An Ugly Time

The process surrounding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court is one of the ugliest proceedings that I can remember.  On Thursday much of the nation was watching as first Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then Judge Kavanaugh did so.  I was able to watch it all and it was very difficult to see.  I feel badly for both witnesses, and their families.  In these divided times both have suffered indignities that should not happen.  After listening to the testimony, I do not know what happened on that night so many years ago.  It may be impossible to know for sure what did or did not happen then.  Dr. Ford was a credible and compelling witness.  I believe her.  At the same time, Judge Kavanaugh was adamant in his denial and we do have a system of assuming innocence until proven guilty.  There are a number of scenarios that could have occurred where they are both correct — either in the actual facts or in the way that their minds have shaped events.  We probably will never know exactly what happened.

Having watched, I will say right up front that I do not think that Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The reasons are many and varied, but foremost among them is my belief that his confirmation will solidify and institutionalize the blatant politicization of the Supreme Court, both in substance and in the process of selecting future Justices.  This was solidified in my mind while watching the hearings on Thursday, but I have felt this way about Judge Kavanaugh from the moment I first saw him speak at the White House while accepting the president’s nomination.  The more I have learned about him the more I am convinced that he was and is a political operative with questions about his ability to maintain neutrality in cases that may come before him.  This excerpt from his opening statement to the committee says it all:

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy. Since my nomination in July, there has been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation.  This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus.

“The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country and as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.”

Keep in mind that the “you” he is talking to are Democrats. His demeanor and body language in response to the Democrats on the committee was contemptuous, sneering, and purposely disrespectful.  I understand his anger and his revulsion at the way the process unfolded.  That said, we expect a member of the Supreme Court to be even-tempered, respectful and willing to listen to all sides of an issue.  His display of raw emotion on Thursday was none of those things.  It was possible to passionately defend himself and his family in a mature, earnest way without publicly losing respect for the gravity of the situation and those with whom he disagrees.  Dr. Ford was able to do so in her testimony, shouldn’t we expect the same of a Supreme Court Justice?

Take another look at his words above.  “Fueled by pent-up anger at President Trump and the 2016 election.”  “Revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”  “What goes around comes around.”  How can the American public possibly think that he will be even-handed when on the bench if he is looking to get back at those he thinks unfairly attacked him?  His temperament should be disqualifying and his words should be disqualifying.  Here’s the essence of what transpired.  He went berserk at the hearing not only supposedly to clear his name (he evaded way too many questions in my mind to convince me that he was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), but it was a performance to shore up the Conservative base and Republican support.  He channeled their anger to rally them behind him.  In the process he purposely “fueled the pent-up anger” of his right-wing supporters, further dividing the nation he purports to want to bring together, to fulfill his own ambition.

There was another element to his testimony as well.  His sense of entitlement to the job — that somehow he was owed this appointment — was overwhelmingly apparent and very disquieting.

The hearings are in essence a job interview.  It is not a trial and therefore there is no burden of proof for guilt or innocence. That said, I do not think he was clear in his thinking and he was not straight forward in his answers.  This was true in his first hearing before the committee, and he did an even worse job of clearly answering questions in the second.

I disagree with his political philosophy and his stance on many issues.  That happens in the course of history, and as the result of elections one party or way of thinking gets their way.  While I may disagree with that party or ideology, I am willing to accept that they get to put forward a nominee that supports their way of thinking in these important positions.  However, I hope that whatever the party or ideology of a Supreme Court nominee might be, that the individual is straight forward, tries to be neutral, and is seemingly of outstanding character.  I get none of that vibe about Judge Kavanaugh.  My concerns about him transcend his conservatism.

Thankfully, a modicum of decency in the process was restored when Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del) were able to work out a compromise on the committee to allow the FBI to reopen the Background Investigation of Judge Kavanaugh for a week.  I was concerned that his appointment would be jammed through the Senate in a rush and that possibly damaging information would surface about him after he was installed on the bench.  Had that happened (or should it still happen) another bitter fight with Constitutional overtones would have ensued.  My view is that the Republicans pushing to get him on the Supreme Court (I’m looking at you Senator McConnell) don’t care to get to the truth.  They just want their guy on the bench.  I think that Senator McConnell is/was betting that an effort to impeach a Justice Kavanaugh would fail under the weight of accusations that it was a political gambit to remove an unpopular judge rather than on the ethical grounds that would precipitate it.  He is on for life.  Period.

It is doubtful that the expanded FBI investigation will change anyone’s mind.  It is however, a chance for all sides to take a time out, pull back the rhetoric, and think through all of the pros and cons about the nominee and not just who is “winning” or “losing.”

I worry that in the long run we as a nation are losing our principles.  We have been through contentious, bitter political battles in our long national history.  We have survived.  Unfortunately, the recovery was often long and unbalanced.  We may be headed for the political cliff again.  I trust that our resiliency as a nation will keep us from going over the edge, but there are no guarantees.

I agree with Judge Kavanaugh on one thing, however.  He is correct when he calls his nomination process a “circus.”  There is plenty of blame to go around on Capital Hill on the way the entire process was handled.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any leaders stepping up to clean up behind the elephants and zebras and get us back on track.  It will probably get uglier and messier before it gets better.  And Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh.

 

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King Trump

“Apres moi le deluge.”

– – Attributed to French King Louis XIV

The expression means “after me, the deluge.”  It can be understood in a number of ways, including that after the demise of the king, there would be a disaster, or that he simply did not care what happened after he was gone.  In some contexts, it has also come to mean that the king is the state, and without the king, the state ceases to exist.

Whatever one’s translation, it can easily be attributed in current times to our president.  In many of his statements, he clearly sees himself as the state.  Anything that goes against his wishes is a “disaster” or “an attack on our nation” or “treason.”  Numerous examples abound.

“And it’s a disgrace. It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

— Donald J. Trump on 9 April 2018 following the FBI executing a lawful search warrant on the offices and home of his attorney Mr. Michael Cohen

“Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

— Donald J. Trump on 24 July 2018

“I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.  Without his kind of thinking (as he pointed to his head) you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.”

— Donald J. Trump on 23 August 2018 on “Fox and Friends”

There are many many more examples, too many to list here, where Mr. Trump equates his well-being to the state of the nation.  He apparently thinks he is the nation.  But perhaps the best example is still ongoing, starting with last week’s anonymous New York Times opinion piece on Mr. Trump’s fitness for office written by a “senior official” in the administration.  It is worth reviewing the entire impact and implications of the piece, but first it is interesting to consider Mr. Trump’s reaction to it.  Among other things, the writer made it clear in his/her opinion that Mr. Trump exhibits “erratic behavior,” exhibits fundamental “amorality,” and his leadership style is “impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective.”  Most importantly, the writer states that early on in his administration there was serious talk of invoking the 25th Amendment that provides the process for removing an unfit president from office.

Wow.  Are we dealing with Captain Queeg and the Caine Mutiny?  Will someone soon be ladling out strawberries to make sure they are all there?

More on all of that momentarily, but here is Mr. Trump’s reaction to it, coming on the heels of early reviews of Bob Woodward’s book on his presidency called “Fear” which will be released to the public tomorrow.  He called upon the Department of Justice to initiate an investigation into who wrote it and into the New York Times to find out why they published it.  His one word response to the events, over Twitter of course, was “TREASON.”  (The all caps are his.)  Once again, Mr. Trump loosely throws around very profound and serious accusations whenever anyone criticizes him.  He equates himself to the state.  Remember his insistence on loyalty to him, as a person, rather than to the Constitution and the rule of law.  Once again he is threatening to use the Justice Department and FBI for his own personal purposes.

Dangerous.

The New York Times opinion piece met with mixed reactions depending on who responded.  His senior political appointees duly swore that it wasn’t them.  Of course.  The original Deep Throat in the 1970’s swore for roughly thirty years that it wasn’t him.  Until it was.

More substantively, what is the import of the piece?  I think it naive and unthinking to pass it off as just another political hack job from someone who doesn’t like the president.  Just business as usual.  Except that it isn’t.  The increasing amount of evidence building around the president since his inauguration is that he is temperamentally, intellectually, and psychologically unfit to be the president of these United States.  Remember Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) saying in the summer of 2017 that the White House is being run like “adult day care.”  Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) said when asked about the piece “It’s just so similar to what so many of us hear from senior people around the White House, you know, three times a week. So it’s really troubling, and yet in a way, not surprising.”

Many other politicians, pundits, analysts and journalists relay that have observed the same unsettling behavior on the part of Mr. Trump for two years.  They find nothing surprising in the situation as described in the op-ed or as reported to be in Mr. Woodward’s forthcoming book.  It’s business as usual.

Yikes!

If everyone in the know understands that the president is not fit for office, why are they not stepping up and doing something about it?  Consider this.  In the piece the senior administration official says this:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.”

This is serious business.  If they felt that strongly, then why has no one gone to Congress (that we know of, it is always possible they did and the Republican controlled Congress chose not to act) or to the American public and expressed their obvious concerns over his ability to function as president.  It is their duty.  If it is that bad, that his own political appointees seriously considered it, then we are in big trouble.  And no one is doing anything about it.

That isn’t to say that there should be a cavalier attitude about deposing a duly elected president.  This is serious business.  But that’s the point.  I assume that a senior official does not take invoking the 25th Amendment lightly, and if they do they should be removed. To even think about it, much less discuss it, hints at dire circumstances.  The writer is failing in his/her duty to the Constitution to not act on it.

One may also question the fidelity to the Constitution of the writer, and if the piece is correct, other members of the administration, by their tactics to keep the president in line.  The author writes of “a two-track presidency.”  This in and of itself is dangerous.  While officials inside and outside the administration may disagree with a decision, their duty is to execute the orders of the President of the United States.  We cannot function with a “two-track presidency.”  Such action runs counter to the principles of our nation.  When confronted with a profoundly troubling order, the officials surrounding the president have three choices.  They can talk him out of it, resign and express their disagreement, or carry it out to the best of their ability.  Period.

The story told in the op-ed and seemingly in Mr. Woodward’s book, coupled with long-standing journalist and news reports, paints a very scary picture of a president running amok.  Personally.  These concerns are separate and distinct from political agreements or disagreements on his policy.  Think of this, the senior national security cabinet officials and intelligence officials still do not know what Mr. Trump discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  That is wrong and extremely troubling.

Equally troubling is that people within the administration take it upon themselves to decide which policies to implement and which ones to ignore.  That isn’t how it works.

Finally there is Mr. Trump’s instinct to take everything personally and to invoke his powers to use the government for his own purposes.  The list is nearly endless.  In this case, it is a challenge to the fundamentals of our nation’s laws to call an op-ed piece “treason” and to imply (a president’s wishes are normally taken as commands) that the Department of Justice and the FBI should investigate an individual exercising their First Amendment rights.  Further to imply that they should investigate the New York Times and force them to turn over the name of the author should make us all extremely concerned.  No laws were broken in writing and publishing the piece.  None.  There is no national security or classified information in the piece.

One can argue that the anonymous source should have put their name on it.  I agree.  That is not against the law, however, and is significantly different from an investigation for treason.

I do not know what it will take for the Republican controlled Congress to exercise their Constitutional duties of oversight of this president.  One person opined that only “millions” marching in the street will get them to do their duty.  The elections in November will have a huge impact on the nation.  If the Republicans win and continue to ignore their duty, Mr. Trump will be emboldened and push the limits of his power even further.  If the Democrats win we will have endless hearings and investigations into Mr. Trump’s activities to the extent that it is possible that no other legislative business will get done.  For the future of our nation, I will take the latter — or elected Republicans willing to take on the president.

My theory is that the current Republican leadership in the House and Senate have decided to ride Mr. Trump as far as they can — especially in the appointment of federal judges that is taking place at an unprecedented rate, not to mention the Supreme Court.  The face of the judiciary has changed for years, perhaps decades to come.  The Congress, especially through Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), is going to continue to go full-bore on approving judges, riding Mr. Trump, until he collapses, at which point they will abandon him.  His collapse will happen either through a Democrat blue wave in November or through Mr. Trump’s removal by resignation or impeachment.

In all, it is a troubling picture where we all need to pay attention.  Risking hyperbole and hoping I do not sound shrill, nothing less than our future is at stake.

 

 

 


The Man Who Changed History

As confirmation hearings get underway today for the next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and as the President of the United States continues to undermine the rule of law through his tweets, it may be time to ponder the impact on United States history made by one man.  No not him.  Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is the man.

You will remember that when Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace him in March 2016.  Senator McConnell as the Majority Leader of the Senate refused to even meet with him, much less allow hearings or a vote on the nomination.  This was unprecedented.  As I wrote at the time, the ability of a president to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, at any time in his term, was a long-established power held by the president.  Indeed, the precedent was set early when President John Adams nominated Chief Justice John Marshall after the election of 1800 and he assumed his position on the court at almost the moment President Adams was walking out the door of the White House (Thomas Jefferson won the 1800 election).

For the record, because we hear it still, there is no “Biden Rule” as claimed by the Republicans in the Senate as the reason for not moving Judge Garland’s nomination forward.  The truth is that then Senator Joe Biden of Delaware gave a speech in June 1992 where he argued that the president, at the time President George H. W. Bush, should not nominate a new Supreme Court Justice before the election.  But here is “the rest of the story.”  There was no vacancy on the Supreme Court.  There was no nominee to the Supreme Court.  The Senate never voted on his proposal and it was never incorporated into the rules.  And he did not argue that a president could not nominate someone should a vacancy occur, only that given the proximity of the upcoming election, the president should wait until at least the day after an election to make the nomination.  The “Biden Rule” is poppycock.  It doesn’t exist.  Senator McConnell had to really, really reach deep for a shaky reason for an unprecedented act on his part.

The seat left by Justice Scalia sat vacant for over a year.

But that’s not all.

Senator McConnell had an even bigger impact when, to facilitate what promised to be a hard-fought confirmation vote for then Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, he changed the Senate rules on a straight party vote to allow for a simple majority (51 votes) to confirm a Supreme Court nominee rather than stay with the over 200 year tradition of a super majority (now 60 votes) to confirm.  This is the long-lasting and perhaps devastating change to our nation’s judiciary and its independence that will haunt us for generations to come.

Why?  The reasons are complex but the simplest, and perhaps most important answer, is that for much of our nation’s history requiring a super majority usually meant that a nominee must appeal to a number of members of the opposite party in power.  This historically meant that radical judges mostly could not garner the required number of votes for approval.  This tended to result in nominees being right or left of center rather than far right or left.  There had to be a modicum of moderation in the nominee’s past and probable future rulings on the court.  That useful tool is now gone.  The party in power can put in the most radical, and dare I say political, Justice that they may find and do it for purely political or ideological reasons.  Many argue that the Supreme Court is already too political.  Well, we now have the potential for it to become a political tool of whichever party is in control of the White House and Senate.

Since the rules that have guided our nation for so long are now no longer followed, what block is there in the future for a president and his party’s Senate to use a simple majority to put eleven or thirteen or any number of justices on the Court?  The incoming party looks at the make up of the Supreme Court, decides that in order to overcome the last ruling party’s political Justices they will just pack the Court with enough Justices to override those that came from the other party.

Yes, I know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court and was thwarted.  Here’s the rub.  The Constitution does not say how many Justices should be on it.  It merely says that the Federal Judiciary should consist of “one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”  The first Supreme Court nominated by President George Washington had six Justices including the Chief Justice.  Through our early history Congress passed a series of Judiciary Acts that designated the number of Justices and it varied from five to ten.  The current nine members is the result of an act in 1869.  The point is that Congress sets the number of Justices and since precedent has already been over turned, what will stop some future Congress from changing the law regarding the number of Justices?

Senator McConnell changed the future by effectively doing away with natural “checks and balances” that tended to keep our Justices more moderate than they might be and by putting political expediency in front of principle, thus opening the door for others to do so in the future.

The expectation is that Judge Kavanaugh will get at least 51 votes and join the Court.  His is a critical addition in an era where the president tweets constantly for law enforcement to punish his political adversaries (“Lock her up!”) and to protect his political supporters.  Just yesterday he tweeted out

“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.”  — Tweet from Donald J. Trump on 3 September 2018

“Jeff” is of course Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The “two very popular Republican Congressmen” are Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca) indicted by a federal grand jury of misusing over $250,000 of campaign funds and the other is Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) indicted on charges of insider trading.  Both have pleaded not guilty, however Rep. Collins suspended his re-election campaign.  For the record, Rep. Collins conducted his insider trading during the Trump Administration and indeed he is caught on film on the White House lawn making one of the calls that set off the chain of events that led to the charges.  The larger point is that the president is chiding his Attorney General for enforcing the law because people from his own party, that incidentally were the first two members of the House to endorse Mr. Trump, and that could help him politically, were the perpetrators.  So much for the rule of law and the president’s sworn oath to uphold the Constitution.

Further, thanks to Senator McConnell, we may now have two Justices on the Court appointed by a president that is very, very likely to have critical Constitutional issues surrounding the survival of his presidency come before them.  One could argue that the current nomination process should be put on hold until the unindicted co-conspirator in the White House has his legal situation resolved.

Long after we move past the current unfolding Constitutional crises, the impact of Senator McConnell’s decision to put political expediency above the good of the nation’s proven processes will have unintended consequences.


Are You Exhausted?

I am.

From legal developments surrounding Mr. Donald J. Trump to the continued revelations of evil emanating from the Catholic Church it is hard to catch one’s breath.  It seems that institutions that one could look to for ethical and moral guidance are themselves the worst kind of example for any of us.

It would take me pages to even quickly recap the events from the last week.  I think we will look back on it as some kind of turning point, although I am firmly of the belief that we have only just begun a new “long national nightmare” (as President Gerald Ford said on 9 August 1974 at his inauguration) before we reach an understanding of the totality of the illegal and immoral actions surrounding Mr. Trump, his family, his business and his efforts to skew the 2016 election.

Worse still is that we have a president that lashes out in retaliation for any sort of criticism.  He lashes out not just as a cyber bully (Be Best Mr. President!) but in harming the ability of people to earn a living.  He takes no responsibility for anything, and in fact is actively trying to shut down investigations into his and his associates activities that are against the law.  Duly authorized federal investigations, monitored by Republican political appointees, directed by a former FBI Director under a Republican president, resulting in court cases under duly appointed judges, and verdicts returned by twelve ordinary citizens as provided for in a civilized democracy are branded as “unfair” or “witch hunts”.  There is clear evidence of foreign intervention in our democratic processes and the president not only wants to shut it down, he praises the autocrat responsible for the actions.  Meanwhile he supports white nationalists, repeats provable lies, shows no respect for minorities, and searches for ways to increase his power without the constraints of Congress or the courts.

Everything is personal with him.  Everything.  Mr. Trump has absolutely no understanding of the ideals that support our nation.  The only things that cause him to act — in between golf rounds, “Executive Time” (ie., watching Fox News), and Tweeting — are to do things that benefit him personally.  He sees everything through that light, and it appears to me, assumes that everything anybody else does is similarly guided only by their respective self-interests.  There is no greater good.

He does not understand that there are actually people that serve honorably in government without partisan or personal gain.  He demands loyalty to himself and himself only, not to country or to what is right, or to the ideals of our nation.  His understanding of government, and especially those in the Executive Branch, is that it is merely an extension of the way that he ran Trump Inc. — he gets to be the boss and anyone that has a different idea, or worse tells him he cannot do something, is clearly just trying to screw him over.  In this way he is very petty and childish.  If he doesn’t get his way he acts out.  In Trump Tower as the head of Trump Inc. it is something to read about in the gossip columns and be amused.  In the Oval Office it is dangerous and un-American.

There are still over 500 children separated from their parents in “kiddie jails” created by this president’s policies.  North Korea makes our president look like a laughing-stock as they have gotten away with everything they wanted from Mr. Trump for nothing in return.  The press conference in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin was the most disgusting, vomit inducing performance I have seen from an American president on foreign soil.  The “winning” trade wars over tariffs continue to expand with an increasing threat to our economy and has already driven numerous small businesses under because they could not afford raw materials like steel and aluminum.  The list is endless.  Congress is missing in action (“at least we got Gorsuch” is too high of a price to pay.)

And now we have the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Official in the land acting like the Mafia boss that he really is.  To call Mr. Paul Manafort a “brave man” and that he has “respect” for him because he didn’t “break” is disgusting.  He also belittles our court system by talking about “Justice.”  Mr. Manafort is a convicted felon that took advantage of American tax payers and knowingly broke the law in numerous ways for his own benefit.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!”  Mr. Donald J. Trump via Twitter on 22 August 2018

As an aside, one wonders what news Mr. Manafort could “break” (the inference of Mr. Manafort as a POW under torture is further evidence that Mr. Trump has no clue).  To me, for the president to congratulate him for not breaking means that Mr. Trump knows that Mr. Manafort has information to “break” about Mr. Trump and his probable illegal activities.

On the other hand Mr. John Dean, who famously testified against President Richard Nixon, thus breaking open that conspiracy, is a “RAT” (in all caps).  He had choice words for his personal attorney Mr. Michael Cohen who is now a convicted felon after pleading guilty to seven counts, including two that effectively name the president as an unindicted co-conspirator and said that “flipping” should be illegal.  In other words, the primary tool used by law enforcement to solve cases should not be allowed.  Nice.  Oh yeah, he also said that violations of campaign law were “not a big deal.”

“It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair. Because if somebody’s going to give—spend five years like Michael Cohen, or 10 years, or 15 years in jail because of a taxi cab industry, because he defrauded some bank—the last two were tiny ones. You know, campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly. But if somebody defrauded a bank and he’s going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail, but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you’ll go down to two or three years, which is the deal he made.”

An excerpt from Mr. Donald J Trump’s interview on “Fox and Friends” aired 23 August 2018

Let’s see.  Mr Trump’s personal attorney guilty of numerous crimes including tax evasion.  Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman convicted of numerous crimes including tax evasion.  What are the odds that Mr. Trump also evaded paying taxes?  No wonder he won’t release his tax returns.  Besides, he basically already told us about his crimes.  Remember that during the first presidential debate in 2016 he was accused of not paying taxes and his reply was “That makes me smart.”

And there is so much more.  Instead of draining the swamp he replaced the alligators with crocodiles and turned it into an infinity pool.  Only the best people, indeed.

I worry because we have already seen nasty instances of the president lashing out when something doesn’t go his way.  We have already seen him search for new and creative ways to use his Executive Powers in ways not imagined by the Founding Fathers.  When the heat comes, and it is coming, and we learn the full breath-taking scope of his law breaking over the years, only one’s imagination limits what possible scenarios might play out.

I have written in this space before that any comparisons to Watergate are misguided.  As nasty as he may have been, President Nixon recognized the limits to his power and had at least a modicum of pride in the proper functioning of a democracy.  He resigned.  Mr. Trump has no modicum of decency in any sense.  He proves that daily.  His mantra is that if he gets hit he hits back ten times harder.  There is nothing that we have seen that indicates that he will go quietly into the night when the full scope of his misdeeds are revealed.  I have no idea how this will end in the coming months.  One thing I would bet on, however, is that It isn’t going to be pretty.

If you are as exhausted by all of this as I am already, rest up.  Mr. Trump and his cohorts are counting on us thinking of all of his shenanigans as “normal” and on no one holding him accountable.  It will be “we the people” that are going to have to get the job done.  Vote in November!


This Is Not Our Country

We are losing our heart and our soul as a nation.  I hope that we can recover.

With the Trump Administration policy of “zero tolerance” we are experiencing the full depth of depravity that his leadership instills.  And make no mistake about it, it is a policy, not a law.

Repeat after me:  There is no law that requires separating children from their parents at the border.

There are so many lies surrounding the implementation of this policy and the explanations for its continuance that is hard to know where to begin.  Let’s start with the rationale for it.

Mr. Trump and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security state that it is simply the enforcement of the law.  (All together now:  There is no law!).  However, the Attorney General and high ranking presidential advisers say that the policy is an attempt to deter further immigrants from coming to the border either illegally or for the purpose of claiming asylum – of which the Attorney General changed the criteria for what we will accept under that claim.

Other presidential advisers, including the president himself, basically argued that it was a political gambit to get the Congress to pass legislation to fund his “big beautiful border wall.”  You know, the one he promised that Mexico would pay for.

Taking the second argument first, it is totally despicable and un-American to use children, including babies and toddlers, as political bargaining chips.  The mere sight of these internment camps should be enough for Americans — regardless of one’s views on immigration — to say “not in my America!”

The argument that it is a deterrent is short-sighted and won’t work.  Here is the fallacy in their reasoning.  People that are fleeing unspeakable crimes, persecution and fear will risk whatever lies at the end of a very long road because it cannot be any worse than what they are experiencing and there is a chance that it could be better.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Think Sophie’s Choice (either the book or the movie with Meryl Streep.)

As many of you know I experienced this first hand in the early 1980’s off the coast of Viet Nam.  On several Navy deployments we rescued refugees at sea fleeing the oppressive communist regime of the time.  Note this — we were not there for that mission.  No US Navy ships were there for that mission.  We were merely transiting from one mission to another and happened to be there — far off the coast in regular shipping lanes.  Unimaginably rickety wooden boats of 40 or 50 feet loaded with about 50 people of all ages — babies to grandmothers — on board would head to sea hoping that a US Navy ship would see them (not a sure thing — small boat, big ocean), stop, and pick them up to take them to a refugee camp.  If they missed the US Navy, perhaps some friendly merchant ship would pick them up (some did, but not all).  If they weren’t lucky, they were lost at sea.  Unknown numbers were never rescued.  I should point out that there was no specific government policy to pick them up.  It was our duty as mariners to help those in peril on the sea and our duty as human beings not to let them perish.

Those experiences over about three years have made a lasting impression on me ever since.  I could not and can not imagine what it would take to put my entire family at risk of perishing at sea in the hope — the hope — that there might be something better for us.  And if there wasn’t, well maybe we would still be better off perishing together than losing family members to evil forces.

That is why those people come to our borders.  They won’t stop until the conditions in their home countries change.

Additionally may I add that on numerous occasions over the decades, I have read about a senior military officer, politician, public servant, fireman, successful business person, and others that were among those rescued during that period.  I have no idea whether any of them were among those on the boats that we saved.  I do know that if we had not exercised our obligations as human beings we would have never known about them because they would never have lived to be the proud and productive Americans that they are today.

Some of those in the child internment camps will have similar stories in a few decades.  If we let them.

As I write this, the president just announced that later today he will “sign something” to alleviate the situation at the border regarding the removal of children from their parents.  I hope it is meaningful.  The damage is already done, however, to our standing as a moral leader in the world and in our communal sense of what it means to be an American.

Mr. Trump is using the most vile, scare mongering rhetoric imaginable to demonize these potential contributors to the USA.  It is on purpose.  When he tweets that they “pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13” he brings out the very worst in our nature. Pour? Infest?  What?  Sound familiar?

“From the rostrum of the Reichstag, I prophesied to Jewry that, in the event of war’s proving inevitable, the Jew would disappear from Europe. That race of criminals has on its conscience the two million dead of the First World War, and now already hundreds and thousands more. Let nobody tell me that all the same we can’t park them in the marshy parts of Russia! Who’s worrying about our troops? It’s not a bad idea, by the way, that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews. Terror is a salutary thing.”  — Adolf Hitler October, 1941

“You see what happens with MS-13, where your sons and daughters are attacked violently.  Kids that never even heard of such a thing are being attacked violently, not with guns, but with knives because it’s much more painful.  Inconceivable — here we are talking about business — inconceivable that we even have to talk about MS-13 and other gangs.  They attack violently, the most painful way possible.  And a bullet is too quick.  And we’re allowing these people into our country?  Not with me.  We’re taking them out by the thousands.  We’re taking them out by the thousands.”  Donald J. Trump, 19 June 2018

There are so many more references from Mr. Trump where he demonized those of color.  There is a reason that to date, the only pictures, still or video, from inside the child internment camps are from the US government.  What do they show?  Only teenage boys of color shuffling along and kept in cages (or as one DHS official claimed that they aren’t cages, they are just walls made of chain link that go from floor to ceiling).  As Mr. Trump rails against “MS-13” — is the president really saying that every man woman and child seeking entry from the south is a gang member — the video subtly reinforces his vitriol.

The president is trying to create a vision of a nation at war.  That we are under attack from the south and the refugees at our borders are enemy combatants.  With that psychology, of course we “capture” them and put them in POW camps.  It is an artificial war and a created crisis.  Created for political purposes.  The president is trying to create an issue that he thinks he and the GOP can win on in November 2018.  Truth is trampled in the process.

Look it up.  The numbers apprehended at the border have plummeted between 2000 and now.  For example in March, 2000 about 220,000 people crossed the border.  In March of this year, when the “crisis” resulted in the zero tolerance policy, about 40,000 were apprehended trying to cross illegally.  Looking at yearly totals since 1960, apprehensions increased steadily until peaking in the late 1990’s at roughly 1.6 million people.  Since then the trend has been downward, hovering around 300,000 to 400,000 during President Obama’s second term and about 300,000 last year. Hardly “unheard of” or “the most in history” or “unprecedented”.  By the way, part of the reason was that there were dramatic new hires in Border Patrol officers begun under President George W. Bush and expanded further under President Obama.  As a side note, one should be aware that the historic rate of crimes for illegal immigrants is half of that of natural born citizens and the rate for legal immigrants is about a quarter of that for natural born Americans.

The current condition is a cruel manufactured crisis for crass political purposes.  We are a nation of immigrants.  We are better than this.  Or at least I thought so.

Despite Mr. Trump’s fake claims that the Democrats want “open borders” to get more criminals, drug dealers and future voters into the country, the vast majority of Americans understand that immigration must be controlled and that laws must be the rule of the land.  That said, it is possible to have and execute immigration laws with compassion.

Let’s hope that when Mr. Trump “signs something” today, he solves this problem.  Whatever that something is, however, we have already seen clearly what is in his heart.  What is now happening on the border is evil.  It does not represent the values of the United States of America that I know.

In truth, I do not believe that Mr. Trump really cares one way or the other about immigration and the welfare of children on the border.  It just makes a good wedge issue to enhance his own power.  We have seen that Mr. Trump will stop at nothing to exploit fear and to promote his personal gain.  Wake up America!  This is what the future holds if we do not begin to demand more from our elected officials.  Now.


Bible Study

“I thought I would take a little digression here to discuss some concerns raised by our church friends about separation of families… I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

–Attorney General Jeff Sessions on why our country is adopting a new “zero tolerance” policy on immigration that includes separating all children — no matter their age — from their parents after crossing the border.

“This is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.   Whenever Romans 13 was used in the 18th and 19th century — and Sessions seems to be doing the same thing, so in this sense there is some continuity — it’s a way of manipulating the scriptures to justify your own political agenda.”

–Professor of American History John Fea.

I’m just sayin’….


On The Road To Sedition

Let me start by saying that I understand that many of Mr. Trump’s supporters give him their full-throated approval because they are angry.  As the saying made famous in the movie Network goes, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

In recent years, perhaps even decades, “professional” politicians of both parties rarely, if ever delivered on their promises while average citizens fought in wars, including our nearly seventeen year conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to an older generation, in the rice paddies of Viet Nam; struggle financially especially during and after the Great Recession; and have the necessities of life fiddled with including such basics as health care.

There was a palpable desire for something new and different.  Well, we got that, for sure.  Some of you argue that Mr. Trump has not had enough time to really make his mark on the nation or to implement his key policy initiatives.  Perhaps when it comes to policy, although I do not see any coherent or articulate policy concerning anything, except that if President Obama did it, it was bad and needs to be undone.

I would argue however that he has made his mark on the nation, and it isn’t for the better.  Our social and community discourse has become demonstrably worse.  When the president bullies people, calls them names and attacks the basic institutions of our nation, it has an impact.  A negative one, but it does have an impact.

It does not have to be that way.  It is possible to implement new, conservative (I would argue Mr. Trump is not a conservative, but that is a discussion for another day) policies without being vindictive and even vicious.  To me, even if I agreed with his policy aims, which in large part I do not, the end does not justify the means.  Civility is the currency of a functioning democracy and we are about to go bankrupt.

My biggest concern, one that I have expressed in this space before, is that Mr. Trump is working to undermine the basic checks and balances of our democracy to his benefit.  While many modern presidents have stretched the bounds of Executive authority, Mr. Trump seems to think that there are no bounds.  The only question is whether it is a deliberate action on his part, or done out of ignorance of the Constitution and the law, or whether he does it because it is all he knows — he wants to run the country like a family business.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  The result is the same.

We are on a very slow, day-by-day, slide into autocracy unless all of us wake up and get the Congress to act as the co-equal branch of government that it is.

I see a very distinct pattern beginning to emerge.  Mr. Trump is exploring the bounds of what he can do with an unfettered exercise of power.  He is doing this in several ways.

The president’s Constitutional power to grant pardons for any reason is being used in ways that it has rarely, if ever, been used.  He issues pardons, or promises to do so, to people that have been fully and fairly prosecuted under the law, whether or not they ask for them.  The main point of issuing these pardons to off the wall supporters of his seems to be to send a message.  He has picked pardons for crimes that reflect all of the things he or his aides have been accused of doing, thereby demonstrating that such crimes are meaningless because he says so.

My theory on why he does this lies partly in his life experience.  Mr. Trump is a member of what my father used to call the “New York wise guys.”  Mr. Trump’s view of life is that everyone — everyone! — lies, cheats and steals, but especially politicians.  Those that don’t do so are losers and suckers.  He believes it.  So when someone is convicted of a crime along those lines, he deems it “unfair” because he believes it to be a subjective prosecution.  They only prosecute people they don’t like or who don’t play the game the right way.  In his view, everyone does it, many get away with it, so why can’t he?  In his mind it is because they don’t like him.  Now he has the power to “show them” who the real boss is in town.

Another way he is slipping Constitutional bounds is by vastly expanding the use of Executive powers in the name of “national security.”  This is the reason given for imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on some countries (mostly our friends and allies) while not on others (China).  He is now considering a 25% tariff on vehicles in the name of national security.  Since this impacts primarily Mexico and Canada, and to some extent our NATO allies, they are rightly insulted.  Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week called off a meeting in Washington due to the unseemly way he felt he and his nation were being treated.  It goes even further in that there are a wide variety of new regulations and Executive Orders that are due to be implemented using the rubric of “national security.”  One such example is the mandate that power companies buy a given percentage of electricity produced by coal power plants.

“National security” is being used in ways not imagined when the laws were written. They are interpreted in a way that allows the president to expand his powers into every area of the economy. Invoking national security was meant to be a very narrow, national emergency type of contingency but he is expanding its use far past what seems to be realistic.

Now for the topper, which may be one of the most egregious attempts to assert the primacy of the Executive in our history.

Last week a twenty page letter from Mr. Trump’s lawyers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed the true extent of his power play.  The letter was sent earlier this year, but was only just obtained by the The New York Times.  (Read it for yourself here.)

Among other stretches of Constitutional law, Mr. Trump through his lawyers asserts that because he is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States he cannot illegally obstruct any investigation, including into his own actions.  According to their reasoning, the Constitution gives him the authority to do pretty much anything he pleases due to his special status.  Thus, it is impossible for him to obstruct justice by shutting down a case or firing a subordinate, no matter his motivation, because by extension he is responsible for all such investigations and cannot,  therefore, investigate himself.

What this means in practical terms is that if, as they assert, the president can shut down any investigation for any reason, corrupt or not, he is above the law.  This also infers that he can direct the start of any investigation into anyone for any reason, even if it is for his own corrupt purposes.  The argument continues to say that the only recourse is impeachment, which only means removal from office.

Oh by the way, he can pardon anyone for any crime, including himself.

Theoretically — or practically if you believe their argument — under this interpretation a president could come into office, conduct any series of illegalities for any purpose — to enrich himself or his family or even to commit murder — and could not be held accountable if he pardons himself.  Under their argument in the letter to Mr. Mueller, a sitting president could come into office with the intent of doing harm, do it, pardon himself, be impeached (or resign before being impeached) and then go on his merry way.  No accountability, no punishment, no nothing.  Clearly that is not what the Founding Fathers intended.

Indeed, the last time this came up was in 1776.  In the Declaration of Independence, among the other reasons given for the rebellion against the king, was that (emphasis is mine) “he has obstructed the administration of justice by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers” including “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct objective establishment of any absolute tyranny over these states.” I did not know King George III, but I do know that Mr. Trump is no King George.  Or at least he should not be.

In case you have any doubts as to what I am saying, here was what Mr. Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for the president, told the Huffington Post this past Sunday.

“In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted. I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is.”  He went on to say that “if he shot James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day,  Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.”

In other words, Mr Giuliani argued that impeachment was the punishment for presidential misbehavior, even if instead of firing the former FBI Director he shot him in order to bring the Russia investigation to an end.

Mr. Trump is on record as saying “I alone can fix it.”  (at the Republican National Conference on 21 July 2016)  He also said “I have the absolute power to pardon myself”  (on Twitter on 4 June 2018.)

I have the absolute power.  Wow.

Taking this picture, coupled with attacks on the rule of law (DOJ, FBI) and the intelligence communities, coupled with attacks on the free press, coupled with attacks on the judiciary coupled with the failure of Congress to call him to task on anything, we are on the downward slope.

He is testing the boundaries of what he can get away with and will continue to expand that effort and try to bend our form of government for his own purposes until he is stopped.  Right now, I don’t see when that will happen.

It is basic to the autocratic play book.  Layer on top of that the typical autocratic play of draping the leader in the flag and espousing faux patriotism by creating a wedge issue out of nothing and thereby weaponizing patriotism (see the NFL).

He also is trying to tell private companies who to fire and has on several occasions pushed the Post Master General to have the United States Postal Service charge Amazon more for delivering packages because he doesn’t like Mr. Jeff Bezos who also happens to own the Washington Post.

How do we stop this?  Vote!

Put people into Congress during the mid-terms that will return to the normalcy of Congress being a co-equal branch of government to the executive.  Republican or Democrat, vote for folks that are not afraid of being the brunt of Twitter bullying and who will actually do their job of checks and balances.  It isn’t even a “conservative” or “liberal” thing — one can institute conservative policies without destroying the essence of our Constitution.

People who are mad as hell at the way they feel, as if they have been used for years, if not decades, are especially susceptible to autocrats that talk tough and claim to protect against the “others.”  The total picture creates dangerous times for us and our future.

I have hope, although it is dwindling.  Right now I have no sense that anyone will stand up and push back on Mr. Trump.  In interview after interview I feel as though the Members of Congress have their collective heads in the sand.  I continue to hear them say that “he wouldn’t do that” because of the political fallout and because it would be beyond the norm.

HELLO!

His entire campaign and administration has been a series of things that “no one else would do.” Time after time he has done and said things that were beyond the pale and each and every time he’s gotten away with all of it.  No repercussions.  Why would he stop now?

We as citizens are the answer.  No one else will save us from ourselves.