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In plea for grassroots organizing, Steyer attacks Trump, Bush, Koch brothers

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Lambasting a laundry list of politicians and lobbyists over a span of less than 90 minutes, former Stanford Board of Trustees member and billionaire Democratic philanthropist Tom Steyer MBA ’83 called for accelerating action on climate change, impeaching President Donald Trump and challenging the power of industry lobbyists.

Steyer began his criticisms early at the Thursday Stanford in Government-sponsored event, remarking less than five minutes in that George W. Bush’s election in 2000 seemed like it was “going to set the United States back 25 years.” He called Ronald Reagan’s vision of the United States a “failed vision” and said Trump is the “most corrupt president in American history.”

“The only way this guy is going to get thrown out of office,” Steyer said, “is if the American people tell their representatives, ‘You either throw him out, or we’ll throw you out.’”

Though Steyer openly and relentlessly attacked the Republican Party, he also identified major lobbyists, such as the tobacco, oil and firearm industries, as the root of the problem when it comes to making progress. He called for direct democracy, saying he wants as much public participation in government as possible.

In red states and blue states across the country, he added, Republicans and Democrats are generally worried about the same things, including healthcare, fairness in democracy and the possibility that the government doesn’t care about them.

But when asked about his thoughts regarding fake news “on both sides” of the political aisle, Steyer said “there’s a false equivalence” portrayed regarding how much lying each side does. He said Trump has lied more than 9,000 times as president, a statistic The Washington Post has also reported.

“Everyone wants to believe that this is equal, that it’s a partisan fight,” Steyer said, adding that he doesn’t “think there’s an equivalent of Fox News anywhere else on TV” in terms of misleading reporting.

While Steyer said he does not believe that Democrats are perfect, he added that the Republican Party and President Trump “have gone off the path of reason and truth.” Republican politicians in general, Steyer said, are “ridiculously partisan” and “change every rule for their own benefit.”

He also attacked the party’s transparency, claiming that the Koch brothers — a pair of billionaire Republican donors — would never sit down for a discussion like his in CEMEX.

Rather than blaming voters, Steyer called out what he sees as the reluctance of Republican leaders to challenge lobbies and the President. He said all people — including “all the Republicans in Congress” — know that Trump is a “crook.”

Trump is selling a brand of politics in which one group or individual’s gains are seen as another’s losses, Steyer said.

In 2020, voters looking to take down Trump should vote for the best Democratic candidate, not the one believed to be most capable of defeating Trump in an election, Steyer said, in order to avoid the risk of “overthinking” the situation.

In addition to sharing critiques of modern politics, Steyer discussed several specific policy issues facing the United States.

Due in no small part to the oil lobbies efforts, Steyer said, the world is not doing nearly enough to combat climate change. America has the technology to mitigate climate change and prevent potentially disastrous effects, Steyer said, while also increasing jobs and improving public health.

“It is really, honest to God, a win-win-win-win,” he said.

Though he praised the Paris Climate Agreement and lamented Trump’s withdrawal from the plan, Steyer said “no one is living up to their promises” around the world. He blamed the oil lobby and Republican Party for much of the inaction on climate change in the United States. Regarding Trump’s “America First” platform, Steyer called it one of the worst ideas a president has ever pursued.

While he expressed frustration that “the Republican Party refuses to accept science in terms of climate,” Steyer said the United States may be the only country capable of leadership on climate change.

“We’re not just a country,” Steyer said. “We’re the indispensable country.”

Steyer also addressed prison reform and restoring the voting rights of previously incarcerated people, emphasizing his aims to end money bail, which he called an inherently unfair means of avoiding prison time. Those who cannot make bail, he said, may be more inclined to plead guilty and accept a reduced sentence rather than take their case up in court.

The justice system has been “used to attack communities and to go over after people’s lives,” Steyer said, adding that “it’s hard not to see it in the context of race and ethnicity.”

In the end, Steyer called on Stanford community members to challenge the status quo and pursue more grassroots efforts in politics. Many people have criticized his work, he said, maintaining that he believes in doing what is right, even at the lament of establishments at many levels.

“When I was on the Board of [Trustees],” Steyer said, “I think I pissed a lot of people off.”

A previous version of this post misnamed former president George W. Bush as his father, George H. W. Bush. This article has also been corrected to reflect that Tom Steyer earned his Stanford MBA in 1983. The Daily regrets these errors.

Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Holden Foreman '21 is the Vol. 257 president and editor-in-chief. He was the Vol. 256 executive editor (vice president). He was managing editor of news in Vol. 254 and student business director in Vol. 255. He hails from the city of St. Louis, Missouri and is studying computer science. Contact him at hs4man21 'at' stanford.edu.