The Trashing of the Presidency

Two significant events took place yesterday.  In one, the Attorney General went before the good people of the United States, and to put it kindly, embarrassed himself when he uttered misleading and deceptive statements regarding the Mueller Report.  The other event was the release of the 448 page redacted report itself.  In reading the Report it became clear that Attorney General William Barr is a shill for the President of the United States and will act in a manner consistent with many in the Trump Administration as outlined in the Mueller Report.  Lying and abuse of power are the norm as is so evidently clear in the Report.  (I have not yet read all of it — a compelling read, by the way.  You can find it here. It reads a lot like a mob crime novel.)  There is so much detail in the Report that it is easy to get distracted or to just stop and shake one’s head at the immoral and unethical activity detailed in it.  For now, let’s take a big picture view of what did and did not come out of the Report.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the Report most certainly does not exonerate the president.  It does not recommend prosecution of the president, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller clearly lays out a road map for Congress to act if it so chooses.  More on that below.

The Report comes in two volumes, one on Russian-Trump Campaign coordination and one on obstruction of justice efforts.  It is significant to note that the Report does not contain any counter-intelligence information.  In other words, it doesn’t answer the question if one or more of those involved in the Trump Campaign and Administration were involved with a foreign power (or powers) to act in a way that furthered the interests of those countries at the expense of our own.  A very major hole in the entire Report.  It is also pertinent to remember, that Mr. Mueller took a very narrow view of his charter and stuck mainly to investigating Russian interference and the president’s subsequent reaction to that investigation.  There are numerous “spin-off” investigations taking place in New York, Virginia, Washington D.C. and elsewhere.  Those are not impacted by this Report.

When reading Volume I, remember that “collusion” is not a legal term.  (Which makes it even more embarrassing that A.G. Barr said at least five times in his press conference that there was “no collusion.”  Of course there wasn’t.  It’s not a legal term.  He was clearly pandering to an audience of one.  But I digress.)  Mr. Mueller does not use the term collusion anywhere in the report. The correct terms are conspiracy and coordination.  Mr. Mueller said that the Trump Campaign activities did not rise to the level of a crime provable beyond the shadow of a doubt, but that there were numerous contacts between the campaign and the Russians.  More specifically he wrote in the Introduction to Volume I that:

As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

Wow.

Russia interfered in the election.  Russia actively worked to help Mr. Trump and damage Secretary Clinton.  The Trump Campaign knew about it and expected to benefit from it.

In Volume II the Special Counsel lays out the reasoning behind not charging Mr. Trump with the crime of obstruction of justice.  This section is, to me, quite interesting and exceedingly relevant. To the contrary of A.G. Barr’s assertion that Mr. Mueller could not make a determination, the Report clearly states why they did not recommend prosecution of the president for his actions.  Mr. Mueller followed the existing policy of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that a sitting president cannot be indicted.  However, he says, a president can be prosecuted after he leaves office.  Therefore, the Report states in the introduction to Volume II, that in order to safeguard “the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.”  A big hint that criminal prosecution may be advisable in the future or that the Congress can use the information in the near term.

Additionally the Report goes on to say that it would not be fair to accuse the president of a crime, even though he is not indicted, because without an indictment no trial could be held and if there was no trial, then the accused could not defend himself.  In other words, under the rules we can’t indict a president, so we can’t bring him to trial, therefore we won’t say he broke the law, but we won’t say he did not either.  A considerable difference from the way A.G. Barr depicted the situation.  In fact, Mr. Mueller lays down a pretty compelling case that Mr. Trump probably did obstruct justice beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here is the kicker.  In the introduction the Report says that:

If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

In other words, we can’t say he committed a crime because then we would have to act, but we cannot act while he is in office, but (hint, hint) we do not exonerate him.  In fact, the only reason that Mr. Trump did not further obstruct justice was because some of his staff would not lie or act illegally on his behalf.  As the Report puts it, “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Who can take action?  The Congress.  The Report also takes note of that fact.  In a long discussion of the legal precedents and other factors governing presidential powers and Congressional powers as delineated in the Constitution, it states in part that,

Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice through the use of his Article II powers. The separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source.

The Report goes on to conclude that,

Finally, we concluded that in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President’s conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chill his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.

In the context of the full report, it seems that Mr. Mueller is trying to lay out a road map for the Congress to take action.

The real question is whether or not the Congress will act on this extremely damaging delineation of the rampant corruption and flouting of the norms that used to govern our presidents.  Mr. Trump clearly has no interest in upholding his oath to defend the Constitution.  Will Congress?

Many political arguments are underway as to the pros and cons of initiating impeachment hearings.  One could argue that there should be no political considerations to be had.  Either the Congress has the duty to begin such proceedings given what we know (which is only the tip of the iceberg) or it doesn’t.

It most definitely is not time to “just move along.”  We must hold our elected officials to account.  As the true magnitude of this Report sinks in we as a nation must make considered decisions as to how to deal with it.  We either have a country of laws where no one is above the law or we do not.  So far, it appears we do not.  Even as I write this the president is in his lair at Mar-a-Lago using his Twitter feed to send out expletive filled expressions of rage to denigrate the Report, those that did the investigation, and those that had the courage to stand up to the president and refuse to do his bidding and told the truth about what happened.

Worse yet is that regardless of how one feels about Mr. Trump and what action should or should not be taken to hold him accountable, the evidence that the Russian Federation interfered in our 2016 election is irrefutable.  And yet, the president, who took an oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” still refuses to acknowledge the attack on the United States.

That alone should be an impeachable offense.

My biggest concern is that once again the president will take away the lesson that he can get away with anything and not be held to account.  Given his past performance, I think we can expect him to further ignore the law and to act outrageously.  There is no one to stop him and he now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney ready to protect him.

Let us hope that the House of Representatives continues to exercise their Constitutional duty to provide over sight of the Executive Branch of government.  Otherwise, it’s “Katie bar the door.”  Hang on for a wild ride.


No Pesos, Just A Hoax

Yesterday’s announcement by Mr. Donald J. Trump that he is declaring a national emergency on the southern border is just one more step towards creating the autocracy that he so desperately wants to have.  After two years of total Republican control, and no “big, beautiful wall,” and no money from Mexico, Mr. Trump puts our Constitution in danger in order to shore up his political standing with his base. An overblown statement on my part?  I think not.

As I have written in this space before, one may believe that we do or do not need a border wall, but the facts remain the same.  There is no crisis on the border and a wall is not going to stop the flow of people or drugs into this country.  You can look it up as I did in my previous piece using the statistics from Mr. Trump’s own administration.  Mr. Trump, as usual, makes up his own statistics in order to make a case that his own administration cannot make.  But the Constitutional issue is bigger than Mr. Trump’s usual panoply of lies.

The law that the president is using to justify his declaration is known as the National Emergencies Act (NEA) signed into law by President Gerald Ford in September 1976.  Ironically, it was intended to end the abuse of the presidential power to declare a national emergency for just any political purpose.  Enacted as a reaction to the Watergate scandal the intent was to eliminate the opportunity for presidential abuse of power to protect themselves from political scandal.  The law itself is quite complicated.  Its originators tried to tie together the elements of presidential prerogative to specific situations covered under existing laws.  Without going too far into the weeds, Mr. Trump is using Department of Defense funds for his wall because of an existing statute that allows for redistribution of funds for the protection of military personnel on assigned missions.  There are military personnel on the border — ordered there by Mr. Trump but in purely supportive positions — and thus he argues that the wall will protect those troops.  It is a complicated interpretation of the law, but as I am not a legislative assistant nor an attorney, I will leave it at that.  The point is that the president cannot just wake up one morning and declare an emergency for the fun of it — or at least until now it was thought that they could not — rather, the actions taken under a national emergency must be justified on the basis of existing law.

The DOD funds are primarily from military construction funds and intended for use in improving military support infrastructure, restoring hurricane damage to bases in North Carolina and Florida and other projects.  Ironically, some of the money will come from a fund used by DOD for counter-drug operations.  In all he is misappropriating over six billion dollars of DOD funds.

The act has been used 59 times over the years by various presidents.  Most instances were to impose sanctions on a bad actor overseas, such as to inhibit a dictator from killing his own people.  One was declared after Iraq invaded Kuwait and another after the terrorist attacks of September 11th.  It was these types of acts that the legislation envisioned giving the president the ability to act quickly in a crisis.  Most importantly, none of those previous declarations directly or indirectly circumvented the intent of Congress. This one does.  The president is directly challenging the power of Congress to control funding for the first time under this provision.

That is why I believe his declaration to be a threat to the Constitution.  A bicameral and bipartisan committee came up with legislation to fund the government that included roughly 1.375 billion dollars for Mr. Trump’s wall.  The bill passed with veto proof margins in both houses of Congress.  That should be the end of the discussion for this year.  If Mr. Trump wanted more money in the future, he could work with Congress to add more money in those spending bills.  However, in a fit of pique that he got less money this year than he would have gotten if he had not shut down the government for 35 days — and way less than the 25 billion dollars that Congress was willing to give him a year ago in exchange for protecting the “Dreamers” — the “greatest deal maker in the world” declared a national emergency to build a monument to himself and to bolster his chances in the 2020 presidential election.  But don’t take my word for it, take his.  Besides having talked about a “national emergency” for months and trying to use it as a threat to get Congress to give him more money, yesterday in response to reporter’s questions about why he did not just continue to work with Congress under normal appropriation and authorization processes, he said, “I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”  Wow.  So the president himself admitted that there is no national emergency, merely that he got tired of working with Congress and making slow progress,  In other words he chose expediency over the national interest.  He then went on to say, “And I don’t have to do it for the election.  I’ve already done a lot of wall for the election.  2020.  And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election…”  Double wow.

So we have the President of the United States, invoking a national emergency, bypassing a bipartisan funding bill from the Congress, because he wants money to build a wall faster in order to appease his base for the 2020 election.  That is one thing about Mr. Trump.  He doesn’t hesitate to tell us when he is doing something shady.

In case you forgot, Article One, Section 9 of the Constitution says in part, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”  Article One enumerates the powers vested in Congress.  Section 9 is the “power of the purse” reference that is the strongest element of the power invested in the Congress.  Since the president cannot spend money except for specific purposes, the Congress can exert its power as a co-equal branch of government.  Without that power in Congress, the president and his Cabinet could spend money on any enterprise they see fit without over sight or other input from Congress.

Besides Mr. Trump’s Banana Republic shenanigans in creating a non-existent crisis to deploy troops and to build a wall to stop a non-existent “invasion” (Autocracy 101 Playbook), Constitutional experts consider his actions to be a direct threat to the Article One powers of the Congress.  He would set a precedent that any time a president has a pet project that the Congress will not fund, he or she could declare a national emergency and take money from one authorized project and use it on an unauthorized one.  It is an unabashed abuse of presidential power.

How to stop it?  The NEA of 1976 provides that opportunity.  A 1985 amendment allows for a joint resolution of Congress to end the emergency.  Again, without going into the weeds, it requires a simple majority in both Houses to overturn it.  Provisions require a speedy vote so that legislative legerdemain cannot bury the issue.  They must address it if a bill is brought forward.  The president may veto the resolution, in which case the Congress must over ride the veto with a two-thirds majority in both Houses to end the emergency.

It is widely expected that such a bill will come forward in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives where it is expected to pass.  The chances of the bill passing are less certain in the Republican controlled Senate.  Speculation is that it would pass on a majority, but that the Senate would not over ride a veto.  Keep in mind that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Trump-Ky) was against the president declaring an emergency before he was for it.  Just a few days ago he was against it.  Then on Thursday he took to the Senate floor to say that he supports it.  So much for his reputation as an ardent supporter of the Constitution and the self-appointed protector of the Senate and their legislative powers.  Perhaps he should re-label his position as the Senate Leading Enabler.

When the Congress fails to stop the madness, numerous court cases are likely to be filed.  The basis of those cases will range from Constitutional separation of powers issues to eminent domain cases (it seems that most land owners along the border are not willing to give up their land for a meaningless wall).  Whether or not the issue makes it to the Supreme Court is itself a question.  The Supreme Court may consider this to be an issue between the other two branches of government, and they are historically loathe to make a decision that favors one or the other when it comes to delineated powers.  They want them to solve it themselves, which seems logical since the Congress can pass laws to restrict or rescind the original Act, including the above voting procedure to end a national emergency.  What is certain is that it will be working through the courts for months, possibly years, to come.  The immediate question will be whether a court issues an injunction to stop any building of the wall using misappropriated funds while the court cases play out.  And you can expect every brief opposing the action to begin with Mr. Trump’s statement that he didn’t need to do it.

In some ways this is an esoteric issue.  In some ways it is a comedy of the absurd.  It is hard to follow the nuances of the law and the Constitution.  It gets complicated.  Mr. Trump has a knack for putting things into black and white to try to make his points, even if he lies to do so.  The country cannot afford to ignore him or to look away this time.  To cut through the legalese, I’ll put it this way.  The President of the United States is using a hoax to usurp the Constitution of the United States.  He is making a pure power play that if allowed to stand will set a precedent for him, and future presidents, to act without restraint to achieve their purposes whether legitimate or not.  It is the beginning of a president gaining unfettered power.  This is not hyperbole on my part or an over reaction from those that are anti-Trump.  Read up on your own, form your own opinion, but the consequences are not whether we build a wall.  The issue is whether a president can skirt the law and get away with it.  That should be of grave concern to anyone that believes that we should be a country of laws and that no one, not even the president, is above the Constitution.

 

 

 


What To Think?

You may have missed it with all of the theatrics surrounding the Trump Shutdown, but some potentially mind-blowing news came out last Friday and over the weekend.

Even as I suffer from Trump fatigue, and you know what I think of him as president, it is impossible to ignore this development.  The FBI started a counter-intelligence investigation of the president in 2017. The President. Of the United States.  It is unknown whether that investigation continues under the guidance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but it is likely that it does.  A counter-intelligence investigation is totally unlike a criminal investigation.  It is a totally different ball game.  It also puts the possibility of the president’s efforts at obstructing justice into an entirely different dimension.  Perhaps instead of trying to protect himself from embarrassment or through some other motivation, his decision to fire then FBI Director James Comey “over this Russia thing” was with a different outcome in mind.  Coupled with all of the subsequent efforts to stop or disrupt Mr. Mueller’s investigation, it appears he was trying to keep the discovery of conspiracy with a foreign power from becoming known.  In other words, the obstruction was the conspiracy (or collusion as it is popularly, but wrongly, called.)

In this context, the Mueller investigation, and Mr. Trump’s actions as a candidate and as president form a continuum across time and are not a series of discreet events.

It is hard to adequately convey how difficult the decision to do this is.  For the Department of Justice (DOJ), that would have to approve the FBI investigation at its highest level, to sign off on it, would indicate that there is or was extraordinary evidence that something was amiss.  This would be no routine investigation.

Apparently, the FBI became so alarmed at Mr. Trump’s actions that it appeared he was acting on behalf of a foreign power.  They knew that a “normal” president would not talk or act as he was, specifically with respect to Russia and Vladimir Putin, and could only explain it by the concern that he must be under the influence of a foreign power.  In other words, they thought the president could be a Russian agent.  No movie studio would make this movie.  Too preposterous.

To be clear, to be a Russian agent does not necessarily mean that the individual was trained in Russia or by Russians, or even that he was directly controlled by a Russian case agent.  As former CIA Director John Brennan said in testimony to Congress, such people can be “wittingly or unwittingly” agents of a foreign power.  I do not know and cannot make a good guess as to whether Mr. Trump is or is not knowingly a Russian agent.  But I do know that he is acting to further the Russian agenda over the best interests of the United States.

Keep in mind, Mr. Putin was a career KGB agent who attained the rank of Colonel before the end of the Cold War.  He knows what he is doing.

This is scary, mind-blowing, and a conundrum.  Our system of government is based on the premise that the president is above reproach when it comes to national security. One may disagree on specific policy decisions, but we must assume that presidents are doing what they believe are in the best interests of the United States, not a foreign adversary. The president is the final arbiter of military, intelligence, and foreign policy issues.  How do intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies or the counter intelligence arms of various government agencies deal with an individual who, while under investigation, can over turn, hinder or evade those investigations?  And how should they be held to account?  If by definition the president is the lead diplomat for our country, how can he be wrong?  There are many implications and questions that arise when one starts thinking about our president as a Russian agent.  My head hurts.

Keep in mind that counter intelligence agents are some of the most peculiar people one will ever meet.  Thinking about their job, they are suspicious about everyone and everything that does not fit their mold of the “normal.”  Conspiracies lurk everywhere.  None-the-less, there must have been sufficient reasons to open this investigation or it would never have happened.  They do not investigate the president for the fun of it or for political reasons.  They just do not.  Yes, paranoia runs deep.  Into your life it will creep.  (With apologies to Buffalo Springfield.)  You are not paranoid if it is true.

The possibility gains traction through documented reports that Mr. Trump met one-on-one with Mr. Putin five different times over the last two years with only interpreters in the room.  He then collected the interpreters notes and refused to share what was said with anyone else in the government. Two particularly troubling meetings were the one in Helsinki last summer and an unscheduled meeting at a G-20 dinner in Hamburg Germany where only the Russian interpreter was present. (I have written about these meetings before. I was especially alarmed by the meeting in Germany.)  Rest assured the Russians know what was discussed and agreed to, but not those in the highest levels of our own government.

In my view, the most likely foundation to this arrangement rests on sanctions.  The Russians want them lifted and so does the Trump Organization.  The Russians were heavily sanctioned following their annexation of Crimea and it is hurting their economy.  They want them gone.  The sanctions were the genesis of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  When you hear “Magnitsky Act” think sanctions.  The Russians want them removed.  Now.  Mr. Trump wants them lifted because following his many bankruptcies, nearly all his money came from Russia. The banks that produced the loans are subject to the sanctions. Continued sanctions means no big money for Trump Org.  Additionally, it is well know that Mr. Trump’s business Holy Grail is to put his name on a Trump Tower Moscow.

My view is that of many possible explanations, the simplest is that Mr. Trump wants to do business in Russia when he leaves office and is willing to bargain with Mr. Putin to get the access.  What other evidence exists?

Let’s look at some of the president’s actions and words.  This list is not exhaustive but representative.

  • As the Republican nominee he had the Republican National Committee 2016 platform changed regarding Ukraine in order to mirror Russian claims and interests.
  • At every opportunity he incessantly praises Mr. Putin which validates Mr. Putin’s self-proclaimed status, empowers him at home, and comes at the expense of our allies and friends.
  • The primary goal of Mr. Putin is to splinter the Western Alliance so that Russia can fill the void and return to the glory days — as Mr. Putin sees it — of the Soviet Union.  Mr Trump aids that goal in many ways.
    • He launches personal and political attacks against the leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and others.  He belittles lesser members of the European Union (EU) and NATO.
    • He supports Brexit (The UK departure from the EU) which currently has the UK in turmoil.  This weakens the EU and contributes to chaos in the internal affairs of a key ally.  That internal chaos distracts a force for good and takes a staunch opponent of Russia off of the world stage.
    • When asked in a 2018 interview to name the U.S. “biggest foe globally right now,” Mr. Trump  responded “I think the European Union is a foe.”  The EU contains our closest allies.  The interview was just before he met with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
    • He continually belittles NATO in public.  It is apparent he does not know how funding for NATO works.  He apparently also does not know that the only time Article V of NATO was invoked (an attack on one nation is an attack on all) was following the terrorist attack in September 2001.  NATO troops have been in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and remain there.  It has been widely reported that Mr. Trump continually pushed his senior aids throughout 2018 to have the U.S. withdraw from NATO.  Such an action would be Mr. Putin’s wildest dream come true.
  • He continually denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. 2016 election. He continually takes Mr. Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere over the facts presented by the entire U.S. intelligence community. Among his justification for taking Mr. Putin’s word is the newly reported reasoning for doing so, including this remarkable quote.  Mr. Trump “said that he raised the election hacking three times and that Mr. Putin denied involvement. But he said Mr. Putin also told him that ‘if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten caught because we’re professionals.’ Mr. Trump said: ‘I thought that was a good point because they are some of the best in the world’ at hacking.”
  • He pushed to have Russia rejoin the G-7 (it was previously the G-8).  The Russians  were expelled following their annexation of Crimea.  Mr. Trump said that he thinks that the punishment is too severe for that act.
  • At the 2018 G-7 summit Mr. Trump opined that of course Crimea belongs to Russia because “they all speak Russian.”  This put fear into the hearts of our Baltic, and NATO, allies that were once part of the Soviet Union and have a large Russian ethnic population.
  • Following the March 2018 poisoning in the UK of the Skirpals, former Russian agents that went over to the West, he said that there was no evidence to support the UK Prime Minister’s denunciations of Russia for an attack on British soil.
  • Last December he called for U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria “now” and turn it over to the Russians.  This is a long-standing goal of the Russians so that they can increase their influence in the Middle East and gain a military presence in the region.
  • He often spouts Russian talking points (propaganda).  The most recent instance was his spontaneous and out of the blue discourse on the Soviet Union, their presence in Afghanistan, and a revisionist history of their reasons for invading. (This was the subject of a recent post in this space, explaining how this promotes Mr. Putin’s view of the restoration of the Soviet empire.)

And so on.  Some big, some small, but all consistent in their praise of Russia and in pushing the Russian agenda.

So, what to think?  Is our president a Russian agent, whether wittingly or unwittingly?  I sincerely hope that the Mueller investigation addresses this issue clearly, either to confirm it or to debunk it.  From where I sit today, and from all that we have seen of Mr. Trump in the last three years, I think it likely.  It is most likely in the nature of long-standing business and other money schemes between Russian oligarchs and Mr. Trump and his family.  That would be in keeping with what we know about him and what he says himself.  With him, no matter the subject, it is all about the money.  Period.

Should this be true, I have no idea how it will be resolved.  It is beyond comprehension.  The President of the United States works for Russia.  Incredible.

The only thing that is clear to me is that Mr. Mueller needs to get the results of his investigation into the open as soon as possible.  I know that he is being meticulous, as he should be.  However, if this is even only a little bit true, our nation is in danger.  We need to know and we need to know before something truly awful happens.  And if it isn’t true, we need to know that as well so that we can move on without distraction to addressing the complex issues that we know await us in 2019

 


That Was The Week That Was

With apologies to the old 1960’s era television show — the precursor to shows on now such as the Daily Show — That Was The Week That Was, or as it was commonly known TWTWTW, or TW3, we just experienced among the craziest weeks in recent history.  Like the Daily Show, TW3 took actual news events and gave them a “can you believe it” comical twist.  Unfortunately, there was nothing comical about this past week.  If you were busy shopping or attending holiday parties, here are the highlights of what you missed over the past seven days.  In some semblance of chronological order, of which very little exists today in this administration, they include:

  • Late last Friday night a federal judge declared the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional.  The judge said that since Congress lowered the tax for the Individual Mandate to zero, they essentially repealed the tax.  In two Supreme Court decisions the ACA was ruled constitutional because of the tax — which is a right held by Congress.  Since there is now no tax, the whole law was deemed unconstitutional, ignoring the long-standing legal precedent of “severability” which means that just because one part of a contract or law is deemed to be wrong, the whole contract or law is not voided.  More on this in a future post.
  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned from the Cabinet to avoid investigation of his actions while in office.  This now means that since the mid-term election in November, Mr. Trump has fired or accepted the “resignations” of the Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, the Ambassador to the U.N., and the Secretary of Defense.  There are still countless White House staff positions, Assistant Secretaries, and Ambassador positions yet to be filled two years into this administration.
  • It was revealed that there are currently at least 17 investigations of Mr. Trump, his organizations, and associates by at least seven different jurisdictions.  (The Special Counsel, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney for  the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Attorneys General from New York City, New York State and other states, and a “mystery” investigation that is under court seal.)
  • Two independent studies reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Russians’ involvement in social media and efforts to help Mr. Trump and to hurt Secretary Clinton were more widespread than previously understood.  It continued well after the election and shifted focus to undermining Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation of Mr. Trump.  In particular, the Russians took actions to suppress the minority vote.  Since Mr. Trump won the Electoral College by a total of approximately 80,000 votes spread across the three states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan it is probable, but not provable, that their actions changed the election.
  • General Michael Flynn arrived for sentencing thinking that he would get probation.  Judge Emmet Sullivan disabused him of that perception and threatened to lock him up.  “I am not hiding my disgust, my disdain, for this criminal offense,” said the judge.  Keep in mind that the judge has seen the redacted parts of the case that detail the full extent of the former National Security Adviser’s role in the campaign, transition and administration.  The sentencing was postponed for 90 days to give General Flynn another chance to cooperate with the investigation.  (Hint. Hint.)
  • In an ongoing civil suit in New York State, the Attorney General of New York attained a court order for the Trump Foundation to shut down.  The Foundation will distribute its remaining funds under court supervision.  The suit continues.  The N.Y Attorney General argued that the Foundation was little more than a slush fund for Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign.  All illegal activities.
  • Acting Attorney General Whitaker refuses to recuse himself.  The senior career ethics professional in the Department of Justice told the Acting A.G. that he should recuse himself from the Mueller Investigation.  Mr. Whitaker decided not to do so.  Remember that A.G. Sessions forever will feel the wrath of Mr. Trump for having rightly recused himself last year following the appointment of the Special Counsel.
  • The president unilaterally announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria within 30 days. On Twitter. He further ordered that plans be drawn up to withdraw most if not all of our forces from Afghanistan.  This decision was met with great joy and celebration in Russia, Iran, and by Syria’s despotic ruler.  It takes the U.S. out of any significant role in the future of the Middle East and sends a message to our friends and allies that we cannot be trusted.  The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are the Kurds.  Through U.S. training, equipping and our Special Forces fighting alongside, they have become the most effective fighting force in Syria and were our partners in driving ISIS out of the cities.  We are now throwing them under the bus.  The Turkish government (along with Iran) does not want the Kurds to be a strong entity in the region and indeed the Turks are planning to attack them as soon as we leave.  Likewise negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan are now in jeopardy because the president wants us to leave.  All of our opponents now know to just wait us out.  We have lost all credibility in much of the world, but especially in Asia.  We also undermine Israel with this decision as the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah and others can now consolidate their power, gain new territory and not worry about a U.S. presence in the area.  This is a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.
  • The president agreed to a Continuing Resolution to keep the government open until 8 February, the Senate unanimously voted to approve it and then he changed his mind and refused to go along unless he got at least $5 billion for a border wall.  Ironically the approximately 800,00 federal personnel that will be impacted are significantly represented by TSA agents, Border Patrol agents, Coast Guardsmen (the Coast Guard is not part of the Defense Department but falls under the Department of Home Land Security) and others charged with keeping our borders safe.  They will keep working but not get paid until the budget bill passes. For those that have mortgages, Christmas presents to buy, groceries to feed their family and other obligations, getting paid sometime in the future is not helpful to their current situations.  Mr. Trump promises a “very long shutdown” if he doesn’t get his way.  Remarkably, Representative Mark Meadows (Trump-NC) said that federal employees knew what they were getting into.  “It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position.”  (Someone should tell Mr. Meadows that a well-run government does not shut down.  Furthermore, the Republicans have controlled the House, Senate and White House for two years.  Apparently that isn’t enough time to, you know, do your job and pass a budget.)
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned.  Take a look at his resignation letter here.  Those familiar with the way such things normally work, Secretary Mattis’ letter is a direct rebuke of Mr. Trump and his policies and his leadership.  Through the eloquent and gentlemanly language, the Secretary basically tells Mr. Trump that he is full of it and an anathema to all that the United States stood for, for over seventy years.  This is unprecedented in modern times.
  • The stock market is on track to have the worst December on record since 1931 and the Great Depression.  The reasons are varied but include the uncertainty created by Mr. Trump and his impulsive policy decisions, especially regarding trade and tariffs.

These are only the quick highlights.  And only one week’s worth of news is listed here.  In “normal” times this much activity in a month would be noteworthy.

Much of this will play out over the next few weeks and months.  I am sure we will all have plenty to say about it as events unfold.  Right now I want to emphasize what much of this means to us with respect to national security and foreign affairs.

Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” agenda.  Nice slogan.  As has been pointed out by many, this was also the slogan of the fascist leaning, isolationist wing of American politicians in the 1930s that refused to oppose the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.  I am not hinting that Mr. Trump is a fascist sympathizer, I am merely pointing out that there are historical roots to the thoughts, and policies he espouses.

Given Mr. Trump’s use of hyperbole in everything that he does, many thought that “America First” was just a catchy phrase that he liked.  What is becoming increasingly clear is that the words are more than a slogan.  He believes them in the sense that it governs his views on trade, national security, military action and our role in the world.  It is reflected in his decisions (against nearly unanimous caution not to do so) to withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan, his decisions to impose tariffs, and his desire to build a wall on the southern border.  It is an entirely isolationist, transactional way of thinking.  In this way of thinking we do not help or stand by allies unless there is something tangible in it for us — in Mr. Trump’s view, money.

This way of thinking is dangerous — to the interests of the United States and to peace and stability in the world.  It cedes the playing field to Russia and China who are more than happy to fill the void.

Re-read Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter. He resigned because of those “America First” policies.  This is what he is not so subtly saying.  Mr. Trump is a danger to all that we as a country have held dear for over 70 years and a danger to the influence and power for good that the world used to count upon from the good old U.S. of A. Not anymore.

Expect it to get worse as Mr. Trump has systematically removed all of those in his administration that were not afraid to tell him “no” and stood against his misguided plans.  The president acts impulsively and erratically and it seems that with two years of data, we now know that his instincts are either no good, or his knowledge of the world is sorely inadequate.

We are fast approaching a time where the United States government is run like the Trump Organization.  It will be in the hands of Mr. Trump, his daughter and son-in-law.  Period.

Likewise, the world — our friends and allies as well as our enemies — now know that the president is weak and ill-informed.  The decision to leave Syria proves it to them.  The icing on the cake was his decision to cave to the whining from hard-core right-wing pundits on television calling him out on not shutting down the government over his wall.  It makes Mr. Trump look scared of losing his base and gives power to the likes of Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh.  Along with Sean Hannity, those apparently are his real cabinet.

On the other hand, this is a season of great joy!  Celebrate with friends and family.  Remember that we are all God’s children and enjoy the gift of life.  For a few days, we can put aside the worries of the secular world and revel in the power of the spiritual world.

Best wishes to all.


The Good News and The Bad News

It has been a busy week.  First the good news.

For the third time I was an Election Judge (poll worker, but sworn in as a judge in this state because of the decision-making that may be needed).  Once again it was a very long day with no respite, but worth it.  At our location, everyone, Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated, was uniformly cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of their role to play in our democracy.  It was refreshing in the current era to see the best parts of our republic.

In my state, Maryland, one of the “bluest” in the country, we re-elected a Republican Governor for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the Democrat controlled state legislature gained more seats for the Democrats and voters re-elected our Democrat Senator and Representatives.  I consider that a positive sign as well.  In the first year of the Governor’s term, he tried to push legislation through that did not have the support of the representatives.  At the same time, some of the legislation the Democrats wanted was turned back by the Governor.  The same old story?  In this case, no.  Both the Governor and the legislative leaders realized that nothing would be accomplished if they didn’t — wait for it — compromise on the issues.  That does not mean it was all unicorns and rainbows, there were some knock down, drag out battles over certain issues.  On the whole, however, both parties recognized that compromise was necessary in order to accomplish meaningful results.  Consequently, most of those involved, including an unheard of for this state second term for a Republican Governor, returned to office.  (To put it in perspective, he is only the second Republican Governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew — Richard Nixon’s first Vice president.  The last two term Republican Governor was Theodore McKeldin first elected in 1951.)

I was looking forward to writing an entirely positive piece in this space and was feeling better about the state of affairs in our country after the election.  After all, the House would now have oversight over the excesses of the Executive Branch for the first time in two years.

It lasted less than twenty-four hours.  Then came the bad news.  In duplicate.

Wednesday night another mass shooting of innocent victims occurred.  This time in Thousand Oaks California, considered the third most safe city in the country, according to FBI statistics.  Mostly students out for a break in the routine and a little dancing were gunned down.  Another needless tragedy that is becoming increasingly too common.  According to the Gun Violence Archive, this was the 307th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2018.  (They define a mass shooting as four or more people shot in one incident — not necessarily all deaths.)  Another in a long line of sad days for too many families and for all of us as citizens.  Perhaps the new Congress will finally address common sense gun laws that are supported by a majority in the country across all party lines.

Earlier that day the president gave what can only be described as a bizarre press conference that was either an attempt at showing that he would not change his habits and methods despite a significant defeat at the polls or a deliberate attempt to be bizarre in an effort to change the news cycle away from the success the Democrats had at the polls.

More significantly, he fired (yes, fired, when the president asks for a resignation it is not a voluntary action to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday afternoon.  It was not so surprising that he did so, as he had been saying he would for well over a year, but it was unsettling that he did so less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed.  To some extent, it is what it is.  I was no fan of Mr. Sessions, but I did respect that he stood up to the president over the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.  Mr. Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself in accordance with the ethics of the situation and the rules of the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Mr. Trump never got over the fact that someone in his administration did the right thing.  He constantly asked where was “his Roy Cohn” — an Attorney General that should defend him personally and shield him from investigations, rather than work for the American people in upholding the principles of the Constitution.  (You may remember that Roy Cohn was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor.  Mr. Cohn started his public career as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.  Mr. Cohn is  the person responsible for teaching Mr. Trump to always “hit back twice as hard” against any accusations and “deny, deny, deny” — never apologize or admit to a mistake.)

The real bad news was not necessarily in the departure of Mr. Sessions.  The shocker was the person Mr. Trump named as his successor.  Mr. Trump’s intent to stop the Mueller investigation is reflected in his choice.

In a move that many Republican and Democrat Constitutional scholars consider against the law, Mr. Trump got his Roy Cohn by appointing Matthew Whitaker as the Acting Attorney General.  Mr. Whitaker is not a Senate confirmed official, which is the basis for many scholars and experts to consider his appointment to be illegal.  The normal sequence of events would be for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the Acting Attorney General.  Conceivably, Mr. Trump could have appointed another Senate confirmed official as the Acting AG but he did not do that.  Why, you ask?  I do not know what goes on in Mr. Trump’s mind, but I can guess.

This is a bit down in the weeds, which I think Mr. Trump believes most people don’t care about, but this turn of events is serious and with long-lasting impact.  I will attempt to explain why, as succinctly as possible.

Mr. Rosenstein has been the supervisory official for the Mueller investigation.  Mr. Trump has been at odds with him for nearly two years about that investigation.  He wants to put someone into the DOJ as Acting AG in order to have someone in place to over rule Mr. Rosenstein and to inhibit, if not derail or eliminate, the Mueller probe before it indicts one of his family (the odds are high that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. is in Mr. Mueller’s sights) or comes back with a report saying that the Trump Campaign did conspire with the Russians to influence the election and then Mr. Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to cover it up and/or protect his family and business interests.

Legal scholars not only think Mr. Whitaker is an invalid appointee, but they also mostly agree that should he stay in the position, he must recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of his extensive public remarks stating that he does not believe anything happened between the Trump Campaign and the Russians.  Oh, and that there was not obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, before being briefed on the investigation or before talking to the ethics attorneys in the DOJ, Mr. Whitaker has expressed that he will not recuse himself.  Of course not. Mr. Trump would not have appointed him if he did.  Preposterously, today Mr. Trump claimed to reporters that he did not know Mr. Whitaker, even though Mr. Whitaker often accompanied or replaced Mr. Sessions in many meetings with the president.  Reportedly, since the president did not like Mr. Sessions, Mr. Whitaker often spoke to the president in his stead.  My view is that some kind of quid pro quo was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Whitaker.  The former would appoint him Acting AG with some kind of follow on appointment in the future and the latter would make sure Mr. Mueller and his investigation was severely inhibited or ended.  Such an arrangement of course would be illegal and further the case for obstruction of justice.

They are birds of a feather, however.  Mr. Trump is well-known for his scams, such as Trump University that took in millions of our fellow Americans money based on promises never delivered.  It was forced to close down and Mr. Trump paid a hefty fine.  Mr. Whitaker was on the Board of Directors of a firm that the Federal Trade Commission labeled a “scam,” shut down and fined millions of dollars.  Additionally Mr. Whitaker sent threatening emails to some who complained that they were scammed.  So, they have that in common.

Mr. Whitaker has been especially clear in his remarks regarding the Mueller investigation and the circumstances surrounding the president.  He is right in line with the president that there is nothing there and that it is politically motivated.  In fact, he has opined that the “real” investigation should be of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Here is what will happen, in my view.

  • Mr. Whitaker will severely limit funding for the Mueller investigation which will curtail further work without having to actually dismiss him and effectively end the investigation.
  • Mr. Whitaker further will limit Mr. Mueller’s work by prohibiting a subpoena of the president to force him to answer questions and will limit any other new avenues of investigation.  (The Acting AG overseeing the investigation must approve all significant elements of the Mueller probe.)
  • Mr. Whitaker will appoint a new Special Counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton and the DNC in an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation and to give the president a new “caravan” to attack in an effort to distract the American public.

All of this will happen quickly, so that the new Democrat majority in the House has no chance to stop it before taking over in January 2019.  Mr. Trump must be feeling trapped between the rock (Mr. Mueller) and a hard place (the incoming Democrats in the House).  He will act out in any way possible to protect himself, his family and his business interests.  He probably feels that with Mr. Whitaker as the Acting AG, he can dictate which actions the DOJ should take and how Mr. Whitaker can act to protect him.  This is dangerous new territory for our country.  Firing Mr. Mueller directly will cause a political firestorm that may backfire on Mr. Trump.  Instead there will be delays, obfuscation and a slow strangling of the Mueller probe.  The real question is how senior officials in the DOJ, starting with Mr. Rosenstein will react to this affront to our Constitution.  Do they resign in mass?  Do they soldier on doing the best that they can under stifling circumstances?

What about the Republicans in the Senate?  Will they find a spine and stand up to the president at last? Are there any Republicans left in the Senate or have they all become Trumpists?  I see little hope as Senators such as Lindsay Graham (Trumpist — SC) have gone from saying that firing Mr. Sessions would not be tolerated to supporting Mr. Trump’s action to remove him.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.  Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.”  — Lindsay Graham in July 2017

“What I’ve been saying for months is every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in and they can work with.” — Lindsay Graham in November 2018

I am not picking on Senator Graham as his remarks reflect the change in almost every Republican in Washington today.  They changed from executing their oversight role to a becoming a rubber stamp of all things Trumpian, even as it defies what they say they’ve stood for their entire lives.

So for a few hours Tuesday night, I felt good about the future of our country.  I still feel good about it in the long run.  A few short hours later I realized that in the short run, we have a crazy ride ahead of us that will threaten the very fiber of our country.  I think we will survive based on the goodwill I experienced Tuesday, but it is not going to be easy or pretty.

Hang on for a crazy trip over the next two years.  It’s gonna be wild, baby!

 

 


Is There No Shame?

As we head into the final days before Election Day, and in the wake of two domestic terrorist attacks including the tragic loss of eleven lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the ridiculous claims, lies, fear mongering and fomenting of hate by the President of the United States of America continues unabated.  He has no shame.  When repeatedly asked about his vile tactics he offers some version of “it works — we won.”  Maybe he won, but the “we” — the citizens of this great country — are losing.  The president may feel no shame, but I do.  I am ashamed that this is the face of the United States that the world sees.

As I have written before, the president uses words that have distinct connotations for people who consider themselves white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others.  “Nationalist,” “globalist,” “international bankers,” and other similar words have distinct anti-Jewish meanings to those filled with hate.  It stokes the fires raging inside of the haters.  Here is one thing to understand.  These people don’t just hate Jews as a religion, they see a vast international conspiracy where “Jews” rule the world.  Literally.  The haters see a hidden web of conspiracies and connections throughout the world that the rest of us know nothing about.  They believe that the Jewish conspiracy controls everything that happens politically and especially economically.  All the suffering by those that are not part of the cabal can lay their problems at the feet of those that “belong.”  The nationalists unfounded hate may take the form of religious intolerance, but it is important to understand that in their minds it goes way, way, deeper.  It is a world-wide conspiracy and everything is controlled by “the Jews.”

Thus the murderer that attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue (Etz haChayim in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis) reportedly picked this particular house of worship because of their well-known involvement with the Jewish charity known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) whose motto is “Welcome the stranger.  Protect the refugee.”  Founded in 1881,  HIAS sought to help Jewish refugees coming to the U.S.  In 1975 it expanded its scope to help Vietnamese refugees coming to the U.S. following the fall of South Vietnam to the communists.  It works world-wide to help the poor and misplaced and refugees of all religions, nationalities and ethnicities.  Currently they are helping the refugees coming from Central America.

Enter the “caravan.”  Enter the George Soros (an internationally known Jewish billionaire) funded caravan.  To the haters, it is all connected.

The synagogue murderer was incensed that the congregants were helping these poor migrants.  He is said to have posted on social media that these impoverished people were “invaders” that were brought here “to kill our people.”  He went on to post that “I can’t just sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”

Hmmm.  Where did I hear that before?  Oh, right.  From the President of the United States of America.

Among other lies he tells at his campaign rallies, he claims that most of the refugees are members of “MS-13” and “Middle Easterners” coming here to spread illegal drugs, murder people, spread disease, and take away jobs.  As he said earlier this week, “We’re being invaded.  When you look at that, thousands of people — when you looked at that bridge loaded up with thousands of people, that’s called an invasion of our country.”

Reality check.  There are currently less than three thousand people, many women and children, and they are approximately 900 miles away on foot walking across Mexico.  This is one of many such “caravans” that have formed in recent years.  Mostly the migrants travel together for safety from criminals and others willing to exploit them.  The last one to arrive at the U.S. border was last April and resulted in the arrest of 14 people.  Under U.S. and international law we have an obligation to at least listen to and decide on the merits whether these individuals and families, who turn themselves in at the border and ask for asylum, in accordance with the lawshould in fact be given asylum.

They are not law breakers and they are not illegal aliens.  Nearly all of them, turn themselves in. For the April caravan the president sent approximately 2100 National Guard troops to beef up the border.  I am no math major, but that amounts to roughly 150 soldiers for every person arrested from the caravan.  Now the president has issued an order for about 5200 active duty soldiers to move to the border this week.  A few fun facts about that.  This will be the greatest number of troops on the Mexican border in over a century.  We will have about the same number of soldiers on the border with Mexico as we have now in Iraq and Syria combined fighting ISIS.  He promises at his campaign rallies that he will send 15,000 soldiers to the border “soon.”  (It is unclear whether this number includes the 5200 already ordered there.)  That number is nearly equivalent to the total number we have fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Which is the greater threat?  Impoverished families from Central America or the Taliban?  ISIS?

Here is a couple of things to consider.  He is sending active duty troops because the National Guard now there are under the control of the state governors that supplied them.  Not the president.  He wants troops he can control.  There is a law known as the  Posse Comitatus Act signed by President Hayes in 1878 that has come to be interpreted as prohibiting U.S. federal troops from enforcing domestic law. In other words, they have no arrest powers.  (Of the military services, only the U.S. Coast Guard has arrest authority.  There are some exceptions for the other services under the Insurrection Act and in other specified situations.)

In other words, our active duty forces that are involved in two active wars and numerous other missions around the world, will be sent to the border to satisfy the campaign rhetoric of the president.  He has politicized the military and is using it as a personal tool for campaigning.  As it is, they can only be used in a support role (non-law enforcement tasks) but so far have been under orders from the Secretary of Defense to have no interaction with the refugees beyond medical or legal aid.  To further demonstrate the waste of taxpayer money, the caravan is not expected to arrive at the border for about two more months.  That amounts to 15,000 troops sitting on their collective back sides for two months — which may include Thanksgiving and Christmas — rather than being home with their families between combat deployments or training for their next deployment.  It impairs readiness.

This is not a matter of enforcing immigration laws.  All main stream politicians and candidates, from any party, supports enforcing our laws and protecting the borders.  This is not what the president’s rhetoric is about.  It is all to stir up fear and anger among people who must be pretty unhappy about their lives.

But it gets better yet.

The President of the United States of America apparently thinks that he can change the Constitution of the United States through an Executive Order.  Wow.  My prediction is that his plan to do so disappears after the election — most things he promises go out with a whimper — but what if he actually believes it?  Here is what he said earlier this week.

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t.  You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

So everyone has had it wrong for over two hundred years.  I wonder who the “they” are that just discovered that all it takes is an Executive Order.

Specifically he wants to change the “policy” (yes — he actually said that) written in the 14th Amendment.  There are five sections to the amendment, but it is the first section that he wants to change.  That portion of the 14th Amendment reads:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This is the so called “birthright” amendment and the source of so much hate and misinformation about “anchor babies.”  The president claims that:

“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits.  It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Facts take a beating under this president.  There are over 30 countries that have the same birthright privilege of citizenship including Canada and Mexico.  The baby is not “essentially” a citizen, they are a citizen.  “All those benefits” which he claims amount to “billions and billions of dollars” do not take into account that the vast majority of those babies grow up to be productive citizens of the United States that work and pay taxes and contribute to the improvement of our country.

But there is something more sinister about attacking the 14th Amendment.  Not only does it continue to vilify those seeking a better life, the 14th Amendment is an anathema to those same self-styled “nationalists” that I have written about before.  The 14th Amendment is there to incorporate into law and the Constitution that former slaves and their descendants are full citizens.  The amendment overturns counting slaves (and presumably without this change, freed slaves) as three-fifths of a person encapsulated in Article One, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution.  So picking the 14th Amendment for an Executive Order does two things.  It supports the views of white supremacists and further encourages them by, in the view of many African-Americans, going after one of the most historically important amendments in their lives.  It also sends a signal to many African-Americans that they are part of the “other.”

Perhaps he would like to also sign an Executive Order doing away with freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights as well.  The president, like Joseph Stalin considers the press an “enemy of the people.”  Come to think of it, why stop there?  Just overturn any other silly amendments that get in the way.

I see a pattern developing.  These are not isolated incidents.  All are common to a thread of creating the “other” to hate, fear and vilify.  A page from the demagogue text-book.  Note that the president is not campaigning on his accomplishments.  Pay attention to his rants at his rallies and you will not hear him say anything that might not have already been said during his 2016 campaign. He is trying to convince people that without him and his supporters in Congress, the apocalypse will be upon us.

The stakes are high.  The soul of our country is under attack.  I find it shameful and it is too high of a price to pay for “winning.”


Where Are The Patriots?

“You know, they have a word.  It sort of became old-fashioned.  It’s called a nationalist.  And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’  You know what I am?  I’m a nationalist, okay?  I’m a nationalist.  Nationalist!  Use that word.  Use that word!”

—  Donald J. Trump at a political rally in Houston, 22 October 2018

And there we have it.

The President of the United States is proudly using a word that is full of historic negative connotations.  Mr. Trump stated yesterday in response to a reporter’s question that he didn’t know why people were upset with his use of the word and implied that it meant the same as “patriotism.”  It is not the same, and anyone with any sense of history knows that.  While the president is famously ill-informed, and proud of it, I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was saying.  His own words tell us that: “we’re not supposed to use that word.”

Nationalism:  Loyalty and devotion to a nation.  Especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Note the difference, and it’s a big one.  One espouses devotion to a nation, one to a country.  While we say that we “are one nation under God” we are really a country, not a nation in the sense that it is used in these definitions.  In this sense a nation is a group of people with a common language, ethnicity, and an outlook that manifests in a common culture.  In other words, it is exclusive of those that do not share the same traits.

Nationalism is a relatively recent development in history, coming into wide-spread usage starting in the 1800s and resulting in the founding of nation-states in place of empires or kingdoms that had dominated previously.  The idea came of age in the 20th century and was one of the key causes leading to World War I and World War II.  In truth, nationalism can be a positive force, such as in the end of colonialism and the emergence of many new countries from nations across Africa, Latin America and Asia, or it can be a negative force such as the rallying cry of fascist dictators and others.  Vladimir Putin is using Russian nationalism to consolidate his power and as an excuse for the annexation of Crimea and for threats against the Baltic States, especially Estonia which has a high percentage of ethnic Russians in its population.

E Pluribus Unum.  “Out of many, one.”  Our country’s motto reflects the fact that our country is made of people from around the world, from many nations, that have come together to form a “more perfect union.”  We put aside our devotion to the nation of origin and pledge our allegiance to a new country.  This is what made, and keeps, America great and is significantly different from what it means to be French, or Spanish, or Chinese.

The history of nationalism in this country is sordid.  Historically it means a belief in a country dominated by white Christian males and is most closely associated with white nationalism.  The march in Charlottesville Virginia last year was a white nationalist rally which included overt neo-Nazi groups.  Mr. Trump opined that there were “good people on both sides” thus validating the cause of those groups, at least in their eyes.  Nationalism means that one promotes one’s own culture and values ahead of those of others.  Nationalists do so not just because they believe in them but because they believe that their culture and values are inherently better than those of any other one’s or any other nation’s culture and values.  Thus, it means that in the context of the Charlottesville rally, for example, that white interests should supersede those of any other group in the U.S.

In the 1930’s the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party used nationalism to legally rise to power in a republican Germany.  The rallying cry was that German culture and ethnicity was superior to any other nation’s and therefore Germans should dominate the world.

In the U.S., mainstream politicians and citizens celebrate our diversity.  We have a history of people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, religions, cultures and customs coming together in a common cause.  It is what makes for American Exceptionalism which is, well, exceptional because we are one of the few, if not the only, country in the world that not only believes in our diversity, but celebrates it.

Mr. Trump claimed yesterday in response to a question about white nationalism during a press availability in the Oval Office, as to whether he intended his remarks to encourage white nationalists. He responded incredulously to the question and said “no, I’ve never heard that theory about being a nationalist.”

Really?

Where are the patriots?  Who is standing up and saying, “no, Mr. President, we are not nationalists, we are patriots.”  We do not celebrate the demonization of other ethnic groups or nationalities. Patriots celebrate our country and are proud of the fact that from our various backgrounds we come together in common purposes.  We are a beacon to the world.  Extinguishing that beacon through a misguided belief that we are somehow being “screwed” by “others” will not improve the life of any American.  Should we follow the path that Mr. Trump espouses we lose the essence of what has served us so well for so long.  Anger and fear are the basic ingredients of a “nationalist” ideology.  We are better than that.