Never Normalize: Why Trump’s Presidency Is Illegitimate and How to Respond


Author:Nancy Altman/HuffPost

Emphasis Mine

Now that a majority of electors have cast their ballots in favor of Donald Trump, he will have the lawful powers of the presidency, as prescribed in the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Legal authority is not equivalent, however, to political legitimacy, moral authority, or entitlement to civic respect.

Trump’s legal authority will give him the power to issue executive orders and repeal existing ones. If he signs bills passed by Congress, those enactments ― however stupid or destructive they may be – will be the law of the land, unless the courts find them unconstitutional. Similarly, Trump will be the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, because the Constitution confers that power on the holder of the office. As a result, as long as Trump’s actions are consistent with law, opponents can and should publicize the costs and hazards of those actions, but will lose if they mount legal challenges.

Though Trump has legal legitimacy, he totally lacks political legitimacy. He seized power through a cumulative set of actions that thoroughly undermine the integrity of the election outcome. These illegitimate actions include voter suppression engineered by the Republican Party; highly inappropriate and outrageous interventions in the election by the Director of the FBI; persistent demonizing and intimidation of a free press; and, most egregious, a deliberate attempt (openly encouraged by Trump himself) by a hostile foreign government to influence the election in his favor. Taken together, these actions fatally undercut the political legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.

He also lacks the moral authority normally associated with the Presidency. Trump’s deficiencies of character undercut any notion that he deserves moral or civic respect. His deep flaws have been on full exhibit before, during, and after the election campaign. These character failures are revealed in his blatant and persistent lies; the scapegoating of vulnerable groups; eight years as a birther; a disgusting history as a sexual predator and racist; and conflicts of financial interest so wide and deep that he will be impeachable on day one of his presidency.

How should Americans treat a president who has bare legal legitimacy but lacks both political legitimacy and moral authority? Some say that all Americans should wait and see how he performs in the job, and that other leaders should work with him where common interests can be found. They argue that, for the good of the country, we should put the election behind us and treat Trump with political and moral respectthat is, that we should strive to normalize his presidency.

We respectfully but emphatically disagree. It would be a grave error to ignore his political illegitimacy and lack of moral authority. Other elected officials, the media, and the citizenry at large have no obligation to afford him the slightest political respect. Rather, the next four years should be a time of resistance and outright obstructionism. Opponents of Trump should be at least as aggressive in challenging the political legitimacy and moral authority of his presidency as Republicans were in disrespecting President Obama, whose political legitimacy and moral authority were beyond reproach.

In short, Democrats should learn the lesson Republicans have taught them: Don’t bring boxing gloves to a knife fight.

What concrete presumptions flow from the political and moral illegitimacy of Trump’s presidency? Here are four:

  • Everything Trump speaks, writes, tweets, or otherwise expresses should be presumed false, unless there is reliable (to the listener) evidence that it is true. He has lied so often and so blatantly, and his followers have so persistently rejected the idea of objective truth, that no responsible citizen should believe a word he says unless it can be independently verified. The press will be acting irresponsibly unless it covers him according to this principle.
  • Trump should never be presumed to be acting in the best interests of the United States. His actions with respect to his business interests and his family’s wealth suggest that his highest loyalties are to those personal concerns, and his loyalty to the nation is completely secondary. His encouragement of the Russian cyberattack on the election is just the most extreme example of his loyalty to himself over loyalty to his country. Every move he makes should therefore be presumed to represent a conflict of interest, unless he can demonstrate that no conflict exists.
  • The wealthy donors and others he appoints to office should be presumed incompetent and riddled with interest conflicts until proven otherwise. His emphasis on a cult of personal loyalty, insensitivity to conflicts of interest, alliances with bigots, and willingness to appoint people wholly ignorant of, and indeed hostile to, the tasks associated with a particular office, mean that the burden of proof should always be on Trump to demonstrate the competence and honesty of his appointees. Unlike what routinely occurs in a normal presidency, Senators should give absolutely no deference to his choices. Indeed, nominees requiring confirmation should be questioned at length and scrutinized with care, in order to expose their flaws. Confirmation of nominees should be slowed down and blocked in every procedural way possible.
  • Trump’s substantive judgements should be presumed ignorant, and, at times, dangerous. His unwillingness to educate himself about crucial details of national security and domestic policy, or to surround himself with expert and trustworthy advisors, means that every substantive judgement he makes is highly likely to be flawed.

Democratic leaders should take every opportunity to act in accordance with these presumptions. Common inter-branch traditions and norms of civility should be laid aside for the duration of the Trump regime. For example, Senate Democrats should never provide unanimous consent, including to allow Trump’s incompetent and financially conflicted nominees to be confirmed prior to January 20. Democrats should force votes at every turn and use the filibuster aggressively, as Republicans did during the Obama years. The goal should be to prevent the smooth flow of Senate action in order to stall Trump’s illegitimate agenda as much as possible.

On January 20, Democrats should boycott Trump’s inauguration. As befits a lying president, Democrats should be quick to shout “You lie!” when Trump addresses joint sessions, just as Republicans shouted at President Obama. When Trump praises Vladimir Putin or Russia in formal addresses, Democrats should rise and chant “Puppet! Puppet!” In short, Democrats should learn the lesson Republicans have taught them: Don’t bring boxing gloves to a knife fight.

At noon on January 20, 2017, we will have a new president. The office of the presidency deserves respect, but the new occupant has relied on illegitimate means to seize power, and he deserves moral contempt. Polling reveals that these concerns are widespread among the electorate. Two thirds of Democrats [1] want to see resistance, and well fewer than half – just 38 percent [2] ―of the entire electorate believe Trump to be minimally qualified for the presidency. Democratic leaders should take notice and act accordingly.

Nancy J. Altman is the founding co-director of Social Security Works. Ira C. Lupu, a constitutional law scholar, is the F. Elwood & Eleanor Davis Professor of Law, Emeritus at George Washington University Law School



Mistakes Were Made: A Talk With the Head of the Communist Party USA


Author: Hamilton Noland

Emphasis Mine

The United States of America has a Communist Party. John Bachtell is its national chairman. We spoke to him about American politics, the mistakes of the Soviets, and communism’s branding problem.

(N.B.: when one sees the phrase “mistakes were made”, they know this is not the GOP discussing its history.)

Bachtell grew up in Ohio, with parents active in the civil rights and antiwar movement. He became interested in communism in college, and has been a member of the party since 1977. All the while, he’s been involved in political campaigns as well. We met him last week at the Communist Party USA’s headquarters on 23rd street in Manhattan to hear what modern American communism is all about. It’s not your daddy’s communism.

(N.B.: Because of the incredible variety in all aspects – including geography, economy, and culture – in the state of Ohio,  I don’t think there could be a more ambiguous statement than “in Ohio”.)

Gawker: Your involvement in electoral campaigns is mainly organizing for progressive Democrats?

John Bachtell: Yes, mainly progressive Democrats and independents at every level, whether it be city council, state rep, Senate, Presidential. I was really active in both Obama campaigns. Actually I was his precinct captain for his Senate campaign in Illinois.

Gawker: Do people ever reject your help because they don’t want the Communist Party associated with their campaigns?

JB: Not usually. I tend to be more tactical, so it doesn’t really become an issue. I don’t make it an issue—we don’t make it an issue. We’re all about coalition building in the electoral arena… It’s hard for us to run candidates that are not within the framework of either the Democratic Party, or independent politics.

Gawker: How has the party changed in the nearly 30 years you’ve been in it?  

JB: I think we have gone through a lot of different changes. Unfortunately I think we’re a little smaller now than we were back in the 80s. There were huge setbacks that took place back in 1991, and that had a big impact on not only the Communist Parties around the world, socialist parties—it had a big impact on the labor movement. I don’t know that people fully appreciate the extent of that setback to mass movements. But certainly it had an impact on our party, and I’m not sure we’ve fully recovered from it. At the same time, it prompted us to embark on a very deep examination of our politics and organization, and since then we’ve been embarking on a lot of changes. We call them transformative changes that modernize the party, that make us a party of 21st century socialism, that bring us from the political margins into the political mainstream.

Gawker: And by that do you mean focusing more on coalitions with more mainstream movements on the left, or what?

JB: It entails first of all rooting ourselves in the political and economic realities of today. Our main strategic concept that we’ve been working with since 1980 is the rise of the right—the extreme right—its domination of politics in the US. That all rose with Reagan and the right wing takeover of the Republican party. And that’s been with us since then. We’ve seen it as recently as the last election cycle and everything that’s come out of that, and the domination of state governments by extreme right wing Republicans, and what they’ve been able to do on worker rights, women’s rights, voter suppression, and a whole bunch of different things. There’s a real threat to basic democratic rights as we see it. We were one of the very first organizations to sound the alarm and call for a very broad multi-class united front against the extreme right. And I think that’s been validated. Now it’s a very broadly accepted concept. But the extreme right’s not gonna be defeated without a multi-class movement that involves those sections of Wall Street that don’t go along with the Koch brothers; that also involves the labor movement, communities of color, women’s organizations, youth and students, and all the Democratic movements, immigrant rights, gay and lesbian rights, seniors, you name it. All have to be part of this. Otherwise we won’t be able to advance to any other stages of struggle in this country.

Gawker: What’s been your impression of the Obama administration, and Obama’s record?

JB: When he was first elected we thought that perhaps his presidency could be a transformative moment for the country. I think we underestimated the degree of opposition from the Republicans and sections of Wall Street and monopoly capital. They thwarted him at every turn, and there were also divisions within the Democrats as well. So it was really hard for the administration to do some of what they wanted to do. Nevertheless, we felt that he could have gone further than he did, particularly economically, but the fact is that the Republican obstruction has been full court obstruction of everything…

Now you have a shift in mass public opinion that’s gravitating on a lot of key issues in a very good direction: majorities in support of taxing the rich, in support of immigration reform, you name it. I think that is in some ways allowing the administration to bypass Congress and use executive authority to move forward.

Gawker: Is growing the party an important goal for you? Is recruiting younger people into the party important to you?

JB: I think as part of the process of building this broad people’s coalition, we see rebuilding the left—because a broad left is a necessary part of that. I think in a lot of ways the organized left is marginalized. Its voice has not been fully heard, except now through the Sanders campaign you’re seeing signs of it... but in a lot of ways the left has not been able to speak very broadly to the American people. And so I think rebuilding the left as a viable force, and also our party as a mass voice for socialism in the country, is needed to put forward much more advanced solutions.

Gawker: It does seem like in previous generations, big, organized left wing groups like yours were more popular, but they’re not as much now with the younger generation, even thought the left wing sentiment is still there. Why do you think that is?

JB: Obviously the McCarthy period had a huge impact on the left, and really isolated the left in the country in the 50s. The 60s began to bring the left from the margins back into the conversation again. But the rise of the extreme right in the 80s, which was connected in a lot of ways to a whole restructuring of capitalism and the beginning of globalization, there was an ideological component that went with it, that really once again made left ideas not viable, or worthy of public discussion. Shunted them to the side. Mass media was part of that. So there was no way to gain entry in a big way. Having said that, I think the left also did a lot to isolate itself, and in that context spoke to itself and not to broad masses. I think that we fell into that as well, even though we tried to find ways to modify our message. I don’t think we were effective enough in that. And that takes me to today, because I think in a lot of ways that’s still true: the left speaks too narrowly, to too narrow of an audience.

Gawker: Do you feel that the Communist party has a branding problem, for lack of a better term? Is the stigma that goes with being the Communist party still a stumbling block?

JB: I don’t think you can conclude anything other than that. I think we have a branding problem, and even though there’s been a decline in anti-communism in the country, I think we are still in many ways associated with the Soviet Union and with that whole era of global socialism. The early part of the 20th century. Some people may see us a foreign import, even though we’re deeply rooted in the revolutionary democratic traditions of this country. And that’s something we have to grapple with.

Gawker: You’ve written about your commitment to work with Democrats and the Democratic party. Is that just a nod to political reality? And if that’s a transitional strategy for you, what’s the long term strategy?

JB: We see the long term movement towards socialism as necessary, but it’s not inevitable. Because with global climate change and the danger of nuclear weapons humanity may not survive. So it’s really up to the will of humanity to figure out a way forward. But we do see the struggle in the United States as going through a number of stages. The current one, as I said, is to defeat the extreme right. It also overlaps with another more advanced stage of struggle, which is the struggle against monopoly corporations and the capitalist class as a whole. But we do see building a very broad majority people’s coalition—you can’t win any fundamental change big majorities. That’s what history shows us, so that’s what we’re all about.

Gawker: What do you think accounts for the success of the right, which you say you’ve been grappling with since the 80s?

JB: Well, you’re dealing with some extremely powerful forces that have unlimited resources, and they’re not only able to fund movements, but whole institutions, mass media, and so on. So they’re extremely powerful, and you can never underestimate what they’re capable of doing. And I think it’s also related to what we were talking about earlier: during the rise of the right, they were basically able to shut out the alternatives. They were able to shut out the voice of the left. So that’s why they were able to ideologically dominate political discourse in the country, and then were able to influence how people thought at the grassroots.

Now, we’re facing this long term economic stagnation in the country, and this is the new normal. Mass unemployment; huge wealth disparity, and increasingly so; the only means of economic development is through external stimulus, and so on; and declining living standards. So you have a lot of scared people. People are really scared. So a lot of people are open to easy solutions. So you start pouring in racism, and xenophobia, and homophobia, and so on—people buy it, if there’s not a counter to it. Then I think we have a problem where a lot of people, it’s easy for people to think they can get outta this thing on their own. Individualist solutions. They don’t see collective struggle. And I think that’s an important lesson we all have to learn: that any change in this country is going to be collective struggle. Masses in motion...

There’s a lot of great things that are happening. With the labor movement. Just in the last year, we’ve had an incredible conversation around the country about racism, and institutionalized racism. Black Lives Matter has played an important role. We’ve had these incredible developments around marriage equality, and gay and lesbian equality. These are really sea changes in public opinion in a lot of ways. And they harken to possibilities for the future.

Gawker: When it comes to economic inequality, do you feel your party has some special insight on that issue? What would be your (near term) prescription?

JB: There’s a lot of great ideas being put forward that we totally support, and have actually been promoting for many years. Beginning with income redistribution in the country, taxing the wealthy and corporations, eliminating all the corporate welfare subsidies, ending privatization of public services and assets. We support the idea of a financial transactions tax. We’re of course for a massive shifting of the federal budget away from military spending and pouring that money into a massive project to rebuild cities and towns all across the country, a high speed rail system from coast to coast, a transition to a sustainable economy, completely divesting off of coal, and pouring money into healing the environment. Which we feel in the short term will generate millions or tens of millions of new jobs and put people back to work much the way the WPA did. I think one of the missing elements of this campaign—although [Bernie] Sanders talks about it—is a call for a massive public works program that will put literally everybody back to work in one way or another. And I think it’s possible. But it’s only possible with income redistribution in society.

Gawker: The biggest socialist foreign policy story now would be America’s relationship with Cuba. What’s your take on it, and on the Cuban socialist experiment as a whole?

JB: I think this is a really exciting time. The normalization of relations is long overdue. It’s something that supported by the Cuban people and the majority of Americans, so I think it’s a wonderful thing. I also think it’s an exciting time for the Cubans, because of their reinventing socialism and updating their socialist model.

I think that they recognized that the current model they were working under was not doing the job, was not leading to the kind of development that was necessary, and that in fact they were losing ground in a lot of ways. And I think one of the conclusions that they drew was that the model that they had, which was based on the Soviet model—centralized planning—was not and maybe never could have been conducive to the realities that they faced there. So they had to change. The had to. While they are not giving up their objective of building socialism, they realized that they had to find ways to have a number of different forms of social property and private property. They had to find a way to open up the doors to foreign investment, either wholly or in joint form. And they had to find a way to involve a much bigger section of the Cuban people in this process. So I think the whole movement towards cooperatives is a really important development.

But also this idea that you have to have incentives. And that I think was one of the fundamental mistakes—it was a mistake for the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries that collapsed, that they leveled income, and they didn’t see the need for rewarding work. So now you have the institution of wages at different levels, even though it’s within a range. Still, you have to have that. People demanded it, and they’re responding to it. And that’s an important lesson. We see that as part of our socialism as well.

Gawker: Is there an official policy on that for the Communist Party? I think a standard American view is that communism involves both centralized planning and hyper-equality, which strikes fear in people’s hearts.

JB: We see our socialism in the United States as being very unique. At the same time we have to examine the mistakes and errors that happened, including the overcentralization and the totality of the state sector and the leveling of wages and so on. I think most would agree those were big mistakes which compounded and helped to lead to the collapse, or was a factor in the collapse of socialism. We see, at least in the foreseeable future, a market much like we see today, but a much bigger state sector, and one in which the power of corporations and Wall Street is severely limited. And that actually the big corporations and the big banks are brought under public ownership. And that we reverse privatization and expand public assets.. but at the same time, we do see a need for the range of wages depending on a person’s contribution to society or their ability to produce. They should be rewarded for that.

Gawker: Is your vision for America a sort of Scandinavian model? Or is there another model, or precedent?

JB: I don’t think so. Although obviously we see this transition taking place through the electoral arena. We see a socialist coalition being elected, one that can institute these kinds of policies, including expanding public ownership. As I said, our aim is to curb the power of the biggest corporations in the country, and the wealthiest people. I think there will be a big role for small businesses, and farmers, and even middle-sized corporations. We’re not about advocating taking people’s personal property. That’s not anything we believe in. We call it “Bill of Rights Socialism,” by the way. It’s kind of an expansion of the Bill of Rights… making the right to a job part of the Constitution. The right to a free education, free health care, free child care, access to affordable housing and mass transit. All those things should be basic rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Gawker: How optimistic are you that some of these things are actually going to get done, whether in the next few years or in your lifetime?

JB: I’m really optimistic for the future. But I’m also obviously very alarmed by the dangers that we face as a country, as a world, and as humanity. We don’t have a lot of time. Especially when you consider global climate change and how rapidly the potential for destabilizing whole ecosystems [is growing], and how fast humanity could be obliterated, or at least large sections of humanity. So we have to work with urgency. We have to help much larger sections of people understand the urgency of the moment. And I think people are. How quickly is another question. But that’s part of the role of movements.


The fog that blinded the electorate

Election rally in PA
Election rally in PA

Source: Peoples World

Author: Rick Nagin

Emphasis Mine

There were local and geographical peculiarities, but when an election was as uniformly one-sided as this one was, deeper explanations are required. In the most general sense it can be said that the electorate does not yet recognize or understand that the enemy they face is right wing extremism; that this is the fundamental source of the insecurity they feel as their living standards and democratic rights are besieged. It is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have blocked programs to create jobs, raise wages, strengthen unions, who have cut taxes on the rich and shifted the burden to working people, who have slashed funds for education, health care and local government services, who have launched an unprecedented assault on the right to vote, on the rights of women, on equality for gay people, on immigration reform and on defending humanity from a climate catastrophe.

All this begs the question as to why the people were not able perceive the mortal danger from the right. The answer to this, I believe, was the ability of the right to unleash unprecedented resources to roll out a dense fog, as thick as pea soup that covered the South, blanketed the Midwest and reached even into the far recesses of New England, a fog that terrified, blinded and paralyzed the Democrats and had them running for cover. It was the fog of racism.

The demonization of President Barack Obama and, by extension, the Democrats who “voted with him,” has been building for years in the nether world of right wing hate talk radio and Fox News and was unleashed full force in this election. Since it is forbidden to mention racism in polite company, the corporate media referred to the GOP strategy as the “nationalization” of the election. Tom Cotton, GOP candidate for senator in Arkansas, avoided state issues but used Obama’s name 79 times in his televised debate with Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor.

The most notorious use of this tactic, as well as the classic capitulation of the liberal Democrats was in Kentucky where Allison Lundergan Grimes responded to Mitch McConnell’s relentless race baiting by first saying she was a “Clinton” (i.e. not an Obama) Democrat,” then by protesting in a debate that “Obama is not on the ballot” and finally by refusing to say whether she had voted for Obama in the presidential election. How different it would have been if, from the beginning she had confronted the issue head on, denounced McConnell’s shameful racist campaign as an insult to the democratic values of the voters and had driven home that it was only because of the Obama health care reform that millions of Kentuckians now had for the first time their very popular health coverage program. It would have been McConnell, not Grimes, who would have been on the defensive and a powerful anti-fogging agent would have been released

But Grimes and Pryor believed the racist fog was unbeatable and, along with Kay Hagan in North Carolina, had prevailed on the President to delay his planned immigration initiatives until after the election, and, of course, to stay as far away from their states as possible. As reward for their cowardice, they all went down to defeat. There was one example in this election demonstrating that the voters are actually better than Grimes, Hagen and Pryor believed. That was in Pennsylvania where Gov. Tom Corbett was unseated after he and the Republicans admitted their election restrictions were an attempt to suppress minority votes and their massive cuts to public education were also directed at urban African Americans. These actions were blasted by victorious gubernatorial Democratic candidate Tom Wolf, and voter participation by minorities and white allies actually increased.

The lesson of this election is clear. Racism is at the core of right wing ideology. The attacks on “government,” Social Security, Medicare, public education, the minimum wage, public employee unions are directed first and foremost at people of color, as the right seeks to convince the white majority that democratic rights and institutions exist primarily to serve minority populations at the expense of the majority. They hope this will carry them to victory in the 2016 presidential election.

In their arrogant statements after the election McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner made clear their war on President Obama would continue unabated. They think they have a good thing going and plan to keep milking it for all it is worth. It is the responsibility of all progressives, of labor and all its grassroots allies to expose and reject these divisive tactics and build a united democratic movement to defeat right-wing extremism.