Where Is The Tipping Point?

Some political pundits, even party insiders, have cautioned Democrats against beginning articles of impeachment when they take control of the House in 2019. Their line of reasoning is that the occupant of the Oval Office should be determined only by election and that a GOP-controlled Senate would never convict Trump anyway. The result of impeachment, they say, could destroy our nation.

Really? What do you think Republicans would do if the roles were reversed? I think you know the answer to that question. They would almost certainly vote for impeachment. Indeed, many called for the impeachment of President Obama simply for saving our economy from a second depression.

And there are even more important questions. What would be the impact of allowing a man guilty of multiple felonies from serving out his term? What precedent would that set? What would prevent a president from committing far more serious crimes in office. Declining to vote for articles of impeachment would say to future candidates that, if you can convince enough Americans to vote for you, you can do whatever you want as president while in office.

Consider the following:

President Richard Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment for making false or misleading statements; for withholding relevant evidence or information; for condoning and counseling witnesses to give false or misleading statements; for interfering with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Congressional Committees; for approving the payment of substantial sums of hush money to witnesses; for making false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States; for causing defendants to expect favored treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony.

And President Clinton was impeached for far less. After a 4-year investigation, he was impeached on one count of perjury for lying about a sexual affair and one count of obstruction for attempting to cover up that affair. He was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

Now, let’s look at what we know about President Trump. With all of the chaos caused by his administration and the violation of norms, it’s easy to lose sight of the crimes he has committed. For example, he has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator for directing and participating in the illegal payment of hush money to two women with whom he had extramarital affairs. That means he has committed two counts of election fraud – both felonies.

During a televised interview, Trump openly admitted to obstruction of justice by saying he had fired FBI director James Comey for refusing to ignore Michael Flynn’s lies about his contacts with Russia – another felony. In a series of tweets, Trump indicated his admiration for Paul Manafort for refusing to cooperate with the Special Counsel’s office. That is witness tampering in plain sight – another felony. And we know that Trump has repeatedly lied to news reporters and the American public about his involvement in the payment of hush money – yet another example of obstruction of justice.

Additionally, we know that Trump has, on multiple occasions, violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by receiving money from foreign visitors to his Washington DC hotel and receiving foreign investments in his family business. He and many of his appointees have violated the Hatch Act by using public office and public funds to campaign for re-election. And we know that he and many within his campaign violated the Logan Act by negotiating with a foreign government (Russia) which has a dispute with the United States.

Even without knowing what the Special Counsel has found about Trump’s role in the Russian interference in our elections, and without knowing if Trump acted on behalf of Vladimir Putin to relax sanctions against Russia, we already know that Trump has committed multiple high crimes and misdemeanors. Indeed, he has far surpassed the crimes that led to Clinton’s impeachment. And he has even surpassed Nixon’s. In 1974, those crimes were enough to force a president from office. Is the standard so much higher now? And, if so, why?

Whether or not we allow Trump to remain in office is not just about politics. It’s about the law and what we should reasonably expect from a president. Trump took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has clearly violated that oath. And if Democrats fail to vote for articles of impeachment, they will have failed to carry out their duty.

Trump Is A Case Study In The Failings Of News Media.

No, I’m not referring to the right-wing accusations of “Fake News.” As a journalist, I have great faith in the accuracy and integrity of most news reporters. I’m referring to the extraordinary amount of news coverage afforded to Trump from the time he was a two-bit developer and hustler in the early eighties; from the time he used undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish New York’s treasured Art Deco Bonwit Teller building to make way for his garish Trump Tower.

Reviled by many New Yorkers, Trump was embraced by the news and entertainment media because, in journalistic terms, he was good copy. He served as his own publicist using his inherited millions to gain publicity for his gaudy buildings, which all bear his name in gigantic, oversized letters. And, if he believed the coverage to be unflattering, he used his father’s mob-connected lawyer to bully the writers and producers.

If the media chose to ignore him, he called reporters while disguising his voice and using one of many aliases to heap praise on himself and his projects. He portrayed himself as a self-made billionaire claiming that he received a very small loan from his father, which he quickly repaid. He claimed that he was far richer than he really was. He lied…a lot…to make himself seem important.

In reality, his approach had all the class and sophistication of a street pimp. Only, instead of gold rings, chains and a custom Cadillac, his bling consisted of gold-plated lobbies, golden faucets, and gold-plated toilets. And, like the pimp, Trump almost always had some eye-candy hanging on to his arm.

More than anything else, Trump adhered to the age-old prescription for fame: The belief that there is no bad publicity as long as your name is spelled correctly.

His efforts paid off. The real estate and gossip pages were soon filled with his lies about his wealth, his development plans and the names of women he claimed were obsessed with him. He gained even more coverage when he placed a full-page ad calling for the execution of the Central Park 5 – five young men who were ultimately proven innocent for the assault and rape of a female jogger.

Still considered a minor player in New York’s real estate market, in 1987 he hired a ghost writer to author The Art of the Deal to promote his business acumen, which he, of course, believed to be extraordinary (it’s not).

Eventually, the national news media took notice and, in 2004, he was cast as the business mogul for NBC’s Apprentice. Though the TV show made him out to be a business genius, in fact, he had very little to do with it. He simply read the scripts (badly) and delivered one memorable line: “You’re fired.”

When his fame began to wane, he embraced the “Birther” conspiracy along with some of the nation’s most questionable, and arguably, most despicable political operatives, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi. When his right-wing toadies encouraged him to run for office, the notion appealed to his massive ego. Unfortunately, it also appealed to TV networks and newspapers desperate for ratings and readership.

As a result, beginning in mid-2015, he was on cable television news shows almost 24/7. When he appeared at a rally in Phoenix that same year, his speech dominated the news cycle. The media dutifully reported his claims that his followers filled the convention center despite the fact that the local fire marshal reported a much smaller number. By comparison, when Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared at a rally in the same building in front of an overflow crowd of several thousand more people, the news media hardly took notice.

The Trump coverage only grew from there. The airwaves were filled with his speeches and interviews. They feigned outrage as he taunted his GOP primary opponents, while making wild, undeliverable promises and threatening Hillary. Indeed, the lies, the self-aggrandizement, the threats and the publicity continue unabated to this day.

It’s not that the majority of the news media ever really supported Trump or that they ever believed his unbelievable claims. In fact, they’re now doing the job they’re expected to do by exposing his prolific lies and holding him accountable.

Make no mistake – he’s still good for ratings and readership. He’s still good copy. But because of the media’s fascination with a sensational story, our democracy is paying a horrific price.

Addressing Rural Decline And Our Political Divide.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I visited my hometown in rural Iowa. Once a thriving community with a variety of cafes, grocery stores, a five-and-dime, a clothing store, 3 farm implement dealers, 3 car dealers, a couple of hotels and more, it now features more empty storefronts and museums than active businesses…casualties of interstate highways that bypass all but the largest cities, corporate farms that have reduced the farm population by roughly 90 percent, big box stores and online retail.

Is it any wonder that many of the few remaining residents of such towns are frustrated?

As they have watched their town fade away, they have seen job opportunities fade along with it. Their home values have declined. And the decreasing tax base forces them to choose between larger property tax assessments or declining infrastructure.

They mistakenly believe that their income taxes disproportionately benefit large cities (however an Indiana study found that taxpayers in 46 metropolitan counties paid 82.5% of the taxes but received only 76.7% of the expenditures). They feel that their economic futures are no longer in their own control, but in the hands of a group of greedy corporations and politicians. Many believe urban “elites” are the source of all their problems. After all, it was the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street who used their money to gamble on derivatives leading to the Great Recession.

It’s largely because of their circumstances that they have become susceptible to fake news. They believe (rightfully so) that the mainstream media ignore those living in “flyover land” so they tune rightwing blowhards who skillfully pander to them by channeling their frustrations and outrage against liberals, immigrants and urban welfare recipients. They have been led to believe that the sensational crimes reported on evening newscasts show that city dwellers are a violent and lawless bunch. Many believe the cities are filled only with criminals and people with advanced degrees who lack common sense. And far too many believe the fear-mongering politicians who tell them that our nation is being over-run by criminals and terrorists.

Instead of finding common ground with the millions of similarly underpaid, overworked and overstressed people who work in large cities, they have been led to believe that they are rivals…indeed, enemies.

I am convinced that, more than anything else, this is what has led to our political divide.

The people living in rural communities similar to my hometown – those that have been persuaded that big city elites are conspiring against them – have an outsized influence on our national politics. Though only 14% of the US population lives in rural areas, the rural population has a disproportionate representation in the US Senate and, therefore, the Electoral College. Indeed, it is primarily because of their frustrations that Donald Trump now sits in the Oval Office despite receiving nearly 3 million fewer votes.

Given this, how can we bridge the rural/urban divide? How can we improve the economic opportunities for rural Americans and help the struggling rural communities?

We can start by telling them the truth – that their cherished lifestyle isn’t coming back until they make some difficult choices and accept monumental change. Despite the promises of some politicians, it’s unlikely that manufacturing plants are going to return to many of these towns and, even if they do, most of the work will be done by robots. And small, independent retail stores are unlikely to return as long as most Americans prefer to shop online and in big box stores.

Ironically, the most likely scenario for rebuilding our rural communities and for bridging our political divide is to commit to an aggressive (and necessary) response to climate change. Decreasing carbon emissions will require less dependence on imports and more demand for local production. It will require that fossil fuels be replaced with sustainable energy sources. Finally, it will require a reduction in the amount of cropland devoted to corn, soybeans and cattle. Instead, much of the land will necessarily be used for locally-grown produce.

In other words, the side effect of heading off climate disaster is to stop arguing and improve the circumstances of all Americans, rural and urban alike.

It’s Now Clear That One Of Our Political Parties No Longer Believes In Democracy.

For most of our history, the US has been dominated by two political parties. Though they have been fiercely competitive, they have always seemed willing to agree on the relative infallibility of the Constitution. And they have been willing to put their faith in the electorate. But over the past few decades, something changed.

The Republican Party – the Grand Old Party that led the fight to end slavery; the party that staked its future on holding the nation together following the secession of the South; the party of Abraham Lincoln – has seemingly abandoned its faith in democracy. Instead of fighting for the right of every American citizen to vote, they have falsified claims of widespread voter fraud as an excuse to create numerous obstacles for college students, the elderly and minority voters.

Prior to the midterm election, North Dakota’s GOP-controlled legislature passed a law requiring voters to have IDs with street addresses knowing that those living on the state’s Native American reservations have none. In Georgia, the GOP gubernatorial candidate who held the office of Secretary of State used his office to purge legitimately-registered voters, to shutter polling places in predominately minority areas, and to stall roughly 53,000 voter registrations based on alleged inconsistencies with their voting registration information.

In Texas, there were accounts of electronic voting machines changing votes from Democratic candidates to Republicans. In Florida and numerous other GOP-controlled states, the voting rolls were purged of tens of thousands of voters for failure to vote in previous elections or failure to update their voting information following a move. Many students were not allowed to vote where they attend college, instead being required to vote in their parent’s state of residence.

Want more evidence of the GOP’s contempt for democracy?

Consider the fact that, as a result of extreme GOP gerrymandering, Republicans were able to elect more candidates to legislatures despite Democrats receiving substantial majorities of votes. Or consider that, as Arizona, Florida and California continued to count legal votes following Election Day – many of them absentee and mail-in ballots that were dropped off at polling places – Republicans screamed fraud. They demanded the counts be stopped. They even claimed that election officials put in place by Republican governors and legislatures were attempting to steal the election for Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats insisted that every vote count regardless of party.

And, in at least three states where Democrats were elected governor, GOP-controlled legislatures have pushed laws to diminish and restrict the power of the governor’s office before the governors-elect can be sworn into office! Can there be any greater affront to the will of the voters? To democracy itself?

Republicans must be held accountable for their actions. Voters should demand that all states commit to automatic or same-day voter registration such as Minnesota. They should demand an end to gerrymandering through the implementation of independent redistricting commissions such as those in Arizona, California, Idaho and Washington. They should demand modern, reliable and tamper-proof voting machines that create a paper trail for recounts. And they should punish any political party that tries to undermine the will of the people.

Some Political Conspiracies Are More Than Theory.

It seems that every week conservative politicians, media pundits and, especially, President Trump come up with another unfounded conspiracy theory. On a regular basis, they have attacked the press, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, and others as operatives of the “Deep State” intent on undermining the Trump administration.

In order to foment fear before the midterm elections, they trotted out the wild conspiracy that George Soros and the HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) organized a caravan of “terrorists” to “invade” the United States. And, following the midterms, they have claimed that Democrats are committing election “fraud” by counting all of the votes, including mail-in votes from military personnel serving oversees.

Such crazy claims are not new. Nixon and Agnew claimed that they were victims of the “liberal” press even as they ordered the break-in of the Democratic National Committee and organized dirty tricks to frustrate and damage their Democratic rivals. But they really took root during the Clinton administration when, after the end of the Fairness Doctrine regulating broadcast media, Rush Limbaugh and others took to the airwaves to claim the Clintons defrauded investors in a real estate development named Whitewater. They claimed that Hillary Clinton ordered a contract killing of Vince Foster (he committed suicide) to cover up another fake conspiracy labeled Travelgate.

And the conspiracy theorists worked overtime during the administration of our nation’s first black president. They famously claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya making him ineligible to hold the office. They claimed he “palled around with terrorists.” They claimed he was only elected as the result of massive voter fraud aided by ACORN. They claimed the New Black Panthers intimidated GOP voters at the polls. They claimed he was working with the UN to take away Americans guns. They said that Agenda 21, the UN plan to prevent climate change and feed the planet, was a “black helicopter” operation to sell out the US. They claimed that Jade Helm 15, military exercises in the southwestern US, were an Obama plot to institute Sharia law, jail dissenters and to take over the US (never mind that it would be unnecessary since Obama, as president, already controlled the US government).

Then, of course, there was Benghazi, the supposed betrayal of a US ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the belief that Hillary’s use of a private email server for unclassified communications compromised US security. (Interestingly, the GOP is silent on President Trump’s use of an unsecured mobile phone for his Tweets and private conversations.) There was Pizzagate, the theory that Hillary was trafficking children out of the non-existent basement of a DC pizza parlor. And, perhaps, the most dangerous theory is the ongoing belief in QAnon, the fictitious anonymous operative (or operatives) within the Deep State who releases supposed classified information revealing the conspiracy against Trump.

All of these theories are not only wholly unfounded. They defy logic. Moreover, they may indicate a serious mental health crisis in the US.

On the other hand, there are GOP actions once believed to be conspiracy theories that have since been proven true beyond doubt. The most famous of these is Watergate. But there is also then GOP-candidate Nixon’s treasonous interference in the Vietnam Peace Talks that resulted in his election, but cost thousands more lives. (Nixon’s actions are documented in the upcoming program “Betrayal” on MSNBC. Similarly, the Reagan campaign is known to have interfered in the Carter administrations negotiations with Iran for the release of US diplomatic hostages.

There is the Iran-Contra affair, which consisted of the Reagan administration illegally selling arms to Iran, despite sanctions, in order to fund the anti-socialist Contra rebels in Central America. There is George W. Bush’s 2000 election “victory” in Florida that has been proven the result of voter suppression and outright election fraud orchestrated by his brother. There are the false claims of Iraqi WMD that led to the Iraq War. There is 2016 theft of emails from the DNC, the DCCC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager that were used by GOP candidates to gain power. There are the proven connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. There are the multi-million dollar donations to the NRA by a Russian oligarch to help fund GOP candidates in 2016. And there is the Russian interference in the 2016 elections for the benefit of Trump.

There are the ties between Trump administration officials and white supremacist groups revealed by Trump’s comments following Charlottesville. There is the obvious violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause by Trump and his family. And, of course, there is the cover-up of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels culminating in a Trump-ordered payoff in exchange for her silence.

The point is, when you hear a conspiracy theory, consider the source – especially if it comes from the Trump administration, Fox News Channel, InfoWars or any other conservative pundit. More likely than not, it will be nothing more than an attempt to deceive or GOP wishful thinking.

The Wannabe King.

The president’s actions on the day following the 2018 midterm elections will long be remembered as a window into his disturbing mind. He not only forced the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He replaced Sessions with a conservative ideologue. (As I’ve previously noted, that gives the president an acting Attorney General who is openly hostile to the Mueller investigation.)

Hmmmm…why do you suppose he would want to do that?

Prior to the announcement of Session’s “resignation,” the president presided over a press conference during which he courted a confrontation with a CNN reporter leading to the suspension of the reporter’s White House press credentials. When an NBC reporter stood up for his press colleague, Trump all but threatened him. And when a PBS correspondent understandably asked if the president’s labeling himself as a nationalist would be a welcome sign to white nationalists, Trump called the question “racist” and admonished the African-American correspondent for asking such a “horrible” question.

All of that was highly disturbing. But even more worrying was the president’s performance at the beginning of the press conference when he threatened “war” with Democrats after they wrested control of the House away from Republicans. More alarming yet was the fact that Trump ridiculed the Republicans who lost their bids for re-election. He mocked GOP candidates Mia Love, Barbara Comstock, Peter Roskam, Erik Paulsen, Carlos Curbelo and Mike Coffman for refusing his “embrace” saying, “They did very poorly.” “Mia Love gave me no love,” he continued, “And she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.” (Interestingly, at the time he was heaping scorn on Love, the race had not yet been called.)

The president’s comments should cause everyone to pause. Not just the members of his party. Every single one of us.

It’s clear that Trump believes that those he considers underlings should pay tribute to him above all else. Above the electorate. Above the Constitution. Above the nation. No previous occupant of the White House has ever expressed similar beliefs. Nor have they likely even entertained them. Nixon was a self-centered bully who thought he was above the law. But I think such beliefs were even beneath him.

Trump is now entering dictator territory.

It is Trump’s Me First attitude that has led to his view of the office as a money-making opportunity. To ignore the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause; to vacation at his own properties in order to generate income from his Secret Service detail; to cut trade deals with foreign governments that benefit his family’s business interests.

After China’s Xi Jinping made himself president for life, Trump said “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.” Was he joking? Or was he serious? Given his performance at the press conference, we can’t be certain.

Democrats’ Dilemmas.

Now that Democrats have overcome the Republican’s extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression to take control of the US House of Representatives, they face a serious dilemma. If they reach across the aisle and cooperate with the president to pass legislation on behalf those who elected them, Trump will take credit for it. (No one is better at claiming credit for others’ efforts.)

On the other hand, if Democrats obstruct Trump’s sinister agenda, Republicans will call them obstructionists and use their propaganda networks to undermine the Democrats’ chances of re-election. (Seemingly, only Republicans are able to obstruct without paying a price.)

And, as of today, Democrats are faced with an even more serious challenge following the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. By passing over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to install one of his compliant lackeys, Trump is clearly obstructing justice by taking responsibility for the Robert Mueller investigation away from Rosenstein. As the new Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker will not have to recuse himself. Moreover, he will be able to block any further indictments or, worse, prevent the Special Counsel’s report from becoming public. Of course, this comes on the heels of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court likely based on Kavanaugh’s belief in the supremacy of the presidency – that the president is above the law.

The result is a constitutional crisis most Americans have been wanting to avoid – the modern equivalent of Watergate’s Saturday Night Massacre which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.

Lest you dismiss Trump’s actions as mere politics as usual, you should consider the fact that the Trump campaign’s conspiracy involving Wikileaks and Russia is actually far worse than Watergate. Both consisted of interference in a presidential election. Both were break-ins – one into an office, the other into computers. Both involved the theft and use of Democratic documents. Both involved dirty tricks. And both led to indictments and convictions of the presidents’ campaign operatives. The difference is that Watergate did not involve a foreign government hostile to the United States.

All of this means that the new, Democratic-controlled House will be forced to take measures to ensure that the Mueller investigation continues unimpeded until we get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s conspiracy. And to determine, once and for all, whether or not the president was directly involved and aware of the conspiracy.

How Democrats go about these tasks may determine the outcome of the 2020 elections. If they do not protect Mueller and do not let the investigation continue to its conclusion, they will be punished at the polls by Democratic voters who will be understandably infuriated at their failure to hold Trump accountable. But, if their actions seem too partisan, and if they ignore the many other serious issues facing this nation, they will be punished by independents and swing voters.

Democrats will be walking a tightrope. It will take much thought, foresight and balance to attain their goals. Let’s all hope they are up to the task.

Will Election Winners Live Up To Their Promises?

Over the past year, Americans have been subjected to non-stop campaigning by national, state and local candidates. They and their affiliated Political Action Committees fueled by billions of dollars have papered our cities with flyers and ads. They have held thousands of campaign rallies. They have run tens of thousands of commercials on television and social media. And many of those commercials and ads have tried to create fear about the opposition.

We have been told that an invasion is coming – an invasion of MS-13 gang members, terrorists and thugs from Central America. We have been told that, if the angry mob of Democrats win, they will turn the US into a socialist country, and we will forever lose our democracy. We have been told that many of the candidates are corrupt. We have been told that if the opponents get to Washington, they will raise our taxes, bankrupt our nation and turn our health care over to a government bureaucracy.

Both sides have told us that they, and they alone, can end the division.

Both sides have told us that they will preserve our access to affordable health care. Both sides have promised to protect those with pre-existing conditions. Both sides have promised to preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Both sides have promised to improve education and the economy. Both sides have promised to create jobs. And, ironically, many on both sides have promised to be independent and to reach across the aisle for our benefit.

Really?

To the last claim, I’ll simply respond this way: If every candidate who promised to work across the aisle actually worked across the aisle, Congress and our country would not be so divided.

The Nexus Of Sports And Politics.

I certainly do not mean to demean sports. In my opinion, participation in team sports is one of the very best ways to prepare for life. Through my participation in team sports, I learned the value of practice, preparation, competition, teamwork, determination, toughness, and sportsmanship. When I was young, sports challenged you to do your very best. If that wasn’t good enough, you congratulated the other team then you went home and you worked even harder to improve yourself.

Unfortunately, I believe the sports culture took an ugly turn sometime around the late 80’s and early 90’s fueled, I believe, by cable sports networks. It was about that time when I first heard college fans boo the visiting team before the game even started; when I heard sports radio jocks call out and demean amateur players; when I heard fans demonize opponents; when I heard someone pronounce the runner-up of a tournament as the “first loser.”

Whether or not it was coincidental, that cultural change also happened to coincide with the self-esteem movement distinguished by the idea that you’re special; that no one in the world is exactly like you; that it’s bad for you, or your child, to be average. Receiving a C on a report card was akin to receiving an F. Though returning WWII vets were once proud to call themselves “Average Joes,” modern Americans began to consider the term average to be an insult. Everyone seemed to believe that they were exceptional.

Winning and excelling became all important. The long-time American tradition of cheering for underdogs was replaced by cheering for “winners” even if their winning is the result of cheating.

Not surprisingly, that attitude has carried over into our politics. Our politics are no longer about policies and values that will benefit the majority of Americans. Now it’s about winning at all costs. For some, even that is not enough. For them, it’s not enough for their side to win. The other side must lose. They want to punish the “libtards.” They wear shirts saying they’d rather be Russian than be a Democrat. They display bumper stickers that say “Christians cannot be Democrats. Democrats cannot be Christians.” They call Democrats an angry mob. They try to suppress, or even outright block the votes of those who might vote against them. They gerrymander districts to ensure that their political opponents are under-represented. They attack their opponents with horrific lies and attack ads. They dump manure at the doorstep of Democratic headquarters. And they think nothing of stealing the emails and communications of Democratic organizations.

Thanks to people like Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, there is no room for compromise. Indeed, a willingness to compromise is considered a sign of weakness. Such politics go beyond tribalism. For many Republicans, politics are an all-out war against the other tribe. But history tells us that, in order to survive, even the most primitive tribes eventually learned to stop fighting and seek peace. Those that failed to do so were wiped from the face of the Earth.

The Entitlement Lie.

For many years, Republicans have been determined to privatize Medicare and Social Security or get rid of the programs altogether. So whenever Republicans talk about federal spending, they usually show a chart that looks something like this:

Notice that the two largest slices of the budget represent Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or what is often called “mandatory” federal spending. Thus, the chart would seem to indicate that most of the tax revenue goes toward healthcare and retirement for the elderly and the poor. Is it any wonder, then, that so many young people believe that the federal government is being “bankrupted” by payments to senior citizens?

However, most of the costs for Medicare and Social Security are not part of the general budget.

Medicare and Social Security are, in fact, insurance programs similar to your auto, health and household insurance policies. And, like your other insurance policies, the premiums for Medicare and Social Security are collected each year of your working career so the benefits will be there when you need them. The premiums are deducted from our paychecks – you know, the ones that are labeled FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) and Medicare. As a result, Medicare and Social Security are “entitlements” only in the sense that once you have paid the premiums, you are entitled to the benefits in much the same way you’re entitled to benefit from claims against your Allstate, GEICO, Progressive or State Farm policies.

Since the programs pay for themselves, their budgets should be kept entirely separate from the general budget. To more accurately reflect reality, the federal spending chart should look like this:

This chart represents the spending controlled by Congress and paid for through taxation. As you can see, in this chart, the majority of that spending is for our military ($824.6 billion, up more than 13 percent since Republicans have taken the reins of government) and veteran’s benefits ($78.9 billion). When Congress spends more on these items than it collects in taxes, it results in deficit-spending. The shortfalls result in borrowing from other sources – from other countries and from the Medicare and Social Security trust funds.

Despite their claims to the contrary, Republicans have been particularly good at deficit spending. Reagan nearly doubled the federal debt, increasing it by $1.9 trillion. George W. Bush increased the debt by $5.8 trillion. He also left his successor with two wars and the Great Recession resulting in more than $8.5 trillion of additional borrowing. And, in his first two years in office, Donald J. Trump has already doubled the deficit, increasing the debt by more than $1.2 trillion. And the 10-year cost of the Trump tax cuts will add an estimated $2.3 trillion more to the federal debt.

In order to reduce the debt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he wants to balance the federal budget by cutting payments to “entitlements,” aka Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

Say what????!!!!

That would be akin to embezzling money from your employer to pay for your own spending excesses. The Social Security and Medicare trust funds are not Congress’s money!

None of this is to say that Medicare and Social Security don’t have their own problems. If changes are not made, it’s expected that Medicare will exhaust its reserves by 2028. Likewise, it’s expected that Social Security will not be able to meet its full obligations after 2034. But that does not mean that there will be no money left for the programs’ beneficiaries. It simply means that the payouts will be less.

And both programs could meet their obligations with a few tweaks.

Like all insurance programs, they should be governed by actuarial tables. When the costs go up, so should the premiums. Unfortunately, Congress has put limits on the amount of money the programs can charge for premiums. For example, FICA deductions only apply to the first $128,400 of an individual’s income. Social Security could be fixed by simply removing the cap. It’s that simple.

Similarly, Medicare’s impending problems could be solved by increasing the payroll deductions, by negotiating for better prices with pharmaceutical companies, or, better yet, we could improve outcomes while saving our government and our citizens trillions of dollars by moving toward universal health care.

And, here’s a radical idea: Maybe we could find additional money for these programs in the general budget by holding government contractors accountable. For example, the F-35 fighter jet program was $163 billion over budget as of 2014. A figure that continues to climb faster than the plane.