The Stand

Two faces of democracy and a litmus test

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By JEFF JOHNSON


SEATTLE (Jan. 23, 2017) — Over this past weekend, the United States once again witnessed the peaceful democratic transition of power from one administration to another.

But this wasn’t the real story. Nor was the real story the administration’s obsession with size, whether hands or audience. The real story over the weekend was that two very different visions of America and American values were expressed.

These two visions, one outlined in President Trump’s inaugural address and first actions, and the other in millions of people marching and protesting in the streets in the United States and around the world could not have been more different.

President Trump, using campaign rhetoric, spoke primarily to his base in his inaugural address. He outlined a rather dark and dystopian view of America, an “American carnage,” that was caused by all those in power prior to him and that will stop “right here and stops right now.”

The President went on to declare his new vision for our country: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”

He also proclaimed a new litmus test: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Okay, let’s reflect on this for a moment.

Suspending judgment on this break from 70 years of international engagement, some positive, some not, what are the actions behind the president’s words.

While candidate Trump was good at identifying the economic losses to workers and communities from deindustrialization, trade and capital flight, President Trump will have a harder time changing policies that incentivized even his own company to make men’s suits in Mexico and ties in China. So the jury is out on what he can do here.

However, moments after his “America First” inaugural address President Trump took several actions that fail the litmus test he just said that we were going to live by.

► By Executive Order, he repealed the mortgage rate reduction President Obama had put in place for first-time low-income homeowners. The repeal raises the monthly insurance payment paid by first time home owners to the Federal Housing Authority by .6% or about $500 on a $200,000 mortgage. The reduction and its repeal does not impact wealthy homeowners, just those with lower incomes, lower credit scores, and those unable to put 20% down.

► By Executive Order, he gave the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to “ease the burden of the Affordable Care Act.” While it’s not entirely clear what this means yet, HHS has the authority to grant waivers from the individual mandate as well as rule-making authority around minimum requirements for health coverage. This executive order sets a tone and an expectation that we are moving into uncharted waters.

Neither Executive Order is in the best interest of the American worker or American families. Home ownership is the primary form of wealth working-class people own and making it more difficult for workers to buy homes just makes income and wealth inequality greater in America.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement policy, threatens health coverage for 30 million individuals, creates chaos in the individual insurance market and raises insurance premiums for all those who still have health insurance.

When you add to these Executive Orders a set of cabinet nominations that appear to hold views diametrically opposed to the Agencies they are supposed to run, the chasm between President Trump’s words and actions gets wider and clearer by the day.

In contrast…

Millions of women, men and children marched on Saturday in the Women’s Marches held all over the country and they had a very different vision of America, our values, and our needs.

My wife Becki and daughter Danica marched in Seattle; my daughter Anya marched in Los Angeles; my sister Janis and my niece Jennifer marched in Washington, D.C.; and I marched in Olympia.

As a veteran of 50 years of expressing democracy in the streets, I believe that the Women’s Marches represent one of the finest moments in our country’s modern history. The marches were spiritually uplifting, healing, provocative, moving, inclusive and profound in the values and vision that they expressed for our country.

The values and vision included:

► Equal rights, equity, and opportunities for all whether we are immigrants, LGBTQ, black, brown or white, indigenous, students, seniors…

► A woman’s right to make decisions about her body and reproductive health decisions not the government.

► Need to strengthen the ACA because actual health care is a human right not an insurance policy

► Expand our rights to vote, to join a union, to make decisions about what our communities look like

► Protect our water, air, health and environment from the ravages of climate change

► Pay Equity

► Strengthen our public schools and public services

► Reform our criminal justice system

These and so many more issues were raised in the marches, but I believe that the primary message being sent over the weekend by millions was that we will not tolerate moving backward. That we will fight together to advance towards a country where we share the prosperity created by workers, where we build bridges not walls, and where racism is dealt with head on and not glossed over in an appeal to a “new national pride.”

As we in labor participate in helping to build this new movement, let’s keep as a central operating tenet: “An Injury to One is an Injury to All.”


15-Jeff-JohnsonJeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 600 local unions and approximately 450,000 rank-and-file union members.

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