Pacifica Radio Live at the Warner Grand Theatre

  • 11/01/2018
  • Melina Paris

Nationally syndicated political commentator Thom Hartmann and investigative journalist Greg Palast discussed the volatility of the current political landscape

By Melina Paris, RLn Reporter

Six hours after the deadliest shooting at a synagogue in American history, nationally syndicated talk show host Thom Hartmann entered San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theatre to speak to a crowd of more than 800 about voter suppression and gun control in the United States.

The Oct. 27 shooting followed a week of interceptions of explosive devices mailed to prominent Democrats and critics of the Trump administration. The message delivered by this town hall is that the prescription for what ails this democracy was the same as before the shooting — vote in overwhelming numbers.

Random Lengths News caught up with Hartmann to discuss America’s political landscape before the talk. The prevailing topics were voter suppression and immigration. Voter suppression is a huge problem across the country, specifically in low-income areas. CNN reported that since 2016, nine states, or nearly one-fourth with Republican state legislatures, have restricted voting in some way.

Journalist Greg Palast added his voice to the discussion. Also, his documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, in which the prolific writer explains that more than 7 million voters — almost entirely people of color — were on the Crosscheck list (the so-called anti-vote fraud program) by the 2016 presidential election. It was alleged that these voters voted multiple times in past elections. But none were prosecuted for voting twice, which is a felony.

“The most substantial deciding factor on who wins the elections in the United States these days is voter suppression,” Hartmann said. “That’s been the case in a big way since the late 1980s and early ‘90s and it’s been decisive since probably around 2008.”

Hartmann noted that 14 million voters have been pulled off the voting rolls in the last year. Nearly 139 million people voted in the 2016 national election, according to the United States Elections Project — an all-time record. But that turnout was only 60 percent of the country’s 232 million eligible voters. Hartmann posited that if Democrats win the midterm elections, it won’t be because they turned out to vote 51 to 49 percent, but because whatever the actual recorded margins are, the Democrats turned out five to 10 percent more than that.

“If we lose it will be because voter suppression still works,” Hartmann said.

Voting counts. It’s a numbers game.

“We cannot legally combat voter suppression,” Hartmann explained. “Broadly speaking, the phrase ‘right to vote’ or variations on it appears a couple of times in the Constitution.”

Hartmann argued the Supreme Court has ruled in Bush v. Gore that there is no right to vote. Voting, Hartmann argues, is a privilege granted by the state.

“You would think the vote would be at the center of everything,” Hartmann said. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has chosen not to see it that way. Hartmann noted that not since the founding of the Republic has voter suppression been so explicit.

As voter suppression has become a stain on our democracy, Hartmann believes there is a major issue for progressives that will only get worse if not faced. Democrats must come together with a detailed and coherent position on immigration.

“It’s a weakness,” Hartmann said. “Everybody just says we need comprehensive immigration reform but that means 10 different things to 10 different people. It’s of really high importance to Trump and the Republicans. It’s one of their top three issues.”

This issue is basically “race and culture in code” for the Republicans, Hartmann added. For the Democrats, there’s not that much concern about race or changing culture, whereas Republicans would say that’s a sign of not being an “American,” defining American as white Anglo-Saxon. That’s why the progressives and Democratic party have to come up with a coherent solution.

For Hartmann, that coherent solution is a return to an earlier Democratic position that would limit immigration in order to preserve the labor market in the United States.

“There is some truth to the argument that was historically made by Democrats and by labor unions that when you dilute the labor pool, you drive down the cost of labor and make it harder to unionize,” Hartmann said. “Thus, unregulated increases in your labor market will drive down the cost of labor and will drive down the power of working people, bolstered by strong unions.”

The best example of that is the construction trades industry or the meatpacking industry.

Both industries used to be heavily unionized and paid really good wages. Hartmann asserted these trades have been turned into low-wage industries largely because they have embraced non-citizen labor.

“The rational (answer) would be ‘We’re in favor of immigration within limits,’” Hartmann said. “But you can’t have open borders, it doesn’t work. This is what’s ripping Europe apart right now. We’ve got to figure out how to make this work in a way that is reasonable and fair and yet maintains the integrity of the American labor force.”

The issue is being used against working people. Hartmann noted Republicans who are saying to white men and women that they used to have the opportunity to have a good union job. They are saying, ‘See, that Mexican took that job from you.’

“As long as there is truth to that, the Democrats are going to have a problem,” Hartmann said.

Hartmann noted that this is why we have much of America voting for Republicans. He explained that working-class whites are voting for Republicans willing to support and provide political cover for Trump’s immigration raids. But it’s a situation of bait and switch.

This was largely part of Reagan’s efforts to destroy the unions — to not enforce the labor laws with regard to citizenship, Hartmann said.

“Clinton didn’t turn it back on (the limits to immigration), Reagan and Bush liked breaking up unions with undocumented labor,” Hartmann said. “By [the time Obama came into office] … the business community was … addicted to cheap labor and Obama never did anything about it.”

Hartmann agreed with former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who had a different position. Romney said if we started putting employers in jail who hire people who are not here with documentation, then they would stop employing people and a lot of people would simply go back home. This would then provide a timetable to reasonably integrate people that we have here.

“But the Republicans laughed at Romney when he proposed that,” Hartmann said. “It would have hurt employers. However, prior to Reagan’s amnesty in 1986, the U.S. used to routinely put employers in jail for not hiring American citizens. And the unions used to turn people in. After Reagan’s amnesty and his “rebooting the immigration laws, we stopped enforcing that law. If you’re caught working in another country without a work permit, the employers face draconian penalties. That’s true of every other country in the world except here.”

Hartmann mentioned a book he received by an author he was asked to have on his show. The book’s premise was, “Democrats want to open borders and Republicans don’t and here’s why Democrats are wrong.”

Hartmann said he does not know of a single Democrat who wants open borders. It’s “a canard, a straw man.” But it’s one that the Republicans are using very successfully against the Democrats right now.

“Trump is tweeting it all the time,” he said. “That’s the biggest blind spot we’ve got and so many progressive Democrats are afraid to go near the issue because they don’t want to offend Hispanics. And by the way, the people in this country who most know the truth about what I just said are African Americans. Because they lose their jobs before white unionized workers lose their jobs to undocumented workers.”

He often gets calls from African Americans on his show who are very concerned about the Democrats not taking a strong position on illegal immigration.

“It’s purely economic,” Hartmann said. “It comes down to, ‘I can’t get a good job because there’s five guys at Home Depot who are willing to work for $3 per hour.’ It’s about the money that fuels households.”

These issues can seem insurmountable. But turning toward recent evolution on the left, Hartmann discussed the Democratic Party’s so-called divide and its adoption of progressive/socialist voters and candidates.

“Democratic Socialists are now the largest, or second largest, caucus in Congress,” he said. “It’s going to grow substantially in this election.”

Since the Democratic Party is a “billion-dollar machine,” his hope is for enough people to get together to seize control of the party. With that, you get the leverage of a national movement. Yet, Hartmann said, right now there may only be “a few [to] 10,000 (Democratic Socialists).” It’s not enough money or offices or people to really do that much.

Finally, Hartmann has hope about the number of women running for political office.

“One of the biggest problems we have in the U.S. is testosterone poisoning,” Hartmann said. “Our politics were poisoned with testosterone from the very get-go. Abigail Adams’s letters to her husband at the Constitutional Convention were just an early warning.”

Mrs. Adams requested her husband to draft laws “more generous and favorable” to women than his predecessors had. She warned “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.”

“If you look at societies and businesses that are either run by women or where there is relative parity of men and women, they work better,” Hartmann noted. “And we know that all-male government tends to favor hierarchy, patriarchy and oppression of the weak.”

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Melina Paris

Melina Paris is a Southern California-based writer, who blends her passion for writing and connecting people to their local community into pieces centered music, cultural events, the arts, and most recently, the intersection of art and social justice.