In mid-October, Chapman University released the results of its annual survey of Americans’ greatest fears. It is a remarkable document and, in some ways, a hopeful one. The survey suggests that, despite the current administration’s full-frontal assault on truth, Americans basically understand what Donald Trump and the GOP are up to: pushing an agenda meant to pillage the environment, enrich the wealthy and gut democracy.
Last year, top-ranking issues on the list of fears included terrorism and gun control. This year, these items have been replaced by Trumpcare and water pollution. Climate change ranks eighth. Air pollution ranks tenth. Neither ranked in the top 10 last year.
Around 75 percent of Americans now say they worry about corruption — an increase of about 14 points from last year. And the numbers are likely to only keep moving in this direction.
After Monday’s Department of Justice indictments, handed down by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, we may be at the beginning of a vast corruption story that unspools over months or, plausibly, years. Mueller announced charges against three former advisers to Trump, most notably Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign manager for several months during the 2016 election. The 12-count indictment of Manafort includes charges of money laundering and tax fraud. The investigation is ongoing, and charges against other Trump campaign officials appear likely.
Republican poobahs responded to this scandal as they always do, saying they won’t let the Mueller investigation obstruct their hard work on behalf of the American people. As House Speaker Paul Ryan (R‑Wis.) promised on Monday, “nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress, because we’re working on solving people’s problems.”
This has been the Republicans’ standard pose since Trump performed his spectacular cannonball dive into the pool of 2016 GOP presidential candidates.
By their own telling, these lawmakers are working stiffs with their sleeves rolled up, grinding out wins on behalf of the people and tuning out the distractions. “We could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R‑Ky.) said in May, “so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform and repealing and replacing Obamacare.”
In truth, though, Trump’s idiocy and the culture of corruption festering in his administration aren’t distractions from the GOP’s real work, any more than brain injuries and broken bodies are distractions from the game of football. They’re inseparable.
The tension between what Americans want and what the Republicans’ corporate masters demand has driven the party to a place of spiraling madness. The GOP can’t be honest about its priorities or its agenda of selling out the country. Nor can it offer solutions that would solve problems and address people’s fears.
At a time when the impacts of climate change are intensifying, for example, the Trump-appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt — former Oklahoma Attorney General and longtime opponent of the EPA — has silenced climate scientists and left the door wide open for special interests. His schedule, as the New York Times reported earlier this month, is filled “almost daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates — and almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates.”
And this week, the GOP leadership is expected to unveil a “tax reform” plan that, according to Tax Policy Center analysis, would send 50 percent of its benefits to the top one percent. The party’s priorities are so skewed toward wealth, privilege and power that it’s even willing to endure the hideous optics of repealing the estate tax, which only applies to the top 0.2 percent of the population.
While the party is occupied with finding new gifts for corporate donors and the wealthy, most Americans are worried about high medical bills — number six in the Chapman University survey this year. They’re worried about not having enough money — ranking number five. They’re worried about what we’re doing to the environment — claiming four spots in the top ten — and about the United States getting involved in another world war — number seven on the list.
As the Mueller investigation unfolds, we’ll hear a lot more from Republicans about how they’re determined to tune out the distractions and focus on getting the people’s agenda passed. But for a party with nothing on its agenda that actually helps working Americans, and whose only object is to serve monied interests, chaos and corruption are permanent features, not temporary bugs.
After all, people who despair about the system generally don’t bother to engage with it. They don’t care enough to fix it. They don’t believe that they can. Cynicism breeds hopelessness, and hopelessness breeds paralysis. So democracy is gutted, wealth and power is concentrated, drip by drip — one distraction, one indictment and one absurd tweetstorm at a time.