2017:  A Fake Year?

GELFAND’S WORLD-The end of the year column is something of a CityWatch tradition. I'd like to contribute a few paragraphs on what is to come in 2018 and a few paragraphs summarizing some themes I've tried to develop this year. 

There's no point in belaboring the obvious -- the guy in the White House has shaped his own revolution, and it's up to the sane people to take back control by developing our own counterrevolution. The only question is whether we can do so before the damage to our nation and to our civilization become irreversible. The 2018 midterm elections will be one element of that movement. 

In 2018, I will be continuing with ideas and proposals about how to reform our city government in one fell swoop. We may even discuss what a fell swoop is. If you think everything is fine, then you can skip those upcoming columns, but I haven't met a lot of people who are satisfied with the status quo. 

It's been a disturbing, depressing, scary, foul year. Yet we have some small reason to be proud of the fight we have carried on. I think Kevin Drum has summarized the matter pretty well: Most of what Trump has done is relatively minor and much of it (the tax bill, for example) is reversible. What is in doubt is whether we can recover from the appointment of right wingers to the federal judiciary. 

There are a few long-term lessons to be learned from 2017. Not the least of these is a lesson for all the sane folks: i.e.: everyone who isn't a far right bigot: They need to do what previous generations did. They need to learn to vote in each and every election. That's where true political power will come from. 

Let's consider a couple of numbers from the Michigan vote in 2016. Trump won by about eleven thousand votes out of a total of more than 4.5 million. (I've intentionally left out votes for the minor party candidates.) If a mere three people out every thousand registered voters had turned out instead of staying home, Trump would not have won. Even in a traditionally conservative place like North Carolina, there was barely a 3.5% difference. If Democrats and centrists turned out at 80% routinely, we wouldn't have the Supreme Court that we now have. 

The year 2016 was a bad year for voter suppression. Estimates run as high as 300,000 for the number of people denied the right to vote in Wisconsin, and that was for spurious reasons having to do with ID. We need a big national movement to get people registered and to get them ID cards. We understand that the governmental entities will resist, but if the movement begins now and continues for the next ten months, a lot of people can be rendered eligible. 

A Bill of Rights against Corporate Power 

Here's a thought for healing what ails us. I think it's a reasonable argument to make, that the worst danger to our individual well being comes from the large corporations and from the wealthy people who own them. We need a different kind of bill of rights to deal with this. 

It's curious how the right wing goes on about the original Bill of Rights (well, they defend at least a couple of Amendments). That movement is full of people who stock up on high powered weapons in case they decide to wage war against their own government. They rail on about the danger to their own liberties -- a danger that they perceive to be present in the mere existence of the federal government. In the meantime, they ignore the power of corporations. 

It's truly amazing that the less wealthy classes have rejected the idea of unionization but accept as a given that companies can do what they want. In fact, the conservative movement has made a mantra out of the idea of economic freedom for corporations, without conceding the point that this power has been allowed to burrow into the political and governmental sectors. 

There are a number of obvious problems which are worthy of a Citizens' Bill of Rights. Here are a few such examples: 

We've recently been hearing about lawsuit settlements that forbid people from explaining why they got money from a negligent or criminal boss or corporation. Such nondisclosure agreements should be made unenforceable as a matter of public policy, particularly when they pertain to illegal and immoral activities. The current scandal over sexual harassment would have come a lot sooner if the law had been different. 

Here's a recent finding from a small local newspaper: The cost of an ambulance ride can be anything from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, and the accident victim has absolutely no say in what that bill is going to be. Likewise, the story also goes for unmerited emergency room fees. The law should be changed so that the victims of such outrageous pricing can contest the billing in court. A general public policy of "customary and reasonable" for medical bills would be a welcome change. When an emergency room sends a bill for $6000 for an afternoon visit, the patient should be able to contest the reasonableness of that bill in front of a judge. That policy, enacted into law, would do a lot to make hospital billing more transparent. California has done something about ambulance billing, but lots of other states have ignored the problem. 

We could go on. These are just a few examples of the everyday outrages and hurts. The economic system that freezes people at a limited number of working hours (in order to prevent them from becoming eligible for benefits) ought to be abolished as a matter of law. Something as simple and obvious as making benefit outlays proportional to hours worked would put an end to this and would abolish a truly perverse incentive. 

These are just a few outrages out of thousands. We have the power to fix them, at least in California. 

The country as a whole ought to be thinking about freeing ourselves from the tyranny of corporate power. This does not mean a 1917 type of revolution. We should recognize that corporations do useful things -- everything from building jet engines to bringing food to the market -- but the political balance of power has swung way too far towards corporate hegemony. 

The increasing power of wealthy corporate interests is one of the main lessons of 2017. As mentioned above, one of the worst dangers of the Trump presidency is that of a right wing federal judiciary. We can predict that Trump's judges will increasingly slash away at workers' rights and will give in to corporate power grabs. Scholars of labor history are increasingly worried that a conservative Supreme Court will turn every state into the equivalent of a "right to work" state. 

Truth matters 

It's been a year in which the presidential administration has made a complete joke out of the difference between truth and falsehood. Some pundits wonder whether Trump is suffering from mental deterioration. Others suspect that he enjoys the fact that his followers let him lie, while his enemies can merely grit their teeth. Either way, it's been a year in which the concepts of honor and dignity have disappeared from the presidential image. 

We've recognized that the truth matters. 

But intelligence matters too. The ability to make up fibs and then dismiss them as "alternate facts" shouldn't be allowed to play in the public sector. What have we become as a people when an entire sector of the entertainment industry (i.e.: Fox News and talk radio) treat all the lies as defensible? 

And intellectual honesty matters too. 

It's been a curious quarter century in which the right wing has determined that they can mislead the American public in order to get their way; As much as I disliked William F. Buckley's politics, I never felt that he supported wholesale lying to the public -- it wouldn't really fit with his old money, Ivy League values; at least that's what I would like to think. 

This is the year in which the lie became an accepted part of political discourse and simultaneously, the year in which a substantial majority of the American public have reacted to the lying by recognizing it. Trump's favorability ratings are not only historically low, they are low by a wide margin; 

My prediction is that the two-thirds of the voters who distrust Trump won't switch to admiring and trusting him, even if he tries to start a foreign war. A fact that isn't recognized enough by sane pundits is that once the voters have accepted a viewpoint based on such overwhelming experience, it is next to impossible to undo that viewpoint -- every pivot and swivel by Trump and his supporters will be interpreted in light of those earlier experiences. 

Optimistic Democrats have been talking about the possibility of a wave election in 2018, that is to say, a massive voter turnout that leads to a return to Democratic Party control in at least one house of congress. It's a long shot right now, but California may contribute a couple or three seats; Issa is probably toast. A much tougher battle will be for the seat currently held by Ed Royce. One clue is the number of experienced Republicans who are announcing their resignations and retirements. 

The year 2018 will also be the run up to the 2019-2020 presidential campaigns. We'll begin to get some clues based on the number of senators, governors, and even mayors who suddenly take an interest in the welfare of the residents of New Hampshire. It is an ugly system that gives such power to Iowa and New Hampshire, but the Democratic National Committee has done nothing to fix the problem. I'd like to hear a reasonable candidate from the west (Eric Garcetti comes to mind) make a public statement contesting the validity of this system.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net