The America of 2025

Each day we are reminded how corrupt, incompetent, mentally ill, and cognitively impaired Donald Trump is. His administration is a nightmare from which we awake only to discover that the new day’s reality has become even more frightening than the day before.

With over 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and over 73,000 deaths [as of today], Trump is more concerned with “reopening” the country than saving lives, providing testing and masks, or issuing a national shutdown order. Trump’s leadership has been as lacking as with every other GOP response to a natural disaster.

Trump has hawked snake oil cures, peddled multiple conspiracy theories involving China and the World Health Organization, his scientists have been muzzled, he has sidelined and censored the CDC, and his son-in-law is in charge of phantom ventilator contracts. Just as with deals involving the mafia, when doing business with the White House Don it seems it pays to “know a guy.”

In the midst of all this chaos, ineptitude and deep division over how (or whether) to socially distance, people have no recourse but to fend for themselves, make their own masks, help their neighbors, try to nurture social connections, and somehow keep body and soul together. Trump’s followers, however, are prepping for the apocalypse, stockpiling weapons and ammunition, placing their neighbors in the crosshairs, and putting them in spitting (and coughing) distance — all because it’s their “right” as God-fearing White Americans.

In Michigan, armed militia members opposing the governor’s stay-at-home orders entered the state capitol, forcing legislators to don kevlar vests. In contrast, the full weight of the State has come down on any Black person found ignoring masks or social distancing orders. That is, when Black folks aren’t being harrassed for actually wearing a face mask. In Texas, a white woman refused to obey an order to close her salon and became a hero in a state that objects to asylum seekers crossing the border because “we are a nation of laws.” But laws only for some.

The Coronavirus has also illuminated America’s festering racial, class, and economic inequalities. For Republicans the pandemic has been a bonanza for extracting greater tax and loan advantages for Big Business, enacting bans on travel and abortion while the public is distracted, and for returning the country to the 1950’s. For Democrats, the economic and health crisis on our doorstep hasn’t fully registered. Democrats managed to choose a 78 year-old Centrist with a massive #MeToo problem who just wants to return the world to 2012 and to tweak Obama’s flawed health plan as little as possible. In the meantime, the world has completely changed. Even with Biden’s candidacy in shambles, they’re still sticking with their man and his vision for the past.

Although people of color and America’s working poor have borne the brunt of the pandemic, there is little indication that help is on the way. Although $3 trillion has been disbursed to save American jobs, most of the money is predictably not finding its way into human hands.

Black Americans account for a staggering number of Coronavirus deaths. In Louisiana, the percentage of African American mortality among all COVID-19 deaths is 70%. The same percentage describes the situation in Chicago. Black Americans have long had high rates of asthma (lack of environmental protections), diabetes and heart problems (lack of healthcare and insurance) — and these are all “underlying conditions” which reduce COVID-19 survivability. It’s no exaggeration to say that America is literally killing Black people.

Despite the fact that the the Navajo Nation has the third highest infection rate in the country, it has not received emergency funds for testing. Similarly, the Seattle Indian Health Board, a Native American health center, “asked for tests, and instead they sent us a box of body bags,” according to the center’s CEO. White America seems to be trying to tell Native Americans something.

LatinX workers in the nation’s meat processing plants have been forced to work-while-sick at their jobs despite massive infection levels. Likewise, people in the jails and prisons of this nation with the greatest incarceration rate in the world — overwhelmingly poor and people of color — are at risk of contracting the virus in crowded, unsanitary conditions, deprived of soap, face masks and testing.

Many Americans are now literally starving, people are unable to pay for rent or food, and everyone wants an expansion of antibody testing and vaccine development. But corporate immunity is about the only immunity the Trump administration and its collaborators in the Senate really care about. Democrats just signed off on the greatest corporate giveaway in American history, and only one House representative protested the “crumbs for our families.”

I am confident that America will survive a global pandemic — just as it did 102 years ago. Whether we end up with a quarter of a million or several million deaths is largely up to the lunatics running the asylum. Some of us will be statistics; others will be survivors. Life will go on.

But it’s the survival of anything resembling a democracy that’s got me worried. Unless a substantial number of Americans have had enough, the world of 2025 will be run by the same Capitalists who have profited the most from a series of corporate bailouts beginning in the Seventies. For all the lofty Liberal expressions of “rethinking America” and “reconsidering” who is actually an essential worker, don’t expect to see any change unless we — collectively — decide that an essential worker ought to be paid at least as much as a supply chain consultant. But please, somebody, tell me how that happens in a Capitalist economy.

We don’t have a democracy now, and we won’t have one in 2025 unless everyone is equal under the law. Without a serious effort to erase long-standing economic and racial injustices and completely restructure criminal justice and policing in America, cops will still be harassing and even lynching Black men in America in 2025, and the jails will still be full of poor people who can’t make bail. Without health care as a right, some of us will live decades longer than others. Without reparations or a plan to lift up generationally disadvantaged communities, many Black and Native and LatinX Americans will still live in a Third World America while White America continues to live in its dreamy version of Pleasantville.

A new society is possible. But I fear White America, comfortable in its privilege, really has no incentive to tinker with what’s been working for them so well all these years.

Friedman’s Cabinet

A New York Times editorial by Tom Friedman making the rounds offers specific recommendations for a Biden cabinet. Friedman’s terrible picks deserve both scrutiny and comment.

For starters, the “Team of Rivals” approach is even more ill-conceived today than it was in 2016. And backing up for a second, what’s the rush to anoint Joe Biden before he survives the Coronavirus, the last Democratic primary, and a convention? Joe Biden is not Juan Guaidó: he can’t simply proclaim himself president (or nominee) before an election says he is. Premature anointment is a 2016 mistake Democrats seem determined to repeat in 2020. This is a party that never learns.

Instead of a “Team of Rivals” that magically makes Republicans sing Kumbaya along with Democrats, what we really need is an experienced Democratic cabinet that reflects America’s neighborhoods and not America’s boardrooms. We need a kick-ass team of Democrats who believe in science and education and health and economic and racial justice — including Democrats usually relegated to the sidelines while people like Friedman’s choices run America into the ground as ineptly as their Republican golfing buddies.

The Democratic Party is being held together with duct tape and spearmint gum. If Democrats need anything, it is to give power to people already inside the tent, especially progressives and African Americans — rather than handing Republicans, Think Tank ideologues, CEO’s, and Friedman’s Davos crowd any more power than they already have.

Where Friedman casts a few crumbs to progressives and African Americans, they are cynical and ill-fitting posts akin to ambassadorships. With Friedman’s picks, Corporate America can rest assured that Neoliberalism and reckless foreign policy will continue — and his choice of so many American oligarchs all but guarantees it.

Worse, Friedman’s cabinet assignments are an extension of the Centrist Democrat election “strategy” of sidelining progressives and minorities in favor of America’s imagined “heartland” and “center.” The enthusiasm with which Friedman’s half-baked notions have gathered appreciative sighs is discouraging. It confirms my belief that Democrats are a party of small ideas and wishful thinking.

Who on Friedman’s List will finally deal with reparations, student debt, or the formation of a single-payer National Health Care System? Who on his list is prepared to implement economic, criminal, policing, and racial justice reforms? Remember: this will be a Biden monster cobbled together from human parts harvested from the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Basically, the best Friedman has come up with is an offer to share Democratic power with Republicans immediately after being won — that is, if a lackluster candidate and an uninspiring cabinet can even inspire voters to choose a Democratic slate.

Below are my comments on Friedman’s specific choices. Among them are too many Centrists and Republicans, a frightening number of oligarchs, numerous Think Tank and Davos buddies, and a racial and socioeconomic mix that looks little like the real America.

Post Person Notes
Vice President Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala or Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island This is a giant “F*** You” to African Americans. And from which section of his colon did Friedman pull Gina Raimondo?
Treasury Secretary Mike Bloomberg Another member of the Ruling Class?
Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Gates Another member of the Ruling Class?
Secretary of Oversight for the trillions of dollars in emergency Coronavirus spending Elizabeth Warren Instead of letting Warren create a single-payer national healthcare system
Attorney General Merrick Garland Why not Kamala Harris and save Garland for SCOTUS (again)?
Homeland Security Secretary Andrew Cuomo Another Giulani in the making; he is not acceptable to progressives
Secretary of State Mitt Romney A White Republican, and not even one most White Republicans like
Defense Secretary Michèle Flournoy A Clinton neoconservative, just what we don’t need
Labor Secretary Ro Khanna An attempt to buy off a progressive critic of reckless “Defense” spending
Secretary of National Infrastructure Rebuild (Friedman’s new cabinet post) Walmart C.E.O. Doug McMillon Another member of the Ruling Class?
Commerce Secretary Former American Express C.E.O. Ken Chenault Another member of the Ruling Class?
O.M.B. Director Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio Why is Friedman afraid to let a Democrat run the OMB?
Education Secretary Laurene Powell Jobs Friedman has been hob-nobbing at Davos too long with celebrities like Steve Jobs’ widow
U.N. ambassador Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Why not put AOC in charge of the Green New Deal? Maybe because Centrists don’t believe in it.
HUD secretary Ford Foundation chief Darren Walker Walker is Friedman’s only African-American pick but is not exactly in touch with its problems
Interior Secretary Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico Friedman treats this like an inherited position: Grisham’s father, Manuel Lujan, was Bush’s Interior Secretary
Energy Secretary Andy Karsner (a green Republican who led renewable energy for George W. Bush) Another from the Davos crowd, and affiliated with Laurene Jobs. But why not an author or cosponsor of the Green New Deal?
E.P.A. administrator Al Gore Gore made some nice movies back in the day, but my choice would be Jay Inslee

Great questions for Democrats

As the March 3rd Democratic primary approaches, I have been arguing with just about all of my centrist Democrat friends. It was interesting to come across an essay about the centrist-progressive dispute by Jim Hightower, who may be best known (at least in Texas) as the agriculture commissioner whom Rick Perry unseated. For progressives Hightower is probably best known for the many causes and candidates the sprightly 77 year-old has worked for, including Bernie Sanders.

In an essay entitled “The Irony of the centrist-progresssive Debate” Hightower argues that centrists “tinkering around the edges” aren’t going to fix America’s problems, and those who fear to make real change won’t appeal to voters in numbers sufficient to vote Trump out of office. Moreover, Hightower writes, polls show that voters want substantial and progressive change, not centrist diddling.

So — forget moral arguments for a moment and focus on tactics — you can’t replace a solid, political platform with a vague appeal to throw some bum out of office. Voters are not going to vote the bum out if Democrats propose the same cold, cautious, poll-tested and spreadsheet-engineered technocratic B.S. they always come up with.

Instead, Democrats ought to be appealing to people’s hearts — you know, like the Republicans do. More importantly, I completely agree with Hightower’s South Texas dictum — grandes males, grandes remedios. Big problems, big solutions. And we have some incredibly big problems.

But — aside from nostalgia for a democracy centrists themselves had a hand in vandalizing when they voted for the Patriot Act, FISA courts, ICE, 287g, border walls of their own, the war on drugs, the war on crime, wars, wars, and more wars — centrist Democrats don’t really have a problem with the nation’s staggering economic, military, foreign policy, environmental, and race problems. If they did, we’d be seeing them proposing ambitious platforms like progressives. But for centrists a little tinkering suffices and no big solutions are necessary.

The centrist argument seems to boil down to this — that America isn’t ready for a progressive agenda and that Democrats can win only by being slightly less depraved than Trump. Specifically, that Democrats must align their own platform with Republican values. And more specifically, that Democrats have to embrace white Republican values. Flag-waving, red-baiting progressives, going soft on abortion, avoiding national conversations on reparations and criminal justice reform, and showing they can pray as fervently as Evangelicals is now their ticket to Democratic victory.

This is not only distasteful but a fool’s errand because common sense dictates that nobody is going to rush out to buy a case of Pepsi when they already have a pallet of Coke in the garage. If you want flag-waving, god-fearing patriots, NATO, corporation-friendly trade agreements, a belligerent foreign policy, regime change, wars of choice, saber rattling with China and Iran, a new Cold War, coddling Israel, and the defense of private insurers and bailouts for Wall Street, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the centrist Democratic playbook.

Republicans do it so much better.

What America is desperately looking for are real solutions, and Democrats had better offer them now — or lose the next presidential election.

Hillel the Elder famously wrote in the Pirkei Avot: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Desperate Americans have been asking the first of Hillel’s questions — “who will be for me” — and have yet to receive an honest reply from either party. In 2016 Republicans lied to voters, and continue to do so. As 2020 unfolds, Democrats — rejecting “identity politics” and unlikely to make desperately needed structural changes in a broken America — appear to be ignoring Hillel’s last two questions.

If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Great questions for Democrats.