Trump and GOP Steeped in Corruption, as Corp. Dems Push Cold War Fever

March 17, 2019

Our weekly roundup panel looks at the fracture lines in the Republican Party and the corporate Democrats continue their frenzy about Russia - with Jacqueline Luqman, Jeff Cohen and host Paul Jay

Our weekly roundup panel looks at the fracture lines in the Republican Party and the corporate Democrats continue their frenzy about Russia - with Jacqueline Luqman, Jeff Cohen and host Paul Jay


Trump and GOP Steeped in Corruption, as Corp. Dems Push Cold War Fever

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

So we’re going to be doing–we’re going to try every week to do sort of a news roundup, and maybe a few parts of it we’ll release you on a Friday, another one on a Saturday, maybe another one on a Sunday. And this week we’re going to start off with the state of Trump and the Republican Party.

So this week President Trump seemed to get into a lot more trouble than usual with his own party. First, the Senate voted to invoke the War Powers Act with regard to U.S. support for the war in Yemen with a vote of 54 to 46, with seven Republicans joining all the Democrats. The Senate told the president to withdraw all U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia in its effort to defeat the Houthis in Yemen. Then the following day, the Senate voted 59 to 41 to reverse Trump’s executive order, in which he declared a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexican border in order to secure funding for his border wall. Finally, on Thursday, Trump said in an interview with Breitbart News Network, “I can tell you I have the support of the police,” Trump said, “the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people,” he says. “But they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.” Well, he caught some hell for that, even from his own party.

Joining me now to discuss the state of Trump and the Republican Party are Jacqueline Luqman and Jeff Cohen. Jacqueline is editor-in-chief of Luqman Nation, a social media outlet that connects history, politics, and social issues through a Black and pan-African revolutionary perspective. Jeff is author and founder of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. He’s co-founder of RootsAction.org. He’s the author of many books, including Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media, and part of that, he was the one of the main producers of the Phil Donahue Show. Anyway, thank you both for joining us.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thanks so much.

JEFF COHEN: Nice to be with you.

PAUL JAY: So, Jacqueline, why don’t you kick us off? There’s a whole underlying dynamic here. Trump’s in a lot of doodoo in terms of his financial shenanigans. He’s always tweeting these outrageous things. This thing even crossed the line for some Republicans. But some Republicans are starting to break now, at least on this vote on the War Powers Act in Yemen. And there’s even–they voted for releasing Mueller’s report for full transparency, a full release. I’m not so sure Trump is so happy with that. If it turns out there’s no collaboration with the Russians in that report, he might like that. But there’s lots of corruption, and that’s going to come out. So where do you think we’re at with those?

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, I think what we’re seeing is the inevitable implosion of the Republican Party, at least in the context of “normal” American politics; as normal as American politics as we think of it. This is not business as usual for most people who follow politics. This is a different animal, this Republican Party. And it’s crippling under the weight of its own ideological demons, really, that they let in with the Tea Party wave. And it probably goes back longer than that.

But Trump is the inevitable bad outcome of decades and decades of bad social policy in particular, but also bad political allegiances with people who are not just focused on corporate money and that kind of corruption, but also people who are–honestly, don’t have any ethics. Don’t have any morals. So you’ve got a Republican Party that doesn’t have a problem supporting this president as long as they, each individual member, is not concerned that they’re going to be primaried in the midterm elections. But because they know that Trump can use whatever vote against him that they cast as a weapon, they’re very careful about what they sort of try to do from this point on.

So I think the Republicans who voted against the wall national emergency, I don’t think it’s because they’re ethical. I don’t think it’s because they really disagree. I think it’s because they’re hedging their bets that they can use this in their base in their home states to keep their jobs. But I’m not so sure that it’s going to work.

In regard to the Mueller probe, that’s really interesting, I think. Because I personally don’t think that there is any collusion with the Russian government to influence the election. What I do think is there’s plenty of evidence of financial crimes involving the Trump organization to build a Trump hotel in Russia. But regardless of which is true, it sort of doesn’t matter to Trump. Either way, he uses whatever the outcome is to his advantage. And I think in that way Trump has the whole Republican Party over a barrel. But it’s only–it’s their fault, because they chose him.

PAUL JAY: All right. Jeff, what’s your take?

JEFF COHEN: I think that we could–it’s wrong to exaggerate the divisions within the Republican Party. I watch too much cable news. And I saw one senator after another who’d voted with the Democrats against Trump on the declaration of the national emergency, including Senator Romney, one after another said this isn’t about Trump. This isn’t about the wall. This is just about the division of power within the government. And they all went out of their way to make nice with Trump, even the dozen that voted against Trump with the Democrats.

Trump has got such a hold on the base, the voting base, the activist base of the Republican Party, that most Republican officeholders are absolutely terrified of him. They’re terrified if they get too far away from Trump he will arrange a primary against them. And so I think that’s the the essence of the issue. And as Jacqueline said, for years the Republicans have done the dog whistles scapegoating immigrants, scapegoating people of color. They sort of made the bed that Trump is now sleeping in, and they’re sleeping like at his feet. And it’s hard for them to get away. All of this, this open racism and divisiveness and scapegoating from Trump has been–the precursor to it was the decades of softer racism from the broader Republican Party.

PAUL JAY: Jacqueline, it seems to me that the this deep corruption of the Trump organization, sort of a criminal organization, it’s not new. I think this kind of corruption in the political class–and it’s not the whole political class. There’s certainly individual members of the Senate and House that are not into this kind of deep corruption. But it’s been going on for a long time. I mean, I think it’s been going on for over 100 years. I think American politics has been thoroughly corrupt for the longest time. I was just reading the other day that the, you know, the chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, who made his whole living as a senator–I guess as a member of the House, waving the flag of patriotism, he wound up in jail himself for corruption.

So what Trump has done, though, because his is so overt and he’s such a big personality about it all, I think he’s picked a bit of the scab off this festering corruption, which is not just an insight into Trump. It’s an insight into the systemic corruption.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yeah. I and I actually think this goes beyond politics. This is not just an issue of how corrupt lobbyists are; you know, K Street lobbyists, because there’s a lot of money floating around on K Street in those nice shiny office buildings. People really don’t know that money really does buy [influence] people no more. But I don’t think people still really understand the extent to which money has always bought influence in American politics. And I think-

PAUL JAY: When you say ‘influence’ I think you should add the word ‘contracts.’

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes. Yes.

PAUL JAY: Like, getting into the trough, and the corruption of getting it all that money.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Absolutely. I mean, it’s the–it’s money, the influence of money, and contracts, and contacts in the government is the reason Boeing 737s in this country were the last–we were the last country to ground those airplanes, because of the $15.1 million that Boeing spent in lobbying last year alone. So I mean, there is–people are right about the corrupting influence of of K Street lobbyists and money and politics.

But it’s not just politics, because we talked about this from people from New York and New Jersey, and who understand real estate deals in New York. That’s the world that Trump came from. And people were so opposed to him and dislike him so much in New York because they understand how corrupt that industry is. I mean, you really do have to kind of be in bed with the mob a little bit to get anything built and done in that region, and in other states. So this is not something that’s new to him, being corrupt, under the table dealing, making backdoor deals, peddling influence. Absolutely nothing unusual for Trump. Not just in politics, but also in private business. And that is a peek into the rotten core of capitalism. And I think that’s really important for us to understand.

PAUL JAY: Jeff, of the various votes that we just were talking about, I thought the Yemen vote was particularly interesting, that some of the senators that are, in fact, even often real hawks, in terms of neocon hawks in terms of foreign policy, voted in favor of this ending the Yemen war. And these are people that have, you know, usually been quite connected to the Saudis. You know, on The Real News we’ve been talking to various people and basically developing the thesis or the idea that the reason they want to end the Yemen war is because it’s such a distraction from getting ready for something against Iran. And they don’t–even Lindsey Graham’s been talking about the kind of stupidity of MBS, and that he’s becoming a weight. He’s breaking the strength of that Israeli-Saudi-American alliance targeting Iran with the Khashoggi killing and the Yemen war. Do you think Trump actually sticks this out? Because he seems to have a very specific close arrangement with the Saudis. In other words, does he veto this thing?

JEFF COHEN: He and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have a very close relationship, so I don’t think he was happy with this vote. And I believe Senator Sanders and Senator Murphy from Connecticut-

PAUL JAY: And Lee.

JEFF COHEN: Sentor Lee, the Republican from Utah, took the lead on this. And it’s, again, they’ve been fighting to get this thing passed for well over a year. And I think it really is a defeat for Trump. But you’re right. The ultimate goal is perhaps push this off the table so we can take on Iran.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think that’s the goal of either Sanders or Lee, but it explains where Lindsay Graham is coming from.

JEFF COHEN: Yes. It explains where some of them are. Including, I would argue, some of the Democratic hawks that are completely Israel right or wrong fanatics; that they believe the main target should be Iran, and that Yemen may be a distraction.

PAUL JAY: I mean, do we get to a point where, you know, if Lindsey Graham thinks that MBS is just a distraction from going against Iran, well, what about Trump? These endless hearings and the kind of exposing the corruption of Trump. This is not a president that a country rallies around to go to war.

JEFF COHEN: No doubt about it. But keep in mind that Trump has got this personal loyalty thing. Whether it’s Kim in North Korea, or Putin, or MBS in Saudi Arabia, there’s this personal thing for him that’s almost more important than anything else. And he still has that personal attachment, as does his son-in-law, Jared.

PAUL JAY: So, Jacqueline, does this–you know, we’ve got about a year and a half or something before the elections. He’s still pretty down in the polls. Although it’s amazing 41 percent of people still think he’s doing a good job, which makes you wonder about American society.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I don’t wonder.

PAUL JAY: But is there a tipping point here, where they think that Trump is a good vehicle for Iran, for domestic policy, for other things? But does that vehicle start to leak too many holes, and they have to actually start considering whether they’re going to bail on this guy?

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: You know, that’s a good question. I am not sure. I can’t–I can’t pin this Republican Party down. And I think that’s the problem a lot of Americans are having with this iteration of the Republican Party. Before, they kind of had a semblance of some kind of ethical facade where you could say, all right, yeah, they’ve got the dog whistles going on, like Jeff said and like we all know is true, that they’ve been this way ever since, what, the Southern Strategy, pretty much. That yeah, they’ve got the dog whistles going on. But they’re not going to go so far as to endorse, like, a David Duke. Right?

Now that’s completely out the window. And they are hitching their wagon–because they really can’t–because, you know, like we’ve all said, he really can lead a primary challenge against anyone who expresses a lack of loyalty to him, and they’ll lose their jobs. So they could, a few of them, could grow a spine and exhibit some ethics that they’ve lost along the way in supporting this man to be the head of their party. But I almost-

PAUL JAY: I don’t think it’s ever going to be about ethics. It’s going to be a political calculation.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: No, no. It’s going to be about political calculation, what they want their legacy to be. And I think ultimately just–that’s survival, really, for them. And I don’t know that there are going to be that many defections in the early stages of the election if it looks like he’s going to win.

PAUL JAY: Jeff–you know, we don’t have time right now to get into any detail. But just–we need to also say the systemic corruption has certainly been in the Democratic Party, as well. It seems like the Republicans are more overt about it. But maybe the Dems, some of those corporate Dems, are a little more–a little better covering it up, or at least maybe they do it n this quasi-legal way.

But I think the Democrats are–the corporate Democrats–have been doing something almost worse than some of this corruption, and that is the narrative they’ve been pushing on the Russia collaboration story. So far it looks like at the moment there isn’t going to be a big Russia collaboration story. But there certainly has been enormous beating of the drums about a kind of warlike attitude towards Russia coming from the Democratic Party.

Like this idea that let’s say he wanted a hotel in Moscow. Well, so what? Maybe he kind of lied about it during the campaign. Yeah, that’s a transgression. But the underlying attack of the Democrats on this issue of collaboration, and even Russian interference in the election, has been to stoke all the fires of the Cold War, to stoke all the fires of this militarist narrative. And–like, I’ve been saying on The Real News that if Russia did everything they’re accused of, I mean, who cares? It’s like nothing compared to what the American oligarchy has done to undermine democracy in the United States. It’s normal business. All these countries, all the big capitalist countries, do it to each other. Everybody tries to get what they can and interfere in each other’s elections if they can. It’s being made an issue out of for partisan advantage, and because it fits the whole narrative since World War II that’s created this enormous military industrial complex, and it’s being led by the Democratic Party.

JEFF COHEN: Yeah, I agree with almost everything you said. I mean, clearly the Republicans are more naked servants of big capital than even the corporate Democrats. But the corporate Democrats have played the Democratic leadership this dangerous game, where to avoid any self-analysis of the horrible candidate they put up in 2016, and the horrible compromised wishy-washy program that Hillary Clinton ran on, they had to say “We didn’t lose the election. The Russians stole it.” And if you look at the book Shattered, you know, on day one after the defeat, that’s where the Democrats went. We have to blame this on Russia and we have to blame this on Comey. But we certainly–there was nothing we did that was wrong.

And it is very dangerous. I mean, I watch MSNBC every night. I do that so you don’t have to. It’s not a glamorous job. But you watch it every night, and you keep hearing about Russian oligarchs who have ties to the Kremlin. And what you’ll never hear on MSNBC or CNN is here are the U.S. oligarchs who have ties to Washington. Because as you said, Paul, the U.S. oligarchs, the U.S. corporate elite, has deformed U.S. democracy far worse than any Russian oligarch. And one of those oligarchs that I think always escapes attention is the head of Comcast. Comcast owns MSNBC. Brian Roberts. He helped when–when the Republicans were in power he got things from them such as net neutrality weakening or abolition. When Bill Clinton was the president, they got the Telecommunications Act that helped companies like Comcast.

So you have these U.S. oligarchs with huge power over both political parties. And they are the ones that have been undermining U.S. democracy for decades. And yet all we hear on CNN and MSNBC is about the Russians. It’s the Russians. It’s the Russian oligarchs. It’s Putin that’s undermined U.S. democracy. Well, maybe it played a tiny role. Obviously they tried to play some sort of role. But the U.S. corporate elite that owns these media outlets, they played a far bigger role in undermining U.S. democracy.

PAUL JAY: All right. Well, that’s the end of segment one. As I said, we’re going to do a few segments looking at some of the recent news stories, so keep looking for the different parts. Jacqueline, thanks for joining us for this. And Jeff, thank you for joining us.

JEFF COHEN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: And thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.