we all fail to appreciate how much automation has taken over the work we used to do, a trend well documented by Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots. The English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted way back about 1935 that we would reach the level of automation we now have within a century. We fulfilled his prediction, but we have done almost nothing to adjust for it.

It is time for the work week to be shortened again, as it has been several times in the past. Thirty hours is about the maximum it could be; twenty would be better. The effect of a shorter week is higher employment, lower unemployment, less homelessness, more government revenue. It’s not magic. Those who have lost control of their lives will still have great difficulty recovering, and getting a job is by itself unlikely to create tolerance. But it helps.

Trump is the creature grown from the seeds of intolerance, racism, and scientific ignorance that Republicans have cultivated for decades, a monster they can no longer control. Conditions are so extreme that it is even possible that the Republican party could actually collapse and die, since it consists of too many people who are simply ignorant of how the real world works, and who are poisoned by hatreds and racism. This would be unfortunate because even Democrats need a worthy opposition party to check excesses.

Republicans need a wise philosopher to re-evaluate what conservatism should be this century, to guide them so they can come up with policies based on reality and practicality, virtually the opposite of what they now pursue.

Meantime, it would be fruitful for Dems to find out what Trump’s Republican haters can tell us about their lives, especially their work. Better understanding of their legitimate complaints might be valuable in establishing more effective policy for all of us.

What the World Needs Now

This election sounds like a prelude to civil war, or at least martial law. Politicians speak of taming the Mideast by bombing Muslims. Trump rants, courting the NRA, villainizing everyone who isn’t white, calling for violence of all sorts. Domestic abusers buy guns easily. Angry armed white people kill innocents…

We can’t continue this way, and Trump makes it worse by the day.

As for Trump, I’m frankly worried about his mental stability. He’s obviously a raving narcissist, which is a mental health finding itself, but almost every day he says something new and alarming that goes well beyond narcissism, and even alarms his staff. On several occasions he’s asked his staff what’s wrong with using nuclear weapons, and his conspiracy claims are endless. His raving hatreds have inspired a number of threats and even fatal attacks against innocents, and he is looking very much like a similar personality in the past.

We don’t dare trust that Hillary Clinton will win without a huge effort. Trump’s angry white followers pay no attention to what he actually says, just his attitude, his blaming of practically everybody, and there are a lot of Trumpsters. Trump provides them with plenty of people of color to blame.

But if Hillary does win, aside from the many repairs of state needed from four decades of harmful Republican policy, particularly the fantasy belief that tax breaks for the rich will bring prosperity, the more important need is to cultivate a climate of tolerance and peacefulness at every level. While ending the many privileges that the very rich have devised to funnel more money to themselves is supremely important, it is the “softer” needs that will be more difficult, and probably more important.

Democrats must do a better job of listening to the Trumpsters, because they do have some legitimate complaints. However, domestic economic needs have nothing to do with the rich, and Trump’s plans would make it much worse. It is the poor who have suffered most, moreso than the middle class. And the solutions lie with helping the poor, not the rich or even the middle class, and certainly not with blaming an ethnic group for our problems.

We have a much worse problem with racism than most of us whites knew about until the Obama years, a racism that has been fully embraced by Republicans for many decades. Racism manifests in many ways, but of course the most obvious of them currently is the endless unpunished murder of unarmed African-Americans by violent police. My belief is that we finally understand what blacks have been saying all along, and the barest beginnings of improvement are being seen—I hope. If so, it may be the beginning of an improved national attitude.

Making our public attitude more calm depends greatly on the purposeful cultivation of tolerance. We must come to understand that we don’t have to like everyone, only to accept that everyone deserves everything we deserve, regardless of their color, sexual orientation, religion, or anything else.

Most people are peace-loving and law abiding, but also have legitimate complaints, even if they express them hatefully. It is unfair to judge people harshly for objecting to conditions they did not create themselves. Most people who hate being poor aren’t that interested in being rich. They just want to be treated fairly, to not be harassed because they are poor, to be reasonably paid for work, to benefit from things like a balanced education and medical care that a just democracy should provide.

Acceptance and tolerance are hard when society cheats us. So a good part of an improved attitude depends on improved justice and opportunity for everyone. If we believe we ourselves benefit from fair treatment, from equality, we are more inclined to champion justice for all. If we believe we are being mistreated, we look for someone to blame.

Trump plays to the latter, ginning up many scapegoats by race, religion, and citizenship status, and telling people he is the cure for all the problems created by his scapegoats. But the problems he claims are mostly imaginary, and he has no cure for the real ones. The great business empire and wealth he claims consists of bankruptcies and failures, and he is clueless about nearly everything else, including the Constitution. He cultivates demagoguery and understands human rights poorly.

Here are a few things we as a nation must come to understand: Refugees escaping from dangerous political situations are very rarely criminals of any sort. They must be welcomed and assisted. They have lost everything. Immigrants do not “take American jobs”. Rather, they create new jobs, pay important taxes, and improve the economy. Immigrants have always literally made the US.

It is important that Democrats adopt a persistent attitude of tolerance. We don’t have to like people in order to tolerate them. We might even dislike them, but we must protect their rights and equal treatment under the law.

How to Recover Our Stolen Democracy

My belief is that government should serve the people. Unfortunately, the conservative belief is quite different, and over the past half century this has allowed and encouraged the extraordinary concentration of power and wealth with the very richest people in the country, to the detriment of literally everyone else. If we are to recover our democracy, the things that allowed this plutocracy must be changed, and a fair share of the nation’s wealth restored to the rest of us. Here are some of the things we must do.

The Great Depression taught us that banking and investment must be separated. But Congress, controlled by the very rich, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which in 2008 forced the government to rescue the rich by bailing out overextended investment banks with our money. Reinstatement of the separation is the most important thing Congress could do. That way, when investment banks go under because they chased risky schemes, which they continue to do, they will lose their own money, not ours. But we will guarantee the safety of ordinary deposit banks, as long as banks maintain the required reserves and follow the rules.

We must disallow all enterprises and activities that do not contribute to the general welfare. It’s easy to see that theft, burglary, and embezzlement have no redeeming social value. That’s why they are illegal. But Wall Street every day rakes in money—our money—with rapid computer trading and other sleazy activities that should be illegal. Fast computer programs flash away all day to pick pennies off the top of trades several times per second. They contribute absolutely nothing to the country, and should therefore be outlawed.

They are not the only way Wall Street steals our money, of course. Hedge funds bet that an enterprise will fail. When it does, high rollers stuff their hidden bank accounts with sums that have lots of zeros at the end, while the general economy declines. In fact, the great majority of Wall Street enterprises are pure rent-seeking. That is, they “invest” in ways that contribute nothing, but extract unearned money from the economy. That’s the very definition of rent-seeking.

Another practice is the hostile takeover of businesses in financial difficulty. The vulture buyers then sell everything the company owns and fire everyone. The rich buyer gets richer, often much richer, and everyone else gets poorer and unemployed, and the country loses out. All such hurtful practices should be disallowed completely, because they are harmful to people and to the economy.

Wall Street is totally amoral. “Investment” doesn’t mean committing money to something beneficial. It means putting money into something with the sole purpose of extracting unearned profit. Any contribution to the economy is accidental. The purpose is to extract money, and that extracted money is ours.

People and corporations with Big Money routinely hide it offshore in financial institutions that keep their depositors’ names secret. The majority of this money is illegally hidden to avoid paying tax on it. We must have a new law that disallows investment in any institution in which the IRS cannot determine the names of depositors and the value of their holdings. Violators must personally be punished with prison terms. Fining a corporation does nothing because the fine is always paid by the corporation, not the criminal. At base, our money ends up paying the fine, and the practice continues.

Corporations have taken to “moving” their headquarters to places with low tax, although the only moving done is to establish a small office there. The corporation continues to benefit in many ways from the taxes we pay, but contributes nothing to the country. We should simply disallow this practice, but if not we should treat the company as a foreign business, and assess fees to cover the cost of the services and infrastructure a foreign corporation with a big presence in the US uses.

In general, we must end the opaque ways used in banking. The government should be able when necessary to learn the names of all “investors” in any enterprise. Tax authorities must be able to find out who owns real estate such as the multimillion dollar homes in NYC and elsewhere that are hidden by a series of shell companies designed to keep ownership hidden.

A revolving door has always existed between Congress or regulators and lobbyists. After serving in Congress, literally anyone can easily walk into a job that will quickly make her a millionaire by lobbying the same people she formerly worked with. There should be a significant period imposed before anyone can take such a job. I suggest five years. Congress is intended to be a legislative body, not an easy way to become rich.

These are only a few of the many corrections we must make if we are to restore real democracy and end the plutocracy we have become.

Let us hope the coming election gives us a Democrat for president and a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. If that happens, we stand a fair chance of correcting the failures that Republicans have forced on us over three decades of subversion and failure to honor democracy.

The Unemployment Conundrum

All the months since President Obama turned the job loss situation around in 2009 have shown steady improvement in new jobs. Unemployment has fallen and employment has risen. We are in good shape, it seems.

And yet we have a big problem with unemployment. So significant that one demographic segment has shown unexpected major increases in drug use and suicides: middle-aged white males—the Trumpsters. The phenomenon is so prominent that we can no longer pretend that African-Americans are to blame for all our addictions. Nor can we any longer pretend they are the only unemployed.

This is the conundrum: how is it possible that the employment situation can be both steadily improving and at the same time worsening enough that these men become addicted and commit suicide?

The fact is that both Trumpsters and the younger hipsters are right, but they are talking about two different populations. It is very important that the nation address the problems that afflict the middle-aged Trumpsters as well as the hipsters. As I have said here, here, and here, I think an important step is to reduce the length of the work week, as we have done in the past.

Between these two groups, the greater difficulty lies with those who haven’t been able to find stable work for decades. People, not just whites, but African-Americans also, like those Paul Theroux talked to during several years of travels through the Deep South (the title of his latest book). Although he wrote about the south, the same conditions persist in other parts of the country, particularly rural areas. In the deep south, the cities tend to be prosperous enough to support the people reasonably.

But get outside the city limits ten or twenty miles and you will find that most of the population is poor and struggling, the employment situation desperate, the infrastructure in disrepair. Factories and farms are abandoned and overgrown, with jobs shipped overseas, and demand for local agriculture and manufactured products long gone. Good people are trying to help as much as they can, getting small funding from state and federal governments, but recovery is not underway.

But in many cities themselves, besides in the South, unemployment and depressing conditions are also high.

What Donald Trump is saying, although most of it is contradictory and false, resonates with many such people, because nobody else seems to believe they are worth the trouble, and they don’t like that, or the idea that whites are moving toward less power and dominance. Nothing has improved for them for a long time, and Trump tells them he will fix everything.

But Trump lies, of course. Nothing this failed businessman could do will fix the situation, although he tells them again and again he will make everything all better. But neither does anyone else of importance have the sure answer, and very few are even thinking about it, because they dismiss these people as being uneducated and beyond help, besides which many are the wrong color. They are therefore not worth the trouble.

But their situation is serious, and thoughtful steps can be taken to improve their prospects. The global market is here to stay, but the government could enact many minor laws and regulations that would be small but progressive steps toward improving things. Theroux wrote about the collapse of fish farming, for example, under the onslaught of Asian fish farms and their cheap products that now flood the US market.

But most Asian fish farms are filthy, disease-ridden, and chemically contaminated, and the workers are poorly paid. In the US there are now some modern hygienic fish farms that provide far superior fish to the US market, and we like their products. The government could easily enough forbid diseased and chemically polluted fish from being sold, subsidize the construction of US facilities, and guarantee the price for the operators. It could encourage worker ownership, which would bring greatly improved income to fish farmers, which would have a multiplier effect in their locale.

Likewise, other efforts could bring superior US American products to market. Henry Petroski, in The Road Taken, recounts how several inferior Chinese hand tools broke in his hand the first time he used them. The US government could encourage production of superior products. This is not without precedent. For example, Detroit’s Shinola corporation broke out of shoe polish business and into several new lines that are decidedly superior products. Likewise, the Lodge Cast Iron Foundry of South Pittsburg, Tennessee has been around since 1896, but not only has not faded away with the loss of the iron industry, but is now producing cast iron cookware that beats imports in both quality and price.

In recent years our pundits have told us we can no longer rely on making things, since the Third World can make them so much cheaper. But, as my examples demonstrate, cheaper is not always better, and there is a market for superior American stuff of all kinds. Moreover, not everyone can or should go to college. Skilled work of any kind is to be admired, should be well paid, and is worth a lot to our own markets.

It would not take earth-shaking new programs to put these people on a new trajectory. But it would take more than haphazard and disinterested efforts, which we seem to be making now. We can do it, but first we have to believe that it’s important.

Your Vote: Plutocracy or Democracy

The most popular article at my site lately is this one. Apparently, more than a few people are aware of the enormous danger of the plutocracy we have allowed to develop in recent decades, a danger that’s particularly evident in this election. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and now Hillary Clinton are stressing it.

Those who have read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, or any of several recent books that document our dangerous slide into government controlled by and for the very rich, understand that people like the Koch brothers have used their enormous wealth to subvert democracy for their own benefit.

Lest you think this is exaggeration, there are regular secret meetings of the very rich to plot this subversion, documented with great difficulty by Jane Mayer. They are held in secret places that nobody else can get into, without any public notice. No press, no liberals, no Democrats. They go so far as to set up outward-facing speakers that blast loud music so no one lurking in the nearby woods can overhear. Democrats have no such secret meetings, and the platform is there for everyone to see.

Here’s how the very rich launder money so that no one knows who contributes what: A non-profit agency is set up to take donations for “educational” purposes. No one even knows who is managing this agency. It collects tens of millions from very rich Republican donors. These agencies, like Caribbean banks that hide wealth, are little more than a PO Box, or maybe a rent-a-desk in some sparsely populated western state. Another “educational” non-profit is set up in another crossroads town; money from the first one is transferred to it, stripped of any identifying info. Other “educational” shadow companies also contribute. There may be a third, fourth, and fifth rent-a-desk, and other non-profits that similarly contribute. By then the money is mixed like paint. Presto, freshly laundered cash for controlling Congress, and nobody can tell whose money it is.

There is much more to Republican mendacity, including the several Republican state legislatures that are doing their best to abolish democracy. They gerrymander their districts so that the Democratic majority cannot win; they pass laws that make voting more difficult instead of less, designed to keep the poor and black Democratic voters away from ballot boxes; they cut the number of voting places, restrict the hours, and “lose” blank ballots on election day; they subscribe to the belief that anyone in another state who shares a name must be voting twice, and remove people from voting rolls by tens of thousands, often without telling them; they have been caught red-handed manipulating the votes in various ways on election day. The most serious consequence of their skullduggery is that they have made it very difficult to undo.

This is why Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the most important persons in the election. Clinton’s certain nomination has been ordained for a long time, but it is Bernie and Elizabeth who have told us in clear terms that our democracy is gone, and we must reclaim it from the plutocrats however we can. If we want to seize our democracy from the clutches of people with preposterous wealth who want to control it and us, we must listen to Bernie and Elizabeth, because they are the main ones telling us how to get back on track.


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