Building resistance when the “opposition” won’t

December 12, 2017

Defeating the Republicans' tax-cut robbery now is an uphill battle, thanks in part to the Democrats' inaction--but protest holds the only hope of having any chance at all.

THESE DAYS, Donald Trump sounds more and more like a used-car salesman trying to unload the worst clunker on the lot.

"Getting closer and closer on the Tax Cut Bill," gushed the Twitterer-in-Chief over the weekend. "Shaping up even better than projected."

Trump's lackeys are following his lead. Vice President Mike Pence promised--via Twitter, no less--a "middle-class miracle" from Congress before Christmas. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he's "very confident we're going to get this done"--and added some craven sucking-up for good measure: "I've never watched a president so engaged."

Lying is part of the job for con artists, but Trump and the Republicans must be a special challenge for the fact-checking websites that, appropriately, have multiplied in the era of Trump: The falsehoods and fabrications come so fast and furious that it's probably easier to single out the true statements, if any.

With analysts still uncovering outrages designed to enrich corporations and the wealthy in both the Senate and House versions of tax legislation, it's hard to believe that Trump and Pence don't know full well that their tax proposals will screw the "middle class" along with everyone else in order to hand more wealth to the 1 Percent.

From left: Protesting the Republican tax-cut heist in New York; Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi
From left: Protesting the Republican tax-cut heist in New York; Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi

But here's where the old question about trees falling in forests comes in: Does it matter if Trump and the Republicans lie through their teeth if no one is there to challenge the liars and hold them accountable?

THERE'S NO shortage of popular opposition to the Republicans' trillion-dollar tax heist. Fewer than 30 percent of people support it, according to opinion polls. The sense of urgency about actively resisting is clear in grassroots demonstrations confronting both GOP lawmakers and leaders of institutions, like universities, that will be affected.

Yet the media and political establishment is acting as if the passage of some mixture of the House and Senate versions of this legislation was a foregone conclusion all along.

Above all, the Democratic "opposition" within the Washington system has been some talk and no action. Party leaders like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi issue statements about the injustices of the bill, but they won't do anything to mobilize a challenge.

That's because the Democrats have pretty much surrendered without a fight--and are looking forward to using a Republican legislative victory that will have dire consequences as an issue in future elections.

Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts made this explicit at a town hall meeting in his district earlier this month: "I don't think I'm going to be able to stop this tax bill as a Democrat in the House right now. But I do think we can come up with a much better tax bill if we get more Democrats elected in 2018."

In a comment on social media, left-wing author Corey Robin vividly captured how this defeatist logic is working out on a separate but related issue--after Senate Democrats again postponed a showdown last week on their pledge to demand a vote on legislation to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program:

Right now, the Democrats have the ability to force a resolution on DACA. The Senate needs 60 votes to pass a temporary spending measure [to keep the federal government from shutting down] and the Democrats could potentially refuse to give them the extra eight they need unless the Republicans provide a path to citizenship to the DREAMers. It would require some arm-twisting of the Senate Democrats but the leadership is not even trying because it is balking at even the idea of a shutdown...

The leverage is there. And it needs to be used now because after the holidays, the pressure to avoid a shutdown eases. However much Trump may brag about wanting a shutdown, this is a president who is now at his lowest approval rating of his entire presidency--32 percent according to the most recent Pew poll, with [Trump's approval among Republicans] down to 76 percent (dipping for perhaps only the second time below 80 percent)--and he's in no position to put the blame on the Democrats, given that the Republicans control the entire federal apparatus.

Meanwhile, 34 Republicans in the House--including many in vulnerable districts in New York and in districts that went for Clinton--have signed on to a letter demanding a resolution to the DACA issue this year. They're terrified that if DACA is allowed to expire in March without a resolution, they'll be out of a job come November. And influential Senate Republicans say they, too, want to see a path to citizenship...

If DACA ends up being abolished without a legislative fix, there will be a lot of gnashing of teeth about Trump and the Republicans. But on this one, the Democrats could play a role in securing that fix.

AT LEAST Republican Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina and now a member of Congress, is honest about the Republican tax proposals.

"From a truth-in-advertising standpoint," he told the Washington Post, "it would have been a lot simpler if we just acknowledged reality on this bill, which is it's fundamentally a corporate tax reduction and restructuring bill, period."

Sanford's frankness about who benefits from the tax legislation explains why this massive fraud has strong momentum: The people with the most wealth and power in society--and therefore the most influence over what happens in Washington--stand to make a whole lot of money.

The Republicans are open about needing to deliver a bonanza for their corporate and wealthy backers. "My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again," Rep. Chris Collins of New York told The Hill last month.

But the feebleness of the Democrats' protests against the tax-cut robbery can be traced to the same source, since most party figures who make it to Congress are dependent on contributions and political support from Corporate America. This is the underlying cause of the Democrats' spinelessness--not tactical ineptitude or cowardice, but the Democratic Party's essential commitment to Corporate America and upholding the status quo.

This underlines the importance of social struggles not allowing their priorities and practices to be tailored to the needs of the Democrats.'s reports from the mostly small protests against the Republican tax cut rip-off show a clear understanding of the high stakes involved--and the urgency of organizing resistance now, not waiting for almost a whole year to vote next November.

And for every one of the people who turned out to these rallies and actions, there are certainly hundreds more, if not thousands and tens of thousands, who would like to take action now.

The problem is that the protests that are happening aren't being amplified by those in a position to do so.

For one thing, the establishment media mostly ignore the protests--for them, the story is about what's happening behind closed doors in the House-Senate conference committee.

But more importantly, imagine if the unions didn't stop with issuing a press release against the tax cuts, but mobilized their members to confront Republican lawmakers--and Democrats, too. What if campus administrators, instead of placing ever-more repressive restrictions on students and staff, welcomed demonstrations against legislation that could permanently harm higher education?

It's a good bet that you would see Democrats change their tune if they had to earn the support of the party's base. We know this not from the distant past, but earlier this year, for example, when the uprising at the airports against Trump's Muslim travel ban pressured Democratic lawmakers into visible opposition on an issue where they wanted to keep quiet.

Unfortunately, the organizational forces that could turn protests of dozens and hundreds into hundreds and thousands are taking their lead from the Democrats and their wait-for-2018 mantra. They are willing captives to the view that political battles can only be fought and won on the "inside," with a "realistic" approach that requires concession and compromise.

The left in the U.S. needs to be rebuilt on the basis of a recognition that our strength lies with struggles outside the mainstream system--ones that mobilize the power of our much greater numbers to fight for an alternative to the status quo.

STOPPING THE Republican tax cut atrocity will be an uphill battle at this point--but not an impossible one.

The conference committee of senators and representatives who are supposed to come up with a final version of the tax legislation have a mess on their hands, as even conservatives acknowledge.

The right-wing Freedom Caucus in the House is disgruntled about last-minute deals inserted into the Senate bill. Meanwhile, the senators who got those deals won't like it if they aren't honored. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for example, claims she got an "iron-clad guarantee" of a vote on legislation to bolster the Obamacare system--a commitment Republican Senate leaders have shown no sign yet of honoring, and which the House almost certainly won't.

Left to their own devices, though, the Republicans will figure out something. Failing to deliver on this one issue where the 1 Percent is more united than any other would be a devastating blow for Trump and the GOP--so no one should count on pangs of conscience among "moderate" Republicans.

But some pressure from below could hinder and even upset the process. Remember that the Republicans were confident about their Trumpcare "repeal and replace" disaster this summer--until the moment a handful of Republican senators, under pressure from protest and strongly negative public opinion, voted "no."

We should do everything we can in the days remaining to build the vocal and visible opposition that the so-called "opposition" party won't. There have been numerous initiatives for action, many organized around campuses, over the past few weeks, and more to come. In the Bay Area, an alliance of liberal and left groups is calling a day of protests on December 15 and hoping it will be picked up nationally.

We can protest with the hope of winning this battle for our side now--and the further goal, whatever the outcome, of getting better organized for the war that will continue after.

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