Wednesday, February 1, 2017
OXFORD—It's hard not to feel a little politically homeless these days. I'm thinking of that old folk song, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child."
I see the cabinet nominees of President Trump, and if there ever was a group of "deplorables," this is it: a Treasury secretary nominee whose nickname is "Foreclosure King"; a Labor nominee who prefers robots to workers because they don't want vacations or pay raises; and a Commerce nominee who sees the "1 percent" as victims and helped transfer the U.S. textile industry to Asia.
Then I see this same president sign an executive order withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, an Obama-supported secret deal that would have allowed private corporations to sue nations that pass environment or worker-friendly laws inhibiting their profits. Trump has also given notice that he may be targeting NAFTA, a similar bad deal for workers.
Those are good, long-overdue actions that neo-liberal, corporate-friendly Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton would have never done despite candidate Hillary's shallow assurance that she had switched from supporter to critic of TPP.
On the Democratic Party side, I see a party truly in shambles with devastating losses not only in Washington, D.C., but also in legislative halls and governor's mansions across the nation. A time for some good soul-searching and change in leadership and direction, right? Not so fast. A lot of the same old faces are still around, including 76-year-old U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Then there's U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., in the news after suffering a "Twitter attack" from the president, who essentially told Lewis to mind the business of his district instead of telling everybody Trump was not a "legitimate president." Lewis is a bona fide civil-rights hero, but let's face it. He started that fight with Trump. Furthermore, Lewis diminished himself in my view during the campaign primaries when he questioned Bernie Sanders' civil-rights credentials. Sanders was an activist in Chicago who was even arrested for his pro-civil-rights protests. Where was Lewis' preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, in those days?
I know Democrats who applauded U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., when he sanctimoniously went after Trump's secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, during confirmation hearings for not declaring Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal." This is the same Marco Rubio who hired "The Vulture," hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, as his campaign finance chairman during the presidential election. Singer successfully soaked financially strapped Argentina for nearly $5 billion on a $50 million investment, helping that country spiral into economic chaos. By the way, for all his grandstanding, Rubio ended up supporting Tillerson's nomination.
Here in Mississippi, the Republican takeover in Washington, D.C., has emboldened state GOP leaders like Gov. Phil Bryant and his kindred conservatives in the Legislature. These so-called fiscal conservatives continue to squeeze the state budget, underfunding roads and highways and the state's trauma-care system.
Now Bryant says it's time for the state to consider instituting a lottery, a way to raise needed funds without raising taxes. As with casinos, a state lottery would just provide another excuse for lawmakers to cut taxes on corporations and the rich while letting the rest of us poor suckers spend our money in the hope of getting the lucky number.
The real hope out there are the activists on the front lines working hard for the people, not themselves or their friends, activists like Bill Chandler and his team at the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. These people-serving activists include the United Auto Workers and students at Tougaloo College, Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi who'll be leading the March 4 "March on Mississippi" in Canton to protest voter-suppression efforts and the failure of Nissan to provide an intimidation-free atmosphere for union-sympathetic workers at its Canton plant.
What the populist revolts of both Trump's campaign and the Bernie Sanders campaign in the Democratic Party showed was a deep revulsion against the political establishment. People indeed do want their country back. Like me, a lot of them feel kind of homeless these days, something the political establishment has rarely felt.
Joe Atkins is a veteran journalist, columnist, and professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi.