A new book by longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential hopeful Ralph Nader links the criminality of the Trump administration to the unchecked power of previous US presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course, Nader argues that the US federal government is fundamentally corrupt, warmongering and owned by corporations — but he also issues a call for members of the public to hold their representatives and senators accountable, including by building local commerce watchdog groups across the country and utilizing “citizens summons” to force members of Congress to appear before residents of their districts.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. In January, Democrats will take control of the House, with a record number of women — more than a hundred — headed to Congress, among them many new progressive members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, along with Ilhan Omar in Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress. Tlaib, born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrant parents, she’ll wear a traditional Palestinian dress when she’s sworn in to Congress in January, also planning to lead a congressional delegation on a tour of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, an alternative to the biannual tours led by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, for freshmen members of Congress. And two Native American women elected for the first time to Congress, as well. The progressive bloc — already the congressional progressives have the largest caucus; now it will be even larger. The question is, what they will do with it.
Still with us, Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, former presidential candidate. He’s just written the book To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.
Can you talk about the mandate you see Congress has right now and what you feel, Ralph Nader, they should do about it?
RALPH NADER: Well, you know, just generally speaking, Amy, the mandate is to enforce the law and obey the Constitution — sounds cliché-ish. But look at the voter repression that’s going on all over the country, which, if it wasn’t applying, might have produced even more progressive representatives in the House and in the Senate. That’s got to be looked into.
Look at the enormous waste of shareholder money in stock buybacks. Apple is buying back $100 billion of its stock this year. That is like 200 years’ budget for OSHA, protecting the health and safety of American workers. It’s dozens of years of Centers for Disease Control budget. And Apple doesn’t know anything better to do with $100 billion? Like shoring up pension funds? Like dealing with recycling the terrifically toxic waste from its used computers around the globe? That would take $2 billion out of $100 billion. Like investing more in research and development or giving it back to Apple shareholders? So this whole stock buyback is a stripping of shareholder rights, including pension funds and mutual funds. It’s a stripping of shareholder power and a huge waste of money. It isn’t like this country doesn’t need investment. It’s like these corporations, they want all these tax breaks to get capital for investment, they told Congress, and no one in the Democratic Party said, “Really? How come in the last 10 years you’ve burned $7 trillion of stock buybacks to enhance the metrics for your executive compensation, which is out of control?”
So, we’ve got to network all of these structures of abuses of power, from the White House to Wall Street, right down to states like North Carolina or Wisconsin, where they are detonating the critical right of voting in this country and reaping the dividends for their corporate paymasters.
So, I think it’s time really to get down to the nitty-gritty, which is, it’s all about Congress to turn around the executive branch, judicial branch. It’s 535 people. We know their names. They put their shoes on like we do every morning. And we know that they want something we can give them or deny. It’s called votes. People say, “Well, it’s all about campaign money.” They want campaign money to intimidate their opponents and to put ads on TV — to get votes. We cut the campaign money off like the pass, like the Khyber Pass. You cut it off — right? — by mobilizing Congress watchdog groups in every congressional district.
Now, here’s where people start getting bored, when you start thinking of how you can turn this around. There are 725,000 people — men, women, children — in each congressional district. A mere one-half of 1 percent of the adults — say, a little over a million people — organized in 435 districts, with full-time offices, representing left-right changes in our country — huge left-right support down where people live, work and raise their family. They may call themselves conservative or call themselves liberals, but they want the same things. They want safe medicines. They want access to healthcare that’s affordable. They want better schools. They want repaired public services — sewage, drinking water, highways, bridges. They want clean politics. That’s what the Democratic Party has for an opportunity now, is to appeal to left-right collective action, which comes out of the grassroots, and it’s unbeatable politically in Congress.
So I put this book out, on the ramparts, in order to show how to turn it around. You turn it around by focusing individually on your two senators and representatives. And to make it more joyous, there’s a companion book called How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress. You can get it by going to RatsReformCongress.org. And you will get a whole printout on the technical ways, the civic ways, to build these Congress watchdog groups so they become heard on Capitol Hill, which includes a citizens summons of your two senators and representatives, that’s in this book, to summon them to your town meetings, to your agendas, to all the things that are off the table by the Democrats and the Republicans.
That’s not that hard to do. People do much more difficult things in their daily lives. How about raising children? How about dealing with healthcare problems? How about trying to take care, in a coarse healthcare system, an ailing grandparent? How about trying to recover from accidents? How about trying to make ends meet, a single mom, in day care? They do a lot more difficult things, and they’re going to continue to have to do difficult things, if they don’t have a certain amount of their time to mobilize these Congress watchdog groups.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Ralph — recently, long-serving Congressmember John Lewis joined other lawmakers in supporting the incoming New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a Green New Deal. Lewis, the highest-profile congressmember so far to back Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution to create a bipartisan committee that would work on a plan to bring the US to a carbon-neutral economy and adopt 100 percent renewable energy. The proposal for the committee also seeks to bar lawmakers who have accepted money from the fossil fuel industry. Other lawmakers who support the Green New Deal include independent Senator Bernie Sanders. I recently spoke with him about it.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: A Green New Deal is creating many millions of decent-paying jobs, transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ralph Nader, what about the significance of this, as we’ve just returned from Poland, from the UN climate summit there?
RALPH NADER: Well, it’s obvious. I mean, it’s basically revving up the people’s economy and telling the corporate economy they have to reset and they have to adjust; otherwise, they’re going to be displaced, locally, by waves of energy efficiency, renovating buildings, public buildings, homes, good jobs, as Bernie Sanders said, that can’t be exported abroad, in every community, less pollution, less global warming, more money in people’s pockets, because a green economy is much more efficient. They become much more self-reliant. Solar panels on more homes, instead of going to your fossil fuel vendor. So, I mean, it goes without saying.
But, you see, Congress has got to have these hearings. They’ve got to make this a high-visibility issue. And that’s what we’ve been lacking for years now. Congress has been a dead zone. It’s been wasting $5 billion, which is its budget, and increasing congressional secrecy, restrictive rules on progressive members, and putting more and more power in the hands of the top leaders, stripping even the formerly committee chairs of the ability to decide for themselves what kind of hearings.
How did we get auto safety in the 1960s? It was hearings in Congress that aroused the people, led to recall of cars, pushed Lyndon Johnson to support it with Joe Califano. Almost all the changes in our country start at the federal level with Congress or state legislatures. And people say, “Oh, we’ve got to go to court.” But the court relies on certain statutory rights that are invoked. “Oh, we’ve got to change the EPA and get it going.” But if it doesn’t have an adequate budget, if it doesn’t have adequate authority, what kind of quality of staff are going to stay there? It goes back to Congress, 535 people.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, your book, To the Ramparts, its subtitle, How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course. Very briefly summarize this.
RALPH NADER: Yeah, I’ll do it very briefly. Donald Trump wanted to be president when he was in his thirties. That was his dream. Yeah, he’s, you know, very, very ambitious, very, very egocentric.
So, he’s sitting there watching a lot of TV, and he sees all the trouble Clinton got into with infidelities, mistreating women, covering up, even being convicted of perjury in a court case, losing his law license in Arkansas. And Donald Trump says, “Ah, I see,” you know, like that’s one more barrier that falls that he can get away with.
Then he’s watching George W. Bush driving health and safety regulation to ground, coddling Wall Street, wars of aggression, sort of a presidency of immense concentrated power regardless of the Constitution or other legal restraints. And he says, “Hey, you know, that’s another thing I don’t have to worry about, I can get away with, you know? I like to use power.”
And then, along comes Obama. Obama doesn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street. He takes more money from Wall Street than John McCain. He sells $60 billion of armaments to the Saudis and more armaments to the Israelis and says, “Well, that’s because of Iran, and it creates jobs in our country.” That’s Barack Obama. And, you know, Trump is looking at this on TV and saying, “You know, this is — I can get away with that, too.”
I mean, it was all laid out for them. And why should we be surprised? Although the Electoral College selected Donald Trump — he didn’t win the popular vote, but he came close enough to invoke that antiquated mechanism. So, we shouldn’t just think that replacing Donald Trump, whether by resignation or impeachment or defeat in 2020, is going to change the fundamental, corrupt, corporatist, war-making structure of our federal government, the abuse of public budgets, taking people’s tax money instead of returning it to them in terms of public works and infrastructure and other services, giving it to Wall Street or getting it drained away by corporate tax loopholes. Pretty soon these corporations are going to be tax-exempt profitable institutions, the way they’re going.
So, that’s why I wrote this book, so we don’t get too complacent with a few progressive members of Congress and the so-called blue wave. The Democrats have got a lot to account for before they are replaced by progressive Democrats.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you mentioned Yemen, and we’re going to talk about that in our next segment with our guest. But in a historic vote, US Senate passed this resolution Thursday calling for an end to US military and financial support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, representing the first time in US history the Senate’s voted to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution. The measure passed 56 to 41. Earlier this year, you wrote a letter to the president. You wrote a letter directly to President Trump, saying, “By any standard of international law, you are a knowing aider and abettor of these war crimes at a level of complicity that approximates being a backroom partner in the broad range of military operations against millions of innocent Yemeni families.” And you wrote that before the Khashoggi murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. As we move into this next segment on Yemen, if you could finally comment on the significance of this vote, Republicans joining with Democrats?
RALPH NADER: Very significant. In fact, a former Reagan deputy attorney general, Bruce Fein, drafted that resolution, working with Senator Mike Lee. This is what I mean. Once you get an increasing convergence between Republicans and Democrats on issue one, issue two, issue three, things start changing.
Now, this resolution, you know, it can be vetoed. It’s probably not going to go anywhere. But in the new Congress, there’s got to be vigorous public hearings about the atrocities in Yemen, you know, 8 million people on the verge of starvation, as you’ve pointed out in many programs — unfortunately, ignored by the national TV news network business. Cholera, over a million cholera cases. The world has never recorded that many cholera cases. The bombings by Saudi airmen trained in the US, using US equipment. They’re bombing water wells and hospitals and schools.
Consider that magazine article in yesterday’s New York Times. This is a heart-rending description of criminality here. I think Trump can clearly be indicted, if we belonged to the International Criminal Court, as a war criminal. He’s openly abetting these kinds of atrocities with US tax dollars, US equipment, US diplomatic cover. And he knows exactly — he sees the pictures of the slaughter of innocent men, women, children in Yemen, a poor country of 27 million people on the verge of national starvation. When was the last time we saw something like that, connected right to the Oval Office?
Donald Trump, look yourself in the mirror. If you don’t like the looks of a war criminal, stop the war in Yemen now.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you so much for being with us, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. His most recent book, To the Ramparts: How Bush and Obama Paved the Way for the Trump Presidency, and Why It Isn’t Too Late to Reverse Course.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at a bomb made by Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona, and how it made its way to Yemen, the number of people it killed, who died, who was maimed. Stay with us.
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