How does Trump’s presidency reflect the United States? What will the future of U.S. democracy entail if he is reelected in 2020? What must Democrats do to prevent this from happening?
Robert Reich pondered these questions during his keynote speech at the Democrats Abroad Mexico Annual General Meeting, held Saturday, May 30 at the Hotel Posada de la Aldea in San Miguel de Allende. The former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration and professor of public policy at UC Berkeley began his presentation on a rather light note.
“As you can see, Donald Trump has worn me down,” said Reich, referring to his short stature before delving into serious matters.
Named as one of the ten most effective secretaries of the century by Time Magazine, the pundit spent an hour discussing current events, the fate of democracy worldwide and the importance of quelling Trump’s potential 2020 comeback.
While providing an overview of today’s political landscape, Reich first highlighted the Mueller investigation and congressional efforts to impeach the U.S. head of state.
“I think the big headline here is that we won’t be able to get rid of Donald Trump in any way other than the old-fashioned way,” said Reich.
No president has ever come close to an impeachment conviction, although Richard Nixon straddled the line before his resignation. Even Reich himself never considered impeachment to be feasible based on the requisites for a senatorial conviction. Continual attempts for impeachment may distract Democrats according to Reich.
“It’s for that reason that I really hope Democrats and all of us don’t let the fight over the Mueller report distract us from the real problems, absurdities and dangers that this man represents and has already imposed on the United States.”
After reflecting on the shortcomings of past presidents such as James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant and both George W. Bush Sr. and Jr., the commentator made a crystal-clear statement that reverberated through the room.
“In terms of threats to democracy, undermining our constitution, violating the very principles and ideas that a U.S. president needs to stand for if our system is going to survive, Trump is without a doubt the worst president we have ever had,” said Reich. “He is a catastrophe for the United States.”
Reich then explained Trump’s complex working and personal relationships with Republicans, emphasizing how many cooperate with Trumpians for “protection.” That is to say, some fear forfeiting their positions during primaries, so they stay on the administration’s “cordial side” rather than opening the floodgates for a Trump-aligned competitor.
“Many Republicans are as appalled as I am but many don’t feel that they’re free to act on their beliefs,” said Reich, who mentioned that certain Republicans consider they are doing more good than harm by engaging with the Trump administration.
Either way, Reich expects more from his counterparts.
“Why are you in politics to begin with unless you’re going to stand up against this man? I think history will not be kind to many of the current Republicans in Congress for their lack of backbone in terms of standing up to Donald Trump around issues that have to do with our fundamental democratic values.”
Following along with Trump concerns, another topic that Reich covered was the magnitude of the upcoming 2020 election. It became increasingly clear what’s on the line the longer he spoke.
“I know that you’ve heard this every single time we have a major election but this could be the most important one of our lifetime,” said Reich. “Four more years of Donald Trump would make me fear for American democracy and the fundamental values we stand for, not just in the country but the world.”
According to the Dartmouth alumni, one of the most dangerous aspects of Trump is how his words and actions affect the rest of the world.
With this, he segued into the subject of Americans living abroad who oftentimes see the repercussions of xenophobia and authoritarianism.
“Human rights, voting rights and democratic ideals are so desperately under attack right now,” said Reich. “I think Donald Trump is fueling this anti-democratic and anti-enlightenment movement around the world.”
Another part of his speech focused on the bigger picture, imploring the audience to ask how the United States got to this point? What circumstances led Trump to his platform?
“It might be that Donald Trump is not the cause of where we are today but the consequence. I have watched this unfold for over 40 years,” said Reich, noting his first political experience as an intern for Robert F. Kennedy in 1967.
From his perspective, racism and xenophobia have been embedded into U.S. society since the founding days. Although a lot of progress has been made to improve the lives of women and minorities, these forms of prejudice always existed prior to today’s woes.
Rather, economic anxiety paired with the decline of the median wage is more responsible for today’s volatility in U.S. politics, according to Reich.Over time, the accumulation of wealth in only a few hands allowed affluent people to modify rules and regulations for their own benefit.
“The median wage used to grow alongside economic productivity, but those days are long over.”
Trump may attribute economic woes to globalization’s tendency to outsource cheap labor, but Reich contends that the phenomenon has more to do with investments than simply trade. Other countries allegedly undermine U.S. corporations, when, according to Reich, these firms are performing valuable research and investments across the international spectrum.
“We’re living in a world in which everything is made everywhere not just on price but the value added,’ said Reich. “The whole idea of there being an American economy separate and divorced from the global economy has no basis in fact.”
In Reich’s opinion, U.S. society didn’t start paying attention to such inequality until the 2008 financial crisis. Suddenly, Americans didn’t have any coping mechanisms in an inherently exploitative economic system.
Grievances at this time involved taxpayer dollars bailing out big banks, no reprimanded bank executives, homeowners owing higher mortgages than the worth of the home, etc.
“People understood this,” said Reich, reflecting on his time in the Midwest, the Rust Belt and the South where he encountered anti-Washington folks who considered voting for either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election.
“If they were on the right, they called it crony capitalism and they blamed the government. If they were on the left, they understood it as crony capitalism and they blamed the banks and corporations. It was the same thing. The people said that they were going to shake things up since they didn’t want a rigged game.”
Because of this surge of anti-establishment sentiment, Reich suggested that Democrats ought to understand how groups like the Tea Party and Occupy Movement preach the same thing – social reform.
“We need to keep that in mind as Democrats, that the populist anti-establishment surge is not irrational. It is not a bad thing. It may, if treated correctly, be the means of reforming a system that has gotten really off track.”
Chapter Vice Chair Patric Ellsworth from San Miguel de Allende invited Reich to present at this year’s conference. Right from the beginning, the California native wanted to hear his perspective on how the Democrats can unite as a party to avoid the same mistakes as the 2016 election.
“I think he’s one of the brighter minds in the Democratic Party,” said Ellsworth. “His legacy is somebody who calls attention to issues and writes as well as speaks very eloquently about them. I’d say he has a first-rate mind.”
Others, including parliamentarian of Democrats Abroad Mexico, Samuel Stone, agreed.
“I think Secretary Reich is correct,” said Stone, who grew up in rural Ohio. “We need a new grassroots progressive movement going forward in the United States and abroad for us to mobilize in 2020 and usher in this new era
“But I do think that these latent, racist and bigoted attitudes we’re seeing more of today in the United States were reactivated to some degree with President Trump. I think they’re very deeply connected to the economic insecurity that he spoke about in the beginning.”