ORLEANS — More than 500 Cape Codders experienced a sort of therapy session April 20 for what U.S. Sen. Ed Markey called “PTSD: Post Trump Stress Disorder.”
Markey and U.S. Rep. Bill Keating took the stage in the Nauset Regional Middle School auditorium with a fighting spirit and insights into the political process, including the likely bipartisan rejection of many of the president's proposed budget cuts. Their insider insights and exhortations to action drew applause from the capacity crowd.
In opening remarks, Markey criticized the proposed 31 percent funding cut to the Environmental Protection Agency “when we know but for the grace of God that Hurricane Sandy, if it had moved a few degrees, would have devastated the Cape, made it unrecognizable.” He blasted the proposed 30 percent cut to the State Department and Defense Department increase of $54 billion at a time when “even the generals say we need more diplomats, more people talking to the Russians, the Syrians...We are not going to have a military resolution of our conflict with North Korea that can end other than in catastrophe.” In the face of such challenges, the senator said, “We have to fight every single day.”
Keating was just as blunt. “Our core institutions are under siege by our own leadership in our own country,” he declared. “We now have a leader saying the press is the enemy. When we go into other countries, we're confronted with that. When we talk about freedom of religion, (there's an) executive order that sets aside one faith and excludes them. The freedom to vote – to call that into question? Our basic rights are all under question, all under siege.
“We're so happy to see this activism,” Keating told the full house. “In Turkey, Syria, Egypt, or Russia, if you met like this in those countries, most of you would wind up in jail. You are the platform that gives us the opportunity to work outside the institutions.”
The two political leaders got into questions from the audience quickly. Asked the three most important things activists can do, Keating cited the need to deal in facts, to demand that representatives work toward solutions, and “at every level, including state and local, remain vigilant and active.”
Markey appealed to his listeners' heritage as sons and daughters of Massachusetts. “The abolitionist movement started here,” he said. “The suffragette movement started here. Affordable care started here. Gay marriage started here. Massachusetts just has to be up. The rest of the country sees us fighting these issues and (takes) courage. We have to be there in Massachusetts as the leader on every one of the issues.”
Citing the state's technology accomplishments, Markey said, “We believe in science” to loud cheers. “It's not like religion versus science,” he said. “Science is the answer to our prayers.”
Karl Oakes of Orleans, steering committee chair of Lower Cape Indivisible, called Trump “ethically compromised” and laid the question of impeachment on the table.
“I think we need to get to the answers we all want,” Markey said about contacts between Trump's campaign team and Russia before the election and his transition team and that nation afterward. If the House intelligence committee can't do the job, he said, an independent commission must be appointed; if it's found that the American electoral process was compromised, “then we need to appoint a special counsel...I think it will be critical that we walk each step correctly.”
Keating, an original cosponsor of sanctions against Russian oligarchs to counter expansionism in Georgia, Ukraine, and other nations, said a response is critical because “they will continue to get involved in our elections, not just in the U.S., but (those of) our allies: Estonia, Germany, France. In France, it's legal for candidates to accept money from other countries. Russia gave $9.7 million to Marine Le Pen. They're trying to divide the West.”
The aging nuclear power plant in Plymouth, currently being refueled to extend its life to 2019, prompted a question that took Markey back to his time in the U.S. House when he chaired the committee with oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In 1986, he asked the NRC's chair to name the worst-run plant in the country. “Pilgrim, of course,” was the reply.
“Since then,” Markey said, “I've been a policeman for this power plant.” One of his top aides was appointed to head the NRC by President Obama, and plans were in the works to require that, following the Fukushima incident in plants similar to Pilgrim, the Plymouth facility would have numerous safety upgrades before its closure.
“The NRC has now granted waivers from these regulations,” Markey said. “That is just plain wrong. They're trying to maximize profits by not installing these safety features. The NRC is now a lap dog, not a watchdog.” That, he said, “is a challenge for us, all of us, to become much more loud in our protest. I want to work with you at the grass roots level (regarding) what these protests look like. The nuclear industry across the country has to hear, and it should start here.”
Kevin Galligan of East Orleans asked the politicians for help in stopping an administration plan to defund AmeriCorps, the program that brings young volunteers to places like Cape Cod to work on environmental programs. That prompted Markey to slip for a moment into his Kennedy accent as he recited some of the late president's calls to action.
“AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps are at the heart of that message of President Kennedy,” he said. “I've been working hard the last month building a bipartisan effort to fight to preserve that. I cannot guarantee you, but I am very confident they will not be successful” in cutting the program. Keating noted that “there is some bipartisan support against some of the Trump budget initiatives.”
Asked whether Democrats would put forward their own legislation on matters such as infrastructure investment and improvement of the Affordable Care Act, Keating said, “Our job is to try to make things better. We're gonna offer those solutions (and) let the public see them.”
Citing his record of introducing bills that became law, Markey said, “By definition, I worked with Republicans.” He said Congress has Trump in “an intensive remedial Constitutional course so he can understand the role of the Senate, House, and judiciary. You can't call people names if you're not happy with them. He gets shocked when Kim Jong-un doesn't faint when he yells at him.
“We had to do the same thing with Ronald Reagan in 1981, when he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy, Education, and the EPA. He walked away from all negotiations with the Soviet Union on arms control. I introduced the nuclear freeze resolution, and Ted Kennedy had it in the Senate. One million people (turned out) in Central Park. (Reagan) went back to the negotiating table.”
Trump, Markey said, “is still suffering from a severe untreated narcissistic personality disorder that requires a political intervention.”