About Ronnie Nathan
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The Divine Right of Kings, The Geocentric Universe, Libertarianism, Traditional Conservatism
and other dead theories…
The coronavirus crisis has institutionalized what virtually everyone already knew, but many were not ready to acknowledge. The Keynesian/FDR Liberal view for the proper role for government is triumphant. Any possibility of government based on Libertarian principles or Goldwater Conservatism is as dead and gone as the Divine Right of Kings and the geocentric universe. The immediate knee-jerk response of every political leader, from Trump to McConnell to House GOPers to Pelosi and Schumer, even in the face of an exploding national debt once considered unsustainable even by liberals, and DEMANDED BY CAPTAINS of INDUSTRY and AVERAGE AMERICANS is how big, bold and expensive can the government’s response be to the economic challenges created by the pandemic. Unlike 2008, literally no one believes the free market alone, left to its own devices, can possibly respond effectively. Virtually everyone looks to government for solutions, and not just to the public health challenges, but to the economic dislocations as well. Anyone who even suggests that the government should stay out of the way of the free market is viewed much like Flat-Earthers and the geniuses who jailed Galileo.
More than that, where have all those Obama-era deficit hawks gone? Since Trump’s inauguration, they have gone the way of the dinosaurs. The only question remaining is whether they will disingenuously re-emerge if Biden wins in November. What we have learned during Trump’s tenure is that none of the so-called deficit hawks – not the Freedom Coalition, not the GOP, not former Tea Party enthusiasts, not conservative economists – really believed their own horsehockey. They only believed in limited government and fiscal responsibility when it served their own self-interest, re-election chances and the other party was in charge. Once they came to power, even as they trumpeted how great the economy was, it was a hats and horns free-spending party paid for with funny money.
As an Extreme Centrist (formerly self-identified as an unapologetic liberal in the FDR mold), I believe in free market capitalism. But I also believe that government has a vital role as a stabilizing economic force to mitigate the excesses of that free market. I believe in an expansive role for government as a safety net for its citizens TO THE EXTENT IT IS FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE. During national emergencies and recessions, it is appropriate for the government to go in the red. During periods of prosperity, however, the goal must be a balanced budget and paying down the national debt. How? Remember Simpson/Bowles? That’s how!
The last time we switched presidents in the middle of a crisis, the financial meltdown of 2008, McConnell and the congressional GOP went on a retreat just before BHO’s inauguration. They declared that their #1 priority was denying Obama and the Democrats who controlled Congress at that time any victories. They decided that their own political future as a party was more important than the good and welfare of the nation.
If Trump loses and the Senate flips next November, anyone want to bet that the current GOP free spenders during the recent period of economic expansion before the pandemic and no national emergency won’t morph again overnight into deficit hawks? Even if we remain in an economic crisis? ANYONE? I didn’t think so.
Notes From an Extreme Centrist – Trump is his own worst enemy! Spoiler Alert: This is a pro-Trump story (sort of)
Watching Trump’s daily press briefings with his team is often painful. Typically, the president begins with a rah-rah speechlet, describing all the great things he is accomplishing because of his incredible leadership to fight the virus and its spread. This, followed by Dr. Fauci and/or other experts cleaning up Trump’s mistakes, lies and disinformation about testing availability; shortages of PPEs by the medical community, respirators, ventilators, possible treatments, vaccine development, and so on.
When the questions from the press begin, much too often Trump interprets a perfectly legitimate non-confrontational question as an attack on his leadership and pounces on the reporter, the organization the beleaguered reporter represents, and the media in general. Numerous times, when asked whether he accepts any responsibility for ANYTHING, Trump inevitably says “no,” denies the problem exists, and then blames previous administrations anyway. Then, Dr. Fauci takes the lectern, acknowledges the problem, accepts responsibility for solving it, explains what is being done and expresses sincere empathy for those suffering through the problem. Dr. Fauci is universally viewed as trustworthy, responsible, reassuring and competent – everything one wants and expects from a leader during a crisis. Compare that with how Trump is perceived by everyone except his most ardent supporters. As a New Yorker, I have never been a fan of Andrew Cuomo. But during this crisis, much like Fauci, he also has demonstrated the qualities of an excellent leader during crisis.
But here’s the thing: Donald Trump just can’t help himself. I feel sorry for him. After the 3-4 week period during which he knew the crisis was coming, but failed to either acknowledge it or respond to how serious it would be, from the time he closed our borders to China until March 13 when his tone and strategy finally matched the seriousness of the crisis, he trivialized the crisis at least publicly. He assumed he could personally jaw-bone it away and calm the tumbling financial markets by the power of his persuasion alone. Was this simply a craven tactic to boost his re-election chances? Does he really believe in his own powers of persuasion so much? Does he really believe his own horse hockey – a problem he may share with my 16-year-old grandson? All the above?
The bottom line is that none of the tactics that work for reality TV or in “the art of the deal” work for a leader responsible for managing a real crisis. Lies and/or ignorance are quickly revealed. Trust, the most important and fragile asset a leader in crisis needs, is irretrievably lost. What the nation needs most from our leaders during a real crisis is honesty and empathy, but for whatever reason, Donald J. Trump is truly lousy at both. What has worked for him for 73-plus years simply doesn’t work for a president managing a national crisis.
To his and his administration’s credit, after a terribly slow start, they are finally doing about the best we can reasonably expect. The stuff the government is finally doing should have been implemented 3-4 weeks ago, but now it is finally getting done. This crisis is unprecedented. Other administrations have made similar mistakes in previous crises. Missteps, reacting too late, unintentionally sharing false information… These are all characteristics of all crises! That is the very nature of a crisis! Americans are very forgiving. Americans want to trust the president during times like these. I know I do! But Trump won’t earn that trust with false optimism, disinformation exaggerating what is really happening on the ground, rejecting responsibility and accountability, airing his own personal aggrievances and demonizing the media or Democrats or previous administrations. He needs to learn from Fauci’s and Cuomo’s examples. Unfortunately for Trump and America, at least so far, Trump is proving that old cliché. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
According to Psychology Today, “while most sociopaths may not be literal outlaws, however, they can share certain traits with them. This includes a lack of remorse, a propensity for untruthfulness, and a tendency toward behavior that benefits the sociopath at the expense of others. Ultimately, the defining characteristic of the sociopath is a profound lack of conscience—a flaw in the moral compass that typically steers people away from breaking common rules and toward treating others decently. This internal moral disconnect, however, is often masked by a charming demeanor.” Does this remind you of anyone?
Even the most devoted sycophantic cultish Trump supporters, if they have any rationality remaining in their political consciousness, must acknowledge that at least until this past weekend, the time of this writing, President Trump’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been erratic, ineffective and even dishonest. While talking “happy talk” and contradicting the warnings of his own experts, he has attacked the media and the Democrats, imposed travel restrictions on one-fourth of the world’s population, criticized other nations’ response effort, refused to meet with Speaker Pelosi and attacked his hand-picked Federal Reserve chairman. His responses are driven more by how he calculates their impact on his re-election and the vagaries of the stock market than on the actual health and economic impact on most Americans. Trump’s approach reflects his us-against-them mindset, tendency to assign blame, narcissistic propensity for making everything about himself, egocentric claims that only he can solve everything and his combative view of geopolitics.
For me, the defining moment, his ““Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” moment, came when he publicly admitted that the Grand Princess would not be admitted into the USA because he didn’t want to double his national numbers of Americans testing positive. In other words, he cared more about his numbers than actual fellow Americans. Was it a slip of the tongue? Probably, but it was also a window into how this president actually thinks. When his disastrous Oval Office message, reportedly written by Miller and Kushner, failed to calm the markets and resulted in the worst day on Wall Street since 1987, he was forced into a “do-over” speech from the Rose Garden and ultimately capitulate to Pelosi, abandoning his until-after-the-election payroll tax give-away, which was exactly the wrong response, for an economic package targeted to help those Americans most vulnerable to the crisis.
Will any of this affect the election? Will it be ancient history by November? Will all those folks who say they hate Trump’s tweets but love their 401Ks blame Trump if the market doesn’t bounce back by then? Is it fair to blame Trump for the economic consequences of the coronavirus and his erratic performance as president during the early days of the crisis?
My father, may he rest in peace, used to say, “If you take credit for the rain, don’t be surprised if you are blamed for the drought.” Fred Trump should have shared that insight with little Donny.
I don’t want “The System” to be blown up. I think it works pretty well for the vast majority of Americans. Having grown up working-class poor in the ‘50s, living over our family grocery store in Brooklyn, it has certainly worked enormously well for me and my family.
While “Medicare for All” may be the best long-term American solution to providing universal access to quality healthcare, it is neither politically nor fiscally possible in the immediate future. Moreover, while expanding Obamacare with a Medicare-lite public option is a winning issue for Democrats, Bernie’s plan to deny 160 million Americans their current private coverage within four years is a losing issue. As a 73-year-old Jew who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, Israel’s security as a Jewish state is an existential issue for me. American support for Israel’s security is essential. I don’t trust Bernie, ironically a Jew of my own generation, at all on Israel. Moreover, my number one priority is defeating Donald Trump and I am convinced, as is Trump and his campaign and Vladimir Putin apparently, that running against Bernie virtually guarantees a Trump second term that Trump will successfully promote as a landslide and a mandate for Trumpism.
I simply don’t think the vast majority of the American electorate will vote for a 78-year-old socialist who had a heart attack. Fair or not, if Bernie is the Democratic nominee, Bernie’s past pronouncements in favor of Fidel Castro, socialism in Venezuela and a plethora of public comments he has made over the years in support of socialists and communists will blanket the airwaves and all social media 24/7 from Labor Day through Election Day. The election will be successfully cast as a contest between American capitalism and failed socialism. In an era when trust in government is at its lowest ebb, a Bernie v. Trump contest will result in a Trump victory, the House flipping back to the GOP, a larger GOP majority in the Senate and a completely unchecked unleashed President Donald J. Trump. For Never-Trumpers like me, it will make his first term look like the good old days!
But here’s the strangest paradox of all… That may be the best long-term outcome for my grandkids. I am no expert and I make this prediction with great uncertainty, but I think the crash resulting from the unsustainable debt and federal deficits that is fueling the so-called Trump economy will explode sometime during the next four years. What America needs most in my opinion is a return to moderation, a rejection of the extreme populism on both sides represented by Trump and Sanders, a return to political consensus and compromise, a mutual respect for competing views instead of the mutual demonization of them currently prevalent in our political culture; a pragmatic, non-ideological approach to our problems within the context of traditional American values, fiscal responsibility and a check on the expansion of presidential power at the expense of Congress that has occurred under both Democratic and GOP presidents, including Trump. A Trump landslide and economic crash under Trump, as painful as it no doubt will be, can finally and profoundly discredit both right-wing and left-wing extreme populism as represented by Trump and Sanders respectively. Please don’t misunderstand me. I pray, whatever the outcome next November, there is no crash. I pray our current and all future presidents are successful. But I can’t deny the fact that we have all seen this dance on an economic bubble before and it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t so long ago.
Which leaves me in the exact same place I started. If Bernie is the Democratic candidate, what do I do?
Notes From an Extreme Centrist There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it may be a locomotive speeding toward us!
As of this writing (Friday, February 7, 2020) President Trump had a great week; the Democratic Iowa debacle, an effective re-election speech masquerading as the State of the Union Address, acquittal. But the spectacle of anger and division at the State of the Union by both parties, Pelosi and Trump and his bizarre “victory” news conference wasn’t great for America. In fact, it was awful.
Donald Trump could have been the historic president he pretends to be. The sad thing for the nation is that had he “pivoted” and became presidential with the office he could have united the nation and resolved some of our thorniest issues. He could have been like Nixon going to China on issues such as abortion, immigration, real tax and entitlement reform, deficit reduction… Instead, he chose to divide and demagogue us as president. As a result, today our nation and our 230-year experiment in representative democracy are in jeopardy.
The Democratic Party, despite the characterization we hear so often from Trumpists, didn’t call for impeachment to overturn an election either before or immediately after an election as much as millions and millions of Americans did. It wasn’t a conspiracy to undermine the election process. It was Americans exercising their constitutional right of free speech and assembly and some Democratic politicians following their lead. That’s what politicians do!
The real question to ask is, “Why?”
If you are objective, the underlying reason resides in Trump himself. He chose to launch his political career on the shoulders of the debunked racist birther conspiracy theory. He chose to run a campaign based on explicit appeals to xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia. He chose to be a demagogue at every opportunity, both as a candidate and as president. He chooses daily to base his presidency and now his re-election on dividing the nation, on appeals to fear and anger. He didn’t have to base his presidency on this same poison that got him elected. But he did and continues to do so. Either that’s who he is or he is simply choosing to continue what has (tragically for America) worked for him so far or both. In any event, when you run like a demagogue you reap what you sow. Trump himself is the problem.
In my lifetime, since Vietnam, America has been battling a deep cultural divide over our nation’s soul on more fronts than I can list here. Maybe Trump is both a symptom of and a catalyst for that divide. Maybe, one way or another, it’s time for it to come to an end. The last time we experienced anything as a nation so hate-filled was over slavery. I pray we can find a way out of this mess, build a national consensus for civility and compromise without any blood spilling in the streets. Had you asked me a week ago if significant politically motivated street violence was probable during the upcoming election season, I would have dismissed it as a highly improbable emotional over-reaction. Since the SOTUS spectacle and Trump’s “victory” news conference, however, and what I anticipate will be the ugliest election campaign of the modern era I’m not so sure. What I do know in my bones is that as long as DJT remains a political force, either as president or from the sidelines, it will never get any better. And I think most of you know that, too!
Once again, Pelosi proves herself to be the political genius she is!
Impeachment could have been a devastating issue for Democrats next November. It had all the earmarks of a political sequel to the Mueller Report where, despite whatever was in the Report, Trump and his minions falsely and successfully promoted it as an exoneration for the president. Now, because of her delay in delivering the Articles of Impeachment, the vote on witnesses will work politically for the Democrats, especially in swing states where GOP senators are running for re-election. For fear of being primaried and suffering the wrath of Trump, they will have to explain their votes to the 75 percent of constituents who believe trials require witnesses and documents.
Trumps’ so-called peace plan…
Credit where credit is due, maybe!
First, the plan announced by Pres. Trump, flanked by Netanyahu, is not really a peace plan. It is a negotiating position and it is a good one. It reflects the realities on the ground and the substance of what any 2-state solution that Israel can ever accept will look like. It also sounds a loud clear message that America is not a neutral third party, that we support the legitimacy of Israel’s borders subsequent to the 6 Day War and that’s a good thing. Until the Palestinians understand this, peace will never be possible. The rest of the world and the Palestinians who refuse to accept this reality are all promoting a fantasy. Anyone who has ever been to Israel understands this. Kudos to Trump for being the first U.S. president since the 6 Day War to acknowledge reality.
BUT… As he has always done in the past, by threatening annexation of West Bank settlements Netanyahu is sabotaging any prospect for peace to serve his own selfish short-term political interests. Literally every time America has promoted any peace process, Bibi’s immediate response has been to build new settlements and/or expand old ones. He and everyone else knows that as certain as the sun rises in the east, this is a death blow to peace or any possibility that the Palestinians can even sit at the same table with the Israelis to negotiate anything. If Trump fails to reign in Netanyahu, this is all a sham. It is a political ploy by Trump and Netanyahu to help Bibi get re-elected in March and stay out of jail.
Congress has ceded Its Constitutional powers:
To declare war
To regulate large areas of our economy, environment & social norms (e.g. EOs)
To have authority over the federal budget & how $ is allocated (e.g. DoD funds to fund The Wall)
And now Congressional oversight by acquitting Trump of Impeachment Article 2
And this is being done by folks who mislabel themselves as conservatives!
What he wanted:
My personal relationship with Kim reduced the nuclear threat from North Korea.
Pulling out of the Iran deal and my maximum pressure campaign forced Iran to negotiate a better deal and reduced their malign activities in the Middle East.
New trade deals, especially with China, produced great results.
- North Korea has the credibility of summits with America, is less isolated and just as close to a nuclear-armed missile that can reach America as it would have been without Trump’s bromance with Kim.
- Iran is more dangerous and more influential in the Middle East, and America has been backed into a corner all alone, without the backing of our traditional allies, possibly on the brink of war.
- The trade deals have produced minimal results.
Trump often brags that he is a counterpuncher, and I agree with him. But think about that for a moment. It means that our president is reactive, not proactive. It means that long-term goals and consequences fall victim to short-term, knee-jerk responses. Counterpunching, being primarily reactive, can’t produce worse results than it does in foreign policy. Combine all of that with Trump’s impulsivity, insatiable hunger for attention-grabbing histrionics, his proclivity to take everything personally, his utter contempt for our intelligence community and his hollowing out of the State Department. The result is that our national security is compromised with a real and imminent potential for all-out war.
This is most obvious in the current crisis in Iraq. Trump’s responses to Iranian aggression have been erratic. There were no consequences to the bombing of the Saudi oil field, the downing of our drone or the attacks on oil tankers. This, plus his craven abandonment of the Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces as demanded by Erdogan, sent the message that Iran can behave without consequences, so they upped the ante by having their proxies bomb installations in Iraq with U.S. forces, killing an American contractor. Trump responded exactly as Iran hoped he would. He bombed Iraqi targets as well as Syrian ones. The result? A week ago, Iraqis were protesting against Iran. Today, America is the target. The Iranian proxies left the embassy area as part of a deal that the Iraqi parliament would debate the continued presence of American troops in Iraq at the exact time ISIS is reconstituting itself in parts of Iraq. And the reactive, erratic Trump response — counterpunching substituting for strategic planning and thoughtful diplomacy — has resulted in a tit-for-tat escalation of hostilities.
According to David Ignatius, “It’s as though the Middle East has played a cruel joke on Trump. The president who wanted so badly to escape the region that he abandoned a low-cost, high-success mission in northeast Syria is now stumbling into a hugely expensive adventure against Iran. He has lurched from one ill-considered policy to the next, goaded by advisers for whom Iran seems more an obsession than a strategic target.”
What will Trump do if the Iraqi parliament tells us to leave? What will he do in response to more provocations from Iran? He is in the ironic position of sending in more troops into a potential quagmire after loudly promising to bring the troops home from fighting endless wars and after removing troops from an area where a very small number (400?) made a huge difference. And what’s the alternative? All-out war with Iran? Do we have a long-term strategy? Where will this end?
The original sin in Iraq was the GWB/Cheney/Rumsfeld unilateral invasion under the pretext of 9/11. North Korea has been a thorn in the side of every administration since Truman. I don’t have any answers for either situation. In both cases, there are certainly no easy answers, as Trump is coming to learn. At least I pray he is learning. What I do know is that we need an A-team at State, the NSC and in our intelligence community. Trump’s A-team was any other administration’s C-team and now we are down to the Trump D-team. He has hollowed out our diplomatic corps and maligned our intelligence community. We need a change. Come November, I hope we get one. And, YES — It was better and we were safer under Obama!
WaPo’s years-long investigative exposé on the longest war in American history should be a wake-up call for every American, but its impact has been largely lost in the hoopla of impeachment. On second thought, that may be too forgiving of Americans. It’s more likely that its lost impact doesn’t require an explanation. It’s more likely that most Americans — left, right and middle — suspected as much all along and chose to push it out of our national consciousness in a collective spasm of denial and selective amnesia.
We spent trillions in treasure on three wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan that collectively resulted in hundreds of thousands of human deaths and millions of casualties, that our leaders knew (know) were hopeless and foolish while we were (are) fighting, and about which they all lied (lie) as their respective administrations’ official policy. Based on these “revelations,” a case can be made that LBJ, GWB and BHO all deserved to be impeached and removed from office along with Tricky Dick and DJT. They were (are) all culpable in the waste and lies. Or perhaps we get the leadership we deserve inasmuch as our denial and amnesia were and remain self-imposed.
We did learn lessons from Vietnam — the wrong ones. We learned the government can fight hopeless wars as long as the American public doesn’t have to pay for them. We passed billions of dollars in tax cuts with an all-volunteer military while wasting blood and treasure in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American blood loss in these wars impacted less than 1% of our population. Unlike Vietnam, even in this age of the 24/7 news cycle and information flood from sources unimagined in our recent past, we have been spared the images of body bags brought home from the wars. How does that happen? We know what the Kardashians ate for breakfast, but we don’t see the body bags coming home or the funerals.
Unlike previous wars, except for the 1% who do serve, America isn’t fighting these wars and we’re not paying for them. Our grandchildren will … with interest.
The pundits in the press and my Ever Trumper friends have this all wrong. Just like the talking heads on cable, they are breathlessly following and interpreting all kinds of polls — polls predicting whether the impeachment thing works for or against the Dems politically, the same polls they were trashing with good reason three short years ago.
Spoiler alert! Polls any time before October 2020 are meaningless. This isn’t rocket science, boys and girls. It’s really quite simple. The election will be a referendum on Trump. By next Labor Day, impeachment will be a dim, cloudy memory in the pre-consciousness of America — maybe not as dim as Stormy Daniels and “Individual 1,” but certainly as cloudy as The Mueller Report is now. Nope! The entire Kabuki will only add to the national exhaustion with the hyper-drama of the Trump presidency. Only two things will determine if Trump is reelected:
Is the Democratic nominee a moderate?
Can most Americans imagine that nominee as president?
That’s it! The Dems chances don’t look very good right now. I’m in the Biden-will-fade camp. Mayor Pete appears to be, at least according to polls a year out, the only “moderate” with a chance. Can most Americans imagine an under-40 gay man as commander in chief? In November 2015 I never thought America could imagine a pompous, boorish ass like Donald Trump as president. So, boys and girls, anything can happen between now and next Labor Day.
Which brings me to my second point. Literally no one is focused on whether Trump deserves to be removed from office, not as a political or even a strictly legal issue, but as a moral and ethical issue. Despite all the bellowing and amateur legal pedantry of Trump’s defenders, the evidence is overwhelming that Trump and Co. did exactly what they are accused of doing. Yes, O.J. got off and Trump will get off too, but puh-leeeze! We all know both Trump and O.J. are guilty.
Does this one drama justify removal from office? I honestly don’t know. We all knew exactly what we were getting when we elected Trump. That said, yes, the House should impeach Donald Trump because, morally and ethically, this guy is simply not fit for the office of the presidency. He consistently puts his own self-interests above those of the nation. He proves that almost every day. In fact, if he is reelected, the House should begin impeachment proceedings again as soon as he violates his oath of office the next time. And, while I won’t predict who the Dems will nominate or who will win in 2020, I guarantee you that if Trump wins he will violate his oath of office again, BIGLY!
As expected, Mueller and his team accomplished the assigned mission with distinction and excellence. The report gives us a complete and thorough picture of the Russian attack on the 2016 election, the Trump campaign’s complicity or non-complicity in that attack and the president’s attempts to thwart the investigation into that attack. It confirmed and documented many things we already knew:
- The Russians launched an unprecedented multi-level attack on our election, including staging ersatz competing protest demonstrations, a major all-encompassing disinformation campaign and illegal computer/email hacking.
- They did it to benefit Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton, including feeding Wikileaks documents hacked from the Clinton campaign dumped at strategic times that would maximize the damage to Clinton and help Trump.
- The Trump campaign had over 100 contacts with the Russians and lied about it.
- Trump and his campaign, while welcoming aid from the Russians, did not coordinate with them.
- The Trump campaign coordinated with Wikileaks.
- President Donald Trump absolutely attempted to obstruct the investigation and was saved from criminal obstruction of justice by two things:
- His staff saved him from himself by either ignoring or refusing to carry out Trump’s explicit orders
- The DOJ Office of Legal Counsel’s finding that a sitting president cannot be indicted
That’s what the report states. It DOES NOT exonerate the president. It EXPLICITLY says it does not exonerate the president. So, what does it do?
It documents the indisputable fact that the counter-intelligence investigation was completely justified.
It effectively takes impeachment off the table.
The statute of limitations on obstruction of justice is five years, so it creates the road map and predicate for indicting ex-President Trump for obstruction of justice if he loses re-election.
It gives the Democrats a potentially effective campaign issue if they don’t over-play their hand, and Trump one, if they do.
A personal note: This will be my last column for several months. My wife and I are that rare breed of horizontal snowbirds and live in New York State from May – November and SoCal from Thanksgiving – Easter/Passover.
Thank you, Linda W. You are the author of the first Letter to the Editor of my short writing career! I’m sincerely moved by the fact that someone is reading my column besides my wife. Also, thanks to you, I have changed my byline. Linda questioned my centrist bona fides, so let me explain.
On a variety of specific issues – abortion, gun control, entitlement reform, fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget amendment, tax policy, capital punishment, Israel and others – my views are much more consistent with traditional orthodox conservatism than anything else. My fantasy candidate for president is John Kasich. Unfortunately, that will remain a fantasy, because the GOP has morphed from a party of conservatives into the Cult of Trump, which translates into an extreme right-wing populist party that has abandoned anything resembling traditional conservative orthodoxy.
But Linda W. is correct. I despise Donald Trump. As a New Yorker approximately the same age as Trump, I have known him to be a thoroughly despicable human being throughout his entire public career, for the past 45 years or more. I support a few of his policies, but no one as consistently amoral and dishonest as Trump can ever be trusted, except by either a hopelessly naïve political neophyte or a fool. The man is evil. Linda, I’m in very good company and I can, upon request, refer you to a dozen or more traditional conservative pundits who share my “Never Trump” views.
This brings me to what may be the strangest week in the strangest presidency of my lifetime. It began with the president firing his DHS secretary because she refused to break the law at his direction. She wasn’t cruel enough for the Trump/Miller policy of deterrence through cruelty, even after enforcing the cruelest policies at the border in anyone’s memory. Her exit was quickly followed by a purge (worthy of Stalin) of the entire DHS leadership. Firing the entire leadership of the department responsible for border security in the midst of a border security/humanitarian crisis may not seem – to most rational folks – like any way to run a government. Or does it? I guess if you belong to the “Alice through the Looking Glass Cult of Trump World” it does. As if this wasn’t strange enough, by the end of the week, we learned that our president, the man ultimately responsible for implementing and enforcing the law, asked the new acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to break the law, promising to pardon him if he complies! This begs an obvious question. How can we demonize illegal border crossers as criminals breaking the law, when our president is the Law-Breaker-in-Chief?
Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up! Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Mid-week, we learned that Trump/Miller twice considered dumping the overflow of asylum seekers into Democratic-dominated “sanctuary” cities as political retribution for opposing the Trump/Miller draconian illegal policies, even his own appointees resisted. Just when we breathed a sigh of relief because we assumed in a rare moment of sanity the policy was rejected, Trump once again pulled the rug out from under his own administration and congressional party, tweeting and publicly announcing that this incredibly stupid certainly illegal idea would be implemented. As of this writing, that appears to be his plan. By the time you read this, however, it is entirely possible that Trump will back down before blowback for the umpteenth time, claiming he never said what he is on the record saying. In a world where truth has no currency and where his supporters consciously close their eyes to Trump’s serial lying, there is no political price for lying, and that’s what Trump does best. The worst part of all of this is the absence of any legitimate policy. Instead of honoring the fact that all of this touches real human lives in very real ways, Trump intends to bully his way, using vulnerable, desperate people as human pawns to wreak revenge on political enemies. Welcome to Trump-style reality TV government.
Let’s be clear. I am an extreme centrist and I’m NOT in favor of admitting all these migrants and granting them asylum. I am in favor, however, of treating them humanely while detaining them legally for adjudication of their claims and establishing a more efficient system for doing that. A normal president would have and could have negotiated with Congress to change the law and fund the resources to make that happen. But, Trump is not a normal president.
This same week, Attorney General Barr, in testimony before a Senate committee and absent of any evidence he was prepared to share, mused that our own intelligence community, the folks specifically charged with protecting America from espionage, spied on the Trump campaign. Yes, he used the word spy! Upon questioning, he softened his speculation somewhat, but not before giving Trump more fuel to control the narrative regarding the Mueller investigation, lying that he had been exonerated, which even Barr’s memo specifically denied, and accusing Barr’s own DOJ colleagues of treason. Until this week, I have given Barr the benefit of the doubt. Now, I am not so sure if he is the competent, dedicated public servant I had hoped for and expected, or just another Trump stooge in a cabinet of Trump stooges. I guess we’ll find out when he releases the Mueller Report. Will it be so completely redacted as to render it useless, or will it be as transparent as possible as Barr promised?
This suggests another question. Is it possible that Trump’s bluster of escalating the policy confrontation over the migrant families and Barr’s foolish public musings from a normally circumspect, disciplined man are a conscious strategy to control the public narrative before the release of what may be damaging information in the Mueller Report?
Yes, Linda W., I am assuredly an extreme centrist. I am a dedicated institutionalist and traditionalist. I prefer compromise and incrementalism to radical change. I am deeply religious. While no specific religious doctrine should be codified into law, I firmly believe all laws, law enforcement and governance must be grounded in morality. The Trump presidency and Trump himself, in all these areas, stand for the exact opposite. Frankly and sadly, I don’t see how one can be a centrist, a traditionalist, and support Donald Trump. It’s like being a meat-eating vegetarian!
Donald Trump’s wall is an attempt to solve the wrong problem. The masses gathering at our southern border are more like refugees from Syria flooding Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey than single men from Mexico looking for work, who used to constitute the majority of our illegal crossings. Single Mexican men represent less than a trickle of the folks attempting entry into the U.S. The vast majority are migrant families who gather at legal ports of entry. Most of those who do cross illegally actually report to the authorities so they can file for asylum. A wall simply won’t do the job.
Trump, however, is correct about two things: There is an emergency, and the culprit is the Flores Decision mandating that unaccompanied minors be released within 20 days. But his policy is all wrong. The Democrats, for their part, have been expending all their political capital denying a problem exists, and they are as culpable as the president.
This is a refugee problem, and that is how it must be addressed. We have to figure out how to protect both our national interests and our values. The first moral/ethical imperative is to treat these people humanely. The second is to protect our national interests. We must have secure borders. Our economy simply can’t absorb all the Third World refugees who want to come here. They place too great a burden on our social services and schools, and they depress wages for low-skilled Americans. The root problem driving this wave of migration is the failed states in Central America where economies and the rule of law are collapsing. If we want to mitigate the problem in a way consistent with our values, we must make a choice. Do we address the root causes, or the symptoms?
The first step is for Trump to go to Pelosi with a deal. Give up on wall funding for now, beyond what was funded in the deal that reopened the government last January. Do this, in exchange for legislation allowing us to treat this as a refugee crisis, overturning the Flores decision, allowing the establishment of semi-permanent refugee camps in partnership with NGOs and other international refugee organizations. That will allow us to both treat the migrants more humanely and effectively dedicate the resources needed – more immigration officers, courts and judges – to rationally and expeditiously process the claims for asylum and send those who don’t qualify back home.
The second step is for Trump to organize a coalition of western hemisphere nations to cooperatively deal with the problem. Then we have to make the really hard choice: Do we want to stabilize the nations of Central America? Do we want to engage in the kind of nation building we have spent two decades attempting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Alternatively, do we want to house refugees in permanent camps for the foreseeable future, like the Palestinians for the last 70 years? Neither “solution” is easy or pretty. There is one huge difference, however, between Central America and the Middle East. This isn’t half a world away, and the armed thugs are street gangs, not highly organized international terrorist groups funded by Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, this problem may be somewhat less intractable for us, and it is immediate and local. The bottom line is that if Trump succeeds with his current policy, which essentially amounts to simply locking these people in Mexico, the problem will only get worse. Mexico will eventually and inevitably become a failed state, with a collapsing economy as well. If that ever happens, our current problems will look like a cakewalk.
There is yet another piece of this puzzle that no one seems to be addressing. The drug trafficking issue that Trump complains about in every immigration speech and at every rally isn’t a one-way street. Something like 85 percent of the guns confiscated from the drug and street gangs in Mexico and Central America come from the United States. United States gun manufacturers profit from the chaos that drives our immigration/refugee crisis, much like the opioid crisis was originally driven by legitimate drug manufacturers. But guns are the third rail of Trump/GOP politics. When I look at places like Yemen, where millions of people are literally starving to death because no one can get enough food aid into the country, I ask myself, how is it that they never run out of guns, mortars and bullets? How do weapons flow in so easily, but food is effectively blocked? Why can’t we put restrictions on gun manufacturers and control the illegal flow of guns to the criminals who are driving refugees to our southern border?
The fact is that neither political party, nor Donald Trump, is as committed to solving the problem as they are to exploiting it as a political issue. Politically, the problem works really well by mobilizing their respective bases. It is a great catalyst for creating primal anger — the mother’s milk of identity politics — and the driving force in both political parties and the fuel that feeds Trump-ism.
Also, while I acknowledge the current crisis, calling it a crisis is misleading. It is actually a chronic condition affecting the entire world, and it will never go away. Human beings will always flee violence and economic desperation. Climate change will only increase mass migration. The coffee and corn crops in Central America are suffering from long-term drought caused by climate change, where what water fallen comes in floods caused by extreme weather events, resulting in more damage than relief, and the impacted peasants join the migration caravans.
The longer we pretend we can solve this problem ourselves by simply keeping people out, the worse it’s going to get, both for us and the migrants. The only long-term solution is to acknowledge this as a long-term, chronic condition of the modern world and the only effective approach is to develop international humane protocols to deal with it.
My mother was born in the Ukraine, part of Czarist Russia, before WWI. For the first decade of her life, her village was literally a battleground through the Great War, Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War. The armies that invaded and successively occupied her village – Germans, Poles, Cossacks, White Russians, and Red Russians – all had one thing in common: They hated and massacred Jews. Mom and my family finally got out, trekking across Europe to Antwerp, sailing across the Atlantic in steerage, arriving on Ellis Island in 1922, one of last boats before the doors of immigration slammed shut with the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. Most of those who remained behind and survived Stalin became Holocaust victims 20 years later.
About 25 years ago, I had an incredibly moving experience as an assistant principal in a Brooklyn high school. While most of our students were Latino, we had a small but significant Muslim Arab population. A very bright Palestinian girl in our senior class came to me crying. She wanted to apply to college, but her family had planned an arranged marriage that would take place soon after her 18th birthday. They refused to allow her to stay in school past graduation. She agreed to let me meet with her parents. At the end of our conference, which was amazingly successful, her father asked me if I was a Jew. I said, “Yes, I am!” Literally, with tears in his eyes, he told me that in his country the two of us wouldn’t be talking. Instead, we would be killing each other. He said that only in America could a Jew and a Palestinian talk to each other with respect and trust to help his family. We hugged each other and, for a moment, became brothers … Only in America!
When I was a young man, America’s incredible diversity was an anomaly. Typically, most nations were largely homogenous, sharing a common ethnicity, language, religion, history and culture. Historically, America coped with our unique diversity with a strange stew of institutional prejudice, second generation assimilation and ultimately increasing tolerance. In a peculiar way unique to America, our abiding racial tensions, the legacy of slavery, America’s original sin, mostly distracted us from conflict between white ethnicities. If one was white, no matter where you came from, you could eventually blend into the melting pot.
Ironically, in 21st century America, just when our racial tensions based on blatant racism are subsiding, even electing our first “black” president, tensions over class, culture, politics and immigration are approaching a boiling point. Republicans and Democrats demonize each other. Our own leaders, rather than working toward common sense solutions, serve their selfish political interests instead of the national interest by stirring the pot to increase tensions. The same folks charged with making the system work, a political miracle invented by our founders, are tearing our norms and institutions of governance apart, increasing the distrust in government and the very institutions that made America great.
President Trump, you can’t make America great again by dividing us. Your job, as the only nationally elected official, along with your V.P., is to unite us. Your job isn’t to destroy the norms of civil conversation. Your job is to be a role model of civility. More than ever, we need our president and political institutions to cool the raging waters of conflict. We have huge challenges ahead of us; climate change, national debt and deficits, health care, immigration, international and homegrown terrorism, issues of race, sexual orientation, gender identity and the environment. They aren’t going away. This is the world we are passing on to our kids and grandkids. We can’t solve these problems. That will take generations. But we need to give them the tools for solving them. President Trump didn’t invent our political conflicts. But he has built his political career and his presidency on fanning the flames.
My mom and grandma often cooked in a pressure cooker. It happened a few times when they forgot to lower the flame, the pressure cooker exploded, literally launching the pressure valve and the entire contents of the pot as high as our kitchen ceiling. I’ll never forget the hole made by the valve and pea soup dripping from the ceiling. I think of our precious nation at its best as a salad bowl. All of us, as diverse as we are, combined together in a common cause called America. Pressuring us to give up our unique differences in a melting pot was hard enough for first generation Americans like me. Remaking America into a pressure cooker is a prescription for disaster.
I completely accept the Mueller findings! I always said that the Mueller investigation’s success is NOT dependent on finding the president guilty of a criminal conspiracy with Russia or criminal obstruction of justice. A finding that the evidence against Trump is insufficient for criminal charges is also a success.
The suggestion by some that the report validates any claim that this was a witch-hunt is patently ridiculous. Witch-hunts ALWAYS find witches! This was a real investigation by an incorruptible, extremely competent investigator, based on 100 percent justifiable probable cause. Mueller has produced far more indictments and convictions in fewer than two years than Starr produced in four. The nation and our system of governance would have suffered immeasurably without the Mueller Investigation. Every American – whether a Trump voter or opponent (like me) – should be incredibly grateful to Mueller, Barr and the system. THE SYSTEM WORKED! For that, however, we should be even more grateful to someone else.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Jeff Sessions! That said, Sessions is a true profile in courage. He suffered 20 months of unrelenting pressure and public humiliation from a president he spent two years working tirelessly to elect. He was the first major GOP politician with a national reputation who publicly endorsed Trump, when even the GOP still recognized Trump for the conman that he is. As he was being abused by his boss and president, knowing that time in his life-long dream job was on a death watch, Sessions pursued that president’s agenda more effectively than any other Trump official. He could easily have not recused himself. He could have fired Rosenstein and/or Mueller and made his recusal purely academic. He could have kept his job! But he didn’t. Jeff Sessions served a higher authority. He did what he knew was right, despite personal, public and professional sacrifice. There are many things in Sessions’ public record that I despise, but Jeff Sessions, at the critical moment for him and our nation, proved himself to be a man of principle and I respect him for that.
Despite the Mueller findings, the fact is, we already know there was collusion. There were over 100 documented contacts with Russian intelligence officials from 17 different Trump campaign officials all covered up by lies. The fact is, the word collusion has been grossly misunderstood and distorted. Collusion is not a crime. Criminal conspiracy is. Mueller cleared Trump and his campaign of criminal conspiracy with Russia. It explicitly DOESN’T clear him of obstruction of justice. Essentially, Mueller and Barr kicked that can to Congress. Thus, Trump’s defeat will no doubt depend on Election Day 2020, not an impeachment trial in the Senate – and that’s a good thing for the nation. However, this is no time for a Trump victory lap. The show is far from over with Mueller. There’s SDNY, EDVA, the NYS Attorney General, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and several committees in Congress. There are still more threads to pull than sheep at shearing season. Stay tuned. The beat goes on!
Headline from the NYT, 3/15/2019:
Two New Zealand Mosques, a Hate-Filled Massacre Designed for Its Time
“I went to Friday afternoon prayers at my local mosque today. When one wakes up to overwhelming incomprehensible tragedy, you feel helpless and want to do something. The only thing I could think of was to go to the mosque and pray with my Muslim brothers and sisters, to share their pain, pray to the same G-d we also share and in a very small way reach out to them as best as I can. As they prayed to Allah and recited verses from the Quran, I silently recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. The imam’s sermon was all about love, about reaching out across religious and ethnic differences to Jews and Christians, to listen to each other with peace and understanding, to confront hate and evil with love and understanding. My goal was to be as inconspicuous as possible. My yarmulke is not that much different from the head coverings most of the men were wearing. Most wore street clothes much like mine. I took off my shoes and sat on the floor just like everyone else. Still, as the service ended, the imam recognized me from the podium as I had been there during happier times about 2 years ago with my friend Jamshed, and thanked me for coming. He recognized me as an observant Jew. And literally 1 day after rockets had flown between Israel and Gaza and 49 of their brothers and sisters had been massacred in a mosque just like this one, during Friday afternoon prayers half way around the world, over 100 Muslim men came up to me and individually embraced me, a Jew, thanking me for my small gesture. It was all I could do to hold back my tears.”
My question of “Why?” is NOT why horrors like this occur. We know why! My question is why do White Power Supremacists, from David Duke after Charlottesville to the shooter in New Zealand, see in Donald J. Trump – our president – a kindred spirit? Donald Trump is not responsible for Charlottesville or the massacre in New Zealand. I want to be very clear about that still.
On March 11, just four days prior to the massacre, Trump gave an interview to Breibart, the online right-wing propaganda site masquerading as news, where he said the following:
“I can tell you I have the support of the police, have the support of the military, have the support of the bikers for Trump – I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough – until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”
What are we to make of this comment? Is he threatening violence in the streets if he doesn’t get his way with the wall or if he loses in 2020? Is this an appropriate threat for an American president to make to the American people?
During his campaign, he advocated for a Muslim ban. After Charlottesville, he declared there were good people on both sides. Less than 24 hours after the massacre in New Zealand, in response to a reporter’s question in the Oval Office during the Veto Signing Ceremony, he declared that White Power Supremacists and the violence they advocate and perpetrate are not serious problems in the United States.
My Trump-supporting friends can legitimately claim that the president’s words in all these cases are being grossly misinterpreted, that his intent and meaning carry no racist or poisonous purpose. That may be so; however, the David Dukes of the world and other White Power Supremacists all take comfort from these words. Why? The president of the United States, whether he likes it or not, is the spokesperson for the moral/ethical soul of all of us.
At times like these, he should never speak in a way where his words must be parsed to determine what he really means. They must be clear to everyone! It’s hard to interpret the words “Muslim Ban” as anything but racist! After the torchlight parade of Nazis screaming “Jews will not replace us” into the Charlottesville night, Charlottesville was no longer about Confederate monuments, at least for those Americans like me, who are the targets of Nazi hatred. It was only about Nazis marching in American streets. After the Charleston church, Pittsburgh synagogue and Christchurch, New Zealand massacres, White Power Supremacist hatred and violence are serious problems for everyone in America who isn’t white and Christian; and I pray even for the vast majority of American white Christians.
In Judaism, we hold leaders to a higher moral/ethical standard than the general population. Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land by HaShem because he struck a rock in anger in front of the Israelites! I honestly don’t know if Trump consciously carries favor with Nazis and White Pride Supremacists with his consistent equivocations. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that he consistently fails America when it matters most with his words. He should be ashamed of himself and every American who takes America’s ideals of tolerance and brotherhood seriously. Those of you who voted for him should loudly and proudly shame Donald J. Trump for this failure. It is inexcusable!
Steven Baron wrote a 900-word opinion piece in last week’s Gazette rebutting my column of the previous week. He attempted to rip my arguments apart piece by piece. For the record, I think Donald J. Trump is a despicable human being and his presidency is a national disaster. Baron is an ardent Trump supporter. Despite that, Steven Baron is one my best friends in California. I literally love the man, not like Trump “loves” Kim. I really love Steve. More than that, I deeply respect and trust him. I am confident he feels the same way about me.
Since we met in synagogue several years ago, we have been debating each other politically and have been fast friends. In the years we have known each other, despite our political differences, not a single angry word has passed between us and we see each other and break bread together at least two times a week in synagogue. That is what America is really like, or at least the America Steve and I live in.
Once upon a time, our politics were more like that and less of the take-no-prisoners blood sport it has become. In the ‘80s, political rivals Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal were friends who enjoyed each other’s company. About 20 years earlier, LBJ introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but Everett Dirksen got it passed. Think about that for a minute. A Democratic president and the top Republican in Congress worked together to forever change America for the better! Where have we gone wrong?
LBJ’s Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate made many Americans, if not most, into political cynics who distrust government. I’ve always thought that had Robert F. Kennedy lived to become president, everything since then would have been different. We would have left Vietnam before the worst domestic conflicts concerning the war had occurred. There would have been no Watergate. RFK was the last national politician who could give the same exact speech on the same day to black working class Roxbury and white ethnic working class South Boston crowds, getting enthusiastic ovations from both groups. Ronald Reagan restored some of that with his Morning in America politics, but with Talk Confrontation Radio, Newt No Compromise Gingrich and Slick Will, the dye was cast and it has only gotten worse, climaxing in the most divisive president since the Civil War in Donald Trump.
It didn’t have to be this way. Trump essentially won the election on his signature issues, immigration and unfair trade relationships – both of which bleed away secure American blue-collar high-wage jobs. He won the immigration debate with the American people. The reason the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013 failed to become law is that no one trusted the Democrats to secure the border. Everyone trusts Trump to secure the border. After winning the election, he was in a perfect place to finally resolve the immigration issue by securing the border and using the Senate bill as a starting point for dealing with the issue in an equitable, fair and sensible way, and with the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants who have been living here for years. He could have chosen to unite the nation and resolve a simmering issue. If nothing else, Trump has proven how he can command the congressional GOP to fall in line and slavishly follow his lead. The Democrats would have jumped at the chance to give Trump his wall in return for something resembling that 2013 Senate bill. Instead, he chose to demagogue the issue because he calculated it works better for him politically as a highly charged wedge issue than would a solution. Don’t get me wrong; the Democrats have consistently made the same craven calculation. So, an issue that reasonable sensible people can solve remains an open wound in the nation. And the exact same dynamic drives several of the most contentious issues dividing Americans. Trust me, if Steve and I were locked in a room with a few technocrats who know the technical esotericism of the issue, we would solve the whole thing in a day or two. Why? Because we respect each other and have no ulterior motives other than doing what is right for America. We listen to each other and we are open to reasonable compromise.
Our current political process, especially the presidential contest, works in a way that exacerbates conflict and undermines solutions. Winning the primaries demands extreme uncompromising positions from the candidates. If the nominee moderates his/her positions during the general election campaign, he/she risks the hypocrite flip-flopper tag. What can be done to break this self-destructive cycle? In Donald Trump, we have a president that a third of the nation hates, a third loves and a third distrusts, but that middle third is also very suspicious of Democrats, mostly for very good reasons. The Democrats who vote in the primaries must vote for a moderate. They must center their main campaign themes on unifying America, character, honesty and a willingness to compromise to resolve issues. They also must nominate a candidate with the record and credibility that the middle third of America can believe. Right now, with Sherrod Brown out of the race, unless Biden announces, that looks like Klobuchar. Personally, I’m fantasizing a Democratic dream team ticket of Biden/Klobuchar. I once fantasized registering as a Republican to vote for Kasich in the GOP primary, but that’s not going to happen. The GOP is the party of Trump. As an extreme centrist, I’ll remain a registered Democrat and hope for the best.
Congressmen Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan of the so-called Freedom Coalition, famously or infamously (depending on your POV) filed a criminal referral with the DOJ against Michael Cohen, accusing him of perjury before the House Oversight Committee.
Strangely, it had nothing to do with Cohen’s describing the president as a racist, liar or conman. Perhaps it was Cohen’s suggestion that Trump was guilty of a criminal conspiracy while president to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels? Or, that he was guilty of bank fraud by knowingly inflating his net worth to Deutche Bank to obtain a 1 billion dollar loan? Or lying about actively pursuing a deal to build a Moscow Trump Tower during the campaign? Or stiffing small businessmen 500 times out of money he owed them? Nope! It was none of those things. They accused Cohen of lying about his own ambition, or lack of same, for a job in the Trump White House. Uhhh… Compared to this other stuff, who cares?
What’s notable about this is that their criminal referral exactly reflects the strategy employed by every GOP member of the committee. Not a single GOP questioner either defended the charges against the president, or attempted to debunk any of Cohen’s substantive accusations against Trump. Their lone attack against Cohen’s testimony was that Cohen is a liar. Well, that’s not news. The obvious weakness of that strategy is that Trump is the Liar-in-Chief! If Cohen can’t be trusted because he is an admitted liar in the service of Donald J. Trump, how does that help the president who makes Cohen look like the most honest man in the Trump organization? Moreover, whom do they expect to get testimony from? Finding a close associate of Donald Trump who hasn’t pled guilty to a felony, isn’t under indictment or an immunity deal or isn’t the subject of a criminal investigation is like finding a virgin in a house of ill repute.
The irony of all this is that 24 hours hadn’t elapsed before Trump himself and the latest Trump White House scandal completely sabotaged the GOP congressional narrative. Jordan, Meadows, and others all hung their hats on the argument that if you lie once, nothing you say can be trusted. Cohen is a convicted liar, so nothing he alleges should be taken seriously. Trump himself undermined that argument from the summit podium in Vietnam as he declared Cohen’s honesty regarding collusion with Russia. Cohen, according to Trump, testified that there was no collusion and that part of his testimony can be trusted. Of course, that isn’t what Cohen actually said. Then, less than a day transpired before it was absolutely and irrefutably documented that Trump, Ivanka and Jared Kushner’s attorney all lied on TV about how Jared received his Top Secret security clearance over the objections of the FBI, CIA, Chief of Staff Kelly and White House Counsel McGhan. Compared to Trump and his family, Cohen’s credibility and trustworthiness in the committee appears stellar, which I admit isn’t saying much.
The common wisdom is that we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know as a result of Cohen’s public testimony, but I disagree. One thing we learned is that the Mueller investigation is almost certainly the sideshow. Cohen produced enough documents and names of potential witnesses to keep several congressional committees and federal and state prosecutors very busy for years. I literally can’t wait to hear from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s long-time CFO who appears to have had a hand in every dollar coming in or going out in Trump World. We heard first-hand from the most inside man in the organization (whose name isn’t Trump) just how amoral and corrupt the everyday business culture of the Trump organization is and always has been.
But we also learned something else. We learned how the corrosion of public morality, ethics and trust works. For two years, the congressional GOP has turned a blind eye to Donald Trump’s daily lies, bullying tweet-storms and destruction of the norms and guardrails that have governed presidential behavior until now. They have silently watched our president wage rhetorical war against our/his own intelligence community, DOJ, the press, his former employees and even members of his own party who have the temerity and integrity to criticize him. They hitched their own political ambitions to the Trump train, knowing exactly what this president is all about.
Jordan, Meadows and their GOP colleagues who once stood for fiscal responsibility, and literally screamed bloody murder about Obama-era executive overreach, are now silent in the face of the biggest deficits in the history of the republic – all accrued during a period of economic growth, and defend what they know is a fictitious national emergency. They have sacrificed even the appearance of values and political integrity in a Faustian bargain with Donald J. Trump. And the real tragedy is that they seem totally unaware of the bargain they have made or the cost of that bargain, and it’s not a pretty sight! If the clock isn’t ticking on the Trump presidency, the road back to normalcy will be very long, indeed.
As I sit here writing, we are awaiting the impending release of the Mueller Report. I will fully accept those findings, whatever they are. Unfortunately for America, I am probably in the minority.
If the 2016 election taught me anything, it is to be very circumspect before making any predictions. If I had to predict, however, it would be that almost no one will be really satisfied with its findings. The reason? The true believers from both sides, and in these troubled times far too many Americans have become true believers, simply won’t believe the report unless it fully corroborates exactly what they already believe.
I have several friends who absolutely hate the Clintons. They think both of them deserve very long prison terms. When the names Comey and McCabe come up, they almost foam at the mouth. But Donald Trump can do no wrong. Let’s face it. There simply has never been such a prolific liar in the White House in the history of the Republic. Even Tricky Dick is a piker in the sheer shamelessness of Trump’s monumental mendacity. The man is a life-long serial liar! Every informed objective observer should agree to that. My Trump enthusiast friends, very bright and very well-informed people, when confronted with a well-documented Trumpian whopper, with complete sincerity and righteous indignation fully rationalize and explain away the lie. While their mastery of selective amnesia and denial of objective reality is truly impressive, however, it is highly corrosive to the foundations of representative democracy. We certainly don’t have to agree with each other about anything requiring an opinion, but if we live in alternative political universes, where for them up is down and down is up, elections don’t resolve anything. They only make things worse.
On the other hand, and there is almost always an “on the other hand” for an Extreme Centrist, I seriously doubt Mueller will find an indictable or what should be an impeachable offence against the president. Ultimately, the Southern District of New York may, but I doubt Mueller will. For my Trum- hating true believer friends, simply nothing short of that will do. It is not against the law to lie in public, even to the American people, or particularly unusual for a successful politician to be morally corrupt. In fact, it is almost a job requirement. For some reason that eludes me, however, they almost universally give the Clintons a pass while waxing eloquent over the moral turpitude of Donald Trump.
So, what is so special about the Trump presidency? Why is his presidency a disaster for America no matter what Mueller has found?
Other presidents have had illicit sexual affairs. Other presidents have lied, although not with the frequency and consistency of Trump. Other presidents as candidates engaged in questionable, perhaps even illegal campaign tactics. Other presidents may have determined foreign policy based on selfish personal interests. I’m not aware of any other president as a candidate paying hush money to mistresses. However, what no other president has ever done is normalize all these behaviors; to flaunt them in plain sight, express no shame and convince his political party and core base that even if he did all these things, it just doesn’t matter.
The bizarre “Alice Through the Looking Glass” aspect of all of this is:
- His party was once the party of family values.
- He and his supporters claim the mantle of conservatives, returning America to its traditional core values.
- His strongest most consistent voting bloc is Evangelical Christians!
I once lamented, soon after the Inauguration, that Trump was undermining the moral authority of the presidency. The reality is much worse. By normalizing these behaviors, by succeeding in convincing his constituency that none of this matters, he has destroyed the moral compass of America. When other presidents did these things and were caught, they experienced shame and disgrace. Indeed, the very folks who are Trump’s most committed supporters shamed his predecessors the most, even for much less egregious lies and behaviors. They still do, even while accepting the very worst in Donald Trump and with absolute conviction deny their gross hypocrisy. They believe their own horsehockey! They accept that American foreign policy doesn’t need to stand for any values other than crass self-interest, that America stands for nothing other than what Donald Trump tells them it stands for. They know he lies, believe his lies and, when his lies are revealed as lies, simply shrug their shoulders and implicitly say, “So what?”
This is what Post-Modernism looks like. A Trump world is a world without truth or objective reality. It is a world without morals or values. The very Americans, self-described conservatives and Evangelical Christians, who once resisted Post-Modernism the most, are now its prime enablers. Will America survive Donald Trump? Will we rediscover our moral compass as a society and political culture? The 2020 election may be our last best chance and it will likely depend on the character, charisma and competency of our next president. I pray to G-d for America’s sake he/she is the anti-Trump.