Friday, January 27, 2017

We Have a New President and I’m Worried

First, let me apologize for the lack of recent posts. Though there have been many things about which I’ve wanted to write, I think that I’ve been virtually paralyzed by a sense of depression, dread, and even a bit of fear. Over the years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been critical of many politicians at many different levels of government, but never did I worry that any of that criticism would lead to retaliatory action against me, my family, my associates, or groups or businesses with which I am affiliated or employed. But with the inauguration of Donald Trump, I find myself harboring just those sorts of concerns.

However, at the same time, I find that I cannot sit idly by. I just … can’t.

After Trump was elected, I promised a friend that I would keep an open mind and judge Trump by his actions and not just by his campaign rhetoric. I intend to uphold that promise. But I won’t withhold criticism when Trump’s words or actions are problematic. As I’ve thought about it more, I’ve realized that staying quiet out of fear of what a “leader” may do is a first step toward allowing fascism to take hold at the expense of a democratic system premised upon the free and open exchange of ideas and where we have the First Amendment specifically to permit the electorate to criticize its government and leaders. We cannot allow fear of reprisal to weaken the institution of free speech and the marketplace of ideas.

Thus, if I am to set aside Trump’s campaign rhetoric and judge him by his actions, I can’t say that I’m either impressed or pleased. Whether it be Trump’s inability to let any insult go unanswered (and can we give Alec Baldwin the Emmy now?), his feud with the intelligence community, his off-the-cuff remarks that have needlessly antagonized both allies and adversaries, or any of a number of other things that he has said, done, or not done, I am not reassured. In fact, my sense of worry has only increased in these transition months and the first week of his administration.

So allow me to discuss just a few of the things by which I think it is fair to judge Trump and for which, in the judging, he has come up far short.

First, is his refusal to really address his innumerable conflicts of interest in any real manner (and not just give lip service to the issue). Let me offer just a few small examples of how this could come into play. Take the Trump hotel in Washington D.C. Foreign leaders visiting Washington may feel pressure to stay in that hotel to gain favor with Trump. Or, to be more crass about it, they may essentially feel compelled to bribe the President of the United States to curry diplomatic favor. Think how angry some of you would have been had a foreign leader paid tuition for President Obama’s daughters. But when foreign leaders stay in a Trump hotel they will be directly benefitting Trump the individual in order to keep Trump the President happy. That can’t be how our system is designed to work. In fact, the Emoluments Clause was included in the Constitution precisely to prevent such a situation.

Because Trump hasn’t released his tax returns, we don’t know about all of his investments or debt obligations. But we do know that he is indebted to the Bank of China and Deutsche Bank. Had Trump divested his assets or put them into a blind trust, he would likely be less tempted to consider how any particular policy might impact his personal relationships with those banks. But he hasn’t. Those relationships are still “in the family”. So if the Bank of China were, hypothetically, to offer to forgive Trump’s debts in exchange for the United States (i.e., Trump) recognizing China’s claim to the Spratley Islands, are you convinced that Trump would say “no”? I’m not. Similarly, if Deutsche Bank were, again hypothetically, to offer to forgive Trump’s debts in exchange for the Justice Department waiving the multi-billion dollar fine being levied against the bank, are you convinced that Trump would say “no” to that offer? What about relationships with other countries in which Trump owns real estate or where property is emblazoned with his name? Might his decision-making in the White House include as a component how any action (or inaction) by the United States would affect those properties? It is worth noting that is initial executive order to block visas from some Muslim notions omits Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which are countries in which Trump apparently has business relationships or assets. Hmm.

And none of that is even remotely as dangerous or worrying as the very real possibility that Russia does, indeed, have some sort of compromising information about Trump.

I’m also very displeased with many of Trump’s nominees. Look, I understand that in politics one side wins and one side loses. Thus, while I may dislike some nominees because their views on certain issues differ from mine, I also recognize that is how the system works. But the system also has a built-in expectation that those nominated for cabinet posts will have some degree of qualification for the post to which they are nominated. And there is some built-in expectation that the nominee won’t be an actual foe of department to that the nominee would lead. As a recent Internet meme noted, the last three Secretaries of Energy (under President Bush and President Obama) all had doctorates in the sciences (chemical engineering, physics, and nuclear physics, one with a Nobel Prize, while Trump’s nominee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, studied agriculture and received a D in a class called “Meats”.


I am also very, very troubled by Trump’s claims, each based on essentially nothing, that torture works and that voter fraud is real. An administration that bases policy on unsubstantiated “experts” or conspiracy news is very worrying. And think about this: Trump wants to investigate voter fraud, despite the fact that there is no evidence, but he doesn’t want to investigate Russia’s interference with the election, despite the fact that there is apparently an abundance of evidence. Can we trust how he will consume, interpret, and act upon evidence given to him by real experts over the next four years?

And is Trump so … I don’t know … scared? … of reality, facts, science, and the like, that his insecurity demands that he try to bury information that he doesn’t like or agree with and gag those who might share that information?

I’m not even going to get into the whole problem of “alternative facts”. That is a huge subject better left for another day. Let me just offer this “alternative fact” of my own: Hillary Clinton is the President of the United States because she won 3 million more votes than Donald Trump.

The United States is not some petty Third World dictatorship; nor is it the dystopian Airstrip One of 1984 where history is remade to suit the leadership. Unfortunately, in the week that has passed since the inauguration, Trump’s actions have made me question whether he understands that. And isn’t it interesting that 1984 is now the best-selling book on Amazon?

Now, I will admit that I was pleased to see Trump back down or walk away from some of his campaign pledges. I’m glad that he no longer intends to “order” a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton. I’m really glad that he wants to make healthcare available to all Americans (though if ever the phrase “the devil is in the details” were appropriate, it would be for that claim). However, the speed at which he has changed course is troubling. It’s not unusual for a newly elected President to ignore or even reverse course on some campaign pledges (“Read my lips: No new taxes!” comes to mind), but those sorts of policy shifts usually occur over time, often as a result of political capital, changes in the economic situation, or the like. Yet here, at the same time that Trump is going full steam ahead on some pledges, he has acknowledged that he had no intention to keep other promises that he made simply because they sounded good during the campaign. Thus, I can’t help but wonder whether there is anything about which people can trust and rely upon Trump’s previous pledges. (Well, he is, apparently, going to “build that wall”, but who will ultimately pay remains very much an open issue.)

Moreover, as much as I don’t want to see him push forward some of the policies that he has advocated, I am also worried about what may happen when he abandons those things that caused people to vote for him. Many claim to have voted for Trump because he wasn’t a normal politician. But how will those people react when they realize that he is, in many ways, even worse than a normal politician? How will blue collar workers who he led to believe were losing jobs to undocumented immigrants feel (and react) when they realize that their taxes will be used to pay for the wall? How will factory workers feel (and react) when Trump doesn’t put pressure on their company to retain jobs the way he put pressure on Carrier to retain some jobs? How will they feel or react when they lose their healthcare or when their public school loses federal funding because of privatization efforts? And so on and so on and so on… How will they react when it finally dawns on them that Trump is enriching himself and his billionaire colleagues at the expense of working Americans?

We saw anger start to boil over in 2010 when President Obama and Congressional Democrats were considering legislation to provide healthcare (and don’t forget that much of that anger was premised upon outright lies like “death panels”). How might that anger be directed if people feel betrayed by Trump’s actions?

It is incumbent upon Americans to stand up and be heard and to make sure that Trump does not go beyond the bounds of the office, does not use the office to enrich himself, and does not destroy the notion of what America is and what it stands for.

I will view Trump’s statements and actions with an open mind. But one week into his administration I am displeased and worried.

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