As we all ponder the significance to our country of the many protests and responses to the horrific murder of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, some local issues with national importance may be overlooked. In the end, all politics is local as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once opined. In each locality and municipality we can work to improve our local community relationships and to ferret out the institutional racism that most citizens must now recognize.
Most striking to me in the video chronicling Mr. Floyd’s murder is the unabashed, even nonchalant way in which the officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck and held it there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It took my breath away to realize that the officers were equally unabashed at knowing numerous people were recording their actions even as those civilians pleaded with the officers to let him breathe. The officers just did not care. Clearly, they thought that there would be no retribution for their actions. There was no shame. While I firmly believe that by far the vast majority of law enforcement personnel are good people that do the right thing, in this case there must have been a climate in the Minneapolis police force that gave these officers a sense that there were no personal consequences to their actions.
In that vein, the climate in Washington D.C. is like a powder keg waiting for a spark to set it off. As in most cities, demonstrations have been quite peaceful, interrupted by periodic looting and destruction to buildings perpetrated by petty criminals and a small group of wing nut anarchists from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Yet, this is also a city problem that may have national repercussions.
You would not know that nearly all of the protests in the district, and indeed around the country, were peaceful if you only listened to the impeached Worst President Ever and all around vile human being Donald J. Trump or his side kick Attorney General William Barr. To me, the unprovoked attack on peaceful demonstrators assembled in Lafayette Square last Monday in the District, using rubber bullets, flash bang explosives and chemical weapons was a dangerous turning point. The only objective was to provide a photo-op for the president to strut around and hold up a Bible in front of historic St. John’s Church in a manner that seemed to convey that it was some symbolic object with which he was unfamiliar.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” — of unknown origin.
Many of you have been to Washington D.C., either as tourists or because you live or work there. Still, it is worth reviewing the local political relationships to totally understand the danger inherent in the current situation. Washington is used to demonstrations. They happen all of the time. Many of them occur in Lafayette Square directly across (a closed) Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. The Washington Police Department (officially the Metropolitan Police Department) is well trained and used to dealing with demonstrators. Here is the problem. The MPD does not have jurisdiction over the federal portions of the district. A plethora of federal law enforcement agencies have that jurisdiction depending on the situation. Additionally, Washington D.C. has a mayor and city council, but under the Home Rule Act passed by Congress in December 1973, any laws, regulations, actions by the city government and just about anything else that the Congress or federal government does not like can be over-ruled or thrown out. Indeed the federal government moved to federalize the MPD this week before vigorous political push back put that on temporary hold.
So here is the set up as I write. It is a very fluid situation that could change for the better or worse on short notice. The mayor and MPD in the district essentially have been shut out of dealing with their own citizens and controlling their own streets. The federal government, under the direct personal control of Mr. Trump’s very own Luca Brasi, Attorney General Barr, has taken over the city. As documented by the Washington Post, Washington is now an occupied city. There are at least sixteen federal law enforcement and military agencies with thousands of people on the ground. These agencies range from the obvious such as the FBI to the less obvious where agencies have been deputized and given unique authorities outside their charters to patrol the streets and make arrests including the Bureau of Prisons, the DEA, the ATF, ICE, Customs and Border Protection, to name a few. None of these organizations normally operate in the district to police the streets and many do not have training to manage peaceful demonstrations. More ominously, many have been recorded as being in riot gear without name badges, insignia or organizational badges. Never a good sign.
Additionally, 3300 National Guard troops from ten states are operating in the district. This is in addition to the 1200 National Guard troops from the district that are under federal control, rather than local. In the fifty states governors control the National Guard unless they are federalized in extreme conditions. The mayor of Washington has no control over the Guard coming from her own city.
Wait! There’s more!
1,600 regular Army troops from Ft. Bragg North Carolina and Ft. Drum New York are deployed in military bases within a 15 minute drive of downtown Washington. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper declared that he would not allow U.S. military forces to be used against Americans on the streets of the nation’s capital and ordered them back to their home bases. Within hours the president overrode that order and they remain in the D.C. area.
For what purpose, you may ask, does the city of Washington need 4500 Guard troops, 1600 regular Army troops and several thousand federal law enforcement agents? Good question, as the demonstrations in Washington have been generally peaceful and while large, not as big as in many other cities across the land.
There is one purpose and one purpose only. They are being used as political campaign talking points by Mr. Donald J. Trump so that he can say that he is “tough” and that the only way to deal with “domestic terrorists” (as of yesterday the FBI stated that they have no evidence of any terrorists among the protesters) is to “dominate” them. This while he sits in his basement and fortifies the White House — the People’s House — with extra defenses well beyond the grounds, and speaks of “vicious dogs” waiting to get at the demonstrators like some third world despot.
It is political theater.
But political theater with a cost. Not only does it trample the First Amendment rights of citizens to assemble peacefully to protest against policies — and yes, politicians — of which they disapprove, it significantly increases the mistrust on all sides and with so many elements at play it could easily blow up into a major tragedy where numerous civilians are injured or killed in the ensuing melee. It also puts law enforcement and troops in difficult situations that may cause retaliation and injury.
I put the heaviest blame on Congressional Republicans. Most cannot be found anywhere that will speak up against Mr. Trump’s boast to use American troops against American citizens. There is video available of reporters trying to get a comment from a large array of “name” Congressional Republicans. They should be embarrassed and hope that the tape gets lost. Most shuffled off while mumbling that they did not know anything about it. Some proclaimed they could not comment because they were late for lunch. Others just tried to pretend they did not hear the question. Yesterday, only Republican Senators Murkowski (Alaska) and Romney (Utah) finally spoke publicly against the use of troops in our cities. Shameful.
God help us if American Guardsmen or Army troops open fire on American citizens. I fear that we are not out of danger of that happening. In recent days former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, several former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous Admirals and Generals have raised serious objections to the president’s boasts that he will send “thousands and thousands of heavily armed military personnel” to stop the “rioting.” All military personnel that I knew throughout my 28 year career in the naval service would join me in saying that we signed up to to defend the Constitution and to protect the American people, not to fight our neighbors in our cities’ streets.
There is no organized demonstration scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 6 June. That is to say no one organization is planning for people to take to the streets like with the Women’s March. However, local media and social media are buzzing with news that people are going to come to Washington tomorrow in what could be one of the largest demonstrations so far. The MPD Chief is on record with his concern that it could be one of the largest the city has ever seen. More important than whether it is big, bigger or biggest is how the demonstrators and federal law enforcement forces face off against each other. Pray that it is peaceful but it has all the ingredients of a disaster.
As many of you know, I have worried for three years as to what lengths Mr. Trump will go to consolidate his power. His autocratic tendencies are well documented. He feels invincible after no one has stopped his relentless assault on our national norms and values. As an expert opportunist, it will not take much for him to make good on his promise to send troops into our streets to show that he is “very strong.” It helps him to successfully deflect from his total screw up in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the Army is deployed in Washington, what happens next? Where does he stop? How does it end? What if he loses the election and claims it was due to fraud? These are dangerous times.
I have faith in my fellow citizens. I have faith in our collective values. We will survive the struggle. In the short run, let’s hope that cooler heads prevail.
During his 2016 Inaugural Address, Mr. Donald J. Trump talked about “American carnage” — a dystopian view of the United States that he promised to fix. Little did we know that actually he was predicting the future. Our country is in shambles and disarray and the Trump Administration does nothing.
Mr. Trump and his cronies are trying out two strategies moving forward during the pandemic caused by the coronavirus:
- Declare victory and go home. We could have lost 2 million Americans and it looks like we’ll only lose about 150,000 so, as Mr. Jared Kushner said from the White House last week, people should recognize “that this is a great success story.” The number of deaths is exaggerated anyway. Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
- Make the case that all Americans are “warriors” that are fighting to regain the American way of life just like in WWI or WWII and of course there will be casualties along the way. This is war and people die in wars. Get over it. Open up business because a dragging economy could cost the president the election.
Meanwhile, over 77,212 Americans are dead. The virus is spreading into areas that have yet to feel the full brunt of the pandemic. There is no widespread testing, tracing or methodical isolation. I have concluded that for most Americans, we are on our own. We will get no help from the government. We will have to make personal choices as to what is safe and what is not. As the song playing in the background during Mr. Trump’s factory visit in Arizona says, “Live and Let Die.”
The federal government, as a reflection of Mr. Trump, has failed miserably in fighting the pandemic. Mr. Trump’s leadership has been inept, incompetent, divisive, vindictive, callous, resentful and antagonistic. He’s worked hard to win the award as The Worst President Ever. In fact, in my feverish mind with too much time on my hands, I believe he has worked too hard to reach this level of destruction throughout the land. It cannot just be incompetence and a failure to learn from what works or does not. It has to be deliberate. Why is that? Why would he work so hard to destroy the U.S.A.?
There are several possibilities.
- It is deliberate. Mr. Trump did not invent the coronavirus or introduce into the U.S. Once here, however, perhaps he seized the opportunity to use it to fundamentally disrupt our way of life and to bring us down in the eyes of the world — no longer the greatest country on Earth. There is, after all, a reason that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted Mr. Trump to be president. Why would Mr. Trump call Mr. Putin when news broke that General Michael Flynn’s prosecution was dropped by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as he did yesterday? What were they celebrating? Did the Russians work on Mr. Trump’s behalf for the opportunity to destroy us?
- It is a sign that Mr. Trump is mentally ill. I don’t mean this in any “the dude’s cray cray” kind of way. I mean it in a serious, albeit judgmental, way that he is ill. He is a known narcissist. He claims he is a stable genius. He acts irrationally. He has no empathy for the tens of thousands dead. He seriously suggested that people should inject cleaning disinfectants into their bodies to fight the virus. He fires anyone that disagrees with him. He lied about the magnitude of the threat. He is vengeful. He seems to enjoy chaos and dysfunction. Perhaps he enjoys playing a bigger than life figure that commands death or salvation based on his whims. Perhaps he enjoys the harm done to people, especially, it seems, in “blue” states. Perhaps he is not just a text book case study of a bad leader but rather an unstable individual emotionally, intellectually and mentally unfit for the office.
- It furthers his agenda. The sad statistics are that a disproportionate number of the COVID-19 sufferers and especially deaths are immigrants, minorities and the poor. For four years, Mr. Trump has raged about the “other” — those not “like us.” He supports armed white militia members storming state capitals with their guns to insist on “liberation” from the safer at home policies around the country. In his eyes they are “very good people.” Just like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Mr. Trump tends to emphasize that many of those dying are old or with underlying health conditions. They use the old “they were going to die anyway” meme. Is this a chance to cull the herd in his mind just as some of these far right groups argue? Under the cover of the pandemic his administration has implemented draconian measures at the border, denied asylum seekers respite as required by U.S. law, and limited legal immigration — all outside of and in addition to the travel restrictions in place. From the moment he declared his candidacy for president in front of paid supporters he has railed against non-white (and for that matter non-male) members of our society. Kids in cages anyone? What he may or may not believe in his heart does not matter. His actions are clear.
- He cares only about himself and making money. He honestly does not care how many Americans die or struggle financially as long as it does not impact him negatively. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to profit financially off of the pandemic. In short, he is an opportunist. At the very least, Mr. Trump sees a chance to consolidate his position and to remove any impediments to his power within the government and to replace good people with lackeys. Many Inspectors’ General professional life expectancy is measured in the amount of time before they do their job and call a foul on Mr. Trump. There are gaping holes in the diplomatic corps and in every cabinet agency in the government. Mr. Trump claims he does not need them. Those that are left are not the A-Team or even the B-Team. It is more like F-Troop. At this point in time, it is obviously part of the plan to eliminate the “Deep State” as he sees it. He does not care that the Deep State (of course there is no such thing) of professionals and experts are needed in times of crisis. Jared Kushner will take care of it. The pandemic covers nicely for an ever more blatant power grab beyond what we have seen over the last few years. Mr. Trump has learned that he can get away with anything without consequences.
There may be other scenarios that may be equally plausible or outrageous. The bottom line is that our national response to the crisis was badly bungled and continues to be an embarrassment. The sad part is that this not nuances of policy. People are dying. The numbers continue to go up. Many more will die as more and more states are pushed by Mr. Trump to ignore CDC guidelines and to open up their economies without the testing, tracing and isolation infrastructure in place.
Pay attention to what he says and does. We have learned that he projects his personal feelings onto others and in the process of his complaining he tells us exactly what he intends to do to further destroy the norms, regulations and laws that govern our day to day discourse.
At one point I thought maybe we had Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show as president. Ted was not deliberately a loose cannon, he just had no clue. Unfortunately, this is serious business.
Deliberate or not, Mr. Trump changed the American way of life well into the future, if not forever.
In the course of this crisis created by the coronavirus I have been pulling for the federal government to step up and fulfill its duty under the solid direction and knowledgeable leadership of the president. I have given up hope that it will happen. This leads me to wonder whether Donald J. Trump is the worst president in our life time or the worst president ever? In my opinion, he is the worst ever.
Many historians compare Mr. Trump to President Herbert Hoover who is universally considered one of the worst. He took no action to avert or to mitigate the Great Depression putting all of his faith in the capitalist system and the ethos of the survival of the fittest. Indeed, he vetoed a 2.1 billion dollar relief bill (about 38 billion in today’s dollars) because it was full of “pork” and what he considered to be unproductive jobs such as federal works projects.
But Mr. Hoover is not considered the absolute worst. That honor generally goes to President James Buchanan who favored the expansion of slavery and did nothing to stop southern states from seceding from the Union, resulting in the Civil War. Mr. Buchanan, rest easy. You are no longer the worst.
Where to begin to count the ways that Mr. Trump has earned this accolade? To me there is one over-riding fact that cannot be ignored. The greatest country on earth with the best health system in the world has the largest number of identified COVID-19 cases and the largest number of deaths. In. The. World. People are dying. Over 32,000 Americans have lost their lives as I write this. It isn’t theoretical anymore. How can this be? It is the result of the president’s dithering, lies, inaction, and a congenital need to be the center of everything but the leader of nothing that got us to this place. Precious time was wasted as the president told us it would magically go away. Over the weekend, two newspapers laid out time lines of what the government knew and when they knew it. As Mr. Trump told us it was all under control, dire warnings were relayed to him. People tried to take action and he stopped them. He wants credit for stopping travelers from China from entering the U.S., a necessary but not sufficient action. He fails to mention that after he declared the border shut, roughly 40,000 people entered the U.S. from China. He then wasted nearly two months during which serious action could have been taken. Thank you Mr. Trump.
Beware. It will get worse in so many ways. Two important areas of concern are his attempts to do away with all of the safeguards of our democracy and the other is his foolhardy need to “open up for business” in two weeks or less. He cannot be trusted. As one pundit put it, to Mr. Trump, truth is an adversary.
Some examples of his intolerance for criticism or oversight include the fact that there are 14 Inspector General (IG) positions vacant in the U.S. government. Infamously, Mr. Trump fired the IG for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) because he did his job and followed the law in forwarding a whistle blower complaint to Congress. In the short term, Mr. Trump demoted the IG in the Department of Defense who had been chosen by his fellow IGs in the government to oversee the recently passed stimulus package. Now there is no one. There are no Senate confirmed officials in the entire ODNI. All have been fired or pushed out. Mr. Trump likes “actings” as he calls them, because they do not have to answer to the Senate and he can make them do his bidding.
Yesterday he threatened to adjourn Congress by presidential decree so that he can appoint more “actings” without Senate approval and thus do away with all oversight from Congress. This on top of his claim during his live melt-down on camera Monday that “when somebody is president of the United States your authority is total.” Clearly he thinks he can run the entire United States like he ran the Trump Organization by just sitting in his office, talking on the phone and telling people what to do with little to no input. Only, as he says, based on his “gut.” Speaking of guts, where are the elected Republican members of Congress? Why is there no rebuke to a president that wants to be an autocrat and is actively working in that direction?
More importantly to many Americans, is the question of how do we address this dual nightmare of a staggered economy and a virulent pandemic? I do not trust the president to do the right thing. I never thought I would write that. I have disagreed with many past presidential policies over the years, but I always at my core thought that while I disagreed with them, they were doing what they fundamentally thought was good for our country. Not so with Mr. Trump. He does only what he thinks is good for him.
He is desperate to take credit for anything positive that takes place — such as putting his signature on relief checks to appear as if he, the benevolent monarch, is personally giving away money and not that it is tax payer money — while contorting himself into grotesque statements attempting to blame anyone or everyone for his massive failings.
Here is the ugly truth. Many people, including the president, do not understand what flattening the curve of this pandemic actually means. He misleads us on what mitigation means. The steps that we have all taken to wear masks, practice social distancing and to stay home only buy time. The coronavirus does not magically go away on 1 May or any time until there is a cure or a vaccine. This idea that everything will be normal and no one else will die is the biggest lie of all.
Study the curves for yourself. Most models do not go beyond sometime early this summer. What do you think happens when the restrictions are lifted? The number of sick and dying sky rocket. Study the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Even a cursory review reveals that many of the same mitigation efforts that we are using today were used then. Cities like St. Louis and San Francisco had very strict regimes in place. Cities like Philadelphia did not. The differences in death totals is staggering between the two extremes.
How did it end? When people built up a natural immunity or died. There was no vaccine. Just as we have no vaccine now.
Our current measures are designed to buy time. Time to get sufficient treatment spaces and medical equipment in place to treat those infected. Time to figure out the best way to treat the virus. Time to develop a vaccine. Time to build up our ability to test vast numbers of people. Time to put a system in place to identify hot spots, isolate those specific people impacted and stop the virus from spreading.
So far we have none of those things and we won’t have them on 1 May.
A very difficult decision lies ahead. It could be a year or more before all of those necessary conditions are in place. Our economy cannot continue as it is for a year. How many lives should be lost in exchange for restarting the economy? I don’t know. There are those that argue that we should just let the virus run its course. If hundreds of thousands die, so be it. It is the natural resolution to the crisis. Just as with the Spanish flu pandemic, one builds up an immunity or you die. Then it’s over. Somehow I cannot bring myself to believe that we as a country want or accept that.
So what to do? In the short term, the emphasis should be on saving lives. As we try to restart the economy it should be in very small steps in a localized way. As the saying goes, “build a little, test a little.” Be prepared to try new ways of doing business. In every step it will be necessary to be ready to acknowledge that it didn’t work, or that it was too much too soon, and adjust. When it does work, build on those lessons learned.
I do not think that Mr. Trump is capable of that kind of leadership. He has already earned his place in history as the worst president ever. I fear that he will work hard in the coming weeks and months to cement his standing as the worst leader our country ever experienced.
Regular readers know that I am not a big fan of our President. When the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic arrived at our national door step I took it upon myself to be quiet. I would give him a chance to deal with this crisis. I would refrain from taking potshots at every mistake he makes. It is a new situation that requires new solutions to beat it. Some will work, some will not. I did not want to get too caught up in the day to day developments. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and truly hoped that he would rise to the occasion, pull the country together in a common effort and actually lead from the front.
Boy! Was I wrong.
Mr. Trump proves daily what many of us knew and others suspected. He is in way over his head with no real idea of what to do as a president facing a crisis. Great at rabble rousing campaign rallies, bad at leadership. Textbook bad, in fact.
The president is not responsible for COVID-19 coming to the U.S. It is his response to the crisis that demonstrates his total inability to deal with facts and to put together a coherent plan of action.
The examples are many but let’s start with the most obvious. Mr. Trump unilaterally calls himself a “War Time President.” In that respect he signed an Executive Order (EO) under the 1950 Defense Production Act (DPA) that can be used to direct industries in the United States to manufacture and produce materials or equipment necessary to meet our national security requirements. So far, he has failed to do so for a variety of reasons. As I write this, his Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Pete Gaynor claims that it will be used to procure test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers. Then he said it will not be. The president said it would be before he claimed that it was not needed. Both say that they really do not need to use the DPA because the EO gives them “leverage” and therefore companies are voluntarily beginning to switch their production lines to meet the need.
Besides the obvious “who’s on first” confusion within the ranks of the nation’s leaders, there are practical problems with that approach. Instead of a comprehensive nation-wide plan for procurement and distribution — which the federal government, especially the military, excels at doing — they are having the states individually buy their own equipment. This creates unhelpful competition, excessive prices, and a survival of the fittest narrative as each state competes one against another to get badly needed ventilators, PPE and test kits.
Put another way, we do not have individual Air Force squadrons go to Boeing or Lockheed and procure aircraft on their own. Marine Corps battalions do not go to weapons manufacturers and buy their weapons and ammunition on their own.
States. like squadrons and battalions, are at the point of attack and know the best tactics to fight the enemy in front of them but the strategy comes from the top. Likewise, the military departments through the Department of Defense are tasked with raising, training and equipping the force as a whole. Without coordination and the prudent deployment of assets where needed, the amount of confusion, disarray and waste rises to levels that are detrimental to the overall goal. And people die.
There is also a business reason for needing to implement the DPA. If I am GM or 3M or any other manufacturer that wants to help out with producing ventilators, for example, I will put a lot of money into converting my production lines, finding the labor to run the machines, raw materials, etc. I need to know that there will be a market for my 10,000 ventilators with an average cost of $25,000 a few months from now when we’re cranking them out. Only the federal government can guarantee that those costs are covered.
Mr. Trump, for whatever reason, refuses to do what is right. He does give us clues as to why. In discussing the DPA he talks about it as “nationalizing” U.S. industries and says that such a move is “socialism.” As he said on Sunday, “Call a person over in Venezuela. Ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.” The DPA nationalizes nothing. It is not socialism. The companies revert to their previous undertakings when the crisis is over or the need is met. Think Detroit automakers turning out tanks during WWII. Either Mr. Trump’s advisers are woefully ignorant of the law or the president is.
I have a different explanation. It is all about Mr. Trump’s re-election bid. If he centralizes the response to the pandemic under his leadership, and it fails, he will have to shoulder the blame. This way, he can point the finger at mayors and governors for, as he’s already said, “not doing their job.” Remember, this is the man that when asked about his responsibility as president replied, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” War time president indeed.
Also connected to his re-election is the fact that one of his campaign themes is to call all the Democrats socialists. If he actually (cough, cough) believes that using the DPA constitutes socialism, then he cannot use that accusation against Democrats in the election.
“America First” actually means “Trump First.”
And now this.
He is so concerned about his re-election chances being hindered by the state of the economy as we battle for our families and friends lives, that he announced today that the country will be back to business as usual by Easter, 12 April. He is ignoring the best advice of 99 percent of health care professionals in this and many other countries. No one knows how this is going to turn out but there is near unanimous agreement that for the U.S. and other nations, the worst is yet to come. Think about the circumstances right now in Italy, Spain and other first world nations. I am not even sure what business as usual will look like in three weeks.
His argument, first espoused by Fox News talking heads, is that the “cure is worse than the disease.” Rather than suffer some — maybe even a lot — of pain up front to get this under control, he is willing to open the country up to the potential for continuing waves of deadly disease. Many people when first diagnosed with cancer feel fine. Chemotherapy and other treatments are not at all fun and can be quite painful. In the beginning, it is worse than the disease. However, people understand that in the long run they will be better off with a much higher chance of survival if they submit to the treatment. Seems pretty basic. But perhaps it is too much for Mr. Trump to grasp.
With his constant comparisons to the flu and car crashes that kill tens of thousands of people a year but we don’t shut down for them, it is apparent that he does not at all realize what he and we are dealing with today. Besides the fact that COVID-19 has a much higher rate of transmission, and a higher death rate for those that contract it than does the flu, it impacts all other health care areas. As a country we do not have thousands of intensive care beds, nurses, doctors and technicians standing around waiting for a pandemic. The surge capacity is very, very limited in civilian hospitals. To take on the COVID-19 patients means that someone with a heart attack, or in a car crash or some other emergency may not get the level of care that they otherwise would have gotten. Those deaths are not attributed to the pandemic but are very real issues of collateral damage. Some of those people would not have died under normal circumstances.
Life is hard. Dealing with a crisis is hard. Dealing with COVID-19 is hard. But it is harder when you don’t have a clue. Or worse. You don’t care to have a clue.
Following his Impeachment Trial, Mr. Donald J. Trump became predictably vengeful and embarked on a revenge tour. He is now systematically using the power of the presidency to invoke his personal wrath on anyone that did not faithfully and fully support him — personally — rather than doing their duty and supporting their oath to the Constitution. The purge will only end when the Trump regime is fully stocked with Trump loyalists, regardless of their ability to handle the job, personal background, or knowledge of anything related to the job. For the most part, expect it to be the “B Team” — or maybe more like “F Troop.”
Mr. Trump is taking another page out of the Autocracy 101 text book. We should not be surprised.
Recently, I was referred to an article in the New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen. Titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival it provides six rules based on living much of her life in autocracies and becoming an expert on Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Ms. Gessen is much better at explaining herself than I could ever be — it is worth the time to read the original — and her November 2016 article is stunningly prescient in predicting Mr. Trump’s behavior in the years following his election.
In brief, these are the six rules.
- Believe the autocrat. They always tell you exactly what they are going to do. Mr. Trump exhibits this behavior. What some consider to be exaggeration, hyperbole or “Trump being Trump” is actually him telling you what he is going to do. Or at least what he wants to do if he can figure out a way to get away with it. I first observed this trait in Gulf War I where I was involved in a group tasked with the formulation of a policy and a strategy to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and to restore a semblance of order in the Gulf region. With study, it became obvious that he was telling the world exactly what he intended to do — or what he would try to do — but you had to peel away the bombastic language to fully understand what he was saying.
- Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. When things seem out of control, the smallest sense of normality tends to soothe people’s concerns. We all need reassurances. When things are at their worst, anything that makes it seem as if the situation is temporary and that it will all be okay in the end is a salve that may hide the wound rather than heal it. What is happening today in our country is not normal. No one-off State of the Union speech or any other glimmer of normal presidential behavior should mask the fact that 99% of the time our president is out of control.
- Institutions will not save you. American values are based on ideas like a free press, an independent judiciary, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch and leaders within the government protecting the Constitution for all Americans. It takes about two seconds to recall that Mr. Trump fires anyone that stands up to him, constantly debases members of the media, attacks judges that do not do want he wants, and always succeeds in getting the formerly Republican members of Congress to acquiesce to his every whim. Mr. Trump and his regime took a steam roller to the established norms of government and continue to test the limits of the law in every corner of government. There are no longer any safety barriers keeping the regime within safe boundaries.
- Be outraged. While many of us may no longer be surprised by statements and actions from Mr. Trump, one needs to continue to be shocked. Do not normalize bad behavior especially when it threatens the fabric of our democracy. Be prepared for ridicule when continuing to call out such awful behavior while others continue with their mantra that it is just Trump being Trump. As he himself calls it when belittling those that critique him, be prepared for accusations of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Be prepared for unpleasant attacks from his most ardent supporters. Do not back off.
- Don’t make compromises. So many former Republicans, especially in the Senate, predicted that Mr. Trump as president would be the worst thing that ever happened to our country. After three years of his presidency they are now his most loyal and fervent supporters. Their support is not necessarily a re-evaluation of his competency or ability or vision, but rather it is a compromise of their own values in order to retain power. Mr. Trump is no different than the person they ardently decried during the campaign. Those around him have changed.
- Remember the future. Mr. Trump, his regime, and Trumpism cannot last forever. Look to reform our institutions in order to restore the foundations of our democracy. Put into law what we as a country previously took to be accepted norms of behavior that our leaders would honor. Work to project a new vision for our country that is inclusive and that addresses the problems that Mr. Trump was able to cynically manipulate for his own purposes. Stay in the game.
In the every day course of our own lives it is possible to lose sight of the big picture attack on our democracy. It’s hard. Frankly, it’s exhausting. It is easy to lose oneself in areas outside of politics because it is just so relentlessly Trump. Every gosh darn day there is some new Tweet or speech or rally that saps all of the energy from one’s soul when it is clear that he has no idea what he is talking about. Nearly 17,000 documented and provable lies during his presidency numbs the soul and becomes normalized.
And that is the plan.
Autocracy thrives on indifference or exhaustion or just turning it over to the regime and letting them take care of it all as long as my day-to-day life is not impacted. Mr. Trump and his regime are interested only in themselves and in the amassing of personal power. Period. Anything else is a sales pitch presented in the moment to get a cheer or to attack an opponent or to appear to care. Remember that fundamentally, they don’t care about you or me or the rule of law. Only themselves.
It is up to us as citizens to stay vigilant and to call out the fouls when we see them.
“I believe that the president has learned from this case. The president has been impeached — that’s a pretty big lesson.” — Senator Susan Collins (Tr-Maine)
Multiple Senators opined in a similar way that Mr. Trump learned his lesson as to the seriousness of his actions concerning Ukraine and that he would be more reserved and conventional in his approach to governing in the future.
When asked by a reporter about Senator Collins’ statement, specifically, what lessons he’s learned from the impeachment, Mr. Trump responded:
“That the Democrats are crooked. They’ve got a lot of crooked things going. That they’re vicious. That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment. And that my poll numbers are ten points higher.”
It has only been a little over a week since the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump concluded. In that time, Mr. Trump embarked on a crusade of retribution and increasingly threatening behavior. The list is too long — in just nine days mind you — to enumerate here but it started with the National Prayer Breakfast, continued in a rambling and profane State of Mind speech in the White House, and is clearly enumerated in his omnipresent Tweet storms. It is, in a word, frightening.
Of greatest concern to our Republic is his stated intent to meddle in the Justice system of the United States of America. Our legal system depends on the ability of our prosecutors, judges and juries to attempt to be as impartial as possible. As with Joe Friday in the old “Drag Net” series, “just the facts, Ma’am.” Just as important is the public’s perception that the system is unbiased and faithful to the law. Mr. Trump is attempting to undercut both elements that are so important to our rule of law.
We got a preview of coming attractions a few weeks ago when the DOJ initially asked for a relatively long prison sentence (seven months) for confessed felon Mr. Michael Flynn. That was later withdrawn and a recommendation for probation was substituted after the original career prosecutors were over-ruled by senior political appointee DOJ officials.
In case you missed it, Mr. Trump’s long time friend and confidant — and proud self proclaimed political dirty trickster — Mr. Roger Stone was convicted on seven felony counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering. His is the last case to come from the Mueller Investigation which resulted in multiple defendants going to jail on convictions or admissions of guilt.
Mr. Stone is due to be sentenced next week. This week the four career prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) used the existing formula under current law to recommend a sentence for Mr. Stone. Prosecutors recommend a sentence, based on the guidelines, and then judges hand down the sentence based on those same guidelines coupled with any mitigating or aggravating circumstances and other factors that may have come out during the trial or that are presented by the defense attorneys in order to humanize the guidelines.
The DOJ prosecutors recommended in a brief presented to the court that Mr. Stone serve seven to nine years in jail. That night, the president tweeted at two A.M. that “This is a horrible and very unfair situation. The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Later that day, under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the court papers were withdrawn and a lighter sentence was put forward by DOJ. Mr. Trump later publicly questioned whether there was “prosecutorial misconduct” in the case under the original prosecutors.
The four original career prosecutors resigned in protest. Three resigned from the case and one from the case and from DOJ.
It gets worse. As it always does with Mr. Trump.
The president then went after the presiding judge in the case on Twitter. He went after Judge Amy Berman Jackson a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She is a highly respected member of the judiciary known for her fairness and lack of tolerance for shenanigans in the court room. Oh by the way, she also was the judge in other prosecutions brought forward by Mr. Mueller including Mr. Paul Manafort and Mr. Richard Gates. It was the sentencing of Mr. Manafort that particularly incensed the president, which he brought up in his latest attack on Judge Jackson.
It gets worse, as it always does.
The president then went after the forewoman of the jury that convicted Mr. Stone. On Twitter, of course, he said of the forewoman, “Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the “Justice” Department.” He then referenced “Fox and Friends” on Fox News. Of course he did. And of course he puts “justice” in quotations.
It gets worse, again.
Yesterday AG Barr, in what appeared to me to be a “CYA” (an old term — known in modern circles as damage control mode), held an interview with ABC News where he opined that the president’s Tweets were making it “impossible” for him to do his job. To me, it looked like the AG was trying to tell Mr. Trump that he was taking care of the president and following up on his desired use of the Justice Department for his own purposes, but that the Tweets were giving away the ball game. Basically, to me, he was saying to the president, “Cool it. We’ve got your back but we can’t do it if you brag about it. Just stop it.”
But no matter. The president just — Could. Not. Let. It. Be.
Today the president says that he has “the legal right” to interfere in cases brought by the Justice Department. Let that sink in for a minute.
Not only is he claiming that he can interfere in the prosecution proceedings against his friends and allies, but that he can direct the prosecution of his perceived enemies or those that he claims are disloyal to him. Not to the Constitution, to him. Personally.
That’s some scary stuff.
In case you don’t quite get it, note that Mr. Trump is pushing the Department of Defense to have the Army take disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for his reporting, through the chain of command, his uneasiness with Mr. Trump’s now infamous call with the Ukrainian president. He testified to Congress under a subpoena — following orders and his oath to the Constitution. Said Mr. Trump of Colonel Vindman, “He is over with the military.” This from a man that pardoned three military war criminals.
The bottom line is this. The President of the United States clearly thinks that he is squarely in charge of the country. Not as a leader, but as an autocrat. Whatever he wants, he gets. Whatever he tells people to do, they must do it or be subject to retribution or worse, criminal prosecution. Not legal orders, mind you. Rather, anything he wants, regardless of legality or morality.
Sadly, though profoundly disturbed, I am not shocked by Mr. Trump’s behavior. I am, however, dumbfounded that with only one exception, the former Republicans in Congress have formed a cabal that has gone over lock, stock and barrel to aiding and abetting his outrageous behavior. Indeed, they cheer and applaud his every inane and threatening statement. Literally. Take a look at video of his public appearances the day after the Impeachment Trial. You know, the “trial” where the Trumpists refused to allow any evidence or testimony.
Mr. Trump during his campaign famously said that he could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York City and get away with it. Sadly, that may have been a prophecy rather than an apocryphal statement. Clearly he has come to believe that not only can he get away with that, but apparently he now believes that he has the right to do that if it is in the “national interest” — meaning in his interest.
Can you imagine what will happen if he wins a second term?
The Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump continues today. It is impossible to know exactly what will occur over the next 30 hours or so, but a betting person would place money on the increasing likelihood that the Senate will vote “no” on calling witnesses or documents during the trial and then proceed to acquit Mr. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
And we will be the worse for it.
Politics aside, meaning whether or not you felt that Mr. Trump should be removed from office, all of us should be appalled that the Senate will conclude the trial without actually holding a trial as we all know it should be conducted. Indeed, in the latest Quinnipiac Poll — a source respected by all mainstream politicians — 75% of respondents stated that there should be witnesses questioned and documents reviewed during the Impeachment Trial. Only 20% said that they were not necessary. Those in favor included a majority of Republicans as well as overwhelming numbers of Democrats and Independents. The reasons for wanting them may vary — for proving either an acquittal or a conviction — but the fact remains that they are wanted. So much for elected officials listening to their constituents.
More shocking, more incredible, more dangerous than all of the preposterous arguments being put forward by the Trump cultists, is the one proffered by Professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the president’s defense lawyers. His twisted logic essentially says that a president can do anything that he wants. Period. He is totally in line with Mr. Trump’s declaration, “Then, I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
Specifically, Professor Dershowitz argued that if a president is running for re-election and believes that being re-elected is in the public interest, then that person can do whatever is necessary to get re-elected. After a long explanation, he summarized by saying, “If a president does something he believes will help him get elected is in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”
Think about the ramifications of saying that a president can do anything to get elected and the Congress can do nothing about it. The imagination runs wild.
So for those keeping score at home, here is where we are:
- The president believes that he does not have to submit to oversight from the Congress and therefore refuses to turn over any documents or witnesses to help Congress do its Constitutionally mandated job.
- The entire membership of one political party in Congress supports that assertion and actively works to keep witnesses and documents from their oversight.
- The defense team of the president confirms that the president does not have to submit to Congressional oversight.
- The defense team then goes one step further by saying that if a president believes that his actions are in the “national interest” then he can do anything that he wants to do.
- The president believes, and now has had it affirmed, that he is the state. Whatever is good for him is good for the country.
- The Senate votes to affirm all of the above.
Put all the pieces together and we no longer have an accountable president. We have the equivalent of a divine king. (There are many evangelicals that believe that it is God’s will that Mr. Trump was elected.) Our very own Louis XIV! (Famous quote one: “It is legal because I wish it.” Famous quote two: “Has God forgotten all I have done for Him?”) I am not hyperventilating, or over-stating the case when I use that phrase because the arguments are in the same vein as those used for the divine right of kings. To continue in this direction puts the great American experiment on life support.
Rather than “king” maybe we should worry that we will soon have an “emperor.” Perhaps the best historical analogy is the end of the Roman Republic. After long and bitter political infighting, the Senate abdicated its responsibilities to an Emperor.
Is there any doubt that Mr. Trump, given his track record to date and proven propensity to do only what he thinks personally benefits him, will stop at nothing to win the next election? Then what?
The possible consequences are limited only by one’s own imagination. Consider this scenario as an example. Mr. Trump already believes that he lost the 2016 popular vote because three million people voted illegally. He formed a commission to “prove” it. (The commission disbanded without finding any evidence of such a thing.) Suppose the polls show that he will lose again in 2020 and decides that all of those illegal voters were in California and that they were all illegal immigrants (another theory he has espoused with no proof what-so-ever)? Suppose he then declares that it is in the national interest to prevent that from happening and shuts down polling places in California or, after the results are in, declares that it is in the national interest to nullify all votes in California? What mechanism exists to prevent that? Public outrage? A dysfunctional Congress? The press?
It is increasingly clear that our Founding Fathers assumed that at least a modicum of decency and fair play would exist in either the presidency or in the Congress in order to make the checks and balances actually work. We now clearly can see that an individual who knows no boundaries and bursts through any guardrails that may have existed, coupled to the lack of any will to stop him, means that anything goes.
Here’s the thing to remember. Whatever shenanigans happen in the next few days, whoever argues that the Trump cultists are on the wrong side of history, or that they are setting a terrible precedent for future presidents or even that our democracy may be in jeopardy, there is only one answer.
Repeat after me.
THEY. DON’T. CARE.
All that matters now is protecting Mr. Trump who in turn promises to protect them (Ha!) which allows them to retain power.
NOTHING. ELSE. MATTERS.
Is it too much to say that we now have a king rather than a president? Perhaps. Only the events over the next few months will let us know for sure. I for one am extremely nervous about what Mr. Trump thinks he can do now that he feels no consequences for his election dallying with Russia and his extortion attempts on Ukraine.
Everything seems to be fair game to him and he sees no problem with his immoral behavior. Our only recourse is to be vigilant, continue to cry “foul” while holding our Senators and Representatives accountable and turning out in record numbers in November to vote these people into obscurity.