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.

 


Incompetent or Dangerous?

Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump fired James B. Comey Jr., the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  This came in the midst of an ever-increasing FBI investigation into known Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the increasing number of revelations of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Those are actually two different issues, which our president apparently cannot understand.

There is wide-spread consensus based on the truth and, you know, actual facts that the Russians interfered with the election.  Most likely they interfered because, as former Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a pay-back kind of guy.  He hated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, primarily because she called his election a sham, and sought the opportunity to work against her campaign.  According to Secretary Rice’s theory, he relished disrupting the election in and of itself, but to have Secretary Clinton as the recipient only made it sweeter.

Every American should be gravely concerned that a foreign power aggressively and with malice of forethought worked hard to disrupt the very foundation of our Republic.  Every American.  This is not a political issue.  Consequently both the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting bi-partisan inquiries into what happened and how we can protect against it in the future.

However, President Trump seems to believe this is unnecessary.  If one pays only the mildest of attention to the news, you know that he is constantly calling the fact of the interference a “hoax” and the investigations “a waste of taxpayer money.”  He won and that’s all he cares about.  In his mind, end of story.

Secondarily, as the investigation of the Russian interference deepened, it became apparent that there may have been some interaction between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.  The who, why and what questions remain unanswered.  This also is considered “fake news” by the president and he constantly tweets about issues he thinks are “ridiculous” in connection with the investigation.

He does so even though his first National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn USA (ret.) was fired by the president for working with the Russians, being paid by them, and lying about it.  I suppose we should just let that go.  Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

This is the short version of the context surrounding the firing of Director Comey.  The president showed real class by not notifying Director Comey of his dismissal, rather the Director learned about it on television while giving a speech in Los Angeles.

So the president whose staff members and campaign members are under investigation by the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States who was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of his own role in the campaign and “forgetting” to reveal his own Russian contacts, are the folks that fired the Director.  It most definitely does not pass the smell test.

Thus the question, is the president incompetent of trying to cover up misdeeds in his administration? Does he not know what he is doing or is he deliberately undermining our Constitutional balance?  I do not know, but either one is dangerous.

The alleged reason for the firing was the mishandling of the investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails back in July.  Of 2016.  The investigation that then Candidate Trump applauded.  Hmmm.  The timing is also suspicious.  Remember the Trumpian tactic of changing the headlines whenever something critical of him makes the news?  On Monday former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate sub-committee looking into the Russian connections.  Their testimony was less than flattering to the Trump Administration and in some cases directly contradicted statements made by the president and his spokespeople.  On Tuesday, Director Comey is fired, thus changing the headlines.  I’m just sayin’….

From the time Attorney General Yates notified the White House that General Flynn was compromised and a potential agent of the Russians until he was fired — only after it all became public in the Washington Post — was 18 days.

From the time that the current Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General recommended the dismissal to the president and the FBI director was fired — for something that happened in July 2016 — was minutes.

Also remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a 10 year term.  This is to keep politics and partisanship out of law enforcement in the most critical areas of our national security.  Only one other active Director was fired, and that was William Sessions in 1993 by President Bill Clinton for ethics violations, not for investigating anything to do with the administration.

Many people were upset by the way that Director Comey handled the email investigation of Secretary Clinton.  Some even argue that the way he handled it (a news conference about a lack of evidence to prosecute) was unprecedented and unprofessional and effectively handicapped the campaign of Secretary Clinton.  In a larger context, even as one may have no love for Director Comey, his firing is very troubling at this particular point.  It seems that as the investigation gets closer to the truth, the resistance from the White House increases.  Director Comey must have been very close to finding damaging information.  It only takes a cursory look at any newspaper or other news source to see that this has raised significant bi-partisan concern in the Congress as to the meaning, appropriateness and impact of the firing.  Most Republicans and Democrats have expressed serious concern.  It is not right.

Alarm bells should be going off when taken in connection with this quote from White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. In the same vein as the president and other spokespeople in the White House, she spoke about the Russian investigations and said:

I think the bigger point on that is, “My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?” It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard that time and time again. We’ve heard it in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no there there. It’s time to move on.

President Trump wants the investigation to go away.  Countless efforts by the president and his spokespeople to undermine the investigations have not worked.  They pretend, as does Ms. Sanders, that the American people do not care.  We won.  End of story.  Yet, the investigations continue and it does not go away.  Next step — fire the Director of the FBI.

One can only conclude that the president must really be trying to hide something big.  Maybe yuuge. Reporting today indicates that last week Director Comey quietly asked Congress for a significant increase in funding for the Russian investigation.  Another coincidence?

President Trump undoubtedly thought that by making Director Comey go away, his troubles would go away as well.  They are just beginning.  Reportedly, the president has little interest in history or understanding exactly how the government works.  Fine.  But someone should tell him that time and time again the cover-up is what brings folks to their knees, doing more damage than the “crime” ever would have.  Maybe he should read up on it.  He may learn something about it when he appoints his next Director of the FBI and the Senate holds confirmation hearings.  If you think there is a fire in the Senate during the current hearings, you haven’t seen anything yet.

A civics lesson might help as well.  Trying to run the United States as a family business operation does not work so well.  Unless his aim is to make a lot of money, which that part so far is working. But that’s a piece for another day.

The investigations will not go away.  They will be slowed down dramatically in the near term.  The FBI is extremely unlikely to report the results of their investigations without a Director in place.  That will take weeks or more likely, months.  James Comey was a Republican appointed by President Obama. President Trump should appoint a Democrat with an impeccable reputation as the next Director.  I am not holding my breath.  His appointment will tell us a lot about the future integrity of anything that comes out of the Department of Justice.

The investigations will continue in the interim.  However, the integrity of those investigations is now compromised. Only by appointing a special prosecutor — which the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are mightily resisting — will there be some assurance to the American people that an independent investigation, unencumbered by political and partisan elements, reports believable results.

This is fundamental to our national security.  Stay awake and keep the pressure on.  Silence and “getting tired of it all” will erode our freedom.

 


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.

 


Keep Your Eye On The Ball

A basic admonition for success in a variety of sports such as baseball, golf and many others, is to keep your eye on the ball and follow through.  The same is true for politics.  Distractions come easily and it is easy to lose track of the original issue.  Such seems to be the case with the fireworks surrounding the knowledge that Russia interfered with our 2016 presidential election.

In a rare show of unanimity, last fall and again in January this year, the U.S. intelligence community briefed the outgoing and incoming presidents on the Russian meddling.  Much of the information is highly classified, but we as citizens can be sure that it happened, otherwise, we can trust nothing that our professionals in intelligence and highly respected leaders tell us.  They do not make such accusations lightly or without serious and deep consideration as to the facts and the repercussions. As a result of their findings, President Obama in September 2016, in a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, told him to “cut it out” with regards to Russian cyber attacks and hacking — notably before the election. Claims that he did so to create a “ruse” because the Democrats are “sore losers” holds no validity when the warning came before the election.  In October, again before the election, President Obama used the “red phone” — used to avert nuclear attacks between the two nations — to again warn Mr. Putin about the continued interference in the election. In late December President Obama implemented additional sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats accused of spying within the United States because of the Russian attempts at meddling.  These are facts.

In and of itself, every American should be outraged that there is incontrovertible evidence that the Russians attempted to interfere with our most sacred ritual as a nation — the election of our president. This outrage should supersede any sense of Republican, Democrat, Independent, liberal, conservative or any other political category one can imagine.  America was under attack.  This seemed to be forgotten as our new president initially, and for a lengthy amount of time, refused to acknowledge these facts.  Facts that should outrage any serious leader of our nation.  Instead in a news conference on 11 January 2017 he attacked our intelligence community and compared them to “Nazis.”  He only reluctantly concluded that “as far as the hacking, I think it was Russia” before adding “it could have been others also.”

For whatever reason — ego, appealing to his base, purposely trying to create chaos for some political objective, or trying to cover up the truth — President Trump continues to deny that the Russians had any significant effect or were in fact trying to influence, if not to change, the election.  This continued denial, along with accusing the intelligence community of trying to undermine him and all the other shenanigans now coming out of the White House must stop.  Enough!  This is not a serious presidency if this is the way that they will conduct themselves over the next four years.  It is amateur hour.

The current brouhaha surrounds who did or did not meet with representatives and agents of the Russian government and for what reasons.  This is where the obfuscation continues.  While we argue over whether then Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) met with the Russian Ambassador in his role as a Senator or as a member of the Trump campaign and oh by the way Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) ate donuts with the Ambassador in 1992 is beside the point.  Way beside the point.  One could argue, on purpose beside the point.  Deliberate distractions to keep our eyes off the ball.

Now Attorney General. Mr. Sessions says he “misspoke” about his contact with the Ambassador. Perhaps so. The problem is that in both oral and written testimony during his confirmation hearing he claimed that he had no contact with any member of the Russian government.  Just as former (remember he got fired) National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn said nearly the same thing. Just as more and more members of the Trump campaign claimed that they never had contact with any representatives of the Russian government and it is becoming clear that in fact, they did have contact.

Focusing on all of those individual circumstances may or may not have significance.  We simply do not know.  Here is what we do know.  Starting with the first reports of the hacking of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Mr. John Podesta’s emails (an event seemingly predicted by one of Mr. Trump’s then advisers Mr. Roger Stone before they were released by Wikileaks), Mr. Trump and his staff continually denied that any, repeat any, contact with the Russians simply did not happen.  For example, in November 2016 the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded to a press question about contacts with the Trump campaign and said that “there were contacts” with influential people in Trump’s circle. “I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them supported contacts with Russian representatives.”  In response, Trump campaign spokesperson Ms. Hope Hicks said, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”  This is one of at least twenty separate official denials that there had been any contact with the Russians. Assertions we now know to be false.

Remember that this is an administration that deals in “alternative facts.”

Still, I think all of this who-talked-to-who-and-when is beside the point.  It indicates that there is probably some “there” there, but in and of itself is inconclusive.  Any single or even series of contacts could have multiple explanations, some of which are benign.  What is concerning to me, when taken as a whole, is that so many of them occurred and that the campaign and now the administration, continues to cover up and deny that anything at all took place, even in the face of video and audio that refutes their claims.

What are they so anxiously trying to cover up?

Today was the last straw.  One might say that President Trump deployed the metaphorical nuclear option this morning when he tweeted out that President Obama broke the law.  More specifically, in a series of tweets this morning he said:

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

–President Trump tweet 7:02 4 Mar 2017

Actual quotes from the President of the United States!  Unconscionable!  Statements such as these are unreasonable and can easily be interpreted to be a calculated effort to create turmoil and unrest in our nation.

There is so much that is wrong with his latest undisciplined reactions it is hard to know where to start. (And it is particularly interesting, or appalling depending on one’s view, that Mr. Trump’s in-your-face style was cultivated by his long time mentor, Mr. Roy Cohn, who was Senator Joe McCarthy’s primary adviser when the McCarthy witch hunt was in full bloom.  I suppose that the circle stays unbroken.) Keeping our eyes on the ball, there are a few facts involved with possible underpinnings in the law — unlike the tweets from President Trump who has offered no evidence or other substantiation of his claims.  This tweet storm is merely intended to divert attention and to change the narrative.  His usual, now predictable, tactic.  When under siege, attack.  (And exactly why do you think you are under siege Mr. President?  Something to hide?)

It is outrageous for a current president to call his predecessor “bad” and it is especially outrageous to call him “sick.”  Perhaps if the shoe fits….

But again, this is a diversionary tactic.  The facts tell a different story.  For example, the president cannot order wire taps on his opponents.  It is against the law and only the most screwball, or clinically paranoid, opponents of President Obama would think that he would blatantly break the law by ordering wire taps.

The most inconvenient fact of all for President Trump is this.  Should it be true that taps of some sort were placed on Trump Tower, they can only be done when a federal judge under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is presented with probable cause that “foreign powers” or “agents of foreign powers” — which may include U.S. citizens or permanent residents — are suspected of terrorism, colluding with agents of foreign governments against the interests of the U.S., or espionage.  When presented with evidence, the judge may approve physical and electronic surveillance of those individuals and their likely places of operation for espionage or other nefarious purposes.

If the FISA statute was implemented by the FBI and NSA through the Department of Justice, utilizing the provisions of the law through the proper court, then President Trump does indeed have reason to distract us from the real problem.

The president may be out of his league.  It may turn out that he is not so “big league” (often transcribed as “bigly”) as he assumes.  He is up against the full power and strength of the national government and the national press, sworn and determined, respectively, to uphold and protect the Constitution.

President Trump will no doubt continue to make wild, baseless and counter-factual claims.  Sad!  We need to keep our eye on the ball and follow through.


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We are now just a bit over a month into the administration of President Donald J. Trump.  Many of us that pay close attention to current events and especially to national politics already feel a bit worn out. Based on recent reports, some are thrilled with the way that the Trump Administration is taking action and carrying out his campaign promises.  Others worry that a political disaster is looming just over the horizon. It will impact our national way of life due to the unbridled pursuit of absolute power by those in the White House, or conversely by an administration that has no real idea of what it is doing.

I am closer to the view of an impending disaster than the to the rosier view of our president.  I think President Trump, just as he demonstrated on the campaign trail, has no realistic understanding of what it means to be President of the United States.  He may be the most unprepared and undisciplined president we have had in our lifetimes.  I continue to be troubled by the apparent lack of intellectual curiosity to find out what is actually going on and in particular, how the government functions. He belittles or ignores the contextual surroundings of why certain customs and traditions came to be important in running the country.  I am sure he is a smart man.  I surmise that he just does not care to learn about all of that.  As he might say, he doesn’t have to — he won.  As a result, he has no boundaries.

In fact, that may be what got him elected.  A large segment of our population wanted him to “blow things up in Washington” and that is certainly what he is doing.  As the old adage goes, however, be careful what you ask for.  Once he finishes blowing things up, his administration still has to govern and I wonder what will take the place of the current system.

There are some clues, and yesterday, the president’s chief adviser Mr. Steve Bannon gave direct testimony as to his vision, and by extension, the president’s vision on the future of the federal government.  I find it deeply troubling.  I will explain in a moment, but part of what troubles me is that I am not convinced that President Trump has a personal vision of governing and he does not have a governing ideology, be it conservative, liberal, or something else.  In my view, he has ideas that pop into his head and then he acts on them when he perceives that they get a positive response from his base. They are seemingly random and are merely manifestations of the things that popped into his head on the campaign trail. Indeed, I am not sure that the president has much enthusiasm for the mundane aspects of governing.  If possible, he would be on a permanent campaign as evidenced by his rally in Florida last weekend that he touted as the beginning of his 2020 re-election campaign — less than a month into his current presidency.  I am sure there will be plenty more.

My view is that the flurry of activity since the president entered office is a distraction. The Executive Orders and other actions are meant to give the perception that the president is carrying out his promises to those that elected him and are based on his campaign promises.  Looks great.  The reality, ignoring for the moment whether or not it is good policy, is that not much is actually happening. He makes empty statements that may sound good to his base, but has no substance behind it.  For example, unlike numerous presidents from both parties, no significant legislation has passed since he took office.  Most past presidents rolled out some milestone legislation and had it passed in the first 30 days of their term. President Trump has yet to send any major proposals to Congress.  Meanwhile, leaders in Congress are ignoring the, shall we say, shenanigans taking place in the White House.  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are taking the long view and trying to ignore the day-to-day turmoil created by the president’s tweet storms and press conferences and the like.  (One may wonder, however, how long of a view they are taking.  It has been over six years since they promised to repeal and replace The Affordable Care Act and they still have nothing close to a realistic proposal to do so.)  They may end up being ambushed and/or deceived by the White House in unexpected ways that limits their ability to pass a health bill and other long awaited legislation.

Another piece of the puzzle in figuring out the future intentions of the president, and more accurately Mr. Bannon’s plans, comes in the form of foreign policy and cabinet positions.  Although he has a few outstanding Americans in key cabinet positions — such as Secretary James Mattis at Defense (I briefly served with him in the Pentagon during the transition from the President Bill Clinton to the President George W. Bush administration), Secretary Rex Tillerson at State (although his Russian ties are still troubling), Secretary John Kelly at Homeland Security and the new National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster — one wonders as to their influence in the White House.  Several examples seem to indicate that they may have little to no influence on decision-making.  In particular, Secretary Tillerson does not seem to be much involved in crafting foreign policy.  His assignment seems to be more of a public relations job.  The three secretaries mentioned above have spent more time going around to various foreign leaders, along with Vice President Pence, explaining “what the president really meant to say” and patching up the resulting frayed relationships with friends and allies.  When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the United States and President Trump fundamentally changed decades of U.S. Middle East policy, no representative of either the State or Defense Departments were present in the meetings.  The president’s son-in-law Mr. Jared Kushner was there.  Mr. Bannon was there.  Mr. Bannon’s acolyte Mr. Stephen Miller was there.  But by all credible reports, not one member of the departments responsible for the policy was included.

Other signs that the cabinet may not have much influence in the White House include the fact that individuals picked by several Secretaries for their staffs were summarily fired by the White House when staffers learned that they had made critical comments about Mr. Trump during the campaign.  Another clue is that nearly all political appointees were summarily removed after the inauguration.  While clearly the incoming president has every right to put his own people in those positions, the usual practice is to keep some appointees from the previous administration in place to keep the government running while the new nominees go through confirmation hearings.  Every Ambassador overseas was removed.  It is hard to keep things rolling smoothly along when there is no one there to do the job.  While much criticism is directed at the Democrats for “slow rolling” the confirmation process of Cabinet officials,  the truth is that many of them were poorly vetted prior to their hearings.  One Cabinet nominee and two Service Secretaries nominated by the president withdrew their names when unusual entanglements were uncovered.  This of course doesn’t include retired Lt. General Michael Flynn resigning as the National Security Adviser weeks into the administration. More significantly in terms of actually making things work, there are roughly 549 political positions in the federal government that require confirmation by the Senate.  14 slots are filled with about 20 others nominated.  That means that roughly 515 senior and vital positions in the government have not been nominated.  While such hearings can go slowly, previous administrations would have nominated or known who they want to nominate to those positions by now. For info, there are about 3500 additional political positions in the federal government that do not require Senate confirmation.  Nearly all of them remain empty.

Here is another piece in the puzzle leading up to my conclusion that something nefarious is going on in the White House.  President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, the intelligence community (yet another one just today), and the press may be his childish backlash to decisions or stories he does not like.  I am beginning to think that there is more to it.  It may be the president’s own doing or he may be put up to by key members of his staff.  Either way, it is potentially dangerous.  I am beginning to think that it is a concerted effort to delegitimize those bulwarks of our freedoms. So far Congress seems unable or unwilling to push back against the president.  The only institutions that are attempting to keep the president honest are the ones he is attacking.  If they are undermined, or ignored, or intimidated, then there is no institution ready to call him out when required.  His power would increase. This is not a pretty picture for a man who knows no boundaries.

Least we get distracted, please remember that a foreign power tried to interfere with our election and as late as yesterday, the president called the whole investigation a “ruse.”  And we still have not seen any of his tax returns.

So, what is it that I am leading up to?  Yesterday, Mr. Bannon — former editor of the alt-right publication Breitbart news and current senior adviser to the president — went before the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) and declared that the goal of the new administration is to dismantle the federal government and re-build it in his image.  Or has he said, they are entering in an unending battle for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”  In their view, the “administrative state” is the career civil servants in the government that do not see their role the same way as do Mr. Bannon and his cohorts.  Included in his vision of the “enemy” is the intelligence community, judiciary, press and the other institutions that they continually attack.  As delineated in the article linked above, Mr. Bannon proclaimed that the president will never moderate his positions or seek consensus.  Apparently, it is as we used to say “my way or the highway.”

What will replace the old order?  It would take me too much time to go into all of the devilish details of their world view.  A short explanation would be that in their view the world order that has prevailed in economics, politics and foreign policy since the end of World War II is no longer relevant for the future and has to be dismantled to give power back “to the people.” “Power to the People!”  Sounds familiar. It is also fiercely nationalistic, thus the slogan “America First.”  Trade pacts, military alliances, and other areas that you have seen President Trump and his minions talk about as being “obsolete” and “bad for America” are manifestations of this world view.

One may argue that it is time to shake things up (Yea Trump!) and there may be a case to be made there. I am not sure if President Trump fully avows to such a world view or whether it was merely a convenient path to the presidency.  He used Mr. Bannon to achieve his ends.  The unsettling part is that Mr. Bannon is also using the president to get what he wants.  In either case, Mr. Bannon espoused his “pride” in the president for his unwavering pursuit of his new world order and his unwillingness to compromise.  To me that does not bode well for our future.  Contrary to hard-liners on both sides of the aisle, politics is by nature a compromise.  Without it, nothing will get accomplished.

The deeper one dives into Mr. Bannon’s vision and specific statements the more worrisome it becomes that he and his minions in the White House — Mr. Stephen Miller and other former Brietbart writers — are in charge.  When one puts all of the pieces of the puzzle together, it is eerily reminiscent of many a work of political fiction outlining a path to autocratic power in our nation.

Whenever one or two people in power declare that they alone know how to set things straight it should be troubling.  I think that there is a method to the seeming madness in the White House and in my view it could easily result in a direct assault on the values we hold dear.  Our democracy is only as good as the people in it.  It will be incumbent on all of us to look with clear eyes as the next few months unfold and to cry foul as appropriate.  To our great benefit, it is already beginning to happen in the many town halls held (or not — and that is very telling as well) around our nation with our representatives in Congress.

Whether President Trump represents the good, the bad or the ugly depends on one’s political view-point. None-the-less, we live in interesting times.  Hold on to your hat, because I think our national journey is going to get pretty wild in the coming months.


What Are We Supposed to Think?

We are approaching the end of the third week of the administration of President Donald J. Trump.  For some reason it seems more like the end of three years of his administration.  I am already getting worn out from seeing All Trump, All The Time.  I suppose that his ever-present countenance would be a natural result of the characteristics of the type of person, campaigner, and president that he is — all based on his perceived success as a “brand” and a television reality star.  Like the old cliché goes, even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all, apparently.

By nature, I am not prone to hyperbole and have worked in Washington D.C. long enough to know that sometimes people make mistakes and that the learning curve can be very steep.  Missteps blow up on the national stage.  So I would like to think that the Trump Administration is growing into the job. Three weeks is not enough time to get everything in order.  Indeed, his cabinet is mostly just now reporting for duty.  And yet.  And yet.

It is difficult for me to ignore or give the benefit of the doubt to his words and actions thus far.  In truth, many of his actions — the Executive Orders — are mostly PR events, with the obvious exception of his ban (his word not mine) on refugees from seven Muslim countries.  One can debate whether that is a good or bad policy — personally from a national security perspective I think it does far more harm than good — but my interest is bigger than just one particular Order.  Since it came out, I have watched with interest all the activity around it, from the White House, to Congress, to the judicial system, to the press corps .

From what I have seen, I am deeply concerned that a Constitutional crisis is not far ahead.

Here is why I think so.  At the risk of taking a “Chicken Little” approach to his administration, and understanding that any criticism is labeled as whining and makes me a “LOSER!”, there are some troubling indicators.  As I think about these indicators, I am unsure whether they are part of some master plan, or if the president and some of his senior staff are just unable to deal with reality, or if their management style may be likened to a three wood shot in a tiled bathroom.

President Trump lashes out at everyone that he believes is in his way.  It doesn’t matter if it is a television host or the leader of another country.  If he wants it, he should get it. Childish?  Perhaps. Impetuous?  Perhaps.  Dangerous? Yes, but in what way?  Is it dangerous because it is a master plan to create chaos and let things get so bad that our fellow citizens look for a savior to reclaim the land?  What powers will be given to that savior that undermine our core values?  Or is it dangerous because the president really does not know what he is doing and may in fact have some disability that precludes rational behavior?  Deliberate or accidental?  I am not sure it matters if the result is the same.

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.  We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.” —  1984 by George Orwell

(Most of us read 1984 in High School.  I just re-read it and recommend it to you.)

President Trump seems to be the type of person that has always used power, in one form or another, to achieve his personal goals.  When thwarted, he lashes out.  When he lashes out, he does so to belittle and demean those that have displeased him.  He has a long history of doing so.  When he was a television personality it didn’t matter and may have been mildly amusing.  As a presidential candidate it was troublesome, but had no direct impact on policy and the well-being of the nation.  As president, it has direct consequences.

The most disturbing aspect of his attacks is where they are directed.  We have three equal branches of government.  They often disagree and criticism of one branch by another is not unheard of in our history.  However, at least publicly, those criticisms were of a decision or a policy and not directed at the individual or the institution.  President Trump attacks the person and the institution.  For example, when his ban on refugees entering the country was put on hold by a Federal judge, he attacked not only the decision, but the individual.

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”  –President Trump on Twitter 4 February

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!  — President Trump on Twitter 5 February

These are but two of his many tweets about the case.  (I never thought I would use the words “tweets” and “president” in the same sentence and actually have it make sense.)  Besides attacking the judge, and in a speech this week he attacked the entire judiciary system, he is removing himself from any responsibility for keeping the nation safe.  Claiming that if “something happens” (note he doesn’t just say a terrorist attack) it is the fault of the judge and judiciary system and not his as Commander-in-Chief. Sorry, Mr. President. Your job is to use every legal method available to you to keep our nation safe. Period.

Fear-mongering seems to be another aspect of this presidency and helps to create the conditions for a “savior”. President Trump’s tweets, statements, and those of several of his advisers make it sound like a catastrophe is at hand.  In their telling, since the stay went into effect thousands of people, most of whom are terrorists, woke up and decided to go to the airport, buy a ticket and fly to the USA. Gotta get the terrorists there now, now, now.  Profoundly untrue.  The “people pouring in” have gone through “extreme vetting.”  They are green card holders and people, usually families with wife, husband and kids, with visas.  It is easy for anyone to know (and one would think the president would be one) what procedures the newly arriving refugees (not “illegal immigrants”) go through.  And if you don’t know, I recommend this article written by a person that conducted those interviews and reviewed the cases.  No visa was granted in less than 18 months of vetting, most take three to five years, and far more people are denied entry than are allowed to enter the country.

When established news outlets try to present such information, the president attacks the media with continual claims of “fake news” for every story unfavorable to his preferred narrative.  Apparently, if one criticizes anything related to the president (including the sale of his daughters apparel) you are “unfair” or “very, very dishonest”. Speaking of which….

No, I won’t go that far yet.  It just is amazing to me, however, that the president and his advisers can pretend that something didn’t happen or that they never said something when the video and audio exists to prove that in fact they did.  I don’t want to exaggerate, but it is eerily reminiscent of what came out of the Ministry of Truth in the use of “doublethink” in Orwell’s 1984.  Here is an explanation of doublethink from the book.

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

Congress thus far chooses not to exercise its role as a further balance to the president.  With four or five individual exceptions in the Senate for very specific issues, the Republican controlled Congress has not challenged the president.  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in particular goes out of his way to ignore the daily tweets, misstatements and falsehoods coming from the White House.  He is probably taking the long view that the president will eventually come around and that the Republican Congress can get its agenda past the president.  Why he still thinks that, I have no idea.  President Trump is the same guy as Candidate Trump and the same guy as The Apprentice Trump.  Until the Republican Congress (Democrats cannot do it, they are all whiners and losers) stands up to the president and calls him out for his more egregious actions, there will be danger in the air.

To me, that is why President Trump is going after the judiciary and the media.  Congress has provided no resistance.  Only the bench and the journalists are holding him to account.  If he can discredit both of those institutions, then he may decide that he can ignore them with impunity.  There goes the system of checks and balances.

Remember that President Trump continually reminds the nation that he does not have to do certain things (like reveal his taxes, divest his business interests, and countless other issues) because the law exempts the president, and besides, as I’ve heard him say way too many times “I won. I don’t have to do it.  The people who voted for me knew all about me and XX.”  (Fill in the blank — feel free to use just about any issue one can think of.)

Am I ready to man the barricades?  No.  I do think that it is incumbent on all of us to continue to watch developments very closely and to not become desensitized to the outrageous words coming from the White House, or worse, become bored with it all.  The minute we stop paying attention is when we enter the most dangerous period.

We may not all agree on the policy questions, but I think that we all agree that keeping an eye on all three branches of government is important to our way of life.  Is the current atmosphere a case of rookie mistakes, undisciplined advocates, unhealthy egos, part of a plan, or all of the above?  I have no idea what to think, but in the end, it just doesn’t matter.  All are potential threats to our well-being.


A Test Of Patience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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