Get Over It!

To my relief we will not have four more years of Donald J. Trump. I am not sure that our collective interests could have endured that. Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on 20 January, 2021 at noon following an historic victory in last week’s election. When all of the votes are counted, President-elect Biden is expected to have over five million more votes than the sitting president. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 has a candidate beaten a sitting president by that large of a margin. Projections indicate that Mr. Biden will end up with 306 electoral votes, the same as Mr. Trump in 2016, who failed by three million votes to garner a popular vote win. By every measure, Mr. Biden is the clear winner in this election for president.

For now I will leave it to the historians to parse out the significance of this election. To me, it reinforces that we need to make serious changes to our election process. I am now convinced that the Electoral College must go. We need to learn to use absentee and mail-in voting effectively. We need all of the states to count those early ballots before Election Day so that results are posted in a timely fashion. We need to make Election Day a holiday. While it was inspiring to see that people would wait in line for as long as six or seven hours to vote in parts of our country, the question remains — why should they have to do so in the greatest democracy on earth?

I will leave it to the political analysts to dissect how Mr. Trump, now widely considered as our worst president ever, got more votes in this election than in 2016. In my view it was his apparently successful tactic to make the current pandemic a false choice between stopping its spread and reopening the economy. Coupled with his successful propaganda that Mr. Biden would only be a pawn in the hands of the — dare we say it? — socialists that will really run the country in his place, his campaign appears to be more effective than it should have been. Looking back over the last four years, I will never understand how so many people thought that he did a good job and that we wanted four more years of a budding autocrat in charge.

My primary concern is the ongoing shenanigans of the president and his enablers in the United States Senate and elsewhere. That Mr. Trump continues his refrain from the past year, that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged, does not surprise me. His logic is his own. I will win. They say I lost. I could only lose if it was rigged. Therefore, it was rigged. I would expect nothing else from the man-baby currently occupying the Oval Office. I just want to yell get over it and get out!

I am most appalled at the attack on our democracy being perpetrated by the majority of Republican Senators. They are echoing and spreading Mr. Trump’s lies about a rigged election and consistently push the idea of voter fraud. This is extremely dangerous. It puts the legitimacy of our entire process in jeopardy. The Republicans keep trying to push law suits in the courts without evidence. As we used to say, they have gone “0 fer.” (All of them were dismissed as of this writing for lack of evidence.) Note that they only challenge the presidential results, even as they accept the results of the races that they won that were on the same ballots. So far, it appears that Americans accept the results of the voting, with 79% agreeing that Mr. Biden won and only 3% saying that Mr. Trump won. (The rest say that they don’t know or are waiting for more results.)

Given that the population as a whole accepts the results, why would senior Republicans deliberately and with malice of forethought push such wild tales that only undermine our election system? Why would they risk a nut case or a group of nut cases taking some sort of violent action to “solve” the problem themselves? I have three possibilities.

The easiest, silliest, and most popular theory is that everyone around Mr. Trump knows that he lost but that they must assuage his ego, lessen the blow, and come up with a story that allows him to believe that he is not a loser. If the election were stolen from him, then he did not lose. If this is true, then we should all be extremely happy that he is no longer president because such behavior is infantile. It also shows that senior Republicans have no integrity if they believe that such behavior, and such a dangerous story, is okay. They are willing to let the entire nation convulse to sooth the ego of one man. Shameful.

A second possibility is that they need the base to remain energized so that they can raise money and turn out the vote in Georgia. Two Senate seats will be decided there in January following a run-off between the top two vote-getters. The control of the Senate remains in the balance. If the Republicans win even one seat, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains in place. If the Democrats win both seats, the split in the Senate will be 50-50 and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaks any ties, thus making Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) the Majority Leader.

A corollary of this theory is that because Mr. Trump did so much better than expected, he will continue to dominate the Republican Party and become a “king maker” for those with ambitions to run for president, or any other office, over the next four years. They need to keep him on their side and since personal loyalty to the Supreme Leader is the only thing that Mr. Trump cares about, they need to keep kowtowing to him. Mr. Trump is also using the claim of a corrupt election to raise money. For himself. Mr. Trump activated a “defense fund” web site that solicits donations to fight on and stop the “fraudulent” election in court. However, when one drills down into the fine print, the vast majority of the funds are going to Mr. Trump’s new political action committee (PAC) “Save America.” One thing you can be sure of with our current Commander-in-Chief, he never misses an opportunity to make a buck off of his supporters.

The third possibility, which I hesitate to bring up since it is so outlandish, is that Mr. Trump and at least some of his cohorts actually believe that the election was stolen. Or, at least they honestly think that they can play the game out to keep themselves in power by any means necessary. That scenario is absolutely unfathomable. And yet, for years we have thought that surely Mr. Trump would not go “that far,” and then he crashes right on through any barriers to keep him on track. One lesson that he and his enablers have learned is that they can ignore the law with impunity because in the end, no one can do anything to stop them. He was impeached. So what? Congressional hearings? Ignore them. Department of Justice investigations? William Barr won’t allow it. And on, and on.

In the aftermath of the election he is systematically cleaning out all of his government appointees deemed insufficiently loyal and replacing them with his most fierce acolytes. In agency after agency this is ongoing. The headline grabber is in the Department of Defense where the Secretary of Defense was arbitrarily “terminated” via Tweet without warning to any official in the Pentagon. Yesterday, other high civilian officials in the department were also summarily fired and replaced by die-hard Trump loyalists. Why? Good question. It could be retribution for not doing Mr. Trump’s bidding. It could be a loyalty reward to his new appointees so that those folks can put it on their resume for the future. It could be because there is a bigger plan that the removed officials would not have allowed.

So far, all of those removed were civilians. I will be truly alarmed if Mr. Trump removes the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (reportedly Mr. Trump is unhappy with him) or other senior military officers. Anyone that stands in Mr. Trump’s way gets removed. To what end? In addition, when asked about a transition yesterday, Secretary of State Pompeo replied that he was ready to transition to four more years of Mr. Trump. A not funny joke from someone who should know better? (He is a West Point graduate. What happened to “Duty. Honor. Country.”?) Or a hint?

I am not a conspiracy theorist by nature. I am not one now. All I know is that nothing Mr. Trump does is surprising, even as at the same time it can be shocking. Additionally, his administration refuses to cooperate with the incoming administration for a smooth transition. Perhaps Mr. Trump and his minions think this is some kind of payback, but it is also dangerous. Transition teams are not just courtesies or traditions. They need to get to work in order for the government to function smoothly. Any delay much past the end of this week will have an impact on our national security. One finding of the 9/11 Commission is that the delay in calling the Bush-Gore election, and thus a far shorter transition for President Bush and his team, was a contributing factor to failing to protect against the terrorist attack. They were still getting up to speed on a number of issues and still putting people and policies in place.

This is the United States of America. By deliberately creating chaos and delaying a smooth transition of the government, Mr. Trump and his allies are undermining our national security. With a bevy of mostly unqualified “actings” in key positions throughout the government for the next ten weeks, bad actors are calibrating their options to take advantage of the situation or to further undermine our world standing. By deliberately lying about the election, Mr. Trump and his supporters allow domestic terror groups to see an opportunity to take advantage of the chaos.

All involved took an oath of office to the Constitution, not to one person. It is time that they do a gut check and reorient their thinking towards what is best for the country rather than for themselves. Unfortunately, that may be one of Mr. Trump’s legacies. It isn’t about country, it’s about me, me, me.

I still remain optimistic for our country. We can get through this. I just do not understand how some of our officials can ignore their oath and their sworn duty.


The Democrat’s Dilemma

The country is one week away from an election that likely will come down to the wire. If (when?) the Democrats win the White House and Senate and maintain their majority in the House, there will be several key issues that need immediate intention and others that may fundamentally change our system of government.

Of immediate concern is the ongoing pandemic. The Trump Administration threw in the towel and surrendered to the inevitable spread of Covid-19. Indeed, the administration surrendered back in March when the president refused to take responsibility for any actions to mitigate the spread of the disease. With his super-spreader events held daily all around the country, we are wasting our time expecting him to do anything positive to reduce the death toll that is expected to approach 400,000 dead Americans by Inauguration Day. In my view, win or lose, Mr. Trump will do nothing in the coming months to change the course of the disease.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) adjourned the Senate yesterday without addressing the economic impact of the pandemic. Several relief bills, starting last May, passed the House but Mr. McConnell refused to take them up in the Senate. Likely, he failed to do his job for two reasons. First, there was widespread disagreement within his caucus as to whether or not to spend more money. Mr. McConnell did not want to put any of his Senators in a politically precarious position by forcing them to vote one way or another on helping the average working person in the United States. Second, Mr. McConnell probably sees the writing on the wall that Mr. Trump will not be re-elected. Senator McConnell will do all in his power to make life miserable for a President Biden, including trying to keep the economy struggling so that Mr. Biden cannot take credit for succeeding where the current ruling party failed.

The pandemic will be the first and most important issue for a Biden Administration to address. Economic relief will be the first order of business for a Democratic Congress. Those plans are ready for implementation as soon as the new president and Congress are sworn in. Only time will tell if they are effective, but it seems that any attempt to improve the situation is better than none. We cannot sit around and wait for a vaccine or for effective therapies to help patients in the hospital. Those are important, but don’t yet exist. The real issue is what can be done now to stop the spread of the disease. We already know that masks, social distancing and good hygiene go a long way. For some misguided reason, those successful strategies have become politicized by Mr. Trump. It will take time, and a coordinated effort to overcome that mind set and to restore what has been lost over the last seven months.

Longer term, a Democratic administration and Congress have fundamental issues to address as to how government works. Legislation to institutionalize norms that have been respected in the past but ignored over the last few years are necessary. Trust in the character of the president is a charming relic of the past that we now know is too dangerous. Put it into law.

In addition, there are three dilemmas that Democrats will face. These are whether to:

  • Investigate and prosecute any crimes committed by the president and/or members of his administration.
  • End the filibuster in the Senate.
  • Change the number of Justices on the Supreme Court.

Revenge and retribution will be on many minds come January. That feeling will not only color the views of politicians in Washington but also those of many of the citizens that voted them into office. The current administration and their enablers in the Senate ran roughshod over all of the norms and courtesies that traditionally applied in the government and especially in the Senate. Look no further than the court packing that occurred with the refusal to take up President Obama’s nominee to the Court eight months before an election, and the subsequent rush job to put Mr. Trump’s nominee on the Court eight days before Election Day after nearly 60 million Americans had already voted.

Constitutionally, the Republicans were well within their power to do both of those deeds, no matter how much it reeks of hypocrisy. It was legal. However, one of my guiding principles has been that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. In my view, that idea should apply to the Democrats as well.

With that in mind, let’s look at the three dilemmas facing a Democratic government.

Investigate and Prosecute. What to do about Mr. Donald J. Trump who has abused just about every principle in the book and enriched himself and his family throughout his term? My nuanced answer is “it depends.” There is a precedent. Following President Nixon’s resignation, President Ford pardoned him of all crimes. The argument was that the country had already been through very rough times so do not protract it. Move on and start over. As President Ford said “our long national nightmare is over.”

I am not sure that we can do that with Mr. Trump. No president can be prosecuted for bad policy, the voters take care of that. However, if evidence comes to light that Mr. Trump was knowingly aiding and abetting a foreign adversary, for example, then an investigation and possible prosecution are very necessary. We now know that no counter-intelligence or national security investigation was ever conducted to look into Mr. Trump’s activities. The Mueller Investigation did not touch on those issues. The impeachment process did not look into that either.

We have also learned that federal and New York state District Attorneys are looking into Mr. Trump’s finances and possible crimes (like racketeering) prior to his entering office — and maybe while in office.

I say to let the chips fall where they may. If Mr. Biden is president he should have absolutely no involvement in any investigation or prosecution of Mr. Trump or his associates. Let the District Attorneys finish their investigations and decide whether or not to prosecute. This will be difficult to do as many in this country will readily assume that such action is merely one more thing on the list of “persecutions” Mr. Trump has “endured.” I think that in the current era it is necessary to show that no one is above the law if they knowingly commit crimes. Even if Mr. Trump is pardoned (there are multiple scenarios that might apply to make that happen) it would only apply to federal laws. State laws fall under a different jurisdiction and can only be pardoned by the respective governors. Just follow the money. If it leads to Mr. Trump, his children, any of his associates or Trump, Inc. just play it straight as the justice system would pursue any other citizen. If there is nothing there, then so be it.

End the Filibuster. The Senate was designed to be different than the House of Representatives. Until just over one hundred years ago with the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators were not directly elected by the people. They were separate from the rabble that elects the House (also why we have an Electoral College) and therefore would be more deliberate, thoughtful and statesmanlike. One of the great Senate rules that helped to promote that atmosphere and to provide an opportunity for compromise is the filibuster. While one Senator could theoretically hold up the works, in practice it often resulted in compromises in order to get the two-thirds (later changed to 60) votes required to move legislation and Senate confirmed nominees.

There are now calls to end the filibuster. Such calls are nothing new, especially when one party or the other feels shut out or stymied in moving their projects forward. Then Minority Leader McConnell used the filibuster to stop the confirmation of federal judges under President Obama, leading then Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to go “nuclear” and change the Senate rules to require only a simple majority to confirm federal judges. Anticipating President Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, now Majority Leader McConnell knew that his narrow majority would not likely be able to get Supreme Court nominees confirmed following his dirty trick blocking Merrick Garland from the Court, so he changed the rules to only require a simple majority for confirmation of Supreme Court Justices. Both actions were huge mistakes.

Without the filibuster, the Senate becomes a small House of Representatives. The majority can ram through any legislation they want on a simple majority. The Senate is already way too partisan, ending the filibuster will only make it more so. There will be no need to compromise on anything.

The Democrats know that Mr. McConnell will do anything in his power to move his agenda. They run the risk of him, or another Republican Majority Leader, doing away with the filibuster in the future. It is a risk they should take. There can be little to no progress in regaining civility in government and consequently in the country if all of the rules go out the window and only pure partisan politics is in play. The Senate will cease to be the body it was envisioned to be if the rules change to favor only one party.

Change the Number of Justices. Likewise, I think the same way about the Supreme Court. The number of Justices is determined by law, not by the Constitution and can be changed. It can reasonably be argued that the Republicans already packed the federal justice system. When in the majority they blocked nearly every nominee of President Obama to every federal court. They stopped the nomination of Judge Garland. It could be reasonably argued that two of the three seats filled by Mr. Trump were stolen seats. Regardless, I think it a mistake to add three or more (as has been suggested) Justices to create a more “balanced” judiciary. Follow the current rules and make them work. The Democrats got outmaneuvered by Mr. McConnell. He plays hard ball and will use every trick in the book to get what he wants. Use the rules to get to where the country needs to be, but do not change them for partisan reasons.

The political partisan vibe needs to change. Mr. Trump has been many things including the worst president ever. He also exacerbated the divisions in our country for his own egomaniacal and profit making reasons. Let’s change that atmosphere. Besides, if the Republicans refuse to go along and restore a measure of compromise, then you can change the rules.

There is of course another remedy. That is through legislation. Pass laws to institutionalize the norms of government that we expect. Pass laws that provide health care that can pass review by the courts, for example, should the Affordable Care Act be overturned. Pass a law explicitly institutionalizing same sex marriage. And so forth. Use the existing rules through legislation to overcome any interpretation made by nine citizens.

I look forward to the new era that will dawn at noon on 20 January 2021. We all need to work together to move out from under the pandemic — to me a symbol of all that is wrong with the current administration. When we defeat the virus through national cooperation and neighbor helping neighbor, let’s keep that spirit and apply it to our political discourse.


R.I.P. Republican Party

Over the last four years the Republican Party as a whole, but especially in Congress, lost its way.  They abandoned everything that they used to believe in in order to assuage the Tweeter-in-Chief.  As a result, the party has been on life support most of that time.  We can now call the time of death as Sunday 23 August, 2020.

The Republican Party is now officially a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Family, Inc.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the party announced that for the first time in its history, they would have no platform.  In a one page declaration of “whereases” assailing the media and affirming their enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, they concluded by saying,

Resolved, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;

Resolved, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

I guess it boils down to “I’ll have what he’s having.”  More succinctly, the Republicans now publicly declare that they stand for nothing.  There is no official vision, plan, policy, or goal that they will try to achieve over the next four years.  Whatever the president says at the moment, is, I suppose, what they will do, even if tomorrow they need to reverse course when he changes his mind after seeing something on Fox News.  The Republicans will just wait around for a kingly pronouncement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not have a vision or plan for the future either.  In interview after interview on Fox News and other friendly venues, interviewers have tossed him softball questions as to what to expect over a possible second term.  So far, zilch, nada, zip, nothing.  His replies only have been rambling statements about past grievances, pet peeves, or “acing” a cognitive ability test.

I find it sad, and a bad omen for our country.  I believe firmly in the two party system as part of the checks and balances that keep our country on a relatively middle of the road path to the future.

Arguably, many past platforms may have been exercises in producing wish lists by those that write them.  More positively, they provide a blueprint, plan, policies and aspirational goals that the respective parties want to accomplish should they carry the election.  Now, according to their own document, there is nothing that the Republicans want to achieve other than whatever Mr. Donald J. Trump and his family declare in the moment that they should do.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Cult of Trump is alive and well.

The Republican National Convention is now nothing short of a coronation for Mr. Trump.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that the upcoming election would be “rigged.”  Yesterday, to kick off his convention, he declared that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”  Think about that.  His party has given him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, and he publicly declares, repeatedly, that the only election result he will accept is if he wins.

That is a combination that should concern us all, especially given Mr. Trump’s increasingly lawless actions.

I do not wish to insult the intelligence or motives of those that support Mr. Trump.  It is a long American tradition to distrust the government, the media, and experts about anything and everything.  Mr. Trump is nothing else if not a salesman.  He knows how to tap into that resentment.  No matter the facts, or the eloquence of the argument, no one is going to sway the die-hard Trump supporter that they should stop supporting him.  Listening to the language showered upon him in the first day of the Republican Convention shows he has attained a Messianic following.  It is truly a cult of personality.  His support rests upon cultural and emotional issues, not a coherent vision for the future.  That is not going to change no matter how outrageous his behavior becomes over the coming months.  His followers are going to “stick it to the man” no matter what.

The establishment Republican Party that may have moderated his behavior ceased to exist.  They will not do their Constitutional duty.  I blame the Republican members of Congress and their obvious cowardice in the face of actions by a president that they would have wholeheartedly condemned in any other modern president Republican or Democrat.  Perhaps future historians will be able to figure out why there has been such a wide-spread display of cowardice on their part.  I cannot explain it.

It is now up to the voters to decide.  We need to weed out the merely outrageous aspects of Mr. Trump’s behavior that distract us nearly every wearying day.  Instead it is time to focus on those actions of his, as aided and abetted by a cowering Senate, that threaten our future as a Republic.

We cannot be intimidated or cowed.  Too much depends on it.  Please vote, no matter what.

 

 


In Case You Missed It

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!


There Is A Major Storm On The Horizon

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.

 


American Carnage

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


The Ugly Facts

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.


The Price of Imperfection

The numbers are difficult to comprehend.  100,000 to 240,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 if, as Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House Coronavirus Task Force said, “we do things perfectly.”

There is ample evidence that as a country we have most definitely not done things perfectly, and sadly I see little evidence that we will do it perfectly as we move forward.  As I write, the U.S. passed the 5,000 mark in deaths from the virus.  Most experts do not expect the pandemic to peak until late April or early May.  Recall that the day after the peak likely will be the second most cases, the third day the third most, and so on.  The peak is only a measure of how far along we are in trying to mitigate the impact of the disease, not an indicator that the crisis is over.

In difficult times is it hard to know what to criticize and what to praise.  How to stay positive when things look so bleak.  Does one leave criticism of our leaders out of the conversation because we need to focus on the future and not the past?  Do we dissect what could have been done so much sooner to lessen the impact on our fellow Americans or just deal with the present and see what the future brings?  There is so much that could be said but does it help?  I think so.  If we are to deal with the crisis as it unfolds then we need to learn the lessons it is teaching us in order to deal with what comes along in the course of events.

Good leaders enter the fray with a plan.  As I have written in this space before, no plan survives contact with the enemy.  One must be able to adapt and alter the plan as events unfold, which is easier to do if beforehand the leader has thought through possible outcomes, surprises, and has the resiliency to adjust to circumstances as they unfold in order to bring the right resources to bear at the right time.

As resources start to deplete, it is necessary to assess the gravity of the situation in each sector of the battle.  Some places may need more of one thing rather than another.  Some forces are not currently engaged so extra attention is given to the places that are actively engaged while keeping some things in reserve for when the battle moves to a new front.  Forethought, tenacity and resilience are called for in order to vanquish the foe.

I see that leadership ability with governors in New York, Maryland, Ohio and elsewhere. Mayors and other local leaders are showing themselves to be able to cope with the situation by thinking imaginatively and using ingenuity to face the overwhelming impact of this virus.  Unfortunately, it is not evident throughout the country.  Even as we see the horrible impact of the virus in New York, Louisiana and elsewhere, some governors refuse to tackle the issue head on.  Some put in half measures while across the river in another state very stringent requirements are in place.  Both lose out as people are free to cross state lines and they will seek out what they want where they find it.  Consequently, both states will suffer as the virus spreads when people from different areas intermingle and interact.

Likewise, as the White House Coronavirus Task Force claims that states and cities are getting the supplies they need, we see countless reports, most from front line health care providers, begging for more help in acquiring supplies to keep them safe and healthy so that they can take care of their patients.

All of us have learned a new language and new words that we freely throw around when just a few weeks ago we had no clue about such things.  PPE.  COVID-19.  Social distancing.  Ventilators.  Pandemic.  And on and on.  We have learned a lot but we have more to learn.  So who to trust?

Sometimes two things can be true at the same time.  For example, if the White House claims that they shipped 500,000 masks to New Jersey, it seems like a big number.  It is a big number.  But if hospitals in the state are going through 750,000 masks in a few days then it is not enough.  In addition, many hospitals in hard hit areas have already thrown out best practices in order to save PPE.  Gowns, gloves, and masks should be changed for each patient in order to protect the sick as well as the providers.  Most places now issue one set for a shift.  Some now issue one set for a week.  Regardless of the numbers the White House claims to have provided, it is clearly not enough when it comes to the front lines.  If our first responders and health care workers go down, the entire house of cards will collapse.  Unfortunately, PPE do not help them with the emotional and physical toll this crisis is exacting.  What are the plans to relieve those who have been on the front lines for weeks on end?  Where are the psychiatrists and psychologists to help them deal with the stress and pain of losing so many people they pledged to help?  These issues should also be addressed on a large scale.

It does not help when the president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show and hints that doctors and nurses are selling the masks on the black market and that is why there is not enough to go around as he did on Monday.  “Are they going out the back door?”  “I don’t think it’s hoarding.  I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding.”

It does not help when the president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show and says “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators” as he did last week.

It does not help when the president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show and says that the governor of New York should be “grateful” to him for supplying ventilators and that he hit “paydirt.”

It does not help that president gets up before the cameras in his daily reality show as he did a few days ago and brags about his “ratings” being better than “The Bachelor” while saying that some projections are for 2.2 million dead in the U.S. and “so if we have between 100,000 and 200,000 we all have done a very good job.”

It does not help when the president tweets as he did just hours ago that “Massive amounts of medical supplies, even hospitals and medical centers, are being directly delivered to states, to hospitals by the Federal Government.  Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?).  Remember we are a back up to them.”

Funny thing.  When your citizens are dying one expects leaders to pull out all the stops to save them.

Maybe if you give everyone a ventilator that wants one pretty soon nobody will breathe on their own?

Again, two things can be true at the same time.  But here’s the rub.  The hospitals, mayors, governors are on the ground and know how much they need.  More importantly, we are dealing with a situation that projects that upwards of 240,000 citizens will die if we do everything perfectly.  That same projection from the president’s Task Force indicates that it could be between 1.2 million and 2.2 million if the right steps are not taken.  The key fact is that the worst is yet to come.  It does not matter whether current needs are being met if there is nothing left for the future.  Governors and mayors realize that if they are barely meeting demand now, there is no way they can meet it when things get really bad.  On top of that, multiple reports indicate that officials at the Department of Homeland Security report that the national reserves are nearly depleted.

Why is the federal government “a back up”?  This is a national crisis.  Why are states, cities, and even individual hospitals all competing against each other to get what they need?  Profiteering is certainly taking place.  Governors report that orders they expect to have delivered get cancelled because another client offered more money to the manufacturer for the same shipment.

The primary function of the federal government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens.  All else is meaningless if people are not safe or secure.

It is beyond appalling that the president continues to refuse to step up and organize our response on a national scale.  There should be a centralized procurement and distribution system.  There is an old saying, “lead or get out of the way.”  I think it time for the president to get out of the way.  He has a Task Force formulating the medical response to the crisis.  Daily he puts out misinformation, lies or revisionist history and uses the briefing as a substitute for his rallies.  Just stop it.  Let the scientists and professionals give us the straight information.  What they know — good or bad, what they don’t know, and what are facts versus opinions.

Set up a similar Task Force for procuring and disbursing the needed supplies.  Then get out of the way.  The military is skilled at logistics, let them handle it if no one else in the administration knows what to do.

This is a national problem.  While the media’s and president’s focus seems to be on the New York region, the fact is currently Louisiana has the highest per capita hospitalization rate.  The highest per capita infection rate is in Idaho.  A national problem needs a national, coordinated response.

On a personal note, please keep those suffering on your minds and in your hearts.  This is going to be a long haul.  Remember the first responders and health care professionals that so far have been able to keep this pandemic at a crisis level rather than a national collapse.  Finally, keep yourself safe.

Stay calm and wash your hands.


Democracy Under Attack

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 


Still No Pesos

Throughout his campaign and then during his reelection rallies as president, Mr. Donald J. Trump continually declared that he would build a wall along the border with Mexico and that Mexico would pay for it.  Time after time this was his go-to rally cry to fire up his base.

There is only one problem. Mexico supplied exactly zero pesos to build his wall.

Signaling that his wall promise was a scam, in January, 2017 Mr. Trump signed Executive Order 13767 that directed the federal government to begin building the wall using U.S. government funds.  No construction began because the funding was not there and it was unclear where funds for a wall existed.

Please remember that the Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for two years, including 2017.  No funds were appropriated because the majority of those in Congress, including Republicans, realized that the wall was a terrible waste of money.

Also recall that in a compromise move, the Democrats in Congress offered Mr. Trump over 20 billion dollars for his wall in exchange for permanent legal status for the “Dreamers” (those under DACA, the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals order).  Mr. Trump was for it before he was against it.  He walked away without a deal.

Switching tactics, Mr. Trump shut down the government for 35 days at the end of 2018 and into 2019, the longest in American history, holding the country hostage to get funding for his wall.  Congress held firm.  Still no wall.

Trying yet again, in February, 2019 Mr. Trump declared a National Emergency using a loophole in an act passed during the Cold War intended to be used in a fast breaking real time emergency.  He tried to use that as the vehicle to move funds to build his wall that had not been appropriated for that purpose.  That move was blocked by a bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress.  Mr. Trump vetoed that bill and Congress did not override his veto.

Efforts in the courts effectively blocked construction by precluding any use of appropriated funds not intended for the wall. In July of this year, on a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the use of 2.5 billion dollars in funds on the border while legal proceedings continue.

Many Constitutional experts assert that Mr. Trump’s use of these funds for a wall violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution which clearly gives the power over financial expenditures to the Congress.  Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution says “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”  In 2019 Congress specifically forbade the use of federal money for the wall.

To date, no new wall, fence or other barrier exists.  There have been upgrades to existing fences and barriers that needed repairs.

Yesterday the Trump Administration revealed that the Department of Defense (DOD) would divert 3.6 billion dollars from DOD construction projects to be used on the wall.  These were not nice-to-have items.  Many of the projects were needed to repair or replace infrastructure damaged by natural disasters.  Among them are:

  • 400 million dollars for rebuilding military structures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the recovery from damage following Hurricane Maria.
  • 17 million dollars for Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to rebuild following severe damage from Hurricane Michael.
  • 770 million dollars intended to help our NATO allies by building facilities for U.S. forces to operate in response to expanded Russian adventurism in Europe.  Specifically, the European Deterrence Initiative is a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.  I would bet Mr. Vladimir Putin is glad to hear of this change.
  • Several projects to rebuild substandard schools on military bases.
  • And on and on for bases in Utah, North Carolina, Arizona, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Hawaii, Alaska and other states.

In addition, the Trump Administration is re-allocating nearly 300 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Coast Guard even as Hurricane Dorian bears down on the mainland.

Besides being a dangerous precedent for future presidents who are thwarted by Congress and declare a National Emergency to get their funding anyway, it is also bad policy.

These construction projects that are now “deferred” run the danger of never being built.  The Trump Administration says that future appropriations bills will pick up the funding for these needed repairs and new construction.  The Democrats in Congress and some Republicans, although they mostly remain as the silent majority, argue that they will never appropriate funds for those projects because they don’t have to — they already did it and cannot appropriate funds that they already appropriated. (And you thought Alice in Wonderland had some strange characters.)

What makes this entire bizarre episode so sad is that there is only one reason that this is happening.  Mr. Trump fears the voters in 2020 that he promised in 2016 would get a wall.  As his signature promise, if he fails to deliver, he will be shown to be as weak and unable to govern as he actually is.  This diversion of funds is a perverted use of presidential power to further the ambitions of a single person for his own gain.

It is probably only the beginning of the bizarre and Constitutionally dubious actions this president is likely to take to further his own personal goals as the election gets closer.  Mr. Trump does not have the best interests of the country as his guiding light.  He only cares about himself.