03 July 2018

Least Inspiring Independence Day Ever

I can't recall a single year in my entire life when the prospects of our Republic's future have seemed more bleak.

Since Trump took office, almost all of our federal government departments have been run by people who are either grossly incompetent, or actively want to undermine their agency's mission, or both. The judicial appointments we've seen have included dramatically unqualified candidates and candidates whose views are beyond reactionary. Faithfully executing the laws has gone out the window. We now have bona fide Nazis and white supremacists in high offices wielding great political influence in the Trump administration.

Trump has blindly sought to repeal every positive regulatory development of Obama's tenure, stripping environmental protections, shrinking national monuments, eliminating protects for workers and consumers, and so on. Obamacare has been undermined in every possible way by Republicans, despite the fact that it has worked as advertised. Irrevocable damage will be done before these good policies can be restored.

Trump has failed to meaningfully address a clean water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the aftermath of a record setting disaster in the form of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, an epidemic of mass shootings, and a wave of blatant instances of law enforcement misconduct. Trump's approach to the opioid overdose crisis has been counterproductive, making it worse. Trump's response to marijuana legalization, at least where states have taken that step, has been all talk and no action, and his campaign promises on that issue have been directly disavows by his Reefer Madness obsessed attorney general who has also flagrantly lied to Congress and fostered other malicious mischief.

Trump has used the bully pulpit and executive orders to fan the flames of delusional xenophobia, racism, sexism, and religious based hate. He has vilified the press in an effort to alienate his followers from all connections to reality, and relentlessly showed utter and total disregard for the truth, lying pathologically in ways that are easily to falsify multiple times every day. Somehow, in the great national divorce between white Evangelical Christian racists and everyone else, Democrats even ended up with the NFL on its side of the divide. Trump has encouraged corruption and nepotism at the highest levels. He has converted the Republican party from a party of bad ideas to a white nationalist party of hate and ignorance. This is a genie that can't be put back in its bottle now that it has been unleashed.

Trump has provoked trade wars with our allies that are deeply damaging the economy, has cozied up to Russia and North Korea (our historical enemies), has disavowed long standing and widely supported treaties, and done everything possible to undermine the orderly working and human functioning of our immigration system. The standing of the United States in the world has plummeted and will take decades to restore if it can ever be restored. Trump has materially increased the risk of nuclear war with North Korea, Iran and Russia. Trump has intentionally degraded our ability to respond to natural disasters and catastrophic disease outbreaks.

Republicans have dramatically given away the store with tax cuts for large corporations and very affluent individuals and now want to pay for these cuts by dramatically gutting the social safety net in the form of deep cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and housing aid. In the meantime, the deficit is soaring to unprecedented levels (again, totally contrary to campaign promises and purported Republican policy), the government has shut down already at least once, and the credit rating of the United States has been downgraded due to the shenanigans of Republicans in Congress. The storefront retail sector is collapsing and the promised trickle down benefits of the tax cuts have proved to be as illusory as Lucy's football.

We are on the verge of a permanent conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court for all practical intents and purposes, after moderates like Kennedy and O'Connor have positioned SCOTUS at the far left fringe of the Republican party establishment for most of my life. This will have huge practical consequences, undermining almost all of the America's core values. Courts have intervened to significantly thwart and stop some of the worst parts of his agenda, but this is just a finger in the dike.

In a year and a half, we have taken giant steps backward, setting us back by decades.

The United States is now rated a "flawed democracy" by international observers. The Pope has repeatedly condemned some of the worse of our recent developments. Fundamental flaws in our political process are limiting the ability of democracy to intervene to prevent these problems or remedy them, and almost all of these flaws favor Republicans. The Electoral College gave us President Trump, despite the fact that Clinton won three million more votes than he did. Laws designed by Republicans to suppress voting, like felon disenfranchisement in the South (especially Florida), voter registration purges and voter ID laws have kept legitimate voters who would like to vote from voting. Partisan gerrymandering has mostly given Republicans an improper advantage in the House of Representatives and in state legislatures in many states. Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia (both of which strongly lean towards Democrats) continue to have no Congressional representation. The U.S. Senate unfairly favors small states to an absurd degree with Wyoming and California, for example, having the same political clout. The Voting Rights Act has been hamstrung bad bad court decisions. Conservative court majorities have made it dramatically more difficult to prosecute corrupt politicians criminally. Voter turnout remains abysmal in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Third-party voters routinely spoil the major political party contests to the detriment of the people they agree with most in those contests. Russian proxies tampered with our 2016 election in favor of Trump, a fact he denies despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and the FBI's selective disclosure of information undermined Clinton at the expense of Trump based upon trivial and bogus charges. Campaign finance laws have also weakened, although I believe that most progressively leaning political reformers vastly overestimate the importance of this relative to the other factors degrading our democracy - still forces like the NRA and the Koch Brothers efforts to push anti-democratic agendas with cash have harmed our Republic. The Trump administration wants to manipulate the census so that even that neutral broker will start to favor them. The dramatic failures of political polling in the 2016 election also cast doubt on that entire methodology's reliability going forward and those poor polls led Democrats to misallocate their resources in the late days of the 2016 election.

The remedy of impeachment would require Democratic gains in Congress that the flaws in our democratic process have made unattainable. Democrats have perhaps even odds in the face of nearly unprecedented outrage to retake the House of Representatives, but have no hope of getting close enough to a two-thirds majority in the U.S. Senate to convict Trump in an impeachment hearing with the help of the handful of Republican Senators who are less than completely loyal to Trump. Likewise, the palace coup contemplated by the 25th Amendment seems equally unlikely.

Midterm elections could dramatically shift the political balance, and they will undermine Trump's administration somewhat. But, Democrats are struggling to wage this electoral campaign well, and are painfully divided by infighting in the Sanders-Clinton Presidential nomination fight of 2016. This nation needs an unprecedented landslide in the midterms to right the ship, and it isn't at all clear that the results will be that extreme and unprecedented, although the two score safe Republican seats that have been flipped in vacancy elections over the last year or so, and the large wave of resignations by Republican incumbents can give us some hope that this isn't an absolutely impossible outcome.

Until a couple of years ago, it was possible to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt and assume that they had a good faith vision for our country even if it was different. Now, we know better. Republicans simply hate everything that America stands for, have no moral compass whatsoever, and blindly support policies that have been empirically proven to fail, while opposing policies with massive evidentiary support. Policy divisions have been replaced by tribal divisions.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and this era in our history is no exception. By staying the course in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that was established by Obama, ISIS has been defeated as a de facto nation-state and effective organization in both of those countries. An improved process for approving drugs to treat terminal conditions has been adopted. Lots of bad tax breaks were eliminated in a tax bill whose big dollar provisions that overshadowed these reforms were overwhelmingly bad. Low unemployment is a good thing, although job creation has slowed since Trump took office and wages remain stagnant. But, these consolation prizes are overwhelmed by all that has taken a turn for the worse and both low unemployment and the defeat of ISIS are carryovers from trends started during the Obama administration.

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