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UNDER THE BIG TOP IS WHAT COUNTS
by Lawrence Bush
YES, IT’S MORE THAN LIKELY that Russia’s government colluded with some Trump cronies last year to make Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee look like the head and body of a corrupt political machine. But how much should progressives care that Russian hackers let that cat out of the bag — since Hillary and the DNC were indeed a corrupt political machine, insofar as they colluded to keep Bernie Sanders from winning the primary?
Vladimir Putin’s preference for a Republican oligarchy to a Democratic oligarchy in America should be no surprise. I’ve watched episode 1 of Oliver Stone’s newly released four-hour interview with Putin, in which Putin makes clear that it was Bill Clinton who violated an unwritten agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev that if Germany were allowed to reunite in 1990, NATO would not extend the boundaries of its U.S.-controlled alliance past Germany’s borders. (Gorbachev confirmed this to be his understanding in his 1996 memoir.) Clinton stretched NATO to encompass Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1999, then set in motion the inclusion of six more Eastern European countries by 2004, expanding Russia’s Cold War enemy to its very borders.
So if YOU were Vladimir Putin and had to choose between the wife of Bill Clinton -- who herself, as secretary of state, oversaw implementation of NATO’s continued expansion and called for NATO intervention in Syria and elsewhere (““If Trump gets his way,” Clinton declared during her campaign, “it will be like Christmas in the Kremlin”) -- or Donald Trump, who said that NATO was obsolete and unnecessary and undermining to his “America First” nationalism?
Ahh, but shouldn’t patriotic progressives be appalled by the notion of foreign interference in our precious democracy, especially by an autocratic government that pretends to be democratic?
Puh-lease. In that extraordinarily tight and expensive Congressional race going on now in Atlanta, a campaign to register Korean Americans (likely to vote Democratic) has been shut down in a raid by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which seized the organization’s files. Meanwhile, 46,000 registration forms for African-Americans (likely to vote Democratic) in the same Congressional district have disappeared. In our patriotic efforts to defend American democracy against its lying enemies — foreign and domestic — let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we’re living in a real democracy. We may not jail opposition candidates or assassinate critical journalists, as Putin has done, but our two-party system resembles single-party oligarchies more than multiple-party democracies in many, many respects.
I ENJOY as much as anyone on the left hearing senators grilling Jeff Sessions, news commentators speculating on how Robert Mueller may force the disclosure of Trump’s IRS filings, and state attorneys general denouncing presidential emoluments -- but I recognize it all as a sideshow from the real business of the Republican Party. Indeed, if Trump’s opponents manage to nail him, it will be like sending Al Capone to prison for income tax evasion. The feds couldn’t convict Capone for his 100+ murders or his prostitution rings or his innumerable other crimes, in part because Capone had protection from the Republican mayor he’d brought into office in Chicago, William Hale Thompson (Capone contributed $250,000 to Thompson’s mayoral campaign -- in 1927! -- and bombed a polling place where Thompson’s opponents congregated). So the feds imprisoned Capone for tax evasion -- but the crimes went on unimpeded.
Our president is a gangster, but the Republicans are the Syndicate. And while we’re all fantasizing that Trump will be brought down like Capone was, the Syndicate is doing the following:
• They are destroying Obamacare with legislation that is being written in secrecy, while also proposing a devastating reduction of Medicaid.
• They are terrorizing immigrant communities with a 33 percent increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests during these first months of Trump’s rule.
• They are celebrating U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and planning the death of the Environmental Protection Agency.
• They are deliberately eviscerating the government by failing to appoint more than 80 percent of the 554 executive government positions that require Senate confirmation.
• They are planning to nuke the Internet by abolishing net neutrality.
• They are moving with all due speed to force abortion rights onto the Supreme Court’s docket so that Roe v. Wade can be overturned.
• They are planning to trump Trump’s plan for expanding the military budget by proposing a significantly larger increase.
• They are defending a proposed federal budget, along with tax cuts, that would destroy poor families, badly injure middle-class families, enrich the unfathomably rich sector of America, and cripple the government’s capacity to regulate greed.
Indeed, the ultra-right takeover of the Republican Party is pretty much complete, now, and our new leaders plan to do everything they’ve said they aim to do, and a few things that even they are not shameless enough to declare as their intent:
• to shrink the government until it can be drowned in the bathtub;
• to unleash the “marketplace,” planet Earth be damned;
• to allow Social Darwinism to kill off poor people;
• to suppress the Democratic majority through gerrymandering and voter suppression;
• to maintain a military budget that is several times the amount spent by the rest of the world;
• to abolish women’s reproductive rights and hold the line on LGBTQ liberation;
• •to exploit the fear of terrorism to fully militarize the police and the intelligence services;
• to mainstream fascist ideas;
• to vilify liberals and progressives until a majority of the country views us as traitors.
Whether Trump is impeached or imprisoned depends ENTIRELY on how much he toes the conservative Republican line -- and so far he’s doing just that. All of these investigations are therefore a sideshow, pulling public attention away from the real crimes of the Syndicate.
Be warned: It’s what goes on under the big top that counts.
Lawrence Bush is editor of Jewish Currents.
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.