I hope that you all had a joyous holiday season and found time for renewal of body and spirit. We attended Mass on Christmas morning at our local parish and I found it to be an oasis of calm in an otherwise stressful world. The sense of community spirit and an appreciation that there are forces larger than all of us was the right formula for me on Christmas morning. I experience a sense of inner peace whenever I sing along with the entire congregation and we cover the old favorites such as Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Joy to the World.
With that in mind, I write the following literally, without ulterior motives, a sense of superiority or criticism thinly veiled. I pity Donald J. Trump. I do not pity him in any sense other than its intended meaning. I feel sorry for him as a person. His seems to be a life unfulfilled without spiritual support.
As I pondered the spirituality of Christmas — or anyone’s personal understanding of spirituality in your own context — coupled with the sense of community I realized that Mr. Trump enjoys none of that. On Christmas Eve he filled the air waves with Tweets that ranged from plaintive, to mean, to just plain wrong. Included in those Tweets was this phrase, “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House.” To be sure, it was probably intended as a political slam to the Democrats in Congress who left town after Mr. Trump reneged on a deal brokered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). However, I think that there was more to it than just that. I think he did feel lonely, alone, and bored. Rather than reveling in the spirit of the day and the time of the season, and perhaps taking stock of his life, family and place in the world as spiritual folks are wont to do from time to time, instead he blasts out mean and insulting Tweets. The poor man — literally in my view — has no spiritual light to guide him.
In case there was any doubt that Mr. Trump had little understanding of the moment, on Christmas morning he held a “press availability” in the Oval Office where he continued to disparage just about anyone he could think of that, in his view, was standing in his way. He finished by saying, “It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country. But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.” (You can’t make these things up.)
I pity him because it must be difficult to go through life without any joy. Without any sense of wonder. Without any idea that other people care about each other for who they are rather than for what they can do for you. There may be other people out there with the same life view, but since Mr. Trump is constantly in the bright lights of the cameras it is easy to read him.
His whole life seems to be a zero sum game. He must believe that whenever someone else gets what they want, it is at his loss. Therefore, one must be ruthless, never show compassion, and take what you want before others take it from you. It is almost too easy to make comparisons to literary and movie characters that embody this same spirit, but it was suggested to me that his world view seems to be epitomized by Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life.
Obviously I have no idea what Mr. Trump thinks or if he is a spiritual person. From observation I would say he is not. And that is sad. For him. Watching him at the service for President George H.W. Bush, Mr. Trump sang none of the hymns, read along with none of the prayers, and generally looked extremely uncomfortable in the setting of the National Cathedral. One does not have to sing church hymns or read standardized prayers to be spiritual, but I would be surprised if Mr. Trump gives glory to God or any other force of nature.
It must be sincerely sad for an individual to go through life with no sense of joy, no compassion, no empathy for the condition of others and no sense of the things that are bigger than all of us. To be constantly on the look out for someone trying to screw you over, trying to screw them over first, to not just “win” but to have to humiliate anyone that dares to stand in your way and on, and on, with the now well-known temperament of Mr. Trump, makes for a very sad person. Not sad by my judgement, but sad in that he must at heart be an individual that sees little to no good in others. And I would guess, he therefore lacks the self-confidence and inner fortitude that comes from knowing that you are at peace with yourself.
That is why I say I pity a man who cannot find joy in the Christmas spirit or find happiness in the small things in life that help to nourish our joy, celebrate the human spirit, and provide a sense of inner peace.
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.