Meet the New Trump, Same as the Old Trump

 

another trump

Now that the election and transition are over.  It is time to talk about the  (God, this is so horrible!) Trump Presidency. Remember, George’s contributions are in blue;  mine are in red; those of friends in green.  Unfortunately, I am responsible for any formatting errors.

1 MAR 2017

CHAOS – NOT A WELL RUN BUSINESS

Large numbers of Trump supporters voted for him because they believed that a top businessman could bring some order to a dysfunctional, unresponsive government that was stuck in gridlock and whose costs were ever rising. The problem with this line of thinking is that Trump is not a top businessman.

All four of his casinos went bankrupt and failed at a time when ther Atlantic City casinos were doing well. As a consequence U.S. banks have not been lending him money. In addition, over 3,500 law suits have been filed against Trump for failure to pay bills. These suits have been filed by individual contractors, companies of varying sizes, employees who were not paid for overtime, and even by lawyers hired by Trump to fight these suits. When questioned by reporters, Trump said that he never pays for inferior work. If on over 3,500 occasions he hired inferior contractors who couldn’t do the job or employed inferior workers who soaked him for overtime, he is not a very good businessman and does not negotiate very good contracts.

Viewed from another perspective, Trump has never ran a large complex business resembling any of the Fortune companies. He is a father who ran a family businesses with his two sons, his daughter and her husband. What success he had capitalized on the natural cohesion of a family.

A government bears no resemblance to a family. The natural bonds that enable a family to be a well-functioning unit do not exist even within the confines of the White House. An experienced and knowledgeable leader is required to get people agreeing on policy and pulling in the same direction. Trump has been the father in the family business handed down to him by his father. He has no experience leading a major publicly-owned business staffed by large numbers of people who are no more than business acquaintances.

In Trump’s case, the situation is exacerbated by two additional factors.

Not only is he not experienced leading a large publicly-owned conglomerate, he has no experience with national or international policy and scant knowledge of the issues and programs as GOP leaders repeatedly have admitted. At best, Trump is an apprentice (I couldn’t resist) trying to lead in a domain in which he has no experience and minimal knowledge.

This situation is made yet worse by the team that Trump has assembled to support him. It is a disjointed collection. Only the four military men share much in common in the way of perspective, policy and values – Mattis (Defense), Kelly (Homeland Security), McMaster (National Security Council) and Pompeo, a West Point graduate (CIA). The rest have little affinity for each other, no matter how you look at them. Politically they range from alt-right to moderate; several are rookies lacking any government experience; some know little about the policies and programs of the agencies they are supposed to run – no less how their agencies must dovetail with other agencies to form an effective government; and some have personal agendas and no real loyalty to Trump.

With this sort of morass, what else would we be seeing but chaos? Trump’s sorry claim that his administration is a “fine-tuned machine” would be laughable if the appalling level of dysfunction was not so damaging and so evident.

Domestically, in the face of any clear policy leadership, his cabinet officials are expressing their own opinions or “reinterpreting” Trump’s gaffes. Whatever you might think of him, you have to feel sorry for Sean Spicer. Every day the poor guy has to come up with some way of reconciling Trump’s latest stumbles with reality.

Internationally, foreign leaders are at the point of not knowing what to make of what they are hearing. Pence and Mattis are telling European leaders that the Trump administration stands solidly with the the EU and NATO while at the very same time, in one-on-one and small private meetings, Steve Bannon is saying the exact opposite and, according to these leaders, positioning Russia as America’s strategic ally and Germany as its strategic adversary (the perfect strategy for Bannon’s objective of dismantling the EU and NATO). Similarly, Trump says that the US is open to a “one-state solution” regarding the Israelis and Palestinians while his UN Ambassador, Niki Haley, states that the US is firmly committed to the “two-state solution.”  Examples of such confusion abound. Much more and we and our allies will need Sherlock Holmes’ 7% solution.

Lack of leadership and clear policy are reducing Trump’s cabinet to something more akin to housekeeping at one of his hotels. They constantly are called upon to clean up policy confusions that his impulsive, uninformed tweets and utterances have engendered. One Republican strategist rather succinctly encapsulated the situation: “They serve the president and obviously don’t want to contradict him, but at the same time they have to articulate administration policy, which sounds like an oxymoron — contradicting the president by articulating administration policy — but that’s been the case in some instances so far.”

Trump can run but he can’t hide. Sooner or later all of this chaos will catch up with him.

In the midst of this debacle, Steve Bannon and his sidekick, Stephen Miller, undoubtedly are pleased and smiling. Using Bannon’s latest choice of phrase, his objective is “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” With pride, he once pronounced: “I am a Leninist…. Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” The current chaos and confusion are exactly what Bannon needs to achieve his ends, and Trump is either complicit in it or too stupid and too caught up in himself to see what is happening.

Pessimists will say that the current downhill slide will end in the loss of history’s greatest experiment with democracy. While not being Pollyanna, I see hope and a turnaround.

In the short term, there are a couple of things to keep our eyes on.

There is a major clash on the horizon between Gen. McMaster and Steve Bannon that could draw in Gen. Mattis and Gen. Kelly in support of McMaster. The views of McMaster and Bannon are completely at odds. McMaster sees Russia as our greatest adversary; Bannon as a strategic ally. McMaster views Muslim nations as key allies in the fight against terrorism; Bannon castigates them as “radical Islamic terrorists.” McMaster is a staunch supporter of NATO; Bannon wants it torn down. McMaster is restoring the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to their seats on the NSC’s principles committee; Bannon had demoted them to “as needed” status. And on and on. McMaster is the exact type of person who will resign before he sees policies such as Bannon’s gain the ascendancy. He is known for being blunt and for not backing what he sees as wrong. Will Trump demote or dump Bannon as he did Flynn? Can he afford to see what maybe the military’s most respected officer depart in protest?

Another looming clash is Trump and the intelligence community (IC). Already the relations are politely phrased as strained. Trump and some of his closest advisors are determined to get a stranglehold on and silence the IC. The outcome of this collision also will be telling. It will depend largely on Mike Pompeo’s backbone, the outcome of the clash between McMaster and Bannon, and the positions taken by Mattis and Kelly.

Also in the near term, “repeal and replace Obamacare” is sure to produce division in the GOP and disappointment among Trump supporters. It may just be beginning to dawn on the Donald that his naive promises about repeal-and-replace were pure pie-in-the-sky: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” The repeal part is simple, but I doubt that he can find many on the Hill who thought the replace part wouldn’t be complicated.

The complexities of healthcare coupled with Trump’s promises that Medicare and Medicaid would be preserved and that everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions, would have affordable health care have Republicans badly split on how to repeal and replace. In the Senate Rand Paul’s proposal bears little resemblance to the Snow-Cassidy proposal, and these two differ from Speaker Ryan’s proposal which is disliked by Gary Cohen, Director of Trump’s National Economic Council and by Jared Kushner Trump’s son-in-law. And then you have the Tea Partiers who simply want to repeal and then figure it out.

John Boehner probably has it right: “I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not going to happen. They’re basically gong to fix the flaws [in the ACA] and put a more conservative box around it.”

To make matters even more complex, Trump by statute can’t address his beloved tax cuts until he addresses health care.

In the longer term, I believe that Congress and the public will come to their senses.

When it comes to Congress, Bannon, the Leninist, is rather surely counting on Joseph Stalin’s famous quote: “When we hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope we use.” So far too many GOP leaders seem willing to sell Bannon the rope. As Ronald Radosh put it in The Daily Beast: “…   why do leaders like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and others, who regularly condemn Trump’s statements but yet still endorse him, stick with such a self-defeating approach? They will only end up helping Bannon and company cast them into oblivion and finish their hostile take-over of the GOP.”

My feeling is that sooner or later – probably sooner rather than later – the GPO’s Senators and Representatives will realize that they are but collateral damage – if not intended victims — in Bannon’s crusade to “destroy all of today’s establishment.”  My posting earlier this week, pointed to cracks appearing in the GOP’s support for Trump. They continue. Maybe of most note, George W. Bush, who had been silent throughout the Obama administration, spoke out on Monday’s Today Show. Without using Trump’s name, he deftly took him to task on Russia and Putin, immigration policy, freedom of the press, and religious freedom.

When it comes to the American people, there is fifty-some-odd percent that already wants to see the back of Trump, and there are the extremists who will go to their graves supporting him, Trump’s remaining supporters will come around but it will be slow. Well established in behavioral science is the concept of cognitive dissonance that explains how people deal with facts that do not agree with their beliefs and behaviors.

A primary way that people reconcile facts that don’t match beliefs or behaviors is to ignore or deny the facts – the guy who bought the lemon of a car claims that it is not having any more problems than any other new car. Another means for dealing with uncomfortable facts is by appealing to a new action or behavior – let’s give it some time; a few simple fixes and it will be just fine. I’ll bet you have heard analogous things from Trump supporters. These are their predominant themes in talk shows and the news. However, voters who backed Trump will want him to come through on his promises. Trump’s problem is that too many of his promises were crackpot and will never be fulfilled. Within a year or two the ranks who oppose him almost certainly will swell.

An interesting question is whether Trump will always be Trump or will he too begin to come around to reality, if for no other reason than his narcissism will not permit him to go down in history as the most disliked and ineffective president. Tonight’s address to Congress may give us some clues.

After the speech to congress, George added this.

CLUES ABOUT WHAT’S.NEXT

Going into Trump’s address to Congress tonight I had been wondering whether Trump would show any signs of moderation — even some small shifts. Sadly there were none.

Although, by sticking to the teleprompter, he was articulate and measured, the messages were the same as ever. It was a slick upgraded version of his campaign speeches. His base will love it and he probably will get a bump in the polls as people react to tone. It was well phrased to sound like he was trying to be the president for all Americans, but there was no suggestion of how he would reach out.

Maybe what was most disconcerting was his free use of alternative facts about a long list of topics — crime rates, crime by. immigrants, healthcare costs under the ACA, contributions to NATO “rolling in” from our allies, jobs he already has saved, cost savings on the F-35, and on and on.

Just to elaborate on one of these, it long has been DOD policy to allow contractors to recover the bulk of their development costs in the contract for the initial purchase. The result is high per-unit prices. The unit price comes down in subsequent purchase phases. The new contract for additional copies of the F-35 was under negotiation for well over a year before the election. Trump had nothing to do with the reduction of the F-35’s unit price.

In addition to his use of alternative facts, there were other bad signs in the address.

In what undoubtedly was an intentional swipe at Generals Mattis and McMaster, he exaggeratedly referred to “radical Islam terrorism.” Both generals recently had stated that the use of that phase was counterproductive.

Earlier in the day, Trump had suggested that he wanted immigration reform which includes a pathway to citizenship. It sounded quite similar to the bipartisan bill that passed in the Senate in 2013 but died in the House. There was no mention of it in his address.

In fact, as near as I could detect, Trump shifted nothing that would signal an attempt to reach out to heal the divisions plaguing the nation.

While his words and tone were designed to sound more presidential, it is his actions that will count. I can think of no better strategy for the Democrats than to push hard in every area in which he dangled cooperation under Democrats’ noses.

Like all presidential addressee to Congress, it was a political speech. The budgetary numbers do not have to add up. And in this case, it is not even close. Immediately following the address, GOP budget hawks were openly stating that most of what Trump was promising is too expensive and will not get funded.

Will his more presidential tone last? Maybe for a few days or a week, but my bet is that the Tweety Donald will be back in form shortly.

 

27 FEB 2017

George gives us his take on the administrations’s “progress” so far.

CRACKS

“Cracks,” he said with glee. “Cracks are appearing in Trump’s Teflon.”

I have been waiting for this to happen; for key Republicans to begin to take positions in opposition to his. And it is happening more quickly than I expected because he is being more belligerent and idiotic than when he was running for election. Actually, in light of his tweets and mouthings, he may think he is still running.

Let us set aside, John McCain, Lindsay Graham and a few other Republicans who have wanted Trump’s scalp from the git-go. Even so, this last week has been a bad one for poor ole persecuted Donald. [Damn those media.] Here are a few highlights.

  • Trump rescinds Obamaa’s order to schools addressing bathroom use by transgender students. Betsy DeVos, of all people, publicly objects to cancelling the reg. It takes a face to face with the Donald to get her to back down and even then she manages to show she is not in agreement.
  • Last night, on Bill Mahr’s show, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), comes out in favor of a special prosecutor to investigate the Russian hacking and the contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials and intelligence operatives. He also calls for AG Sessions to recuse himself because he was part of the campaign being investigated. Issa is a member of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees both of which are important to these investigations.
  • In the Senate, the Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr (R-NC), draws praise from Mark Warner (Vicechair, D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Angus King (I-ME) for his handling of the investigation to date and for his commitment to a full, in-depth investigation. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) take the opportunity again voice their support for a full bi-partisan investigation.
  • Trump calls Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) to the White House over Kasich’s strong public support for Medicaid expansion and Kasich doesn’t back down. His post-meeting statements double-down on his commitment to fight any change that would not continue the coverage of the 700,000 Ohioans covered by the expansion.
  • John Boehner (retired Speaker of the House, R-OH) calls “repeal and replace Obamacare” a pipedream because Republicans will never agree on a replacement. He states that fixing the problems with the Affordable Care Act is the best and most likely course of action.
  • Trump’s Department of Homeland Security delivers to the White House an intelligence report that does not support Trump’s travel ban on people coming from the seven countries in his Executive Order. It notes that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” One White House official states: “The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for.” [Really? Cackle, cackle.] The White House then rejects the report as “politically motivated.” [By his own DHS? Smirk. You can be sure that this report shows up when the new Executive Order goes to court.]
  • Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, tells an all-hands meeting of the National Security Council that use of the phrase, “radical Islamic terrorism,” was both inaccurate (ISIS perverts Islam) and counterproductive in securing the support of Islamic countries in combatting terrorism. Donald must have choked on this. What is more intriguing is how it will play out between Gen. McMaster and the alt-right xenophobes, Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, who believe in an apocalyptic clash between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian worlds.
  • With Steve Bannon and Steve Miller preent, the leadership of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) takes several opportunities to distance themselves and the conservative movement from the alt-right without whose support Trump would not have won.

Not a good week for Donald. Murphy ruled supreme – If it could go wrong, it did go wrong. Join me in wishing Donald many happy returns of last week. At this pace, the bozo could be a lame duck before the first year is out.

25 FEB 2017

Two close friends gave me good comments on my recent posting to this blog. I had stated that the Founding Fathers were Christians. One friend reminded me that this is not entirely true. He is right; my phrasing was overly broad. The other friend pointed out that what I said could be misinterpreted as arguing that America is a Christian nation – which it is not.

The two comments sent me back to my bookshelves and to the internet to do some fact checking and to gather some more information on these topics.

FAITHS OF THE FOUNDERS

There is some debate about the faiths of our Founding Fathers; much of it hair-splitting in my opinion and that of many scholars. For those with strong interests in the topic, I refer you to “Faiths of the Founding Fathers” by David Holmes.

The Founders are best viewed as a mixture of Christians and Deists. As described by David Holmes, the smallest group were the Deists, next came practicing Christians, and the largest group were those professing Christianity but heavily influenced by Deism. From other reading, a few may be better described as agnostics.

Thomas Jefferson, often described as a deist, is an interesting case in point. He fashioned his own Bible by literally cutting out with a razor sections of the New Testament and pasting them together with glue into what became known as the “Jefferson Bible.” In general, he eliminated all references to miracles, the supernatural and the Resurrection — all of which were not acceptable under the prevailing rationalist thought of the Enlightenment.

In viewing the Founders’ religiosity, it should be recognized that their faiths and beliefs bear almost no resemblance to those of today’s ardent believers such as Evangelicals and devote Catholics.

It was the Age of Reason — the Enlightenment, and the thinkers of the time, including the Founders, were driven more by reason than faith and beliefs. Jefferson’s Bible is a prime example. Nevertheless, Jefferson was strongly influenced by Christian thought. His master work, the Declaration of Independence refers to “God,” “Nature’s Creator”, and “Devine Providence.”

The Founders were strongly influenced by the rationalist philosophers and thinkers such as Rene Descartes, David Hume, John Locke, Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant. The heavy influence of the political philosophy of government by social contract, championed by Locke and Rousseau, is evident in both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution — especially the Bill of Rights. The U.S. Constitution draws heavily on Locke’s rationalist thought (see for example The Second Treatise on Civil Government, 1690). Locke’s “life, health, liberty and possessions” from his Two Treatises of Civil Government (1689) appears as “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety” in George Mason’s opening to the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) and as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence (1776).

The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses are good examples. Central to the political philosophy of the Age of Reason was the separation of church and state. This was very much a rejection of the unbending dogma of the Catholic Church and, in the case of the Founders, the oppression in Britain of other faiths by the Church of England.

The rationalist philosophers quite clearly argued that government’s purview did not extend into people’s consciences and beliefs provided they did no harm and that religious beliefs had no place in government as this resulted in oppression. This is evident in the only book Jefferson published, the State of Virginia (1785): “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

The Founding Fathers overwhelmingly were believers in God with the large majority being Christians or Christians influenced by Deism but, with a couple of exceptions. they were deeply committed to firm separation of church and state — Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church & State” (Letter to the Danbury Baptists, 1802).

CHRISTIANITY AND AMERICA

There are revisionist attempts, particularly from the alt-right, rabid conservatives and religious zealots, who try to claim that American was founded as a Christian nation. There are quite a few pieces available on this, including a recent report by the Heritage Foundation, “Did America Have a Christian Founding.” As much as it seems to try to paint America as a Christian nation, it rather reveals that the Founders were believers in God but not necessarily Christians. Analyses such as that by David Holmes are far more accurate. America’s Founding Fathers were very largely men of faith, some being Deists but most either Christian or strongly influenced by Christian thought.  Despite their godly beliefs, they were steadfastly committed to a secular state; that is, to separation of church and state. The evidence for this is overwhelming in documents from the Founders. Here are a few examples:

  • Thomas Paine: “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”(The Age of Reason, 1794)
  • Treaty of Tripoli: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. (Authored by the Washington administration and signed by John Adams, 1797)
  • James Madison was particularly outspoken on the issue and was consistent over the years:
  • “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries” (Letter objecting to the use of government land for churches, 1803)
  • “The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by thetotal separation of the church from the State.” (Letter to Robert Walsh,1819)
  • “In the Papal System, Government and Religion are in a manner consolidated, & that is found to be the worst of Govts. In most of the Govt of the old world, the legal establishment of a particular religion and without or with very little toleration of others makes a part of the Political and Civil organization and there are few of the most enlightened judges who will maintain that the system has been favorable to either Religion or to Govt.” (Letter to Joseph Story, 1833).

One of the clearest statements on separation of church and state is contained in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom drafted by Jefferson in 1777 and passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1789.  It is a short easy read and well recognized as providing the foundation for the Establishment and Free Expression Clauses of the Constitution.

Very clearly the United States was neither originally conceptualize nor founded as a Christian nation. The fact that those who first immigrated came mainly from Western Europe meant that they largely were from one of Europe’s Christian denominations. That, however, did not make America a Christian nation. Today our population is 70℅ Christian and that still doesn’t make us a Christian nation. Moreover, this percentage is sure to shrink over the next decades supported by easy intercontinental transportation and a globalized world economy, and driven by the same desire to improve quality of life that brought previous generations to our shores. And that will not make America a non-Christian nation. Because of the wisdom of the Founders, America as a nation is secular.

As my friend pointed out, Make America Christian Again would have been better expressed as Make America’s Christians Christian Again. They have strayed from the New Testament’s transcending message of compassion, caring, and love for one another. This is made so clear by numbers professing Christianity who voted for Trump, who oppose the rights and beliefs of gays, minorities and others who do them no harm, who vote to increase defense spending while reducing programs that support the poor and needy, who wish to close our country to refugees. None of these are compatible with the Christianity of the New Testament.

23 FEB 2017

Is It The Economy, Stupid?

Depending on your perspective, there is much gloating or hand-wringing about President Trump’s approval ratings.  He is seen as more poorly suited for the job than previous presidents.  People trust him less; they see a variety of ethical flaws in how he is dealing with his business interests.  Most people think he has little respect for democratic institutions; many disagree with his immigration policy.

But, we need to remember James Carville’s dictum “It’s the ECONOMY, stupid!”  The reality is that no matter how despicable many find the president and his acolytes; the American people have high hopes for what he will do with the economy.  The latest Pew results are very telling.    

Attitudes about our economic status and future are going up at a precipitous rate. According to Pew polls, forty-two percent of Americans now have a positive attitude about the country’s economic status; that is up 11 percent over the last two months. 

http://www.people-press.org/2017/02/16/in-first-month-views-of-trump-are-already-strongly-felt-deeply-polarized/

There is still a deep partisan divide.  75 percent of Republicans see the economy for 2017 positively; only 15% of Democrats see it that way, but 35% of Independents have higher hopes, which is something like a 50 percent improvement over their views a short time ago.

http://www.people-press.org/2016/12/08/low-approval-of-trumps-transition-but-outlook-for-his-presidency-improves/

What all this means in the long-run is unclear.  But, while The Donald’s opponents, like me,  may smirk at his claims of support, many people seem to see his election as a precursor to good economic times.  And, truth be told, if that continues, then all the hubbub, teeth-gnashing, and raucous town hall meetings may not mean a great deal. 

If more people see their economic status positively and think it is likely to get better, then history seems to indicate that they will be more than willing to forgive all those transgressions that have progressives rattling their sabers.  If the Republicans do manage to pass legislation that represents their image of a good economy, we get in a devastating trade war, or prices and job prospects go bad, then those other transgressions will grow in importance.

As it stands, American’s views on the economy should not be so easily ignored by progressive commentators.  They have been, are, and ever shall be a major engine in what drives votes in America. 

22 FEB 2017

MAKE AMERICA CHRISTIAN AGAIN

If Christians want to Make America Great Again, they first must Make America Christian Again.

What started me thinking about Christianity and America were the news reports and clips of Trump’s recent speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. These teasers led me to read the full text of his speech and to compare it with the speeches of previous presidents in light of my life long interests in history, philosophy and comparative theology. Trump’s speech was an entirely inappropriate campaign speech designed to pander with deceptive demagoguery to an element within Christianity.

Probably the most misguided proposal in his speech was his promise to ”get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Under the Johnson Amendment churches and other nonprofit organizations that are exempt from taxation “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,”

On the surface, doing away with the Johnson Amendment might sound good to people of faith who envision their church having the political clout to turn their religious beliefs into law. [Let’s keep in mind “their church” and “their beliefs.”]

The Johnson Amendment is a critical protection for religion. Without it, America’s multiple and differing faiths become competing forces no different from the business groups, labor unions, and others seeking to influence legislation and regulation. Religion wouldn’t permeate Washington; Washington would permeate religion. Churches and religious groups would be politicized and would be drawn into competition for political favor like any other lobbying group. More destructively, our differing Christian communities would not just complete for political favor against commercial and other secular interests but faith by faith they would compete against each other. Greatest influence, greatest bending of government and law toward their beliefs would go to the Christian or other faith that raises and “donates” to politicians the most money; that is, the one that buys the most influence. Churches and religious groups would just be more lobbyists competing in the influence-peddling swamp that Trump promised to drain. This surely is not what Christ intended for Christianity. The money changers would own the temple and lease it back on their terms.

Our Founding Fathers showed great wisdom in constitutionally requiring separation of church and state. For the sake of America’s faiths, it must be preserved. The Johnson Amendment is critical to its preservation and to freedom of religion. Trump’s demagoguery about the amendment must be rejected for what it is – a deceptive and irreligious attempt to pander to those who don’t pause and think carefully.

This speech by Trump also started me thinking more broadly about what we are seeing in America and about Christianity’s role and responsibilities within it.

What is clear is that people across the political spectrum are extremely dissatisfied with the state of the nation. Although agendas differ, there is overlap in their concerns and much is a matter of priorities. One thing almost all seem to acknowledge is that the current political polarization is destructive to our nation. In the wise words of Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

We keep looking to Congress and elected officials to resolve the problems. Instead, far too many politicians are using the divisions to ensure their re-election with no intention of bringing together the “house divided.” The only way in which we will achieve this end is if the people demand actions that heal from those they elect. Short of that, we slip toward the possibility that “the house” – our democracy – will not stand.

Abraham Lincoln was not the first to express this truth and to bluntly warn of a bad end. George Washington was most clear in his famous Farewell Address.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” (George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796).

If you think the warnings of Washington and Lincoln are farfetched, think again. The hyper-partisan gridlock in Congress has led to Presidents governing by Executive Order; that is, by the proclamations of one man – something that is more akin to dictatorships than to democracies. Of course, the hypocrisy of today’s politics comes shining through. When Obama did it, the Republicans howled like banshees and Trump ran railing against it, while the Democrats were as content as well fed cows. Now Trump and the Republicans are just fine with government by Executive Order while the Democrats are screaming. From one perspective, this is pitiful, but the creeping acceptance of government by fiat is a threat to our liberties.

Many say, and I ascribe to it, that we need politicians of good character to put country before party and reach across the aisle to find the compromises that define a well working democracy. But there is a flaw in this. It requires the very people at the heart of the problem to reverse course and collaborate. We need more. In addition to their own consciences and their own senses of duty and loyalty to country, we need a driving force behind them.  We need the force of the nation’s largest class of voters.

Because they constitute about 70% of our population, Christian faiths have the potential to be a powerful healing force for the good of America. They can realize this potential only if they come together on a unified message.

Christians faiths, however, are divided on many tenets of their beliefs – often being polar opposites. The Catholic Church is opposed to all artificial forms of birth control while this is not a concern for most Christian faiths. Seventh Day Adventists accept abortion when a mother’s life is threatened or the pregnancy presents a serious moral dilemma. Other faiths are diametrically opposed to abortion at any point from conception to delivery, while yet others do not condemn abortion. Some faiths accept female clergy while others do not, and some welcome members of the LBGTQ community and some do not.

These are issues that separate Christian faiths. What unites them is the core message of the New Testament. To be the healing force that they could be, Christians need to coalesce around the central values that define Christianity.

This does not mean codifying the beliefs of one Christian sect or another. Our Founding Fathers, who were Christians, were so opposed to this idea that they placed the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. In doing so, they were seeking to protect one Christian faith from the oppression of another. That is what they witnessed in England and what so many had fled to America to escape. The Founders separated church and state to ensure religious liberty.

This wisdom from our Founding Fathers underpins the approach today’s Christians must take to be a healing force and to influence America for the better. They must refocus on the shared values and core message of the New Testament unites Christianity’s many branches.

The New Testament distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and Islam. The latter do not accept the New Testament but, like Christians, accept the five books of the Torah or Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).

The New Testament defines Christians as believers in Christ and in his overarching message of compassion, caring and love. Some, however, try to validate personal beliefs by seizing on portions of the text that can be misinterpreted as meaning that the New Testament justifies inequity, disregard and violence. This fallacy is rather deftly put to rest in “Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament” by the theologian, Thomas Yoder Neufeld. As Neufeld notes, fundamental to Christian belief is that the violent death of the non-violent Jesus followed by his resurrection overcame all forms of evil, including inequity, uncaring and violence. Without this belief, Christianity falls apart.

Christ’s core message of goodness and of love for one another can be found throughout the New Testament. It is a dominant theme and may be best summed up by Matthew 25: 31-46:

  1. 31. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
  2. 3and all the nations*will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
  3. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
  4. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
  5. 35.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
  6. naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
  7. Then the righteous*will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
  8. When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
  9. When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
  10. 40.And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
  11. 41. Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
  12. 42.For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
  13. stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
  14. 44.Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
  15. He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
  16. 46.And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It is this unifying message that America’s Christians must preach, and they must preach it with the same determination and intensity as they have been doing for beliefs in pro-life and reserving marriage for one man and one woman. Both the people and the government must hear this message—the people in what they do and how they vote, and the government in what it supports. The importance of Christians preaching this message widely and strongly lies in the fact that, whether those who hear it are religious or not, the basic morality of the message cannot help but bring people together.

There are some signs that this is beginning to happen. When challenged about expanding Medicaid to cover 700,000 more Ohioans, Governor Kasich retorted: “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.”

More recently, over 500 evangelical leaders and pastors signed an open letter published in the Washington Post (2/8/17) that denounced the Executive Order on immigration – “As Christians, we have a historic call, expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering,” One signatory added: “For some people, embracing refugees is a political issue. For me, as a Christian, speaking up for and caring for refugees is more an act of worship and obedience to a God whose Kingdom is global and whose ‘mercies are new every morning.’”

Pope Francis has spoken out loudly and repeatedly about the need for Christians to care for the poor and needy. “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.” Very much to the point, he also stated: “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.”

Christian leadership has spoken; it is now the faithful’s turn. They too must focus on the New Testament’s message of caring and compassion – of welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, assisting the poor. They must be as ardent, vociferous, and activist on these issues as they have been on any other issue.

The power in this message is that it is unifying. It can be accepted and internalized by people running from the deeply religious to humanists, from conservatives to liberals, in general by anyone with a basic sense of morality.

With the leadership and loud voices from the 70% of our population claiming to be Christian, Americans can come together. Congress will listen, if for no other reason than to stay in office. Hyper-partisanship and gridlock will diminish and Congress may choose to govern a democracy as it should be governed through compromise and comity.

 

20 Feb 2017

We hear much about chaos and real dysfunction in the new administration. However, one needs to realize that in our enormously polarized political environment, members of the electorate view such claims through very different lenses.  Below, I provide information on how Trump’s job approval varies dramatically among different segments of the electorate and how effective Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media have been.  

TRUMP AND HIS FAILING PRESIDENCY?  NOT SO MUCH!

Note:  Discussion is based on data from Public Policy Polling’s early February poll of registered voters. See notes at the end of this post for some technical details. I may be providing more information from this poll as the week progresses. 

TRUMP JOB APPROVAL

While many of us may think that The Donald is failing and has stirred up a hornet’s nest that will relatively quickly bite him on the ass, it only seems that way.  In reality, it seems that anyone who voted for him (approximately 63 million Americans) think he is doing a “peachy keen” job.  Those registered voters who indicate they voted for Trump are almost unanimous in their support for his performance (95%).  Even those who may not have voted or possibly voted for someone else but consider themselves Republicans overwhelmingly approve of his performance (89%).

When it comes to race or ethnicity, Trump clearly loses every group but white folks (50% vs. 46%).  Though he touts the number of African-American votes he got, only 8% of African-Americans approval of his job thus far.

What I find surprising about this is the percent of Hispanics who Approve (40%).  This may be a bit of an over-estimate, but Hispanics have voted for Republicans at a rate of 27-31% in the last three presidential elections. 

How that is possible this year is somewhat mystifying, given Trump’s attacks on Hispanics.  But, it may be a generational thing with older Latinos resenting the current immigrants getting benefits they did not get.  Also, one always needs to remember that Cubanos usually hate Democrats.

Age turns out to be another important factor.  While 18-29-year-old registered voters clearly disapprove of Trump’s performance (40% vs 58%), other age groups are more divided, It is basically a dead heat for those 45-65, and the differences in other age groups, while indicating disapproval, are even less dramatic. 

This is probably a broad hint to the Democrats that they need to do all they can to bring out younger voters in order to stop The Donald.

THE DONALD AND THE MEDIA

As Steve Bannon and others in the Trump administration have basically been screaming for many months now, the “fourth estate” (the news media) is filled with a bunch of lying, cheating, folks who should be seen as not only enemies of The Donald, but as enemies of the nation and the American people.  This is decidedly serious stuff.  No president has really liked the media, and no media should really like the president. 

The relationship has to be somewhat adversarial, but this is a new twist.  The media are not just adversarial; they are dishonest and a threat to the nation.  All of this, of course, is an attempt by The Donald and his acolytes to allow him to “frame the issues” in such a way as to destroy the credibility of his detractors who he can blame with spreading “false news.”

As the following data indicate, this strategy plays very well with non-trivial segments of our population.  The PPP poll asked about the New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.  I only report the NYT results here, but the others are not really that different.

Looking at the 2016 vote, everybody but Trump voters think that New York Times is way more credible than The Donald. Only 7% of Trump voters think the NYT more credible than The Donald, while 89% of Clinton voters give the NYT the nod for credibility.

As one would expect, party identification is a major factor differentiating those who believe Trump is more credible than the NYT.  But, the Independent/Other category of political affiliation does not follow that pattern.  There the difference between the percentage who think the NYT more credible shrinks to only eight percent, which may in fact be within sampling error.  Somehow the Ds must make that group see The Donald and his “spin doctors” for what they really are.

Again, White folks do love The Donald.  All other groups clearly trust the NYT more than The Donald, but the largest percentage of voters in the country (White Folks) edge toward The Donald (51%) as the more credible source of information.  But, almost thirty percent of Hispanic registered voters think the Donald has more credibility than the NYT. 

Looking at age, the younger group pops out like Roman candle. They aren’t buying into the “media is the enemy” narrative. Almost three-quarters of this group find the NYT more credible. But, that is not really true for the other groups.  Fifty-two percent of those 30-45 believe The Donald “speaketh truth,” while other older age groups give the NYT the edge by relatively small margins, considering sampling error.

CLOSING NOTES

Where does all this data put us?  Well, it offers no satisfaction to those who now and have always opposed The Donald.  Those who were with him in the election have followed the old Texas dictum of “dancing with them what brung us.” 

A couple of things are more interesting.  Trump seem to enjoy much more support among Hispanics than one would expect.  One must, I think, wait to see what the Trump policy on deportation does to this support.  Taking working mothers and fathers who have committed no crime to the busses for the border may not play well with this population, even among those who have supported Trump. 

In the end, it may be something like what happened with LGBTQ rights.  When many people realized that they knew someone adversely affected by the issue, then they began to re-think their position on LGBTQ rights.  That may be true in the Latino community as Immigration and Border Enforcement begins to pitch a wider and wider net.  It’s possible, but we will have to see.

Also, it seems that the best hope for the Democratic Party in its quest to get shed of The Donald seems to be younger voters (18-29 or 18-33 by the next election).  The issue is how you get them excited enough to hit the polls in numbers reminiscent of the turnout for Obama. 

Hillary Clinton did not do it; Bernie Sanders did. There is a lesson there that the Ds had best learn.  Given this, the Ds would do well to look to Elizabeth Warren in the next few years.  She is fearless, smart, and her honesty and passion work for younger people.

The issue of credibility is tough.  How can Democrats move Independents and older persons to see through the fabric of lies spun by The Donald about the mainstream news media.  It really remains a “he said; she said” situation.  In the end, it may take some absolutely incontrovertible evidence (tapes, memos, etc,) that prove The Donald to be a liar of extraordinary proportions on some issue that will gain the attention of important segments of the population.  I suspect the “Russian Connection” may be our best hope.  No segment of our population really trusts the Russians, likes Putin, or considers them good candidates for our new BFF.

The Donald’s supporters will still believe him or whatever tale he tells, no matter what.  It is more a matter of moving Independents and some percentage of middle-aged people into the category of “doubter” and energizing younger voters that will tell the tale.  But, it will really have to be a smoking gun (a really big one), given the success thus far of his smear campaign aimed at the mainstream media.

NOTE:  You can check out the entire survey at http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/polls/

POLLING METHODS: One can survey basically three groups in a poll about politics—the population, registered voters, and likely voters.  Each has its advantages.  Public Policy Polling does registered voters.  That option gives you folks who are potential voters.  Others use likely voters, which I would consider if I could see the algorithm they use to identify “likely voters” and evaluate its sensitivity and specificity for various populations.

Since I can’t do that, I will stick with registered voters and report the Public Policy Polling (PPP) data and its latest sample of registered voters.  Below I provide a link to a nice explanatory article about when to choose these different populations.

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/16/does-poll-include-or-exclude-nonvoters/

PPP QUIRK?: The only quirk with PPP is it combines telephone polling with opt-in internet polling.  All that is well and good, if they weight both segment properly, but that is impossible for me to tell with what they provide to the public (i.e, non-paying clients).  However, I will assume that they are at the least sensitive to this issue.

SAMPLING ERROR: This is an early February poll of 725 Registered voters. The error for the Base comparisons is 2.7%, but in the comparisons among smaller populations (by party, age, etc.), the error level will be higher.

 

8 Feb 2017

Gob-Smacked or Hornswoggled.

I sometimes think the Brits have the best phrases.  They have things like “getting shirty. As in, “The car wasn’t ready when I said it would be, and he got quite shirty about it all” We also have “mad as a sack of frogs.”  As in, “You can call him eccentric, but I know for a fact that he is really mad as a sack of frogs.”

However, I do an American favorite — “hornswggled” — to get the better of someone by deception or cheating.  As in, that Trump is pretty much a shoe-in for Hornswoggler of the Year at this year’s awards ceremony, though he faces tsome ough competition from other members of his cast. (Though I do admit that “bamboozle” is also a favorite of mine.)

However, the first among equals (what does that mean, really?) is “gob-smacked.”  As in, “How did Shirley take the new? She was gob-smacked, that’s how!”

I really feel that way when I read what the Donald Trump and his acolytes have been doing over the last two weeks.  The administration plan was to hit opponents with rapid fire executive orders to put them on the defensive.  The first part seems to have worked quite well. We did get Eos at a machine gun rate, leaving opponents so many targets that it was hard for them to focus.  The second part, on the defensive, probably not so well. It mobilized public opposition as well and aggressive opposition from Ds all over the country.

Just a few more tidbits.

KELLYANNE CONWAY  (in some circles, the Demoness In Chief)

“Two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. … It didn’t get covered”

There was no Bowling Green Massacre

http://www.politifact.com/personalities/kellyanne-conway/

DONALD TRUMP

“The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.”

— PolitiFact National on Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

This is wrong. This is wrong. Murder rate

 is at almost a half-century.

 State Sponsors of Terrorism – Or as the late, lamented songwriter Steve Goodman might put it, “Trouble in our own backyard.”

The text below is from a Cato Institute (not exactly a bastion of leftist analysis) Report.

“…The U.S. government has warned that it will treat regimes that harbor or assist terrorist organizations the same way that it treats the organizations themselves. Yet if Washington is serious about that policy, it ought to regard Saudi Arabia as a prime sponsor of international terrorism. Indeed, that country should have been included for years on the U.S. State Department’s annual list of governments guilty of sponsoring terrorism.

The Saudi government has been the principal financial backer of Afghanistan’ s odious Taliban movement since at least 1996. It has also channeled funds to Hamas and other groups that have committed terrorist acts in Israel and other portions of the Middle East.

Worst of all, the Saudi monarchy has funded dubious schools and “charities” throughout the Islamic world. Those organizations have been hotbeds of anti-Western, and especially, anti-American, indoctrination. The schools, for example, not only indoctrinate students in a virulent and extreme form of Islam, but also teach them to hate secular Western values.

They are also taught that the United States is the center of infidel power in the world and is the enemy of Islam. Graduates of those schools are frequently recruits for Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terror network as well as other extremist groups.

Pakistan’s guilt is nearly as great as Saudi Arabia’s. Without the active support of the government in Islamabad, it is doubtful whether the Taliban could ever have come to power in Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities helped fund the militia and equip it with military hardware during the mid-1990s when the Taliban was merely one of several competing factions in Afghanistan’s civil war. Only when the United States exerted enormous diplomatic pressure after the Sept. 11 attacks did Islamabad begin to sever its political and financial ties with the Taliban. Even now it is not certain that key members of Pakistan’s intelligence service have repudiated their Taliban clients.

Afghanistan is not the only place where Pakistani leaders have flirted with terrorist clients. Pakistan has also assisted rebel forces in Kashmir even though those groups have committed terrorist acts against civilians. And it should be noted that a disproportionate number of the extremist madrasas schools funded by the Saudis operate in Pakistan.”

[One might also remember that it was in Pakistan where OBN fled and lived amidst the homes of high level Pakistan military.]

https://www.cato.org/people/ted-galen-carpenter

 

As for the seven states named by DJT (Steven Bannon – Demon in Chief – really) in the travel ban,

…TRUMP: In the same statement, he said “The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”

THE FACTS: That is misleading. The Republican-led Congress in 2015 voted to require visas and additional security checks for foreign citizens who normally wouldn’t need visas — such as those from Britain — if they had visited the seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. This was included in a large spending bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by Obama.

As the law was enacted, the Obama administration announced that journalists, aid workers and others who traveled to the listed countries for official work could apply for exemptions. There were no special U.S. travel restrictions on citizens of those seven countries.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/ap-fact-check-trump-claims-travel-ban-misleading-213204631–politics.html

 

IN PURSUIT OF FAIR AND RESPONSIBLE COVERAGE.

Associated Press, Eric Tucker

WASHINGTON — The federal judge who halted President Donald Trump’s travel ban was wrong in stating that no one from the seven countries targeted in Trump’s order has been arrested for extremism in the United States since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Just last October, an Iraqi refugee living in Texas pleaded guilty to attempting to provide support to the Islamic State group, accused of taking tactical training and wanting to blow himself up in an act of martyrdom. In November, a Somali refugee injured 11 in a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University, and he surely would have been arrested had he not been killed by an officer.

The judge, James Robart, was correct in his larger point that the deadliest and most high-profile terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11 — like the Boston Marathon bombings and the shootings in Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California — were committed either by U.S. citizens or by people from countries other than the seven majority-Muslim nations named in Trump’s order.

But he went a step too far at a hearing in Seattle on Friday.

He asked a Justice Department lawyer how many arrests of foreign nationals from the countries have occurred since 9/11. When the lawyer said she didn’t know, Robart answered his own question: “Let me tell, you, the answer to that is none, as best I can tell. You’re here arguing on behalf of someone that says we have to protect the United States from these individuals coming from these countries and there’s no support for that.”

Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says his research shows no Americans have been killed in the U.S. at the hands of people from the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — since Sept. 11. But it’s not quite right to say no one from those nations has been arrested or accused in an extremist-related plot while living in the U.S.

In addition to the cases from last fall, for instance, two men from Iraq were arrested in Kentucky in 2011 and convicted on charges that they plotted to send money and weapons to al-Qaida.

They were never accused, though, of plotting attacks on the U.S. Last week, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway wrongly cited their case as a “Bowling Green massacre,” which never happened.

All told, Kurzman said, 23 percent of Muslim Americans involved with extremist plots since Sept. 11 had family backgrounds from the seven countries.

Last but not least, we have the newest tack taken by Trump supporters who realize that they can no longer convince people his lies are the truth.

Kellyanne Conway (the Demoness in Chief):

Look at Trump’s heart, not ‘what’s come out of his mouth’

01/09/17 11:30 AM
 

Kellyanne Conway, who’ll soon become a senior advisor to the president in Donald Trump’s White House, came up with a brand new defense for her boss’ aversion to the truth: Americans should be prepare to look past “what’s come out of his mouth.”

The Huffington Post highlighted Conway’s appearance on CNN this morning, where Chris Cuomo pressed her on Trump lying about his mockery of journalist Serge Kovaleski and the reporter’s physical disability. It led to an amazing exchange:

…Cuomo called out Trump for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter during a 2015 rally. But Conway insisted that’s not what he was doing. “That is not what he did and he has said that 1,000 times,” she said Monday morning. “Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt?”

Cuomo shot back, “He can say it a million times but look at the video… he’s making a disgusting gesture on video.”

“Why is everything taken at face value?” she asked. “You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart, you always want to go with what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

It’s a remarkable approach to defending the indefensible, and it’s hard to imagine Conway seriously believing her own rhetoric. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen a political figure come to literally asking, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

As a rule, “the benefit of the doubt” is earned, not given. In this case, we have the video of Trump, who has a track record of jaw-dropping dishonesty, mocking a disabled reporter. For the president-elect and his team to say that didn’t happen, when we can all plainly see the evidence, is genuinely bizarre.

But it’s every bit as amazing to see Conway suggest we should all look past the words that come out of Trump’s mouth – because it’s “his heart” that matters.

For now, let’s look past what we know about Trump’s heart. Instead, let’s marvel at the prospect of a White House aide telling the public that what the incoming president actually says isn’t as important as what he thinks.

We talked about a month ago about the broader dynamic:

1. Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true.

2. Trump’s allies, aides, and surrogates have a hard time defending the things he says that aren’t true.

3. They end up coming up with creative explanations in the hopes of rationalizing and/or justifying Trump’s penchant for brazen dishonesty.

To that end, one transition team member said in December that Americans should take Trump’s rhetoric “symbolically,” not literally. It was one of the more jarring examples, but there are others.

Corey Lewandowski, for example, said voters “understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.” Pressed to explain Trump’s demonstrable lies, Reince Priebus added the president-elect “has pushed the envelope and caused people to think.”

Mike Pence said Americans should find it “refreshing” that Trump tells the public “what’s on his mind” – without much regard for telling the truth. A pro-Trump pundit argued recently that it doesn’t really matter if the president-elect brazenly lies because there’s “no such thing” as facts anymore.

I suppose the obvious follow-up question for Trump World is simple: how is the public to know the difference between fact and fiction when the incoming president speaks?

 

5 February 2017

The “Check the Boxes” Presidency – Damn the consequences! Full Speed Ahead!

Donald Trump entered DC with a roar rather than a whimper, even though he lost the popular vote by almost three million votes, his electoral college victory ranked in the high 40s out of 50-something elections, and his inauguration was largely a bust.

Nonetheless, he and his buds are treating the White House like a reality show sound stage.  In the campaign, he promised:

  • a wall,
  • regaining jobs lost to overseas competition,
  • reducing the regulation that is “strangling American business.”
  • change our “losing” involvement with international actors,
  • a Muslim ban, and
  • a right-wing nut Supreme Court justice,

What he has done is “make good” on most of those promises in the first 2 weeks of his tenure.  He has checked off box after box on his to-do list. And, as he has done it, he and his gang have played symbolic politics like masters. 

His serious supporters (maybe 35-39% of adult population, it seems) are just over the moon about this.  They see a man of action who is decisive and follows through on what he promises. 

What they don’t know, of course, is that it is all “hokum.” As Merriam Webster notes, for those not in the know, hokum is “a device used (as by showmen) to evoke a desired audience response [or alternatively] pretentious nonsense….

Almost all of these executive orders that “fulfill” his campaign promises are basically hokum, window-dressing.  What effects they will have is absolutely up for grabs and is anyone’s guess.

  • Wall: The border wall EO was just so much BS. Congress will have to do this and approve the enormous price tag.
  • Trade: He ended the TPP, but almost all progressives were for that anyway. He only pissed off moderate Ds and real conservative free-trade Rs.
  • Keeping Job: If real “incentives” to keep jobs in US are implemented, it won’t be through an EO. Though DJT will claim credit for anything that looks like his “jawboning” has worked to save American jobs, even if it had nothing to do with the decision or the decision was a sham (example: Carrier and Ford).
  • Regulation: He holds meetings with “industry leaders,” but it is Congress that will carry the load in destroying federal regulations that aren’t what Goldman Sachs, the Mercer family, and other major players really want. Which means, of course, that he signed an EO calling for scrutiny of Dodd-Frank (legislation passed in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis to curb potentially dangerous big bank activity).  But, Congress is really doing the heavy lifting ─ trying to invalidate rule after regulatory rule from the Obama administration, rules that were made from June to January prior to the change in administration. 
  • Getting Tough in International Arena: The head of the NSC, Gen. Flynn, put Iran “on notice in the latest press conference. No one really knows what that means, but its sounds tough, which is exactly why the administration did it. “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”  Unfortunately, he seems to think that also means he should treat our allies like our enemies.  And, he is proposing new sanctions for Iran because it violated a UN resolution (an organization that all Trumpettes abhor and want to defund).

All of the above are political theater.  But, we have gotten some things that are far too real.

  • The Supreme Court is pretty much forever. The Ds won’t be able to stop him from getting his appointment, and even if they did stop Gorsuch they can’t sustain their fervor for four years to keep another wing-nut off the court.  Besides, the next one to come along may be even more of a troglodyte.
  • The same can be said for his immigration ban. It may be part kabuki, some version of highly stylized drama, but it is real in its impact on people. You may have gotten an email from me with this story, but it is worth reading again.  Many of you may have similar stories from family, friends, or neighbors.

This is from a former student:

“…good friend of mine [from Iran] who is a wife of a Ph.D. student at A&M was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago. Since she does not have any family in the States, me and two other friends devoted our time taking care of her after each chemotherapy. She was extremely desperate, and all she wanted was to see her mother. Her husband sent all her medical documents to the U.S. embassy in Armenia as proof of her medical condition (there is no US embassy in Iran), and after three frustrating months, was able to get an appointment time for an interview. 

Long story short, my friend was getting better hoping that her mom would be here soon. However, after the executive order by the president, she broke down mentally and lost all her hope. She keeps on saying that her mother is not an ISIS member, she is just a mother who wants to visit her sick daughter after four years.”

These asshats have no idea how to govern, as my colleague George clearly demonstrated in his recent post.  They also don’t have any idea that what they do with immigration, health care, and other policy are shaping up to be grievous offenses. 

A sick child wants her mother near her; a mother desperately wants to be near her ailing daughter. Anything that stops that from happening is, quite simply, a grievous affront to the human heart, arguably the gravest offense possible.

 

I have been fumbling and fiddling about trying to put together the facts and the meaning of the first weeks of the Trump administration.  Luckily, George has saved me.  Here is his insightful take on “The December and January to Remember.”

2 FEB 2017

WHAT’S NEXT

 “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

 Preface

I wrote this contribution to Charles’ blog on Thursday and Friday (1/26-27). Looking at Trump, his advisors and his nominees it was evident to me that there was potential for scandal. I was thinking that, if it did arise, it would emerge from conflicts of interest and possibly from entanglements of Trump or his staff with Russia. My concern was such that it evoked memories of the Saturday Night Massacre that I lived through during the Nixon Administration. In trying to cover up the Watergate scandal, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused, was fired and replaced by William Ruckelshaus who in turn refused and was fired. The nation literally was saved by the integrity and courage of these two men. These memories also led me to the question: Should an analogous situation erupt under Trump, a man who treads on the margins and refuses to admit error, could we similarly count on Attorney General Sessions?

I had no idea that these thoughts would become relevant. With my contribution completed, I was ready to send it to Charles. Then Trump issued the Executive Order (EO) banning entry (not just immigration) from seven Muslim countries that was shocking both for the total ineptitude in its development and for the horror of the policy it reflected. While I expected protests, I have been transfixed since Saturday as I watched the situation deteriorate to the firing of the Acting Attorney General on Monday evening.

This is not a constitutional crisis as was the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre. However, it could reach those proportions unless saner heads prevail. Five courts so far have ruled against the EO, declaring that at least key elements of it are unlawful or unlawful with sufficient probability to warrant suspension of the EO. A constitutional crisis will arise if the Trump administration defies the courts. To my great dismay, this is not farfetched.

Apart from the final What’s Next section, what follows is as it was written before the EO was issued. The final section was written after I had time to ponder the events of the weekend and Monday

Introduction

We have just finished watching the most chaotic, bizarre first week in office for any president in memory and maybe in history. Who is this man? Will this continue?

Any attempt to predict what Trump will do is a fool’s errand. Mercurial, impulsive, changeable and inconsistent are not strong enough. It is like staring at the CERN particle accelerator, trying to guess what will emerge from the next collision.

Defining Trump is a bit easier but a clear and simple answer still does not emerge. Is he as wily as a fox, looney like a loon, dumb as a fence post, or some unfathomable and rather toxic amalgam of these three?

For the next four years, the nation will be contending with a demagogue and bully with a monumental but fragile ego, who is narcissistic, thin-skinned, petty and impulsive, who lacks the self-confidence and self-esteem to ever admit that he was wrong, who is addicted to denying history, distorting facts and lying whenever it suits him, who lacks knowledge and understanding of even major issues, and who is insensitive to the need for nuance, restraint and diplomacy. He is a man who appears to be on a collision course with almost every national and international constituency one can mention. He is so volatile and so reversible that not even those who imagine him as a friend should trust him. Those who do may learn their lessons the hard way. Netanyahu beware.

Trump’s bizarre first week has been centered around his popularity, his cabinet appointees, and his executive orders – all of which point squarely to a man described in the terms above.

Everybody Loves Me (but the dishonest media lies about it)

Immediately upon being inaugurated, Trump locked in on something that is of so little consequence that it is amazing. In a series of erratic tweets, he made a major national issue out of his popularity. He had been sworn in as president. Petty issues about popularity should have been behind him. Instead he obsessed about it for the whole week. He was completely unable to get past the fact that Hillary won the popular vote by almost 3.000.000. Then his ego took two additional jolts when the numbers attending his inauguration were the smallest on record and the count of those on the mall for his inauguration was surpassed by the similar count from the Women’s March.

In tweet after tweet, he accused the media of distorting facts and photos. On the day after his inauguration, he sent Sean Spicer out to deliver a pitiful rebuttal at a press briefing in which Spicer ripped the press, provided erroneous information to back his attack, and threatened the press with the statement that the Trump administration would “hold the press accountable.”

The Trump team then tripled down on Sunday. First, Kellyann Conway on Meet the Press described Spicer’s falsehoods as “alternative facts.” Chuck Todd pointed out that “alternative facts” are falsehoods. As the exchange continued Conway escalated it with a threat reminiscent of Spicer’s – “Chuck, if we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, I think we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here.” Next, it was Reince Priebus’ turn when he tangled with Fox News host Mike Wallace. Priebus insisted that Trump’s crowd size was larger than Obama’s in 2009 despite being shown photographic evidence to the contrary. Finally, in frustration, Wallace declared “I’m telling you that there were fewer people.”

Rather unbelievably the supposed leader of the free world wasn’t finished. Next came an ill-received speech at the CIA in which he inappropriately devoted a significant portion to his inaugural crowd, claiming to have had “the biggest crowd in the history of inaugural speeches.” The speech was widely criticized, including by GOP loyalists. Even the cherry-picked audience of 350 Trump staffers and selected CIA personnel did not respond very well. Nevertheless, Trump described the speech as a “home run” in an interview with ABC News. “See what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches. They showed the people applauding and screaming. … I got a standing ovation. In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl, and they said it was equal. I got a standing ovation. It lasted for a long period of time.”

You would think that at last this was enough but instead he morphed immediately into voter fraud, insisting that the only reason that Hillary won the popular vote was the absurd assertion that 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 people voted fraudulently. If you think that was ludicrous, next came the utterly ridiculous notion that all 3,000,000 to 5,000,000 votes were cast for Hillary: “Of those votes cast, none of them come to me. None of them come to me. They would all be for the other side. None of them come to me.”

These surely look like the rantings of someone as looney as a loon. But maybe not. Could crowd size – popular vote – voter fraud be a planned progression intentionally aimed to end in voter suppression?  Or was it a set of bizarre Trump twists on which others may capitalize to suppress voting?

As one ponders the post-fact world of Conway’s “alternative facts,” it becomes clear why Orwell’s “1984” has jumped to #1 on Amazon’s best seller list. The analogy does not end with “alternative facts.” Much of the book eerily pertains. The predominance of super-rich in Trump’s cabinet calls to mind the pigs on the farm. [I just ordered a replacement for my tattered, dogeared copy. It may become my best roadmap for following him.]

A Man of Action (or rather of showmanship)

In one week Trump signed 14 Executive Orders (EOs). At one level, these EOs rankled the GOP Congressional leadership as not one of them was consulted on any of the EOs. With two exceptions, all are symbolic and designed to make his faithful think he is fulfilling his promises. In signing them, he just as well could have been autographing inaugural tickets.

His EO on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will lead to some minor actions but unless he wishes to leave healthcare in shambles and hand the 2018 elections to the Democrats, not much is likely to happen until a replacement is in hand. Since the ACA became law in 2009, the GOP has not been able to agree on a substitute and a resolution is not in sight. The plans put forward by Paul Ryan and Rand Paul stand zero chance of getting all 52 GOP Senate votes and, even if one did, it would go down in flames as Democrats are need to get the 60 required votes. The plan being introduced by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins is on the right track toward a compromise that could garner 60 Senate votes. As it stands before negotiations, their plan allows states to continue with or opt out of the ACA. However, the battle over this plan among GOP representatives in the House will be bloody. The Freedom Caucus already is up in arms about it or anything else short of total repeal.

His EO on immigration is no joke. The process behind it was a joke but the EO itself is not. The manner in which the EO was developed was a case study in ineptitude. Not one member of Congress was consulted or informed and no one in the Department of Homeland Security played a significant role in its development. A reading of the EO reveals multiple flaws and makes clear that there was insufficient thought and vetting behind it. Setting aside the ill-advised, un-American policy that the EO represents, what we are seeing is Trump at his impulsive worst surrounded by a band of bungling (but cunning) amateurs who have no idea as to how manage a major government. As Bill Maher observed, we are watching “government by brain fart” and, I fear, we will be watching it for the foreseeable future.

Although suits will be filed against this EO on both constitutional (due process, equal protection, freedom of religion) and other legal grounds (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965), scholars agree that the president has broad authority regarding immigration. Many, however, believe that the EO crosses the line in its exception favoring Christians, deportation without due process, and its extension to legal US residents and holders of legal US visas who happened to be out of the country when the EO was signed.

It appears to me to be most likely that the EO will be ruled illegal and/or unconstitutional. The Trump Administration based the legality of the EO on earlier law that was replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that rather clearly states: “No person shall receive any preference or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The EO explicitly discriminates on the bases of nationality and place of residence. Under this law, Trump does not seem to have any way to achieve his ban on Muslims except to base it on religion which he didn’t do originally knowing that it would not pass constitutional muster.

On constitutionality, the EOs exemption for religious minorities in majority Muslim nations seems clearly to target the Muslim majorities. France and Belgium are two predominately Christian countries whose citizens and legal residents have been involved in a substantial number of terrorist incidents and supporting activities. Would the EO’s exemption for religious minorities apply to the Muslim minorities in these countries?

A fundamental and important question is why was the EO needed in the first place. In the almost 16 years since 9/11, there has not been a terrorist incident by someone entering the US from a foreign country. All have been homegrown. The current vetting protocol is stringent and thorough with some cases stretching out years. Although improvement always must be welcome, our current protocol hasn’t missed yet. What more is needed? What emergency prompted this precipitous, poorly contrived EO?

Spicer offered a ridiculous “alternative fact” – the EO had to be issued quickly to prevent a rush of terrorists to our borders. What nonsense! It would take months or years for them to obtain a visa.

Trump’s EO strangely does not target all countries where terrorism is a substantial problem. It targets only seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. A post by NPR notes that “no Muslim extremist from any of these places has carried out a fatal attack in the U.S. in more than two decades” – actually dating back to 1975. Despite these facts, Reince Priebus defended the ban by offering “alternative facts” in describing these seven counties as the most dangerous.

The 19 9/11 terrorists were from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, none of which are on Trump’s banned list. They do, however, share one thing in common. Trump has business interests in all four of them, but curiously he has no business interests in the seven he singled out for his ban. Indonesia and Turkey both embroiled in widespread terrorism also are not on his list. And wouldn’t you know, Trump has business interests in them too.

To quote the Institute for Policy Studies: “Conflicts of interests? Nah, just coincidence.”

One week into Trump’s presidency, conflict of interest seems to be becoming a hallmark and it starts with Donald himself. He continues to refuse to release any tax returns, even those form past years where any IRS audits would be long completed. A recent statement by Conway firmly slammed the door on any future release whatsoever. This keeps secret foreign investments, loans, partnerships, endorsement deals and all other foreign business entanglements that might influence his decisions away from America’s best interests. 

His press conference on how he would avoid conflicts of interest and insulate himself from his far-flung business interests was a charade, a media event for those unable to grasp what was happening. He retains financial interest in every one of his businesses and other deals. Anyone who thinks that he doesn’t know how government decisions will affect them and their profits doesn’t live in this world.

In this media sham, it was explicitly promised that he and his family will immediately halt all international investment including expansion of current holdings. That already has proved to be a bald-faced lie. Let’s quote from the sham show — “no new foreign deals will be made whatsoever” and [Trump has] “ordered that all pending deals be terminated”

While the sham show was in progress and continuing to this day, the Aberdeenshire Council in Scotland is considering Trump’s application for a second 18-hole golf course and more housing in the Trump International Golf Links Scotland operation. The expansion would substantially grow the complex and include a 450-room five-star hotel, a timeshare complex and a private housing estate. Despite of the unambiguously clear language quoted above and in the document published by his law firm, a spokesman for the Trump organization now has stated: “Implementing future phasing of existing properties does not constitute a new transaction so we intend to proceed.”

18 new holes, a 450-room five-star hotel, a timeshare complex and a private housing estate do not constitute a new transaction? If you swallow this, I have ten oceanfront acres for you just outside of Tempe. More ominously, this statement has the look of a harbinger of things to come. It gives license to add to any Trump business interest whatsoever while he is in office. 

How can he possibly hold his appointees to a higher standard than himself? If he tries, he will get whistle blowers on every street corner. As one of my earlier comments on this blog stated: the only change in the swamp is that the crocodiles are replacing the alligators.

Cabinet Choices (making Trump look better)

If the 60-vote rule still was in place, it is fair to assume that only a minority of Trump’s cabinet nominees would be confirmed. Already confirmed by wide margins are Nikki Haley (UN Ambassador by 96-4), John Kelly (Homeland Security by 88-11), James Mattis (Defense by 98-1) and Mike Pompeo (CIA by 66-32). All are solid picks who already have shown the integrity and willingness to resist Trump on his stranger and more foolish positions; for example, all four on Russia, NATO and torture, and Kelly also on the “wall.”

The rest of Trump’s nominees, no matter how unsuited for their posts, more than likely will get the 51 votes needed for confirmation. Bellyaching about them is a waste of time. Comments on a few are sufficient to illustrate that Trump’s cabinet is populated with too many committed ideologs, people who lack relevant experience, and some who look like Trump picked them just to have people around him that make him look better.

  • Betsy DeVos (Education) is an ideologue whose Senate hearing demonstrated that she has very limited understanding of education policy and doesn’t know the very basics of the laws regarding public education – an egregious example was not knowing that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act applied to all states. When asked about the advisability of guns in school, she referred to a rural school in which she “would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potentialgrizzlies.” Her key qualifications appear to be membership in the cabinet’s super-rich club due to her Amway money and hundreds of millions of dollars donated by her and her family to the GOP.
  • Ben Carson (Housing) is an outstanding pediatric neurosurgeon who never has ran anything larger than an operating room and has absolutely no experience with housing and urban development. He doesn’t even have the business credentials that Trump extols. However, Elizabeth Warren voted in committee for confirmation saying that her written questions have him on record with answers that she likes.
  • Scott Pruitt (EPA) is certainly among Trump’s worst and most controversial nominations. His stance on climate change makes him eligible for charter membership in the Ancient Society of Flat Earthers. As Attorney General for Oklahoma, he has opposed at every turn the agency he is supposed to run, filing law suit after law suit against the EPA.
  • Rick Perry (Energy) could be the weakest nominee. Since accepting the nomination, he has been scrambling to totally reverse his prior positions that the Department of Energy should be eliminated and that human activity was not contributing to climate change. When he accepted the nomination, he was not even aware that he would be responsible for the nation’s nuclear arsenal and its system of national laboratories. In his 2011 run for the presidency, his fumbling on issues of national importance and his obvious inability to grasp even policies he eschewed led to his early exit from the race. Spurred by Perry’s ineptitude, the press managed to obtain his academic record that is flush with Cs and Ds and totals to a 2.23 GPA.

The Wall (Hadrian revisited)

One of Trump’s nonbinding, symbolic EOs addresses the impermeable wall that he touted throughout his campaign. It is the xenophobic cousin of his Muslim ban.

One can go back in history as far as one wishes, to Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China, and find that walls fail to deter those who wish to cross them. Even the Iron Curtain with its kill zones covered by machine gun towers and land mines ultimately failed. Many died but that did not deter those who followed seeking a better way of life.

Trump may not recognize this but, like a good military man, his Secretary of Homeland Security does and has been open about it. Trump’s heralded wall is on a collision course with Congress, with his Secretary of Homeland Security and with his devotees.

While publicly supporting Trump’s wall, GOP Congressional leaders downgraded most of it to a fence and privately have been choking on the construction costs which have been variously estimated between $12 billion and $25 billion with something in the $18 billion to $20 billion range seeming most realistic. The current 700 miles cost $7 billion over terrain far more construction-friendly than the remaining 1,300 miles. And construction costs are the small piece of the total cost.

In his testimony to Congress and in other statements, General Kelly has been clear that by itself a wall or wall including stretches of fence is useless. He is on record as saying that “A physical barrier by itself will not do the job” and that border security “cannot be attempted as a series of ‘goal line stands’ on the one-foot line at the official ports of entry or along the thousands of miles of border between this country and Mexico.”

Unlike Trump, Kelly knows that protection in depth (layered protection) is required. Because illegals need only a ladder or wire cutters to be in the US in minutes, the wall/fence must be patrolled and monitored. Thus, physical border security means more border agents, more vehicles, more aircraft, more detection devices, more weapons, more training, more everything that would make the wall/fence effective. Next, all of this needs to be acquired and maintained resulting in a long acquisition, supply, maintenance and management chain with warehouses, maintenance facilities and sundry other buildings to house all of it – not to mention the support personnel involved.

Kelly’s concept of border security in depth also extends to increased aid to and cooperation with Mexico and Central American nations for economic development, education, human rights, and other actions that would reduce the numbers of people trekking toward our border.

Trump has proposed only a wall/fence. This narrow notion is at odds with his nominee’s comprehensive approach. Kelly’s approach, however, almost surely is unacceptable to the large

majority GOP legislators due to its extremely high ongoing costs. Being budget conscious, they as a group never have gone much beyond backing the costs of the wall/fence by itself.

Trump’s devotees are about to be vastly disappointed. They going to get far less than the impermeable barrier that his rhetoric promised. On top of that there will be no round up and deportation of 11 million undocumented people. Most GOP legislators are clear about that. But what truly may incense his faithful is that they are quite likely to witness the enactment of that to which they are utterly opposed – a path to citizenship. Speaker Ryan was rather clear on this in responding to an undocumented mother and daughter in his recent town hall session on CNN.

Beyond this, Trump kept claiming that he will get Mexico to pay for the wall despite President Pena Nieto’s flat no. Finally getting the message that Pena Nieto really meant no, Trump retreated to the position that the American tax payer would initially pay for it but that he would get the money back through “a 20% border tax” – a crystal clear example that he and his close advisors have piteous understanding of governance.

First, he doesn’t understand that a “border tax” (tariff) is paid by importer of record – not Mexico. The United States cannot tax other countries. The American importer either eats the added 20% cost or passes it on to American consumers. I leave it to you to guess which.

Second, he has no authority to impose tariffs. The authority lies with Congress and his chances of getting Congress to pass tariffs on imports from Mexico or any other country are about nil. Arrayed against tariffs are not just Democrats but free-trade Republicans, large and small businesses and even Grover Norquist. The lobbying power amassed against tariffs would be immense.

Third, any effort to damage the Mexican economy would be self-defeating to Trump’s anti-Hispanic xenophobia. It only would encourage more people to try to move north.

To paraphrase Bill Maher, the wall has kept out one Mexican – President Enrique Pena Nieto.

A United Government (rather here come the Thought Police)

If autocrats do but one thing, they seek control of information including silencing a free press. They know that they cannot survive unless the flow of information is favorable to them and is restricted to only that which they want the public to hear. An informed public is the greatest threat to their survival.

Most ominously, the Trump administration took a first step in information control. It began when one National Park Service staffer retweeted photographs showing crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration and Obama’s, and another noted that the Trump administration removed climate change, civil rights and health-care issues from the White House website. The Trump administration immediately banned all use of social media accounts at the entire Department of the Interior and at EPA and the Departments of Agriculture and Transportation. Although the bans were rescinded, the administration’s draconian action is unsettling and foreboding.

The continuing attacks on the press by Trump and his advisors are intended to serve two purposes. First, they are designed to discredit the press so that the public will not trust them and instead will accept the “alternative facts” flowing from the administration. Second, the repeated attacks are an attempt to bully the press into submission so that they cease challenging the “alternative facts” and stop digging for things adverse to the designs of the administration.

The attacks on the press may very well backfire. An aroused press rather surely would be the Trump administration’s worst enemy.

A Nation United (Nope, divided is better)

Trump’s campaign deeply divided a nation that already was being pried apart by the GOP’s blanket opposition to anything Obama. However, after the election Trump repeatedly stated that it was his intention to bring us together. Not so. Nothing that he has done or said since the election shows the slightest effort to close the chasm. His inaugural address is a fine illustration. It was a campaign speech targeted at his base. It did nothing to bridge the gaps whether domestic or international.

Domestically, the address did not offer the smallest olive branch to the majority of Americans who voted against him. Two paltry sentences were all that touched on the issue and then rather obliquely.

Internationally, the address was not well received by allies and adversaries alike. As a diplomat from an ally stated: “The message was America first and screw everyone else.”

His combative, disrespectful nature shown through in the swipes that his inaugural address took at past administrations and Congress, Republicans included.

What’s Next

I am by nature an optimist and far from an alarmist doomsayer, but what I am witnessing is assailing both of my tendencies. I had expected a rough ride but the last few days have elevated this to an exceedingly rough ride.

Trump, Spicer, Priebus, Conway, Miller, Bannon and all of the others pump out “alternative facts” in the blink of an eye. Yet more frightening is that they seem entirely comfortable doing so, as comfortable as the Nazis in Germany, the Leninists and Stalinists of Russia, and the many other despots of the last century.

Many see Trump as the source and evil genius. But ever since he stepped out of the shadows as Trump’s campaign manager, I have viewed Steve Bannon as the puppeteer to the Dancing Donald. Too much is too sophisticated for Trump but not for Bannon, the Harvard graduate.

Bannon is an avowed enemy of democracy and our government. He calls himself a Leninist. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

Detailing Bannon’s anti-democratic views would take pages. To better understand Bannon and how he is shaping Trump, I urge you to read the excellent article from Politico by Jedediah Purdy, Everett Professor of Law at Duke Law School.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/11/donald-trump-steve-bannon-peter-thiel-214490

Bannon is among Trump’s closest advisors and his advice is evident in the tactics practiced throughout the campaign and into the first week of Trump’s presidency. Tactically, Bannon is the Saul Alinsky of the far right. So much of the Trump-Bannon tactics adhere closely to the rules laid down by Alinsky – fight everything all the time; don’t stop until you destroy; attack the person not the institution. I will be rereading Alinsky’s book, “Rules for Radicals.” but I did dig out a key quote that has stuck with me over the years and is so descriptive of what we are watching – the “job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy.’ “ Saul Alinsky is not someone Trump would have studied and emulated, but Bannon is.

In finding a way out of what we are witnessing, it is important that we keep in mind that the far right and the far left are not far apart. They are not at opposite ends of a continuum. They are part of a circle that meets at dictatorship. Whether you call it fascism, communism, despotism or something else, extremism in politics and government is the enemy of democracy. George Washington clearly believed it and warned against it.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” (George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796).

All elected officials should have this quote tattooed on them and be required to recite it daily.

Faced with present events it is easy to slip into despair and desperation. But history teaches that we can live through these times and emerge better for it. Hope lies in the people, in good and sensible Republicans, in an active press, and in revitalized Democrats.

Never have people began to speak so clearly so soon after an inauguration. In one week, we have seen the Women’s March, protesters at airports and in the streets voicing their opposition to the immigration ban, a cable opposing the ban signed by over 1,000 State Department officials, and a mushrooming of rogue websites and Twitter accounts by federal employees in response the abortive attempt to restrict information flow. One might expect rogue social media accounts and websites from employees of agencies like EPA and the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, but not from the Department of Defense. Nevertheless @Rogue_DoD has appeared with tweets running from documents on climate change to a criticism of Trump for not sufficiently consulting with Defense Secretary Mattis. All of these actions were spontaneous; arising straight from the people.

Will Trump continue with his reckless, radical and disruptive actions? Most certainly. It is in his temperament and it is Bannon’s guiding philosophy. Then most certainly protests will populate our future. Given time, specific issue protests will coalesce into protests against the common source of all of their grievances – Trump and his policies. Protests are not just people venting frustrations. They are communications; voices politicians hear and eventually cannot disregard, especially with their seats at risk in the midterm elections.

Hope also lies in the looming disappointment of the many working class Americans who voted for Trump. His campaign was replete with grandiose promises that he cannot keep. Most importantly, he will fail to keep those on preventing the movement of jobs out of the country.

Since WW II the world economy has become a global economy. Driven by the revolutions in communications and transportation, it is thoroughly entrenched. A return to a protectionist, isolationist economy is not possible as much as Trump or Bannon might want it. In addition, the lobbying forces arrayed against it are overwhelming.

To be cost competitive, major corporations will not cease moving jobs overseas so that they can avail themselves of the same lower labor costs as their competitors and the same lower real estate, construction and maintenance costs for new plants. Even corporations whose markets are entirely domestic compete with imports from global competitors. Similarly, small and mid-sized businesses that supply these large businesses with any product or service whatsoever indirectly compete in the global market.

Other of Trump’s job promises are equally hollow. The coal industry is a good example. Coal-fired electric plants have converted to cheap and abundant natural gas and for reasons of cost alone will not be converted back to coal. States together with local residents no longer want to see mountain top removal of the sort that has completely decimated parts of southwest Virginia, southeast West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

Also, it is beginning to dawn on coal miners that repeal of the ACA without continuation of the prohibitions on lifetime benefit caps and on discrimination for preexisting conditions will leave all those with black lung disease without affordable care.

Working class voters disaffected by the absence of the jobs boom promised by Trump may not join protesters in the streets but may join them in the voting booths. Should the continuous stream of tracking polls begin to reveal this, it will not be lost on the GOP and those up for reelection.

The below URL leads to a marvelous article by the conservative columnist, David Brooks, that all should read in the New York Times of 1/31/17.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/31/opinion/the-republican-fausts.html

In the article, David Books observes: “The Faustian Republicans are in an untenable position. The deal they’ve struck with the devil comes at too high a price. It really will cost them their soul.” Hope lies in sensible Republicans recognizing this and the threat to our democracy and national wellbeing represented by current directions. Trump is burning political capital at an unprecedented rate. It not just his capital, but the capital of the Republican Party. It is likely that sooner or later moderate Republican Senators and Representatives will realize this, become more bipartisan, and call a halt to Trump’s destructive follies. Pressure from the voices of the people and the prospects for the 2018 midterm elections may be the driving forces.

The media are an essential element in hope for the future. So far, we are blessed by a press that is vigorously reporting on things as they are and appears to be committed to its investigative role. If the press does its job properly, it carries the truth to the people, makes lawmakers aware that the people are well informed, and carries the people’s responses back to the lawmakers. The media does have one thing to guard against. Both Trump and Bannon fully understand the power and motivations of the media. In the campaign the media were manipulated into keeping Trump, his actions and messages front and center. They cannot be victimized again. But already there are some troubling signs. In the last while we have seen live coverage of Spicer’s press briefings and live coverage of Trump’s meaningless meeting with a small group of African American supporters. There is a lot of news in the world. What is important from Spacer’s briefings and Trump’s meetings can be covered in clips.

Hope also must reside in a revitalized Democratic party. The election was lost because states across the reliably blue Midwest were lost. Legitimate concerns for such as the poor and minorities have drawn Democrats too far away from the concerns of bread-and-butter America. In Tuesday’s town hall on CNN, Nancy Pelosi did an admirable job of presenting the Democratic agenda except when she was asked about how Democrats would recapture working class voters. She fumbled. While she could express clear and understandable policy on every other topic, she did not have a good response on this one.

The Democrats need to get a message for bread-and-butter Americans as detailed and defensible as their messages on the environment, healthcare, voting rights, women’s rights, and so on. Then they must aggressively deliver their messages. They need to go beyond the comfortable channels that speak to Democrats and centerists. To gain the “market share” needed to be a majority party, they need to court conservatives and voters leaning that way by appearing on conservative news and talk shows – to be on Fox shows as well as NBC shows.

WHAT ARE WE WATCHING?

Claiming to be a disrupter can be a way of masking incompetence. Which are we seeing?

Trump has pushed his ban (or as some are now spinning it, pause) on the  entry of people from seven Muslim countries to the point of getting open opposition from key allies.

Immediately upon reading Trump’s Executive Order regarding the entry of Muslims, the governments of the UK, Germany, France and Italy openly took exception to it. Now members of the British cabinet are denouncing the policy in statements to the press and in speeches on the floor on Parliament. Because this would not be happening without the approval of Prime Minister Theresa May, it is signaling a significant break with a key ally, one with which Trump claims we should have a special relationship.

On Saturday, Trump had calls with the leaders of five nations including Putin of Russia and Trumbull of Australia. According to White House sources, Trump labeled the call with Trumbull the worst of the day and it is reported from sources close to both leaders that Trump abruptly ended after 25 minutes a call scheduled for one hour.

This is not a small matter. Australia has been among our staunchest allies stretching from WW I to the present. They have supplied troops to both wars in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan and they reliably have backed us on China, North Korea and a broad range of other issues.

Labeling the call the worst of the day indicates greater agreement with Putin than Trumbull.

Putin clearly is testing Trump by increasing the intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Did Trump not bring up the fighting with Putin? Our allies are alarmed both by Putin’s actions and by Trump’s silence. They see Trump’s silence as weakness and a failure of leadership and view his immigration policy as “strategic suicide.”

If Trump is being a disrupter, what is he trying to disrupt? Our relationships with our allies but not with Russia? Or is it incompetence in the development and execution of policy?

It looks too much like the latter.

30 JAN 2017

Everything in today’s politics is a “re-run”

We almost always see what happens in the political arena in our own lifetime as somehow bright and new or at least new in its horror.  But, this republic has long been a site of political strife and intense conflict. 2016 just rehashed some “golden-oldies.”

USE OF ALTERNATIVE MEDIA

DJT could not get support from traditional news outlets so he and his supporters moved into a alternative reality in social media.

In 1936, newspapers were almost solidly Republican and dominated by conservative owners like William Hearst.  To circumvent this barrier, Roosevelt took to the new form of communication, the radio, to present his message to the public at large.

USE OF FAKE NEWS       

In 1934 Upton Sinclair, the famous muckraking writer won the Democratic nomination for governor of California.  And a new class of players entered the political fray in opposition to Sinclair:

“professional public relations experts— portrayed the one-time muckraker as an atheistic, anarchist communist and a believer in free love, telepathy, and vegetarianism to boot. Fake photographs and newsreels showed California being invaded by bums and tramps seeking an end to their own poverty at the expense of the state’s taxpayers.” [emphasis added]

BIG BRAIN, GREAT WORDS AND OTHER EVASIONS OF THAT ILK

Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana, was an enormously popular figure in the mid-1930s in the US.  He was building a populist foundation for a presidential bid in 1936 before has assassinated. He made a wide range of promises (see below).  

“Long proposed that the government confiscate all inheritances of more than $ 1 million, take in income tax any and all money a person made over $ 1 million in a year, and heavily tax existing wealth. Then would come the sharing. The government would guarantee every needy family a minimum income of $ 2000-$ 3000 a year. Even better, each such family would be granted a basic “household estate” of $ 5000, “enough for a home, an automobile, a radio,” and other goods. Government would also support stepped-up aid to farmers, pensions for the aged, education for the young, public works, shorter working hours. “

He was short on details, but in a fashion to be adopted by DJT….

“Long left many of the details vague and the complexities unaddressed, but he promised to call in “some great minds” to help him.” [emphasis added]

URBAN-RURAL SPLIT

HRC won the cities handily, but she lost in non-urban areas.  This is not a new cleavage; it is as old as the support for the ratification of the US Constitution.

“Viewing the proceedings, a man in Maine reported that “it is with them as it was with us the Country Members Mostely against the Traiding Towns for it.”

“In South Carolina the delegate elections produced the usual split between the seacoast and the western counties, with Charleston almost solidly pro-Constitution.”

USE OF CAMPAIGN INVECTIVE

DJT called his opponent a crook, a nasty woman, etc.  Such charges, when looked at in a historical perspective are somewhat tame.  Take for example, again, the campaign for ratification of the US Constitution.

“Boston— commercial, cosmopolitan, seafaring, internationalist Boston— was a hotbed of Federalist agitation. Most of its eight newspapers steadily praised the new Constitution, ranging from sober analysis of its provisions to castigations of its opponents as ignorant, shortsighted, weak-headed, bad-hearted, wicked. It was an age of invective, and few paid particular attention when a Federalist denounced opponents as “blind, positive, conceited sons of bitches” who deserved roasting in hell.” [emphasis added]

THE FEROCITY OF CAMPAIGNING

Threats of secession, ethnic politics, complaints of unfair tactics also go as far back as the beginning of the US.

“The anti-Federalists in New York City organized the Federal Republican Committee, which distributed widely copies of Mercy Warren’s attack on the Constitution. They were accused of “daily going about to poison the Tenants” on the large estates. Each side hinted secession— the anti-Federalists of New York State from the Union, the Federalists of New York City from the state.

Hamilton himself was not above ethnic politics. In a campaign broadside he was one of fifty-five New Yorkers who assured “Friends and Countrymen, that the SCOTSMEN of this City, with very few Exceptions, are friendly to the New Plan of Government.” Each side bombarded the other in the press. A [George] Clintonian complained that the opposition “instead of arguments, spit out a dozen mouthful of names, epithets, and interjections in a breath, cry Tory! Rebel! Tyranny! Centinel! Sidney! Monarchy! Misery! George the Third! Destruction! Arnold! Shays! Confusion! & c. & c.”

[emphasis added]

POLITICAL VIOLENCE (EVEN IN CONGRESS), NOT JUST DJT RALLIES

“On the floor of the House of Representatives, Roger Griswold, Connecticut Federalist, disparaged the military record of Matthew Lyon, Vermont Republican. Lyon shot a stream of tobacco juice into Griswold’s face. After the House refused to expel Lyon, Griswold strode to Lyon’s desk and beat him with a cane. Lyon seized a pair of fire tongs and beat Griswold.”

Unfortunately, though we can assure ourselves that what we are now seeing in the world of politics is not something new, it is not heartening.  These historical events are, after all, just stories.  He are now living in an era that seems bent on repeating, within our lifetimes, all these same battles.

All of these quotations and observations come from the great American historian James MacGregor Burn’s three volume history of the United States

Burns, James MacGregor. The American Experiment: The Vineyard of Liberty, The Workshop of Democracy, and The Crosswinds of Freedom. Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

28 JAN 2017

For those of you who have a smidgen of a masochistic bent, here are sites where you can check out the first week of the Brave New World.  Just a sample, but frightening enough.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/28/donald-trump-first-week-news-review-executive-orders

http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/1/27/14370594/donald-trump-policies-accomplishments-achievements

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/jan/27/heres-what-donald-trump-did-first-week-president-u/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/27/fact-check-president-trump-first-week-job/97147802/

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/316582-five-takeaways-from-trumps-first-week-in-office

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/27/511914402/donald-trumps-first-week-as-president-whats-reality-in-the-show

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-everything-trump-first-week-20170128-story.html

http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/

http://www.dispatch.com/news/20170127/fact-check-on-donald-trumps-first-week-in-office

26 Jan 2017

Messages from The Fever Swamp

Just a quick “I told you so.”  I predicted Trump would lie unabashedly – (see his comments on inaugural crowd and how he has not feuded with intelligence community) Check!  I said he would blame the media for anything he didn’t’ like – (see his comments at CIA and Spicer’s first press conference) Check! 

Okay, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to get those right, but in these strange days one likes to believe he or she has some grasp on what is happening and is able to predict at least something.  Now, to the next topic.

[NOTE: Also, I really can’t think of a place less appropriate for a whining, belligerent speech like the President gave at the CIA —in front of the wall filled stars honoring CIA staff who died in service.  Could be wrong – he still has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Arlington Cemetery, but it is early times yet.]

Also, let me offer a quick update on the actions of the Liar in Chief and him acolytes. I personally believe he will eventually do some serious damage.  But, we can all hope, possibly forlornly, that these early actions (and much of what follows) is captured by the line from Macbeth (Act V, Scene V)

“… it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  1. First action ever ─ He overruled an Obama administration executive order that would have saved first time home owners $500 USD a month on their FHA mortgages. (So, much for Populism)
  2. He signed some mindless executive order telling administrative staff to do what they already have the right to do ─ interpret the requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Insurance companies have to submit their plans by March or April to DHHS, and they may be scared enough about the unpredictability of what will happen that they just jump ship. If that happens, then DJT will blame it on Obama.
  3. He reinstated the “global gag order” where no international group offering abortion or information about abortion can receive US funds.
  4. He told Congressional leaders that he only lost the popular vote in the US election because three to five million illegal immigrants voted for HRC. Seriously, he claimed this to senior politicians of both parties, all of whom had to know he was lying through his capped teeth. Also, made US Parks Service take down photos that indicated that his crowds were smaller than Obama’s. As we have known for some time, the man has no shame.
  5. The White House website no longer has pages devoted to climate change, LGBTQ rights, and replaced a page on the history of civil rights with a page blathering on about “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”
  6. Though he tweeted a picture of himself “working on his acceptance speech,” it was really written by the Breitbart team in the White House.
  7. His demonic advisor, Kellyanne Conway, coined the new term “alternative facts,” which Chuck Todd identified as “falsehoods.” The supreme demoness then chided Todd for being overly-dramatic. Any time you think things can’t get worse, just hold your breath. Seriously, before you faint, these asshats will have done something worse.
  8. A CDC conference on climate change and health to be held next month was “mysteriously” cancelled.
  9. He withdrew from the TPP, which puts him in agreement with many progressives (which I am sure gives his advisors some concern).
  10. Trump DOJ “Civil Rights Division” asked for a continuance in a case involving TX voter ID law, which the trial judge stated was clearly intended to disenfranchise voters of color.
  11. The proposed head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division is an attorney who worked on litigation to protect North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” which requires all persons to go the type of restroom implied by their birth certificate. [OMG, I am moving to North Carolina, and I don’t have a copy of my birth certificate. Does that mean I can’t use public toilets?]
  12. He has proposed a state (Oklahoma) Attorney General who spent his time in office suing the EPA in attempts to stop its enforcement of rules to head the EPA. (at least he knows something about the agency, to distinguish him from other Trump proposed appointees).
  13. At a number of federal agencies, he has halted all contact with outside persons or governmental entities (including Congress?) until cleared by his new appointees. This includes twitter, Facebook, and websites.
  14. Instituted a hiring freeze in all federal agencies, except Defense Department. This is something that newly elected folks (especially Republicans) often do.
  15. “Threatened” to “send in the Feds,” if Chicago doesn’t get a handle on crime increases. Of course, he did this after Bill O’Reilly on Fox Noise had a segment on what the feds could do to stop the “raging crime rate” in Chicago. (We now have a Liar in Chief who gets his ideas from cable commentators like O’Reilly.  Wow, maybe he will, saints preserve us, set up these folks up in the Domestic Council.  Despite this: (from the NYT)

“On Tuesday night, a Chicago police spokesman cited statistics that differed from those noted by Mr. Trump and The Tribune. So far in 2017, the spokesman said, 234 people have been shot, 38 of them fatally. That compares to 227 people shot during the same period in the start of 2016, 33 of whom died, he said. It was unclear why the number of homicides cited by Mr. Trump, The Tribune and Mr. O’Reilly — 42 — varied from that noted by the Chicago police.”

Using the Chicago police numbers, you get about a three percent increase in shootings. You get a 15 percent increase in deaths (but the base is small, so you are talking about five more people).  This is occurring while crime rates have generally been falling, but it is impossible to say if this is anything other than a random variation, rather than a real trend.

  1. Contrary to current law, he has proposed a trade negotiator who has represented other countries. Oops!
  2. He signed an order to start the wall, though Congress will have to fund it (minor detail), adds more lock-ups for border detention, and supposedly strengthens border officials enforcement power. He continues to say that Mexico, someway, somehow, someday pay for the wall.
  3. Another is intended to strips funds from Sanctuary Cities, calls for aggressive actions in the interior of the nation, and sets up a victim advocacy office for the victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
  4. More on “voter fraud.” Trump cited Pew study which showed that people who were dead were still on voting rolls and that many more were registered in two states (we have a mobile society, remember?). Here is how Trump pitched it [from the New York magazine article:

“Trump pointed to a 2012 Pew Survey about inaccurate voter registries. Muir [ABC interviewer] said he had just talked to the author of the report, David Becker, who has repeatedly said that the report wasn’t about voter fraud, and that there’s no evidence that large numbers of people are casting illegal ballots. Trump accused Becker of “groveling.”

I can truly understand DJT’s response, after all, he expects everybody to grovel to him and tell him what he wants to hear.

STAY TURNED, FOLKS, THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING!

24 Jan 2017

Commentary on the Women’s March and Commentary on the Commentary on the Women’s March

Saturday was filled with the shuffle of feet and the sounds of hundreds of thousands of Americans and people around the world disturbed by the election of Donald Trump. That is a very important and newsworthy thing.

Listening to the commentary by the media was interesting in terms of where they focused.  I am a devotee of MSNBC so I can only consider their commentary.  There was, appropriately, much said about the size of the marches in various places.  Though some estimates are clearly inflated, it does seem that something like a 1,000,000 Americans rallied (sorry, may be using a bit of Trump math here, but some estimates suggest as many as one percent of US citizens marched) on Saturday.

Much of the discussion among the commentators was about what they were rallying for.  Many ideas were thrown out: it was women’s rights; it was LGBTQ rights; it was pro-choice; it was about equality.

There seemed to be a real hesitancy among commentators to say what they all knew to be true — “They rallied to show opposition to the new president.”  The people in those crowds, which were there because for a myriad of reasons, were concerned about, frightened by, or just pissed off about what they believe will happen with a Trump administration.

The commentators kept trying to talk about the “positive” aspects of the rallies, maybe because they were afraid of what the administration would say if they told the truth.  Trump and his people have done all they can to traumatize the press and make them hyper-cautious.

The truth was simple. Those people in the streets did want positive things, but the thing they all shared is that they didn’t want DJT to be president, don’t buy into his agenda, and they wanted everyone to know it.

There was also much ado about the leaders of the rallies did not allow anti-choice organizations to serve as sponsors. Everyone from Doris Kearns to a UT professor indicated how wrong that was.  These commentators were absolutely and huuugely incorrect. 

Seriously, take a look at the website of any anti-choice group.  You will see nothing about gender equality, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, criminal justice reform, or income inequality.  All they care about are fetuses.  Oh, and they often shout their opposition to LGBTQ rights. To add those anti-choice organizations to the rallies would have been a slap in the face to an enormous proportion of those involved in the rallies.

If I was conspiracy-minded, which is becoming something of a rage in the higher circles in Washington, DC, I might think that the only reason these groups asked to be included with all those groups with which they disagree so vehemently on policy was so that they would be refused and claim that the Women’s March didn’t represent women.  But, that is (maybe) a bit to convoluted to be true.

One MSNBC commentator, Greta Van Susteren (Note: Whose father was a major supporter of Senator Joe McCarthy) wondered where all these women were on election day when HRC lost the women’s vote.  Unfortunately for Greta, that was not the case.  HRC won the general women’s vote with at least 54 percent of women.  Women of color gave her whopping majorities; white women with college educations gave her a bare majority; she lost with less educated women and opponents of choice. Yet, no one on her panel called her on this distortion.

Van Susteren’s other great contribution to the discussion was to wonder why all these women were out there when the Obama White House had the majority of women working there in lower-level, less well-paid positions. She must have thought she was still of Fox Noise.  That is a classic Fox strategy.  Something good happens, and you have to find some way to shove a shiv into Obama’s back with some minor issue. 

She seemed to ignore the effects of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the White House Summit on the State of Women, the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion, the appointment of two women to the Supreme Court, and a number of other advances as she wanted to carp about women in the White House.  Maybe, it just goes to show that you can take a woman out of Fox Noise but you can’t take the Fox Noise out of the woman.

Another main topic of discussion was ─ “where does this all go from here?”  That is about as clear as what Donald Trump will do as president.  It is early days for both Trump and his opposition.  Much will, I suspect, depend on which groups he attacks first and their ability to marshal support. 

However, let’s not forget.  Saturday was a major historical event.  It was an unprecedented statement by many Americans that they are not prepared to lay down in front of a train filled with policy horrors and run by “engineers” like Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and their heartless minions. 

These politicians are people who are willing, eager in fact, to sacrifice the health and wellbeing of average Americans on the altar of a fanatical commitment to the interests of the wealthy and to outdated fantasies like “trickle-down economics.” 

To paraphrase Betty Davis’s line in All About Eve , “Fashion your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

23 Jan 2017

The New Administration Begins with a Snarl.

As we all know, the best predictor of the future is the past.  Well, this weekend made clear that the best predictor of what the Trump presidency will be like is what he did in his campaign.  His inaugural address was filled the same themes that were part of his campaign stump speech ─ closing borders, changing trade relationships, and battling the “insiders.”  There was no uplifting rhetoric, no statement about the strengths of the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world, and no attempt to bring our fractured nation together. 

Any doubts about the past being prelude to the future were further dispelled with the signal events of the first day.  DJT went to the CIA and to a laughing, cheering crowd of employees (CIA employees have never been known for their progressivism) and told them the idea that he had problems with the intelligence community was a fabrication of those horrible people in the press.  He did this despite weeks of belittling the intelligence community because they were saying things that he didn’t like ─ as in the Russians led the cyber-attacks on his opponent.

The next blast from the past was Sean Spicer’s statement to the press.  He ignored policy and launched an all-out attack on the honesty and veracity of the press.  The mains thrust, be still my heart, was that the press was intentionally under-estimating the attendees at the inaugural.  Trump made noises about a million or a million and one-half attendees, which would a hilarious fabrication, if it weren’t coming from the President of the United States.

Like all narcissists, he can’t stand to have his image of himself tarnished by any facts, no matter how inconsequential. Seriously, three days from now, no one (except maybe DJT) will give a fig about how many people attended the inauguration, but that is the focus of his first full day in office.

All of this seems to prove a few things.  First, the President Trump is a small-minded narcissist who can’t abide anything that he thinks tarnishes his image or his “brand.” Second, he has no problem lying about anything and everything at any time. Third, and more importantly, his administration’s first response to any criticism will be to blame the press for dishonesty and bias. He seems to be working hard to maintain his hardcore base, those same people who believed his racist lies about where President Obama was born, and convince everyone else that he is a constant victim of his enemies ─ those nasty, dishonest people in the media.

This strategy allows him to maintain his fragile ego, but it also has more general ramifications.  He and his administration are attempting to be seen as the only “reliable” source of information.  They want people to ignore every other information source (except maybe Breitbart, Fox, or nationalist, right-wing bloggers).

In political discourse, “framing the issue” basically means presenting an issue in such a way as to gain support for your position.  The Trump frame was well-developed and honed during the campaign and the post-election period.  All that is good (Carrier jobs, GM’s decision to invest in US plants, etc. ─ all of which had nothing to do with Trump) flow from his hands; all that is bad is a media distortion. 

This is, in fact, something of a canny move on the administration and campaign’s part.  As the Gallup polls indicated in September of 2016:

“Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with only 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.”

So, the tone has been set. Look for this basic strategy of playing to his true believers and denouncing the media to be mainstays of the new administration’s approach to politics.

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