Normative Narratives

The Democratic Party: Red Line Issues

While I am opposed to blind obstructionism, it is pretty clear that the Trump Presidency will provide ample red line issues that the Democratic Party must fight against. The cards are stacked against the Democrats, at least until the 2018 Congressional elections, so I am talking procedural delays in Congress, judicial challenges, protests–whatever there is in the resistance tool-belt.

In a time when seemingly everyday there is a new issue or statement to be outraged about, it is important for progressives to prioritize their battles. Prioritization will help Democrats avoid the appearance of being “the party that cried wolf”–increasing public support when a true red line is crossed. On a personal level, prioritization can help bring some inner peace–it is not healthy to be constantly outraged 24/7.

For these reasons I will keep a running list of what I believe these red line issues are, and why they should be considered red line issues.

If you have suggestions for this list, please leave a comment!

Jump to a Red Line Issue:

Financial Sector Accountability

1st Amendment Rights

Affordable Universal Healthcare

Labor Rights

Travel Ban

Issue: Environmental Protection

Why it is a red line issue: Climate Change is real and it is costly. “Conservative case for climate action” (which is likely wishful thinking) aside, things other than carbon emissions can harm people and the environment.

Chemical byproducts from industrial activities are also damaging, and it is generally the poor who face the brunt of the damage. Powerful corporations have historically had the upper hand in these cases (polluting, using lawyers to shirk responsibilities) even when the EPA has functioned as an environmental steward and watchdog. With Scott Pruitt heading the EPA, things could get ugly.

Success in defense: Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, was confirmed to head the EPA. Trump’s first proposed Federal budget contains large cuts to the EPA budget. His budget director recently said investing in climate change mitigation is “a waste of your money”.

Economists are almost unanimous in their disagreement with this assessment, so Trump has reacted as he always does when faced with dissenting opinions–by shutting them out. First, in a broader move, he left the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers out of his Cabinet. Now he is reconsideration of the government’s use of a metric known as the “social cost of carbon”, which weighs the potential economic damage from climate change.

Trump is expected to roll back Obama’s Clean Power Plan and stricter vehicle emissions standards. His budget proposal to slash foreign aid and EPA budgets suggest the U.S. will not meaningfully contribute to the Green Climate Fund, money needed to help poorer countries bypass fossil fuels on their path to development. These moves would effectively remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, even if overt action is not taken.

Trump’s administration is waging all-out war on the environment.

Issue: Financial Sector Accountability

Why it is a red line issue: While the Financial Crisis and Great Recession may have receded from memory for some, it was incredibly damaging.

Prudent financial decision-making is difficult even for very intelligent people. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created as part of Dodd-Frank to protect people from the short-sighted Greed of Wall Street.

For similar reasons, the Department of Labor passed fiduciary rules to protect people’s retirement savings. How can one defend a financial adviser acting in their self interest with a clients money? Financial advisers receive a salary, that is the only way their well-being should factor into their advice.

Success in defense:

The House recently passed the “Financial Choice Act“; I suppose terrible policy is technically a choice. The act would undo many regulations preventing speculative financial activity, defang the CFPB, and undo new fiduciary rules aimed at protecting people’s retirement savings from unscrupulous financial advisers.

Not a single Democrat voted in favor of the act, properly identifying it as the red-line issue it is. It is not expected to pass through the Senate in its current form. But even a watered down version of this bill would be damaging. The financial industry cannot regulate itself, and its mismanagement can bring down the real economy; we just learned this lesson less than 10 years ago with the Great Recession, whose damage still scars the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

Aside from the stalled Financial Choice Act, the GOP and Trump administration continue to do their best to dismantle necessary financial regulations.

  • (10/24/17) The Senate voted to kill a CFPB rule which would have allowed customers to file class-action lawsuits against financial firms, even if this was precluded in a contract. This will thrust such cases back to arbitrators, who tend to rule more favorably towards financial firms. Nonetheless, Mike Pence cast the deciding vote to kill the rule after a 50-50 deadlock in the Senate, with no Democrats voting on the matter.
  • (10/25/17) The Justice Department took the first step towards disbanding the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force by ordering a review of the group:”The group was tasked with unearthing fraud following the 2007-2009 financial crisis, including fraud related to toxic mortgage securities that were sold to investors and soured as homeowners defaulted on their mortgages.The task force was credited by the department in helping bring a number of those crisis-era cases, as well as other cases unrelated to the crisis, such as criminal charges against a former Valeant executive in connection with an alleged kickback scheme.”

    The task force is still needed, as the financial sector cannot be trusted to police itself. It sure has been a busy week of sticking it to the little guy and helping big banks, and it’s only Wednesday! Any questions now whether Trump is a “populist”, or which Presidential candidate was in Wall St’s pocket?

  • (1/11/18) A Federal judge denied an injunction, which will allow Trump’s interim CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney to remain in place. Mulvaney has vowed to move the CFPB away from its agenda under Democratic President Barack Obama (i.e. protecting consumers from the predatory practices of financial firms).

Issue: 1st Amendment Rights (Freedom of Speech, Press Freedom, Freedom of Assembly, Religious Freedom)

Why it is a red line issus:  The above freedoms are essential components of a democracy. They are tools citizens can use to hold their elected leaders accountable.

Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon has called the media “the opposition”. Real news and fake news are being purposefully conflated by Trump’s administration. The ultimate goal is to have people loose faith in the press, dismiss all news as fake, and believe his administration’s “alternate facts“.

This bizzaro-world cannot become the norm.

Success in defense: Thankfully these rights are ultimately protected by the Constitution, so any challenges will ultimately be struck down in courts. Still, even proposed laws will likely have the effect of dampening dissent.

Since Trump’s election, people have been using their people-power to protest for what they believe in, which is always good to see.

Fact-checkers and mainstream media in outlets in general have been defiant in the face of attacks by the Trump administration. Trump’s administration has retaliated, culminating in the unprecedented move of barring major news outlets from his daily press briefings.

Issue: ACA Repeal Without Replacement

Why it is a red line issue: The ACA is not perfect. However, you cannot just take pieces of the plan you like and get rid of the ones you do not (like the individual mandate). Such a move would destabilize the health insurance market.

This could become an area of compromise, if the G.O.P. wanted to improve upon the ACA, but that would require pushing it in a more progressive direction (creating a Medicaid “public option” for example). There is no reason to believe such a proposal is on the horizon.

Repeal without a replacement would lead to millions becoming uninsured. People would suffer and die. This is absolutely a red line issue.

Success in defense:

It seems that the Republicans may have finally lost this fight for good, with Senator McCain, along with Senators Paul and Collins, voting no on the latest ACA repeal effort.

Because of Senate budgetary rules, any healthcare bill voted on after September 30th would require 60 votes to pass, as opposed to the 51 (50 with a Pence tie-breaker) now required.

Update: Having failed to repeal the ACA, Trump and the GOP are doing everything they can to undermine the law:

Trump has declared the ACA “dead”. But it is not dead, it is still the law of the land. It is incredible that a major political party would hurt regular Americans–both economically and health-wise–in order to fulfill a political vendetta, but sadly that is the current identity of the GOP.

Issue: Labor Rights

Why it is a red line issue: As private sector unionization has declined over the past few decades, the Department of Labor (DOL) and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have become the de facto champions of workers rights, acting as a counterweight to the power asymmetry between owners and workers.

A big issue on the DOL’s agenda is the fate of workers in the “sharing economy”, such as Uber Drivers. Are they contractors or are they employees? Being an employee can secure certain benefits, such as health insurance (which takes on even more importance if the ACA is repealed without an adequate replacement).

There are no easy answers to this question, as it is in no ones interest to see new companies get regulated out of profitability and business. But it is almost a foregone conclusion that whoever Trump’s Labor Secretary ends up being will side with owners on this issue. Workers need a champion.

The NLRB, which under Obama had ruled in favor of workers in unionization fights against large companies that rely on franchise business models (such as fast food companies), is also likely also to come under attack by the Trump Administration.

Success in defense: Amidst a lukewarm embrace from Senate Republicans, Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration for Labor Secretary. Trump has nominated former NLRB member Alexander Acosta in his place to leader the DOL.

While at the NLRB, Acosta signed hundreds of opinions. Those familiar with his work describe him as a careful and cautious public servant…

“Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.”

By all accounts, Acosta seems like a reasonable candidate. Liberals cannot have expected Trump to nominate progressives for Cabinet posts, but Senators from both parties should have demanded that he appoint people like Acosta–those with technical knowledge of and a general belief in the mandates of the department they will be running, not a history of working against the efforts of those departments.

In other labor rights news, Trump’s budget proposed cutting DOL funding by 21%. Not good news for workers across the country.

Issue: Travel Ban / “Extreme Vetting”

Why it is a red line issue: America already has an incredibly strong vetting process for refugees. Not only is it morally indefensible to block refugees from conflict, it actually works against America’s economic and security interests.

Security: It alienates Muslim American’s, who we are relying on to a certain degree to self-police their communities (in the same way that anyone has a responsibility to speak up if they know someone is planning to harm other people). It also provides fodder for terrorist propaganda, and could inspire lone-wolf terrorist attacks.

Economy: Refugees cultural differences and entrepreneurial spirit lead to job creation. Blocking the best and brightest from certain countries from coming to America will also set back technological and scientific advancements, breakthroughs in medicine, and standard of living improvements.

Success in defense:

The Supreme court has allowed Trump’s third attempt at the travel ban to go into full effect (12/4).

Furthermore, the Trump administrations “extreme vetting” of refugees from 11 countries (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) has effectively ended refugee resettlement from said countries:

“‘They’re pretty much shutting the refugee program down without having to say that’s what they’re doing,’ said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International. ‘They’ve gotten better at using bureaucratic methods and national security arguments to achieve nefarious and unjustifiable objectives.’

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said that 90-day review began on Oct. 25, the day after Trump lifted the ban. Officials have said that during the review period, refugees from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen will be allowed in on a case by case basis, but they have also said priority will be given to other applicants.

In the five weeks before the ban was lifted, 587 refugees from the 11 countries were allowed in, despite tough eligibility rules, according to the Reuters review of the State Department data. In the five weeks after Trump lifted the ban, just 15 refugees from those countries were allowed in.



One thought on “The Democratic Party: Red Line Issues

  1. Pingback: Red Lines and Areas of Compromise for the Democratic Party | Normative Narratives

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