So the worst human being ever to be President is no longer President – and Joe Biden has replaced him. President Biden’s enjoying a bit of goodwill right now, but it’s early, and we must remember that he spent half a century capitulating to Republicans in the name of “bipartisanship.” I feared his election would be a nightmare scenario, a way for Our Glorious Elites to pretend to care about what the people think by getting rid of Mr. Trump but replacing him with a weakling. But, in truth, none of that matters – the best citizenship makes the politicians irrelevant, and we must aim to do that. In that spirit, I offer some advice.
Our ministry takes as sacred the fact that while voting is important, it’s also one day out of the year; what of the other 364 or 365 days? We need to communicate with our representatives about our concerns daily; Thieves in the Temple will help you do that, as it does now. But we also need to know what we’ll be up against. Donald Trump won’t go away quietly; he may not have his Twitterphone at present, but he’s got plenty of right-wing “news” outlets he can dominate, and our “liberal” media will cover whatever he does as if he’s not the outcast he should be. And you may be more sanguine about our media than you were in 2016, but make no mistake: under a President Biden, they’ll ramp up the horserace coverage, they’ll attack Social Security and Medicare, they’ll demand “bipartisanship” with actively evil Republicans, and they’ll air every far-right fever dream as if it’s a mainstream concern. Speaking of which, you’ve seen people embrace ever-stupider conspiracy theories online, and you’ve also seen emboldened Nazi wannabes stir up violence at otherwise peaceful protests; you’ve even seen Trump supporters actually try to take over our government. Now imagine all those clowns with millions of dollars of right-wing corporate and special interest group money behind them. I guarantee it’ll happen, and it’ll make the Tea Party look quaint.
And, last but certainly not least, you’ll also be up against a Democratic Party constantly yammering on about the art of the possible, and fearmongering you about all the seats Democrats will lose in 2022 if we actually speak our minds and hold them accountable – this, even though Democrats get routed in midterms precisely because they don’t do enough for the voters! And as I’ve said, future Republican Congressional majorities will be the worst we’ve ever seen. To think, that in 1994 and 2010, we said, “gosh, I’ve never seen Republicans worse than these clowns!” What will we say in 2022, if Democrats spend two years pretending their hands are tied? We’ll say, “gosh, I didn’t think people who actually called themselves fascists could win elections in America!” But when leaders don’t heed the will of the people – and this is a nasty habit Democratic politicians have! – that’s the kind of thing that happens.
So we need to do the same things we did (and which worked) in 2017: we need to flood our Congressfolks’ phone lines and we need to bird-dog the hell out of them, even though publicly confronting your elected leaders has a bad name right now, because of those assholes who tried to take over our Capitol. But for what will we fight? Will we fight, merely, to keep Republicans from setting more of our house on fire? No. We have to think bigger than that, and we have to change the conversation Our Glorious Elites would want us to have. I know that’s a big thing to ask of people, particularly people who have been waiting four years to simply draw a sigh of relief. But we’re Americans. We do big things. And here are some of the big things we have to do.
We have to get this pandemic under control. 12,000 Americans died from the swine flu pandemic of 2009 and 2010, so we already know that we can do a lot better than 12,000 deaths every couple of days. We need to do a lot more COVID-19 testing, tracing, and vaccination, and we also need to pass real pandemic relief for working families, not just “relief” that funnels taxpayer money to big bankster cronies. And you know what else? We all need to wear a damn mask when we go out! Right-wingers have had too many don’t-tread-on-me tantrums about this, and we need to stop coddling them. It just so happens that President Biden has proposed a new COVID relief bill that would do most of these things; now we just have to remind our Congressfolk that they work for us.
We have to secure voting rights. Voting is the beginning of our duty as citizens, not the end, but vote suppression did more than any other factor to bring us President Donald Trump in 2016, and we’ve had four years to watch what sophisticated vote suppression has wrought. The For the People Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act would fix that. The For the People Act would (among other things) keep states from deregistering voters whenever they want, curtail the use of felony convictions to disenfranchise good Americans, and require states to use voter-verifiable paper ballots. The Voting Rights Advancement Act would make the Voting Rights Act whole again, at which point states and localities will find it a lot harder to, for example, deregister voters of color simply because they have the same name as someone from another state. I talk a lot about the cowardice of Democratic politicians, but fact is folks would vote even for a cowardly Democrat over an insane Republican – if they’re allowed to vote!
We need real campaign finance reform – that includes disclosure and limits on contributions. Passing the For the People Act would give us disclosure, but we would need to amend our Constitution to get the latter, thanks to our Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United v. FEC ruling. The pro-big corporate campaign spending crowd (it’s not a big crowd, but it does exist!) say we can’t limit campaign contributions because campaigns cost money. But why should that fact compel us to let folks with millions of dollars drown out the real free speech, and real grievances, of working families? Our First Amendment has to work for all of us. H.J.Res. 1, introduced in early January, would amend our Constitution so we can regulate campaign finance again.
We have to make taxes fair again. This President did what all the big “tax cutters” do – he cut taxes a little for you, but cut taxes a lot for his rich cronies, particularly for corporations. We can leave most income tax brackets where they are, but we need to tax income over a million dollars at 91%, and we need to tax corporate profits at 55% – because these are the tax rates that built the greatest middle class the world has ever seen. If you don’t tax the rich, they hoard their windfalls, but if you do tax them, they spend the money paying people to make things, and then we build great economies. We also need to tax investment income equally, so that working families don’t pay more taxes out of their paychecks than hedge fund managers do out of theirs. We need to cap the mortgage interest deduction, so that most homeowners can still get relief, but corporate raiders and slumlords can't game the system. We need to stop corporations “paying” their executives in stock options – income is income, after all, and should be counted as such. Finally, we need to stop cold any attempts to enact a national sales tax. The last thing working families need is a new tax that always hits working people harder than wealthy people. Congressfolk rarely introduce bills that would do these things – so we should tell them to do that!
We need to tackle household debt. The biggest drag on American freedom isn’t taxes or regulations or “political correctness.” It’s debt, whether it’s mortgage debt, credit card debt, or student loan debt. We need to cap revolving loans at 6%, installment loans at 4%, and student loans and mortgages at 2%. And if that winds up outlawing payday lenders, too bad! Forcing people into 300% death-spiral loans ain’t exactly “helping a brother out.” Once we cap loan rates, we need to forgive a lot of the debt people accrued before the caps go into effect; that would only be fair, after all. Don’t worry about the banksters; they’ll still be able to make money, they just won’t be able to buy as many legislators as they used to. More importantly, all the good Americans who will be able live without so damn much debt on their backs will be freer to do good works, as is our birthright. The Loan Shark Prevention Act, from the last Congress, would come closest to doing some of things I’ve outlined above.
We need to expand Medicare to include everyone. The second-biggest drag on our freedom is health care costs, especially now that increased hedge fund involvement in health care corporations just so happens to coincide with surprise medical bills being worse than ever. In the middle of a pandemic, no less! It seems invisible because we pay for it indirectly, through our employers and through our taxes, but we spend around $10,000 annually per person on health insurance in America; folks in Canada, which has a single-payer system, pay less than half of that, and folks in the United Kingdom, which has an entirely socialized health care system, pay a little more than a third of that. But we can expand Medicare to include everyone and cover everyone’s health care needs. How? By implementing Sen. Warren’s plan to tax big corporations almost all the money they already pay for private health insurance. We spend more than any other nation on health care, and still leave over 20 million Americans out in the cold; with Medicare-for-All capturing all that money, and with the drop in administrative costs that will result, we’ll be able to cover everyone’s needs. Medicare-for-All bills get introduced every year; this year, we need to tell them to include the funding mechanism.
We need to redefine “law and order,” so that when we say those words, people think “catching polluters and financial predators” rather than “shooting unarmed black folks in the street.” First, we need to stop using our police officers as the Swiss Army knives of our civilization. Police officers should be making arrests and serving warrants, not answering every conceivable request for assistance a citizen makes, and certainly not doing the job of social workers. Second, we need to stop treating drug addicts as criminals and start treating them as patients. Finally, our regulations need to punish polluters and financial predators with jail time, not fines they can simply deduct from their taxes, and not settlements in which no one admits doing anything wrong. If we do these things, we might lay claim to being a “law and order” nation again. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and the MORE Act, from the last Congress, would comprise a good start toward this end.
We need to invest in renewable energy. I don’t mean just with tax credits for solarizing your house – our government needs to get back into the utility business and create 100% renewable energy utilities that’ll compete with the private utilities that overcharge you and won’t change with the times. And we need to retrain coal workers to build out this renewable energy infrastructure, which will be a hell of a lot easier than retraining them to write software, as Democrats too often think we’re going to do. Right-wingers will call all that “socialism,” but I’ll call it “job creation.” You know what else I’ll call it? If I may paraphrase William Lloyd Garrison, I’ll call it “pulling a baby right out of the damn fire,” since our planet is on fire and renewable energy isn’t a “lifestyle choice” so much as a necessity. The Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future (or OFF) Act, from the 115th Congress, remains a good model for achieving these ends.
We need to reclaim boundaries on media, including social media. Our media remain addicted to sensationalism and drama, and this addiction pushes us away from those values, like patience and temperance, that sustain us as a civilization. So we need to demand the right to purchase cable channels a la carte, so we’re not paying for media outlets (like cable news channels and reality channels) that make us sicker, more immoral, and more decadent. We also need to stop media consolidation, so that we don’t have so many cookie-cutter TV channels with so few owners to begin with. We need to restore net neutrality, so that we, not some corporate gatekeeper, determine where we want to go on the internet. We need to keep pressuring corporate advertisers, so that we can cut off bad media outlets’ other flow of money. And we need to treat social media websites less like “information services” (i.e., your ISP is an "information service") and more like the publishing houses they actually are. If Random House publishes an author who says something libelous, we hold them liable; if Facebook lets a user do the same thing, we flail around wondering what to do about it. Here’s what we do about it: we change the law so we can hold them accountable. Again, our Congressfolk don’t routinely address these matters through legislation, but we can tell them to do that!
That’s a long list (and not an all-inclusive one!), and a lot of folks would call it idealistic or naive. But folks have always said that about big changes. And, frankly, it’s not the attitude that abolished slavery, it’s not the attitude that got women the vote, it’s not the attitude that got us clean water and food safety, it’s not the attitude that created Social Security and Medicare, it’s not the attitude that enacted minimum wage and worker safety laws, and it’s not the attitude that passed the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. And you know what? It’s also not the attitude that stopped this right-wing Congress and right-wing President from repealing the Affordable Care Act in 2017. The people, alone, stopped that from happening, and we didn’t say it was idealistic or naive to do so.
Still, many of your Democratic Congressfolk, when pressed about solutions like the ones we've advanced here, will throw cold water on them and talk about how "politics is the art of the possible." But we don't fight for what's "possible" – we fight for what's right, and in doing so we widen the palette of the possible. And we do that by calling our reps, emailing our reps, writing our reps, demonstrating at their offices, and bird-dogging them at public events – and we never back down. Republicans never back down, after all, and Democrats seem to treat them a lot better than they treat us. And whenever Democrats fail us, never shrug and say “well, at least they’re better than the alternative.” If we do that, we’ll never get the better alternatives we deserve as Americans. But if we stay on them, they'll come around to our way of thinking, because their jobs will depend on it. So let's get to it.