If you have not yet heard about the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg then you may think that this piece is about someone or something else other than the United States military. Unfortunately, the title comes from the mouth of Mr. Donald J. Trump and he was referring to our military, especially to those killed, wounded or missing in action. In accordance with the over 20,000 documented lies that the president has uttered since taking office, no one is surprised that Mr. Trump denied saying anything like that and trotted out a series of sycophants and Trump associates to deny that he ever said it.
Believe what you want, but I’ll go with The Atlantic and the corroboration of the essence of the article as confirmed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and Fox News. It also fits a long pattern of actions on his part that indicate his prime interest in the military is the trappings of office and banana republic style parades and displays of military equipment. For example, in 2018 his personal attorney Michael Cohen testified that Mr. Trump told him that he would never have gone to Vietnam. “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”
To me, it is easy to believe. It fits a pattern of behavior and conduct in office that fully supports his belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth doing unless there is some personal monetary or other reward involved. He simply cannot comprehend that anybody would put their lives at risk for a concept such as democracy or the Constitution. His world view is that everyone is out to get whatever they can, and to get it they will lie, cheat or steal. If you do not do that then you are a loser or a sucker. You are there to be had.
Apparently in his world view, no one gets rich in the military so to join makes you either stupid — literally, you couldn’t do anything else — or a sucker. He is reported to have said to aides after a briefing by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford; “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”
This latest revelation of the superficiality of everything associated with Mr. Trump is not surprising. A quick look at some of his greatest hits shows that his language about the military is nothing new. I still find it depressing. Apparently he is not just totally transactional, but also ill-informed and basically ignorant about anything that does not involve his personal interests.
- In 1997 Mr. Trump said during the Howard Stern Show that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
- Starting in 1999 he continually attacked Senator John McCain and called him a loser. Mr. Trump denies this but his own Tweet from 18 July 2015 says exactly that. The then Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security Mr. Miles Taylor attested to the fact that Mr. Trump did not want to take any honorific actions following the Senator’s death. Indeed, Mr. Trump was outraged that action was taken.
- Following the 2016 Democratic Convention he relentlessly attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan after they spoke about the sacrifice of their son Army Captain Khan who was killed in action in 2004.
- In a botched condolence call in 2017 to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson she said that Mr. Trump could not remember her husband’s name (he told her he read it after stumbling over it) and said to her “He knew what he signed up for.” When she expressed her pain over the call, Mr. Trump spent the next eight days attacking her via his Twitter account.
- In 2017 during a meeting in the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior administration officials, he angrily told them they were all “losers.” “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
- In 2019 he interfered in the military justice system by overturning the war crimes convictions of a Navy SEAL and an Army Special Forces officer and another Army officer about to go on trial for war crimes. Special interests used the medium of Fox News to get him to intervene. He thought it was good for him to do so because it would be popular. He said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” Such statements show that he has no clue about the military, its honor, or its code of conduct.
- Against the advice of his senior military and civilian advisers Mr. Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. support to the Kurds in Syria leading to a near massacre as Turkish forces poured across the border. He left a staunch ally in the lurch in order to impress the thugish leader of Turkey.
- This summer Mr. Trump threatened to deploy U.S. combat troops against American citizens. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had to make two separate public statements affirming the military is not in the business of acting against our own citizens and that the non-partisan nature of the military precludes support for any candidate for public office.
- In July of this year Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw about a third of our deployed forces in Europe to support NATO. This is a move that certainly delights Russian president Vladimir Putin. His stated reason for doing so was “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore. We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s that simple.” (Not surprisingly, his statement on bill paying is not accurate and shows his ignorance of how NATO defense spending works. But hey, remember the 20,000 lies.)
- It is well known in and out of government through published reports that Russian agents in Afghanistan put bounties on the heads of U.S. military personnel. Taliban fighters would be paid for each American killed. This is perhaps the greatest sign the Mr. Trump cares not one iota for American military personnel as he makes countless excuses for inaction. Claiming ignorance, to this day he has not confronted the Russians over this outrage. Preventing the needless loss of life for the troops and doing all in his power to keep them safe is the greatest responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and he refuses to take action.
There are many more examples of his callous disregard for the American military. He seems to think that all he has to do is mouth a few words at some rally and he’s done.
Do I believe that Mr. Trump is capable of calling our dead and wounded losers and suckers? You bet I do. His track record is abysmal. To paraphrase another president, Mr. Trump does not ask what he can do for the country, he asks what the country can do for him.
In case you missed it, the Confederate States of America (CSA) ceased to exist 155 years ago. It will not rise again. The current divisiveness over Confederate symbols, flags, and names for military bases makes no sense to me. As I have written in this space before, there was a time when I was a young boy that I bought into the culture of the “Lost Cause” — the idea of a chivalrous, valiant, and courageous battle of the southern states against the oppressors from the North. But, then I grew up. I learned history. I grasped what the Confederate States stood for. I was appalled that many of the military leaders of the CSA were West Point graduates who swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and that they turned into traitors willing to destroy the country to which they pledged their allegiance. And, oh yeah, they were losers.
Even today one will hear arguments that the war was really about “States Rights” (the right to enslave other human beings), or to preserve a “way of life” (based on the enslavement of other human beings) or to keep their economy from being destroyed (an economy based on free labor from the enslavement of other human beings). It doesn’t take much to realize what all the code words mean.
Arguments that the majority of Confederate soldiers were not slave holders but were merely protecting their families and homes doesn’t hold water when you realize the psychology of those times. While they may not personally have enslaved other human beings, they knew that no matter how bad their life might be, someone else was worse off and could be looked down upon as sub-human, abused, and treated as property — which made their own lot in life more acceptable.
The Defense Authorization Act working its way through Congress contains an amendment to rename the ten U.S. Army bases named after Confederate generals and directs the Department of Defense to no longer name anything after anyone or any battle victory or any other landmark from the Confederacy. The Worst President Ever is threatening to veto the bill — putting in jeopardy the funding for our military currently fighting over seas — because of that provision. Ridiculous.
Let’s look at the facts. Of the ten bases, five were built and named during World War I, five during World War II. Each of the bases were named for a general from that state in an effort to smooth the way for annexation of land needed to build the bases to fight our wars. Local politics was mostly the reason for naming the bases, not some glorification of their military prowess or heroism. Indeed, several of those generals were among the worst in military history, wasting lives on ill-conceived and poorly executed battle plans. Losers.
And the monuments. Yes, let’s look at the Confederate monuments that are now slowly coming down. Of the roughly 740 monuments that remain, almost 700 of them were put up in the decades after 1900. Nearly 400 in 1900-1920 were established in cities and towns. The main source of those statues? A powerful and determined lobbying group we know as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were responsible for the vast majority of them. Ostensibly their cause was to honor their gallant fathers and grandfathers but they were so readily received because in post-Reconstruction America it was a clear signal to Black Americans that they may be free of their enslavement, but the rules and societal norms of the slave era had not changed. Imagine as the free son or daughter of a former slave going to the county court house seeking justice and outside the building is a monument to a Confederate soldier or to someone like John B. Gordon (for whom a fort in Georgia is named) who was later the leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. Intimidation was the goal and it clearly sent a signal that there was no justice under any law for Black Americans, regardless of what may be written in the statutes.
The Confederate battle flag came into popular use during the 1950’s and 60’s. For example, it was flown at the state capital in Georgia beginning in 1956 and over the capital in South Carolina in 1962. Coincidentally, one might suppose, with the beginning of the Civil Rights movement? (Thankfully, they were removed after the shooting in a Charleston church in 2015, but not without a political fight. Last week the Mississippi legislature voted to remove it from their state flag.) Just today Mr. Trump got on Twitter and chastised NASCAR officials for banning the flag from their race tracks. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps only recently banned the flag from all of its bases, ships, aircraft and property.
Cries that the removal of these symbols of treason and oppression are attempts to “rewrite history” fall on deaf ears in my case. The only rewriting is the canard that these symbols are somehow proud vestiges of America’s culture and founding principles and that they reflect the American spirit. The only American spirit that they reflect is that of white supremacy. When armed right wing militia groups demonstrate in Michigan or Oregon carrying Confederate flags, they are not celebrating their heritage. They are purposely carrying a symbol of their hate for the “others” — anyone who does not have the same color skin as they do.
Under the First Amendment anyone can fly any flag they care to fly. If some redneck thinks that a giant Confederate battle flag flapping from the back of his pickup truck somehow makes him more manly, have at it. To me it only shows a heaping pile of insecurity on his part. Or ignorance. Or discrimination. Or all of the above. However, no institution in the United States government should be a part of glorifying a shameful part of our history. In my opinion, no corporation, sports authority or any other public entity should support that cause either.
We cannot rewrite history. No one is trying to wipe out our past by advocating for the removal of these symbols. However, we do need to write a fuller history that incorporates all elements of that past. As the cliche goes, we need to include the good, the bad and the ugly and to put it all into context.
Arguments ensue and demagogues rabble rouse over the question of “where does it stop?” How far do we go in understanding the flaws and failures of those who went before us? Outside of the hate mongering and fear laced rhetoric, it is a difficult question. Who should we honor and how should we do that are legitimate questions that deserve consideration through community input, scholarly research, historical context and the realization that no one of us is perfect. Perhaps we differentiate between those that laid out fundamental principles toward which our nation continues to strive versus those that worked to hold back progress and to deny freedom for all.
It seems to me that it is a no-brainer as to where to start. There should be no tax payer supported monuments or other honors for those that forswore their oath to the Constitution, turned into traitors against the United States of America, and fought a war to enforce the enslavement of our fellow Americans.
After 155 years, enough is enough!
While you were focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact on our society, other government functions continue as intended. Among those continuing to function, although for the first time in history they did so via video conferences, was the Supreme Court. A number of pending cases could produce profound precedents that could change the ways our government functions.
Among these are two cases involving the Electoral College and whether or not the individual Electors are obligated to vote for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates with the most popular votes in their respective states. The two cases stem from the 2016 election and are Chiafalo v. Washington [the state] and Colorado Department of State v. Baca. In both cases, Electors voted for candidates other than the one with the most popular votes in their state. In the Chiafalo case the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that under the Constitution the state has the power to enforce the state law that requires Electors to vote for their party’s candidate. In the Baca case, however, the The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th District (in Denver) over-ruled the state’s law requiring Electors to vote for their party’s candidate saying that under the Constitution, once an Elector is appointed, they are free to vote as they choose.
In all, in 2016 seven Electors voted for candidates that were not the one’s they were supposed to represent.
It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide which determination is correct, with profound implications for our future elections. The practices and traditions which have served us well for all these many years could be codified through the Court’s action or it could be thrown on its ear.
So what does this mean to us? Perhaps a little background is in order as the Electoral College (which is a process rather than a place — and is never mentioned in the Constitution) is often misunderstood by many of us.
The Founding Fathers did not trust the great American unwashed average citizen to make rational choices as to our elected officials. The House of Representatives was to be “The People’s House” where they could participate in governing, but the real power was in the Senate. Recall that Senators were not popularly elected until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment which was ratified in 1913. Before that, State Legislatures elected each state’s Senators.
Likewise, the Founding Fathers did not trust a direct popular vote for president. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that the Electors would have the “information and discernment” to determine the best person for President. Under the original text of the Constitution, state legislatures selected the Electors and each Elector would cast two ballots for president. The candidate with the most votes (assuming it is a majority) would be President and the candidate with the second most votes would be Vice President. Then came the election of 1800 where Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 votes each. The decision then went to the House of Representatives where after 36 ballots (neither could garner a majority), Jefferson was voted in as President.
Following this near debacle, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in 1804. This modified how Electors cast their ballots, separating the vote for President from that of Vice President. It did not designate how the Electors would be chosen.
Over time, most states decided that the Electoral votes from their state would go to the candidate with the most popular votes. (Maine and Nebraska have laws that divide the Electoral votes by Congressional district. It is thus possible that votes from those states could go to two candidates.) Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (they gained Electoral votes under the Twenty-third Amendment in 1961) have laws that bind the Electors to vote the same as the popular vote.
In practice, when we vote we do not vote for the president. We vote for Electors who promise to vote for a particular candidate. Most Electors are party luminaries or workers in the same party as the candidate. Where laws do not govern the specifics of how a state’s Electors must vote, it is assumed that by pledging their loyalty to a particular party’s candidate, they will so vote.
Over time, “faithless Electors” — those that do not follow the popular vote — have not decided any election. However, there were at least five presidential elections where the winner would have been different if ten Electors had changed their vote. Likewise, there have been five elections where a president lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College vote (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016).
Here is another fun fact about presidential elections. If the electoral vote is tied, the decision rests with the House for President and the Senate for Vice President. But here’s the rub. Each state votes as a block and each state counts as one vote. Thus the vote for President from the North Dakota delegation (with only one Representative) counts the same as the vote from California with 53 Representatives.
Clearly, our president is not, and never has been, decided by the popular vote in any way that would be comparable to our election for every other office in the land since 1913. Over the years there have been many attempts to do away with the current system and to have the voters directly decide on the President and Vice President. It would require an Act of Congress and ratification from the states to do so because it would be a change to the Constitution. The closest attempt to change it was the passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives in 1969 calling for a direct vote with a run off if no candidate received at least forty percent of the vote. The resolution failed to pass in the Senate.
The dilemma the Supreme Court faces is how to interpret the Constitution without upending two centuries of practice. Essentially, our country devised a new way of electing our presidents, different from the original ideas of the Founding Fathers, even if we keep the relics and traditions of that system. If the “originalists” on the Court decide that the Constitution intended for Electors to use their discretion and vote for whomever they want, the popular vote could become meaningless as there would be no obligation to vote for the winner in their respective states. They could vote for anyone, potentially throwing the system into chaos. If the Court decides that states can in fact determine how their Electors are chosen and that the Electors must vote as per the state’s law, then they run the risk of voiding what some consider to be the original intent of the Founding Fathers.
Given the ongoing destruction of long-standing norms, practices and ethical behavior that previously stood the test of time, it is imperative that the Court codify existing practice and give the states the power to best determine how their Electors will be allocated. Further, the Congress should again address the issues surrounding the use of Electors to determine our presidents. Even if one is in favor of the way we have come to interpret the value of the Electoral College (theoretically giving more states a chance to participate in the selection of our presidents) it is time to put into law how those Electors are chosen. To do otherwise invites disaster in either the near or long term. I have voiced my opinion in this space in previous postings that I believe we should do away with the anachronistic Electoral College and provide for direct popular votes for president.
Either way, we should not leave it up to chance. The forthcoming decision from the Supreme Court will have a direct impact on our future elections. Let’s hope that they get it right and keep the states in charge of enforcing votes from their Electors. The Congress must then follow up to instill a rigorous and uniform method for selecting Electors and their subsequent votes — either by putting our current system into law or by abolishing the Electoral College and providing for the direct election of President and Vice President. The future of our Republic demands it.
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.
“You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.” — President Ronald Reagan from his speech “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on 6 June 1984
Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces. D-Day. The largest naval and air assault in the history of the world. The beginning of the end of Nazism. I hope all of us were able to take a few minutes to remember the brave men who came ashore that day in order to save a continent and to restore the security and safety of all nations through the destruction of tyranny.
Their determination, fortitude and valor cannot be overstated. While movies such as “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan” try to capture the intensity, confusion and terror of that day, none of us that did not experience it first hand can truly know what it was like. Hell on earth.
Why did they do it? In the abstract it was for democracy and our country and the knowledge that our American way of life was threatened. They did it to restore freedom to oppressed people across Europe. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because they understood honor, sacrifice, discipline and taking on the tough jobs. As the doors of the airplanes opened and they jumped into the darkness and the ramps on the HIggins boats dropped, they did it for each other. No one wanted to let their buddies down. Average men rightly honored as the best our country has to offer.
It wasn’t easy. Casualties on D-Day for U.S. forces are estimated at 1,465 dead and 3,184 wounded. 1,928 were declared missing and presumed dead. 26 were captured. The heaviest casualties were on Omaha beach and among the airborne troops. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing in the course of the Battle of Normandy. 9,387 Americans are buried in Normandy near Colleville-sur-Mer including Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the son of President Teddy Roosevelt who was in the first wave ashore and including forty-five sets of brothers. All of these lives were sacrificed “for the common cause of humanity” as declared on the inscription over the chapel at the cemetery. Boys mostly. 18 and 20 year old kids that would never make it home to family and friends. Forever young. Those boys that survived are now in their nineties and this is likely the last major celebration of the landing that will include those who were actually there.
Many tragic stories surround the invasion. Perhaps the impact of the dangers that they faced can best be represented by the good citizens of Bedford Virginia. Of the 220 soldiers in Alpha Company, 116th Regiment, 29th Division, thirty-five were from Bedford. Alpha Company was among those most devastated when the ramps for the landing craft dropped. They lost 103 men that day, of which 19 were from that small town in Virginia. A life changing event for those left behind.
Alongside the Americans came the British and Canadians. Elements of forces from France, Poland, and other nations parachuted into the country or rode the waves to the beach. French Resistance forces came out of the woodwork to harass and delay the German response. It was the best the world had to offer working in concert.
On the beach at Normandy the seeds of the world as we now know it were planted. The cooperation of the Allies in that endeavor begat the creation of NATO, the European Union and other economic and security organizations meant to preclude future wars in Europe and to foster the well-being of freedom loving people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It worked.
None of these men considered themselves heroes. They did not want to let their buddy or their family down. They had a job to do and they did it. They realized that they were part of something bigger than themselves and they were willing to sacrifice anything, including their lives for the greater good and the well-being of others.
Those men understood the dangers. They went forward anyway. To them it was not to put America first, it was to put the freedom of the world first. As a nation, we should take this time to reflect upon the incredible achievements of our “greatest generation” who led the way in war and in peace. They are the soul of our country and they reflect our core values. Well done, men. Rest easy.
Let us pray for our leaders today, that they have the same understanding of sacrifice, honor, and dedication to doing the right thing.
…Don’t it always seem to go, That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…
—– Joni Mitchell from the song Big Yellow Taxi
From time to time I try to do a self-evaluation as to my perspective on current events under this president’s administration. In a nod to Chicken Little, I wonder if things are really as bad as they seem or whether I am falling prey to the hype. Am I running around yelling that the sky is falling for no reason? In my view, there is less hype and more to be genuinely concerned about with this president as time goes by. I worry that the incremental destruction of our political norms and traditions is passing the notice of many of our fellow citizens and that one day we will wake up and realize that what we all assumed was right in these United States is now gone.
Consider the following:
- The president gutted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We now have an Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and key department heads are missing or also have “acting” leaders including the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, the Undersecretary for Management, the Director of the Secret Service and the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Any day, the Director of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will be empty as he becomes the Acting Secretary. Additionally in the DHS the FAA and FEMA are headed by acting directors. There are other key offices empty.
- When the president was asked who is in charge at DHS given all the vacancies, he replied, “Frankly there’s only one person that’s running it. You know who that is? It’s me.”
- There are 716 positions in the government that require Senate confirmation. Of those there are 140 with no nominee. Only six are awaiting confirmation. Positions without permanent leadership include the Secretary of Defense, the president’s Chief of Staff, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The other positions are generally department heads or at the Deputy and Assistant Secretary level across the government, in other words, the people that actually get things done.
- The president is trying to interfere with the work of the Federal Reserve, an institution previously thought for decades to be above political interference which is critical to its credibility and role in shaping the U.S. and world economy.
- The Attorney General of the United States is refusing to release the entire Mueller Report to the Congress. He alone (or will it be with help from the White House?) will determine what will be released. While it may be reasonable to withhold some of the report’s information from the general public, refusing to release it to Congress, who is authorized to deal with classified information and grand jury proceedings, makes it impossible to know whether the true story of the investigation will be known. Additionally this week, Attorney General Barr asserted that the government was spying on the Trump campaign. As he said, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. I think spying did occur.” When asked to provide proof, he said he could not. How convenient. The man who controls what parts of the impartial investigation may be released can assert whatever he cares to and then not have to provide evidence.
- The Attorney General got his job by currying favor with Mr. Trump. His hiring is paying off for the president as Mr. Barr repeats many of the president’s talking points and provides further fodder for his assertions that he was “exonerated” (he wasn’t), that it was all a “hoax” (the entire intelligence community says it was not), and that it was an “attempted coup” (forgetting that the Special Counsel, Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, FBI Director, etc., etc., etc.) were all this president’s appointees. The president procured a personal attorney in Mr. Barr, and the United States lost an Attorney General. (One might ask Mr. Trump and his supporters how a corrupt, phony, political vendetta prone organization could “exonerate” him. A seemingly direct contradiction.)
- Additionally, the Attorney General refuses to support the law of the land — the Affordable Care Act twice upheld in the Supreme Court — primarily because that’s the president’s position. It’s kind of scary if a president can seek to overturn laws he doesn’t agree with by directing the Department of Justice to work to overturn it, even though it was twice deemed Constitutional.
- Speaking of not following the law, it appears that Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin will direct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) not to turn over Mr. Trump’s tax returns. This in spite of the fact that under the law the Secretary is not to interfere in decisions made by the IRS and the fact that a law is on the books that says the IRS “shall” turn them over to Congress upon request (not “may”, “could”, “might” or any other modifier). The law is a 1924 statute enacted to uncover fraud within the Executive Branch following the Teapot Dome scandal.
- After declaring a National Emergency and sending additional troops to the border, there is no Senate confirmed Secretary of Defense and no Secretary of Homeland Security. Not even nominees. Where is the oversight? Mr. Trump professes that “I like acting. It gives me more flexibility.” In other words, he likes people to be unsure in their jobs because it gives him more control over them. Additionally, he does not have to worry about too many tough questions coming during Senate confirmation hearings.
- Frustrated by the asylum laws governing immigrants, the president wants to undo them all and in fact argues that we eliminate judges that adjudicate the laws about asylum. As he said this week, “And we have to do something about asylum. And to be honest with you, you have to get rid of the judges.”
- Among other measures being considered (again!) in the White House is an Executive Order ending birthright citizenship (anyone born on U.S. soil is considered a citizen). So apparently the president and his advisers think that the president can unilaterally overturn the Constitution. In this case, the 14th Amendment.
I could go on and on. I find it very troubling that the assaults on the rule of law continue unabated and indeed, seem to be increasingly frequent and harsh. On the other hand, the president is a known blowhard who continually speaks outrageously and without knowledge of nearly any subject. Should we worry about his pronouncements or is it just more sound and fury rather than substance? If during his presidency he has already told over 9,000 provable lies should we just dismiss most of his statements as more lies? Or is there something there?
I think that there is something there. The president does not seem constrained by any law from taking action, even though many of his most controversial policies have been consistently overruled in the courts. He and his administration willfully ignore attempts at oversight from the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Republicans in the Senate are too afraid of being “primaried” (when did that become a word?) to stand up to him. Where are the limits to his power as he continues to push the boundaries and in many cases break them? Or are these concerns of mine just a gut level reaction to his abominable personality and persistent bullying and belittling?
In my heart I know that Mr. Trump cares nothing about the people of the United States. He cares only of himself and arguably his family. Whatever helps him personally and allows for his family to continue to make money off of the presidency is all that keeps him focused.
My concern is that having rid himself of nearly everyone in his Cabinet and close advisers that stood up to him to point out that his actions were unlawful, immoral or unethical (and in some cases all three) is gone. Now he is surrounded by enablers. I fear that as time goes by he will become ever more autocratic in outlook and action. Reportedly, Mr. Trump models himself after President Andrew Jackson. Remember what President Jackson is said to have remarked about a decision made by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!” (President Jackson ignored the Supreme Court’s decision in Worcester v Georgia. The case involved the sovereignty of Native American tribal lands.)
Mr. Trump is headed in the same direction as Mr. Jackson. He sees no limits on his power and believes that he can ignore the law where it suits him. And why not? Throughout his entire life he has never been held accountable for his actions in any meaningful way. With A.G. Barr’s unilateral assertion that the president is exonerated under the Mueller investigation, what is to make him think that anything or anyone will get in his way?
Sometimes I do think that I am Chicken Little. Maybe I worry about the course of our nation a little too much. Unfortunately, I am also a student of history and current events. There are just too many examples throughout time where revolutions and the loss of freedoms did not happen overnight, but rather incrementally and slowly. Most people’s lives were not immediately or directly impacted and so they didn’t pay close attention or fret over it. And then one day, it was too late. They didn’t know what they had until it was gone.
One at a time Mr. Trump’s actions may be more annoying than substantive. Put them all together and it paints the picture of a man who knows no boundaries. A president who is slowly eliminating his opposition and consolidating power in his own hands.
An old U.S. Navy saying goes “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety.” We should all remain vigilant to the actions of our president.
Mr. Donald J. Trump held his first cabinet meeting of the year on 2 January. In keeping with his reality show background, the meeting was televised. The meeting was really a 90 minute monologue on just about everything that Mr. Trump stewed about over the holidays. There were many newsworthy elements to be found in the transcript ranging from the border wall to the economy. Many of the statements were provably wrong or misleading. The list of falsehoods is too long to go through here.
Among the many untruths from the meeting perhaps the most troubling, at least in terms of asking oneself “where the heck did that come from?” were his comments on Afghanistan. In a discussion about a continued U.S. military presence there, he launched into a bizarre statement full of previously unknown “facts”. In addition to slandering our allies that have fought and died alongside US troops there he said,
“Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there; they should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.
The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is it was a tough fight. And literally, they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer a part of Russia because of Afghanistan.”
No one. No one, on the left, the right or the respective wing nuts of either side have ever said or believed that the Russians went into Afghanistan to fight terrorists or because they had a “right” to invade them. Bipartisan efforts during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush worked to isolate and punish the USSR for that invasion.
The real reason the Soviets invaded was the Brezhnev Doctrine. In 1968 Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union put forth as a basic tenet of Soviet foreign policy the right to interfere in the affairs of any communist country anywhere in the world. The Afghan government was communist when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and they occupied the country until their withdrawal in 1989. While true that the occupation was a drain on the Soviet military and the occupation became unpopular with the Soviet people, it did not bankrupt them or otherwise lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain. There were numerous reasons for the fall, but Afghanistan was more of a symptom of all that was wrong with the Soviet system rather than the cause. They definitely did not enter Afghanistan to fight “terrorists.”
Only one person is pushing the narrative that the Soviet Union had a “right” to invade Afghanistan to stop “terrorism.” That one person is Vladimir Putin. He is pushing a new revisionist history that is pure propaganda and is designed to restore his view of the glory of the Soviet empire in order to stoke nationalist sentiment in Russia, entrench his own power, and provide the basis for his adventurism in Ukraine, the Baltic states, and elsewhere in the hope of restoring that empire.
And now I guess there are two people pushing that line, one of which is the President of the United States.
As the Wall Street Journal put it in part in an editorial,
“Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.
The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.”
Is the president ignorant of history or is someone feeding him propaganda that he willingly repeats? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but this should raise alarm bells. Either the president really is ignorant of important world events that continue to shape international relations today, or he is willingly repeating Mr. Putin’s revisionist history meant to restore the luster of the former Soviet Union. Either answer is deeply troubling.
What are we to make of this? In the continued chaos of this administration it is easy to lose track of the multitude of “absurd” statements and actions coming out of the White House. However, given the president’s propensity to support and defend all things Putin, one must ask again, “what is going on?” The answer may be even more troubling than we can imagine.
Today is Armistice Day — what we in the United States now call Veteran’s Day. This is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. Hostilities ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
In some ways this is the “forgotten” war as it set the conditions for, and was eclipsed by, World War II. As such, it is fitting that nearly 100 countries, including roughly 60 heads of state, gathered in France to pay their respects to those that fought in the Great War. Ceremonies throughout the weekend honored those that participated, and in particular those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The exact number of killed and wounded is unknown, but it is estimated that there were 37 million military and civilian casualties during the four years of conflict with about 10 million military men and women and 7 million civilians killed. The United States joined the war late, in 1917, and lost about 116,000 military personnel from all causes during the war. Altogether a generation of young men were lost to Europe and the Allies. In the first day of one battle — the Battle of the Somme — the British lost an estimated 25,000 soldiers. In the Meuse-Argonne Forest in 1918 an estimated 26,000 Americans lost their lives during the six-week offensive, the most of any battle in American history.
Ironically the U.S. Civil War is often considered the first “modern” war due to the use of trains for transportation, industrialization and organization. The Civil War was studied closely by most major armies of the world, but by the time World War I came around, those lessons were lost or forgotten. Thus, with the advent of mechanized combat using machine guns, tanks, aircraft, poison gas, and other implements of modern war, combat was even more destructive as tactics, operations and strategies were mired in the 19th century. The result was a tremendous waste of life.
I always wondered how I would do when receiving the order to go “over the top” — out of the semi-safe trenches and into no-man’s-land — advancing in a line into the face of relentless machine gun and artillery fire. It was a meat grinder in the most awful sense of the phrase. Unbelievably, commanders on the front continued sending their men over the top on the morning of the Armistice resulting in needless deaths. Reports indicate that 2700 men died on the Western Front on the last morning of the war. According to the Washington Post via a 1919 report in the Baltimore Sun, the last American killed in the war was Henry N. Gunther from Baltimore. He reportedly died at 10:59 from German machine gun fire. The Germans yelled at him and tried to wave him back from their lines. He continued to charge and to fire on their position and they felt they had no choice but to shoot him to save themselves. According to the report, shortly after 11:00 the German soldiers emerged from their position, put Henry Gunther’s remains on a stretcher, and returned him to the American lines.
Many of those killed were never recovered. To honor their memory, countries erected monuments to those unknowns. In Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated on 11 November 1921 to honor those nameless Americans that were lost forever. In 1958 unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were also interred beside their World War I comrade and the monument became the Tomb of the Unknowns. Since 1937 the tomb is guarded by soldiers from the Army and since 1948 the guards come from the famous Army Third Infantry Regiment, known as the “Old Guard.”
Please take a moment on this Veteran’s Day to remember the real reason that we honor this day.
“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.”
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.
As confirmation hearings get underway today for the next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and as the President of the United States continues to undermine the rule of law through his tweets, it may be time to ponder the impact on United States history made by one man. No not him. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is the man.
You will remember that when Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace him in March 2016. Senator McConnell as the Majority Leader of the Senate refused to even meet with him, much less allow hearings or a vote on the nomination. This was unprecedented. As I wrote at the time, the ability of a president to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, at any time in his term, was a long-established power held by the president. Indeed, the precedent was set early when President John Adams nominated Chief Justice John Marshall after the election of 1800 and he assumed his position on the court at almost the moment President Adams was walking out the door of the White House (Thomas Jefferson won the 1800 election).
For the record, because we hear it still, there is no “Biden Rule” as claimed by the Republicans in the Senate as the reason for not moving Judge Garland’s nomination forward. The truth is that then Senator Joe Biden of Delaware gave a speech in June 1992 where he argued that the president, at the time President George H. W. Bush, should not nominate a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. But here is “the rest of the story.” There was no vacancy on the Supreme Court. There was no nominee to the Supreme Court. The Senate never voted on his proposal and it was never incorporated into the rules. And he did not argue that a president could not nominate someone should a vacancy occur, only that given the proximity of the upcoming election, the president should wait until at least the day after an election to make the nomination. The “Biden Rule” is poppycock. It doesn’t exist. Senator McConnell had to really, really reach deep for a shaky reason for an unprecedented act on his part.
The seat left by Justice Scalia sat vacant for over a year.
But that’s not all.
Senator McConnell had an even bigger impact when, to facilitate what promised to be a hard-fought confirmation vote for then Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, he changed the Senate rules on a straight party vote to allow for a simple majority (51 votes) to confirm a Supreme Court nominee rather than stay with the over 200 year tradition of a super majority (now 60 votes) to confirm. This is the long-lasting and perhaps devastating change to our nation’s judiciary and its independence that will haunt us for generations to come.
Why? The reasons are complex but the simplest, and perhaps most important answer, is that for much of our nation’s history requiring a super majority usually meant that a nominee must appeal to a number of members of the opposite party in power. This historically meant that radical judges mostly could not garner the required number of votes for approval. This tended to result in nominees being right or left of center rather than far right or left. There had to be a modicum of moderation in the nominee’s past and probable future rulings on the court. That useful tool is now gone. The party in power can put in the most radical, and dare I say political, Justice that they may find and do it for purely political or ideological reasons. Many argue that the Supreme Court is already too political. Well, we now have the potential for it to become a political tool of whichever party is in control of the White House and Senate.
Since the rules that have guided our nation for so long are now no longer followed, what block is there in the future for a president and his party’s Senate to use a simple majority to put eleven or thirteen or any number of justices on the Court? The incoming party looks at the make up of the Supreme Court, decides that in order to overcome the last ruling party’s political Justices they will just pack the Court with enough Justices to override those that came from the other party.
Yes, I know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court and was thwarted. Here’s the rub. The Constitution does not say how many Justices should be on it. It merely says that the Federal Judiciary should consist of “one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” The first Supreme Court nominated by President George Washington had six Justices including the Chief Justice. Through our early history Congress passed a series of Judiciary Acts that designated the number of Justices and it varied from five to ten. The current nine members is the result of an act in 1869. The point is that Congress sets the number of Justices and since precedent has already been over turned, what will stop some future Congress from changing the law regarding the number of Justices?
Senator McConnell changed the future by effectively doing away with natural “checks and balances” that tended to keep our Justices more moderate than they might be and by putting political expediency in front of principle, thus opening the door for others to do so in the future.
The expectation is that Judge Kavanaugh will get at least 51 votes and join the Court. His is a critical addition in an era where the president tweets constantly for law enforcement to punish his political adversaries (“Lock her up!”) and to protect his political supporters. Just yesterday he tweeted out
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.” — Tweet from Donald J. Trump on 3 September 2018
“Jeff” is of course Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The “two very popular Republican Congressmen” are Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca) indicted by a federal grand jury of misusing over $250,000 of campaign funds and the other is Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) indicted on charges of insider trading. Both have pleaded not guilty, however Rep. Collins suspended his re-election campaign. For the record, Rep. Collins conducted his insider trading during the Trump Administration and indeed he is caught on film on the White House lawn making one of the calls that set off the chain of events that led to the charges. The larger point is that the president is chiding his Attorney General for enforcing the law because people from his own party, that incidentally were the first two members of the House to endorse Mr. Trump, and that could help him politically, were the perpetrators. So much for the rule of law and the president’s sworn oath to uphold the Constitution.
Further, thanks to Senator McConnell, we may now have two Justices on the Court appointed by a president that is very, very likely to have critical Constitutional issues surrounding the survival of his presidency come before them. One could argue that the current nomination process should be put on hold until the unindicted co-conspirator in the White House has his legal situation resolved.
Long after we move past the current unfolding Constitutional crises, the impact of Senator McConnell’s decision to put political expediency above the good of the nation’s proven processes will have unintended consequences.