Normative Narratives

The Democratic Party: Red Line Issues

Originally Posted: 2/15/17

Last Updated: 12/28/18

While I am opposed to blind obstructionism, it is pretty clear that the Trump Presidency will provide plenty of “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.

Update 11/7/18: The Democrats retook control of the House of Representatives! This will allow them to much more effectively defend their red-line issues, and generally block the regressive policies emanating from the Trump administration. This is a HUGE (yuge?) deal–good job America!

Jump to a Red Line Issue:

Financial Sector Accountability

1st Amendment Rights

Affordable Universal Healthcare

Labor Rights

Travel Ban/ “Extreme Vetting”

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: Original EPA head Scott Pruitt was thankfully relieved of his duties, although Andrew Wheeler probably isn’t going to be much better, as the Trump administration continues its all-out war on the environment.

Major attacks include:

In addition to weakening environmental protections themselves, the administration has also altered rules that valuate the benefits of a cleaner environment, in order to help it justify its attacks on economic / legal grounds:

  • Shrinking the “social cost of carbon” valuation:“The so-called social cost of carbon is a mathematical evaluation of how much the emission of 1 ton of carbon dioxide is likely to cost society through future climate change — given damages to infrastructure, agriculture, human health and otherwise. It’s a little-known value in the public sphere, but one that contains tremendous potential to influence the cost-benefit analyses that help shape environmental policy, and it’s long been the subject of controversy.In its proposed repeal of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan — a 2015 rule to limit power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions — the Trump team included a lengthy report that dramatically altered the costs projected by the last administration.The Obama administration pegged the social cost of carbon at about $42 per ton by 2020. But the new EPA document significantly lowers that estimate, placing it between $1 and $6 per ton.”
  • “Co-benefits”: “The Trump administration proposal would repeal a 2011 finding made by the E.P.A. that when the federal government regulates toxic pollution such as mercury from coal-fired power plants, it must also, when considering the cost to industry of that rule, take into account the additional health benefits of reducing other pollutants as a side effect of implementing the regulation. ”

However, not all is lost on the environmental front. With the federal government currently promoting the interests of the fossil fuel industry and questioning basic climate science, some states, municipalities, and private companies have taken up the good fight.

Update (12/10/18): As the Trump administration continues its “War on the Environment” (it recently eased both carbon and mercury pollution limits for coal-fired power plants), the world presses on with the herculean task of coming up with a coordinated, meaningful response to this generational challenge.

World leaders convene this week in Poland for the UN Climate Summit to discuss the state of climate change mitigation efforts. Among other things, leaders will note achievements and shortcomings their country’s have faced in meeting their emissions reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

In related new, investors managing $32 TRILLION in assets have called for meaningful action on climate change:

“Among specific policy requests, the group called for governments to phase out thermal coal, put a “meaningful” price on carbon emissions and gradually get rid of subsidies for fossil fuels.”

It appears that everyone in the world–except the Trump administration and its ever-dwindling support base–understands the importance of addressing this challenge.

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).

Or, if you listen to Trump’s former Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn tell it, the housing crisis was primarily caused by by your average Joe living outside his means, and the financial sector has been unfairly demonized. This is some some revisionist history if I’ve ever seen it.

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 former 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.

Still, Trump has been pretty successful in blurring the lines between fact and fiction to his benefit, at least among his supporters. We’ve all heard of “fake news”, but don’t forget about “alternate facts“, “alternative data“, the “witch hunt” (Mueller investigation), and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories promoted by the President to cast doubt on the outcomes of the 2018 midterm elections.

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.

Midterm Election Update: While the piecemeal dismantling of the ACA has been disastrous for people who buy insurance through individual marketplaces, there does seem to be a silver lining–it could come back to bite Republicans in the midterm elections:

“Democratic officials and strategists believe healthcare and specifically, former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, once a political liability, have become a difference-making issue.

Candidates such as Cordray and Evers have centered much of their campaigns around the act’s protection of preexisting medical conditions and its expansion of Medicaid. All four Trump states have been hit heavily by the opioid epidemic.

That’s put Republicans, who largely resisted what they call “Obamacare,” in a bind.

A poll released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation listed healthcare as the top voting issue for Democrats and independents, particularly among women voters.

[Republicans] Walker in Wisconsin and DeWine in Ohio both at times have backed efforts to repeal the act or challenge it in court. But both candidates say they have always favored coverage for preexisting conditions in some form.”

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:

Uber won a major victory over it’s drivers in Federal appeals court decision today (9/25/18). The decision stated that it’s drivers must pursue their claims of being employees (as opposed to contractors) individually in arbitration, rather than via class action lawsuit. This decision was buoyed by the conservative SCOTUS decision in “Epic Systems Corp v Lewis, [which] ruled 5-4 in May that companies could compel workers to waive their right to class actions and instead pursue arbitration for various workplace disputes.”

Epic Systems Corp v Lewis was a landmark case. As unionization has declined, class action lawsuits have become another avenue in which employees can band together to try to overcome the power asymmetry they face when dealing with their employers.

Taking this tool away was another anti-worker ruling that ultimately increases economic inequality. As this case was decided 5-4 along partisan lines, the blame here can be placed squarely on the GOP.

Update (12/28/18): A federal appeals court just threw out an Obama-era rule related to  “joint employment”, saying its “indirect control” rule was too broad. This rule enabled franchised fast food workers (think McDonald’s workers) to negotiate better wages / conditions / scheduling directly with the parent company (McDonald’s corporation), instead of the franchisee (who are typically just small business owners themselves).

The “indirect control” clause will be sent back to the National Labor Relations Board for a more “confined” definition. The problem is that now Trump appointees have a majority on that board. Which way do you think Trump’s appointees will lean, in favor of poor worker or in favor of large corporations? I’ll give you one guess…

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–FAILED

The Supreme Court has upheld Trump’s 3rd version of the travel ban.

Relatedly, refugee flows have slowed dramatically under the Trump administration (source–Reuters Special Report):

“This year, with a record high 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, the United States is on track to take in about 22,000 refugees, a quarter the number admitted in 2016, the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, and the fewest in four decades.

In interviews with Reuters, more than 20 current and former U.S. officials described how the Trump administration has abandoned policies established over decades and embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. The officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, say the administration has rejected internal findings that refugees could be admitted safely and with little expense.

In addition to far lower admissions overall, the type of refugee admitted has changed under Trump, a Reuters analysis of government data shows. The percentage who are Muslim is now a third what it was two years ago; the percentage who are Europeans has tripled.

The shift has led to striking imbalances. Refugees admitted to the United States from the small European country of Moldova, for example, now outnumber those from Syria by three to one, although the number of Syrian refugees worldwide outnumbers the total population of Moldova.”

In related news, the Trump administration just released a refugee limit of 30,000 in 2019, the lowest number since the program was started in 1980. Note that 30,000 is the maximum number of refugees that can be admitted; even with this year’s already low 45,000 refugee cap, the U.S. is on pace to admit only 22,000 people.


2 thoughts on “The Democratic Party: Red Line Issues

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

  2. Pingback: Bipartisanship and the 2018 Midterm Elections | Normative Narratives

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