US political activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader tells DW why he believes Donald Trump will be a one-term president and why the Democrats should adopt European concepts to win the midterm elections.
DW: You have experienced more than half a dozen US presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, and criticized all of them because you are not beholden to either party. How does President Trump rank compared to his predecessors?
Ralph Nader: At the bottom. He is so ignorant that he doesn't know what he doesn't know. He is also destroying norms and conventions of a sane society. I can imagine a lot of parents around the country being sassed by their ten- or eleven-year-olds. And when they admonish them for what they say or what they observe or what they do, these kids can say the president of the United States, President Trump, does it. So he is very corrosive for moral and ethical values in the society.
Plus, he has gone back on his populist promises. He has brought back Wall Street advisers in his circle of advisers in Washington. He is destroying the law and order for corporate polluters and consumer exploitation and labor abuse. And he is basically running down the regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the auto safety agency. He is very unstable in foreign policy: one day he is praising dictators and another day he is threatening to obliterate certain countries. And he is continuing the Bush and Obama empire policy of using drones and special forces and having bloated military budgets.
What many may not know is that you are a first-generation American. Your parents were immigrants to the US from Lebanon, which may provide you with a more personal view of President Trump's clampdown on immigration and refugee programs. What does it say about this administration that despite a court order in July hundreds of migrant children are still separated from their parents?
That is remarkably cruel. And it should also be bad politics among the American people and he is losing ground because of that. His anti-immigrant stance is pretty indiscriminate, but in other areas it's bigoted beyond people's belief. He is a bigot against people from the Arab world. He campaigned in South Carolina as a candidate and attacked two innocent small refugee families from Syria who were just trying to make a living, having come a few months ago to the United States. He has allowed the smallest number of refugees to come to the United States in modern time. So we are destroying important bipartisan traditions with this man who thinks that he can get away with everything. But I think the [Robert] Mueller inquiry is going to show him that there is still some force of law in the United States against an illegally behaving president.
It often flies under the radar because of all the other constant turmoil in Washington, but shouldn't there be much more attention paid to the Trump administration's systematic unraveling of environmental and consumer protections?
Yes, here we have climate disruption increasing and scientific predictions that it's moving faster than we thought even a few years ago, and he denies its very existence and says climate change is a hoax. And he put the brake on the federal government's machinery. He has dismantled scientific groups and people have left the government because of his policies and he has withdrawn from international accords. He is a clear and imminent danger not just to the American people, but to the world.
With the midterms quickly approaching, we know that the Republican Party is now fully the party of Trump and his "America first" agenda. But what does the Democratic Party stand for?
I wrote a column the other day saying that's what the American people are waiting for. What does the Democratic Party stand for? In my new 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, I point out that the Democrats – instead of landsliding the worst, cruelest, warmongering, corporate welfare, Wall Street Republican Party in the party's history since 1854 – the reverse has happened since 2010. The Republicans have landslided the Democrats – gaining control of most state legislators, state governors and of course all three branches of the federal government. So I am suggesting in this book that they bring back Franklin Delano Roosevelt's agenda: that they increase the living wage. It's federally at 7.25 dollars an hour you can't live on that. That they have universal health insurance, that they reduce or abolish tuition in colleges around the country and that they support labor unions and their expansion. It sounds like I am talking about Western Europe, doesn't it, Michael?
While the midterms will not change who sits in the White House, who controls Congress can have a big impact on what Trump can or cannot do. As one of the most well-known US political activists what's your message to American voters?
If the Democrats don't control one or both houses of Congress the next two years will be an unprecedented rampage throughout the country by Trump and his forces. He has no self-restraint and he doesn't recognize the rule of law. He spent his lifetime as a failed serial gambling czar using bankruptcy as a competitive strategy. He has always been one step ahead of the law in his business operations in New York City and nobody can expect him to obey the Constitution. He is already enriching himself and he is a defendant in two cases charging that he is violating the constitution's emoluments clause, because foreign governments are spending money in his hotels and other outlets in order to curry favor.
So it is extremely important for the Democrats to take control at least of the House and they can do it with two major initiatives in the coming days: One is to pledge to the American people that they will raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour – that's 30 million American workers who are right now making less in inflation-adjusted wages than workers made in 1968. And they can pledge what all other Western countries have, including Taiwan, Japan and others: full universal, affordable, accessible health insurance.
With President Trump approaching the half-time of his first term, there is already talk about who might run to challenge him. Is there any active politician you could throw your support around if he or she declared their candidacy for 2020?
Anybody you could pick out of a hat would be better than Trump. But I think there could be up to 15 candidates in the Democratic primaries. I think former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is going to run, Senator Elizabeth Warren will run and all signs are that Senator Bernie Sanders will run. And there will probably be some state governors who will run. And it is probably going to jeopardize coalescing around one candidate if there is that level of a bitter primary fight unless the losers gather around the eventual winner. And I think Trump will not get away with the level of flattering, fooling and flummoxing enough voters to prevail again. I think he is going to be a one-term president.
Among the candidates you mentioned who is your favorite?
I don't declare favorites, I talk about their records. The records of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are really very good. Michael Bloomberg is a Wall Streeter to be sure, but he is strong on climate disruption, tobacco addiction, auto safety and he has a great emphasis on dealing with the problems in America's cities. And of course he has a lot of money.
Can you exclude running yourself in 2020?
Yes, because I would not run other than on the Green Party or Independent [tickets] and the system is seriously rigged. They exclude you from debates, they harass you and keep you off the ballot. Europeans would be astounded about how many obstructions there are in America against people running on third parties and against voters even getting to vote. There is no comparison. We have the most obstructionist laws in exercising democratic rights in any Western country by far.
Ralph Nader is a noted political activist, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate. He played an instrumental role in forcing automakers to improve the safety of cars by installing seatbelts and other protective features. He launched several watchdog groups focused on environmental protection, consumer rights and public accountability. Nader also ran for president several times, including his contentious run in the 2000 presidential election.