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The Elephants in the Room: How to Combat Republican Obstruction

This week on democracy-ish, we’re postponing our analysis of Barack Obama’s new book, “A Promised Land,” because Danielle didn’t do her homework. But she and Toure have plenty to discuss.

  • The runoff election in Georgia is weeks away and wresting the Senate away from Mitch McConnell’s clutches has never been so crucial.

  • What should Democratic power look like post-Trump? Can we ever compromise again, or should we take a page from the GOP and engage in political warfare?

  • The first COVID-19 vaccine is rolling out soon, and many Black people are skeptical. Why is that, but why should we take it anyway?

With just five weeks left until the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, all eyes are on Georgia, where two Senate races will be decided in a January 5 runoff. Control of the Senate, and the incoming administration’s ability to actually accomplish its agenda, hangs in the balance.

If Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win those seats, “every single Democratic senator will be super powerful,” says Toure. “Or we’ll have at least two more years of Mitch McConnell in charge, which means nothing happens. Because McConnell's modus operandi, since at least the beginning of the Obama era, is total obstruction.”

In fact, the self-described “Grim Reaper” is singlehandedly holding up a bipartisan $908 billion stimulus package over a provision that allows COVID survivors to sue their employers if they contract it on the job.

“Yet again, he's standing up for big business rather than trying to help people,” says Toure. “McConnell won’t allow anything that would make Biden's first 100 days seem successful, even if it means millions of Americans hurt and starving.”

Grim Reaper, indeed. We lost more lives last week than we did on 9/11 or at Pearl Harbor. When and how can we recover, if we can at all?

Episode Highlights –– Fight Rethuglicans

McConnell’s Imperial Senate

Danielle is “absolutely disgusted” with Republicans and tired of Mitch McConnell.

“I'm tired of the fact we don't fight him,” she adds. “Do we ever hear Democrats threaten to sue him for his obstruction and tearing down the Constitution?”

She’s weary of Dems who claim we have to take the high road.

“Fuck the high road,” Danielle says. “The reason McConnell continues to do what he’s been doing for 10 fucking years is because Democrats don't do dick. And they don't even have tough talk or messaging or conversation about how he's destroying the country.”

Toure doesn’t know how Dems could do procedurally. Our founding fathers designed the Senate as a more deliberative body, one in which even a single member can forestall a proposal they disagree with.

But he doesn’t think they could have ever imagined how our system has devolved to the point where its majority leader could hold the whole government hostage as a political gesture, “because campaigning never ends. He’d rather damage the country than allow Democrats to seem to put up any points on the board.”

After all, he’s the guy whose stated goal was to make Obama a one-term president and whose “proudest moment” of his decades-long career was blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

‘Getting to yes’: a hard no for the GOP

Danielle thinks the Obama administration should have tried to litigate the Garland issue, among other unethical and arguably unconstitutional moves by McConnell. Instead, it tried to keep working with a party that sees government as the problem.

Democrats believe that government can solve problems. And they want to use it to do so, “which involves compromise,” says Toure. “It involves getting to yes.”

It’s much easier to stop a bureaucratic system from working and blame the other side, he adds. And so we have a government that seems to be constantly at war with itself when it’s really just the GOP that’s throwing in a wrench into the wheels of democracy.

But Toure doesn’t want Democrats to use the same tactics as their rivals –– like shutting down the government rather than make any tradeoffs.

“Shutdowns are generally bad for the party that shuts it down,” he says.

“You can't govern from fear and what-ifs,” Danielle counters.

A view to a coup

Fear –– of political fallout, of tarnishing one’s legacy, of creating further divides –– was why Ford pardoned Nixon and why Obama didn’t pursue investigations of Bush, Cheney and the rest of the crew that embroiled us in the Iraq war. If they had, maybe we wouldn’t have elected someone like Trump, says Danielle. Or at least Trump wouldn’t think he is above the law.

So what should Dems do, especially if McConnell retains power?

First, “language actually matters,” she argues. “And the conversation we're having is an important one. This isn't about McConnell thwarting Biden's first 100 days. It’s political warfare. This isn't about Joe Biden. It’s about the American people.”

By Inauguration Day, the COVID crisis will have claimed at least 300,000 American lives, Danielle says.

“Everything Republicans do is killing Americans. And so the words and the language and the messaging that we have as a party matters. This isn’t both-sides-ism. It is a coup to obstruct our government.”

Rudy farts as the world burns

Democrats do need to work on messaging, but it’s nearly impossible to break through the right-wing media bubble, Toure notes. “We have an asymmetrical problem. We have one party going more and more and more off the deep end, ideologically and interpersonally.”

Case in point: In a runoff debate with Rev. Warnock on Monday, Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler couldn’t bring herself to say Joe Biden won the election. It reminds Toure of the “birther” era, when Republican officials would run from reporters who asked them if Obama was American.

And those were the days when we didn’t have a dictator waiting to attack them with tweets and shame if they didn't tow the party line.

The GOP used to represent a “very reasonable intellectual movement,” he adds. “I disagreed with it completely, but there was a reasonable-ness to it. But the conservative movement that rose up in the wake of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh has become increasingly insane. And Donald Trump is just the furthest reach of it.”

That’s how we got to our current moment of “ridiculous shambolic hearings, where Rudy Giuliani farts and says there's all sorts of evidence of election fraud,” he adds. “But when they go to court, there is none.”

What we’ve lost: perspective (and logic)

Danielle isn’t sure whether the Republican party went off the deep end in the ‘90s or it was already drowning on the wrong side of history.

“We kind of lose perspective. Because one would argue by funneling drugs into the Black community, assassinating activists, creating the ‘welfare queen,’ breaking down the Black Panther Party, which was only trying to provide food and shelter and literacy programs for Black people –– they have always been evil. They have always been crazy.”

We assume there’s always been some ideological argument at play.

“But white supremacy isn't an ideological argument,” she adds. “There's no real merit or basis to it, other than hate and dominance and oppression.”

She thinks Donald Trump has allowed conservatives “to leave their etiquette behind –– and feel they can be both a strong man and a victim at the same time, which is just pure fuckery. How does that logically work?”

Toure argues that their victim mentality stems from generations of grievance that dates back to the Civil War and just got worse after Roe v. Wade.

“This will be the new one. The loss of the 2020 election will be a rallying cry for the next 50 years.”

Tuskegee was just the tip of the trauma

Toure saw a poll this week that suggests Black people are far less likely to want to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I'm curious about you,” he says to Danielle. “Do you plan to take it? Or are you like, I don't know; they screwed us in Tuskegee ... I don't know about this one?”

She “absolutely will” once she’s eligible to do so. Meanwhile, she wishes such polls (and the results thereof) included conversations about why Black people might not want to take the vaccine. And historical context is just one of the reasons.

“It isn't just Tuskegee and Henrietta Lacks. It’s the fact that Black women die in hospitals at five times the rate white people do. It’s the historical, systemic racism in the medical-industrial complex, and the ways in which modern medicine was made off of our bodies. It's not that Black people are ignorant –– they don't want to die.”

There are so many ways that can happen, she points out: a knee on the neck, or dying in prison, or giving birth, or from poverty or drug addiction.

“Living Black in America is Russian Roulette. It bothers me when people have this conversation, but don't illuminate and educate the public about the reasoning behind the pushback Black people may have.”

A vaccine can’t cure racism, but we should take it anyway

Toure understands Danielle’s arguments about medical racism, but he thinks this is different: “It is a historical medical emergency. Emergency isn’t even strong enough of a word. It’s happening to everybody around the globe and Black people have been suffering more acutely than white people.”

The root causes aren’t biological, he points out –– it’s sociological and economic.

“I would that would make us say we’ve got to take this. We have to save our communities and ourselves.”

Declining a COVID vaccine seems almost like “refusing to pick the little teeny bit of cotton out of the aspirin bottle,” he says –– “I’d rather die of a headache because my great-grandparents were enslaved and they picked cotton.”

He doesn’t think the vaccine will be any less safe or effective when it’s deployed in Black communities.

“I don't understand why you would assume that,” Danielle replies. I don't understand why we wouldn’t think they’re deciding to give us a generic or a watered-down version, because it's all about profit depending on which community you're in or what kind of pharmacy you have.”

Messaging without gaslighting

She hopes the Biden-Harris administration can find a way to deliver a message about the importance of the vaccine “without belittling us or making us feel like we're crazy,” says Danielle, noting that gaslighting Black folks is a feature of white supremacy.

“We’re dealing with generations of trauma that run so fucking deep.”

Just telling us we have to take it because we're dying at higher rates won’t work, she adds.

“We're dying at higher rates, period, whether it's COVID, cancer, heart disease –– but let me tell you something, if the Trump administration was doling out this vaccination, I wouldn't fucking take it and I wouldn’t tell anyone else to either.”

“I hear you,” says Toure. “I’d be hard-pressed to trust anything out of the Trump administration.”

Politics, profits and Pfizer

However, Toure points out that vaccinations only work if “something like 90% of the people in a given community take it.”

Otherwise, the virus remains strong enough to spread. So withholding it from certain people –– even though he can imagine that might be attempted–– doesn’t track with either a profit motive or a political one.

“Vaccination is itself a profit center. And getting back to some level of economic normalcy is of tremendous value, not only to the government and the country as a whole but to the Black community. It’s more valuable for us to get back to some sort of economic and social normalcy.”

Danielle agrees. But the larger problem is that so many Americans only seem to care about the economic viability of this country, not the health and welfare of its citizens.

She cites the fact that Republicans invited a noted anti-vax doctor to testify about the dangers of vaccination at a Senate hearing on COVID mitigation mandates. Plus, in spite of the size of our population (330 million), we only have 100 million doses of Pfizer’s drug. The Trump administration turned down the opportunity to buy more.

“I don't know how America survives this,” she says. “I really don't.”

The interregnum: Lame!

Why is there so much time between the election and the inauguration?

“I’m confused. I need to reread parts of the Constitution,” says Danielle, pointing out that usually if someone is fired from their job, they must leave immediately.

When she tweeted about it, “folks in the UK and Canada were like, your system makes no fucking sense. Because when they vote out their Prime Minister, that motherfucker is gone the next day.”

But we let a lame duck hold on to the nuclear codes for another two months and run roughshod over the country.

“I'm not slagging Canada or any other country, but I think our system is extraordinarily complicated,” Toure says. “I think a new president needs time––”

Danielle cuts in: “Two weeks. I'm giving these motherfuckers 14 days to figure it out. You see the poll numbers; start packing your bags.”

Waiver-ing on Biden’s Pentagon pick

In this new memoir, Obama talks about the “football” –– a suitcase with the nuclear codes, carried by a Marine who follows a president everywhere he goes.

“The President is always seconds away from being able to launch a nuclear weapon,” says Toure. “It strikes me as an unnecessary, anachronistic, overly militaristic custom that should be abandoned.”

He thinks it’s a Cold War relic: “We need to move toward a world that not only expects but demands diplomacy.”

To that point, he notes that Biden named a Black military veteran [retired four-star General Lloyd Austin III] as his Secretary of Defense.

“Why not a civilian?” asks Toure. [Ed. note: Traditionally, the SoD is a civilian; Trump busted that norm with Jim Mattis. Like Mattis, Austin will need a congressional waiver to serve.]

“Why not somebody who’d ... [say] maybe we shouldn’t attack, rather than somebody who's like, here's how we can?”

“I think we need somebody who can undo all of the things that Trump's insane, unrestrained folks did,” says Danielle. “There is a lot of repair to be done in our military and our foreign relations. I don't think that a civilian would be up for the task.”

She thinks Biden, with foreign policy experience both in the White House and the Senate, “knows what he is doing here. I trust his decision.”

Spoiler alert ...

“I could talk to you all day,” says Toure. “But I want to bring this home and let folks know we will do the Obama book conversation when Danielle is caught up,” he says pointedly. “Probably around Christmas or New Year's, after lots of you get the book as a gift.”

He asks Danielle: “You know he's gonna win the election, right? I don't want to spoil it for you.”

“It’s already spoiled,” she responds. “Toure loves to dole out work as if the world isn't on fire.”

The world does still seem a bit en Fuego, and not in a good way, even though we’re in “these last, thank God, days of the horrific Trump administration,” says Toure.

“We'll be back next week––”

“If Trump hasn't blown up the country yet,” Danielle says. “Toure is traveling with a football,”

“Pray about it,” he replies.

Get your weekly rundown of the presidential election from a Black progressive point of view on democracy-ish. Consider Danielle Moodie and Toure as your tour guides, flight attendants and/or therapists as we move through this dumpster fire of an election cycle — together!

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