It is likely that by the time you read this post, a classified memo put together under disputed circumstances, will be released to the public. The entire process and related story is long, arcane, a little bit of “inside baseball” and dangerous to the rule of law.
In short, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) as the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee had his staffers compose a memo accusing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) of misusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the investigation of the Russian interference in our 2016 election. In contrast, the Democrats on the committee, the DOJ and the FBI argue that Congressman Nunes misused the data that was reluctantly turned over to him to present a misleading portrayal of how the system was used and indeed to condemn the system itself. As the story unfolds, remember that the protesting members of the DOJ and of the FBI, including Director Chris Wray are appointees put in office by the current president.
The DOJ and FBI are concerned on two fronts. First, the memo could reveal sensitive “sources and methods” to our adversaries. (Sources meaning where intelligence comes from and methods meaning the ways in which the intelligence is collected.) It is not hyperbole to say that this could easily put lives at stake. Second, they are concerned that the memo will inaccurately portray the way that the FISA warrants (issued by a special court for wiretaps and other methods of collecting information on suspected foreign operatives and their collaborators) are obtained and thereby undermine the confidence of us, as citizens, in the process and in the results.
Mr. Nunes is using an arcane rule of Congress to release the information. The rule has never — never — been used before. The intent of the rule is to provide a method for revealing relevant information when there is a gross misuse of intelligence that provides a clear and present danger to the nation. Mr. Nunes is using it for purely political purposes. At best, he is attempting to sow doubt about the investigation into Russian interference conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, thus undermining possible damaging information about the president. At worst, he is aiding and abetting the president in providing a rationale for ending the investigation entirely.
As background I point out that this week the president refused to implement sanctions against Russia under a law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by him. In a show of sloppy staff work or lack of seriousness (you choose), individuals on the sanctions list were reportedly lifted by administration staffers from a list published annually by Forbes magazine naming the richest people in the world. Anyone from Russia with over a billion dollars in assets was placed on the Forbes list which was transcribed to the administration’s list — even though some are known to be anti-Putin. Although I suppose it doesn’t really matter because Mr. Trump will not implement the sanctions. Perhaps this is a quid pro quo? Who knows, but there certainly have been a bizarre list of actions and statements by the president regarding President Vladimir Putin and Russia. As someone said, there is a long list of the “whats” that have occurred but there is still no answer as to the “why”.
How serious is this possible breach of national security? Representing the DOJ position, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote to Mr. Nunes and the committee asking that the information not be released. In the letter he said that to release it would be “extraordinarily reckless” and that the department had reviewed its processes and found no wrongdoing regarding the FISA process.
An official FBI statement concerning the possible release states:
The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI. We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to insure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.
With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.
Mr. Nunes and the president also know that there is a Catch-22. Several in fact.
The Democrats wrote a memo telling “the rest of the story” to put Mr. Nunes’ memo in context. He refuses to release it and the Democrats are trying to follow the rules and therefore won’t release it without committee approval. More importantly, the DOJ and FBI cannot refute the memo without themselves using classified information that would do further harm to the nation. By following the rules and taking national security seriously they find themselves in a bind that allows the president and his enablers to get away with their shenanigans.
Further complicating the response is that Congress has, and should have, over sight responsibility for the DOJ and the FBI. They should exercise that responsibility fully. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) contends that that is what is happening. (A further question for another day is why the Speaker did not step in, as he could do, and stop the release of the memo or at least allow a fully vetted process determine its viability. He abdicated his responsibility. I had hopes for Mr. Ryan as a buffer to the worst tendencies of the president, but apparently my hopes were misplaced.)
To fully understand how shady this entire undertaking is, read the unclassified transcript of the committee meeting where the issue was discussed. (You will find it here.) Among other things, it is apparent that Mr. Nunes never read the supporting information from which his memo was crafted. You will also note that Mr. Nunes never denies that the his staff may have worked with White House staffers as to the content of the memo. You will also find that the FBI and the DOJ requested to come in and explain the impact of releasing the memo and the harm it will do to national security but the request was denied. And on and on. One might think that the fix was in. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Nunes would not release the memo for review by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). Why?
Additionally, under normal circumstances, should the FBI concerns be ignored, “grave concerns” not-with-standing, and the administration releases the memo, FBI Director Wray should resign. I hope that he stays and continues to fight for what is right.
The word “unprecedented” gets used a lot these days. This event is truly unprecedented. The House and Senate intelligence committees are historically known for their bipartisanship, concern for the safety of our country, very, very careful in their use and review of sensitive information and generally known as a model for how the government should work. Well, that’s over.
I cannot over emphasize how critical this is to the norms of honest government and the impact on our leading law enforcement agency and the intelligence community as a whole. The politicization of intelligence is a dangerous precedent. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there will be, inevitably in my opinion, other instances of one or both parties (“paybacks are hell”) undertaking similar political use of sensitive information.
One must also think of the willingness of future potential sources of information to put themselves on the line knowing that what they do covertly could be blasted to the public for political reasons. Think also of foreign intelligence agencies and their willingness to work with the United States if they also think that sensitive sources and methods could be compromised. Some reports already indicate that other nations’ intelligence agencies have significantly cut back on the information that they share with us because they are wary of the ability of this administration to keep a secret — as evidenced by the president sharing such intelligence in the Oval Office with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador last year.
Credible reports indicate that the president has been pushing for the release of the memo — even without having read it until last night — since last week. He reportedly thinks that it will “prove” that the “deep state” is out to get him (remember that those opposing its release are his own political appointees). More ominously, it has been reported that he may use this memo as an excuse to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This is significant because Mr. Rosenstein, following the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, oversees Mr. Mueller in the conduct of the Russian investigation. Mr. Rosenstein has repeatedly said that he would never fire the Special Counsel barring egregious and unlawful actions on his part. This infuriates the president. By removing the Deputy AG, Mr. Trump would look for a replacement willing to fire Mr. Mueller or at least inhibit and undermine the investigation. That would be a travesty of justice.
As I’ve said many times over the last year or more, whatever one thinks of Mr. Trump, we should all be livid and concerned that the Russians clearly interfered (as even Mr. Trump’s own appointees to lead the intelligence community concede). And yet, not only will Mr. Trump not say that there was interference, more importantly there is not one federal agency or inter-agency task force looking into it or planning how to counter it for this year’s elections. In a recent interview with the BBC, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that the Russians continue to interfere in our internal policy and that he fully expects that they will try to interfere with our next elections and continue to do so as long as they can. And we sit on our hands? Apparently this administration, abetted by Republicans in the House, would rather investigate the FBI and the DOJ rather than the Russians.
The sanctions that this administration is refusing to implement were designed specifically to punish the Russians for interfering in 2016. What they hey?
If Mr. Trump has nothing to worry about (even though two of his aides pleaded guilty and two others are under indictment — hardly a “nothing burger”) then why not let the investigation continue without interference and come to a quick conclusion exonerating him? In my mind it is because he is afraid of what will be found. Each event unto itself could be dismissed, I suppose. But it is compelling when one looks at all the things we already know happened between the Trump campaign and the Russians. I am positive that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what the Special Counsel already knows.
There are many more twists and turns behind this unfolding sordid episode. Because it is happening in slow motion, and involves arcane House and DOJ rules, I suspect many Americans are unaware of the details and even more than that are unaware of the implications behind this unprecedented action. Perhaps Mr. Trump and Mr. Nunes are counting on that. Meanwhile, the DOJ and FBI are under attack as independent protectors of the nation. The rule of law is in danger.
We are on the verge of a Constitutional crisis. It has been creeping up on us for several months. Soon its full-blown existence will make it so that no one can ignore what is happening. Mr. Trump will not do the right thing when the time comes. As he said last week at an impromptu meeting with the press when asked about the investigation, he said he is “fighting back.” One can only imagine what that will bring.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
— The sonnet “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.
— Senior White House Adviser Stephen Miller in response to a question about new immigration proposals as compared to the sentiment from the sonnet.
Happy New Year! I hope that 2018 brings us all health, prosperity and happiness. Hopefully, you had a joyful holiday season.
I was fortunate to participate in several social gatherings during the last few weeks and to spend eleven days traveling in the great state of California. The gatherings and travel afforded an opportunity to forget about politics for a while and yet at the same time to get a snapshot from friends, acquaintances, and family as to their views on the state of politics in our great country. The comments were wide-ranging.
Among other things, I was asked why I write an “anti-Trump” blog. “We get it. You don’t like him. Move on.” Others asked why I don’t write about him more often. Some are thrilled with the current president, or at least his policies. Others despair over the future of our nation. Many said that they had stopped following the news because it was just too upsetting. Others advised that they just ignore what the president says, and especially tweets, and are much happier for doing so. It set me to wondering.
I must admit that I was happier without hearing “all Trump all the time”. I thought that maybe it would be a good idea to stop worrying about him and what he is doing to the office of the president and to our country. I reflected on this course of action at length. It certainly would be easier.
In the end I find it impossible for me to ignore what is going on with the president and I worry that too many people are choosing to tune him out. This is dangerous. If citizens do not pay attention to what our government is doing, then the politicians are free to do whatever they want. If we do not understand the issues and their implications then we are doomed to living out the results of decisions that change our way of life. In reflecting on the current state of affairs I asked myself how the president’s actions are impacting me, personally, and my day-to-day life. In truth, I had to answer very little if at all. So why get upset? The answer is easy and not a shoulder wrenching pat on my own back — if no one pays attention then eventually it will impact my life and that of my family but it will be too late to do anything to change it. More importantly, I realized that many people around me are being impacted right now. Today. And it is life changing for them. As Americans, we do care.
This brings me to a representative example of what I see as very disturbing trends under this president. That is his views on immigration. It is what I used to tell my staff in my sea-going days:
“Know the difference between what things are and what they mean.”
In that context let’s look at Mr. Trump’s comments made last week regarding immigrants from non-white countries.
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front. In the end, it is not important that the president used vulgar language in expressing his disparaging view of immigrants. Whether it was “hole” or “house” is hardly relevant. If Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark) and David Perdue (R-Ga) want to lose their integrity over the changing stories and provable lies in their interpretation of the suffix to the president’s vulgarity they will have to face themselves in the mirror. The actual words don’t matter as much as the sentiment does. Mr. Trump is not the first president to swear in the Oval Office and he won’t be the last. It is embarrassing to the nation and unbecoming of the office, but in the end it isn’t the most important thing. It is what it is.
What it means is something else. Mr. Trump’s temper tantrum in response to a bi-partisan plan proposed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill) set in motion a string of events that will have both long and short-term impact.
Only days before the blow up the president said that he “would sign anything” that the Congress brought forward on solving the Trump created crisis concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or “Dreamers”. If not resolved very soon, the Administration could cause roughly 800,000 law-abiding hard-working people to be deported from the only country they have ever really known. Whether or not the Graham-Durbin bill was the final answer, it did have bi-partisan support and gave the president much — but not all — of what he wanted regarding increased border security, changes to immigration quotas and other immigration procedures. If nothing else, it was a starting point. Only two hours before the Oval Office meeting, the president tentatively agreed to the outlines of the bill when it was explained to him over the phone. Unfortunately, hard liners like Stephen Miller — quoted above — were afraid that the president would agree to the deal and thus called in Senators Cotton and Perdue to talk him out of it. They succeeded.
What is the fallout? In the short-term it significantly increases the likelihood of a government shutdown at midnight on Friday 19 January. Democrats have been under intense pressure to “solve” the DACA dilemma quickly. Their best leverage is to use a spending bill to do so because the Republicans cannot get enough of their members to pass it on their own. There is still a lot of negotiating underway as to how to keep the government running, but membership on both sides of the aisle is tired of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CR) which are in and of themselves detrimental to an efficient government. It could get ugly and there will be lots of finger pointing. The rest of us suffer.
Longer term the president has exhibited — again! — that he does not understand what makes America the country that it is. As has been written often, and more eloquently than I can, we are a nation of immigrants. Most of them poor and from nations that in their day were not any more appreciated than those that the president now disparages. For example, look at the history of Italian, Irish and Eastern European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Look to many of our own family histories. These were not lawyers, doctors, bankers or other wealthy immigrants. Most could not read or write their own language, much less English. But they worked hard. They assimilated over time. They produced generations of lawyers, doctors and bankers. Many became wealthy and contributed to the development of industries we now tout as “all American.” Mr. Trump clearly does not know this. Probably he does not care. Mostly, it does not interest or impact him so he pays little attention other than to what he thinks will appeal to the “base” that seems to be the only America he is interested in leading.
Longer term he has changed the way that the rest of the world looks at these United States. Lady Liberty’s torch no longer seems to be a beacon to those “yearning to breathe free” but rather a torch searching out those not like us. Mr. Trump revealed — again!– who he really is. For goodness sakes, our closest ally is the United Kingdom and they don’t want him to visit. The UK is very divided politically right now, but all parties agree that Mr. Trump can stay home.
Longer term Mr. Trump’s actions hinder and impede our national security. When allies question their level of cooperation with our own intelligence agencies because of his actions, we suffer. When nations that are friendly to us send official diplomatic requests for an explanation of the president’s remarks we may find that they won’t stand with us when needed. When we have military forces under fire in Africa and in other nations (remember we lost four good soldiers fighting terrorism in Niger) will they be reliable in the common defense if they think the commander-in-chief declares them unworthy to come to our country?
Everyday the list gets longer as we count the attacks on our nation as an idea and an ideal. I do not think that Mr. Trump understands that. By his words and actions he is steadily destroying what we stand for in the world and at home. I am surprised at the number of folks that told me that they don’t care for Mr. Trump that much as a person but that they like what he is doing. I have to assume that they mean they like the tax cuts and Supreme Court appointment and not his actions infringing on the First Amendment, claiming that the FBI actively worked against his campaign, his besmirching the judiciary whenever they rule against him, and the countless list of daily insults that spew forth and inexorably demean our nation and undermine our way of life.
His views on immigration are only one example of how he is changing our nation. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on the path forward in many areas of policy. What concerns me more than Mr. Trump’s policies is the steady erosion of our American ideals.
So, yes. It would be easier to just ignore it all and go on with my daily life. But we all need in our own ways to have our voices heard and let it be known that it is not okay. I am not anti-Trump in my writings. I am pro-America and what we stand for. A president that wants to be president to only 33% of the country needs to come to understand that he represents all Americans. Those of Haitian ancestry as well as those of Norwegian ancestry.
Who cares? We care.
As we approach the end of a tumultuous 2017, let me offer my wish that each of you have a joyous holiday season and that 2018 brings you all the best. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a fine Festivus!
While I sincerely hope that all of us have a wonderful 2018 in our own ways, I am concerned that as a country we will hit turbulent waters at best or worse, experience a Constitutional crisis. I gave up prognosticating some years ago. However, since it is the end of the year, I will offer up my scenario as to how the coming year will unfold as the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller plays out. There are certainly other very important events to come in 2018 that the administration will face, such as dealing with a bellicose North Korea, implementing a tax cut by expanding the deficit, undermining the Affordable Care Act, retooling immigration and someday passing a budget. All of these will be overshadowed by the unfolding drama surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation and its final results. It will not be pretty.
Lest we forget, as I see it there are four distinct areas of investigation for the Special Counsel. Three have been his focus from the beginning and the fourth I surmise got added as the investigation looked into the activities of Mr. Paul Manafort and others and the resulting relationship to the original three areas of interest. The four are concerns over Russian interference in the election, possible collusion between the campaign and the Russians, whether or not the FBI investigation into these matters was obstructed by the president or his advisers, and my fourth, money laundering and/or tax evasion by the president and/or family. Let’s look at them one by one.
Many of us forget that the original intent of the investigation, starting with the FBI and CIA in 2016, was to determine the extent, methods, and impact of Russian interference in that year’s election. The combined intelligence community in the United States and elsewhere concluded some time ago that the Russians did interfere. End of discussion. The questions of how, why, whether it mattered or not and what to do stop it in the future remain unanswered. Reportedly, the president refuses to discuss it with his top advisers, has yet to hold any cabinet level discussions as to how to protect future elections and continues to deny that it ever happened. This is unconscionable. Regardless of one’s political views, all of us should be upset that there is overwhelming evidence that it occurred and there is no evidence that anyone is doing anything substantive to prevent it in the future. There is still no federal coordinated action to stop it from happening again. As Americans we should be appalled. Michael V. Hayden had a lifetime of experience in the intelligence community and was CIA director under President George W. Bush. His view of the Russian meddling? That it is the political equivalent of the attack on September 11. He further said,
“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. He has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”
Perhaps some in Congress will wake up to the fact that action is needed, and soon. I won’t hold my breath for the president to initiate any action. When Mr. Mueller’s findings come forward, we may have an impetus for action by the rest of the government.
The second area of investigation, and the one most focus on including the president, is whether or not the president’s campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in the election and impede Secretary Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory. This one is more complicated and takes more than a sound bite or Twitter statement to unfold. In short, the theory is that in exchange for “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton and other “aids” during the election, the new administration, if they won, would lift sanctions on Russia imposed for a variety of reasons generated by Russian bad actors, and not just during the election. This one is less clear as to the extent that the campaign organization knew what they were doing. Their best defense, if one can call it that, is that they were incompetent. That line of reasoning is becoming less tenable as more and more instances of meetings between campaign representatives and Russian representatives become known. In addition, both campaigns were briefed in August 2016, following the official nominations, that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election, that other bad actors might also try, and the two campaigns need to notify the FBI if they detect any Russian overtures or other activity. The Trump campaign made no such reports to the FBI. It is hard to claim ignorance under those circumstances.
The third area of investigation involves possible obstruction of justice. This stems in one way from the aforementioned meetings with Russian operatives during the campaign. Various campaign officials initially denied any such meetings. It grew bigger after the president fired then FBI Director Jim Comey and bragged in a Lester Holt interview on NBC and later in a private conversation with the Russian (!) Foreign Minister and Ambassador that it was over the “Russia thing.” Director Comey testified under oath that the president asked him to drop the investigation into former NSC Director Michael Flynn’s interactions with the Russians. (The same Michael Flynn that pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those very interactions.) As if that is not enough, the investigation also includes the president himself pushing prevarications on Air Force One concerning his son Donald Trump Jr. and his interactions with the Russians. They made a very weak attempt to cover it up, allegedly at the president’s direct involvement in the cover up story.
You can’t tell the players without a program.
Not on the “official” list but the area that will cause the biggest consternation, and at the same time pull everything together, is my notion that the Special Counsel and his office are looking into the Trump Organization’s and family’s financial dealings. I think that they will find instances of money laundering and tax evasion. Very much like what they come up with concerning Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates — only with Russians rather than corrupt Ukrainians.
Many focus on Mr. Trump’s visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant and his subsequent attempts at creating new business opportunities in Russia. Lost to some is the knowledge that he started visiting Russia in 1987 and has made trips off and on since then. If his son is to be believed, lots of their investment money came from Russian sources. U.S. banks would not underwrite his endeavors after four bankruptcies and he was desperate. Think of it as a “Godfather” scenario. “Donnie, don’t worry. We’ll take care of the problem. Relax. But at some time in the future we may come and ask you for a favor.” Or as Don Corleone says it much better in the original, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”
My opinion as to the results?
- The Russians interfered in many, many ways in the election but the number of votes that changed because of those actions (none of which were by actual vote tampering) is unknown.
- Aides to Mr. Trump did collude with the Russians but the president will benefit from plausible deniability as there will be no way to tie it directly to him.
- The investigation will conclude that Mr. Trump and some of his aides did try to obstruct justice by interfering in the attempt to investigate his family and campaign ties to the Russians.
- The Special Counsel will conclude that prior to becoming president, Mr. Trump knowingly engaged in unethical and illegal financial transactions. These transactions helped Russian oligarchs launder money in Trump investments and real estate purchases. His hundreds of LLCs and shell corporations were used to hide these transactions and to limit the taxes he was by law responsible for paying.
That’s when the “fun” starts.
First, prior to the Special Counsel’s findings, the House committees investigating these matters will rush out findings — possibly in early January — that will find that there is no evidence of collusion, they did not look at obstruction of justice because it is a criminal matter, and did not investigate his finances. They will say that the Russians interfered in the election but it is unclear to what extent and in any case, the interference did not change the election.
The president will seize on this report, claim that it proves his innocence and that there was “no collusion!”
The president will try to fire Special Counsel Mueller because, he will reason, the House committees already proved that there was “no collusion!” and so there is no need for the investigation to continue. To do so would make it a “witch hunt” based on the Democrats efforts to push a “hoax” and an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Trump voters because of a deep hatred of Mr. Trump. Fox News and some House Republicans will cry long and loud that this is an attempted FBI “coup” to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States. (By the way, this has already happened in the last 48 hours. The attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice from certain Republican Members of Congress are despicable. Please note that they are not attacking the facts, the results so far or any other substantive issue. They only attack the people and the institution with the goal to sow doubt in advance of just this scenario.)
The Senate will try to protect the Special Counsel but at the same time expand their investigation to include the other nominees — Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton — to show that it wasn’t just Mr. Trump. When the Special Counsel’s findings start to leak out, the Senate, caught in a bind as to how to act as the president continues to undermine, ignore and invalidate the non-partisan results, delays action.
The Special Counsel will name Mr. Trump as an un-indicted co-conspirator.
Mr. Trump will not step down from the presidency and tries to pardon those indicted as well as himself. This will lead to a Constitutional crisis.
The “#metoo” movement continues to build pressure against Mr. Trump as more allegations of harassment by multiple women come out and he calls them all “liars.”
To make sure that justice prevails, state prosecutors step in to bring state charges — especially on money and tax issues. Mr. Trump cannot pardon violations of state law, only federal.
The issue of pardons for whom and for what gets challenged in court and follows an expedited path to the Supreme Court.
Pressure will build for the Congress to act. However, the House and Senate will not act to impeach the president and will cite the upcoming 2018 elections as the reason. “Let the American people decide.”
Democrats win big in the elections. While campaigning they will not use the word “impeach” but will insist that Mr. Trump needs to be held accountable for his actions with Congressional oversight.
Mr. Trump, Fox News, and some House Republicans continue to cry that the system was rigged and that an attempted “coup” is underway. Mr. Trump embarks on a series of campaign rallies to build support among the minority of voters that still support him. Angry demonstrations ensue.
Most Americans are appalled at the complete story and the fact that Mr. Trump will not step down plus the fact that he is trying to pardon the wrong doers — especially close family members. The Democratic landslide is a result of voters being fed up because Congress will not act.
Very bitter disputes break out in violence on both sides of the issue as Mr. Trump continues purposely to stir up animosity and anger.
There is very little energy left to try to tackle the big issues facing our nation. American influence in the world continues to wane and other nations take advantage of our inward rage and lack of attention to international affairs. The Russians continue to meddle in western European elections and to support Syria and Iran. China consolidates its economic power and pulls other Asian nations closer to its orbit as they become the de facto leader of the region under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
2018 ends without resolution of the Constitutional issues surrounding Mr. Trump and his associates’ actions. Trials begin for Mr. Manafort, Mr. Gates, and Mr. Kushner and others close to the president.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
I trust that you all had an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend. In many ways we have so much to be thankful for so it is always nice to take time out and to reflect on our good fortune — whatever form that may take.
In our nationally induced tryptophan haze, one may have noticed, or more hopefully ignored, a bevy of tweets and other distractions that obscure the many important legislative challenges coming up in the next four weeks. Or more accurately, in the few days that the House and Senate are actually in session before Christmas. Nearly all of the following impact Americans in some form or another and are important to the smooth functioning of our nation. These are important issues that deserve serious consideration and discussion. I will let you decide whether or not that will happen.
To name a few:
- Tax cuts. The president promised a “great big beautiful Christmas present” with completion of the Republican tax cut. Both the House — which passed its version before Thanksgiving — and the Senate — which hopes to pass its version this week — have significantly different bills designed to permanently cut corporate taxes and to cut some lower and middle class taxes for a while. The Republican leadership is touting both bills as a boon to the middle class. Sorry, but I don’t see it. Besides adding at least 1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt over the next ten years, it makes some puzzling changes. For example, nearly all deductions (mortgage, student loan, state and local taxes, medical expenses, moving expenses and about 40 some more) are removed from the individual taxpayers’ ability to use them but keeps them in place for corporations. The argument is that the individual standard deduction will greatly increase (roughly doubled) and therefore there will be no need to itemize. At the same time, corporate taxes drop roughly 40 percent (from 35% to 20%) but they still keep all itemized deductions, including those listed above that go away for the rest of us. The real kicker is that corporate tax rates and rules are permanent and the rules for the rest of us are temporary. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center (TPC) estimates that for many of us, our taxes will actually go up over the next ten years as compared to current law. This happens primarily because of the “sunset” provisions impacting everyday Americans. Many Republicans are arguing that some time “in the future” Congress will make them permanent and so in the end, we all benefit. Except. Except. There is no guarantee that they will become permanent. If they don’t, we are victims of a big lie. And if they do, then it all has been a sham and a trick. In order to meet the rules of the Senate, they cannot exceed the 1.5 trillion dollar addition to the national debt. (To do so, they need 60 votes in the Senate, which means getting Democrats onboard, who, so far, have been shut out of any input to the bill.) Thus, the permanent cuts for corporations are paid for by the average tax payer. But not to worry, according to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Dick Mulvaney, it is all a trick. A “gimmick.” As he said on Meet the Press, in order to meet the Senate rules, “certain proposals can only have certain economic impact. One of the ways to game the system is to make things expire.” Or as he went on to say, “a lot of this is a gimmick… to get through these rules in the Senate.” This from the president’s point man on the cuts and in charge of explaining them to the public. There is a whole lot more to this issue, but it deserves a separate piece as the issues are complex with wide impacts on each of our futures. Keep an eye on this.
(Please note that there is no need to place a time limit on getting this legislation right. It is an arbitrary political goal to “deliver” a tax cut by Christmas. Remember that as it crowds out the following issues, many of which do have — or have already reached — a drop dead date to accomplish.)
- Government Shutdown. Funding to operate the federal government expires on 8 December. Here we go again. Both Republicans and Democrats are using the imminent expiration of the spending authorization to promote their political agendas. As in the past, it is unlikely that the Republicans can pass a spending bill without at least some Democrats voting for it as well (there is always a hard-core Republican group opposed to the amount of spending and the impact on the deficit — although they mysteriously voted for the increased deficit from the tax cuts). There is a “summit” planned tomorrow involving the leaders of both parties from both houses and the president to try to come to accommodation on this and other issues. Probably there will be a short-term extension to keep the government operating — a continuing resolution or CR. CRs wreak havoc on all government agencies from defense to agriculture as they limit immediate spending and give no clear guidance for the future, thus severely inhibiting planning for the future. Predictions are not optimistic as to a quick resolution because the Republican leadership remains laser focused on getting the tax cuts finished first.
- Defense Spending. As part of the overall objective of setting spending levels for 2018 many want to see defense spending increased from about $549 billion to about $600 billion. In order to do that, Congress must rescind a bipartisan 2011 budget deal that set spending caps on all areas of government. Democrats are insisting that any increases in defense spending must be matched by increases in non-defense spending or they will not vote to lift the 2011 caps. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to change the bipartisan agreement providing the limits so Democrats have a say in how this is resolved. Very little progress in resolving the issue is apparent and this impacts the funding for the government as a whole (see above).
- Health Care. Politicians on both sides of the aisle want to see the market stabilized for health care. Not surprisingly, there are differences on how to do it. The Alexander-Murray health care bill is a bipartisan effort to bring some continuity and stabilization to health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The administration opposes this bill and the Senate version of the tax cut plan eliminates the penalty for not having insurance — thus creating the possibility of increased premiums for those with insurance and eventually driving a predicted 13 million from the roles. (See my previous posts about the “three-legged stool” needed to keep the system stable.) Democrats say the Alexander-Murray bill is off the table if the repeal of a key provision of the ACA is enacted. Republicans are still making noise about “repeal and replace in 2018.” Compromise seems unlikely and the public suffers.
- The Children’s Health Insurance Program. The generally popular CHIP provides health coverage for about 9 million poor children and others. The current legislation expired on 30 September and it is unknown when this usually bipartisan issue will be addressed. To date, the states have picked up the slack to keep the program going in the short-term but many say that funds will run out at the end of the year. This is also caught up in the “need” to address tax cuts before other legislation.
- Immigration. The president announced the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) (the Dreamers) program last September and gave Congress until March to come up with a system for dealing with the children brought here illegally by their parents. Many Democrats say that they will not vote for any spending bills unless this issue is addressed by the end of the year. Some Republicans say that they will not address immigration unless “The Wall” is part of the bill. There are also Republicans that agree that the Dreamers issue needs to be addressed and that may actually favor their remaining in the country. But, again, they argue this cannot be part of any spending bill and can only be addressed after the tax cuts pass.
- Intelligence Gathering. On 31 December of this year Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will expire. This section of the law, approved by Congress in 2008 as a part of the response to the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, is intended as a tool to track and thus foil foreign terrorists. It is meant for use in conjunction with foreign citizens outside of the United States and has specific provisions to protect American citizens. Unfortunately, critics of the provision claim that vast amounts of information is collected on U.S. citizens as they communicate with foreigners — any foreign national, not just those suspected of being terrorists. Known as “incidental surveillance” it raises many questions of privacy and government intrusion into the lives of innocent, ordinary U.S. citizens. The NSA considers this provision to be among their most important collection capabilities and fear that if they lose the ability to continue the surveillance that it will severely inhibit their counter-terrorism capability. There is general bipartisan support to extend the statute, but with some restrictions to further try to protect Americans’ privacy. Currently, there are no plans to address the expiring statute by the end of the year.
- Disaster Relief. The Administration asked Congress for $44 billion in disaster relief for help in mitigating the impact of the hurricanes and wildfires that affected many areas of the country this year. To pay for it, they have asked for reductions in other expenditures, such as benefit programs. By all accounts, 44 billion — a lot — is inadequate to meet the need. Puerto Rico alone estimates that it will cost $99 billion to get the island back on its feet. Congress has promised to provide the aid, but does not plan to address the issue with concrete action (money duly appropriated) until the tax cut plan is finished.
- Iran Sanctions. By declaring in October that Iran was not in compliance with the international deal to limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, the president activated a 60 day period which expires in December for Congress to act to impose new sanctions or not. The general sense is that there is mostly bipartisan agreement not to extend new sanctions on Iran and thus to keep the deal in place. However, at the end of the 60 day period the ball is back in the president’s court and it may be that inaction on the part of Congress will lead to action by the president and thus put the deal in jeopardy.
And there’s more! But you get the idea. Not much of anything will get done until the tax cuts are passed, which is not a sure thing in the Senate. Even if it does get through the Senate this week, or soon after, they still need to reconcile the two versions of the bill — no easy task as they are significantly different in several important areas. All deadlines discussed for the tax cuts are purely political and self-imposed, unlike many other items in need of Congressional attention.
It is sure to be a busy political December. Enjoy! And don’t let the tweeting distract you from the real action going on.
In the last ten to twelve days we have seen a remarkable display of something — although I am not really sure what we are seeing. But from where I sit, it isn’t good.
In succession we have Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) (a former nominee for president), former Republican President George W. Bush, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) all directly or unmistakably reference, the leadership philosophy, character and fitness for office of our current president. All found him seriously wanting in every imaginable category. On top of that, former Democrat President Barack Obama and former Democrat Vice President Joe Biden made similar remarks. But of course their remarks don’t count because of the fact that the Democrats are all “losers” and “whiners.” So let’s just focus on the president’s own party and their criticism.
Some Republicans and some reporters and analysts use words like “feud” and “tit for tat” and “Junior High disputes” to describe the events of the last week. Wrong. Likewise is it wrong to think that their words have no real meaning because, in at least two cases, they have chosen not to run for re-election. Perhaps it gave them more leeway to speak up, but it does not change the import of their words.
To brush it off as some kind of personality clash is to lose sight of what serious men of conscience are actually saying. It is also not really a matter of policy or ideological differences either. For goodness sake, Senators Corker and Flake vote with about a 96% consistency rate with the stated goals of the rest of their party and presumably of the president. (Although it is difficult to know about the latter as his grasp of policy details is suspect and he can change his mind about an issue several times in the same day. For example, with the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill for a temporary fix of the health care system, where he was for it before he was against it — in the same afternoon.)
These proven Republicans, all of whom I respect even if I don’t agree with their every approach to solving the nation’s problems, make a compelling case that the president is manifestly unfit for office and that his tumbling tumbleweed approach to governing diminishes our place in the world and is dangerous. It is a question of character and the current president is found to be profoundly lacking, if not completely devoid, of it. More precisely Senator McCain said, among other things:
To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems, is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.
We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the phrase “blood and soil” is the phrase used by American white supremacists, is associated with some supporters of this administration, and comes from a philosophy from Nazi Germany. “Blut und Boden.” Look it up.
Likewise Senator Flake characterizes the president’s character as a danger to our nation and to peace in the world. The speech is worth reading as many think that in historical terms, we will look back upon it as a clarion call to action to stop the reckless behavior of the current administration. He warns of creating a “new normal” where the most crass and personal petty attacks and lies are taken as the course of events in politics. His condemnation of the current administration is lengthy, but the heart of the matter can be summed up in these passages:
If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.
And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?
Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.
This is not a “tit for tat” or a personality conflict. These comments, and similar ones by President Bush and even more blunt comments by Senator Corker are alarming. Or they should be.
Politics in the United States has changed in the past year or so from differences in ideas to one where we argue over the populist slogans of the sloganeer-in-chief. I heard it described the other day as “emotional sustenance.” Substance from the chief executive is no longer required, all that is asked of him is that he entertain us. Sadly, that entertainment is not even positive but geared to salve the emotional feelings surrounding perceived slights of those that just want to be mad at the establishment and he indulges them. Substance may not be dead in the Congress, but it is on life support because the man at the top cares nothing about it. Watch the interview from last weekend with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business News and the president. She served up the most soft ball type questions imaginable and tried to lead him through his own policies, but with little success. Asked about Russia he talked about Bob Kraft (owner of the NFL New England Patriots) and the Super Bowl ring he gave (?) to Vladimir Putin. Having already mentioned the Alexander-Murray bipartisan health care bill, here was his description of it:
Well, I’ve — I have looked at it very, very strongly. And pretty much, we can do almost what they’re getting. I — I think he is a tremendous person. I don’t know Sen. Murray. I hear very, very good things.
I know that Lamar Alexander’s a fine man, and he is really in there to do good for the people. We can do pretty much what we have to do without, you know, the secretary has tremendous leeway in the — under the Obama plans. One of the things that they did, because they were so messed up, they had no choice but to give the secretary leeway because they knew he’d have to be — he or she would have to be changing all the time.
And we can pretty much do whatever we have to do just the way it is. So this was going to be temporary, prior to repeal and replace. We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare.
A grasp of the issue? You be the judge.
Here is what we now have in the United States of America. We have a chief executive who created a cult of personality, and continues to expand that cult, with no grasp of the issues, no desire to learn the issues and who thinks that bullying (“Liddle’ Bob Corker”, “Little Rocket Man”, Jeff “The Flake” Flake, and countless others) is the way to govern and accomplish something meaningful.
And it gets worse.
As late as yesterday, the Commander-in-Chief continued to argue with a Gold Star widow. Not Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla) who is a close family friend (you may know her better as the president does as “Wacky Congressman (sic) Wilson “). The widow.
Most disappointing was the press conference given by Chief-of-Staff John Kelly last week. After giving a heart wrenching, and something the country as a whole needed to understand, explanation as to how our fallen military members are returned home to grieving families, he went too far. He too attacked Congresswoman Wilson with what was proven to be false accusations. And he went on to show that in this White House, he is really just an admin guy and mouthpiece for the president. Clearly, he does the president’s bidding without question and thereby refutes the idea that he is any kind of filter or brake for the president’s divisive views.
Many people, including military veterans, I’ve spoken with are profoundly disappointed in the president and John Kelly. Many consider this the low point for this administration.
Sadly, I think that demonstrates a lack of imagination. I don’t think we have yet realized just how low the president and many of his advisers are willing to go. How many times in the last two years have people said “that’s it” — surely it cannot get any worse. And then it does.
I think that is why Senators McCain, Corker, and Flake spoke out in recent days. That is why Presidents Bush and Obama spoke out in recent days. They realize the serious threat to our republic embodied by this administration and they cannot sit by and watch it be destroyed.
Unfortunately, too many others in Congress are willing to trade their souls for a tax cut.
All of us have a role to play. We cannot sit idly by and watch our country careen towards ruin.
The past six weeks or so have been tough on a lot of people from natural and man-made disasters. Multiple hurricanes, an earthquake, unprecedented wildfires, and a mass shooting all come to mind, to name a few of the major events since the summer. Tough going for a lot of people who will take months or years to fully recover. The loss of life is significant and the loss of property not only impacts people’s lives but also our national treasure. We as a nation need to stick with the recovery efforts even as the president seemed to imply yesterday that the “ungrateful” Puerto Ricans — American citizens all — are themselves largely responsible for their condition and should not count on continued federal assistance to recover.
Amidst all of the heartache and sadness, there have been incredible scenes and stories of every day people stepping up to do incredible things. The stories of human beings helping human beings are inspiring. These people stepped up not for the glory or reward but because it was the right thing to do. Many had lost their own homes or loved ones and yet they sallied forth over and over to help or rescue others even as their own lives were in danger. Truly inspiring and a refreshing reminder that at heart we are all the same and that the vast majority of people will come through for their fellow citizens when their backs are up against the wall.
What was truly refreshing about these countless stories is that they took place against the backdrop of the continuing circus unfolding in and around the White House. The Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration still values daily fights with the media and attacking anyone that looks at them cross-eyed. One is either a pandering sycophant or an “enemy of the state” according to this administration. The list of daily insults to our citizens and our nation is far too long to take on one by one and the pettiness and vindictiveness of this administration is ever more shameful when compared to the many uplifting actions taken in the wake of actual disasters, not the one’s unnecessarily created by the president. The president continues to tumble around in the wind of his perceived need to satisfy a “base” of about 30-40% of our nation rather than to provide a vision of how to lead the entire nation to address the serious issues facing this country.
Of grave concern to me is that the leaders of the Republican Party will not stand up on their hind legs and tell the president that he is just plain wrong about many issues. This is deeply concerning. Apparently the hope — and so far they have demonstrated that it is only a hope — of passing their “agenda” over rides their Constitutional duty as an equal branch of government to stand up to the president when he is wrong and/or out-of-bounds.
Thankfully there are a few canaries in the coal mine (how ironic since the administration is “stopping the war on coal”) who are willing to publicly voice their concerns. The common knowledge around Washington is that nearly every Senator and Representative is privately concerned over the president’s personal behavior and the potential damage to our country. Yet, only a few are willing to speak up.
Unfortunately, it needs to be Republicans that speak up as when Democrats do they are accused of partisanship or “playing politics” with important issues. (One might ask if it isn’t their political job to raise questions about issues as they occur.) This week two Republican Senators did speak up. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) did so. Both were immediately personally attacked and belittled by the president.
In an interview with the New York Times Senator Corker said, among other things, that the president “concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” He went on to liken this administration to “a reality show” and as has been widely reported, the president is leading the country “on the path to World War III.” Anyone that follows such things knows that Senator Corker is a well-respected, conscientious individual that takes his duties seriously. While I do not agree with all of his ideas, he is well-versed in foreign affairs and national security and an acknowledged expert. If he is willing to speak out against a president of his own party, I see his words as a warning to the rest of us. We should be paying close attention.
Think of it this way. Yesterday in a press opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the president was asked about any differences he might have with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over North Korea. In the context of his, shall we say, mercurial temperament, his words were troubling. He opined that he might “have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have.” He acknowledged that he listens to his advisers but that “ultimately my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it? That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is. I think perhaps I feel stronger and tougher on that subject than other people, but I listen to everybody.”
This from the man who threatened to “totally destroy” the North Koreans and belittled his own Secretary of State for trying to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.
Senator Sasse spoke up yesterday following a statement and a series of tweets from the president (I still can not believe that we conduct national affairs via Twitter) where he seemed to state that he would abridge the First Amendment rights of NBC news for broadcasting “fake news.” One sample:
“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
For the moment, let’s look past the fact that NBC is not licensed by the federal government, individual local stations are, and that the president cannot take away their license. Just another case of the president being factually challenged, or not having the intellectual curiosity to actually know what he is talking about. But nothing new there.
Instead, let’s take it for what it is. The first, classic step of an authoritarian regime. Belittle institutions, question their integrity, claim that they are illegitimate, and then shut them down. History 101. Am I over reacting? I used to think that there was a lot of hyperbole around the doings of this president and that the basic nature of our Constitution and the safeguards there in would keep him in check. Now I am not so sure (and more on that later). In addition to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that certain norms and standards of behavior would naturally be part of the unwritten rules governing those in power. I would opine that assumption is now being challenged in terms of the moral and ethical behavior of the man in the White House.
We need more Senators, and other, yes Republican, politicians to speak out as Senator Sasse did yesterday when he asked the president (and of course, via Twitter):
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”
It is not normal for a president of these United States to call for the shutting down of a news outlet because he is mad about their reporting. Upset about it, sure. Most presidents get upset about some news report about some issue. But every day — well maybe not every day, but about 98% of the days — this president comes out with some new crazy thing that he says or does. Again, Senator Corker was a truth teller when he said, “I don’t know why the President tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.” This is not the America we know and love.
Here is where I almost fell over yesterday as analysts were discussing the state of affairs in the world vis-a-vis those in the White House. By all accounts the president feels that he is not in control and expects the rest of the government to respond to his commands and desires as they did when he was in his gilded tower in New York City. He is frustrated and ready to lash out. Guess where the one power lies that no one else can countermand or dispute? His role as Commander-in-Chief. The hyperbole surrounding who has their “finger on the button” to launch our nuclear arsenal now sounds more real. Throughout his campaign and now in his presidency he talks of our arsenal and its strength. Unfortunately, he talks about it in ways that make me think that he does not understand what he is talking about (see my 21 September post on “Deterrence 101”). Couple that with his comments about North Korea above (“my attitude is the one that matters”) and one could start to lose sleep at night.
To paraphrase Stan Oliver, “Well here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.” I have no magic solution. We need to hope that more officials in government step up and hold this president accountable. Stop the Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration from blowing aimlessly across the national landscape. Hold Congressional hearings to force the administration to articulate its policies and explain the strategy to implement them. Call out the president when he makes untrue and outrageous statements. Things have not gotten better with time and we now know that there will be no “pivot” and no learning curve. He is who he is and we know it. It won’t change. If only he had the empathy, understanding and feeling for his fellow citizens that those suffering in the disasters have demonstrated. But he does not. It is time to hold the Apprentice-in-Chief accountable for all of his actions.
The last few days have been deeply troubling. I fear that I will be saying that over and over and over for the next three and a half years. Every time it seems that our president cannot do anything more outrageous, he does it. There is no low bar. Every time I think he’s gone about as far as he can go, he goes further. Yesterday takes the cake. So far. I can never say he won’t go lower.
I do not need to go into detail about President Trump’s impromptu press conference from the gilded lobby of Trump Tower. You have undoubtedly heard all about it already. And if you haven’t, all you need to know about his support of Nazis and Klansmen, not to mention how he butchered our history by putting Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on an equal basis with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, is the following Tweet at 4:45PM, immediately following the president’s remarks yesterday, from former KKK leader David Duke:
Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.
So now what? Well, lots of politicians and business executives separated themselves from President Trump’s moral equivalency of putting the KKK, Nazis, Anti-Semites and other white supremacy groups on the same level as those that oppose them. Unfortunately most did not separate themselves from the president himself — just his remarks. Look carefully and you will see that very few actually condemned the president. A real failure of moral courage.
As Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said in a speech to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” For two years we have listened to Mr. Trump disparage group after group after group, from women to Mexican Americans. The events of the last few days are just one more data point in a long list of unacceptable statements and actions of the same vein. He is the same guy, we shouldn’t be surprised. So, when is he going to be held accountable by an equal branch of government — the Congress? When are Cabinet members and White House Staffers going to leave? Any ideas that Mr. Trump will change are pure fantasy. In a piece published this afternoon, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote out five concrete steps that Republicans must take to regain the moral high ground, restore the good name of the Republican Party and put Mr. Trump in a box to limit any future damage to our country. It is worth a look.
Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that the Republican leaders in Congress will do anything substantive to rein in Mr. Trump. They are focused on achieving their “agenda” which apparently does not include taking action to counter the rise of the vilest elements of our society. Thus the rats know that they can come out into the light now because no one is trying to push them back into their holes.
Looking at this from another angle, I am deeply disturbed not only by the president’s defense of racists bent on destruction (“both sides” did not commit a terrorist act, which I am not afraid to say even though Mr. Trump said it was “legal semantics”). I am ever more disturbed by his actions, of which yesterday’s impromptu press conference was just one more in a long line of troubling actions by the president.
This is what I mean. Yesterday’s press event was supposed to be an announcement concerning infrastructure plans. The president was to sign an Executive Order and turn the event over to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (spouse of Senator Mitch McConnell by the way) and depart — no questions from the press. It was planned. The Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Secretary and other cabinet level individuals were in place, briefed and all knew the plan. The president knew the plan and said he would stick to the “script.” He lied to all of them. The evidence? He had a copy of his speech from Saturday in his pocket which he pulled out. It wasn’t left over from Saturday — he purposefully pulled it from his pocket to start his tirade about the events in Charlottesville. He knew before he came down that would happen but did not bother to tell any of the other participants. One look at the photos and videos of the Chief of Staff show his dismay and dare I say horror at what was happening.
And that is my point.
Mr. Trump just had to prove — had to — that no one can control him and that he can do whatever the heck he wants to do. Period. He gave an inappropriate speech on Saturday following the disturbing events in Charlottesville. He doubled down through a nameless staffer on Sunday. On Monday cooler heads got to him and he read a prepared speech, without any emotion or sense that he believed what he was saying, but he did it and it helped. And then, and then, he could not control himself and the real Donald J. Trump came through. A petulant, whiny individual who always, always, always has to have the last word. He will not be controlled, he cannot be controlled.
You need further evidence? Look at his remarks on North Korea and Venezuela. Yes, Venezuela. He threatened military action against Venezuela because he could. And thereby undermined ongoing diplomatic efforts with our Latin American neighbors trying to bring pressure on that regime. And undermined Vice President Mike Pence who was on a diplomatic mission in Latin America.
He does things just to show that he can. Because he wants to. It is always, always, always only about him. That is even more frightening than what appears to be in his heart. Whether or not Donald J. Trump is a racist is something I can never know. But his words and actions indicate that if he is not, he is at least clueless about the mission and intent of the white supremacists who see him as “their man” and see him as helping their cause.
Where are our moral leaders at the national level? Thank goodness many mayors and governors around the country and of both political parties stood up and took action. Shoot, even the members of the service leaders on the Joint Chiefs of Staff put out statements today condemning the events in Charlottesville and the racist nature of those acts. They were clear and unambiguous. They did not mention Mr. Trump directly, but it is very clear when you read them that they are reacting to the president’s remarks from yesterday.
When will Congress find its moral footing?