“What in the wide, wide, World of Sports is going on here?”
— Slim Pickens as “Taggart” in Blazing Saddles
I made a promise to myself, and to many others, that I would give President-Elect Donald J. Trump a chance to prove himself as our next president. After all, I reasoned, he has yet to take office, has not had any Cabinet officers confirmed or proposed any legislation to the Congress. I thought to myself, let’s give him a chance and see what he actually does rather than what he might do.
Too late. Mr. Trump is already showing us what kind of president he will be. In so doing, it appears to me that he has forgotten that he is not yet the president. We only have one president at a time and currently Barack Obama is our president, like it or not. Yet Mr. Trump has already meddled in foreign affairs, the market place, labor union affairs, and other areas properly the purview of the person that is the president. In addition he continues to refuse to reveal anything about his business interests, or tax returns or any other aspect of his dealings that may well impact his decisions as president. Mr. Trump was to have a news conference this Thursday to outline how he will deal with all of those interests, but he announced yesterday that the news conference has been deferred to an unspecified date in January. Don’t count on him actually holding it. Despite frequent promises, he has not held a news conference since 27 July 2016. In that one, he famously invited the Russians to hack Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails.
My biggest concerns with his actions thus far relate to national security. He has been reckless in his statements and actions to date. One can argue that in the United States domestic economic concerns are the biggest motivators to the voting public. However, the number one role of a national government is national security. If the government cannot protect its citizens from all enemies foreign and domestic, then it has failed. Otherwise, there is no ability to focus on any other aspect of government. I find that Mr. Trump is woefully uninformed and reckless in his actions thus far and has already put our national interests in jeopardy. One can only imagine what may take place once he assumes the office.
If you have only glanced at the news (real news, not fake news) you know that Mr. Trump has muddled our relations with both China and Taiwan. His original conversation with the Taiwanese President sent shock waves through our diplomatic corps and the Chinese were not amused. This week, Mr. Trump compounded the mess by saying in an interview on Fox News Sunday that in essence, his comments on China and Taiwan was an opening gambit in trade negotiations. This thrilled Taiwan because now they are considered bargaining chips in our relations with China. Their take away over the last 48 hours is that Mr. Trump would not expand the relationship with Taiwan but rather bargain them away as a pawn if it meant a “good deal” with China on trade. In only a few days he managed to scare and to irritate both a friend and a foe, without stating any clear policy to move forward.
There are always new policies and ways of doing business with each new administration. But as they say on Monday Night Football, “c’mon man!”
Most troubling, and seriously dangerous, is Mr. Trump’s reaction to the profoundly disturbing news that the Russian involvement in the presidential election is much deeper than imagined. As I have written in this space before, it was disturbing to me that during the campaign the discussion was about the juicy tidbits in the hacked information and not that it was illegally obtained through the auspices of a foreign nation. If you have not recently read about the intricate details, there is a primer in the New York Times that provides the outline of the case and what is known and unknown.
In short, the Russians have been acting deliberately to interfere with our election in a wide variety of ways. One can argue whether the intent was to “merely” undermine the integrity of the democratic process or whether it was actively trying to derail Secretary Clinton’s campaign in order to help Mr. Trump. Either way, we as a nation should be outraged and demand an investigation.
Unless you are Mr. Trump or his advisers that is. They repeatedly called the notion “laughable” and “ridiculous.” Or as Mr. Trump said on Sunday;
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. I don’t know why, and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”
— Mr. Donald J. Trump on Fox News Sunday on 11 December 2016
This followed a Friday night press release where they ridiculed the CIA and Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that he does not take the daily intelligence briefs because “I am a smart person.”
It baffles me why Mr. Trump and his advisers didn’t just say something along the lines of this:
We are deeply troubled by the revelations of possible Russian intrusion into the 2016 presidential election. While there is no evidence that the election results were tampered with or otherwise illegitimate we welcome the Congressional investigation into what happened in order to confirm the basic tenets of our democracy. President-Elect Trump looks forward to working closely with the intelligence community to keep our nation safe.
Here is the problem. He must believe that the CIA and other intelligence agencies — which are unanimous in their conclusion that the Russians tried to influence the election, but not on why they did so — are not good at their job and politicized. Either or both assumptions are dangerous to our well-being. Today Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and later of the CIA wrote an opinion piece that explains the danger. The question is not really about whether or not there are political overtones to the Russian involvement or what their intent may be. The real question is why Mr. Trump refuses to seek the assistance of the intelligence agencies in solving problems and to use the information to help inform his decisions. An adversarial relationship with the intelligence agencies is not going to help protect our nation. To be dismissive of the information that they provide is reckless.
Through my personal experience and confirmed by all knowledgeable accounts, the members of our intelligence communities work very hard to keep us safe. More importantly in this context, they are career professionals that have faithfully served both Republicans and Democrats. They are apolitical. They seek only the facts.
There are cultural differences between the agencies, which could be used to the new president’s advantage rather than as a weapon to delegitimize their efforts. For example, the CIA lives in a mushy world where the preponderance of evidence gives them signals to interpret events and to predict potential adversarial relationships in order to inform decision makers as they set policy. They themselves do not set any policies. The FBI on the other hand, has a different culture. They are a law enforcement agency that works to convict criminals and others in a court of law. They must gather proof beyond a reasonable doubt that can stand up in court. An entirely different mission. Add to that the fact that the CIA is focused on the international scene and that the FBI has an internal domestic focus. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are areas for disagreement as to the degree of surety about a particular case.
Look at it another way. Many CIA employees risk their lives to gather information to keep our nation safe. How motivated are they going to be to do so if the Commander-in-Chief basically calls them liars and political operatives attempting to “re-litigate the election”?
As a side note, but related, Mr. Trump seemingly due to his thin skin and lack of understanding, attacks anyone that he surmises does not support his election. And that happens to anybody that does not tout his “landslide” victory. I have yet to conclude whether Mr. Trump’s numerous untruths are the result of wishful thinking, studied ignorance or outright lies. I suppose it could be all three, but it is continual. Let’s just use the election results as an example. Mr. Trump claims that he won the election in a landslide. The fact is that his percentage of electoral votes ranks him 46th out of the 58 presidential elections in our history. Not even the top half. He is also losing to Secretary Clinton in the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes — her total is more than that received by any presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama — a result he claims is the result of “millions” of illegal voters that otherwise would have afforded him the outright win. There is no proof of any voter fraud, much less “millions.” I could go on but I don’t have enough time or space to enumerate the misinformation that comes from him and his aides — even if I just limited it to the last seven days.
This is dangerous. We need an informed and truthful president — or at least one that doesn’t create his own facts.
Even more troubling is his cozy relationship with Russia and seemingly endless admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Let’s take a look at but a few examples.
Mr. Trump’s son said that Russian investors are a major factor in the family business. Or more precisely he said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Members of his campaign and future administration have close business ties with Russia, including his national security adviser LT General Michael Flynn, USA (ret.). He famously sat at a banquet with Mr. Putin and lambasted American news media outlets during a Russian propaganda television broadcast.
Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State is a personal friend of Mr. Putin and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013. Oh, by the way, Mr. Rex Tillerson, as the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, has done a lot of business with Mr. Putin and other Russian oligarchs over oil. Secretary-nominee Tillerson is a staunch advocate for removing sanctions against Russia imposed after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. He is quoted as saying the sanctions cost his company one billion dollars. I am sure that will have no bearing in his dealings with the Russians.
I have no doubt that Mr. Trump did not personally collude with the Russians to interfere with the election and I am equally sure that no actual votes cast changed as a result of the Russian actions. I do feel strongly that their actions did impact the election, but it is impossible to know whether the outcome would have been any different without the Russian efforts. Mr. Trump will be our president.
That said, I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate the extent and intent of Russian interference. I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate Mr. Tillerson’s ties to Russia and his other dealings. I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate Mr. Trump’s business dealings and relations with foreign powers. I think it perfectly reasonable for Mr. Trump to continue to receive pressure to release his tax returns and to build a firewall between himself and his businesses — just like everyone that works for him will have to do.
Thankfully, members of the Senate are going to do that on a bi-partisan basis. They should dig deep and hard. The point is not to undo the election. That will not happen. The point is make sure that undue influence from foreign powers is deterred in future elections and to make sure that going forward, the ties to Russia that are obvious to all but Mr. Trump do not inhibit the national interests of the United States of America. Our nation and citizens come before the business interests of the billionaires that apparently will be running our country. Let’s keep the pressure on Congress to provide the over sight needed to keep our nation safe.