Up Front host Mehdi Hasaan interviews West on issues of inequality, the escalation of white supremacy and the threat of neo fascism in America.
Up Front host Mehdi Hasaan interviews West on issues of inequality, the escalation of white supremacy and the threat of neo fascism in America.
Republicans and even some Democrats are out to scare you about Medicare for All. They say it’s going to dismantle health care as we know it and it will cost way too much.
The typical American family now spends $6,000 on health insurance premiums each year. Add in the co-payments and deductibles that doctors, hospitals, and drug companies also charge you — plus typical out-of-pocket expenses for pharmaceuticals – and that typical family’s health bill is $6,800.
But that’s not all, because some of the taxes you now pay are for health insurance, too — for Medicare and Medicaid and for the Affordable Care Act. So let’s add them in, again for the typical American household. That comes to a whopping $8,975 a year. Oh, and this number is expected to rise in the coming years.
Not a pretty picture. If you’re a typical American, you’re already paying far more for health insurance than people in any other advanced country.
And you’re not getting your money’s worth. The United States ranks near the bottom for life span and infant mortality. Or maybe you’re one of the 30 million Americans who don’t have any health insurance coverage at all.
You see, a big reason we pay so much for health insurance is the administrative costs involved in private for-profit insurance. About a third of what you pay goes to the people who oversee billing and collections. And then of course there are the marketing and advertising expenses, and the profits that go to shareholders or private-equity managers.
What happens if we have Medicare for All?
Let’s first consider a limited version that keeps private insurance — as proposed by candidates including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. The insurance costs remain the same because it’s the same private insurers and the same co-payments and deductibles. The only difference is more of this would be paid through your taxes, rather than by you directly, because the government would reimburse the insurance companies.
This could help bring down costs by giving the government more bargaining leverage to get better prices. But we don’t know yet how much.
Now, let’s talk about a different version of Medicare for All that replaces private for-profit health insurance, as proposed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In this version, total costs — including a possible combination of premiums, co-payments, deductibles, or taxes — are even lower. This option is far cheaper because it doesn’t have all those administrative expenses. It’s public insurance that reimburses hospitals, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies directly and eliminates the bloat of private insurance companies.
Economists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst say Medicare for All that replaces private for-profit insurance would reduce costs by about 10 percent, mostly from lower administrative and drug costs. The Urban Institute estimates that households and businesses would save about $21.9 trillion over ten years, and state and local governments would save $4.1 trillion.
You’d pay for it through a combination of premiums, fees, and taxes, but your overall costs would go way down. So you’d come out ahead. And everyone would be covered.
You’d keep your same doctor or other health-care provider. And you could still buy private insurance to supplement Medicare for All, just like some people currently buy private insurance to supplement Medicare and Social Security. The only thing that’s changed is you no longer pay the private for-profit corporate insurers.
Any Medicare for All is better than our present system, but this second version is far better because — like Medicare and Social Security — it’s based on the simple and proven idea that we shouldn’t be paying private for-profit corporate insurers boatloads of money to get the insurance we need.
It’s time for true Medicare for All.
As the voice of the people, the Nebraska Democratic Party Black Caucus’ mission is to promote the involvement of Blacks in the political process and the activities of the party at the local, state, and national level. The Caucus advocates for public policies which promote the needs of the Black community and the state at large. It recognizes the need for inclusive representation throughout the Democratic Party and seeks to advance political participation among Blacks throughout the state.
On the evening of October 25 at Omaha’s downtown Hilton Hotel, the Caucus held its annual fundraiser and presented the prestigious Danner Awards to Senator Justin Wayne and Schmeeka Grayer-Simpson, two well-deserving community leaders. The guest speaker for the event was Ohio Senator Nina Turner, national co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and CNN contributor. It was a spectacular event! The Omaha Star was honored with an exclusive interview with Senator Turner. The following is our conversation about what’s at stake in the 2020 election cycle.
Senator Turner, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to interview with The Omaha Star. North Omaha and North East Omaha are the parts of the city where our predominantly black population resides. According to polls, North Omaha, similar to other black communities, statistically has low voter turnout for local elections and larger voter turnout for presidential elections.
We have some challenges with the rhetoric from Washington that has disillusioned voters. As the “Political Awareness and Involvement Chair” of my sorority and policy director for the League of Women Voters Greater Omaha, I am always looking for innovative ways to get people reignited about voting. What has been your personal experience in getting people excited about the vote and translating that excitement into large number at the polls?
People are tired and have become apathetic with political candidates who continuously fail to deliver on campaign promises that directly address the unique issues of the Black community and marginalized citizens. Another part of the issue is that we are in a generation that is several generations removed from the Civil Rights struggle in the trenches.
So, many of today’s voters did not experience the overt racist tactics, the marches, lunch counters, and Supreme Court decisions, it is not in the forefront of their psyche and they have become detached in some ways from the original Civil Rights struggle. Many don’t know what it’s like to get on the bus, drop in your money and get back off and go to the back to take your seat. They don’t know what it’s like to drink from a “colored fountain;” and they haven’t been attacked by police dogs or sprayed with high-powered firehoses.
We lost a civil rights icon this week in Elijah Cummings, he was a soldier in the Civil Rights Movement and translated that passion into policy and legislative action. We must remember that voters are not only looking for candidates that understand the problems and issues of their constituents, but they are looking for candidates that are conscious-minded. That candidate for 2020 is Bernie Sanders who is not new to the struggle but has a 40-year track record of “consciousness” and having a platform that addresses the issues of the people.
There’s only one candidate who has been marching with working-class people not because he’s running for president, but because it’s right. Just ask Marriott workers, Amazon workers, and – hello! – Verizon workers, and don’t forget about the teachers. Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who has a track record of doing the right thing because he is led by conscience and not by special interests.
As you know, Black women turned electoral power into political power in 2018. There was a tidal wave of Black female candidates who showed that “when we run we win.” Political analysts and polls show that Black women voted 98% for Democratic candidates. What is your take on the power of the Black female vote and the candidate you support in 2020?
The Black women who ran and won in 2018 are significant not only for who they are, but also for how they ran their campaigns. From a congressional standpoint, many of the Black women on the ballot, myself included, speak about expanding access to health care and improving public education, focusing on “economic inequality, the wealth and wage gap, structural racism, and gun violence.”
We live in a country where Black women continue to have higher rates of infant mortality and die during delivery themselves. When Black women benefit through addressing these systemic issues, the entire nation benefits with access to better healthcare, being paid a living wage and breaking glass ceilings. With Black women as the grassroots and community organizers and candidates in communities across America, a win for candidates who are conscious of systemic and structural racism is a win for families, and a win for policy change and reform in the legal system from the White House to the Supreme Court.
We know what’s at stake, we cannot afford to continue to allow a divisive fear monger agenda to make decisions that affect everything from our families to our jobs. Dr. Maya Angelou once said that we must have the courage to stand up for ourselves and the courage to stand up for somebody else.
Black women are no strangers to standing up for ourselves and for others. We raise our hands to protect our families, communities and schools. And with these hands we will have Medicare for All. With these hands we will cancel student debt. With these hands we will cancel medical debt. With these hands we will make an investment on Main Street, and tell Wall Street where to go! With these hands we will make sure that every baby in this country can aspire to live a good life, in Nebraska and across the country, because it is for everybody! Bernie Sanders is the candidate that knows these issues and has a specific plan to address them all.
Criminal justice reform is on the minds of every voter for the 2020 election, and the adage that “all politics are local” is universally true. In Nebraska, there have been efforts to introduce legislation to eliminate the cash bond system where hundreds of individuals at any given time are being housed in county jails due to their financial inability to pay bail bonds or court-ordered fines and fees. This system penalizes individuals for being poor. What is The Sanders campaign position on criminal justice reform to address the issue of inequity in the system and the intersection of poverty and justice?
First let’s call it what it is. The legal system has been inherently unjust for Black people since its inception in this country. The Sanders campaign supports “Ban the Box” initiatives, restorative justice and assuring (that) disenfranchised convicted felons have their voting rights restored when they have completed their time. Senator Sanders is someone who understands that there are disparities within the disparities. . . if you are black, if you are brown, if you are indigenous, and if you are poor, this system is rigged.
It is rotten to the core, and we’re going to unrig it so that “justice for all” is not just an ideal but is practiced. That’s it and that’s all.
Senator Sanders is from Vermont where there is a strong stance on permitting felons to vote while in prison unlike most states which prohibit inmate voting, some for a lifetime. In talking to people across this country, The Sanders campaign wants what everyone wants — to have a justice system that doesn’t gun down Black folks in their houses. We are at a place in this country where you can’t read while Black, sleep while Black, play your music while Black, and just exist while Black.
We’re going to clean up this criminal injustice system. What the people want is very simple. We need to have some truth and reconciliation about the ravages of racism in the United States of America in the legal system. That’s it and that’s all. Bernie Sanders proposes better education and counseling, including mental health, opportunities for prisoners to reduce recidivism rates and effectively spend less money on incarceration. More training is needed for law enforcement’s ability to handle mental illness situations. The Sanders campaign believes what most Americans want to see. . . . police departments all over this country whose memberships reflect the demographics of the community they serve.
We also need to address the fact that racial bias exists in law enforcement as it relates to traffic stops, arrests, and those agencies should represent the demographics of the communities they serve. Bernie Sanders is a visionary and has a strategic plan to address these issues for communities across America to assure the legal system lives up to the creed of justice for all its citizens.
Healthcare is an issue that concerns all Americans. In 2018, the voters of Nebraska took a giant step toward addressing healthcare disparity outcomes by passing an initiative “by the people” to allow for expansion of Medicaid for certain individuals ages 19-26 years old who meet certain poverty thresholds under federal regulations. Nebraska followed the lead of voters in Maine who approved Medicaid expansion by public referendum. The governor of Nebraska has yet to honor the “will of the people” of Nebraska. Talk some about the importance of coverage for all and what The Sanders plan is for universal healthcare to address healthcare disparities and outcomes for those who cannot afford premiums or do not have an employer-provided plan.
We are the only industrialized nation that does not have a universal healthcare plan that provides healthcare coverage for all citizens. The United States pays the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs because Congress has done nothing to regulate the price of medicine.
If we would join the rest of the industrialized world and negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies to lower prices, our country could save billions of dollars per year. As the wealthiest country in the world, we have a variety of options available to support a Medicare for All single-payer healthcare system that guarantees high quality, affordable healthcare as a right, not a privilege, to every man, woman, and child in this country.
A Bernie Sanders presidency means an America where folks don’t die because they’ve got to rotate out their insulin to make sure it lasts. We are looking for an America where hospitals are not closing but are expanding services to vulnerable communities. We want a healthcare system that is not commodified. That’s it and that’s all.
We live in a country where our veterans are living on the streets without treatment for service-related mental health issues; we have people who are too afraid to go out and see a doctor because they can’t afford it; and we have Black women dying in childbirth in the 21st century. This is America and this is not acceptable! Bernie Sanders has a plan that will assure all Americans have a right to healthcare and not just the privileged or those who can afford to pay.
With the 2020 presidential election looming, there is no shortage of candidates vying for votes across America. The mantra “Feel the Bern!” is back again for 2020, and Bernie Sanders is ranked the number three Democrat by pollsters. He is what many have called a Democratic “socialist-leaning” candidate campaigning on a platform that calls for “Medicare For All” (a policy which would effectively eliminate private health care insurance), extra taxes on the wealthy and free college tuition. Tell us why Bernie Sanders is the candidate we should vote for.
Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that does not accept donations from corporate dollars. In terms of campaign finance, Sanders is one of the most outspoken politicians in his opposition to the Citizens United decision, PACs and “dark money” in politics. He rejected corporate PAC donations in 2016, inspiring most of the 2020 Democratic field to declare the same.
The Sanders campaign has received contributions from one million everyday donors. Our strength is in numbers, and that is why Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who is able to say his campaign will rely only on grassroots funding in both the primary and the race against Donald Trump. Like all campaigns we are obliged to our donors, and we’re proud to stand with millions of working people who have contributed $27 at a time to The Sanders campaign.
His political platform includes breaking up big banks, higher taxes on the wealthy, $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization and decriminalization and the Green New Deal, among other progressive changes. Bernie Sanders is the leader of the pack on these issues, as many of Sanders’ fellow 2020 candidates have adopted similar policies.
If every major industrialized nation on Earth can make healthcare a right, provide universal coverage to all, achieve far better health outcomes in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality, while spending far less per capita than we do, it is absurd to suggest the United States of America, the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, cannot do the same. Don’t let anybody tell you any different! Bernie Sanders has a plan for Medicare For All and a way to pay for it.
Look, people are tired of empty promises made on the campaign trail. The people want to create a system in this country that is geared toward helping people live out their greatness. Senator Bernie Sanders is the candidate that can deliver on his promises because he has a plan to do it. He has substantive policy initiatives that will deliver on issues like the $15 minimum wage, and certainly Medicare For All.
We need a living wage; people need tangible things in their lives to help them get closer to that and solving the medical crisis that we have in this country will go a long way. We need to make sure we have policymakers who understand that men and women should be paid equally for the work that they do; that the public education system we have needs to be shored up; that we have to invest our tax dollars to ensure that a child will not be discriminated against or treated differently because of the zip code they live in.
All these things are part of the Bernie Sanders’ economic package to lift folks in this country. That is why America should support candidates who are committed to pushing for working people and Senator Bernie Sanders is that candidate!
The American political debate over health care is absurd. Americans pay twice as much as any other nation for health care, and then are told daily that they “can’t afford” to switch to a lower-cost system very similar to those of Canada and Europe. If President Donald Trump and the plutocratic Republican party were the only ones carrying this ridiculous message, it would be understandable. Yet this message is also coming from media pundits aligned with the Democratic Party and the most conservative wing of the party.
Let’s be clear on the central point. Medicare for All, as first proposed by Bernie Sanders and endorsed by Elizabeth Warren, is affordable precisely because it is cheaper, much cheaper, than the current system.
America’s health care system relies on local monopolies (such as a health care provider centered at the sole major hospital in a city) and national monopolies, notably pharmaceutical companies holding exclusive patents.
In other countries, the government sets delivery prices and typically pays the health bills through the budget. In the US, the monopolists set the prices.
The sky-high revenues end up as huge corporate profits, wasteful administrative costs, useless and even harmful advertising and lavish salaries. Health care CEOs are making gargantuan salaries, many exceeding $10 million per year.
Who loses? Almost all Americans, whose insurance costs and out-of-pocket outlays inevitably lead to lower income because of unaffordable health care costs, untreated chronic illnesses, premature mortality and personal bankruptcies. Single-payer systems such as in Canada and Europe are cheaper, fairer and have better outcomes.
A recent international comparison of the performance of 11 national health systems on five main dimensions (care process, access, efficiency, equity and health care outcomes) ranked the US health system dead last.
Despite all of this, the US pundits profess to be alarmed about the prospect of Medicare for All. There has been a wave of op-eds and columns published (for example, here and here and here) declaring that Medicare for All would lead to massive tax increases, and that Sanders’ and Warren’s support for Medicare for All threatens to reelect Trump. It’s ridiculous.
Both Sanders and Warren poll well against Trump, ahead in the overall popular vote (though like all Democrats, facing headwinds of the Electoral College).
And at this stage of a national campaign, the goal should be to explain to voters the vast benefits of a single-payer system rather than to prejudge the politics based on self-fulfilling fearmongering.
Yes, one way or another, taxes would rise with Medicare for All, but private health outlays would go down by much more. Total health costs would fall.
That idea is not so hard to understand.
One influential pundit, economist Paul Krugman, has come around. In the 2016 election cycle, Krugman railed against Medicare for All. Yet after Warren laid out her proposal, Krugman supported Medicare for All. In truth, he was simply returning to the economically sound observations that he had long made before 2016.
The pundits seem to believe that Americans will rebel at “higher taxes.” Actually, Americans are much smarter than that. They know that their current private health care payments, whether insurance premiums or out-of-pocket, are nothing other than “taxes” they pay to stay alive. They’ll agree to pay higher taxes to the government if those new taxes eliminate larger private health care bills — again, there are “taxes” by any other name — that they now pay.
Some mainstream pundits are simply repeating what they hear from Democratic Party conservatives and centrists, the wing that has been dominant since Clinton’s election in 1992. They are following the lead of Nancy Pelosi, Pete Buttigieg and others who are trashing Medicare for All.
What in the world are these leading Democratic Party politicians doing in opposing the transition to a fairer, more efficient and lower cost health care system? I would suggest it’s not a lack of understanding. It’s the power of campaign financing. These Democrats are funded by the status quo. The health sector contributed $265 million to federal campaigns in 2018, of which 56% went to Democrats. The sector spends nearly $500 million per year on lobbying. Money talks. Meanwhile, Americans go bankrupt or die early.
There remains the issue of the best way to raise budget revenues for Medicare for All. The basic answer is to use progressive taxation to fund the program. In this way, the nation as a whole will pay much less for health care and the vast majority of households will as well. The highest income households will end up paying a bit more because their funds will not only finance their own health care but will help to pay the health care costs of the poorest households as well.
Sanders rightly proposed a menu of options to pay for Medicare for All, including payroll and income taxation. Warren has proposed one specific approach: progressive taxes on the super-rich and the corporate sector but also a surprisingly regressive “head tax” on companies. She took great pride in not charging a penny of new income or payroll taxes on middle class households. But the proposed head tax on companies would hit wages indirectly and regressively.
Still, both Sanders’ and Warrens’ approaches would result in a more equitable and less expensive system. For most households, overall health care costs will decline.
The most worrisome thing about Warren’s statement as she introduced her Medicare for All plan, is her emphasis on “not one penny” of new middle-class taxes. Here we go again. The Democrats have, for far too long, copied the Republican mantra about “no new taxes,” even as our public debt soars, our infrastructure and public services collapse and inequality reaches stratospheric dimensions.
To honor the silly stricture of “no new taxes” directly paid by middle-class households, Warren ended up endorsing a regressive head tax paid by the employer, which would end up hitting lower-wage workers even though its paid by their employers.
Let’s hope this blunder is a one-time stumble for Warren. Most importantly, both Sanders and Warren are pointing the correct way to reform America’s costly, unfair and inefficient health care system. And this is a goal that most Americans support.
This month in a Manhattan courthouse, New York State’s attorney general Letitia James argued that ExxonMobil should be held accountable for layers of lies about climate change. It’s a landmark moment—one of the first times that Big Oil is having to answer for its actions—and James deserves great credit for bringing it to trial. But it comes with a deep irony: Under the relevant New York statutes, the only people that New York can legally identify as victims are investors in the company’s stock.
It is true that Exxon should not have misled its investors—lying is wrong, and that former CEO Rex Tillerson had to invent a fake email persona as part of the scheme (we see you, “Wayne Tracker”) helps drive home the messiness. But let’s be clear: On the spectrum of human beings who are and will be hit by the climate crisis, Exxon investors are not near the top of the list.
In fact, if the “justice system” delivered justice, the payouts for Exxon’s perfidy would go to entirely different people, because the iron law of climate is, the less you did to cause it, the more you’ll suffer.
The high-end estimate for economic damage from the global warming we’re on track to cause is $551 trillion, which is more money than exists on planet Earth.
The right set of priorities might put different groups of people at the front of the line for payouts: dwellers along the edge of the African deserts that are expanding fast as climate warms, Bangladeshi peasant farmers losing their land as the Bay of Bengal spreads inland, and Inuit hunters no longer able to depend on the sea ice. Every one of these groups was directly harmed by the decision of the fossil fuel industry to bury its knowledge of climate change in the 1980s and instead work to deny, deflect, and delay action.
When the CEO of Exxon told Chinese leaders in 1997 that the Earth was cooling and that it didn’t matter when they took action on climate change, the direct and indirect harm fell on South Pacific islanders now having to plan for the evacuation of their nations and South American cities losing their sole source of drinking water as glaciers disappear.
Even in the U.S., the burden falls disproportionately and violently on the most vulnerable communities—poor people and people of color. Wander into any disaster zone, from Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey to the California fires, and you’ll find that the hardest-hit people are the ones set up by the status quo with the least. Hurricane Sandy shut down Wall Street for a few days, but for working class and subway-dependent communities in the Rockaways and throughout Brooklyn and Queens, it changed lives forever.
Put another way, those who made their money peddling fossil fuels—the executives and shareholders holding funds—owe something to those who got hurt. It’s not, in the bigger picture, all that different from the demand for reparations by African American descendants of slaves—claims that in recent months more than a few institutions have begun to pay, among a growing number of faith denominations, universities and politicians, including presidential candidates, have begun to publicly endorse.
That’s not to say that fossil fuel extraction is a crime of the same kind as owning human beings. It isn’t—but the two are not unrelated; the same instinct to abuse and extract, deplete, discard, and disavow holds. And we have always understood the evil of slavery, but until about 40 years ago, as newly developed supercomputers made climate modeling possible, it wasn’t even clear that fossil fuel extraction and use carried with it a systemic danger. And where a wide variety of thinking offers plans for a real possibility of compensation for the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, there’s no practical way to compensate everyone who will be harmed by climate change.
Indeed, the high-end estimate for economic damage from the global warming we’re on track to cause is $551 trillion, which is more money than exists on planet Earth. Even that figure is notional: How do you compensate the generations of people yet unborn who will inherit a badly degraded world? Even if Exxon et al were to disgorge every dirty penny they’d ever made, it wouldn’t pay for relocating Miami, much less Mumbai.
Justice demands real money moving from the global North to the global South to compensate for the damage we’ve done.
We obviously should expand the circle of obligation. Even as we write, investment banks continue to bet against our survival and lend huge sums to this industry to expand its network of pipelines and wells. And they do this over the calls for a new economy and the end of the age of fossil fuels. At this point, JPMorgan Chase and Citi are the functional arms of Chevron and Shell. They literally make fossil fuel investments possible. But even holding them to the reckoning they deserve—though we will certainly try to do it—can’t bring back sea ice to the Arctic or compensate the fishermen around the world now watching their harvests shrink in a hot and acidic ocean.
The staggering cost of inaction here demands that we co-create the solutions with a concentric circle of communities that were made vulnerable to the effects of climate change. And that starts with thinking together about aligning these movements for “climate reparations” as a necessary framework for thinking about how we move forward.
Justice demands real money moving from the global North to the global South to compensate for the damage we’ve done. The United States has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other nation historically, and we’re champs when you measure it per capita, too. So it’s particularly painful that the Trump administration has stopped funding even the modest payments envisioned under the Paris accords.
And as we think about our own country and its efforts to deal with the climate crisis, we need to hold onto equity and justice as our guide. The communities that deserve priority in public spending are those that have suffered the most. It is a sadness to lose a second home on the Carolina coast or in California wine country, but it is a life-destroying tragedy when poor communities go underwater. Priority for the good jobs in a new energy economy belong to those whose communities suffered most from in the dirty energy era. The images from the Superdome in New Orleans during Katrina should haunt Americans as long as the climate crisis lasts. At its start, it was clear who the first and worst victims were going to be.
Framing the climate crisis as a matter of equity and another opportunity for justice doesn’t mean we stop thinking about it in other ways, too. In the end, this is a tussle with chemistry and physics, and clearly the most urgent goal is to slow down the planet’s heating. Building solar panels and wind turbines in the end ultimately benefits the most vulnerable. If the Marshall Islands have a chance at surviving, if the rice farmers of the Mekong Delta have any prayer of passing on their land to their sons and daughters, then it depends on a rapid energy transition for the whole planet.
But at this point, even the best-case scenarios are relentlessly grim; lots of damage has been done, and far more is in the offing. We’re going to have to remake much of the world to have a chance at survival. And if we’re going to try, then that repair job shouldn’t repeat the imbalances of power and wealth that mark our current planet. Justice demands a real effort to make the last, first this time around.
In the run up to the Iraq War, then-US Vice President Richard Cheney declared that even if the risk of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorist hands was tiny, say 1%, we should act as if it were certain by invading. The US is at it again, creating a panic over Chinese technologies by exaggerating tiny risks.
The worst foreign-policy decision by the United States of the last generation – and perhaps longer – was the “war of choice” that it launched in Iraq in 2003 for the stated purpose of eliminating weapons of mass destruction that did not, in fact, exist. Understanding the illogic behind that disastrous decision has never been more relevant, because it is being used to justify a similarly misguided US policy today.
The decision to invade Iraq followed the illogic of then-US Vice President Richard Cheney, who declared that even if the risk of WMDs falling into terrorist hands was tiny – say, 1% – we should act as if that scenario would certainly occur.
Such reasoning is guaranteed to lead to wrong decisions more often than not. Yet the US and some of its allies are now using the Cheney Doctrine to attack Chinese technology. The US government argues that because we can’t know with certainty that Chinese technologies are safe, we should act as if they are certainly dangerous and bar them.
Proper decision-making applies probability estimates to alternative actions. A generation ago, US policymakers should have considered not only the (alleged) 1% risk of WMDs falling into terrorist hands, but also the 99% risk of a war based on flawed premises. By focusing only on the 1% risk, Cheney (and many others) distracted the public’s attention from the much greater likelihood that the Iraq War lacked justification and that it would gravely destabilize the Middle East and global politics.
The problem with the Cheney Doctrine is not only that it dictates taking actions predicated on small risks without considering the potentially very high costs. Politicians are tempted to whip up fears for ulterior purposes.
That is what US leaders are doing again: creating a panic over Chinese technology companies by raising, and exaggerating, tiny risks. The most pertinent case (but not the only one) is the US government attack on the wireless broadband company Huawei. The US is closing its markets to the company and trying hard to shut down its business around the world. As with Iraq, the US could end up creating a geopolitical disaster for no reason.
I have followed Huawei’s technological advances and work in developing countries, as I believe that 5G and other digital technologies offer a huge boost to ending poverty and other SDGs. I have similarly interacted with other telecoms companies and encouraged the industry to step up actions for the SDGs. When I wrote a short foreword (without compensation) for a Huawei report on the topic, and was criticized by foes of China, I asked top industry and government officials for evidence of wayward activities by Huawei. I heard repeatedly that Huawei behaves no differently than trusted industry leaders.
The US government nonetheless argues that Huawei’s 5G equipment could undermine global security. A “backdoor” in Huawei’s software or hardware, US officials claim, could enable the Chinese government to engage in surveillance around the world. After all, US officials note, China’s laws require Chinese companies to cooperate with the government for purposes of national security.
Now, the facts are these. Huawei’s 5G equipment is low cost and high quality, currently ahead of many competitors, and already rolling out. Its high performance results from years of substantial spending on research and development, scale economies, and learning by doing in the Chinese digital marketplace. Given the technology’s importance for their sustainable development, low-income economies around the world would be foolhardy to reject an early 5G rollout.
Yet, despite providing no evidence of backdoors, the US is telling the world to stay away from Huawei. The US claims are generic. As a US Federal Communications Commissioner put it, “The country that owns 5G will own innovations and set the standards for the rest of the world and that country is currently not likely to be the United States.” Other countries, most notably the United Kingdom, have found no backdoors in Huawei’s hardware and software. Even if backdoors were discovered later, they could almost surely be closed at that point.
The debate over Huawei rages in Germany, where the US government threatens to curtail intelligence cooperation unless the authorities exclude Huawei’s 5G technology. Perhaps as a result of the US pressure, Germany’s spy chief recently made a claim tantamount to the Cheney Doctrine: “Infrastructure is not a suitable area for a group that cannot be trusted fully.” He offered no evidence of specific misdeeds. Chancellor Angela Merkel, by contrast, is fighting behind the scenes to leave the market open for Huawei.
Ironically, though predictably, the US complaints partly reflect America’s own surveillance activities at home and abroad. Chinese equipment might make secret surveillance by the US government more difficult. But unwarranted surveillance by any government should be ended. Independent United Nations monitoring to curtail such activities should become part of the global telecoms system. In short, we should choose diplomacy and institutional safeguards, not a technology war.
The threat of US demands to blockade Huawei concerns more than the early rollout of the 5G network. The risks to the rules-based trading system are profound. Now that the US is no longer the world’s undisputed technology leader, US President Donald Trump and his advisers don’t want to compete according to a rules-based system. Their goal is to contain China’s technological rise. Their simultaneous attempt to neutralize the World Trade Organization by disabling its dispute settlement system shows the same disdain for global rules.
If the Trump administration “succeeds” in dividing the world into separate technology camps, the risks of future conflicts will multiply. The US championed open trade after World War II not only to boost global efficiency and expand markets for American technology, but also to reverse the collapse of international trade in the 1930s. That collapse stemmed in part from protectionist tariffs imposed by the US under the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Act, which amplified the Great Depression, in turn contributing to the rise of Hitler and, ultimately, the outbreak of World War II.
In international affairs, no less than in other domains, stoking fears and acting on them, rather than on the evidence, is the path to ruin. Let’s stick to rationality, evidence, and rules as the safest course of action. And let us create independent monitors to curtail the threat of any country using global networks for surveillance of or cyberwarfare on others. That way, the world can get on with the urgent task of harnessing breakthrough digital technologies for the global good.
Donald Trump’s presidency is a stress test for American democracy, the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution. The enduring strength of American democracy has long been prefaced on the assumption that the country’s leaders — especially the president — had some basic respect for democracy. Moreover, the president was assumed by both elites and the public to be a person who wanted to leave the country better off than it was when he or she first took office. Donald Trump has exposed these assumptions as grossly naïve, paper-thin restraints on a person who has shown himself to be mentally unwell, as well as an authoritarian demagogue.
Donald Trump is an American fascist. His movement — the supporters, enablers, voters, the Republican Party and the conservative media — are implements of Trump’s will. In TrumpWorld he is a king or emperor whose perfidy, greed and ego supersede the common good and American democracy. As with other authoritarians and demagogues, cruelty and the ever-present threat of violence is both how Trump enforces their will as well as being an end goal in themselves.
Trumpism is a crisis of public policy. Trumpism is a moral crisis. Trumpism is a psychological, emotional and physical assault on the American people. Defeating Trumpism will require a critical intervention across all areas of America’s political culture and institutions.
I recently spoke with philosopher, public intellectual, activist, scholar, and author Dr. Cornel West about resistance and hope in the age of Trump as well as the unique role that black Americans have played in sustaining and fighting for the country’s democracy. West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard and a professor emeritus at Princeton. He is the author of several bestselling books, including “Democracy Matters,” “Race Matters” and “Black Prophetic Fire.”
In this wide-ranging conversation, West explained how Donald Trump embodies the worst of American society — but that Trump’s rise to power should not be a surprise. He also reflected on his support of Bernie Sanders, his criticisms of Barack Obama, and why American society needs challenging truth-tellers such as comedian Dave Chappelle.
Several weeks ago, I received an email from someone who reads my essays and listens to my podcasts. This person wrote, “Chauncey, I appreciate everything you’re writing about Trump and fascism, and this culture of cruelty, but it’s upsetting me and scaring me. I don’t know what to do.” Then the person wrote, “Please stop.” Their learned helplessness was so depressing and sad. What would you have told them?
Oh no. You don’t want to stop it. You just tell that person it is difficult for me to think about these topics and live through this moment too. But that’s the way in which any of us will be strengthened and empowered. Stopping is not going to lead us to be empowered at all. Not at all.
How do we inspire Americans and others to get over that learned helplessness?
You recognize that it’s just a moment. That’s all it is. There are always moments in which all of us feel helpless. All of us feel impotent. You’re standing before your mama’s coffin, you’re going to feel helpless, and you ought to be because you can’t do anything about it. You love her to death, but you’ve got to learn how to acknowledge the helplessness. You’ve got to learn how to wrestle with it and know that there will be moments, instances in which you will feel so thoroughly impotent and so thoroughly helpless that you will feel like giving up. There is nothing wrong with feeling like giving up.
He or she who has never despaired has never lived. It’s just a sign that you are alive. And then from there you recognize that it’s just a moment. And that time is going to pass. And that’s when you bounce back and say, “What would she want you to do? How will her afterlife in part be at work in your life? Would she want her afterlife to be you feeling helpless for the next 10 years?” That isn’t your mother’s legacy. You have to be true to her.
And the same is true in terms of struggle for something bigger than us. What would Malcolm say? What would Martin say? What would Fannie Lou Hamer say? What would Ida B. Wells say? What would Toni Morrison say? All of these warriors who have passed away, we have to be true to them.
How do you define the “Black” in the “Black Freedom Struggle”? Do we as black folks — as black Americans specifically — have a special obligation to struggle in this moment of fascism and authoritarianism against Donald Trump’s regime?
The Black Freedom Struggle has always been the leaven in the American democratic loaf. Therefore, when we as black folks go stale, the whole project is going to go stale. And we’ve seen this in the last few decades. But I don’t think we do struggle just because we’re Americans. We do it because we are human beings trying to have integrity, honesty, decency, generosity and courage. Because it’s just not an American project. It’s a global project. It’s an international project. It’s a human and humane project. It goes far beyond national boundaries and national lines. It includes America, but it goes far beyond it.
When I write about the long Black Freedom Struggle, I always try to locate that struggle as part of a broader global struggle for human rights. How can we do a better job of communicating those relationships?
Part of doing that work is realizing that we are in a moment now where people’s conception of community has been degenerated into a conception of constituency. It’s that people’s conception of a cause has been degenerated into a conception of a brand. People’s conception of the public has been degenerated into PR strategies. This creates a spiritually and morally impoverished culture. And so in order to have some notion of human rights that is actually full of content and substance, one has to have some primacy of the moral and the ethical. The calculations cannot be just the Machiavellian. So much of the culture just comes down to strategies and questions such as, “How am I going to make more money? How am I going to get something out of somebody?”
In response one should say, “No.” Life is not about that. Life is about the primacy of the moral and ethical. The legacy of a people, especially black people with Martin Luther King and others, has always been rooted in a tradition that embraces everybody and we’re losing that. We’re in a decadent moment in the culture where everything ethical becomes strategic. Integrity is reduced to money and so forth.
What of black and brown and other freedom fighters in a moment when the market, through neoliberal capitalism, can make all things and people into commodities and products? It totally robs our freedom fighters of their radicalism. For example, see how capitalism has debased and distorted and lied about Martin Luther King Jr. and used his image and legacy to sell fast food and other consumer products.
It’s true. If they can appropriate Marvin Gaye by selling some commodity on TV, you know they can get Martin Luther King. The market has that power. But we’ve got to remember that the market cannot completely commodify the sacrifice, the love to service and the death. When it reaches that level of giving, there is something that eclipses the market appropriation of the image and the spectacle. This is true of the movement as well. For example, there is no Martin Luther King Jr. without Howard Thurman, Benjamin Mays and his mother and then so forth. All of them come out of traditions and families and networks. Those institutions and networks and families are tied to causes in love which cannot be thoroughly commodified.
But what do we do with the truth-tellers? It comes at a cost. Dave Chappelle has been taking lots of criticism for his last comedy special. I think it was genius. Especially so when you watch it in the context of the first two specials on Netflix. Chappelle is a master bard because he’s making people uncomfortable. He’s dislocating their sense of comfort. But some folks can’t handle Chappelle right now because of their expectations. They expect art to always cater to their expectations and not to challenge them.
Dave Chappelle is doing what he’s called to do. He is being true to who he is. Chappelle has got to be able to express himself. Now, that doesn’t mean of course, that people do not have a right to criticize Chappelle. That’s part of what the conversation’s about. But the thing is, you should not truncate someone’s art. You just don’t do that. That’s like trying to tell Marvin Gaye, “You wrote this album, ‘What’s Going On.’ We want your next album to be political.” He said, “No, my next album is going to be ‘Let’s Get It On,’ because that’s what I’m feeling.” Don’t try to police his mood or creativity. Police the craft and the technique.
The same is true with David Chappelle. He has got to say what’s inside of him. That is mediated through a mastery of his craft and technique. And so if it looks like Chappelle’s offended somebody, then he can explain it and say, “No, I’m not trying to trash anyone, I’m trying to come to terms with some of these issues. I express it in a way that might be too challenging at times, but my heart is not motivated by trying to trash anybody.” And that’s true for any great artist.
It always goes back to the truth. There are these horrors in Trump’s concentration camps. Yet there are so many people both in the American news media and among the general public who keep saying “This is not who we are!” That is a jaw dropping claim, viewed by anyone who has even an elementary school level understanding of American history. I want to be critical and respond with, “You don’t know your history.” But then I say to myself, maybe those folks who say such a thing are being aspirational about what America should be. How do you work through that tension?
Every nation is founded on barbarism. It’s not just the United States. We also don’t know of a nation that has not produced some magnificent human beings to fight against that barbarism — people of all colors. We have seen bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, black bodies swinging from trees in Alabama, the Chinese Exclusion Act, people denigrating gay brothers, lesbian sisters and trans folks. That is all in fact part and parcel of America. When we see people fighting against those barbarities, that is part and parcel of America too.
Let’s use Trump as the example of the worst of America — which he is. Trump is also American as apple pie. Let’s use Martin Luther King Jr. as the best of America. King is as American as apple pie. Trump and King are both America.
You can’t say, “Oh my God, there’s Aretha Franklin singing and there’s John Coltrane blowing and that’s who we really are as America now.” They are as American as apple pie — but they represent the best. There is the worst too. So one cannot say that the worst is who we really are as America. You also cannot say the best is who we really are either. They’re part and parcel of what it is to be part of the American imperial project and also part of America as a democratic experiment. America is both an empire and a democratic experiment against the backdrop of empire. America is a profoundly white supremacist civilization and also a democratic experience in which people of all colors have tried to fight against white supremacy.
We make some progress. We get pushed back and make some concessions. They get taken away. That is part of what it is to fight against evil and injustice. There are some people actually saying, “Well, I’ve never felt ashamed of being American until Donald Trump became president.” The response is, “Well, where have you been? What is your understanding of American history? What is your understanding of our past, and the present?”
Good God, is Donald Trump worse than Obama? Hell yes. But when it comes to surveillance, when it comes to security, when it comes to drones, when it comes to special operations forces around the world, when it comes to seven wars going on at the same time, bombs being dropped on innocent people, there is continuity between Obama and Trump.
America under Donald Trump and his allies is a condition of malignant normality. So many Americans and others are disoriented. They are dislocated by Trump and his allies’ attacks on the truth and empirical reality.
There has been a lot of sleepwalking that has been going on for a long time. America is a corporate democracy. That is the challenge. That is why I support brother Bernie Sanders so strongly. It’s always a critical support. But it’s a strong, intense support because we have got to focus on the concentration of wealth in America. Capitalism has to be a crucial object of critical interrogation. Now, even as a socialist, I still believe in markets, and I still believe in private liberties. I believe in civil rights. I believe people should have freedom of expression and opinion and so on. But under what conditions do we have these markets where 1% of population owns 42% of the wealth? How are those “free markets”? Quit lying. There is escalating poverty that is hardly even counted.
Structures and institutions which are linked to social misery must be highlighted. What I love about Bernie is, at least in his critique of America, he really begins with a critique of capitalism. We have a highly financialized capitalism now run from Wall Street. It’s not the old corporate model that had industry at the center. Now the banks are at the center. We have to begin a critique there. We must have a serious critique of what Martin talked about, which is both the poverty of capitalism and militarism. We need to talk about the ways in which mass incarceration is connected to poverty and the white supremacy. We must also take on male supremacy and homophobia. There is serious work to be done in terms of vision and analysis.
When democracy becomes conflated with capitalism, what does that do to people’s ability to dream, their sense of a better future and more hopeful possibilities?
It is connected to a type of moral and spiritual sleepwalking. So if your dream is just to be the head and winner of a rat race, then you can do that. But when you win, you’re still a rat. It’s still moral and spiritual impoverishment. So if the American Dream is just narrow success and has nothing to do with spiritual greatness, then you will never be spiritually great. The aim is to try to be a human being. We need a larger framework and a broader horizon, one which is moral, spiritual and political in order to get at the root problem.
This is why the crisis cuts so very deep. A person wins the rat race. They then say, “I’m the winner, I’m the peacock, look at me, I’m so successful!” Yes. That may be true. But that person is successful in an empire that’s disintegrating.
So many people in this moment of American fascism are aghast at the abominations. But they do not realize that these horrible things being done by Trump and at his command and in his name are another person’s dream. Trump’s fascists, agents and supporters are looking at this evil and saying, “This is beautiful. I want to see more brown and black babies in concentration camps. I want more walls. I don’t want women to have their reproductive rights. I want to be able to stand on black and brown people’s necks!” We must confront the nightmare and the utopia of American fascism or the battle cannot be won.
That is this country’s history. It is built on somebody else’s land. This is the history of assets and wealth based on slave labor. The history of white suburbs with ties to redlining and a whole host of manifestations of racial apartheid. Jim Crow laws didn’t allow people of color, especially black folk, to gain access to credit, capital and housing. We made great progress because we’ve got these black elites and billionaires at the top who are living so well. And many black folks live through them even though they have been kept in hell. This is the tension and interplay between the nightmare and the dream in America.
How does what you and others have described as the “blues sensibility” of black folks prepare us to survive and triumph in these hard times? How can others model our struggle and survival skills? Is it even possible? Of course we should avoid race essentialism. But we should also not run away from the particular experiences, struggles, triumphs and lessons learned and exemplified by black folks.
You don’t want to essentialize. But you do want to tell the truth in terms of how rare it is that a people could be hated for 400 years and those same people can teach the world so much about how to love and what love is. I don’t know of too many oppressed people such as black folks who produce the love warriors that still embrace the very people who raped them and raped their grandmothers and mothers and sisters. That same society incarcerated their friends and their partners, and yet black folks still treat white brothers and sisters with a certain decency. I’m talking about the best of black folks such as Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, A. Philip Randolph, Nina Simone, Coltrane and others. All of these are examples of people who come out of a community that has been so hated and terrorized and traumatized, but they are not calling for the hatred and terrorizing and traumatizing of others.
There was not a black version of the Ku Klux Klan. We could have a black version of the Ku Klux Klan. It could have been the dominant black response to American empire. Instead, black Americans and others across the Black Atlantic produced love warriors. Of course we’ve got black thugs and black gangsters. But black thugs and black gangsters did not become the major spokespersons and leaders of our churches and of our trade union movements and in the universities. These are not people calling to hate other people. They’re not calling to terrorize other people. They’re not calling for revenge. They calling for justice. It didn’t have to be that way. And one of the problems we have now is that tradition is getting weak and feeble.
You were in “The Matrix Reloaded.” The “Matrix” trilogy is a retelling of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” So long after the Greeks in antiquity struggled with that metaphor for the truth, why are so many people still stuck in the cave? Are 21st-century troglodytes afraid of the truth?
One, is you recognize that the truth has always been under siege. It is just a matter of degree. Two, you have your own life to live. The question becomes, given whatever limitations and faults you have, how are you going to bear witness to a truth-telling and a justice-seeking with a certain kind of integrity and courage? Yes. It is a difficult question, but everybody has got to face that question in terms of how short our lives are.
But there is a structural, institutional question as well, which is, “How will you become part of movements and organizations that are trying to bring political pressures to bear that will tilt American society and empire towards the poor, towards those friends who are called the wretched of the earth?” Do not be obsessed with the prizes of the world, the approval of the establishment and being patted on the back by the rich and powerful. That is not the criteria. To do that is like looking at America through the lens of the stock market rather than its prisons and decrepit schools. If you know that the truth is always under siege, then the question is, “How will one you be a force for good against that siege?” It’s a day-to-day challenge.
The Age of Trump is a moral crisis. A reckoning will be needed to help fix all that Trumpism has broken — and the deep cultural, social and political problems his fascist movement has shined a light on. People want change. They want to improve American democracy. But they do not want to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices. The American people need to decide what side of history they will be on. Unfortunately, it seems so many of them are content to be bystanders.
“What side of truth in history are you going to be on?” That’s exactly the right question. When you talk about the reckoning, my brother, that is not just about the pain, the persecution, the lies and being misunderstood. It is also about joy. And this is very important. The only way you can be a long-distance freedom fighter is to find joy in the struggle. Joy in empowering others. Joy in enabling others — even when they don’t understand you. I was critical of Obama for eight years. Black folks were coming at me tooth and nail, trashing me and misunderstanding me. And I tell them, I’m not loving them for them to love me back. This is not a quid pro quo thing. No, it’s about integrity. It’s not about popularity. I’m concerned about poor people, especially black poor and working people. And I’m doing this work because they’re worthy of it. That is true whether folks understand it or not.
And then there is this magnificent sense of joy in surrendering yourself to a cause that’s bigger than you. Even if it gets you crucified, you are on the cross with a smile on your face. It’s like your mama’s love. The world can’t take that away. You always remember the people who loved you, who put a smile on your face even right before you get executed. Nothing can take that away from you.