How to Compel Big Employers to Be Better Employers

Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island via AP

A Walmart store in Lihue, Hawaii

Nick Hanauer, who may be the nation’s only venture capitalist who fully understands just how much havoc American capitalism since the 1970s has wreaked with all but our wealthiest citizens, and who’s put forth some of the most far-sighted remedies to spread the wealth Americans create to the hundred-plus millions who actually create it, is at it again. Yesterday, our friends at Democracy posted a new article by Hanauer that proposes a range of policies that would hold large employers to higher labor standards than the higher universal labor standards that Hanauer has proposed in previous articles in both Democracy and the Prospect.

In earlier articles he wrote with labor leader David Rolf, Hanauer called for establishing a “shared security system” under which employers would be required to provide workers with portable, pro-rated and universal benefits, whether those workers were direct employees, sub-contracted employees, part-timers or independent contractors, based on the amount of time the workers put in for the employer. Those employers, whatever the status of their workers, would also be required to meet wage and benefit standards.

In his new article, Hanauer addresses the issues of the increasing economic concentration to which the growth of monopolies and monopsonies has subjected workers and consumers, and the increasing geographic concentration of investment which has devastated many American communities. “America is suffering from interconnected crises of risinging market concentration and rising economic inequality,” he writes. The solution he proposes in his new article is to hold “dominant employers to progressively higher labor standards than their smaller, more fragile and weaker competitors.” Large companies—those with more than 500 employees—now account for 52.5 percent of U.S. employment up from 45.5 percent in 1988, he points out, and companies with the buying power of Walmart can and do insist that the companies that supply it with the goods it puts on its shelves cut expenses—that is, their employees’ wages—to the bone. Hanauer’s solution is to required scaling wages, benefits and standards higher for companies whose size or market impact are large. 

The Hanauer solution comes in two versions: the simple and the complex. In the simple, the only metric determining standards is number of employees—so that, for instance, a company with fewer than 500 employees might be required to pay at least $15 an hour, a company with between 500 and 5000 would be required to pay $17, and a company with more than 5000 would be required to pay $22. As the larger employers do more hiring in their areas than the smaller ones, the threat of workers moving to larger employers might raise wage standards at smaller companies seeking to retain their workers.

The complex version more directly addresses a host of ailments to which our economy is prey. It could require higher standards on companies, for instance, that have a high ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay (a favorite cause of mine), or a high ratio of profits to labor costs, or that pay so poorly that its workers are compelled to be on Medicaid, or receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, or rely on food stamps to feed their families. More ambitiously still, it could required higher standards of companies that extract more income from regions than they provide—say, having a low-wage workforce in one area, while rewarding distant shareholders and executives with outsized profits. Walmart, Hanauer points out, takes the profit from its stores and showers it on shareholders, the children of Sam Walton first and foremost. A locally owned store in the same town as a Walmart spends its proceeds locally—and so while it must meet Hanauer’s universal labor standards, the standards on Walmart should be higher. Such a system, Hanauer readily acknowledges, would be more difficult to devise than one based simply on company size, but it could more directly address such problems as growing economic inequality, the gutting of many local economies, and even the increasing dearth of start-ups in the face of dominant monopolies.

Hanauer doesn’t counterpose his proposals to others that also seek to remedy our towering inequality, the growth of monopolies, and the flight of capital from non-metropolitan America. Rather, he means his ideas to complement and supplement initiatives such as those that would raise the minimum wage across the board, enable more workers to join unions, and direct more investment to rural and small-town economic deserts. My reaction to his suggestions is that they should be part of the broad progressive initiatives that the left and center-left are now formulating. The infrastructure and “Green New Deal” policies that progressives develop in the coming months and years will surely seek to remedy some of the regional underdevelopment problems that plague us, and Hanauer’s proposal for requiring higher standards on companies that, like Walmart, extract more wealth from communities than they provide, could well become a part—but only a part—of the solution. 

As to setting higher standards for larger companies, or companies whose practices foster one or another form of inequality, we already have a version of such standards for banks. Responding to the crash of 2008, the Federal Reserve has set higher standards for “systemically important” financial institutions, requiring the mega-banks to keep more capital on hand than smaller banks, so they won’t tank the economy by running out of funds in the next financial panic.  

Hanauer’s proposals are not a panacea, nor does he claim that they are. But viewed as part of a broad set of public policies to raise workers’ incomes and benefits and create the kind of “middle-out” economy that Hanauer has long called for (in part by inspiring and supporting the Prospect’s ongoing evisceration of trickle-down economics), my reaction is, “what’s not to like?” Hanauer has opened a new front in the battle to rebuild a mass middle class in America, for which he deserves our thanks.

Republicans Who Slap Voters in the Face May Be in for a Nasty Surprise

John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

Opponents of the Wisconsin legislature's lame-duck actions rally in Madison. 

Republicans in Michigan and Wisconsin who have moved aggressively to steamroll voters and strip power from incoming Democratic officials appear confident that they will pay no political price, and many analysts seem to concur.

After all, state legislators won’t face re-election for another two to four years, and electoral maps gerrymandered to heavily favor Republicans won’t be redrawn until after 2020. That’s a long time in politics, and it would be easy to assume that protesters now crowding the state capitals in Lansing and Madison will by then have moved on.

But that assumption overlooks two powerful lessons from the recent midterms: One, that gerrymandering can backfire, particularly when the political winds shift dramatically. And two, that voters are increasingly fed up with assaults on democracy. The more Republicans take aim at voting rightsjudicial independencecampaign-finance disclosure, and popularly-approved ballot initiatives, the bigger the anti-GOP backlash promises to be. The fallout could hit not just state houses but also Capitol Hill, where Democrats just regained the House with 40 seats thanks in part to a popular anti-corruption message.

The recent power grabs in Michigan and Wisconsin mimic earlier, similar moves in North Carolina, and echo President Donald Trump’s anti-democratic instincts at home and abroad. They are also part of a much broader GOP movement to create what Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have called “laboratories of autocracy” in the states. From packing the courts to purging the voter rolls and penalizing public protests, Republicans have not been shy about rigging the rules.

But the recent Midwest maneuvers have been particularly blatant, involving 11th-hour lame-duck legislation to undermine both incoming Democratic governors and popular ballot measures. In Michigan, pending legislation would strip power from incoming Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other Democratic officials. It would also authorize GOP legislators to intervene in court cases, weaken campaign-finance enforcement, and water down several ballot measures, including one that put redistricting in the hands of an independent commission.

“To use legislative tricks to avoid the will of the people is just wrong,” says Rebekah Warren, a Democratic Michigan state senator who says she’s receiving hundreds of phone calls and more than 1,000 emails a day from incredulous constituents. “It’s just not what I believe our representative system is supposed to be. I worry about the long-term health of our institution.”

In Wisconsin, GOP lawmakers have moved to curtail the authority of incoming Democratic Governor Tony Evers, seize control of a controversial economic development agency, and limit early voting, which tends to favor Democrats. GOP Governor Scott Walker has dismissed the uproar as “hype and hysteria” driven mostly by “fundraising for political purposes.” But Evers may file suit if Walker signs the bills into law. GOP Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who has a reputation for political independence, has been noncommittal about whether he will sign lame-duck legislation.

Republicans in both states may weather the storm, thanks to the GOP’s sophisticated gerrymandering in 2010. But the recent midterms demonstrated both the advantages and the limits of gerrymandering for the GOP. Republicans who spread their voters over as many districts as possible can end up with support that is broad but not deep, leaving them vulnerable to anti-incumbent fervor, notes Michael Li, senior counsel for the democracy program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. 

Since GOP-drawn maps took effect in 2011, the party has lurched to the right, from “faint dog whistles” to “wholesale nationalism,” Li notes. “These districts are not designed in many cases to elect the Republicans of today, and if they continue to engage in behavior that subverts democratic norms, they may be in for a shock.”

In the recent midterms, several Democrats won in strongly GOP districts gerrymandered for Republicans, including the Eighth and 11th Districts of Michigan, the First District of South Carolina, the Fifth District of Oklahoma, and the Seventh and 32nd Districts of Texas. House Democrats in part credit their anti-corruption platform, and have pledged to approve HR 1, a reform package built on voting rights, campaign finance, redistricting, and ethics changes, as their first order of business in January.

“It’s folks from across the political spectrum who are demanding this,” said Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes, who chairs the House’s Democracy Reform Task Force, at a Capitol Hill press conference last month. “It’s not just Democrats. It’s independents, it’s Republicans.”

Ballot initiatives to end gerrymandering and place redistricting into the hands of independent commissions also won overwhelming bipartisan support in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah this year. Of course, GOP Michigan lawmakers are already pushing back—just as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, can be counted on to scuttle any democracy overhaul that passes the House.

But once-arcane topics like campaign financing and gerrymandering are starting to resonate with voters, who in one recent poll ranked “corruption in Washington” as the “most important” issue for candidates to address. Some argue that the backlash against GOP power grabs may play out on the national stage, as the fight for political advantage in crucial Midwestern states stretches into 2020. By then, GOP state legislators may wish they hadn’t been quite so quick to slap voters in the face.

This article has been updated. 

The Democrats Are Being Pulled Both to the Left and to the Center

David Guralnick/Detroit News via AP

Gretchen Whitmer gives her acceptance speech after being elected the next governor of Michigan, in Detroit. 

Are the Democrats, as so many people believe, moving left, or are they gravitating to the center? Actually, the results of this year’s primary and general elections show there is movement in both directions, setting the party up for future conflicts.

Let’s look at the congressional results. Perry Bacon, Jr. at FiveThirtyEight makes the case that the Democrats are moving left by comparing their House membership in 2010, the last time they controlled the chamber, to their incoming membership. Eight years ago, the Progressive Caucus had 80 members, while the Blue Dog Coalition, the most conservative Democrats, had 54. But in 2019, according to Bacon, the Progressive Caucus will rise to 96, while the Blue Dogs will number only 24. By that measure, the House Democrats have moved sharply to the left.

The picture looks different, however, if we compare the Progressive Caucus with the centrist New Democrat Coalition in the House and focus specifically on the new members who won districts previously held by Republicans. Democrats flipped 42 seats while losing two, for a net pickup of 40 (with one further addition possible in North Carolina). 

So far, by my count, 24 of the new members who flipped seats have joined the New Democrats, while only 11 have joined the Progressive Caucus (including four who joined both groups). Altogether, with 89 members, the New Democrats will be only slightly smaller than the Progressive Caucus.

Competing forces are at work. The Democrats who flipped seats did so mostly in suburban districts where they attracted votes from independents and Republican moderates in what was an exceptionally strong year for Democrats. Many of the successful candidates were recruited to run precisely because they would appeal to moderates. That more of them joined the New Democrats than the Progressive Caucus should not be surprising.

At the same time, in urban districts that have previously been Democratic, generational turnover and ethnic succession are leading to a shift toward the left. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes’s upset of Joe Crowley in New York City is the paradigmatic case.

But the huge publicity given Ocasio-Cortes has obscured what are really two distinct developments: While progressives have gained ground in long-held Democratic areas, more centrist candidates have won the more competitive districts. This second development will limit how far to the left the party can go. The more the party expands into the suburbs, the more dependent it will be on those relatively centrist votes—and that dependence will become a constraint on the policies that Democrats are able to agree on.

Now let’s turn to the states, where Democrats picked up seven governorships in 2018: Michigan (Gretchen Whitmer), Illinois (J.B. Pritzker), Wisconsin (Tony Evers), Maine (Janet Mills), Kansas (Laura Kelly), Nevada (Steve Sisolak), and New Mexico (Michelle Luhan Grisham). Several of these new Democratic governors (notably Whitmer, Mills, and Sisolak) defeated candidates to their left in the primaries; all of them seem to me best described as center-left rather than progressive (in the left sense of that term).

To these new Democratic governors, we can add the two elected in 2017: Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Ralph Northam of Virginia, both of whom defeated primary opponents to their left before winning the general election.

The big gubernatorial wins for progressives in Democratic primaries in 2018 came in Florida (Andrew Gillum), Georgia (Stacey Abrams), Maryland (Ben Jealous), and Ohio (Richard Cordray). Although all four were ultimately defeated, Gillum and Abrams probably were stronger candidates—certainly they were more inspiring—than their more centrist primary opponents, and if not for Republican voter suppression in Georgia and Florida, they might have gone on to win. 

But here’s the bottom line. Where Democrats made gains in the House and governorships, nearly all of the candidates were center-left rather than progressive. Somehow this striking pattern has been lost in all the talk about the party moving left.

Despite the growing strength of progressives in the party’s old strongholds, several forces are pulling Democrats to the center. The first is obvious. As the Republicans have moved to the far right, they have opened up ground in the center and created opportunities for Democratic gains. What Donald Trump has done nationally to alienate moderates, far-right Republican governors in Kansas, Maine, and elsewhere have done in their states. 

Second, the Republicans’ shift to the right has led to an infusion of financial contributions to Democrats from centrist or even center-right donors. Michael Bloomberg, who gave Democratic candidates $100 million in 2018, is only the best known. Writing at The Intercept, Lee Fang points to a series of major Republican donors switching to Democrats this year and notes correctly, “Though national media attention has focused largely on newly elected democratic socialists and progressive members, the House Democratic caucus has also swelled with pro-business moderates.”

A third factor contributing to centrist gains is the widespread sense of high danger to the country posed by Trump and the Republicans today. Democratic primary voters are so concerned to pick candidates who can win that they may be treating candidates’ policies as secondary to their electability. Where Democrats hold relatively safe seats, Democratic primary voters may feel free to vote their ideological preferences, but they may think about those choices differently in competitive districts and states.

In other words, the same voter might vote for a centrist in a competitive district and a progressive in a safe district. The first vote might help secure a Democratic majority, while the second might push that majority toward more progressive policies. 

These considerations, it seems to me, could become important in next year’s Democratic primaries. Democratic voters may be less concerned about which candidate’s views most closely match their own than about which one can defeat Trump (assuming Trump runs again). So they may value a candidate’s ability to attract moderates even if their own views are progressive. 

That kind of calculation may help explain a striking result in a Gallup poll conducted November 13-18 that asked Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents whether “you would rather see the Democratic Party become more liberal or become more moderate.” While 41 percent said “more liberal,” 54 percent said “more moderate,” despite a recent tendency that Gallup notes for more Democrats to self-identify as liberal.

If the Republican nomination is a foregone conclusion, moreover, the Democratic primaries may attract a lot of independent or center-right voters who might otherwise have voted in the Republican primaries. This is especially likely in states that don’t require primary voters to have registered in advance as members of a party. Many observers assume that each party’s primaries attract disproportionate numbers of “extreme” partisans, but that may not be so for the Democratic presidential primaries in 2020.

For the moment, the ideological divisions between centrist and progressive Democrats are relatively subdued because Democrats are united against Trump and the Republicans. But if they regain power nationally in 2020, the party’s internal divisions will become more salient, and the results of the congressional races will become more important. The Senate will likely be an even greater constraint than the House. If it isn’t clear now, it will become clear then that while the congressional Democrats are more liberal than they were at the start of the Obama presidency, the centrists will set limits on what the party can do.    

Unions, Millennials, and Their Ostensibly Liberal Elders

Dmitrii Sakharov/Shutterstock

The Library at Columbia University

Young people like and want unions. Both the Gallup and the Pew polls released this summer show public support for unions at its highest levels in many years, and in both polls, it’s the young who give unions their highest approval ratings. In Pew, 68 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 had a favorable view of unions; in Gallup, 65 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 approved of them.   

But given the risks of being fired that most young workers (like all workers) face if they attempt to unionize (and given the failure of the much-weakened National Labor Relations Act to protect them), few young workers have a realistic opportunity to form or join unions. The exceptions to this rule are increasingly found in newsrooms and on university campuses, where highly skilled workers are not easy to replace. Journalists and graduate student teaching and research assistants have been unionizing in droves over the past couple of years. Just yesterday, the staff of New York magazine voted to unionize with the NewsGuild of the Communications Workers of America. 

Even at some of the most liberal publications and colleges, however, the young unionists often find that management exhibits a hostility to unions worthy of the Koch brothers. Earlier this week, writers and editors at the recently unionized Slate voted by a 52-to-1 margin to authorize a strike. In their efforts to bargain their first contract with management, they’ve come up against an unexpected wall. As Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg’s terrific labor-beat reporter, has chronicled, the company is insisting on making union dues optional—in essence, implementing the very same “right-to-work” policy that Slate writers denounced when the five Republican justices on the Supreme Court mandated it for all public sector employees. How management—which is the Graham Company, formerly the owner of The Washington Post—thinks it can credibly force through a policy that runs directly counter to Slate’s specific positions and overall political orientation is anyone’s guess. “We just felt that it’s a total and absolute betrayal of Slate’smost fundamental values,” Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern told Bloomberg

There are plenty of Graham equivalents, alas, at the helms of colleges and universities. Over the past couple of decades, the National Labor Relations Board has gone back and forth on the question of whether students employed by their colleges can unionize. Not surprisingly, the Board has said yes when it has had a majority of Democratic-appointed members, and no when it has had a majority of Republican appointees. The Obama-appointed board said yes, and the Trump board has yet to revisit that decision. 

Grad student organizing has also been sweeping the Ivies of late, and a number of those institutions have agreed to bargain with the unions their students had voted to join. Until recently, my own alma mater, Columbia, had refused, appearing to wait for a decision from the Trumpniks on the NLRB that denied students their right to bargain. But a few weeks ago, perhaps sensing that its stubborn opposition had won it few friends either on campus or across the Upper West Side, and that its teaching assistants were prepared to strike during final exams week, the administration reversed field and agreed to come to the table. 

Now, however, another storied liberal college, Grinnell, in Iowa, has appealed to the NLRB a ruling from the board’s Minneapolis region that required the college to bargain with its student employees, who’d voted overwhelmingly to form a union. Columbia having taken a pass, it’s now Grinnell that seeks to inflict Republicans’ denial of democratic rights to workers.

What we’re seeing at some media institutions and otherwise august institutions of higher learning is a political, cultural, and generational clash. Media boards of directors and university boards of trustees are disproportionately populated by older, wealthy social liberals who seldom have given much thought to workers’ rights, or who have thought about it and haven’t liked the idea. Now, they’re up against a millennial generation economically battered by the Great Recession and that correctly believes that only through collective action can they win what’s rightfully theirs. 

Over the past few days, we’ve even seen a version of this in Congress, where the redoubtable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called out her elders (which term describes every single member of both the outgoing and income Congress) for either underpaying their interns or not paying them at all. 

This is one woke generation, Senator Schumer, Chairman Graham, and Distinguished Grinnell Trustees. Deal with them over the bargaining table, and pay them what they’re worth.   

Work Requirements in Farm Bill Are Off the Table

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

A supermarket displays stickers indicating they accept food stamps in West New York, New Jersey. 

This week, the House and Senate finally came to an agreement on the farm bill, the legislation that authorizes farm subsidies as well as nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.  While the previous bill had expired in September, lawmakers came to an impasse over whether to sharply limit food stamp eligibility. In a victory for low-income Americans, the final version contained no such provision. 

Passing the farm bill, generally a bipartisan endeavor, had hit roadblocks as House Republicans attempted to attach stringent work requirements to SNAP that would have threatened benefits for more than two million low-income people. The Senate version contained no such requirements.

The conference committee charged with resolving the two versions released the compromise bill on Monday—and work requirements were not included, in part thanks to the “blue wave” that stripped House Republicans of their bargaining power, forcing them to pass a compromise quickly before the balance of power shifts. The final bill will likely head to the House and Senate this week, and lawmakers may attempt to pass it quickly. 

The Prospect has reported how the House-proposed requirements would have expanded SNAP work requirements to include all adults under the age of 60 who don’t have children under the age of six. Such rules “reflect this idea that what keeps low-wage workers from finding steady work is their own motivation—rather than failures in the labor market and economy around them,” Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, told the Prospect.

The compromise’s exclusion of work requirements “ensure[s] that millions of struggling families and individuals will continue to be able to count on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help put food on the table,” Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a statement.

However, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hinted that his department may still seek to limit eligibility. In a statement, Perdue grumbled that “we would have liked to see more progress on work requirements for SNAP recipients.” And as such, the USDA may be able to further limit SNAP access for low-income people by barring states from using waivers to limit work requirements that SNAP already has in place. The current work rules affect adults who don’t have children, but cities and states can request waivers of the 20-hour-per-week requirement if it’s difficult for SNAP recipients to get jobs—for example, if the area has a high unemployment rate. 

According to Politico, Perdue called chair of the Republican Study Committee and Republican Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina and promised to curb state work requirement waivers if the bill is passed.

Perdue had already expressed interest in removing the ability of states to waive those rules, saying earlier this year, “Too many states have asked to waive work requirements, abdicating their responsibility to move participants to self-sufficiency. Past decisions may have been the easy short-term choice, but USDA policies must change if they contribute to a long-term failure for many SNAP participants and their families.”

As for now, we can be assured that SNAP cuts won’t further infringe on low-income families’ ability to put groceries on the table.

But we can also be assured of this administration’s love affair with work requirements. Don’t be surprised if Secretary Perdue announces further SNAP restrictions for which he doesn’t need congressional approval, likely increasing hunger in an effort to promote “self-sufficiency.”

Trump Takes on General Motors (And Guess Who Wins?)

Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa via AP Images

The headquarters of the General Motors Company at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit

Donald Trump’s “America first” economic nationalism is finally crashing into the reality of America’s shareholder-first global capitalism.

Last week, General Motors announced it would cut about 14,000 jobs, most of them in the politically vital swing states of Michigan and Ohio. 

This doesn’t quite square with the giant $1.5 trillion tax cut Trump and the Republicans in Congress enacted last December, whose official rationale was to help big corporations make more investments in America and thereby create more jobs. Trump told Ohio residents “don’t sell your homes,” because lost automaking jobs “are all coming back.” 

GM got a nice windfall from the tax cut. The company has already saved more than $150 million this year. But some of those Ohio residents probably should have sold their homes. 

Trump is (or is trying to appear) furious, tweeting up a storm of threats against GM, including taking away its federal subsidies. 

In reality, GM gets very few direct subsidies. Prior to the tax cut, the biggest gift GM got from the government was a bailout in 2009 of more than $50 billion.

But neither last year’s tax cut nor the 2009 bailout required GM to create or preserve jobs in America. Both government handouts simply assumed that, as former GM CEO Charles Erwin “Engine” Wilson put it when he was nominated as secretary of defense by Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

Yet much has changed since 1953. Then, GM was the largest employer in America and had only a few operations around the rest of the world. Now, GM is a global corporation that makes and sells just about everywhere. 

Moreover, in the 1950s a third of America’s workforce was unionized, and GM was as accountable to the United Auto Workers as it was to GM’s shareholders. That’s why, in the 1950s, GM’s typical worker received $35 an hour (in today’s dollars). 

Today, GM’s typical American worker earns a fraction of that. The bargaining clout of the United Auto Workers has been weakened not only by automation but also by the ease with which GM can get cheaper labor abroad. 

In 2010, when GM emerged from the bailout and went public again, it even boasted to Wall Street that it was making 43 percent of its cars in places where labor cost less than $15 an hour, while in North America it could now pay “lower-tiered” wages and benefits for new employees.

So this year, when the costs of producing many of its cars in Ohio and Detroit got too high (due in part to Trump’s tariffs on foreign steel) GM simply decided to shift more production to Mexico in order to boost profits. 

In light of GM’s decision, Trump is also demanding that GM close one of its plants in China. 

But this raises a second reality of shareholder-first global capitalism that’s apparently been lost on Trump: GM doesn’t make many cars in China for export to the United States. Almost all of the cars it makes in China are for sale there. 

In fact, GM is now making and selling more cars in China than it does in the United States. “China is playing a key role in the company’s strategy,” says GM CEO Mary Barra.

Even as Trump has escalated his trade war with China, GM has invested in state-of-the-art electrification, autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing technologies there. 

Which brings us to a third fallacy behind Trump’s “America first” economic nationalism. Trump accuses China of stealing technology from American businesses. But big American corporations like GM are eager to invest in China regardless.  

In shareholder-first global capitalism, technology doesn’t belong to any nation. It goes wherever the profits are. 

“Making America great again” has nothing to do with making American corporations great again. Big American-based corporations are doing wonderfully well, as are their shareholders. 

The real challenge is to make American workers great again. They don’t just need any job. They need good jobs, akin to those that GM’s unionized workers had a half-century ago. Most Americans haven’t had a raise in decades, considering inflation. 

The difference between China and America is that big Chinese companies are either state-owned or dependent on capital from government-run financial institutions. This means they exist to advance China’s national interests, including more and better jobs for the Chinese people. 

American corporations exist to advance the interests of their shareholders, who aren’t prepared to sacrifice profits for more and better jobs for Americans.  

If Trump were serious about his aims, he’d try to reduce the chokehold of Wall Street investors on American corporations while strengthening the hand of American labor unions. 

Don’t hold your breath.

Donald Trump and Robert Mueller: The End Game

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

President Donald Trump departs after speaking in Kansas City, Missouri.

This article originally appeared at HuffPost. Subscribe here

At several previous points in Donald Trump’s presidency, it looked as if he could not possibly survive to the end of his four-year term. Yet Trump always managed to change the subject, his public shrugged, Republicans continued to support him, and Trump rolled merrily on.

This time could be different. The stage is now set for what appears to be an inexorable path to impeachment or resignation.

Let’s review what special counsel Robert Mueller has on Trump. Based on the most recent combined filings of the special counsel and prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, the evidence is piling up to document the following:

1. In September 2015, Trump personally approved the plan of personal lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen to make high-level contacts with the Russian government to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen, according to Mueller’s seven-page memo, continued to talk with “Individual-1”—Donald Trump—well into the campaign. Even after Trump was nominated, these conversations continued, and with Trump’s full knowledge.

Meanwhile, the Russians were doing their level best to help Trump get elected, including serious mischief to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and Trump was publicly and privately calling for a much friendlier American foreign policy stance toward Vladimir Putin, something wildly improbable for a Republican candidate and later president.

2. Trump misrepresented the nature of key meetings with senior Kremlin-connected Russians to discuss their collaboration for mutual benefit, including dirt on Hillary Clinton. Contrary to his earlier protestations, he was fully knowledgeable about the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower, which featured Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, in close communication with Trump Sr. Trump has repeatedly lied about this.

3. In another ring of the circus, Cohen confirmed to prosecutors that he advanced hush money for two women who said they had affairs with Trump, including the porn actress Stormy Daniels, and that this done at the direction of the same Individual-1 in order to protect his campaign—a felony. And evidence keeps piling up that Trump took actions as president to use his office to profit from his various hotel properties, and to win other financial favors from various foreign governments.

Still to come from Mueller could be more detail on tax evasion and possible money laundering by the Trump Organization, or bribes paid to foreigners in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And, in what may get himself even further into big trouble, Trump has publicly suggested that he might pardon former campaign manager Manafort for making a deal with the special counsel and then double-crossing Mueller.

So what does all this add up to?

We have clear obstruction of justice in Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey after unsuccessfully pressing Comey to go easy on Trump allies, plus multiple attempts, most recently via Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, to rein in Mueller, and the use of proffered pardons to tamper with witnesses.

We have an open-and-shut case of violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits an officer of the United States from profiting from public office. We have something close to treason in the 180-degree reversal of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia, following negotiations with the Russians about a Moscow tower and Russian help to Trump in the campaign.

And with Cohen’s admissions, we have a criminal violation of campaign-finance laws, with the added possible elements of fraud and conspiracy.

All of these are clearly impeachable offenses, and some of them create criminal liability as well. In Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon on three counts—obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Trump has more than met the Nixon standard.

The broad outline of this story has been hidden in plain view for more than a year. Mueller’s latest memos, indictments and plea deals provide solid documentation.

There remains the question of whether Trump could be indicted while in office. That issue has never been settled constitutionally. Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski strongly implied that Nixon could be prosecuted when he named Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator. Mueller seems to be taking the same approach by mentioning Individual-1, who is unmistakably Trump, but leaving his options open.

Meanwhile, Democrats take charge of the House in just three weeks. So what happens next?

In effect, Mueller hands off whatever loose ends remain to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. They will call and, if necessary, subpoena witnesses and documents.

There are some, such as billionaire activist and possible presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who want the House to proceed directly to impeachment. There are many others who argue that impeachment would be a distraction at a time when Trump keeps doing himself in politically.

Both of these counsels are wrong, in my view. Other investigations need to proceed first, as incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler keeps pointing out. The Democrats can’t get ahead of public opinion. They need to build a bulletproof case, step by step, and then proceed to a formal impeachment. In Watergate, that took a full two years.

In this case, because Mueller has already laid most of the groundwork, impeachment would likely come in 2019, well before the 2020 election.

Given Trump’s crimes, it would be a real shirking of constitutional duty not to impeach. And contrary to those who argue that impeachment would be a distraction, it could well be smart politics.

The case for impeaching Trump is so overwhelming that it will put the 10 Senate Republicans with vulnerable seats in 2020 or 2022 in an awkward position. And others, even relative loyalists, may decide the time has come to trade in Trump for Vice President Mike Pence. Relations between the Republican Senate and Trump are nothing if not opportunist, cynical and transactional.

You might say that trading Trump for Pence is not good for the Democrats, but think again. Pence has nothing of Trump’s feral charisma, he is a lousy politician, and he would be presiding over a fractured party.

So, my bet is that Trump will be gone by November 2020. I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you how. It could be by impeachment; it could be via resignation after Republican senators make him an offer he can’t refuse; or through a deal that spares him and his family prosecution if he leaves office. Or he might get so angry that he just turns into a puddle, like the wicked witch of the west.

With Trump, you never know. But it’s pretty clear that he’s cornered. And that’s scary all by itself. Trump cornered is capable of anything.

The Trump Scandals Were Inevitable

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Michael Cohen walks out of federal court in New York.

In a sentencing memo explaining why they believe Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen should get substantial jail time, federal prosecutors contended on Friday that the president of the United States directed a scheme to violate election laws by making large unreported payments to buy the silence of two women who say they had affairs with him. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller argued for leniency, hinting at more revelations to come regarding Russia: "Cohen provided the [special counsel's office] with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with [Trump Organization] executives during the campaign," Mueller wrote.  

As extraordinary as it is to hear prosecutors make this accusation in an official document, you might not have greeted them with the shock they deserve, since we've know about the story in broad terms for a while. But it was inevitable that we'd wind up here, with Trump in a deepening scandal, hounded by the law, and desperately claiming his own innocence while begging his supporters to close their eyes to the truth.

Really: Could anything different have happened?

Each presidential administration has its own set of scandals. At one end you have something like the Nixon administration, with a criminal conspiracy involving dozens of officials and the direct involvement of the president; at the other end you have an administration like Barack Obama's, with only the most minor molehills the opposition party unsuccessfully attempted to turn into mountains, none of which ever got anywhere near a president whose own behavior seemed without ethical blemish.

And then there's Trump. Even before we began to understand the breadth of the Russia scandal, the payoffs to models, or the business shenanigans, we knew, or at least should have known, that there was simply no way he'd get through a term in office without being caught up in a scandal to rival Watergate or Iran-Contra.

It isn't simply that on a personal basis Trump is so deeply corrupt, though that may have been a necessary condition. It continues to amaze that someone who spent a lifetime skating away from the law, stiffing creditors, and running scams like Trump University could actually be elected to the highest post in the land. His corruption is so profound that two months ago The New York Times published an extraordinary exposé documenting that Trump and his family engaged in a years-long scheme to defraud the U.S. government of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, and it was news for about a day and a half. When we learn that the great opponent of illegal immigration is himself employing undocumented immigrants at his properties, it barely makes a blip in the news because precisely no one is surprised.

In some alternate universe, at some point in 2015 Trump would have said to himself, "OK, I'm running for president now—I've got to clean up my act and make sure I only have ethical people around me." That isn't what he did, of course, for two reasons. First, he seems to be attracted to grifters, scammers, and con artists, people who don't care where the ethical lines are and agree with him that if you cooperate with the authorities you're a dirty snitch. Second, those are precisely the kind of people who are attracted to him. You weren't going to find too many upstanding citizens in the pile of résumés at Trump Tower.

And to repeat, we saw this before he got elected. For instance, most presidential candidates trumpet endorsements from retired generals and admirals, but Trump could find precious few who would publicly support him. The one who did? Michael Flynn, someone with a long resume but a crackpot's temperament, given to insane conspiracy theorizing and, as it turned out, some flexible ideas about obeying the law. It isn't just the crime to which Flynn pleaded guilty (lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials) but things like the fact that he was working for the Trump campaign while secretly on the payroll of a foreign country (Turkey) that made him such a good match for Trump.

We could have known something fishy was up when Trump chose as his campaign chairman Paul Manafort, long known in Washington as probably the most ethically challenged member of the lobbyist profession (no small feat), legendary for representing some of the world's worst dictators and, as it turned out, guilty of an astonishingly long list of crimes.

Then there's Trump's "personal lawyer" and factotum Michael Cohen, who wound up facing the prospect of years behind bars as soon as prosecutors started examining his business affairs, including his work for the Trump organization. Perhaps you might have had to be insightful to have watched one of Cohen's 2016 TV appearances advocating for Trump and said, "Before this is all over, that guy is definitely going to wind up in jail." But not that insightful. He reeked of it.

It was obvious that none of the people around Trump were the top-notch, platinum quality personnel he claimed to hire; instead, it was as though he sought to gather around him the worst people he could find.

Which may have been exactly what was necessary to do business, both commercial and political, the way he wanted. If you were a person of the highest ethical standards, you wouldn't last a week in Trump's employ before quitting in disgust, and very possibly calling the authorities to report what you'd seen or been asked to participate in. Trump needs people of low character, or at the very least people with a tolerance for transgressions being committed around them.

Maybe what happened in 2016 was that Trump's most dramatic personality flaws—his repulsive misogyny, his appalling ignorance, his naked bigotry—distracted us from how corrupt he was, so that when we imagined him as president we thought he'd abuse women, target minorities, bumble around incompetently, and generally act like a boorish halfwit, but we didn't quite consider the certainty of scandal.  

We don't even know the full extent of it; Robert Mueller obviously has many more cards to play. But if it wasn't Russia, it would have been something else. With Donald Trump as president, a historic scandal was always inevitable. 

Yes, It Could Happen Here

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn as he arrives at the White House. 

In the United States, as in much of the world,democracy is in peril. Regarding the state of the American republic, one need only glance at the Twitter feed of President Donald J. Trump to see how. And if that doesn’t convince, just have a look at what’s going on in the state legislatures of Wisconsin and Michigan, where Republican lawmakers have convened extraordinary lame-duck sessions to clip the wings of incoming Democratic governors and executive branch leaders just ahead of their inaugurations. (More on this from my colleague, Paul Waldman, here.)

Going into this week, there was little doubt that today would be a tough day for the president, what with James Comey, the former FBI director fired from that position by Trump, testifying on the Hill, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller expected to drop sentencing memos destined to shed light on aspects of his investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and any involvement by the Trump campaign. So the torrent of tweets from a clearly unhinged Trump was perhaps to be expected.

The early morning Trump dump offered a mélange of unfounded allegations against members of the Mueller team, assertions made on Fox Business Channel by Jerome Corsi (a conspiracy-monger who is a target of the probe), and a leading question posed by the FBC host about the procedure used in a FISA request regarding a private investigation of Trump’s links to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. It all kicked off last night with a tweet that said this: “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.” 

Around the same time that Trump’s “FAKE NEWS” tweet posted, CNN received a bomb threat that was later determined to be a hoax. 

It is easy to point to Trump’s Twitter feed and laugh: Ha-ha-ha, the guy is nuts, stupid, can’t spell. And so we do, and then we go about our holiday shopping. But each tweet brings democracy writ large—not just ours—closer to the brink of disintegration. 

When Trump asserts in a tweet, as he did this morning, that the Mueller investigation is a “Witch Hunt!” he undermines respect for the rule of law. He knows it. That’s what he wants.

And when the president rails against “FAKE NEWS” and CNN andThe New York Times and whichever major news outlet today publishes a negative story about him, he not only undermines belief in fundamental facts and a shared national narrative; he sets members of the media in the sights of violent radicals who hate to see their worldview threatened by the truth. But even more than that, he gives a wink to the Saudi crown prince who reportedly presided over the murderof a Washington Post columnist, or to Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’s dictatorial president, who has clamped down on media in his own country. 

Yes, yes, that’s who he is, we say. And then we settle into the hard work of figuring out what to make for dinner.

But here’s what we do know about Donald Trump: He is already acting in contradiction to the U.S. Constitution. Just look at his directive on asylum-seekers, which refuses to consider the applications of anyone who has entered the country through anything other than designated ports of entry. But U.S. law says anyone who presents themselves within U.S. borders with a request for asylum shall be considered. If Trump is willing to flout the Constitution on this matter, how else might he do so? By jailing journalists? Or doing clandestine deals with hostile foreign powers? Or selling access to his staff?

Dammit, I don’t know! Bridge club tonight.

For many of us fortunate to enjoy a certain level of class- and skin-privilege, denial is a seductive response to all of the Trumpian horrors. Our lives, so far, have continued to go on much as they had before Trump: the same job, the same Sunday brunch with friends, the same parent-teacher conferences. At our present moment of peril, however, denial is a privilege—one unlikely to pay off well in the long term.

Look around. The world is falling prey to the forces of authoritarianism, most of it right-wing. The notion that it can’t happen here only adds fuel to the possibility that it very well could happen here. But the fact that we’re all at our desks or in our cars or at the meeting—and not in the streets—demonstrates just how invested we are in our own myth of American exceptionalism.

The domestic terrorists who sent pipe bombs to a former president and other political opponents of the president, who killed and maimed protesters with a car, who gunned down worshippers at a synagogue and at a church—these are Americans whose actions are rooted in our national culture. That we don’t see it as such is testament to our national denial.  

With a president who believes himself to be above the law, and above the very U.S. Constitution, we are, in our passivity, leaving open the possibility that the military will ultimately be left to determine the fate of the republic. Will the generals unilaterally reject an unconstitutional order, should another one be issued?

Jeez, pretty unlikely it’ll come to that, right? Now, where did I leave that grocery list?

Guaranteeing More Equitable Incomes

A man and his daughter walk past a mural in Harvey, Illinois, outside Chicago. 

It’s no revelation that Americans are living in a time of extreme divisiveness in our national politics. One party controls most of the government, and yet action out of Washington is slow to be seen, much less felt, by the American people. At these times of intense polarization among federal leaders the adage “all politics is local” comes into sharp relief. 

While what’s happening in Congress or the White House can feel a million miles away, voters are concerned with what’s going on in their states, their cities, their communities, their neighborhoods. A wide swath of the American public sees the same thing: The costs of living and housing rise, yet their incomes don’t. This imbalance is felt even more acutely in communities of color, where there is a higher likelihood that residents work lower-paying jobs while already struggling with a wide income and wealth gap

That’s why we were inspired to develop pilot programs in our respective cities, Chicago and Jackson, Mississippi, to explore providing people with a guaranteed income–flexible cash benefits—that allow recipients to choose to pay the expenses that are most important to them. A guaranteed income differs from a universal basic income in that it’s not intended to cover a person’s basic needs, but rather offer a measure of financial stability through a more modest monthly stipend—in many proposals, around $500. While decades of research have proven the benefits of cash transfer programs, new undertakings can provide additional findings, including how such programs can work in the current economic and political environment and how results can be replicated across the country.

We both see it in the communities we live and lead in. Chicago has seen an evaporation of steady jobs that pay the bills and provide basic benefits as unions lose the power to protect workers. In Jackson, the state flag of Mississippi that incorporates the Confederate battle standard still flies over a city that’s more than 80 percent black and yet grapples with entrenched poverty that is easily traced back to slavery.

These communities feel the pressure of trying to make ends meet. Work hours can be erratic and salaries often aren’t enough to make ends meet. The stress of feeding your kids when the electricity bill is overdue means dinner could very well be in the dark. This crippling financial anxiety is felt across the country: 40 percent of Americans had trouble meeting their basic financial needs last year, and the communities we work in are no exception.

Our projects are designed to address these issues. The Jackson project focuses on poor, black moms and began disbursements of $1,000 a month for one year to 16 women just this week. Chicago’s plans and timeline for a pilot are currently being hashed out by a taskforce of economic experts and community leaders, with an end goal of developing a set of recommendations to implement a guaranteed income program for low and middle-income city residents.

The issues we’re aiming to address are unique to each city; but whether it’s a mom struggling to find the cash to buy materials for her daughter’s class project or an urban retail worker facing cuts to his hours at a big box store, the experiences are rooted in a lack of economic stability—the core problem that guaranteed income is designed to solve. It’s not a cure all or substitute for other critical needs such as access to healthcare or affordable housing, but it is a direct and effective way to provide the poor and middle class with a modicum of financial security at a time when Americans have trouble affording their basic needs.

Another related proposal has tremendous potential to reform the tax code to benefit the poor and working class instead of handing over more concessions to the wealthy and corporations. The Economic Security Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the power of cash and also funded the creation of both projects in Chicago and Jacksondeveloped a Working Families Tax Credit that would give $500 a month to poor and middle-class Americans by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy. 

A growing number of leaders are embracing similar tax reform proposals that would ensure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share, while providing a boost to the poor and middle class. Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, recently introduced legislation to provide the poor and middle class with monthly tax credits that applies to households making less than $100,000. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat, has proposed similar legislation to modernize the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a tremendously powerful tool to pull people out of poverty in our cities and across the country. The bills all have an even greater, positive impact on people of color who are more likely to be experiencing poverty.

The energy around the idea of a guaranteed income is strengthening, but there are questions about how this kind of program can work on a larger scale. While philanthropy cannot sustain a guaranteed income pilot in every city that needs one, there are proposals at both the state and federal levels that could play a similar role in alleviating economic instability. Though many of these ideas aren’t formally designated as guaranteed income programs, they share the essential components—cash to those who need it most without strings attached, which offers financial stability and autonomy to recipients and empowers them to make the decisions that are best for them.

The details of these policies differ slightly, but they all share a core intention to reform the tax code to benefit poor and middle-class Americans. Millions of people would thrive under such a measure, and state and national leaders should make these reforms a central component of their legislative agendas. Rational and equitable tax reform to benefit more Americans is good for local communities and the country.