November 29, 2016

RUBASHKIN | Moving the Left Forward

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The Democrats lost this election. But despite what you may have heard from the countless talking heads on TV, they have not lost the people. By the time all votes have been counted, Hillary Clinton will have won the popular vote by a larger margin than many previous victors, and Democratic senatorial candidates will have garnered millions more votes than their Republican counterparts. That isn’t just some factoid destined for the footnotes of history — it needs to be a guiding factor in the actions of the party over the next two years. The Democrats must govern like they represent the majority, because they do.

For instance, they must work hard to reject President-elect Trump’s proposed infrastructure bill. On its surface, the bill seems particularly palatable to Democrats, and all but anathema to the (supposedly) budget-conscious Republicans who once shut down the government over $4 billion in disputed spending. But dig not too much deeper, and you discover that the touted “$1 trillion investment in infrastructure” is not really an investment but rather a series of tax breaks for private industry, meant to incentivize corporations to repair our nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, tunnels and so on. Ideally, because corporations would be on the hook for the costs of production themselves, they would insure the projects come in on time and on budget.

But if there’s one thing that everyone should know about corporate America, it’s that private industry doesn’t lift a finger unless it’s under injunction or getting paid to do it, and no amount of tax breaks can change that. So the only projects private industry would even be interested in are high-margin, long term profitable projects such as toll roads in densely populated areas and highly trafficked areas, or high-capacity electrical power grids. And herein lies the problem. Attractive projects like these are only a small slice of what is necessary to rebuild America — and they generally serve more affluent areas of the country.

And herein lies the problem: what self-respecting capitalist would ever take on the project of replacing the countless miles of leaded water pipes in low-income areas? Or repairing a toll-free interstate that cuts through rural West Virginia and Kentucky? There’s no money in those ventures, not before or after any potential tax breaks. If I were a shareholder of a company that elected to complete one of those projects, I would be positively befuddled. Public infrastructure is government-funded and maintained because it is a public good. Private industry is not structured to help the public — it is structured to make money. That isn’t a bad thing, by the way, but it means that we need a government to fund public works.

So even if this infrastructure “plan” were being proposed by the run-of-the-mill Republican politician, it would deserve incredible scrutiny and skepticism, as it seems to be yet another way to enrich the wealthiest at the expense of the most disadvantaged. But it’s not being proposed by the average Republican. It is being proposed by a politically neophytic potential kleptocrat who legitimized and empowered a particularly vicious brand of ignorance, racism, sexism and xenophobia with his campaign and victory.

That matters, for a number of reasons. First of all, Trump’s past business dealings leave him with deep ties to the construction industry, and he has, in a stunning rebuke of precedent, refused to divest himself of his business holdings. This creates an incredible conflict of interest, especially when it comes to government contracting. Even though the Office of the President cannot not award contracts outright, it is entirely plausible that Trump will pressure the various executive departments, as well as state governments, to award the tax breaks to his friends and favored partners — the possibility for graft and cronyism is infinite with a man as connected as Trump. The President-elect has already shown a tendency to use his office as a tool for advancing his business interests, having reportedly pressured the presidents of Argentina and Turkey to fast-track approvals for his projects overseas and admittedly attempted to influence British energy policy for the benefit for his golfing properties in Scotland. Can we expect him to act any differently when it comes to American infrastructure?

There is another reason to reject this proposal from Trump: it comes from Trump. And acquiescing to the objectives of a man like Trump, even if he happens to be President of the United States irreversibly legitimizes him. I do not mean legitimize in the legal sense — Donald Trump is the legitimately elected president of the United States, and no recount attempt by Jill Stein to remain relevant will change that. I mean legitimize in the broader sense.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said it best when he took the House floor two weeks ago: “We cannot treat [Trump] like any other politician, or even like any other Republican, because he is not. He represents something much more dangerous … we have a duty to treat him like the threat he is — a threat to our values, a threat to our people, and a threat to our national identity.” Representative Gallego recognizes the danger that blindly following Trump represents. In doing so, he runs contrary to the position of the Democratic leadership, including but not limited to New York’s own Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), all of whom have reiterated their willingness to work with President Trump.

In short, just because Trump won the election, Democrats and Americans in general do not have to give up on our principles, principles that position us against racism, sexual assault, corruption, greed and hate. We cannot let it become normal for a man like Trump to be able to take power. Democrats in Congress, with the knowledge that they have real popular support, should not trip over themselves trying to cooperate with the incoming Republican administration. Donald Trump may have won the Electoral College, but in order to have the cooperation of the Democrats and the American people, he must win our respect and trust as well.

Jacob Rubashkin is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at jrubashkin@cornellsun.com. The Jacobin appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.