So, no sooner is Trump back from his disastrous G7 meeting than he starts mugging the press. Nothing new here—simply another distract, discredit and deceive tactic—something every would-be despot does. But Trump and his Republican allies could be facing a moment when the reality of their corporate-friendly, rich-folks-first policies get too grim to hide.
We saw what could be the bow wave of this dynamic when Greg Gianforte, the Repulican who just won a special election in Montana, body-slammed reporter Ben Jacobs.
Gianforte got violent because the Guardian journalist asked him the question every conservative Republican has been and is dreading. Specifically, do they back Trumpcare?
“If ever there was a bill that could have contrasted the difference between the two major parties, Trumpcare could have been it.”
What we have here is the perfect metaphor for what the Republicans are doing and have been doing for decades—screwing the poor and middle class then mugging the press when it tries to call them on it.
As long as people distrusted the media, Republicans could continue to betray their constituency with impunity. In fact, because the press typically presented a he-said/she-said account that emphasized balance, not accuracy, their whole right-wing shtick often dominated the story line even in the so-called liberal press.
Beyond that, things like tax cuts for the rich; deregulation of big banks and Wall Street; rolling back environmental and worker protection laws; undermining the social safety net; underfunding the Veteran’s administration, scientific research, and food safety programs—are all one step removed from most people’s direct experience. But health care is different. When 23 million people lose it and millions more see their premiums jump by as much as 800 percent, while the rich get a tax cut of over $660 billion… well that’s hard to hide, and even harder to blame on “liberals.”
Nope, this takes the Republican approach to governance and strips it bare of the deception, dissembling, and outright lies that have allowed them to portray policies like “trickle down tax policy” or “supply side economics” as being good for all of us.
Gianforte’s violent reaction was about having no answer for the approaching apocalypse, and knowing it. Pressed by Jacobs on whether he’d support the bill, given CBO’s scoring, he shouted, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! …The last guy that came in here … you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!”
Well, hell yeah. What fake wizard wants to have the curtain pulled back on him or her?
Now, it’s predictable and even appropriate for the press to focus on the assault, but Democrats could have used the fact that the body slam was in response to a Republican policy that screws people to keep that issue front and center. But instead of doing that, they let the story be about the press getting manhandled. Never mind that Trump and the Republican Party are manhandling the entire country in general, and the folks who voted for them in particular.
The question is, why didn’t they use this PR gift from heaven?
The answer is that Democrats are playing a softer version of the same pay-to-play politics that Republicans play.
If ever there was a bill that could have contrasted the difference between the two major parties, Trumpcare could have been it. The problem is, outside of the social and wedge issues, there just isn’t that much difference.
To take full advantage of the Republican’s hypocrisy and rank amateurism, Democrats would have to favor single payer, and that won’t happen because the establishment branch of the Democratic Party is taking money from insurers, the pharmaceutical industry, and is committed to protecting the economic elites in our professional class, including those in the for-profit medical community. This reduces the argument about differences to nuance, and the American voter can hardly distinguish rank bullshit from truth, so nuance is way beyond the pale for them.
In fact, with Obamacare, Democrats recycled an old strategy cooked up at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and implemented by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts that leaves the private sector whole at the expense of citizens, so the contrast between Trumpcare and Obamacare demands a fare bit of arcane knowledge about actuarial accounting and such. But even so, the Affordable Care Act has enough protections and economic subsidies for the sick, old and poor that it is vastly superior to Trumpcare.
So, yeah, Gianforte’s treatment of Jacobs was outrageous, but Trump’s and the Republican’s treatment of Americans in general and their base in particular is in a whole different class of thuggery. And if the details of Trumpcare are arcane, the impacts will be blunt and brutal. And though the discovery will come to late for many, it will be the experience of an implemented Trumpcare that will ultimately make the Republican’s betrayal obvious to even the most ardent know-nothing.
If Democrats weren’t so busy being Republican-lite they could exploit this all the way to victory at the White House, in state legislatures, gubernatorial races, and in Congress. They still could, if they were willing to put a little rhetorical distance between themselves and the economic elite they’ve hitched their star to. But that won’t happen with the neoliberal establishment in charge.
And so Democrats do everything they can to keep their followers focused on ‘resistance’ or ‘RussiaGate’—but you can’t win elections simply by being against something; and you can’t hide your plutocratic leanings by playing the blame game.
It’s pretty easy to be against Trump, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the Republican clown car. And it’s even possible that they’ll screw up so badly that people will turn them out in 2018.
But with the Republicans needing control of only two more states to convene a constitutional convention, it’s not enough to count on taking back control of our states and the nation by default. The only way Democrats can take control and reverse their four decade slide into minority status is to embrace a real progressive and populist agenda that puts people first. Then they could generate some passion and some turnout, and win some elections.
But don’t bet the ranch on it. It would require them to put the people before the economic elites and corporations, and as long as the party remains dominated by neoliberal apparatchiks, that will never happen.