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“Using The Government To Intimidate”: Here’s How Donald Trump’s Authoritarianism Would Actually Work

At various points in his career, Donald Trump has praised authoritarian rulers in places like Russia, China, and North Korea for having the ruthlessness to crush their political opponents. His worship of strength, contempt for reason, and appeal to base emotions has made many observers liken him to an authoritarian ruler, and even debate whether he is an actual fascist. But what would authoritarianism look like in the United States, as practiced by Trump? It would probably take the form of Trump using the powers of the federal government to intimidate his critics in the media — one of the key tools Vladimir Putin used to push Russia’s (far more fragile) democracy into outright despotism. In an interview Thursday night with quasi-official mouthpiece Sean Hannity, Trump responded to Washington Post investigations into his life by casually threatening retribution against its owner, Jeff Bezos:

It’s interesting that you say that, because every hour we’re getting calls from reporters from the Washington Post asking ridiculous questions. And I will tell you. This is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon. Amazon is getting away with murder, tax-wise. He’s using the Washington Post for power. So that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed. He’s getting absolutely away — he’s worried about me, and I think he said that to somebody … it was in some article, where he thinks I would go after him for antitrust. Because he’s got a huge antitrust problem because he’s controlling so much. Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing.

And what they’ve done is he bought this paper for practically nothing. And he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people. And I’ll tell you what: We can’t let him get away with it. So he’s got about 20, 25 — I just heard they’re taking these really bad stories — I mean, they, you know, wrong, I wouldn’t even say bad. They’re wrong. And in many cases they have no proper information. And they’re putting them together, they’re slopping them together. And they’re gonna do a book. And the book is gonna be all false stuff because the stories are so wrong. And the reporters — I mean, one after another — so what they’re doing is he’s using that as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust, which he thinks I believe he’s antitrust, in other words, what he’s got is a monopoly. And he wants to make sure I don’t get in. So, it’s one of those things. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what. What he’s doing’s wrong. And the people are being — the whole system is rigged. You see a case like that. The whole system is rigged. Whether it’s Hillary or whether it’s Bezos.

Obviously, one can debate Amazon’s antitrust practices (a case can be made it is a monopoly) or its tax levels. But Trump is making no pretense of evaluating these questions as public policies to be settled on their merits. His diatribe weaves in and out of Bezos’s finances and the Post’s coverage, and back again repeatedly, leaving no doubt that, in Trump’s mind, the two are one and the same.

Trump is making nice with the leaders of his party now, and the Republican holdouts have been reduced to a stubborn handful. But the GOP leaders going along with Trump should be under no illusion about the likelihood that the candidate they support, if elected, would turn the United States into at least a quasi-authoritarian state. And the ease with which he has brought other Republicans to heel gives every indication that they would help him do it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Authoritarianism, Donald Trump, Federal Government | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Multigenerational Wealth Is Best Hidden”: What Doesn’t Donald Trump Want You To Know About His Wealth?

This is what Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns says about America. We are a nation that can’t think straight about wealth and class. And Trump knows better than to puncture our delusions.

The American psyche is hyper-attuned to the trinkets of the wealthy: the right car, the right brand of clothes, the right vacation spots. We flatter ourselves with our circumscribed access to these status goods — or perhaps we only dream of that access — but we fail to understand that they do not equate to real wealth.

The very rich are different from you and me. They have something we never will: the power of money. Their money is the kind that doesn’t go away with a divorce, an extended sickness, a dip in the markets or even the death of a high income earner. Theirs is the kind that owns politicians and the laws they make.

Real wealth, the multigenerational kind, is best hidden. And even though a tax return won’t reveal all there is to know, it will reveal enough.

Trump told the Associated Press this week that nothing would be released until the government is through with its audit of him. The next day, Wednesday, he hedged a smidgeon to Fox News, saying he’d like to release the returns before the election. Don’t bet on that happening.

For one thing, if we were able to see how Trump’s fortune is structured and how much tax he pays on it, we would also be able to compute his liability under his proposed changes to the tax code. In other words, we would be able to approximate how much Trump stands to earn for himself and his heirs by pulling the strings of power. Is it any surprise he won’t go there?

Let’s take a closer look at the tax plan that he unveiled last fall. Plenty of experts have already done so.

As part of his populist appeal, Trump envisions simplifying the tax code and dismissing about 73 million households from paying any tax at all (most of those are already not paying). Those families will be able to submit a form to the IRS that says, “I win.” Yes, that is really his plan.

The cuts would lower taxes for people all income levels. But the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan but right-leaning watchdog group, noted “the biggest winners — in raw dollars and on a percentage basis — would be those in the top 10 percent of filers, particularly those in the top 1 percent.”

The top marginal rate for individuals would drop from 39.6 percent to 25 percent. The corporate rate would drop from 35 percent to 15 percent. He would do away with the estate tax. That adds up a lot of lost revenue — about $10 trillion over a decade, according to the Tax Foundation

Trump claims that the tax cuts would be made up for by closing some loopholes for the wealthy and corporations. But the Tax Foundation crunched the numbers and has deemed this to be wishful thinking. Severe cuts to spending would be necessary to avoid crushing growth in the national debt.

Wishful thinking is Trump’s stock in trade. Indeed, some speculate that another reason why he does not want the public to see his tax return is that his boasted wealth is squishier than he’d like to admit. Trump is notorious for overstating his attributes, and when it comes to his wealth he is especially touchy.

He sued former New York Times reporter Timothy O’Brien over the latter’s book, “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” which questioned Trump’s net worth. The book also explored if Trump convinced his siblings to borrow on his behalf from their trust funds to save him from financial ruin in the early 1990s. Trump’s lawsuit against O’Brien was dismissed.

Still, Trump is clearly rich to an extent most Americans cannot imagine. Oddly — and sadly — many tout this as an alluring quality. He’s so rich he can’t be bought, they say. This attitude reveals a pathetic inability to understand plutocracy, and its growing threat to our democracy. Americans continue to be suckered into unrealistic beliefs about their ability to upgrade their social class. Meanwhile, the policies and programs that are necessary to promote middle-class security are toppling one after another.

Donald Trump is not going to share his wealth with you, dear voter, or help you get rich on your own. He can’t. What worked for Trump will not work for you. His trick was the oldest one in the book: Have a rich daddy. And keep it in the family.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, May 14, 2016

May 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Plutocrats, Tax Returns | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Elections Are Games With Complicated Rules”: How Donald Trump Got The Republican Primary Rules So Very Wrong

Donald Trump is a man obsessed with fairness. Not so much as an abstract principle, but whether he is being “treated fairly,” which essentially comes down to everyone giving him whatever he wants. As the primary campaign moves into its final stages, he is most definitely not being treated fairly, at least as he sees it. Strangely enough, it turns out that presidential campaigns run according to complex rules and procedures that you might not have mastered if you’ve never run for office before.

Trump is still winning, but lately Ted Cruz — nothing if not a shrewd operator — has been working the system to snatch delegates from Trump left and right. It has happened piecemeal in one state after another, but Trump’s outrage erupted after Cruz captured all of Colorado’s 34 delegates. The state party decided last year to allot its delegates not through a primary, but via an intricate process involving caucuses and a series of meetings; Cruz’s people worked that process hard before the Trump campaign even realized what was happening, and wound up with the entire prize.

So now Trump is telling everyone how unfair it was, and his supporters are doing things like burning their registration cards in protest. It no doubt looks to them like, once again, the party insiders are rigging the game in their favor. But the real problem here is that Trump and the people supporting him were laboring under the misimpression that the nomination process is democratic. It isn’t.

The fundamental fact is that this entire enterprise we’re witnessing is about two private entities, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, choosing the people they want to put up for the real election in the fall. Just like the Democrats, the GOP can conduct that contest in any way it wants. It could select its nominee with primaries, or caucuses, or state conventions, or by holding an essay contest, or using one of those carnival strength testers, or with careful phrenological measurements of the candidates’ craniums. It’s up to them.

The fact that Trump didn’t understand that, and doesn’t understand the particular rules under which the contest is taking place, is like someone complaining that his opponent used a flea flicker in a football game or a double steal in a baseball game. Even if it momentarily confused you, that doesn’t mean it was cheating.

It can be easy to forget, when so many Americans are going to polling places and we’re taking exit polls and counting votes, that for most of American history, the backroom deal at the convention was the norm. Each party’s leaders would get together and pick the person they thought most likely to bring them to victory (or the person best able to dole out favors). It wasn’t until both parties transformed their nomination processes in the late 1960s that the parties’ rank and file took much of a role in the nomination process, and primaries became something more than a way for those leaders to get a sense of what voters wanted — which they could ignore at their will.

Since those reforms, we’ve gotten used to the idea that the parties’ nomination processes are supposed to uphold our fundamental right of fair representation. But they don’t have to. And that’s not to mention the fact that there are lots of features of the process that no one including Donald Trump is questioning, but that are equally unfair to voters. For instance, some of the states on the Republican side allot their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, which effectively nullifies the votes of anyone who didn’t vote for the winner. Donald Trump won the Florida primary with 46 percent of the vote, yet even though most Florida Republicans voted against him, he got all 99 of the state’s delegates. I don’t recall him complaining about how unfair that was.

And of course, there’s an analogy with the general election, which is determined by the decidedly undemocratic means of the Electoral College. If you’re a Democrat living in Texas or a Republican living in California, you know for certain that your vote will have absolutely no effect on the outcome of the race, no matter how close it might be.

So even though the stakes are impossibly high, elections are games with complicated rules. It isn’t enough to be the most appealing candidate; you also have to master those rules, or at the very least, hire people who understand them and can help you avoid their pitfalls. Donald Trump never bothered, and now he’s paying the price.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Campaign Rules, Donald Trump, GOP Establishment, GOP Primaries | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Ghost Of Section 5 Haunts Our Elections”: 2016 Is Proof We Needed The Voting Rights Act

Most political watchers awoke yesterday morning to the news that Eric and Ivanka Trump would be unable to vote for their father in the upcoming New York state primary because they didn’t file as members of the Republican Party by October. This little-known New York rule could have a huge impact on the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are drawing voters from outside the traditional party structure, since 27 percent of the state’s voters are registered outside the Republican and Democratic parties. If they didn’t declare a party affiliation by October 9, they won’t be voting in the state’s primary.

Much of the reaction to the plight of Trump’s children was reflections on the Trump campaign’s disastrous ground game, but that misses the point: vast numbers of voters will be forced to navigate purposefully arcane rules this election season, everything from restrictive voter ID laws to altered voting schedules to decreased numbers of polling places.

Why? The 2016 presidential elections will be the first since the 2013 decision by the Supreme Court to weaken Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 5 mandated that states and localities with a history of racial discrimination receive permission from the federal government before enacting any changes to their voting laws; states like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, and a variety of other townships and counties around the country.

While Section 5 initially applied to states that imposed restrictive measures such as literacy tests, Congress later expanded the law to jurisdictions with sizable minority populations that used English-only election materials. States were only removed from the pre-approval list after 10 years of by-the-book elections.

Today, the ghost of Section 5 haunts our elections.

In North Carolina, which has been under fire for a variety of issues over the past few years, Republican-backed legislation has “included a reduction in early-voting days and ended same-day registration and preregistration that added teenagers to voting rolls on their 18th birthday.”

Recently in North Carolina, an attempt to gerrymander black voters into large congressional districts (to minimize their overall influence) backfired when it was found in federal court to be discriminatory — five weeks before primary elections for the illegal districts took place. While a separate congressional primary will be held June 7, the mix-up will have a tangible impact on voter turnout, given that people sometimes have to take time off, wait in long lines, and meet registration deadlines to vote.

Another recent example can be found in Arizona, whose presidential primary was a complete disaster, with some voters waiting in line for over five hours. Some didn’t wait around long, leaving without casting a vote at all. In a measure to allegedly cut costs, “election officials in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, the largest in the state, reduced the number of polling places by 70 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 200 to just 60—one polling place per every 21,000 voters,” according to The Nation.

The situation was so dire in other parts of Arizona that people passed out from sunstroke, had their party affiliation allegedly changed from Democrat to Independent, and never received mail-in ballots. Maricopa County was previously one of the counties identified under Section 5 as requiring pre-approval, due to a history of discrimination. Minorities make up 40 percent of the county’s population. Before 2013, Arizona would have had to submit the closing of polling places for review, and likely would have been denied, given Section 5 had previously blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona.

Finally, we can also look at the state of Texas, where the state legislature passed a stringent voter ID law following the invalidation of Section 5 that the federal government had previously blocked using the same law. As a result, over 600,000 voters in the state will likely have to go through a more onerous voting registration procedure because they lack one of the forms of ID eligible under that law, if they are able to vote at all. While a federal appeals court ruled in August that the voter ID law had a discriminatory impact, Texas is currently appealing its case to a full appeals court, in the hopes it will not need to change the implementation of the law, which will remain in place as-is while the appeals process continues.

It’s clear that we are missing key protections from Section 5 that would have ensured more reasonable and less discriminatory voting processes at the state and local level. Now that states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting practices don’t need pre-approval to enact changes in their laws, many of them have simply passed the very same laws they were prevented from enacting for decades, and more still have enacted new laws meant to suppress the vote. In 2016, we need the full force of the Voting Rights Act more than ever. In its absence, the integrity the democratic process is in question.

 

By: Benjamin Powers, The National Memo, April 12, 2016

April 13, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Real Incremental Progress Is Happening In Blue States”: State Legislatures,The Primary Vehicles For Real Progressive Action

It’s often easy to become discouraged at the state of national politics. Given Republican control of the House, there’s very little chance of either Clinton’s or Sanders’ policy priorities going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t happening in blue states around the country.

Consider again the example of California, where rules finally went into effect allowing women to get birth control without a prescription:

Women in California of any age can now obtain birth control without a doctor’s prescription from any pharmacy in the state. Under the new rules finally in effect, any woman merely has to fill out a questionnaire at the pharmacy to get access to a variety of contraceptive measures, according to KABC. Though the new rules were technically passed by the state legislature in 2013, the law was tied up in regulatory discussions until Friday. Under the law, any woman can get self-administered hormonal birth control.

California is not the first to put this into place; Washington and Oregon already have similar laws.

This also, of course, comes on the heels of $15 minimum wages being passed in California and New York as well. California alone has a wide bevy of new progressive laws ranging from automatic voter registration to air quality standards, wage theft, sexual consent and much else. Blue states continue to be the successful laboratories of democracy where Republicans in Congress are failing to act, even as the red state economic model is being proven a failure in places like Kansas and Louisiana.

Until the 2020 census makes it easier to change control of Congress, it will remain the case that state legislatures are the primary vehicles for real progressive action. One can only hope that those seeking a political revolution will remain engaged regardless of the result of the Democratic primary, and get involved in making their states as progressive as possible until the demographic tide makes a national change in direction inevitable.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 10, 2016

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Blue States, California, Progressive Action, State Legislatures | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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