Strategy: Follow the Russian Connection

So many, many issues: environmental protection, refugees, healthcare, minimum wage, Islamophobia, Planned Parenthood, religious freedom, attacks on journalists, budget cuts (Medicaid, NEA and NEH), trade pacts, NATO, the E.U. and Brexit, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, tax reform and tax cuts, and on and on.  Every day a new march, a new issue to protest, a new topic for a call to my Senator.

Somehow, successful opposition to the Trump/Republican domination of both houses of Congress and the Presidency has to find some strategic focus.  We can’t go flat out every day in every conceivable direction.  We’ll exhaust ourselves and we’ll also disperse our energies.

What issues merit priority, and why?  It’s not a question of importance (they’re all important).  It’s a question of what will slow down this rush to the right and rebuild a broad progressive coalition that can win back the Congress and the Presidency.  Which issues will gather the threads together?  So this morning, three thoughts on strategic focus.

First, press on health care.  The pressure on Congress to keep the protections of the Affordable Care Act (affordable health care coverage for all, even those with pre-existing conditions) seems to be working.  The pressure has so far been strong and steady.  We haven’t won that battle yet by any means, so the pressure has to continue on every member of Congress.  That’s one priority.

Second, follow the money.  Andrew Sullivan suggests keeping up the pressure on Trump to release his tax returns.  He says, “The advantage of this particular issue is that it unites Republicans and Democrats. A recent poll found that 74 percent of Americans want the returns released, including 53 percent of Republicans. It was a Trump promise, after all.”  That’s shrewd: press for doing what everyone agrees (even Trump!) should be done.  (Sullivan is an unusual conservative, someone alert to the Trump danger early.  He laid down his essential-reading blog a year ago or so, but has returned with a once a week letter to followers.  Sullivan is always worth reading.  This week’s letter is curiously upbeat.)

Third, follow the Russian connection. Press for an independent investigation — independent of the Congress, perhaps a special prosecutor, perhaps a blue ribbon committee drawn from both parties with full subpoena power.  Lacking that (but don’t give in early) press for serious investigations by committees in both houses of Congress, with the Democrats as well as the Republicans having subpoena power.  Whether and how to investigate is a lively issue in  the Congress right now.  This is a moment to press for a full investigation.

The Russia connection, of course, connects to the tax returns issue: we need to know the extent of Trump’s financial ties to Russia; we won’t know until we see the tax returns.  Something is at the bottom of his refusal to release his returns, and this is likely it.  So strategic focus 2 and 3 are really one big issue: press for release of his tax returns and press for an independent investigation of the Russia ties.

Essential reading to help understand the Russia issues, a long, splendid article in this week’s New Yorker: Trump, Putin and the New Cold War, by Evan OsnosDavid Remnick and Joshua Yaffa.  It has little to say about Trump’s financial connections to Russia, but it is far and away the best thing I have read about what Putin has done and is doing, and what he hopes to gain.  We shouldn’t look at the issues around Russia as simply a matter of domestic politics (messing with our election, say).

New Yorker articles are typically longer on factual reporting and underplay big picture topic sentences.  Mostly that’s a good thing: we learn by the layering of fact on fact, not by broad assertion, but you do have to read the whole thing.  In this article, the larger picture only shows toward the end.  Even then, the article leaves you with dots to connect for yourself.  One suggestion.  We need to understand Steve Bannon: what he is doing and what he hopes to gain.  Look at the picture Osnos, Remnick and Yaffa paint of Putin.  Now put Bannon in the same frame.  I think you’ll see a resemblance that helps bring Bannon into focus.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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