Nancy Isn’t Coming to the Rescue

This week we discovered that President Trump used government funds in an effort to extort Ukraine’s leader, forcing him to drum up fake allegations against Joe Biden. When someone in our national security service balked, trying to report this act of treason, their whistleblower report was hidden on White House orders and they were punished for protecting their country. Sure, it’s bad, but in the Trump Era this is the kind of scandal we discover on days that end in “y.” We’ll forget it next week when we learn something even worse.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to fresh calls for impeachment with her usual schoolmarm exasperation. She sees impeachment as an immature, naïve diversion from the House’s crucial business of lawmaking. In a cynical dodge, she recommended that the House pass a law clarifying the President’s exposure to criminal prosecution and continue of its incoherent, crippled “investigations.”

Voters who sacrificed precious time and money to create the 2018 Blue Wave may be puzzled by Democratic leaders’ disinterest in Trump’s abuses. Those who have never before been engaged in Democratic politics and thought they were striking a blow against this regime seem particularly puzzled. Nothing we learned in high school civics prepared us for this strange ballet, as Democratic leaders invest more energy curbing their voters’ expectations than on challenging Republican plans.

Old-line Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer aren’t interested in impeaching Donald Trump because they are prospering under his leadership more than at any time in recent memory. They are sacrificing all the things they pretend to care about, from environmental protections to social justice measures, in order to reap a bonanza where it matters, in the money they bring home to their districts and their supporters. The last thing Nancy Pelosi wants to see is an enthusiastic national push for financial transparency in our politics. Democrats aren’t riding to the rescue, because their leaders see nothing that needs saving.

We are struggling to understand the dysfunction in our political system partly because of a mental glitch. Our minds try to convert the inputs around us into stories about villains and heroes. Politics rarely works that way.

Democratic representatives at all levels who found success over the past few decades were the ones who learned how to bring money back to their districts and to please the wealthy people who can connect them with private money-making opportunities. Rhetoric about racial equality, environmental protection, feminism, taxes or corporate accountability were the window-dressing used to motivate and distract voters.

A successful Democratic representative keeps the financial pipeline flowing to fund salaries for community organizers, block grants to fund their friends special projects, and maintain union employment on public infrastructure projects. Those who resist this imperative don’t last long, or slip to the margins, never exerting any real influence.

Republicans play a similar game in reverse. Successful Republican representatives at all levels learn how to help their key donors escape government oversight and taxes. They stir up voters with maudlin patriotism, religious nonsense, anti-abortion posturing, and increasingly blatant racism while doing everything necessary to keep their wealthy patrons happy.

We live in a system of Wu Tang Politics, in which Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.). However, the popular narrative assumes that Democrats somehow stand at opposition to this system. That myth rises from a distortion of Democratic financial interests. Just because wealthy people get marginally less from the Democratic Party doesn’t mean the party’s politics aren’t cash-driven.

One of Chuck Schumer’s largest and most reliable donors is Goldman Sachs. Tens of thousands of dollars from the Trump family fueled Schumer’s early career. Cory Booker leaned heavily on the Kushner family for his rise to power. Booker even attended Jared and Ivanka’s wedding. The Trumps have donated well over half a million to Democratic campaigns over the years, a figure that fails to account for the more lucrative, undisclosed political currency of connections to cushy private positions and access to insider deals.

Democrats’ strength in this system is the relative breadth of their financial base. Their money flows into numerically more hands, impacting more voters. Where Republicans are dependent on a narrow base of wealthy bigots who can’t make an impact at the polls, Democrats are channeling money into a broad spectrum of state, local and private organizations, tuned over the years to turn out voters and volunteers.

Leaders who consistently deliver the goods for the folks back home enjoy significant personal rewards. Family members get choice “jobs” on “charity” boards. Friendly contacts cultivated with developers and construction interests lead to helpful investment tips that yield fantastic rewards. Nancy and Paul Pelosi didn’t build a nine-figure fortune on blind luck or one-in-a-million talent. Nobody gives you a prized seat in a million-dollar deal for ending child hunger or halting police brutality. Democrats succeed in bringing money back home and fail to reform public schools, curb violence, or stop climate change because they are responding to the incentives built into the system.

Their weakness is that this Democratic financial pipeline can be held hostage by gridlock in Washington. Democrats refuse to challenge Republicans on crucial national issues because they can’t afford to risk their financial interests.

To seasoned, tenured Democrats, Trump’s America is an embarrassment of riches in the most literal sense. With Trump in charge, Republicans have adopted a ‘you get a car’ strategy that has successfully neutered Democratic opposition. I get a tax cut, she gets a giant increase in block grants. After decades of tight-fisted wrangling over money, Republicans are letting Democrats run wild while the debt explodes.

Why isn’t Nancy Pelosi fighting this President? Why on earth would she? For old-line Democrats, this is a once-in-a-lifetime feeding frenzy. You’re the only loser in this game.

There are no good guys and bad guys, there is only a single, unified fabric composed of incentives and punishments. If Marco Rubio owed his job to Democratic donors and voters in California, he’d be backing a completely different agenda, and getting his credit card bills paid by a different collection of moneyed interests. Changing this arrangement requires more than selecting different representatives.

Something happened in 2018 that poses a threat to Wu Tang Politics. For the first time in our lifetimes, Democrats expanded from their fortified base in a few central cities and impoverished rural areas, into the white suburbs. These suburban voters had long been the marks in the Republican con. They are switching sides because they are angry over the Republican grift, and Democrats haven’t yet found a way to stretch their game to co-opt them into compliance.

This new coalition of relatively educated, upper and middle income voters are harder to appease with tokens. So far, the new representatives they’ve sent to DC have been gullible, credulous and timid, but the rage they face from their constituents makes them an unstable element in the coalition. Senior representatives will be looking to buy off the rookies with packages of transit money, fat campaign donations, or school grants, anything that will shut them up and calm their voters.

Want to build a political system that cares about smart, effective public policy? Press your representatives to take the most radical positions on questions of public integrity. When they fail, replace them. Reject appeals to “pragmatism” that allow our current crop of rentiers to continue fattening themselves on us. Force your representatives to disclose their financial interests. Refuse to compromise on public ethics simply to protect partisan priorities.

When Republicans scream “socialism,” laugh at them. When Democrats urge patience, replace them and expose their finances. Don’t let our push for reform be centered entirely on the grubby career of Donald Trump, and don’t be so naïve as to think that Wu Tang Politics began or will end with him. With Republicans backing an indefensible leader and Democrats expanding their coalition to the suburbs, both parties have lit a fire that could cleanse this system. Seize this opportunity without compromise.

We are living under the government we deserve. We’ll get a better one as soon we make it happen.

37 Comments

  1. Interesting, I hadn’t thought of it in that way, Chris. I get what you’re saying definitely has a basis in truth, it fails to explain how good things get passed. And they do, and society becomes more just as a result– even in the recent past : legalization of gay marriage, end to stop-and-frisk here in NYC, Obamacare. If the system were as you describe– a complete equivalency– those things would not be possible.

    1. Good and fair observations Matt. Yes, Democrats have accomplished good things for our country. Republicans did too in the past. Despite frustration with the lethargy of the democratic leadership during this tumultuous trump presidency, I believe Democrats need to be given credit for what they have accomplished and for their efforts to hold trump accountable and protect basic American freedoms.

  2. YOU ARE STILL DOING IT!!!!

    YOU ARE ALL BUYING THE BIGGEST GOP LIE
    The parties are NOT NOT NOT NOT “the same”

    The Dems may not be “whiter than white” – but they do throw out villains when found out

    The Republicans have stopped even thinking about throwing out the villains – it now appears to be a REQUIREMENT

    Every time you say or think “They are Both BAD – you move closer to a GOP tyranny

    The WORST Dem politician may be bad – not what you want in your family – but they are BETTER than the best GOPPER

  3. EJ

    Brexit update: the UK Supreme Court has ruled that Johnson’s shutdown of Parliament, known as “prorogation”, was illegal and thus not binding. Parliament can reconvene as soon as it is able.

    Let’s see what happens. This is not anarchy, this is chaos; and chaos often rewards the first mover.

    1. I look forward to the traitor (and yes EJ, he is now officially a traitor, regardless of what word you want to use) being arrested upon return from the UN, tried, and publicly executed.

      This is the point that we have reached. A coup was attempted, it failed. People who try to such things are shot.

      It is still heartening to see at least one of the bastions of democracy choose country over politics. Unfortunately, the american legal system has fallen into the hands of the fascists, so the same result will not occur.

      And yes, this IS the best alternative. If the traitor is allowed to continue to destroy any chance of the UK reversing going off cliff, that is beyond madness. The smartest play for the traitor is to apply for asylum in the U.S.

  4. Your points are well made, and I can’t argue against them. This is all just really demoralizing. I remember Schumer making the talk show rounds post-2016 elections when Trump was elected President and Schumer was named Democratic Leader. He had such a shit-eating grin on his face. He couldn’t even hide his glee at the outcome for a few seconds for the cameras. Rather than being Hillary Clinton’s lackey in the Senate, forced to do her bidding, he was now the highest ranking Democrat in the nation, which was all that he cared about. And I’m sure Trump was a dear personal friend of his, since they both ran in the same financial circles in Manhattan.

    Even more demoralizing was the fact Schumer was named minority leader in the first place. After Harry Reid retired, by the traditions of seniority, the leader should have been the liberal Dick Durbin from IL. After an election debacle in which Clinton was nearly upstaged by a socialist railing against Wall Street, and mortally wounded by her speaking engagements with Goldman Sachs, all leading to the election of a buffon like Trump over their favored candidate; the Senate Democrats, in their infinite wisdom, decided to overrule traditional seniority, and deliberately elect Chuck Schumer, who’s more slavishly devoted to Wall St. than any Republican. All because Chuck can deliver that sweet Wall St. campaign cash and insider trading deals. And in the House, Nancy wouldn’t be Speaker right now if Clinton had won (midterms usually go against the incumbent party). So you’re right. The senior Democratic leadership couldn’t be happier with Trump.

    I feel like those frustrated Republicans who elected Newt Gingrich who didn’t give a damn about quaint House traditions and decided he’d rather burn the whole thing down than continue the charade. Maybe we need another Newt Gingrich (I just threw up a little in my mouth writing that…)?

    But there is a glimmer of hope. Like you mentioned, the Democratic Big Tent expanding to include former Republicans in suburbs may spark an internal civil war that brings the old school Dem establishment crashing down. And a fascinating foreshadowing of this is in your backyard, Chris: Cook County. The obscure race for Cook County Assessor (one of those obscure positions that actually holds tremendous power because the Assessor’s office sets the property tax rate for all those billion dollar skyscrapers in downtown) in 2018 led to a political novice, Fritz Kaegi, taking down the establishment incumbent Joe Berrios. Berrios was from deep in the heart of the Chicago machine. Kaegi, OTOH, was from a suburb, Oak Park. Since then, Kaegi has been trying to make property tax assessments more fair and transparent, which would drain a huge source of campaign cash for the Chicago Machine (for non-Illinois people, the role of property tax assessments in funding Illinois Democrats can’t be overstated; Michael Madigan, Speaker of the House and de facto ruler of Illinois, is a partner in a Chicago law firm that specializes in property tax appeals).

    More recently, Rahm Emmanuel, consummate Dem insider and the leader of the K Street Project when he was in the House (not to mention a “superb” Investment banker after his stint in Congress, somehow making several million dollars in just a few short years before heading back to DC as Obama’s chief of staff) retired after realizing he was likely to lose re-election thanks to African Americans finally getting fed up with him after his handling of the Laquan MacDonald police shooting case. The establishment candidate, Bill Daley, came in 3rd in the primary and didn’t even make the runoff. The eventual winner of the Dem nomination was another political outsider, Lori Lightfoot, an African American woman whose margin of victory came from the rich, white, liberal parts of the city’s Northside, the type of voter you say is less swayed by the patronage that keeps poorer voters loyal to the Machine. And she’s been making impressive progress in curbing the Aldermanic privileges that became such a source of abuse and corruption.

    While Chicago is the quintessential example of the Democrats’ Machine past, perhaps the city can also serve as a hopeful foreshadow of the Dems’ post-Machine future?

  5. I’ve given the theory that all is lost due to leadership in both parties being compromised, and it’s just not a good enough reason. I believe it boils down more to pelosi’s belief that a failed impeachment attempts would be worse than doing nothing, or, the status quo. I think she is wrong. There are some wrongs thst are worth fighting against and losing if that happens. Trumps danger to our country and frankly the world is such a test.
    Count me as one who would rather go down fighting than watching this parady. It cheapens the process and it demeans democrats.

  6. To go slightly off on a related tangent- here Chris has proved an explanation about why the establishment Dems don’t want to pull the trigger on impeachment. The silence from many GOPers in the face of Trump’s lies and corruption is also understandable, they fear being primaried from the far right But what is up with Mitt Romney? He is a Mormon with an “R” by his name from Utah, and you can’t have a safer Senate seat than that. He’s also not up for re-election until 2024. It’s no secret that he knows that he would be a position to be a post-Trump savior for the GOP. So why is he so milquetoast on Trump’s corruption when he’s immune from the wrath of the Trump cult? Biding his time still? He doesn’t have the guts to go first but would follow? I really sense that this could all collapse very quickly, IF a GOPer would dare to take a firm public stand. They obviously don’t like him at all, and plenty of rats are jumping ship (apologies to rats).

  7. Re Tax return
    Norway!
    All tax returns are PUBLIC DOCUMENTS

    I can’t think of any reason for “privacy” that does not involve diddling somebody out of something that is their by right

    MORE IMPORTANTLY

    YOU ARE ALL BUYING THE BIGGEST GOP LIE
    The parties are NOT NOT NOT NOT “the same”

    The Dems may not be “whiter than white” – but they do throw out villains when found out

    The Republicans have stopped even thinking about throwing out the villains – it now appears to be a REQUIREMENT

    Every time you say or think “They are Both BAD – you move closer to a GOP tyranny

    The WORST Dem politician may be bad – not what you want in your family – but they are BETTER than the best GOPPER

  8. Disagree COMPLETELY

    Pelosi is doing this the sensible way

    Keep on getting the crimes out into the open – but softly

    She is aware that there is a “Worst Case” scenario

    If the GOP turns Trump into a biblical “Scapegoat”
    Ties all of their sins to him and chases him out into the wilderness and blames him for EVERYTHING

    Then millions of “Ex Republicans” will bleet contentedly and rush back to the fold

    That will restore the GOP for another eight years –
    I don’t think America can survive that

    The crimes must come out
    But be very careful about impeachment – making the GOP turn on Trump could have disastrous effects

    I don’t disagree about MONEY – you guys do need to do something about the “Finest Democracy that Money can Buy”

    BUT BUT BUT remember the BIGGEST and most effective Republican lie is

    “Both Parties are the Same” — THAT is the lie that brought Bush 2 and Trump into power

    1. Here’s what Nancy and most senior Democrats understand, and Democratic voters don’t. Say Democrats get their hands on Trump’s tax returns. Not gonna happen, but let’s just imagine.

      As soon as the first Democrat to see Trump’s tax returns finishes asking their first question about the crimes in those documents, here’s what’s gonna happen. Before that speaker has finished taking a breath, the very next question from a GOP rep will be, “Can we see your tax returns?” The second question will be, “where are Nancy’s tax returns?”

      AOC and the squad and another dozen or so fresh-faced, idealistic new-comers may not be bothered by that. But, not the senior folks. They don’t want to live in the world that’s born when those questions start flying.

      “Be very careful about impeachment?” Yea, because that sh&t can turn on you in a flash.

      1. Chris that makes sense if the impeachment were for trumps grift crimes. But the house should have enough to impeach without the tax returns based on the mueller report and this Ukraine thing. So why not continue impeachment on that front and say “we don’t need the tax returns anymore to get him impeached”. Wouldn’t that be Nancy’s best playbook ?

      2. RHOU

        That’s a good point, except for one problem. All of these impeachable offenses are, at their core, grift crimes. As demonstrated by the Mueller Report fiasco, none of these activities make any sense without examining Trump’s financial transactions. Without the tax returns and financial records, his activities look merely erratic or dumb. And any half-competent impeachment investigation will have to get to the money very quickly. Same happened with Nixon. In fact, Nixon’s release of his tax returns, which set the practice of Presidential disclosures, was a consequence of the Watergate investigation – and started with a leak from the IRS.

        Pelosi knows there’s no way to explore this matter without digging into a category of financial records that neither she, nor most senior members of Congress, want to become a broad public standard.

      3. I’m not saying you aren’t wrong. However, there are other, more practical reasons Trump isn’t being impeached.

        1. Mike Pence. While Trump may know the name of the grift game, and how it’s played; and while Pence my be one of the con game’s most handsomely rewarded beneficiaries; Pence is a “true believer”. He really believes all of the garbage the GOP promises to its most gullible voters. At least with Trump, Pelosi can appeal to his self-interest in perpetuating the con, in or order to get some things that the Left wants. It’s one of the few, very real levers of power that she holds over him.

        2. Which brings me to my next point: Pelosi really doesn’t have the power to impeach Trump…at least not with any form of effective follow through. Right now the Dems are at least 20 Senate seats- if not more- short of the number they would need to remove Trump from office. In other words, she has a gun with no bullets. She’s also seen, first hand, what can happen when Congress impeaches a president it lacks the power to remove- lover her or hate her, there’s a reason she’s been able to remain in power longer than Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott. She saw what happened to Bill Clinton’s popularity when he was actually impeached, and she knows that Trump will inherit a similar windfall. In her current position, the threat of impeachment is a more powerful tool than actual impeachment.

        Use Trump’s misdeeds to rally public support for Democratic candidates; but don’t give the GOP base the red meat of an actual impeachment and subsequent acquittal- especially with a minority in the Senate.

      4. They don’t have to the power to pass any legislation right now, so why even show up?

        And no one, absolutely no one, is afraid of Mike Pence.

        Here’s the reality. Democrats are thrilled with Donald Trump. They haven’t seen this kind of budget largesse in their lifetimes, and they fear they’ll never see it again. Trump is a fundraising goldmine who’s made their re-election plans easier than they’ve ever been. In all the ways the matter to a politician, the Trump Era has been a golden age for the Democrats, especially the senior ones. They aren’t going to cut this short if they can avoid it.

  9. Permit me to paraphrase:

    “The political system and portion of economic system tied to politics is utterly broken, and will not get better, until a new system is implemented. But the only way that will happen is to use the existing political system to create a new playing field.”

    Yeah, that will work out just fine, as the corrupt and evil strengthen their death grip on the 99%.

  10. You nailed it, Chris. The lack of movement from Democratic Party leadership is stultifying. Never has decisive action been so important, and so non-exisistent.

    Get money out of politics. Elect leaders who are willing to burn the house down. Those people from the trump administration who defied congressional subpoenas? Throw them in jail. Let Barr figure out how to deal with this rather than listen to more whining from impotent democrat chairmen as they decry yet another rejection of their legal, properly served subpoenas. It’s called “offense”, in football parlance. And it is long overdue. Don’t even mess with contempt charges which are meaningless for people who are willing to lie for trump. Lets see how they like living in a cell.

    With every deadline passed for compliance with a subpoena, critical time is lost to take meaningful, justifiable action. Burn the house down and send Pelosi and Schumer home. Like so many here and throughout our nation who busted their buns in 2016 and again in 2018 to change the direction our country was headed towards, I’m frustrated and angry with my party leadership for failing to act. The fact that democrats stand for more of my values than republicans is small compensation for the dereliction of party leadership.

  11. I am quite disappointed in Pelosi’s lack of action, but not shocked, thanks to what I’ve read in your past posts. The way I see it, even the worst Dems are better than a GOPer, because the GOP is trying to wage war on reality (climate change denial being from and center). All I can see to do is what you said, replace GOPers with Dems, and replace those Dems with tougher Dems if they wuss out.

    Do you think there’d even be a tipping point for Pelosi/Schumer?

      1. According to your post, Nancy’s feathered her nest quite nicely. No doubt Chuck and other old school Dems have done quite well too. I would see this as a perfect opportunity to cut a deal behind closed doors with the reformers- step aside for them, let the GOP take the brunt of the public’s ire, and discretely retire with the loot, but I’m probably naive here. Is this a case of power being addictive? Or is their desire for $ really that infinite? I confess that I’d be quite content with a few million (not that I’d grift anyone for it).

  12. I already knew both main political parties and politicians are rampant with corruption. But thanks for the suggestions on how to deal with them. If Florida gets the jungle primary initiative on the ballot and it passes I will change my registration to Independent. A pox on both political parties.

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