Donald J. Trump’s ascent to the White House is the final victory of Lewis Powell’s 1971 memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (I wrote a book about this titled The Crash of 2016), and now we all need to hang on for a wild ride.
It began when Jim DeMint played the Republican takeover of our government brilliantly, with generous help from the Koch brothers, and the Democrats failed to notice (although some of us were, literally, yelling about it). Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign completely failed to learn the lessons of the Bernie revolution.
The last time a Republican president was elected with both a GOP House and Senate was 1928—Herbert Hoover. Yes, that Herbert Hoover. The one of the Great Depression. Get ready.
The Reagan Revolution, facilitated by the Powell Memo, began the systematic dismemberment of the American Middle Class; it’s still ongoing. Europeans call it Neoliberalism, and since Reagan it’s been embraced by the elites of both the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Over 30 years of flat-lined wages, the near-death of the union movement in this country, loss of over 70,000 factories in just the past two decades—it all added up to a people’s revolt. And Jim DeMint knew both that it was coming and how to use it.
The night of Jan. 20, 2009, hours after President Barack Obama was sworn into office and while Washington, D.C., was filled with parties and balls to celebrate the inauguration, Jim DeMint and a group of powerful Republicans (Frank Luntz, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Bob Corker, and [now Trump adviser] Newt Gingrich) met in a private room in the Caucus Room restaurant in D.C. to plan how to stop Obama from having any successes during his presidency. Robert Draper wrote about it in his book When the Tea Party Came to Town, and I interviewed Newt Gingrich about it, who said that he was proud of the effort as “part of the loyal opposition.” There was nothing “loyal” about this opposition.
They decided to block everything the president wanted, as Mitch McConnell later affirmed, to make Obama “a one-term president” and create a failed presidency.
A month or so later, at a meeting of millionaires and billionaires put together by the Kochs, DeMint reprised his argument, this time in a debate with John Cornyn in front of the roomful of donors. As Jane Mayer documented in her book Dark Money:
“Rather than compromising their principles and working with the new administration, DeMint argued, Republicans needed to take a firm stand against Obama, waging a campaign of massive resistance and obstruction, regardless of the 2008 election outcome [that had just happened].”
Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, on the other hand, argued that they should block Obama where they disagreed with him, but work with him on things where they agreed. DeMint was having none of it, and, apparently, neither were the billionaires. Mayer wrote: “Sitting silently at the table in the front row through all of this were Charles Koch and his wife, Liz. No one came to Cornyn’s defense.” Mayer added: “After hearing both sides, the assembled guests chose the path of extremism.”
The nation wanted change. (The day of the Koch meeting, the Dow dropped 700 points.) Obama had campaigned on hope and change. He promised dramatic change from the previous three decades of Reagan’s destruction of the working class, and even though he was a black man whose middle name was Hussein, Americans from all walks of life voted for him.
But the Republican bet was that if they could block change—any sort of change—and sabotage any small changes Obama could push through Congress (like Obamacare), they also knew that the hunger for change would not only stand but grow in our nation. The neoliberalism of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush would stand; the middle class would continue to deteriorate; the banksters would continue to run unrestrained while students and homeowners were screwed.
The pressure would build to the point where Americans would even elect a totally unqualified person to the White House, if that’s what it took to shake off what they called “the establishment” but the politicians knew was Reaganism’s version of neoliberalism.
For the following eight years, the Republicans held rigorously to their plan, all the way to the point of denying President Obama a hearing on his Supreme Court nominee. Everything was blocked. The republic was brought to its knees.
Washington was dysfunctional and hated: the Republicans not only weren’t bothered, they knew that the press wouldn’t expose what they were up to (it was too complex for infotainment “news” that has to fit into bumper stickers), and the Democrats (outside of Bernie and the Progressive Caucus) were clueless.
And President Obama—and most of the Democratic Party—continued to ignore the Caucus Room Conspiracy and its Koch brothers sequel. Had they called out the conspirators, loudly and repeatedly, things today might be very, very different. But they didn’t.
America continued to slide, at least for students (debt), the elderly (no Social Security increases while drug prices soared), and working people (stagnant pay and lousy jobs). To put the knife in the back altogether, Marco Rubio inserted into last year’s budget bill a removal of the “risk corridor” protections for insurance companies under Obamacare, guaranteeing that this year—months before the election—the insurance companies would be forced to radically raise their prices for Obamacare coverage.
Out of this ferment came two “change” candidates: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Both said banksters should have gone to jail and homeowners should have been bailed out. Both said Bush’s wars were wrong. Both said that our neoliberal “free trade” policies were working to the advantage of the elites and the disadvantage of working Americans. Both recognized that our immigration system is broken (although offering different solutions). Both said they wanted to strip power from the billionaires and the political elites and hand it back to the people.
Either could have won the White House, although Bernie was far more credible and carried far less baggage than Trump.
But the DNC put their thumb on the scale against Bernie, and the media ignored him for virtually all of 2015 and early 2016, keeping his message confined to huge rallies, but never being seriously discussed on television. Meanwhile, sensing that he was ratings gold and also corporate-friendly, the corporate media went full-in for Trump in 2015 with over a billion dollars’ worth of free publicity.
The RNC presented a group of “normal” candidates, and the DNC did the same with Hillary Clinton.
To his credit, Reince Priebus didn’t put his thumb on the scale of his establishment candidates. Tragically, the same can’t be said for Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile.
Just like in 2008, the electorate still wanted a change candidate. Had Hillary Clinton simply picked up Bernie’s platform, repudiated neoliberalism, and run with it hard, she would have won. I even went on the air and said that every time she sent out a fundraising email (I was getting them daily) that actually mentioned issues, I’d send $100 to her campaign. I’d made the same open commitment to the Bernie campaign, and had maxxed out with him. But with Clinton, I got—during the entire election season—only three emails from the Clinton campaign mentioning ANY issues whatsoever (and they got three checks); everything else was about how we had to help Hillary or hate Trump.
This country was born in revolution, and people want a revolutionary narrative when they’re hurting. It worked for the campaigns of Jefferson, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, JFK, LBJ, and even Ronald Reagan, all during times of malaise and a popular desire for change. Trump offered that; Clinton did not.
Now, just like in 1928, the Republicans are promising overwhelming deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. As I wrote in Crash, the results will be predictable.
The question is whether or not the Democratic Party will realize what’s just happened and return to their core values, as expressed by both FDR and LBJ (New Deal and Great Society) and reject neoliberalism. Or will they continue down the path of Ed Rendell/ Bill Clinton weak-tea Reaganism/ neoliberalism, supporting trade deals and giving weak words to organized labor.
(Header image: The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789 during the French Revolution.)