The Trump Org indictment conceals a bigger story about the ultra rich

After many months of anticipation and nearly three years of investigation, the Manhattan district attorney's office has charged the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg with 15 offenses related to tax fraud. According to the lengthy indictment, former President Donald Trump's namesake corporation engaged in a 15-year scheme to "compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was 'off the books.'" While many are disappointed that Trump himself was not directly indicted, the sweeping charges offer some vindication for those who have watched wealthy elites like Trump hoodwink authorities for decades. Recall his response to his rival Hillary Clinton during a 2016 presidential debate when she accused him of evading taxes: "that makes me smart." But when put into the broader context of how the wealthiest Americans manage to avoid paying taxes without breaking any laws, the Trump Organization charges seem like a minor affair.

A much bigger story than the Trump Organization's alleged tax fraud was a ProPublica story in June of how fabulously wealthy individuals like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla founder Elon Musk, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have paid little to nothing in federal income taxes for years. Reporters obtained confidential tax records for thousands of wealthy Americans from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and concluded that, "the wealthiest can—perfectly legally—pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year." The heart of the story is that the form of wealth owned by the richest Americans—stocks, real estate, and other assets—is simply not taxed until it is sold.

Based on tax information published by the New York Times last fall, Trump, like Bezos and other billionaires, has paid little to nothing in taxes for years. The scheme that the former president relied on in order to do this was somewhat different. "His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes," explained the New York Times.

The point is that there are so many legal ways for wealthy elites to avoid paying taxes that it's no wonder the Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance took nearly three years to come up with charges that involve a paltry $1.7 million worth of "perks" that ought to have been reported to the IRS as income. The "sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme" that Vance accused Weisselberg of meant that the Trump Organization CFO pocketed less than a million dollars that he should have paid in taxes and reaped a little over $100,000 in tax refunds he should not have received.

The inordinate focus on the tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization obscures a far larger grift that Trump and his party were responsible for—all conducted through the legislative process and considered perfectly legal—the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

A recent investigation by Greenpeace UK's Unearthed showcased just how financially significant that law was for the world's largest corporations such as ExxonMobil. A lobbyist for Exxon named Dan Easley admitted on video that, "the executive branch and regulatory team for Exxon had extraordinary success over the past four years in large part because the [Trump] administration was so predisposed to helping." When asked what Exxon's biggest wins were under Trump, Easley rattled off a series of victories and then added, "tax has to be the biggest one. The reduction of the corporate tax rate was probably worth billions to Exxon." In fact, ExxonMobil's profits reportedly quintupled after the Trump tax cut.

Republican lawmakers also directly benefited from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as did Trump himself. The far more scandalous punchline is that most elites need not resort to risky efforts such as tax fraud when such generous and perfectly legal giveaways are available.

Ordinary Americans are supposed to sit out the debate on tax rates, as complex economic analyses are apparently required in order to fully appreciate the ramifications of raising or lowering taxes. The tax code is so complicated, we are told, that we could not possibly understand the rationale for why rich individuals and corporations deserve to be taxed less. The part we are not told is that the complexity is deliberate.

In spite of the media missing the broader context for stories such as the Trump Organization's tax fraud charges, there is massive public support across the political spectrum for a seemingly radical and yet far simpler idea: enact stiff taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations. Even CNBC commentator and economist Jim Cramer, who has claimed he is wedded to higher stock prices rather than any political affiliation, admitted when he read ProPublica's story of billionaire tax avoidance that "these revelations make me sick," and that he favored a surtax on the massively wealthy.

While Republicans are honest about their craven allegiance to the profits of the wealthy, Democrats claim to care about fairness and rising inequality. Unsurprisingly, much of the Democratic Party noise on the matter amounts to lip service and empty gestures such as reintroducing a bill to tax millionaires. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren's tax plan aimed at the richest Americans doesn't go far enough and targets only 2-3 percent of amassed wealth.

President Joe Biden earlier this year proposed a series of reforms that would generate $1.5 trillion in federal revenues largely based on higher taxation of the wealthiest Americans but still bowed at the altar of wealth by making a wholly unnecessary pledge to elites that "I think you should be able to become a billionaire or a millionaire… but pay your fair share."

Democrats, who won't even ensure through the legislative process that their own party is able to win future elections through fairer voting rules, are hardly going to be aggressive about legislating higher taxes on the wealthy. As long as they can demonstrate to their voters that they care about higher taxation, actually enacting higher taxes will remain purely theoretical.

At the global level, President Biden recently led an effort at the G-7 to impose a minimum corporate tax rate to undermine offshore tax havens. But the rate that governments settled on was so embarrassingly small—only 15 percent—that a spokesperson for Oxfam complained, "They are setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it." Unsurprisingly, Republicans are opposing even this.

Only Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two of a handful of self-declared socialists in Congress, have stated a belief radical enough for our times: that billionaires should simply not exist. Yet, this should not be a radical notion. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world's wealthiest people, admitted that Sanders' remarks were justified when he said, "On some level, no one deserves to have that much money."

Considering that the global pandemic has foisted suffering on so many millions of people worldwide while enriching the already-super-wealthy, the current moment could not be more appropriate for a rethinking of wealth and how it is taxed at both the individual and corporate level. Not only should the world's governments be redirecting needed resources to those suffering the worst economic impacts of the pandemic, but they should also be preparing for the massive public spending that will be required to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The obvious source of funding such things is the mountain of money that wealthy elites have been silently amassing. While it may give many Americans a small modicum of satisfaction at seeing the Trump Organization being slapped with minor tax fraud charges, the headline-making story is sadly a distraction from the vast wealth that elites and corporations even wealthier than Trump have legally accumulated.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

There’s a disturbing motive hiding behind the GOP’s attacks on transgender youth

The GOP's latest culture war is focused squarely on the nation's transgender community, specifically transgender youth. It isn't a new war, simply a new front in an old war that can be traced back to the famed "bathroom bills" from some years ago that spread across dozens of states. Those bills were introduced in tandem with former President Donald Trump's targeted federal government-led attacks that included the overturning of anti-discrimination statutes protecting trans people and an outright transgender ban in the U.S. military.

Now, in the wake of Trump's humiliating electoral loss, Republicans have accelerated the state-level attacks to a breathtaking level. In just the first three months of 2021, GOP-led state legislatures introduced more bills aimed at transgender people, especially youth, than they did over the entire previous year. There are now more than 80 bills introduced this year alone that, according to Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, "are not addressing any real problem, and they're not being requested by constituents. Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organizations attempting to score political points by sowing fear and hate."

I recently spoke with Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the award-winning book Histories of the Transgender Child, in an interview, and she echoed this claim, saying, "A lot of authoritarian political movements are using trans people as their scapegoats." She called the latest wave of anti-trans legislation "an unprecedented assault in terms of just the magnitude of the bills and the severity of what they propose to do in terms of criminalizing basic access to health care and equal access to education."

She explained that "due to perhaps their general political incompetency, a lot of [Trump's attacks on transgender people] didn't really end up making it into practice." However, "on the state level, as is often the case, the GOP is much more successful at pursuing an anti-trans agenda than they ever are at the federal level." Gill-Peterson sees this as a culmination of efforts that can be traced back to North Carolina's 2016 passage of a bill banning transgender people from using facilities of the gender they identify with.

On April 5, North Carolina Republicans continued what they began five years ago, introducing a bill called the "Youth Health Protection Act," which blocks transgender minors from accessing the health care they need upon deciding to transition. Just as the GOP has often couched its attacks on communities under the guise of protecting them (think of anti-abortion legislation presented as "fetal personhood" bills), this bill, like several others in states like Arkansas, purports to protect trans youth.

Republicans also claim they want to protect "fair competition," in the words of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, by banning transgender kids from sports. Lee, along with the governors of Arkansas and Mississippi, signed bills into law this year banning trans youth from playing sports in school. These transphobic bills are based on a theory that transgender kids, especially girls, have an unfair biological advantage over non-transgender girls.

Just as the GOP's stated war on voter fraud is based on an imagined assault on the nation's democracy in order to disguise the real war on voting, the conservative party's stated reason for going after transgender children's access to health care or participation in sports is based on an imagined crisis. Gill-Peterson said, "most of these lawmakers will admit, they've never heard of any issue with transgender participation in sports in their state, and they've never heard of any issue around trans health care in their state, and they don't actually know any trans children."

The GOP's war on voting offers another analog. If the GOP really cared about democracy, they would make voting easier, not harder. Similarly, if the party were truly interested in the safety of girls, it would offer up bills that protect transgender girls in particular, who face very real dangers. Gill-Peterson said, "young trans girls and trans women are extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence because it's not taken seriously." Instead, the bills banning access to health care and sports only fuel greater violence against them. Every year, dozens of trans women are killed, and more transgender people were killed in the U.S. in the first seven months of 2020 than all of the previous year. It's no surprise that the spike in violence has coincided with legislative attempts to dehumanize the community.

Just as with anti-voter and anti-abortion bills, the GOP's tactic of pursuing transphobic legislation involves wasting legislative time and money by passing clearly unconstitutional bills that are invariably legally challenged, remain tied up in the courts for years and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court. Last summer, justices ruled against an attempt to legalize workplace discrimination against transgender employees, and then in the winter, they left in place a public school's accommodation of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Whether the GOP wins or loses on this issue in the nation's highest court is almost beside the point because the party's goal is to distract its anxious base from the fact that their leaders do little to nothing about pervasive problems around inequality and depressed wages, a stagnant job market and the ever-rising cost of living.

Moreover, the GOP's anti-trans bills fulfill part of a larger conservative agenda to create evermore exceptions to government-provided services such as health care and education, whittling away at the state's responsibility for resources to be available to all and rights to be respected universally. If hormone treatments, abortions, and medical treatments for immigrants are exceptions to government-provided health care; if public education is for everyone but transgender kids; then those services are weakened in service of libertarian fantasies of how society should function.

How to combat this brutality and inhumanity? Gill-Peterson pointed out, "the folks who are on the same side of this debate as the Republican legislators include a wide swath of extremist groups: white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-immigrant groups." To meet this threat will require an equally broad coalition of progressives to stand guard against attacks on transgender people.

The state of South Dakota has been a testing ground for state-level legislation aimed at trans rights. Bill after bill has failed in that state, thanks largely to a coalition that has stood firm at every turn to protest them. Alongside transgender activists are parents, teachers, and doctors as well as national organizations like the ACLU and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Having a president like Joe Biden who has reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of transgender people, rather than targeting them for violence as Trump did, is also a huge help. "We need to see trans rights as integral to a broader agenda for democracy, justice, and public good in this country," said Gill-Peterson.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Biden's new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland strikes fear into the heart of the GOP — here's why

In her farewell address to the House of Representatives, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland said to her colleagues about her new role as interior secretary, "I have the opportunity to make a real difference for communities everywhere by addressing climate change, protecting voting rights, [and] fighting for racial, environmental, and economic justice." It was a far cry from the oil and gas lobbyists who have long occupied the position she now assumes.

The 60-year-old Haaland is an activist-turned-lawmaker who was among the crop of progressive women of color who won a slew of races in the 2018 midterm races. She became one of the two first Indigenous women ever to win a congressional seat. Now, in a 51-40 Senate vote, Haaland broke barriers once more in winning confirmation as the nation's first Indigenous interior secretary and first Indigenous Cabinet secretary.

I had the chance to speak with Haaland in 2018 before she won her congressional seat representing New Mexico. Six months before she was elected, she told me that "creating a renewable energy revolution in our state and in our country" was a central issue for her as a candidate and that she was working "to get big corporate money out of politics because I don't believe that our elected officials should be working for the lobbyists—they should be working for the people."

It isn't just Haaland's Native American identity that symbolizes progress. What makes her a formidable force is that her racial and ethnic background in combination with politically progressive views is antithetical to power and capital. She is now in a position to direct the federal agency whose central task is to "manage and sustain America's lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, [honor] our nation's responsibilities to tribal nations, and [advocate] for America's island communities." Not only will a Native American for the first time oversee the government's relationship to Indigenous Americans, but an avowed environmental activist will manage how the nation's natural resources serve the interests of the oil and gas industry—or not. No wonder Republicans are terrified.

The fear was on display during Haaland's confirmation hearings when Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) led the GOP opposition to her nomination, claiming that she had a "very well documented and hostile record toward made-in-America energy, toward natural resource development, toward wildlife management and sportsmen." Daines denounced Haaland's "very far left divisive positions that will fail to represent the West, to be in the mainstream of commonsense and balance." Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, concurred with his colleague, deeming Haaland's views as "radical." The Center for Responsive Politics points out that both Daines and Barrasso have each received more than half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry.

As interior secretary, Haaland is as much of an opposite of her white male predecessors as one can imagine. In 2018, President Donald Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told oil and gas industry representatives seeking to drill on public lands that the federal government should partner with them and "not be in the business of being an adversary." At another conference he told the industry that the U.S. government "should work for you." Zinke then resigned in a cloud of ethics scandals and went on to work as a consultant for the former industry clients he once was tasked with regulating. Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, known as "a walking conflict of interest," then replaced Zinke. As one analyst described it, Bernhardt had "alternated between lobbying gigs and jobs in the Interior Department since 1998."

Both Zinke and Bernhardt represent the epitome of the corrupt "revolving door" between corporate lobbyists and government. In contrast, before she ran for Congress, Haaland visited tribal leaders protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, and led the New Mexico Democratic Party's divestment from Wells Fargo over the bank's funding of that controversial pipeline project.

As interior secretary, Haaland will oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been accused of routinely auctioning off federal lands to oil and gas companies and ignoring tribal leadership in drilling projects. Haaland told me that her ancestral homeland of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico remains continuously under threat from the BLM, which favors hydraulic fracturing (fracking) projects on grounds that are considered sacred. Indeed, during his last year as interior secretary, Bernhardt proceeded to lease lands near Chaco Canyon for fracking and mining operations at the same time as tribes were occupied with trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Brian Sybert, executive director of Conservation Lands Foundation, complained that "[o]nce again, Secretary Bernhardt is putting profits ahead of the people, and is failing to recognize the impact of the pandemic on tribal communities who hold Chaco Culture National Historical Park sacred."

Now, for the first time in this nation's history, an Indigenous person not beholden to corporate interests will wield decision-making power over oil and gas projects on federal lands. While Biden's choice of Haaland to lead the Interior Department is indeed commendable and forward-thinking, the dangers of shaping policy through departmental discretion alone is that future administrations can easily reverse progressive trends. In order to truly cement a climate-justice-centered approach to the management of natural resources, Congress and the president need to lead through legislation. The environmental organization Food and Water Watch hailed Haaland's confirmation as the first step in a fracking ban. But, as the group rightly asserts, "Now the White House must follow through on a ban on fracking on public lands."

As soon as he took office, the president signed an executive order suspending oil and gas drilling on public lands for two months. But the move is symbolic and falls far short of an actual ban. Sensitive to relentless Republican accusations of wanting to ban the extractive industry, Biden took pains to reiterate as he signed the executive order, "Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up: We're not going to ban fracking."

During Haaland's confirmation hearings, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) was correct in seeing the battle over her nomination as a "proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels." Indigenous Americans have led the fight for climate justice for years, successfully linking responsible stewardship of our land and water with the need to switch to renewable energy sources. Haaland's identity and politics taken together are a threat to the oil and gas industry, its lobbyists like Zinke and Bernhardt, and its political champions like Daines and Barrasso. But in order to move past symbolism and avoid turning her identity into a tokenistic stunt, the Democratic Party leadership must itself embrace and embody Haaland's environmentalism.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

A Republican's damning admission offers a dark preview of the future

As Texas battles a severe snowstorm and mass power outages this winter, Tim Boyd, the now-former Republican mayor of Colorado City, revealed his party's plan for the deadly extreme temperatures linked to climate change. In a lengthy Facebook post that was deleted soon after it went viral, then-Mayor Boyd told his residents that they were entirely on their own as the brutal winter weather caused mayhem and deaths across the Lone Star state.

His honesty was like catching a glimpse of a rare animal in the wild. "Sink or swim[,] it's your choice!" he wrote, without bothering to couch his words in euphemisms. Boyd added, "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!" For such an exhortation to come from the elected leader of a city—a man literally chosen by his people to ensure that local government works for them—was shocking.

Just as they pay their mayor, Colorado City's residents also pay authorities to provide them with basic necessities like electricity and water. But apparently, Boyd thought an expectation of services was out of line. He conjectured, "If you don't have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe." Many Texans have tried to do just that, running their car engine in their garage to warm their homes. So far in Harris County, there have been at least 50 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and several people have died.

"If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family," posited Boyd, expecting Texans who were searching for ways to provide their own electricity to also deal with a lack of water as pipes froze in the plummeting temperatures.

Boyd's diatribe veered into familiar Republican territory as he blamed residents for their own plight by saying, "If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy [it] is [a] direct result of your raising." It is a long-simmering idea among conservatives that Americans who depend on their government are simply lazy.

Generally, white conservatives have reserved the word "lazy" for people of color who are victims of systemic racial discrimination. Indeed, the weather-related blackouts in Texas impacted the residents of minority neighborhoods disproportionately. Boyd and those who share his views would likely assume this must have been a direct result of their laziness.

Hours after writing his screed, Boyd announced his resignation and apologized. But he qualified his apology by saying that he never meant to imply that the helpless elderly were the lazy ones—just everyone else. "I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout," he wrote in a manner that suggested he was "sorry, not sorry."

Most Republicans are not as overt as Boyd in their faith in social Darwinism. Take Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who instead of openly blaming Texans for their own suffering instead decided to blame climate-mitigating policies and renewable energy programs like wind power. Speaking on Fox News, Abbott railed against the "Green New Deal," claiming that a reliance on wind turbines was disastrous because the state's wind-generated power "thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis." For good measure, he added, "It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary."

The conservative Wall Street Journal, which has long been hostile to tackling climate change through renewable energy, repeated this claim in an editorial blaming "stricter emissions regulation" and the loss of coal-powered plants for widespread misery in the snow-blanketed South.

In fact, millions of Texans are going without power because of the Republican emphasis on cheap power over reliable power. Seeing electricity generation as a profit-making enterprise rather than the fulfillment of a public need, GOP policies in Texas have made the state vulnerable to such mass outages. Moreover, plenty of wintry areas successfully run wind turbines when properly prepared to do so. And, Abbott did not see fit to point out that harsh winter temperatures lead to frozen natural gas pipelines—the real culprit in the outages.

Even as a majority of Texans now believe that climate change is really happening, their governor in late January vowed to "protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington." Apparently protecting Texans from the ravages of the fossil fuel industry is not in his purview. This is hardly surprising given how much fossil fuel industry contributions have ensured Abbott's loyalty to oil and gas interests.

The conservative mindset can be counted on to prioritize private interests over public ones. In a Republican utopia, the rich are noble and deserving of basic necessities, comforts, and life itself. If they have rigged the system to benefit themselves, it means they are smart, not conniving. In the future that Republicans promise, "Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic)," as per Boyd's post. In other words, our lives are expendable, and if we die, it is because we deserve it and were simply not smart enough to survive.

This was utterly predictable. Republicans have used this same approach on health care—think of all the Republican governors who backed lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act and opted their states out of the federal government's Medicaid program even though a majority of Americans support Obamacare. Even more Americans support the government nationalizing health care, but Republicans warn that if the program is expanded from Medicare for those over 65 to all Americans, it will suddenly become "socialism" and thus "evil." Their solution for health care is the status quo of a deregulated "Wild West" private insurance market.

Republicans have offered a similar approach to the coronavirus pandemic where any public safety standards set by the government are anathema to "personal freedoms," even though a majority of Americans support such precautions. It is also how Republicans have approached poverty and rising inequality: by opposing a federal government increase to the minimum wage even though most Americans want a floor of $15 an hour.

Interestingly, Republicans believe strongly in the idea of "big government" when it comes to regulating their pet social issues such as harsh anti-immigrant measures and attacks on abortion. (Meanwhile, most Americans support a pathway to legalization for the undocumented and a majority supports reproductive choice.)

As Americans are subject to the brutal impacts of inevitable climate change, we face a clear choice: strong government intervention to save our lives, or a "survival of the fittest" dystopia that contemporary conservatism promises. The Texas debacle is a preview of what is to come if the free-marketeers have their way while the climate changes. The nation's conservative party went from insisting that climate change does not exist (it is a "hoax!") to shrugging their shoulders and telling us, as Boyd did, that we're on our own when the consequences hit.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Republicans knew they were making a deal with the devil — now they're paying for it

When Donald Trump ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016, many top Republicans shunned him. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confidently explained how Trump was "not going to change the platform of the Republican Party, the views of the Republican Party… we're much more likely to change him." He even admitted, "it's pretty obvious he doesn't know a lot about the issues." McConnell alluded to Trump's racism in vague terms, saying, "I object to a whole series of things that he's said—vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop… these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country."

But as soon as Trump won the Electoral College and was declared the winner of the 2016 race, McConnell set to work to ensure he could make full use of the newly elected president regardless of Trump's continued spouting off of dangerous lies and hateful claims. The Senate majority leader was happy to see the seating of ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. He went on an unprecedented spree to remake the federal judiciary into one that is dominated by white conservative men, young enough to reshape legal decisions for a generation. He pushed through a massive tax reform bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, allowing almost no room for debate over it. He ensured the Senate turned into a "legislative graveyard," refusing to even consider hundreds of bills passed by the House of Representatives, thereby ensuring that most policy changes during the past four years were shaped by the president's executive action.

Three years into Trump's term, McConnell still had not had enough, relishing the power that his position in the Senate gave him to enact his conservative agenda. When the House impeached Trump in late 2019 over a clear case of corruption and abuse of power, McConnell led the 2020 Senate acquittal of Donald Trump. It matters little whether McConnell admits Trump is unfit for office a mere handful of days before the president's term ends. He used Trump for four years, subjecting the nation to a mad, would-be-dictator, unhinged and unrepentant in his relentless abuses. Senator McConnell owes the nation an explanation. Was it worth it?

Although he is the highest-ranking elected official to enable Trump, McConnell is hardly alone among his Republican colleagues to have engaged in a deal with the devil. The transformation of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from Trump critic to sycophant is even more dramatic.

In 2016 Cruz criticized Trump more than any of his fellow lawmakers, calling Trump "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen" and accurately saying Trump is "a pathological liar." He adeptly explained, "he doesn't know the difference between truth and lies… in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying." It was a stunning piece of foresight into the next four years of Trumpism. Cruz went further, saying, "Whatever lie he's telling, at that minute he believes it… the man is utterly amoral… Donald is a bully… bullies don't come from strength; they come from weakness."

Similar words were uttered often during the past four years—by Democrats, liberals, progressives, and the tiny handful of Trump's Republican critics. But once Trump held office, like McConnell, Senator Cruz saw fit to make use of the "amoral" president to suit his agenda, transforming himself into one of Trump's most ardent Senate loyalists. Seemingly forgetting his scathing and accurate critiques of Trump, Cruz became a MAGA-cheerleader, saying, "President Trump is doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo… That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch." In return for his allegiance, Trump campaigned for Cruz in Texas during a tenuous Senate reelection battle, and Cruz returned the favor by defending him vehemently during Trump's first Senate impeachment trial.

Most recently, Cruz led the push to object to the 2020 election results. He repeatedly echoed Trump's demand to "stop the steal," a slogan that became a rallying cry at the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that left at least five people dead. Now Cruz faces accusations alongside Trump of fomenting an attempted coup and encouraging the violent rioters. His aides are abandoning him, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security has recommended that he be placed on the FBI's "no-fly" list. Like McConnell, Cruz owes the nation an explanation for his backing of a destructive demagogue who has left the nation and its democratic institutions battered and reeling. Has it all been worth it for the Texas senator?

Over the past two decades, Republicans have developed a well-deserved reputation for fighting by any means necessary in order to advance their agenda. They have abandoned norms, traditions and ethical standards. They have successfully retained power by rigging the rules governing elections and laid the groundwork of baseless assertions of "voter fraud" that Trump then built upon to claim he won the 2020 race. They have led a cultural shift convincing many Americans that popular progressive policies are the dangerous ideas of the "radical left," and spawned media outlets that deliver lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting base of voters.

After the Capitol riot, an unnamed senior Trump official appeared shell-shocked, saying to a reporter, "This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now—things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We'd say, 'Trump's not a fascist,' or 'He's not a wannabe dictator.' Now, it's like, 'Well, what do you even say in response to that now?'"

But this late-breaking realization that many Republicans are expressing publicly or feeling privately is not enough to absolve the dirty deal that they made with Trump to further their agenda. The GOP and Trump deserve one another and have maintained a symbiotic relationship that has devastated the nation. Whether leading GOP figures like McConnell try to distance themselves from Trump at this late-breaking hour, or like Cruz, remain loyal to him until the very end, is irrelevant. The party has lost credibility and is lying in a bed of its own making. They have edged us far too close to the abyss of Hitlerism, and like political parties in other nations that have flirted with or enabled fascism, Republicans need to answer for what they have done.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How to cure America’s vaccine paranoia

The end is in sight, we are told. The cavalry has arrived in the form of safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 on the verge of approval and being manufactured for widespread distribution. The stock market has surged in response to every pharmaceutical company's press release of its latest successful clinical trial. Americans are expecting an end to this traumatic chapter of our history and are ready to turn the page on the year 2020.

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The Supreme Court has never been liberal

In the hours after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, shocked Americans speculated about whether or not Republican Senator Mitt Romney would oppose a Senate confirmation vote just weeks before the election. After all, Romney had emerged as the highest-profile Republican lawmaker critical of the president and was the lone senator from his party who voted to convict Trump earlier this year in the Senate impeachment trial. Back then he had accused Trump of “attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power” and of being “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.” Yet, after Ginsburg’s death, Romney did an about-face, lured by the prospect of a decades-long rightward tilt in the nation’s highest court. He remarked to reporters that “my liberal friends have, over many decades, gotten very used to the idea of a liberal court,” and that it was now “appropriate for a nation which is center right to have a court which reflects center-right points of view.”

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Here's why Trump commands so much loyalty from his base

The last four years have been deeply traumatizing to millions of Americans as we have watched our nation in the stranglehold of a maniacal, dictatorial and compulsively deceptive president. But it is worth examining the relationship that President Donald Trump has with his voters in order to understand why he won the 2016 election and why he continues to command such fervent loyalty a few months ahead of the next election. Willing to overlook his lies, improprieties, and corruption, Trump’s voters have a transactional relationship with the president that is practical, powerful, and surprisingly instructional to the rest of us.

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There's something much more exciting happening behind the scenes of the Biden-Harris ticket

Joe Biden’s pick of Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate for the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket has generated strong responses. While many Democrats are elated at the idea of seeing a brown-skinned woman of Indian and Jamaican heritage in such a position, progressives are debating one another about Harris’ mixed record on bread-and-butter issues such as criminal justice reform, foreign policy, and health care. In many ways, Harris is not unlike Barack Obama: charismatic, intellectually brilliant, telegenic, and with just the kind of racially diverse background that symbolizes an America that most liberal-minded people want to live in. But far more hopeful than Harris’ achievement is the new crop of staunchly progressive young people of color that is chipping away at the Democratic Party establishment through electoral politics.

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Trump’s presidency is a death cult

When President Donald Trump was challenged by Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan to respond to the fact that, "a thousand Americans are dying a day" due to COVID-19, the president responded as though the grim tally was perfectly acceptable, saying, "They are dying, that's true. And it is what it is." While observers were aghast at the callousness of his statement, it should not have surprised us. Trump had warned that the death toll would be high, and he had asked us months ago to get used to the idea. In late March, the White House Coronavirus Task Force had projected that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die from the virus. Rather than unveil an aggressive plan to tackle the spread and prevent the projected mortality figures, the president had said, "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead."The New York Times saw this warning as a contradiction to Trump's stance in February and early March when he had said that "we have it totally under control" and "it's going to be just fine." The paper seemed to heave a sigh of relief that a few weeks later, "the president appeared to understand the severity of the potentially grave threat to the country." But the report's authors failed to grasp that Trump is willing to accept anything—including mass deaths—in service of his political career.

In fact, mass death appears to be part of Trump's reelection strategy as per a July 30 Vanity Fair report on the administration's strategy to contain the pandemic. The investigative piece explained that Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was part of a group of White House staffers that corresponded frequently to discuss the rapidly spreading virus. According to a public health expert who was described as being "in frequent contact with the White House's official coronavirus task force," one of the members of Kushner's team had concluded that, "because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically." The unnamed expert told Vanity Fair, "The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy."

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Trump is daring us to stop him

President Donald Trump’s recent reelection campaign advertisement is straight out of the plot of a horror movie. Just days after he deployed federal officers to the streets of Portland, Oregon, his campaign released a 30-second television spot featuring an elderly white woman watching on her television the news of activists demanding a defunding of police. The woman shakes her head in disapproval as she notices a figure at her door trying to enter her house. She nervously calls 911, but apparently the activists she disapproves of have been so effective in their nefarious demands that the universal emergency hotline Americans rely on now goes unanswered. The vulnerable woman drops her remote control as the intruder enters her home, and we are only left to imagine the horror of what he does to her as the words “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” appear on the screen. In this dystopian version of America, only Trump promises law and order.

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Trump’s presidency is a potentially fatal self-inflicted wound on America

When schoolchildren across the United States began their summer break, President Donald Trump had more than two months to bring the coronavirus crisis under control in time for schools to reopen for the fall. But, instead of tackling the virus’ spread head-on, he did what most observers expected of him: he politicized the pandemic and acted as though he were the sole victim of the virus. If Trump’s message can be distilled into a single idea, it is that if we simply do not acknowledge that the virus is ravaging the nation, we can go about with business as usual and re-elect Trump in November.

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Trump’s presidency is a symbol of the last gasp of white supremacy

When President Donald Trump first began talking about ending “chain migration” in 2017, media outlets pointed out that his own parents-in-law had likely obtained lawful permanent residency through their daughter Melania—a naturalized U.S. citizen. At the same time that Trump was ranting on Twitter, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!” his wife’s parents were in the process of becoming U.S. citizens after five years as so-called “green card” holders.

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If we’re going to defund militarized police, why not add the Pentagon?

When Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a resolution recently to cut $350 billion from the Defense budget, the only media outlets that covered her bill were independent progressive ones. In a statement on her website Lee said, “For years, our government has failed to invest in programs that actually keep our country safe and healthy. The prioritization of defense spending and the underinvestment in public health has led to 10 times more deaths from COVID-19 than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Corporate news outlets such as CNN or the New York Times, which have been extensively covering the national uprising against police brutality, simply ignored this story—just as they ignored police brutality for so long—and failed to connect Lee’s idea to slash the military budget to the prevailing demand to “Defund the Police.”

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How belief in far-fetched conspiracies feed regressive and right-wing politics.

A mysterious new video documentary, slickly produced, and offering answers to the coronavirus pandemic, has been viewed millions of times on the internet in spite of the fact that various platforms have repeatedly removed it. The “Plandemic” video is, according to the BBC, “filled with medical misinformation,” and claims that, “the virus must have been released from a laboratory environment and could not possibly be naturally-occurring; that using masks and gloves actually makes people more sick; and that closing beaches is ‘insanity’ because of ‘healing microbes’ in the water.” It offers a scientific and authoritative-sounding basis for the far-right anti-lockdown activists protesting across the country, some of whom are even holding up signs that say “Plandemic.”

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