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The billionaires and millionaires who white “working-class” people (we’re told) voted overwhelmingly to put in charge of Washington have already signaled they intend to use the power of the federal government to wage class warfare against their constituents. The Republican assault on the social safety net will go far beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act and is already taking aim at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

killing social security

Social Security, Gaslighting, and Idiocracy—Joe Palermo

Representative Tom Price, the Georgia Republican who Trump nominated to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, has a long history in Congress trying to roll back these vital social insurance programs. In a recent speech, Price voiced his displeasure with the “small number of automatic spending programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which are not subject to annual appropriations.” He wants to turn these insurance programs that are funded by payroll taxes with workers and employers both contributing, into “welfare” programs that his department and the Republican Congress can systematically dismantle.

On the campaign trail, Trump assured voters he would defend Social Security knowing that calls for gutting it are extremely unpopular even in Trumpland. Millions of struggling working-class Americans depend on Social Security for a lifeline. And since more children are living with their grandparents privatizing it will be like stealing from the elderly, disabled, orphans and children all at the same time.

Trump’s promises contradict the draconian budgets that Price, who chaired the Budget Committee, and House Speaker Paul Ryan have put forward in recent years. There might be an area of disagreement between Trump, Price, and Ryan on Social Security. But as with everything else, we can’t trust a word that comes out of any of their mouths

The harmony among Trump and the 115th Congress comes in their quest to de-regulate every corporate special interest they can get away with including banks and credit card companies, food and drug companies, oil and gas companies, Internet Service Providers, and so on and on, leaving workers and consumers to fend for themselves.

In an era when we’ve seen predatory behavior from corporations like Mylan (with its Epipen price gouging) and Wells Fargo (with its fraudulent accounts ripping off unwitting customers), and numerous other examples (including the massive Wall Street fraud that produced the meltdown of 2008), the Republicans’ ideological commitment to vague notions of “deregulation” as a panacea for our economic woes is as stubborn as ever.

When the economy is in a downturn the Republicans say “times are bad we must cut taxes and deregulate”; when the economy is growing and unemployment is relatively low, they say “times are good we must cut taxes and deregulate.” It’s pure ideology.

The last time around when the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency (2003-2007) they cut taxes while launching wars that cost a trillion dollars, doubled the national debt, gave away $400 billion to their big donors among pharmaceutical companies, and presided over the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression. The longest serving Republican House Speaker in U.S. history (Dennis Hastert) was later convicted for illegal pay-outs to hide his pedophilia, and Majority Leader Tom DeLay and his friend Jack Abramoff redefined the meaning of “influence peddling” on K Street.

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Today, the 115th Congress is gearing up to enact the same misguided policies that failed the country so miserably under George W. Bush — but this time on steroids.

Today, the 115th Congress is gearing up to enact the same misguided policies that failed the country so miserably under George W. Bush — but this time on steroids. Overreach is baked into their ideology. They simply cannot contain their greed.

And the Republicans’ blind hatred of everything Obama and their zeal to undo everything he accomplished over the past eight years might lead them to discover at some point that the first black president they loathed so much put in place some smart policies that lowered the costs of health care, stabilized the federal budget, and kept us out wars.

In 2016, the Republicans brought us a new reality. “Gaslighting” became institutionalized. Instead of having a public debate about the ideas of the candidates and realistically parsing their policy proposals we got bizarre denials of fact and Big Lies that boomeranged back into the discourse in ways that challenged reality itself. One thing we’ve learned from the Trump juggernaut is that lying works, and lying bigly works even better.

As with the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002 the corporate news media in 2016, cable news shows, the networks, and even major news outlets, proved totally unequipped to deal with the new order of things or defend the norms of democratic governance. The editor of the Wall Street Journal has even given up trying to fact check Trump’s liars and gaslighters giving them an open platform for their propaganda; no Edward R. Murrows there.

When Beltway reporters allow powerful people to come on their shows and lie to them with impunity, and then leave it to their viewers to sort out fact from fiction, we see how low American political “journalism” has sunk. Those in power labor tirelessly to deconstruct our political reality and corporate news media have been their greatest enablers. The same business model that motivated those Macedonian teens who flooded pro-Trump sites with false stories for click bait and eyeballs also animates Jeff Zucker at CNN, Leslie Moonves at CBS, and Rupert Murdoch at Fox.

There is one area that might allow for a little pushback against the lies and gaslighting and that’s the courts, law schools, and the legal system generally. Despite the inherent injustices between rich and poor in the justice system it still largely exists in the fact-based world. Lawyers can twist and misinterpret the law and the meaning of words but it’s much harder to gaslight or to outright lie. In fact, there’s even a crime called perjury to dissuade people from lying in court.

A court even forced Trump to pay out $25 million to settle the fraud case involving his bogus for-profit eponymous “University.” Trump’s lawyers didn’t try to gaslight their way out of his fraud case - they chose to settle. And Trump’s usual tactic of smearing people who challenge him as he did with Judge Gonzalo Curiel failed to make the case disappear.

For now, the legal system still functions in the world of facts largely because a lot of rich and powerful people and corporations need it to function that way. How else could Disney or ExxonMobil or Apple or JPMorgan Chase protect their bottom lines, their property and patent rights, their contracts and business dealings if the courts partook in the same kind of crazy-making and gaslighting PR departments and Trump surrogates engage in every day?

With the potential conflicts of interest that are already piling up on the Trump White House there might be opportunities for the courts and the legal system generally to re-infuse facts and “reality” back into the wider political discourse. The challenge of the coming period will be to try to hold Trump and his minions accountable to the same fact-based legal standards that forced him to settle the Trump University fraud case. A key battle shaping up will be over the federal courts and whether they too can be dragged into the new Idiocracy.

Joe Palermo

Joseph Palermo