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 Regulation

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: Rolling back Dodd-Frank Financial Regulations

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 CFPA, 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. It should be inconceivable that such legislation would be back on the table, particularly with a “populist” administration in the White House (can we stop referring to Trump as a “populist” please) yet here where are.

Resistance is needed. This is as important an issue as there is.

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 most will likely 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.

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 briefing (2/25).

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:

Republicans have failed to garner enough support to pass their regressive Better Health Care Reconciliation–huzzah!

Trump has changed his tune from repeal and replace to repeal, then try to replace.

Nobody wants to go back to the pre-ACA days–when among other things pre-existing conditions barred people from entry to the health insurance market. Repeal then replace would be a ploy to strong-arm Democrats and modern Conservative into accepting a sub-optimal Healthcare bill, under the premise that it would be better than the nothing an ACA repeal would be.

This is a desperate move by a desperate administration. Hopefully Senate Republicans, after multiple failed repeal and replace attempts, dismiss Trump’s latest suggestion and begin working with Democratic Congressmen and women to address the flaws in the ACA to make it work even better.

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 today (6/26) reversed the stay on Trump’s travel ban, putting it into effect for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and refugees, unless they have familial, academic or business ties to the U.S.

The reversal will remain be in effect until the Supreme Court rules on the case in October.

Not only is the travel ban’s intended effect on National Security questionable (if not directly counter-productive), not only does it go against American principles of tolerance and openness, but it will put those enforcing the rule in an almost impossible position:

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding – on peril of contempt – whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Thomas wrote.

As the travel ban awaits its day in the Supreme Court, the Trump administration is trying another avenue to restrict the number refugees allowed into the country–reassigning the decision traditionally made by the National Security Council and State Department officials to the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC).




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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