Tag Archives: Donald Trump

A Warning From Dan Coats

When Dan Coats was a United States Senator from Indiana, he was too socially conservative for me. That said, I considered him an honest and personally pleasant man who seemed to have a genuine desire to serve the public interest.

I’d have to agree with a friend who said “I’d vote for him for neighbor, just not for Senator.”

Coats is an old-time conservative Republican who earned that description when “conservative” actually referred to a set of political beliefs. He is currently serving as U.S. Director of National Intelligence, and he recently issued a warning:

“The United States is under attack—under attack by entities using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the United States.

From U.S. businesses to the federal government, local governments—the United States is threatened by cyber attacks every day. While Russia, China, Iran and North Korea pose the greatest cyber threats, other terrorist organizations, transnational criminal organizations and ever more technically capable groups and individuals use cyber operations to achieve strategic and malign objectives.

Some of these actors, including Russia, are likely to pursue even more aggressive cyber attacks with the intent of degrading our democratic values and weakening our alliances. Persistent and disruptive cyber operatives will continue against the United States and our European allies—using our elections to undermine democracy and sow discord and division.”

The warning came in a speech to the Atlantic Conference, in Normandy, France. Coats dismissed Putin’s assurances that he wants to deal with a united and prosperous Europe, saying “invading Ukraine, seizing Crimea, attacking individuals in the U.K. with nerve agents, conducting cyber-attacks against multiple EU countries… do not strike me as unifying actions.”

It is no surprise that Trump has ignored this, as well as previous warnings that Coats and other Intelligence officials have issued, but it is extremely disheartening that the Republican legislature has also ignored the information being provided by members of their own party who are in a position to know what they’re talking about.

It has gotten so bad–and so obvious–that a former Prime Minister of Belgium tweeted out the now-infamous photo from the G7 summit (the one where Merkel is bending over a desk and appears to be lecturing “the Donald” who is sitting with his arms defiantly folded while surrounded by the other heads of state) with the caption: “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help.”

Steve Schmidt, the Republican consultant  who ran John McCain’s campaign for President and who has been a consistent–and increasingly acerbic–critic of Trump and the GOP legislators enabling him, summed it up:

Very nearly every elected member of the Republican Congress has chosen Trump and party over our country. It is shameful. They have embraced illiberalism, assaults on the rule of law, attacks on objective truth and staggering corruption. They betray their oaths with complicity.

Schmidt and Coats are patriots. The enablers in Congress are quislings.

It Just Goes On And On

This time, it’s Rick Perry. (Mr. “Oops”)

Watching the Trump Administration cabinet reminds me of going to the three-ring circus when I was a girl: it was impossible to watch what was happening in all three of the rings at the same time. And there were lots of clowns.

The New Yorker has turned its attention to Rick Perry, who has always struck me as one of the clowns. 

On March 29, 2017, Robert Murray, the founder and owner of one of the country’s largest coal companies, was ushered into a conference room at the Department of Energy’s headquarters, in Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Secretary Rick Perry. When Perry arrived, a few moments later, he immediately gave Murray a hug. To Simon Edelman, the Department’s chief creative officer, who was on hand to photograph the event, the greeting came as a surprise. At the time, Edelman did not know that Murray’s political-action committee and employees had donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to Perry’s Presidential campaign, in 2012, and almost as much to Donald Trump’s, in 2016.

At one point in the meeting, as Edelman recalls, Murray handed Perry a document titled  “Action Plan for reliable and low cost electricity in America and to assist in the survival of our Country’s coal industry.” Edelman snapped a closeup.

According to the article, it was barely six months later that Perry sent a letter directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue a new rule. The ostensible reason for the rule was “to protect the resiliency of the electric grid” from what he described as vulnerability to power disruptions. (Interestingly, barely a month before Perry sent the letter,  Perry’s own staff had issued a report concluding that “reliability is adequate today.”)

Perry’s letter instructed the Commission to emphasize “traditional baseload generation”—in other words, coal and nuclear.

Perry proposed that all coal plants in certain areas, including many that do business with Murray Energy, be required to keep a ninety-day supply of coal onsite to provide “fuel-secure” power. Edelman was alarmed: the language in Perry’s letter clearly echoed Murray’s “action plan.” ..Edelman shared his photos of the March meeting with reporters from the progressive magazine In These Times and, later, the Washington Post. The photographs were published on December 6th. The next day, Edelman was placed on leave.

Edelman has since sued Perry and the Department of Energy, and the remainder of the article analyzes the evidence and the federal laws that would seem to have been violated both by Perry’s issuance of the letter and his dismissal of Edelman. Not surprisingly, it concludes that both were wrongful.

The degree of corruption that characterizes this administration is breathtaking. Trump and his “best people” seem utterly oblivious to ethical principles, let alone the legal constraints that govern their operations. I suppose we should be grateful for their overwhelming incompetence–the bumbling that opens windows into their ethical and legal transgressions and mercifully undercuts the efficacy of their efforts to roll back regulations and initiate policies to enrich their benefactors. (Last Sunday, the New York Times had an article about Scott Pruitt’s rush to undo EPA regulations, and quoted  environmental lawyers to the effect that persistent, sloppy legal work and inattention to detail has made it much easier to challenge his efforts in court–and win.)

American citizens need to use the next two and a half years to demand a great cleansing of federal agencies. If the predicted “blue wave” materializes in November, Congress will need to initiate a thorough and bipartisan audit of compliance with government’s settled ethical obligations.

Donald Trump didn’t appear out of nowhere. This corrupt, unhinged ignoramus and his “best people” circus are the result of several decades during which plutocracy grew and voters were apathetic. It will take a sustained and determined effort to right the ship of state.

If that blue wave doesn’t materialize, the U.S. will join a list of failed democracies that is getting longer every year.

So This Is What It’s Like Living In A Soap Opera

The last couple of days have been nothing short of surreal.

There was the ongoing, tawdry back-and-forth between porn star Stormy Daniels and the President of the United States (when did we ever see “President” and “porn star” in the same headlines?), culminating in a lawsuit against said porn star for breaching the terms of a nondisclosure agreement that the President has denied had anything to do with him. (I’ll just leave that here for a moment…).

The lawyer who brought that suit should be sued for malpractice.

Far more consequential, of course, was the despicable firing of Andrew McCabe–two days before his pension vested and his announced retirement. If we had needed any additional evidence of Donald Trump’s vindictiveness and utter lack of class, the discharge and the childish tweet that followed it should have provided it.

The purported reasons for the firing were lame enough, but let’s assume that “lack of forthcomingness” actually justified dismissal of a career agent. The legitimate goal of any termination is to rid the organization of a person who is not performing. Human Resources professionals will generally counsel management to avoid “burning bridges”–to effectuate the termination as cleanly and civilly as possible.

McCabe was set to depart in a mere two days. The administration would have been rid of him–presumably, the goal. But Trump couldn’t leave it at that–he had to punish a twenty-one-year civil servant both by publicly humiliating him (a la Tillerson) and by depriving him of the pension he had earned over more than two decades–by terminating him two days before that pension vested.

Whatever else one might say about these two high-profile events, one element stands out: they were both incredibly stupid. (The only person who still believes Donald Trump is intelligent is Donald Trump.)

If Trump wanted to insist that he hadn’t been involved with Stormy Daniels, suing her for disclosing that he was involved wasn’t a genius move. And if he wanted to make it look like McCabe (a lifelong Republican) and the rest of the FBI were engaged in some sort of nefarious vendetta against him, giving McCabe a reason to spill everything he knows about the President probably wasn’t the way to accomplish that.

As the Washington Post reported

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions acted late Friday night on Trump’s publicly-stated wishes to terminate former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe — just hours before he was set to retire with full benefits — the president celebrated the ouster as a triumph that exposed “tremendous leaking, lying and corruption” throughout law enforcement.

The move emboldened McCabe, who said in a public statement that his dismissal was a deliberate effort to slander him and part of an “ongoing war” against the FBI and the Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Like former FBI director James B. Comey, who was fired by Trump last year, McCabe kept contemporaneous memos detailing his fraught conversations with the president, according to two people familiar with the records. The danger for Trump is that those memos could help corroborate McCabe’s witness testimony and become damaging evidence in Mueller’s investigation of whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice.

The most scathing–and appropriate–reaction was that of former CIA director John Brennan, who responded to the events on Twitter:

“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America . . . America will triumph over you.”

As my grandmother might have said, from Brennan’s mouth to God’s ears.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ethics

A few days ago, I got an email from an old friend, asking me whether I’d seen the article about Trump’s myriad conflicts of interest in the most recent Forbes. I hadn’t.

He very thoughtfully brought me a copy.

After I had read it, I sat for awhile thinking about how diminished our expectations of presidential behavior have become. If any other President in my lifetime had simply ignored long-settled legal and ethical constraints in pursuit of personal gain, bipartisan outrage would have already triggered impeachment proceedings. (We wouldn’t need Robert Muller.)

The article is titled “Trump’s Towering Tenant Conflicts,” and it begins with the Bank of China.

The largest American office of China’s largest bank sits on the 20th floor of Trump Tower, six levels below the desk where Donald Trump built an empire and wrested a presidency. It’s hard to get a glimpse inside. There do not appear to be any public photos of the office, the bank doesn’t welcome visitors, and a man guards the elevators downstairs–one of the perks of forking over an estimated $2 million a year for the space.

Trump Tower officially lists the tenant as the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, but make no mistake who’s paying the rent: the Chinese government, which owns a majority of the company. And while the landlord is technically the Trump Organization, make no mistake who’s cashing those millions: the president of the United States, who has placed day-to-day management with his sons but retains 100% ownership. This lease expires in October 2019, according to a debt prospectus obtained by Forbes. So if you assume that the Trumps want to keep this lucrative tenant, then Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. could well be negotiating right now over how many millions the Chinese government will pay the sitting president. Unless he has already taken care of it: In September 2015 then-candidate Trump boasted to Forbes that he had “just renewed” the lease, around the time he was gearing up his campaign.

The meticulously sourced article is accompanied by lists of tenants at a number of Trump’s signature properties, the rents those tenants pay, and the conflicts of interest they represent.

The numbers are significant: $21 million here, $12 million there. The names even more so: At least 36 of Trump’s tenants have meaningful relationships with the federal government, from contractors to lobbying firms to regulatory targets.

Those “regulatory targets” are the most worrisome. Trump’s other “meaningful relationships” are simply corrupt, but these landlord-tenant relationships facilitate highly sophisticated bribery that undermines the federal regulatory process.

How, then, to consider the backroom discussions between federal officials and Walgreens Boots Alliance, one of the largest pharmacies in the world? Through its brand Duane Reade, it is the highest-paying tenant in Trump’s skyscraper at 40 Wall Street in New York, with $3.2 million in annual rent, according to a 2015 prospectus. In October 2015, Walgreens Boots Alliance announced a $9.4 billion merger with rival Rite Aid, requiring a sign-off from antimonopoly regulators. After the deal failed to secure approval under President Obama, it then fell to the Trump administration, which arrived in Washington during the first quarter of 2017. According to federal disclosures, that was the same quarter Walgreens Boots Alliance began directly lobbying the White House on “competition policy issues.” In September, despite objections by one of the two commissioners at the Federal Trade Commission, Trump’s tenant got the green light for a slimmed-down, $4.4 billion version of the deal. In January, Trump announced he would nominate the commissioner who supported the deal, Maureen Ohlhausen, to be a federal judge.

This was anything but an isolated case. Capital One, for example, pays an estimated $1 million for space in Trump’s Park Avenue condo building while it is being investigated by the Justice and Treasury departments for alleged money-laundering.

In December, Trump tenants UBS, Barclays and JPMorgan, plus Trump lender Deutsche Bank, got waiver extensions from the Department of Labor that allow them to avoid part of their punishment for illegally manipulating interest rates and foreign exchange rates.

The article cites numerous similar “coincidences” –at best, they raise the appearance of impropriety; more likely, they really do represent the sort of graft engaged in by a blowhard who has always believed the rules are for other people.

Whether these unprecedented conflicts violate the Emoluments Clause will eventually be decided by a court–two cases raising the issue are pending. Of course, those who drafted the Emoluments Clause language would never have anticipated that the new country they were establishing–their “Shining City on the Hill”– would elect someone as unfit for public office–or for that matter, as unfit for polite society–as Donald Trump.

Our “Seamless Garment” Problem

When I was a very new academic, I loved attending conferences and listening to scholars from various institutions deliver papers that illuminated issues with which I’d struggled.

One of those issues was my puzzlement about why some religious folks seemed unable to “live and let live”–to understand the Bill of Rights as a list of things that government wasn’t supposed to decide. You go to XYZ church, I go to ABC–government shouldn’t be involved in those choices. I read such-and-such books, you consider them evil. Not government’s concern. Etc.

I certainly understood that people of good faith could disagree on where lines got drawn, but I lacked a description for those insisting that government use its power to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else. Then I attended a conference presentation that gave those people and that insistence a label: the “seamless garment” folks.

Seamless garment folks are people who see government and religion as one inseparable authority; when government won’t legislate their beliefs, they experience that refusal as discrimination.

The frustration of the Seamless Garment folks is arguably what has led Evangelical Christians to support Donald Trump (and especially his Seamless Garment Vice President, Mike Pence.) Their insistence on using government to require others to act (or not) in accordance with their beliefs has now eclipsed their attention to such biblical admonitions as caring for the widow and orphan and adhering to the Golden Rule.

What have we seen from these folks during Trump’s first year? A writer for Vox supplies a list.

In my first year at Vox, I’ve covered a range of religion stories — from witches casting spells against Trump to controversial debates over the alt-right at the annual Southern Baptist Convention conference. In that time, I’ve noticed a few distinct, related patterns emerging. Most notably, Christian nationalism is getting stronger — even as that nationalism has both caused divisions within the evangelical community and led to wider politico-religious divisions in America, cleaving white evangelicals, from, well, everybody else.

The article lists five “take-aways”:

  • Religious minorities are experiencing a spike in discrimination. Muslim communities have been particularly hard-hit; anti-Islamic incidents have soared.   There’s been a 44 percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes and a 57 percent increase in Islamophobia overall. Anti-Semitism has increased as well.
  • Evangelical solidarity is showing fissures. Their demographics are changing and their communities are becoming more diverse; like other young people, young evangelicals have different priorities than seniors, and are significantly less anti-gay. Many of them are uneasy being tied to the Trump presidency– the Southern Baptist Convention, a body that represents nearly 40 percent of evangelical Protestants in America, passed a near-unanimous resolution condemning the alt-right.

And, of course, there was Roy Moore. His Alabama special election campaign, late in 2017, seemed to capture the religious zeitgeist, as evangelicals wrestled with the question of whether to support a man who had been accused of molesting teenage girls if it also meant supporting a pro-life, even theocratic candidate. The reasons for white evangelical support of Moore were varied, but the outcome of the election — which showed the growing influence of evangelicals of color — revealed that changing demographics, not changed minds, were responsible for Democrat Doug Jones’s victory.

  • Spiritual but not religious is becoming a significant voting bloc. The author noted that many of the people she interviewed said that the need for inclusive, LGBTQ-affirming spaces had alienated them from the religions they had grown up in or near, and left them in search of something different.
  • On the other hand, Christian Nationalism is on the rise. The prominent Evangelicals around Trump believe Christians should take over America, and run it in accordance with biblical law. (In fairness, many other evangelicals see them as charlatans.)

The article ended with speculation about the role Evangelicals will play in 2018. This  paragraph, especially, struck a chord:

The greatest trick Christian nationalists — or their more explicit cousins to the right, white nationalists — have up their sleeve is to claim they are being persecuted. Central to the narrative of Christian nationalism in the White House, no less than the explicitly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, is the idea that the “liberal media” and “PC police” have banded together to silence the “true” speakers of truth — a dynamic that, in the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, turns into a full-on war between good and evil (just consider how Roy Moore’s defenders compared him to Jesus during the last days of his campaign).

Unfortunately for the Seamless Garment members of the Christian Taliban, the U.S. Constitution specifically rejects the “seamlessness” they seek, and leaves matters of religious belief and observance to our individual consciences.

Fortunately for the rest of us, His Trumpness can’t change that.