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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The runaway train that is the Republican-led Senate’s assault on health care safety nets is nearing its fateful conclusion.

At stake is not just the American health care system but the architecture of democratic self-governance. The nation will either be ushered into unprecedented lawlessness on political, policy and personal fronts led by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or the culmination of the GOP’s increasingly manic seven-year assault on Obamacare will be a return to some semblance of constitutional governance and politics serving the public interest.

The Senate’s mounting crescendo has been an unfiltered display of disregard for the rules of democracy. The Republicans have shown themselves to be the party that cares most about their power, political gamesmanship and serving their wealthy patrons. But the lawlessness they have embraced is multi-layered.

The Proliferation of Lawlessness

It begins with flouting the Senate’s “regular order,” as ailing Republican Sen. John McCain said in a dramatic speech after returning from brain surgery. That clunky term means constitutional governance: writing bills publicly, holding hearings where both parties hear from their experts, negotiating and compromising to make the incremental changes that comprise the painstaking nuts and bolts of governing. Each of these meticulous steps—designed to prevent rash action, if not mob rule—were jettisoned by McConnell, without protest from his caucus.

Then there is the lawlessness that McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Tea Party-led Freedom Caucus would unleash on the nation’s imperfect health care system, which as everyone knows, is based on private insurance and government safety nets. The various bills and amendments that have come from both chambers, but especially in the Senate, would unleash the dogs of predatory capitalism via wholesale deregulation in health insurance billing, hiking prices while narrowing coverage of major illness.

All across America, everyone except for the wealthy few would face more hardships, emotional anxiety, pocketbook pressure and fewer options in getting the medical care they need. And the cost of that deregulation—the removal of laws and legal standards and oversight—is not merely fiscal.

The attack on the health care system cannot be seen in isolation from other Republican assaults on politics in the public interest.  Trump’s belittling of his own attorney general for properly recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election is also an attack on the rule of law. Sessions, by all accounts, was legally required to recuse himself. When the president slams Sessions for following the law, he demeans both, which must be seen as his intention.

The president’s brazen talk of pardoning himself is the ultimate expression of the corrupt belief that the law does not apply to the powerful. The founders of the American republic did not create a government based on the belief that the better angels of human nature would prevail. They knew better, creating deliberate restraints among competing branches of government so no one party, political juggernaut or aspiring tyrant could seize the day. The Republicans’ increasingly vitriolic assault on Obamacare has been the leading edge of a much larger wedge where the party has put its own power above the rule of law.

The Senate GOP didn’t follow the U.S. Constitution when it refused to consider Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee. Republican legislators in red state after red state have adopted a catalog of anti-voter laws, all suppressing voting blocs to preserve red rule. The list goes on—Donald Trump has assaulted every federal agency that is required to implement the laws passed by Congress that he and his anti-regulatory patrons want to erase.

The proposed dismantling of the health care system is of a piece with Trump’s gutting the Office of Government Ethics, whose director quit earlier this month. The ethics office seeks to identify and prevent conflicts of interest in government service. This goes along with Trump’s flouting of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids receiving “gifts” or “emoluments,” meaning payments, from foreigners. In all these cases, Republicans view law as a hindrance.

The Senate’s health care vote Thursday evening will set a course for the nation’s politics and culture for years to come. It is a fraught moment. The political system, which is supposed to reflect and uphold the ties that bind our society together, is poised to descend into lawlessness. It could also return to lawfulness. The Republican deregulation of private health care and gutting of public health care safety nets highlights and focuses the personal and societal stakes unlike any other recent federal legislation. All but the very rich will be affected.

The Road Ahead

Even if the Republicans fail to repeal Obamacare, it is a stretch to believe that they will return to “regular order.” There’s been no sign that the Trump presidency and Congress under Ryan and McConnell are anything but abnormal. The White House, especially, is constantly sending out messages that it believes it is above the law. There’s no better example than Trump saying he will pardon everyone ensnared in the Russia campaign collusion investigation, including himself.

But this is bigger even than Trump’s ego. Trump and his minions have attacked every branch of federal government, from seeking to repeal or not enforce environmental and civil rights laws as they eye privatizing education and immigration prisons. Trump’s attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his foot soldier Newt Gingrich’s propagandistic attacks on the Justice Department’s wider mission all fit the mold of a raging authoritarian intoxicated with amassing more power.

There’s another passel of extremists in the House, which passed a health care bill ending coverage for tens of millions, gutting government health care for the poor and elderly and giving the rich a major tax cut. That leaves the Senate as the final roadblock. There, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown he is as cold and as ruthless in the pursuit of power and imposing GOP rule as any of the 20th century’s worst political demagogues.

But McConnell may not get his way. Senators on both sides of the aisle know the stakes in the votes on Thursday. Everyone knows that hundreds of thousands of residents in their states will be affected—and most of those people vote. The nation’s health care system hangs in a balance. So does the American democratic process. Led by McConnell, the Senate will either embrace a new era of lawlessness or start on the laborious path back to lawfulness. A fateful vote and fateful day await.


Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017).

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

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6 responses to “The GOP Is Willing To Destroy Our Democracy If That’s What It Takes To Repeal Obamacare”

  1. FireBaron says:

    It isn’t just the health care fiasco. It’s the entire legislative process. Ever since Trent Lott and Tom DeLay started their “take-no-prisoners” policy of only bringing bills that are so toxic that they need to pass on just GOP votes, locking Democratic Committee members out of drafting meetings, etc. They have set up the country as a whole to fail. What I really find ironic about all of this is Teflon Donnie blaming the Democrats because enough Republicans find these Health Care bills too odious that they will not vote for them either! If they want a bill that has bipartisan support, have it drafted by a bipartisan committee. Despite claims by McConnell, the GOP members were part of the drafting committee, and offered numerous amendments and recommendations, some of which were accepted and some were not. But in the end, despite bowing to their demands, not one Republican voted for the bill in either the House or Senate. This way they could claim they opposed government overreach, but at the same time allowing their constituents to have affordable health care.

    • dbtheonly says:

      Exactly FB,

      The headline is extremely misleading.

      It didn’t start with Trump. It didn’t start with the mindless opposition to President Obama. It goes back at least as far as 1994, and Mr. Conason’s books suggests even further.

      • Independent1 says:

        Yeah, I vote for the real corrupter of the party as being Ronald Reagan back in the early 1980s. For my book, Ronnie Boy was even more Evil than Donnie Boy. And I’m hoping that a totally inept Donnie Boy will not have as much time to do the damage to America that Ronnie managed to inflict on our nation while in the Oval Office for 8 years. Ronnie totally corrupted the very fabric of American life.

        It was Ronnie’s brainwashing of Americans across the nation, including people like Lott and Delay into believing one lie/fantasy after another: It’s government that is the problem to everything that ails our country (which he stressed in one of his first major speeches); and the Rich are benefactors of the poor and will trickle down whatever monies taxpayers give them (as he pushed time and again for tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy at the expense of the middle class); and CEOs and entrepreneurs should focus on maximizing corporate returns to benefit stockholders and themselves and not kowtow to employees who are represented by unions (as he destroyed the Air Traffic Controllers Union and appointed two union haters to the NLRB); and on and on with one devious act after another. It’s not by accident that 132 members of Ronnie’s administration were indicted for crimes with a number going to prison.

        You have to know that Reagan did a serious job of brainwashing especially those who have become GOP politicians, when just a year or two ago (When Ronnie was out of office for about 25 years), that Darrell Issa was pushing hard to rename the Atlantic Ocean to the Reagan Ocean; which to me would be akin to renaming it the ISIS Ocean. Reagan was every bit as evil as any ISIS leader; just in a more devious, underhanded way. According to an article I read some time back, Reagan was so devious that when he was acting, he conned the Screen Actors Guild into electing him president of the Guild until members of the Guild discovered he hated unions.

    • A finer example of such a unique blend of selfishness, duplicity, and a different kind of thirst for power never existed prior to modern-day partisan politics.
      And the convoluted byzantine way the American system of governance works on Capitol Hill just confuses anyone foolish and eager to serve as a politician in this madhouse called US Government. The older they get the more easily disoriented and cantankerous they become. And even if one is younger, just subjecting one’s self over years of this idiotic manner of governance is bound to distort the brain’s capacity for rational thinking on a consistent basis.

      Even Machiavelli would scream and pull his hair out if he had to try to wheel and deal in a system in the past that worked on the same principles as in the chambers of the US legislature.

  2. TZToronto says:

    Republicans in red states have been elected because, in addition to gerrymandering that almost guaranteed that Republicans would win a majority of seats in the House, many people who voted for Republicans were old enough to recall when representatives of the people were actually interested in the welfare of Americans. Nostalgia for good governance has been betrayed by a self-serving, greedy Republican lust for power. Others who voted for Republicans did so for their own self-serving reasons–lowering their taxes and getting back their obsolete jobs. Still others who voted Republican did so because of their hatred for a black President, a very qualified woman, and anyone who isn’t white. The result of all this is a Republican Congress and a Republican President that see the rule of law as an inconvenient obstacle, something that they can overcome by changing, under color of law, the rules to suit their purposes. It’s interesting to note that the Democrats in the Senate changed the Traditional 60-vote super majority requirement because of Republican obstructionism that was based on racial hatred of President Obama and fear of not being re-elected if they cooperated with the hated liberals. Republicans further changed the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court consent to overcome opposition to their own obstruction of President Obama’s nominee. Their view of rules is that the rules of the game should be changed when they don’t guarantee that you will win. The Republican anti-democratic tendencies–no, actions–become more apparent every day. We can hope that the American people are noticing.

  3. Instead of looking at this example of the unraveling of our society, an unraveling mirrored across the globe, in political terms, I think it might be best to approach the rapid decline as noted in the GOP’s behavior, but from another angle.

    We should what contorts Mitch and others, and consider why they are driven to a form of madness that impels Mitch and others to take the course they’re hellbent on traversing. Not that the Democrats are saints, by no means! It’s just that the GOP is possessed by some forces of human nature which are hard to describe comprehensively in a few paragraphs.

    So, here’s my feeble attempt, backed up with pretty potent sources of insights provided by 2 individuals who transcend the fray.

    Surveying just the recent events as of 2015, and considering just 3 examples of aberrant behaviors displayed by Trump, Putin, the Alt-Right, we see a microcosm of a breakdown prevalent in the world of humanity. A breakdown of human nature in the form of distortions like excessive greed, inability to form normal relationships in many instances, with a degree of subtlety fitting for an age of the internet and hate media broadcasting, and having physical and psychological effects unseen in the previous centuries. Abnormal relationships where racism is seen as acceptable or easily dismissed as inconsequential, disregard for the dignity of women, inordinate fascination with communicating via texting rather than face-to-face, and talking “at” people rather than with people.

    There is also a rise in a dangerous brand of ultra-nationalism—dangerous in the sense of the ease of spreading messages emphasizing exclusivity rather that inclusiveness, and incitement to commit violent acts against those who look different than ourselves.
    To understand this “why” of this phenomenon, we need new “eyeglasses” to study and discern what’s going on. Let’s start by considering the following quotes, one of many describing the current breakdown—one from Baha’u’llah Himself, and the other by him who Baha’u’llah designated as “The Center of the Covenant” of the Baha’i Faith, Abdu’l Baha, who was tasked by Baha’u’llah to amplify, interpret, and expatiate in a manner to help understand the loftier themes advanced in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, and tasked with serving as an Exemplar of how humans should put the principles and themes of Baha’u’llah in action.

    1) “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. The Almighty beareth Me witness: To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”—Baha’u’llah

    2) “…The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced. …” —Abdu’l Baha (Servant of “Baha”[Glory/Splendor] )

    If we just reflect on the above, and then consider the bulk of Congress’ behavior, that of trump, of Bannon, Sessions, etc., we see a stark and vast discrepancy between their goals and behavior compared to the excerpts above. And these specific individuals are just a tiny sample of a degeneration of human character across the planet by so many.

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