Remember last July when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Moros and his regime? At the time the Maduros regime was attempting to re-write Venezuela’s constitution to erode provisions enforcing democratic institutions in order to secure dictatorial powers for himself.
Mnuchin issued a statement last July 31 that, looking back, we can see contains language remarkably resonant with the recent behaviors of not just the Trump administration but, it is important to note, the current GOP regime itself. In this statement, Mnuchin said, “As President Trump said earlier this month, the strong and courageous actions by the Venezuelan people to stand for democracy, freedom, and the rule of law have been continually ignored by Nicolas Maduro who dreams of becoming a dictator. Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.”
While Mnuchin characterizes Maduro as “a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” certainly the Republican efforts over the last year to ramrod massively unpopular legislation through Congress, from the failed Obamacare repeal to the current tax bill, constitute similar, even equal, disregard for the will of the American people.
Consider the following examples:
*Last September myriad major groups and constituencies, including the American Medical Association, the National Council on Behavioral Health, the American Association of Retired People, as well as major Health Insurance Companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and the largest health insurance lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans, expressed strenuous opposition to the Graham-Cassidy Bill designed to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. The legislation failed, to be sure, but what is important to note is that the Republican majorities in Congress pushed forward with the legislation despite this ferocious popular opposition among the industry itself and the masses of Americans.
*The current tax bill, which all signs indicate will be passed by Congress before Christmas, is also opposed by the majority of Americans. A Gallup poll from earlier this December registered a 56% disapproval rating for the bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, while a Quinnipiac Poll from the same time registered a 53% disapproval rating. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site compiled data ranking the bill the least popular tax-related bill since 1981, and included two tax-hike bills in the 1990s.
Despite this clear opposition from an American majority, Congress still nonetheless has promised to pass the current tax bill and President Trump has pledged to sign it, characterizing it as a Christmas present for the American people, who conversely, polls indicate, view the bill as a lump of coal in their stockings.
While Trump’s campaign was often characterized as a “populist” one, his administration has in the main disregarded the will of the American people, to the point of assaulting the economic well-being of the mass of Americans. Remember his first hour in office when he made mortgages more expensive for millions of middle-class and lower-income Americans?
Certainly, many have observed and discussed not just his abandonment of a populist agenda but his assumption of a downright authoritarian style of rule. But what really needs to be understood and underlined is that this authoritarianism, what Mnuchin described with Maduro as a disregard for the will of the people, is not limited to Trump himself but, more to the point, characterizes the Republican majority itself.
What accounts for this authoritarianism of the GOP that governs and legislates with such blatant disregard for the well-being of the majority of Americans? If the GOP isn’t representing the American majority, then whom do they pretend to represent?
Well, Republicans have been quite candid, according to Dylan Scott of Vox, about their motivations. They serve their donors, a small wealthy sliver of the American population, at the expense of the populous. He cites Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) who told him, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”
Populism has become donorism, and representational democracy has been turned on its head, becoming a representational elitism, leaving the majority of Americans inspired with terror at the prospects the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has in store for them.
The question now is how the will of the people, so blatantly disregarded by Trump and the broader GOP—both its fringe and establishment wings,–will express itself in the 2018 mid-term elections.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.