The past six weeks or so have been tough on a lot of people from natural and man-made disasters. Multiple hurricanes, an earthquake, unprecedented wildfires, and a mass shooting all come to mind, to name a few of the major events since the summer. Tough going for a lot of people who will take months or years to fully recover. The loss of life is significant and the loss of property not only impacts people’s lives but also our national treasure. We as a nation need to stick with the recovery efforts even as the president seemed to imply yesterday that the “ungrateful” Puerto Ricans — American citizens all — are themselves largely responsible for their condition and should not count on continued federal assistance to recover.
Amidst all of the heartache and sadness, there have been incredible scenes and stories of every day people stepping up to do incredible things. The stories of human beings helping human beings are inspiring. These people stepped up not for the glory or reward but because it was the right thing to do. Many had lost their own homes or loved ones and yet they sallied forth over and over to help or rescue others even as their own lives were in danger. Truly inspiring and a refreshing reminder that at heart we are all the same and that the vast majority of people will come through for their fellow citizens when their backs are up against the wall.
What was truly refreshing about these countless stories is that they took place against the backdrop of the continuing circus unfolding in and around the White House. The Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration still values daily fights with the media and attacking anyone that looks at them cross-eyed. One is either a pandering sycophant or an “enemy of the state” according to this administration. The list of daily insults to our citizens and our nation is far too long to take on one by one and the pettiness and vindictiveness of this administration is ever more shameful when compared to the many uplifting actions taken in the wake of actual disasters, not the one’s unnecessarily created by the president. The president continues to tumble around in the wind of his perceived need to satisfy a “base” of about 30-40% of our nation rather than to provide a vision of how to lead the entire nation to address the serious issues facing this country.
Of grave concern to me is that the leaders of the Republican Party will not stand up on their hind legs and tell the president that he is just plain wrong about many issues. This is deeply concerning. Apparently the hope — and so far they have demonstrated that it is only a hope — of passing their “agenda” over rides their Constitutional duty as an equal branch of government to stand up to the president when he is wrong and/or out-of-bounds.
Thankfully there are a few canaries in the coal mine (how ironic since the administration is “stopping the war on coal”) who are willing to publicly voice their concerns. The common knowledge around Washington is that nearly every Senator and Representative is privately concerned over the president’s personal behavior and the potential damage to our country. Yet, only a few are willing to speak up.
Unfortunately, it needs to be Republicans that speak up as when Democrats do they are accused of partisanship or “playing politics” with important issues. (One might ask if it isn’t their political job to raise questions about issues as they occur.) This week two Republican Senators did speak up. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) did so. Both were immediately personally attacked and belittled by the president.
In an interview with the New York Times Senator Corker said, among other things, that the president “concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” He went on to liken this administration to “a reality show” and as has been widely reported, the president is leading the country “on the path to World War III.” Anyone that follows such things knows that Senator Corker is a well-respected, conscientious individual that takes his duties seriously. While I do not agree with all of his ideas, he is well-versed in foreign affairs and national security and an acknowledged expert. If he is willing to speak out against a president of his own party, I see his words as a warning to the rest of us. We should be paying close attention.
Think of it this way. Yesterday in a press opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the president was asked about any differences he might have with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over North Korea. In the context of his, shall we say, mercurial temperament, his words were troubling. He opined that he might “have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have.” He acknowledged that he listens to his advisers but that “ultimately my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it? That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is. I think perhaps I feel stronger and tougher on that subject than other people, but I listen to everybody.”
This from the man who threatened to “totally destroy” the North Koreans and belittled his own Secretary of State for trying to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.
Senator Sasse spoke up yesterday following a statement and a series of tweets from the president (I still can not believe that we conduct national affairs via Twitter) where he seemed to state that he would abridge the First Amendment rights of NBC news for broadcasting “fake news.” One sample:
“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
For the moment, let’s look past the fact that NBC is not licensed by the federal government, individual local stations are, and that the president cannot take away their license. Just another case of the president being factually challenged, or not having the intellectual curiosity to actually know what he is talking about. But nothing new there.
Instead, let’s take it for what it is. The first, classic step of an authoritarian regime. Belittle institutions, question their integrity, claim that they are illegitimate, and then shut them down. History 101. Am I over reacting? I used to think that there was a lot of hyperbole around the doings of this president and that the basic nature of our Constitution and the safeguards there in would keep him in check. Now I am not so sure (and more on that later). In addition to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that certain norms and standards of behavior would naturally be part of the unwritten rules governing those in power. I would opine that assumption is now being challenged in terms of the moral and ethical behavior of the man in the White House.
We need more Senators, and other, yes Republican, politicians to speak out as Senator Sasse did yesterday when he asked the president (and of course, via Twitter):
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”
It is not normal for a president of these United States to call for the shutting down of a news outlet because he is mad about their reporting. Upset about it, sure. Most presidents get upset about some news report about some issue. But every day — well maybe not every day, but about 98% of the days — this president comes out with some new crazy thing that he says or does. Again, Senator Corker was a truth teller when he said, “I don’t know why the President tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.” This is not the America we know and love.
Here is where I almost fell over yesterday as analysts were discussing the state of affairs in the world vis-a-vis those in the White House. By all accounts the president feels that he is not in control and expects the rest of the government to respond to his commands and desires as they did when he was in his gilded tower in New York City. He is frustrated and ready to lash out. Guess where the one power lies that no one else can countermand or dispute? His role as Commander-in-Chief. The hyperbole surrounding who has their “finger on the button” to launch our nuclear arsenal now sounds more real. Throughout his campaign and now in his presidency he talks of our arsenal and its strength. Unfortunately, he talks about it in ways that make me think that he does not understand what he is talking about (see my 21 September post on “Deterrence 101”). Couple that with his comments about North Korea above (“my attitude is the one that matters”) and one could start to lose sleep at night.
To paraphrase Stan Oliver, “Well here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.” I have no magic solution. We need to hope that more officials in government step up and hold this president accountable. Stop the Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration from blowing aimlessly across the national landscape. Hold Congressional hearings to force the administration to articulate its policies and explain the strategy to implement them. Call out the president when he makes untrue and outrageous statements. Things have not gotten better with time and we now know that there will be no “pivot” and no learning curve. He is who he is and we know it. It won’t change. If only he had the empathy, understanding and feeling for his fellow citizens that those suffering in the disasters have demonstrated. But he does not. It is time to hold the Apprentice-in-Chief accountable for all of his actions.