Whither Healthcare?

“Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”  — President Donald Trump 27 February 2017

And you know what?  He is correct.

As the Senate debates and votes on Trumpcare to repeal and replace Obamacare over the coming days, much will be written and talked about regarding its impact and efficacy.  Some will think it is great and others will think it a travesty.  It all depends on what the goal for the program might be and how one thinks that goal should be attained.  Is Trumpcare, or the American Health Care Act (AHCA) (as it is called in the House of Representatives while the Senate Bill is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017) designed to help Americans and keep them healthy or is it an attempt to do the bare minimum while saving the government, and ultimately tax payers, money?  One’s view of Trumpcare also depends on whether or not Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is working for you.

Put more succinctly, is healthcare in the greatest country on earth a right or a privilege?  Should it be open to a free market — those that can afford to pay do, those that can’t need to earn more money — or something that every citizen deserves?  If you happen to think that healthcare is a privilege, you get what you pay for, then you may as well stop reading here because you basically think that the government should have nothing to do with healthcare.  If you think that access to healthcare should be a right, then read on. Be forewarned however, that this is, as the president says, complex. Politicians of every stripe also parse and obfuscate elements of healthcare to their own advantage. It can be difficult to determine where the truth lies — especially since many times two people can both be technically correct while interpreting the meaning in totally different ways.  As I like to say, it is the difference between what things are and what things mean.

Here is the crux of the problem.  The United States does not suffer from poor medical care.  People come from all over the world to have their health problems resolved here in the U.S. — if they can afford it. That is the problem.  It is not the quality of care, but rather having access to good care and being able to afford it. Access and affordability are the reason we need insurance plans which is what both Trumpcare and Obamacare are really about.

The U.S. does not really have a health system.  It has a series of health systems depending on whether the individual is on Medicaid or Medicare (the dreaded by conservatives single payer system), or on the VA or Tricare (military) system (basically socialized medicine), or gets insurance through an employer (where most people get their insurance), or buys it on the open market (usually very expensive).

A pervasive goal in the U.S. should be that no one goes bankrupt due to an unexpected illness or injury. Likewise no one should have to forgo medical treatment because they cannot afford it.  Both happen in the U.S., although by most accounts, Obamacare went a long way in reducing the numbers of people in either situation.

So let’s design a system that helps people get care without using their every last dollar.  Let’s assume we want a system where no one can be turned down — or charged unattainable amounts of money — for a pre-existing condition.  This seems to be one area that most politicians can agree upon and one of the most popular aspects of Obamacare.  How to do that?  It does not take a genius to see that maybe I won’t buy any insurance until I get sick or injured and I will save a lot of money in the meantime.  That leaves only those with pre-existing conditions on the insurance rolls — a situation which will either leave the premiums so high as to be unaffordable, or leave the insurance companies holding the bag and going bankrupt.  To even out the costs and make them more affordable to all, we would then require everyone to have insurance — the dreaded mandate. However, it may not be fair or even affordable for everyone to buy insurance, especially for people that do not receive insurance through their employer, so if we are going to require it, then we should come up with a system to help people pay for it — the other debated aspect, subsidies. Those three elements are the basis for every proposed health care plan concocted by politicians.  If you play around with one of the three, it impacts the other two.  It becomes a very complicated game.  How one plays the game depends on my opening statement — what is the goal for the plan?

On top of that throw in hot button issues such as who can do what (Planned Parenthood anyone?), whether in our proposed system we “punish” young healthy citizens by making them subsidize the old “sick” citizens, should the government have the power to tell people that they “have” to have insurance, and who pays for all this, the wealthy or the poor who are most likely to benefit from a plan like this.  It does indeed get complicated in a hurry, and also very emotional for a lot of people.

In evaluating a planned system, lots of politicians focus on premiums and deductibles — and not always together.  It is possible to devise a plan with very low premiums, lower than Obamacare, but does it cover everything?  Does it have a high deductible?  Does it have annual or lifetime caps? What pre-existing conditions are covered?  Those and other details mute any discussion about premiums.  To coin a phrase, we cannot compare apples with oranges.  Premiums are certainly relevant when discussing the cost of a particular plan, but it is not sufficient to get a true picture of the impact or value of that plan.

To muddy the issue, the president makes unfounded claims about Obamacare.  He says “it is dead.” Except it isn’t.  But the president and the Republican leadership are trying hard to kill it, partly to force through Trumpcare.  Insurance exchanges are drying up and companies are pulling out because of the biggest fear they have — uncertainty.  The Congress has yet to decide if they will provide the money for the aforementioned subsidies to help people afford the mandated insurance.  And they have announced that they will not enforce the mandate.  Two of the legs of our three-legged plan are being distorted, that means the third leg is terribly out of balance which makes it appear the system is not working.  If insurance companies don’t think they are going to get paid — or that they will be left holding the bag for high cost pre-existing conditions which they are required to cover — then there are two choices.  They can raise premiums or leave the market.  Most experts assert that without the uncertainty coming from the White House and Capital Hill, the health insurance system in the U.S. would be stable and hold down costs for most (most — not all) Americans seeking health care.  Many people now have insurance that would not otherwise have it.  The result is “wellness checks” and other preventive health measures now sought out by people that did not seek it before.  Therefore they are healthier and the over all expenditures for larger, more catastrophic care comes down because they are less necessary.  Like it or not, the states that expanded Medicare under Obamacare generally have more small hospitals and clinics serving the poor or rural areas of their states because those hospitals have a known source of income for the care they provide.  Many of those small hospitals and clinics closed in states that did not expand Medicare and there is significant concern over the reduction of those Medicare funds under Trumpcare.  In mostly rural states such as Alaska and Maine, even their Republican Senators are concerned and may vote against the proposed Senate bill.  Senators Murkowski and Collins both realize what the proposed reductions in Medicare mean to their states and are worried, as are others.

Whatever your own views on healthcare in the U.S. take a good hard look at any plan floated to solve the problem.  I am no expert on this subject.  Not at all.  I recognize that we do not have a bottomless purse to pay increasing costs for social programs.  I get it.  Personally, I think we leave a lot of possible solutions (such as a single payer system which prevails in many modern nations, such as Canada) on the table because of emotional political arguments rather than a factual airing of the pros and cons to different solutions.

It boils down to one’s personal views.  Do you get what you pay for and if you can’t pay you don’t get it? Or should the greatest nation on earth also provide the best healthcare available to its citizens?  If so, how is it paid for?  There are no easy answers, but I think we are making it harder on ourselves than needed.  Democrats and Republicans state that they both have the same goal — to make healthcare available to our citizens and at a cost that is sustainable.  If that is the case, then everything else is politics.

To me, we have a system for providing affordable care through an insurance program called the ACA — Obamacare.  No one thinks that system is perfect.  Democrats affirm that they are willing to work with Republicans to fix what needs to be fixed.  Republicans shout that Democrats are obstructionists while jamming through a bill that even most Republicans did not get a chance to look at.

You can look it up, you don’t have to take my word for it, but in putting together Obamacare the Democrats took nearly a year, held countless hearings, folded Republican amendments into the final bill, and tried to put together a bipartisan bill.  Politics interfered at the end of that process and one could argue that Democrats jammed it through at the end.  But contrary to what you now hear, it was not a secret process and it wasn’t a slap dash final product.  I am not sure what the rush is in the Republican held Congress at this point.  This is major legislation that will impact many Americans and a large chunk of our economy. There is no need to play hurry up ball at this point.  Every piece of legislation has some perverse and unintended consequences.  Obamacare has some.  Trumpcare certainly will if it has not been properly vetted and reviewed.  It is too important to just slam through, whether or not you support the fundamental political and social theories behind it.

This process is not in the best interests of our country.  I hope that cooler heads prevail and that everyone takes a step back.  Take a deep breath.  Let’s regroup and come forward with a bipartisan approach to helping every citizen find effective and affordable healthcare.

I’m not holding my breath.


A Soup Sandwich

With increasing frequency, nearly daily, we as a nation wake up to yet another incredible self-created crisis in the Trump Administration.  People that care that our nation’s leader is becoming something of a punch line around the world debate whether President Trump’s actions, statements, and yes, tweets are part of a larger plan or simply the reflection of a man with little to no intellectual curiosity, the attention span of a young child, and who is in way over his head.  I am increasingly falling into the latter category.

In my day the military term for his administration would be that it is a soup sandwich.  The term means exactly what the imagery suggests, something so confused and messy that it cannot be salvaged.

The litany of recent events are well-known.  Whether it is his casual revelations to the Russians of highly critical intelligence, his thinly veiled threats to former FBI Director Comey, his stated reason for firing Mr. Comey because of the “Russian thing”, or the possibility that he tried to stop the FBI investigation of the Russian meddling and specifically Lt General Michael Flynn’s possible involvement with the Russians, his actions have shown a president and an administration that have lost their way.  Put more bluntly, look in the dictionary for “soup sandwich” and you will see a picture of the president.

Note again that all of the crises that the White House staff have dealt with thus far are all self-created by the president.  This does not bode well for handling the inevitable national security crisis or domestic tragedy on the horizon that will test our ability as a nation to deal with all that comes our way.

Most legal scholars and Constitutional law experts point out that nothing that we know about thus far concerning the president’s actions is illegal.  Unethical and/or immoral, perhaps, but not illegal.  This is very troubling.  As Dana Milbank ably points out in a recent opinion piece, just because it is legal, does not mean that it is right.  Or as we used to say, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.  The basic point is that President Trump knows no boundaries, has no self-control and therefore has the ability to do great damage to our nation, whether deliberate or out of ignorance.  As Mr. Milbank points out in his troubling piece, the president is within his rights — legally — to do all of the things that we know about.  But the assumption for all modern presidents is that a president would not do all of those things without the proper justifications and explanations.  In crafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that the chief executive would be virtuous , guided by honor, and exhibit self-restraint.  Scholars point out that the Constitution gives many powers to the president, specifically and inherently.  The checks and balances that we rely upon cannot stop the president from wreaking havoc in the short-term.  Although the ultimate power rests with the Congress — impeachment — and the courts — ruling certain presidential actions unconstitutional — it takes time and political capital to bring those counter balancing powers to bear. In the meantime, significant and even irreparable damage can be done to our nation.  With President Trump we have a chief executive that seems to be lacking the knowledge to understand the limits and responsibilities of the presidency combined with unchecked impulsivity that can easily lead to damaging actions and decisions.

Look at President Trump’s background.  His success as a businessman by most accounts was not so much because of his personal knowledge and ability.  It was more about branding.  He sold the Trump Brand to investors and let others actually build the real property.  Recently, few of his Trump buildings were actually Trump projects, he merely sold his name and promotional abilities for use by those doing the work.  He became famous due to his time as a television reality star.  Even today he talks about “ratings” for press conferences and speeches.  The pop psychoanalysis could go on and on, but in every instance, it appears that his personality is ill-suited to lead the greatest nation on earth.  To me, for example, he related the very highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister (information that will probably result in lives lost, and certainly the loss of an important avenue of intelligence) not because he wanted to help the Russians. I think he did it because he was showing off and wanted to impress his visitors.  Remember this is the guy that in the midst of the ceremony “celebrating” the House passing Trumpcare, stopped his speech to turn around and ask “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? Hey, I’m president. I’m president. Can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it.  But it is true.

I hear the “I word” — impeachment — bandied about a lot recently.  From what we know now, we are not there yet.  I also worry that under the current divisive political atmosphere in our country that an impeachment act and subsequent trial would be very bad for our nation.  We might not recover from that trauma for many years.  Therefore any impeachment proceedings must be based on clear violations of the law, should there be any.

The other proposal that floats around from time to time is that the 25th Amendment can be used to remove him from office.  This amendment pertains to the succession to the presidency should the president be unable to fulfill his duties.  The relevant section of the amendment in this case is Section Four which provides a procedure for the Vice President and such other “principal officers of the executive departments” (meaning the Cabinet) to declare the president unfit for duty.  Should the president contest that declaration, it goes to a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.  This too would be a long drawn out procedure that could seriously divide our country should the president resist the take-over attempt.  It seems unlikely in any event that Vice-president Pence and the Trump appointed Cabinet would invoke this avenue of removal, barring some obvious and unassailable problem with the president.

Finally, President Trump could resign.  Many pundits and others think this is the most likely scenario for the current president to leave office.  President Trump himself said that 

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.  I like to work, so that’s not a problem, but this is actually more work and while I had very little privacy in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time, I really, this is – this is much less privacy than I’ve ever seen before.”

None-the-less, I doubt very much that the president has any intention of resigning.  He likes the attention and being on the “inside” — people have to pay attention to him and he likes that.

Potentially compounding President Trump’s negative impact on the nation is the dilemma many of his top advisers are facing.  It is a classic scenario.  The president continually throws good, hard-working and upright people under the bus.  They go out and defend his actions in, I hope, good faith only to have him personally provide a completely different rationale for his actions.  This can only go on for so long before people start to ponder resigning.  This is the dilemma such good people face — resign and save my reputation and integrity or stay and try to change things because they could really be a lot worse if no one of significant knowledge and competence is left to try to hold him in check?

I fear that most people consider the recent events as “typical” Washington politics.  That’s too bad. This is not typical and it is not normal. And it isn’t “sour grapes” that the Democrats lost the presidency.

Many continue to state that as a nation we should give the guy a chance.  He’s only been in office about four months.  Give him time.  I tried.  Sorry, but I do not think that anything is going to cause President Trump to change.

For the Republican majority on Capital Hill I can only say, “Clean up on aisle seven.  Soup sandwich in progress.”  The Republican agenda depends on a functioning presidency.  The deal with the devil is almost gone as more and more of the president’s actions take away from the legislature’s ability to legislate.  Clean up the soup sandwich through comprehensive and bipartisan investigations.  Find out what actually happened, or did not happen, and get it into the public domain.  Use a little Clorox on the clean up of the soup sandwich.

If it turns out there is nothing there involving the Russians or other problems then so much the better. If there is something, hold all involved accountable.  The good news/bad news may be that there is nothing there. The good news is that people will not go to jail and the integrity of the system may be restored. The bad news is that we will still be left with a soup sandwich.

 


A Disturbing Conclusion

Another day, another Trump story dominating the news.  I will eventually again write about something other than our president, but it is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when every morning there is some new statement by the president or his staff that is cringe worthy.  Be it wire tapping (with or without “quotation marks” — this is what we have come down to — or misspellings) or microwaves as cameras, every day there is something.  We as citizens need to look past the daily “guess what they just said” comments and try to discern what is really going on.

Avoiding a discussion on the Trump Administration policies for the moment, which is hard to do, there is a different picture I am trying to understand.  And believe me, trying to ignore his proposals is difficult, be it the American Health Care Act (or Trumpcare — no, no, it’s Ryancare — no, no Trumpcare) or the president’s budget proposals that gut many essential programs and departments. Those proposals, as good or as bad as they may be depending on one’s political views, are just that, proposals. The Congress ultimately will pass, or not, the AHCA and any president’s budget proposals are more of a wish list and indicator of their administration’s priorities rather than the actual budget, which is also the purview of the Congress.

I am focused for the moment on trying to figure out exactly what is going on with those things that the president actually controls and what they may portend.  To some degree, it is necessary to get down in the weeds to see where things are headed.  There are several troubling indicators of how President Trump intends to run his administration.

At first I could not figure out if the nonsensical and illogical tweets, statements, and press briefings were the sign of an administration in disarray, trying to find its bearings or something else.  I have come to believe it is something else.  Many pundits have already commented on the fact that every time the media or the public focuses on some inane action or statement from the president or his staff, some new, head line grabbing tweet or statement comes out.  Some call President Trump the Distractor-in-Chief (DIC?).  That may be part of it, but I think there is a larger more insidious goal.  President Trump continually calls any reporting he does not like “fake news.”  Beyond that he and his staff continually attack the media and put out statements that are proven to be untruthful, yet they double down and insist that it is true by pointing to some off-the-wall media source as the “proof” of their statements. This is deliberate — not flaky, or anti-PC, or any other excuse attributed to the activity. I say again, it is deliberate.  The White House staff is deliberately and systematically trying to undermine the credibility of the serious news outlets in the United States.  Coupled with the stated disdain of the intelligence community so often reiterated by the president and his advisers, there is a very deliberate effort to create an atmosphere of distrust where nothing is ground truth.  Once such an atmosphere exists, the administration can say and do anything that they want to do and they will then claim black is white and only they know what is going on.  Trust them.  How many times has Senior Adviser Kelly Anne Conway (and others) gone on a news show and defended some outrageous statement from the president?  When pressed for evidence that such statements are true, how many times has she said words to the effect that “well, the president has access to information that I do not have so he must know what he is talking about?”  No proof.  No logic.  Only that if the president said it, it has to be true, no matter how outrageous.   And how many times when personally pressed does the president decline to give proof to defend a statement and only says something along the lines of “more information will be coming out in about two weeks.  It will be amazing.  You won’t believe what is going on.  It will surprise you.  Believe me.”  Have you noticed that it is always in two weeks?  And then two weeks, months, years, pass and nothing more comes out.

This approach seriously undermines the credibility of the president.  If anyone were to pay attention. Seemingly most Americans shrug it off as that’s “Trump being Trump” or as the “mainstream media” trying to undermine his presidency.  Never mind that the media merely plays what the president or his advisers actually say and then for some strange reason ask them to provide the basis for the statement. How unfair!

You can take it to the bank that our friends and enemies are paying attention.

That is why I am so troubled.  Either the president does not care that his credibility suffers, credibility that will be crucial when a real crisis hits our country, or he is risking his credibility in order to undermine the veracity of any source of information outside the White House so that only his version of the truth is available.  A harsh assessment, I admit, but increasingly I am unable to come up with any other explanation for the way that he and his staff conduct business.  What began as mildly amusing behavior morphed to incredulity to concerns about sanity to fear that it is intentional.

And there is more.

There are some good people working in the Trump administration.  Secretary Mattis is one, Lt General McMaster is another, and others, who while I may disagree with their policy views, I respect their integrity and willingness to try to do the right thing.  Many of them signed up with this administration with the caveat that they be able to pick their own people and not be micro-managed by the White House.  So far, that is not happening.

Secretary Mattis has yet to get a second in command, the Deputy Secretary of Defense.  He tried three times so far to get three different people in place.  All rejected by the White House.  There are no other political appointees below the Secretary level at DOD thus far.  One may claim that we need to “drain the swamp” but the reality is that the Secretary cannot do everything by himself.  Skilled, knowledgeable people with expertise in everything from procurement to regional alliances need to be in place to make U.S. policy effective.  Right now, nobody.  Likewise, in the State Department. Secretary Tillison’s nominees for his subordinate political positions are zero for everyone.  None has gotten past the White House.  Just as troubling to those that understand how such things work, last week the Mexican Foreign Minister, the direct counter part to Secretary Tillerson was in Washington for talks and the State Department did not even know he was in town, much less participate in the discussions. Only the White House inner circle participated.  National Security Adviser McMaster found out last week that, in fact, he cannot pick his own staff.  He tried to have a Trump campaign supporter now in charge of national intelligence for the National Security Council moved to a different job so that NSA McMaster could put a more qualified and effective person in that slot.  The staffer went to the president, on the advice of Mr. Steve Bannon, and NSA McMaster was overruled. There are a multitude of similar examples were one to peel away the layers and look inside the various departments and agencies in the Executive Branch.

Even if all that is true, who cares?  So what?  Why write about it except for sour grapes?

There are at least two reasons to take note.  The most benign concern is that our nation’s defense and foreign policies, to name two, cannot be thoroughly vetted, reviewed and implemented without the right people (any people!) in place.  No matter how good the Secretary may be, he or she is only one person and cannot do it all alone.  The more serious concern is that the White House staff, the close inner circle to the president, may not want any effective push back from the Defense or State Departments or other agencies.  They may want only the White House inner circle to promulgate and execute policy.  The Cabinet’s job is merely to act as props (see almost every signing ceremony in the White House) or cheerleaders for the president.

President Trump’s style as a businessman was to have a small, totally loyal, inner circle that carried out his decisions.  By all accounts describing his style, President Trump is not much for details and makes decisions by using his “gut instincts.”  His close inner circle then carries on and implements what they understand to be his intent.  This may work in a real estate business, but it does not work well in an undertaking as large as the United States government, especially when the current inner circle takes great pride in stating that they have no experience.  When they also refuse, or limit, the input from those that do have knowledge and expertise, something is brewing.  It is either a disaster waiting to happen, or something more sinister, such as a drift towards centralized, autocratic control of the nation.

When all of the pieces of the puzzle are together — and there are more including Mr. Bannon’s view of the world, his declaration to “dismantle the administrative state,” blaming “the deep state” for the failures of their policies, lashing out at the judiciary, claiming  that former President Obama is running a shadow government with the aim of stopping the Trump administration, among others — it paints a troubling picture.

At first I thought that maybe they were just experiencing growing pains, not unusual for a new administration.  Then I thought that maybe the staff was just trying to deal with a loose cannon in President Trump — which could be dangerous, but the experienced hands would eventually bring him back to reality.  Now I am beginning to see that it is actually a plan.  What I have not decided upon is whether President Trump is the visionary using his staff, or whether Mr. Bannon is the visionary using the president to fulfill his own view of re-ordering the world.

I absolutely have not given up on the ship of state being righted and put back on a steady course. There are positive signs such as the Congress (after only about 8 months!) investigating the impact of Russian meddling on our national election.  Equally soothing is that more and more Representatives and Senators, of both parties, have nicely said that the president lied when he stated that President Obama had Trump Towers and the campaign “wire tapped.”  The judicial system is working to check the executive over reach of some of the president’s Executive Orders.  The system is working as intended, even if in fits and starts. It remains incumbent on all Americans to keep our eyes wide open and call “foul” when appropriate. Likewise, we need to give credit where it is due.  All is not lost, not even close, but I still worry.  If we see this seeming chaos from self-inflicted crises within the White House, one wonders what will happen when a real crisis erupts.  History teaches us that one eventually will come along.  And probably sooner than later.

When it happens, that will be the true test of this administration.  My nightmare scenario is given the chaos and attempts to undermine anything that runs counter to White House wishes now, while in a period of relative calm with a strong economy and no direct existential threats to our well-being, what will happen in a major crisis?  Will the administration draw upon the many talented and experienced resources our nation and our government has to solve the problem or will they draw even more inward in an attempt to use the crisis to consolidate more power and move further towards autocracy?

I have no crystal ball and have no idea how things will unfold.  The signs thus far leave me greatly troubled about the future of our great nation, more so than at any point in my life.

 


We Live In Interesting Times

“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”  — Hillary Clinton in her concession speech on 9 November 2016

In her concession speech, Secretary Clinton exhibited the best of our electoral traditions and history. She lost and he won and it is time to keep an open mind about the future.  Like it or not, he’s the guy.

But, man oh man, I didn’t think it would be this hard.

There is one thing that sticks in my mind as I try to get my head around the idea of a President Donald J. Trump, and that is that he is the same person on 9 November that he was on 7 November. That may not be a good thing.

So many things come to mind about the election and about the future of our country under a President Trump.  I could write multiple pages, and indeed I am sure people already have and any number of books will be written about this campaign in the coming months and years.  However, I won’t go into all of that now.  At the same time there are a few things that I do want to mention as I, and millions of others, try to make sense of this election.

I have been around the block a few times, and have believed strongly in other candidates that lost elections.  I was disappointed but did not think badly of the candidates that won.  I merely disagreed with their policies compared to my candidate, but as the Rolling Stones proclaim (and apparently Mr. Trump agrees as he used it as his theme song),

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need.”

I am not so sure this time around.

To me, this time it is not about whether a Republican or a Democrat won or even that Secretary Clinton lost. It is that Mr. Trump won.  Or at least he won the Electoral College, which in our system is all that counts.  But lest we forget, for the second time in 16 years a candidate lost the election even though they won the popular vote.  I will save for another time a discussion about the Electoral College.  It could be anachronistic, but it is probably a good thing over all in that candidates must think about the nation as a whole, rather than individual centers of population.

So, no, it isn’t that my candidate lost.  You have read in this space before about how I am confounded by Mr. Trump and his apparent lack of understanding of the important issues of our time, of the language he used while campaigning and his demonizing and/or demeaning every segment of our society save white men.  That is well documented and I won’t rehash all that here.  But it does have consequences.

Even though more people voted for Secretary Clinton than for Mr. Trump, I am worried that I thought the United States was something that apparently it is not.  Many good people, Democrat and Republican, did not feel that Mr. Trump reflected or represented American values.  What if we are wrong?  What if his words and actions represent the America that we have become?  That is truly chilling and worrying to me.  His approach was validated.  He gave validation to a worrisome fringe element in our society that now thinks it is mainstream.  Before you blow a gasket, I am not inferring that all of Mr. Trump’s supporters were on the fringe.  People voted for him for a vast number of reasons.  But it remains a fact that his persona is not what we think of, or maybe I should say it is not what I think of, when I think of America.  He took the politics of fear and anger and turned it to his personal advantage in the worst possible way. I will try to keep an open mind as his administration forms, but I will struggle to get beyond that fact.

I am particularly upset by the reaction of people close to me, and others that I have observed. Primarily women that worked in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s in an era where sexual harassment was a part of going to work.  Those women experienced some form of harassment and discrimination almost daily, worked through it, and worked very hard to change the system.  To them, Mr. Trump symbolizes every male that harassed them in the work place or on the streets.  The women coming of age today face a totally different work place environment than their mothers and grandmothers faced.  Thankfully. Unfortunately, the election of Mr. Trump in spite of his known actions, his recorded remarks and his crude on-the-record comments seem to many of these older, experienced women, to give the green light to go back to a time where women were judged on their appearance and not on their ability.  It is a very sad and difficult time for them to see Mr. Trump in the White House.

One potential positive outcome of the election is that Mr. Trump, who in reality is neither a Republican nor a Democrat but more of third-party candidate that managed to get the Republican nomination, will have his opportunity to govern with the support of a Republican controlled Congress.  To all of those disaffected voters who put him in the White House, stand by.  In my mind this is a domestic version of President Nixon going to China.  There will be no excuses if the lot of those supporters does not improve. Mr. Trump and the Republicans are in charge.  They can only blame themselves if things don’t go their way.  After years of “just say no”, anger and obstructionism, they have the chance to do all of the things that they promised.

But I am extremely skeptical that they can deliver.  Most jobs in the Rust Belt and elsewhere were not lost to “deals” and trade pacts.  They were lost to automation and technology.  They aren’t coming back. The coal industry is not coming back.  Steel mills are not coming back.  One industry towns are not coming back.  All of the things that white working class Americans think they will now see restored are extremely unlikely to return. We cannot turn back the clock to a nostalgia tinged 1950’s era.  Perhaps in the coming years when the realization sets in that none of that will ever come back again, we can move forward into the 21st Century.  We don’t need to bring back the old jobs, we need to educate and train our citizens for the jobs of the future.  We cannot hold out for a white dominated society, we are headed for a multi-cultural society, like it or not, and no amount of anger will change that.  So, perhaps when their guy is unable to deliver the goods, people will remember those days fondly, but finally move on and face reality.  Perhaps that is the positive side of Mr. Trump as our president.

I suppose a true test of how willing Mr. Trump will be to bring the nation back together again will be two-fold.  First, does he reach out to all of those he has offended during his campaign, and more importantly does he send a message to those that think it is now okay to demean and demonize portions of our society and tell them that he will not accept that?

Secondly, I think we will learn a lot about the direction he intends to take the country by his cabinet nominations.  He hasn’t made any yet.  Will he pick serious, qualified individuals willing to do what is right for our country even if it means disagreeing with the President, or will he pick a series of sycophants and has-beens?  Only time will tell, but it isn’t a good sign that many of the names floated as trial balloons so far fall into the latter category.

In the end, I hope he surprises all of us and ably and well leads our nation.  If he does well, our country does well.  I am willing to keep an open mind and give him a chance, but it will be a short window of opportunity for him to convince me that he can keep America great.


What a Great Country!

As we wake up on the morning after one of the most divisive campaigns in our life times, some of us are elated, some disappointed and a lot of us are probably simply amazed at the results.  Whatever we feel, as is our custom and history, it is time to move on and actually get things done.

Yesterday I had a big dose of what is best about our country.  I was a sworn election judge in the state of Maryland.  Other states may have other titles, or you may simply know us as poll workers.  It was a great civics lesson and a great lesson in what makes this country continue to be great.

It was a very long day (nearly 15 hours on the job) but a very positive day.  Election judges in Maryland are regular citizens who come forward every two years to work for their country and for their fellow citizens.  They cover the spectrum of our national make up.  Young (one can be a judge at 17) and old, from every ethnic group and socio-economic status, and of differing political parties, the judges are a true cross-section of America. Throughout our training and while on the job, each and every person I met was courteous, friendly, conscientious and dedicated to doing the job correctly.  It was inspiring.

I can also assure our fellow citizens that the election judges on the job, at the individual polling places, are serious about the importance of their work and that they took joy in doing the job the right way.  I can also assure you that both the polling process and those working on site are dedicated to allowing for each and every qualified citizen to vote.  It is a great, and dare I say, satisfying process.

Even as the day wore on and we all began to sag a bit in body, there was never a let down in spirit or determination to do things correctly, by the book, and in compliance with the law.  It may surprise a voter who has not had this opportunity to know the meticulous way that the process unfolds. Maryland uses paper ballots that are electronically scanned.  There are three ways that they can be counted and compared and the paper ballots are retained in case of a recount or an anomaly in the electronic tabulation.   There are written procedures followed meticulously that include keeping track of each and every ballot, with double and triple checks and balances and total chain of custody requirements.  Every scrap of paper (ballots, multiple forms for record keeping, and polling material) are accounted for, catalogued and returned to the Board of Elections.  Every two years, these workers take time off from school, work, retirement or whatever to serve their fellow citizens and to help them through the process. It was a good sign for the future of our nation.

Equally gratifying was to work with and observe the voters that came into our precinct to vote.  Just as the workers represented a cross-section of our nation, so did the voters in every way imaginable. That includes the processes to ensure the visually impaired, physically challenged, and just about every other condition imaginable was able to cast their ballot.  Uniformly, the voters were cheerful, excited about exercising their right to vote (even if not uniformly excited about the campaigns themselves), and demonstratively appreciative of the work being done by us at the polling place.  In a particularly memorable way, whenever a young person came in and was identified as a first time voter, the judge working with them would announce it to the rest of us and all of the judges (there were about twelve of us) would shout and clap in congratulations.  The smiles on those first time voters when we did that was priceless.  In a campaign season that did not always highlight the best of our nation, it was exciting and refreshing to see that the voters, our neighbors, were understanding of how little acts of courtesy and kindness can transform a situation.

As we move forward into somewhat uncharted territory in our nation’s history, my hope is that the values, spirit and cooperation that I observed on election day continue as we move on to the next great adventure in our national life.

 


Dignity Lost

A number of you inquired as to why I have not written in this blog for quite some time.  Thank you. The not so simple answer is that the news, social discussions, and just about everything else is consumed by our current presidential campaign.  More specifically, but not solely, it is consumed by the antics of the Republican nominee Mr. Donald J. Trump (R-Mar-a-Lago).  This is both depressing and scary. However, I thought that with the saturation of campaign news, there was little to nothing that I could add of substance so I wrote nothing.  However, after the events occurring yesterday in Washington D.C., I cannot help but write about it.  Mr. Trump’s performance (because, indeed that is what it was) summed up everything that is wrong with his campaign.  More on that in a minute.

There are a number of things I do not understand about both candidates.  I probably never will. However I think that history will not treat those of us voting this year well.  Among the many things that puzzle me is the glaring discrepancy between the “opaque” and “secretive” world of the Democrat’s nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the “open” and “straight forward” candidacy of Mr. Trump. What did I miss?

Secretary Clinton is under attack for her emails.  Not for what is in them, but for the fact that she used a different server and some of the material in them was deemed classified.  I cannot and will not defend her use of the server or anything else related to the issue.  I will say, however, that in my personal experience dealing with high-ranking members of the federal government, military and civilian, Republican and Democrat, I have seen similar activity.  I did not condone it then — indeed I tried where I could to keep it from happening — and I don’t condone it now.  But let’s be realistic. (I could also get into a nuanced discussion about why it happens.  I could also discuss how the State Department has a tradition of over classifying cables and other documents to get people to read them.  If it isn’t marked “Secret” or higher, no one will read it because of the sheer volume of material generated daily.  But that discussion will be for a different day.)  But let me repeat. I have heard little to no criticism of the contents — of actual decisions being made as revealed in those e-mails — just that they exist.

Likewise, I have heard significant criticism of the Clinton Foundation.  Mainly that the Clintons have “gotten rich” off the work done by the foundation.  Again, I have heard no criticism of the work that they do or how the money is distributed, just that if it involves the Clintons it must be crooked.  Too much money involved for it not to be.

Secretary Clinton released fifteen years of her tax returns.  Likewise much information has been released about contributors to her campaign and to the Clinton Foundation.

Secretary Clinton also put out information on her health that most physicians said was complete in giving a snapshot of her current health.

For Secretary Clinton, it is all out there — the good, the bad and the ugly — all of it is available for anyone with an interest to read it and crunch the numbers, review the decisions, see how it happened.

Compare that to Mr. Trump who, other than a synopsis of his health data — which several physicians say is incomplete in portraying his current health, especially given that one of his five deferments from the Viet Nam draft involved his health — has released nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zero.  No tax returns.  No information on the donors to his foundation.  No information on how that money is spent.  No information on how he funds his foundation.  The small amount of information that is available screams out to me that we need to know much more about all of it.

Apparently, he has not contributed to his own foundation in nine years.  Apparently, he has used foundation money to buy personal gifts for himself, including a portrait of himself for $20,000 and an autographed Tim Tebow helmet for $10,000.  And he really helped out the charity he charged $250,000 for the use of his mansion for one night.  He has already been fined by the IRS for making a political contribution from his so-called charitable foundation to the campaign of Florida’s Attorney General. He also held a fund-raiser for her.  It was then such a surprise that she decided not to investigate Trump University even though many citizens of her state complained that they were ripped off.  Talk about “pay for play!”  The list goes on.  And yet, Mr. Trump continues to take us for chumps and refuses to reveal any private information that every other candidate, including his own Vice Presidential nominee, has already done.  Shame on us for letting him get away with it.

More troubling are his business connections.  A recent issue of Newsweek magazine delineated the extent of his foreign business dealings and the fact that many of those deals could be made or broken by decisions he will make should he become the president.  There are serious conflicts of interest at play. And yet, there are calls for the Clintons to dissolve their foundation and nothing about Mr. Trump divesting himself of his business interests.  Why is that? He said that should he get elected, he will put his business into a “blind trust” run by his children.  That is not a blind trust and he knows it.  A blind trust is when a third-party — not a relative, not a former business partner — that has no monetary interest in the success or failure of the enterprise runs it.  Accordingly, he would have to sell all of his business interests around the world and turn the proceeds over to someone else to manage for him in order to make it a blind trust.  It will never happen.  I am not necessarily arguing that he should sell it all off, but I am arguing that we the voters should have a clear and unfiltered view of the consequences of our votes.

(A slight pause for a tip of the hat to intrepid reporters, usually print journalists, who are out doing the good ol’ fashioned drudgery of hitting the pavement, asking questions and tracking down records.  We may not know as much about either candidate if there were not people ready to do so professionally.)

So Secretary Clinton is devious and hides stuff but Mr. Trump does not?  That may be his ultimate con job on the American people.

All of this came together for me yesterday and reinforced what a tragic mistake it would be for Mr. Trump to become our next president.  First, he scammed most of the cable news channels into covering his “major announcement” live, and then stood them up for nearly an hour.  Then, he used the opportunity to advertise the “greatness” of his new hotel in the Old Post Office building, a landmark building in Washington D.C. that is now emblazoned with his name.  Finally, his “major announcement” was that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”  Wow. Just wow.  After five years of a racially based slam on our duly elected president, Mr. Trump walks off without another word. Except for the most unbelievable part of all.  According to him, it was Secretary Clinton’s fault that the whole birther movement began and he, The Donald, was able to finally fix it. No matter that the appropriate birth certificate was shown years ago and oh by the way, since his mother was an American citizen, Barack Obama would also be an American citizen no matter where he was born.  As usual, Mr. Trump takes no responsibility for his own actions and falsely blames any problems on someone else. The usual traits of a great leader.

Here is why this is the Trump campaign in a nut shell.  His primary purpose for the “news conference” (no questions were taken from the press) was to tout his new hotel. Yet another display of his ego and the fact that his desire to make money off of any and all opportunities is his number one priority.  Not the country.  As an after thought, he also included that our president might actually be an American. With malice of fore-thought he then blamed it all on Secretary Clinton.  A bold face lie that has been debunked so many times we do not even have to pretend that it could possibly be true.  Given his demeanor and the whole atmospherics around this “huge” announcement (some have come to call it his I’m-a-hostage-and-they-are-making-me-say-this statement) he was clearly giving a wink and a nod to his birther supporters that he may have to read the script to get elected but we all know that President Obama really isn’t “one of us.”

This is why I am baffled that so many people still support Mr. Trump.  I have said before that I am no fan of Secretary Clinton, but given the choice between the two, there is only danger ahead if Mr. Trump is elected.  Although I generally disagree, I get the arguments about how she cannot be allowed to appoint Supreme Court justices, or that we need to shake things up, or that the economy is recovering too slowly, or a dozen other arguments that cause people to hold their collective noses and vote for Mr. Trump.  But there is far more at stake. As the conservative columnist Michael Gerson stated more eloquently than I can in an opinion piece last week, Mr. Trump is giving validation to racism in America and unleashing the worst parts of our society. The birther issue is just a sample of the un-American and un-Constitutional issues Mr. Trump espouses. Michael Gerson points out that in his words and actions Mr. Trump gives main stream support to racially tinged extremism that in turn validates the positions of white nationalists.

Time and again in conversations with those who claim that they will vote for Mr. Trump I hear something along the lines of “I don’t agree with everything he says, but…” and then go on to disavow his extreme statements and actions but give a reason to vote for him.  “I don’t agree with 30% of what he says, but we cannot have Hillary Clinton in the White House” is a common refrain.

Here’s my problem.

The 30% (I would say it is more like 80%) that people say they disagree with Mr. Trump about are exactly the things that make us the country we are.  We cannot have a functioning economy for all, we cannot have a fair judicial system, we cannot address difficult issues like immigration, we cannot function as the United States if at the heart of his campaign is a dark and dangerous refrain of “us” against “them” and a disregard for the values and traditions of our nation that make us already great.

Mr. Trump will leave a lasting legacy behind. Unfortunately, it will be one of hate and a nation that lost its dignity.

 


Only One Vote Away

As hard as one may try, it is nearly impossible to avoid the controversy surrounding the two standard bearers for the major parties in the race for the presidency.  They certainly do not need more discussion or analysis, especially here.  And yet.  And yet.  It is equally impossible to ignore the big old elephant in the middle of the room.  Even if one tries their best to ignore him, like a petulant two-year old, he will eventually get your attention.  Of course, I am speaking about Donald J. Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

Before we journey too far down this road, let me say up front that I am not a particular fan of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee of the Democrat Party.  This piece will not push you to vote for her if you are not inclined to do so.  But it will push hard to suggest that it should be impossible to vote for Mr. Trump.  Vote for the former Republican governor of New Mexico Gary Earl Johnson who is the Libertarian Party nominee.  Vote for your cousin.  Write in any name you may want to do — shoot put your own name as a write-in candidate so that you can say that you once ran for president.  But for the sake of our nation, please do not vote for Mr. Trump.

There are several things that are dangerous about him.  His well-documented racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, self-serving, thin-skinned, bloviating pronouncements are well-known.  They started with his “birther” attacks on President Obama in March, 2011 and continue to today.  (By the way, he promised that he had discovered “absolute proof” that President Obama was not born in Hawaii.  I still have not seen it, have you?)  Why would anyone think that the blow hard would change his tune and become presidential?  (More on that in a minute.)  He erased any remaining boundaries constraining political discourse in this country.  I could go on, but I think you know who and what we are dealing with when it comes to Donald J. Trump.  I give him the benefit of the doubt when people say he is not really racist. Perhaps. I cannot know what is in his heart or his mind.  Unfortunately for our country, it does not matter.  What he does say is racist and he plays to the basest instincts of mankind. Whether he has it in his heart or not, his actions say he is a racist.  Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) says his recent pronouncements are racist.

Equally troubling is that I presume Mr. Trump is a smart man.  However, after a year of running for president he has not taken the time or the interest to gain even the most shallow understanding of the important issues facing our nation, whether foreign or domestic.  One of his supporters, the Majority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on CNN yesterday that Mr. Trump better pick a knowledgeable running mate for Vice President.  As he said, “He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues.” His total lack of intellectual curiosity further solidifies my belief that he is a loose cannon with no real interest in leading our country beyond the ego trip of the trappings of the office and the possible benefit to his personal business holdings.  (Many analysts speculate that Mr. Trump will not release his tax forms because it will reveal the Potemkin Village that his business “empire” really is — just a sham presented to make things look better than the reality.  Many reports in the media already show that his promises of his “huge” philanthropic efforts either do not exist, or are the result of his foundation giving away other people’s money — not his own.  As Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) correctly points out, he is a con man.)

I hope that the glare of the national spotlight shines brightly on Mr. Trump and that the American people end up with a huge case of buyer’s remorse before it is too late.  We are already beginning to see the real Donald J. Trump as he attacks an Indiana born federal judge as being biased against him because he is a “Mexican.”  (And later Mr. Trump added that a Muslim judge would also not give him a fair shake in court.)  Whenever Mr. Trump is under attack, or more regrettably when things do not go his way as is happening with the law suit against Trump (cough cough) University he lashes out. Those that should know better say that when he is president, he will act differently and be surrounded by advisers that will temper his tantrums.  Why do they think that?  There is nothing in his demeanor to indicate that he will change and indeed he makes a point of saying that he will not change, that his is the brightest mind in the room, that he hasn’t listened to the advisers thus far and look how far he has come and many many more such pronouncements that lead me to believe that he will act exactly the same way as president as he has in his reality show of a campaign.

That people like Mr. Trump exist in our country was not a surprise to me.  That so many people would vote for him, and thus by extension validate his ideas, divisiveness and lack of ability is deeply distressing to me.  I had no idea so many of our fellow Americans were of the same nature as he is. Among those that have profoundly and deeply disappointed me and my generally positive view of the world are the majority of the Republican political leadership that endorsed Mr. Trump and thereby endorsed his policies, ideas, and methods.  Look again at the above paragraphs.  The Republican leadership in the Congress, embodied by Speaker Ryan that calls Mr. Trump’s remarks “racist” and Majority Leader McConnell’s statement that it is pretty obvious Mr. Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues” a year into the process, and yet they fully endorse him.  It blows my mind.  Like it or not, one cannot slice the apple by saying that they support Mr. Trump but not his racism, misogyny, threat to the Constitution and general lack of the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief.  You support him, you support all of him — there is no separating the man from his policies, such as they are.

In my life I have disagreed strongly with particular policies of some presidents.  Most maybe.  But with the possible exception of Richard Nixon, I never felt that it was personal or that they would end up destroying the fabric of our society.  The thought of Donald J. Trump as president is the scariest thing I have ever faced in my political lifetime.

Nearly half of his avowed supporters say that they do not believe that he will actually do what he says he will do, such as deport 11 million undocumented immigrants or keep those of the Muslim faith from entering the country (I wonder what Muhammad Ali thought of that — talk about “the greatest.”)  They claim that his “policies” are more symbolic and not anything that he would actually do and besides, they really want someone to “blow up” the business as usual attitude in the nation’s capital.  Be careful what you wish for. He will certainly shake things up, but remember that all new ideas are not necessarily good ideas.  More to the point, what makes anyone think that he will not actually do what he says he is going to do?  Can we take that chance?

In trying to understand why the Republican leadership would endorse and work to elect someone like Mr. Trump, it occurs to me that they secretly want Secretary Clinton to win.  I do not mean that as a joke, and of course I do not know this for a fact because they will never say it, but here’s why I think that they do.  If Secretary Clinton wins, the world and our nation are saved from the irrational dictates of Mr. Trump.  While at the same time, they can continue to oppose everything that President Clinton puts forward, just as they have with President Obama, in order to maintain their political base, keep their jobs, and the Congress under Republican control.  Then they go for the White House in 2020 campaigning that twelve years of Democrats in the White House “ruined” the country.  If there is a President Trump, they will be forced to work with him and his nutty ideas, or oppose their own party’s president in office.  They will likely lose their jobs and Republican control of the Congress.  If not in 2016, then certainly in 2018 when the nation comes to understand just how dangerous Mr. Trump is, and the current leadership will not be able to say “don’t blame us” because they have all put party above country.  Forget about a Republican in the White House in 2020.  There may not even be a recognizable Republican Party in 2020 with Mr. Trump as the leader of the party of Lincoln.

I give great credit to some Republicans like former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and a few (too few in my view) others that have put country above party.  They clearly are not enamored of Secretary Clinton and claim they will not vote for her.  They are also just as clear that they will never vote for Mr. Trump.  They know him up front and personal.  All of us should pay attention.

Our nation is just one vote away from having a President Trump.  We should be worried, very worried. To me, Donald J. Trump fits the mold of strong men across the arc of history that were duly elected and then proceeded to ruin their countries and cost many their lives. Let’s keep that from happening here.