A Test Of Patience

In this space I recently wrote that I would be patient and give President-elect Donald J. Trump a chance to show that he understands what it takes to lead this country and to deal with the many issues confronting us today.  As we approach the three-week mark from the election, and as Secretary Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote now approaches 2.5 million more votes than what Mr. Trump received, I find that my patience is being severely tested on many levels.  I am keeping an open mind, but several troubling incidents surrounding his transition are making it difficult.

One begins to wonder if he really understands what it means to be President of the United States. Admittedly, we are only three weeks into the process and he deserves more time to get his administration and, frankly, his act together.  Few (and I suspect that does not include Mr. Trump) truly thought that he would win the election.  He did, and now he and his aides are facing a steep learning curve to get ready to serve the country.  Not unprecedented, especially since he has no prior governing experience.  That said, there are several troubling aspects to his transition that signal that he may not be ready, and even more troubling, unwilling, to assume the responsibilities of the office in a manner consistent with the customs and traditions of our great country.  It appears that he has not yet figured out that he now works for us, the citizens that hired him, rather than the other way around. It has become a cliché that he promised to “shake things up” and that he was a non-traditional candidate so expect him to be a non-traditional president.  I get it.  However there are certain basic norms of good governing and representing our country that need to be appreciated and adopted by him.

Please!  Take away his cell phone and take away his Twitter account!

Extremely troubling to this observer is his what can only be called a bizarre Tweet yesterday claiming that he actually won the popular vote. (Why do we call it the “popular vote” since it is the vote?  It is the Electoral College that is the “other” vote.)  He said that:

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

No evidence.  No proof.  Just a reaction to the continued reporting that the gap in the vote continues to grow and another example of his wild and undisciplined need to lash out whenever he is criticized. Fake news presented as a fact.  For a president-elect to make such a pronouncement is a serious threat to the legitimacy of our nation and the voting process.  Very troubling. Even as he condemns the efforts of Dr. Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party to get recounts in Wisconsin and possibly Michigan and Pennsylvania where the margin of victory was very, very thin, he gives the best reason yet for holding such a  recount.  Investigate the results, in accordance with the law and established procedures, and see if all is okay.  Even Secretary Clinton’s senior aides say that a recount is unlikely to change the result.  So what is Mr. Trump’s problem?

Further evidence of his thin skin — and let’s face it, Democrat or Republican every president in this day and age is going to be criticized for something by someone every day — is his Tweet about the “totally biased” show that contains “nothing funny at all” when Saturday Night Live did a skit on him after the election (he has gone after them before).  Stand by.

But here is what is most bothersome.  He goes after SNL and other media presentations, which arguably is beneath the expected stature of the president-elect, but he does not go after the white supremacists that now believe they have a leader in Mr. Trump.  He has called for unity and in an interview with, as he calls it, the “failing” New York Times, Mr. Trump said that “I disavow and condemn them.”

My question is if that is so, and he claims that no one reads the newspapers anymore, and that he wants to communicate directly with America by using Twitter, why hasn’t he sent a Tweet, or better yet, a series of them, specifically denouncing them, their leaders and their actions?  For that matter, just saying “I want unity” is not the same thing as making a coherent speech to the American people, and I don’t mean on YouTube which appears to be his other outlet of choice.  How about a speech that lays out his plan to unite us and specifically denounces the hate crimes that have sprung up around the country following his election?  To borrow from the old Nike ads, “just do it.”  Incidentally, Mr. Trump has not held a news conference since July.  Just sayin’.

There may be a reason why he does not more forcefully denounce the white supremacists and other haters.  Another way that we can judge Mr. Trump and his administration is by the people that he picks to fill key jobs.  This is still a work in progress, but already some troubling appointments and processes are coming to the fore.  To me, it is a bad sign that among his first three appointments were Mr. Steve Bannon and Lt. General Michael T. Flynn, USA (ret.). Before joining the Trump campaign,  Mr. Bannon was the chief of Breitbart News, a publication known for supporting the white supremacist movement. (They call themselves the alt-right, but if you’ve seen any of  their work, it is just another name for white supremacist filth.) General Flynn is known for sharing fake news in his speeches (such as saying Democrats in Florida tried to impose Sharia law) and his hard-line anti-Islamic rhetoric includes this memorable line in a speech that I am sure warmed the hearts of our ISIS enemies, as it is great propaganda for them:

“We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism and communism. This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.”

So he believes a religion is the same as fascism and communism?  1.7 billion people need to be “excised”? Does that mean kill them all?

Both men are favorites of the white supremacists and so it is more than a little scary that the two most influential men in his administration that do not need Congressional approval to serve, are both haters of segments of our nation, and a larger segment of the world.

Published reports recount that Mr. Trump has been offered the same daily intelligence brief that the current president gets.  In three weeks, he has received the brief only twice, rather than daily.  (Vice President Pence, thankfully, is reported to take the brief almost every day.)  The stated reason is that “he is busy.”  I suspect that it has more to do with the influence of General Flynn who claims to know more than the briefers, and supposedly told Mr. Trump that the intelligence he was getting as a candidate was “wrong”.  If Mr. Trump has time to meet with business associates from India and elsewhere during his working days, much less to Tweet so much, it would seem he could take a brief more than twice in twenty days.  I fear that it reflects his lack of intellectual curiosity and his propensity to “wing it” rather than to have, you know, actual facts.

Other potential Cabinet appointments announced or considered by the Trump administration, such as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) may not have vast national or international experience, but I am at least confident that they are principled, earnest and respected individuals.  As Mr. Trump fills out his Cabinet, I hope that we see more nominations in line with the likes of Governor Haley and none in the line of General Flynn.

Surprisingly there is a very public battle over the nomination for Secretary of State.  This will tell us a lot about the future of the Trump administration and their methods of governing.  Mr. Trump seems to be favoring former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) as his choice.  The Governor is another individual that I can respect as having principles and a love for our country that is greater than his own ambitions.  In a nearly unprecedented move yesterday, leading Trump transition team advisers such as Kellyanne Conway were on the morning news shows publicly campaigning against Mr. Romney’s selection.  Statements and reports indicate that the Trump insiders, with the exception of Vice President-elect Pence, are pushing hard for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R).  Mr. Giuliani’s credentials are thin at best and if voters thought that Secretary Clinton’s speeches were over paid and to the wrong people, look up Mr. Giuliani’s record of having given speeches at very high prices to some not-so-nice folks around the world.  If Mr. Trump picks Mr. Giuliani over Mr. Romney (or another equally qualified individual) that will be a tremendous signal that he cares more about “loyalty” to him personally rather than what is best for the country.

Finally, and equally trying of my patience, and I really am trying because if he does well, we all do well, is his refusal to divest or otherwise separate himself from his business dealings.  To questions about releasing his tax returns and his intent to divest himself of his businesses, he basically said in interviews, “I don’t have to.  I won.”  He further pointed out that under the law, he has to do neither, which is true. The president and vice president are exempt under the law.

One would hope that a great leader would recognize the inherent doubt and constant conflict that will ensue if many of our citizens wonder about his decisions — are they based on the nation’s needs or on his personal business needs?  Importantly, a great leader would recognize that although perhaps legal, it is not ethical.  If everyone that will serve in his cabinet and below will be required to follow the law over conflicts of interest, tax returns and the like, shouldn’t the man at the top also reveal this information? To me, this will be another test of his character.  Does he hide behind the law and continue with his “I won” mantra, or does he man up and do the right thing?

Placing his business dealings with his children, while they continue to sit in on high level meetings with foreign leaders, as has happened twice already in the last ten days, does not solve the problem. There are so many twists and turns in this story that the more he enlightens the nation, the more credible he becomes and the better able he will be to focus on the nation’s issues.  We shall see.

It is early and there is still a chance for Mr. Trump to demonstrate that we should trust him and his decision-making ability.  Unfortunately, the early signs are not all positive. The time between now and the first of the year will tell us a lot about the fate of our country in his hands over the coming years. The early signs seem to indicate that it will be a bumpy 2017.  Hold on to your hats.

 

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