Do Appearances Matter for Democracy to Survive?

The United States has the most durable, longest-lived democratic constitution in the world.  It has withstood the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, two presidents’ impeachments, and one president’s resignation.  Why then should anyone worry that American democracy could be threatened by the antics of an entertaining, oft-comical, reality-TV star turned President?

The answer lies in a deeper understanding of democracy than we usually follow.  We generally put our faith in the U.S. Constitution—a marvel of political theory made practical. It has been fine-tuned with a couple of dozen amendments, but otherwise held steadfast for two hundred and thirty years.  To this day, all federal officials and military officers take an oath to defend the Constitution.  And that is considered sufficient to protect our democracy.

Yet the first great student of America’s democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, in explaining to his European compatriots why American democracy not merely existed, but thrived,  observed that this was not mainly due to America’s laws and institutions.  Instead, he pointed to how Americans treated each other, and the expectations they held for their officials—their “manners and customs”—as the key to the survival of democracy in America.

Many countries have adopted constitutions modeled on those of the United States.  Almost all the Latin American states that emerged in the nineteenth century did so, as did many African states.  Even today, China and Russia have constitutions that promise many of the same political liberties as those found in the United States.  The difference lay in the attitudes of leaders and people to those constitutions.  Leaders argued that their main job was to speak for the people and preserve stability against enemies.  People were willing to flatter and obey their rulers in return for small rewards and persecution of their enemies.  That meant that in practice, none of the other states operated as real democracies in which the political liberties of citizens were fully protected and leaders were held accountable.

America’s triumph of democracy has always rested on the manners and customs of their leaders and people.  Leaders, whatever their vices, would not exalt themselves above the law or persecute American citizens as enemies (unless they took to violence against the government.)  People would always demand that leaders be held accountable for personal self-enrichment, or for behavior that was illegal, immoral and contrary to the spirit of the American ideal.

The peril that Donald Trump brings to American democracy is his frontal attack on those manners and customs.

As President, Trump has on many occasions asked for his justice department personnel to express loyalty to him personally, rather than to the U.S. Constitution.  This in itself is a violation of the norms that uphold the roles of officers under that constitution.  In addition, he has placed his children in high offices for which they had little preparation or qualifications (his son-in-law still has difficulty simply in accurately completing the paperwork required for high-level security clearance.)   He and his daughter continue to benefit from businesses operated in their names while they serve in high office.  Unlike all other recent Presidents, Trump has refused to release his tax returns, concealing from the people whether or not, and how much, he has personally benefited from the policies and tax laws he has promoted while in office, falsely maintaining that “nobody cares.”

When faced with unpleasant truths reported by the free media, Trump’s response is not to counter with facts, but to impugn the reported facts as “fake news” and offer “alternative facts,” often simply bald lies, instead.  Whether tweeting out stories from marginal social media sites associated with fringe groups, or making up false accusations (e.g. that President Obama wire-tapped his phones), Trump acts as any good authoritarian leader naturally does: with a complete faith in his ability to have the people accept his lies and to reject other people’s truths.

In almost every action, Trump behaves as if he believes his main job is not to protect the Constitution, but instead to speak for “the people” and protect them from their “enemies”—carving out the classic role of an authoritarian leader.  For Trump, these “enemies” are mainly immigrants, Muslims, countries that have trade surpluses with the U.S., and Democrats or moderate Republicans who criticize Trump.  In recently labeling as “traitors” those members of Congress who did not react with enthusiasm to his applause lines, Trump reinforced his pattern of treating those who object to his actions as “enemies” who threaten the safety of all Americans.

Not only is Trump’s own conduct more typically authoritarian (self-serving and equating loyalty to himself with loyalty to the country) than democratic, Trump encourages anti-democratic behavior in the people.  He has encouraged police officers to violate the rights of those arrested as suspects; he has encouraged violence against protestors and defended those who would violate the constitution in pursuit of enemies (the “many fine people” marching under Nazi flags in Charlottesville).  He has advanced unconstitutional and discriminatory measures against those he labels dangerous “enemies” in his repeated efforts to restrict immigration, and attacked judges who found those measures unconstitutional.

Trump has even persuaded the entire GOP establishment to go along with his attacks on the integrity of the FBI and Justice department—the very institutions vital to upholding federal laws and holding himself and his associates accountable.

He has—so far without consequence—even fired the FBI Director under false pretenses, falsely impugning him for failing leadership and disarray within the FBI, and then later publicly admitting the firing was because Trump was unhappy with an investigation that targeted Trump appointees.

Whether it is exaggerating the size of his inaugural and State of the Union audiences, planning a giant military parade, exhorting his supporters to fire athletes who don’t salute the flag, lying about the dangers of immigrants, or seeking to undermine popular respect for government agencies and actors that do not support his actions, what Trump is doing is not harmless entertainment.  In his own actions, and especially in persuading the GOP leadership and his followers to accept such actions as “normal,” Trump is laying the groundwork for habits of mind that undermine democracy and support dictatorship.  All of these actions promote the idea that loyalty to Donald Trump is the highest value in politics, that loyalty to Trump is loyalty to the U.S.A., and therefore anyone disagreeing with or opposing his actions is an enemy of the people.

We last saw such behavior from a Senator—Joseph McCarthy—in the 1950s, when the “enemies” in the U.S. were communists.  At least at that time, the U.S. was in a real cold war with communists abroad.  Still, when McCarthy’s actions were recognized as threatening the values essential to American freedoms, he was called out and his conspiracy theories were restrained.  Today, it is not a Senator, but a President (unsurprisingly, one who learned directly from one of McCarthy’s close associates), who is carrying out such attacks.  And his enemies are not merely “communists,” but Democrats, Muslims, and America’s major trade partners.  Meanwhile, the real enemies of freedom and democracy—dictators such as Putin in Russia, Xi in China, Sisi in Egypt, Erdogan in Turkey, and others—get no objections to their locking up journalists, imprisoning political opponents, and military aggression.

When will the GOP leadership stop flattering Trump and supporting his fanning of hatred toward key U.S. institutions and fellow Americans, in return for small rewards and persecution of their enemies?  When will they call out his behavior as undermining the habits and manners that have been the critical support of American democracy and freedom for hundreds of years?

Unless they do so, America may follow the slow drift of other states that have allowed elected Presidents to cultivate personal loyalty and undermine their institutions of accountability.  When that happens, despite the wonderful U.S. constitution, we will see our treasured liberties take flight, perhaps not to return.




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China Plans to Lead the World

China has just completed its 19th National Communist Party Congress.   When China becomes the most powerful nation in the world ten to fifteen years hence, this Congress may well be seen as marking the turning point in China’s rise.

This conference is unlike any previous Congress in the last fifty years in three respects. First, until now China considered itself to be an outsider, or just a developing nation among the world’s countries.   Prior Congresses were concerned mainly with advancing China’s economic objectives for domestic growth.  In regard to foreign policy, China sought to join international organizations as a supplicant, asking to be given special treatment as a poor, developing economy needing to catch up to the world’s leaders.  China did not presume to project power abroad, nor to lead the world in any way.

After three decades of double-digit economic growth, all this has changed. China now sees itself as deserving a return to its historical role as the core of the world economy.   In the seventeenth century, the #1 destination of the silver mined by Spanish conquistadors in the New World was China. Chinese manufacturers of ceramics (known as “fine China”), and of cotton cloth and silk dominated global export markets.  China plans to restore its former position as the world leader in trade and quality exported goods.  This Party Congress set forth goals for China to become a leader in the global economy.

Second, this party Congress has elevated the role of the Communist Party in China, and of Xi Jinping as leader of the Party, to new heights.   Since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms set China’s new direction in the 1980s, the Party has retreated from numerous domains of Chinese life.  In regard to private farming, private industry, religion, the media, and academia, Deng allowed the Chinese new freedoms that were unknown under Mao.  But the newly adopted constitution states that “The Party leads on everything, be it party work, government, military, civilian, or academia, be it east, west, south, north, or middle.”   And while the Party leads on everything, it is equally clear that on everything, Xi leads the party.  Xi has become the first Chinese leader since Mao to have his own philosophy written into the Party constitution while still in power.  The entire Congress has become a lengthy exercise in admiration of Xi, his thought, and his critical importance to the future of the Party.

The Party has now become increasingly Stalinist in its operations. This week, as the Party Congress closed, there was a surprise announcement that three senior officials, including a possible successor to Xi, had been arrested for vote rigging.  In the prior two Congresses, members of the Central Committee had cast votes to select their favorite 25 cadres for seats on the ruling Politburo.  These votes were advisory to the actual selection, but were intended to give some transparency and a bit of democracy within the party itself.  Xi declared the three had corrupted this process, and henceforth there would be no elections in the Party; Politburo members would be chosen by consultations with the President and top party leaders.  Give Xi credit for a trifecta:  with one act he rid himself of three potential rivals, vilified and ended democratic processes in the Party, and created a procedure for choosing Party leaders that he wholly controls.

The system put in place by Deng Xiaoping to balance power in the Party across different factions has been replaced by a system in which Xi and his loyalists hold all the levers of power in the army, the economy, and the bureaucracy. This Congress should put paid to any illusions that as China grew richer it would become more pluralistic and less autocratic, or that as China became more capitalist its intellectual life and civil society would grow more free.   What China has become, while rising to the world’s second largest economy, is a country totally subject to the rule of the Party, a Party totally subject to the rule of one man.

Third, the new constitution enshrines China’s economic strategy to dominate the world. It commits China to pursue the “Belt and Road” strategy launched by President Xi Jinping.  By financing a vast network of ports, railways, and roads to carry freight from China to Europe, China aims to create fast, direct, and inexpensive transport for China’s goods to markets across all of Asia and out to Western Europe.  China has already put in place rail links that stretch from Beijing to London.  For sea transport, China is developing new seaports in the Indian Ocean and has purchased the port of Piraeus in Greece.  China is expanding the latter to serve as the hub of a transport network of China-built rail lines reaching from Greece into Hungary and then throughout Europe.  This maritime trade route is being protected by China’s fast-expanding blue-water navy, new air and naval bases built on reefs in the South China Sea, and China’s first overseas military base in Djibouti, which guards the Red Sea and Suez routes to the Piraeus.  The Belt and Road projects will make it possible for China to become the economic center of all of Eurasia.

Moreover, this vast continent-wide construction venture is being financed mainly by loans from China to other countries.   These loans will bind these countries to China for a generation.  The Belt and Road projects also come with Chinese suggestions that state-led economic growth and autocratic government are superior ways to organize an economy, and insistence on support for Beijing in international councils.  Xi considers the western government system of checks and balances, free civil society, and constitutionally limited executive authority as a threat to the existence of the Party and to his own power; he has thus banned any teaching or even discussion of these topics in China.  The Belt and Road project is expected to be a vital tool in spreading the view of China’s political and economic system as superior; hence its enshrinement in the new constitution as a vital task of the Party.  It is backed by new institutions for credit, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, that are designed to put China in a leading role in global finance.

While the United States, under Donald Trump, retreats from globalization and international trade agreements, seeking to void any agreements that do not yield a short term trade surplus to the US, China has embarked on the opposite strategy, aiming to make long-term investments to supplant the US as the world’s dominant power. Like the U.S. in the years after WWII, China is seeking to spin its economic power into a global web of finance, construction, and trade.  But unlike the US, it is doing so under a model of party-led autocracy as the ideal from of government, rather than the constitutional democracy promoted by the U.S.

The 19th Party Congress has left no doubts about China’s plans.  In the vision spelled out in the new Constitution, Xi Jinping is the core of the Communist Party, the Party is the core of China, and China will be the core of the world economy.

If Xi succeeds, and China overtakes the U.S. as the world’s dominant power, 2017 will be cited as the critical year in which China and the U.S. made key shifts in direction, with the US retreating from global engagement and influence, and China seizing its opportunity with both hands. It will also be seen as the year in which autocratic rule and state domination replaced constitutional democracy as the leading model for societies around the world.

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Trump is not a racist — he is a bigot

President Trump is being castigated for having “failed” the test of the Presidency this week.  After a horrific murder and mass injury attack by a neo-Nazi terrorist in Charlottesville, VA, he did not make a speech that would bring people together and bind up their wounds.

Asked to roundly condemn the ideology and symbols of hatred and racism on display in Charlottesville, he did so with hesitation and restraint, simply saying that of course Nazism and white supremacy are evil.  But while criticizing those ideals, he defended the people who marched alongside the Nazi flags, saying many were “fine people” and no different from the anti-hate groups who also came out with pepper spray and clubs to defend themselves from the heavily armed alt-right demonstrators.

Does this instinctive reluctance to criticize alt-right demonstrators make the President a racist or Nazi-sympathizer?  I don’t think so.  I think the President is sincere when he claimed “I am the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen,” and “the least racist person.”

A racist is someone who believes ALL individuals of a certain race are dangerous or inferior; and in the extreme case someone who wants to create racial purity in their own society by expelling or killing all those not of the favored, superior race.  Hitler and those who followed him were racists; the Jim Crow enthusiasts who erected most of the Confederate War statues were racists; and most of those who fought for the South and the Southern cause were racists.  Racism is expressed succinctly in the words of the ironically named Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, in his cornerstone speech on the South’s constitution: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

In this sense, Donald Trump is definitely NOT a racist or anti-Semite.  He has many good friends who are Black; he has married his daughter into a Jewish family and appointed many Jews and Blacks to positions in his administration.  I believe he genuinely respects and enjoys the company of these people, and would never see himself as a “hater” of those individuals.

Yet one can avoid racism, and still be severely bigoted.  A bigot is someone who, while accepting people who she knows personally as good people regardless of their background, nonetheless holds stereotypical views of other ethnic and religious groups, and applies these stereotypes to those of the group whom she does not know.  Some of these stereotypes may even seem positive to the bigot — such as that Jews are good with accounting, or Blacks are exceptional athletes.  But they are stereotypes nonetheless.  And most bigots have negative stereotypes, which prevail especially when members of other ethnic or religious groups seem to pose a threat or interfere with the bigot’s goals.  In those cases, the entire ethnic group and “most” members of it are deemed to be hostile, dangerous, or suspicious.

It is these negative stereotypes that Trump seems to hold enthusiastically, seeing illegal immigrants from Mexico as rapists and gang members; Muslim immigrants as potential terrorists; and Blacks as creating carnage in America’s “inner cities” (when in fact “inner cities” are now increasingly gentrified and white, while gangs and violence are moving to the suburbs and outer urban rings).   The stereotype of the fraudster getting food stamps or other welfare support who nonetheless drives a fancy car has been a popular Republican trope for decades — even though the resident of a poor Black or Hispanic neighborhood who displays conspicuous wealth is likely to be, or be close to, a drug dealer, pimp, or numbers runner, not a struggling mother who depends on government support to provide for her children.

Trump not only has racial and religious stereotypes, but political ones as well.  Democrats and leftists are “bad people” who oppose his plans to fix what is wrong with America.  They are just as dangerous as any other enemies to America’s heartland.  (But the Hispanics and Blacks who Trump believes voted for him, in large numbers in his imagination, are great people!)  Trump’s Alt-right supporters, on the other hand, are simply people who share Trump’s view that the left has given away too much of America’s wealth to foreigners and undeserving minorities, hurting upstanding and loyal Americans.    Sure, extreme rightists may be horrible Nazis and white supremacists who would even threaten his Jewish family and Black friends, and it is right to criticize them.  But in Trump’s view most of the people marching to protest removal of Confederate statues must be good Americans who are fighting the efforts of un-American leftists to erase local history.   So of course there had to be “very fine people” on both sides and very bad people on both sides as well, in the Charlottesville melee.

I therefore am not one of those who labels Trump as a neo-Nazi sympathizer or a racist.  Rather, he is an all-American bigot, who relies on stereotypical views of political, racial, and religious groups to simplify a complex world that is hard for him to understand.

The problem is that the art of governing, especially in a diverse nation with rich links of history and trade to much of the world, requires understanding different points of view and being able to bridge differences.  To a bigot, the only point of view that has validity is his own, especially when embraced by friends and family members of diverse backgrounds.  The idea that other people could have, en masse, equally sound but different viewpoints, or that it is necessary to understand different viewpoints and find common ground, is unacceptable.

It is this narrowness of viewpoint, which results in lashing out at those who differ in their views, that makes Trump unfit to be an effective President, and which will likely doom his Presidency.



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The Essence of Trump

People are having a hard time understanding Donald Trump.  Why is he so confrontational?   Why does he constantly troll the media?  When will he learn that foreign policy is complicated, and that policy-making requires tact and compromise?

The answers are actually easy to state; one only has to look at Trump’s life and his approach.  It is marked by consistency over decades, and that has carried over into how he runs his Presidential administration.

First, Trump is a very poor businessman who nonetheless has achieved great success.  His business record is actually one of bad investments, poor treatment of investors and contractors, and huge losses.  Legitimate banks will no longer do business with him.

Trump’s success comes from two factors.  First, he has been repeatedly bailed out by people who supported him despite failure (his family) or by people who saw that they could use Trump for their own ends (Russian money-launders and mafiosi).  Second, Trump is a great showman, and achieved considerable success in his television career on “The Apprentice.”  This career not only earned him money, but created an international brand for “Trump” that allowed the Trump organization to gain branding rights and attract development partners for projects to which Trump only contributes a name  but receives considerable revenues.

Second, to cover his anxiety about his underlying failures, Trump has developed in his own mind the persona of a brilliant, exemplary success.  He lies about and exaggerates his accomplishments because he must; to do otherwise is to start to admit doubts about his own role in his success.  In Trump’s mind, he will always be the smartest person in the room, always the greatest success, always the person who has done the most and more than anyone else in his situation.  This is how he presented himself in the past (“Star of the #1 show on television,” which it was not) and presents himself now (“biggest election crowd ever;” “Best speech ever given in [any given setting]”; “most accomplished by any president in first 6 mos.”; “Most presidential” etc.)

This view leads to a simple view of the world and policy-making.  If something is not going great, it must be because his predecessors, less smart and less skilled in business, made “bad deals.”   If these are just tossed out and replaced with “better deals,” then everything will be great.  And since he treats his predecessors as stupid people who made “incredibly bad deals,” it will be “easy” for someone as smart and great a deal-maker as Trump to come up with something “much, much better.”

For Trump, the details of history do not matter; the fine lines of policy are irrelevant; compromise is a dirty word and sign of weakness. What Trump believes works well, based on his own internal story of his business success, greatly reinforced by his fluke victory in the Presidential election, is demanding, bullying, playing to the crowds, pushing for a “better deal,” and then claiming victory.

Trump therefore treats the leaders of other countries (as shown in his transcripts of conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia) as he would a potential business partner or contractor in a real estate deal.  Their history, the complexities of their own situation, etc. do not matter.  All that matters is that Trump needs to make a better deal.  And they had better go along, or else.

The same is true in domestic politics.  In health care and tax reform, Trump believes his predecessor made bad, stupid deals.  It will therefore be easy to make much better ones and claim victory.  When such a simple-minded approach fails, he lashes out at those who won’t go along, accusing them of obstruction and cupidity.  He seems constitutionally unable to grasp that some things (e.g. achieving a political settlement in Iran, crafting national health care policy, making peace in the Middle East) are far more complex than signing a deal to put up a building in Chicago or Baku and getting credit for putting his name on it.

Much else follows from this world view.  Putting his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of China, the Middle East, government efficiency, and much else is OK because it’s just about making a better deal, and hence not that complicated.  No policy or international affairs experts are needed because they know nothing about making business deals.

Seeking out loyalists and family and running things in a fun, leisurely way, was a path to Trump’s business success and the Presidency, so of course he believes he is much smarter than the people in Washington who have “failed” to solve the important problems of Middle East Peace, providing health care, and restoring good-paying jobs to blue-collar workers.   That centuries of religious conflict, the problems of insurance in a market with asymmetric information, or automation make those problems highly resistant to solution are dismissed as excuses or a cover-up for weakness.

When Trump is faced with setbacks he does not see that he has to learn; he lashes out at scapegoats or seeks to distract attention (the Obama spied on me, Rice illegally unmasked people, and endless Hilary Clinton crimes gambits).  The more he faces setbacks, the more he exalts his accomplishments and blames others, and tries to get the media to frame him as the hero and others as villains.

This is what worked in his show-biz career and election campaign; I cannot imagine that he will abandon this approach now.

The result is that we have a President who is simply the person we elected — an overblown TV celebrity with ties to Russian money-launderers who thinks he is brilliant and all the US and world’s problems can be easily solved by making a better deal.   Truly smart and experienced advisors may try to get him on track, and occasionally frustrate Trump’s worst impulses.  But they are unlikely to last long, as Trump simply discards those whom he thinks do not fit into his story of his own brilliance and success.  So far, Trump has fired his Deputy AG, FBI director, National Security Advisor, Press Secretary, Director of Communications (twice) and Chief of Staff.  His Secretary of State has been largely marginalized and ignored; other cabinet secretaries (Ben Carson, Rick Perry) are figureheads wholly ignorant of the programs they lead, or as with Tom Price at HHS and Scot Pruitt at EPA, charged with dismantling the programs they head.  Whether it is appointing a family wedding planner to a major urban housing position or a talk radio host with no science background to the top science position in the Agr. Dept., this is a “no need for expertise” Presidential administration and is likely to remain that way.

Trump’s approach to governing has already done serious damage to both the US’s international standing and influence, and the capabilities of the US government.  It has not yet damaged the economy (which is always less dependent on the President than on myriad other factors) or caused a major international conflict.  We can only hope that Trump is somehow removed from active decision making before more harm is done to US influence and the US government.  And we must pray that the economy does not slide into recession or that a major international conflict arises; for if either eventuality arises, those deficiencies in US influence and capabilities will truly start to hit home.



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You know you are living in a Banana Republic when …

The United States, thank God, has a vibrant and effective federal system.  Every day, at the state and local level, fully independent, self-funding governments are enforcing laws, working to preserve the environment, providing support to the sick and needy, offering public education from primary school through university, and supporting business in making investments and enforcing good pay.  Local governments provide police and fire protection, insurance regulation, and a host of other vital services.  That is fortunate, because our federal government has become increasingly dysfunctional.

I had long predicted that President Donald Trump would play havoc with the federal government.  My last post discussed how his policies and actions have reduced US influence around the world.  In this post, I focus on actions at home.  Anyone who has spent time studying poor and kleptocratic authoritarian regimes — also known as “banana republics” because such dictatorships were once especially common in the tropical regions where bananas are grown for export — would recognize the many characteristics that the Trump administration shares with such regimes.

To sum up, let me offer a short (well, not so short) list.  You know you are living in a banana republic when:

1.  The top policy-making jobs go to the President’s children and in-laws, rather than to experienced, qualified professionals.

2. Second-tier jobs go to friends and hangers-on of the President (e.g. having the President’s family wedding-planner appointed to a top housing job in the country’s largest city; or appointing people with no scientific qualifications to critical jobs overseeing scientific/technical programs).

3.  Qualified professionals are reduced to window-dressing; they don’t attend key meetings and are not put in charge of key policy areas.

4. Across the government, loyalty to the President is the main qualification for getting and keeping your job; those whose loyalty is suspect or seem too independent are soon reassigned or fired.

5.  The President asserts that he and his family are above the law, as they can be pardoned for any crimes by the President.

6.  Prosecutors or investigators looking into crimes or corruption by the President and his family are dismissed.

7.  The President and his administration routinely make blatant lies to put themselves and their actions in the best possible light; then expect those lies to be accepted as fact.

8. The President and his administration repeatedly attack any media who criticize or seek to correct their lies as “Fake news,” while praising and promoting media who endorse their fictions.

9.  The President accuses political opponents (such as his predecessor and candidates who ran against him) of committing major crimes, calls them bad people, and urges that they be investigated, prosecuted, and locked up.

10.  The President treats opposition parties as irrelevant, excluding them from any serious role in political appointments or legislation.

11. The President treats his own party in the legislature as people who should do his bidding and work mainly to serve him.

12.  The President loves parades, displays of military force, and public adulation, but has no interest in policy details or patient negotiation and compromise to produce better policy.

13.  The President and his family operate private businesses on the side, and use their power and position to help those businesses increase their profits.

14.  The President routinely flaunts and violates ethics laws, and claims they do not apply to him or don’t matter.

15.  The President surrounds himself with people whose main duty is to flatter him and protect him from any criticism.

I think that’s quite enough for now.  But I may start to keep a running list!

Actually, it’s not funny.   American is going from a country that plays “Hail to the Chief” to one that panders to “El Jefe.”



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The International Results are in…

In this very interconnected world, how the US (or any country) is perceived around the world matters – it matters for national strategy (which countries will ally with you and how loyal will they be?), for economic growth (will people desire your products and workers, invest in your country, and expect you to honor your trade deals?), and for security (how much do your enemies want to take you down?).

Results are just in on the latest PEW survey of views on America from around the world.  In less than a year, those expressing “Favorable” views of the US have dropped from 64% to 49%.  Even more striking, when asked whether they have confidence in the President of the US to do the right thing in international affairs, those saying they “have confidence” fell from 64% to 22%, while those saying they have ” no confidence” rocketed from 23% to 74%.

Trump’s “America first” foreign policy has thus greatly weakened favorable views of the US around the world.  Only Israel (slightly), and Russia (significantly) have increased their confidence in the President of the US since Trump was elected; all other nations had moderate to very large negative changes.

How will this affect the US’s foreign policy?  It is hard to tell exactly what Trump’s foreign policy goals are, as he has laid out no strategic vision. He seems willing to retreat from influence in Europe and China and make concessions to Russia, wants to wall off Latin America from the US with a renewal of sanctions on Cuba and erecting a wall at the Mexican border, is hostile (but ineffectually) to Iran and North Korea, and is only interested in close partnerships with Israel or countries with Trump hotels (Turkey, the Philippines, the Persian Gulf states).  He seems willing to escalate the US military role in Syria and Afghanistan, but to what end is not clear.

Trump seemed to promise his supporters the US would be stronger, less burdened, and more secure in the world.  In fact, so far his policies have made the US look weaker, less popular, and more confused.


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Just saying…

Last week I said that the longer Trump stays in office the worse it will be for his reputation, for the Republican party, and for the United States.

It should be clear to everyone now that Trump lacks the emotional, judgmental, and intellectual qualities needed to lead the United States as President.

In the last few weeks, Trump has (1) arm-twisted House Republicans into passing a Health Care bill that was worse for most Americans than the bill that previously failed to pass, so that he could claim a win in an area in which he is so ignorant that he described health insurance in terms that only apply to life-insurance; (2) he fired his FBI Director, who was in the process of expanding a federal probe into Russian intervention in the US election and potential ties to the Trump campaign, in a callous and unconsidered fashion, expecting everyone to embrace this, having his staff lie about Comey’s status with his own FBI employees and then fabricate a false story about the firing that he then abandoned the next day; (3) he has threatened to wipe out protection for federal lands and national monuments; (4) has embraced heinous dictators and congratulated them on doing a great job; (5) has — along with his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom he appointed to high-level posts in his administration — continued to financially benefit from business dealings both overseas and at home that he promotes while in office; (5) invited the Russian foreign minister and Ambassador to the U.S. (the latter a known spymaster) into the Oval Office, giving Russian state media access to the event but excluding all U.S. press; and (6) apparently gave the Russians sensitive information derived from secret sources, either without grasping the significance of this or recklessly disregarding any consequences.  He also had his cabinet members issue blanket denials, then tweeted, less than 12 hours later, that he had in fact shared terrorist information with the Russians during that meeting.

Let’s be frank — if a fictional story was written that had a U.S. President acting in this way, it would be dismissed as not credible.   No one would expect behavior like this to be tolerated, much less defended, by other GOP and political and societal leaders.  If such behavior ever occurred, one might expect that such a president would be bundled off by his handlers for obvious defects in judgement and reckless and dangerous behavior.

But what are we in fact seeing?  No one is impeding this President, who continues to generate ever more egregious and frightening grounds for his removal from office.

Eventually, this will lead to Trump’s departure from the White House.  The only questions are how long it will take, and how much damage he will to do to himself and our country before that happens.  It certainly appears that the longer it takes, the worse it will get.

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