Tag Archives: Trump

A Perfect Representative

Okay–I can’t resist. Let’s talk about Matt Gaetz–not because of his evident sexual misdeeds, but because even without considering those, he is an almost perfect example of  the caliber of individual representing today’s GOP.

Gail Collins captured his essence in a recent New York Times column.

As it stands, Gaetz is a spectacularly unproductive Florida Republican who never managed, during his first two terms in the House, to get a single bill that he sponsored signed into law. (We are still crossing our fingers for that post-office-naming he co-sponsored.) Meanwhile, by Forbes’s count, he has appeared on Fox News at least 179 times since taking office.

Collins had a lot of snarky fun comparing Gaetz’ current situation to past scandals (Tidal Basin, anyone?), but most of those involved people who had actually accomplished something–people of at least some substance who betrayed their promise or otherwise fell from grace.

Gaetz–whom Collins accurately calls a “fanboy”–spent the Trump years with his attention  focused on building his “personal brand,” rather than on learning the intricacies of legislating, or  forging relationships in Congress. He was much more interested in getting on television and getting close to the new president.( He was especially interested in being on what one colleague called “The Trump Train.”) There are multiple reports that he bragged about his relationship with Trump and about his own sexual “exploits”–including reports that he repeatedly showed Congressional colleagues pictures of naked women with whom he claimed he’d slept.

A CNN article listed some of the reasons Gaetz is considered “unserious” by even his Republican colleagues. (“Unserious” is a nicer word than “asshole.”)

Gaetz courted controversy in numerous ways, earning him notoriety in the House — along with television appearances in conservative media.

In 2018, he was criticized after he invited a conservative troll with a history of Holocaust denial to the State of the Union.

A year later, Gaetz threatened Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen ahead of his 2019 House testimony, tweeting, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat.”

He was admonished by the House Ethics Committee and investigated and cleared by the Florida Bar over the tweet, which he deleted and apologized for.

During the House’s first impeachment inquiry, Gaetz led a band of Republicans in a stunt to “storm” the House Intelligence secure committee spaces where the impeachment interviews were being held. And last year, Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor to vote on a coronavirus funding package.

 In other words, Gaetz is a perfect representation of today’s Republican Party. He is obviously uninterested in governing. Instead, he seems intent upon performative “conservatism” aka “culture war.”  

In that–if not the behavior that led to his current legal problems–he is a typical Republican.

An opinion piece by Ezra Klein included a perfect description of today’s iteration of the GOP. Klein was trying to explain Joe Biden’s unanticipated willingness to forsake efforts to persuade Congressional Republicans to engage in genuine bipartisanship. 

In a discussion of Mitch McConnell’s role in GOP intransigence, Klein wrote.

Over the past decade, congressional Republicans slowly but completely disabused Democrats of these [bipartisanship] hopes. The long campaign against the ideological compromise that was the Affordable Care Act is central here, but so too was then-Speaker John Boehner’s inability to sell his members on the budget bargain he’d negotiated with President Barack Obama, followed by his refusal to allow so much as a vote in the House on the 2013 immigration bill. And it’s impossible to overstate the damage that Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Merrick Garland, followed by his swift action to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, did to the belief among Senate Democrats that McConnell was in any way, in any context, a good-faith actor. They gave up on him completely.

Today’s Congressional GOP is a marriage between terminally unserious “culture warriors” like Gaetz, Nunes, Jim Jordan and their ilk and those who–like Mitch McConnell–are willing to ignore the common good and the needs of the country in their pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

There’s no negotiating with either faction, because they aren’t there to govern.

 

 

The EPA Is Back!

A recent headline from the New York Times warmed my heart. It announced “EPA to Review Attacks on science Under Trump.”

One of the most damaging aspects of the four years in which America experienced crime-syndicate-as-government was the ruthless attack on facts. From Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” to the elimination of scientific advisory panels, the only consistent agenda of the Trump administration was its persistent attention to its donors’ bottom lines, and disregard of the human need for clean air and water–not to mention a habitable planet and non-toxic foods.

The Biden administration is taking the unusual step of making a public accounting of the Trump administration’s political interference in science, drawing up a list of dozens of regulatory decisions that may have been warped by political interference in objective research.

The effort could buttress efforts to unwind pro-business regulations of the past four years, while uplifting science staff battered by four years of disregard. It is particularly explicit at the Environmental Protection Agency, where President Biden’s political appointees said they felt that an honest accounting of past problems was necessary to assure career scientists that their findings would no longer be buried or manipulated.

In a blunt memo this month, one senior Biden appointee said political tampering under the Trump administration had “compromised the integrity” of some agency science. She cited specific examples, such as political leaders discounting studies that showed the harm of dicamba, a popular weedkiller that has been linked to cancer and subsequently ruling that its effectiveness outweighed its risks.

The list of suspect decisions and disregard for settled science is expected to reach at least 90 items.

The current E.P.A. administrator, Michael Regan, sent out an email message in which he emphasized the danger of allowing politics  to drive science,  and the likelihood that making politics the priority would end by sacrificing the health of the “most vulnerable among us.”

President Donald J. Trump’s well-documented attacks on science include doctoring a map with a black Sharpie to avoid acknowledging that he was wrong about the path of a hurricane and then pressuring scientists to back his false claim; meddling in federal coronavirus research; and pressuring regulators to approve Covid 19 vaccines and treatments. Those actions provoked bipartisan concern during his administration.

Those actions may have received the most media coverage, but what really alarmed me was the less noted elimination of scientific panels and the appointment of fossil fuel lobbyists to positions of authority in both the EPA and the Department of the Interior.

Trump’s first choice for the EPA, Scott Pruitt, removed the agency’s web page on climate change and fired and barred any independent scientific advisers who had been awarded grants from the E.P.A. The courts found that latter policy to be illegal. Pruitt also rolled back several scientifically-supported policies after holding meetings with executives and lobbyists.

Andrew Wheeler, who succeeded Pruitt,  repeatedly ignored the advice of scientists: he  curbed but refused to ban asbestos; insisted that the health effects of a widely-used pesticide were “unresolved” despite years of agency research proving its danger to infants; and pushing through a policy (which has also died in the courts) to limit the type of health and epidemiological studies that could be used to justify regulations.

The incoming staff has uncovered multiple instances in which agency personnel were told to disregard scientific consensus, and to help favored businesses avoid “problems.”

Competence and integrity in government is incredibly important in the development of environmental policy, just as it is in management of a pandemic. Peoples lives–and the livability of the planet–are at stake. The willingness of the Biden Administration to commit to science, fact and empirical knowledge is incredibly welcome.

 

 

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

Over the past few years, I have become increasingly convinced that a variety of seemingly unrelated political attitudes and allegiances can only be explained by a deep-seated underlying racism. That conclusion doesn’t require us to disregard the complexities that dictate individual world-views and predict their saliency; I don’t mean to imply that individual circumstances are irrelevant–but the racist element is inescapable. History teaches us that previously suppressed bigotries  emerge and find expression when people are insecure,  financially or otherwise.

We are seeing that emergence play out in today’s Republican Party.

In the 1970s and 80s, when I was active in the GOP, I encountered people who expressed racist , anti-Semitic and homophobic opinions, but they were a distinct minority. If others with whom I worked shared those prejudices, they kept them to themselves; furthermore,  a significant number of  Republicans–including then-mayor Bill Hudnut– were vocal proponents of inclusion and anti-discrimination policies.

Maybe acceptance of diversity was easier at the time because most Americans didn’t anticipate the demographic changes that are now seen to threaten continued White Christian dominance–or maybe the current crop of GOP “leaders” is genuinely representative of the Republicans who remain after the “good guys” have mostly headed for the party exits.

Whatever the reason, those who are left in the GOP no longer feel the need to be coy about their White Nationalist beliefs. The recent CPAC meeting was held on a stage modeled on a recognizable Nazi symbol, and ABC’s recent report on the CPAC meeting was titled, “GOP congressman headlines conference where organizers push White Nationalist rhetoric.”

GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona was the surprise keynote speaker at a conference Friday night in Orlando, Florida, where speakers spread white nationalist rhetoric, organizers railed about the U.S. losing its “white demographic core,” and some called for further engagement like the ire that drove the Capitol attack on Jan. 6.

Gosar wasn’t the only “usual suspect” who appeared at the meeting. Others included former Iowa Representative Steve King, whose most notable “achievement” in the House was a long history of explicitly racist comments, and the equally offensive conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.

Gosar’s keynote was followed by a speech by a man named Nick Fuentes, identified as  founder of the America First PAC, who filled his talk with white grievance and anti-immigration rants. He is quoted as telling the crowd that “If [America] loses its white demographic core … then this is not America anymore.”

Fuentes went on to praise the Capitol attack, boasting about it leading to a delay in the certification of the election results.

“While I was there in D.C., outside of the building, and I saw hundreds of thousands of patriots surrounding the U.S. Capitol building and I saw the police retreating . I said to myself: ‘This is awesome,'” Fuentes said to the applause of the crowd….

“To see that Capitol under siege, to see the people of this country rise up and mobilize to D.C. with the pitchforks and the torches — we need a little bit more of that energy in the future,” he said.

The most terrifying part of that description is the sentence recording “the applause of the crowd.” The attendees applauded the perpetrators of the treasonous January 6th insurrection that left five people dead and did thirty million dollars of damage to the nation’s capitol.

The entire event revolved around fidelity to Donald Trump and acceptance of his Big Lie–from the “Golden Calf” Trump statue (which was reportedly made in Mexico…), to Trump’s willingness to make his first post-Presidency appearance at a meeting of far-right, proudly racist extremists.

I find admiration–let alone fidelity–to Donald Trump incomprehensible–but then I consider the effect of tribalism and political polarization. I still remember my long-ago discussion with a party “regular” about a Republican candidate that we all knew to be incompetent and probably corrupt. He didn’t disagree with my evaluation, but he smiled. “He may be a son-of-a-bitch,” he said, “but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”

Trump may be the antithesis of the “family values” these good “Christians” claim to be about, but he hates and fears the same people they do. He’s their White Nationalist.

 

The Downside Of Democracy…

It’s hard to disagree with the pundits and political scientists who point to the vote for Brexit (and the worrisome number of votes for Donald Trump) as evidence that majority rule is not necessarily a blessing.

In the idealized version of democratic systems, a majority of citizens cast informed votes after considering the positions articulated by the candidates or descriptions of the issues vying for their support. (Political scientists Achen and Bartels dubbed this the “folk theory’ of democracy in their book Democracy for Realists. I recommend it…)

One problem is that much of 21st Century policy has become too complicated and/or interdependent with other aspects of our common lives to allow the average voter to be genuinely informed. Another is that campaigns and candidates are richly rewarded for misrepresenting reality. There are electoral advantages to be gained by turning issues into “us versus them” choices, and plenty of political actors willing to do so.

Brexit is a good example. The Week recently had a very good description of the “unanticipated consequences” of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Those who followed the campaign noted that it played heavily upon resentment of EU bureaucracy, and especially tensions over immigration. The Vote Leave campaign was led by Boris Johnson, who led rallies in a red bus featuring the slogan “We send the EU 350 million pounds a week, let’s fund our NHS instead.” Johnson and the other proponents claimed that the U.K. would keep its tariff-free trade with the EU, but no longer would be subject to EU law; best of all, the U.K. could “take back control” of immigration. Wages would be higher and the country would sign new trade deals with better terms. 

All gravy, no gristle.

Reality–as Brexit opponents warned– has been considerably different. Import/export companies face a raft of new paperwork that will cost them millions of pounds a year. Worse, the trade deal doesn’t cover the services sector, which represents some 80 percent of Britain’s economy.

As for the financial savings, the true net amount that the U.K. paid to the EU was $208 million a week, less than half of what was claimed, and little of that money is going to the NHS, which remains strapped for cash. While the border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland will remain open, there will be customs checks.

There’s a lot more (grim) detail in the linked article, but the bottom line is that Brexit is predicted to cost Britain about 4 percentage points of its gross domestic product over the next 15 years, and unemployment, inflation, and public borrowing are all likely to rise.

In the United States, we have plenty of examples of campaigns that over-simplify or distort the issues involved, and count for their success on the likelihood that most voters will not recognize the complexities or potential pitfalls. But thanks to demographic shifts and the peculiarities of our electoral system, we also have a growing problem that most other Western countries don’t have.

In 2018, Norman Ornstein explained it in a tweet:

“I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: By 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30 percent will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least.”

Ornstein’s analysis was checked by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia, which concurred. 

Democratic systems are those that accurately reflect the wishes–expressed through the ballot box– of a majority of citizens. In the U.S., majoritarian preferences are constrained only by constitutional safeguards of individual rights, primarily those protected by the Bill of Rights.

I have posted before about the reasons that Indiana’s legislature is dominated by–and answerable to–rural areas of the state, and the multiple ways in which that reality makes us backward and dysfunctional. If Ornstein is correct–and he is–the entire country will be in our shoes–dominated in the very near future by voters whose priorities simply do not reflect–or even include– the preferences and needs of urban America. 

I don’t know what you would call that outcome, but it sure isn’t democratic….

 

 

Something ELSE To Worry About….

Well, I really should apologize: I’ve been on a depressing roll lately!

The problem is, just as I try to focus on good news, and there is good news to find (for example, the NRA just declared bankruptcy) someone gives voice to a danger I hadn’t previously considered and sets my hair on fire.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed a few days ago, and came across a conversation between a couple of my more politically savvy friends. They were discussing what one of them termed “an interesting point.”

In theory, at least, Donald Trump is in possession of a lot of confidential information about foreign threats and the United States’ security measures to counter them. There is apparently a worry among Intelligence and Homeland Security personnel  that he will reveal highly sensitive information after he leaves office. As the original post noted, “after all, he’s shown he’ll do it while in office.”

Although Trump would undoubtedly sell state secrets if he could monetize them, the danger is amplified by the even more foreseeable possibility that he would disclose classified information inadvertently–that in the course of one of his grandiose, “look at me I’m so important” word-salads, he would blurt out state secrets.

 If, as many lawyers predict, Trump is prosecuted in New York for his financial crimes (a federal pardon is ineffective against state-level criminal convictions) and if, as a result, he is actually imprisoned, it would be totally in character for him to take his revenge by intentionally disclosing classified information.

Evidently, the possibility of such disclosures has become a real worry within the Intelligence Community. As one of the commenters noted, Trump has over $400 million in debt coming due just within the next couple of years. We can all identify the foreign powers–adverse to America– who would be happy to help him pay off that debt. For a quid pro quo.

A column by a former Intelligence official told me something I hadn’t previously known: former presidents are given routine intelligence briefings with access to classified information. These briefings are thought to support a former President’s presumed continued involvement in advancing America’s interests. As the official noted, a “more purposeful decision” should be made about Trump, who she characterizes as “uniquely vulnerable” to” bad actors and ill intent.”

My recommendation, as a 30-plus-year veteran of the intelligence community, is not to provide him any briefings after Jan. 20. With this simple act — which is solely the new president’s prerogative — Joe Biden can mitigate one aspect of the potential national security risk posed by Donald Trump, private citizen.

Since the publication of that column, Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME) — who sit on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, respectively — have publicly urged President-elect Biden to prohibit outgoing President Trump from receiving those briefings.

Anyone who has been watching his behavior over the past four years (and especially the last two months) understands that Trump has no loyalty–zero, zip– to the United States. Actually, he has shown zero loyalty to anything or anyone but himself (and possibly Ivanka).  That, as my Facebook friends noted, makes him a continuing threat to the republic even after he leaves office.

The only mitigating factor I can see is the same one that has saved us from an even worse fate than we have experienced in the presidential term that is mercifully ending–his incompetence. Trump, as he has made painfully obvious, is none too bright. He is also incredibly lazy, thoroughly ignorant of government and how it operates, and has a significantly limited attention span. It is doubtful that he paid much attention during briefings, and even more doubtful that he understood them at the time or can remember them now.

If I were Putin or another one of Trump’s autocrat friends, I think I’d hesitate to bail Trump out in return for information that has a high likelihood of being wrong. But that’s a pretty thin reed on which to rest confidence in America’s security…

What was that book that Rick Wilson wrote? Everything That Trump Touches Dies.

COVID deaths have already been bad enough. Let’s hope millions more Americans aren’t exposed to foreign attacks because Mr. Psychopath couldn’t–or wouldn’t– keep his mouth shut.