BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A political forum about — what else? — Donald Trump drew an anxious overflow crowd of several hundred to New York University’s Kimmel Center Monday evening.
Titled “What To Expect From the Trump Administration and the New Congress,” in addition to Nadler, the expert panel included Burt Neuborne, a professor of law and civil liberties and founding legal director of N.Y.U.’s Brennan Center for Justice; Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights; and Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“We are all here today to discuss the devastating aftermath of the 2016 election,” Nadler said, opening up the event. “The outcome was as upsetting as it was unexpected for so many of us. But we must not be overwhelmed. We must not back down. We must not roll over and play dead. We must fight.
“Donald Trump represents a clear and present danger in many, many ways,” the congressmember acknowledged. “He has given us no reasons or assurances to alleviate our grave concerns about his personal conduct, his decision-making or his ability to lead.”
In short we’re seeing no sign of a movement away from “the divisive and extreme campaign promises” Trump made, Nadler said.
He listed some of the most egregious ones: “Promises to ignore and exacerbate climate change, promises of religious tests for immigration, promises of mass deportations, promises to ‘murder,’ in terms of budgets, all of our social and housing and other programs.”
Meanwhile, the Republicans — and Trump “seems to be going that way,” too, Nadler said — are threatening to privatize Medicare and cut Social Security.
Obviously, the situation is bleak, Nadler noted: The G.O.P. now controls the White House, Congress, the courts and two-thirds of state legislatures.
And of course Trump’s “extremist cabinet appointments” — the likes of Sessions, Bannon and Tillerson, just to name a very few of them — only continue to raise serious concerns that there will be an erosion of civil rights, environmental protections and social-service programs for the most vulnerable, Nadler said.
Moving right along…Nadler next touched on Trump’s enormous conflicts of interest.
“We’ve never really seen anything like this,” he said. “The conflicts extend beyond him to his children. … If he doesn’t divest the moment he becomes president, it will make him a walking constitutional violation.
“When you have all these different business interests, in a million ways… . If a land-use agreement, a zoning variance, is given in favor of a building in Kuala Lumpur — well, maybe it would have been given and maybe it wouldn’t have if he had been president. That could be considered a gift,” he explained of just one of the seemingly limitless potential conflicts of interest Trump’s presidency poses.
A champion of civil liberties and of the Constitution for his entire political career, Nadler assured he will do his utmost to keep protecting them — and reach out to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to aid him.
“We will need to fight very hard to protect our civilizing programs of the New Deal and the Great Society and civil rights,” Nadler soberly warned.
On an up note, he told the crowd, “The turnout here today, initially, is very encouraging.”
Neuborne, the next speaker, sternly advised the audience, “It’s a fact, we have to get over the hand-wringing phase,” plus stop blaming the F.B.I. and / or Russian hackers for influencing the election’s outcome.
“We need a cold-eyed view,” he said.
In that vein of realism, he noted that the problem is really much bigger than Trump. Namely, during the eight years of the Obama presidency, Democrats lost 1,000 seats in state legislatures around the country.
“This was a slow-moving train wreck that finally hit us,” the professor said.
The key to a political turnaround is to organize to regain the political majority in the country — meaning the whole country — he stressed.
“We cannot continue as a coastal republic — where we carry both coasts and continue to lose the middle of the country. Everyone who voted for Trump is not a racist, or an…”
“Yes they are!” a woman in the audience shouted out.
“…or an enemy,” Neuborne continued. “It is not in our best interests to demonize him, or ignore the fact that there are serious social issues to deal with.”
Continue to treat Middle Americans as enemies, he cautioned, and it will keep on dividing country “and we will continue to lose.”
“The arc of history does move toward justice,” he offered, consolingly. “Dr. King was right, that our issues are the issues of justice that will prevail, if we simply don’t lose heart and continue to organize.
“This is not the first time that liberals have found themselves in crisis in this country. I lived through McCarthy. It was dreadful and people suffered… . The assassination of of John F. Kennedy was one of the most shocking moments in my life…the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., the murder of Robert Kennedy…enduring the Vietnam War, which was an unconstitutional war… Watergate, the collapse of our social contract during Reagan, after September 2001 the fear and essential security terror, the economic collapse in 2007… . Do not succumb to the idea that this is somehow a unique moment in which we are about to lose the republic,” he urged. Each time we went through these trying times and “came out the other end,” he said.
At the same time, he admitted, it’s undeniable that Trump is truly scary.
“We have someone as president who is intellectually unmoored, utterly narcissistic and terribly authoritarian,” he said, “and that should make us nervous, but it should not drive us into panic.”
As for how to turn it around, he noted, “First, remember, ‘It’s the economy stupid,’” adding that it was that simple approach that has won for Democrats before and was also the “core of the New Deal.”
Like Nadler, he was gladdened to see the large turnout.
“This is a galvanizing force to many of us. And my hope is it is the beginning of the organization of a very, very powerful political movement,” he said, as the crowd cheered.
Pro-choice advocate Northup noted that abortion isn’t just under threat now that Trump has been elected. Since 2010, 800 state laws have been passed restricting access to abortion, she noted.
“So we and our colleagues at the A.C.L.U. and Planned Parenthood have gone to court again and again,” she said. “So we’re used to this fight.”
“One of most devastating things that will be coming…a long attempt that will probably succeed,” she predicted will be the so-called “defunding” of Planned Parenthood by cutting off its Medicaid funding, which will have a devastating impact on low-income women.
“So that’s coming — the defunding of Planned Parenthood,” she stated. “And we will probably see Congress pass a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. This is a flat-up violation of Roe v. Wade, which says abortion must be available until viability…which is well after 20 weeks.”
It’s extremely rare for women to get abortions after 20 weeks, she added.
In dollars and cents, the targeting of Planned Parenthood will mean that about $500 million in annual Medicaid payments for low-income non-abortion services will be lost. These include the likes of STD testing, Pap smears and contraceptives — and include men’s, as well as women’s, health.
There will definitely be lawsuits filed over both of these issues, she assured.
As for the possible repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nadler said not just one but two new conservative Supreme Court justices would be needed. Yes, Trump will fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia, but Justice Anthony Kennedy, though Republican, can be counted on as a pro-choice vote, he noted. But if Kennedy who is 80, at some point decides to step down… .
Neuborne added that the Supreme Court has been in Republican control since 1972 and “not a thing has changed.”
“There’s no reason to think there’s going to be a collapse of the Supreme Court,” he said, “and there’s no reason for us to panic about the existence of the American republic.”
For her part, Lieberman of the A.C.L.U. said, in fiery remarks, that a Trump presidency will obviously be a trying time for civil liberties.
“He is surrounding himself with people whose records on civil rights and human rights are a civil rights nightmare,” she said. “Everybody who is not a white male citizen has reason to be afraid. Journalists and protesters have reason to be afraid.”
Civil libertarians will have to stand up “against the hate” and in support of blacks, Latinos, immigrants, women and the L.G.B.T. community and protect the hard-fought victory of gay marriage.
Equally important, she added, will be the need to “protect dissent.”
“This guy wants to strip anybody who burns the flag of citizenship — brilliant,” she scoffed incredulously.
Lieberman said public schools also must be protected and that we will need to safeguard ourselves against a “surveillance society,” which she indicated would only get worse under Trump.
And to preserve abortion rights here, she declared that Roe v Wade must be “f—ing codified in New York State!”
After each speaker gave their individual remarks, there was a roundtable discussion, moderated by Julie Kashen, co-executive director of Make it Work, which was then followed by a Q&A with the audience.
Nadler admitted that we won’t know exactly what things the Trump administration will do until January or February by the latest.
“Are they really going to do these deportations?” he asked. “If they do, we’ll have to fight like cats and dogs.”
Neuborne added, “We don’t have contested elections anymore,” referring to congressional races. Gerrymandering is a huge problem, he noted. Only 35 out of 400 seats are actually contested — the others are basically locked in.
Nadler said making voter registration automatic would help boost voter turnout, and added, “We gotta do something about the Electoral College. It’s a relic of the 18th century.” However, to change it will take a two-thirds vote in the House, he noted, drawing laughs from the crowd at the futility of that idea.
Neuborne advocated for the Democratic Party to create a “shadow cabinet,” as is done in England, sparking knowing applause from those familiar with the concept, or perhaps just favoring the idea. This body would stake out platforms on the issues and show an alternative path to the Republicans’ positions.
Neuborne reiterated the idea that the economy really is the issue, adding that the bigger problem is not jobs going offshore but “mechanization and robotization” taking away people’s work.
An elephant in the room was finally mentioned when the professor declared, “We ran, I think, the worst political campaign of my lifetime. The Democratic campaign was: ‘You can’t possibly elect this man.’ Then you’re trapped on his terms.”
“Hillary won!” a woman cried out.
Afterward, asked her thoughts on the evening, Karen Mason, from Brooklyn, who enthusiastically supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, said, “I think it’s a start.”
She said she liked Nadler’s idea of New Yorkers traveling to nearby states and trying to sway voters in contested congressional elections.
However, veteran West Village activist and filmmaker Zack Winestine wasn’t so sure how people would feel about having “hordes of New Yorkers descending” and cajoling them on how to vote. On the other hand, he added, “I was intrigued by the idea of a shadow cabinet.”
He added that he was thinking about hooking up with local protesters at the upcoming inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20.