Tag Archives: Trump

Under The Radar

The Trump administration’s daily assaults to American laws and norms have produced a sort of outrage fatigue in many of us. That can be dangerous.

As we hold our collective breath and cross our fingers–hoping that Muller’s investigation will provide enough evidence of criminality and/or treason to make impeachment imperative, or for the Democrats to regain control of Congress in 2018, or (even less likely) for Republicans in the Senate to put the national interest above partisanship– we have difficulty keeping up with the multiple ways this administration is undermining the rule of law and weakening democratic norms.

The Resistance needs a strategy that distinguishes between horrific decisions that can be reversed if and when sanity returns to the Oval Office (or Republicans in Congress grow a pair), and those that will have profound and long-lasting negative effects on our constitutional system. We can afford to bide our time on the first category–although a lot of people will be hurt in the meantime –but we have to be absolutely ferocious in resisting measures that will damage the country in the longer term.

The media has highlighted Trump’s failure to fill hundreds of second-and-third level positions in his administration. That failure is further evidence of the ineptitude of the current White House, but it is also a blessing in disguise. (Case in point: the current nominee for Chief Scientist at the Department of Agriculture is not a scientist; he’s a right-wing talk show host. Better vacancies than filling an administration with such people. ).  An administration that cannot function properly cannot do as much damage as one that efficiently pursues counterproductive policies.

At the same time, the media has been insufficiently alert to Trump’s alacrity in filling judicial vacancies. A recent report from Huffington Post began:

Thursday was a good day for Amy Coney Barrett. A Senate committee voted to advance her nomination to be a federal judge.

It wasn’t a pretty vote. Every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee opposed her nomination. They scrutinized her past writings on abortion, which include her questioning the precedent of Roe v. Wade and condemning the birth control benefit under the Affordable Care Act as “a grave infringement on religious liberty.” One Democrat, Al Franken (Minn.), called her out for taking a speaking fee from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit that’s defended forced sterilization for transgender people and has been dubbed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But Republicans don’t need Democrats’ votes, and now Barrett, a 45-year-old law professor at the University of Notre Dame, is all but certain to be confirmed to a lifetime post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit — a court one level below the Supreme Court.

Barrett isn’t the only Trump nominee who is likely to upend settled Constitutional principles.

Consider John Bush. The Senate confirmed him in July, on a party-line vote, to a lifetime post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Bush, 52, has compared abortion to slavery and referred to them as “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” He has also said he strongly disagrees with same-sex marriage, mocked climate change and proclaimed “the witch is dead” when he thought the Affordable Care Act might not be enacted.

The Senate also confirmed Kevin Newsom, 44, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in August. He wrote a 2000 law review article equating the rationale of Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 decision upholding slavery. He also argued in a 2005 article for the Federalist Society, a right-wing legal organization, that Title IX does not protect people who face retaliation for reporting gender discrimination. The Supreme Court later rejected that position.

Ralph Erickson, 58, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in September. As a district judge in 2016, he was one of two judges in the country who ordered the federal government not to enforce health care nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.

Judicial nominees yet to be confirmed have supported discrimination against LGBTQ people, the “personhood” of fetuses, and a state’s right to criminalize “consensual sodomy.”

If Trump has been dilatory in filling administrative posts, he’s been an Energizer Bunny when it comes to the courts.  He has already nominated 17 circuit court judges and 39 district court judges, far more than his predecessors.

He’s also got more court seats to fill, having inherited 108 court vacancies ― double the number of vacancies Obama inherited when he took office. (That’s largely thanks to Republicans’ despicable years-long strategy of denying votes to Obama’s court picks to keep those seats empty for a future GOP president to fill–a strategy that prioritized partisan advantage over justice by overburdening federal courts and causing lengthy delays for litigants.)

Federal judges have lifetime appointments. Usually, the country benefits from the fact that these jurists are insulated against the threat of arbitrary dismissal; federal courts are currently demonstrating the great value of an independent judiciary as checks on Trump’s most autocratic tendencies.

If the administration is able to fill the federal bench with Roy Moore clones, however, we can say goodby to checks and balances and the rule of law as we have understood it.

 

Another Last Straw

Every morning since January 20th, Americans have awakened with foreboding: what new attack on reason and sanity has our tweeter-in-chief launched today? And what excuses for inexcusable behavior will spineless GOP Senators and Representatives offer this time?

Optimists wil predict that this (insert latest outrage) will be the final straw. Realists respond that, given the invertebrates in Congress and the ship  of fools that is the cabinet, it won’t be.

Yesterday, we woke to discover that Trump unilaterally and abruptly ended the Obamacare subsidies that make health insurance affordable for millions of Americans. Every single health-care organization in America opposed this action, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Donald Trump, it’s that he’s a know-nothing unwilling to listen to people who actually know something.

Congress failed to “repeal and replace” the ACA, so Trump has evidently decided to simply destroy it. The fact that many people will die is obviously of no importance to Mr. Me Me Me. In his zeal to destroy the ACA (and all vestiges of Obama’s legacy), he had already cut the enrollment period for 2018 in half, cut 90% out of the advertising budget and eviscerated the so-called “navigator program” that helps people through the ACA enrollment process.

At the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell warns that Trump’s sabotage is likely to destroy the system.

President Trump has made a lot of promises on health care.

Somehow, though, I don’t remember him promising stadiums of cheering fans that he’d take away protections for preexisting conditions, increase deductibles, spike premiums, eliminate basic coverage requirements and, more generally, destabilize the individual health-insurance market.

After explaining what yesterday’s Executive Order will and will not do, Rampell concludes that this impulsive and destructive act was “pretty much on brand for this nihilistic president: When you can’t come up with a new system that works, just blow up the old one.”

One of the most maddening aspects of Trump’s Order is that withdrawing the subsidies will actually cost the federal government money. A lot of money. The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that “savings” of 10 billion dollars would be offset by a rise in premium tax credits to 12.3 billion. In other words, the federal government will be paying  2.3 billion dollars more by making health insurance unaffordable once again for untold numbers of Americans.

The CBO projects that cutting off the subsidies will cause premiums to rise 20 percent by 2018 and 25 percent by 2020, and will increase the budget deficit by nearly $200 billion by 2026.

It’s really expensive to screw over the American public, but don’t expect the man with the tacky gold toilet to worry about budgets.

A number of people have compared Donald Trump to Richard Nixon. Admittedly, there are parallels:  Nixon was also mentally ill, also a bigot, and also willing to sacrifice American lives for political advantage.  However, despite his paranoia and some truly unforgivable–even treasonous– decisions, Nixon was intelligent and informed. He knew how government worked and what it was for, and he made some good decisions, including creation of the EPA and opening relations with China.

Trump is profoundly ignorant of government and policy, is clearly uninterested in learning, and is the loosest of loose canons. In ten short months, the man Rex Tillerson has (accurately) described as a “fucking moron” has made America an international laughing-stock, and his irrational behaviors toward North Korea and Iran have brought us dangerously close to nuclear war.

With Trump, I worry that the final straw will be a mushroom cloud.

Trashing The Country

I see that Scott Pruitt intends to roll back the Clean Power Plan put in place during the Obama administration.  Pruitt’s devotion to fossil fuel interests and his determination to eviscerate the agency he heads is, if anything, stronger than ever. To hell with clean air and water, or for that matter, the future of the planet.

The Guardian recently looked at another of the Obama-era regulations that Trump and Pruitt reversed.

A ban on bottled water in 23 national parks prevented up to 2m plastic bottles from being used and discarded every year, a US national park service study found. That is equivalent to up to 326 barrels of oil worth of emissions, 419 cubic yards of landfill space and 111,743lb of plastic, according to the May study.

Despite that, the Trump administration reversed the bottled water ban just three months later, a decision that horrified conservationists and pleased the bottled water industry.

Donald Trump’s primary policy motivation has been clear from the moment he assumed office: the erasure of Barack Obama’s legacy, no matter what the policy, no matter how good for America, no matter how good endorsing it would be politically for Trump himself. If Obama did it, Trump is determined to undo it.

For whatever reason–Obama’s skin color (Trump’s racism is no longer in question), his devastating take-down of Trump at that correspondent’s dinner, or some other motivation lurking in Trump’s clearly disordered mind–the only consistent thread in the disaster that is this administration is the determined and vicious assault on Obama’s legacy.

Did Obama want clean water and breathable air? Then those things aren’t important. Did he want to protect our national parks from pollution and despoiling? “Freedom” means letting plastic bottles proliferate!

The plan to curb pollution in America’s most famous wilderness areas was spurred when arguably its most famous park, the Grand Canyon, banned the sale of plastic water bottles in its gift shops, according to the report. Approximately 331 million people visit US national parks each year.

The program was meant to support a “life cycle” approach to plastic, which activists say is the largest global threat to the environment behind climate change. One million plastic bottles are sold per minute, according to a Guardian analysis. The top six drink companies in the world use an average of just 6.6% recycled plastic.

At the same time, new research has shown that plastics which find their way into the sea have entered the food supply. Scientists have found plastic particles in sea salt, honey, fish, beer and tap water.

When the parks began banning bottled drinking water in 2011, they installed hydration stations with free water. But that didn’t stop the bottled water industry from accusing the government of “infringing the freedom of families to decide for themselves how to hydrate.”

Think I’m kidding?

“It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park, particularly during hot summer visitation periods,” said the acting service director, Michael Reynolds.

You can’t make this shit up.

 

Amateur Government

Voters seem to love it when candidates for public office proclaim “I’m not a politician.”

I always wonder if those voters take their car repairs to businesses proclaiming “We’re not mechanics!” or get their cavities filled by “dentists” who never went to dental school. Probably not; evidently, however, there is a widespread belief that anyone can “do” governing.

Hey, America! How’s that working out?

Michelle Goldberg, the new New York Times columnist, considers the consequences  of electing a profoundly and proudly incompetent President.

A little more than eight months ago, the United States inaugurated one of its worst people as president, a nasty showbiz huckster whose own staffers speak of him as if he were a malevolent toddler. Yet the country has held up pretty well, considering.

Yes, there were emboldened Nazis marching in the streets, and crucial intelligence on the Islamic State casually passed to the Russians. Striving young immigrants who’d been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have seen their lives upended and trans people have been barred from enlisting in the military. Yet most of the institutions of American governance continued to function.

Then came hurricane season, and the stunning devastation of Maria. After detailing multiple administration failures in the wake of that disaster, Goldberg makes the obvious point:

For months now, observers have been noting that all the crises in the Trump White House have been self-generated, but that eventually the president would be tested by external events. Now a test has come, and he has performed about as badly as his worst critics could have feared. Hurricane season isn’t even over, and more catastrophes are surely on the way.

Maria should be a lesson: We need a working executive branch.

Our need for competent governance–or at the very least, elected officials with some idea of what government is and how it is supposed to operate–was also highlighted in a recent post by Robert Reich, in which he asserts that America really doesn’t have a President. Sure, Trump has the title,

But he’s not actively governing the United States. That work is happening elsewhere – in Congress, the courts, the Fed, the career civil service, lobbyists, and in the states. Or it’s not happening at all.

It’s not just that Trump lost the epic battle to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump never understood the Affordable Care Act to begin with, and played no part in developing Republican alternatives….

Meanwhile, Trump has run out of Obama executive orders he can declare void. Major regulations, such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, can’t just be repealed. They have to go through a legal process that could take years.

Trump doesn’t seem to be aware of this. He told a cheering crowd in Alabama recently that he had ended the Clean Power Plan by executive order. “Did you see what I did to that? Boom, gone.”…

Trump’s Cabinet secretaries don’t seem to have a clue. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos still wants to spend taxpayer money on for-profit schools and colleges that cheat their students. Won’t happen. The EPA’s Scott Pruitt is trying to strip the agency of scientists. Another brainless scheme.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin still has no idea how to deal with Congress. He tried to persuade Republican House members to support Trump’s budget deal with the Democrats by asking them to do it “for me.”…

By the start of September, more than a third of the leadership positions at the Federal Emergency Management Agency were still vacant. Not a good way to begin hurricane season. Puerto Rico, anyone?

As of mid-September, out of 599 key government positions that require Senate confirmation, Trump had made only 159 nominations, according to The Washington Post. Trump had yet to submit nominations for 320 positions.

Both Goldberg and Reich include much more detail on the cluster**** that is today’s Executive Branch.

It is really past time for Americans to grow up and accept that we live in a complex modern society that requires a functioning government, staffed with people who understand their jobs and have the specialized skills and technical knowledge that today’s public sector administration requires.

America isn’t amateur hour, and it definitely isn’t Reality TV.

 

 

 

 

From Your Mouth To God’s Ears…

When I was a girl, if someone made a rosy prediction, my grandmother would respond with “From your mouth to God’s ears!” It was her way of saying, “I hope you are right!”

That phrase came immediately to mind when I saw this Washington Post headline –“How Trump is Helping to Save Democracy.”

Ordinarily, seeing  a headline like that would signal that the piece was written by a pro-Trump apologist, but the co-authors of the column were Norman Ornstein, Thomas Mann and E.J. Dionne, all of whom I respect immensely, and the column itself made an argument that I have actually made myself, at least in my more Pollyanna moments.

The election of Donald Trump could be one of the best things that ever happened to American democracy.

We say this even though we believe that Trump poses a genuine danger to our republican institutions and has done enormous damage to our country. He has violated political norms, weakened our standing in the world and deepened the divisions of an already sharply torn nation.

But precisely because the Trump threat is so profound, he has jolted much of the country to face problems that have been slowly eroding our democracy. And he has aroused a popular mobilization that may far outlast him.

The article went on to enumerate the multiple points of resistance to the Trump Administration, and the recognition by previously apolitical Americans that apathy is no longer an option.

The election has also highlighted the importance of democratic norms of behavior.

Trump’s sheer disregard for the normal practices and principles of presidential behavior has cast a spotlight on the vital role that norms play in regulating and protecting our democracy. Only when norms disappear are we reminded of how important they were in the first place.

Trump has also brought the simmering divisions within the GOP to the fore; the defections from the party line from principled conservatives make it more likely that the party will have to face up to the reality that white supremacists and outright racists have become an important segment of its base.

A large group of influential conservative thinkers — Jennifer Rubin, Michael Gerson, Max Boot, George F. Will, Peter Wehner, William Kristol and Tom Nichols, to name just a few — has spoken out against the nativist and xenophobic strain in the Republican Party that gave rise to Trump and against his manifest disrespect for our institutions. They want a problem-solving Republican Party, a necessity for our political system to operate. Only a handful of Republican politicians have joined them, but their ranks are growing and include Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Meanwhile, Republicans’ failure to pass any major piece of their legislative agenda, despite their control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, is a sign that tea partyism provides no plausible path to governing.

The column approvingly notes the pushback Trump has received from corporate America and the press, especially (but certainly not exclusively) his refusal to condemn the Nazis and Klansmen who marched in Charlottesville, and his rescinding of DACA protections for undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents. And it applauds renewed civic activism.

The Trump jolt has done more than force the country to a necessary reckoning. It has also called forth a wave of activism, organizing and, perhaps most important, a new engagement by millions of Americans in politics at all levels.

The entire column is worth reading.

It’s probably true that, had Hillary won, the U.S. would have experienced four or eight more years of what we had under Obama–a Republican-dominated Congress determined to block any and all Administration initiatives, no matter the common good or national interest.  Trump’s election has made the increasing evidence of the dysfunction of our government impossible to ignore.

I just wish I could be confident that the resistance these scholars describe will ultimately succeed in correcting our downward spiral–preferably, before the maniac in the White House triggers a nuclear war.

From their mouths and God’s ears…..