Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump: "I Alone Can Fix It"

"I am your voice," Republican nominee Donald J. Trump told convention delegates in Cleveland as he accepted his party's nomination in a speech filled with anger but lacking soaring rhetoric. His delivery was not presidential, rather it was harsh and indignant. It resonated with resentful Trump supporters who feel they are the victims of an America that has left them behind.
Trump railed against a rigged system. "No one knows the system better than me," he said pausing to smile, "which is why I alone can fix it." Declaring that he is the "law and order candidate," he said, "Our convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and terrorism is our cities, threaten our way of life." He promised, "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, very soon, come to an end. Beginning on January 20 (Inauguration Day) safety will be restored."
Trump said, "The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50% compared to this point last year." He then played on fear, "Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens." He promised to build a wall along the Mexican border, but didn't mention that Mexico would pay for it. By the way, under President Barack Obama immigration is down, killings of police officers is down, and illegal immigration is down compared to previous presidents.
In his one-hour and fourteen minute speech he listed a series of domestic initiatives. He promised to renegotiate trade deals, reduce taxes, invest in infrastructure, reduce government regulations, lift restrictions on American energy, and "repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare!" He said he would address the student debt problem and appoint justices "who will uphold our laws and constitution."
Trump failed to recognize members of the American military, including those serving overseas. But he said he would "rebuild our depleted military." "Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo. As long as we are led by politicians will not put America first, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect." He spoke of NATO, and said, "Countries we are protecting at a massive cost to us will be asked to pay their fair share."
Trump attacked Hillary Clinton's record as Secretary of State. "Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in civil war and a refugee crisis that now threatens the West." He continued, "After fifteen years of wars in the Middle East, after trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost, the situation is worse than it has ever been before." He concluded, "This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction and weakness." Trump said, "We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS and we are going to defeat them fast."
He took time to that the evangelicals who supported him, noting, "I am not totally sure I deserve it." And he thanked his wife Melania, and his children for their support. The Trump children were impressive, especially Ivanka, who introduced her father.
Trump concluded, "I'm with you, and I will fight for you, and I will win for you!" He continued, "We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America Safe again. We will make America great again!"
Trump's speech was not about optimism, hope, the American spirit, or President Ronald Reagan's "Bright shining light on a hill." Instead, it was filled with the same themes that secured him the Republican Party's nomination. It wasn't a typical Republican speech, especially his attacks against business and free trade, and it was short on specifics. It will not appeal to Democrats who support Hillary Clinton, and it may not play well with independents.
But nothing about Trump's campaign so far has gone according to conventional wisdom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Republican Convention Controversy

The centerpiece of the opening night of the Republican Convention was the speech by Melania Trump, the wife of Donald Trump.  But her pleasant performance was soon overshadowed by allegations of plagiarism. 

Candidate Trump, the ultimate showman, made an unprecedented and dramatic appearance on the first night of the convention to introduce his wife.  Mrs. Trump praised her husband, speaking in a Slovenian accent, to an enthusiastic reception from the delegates.  But shortly after the convention wrapped up she became the center of a swirling controversy.  Two of the passages she read were strikingly similar to the speech Michele Obama made to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

"From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life," a poised Mrs. Trump said, "that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life."  In her 2008 speech to the Democratic Convention Mrs. Obama said, "And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: like, you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, that you do what you say you're going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them and even if you don't agree with them."

Mrs. Trump then added, "We need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow... Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them."  Back in 2008, Mrs. Obama added,  "Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values and to pass them onto the next generation, because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them."

Earlier in the day Mrs. Trump told NBC News that she had written the speech.  Whether she did or not someone in the campaign should have caught the similarities.  Instead, reactions to the convention speeches focused on whether Mrs. Trump had plagiarized Mrs. Obama.  Had Mrs. Obama done the plagiarizing the Republicans would have called for a Congressional investigation.

Monday evening's convention theme was "Make America Safe Again."  It is usually the practice of a political party to feature their values and positions on key issues on the first night.  But this was an evening that reflected Mr. Trump's combative tone.  Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani electrified delegates, especially with an attack against the presumptive Democratic nominee.  "It was Hillary Clinton who advocated the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya. Now Libya is in chaos," he charged.  "Hillary Clinton is accountable for this and much more. For dereliction of duty and failure to keep our people safe played a major role."   At times seeming almost unhinged, he took a swipe at President Obama. "We must not be afraid to define our enemies. It is it Islamic. Extremist," he yelled. "For the purposes of the media...I said Islamic. Extremist. Terrorism."

The evening's most emotional speech was delivered before the broadcast networks were telecasting the proceedings.   Pat Smith, the mother of US diplomat Sean Smith who was killed during the 2012 attack in Benghazi, drew the rapt attention of delegates as she blamed Hillary Clinton for the death of her son.  "I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son," she said and accused Clinton of lying to her.  "If Hillary Clinton can't give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency," she added.   However, Smith's speech came before the prime time audience tuned in.  So too did the floor fight over rules led by the anti-Trump forces that failed.   

But Tuesday's news headlines focused on Mrs. Trump's speech.  Trump campaign officials scrambled to explain the controversy.  Campaign manager Paul Manafort tried to quell the dispute Tuesday, "There's no cribbing of Michele Obama's speech," he told CNN.  "These were common words and values that she cares about -- her family, things like that."   However, Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, said that someone has to be fired for the plagiarism.   And it is likely  that Donald Trump will have to find a scapegoat to fire in order to save his wife's reputation.  

In many ways opening night of the Republican Convention reflected the unpredictable and at times disorganized approach of the Trump campaign.  The theme for day two of the convention is "Make America Work Again."  But Trump clearly has a lot of work to do to make his nominating convention work.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Extremely Careless Hillary Clinton

The FBI's recommendation that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton for her handling of email as secretary of state is an important victory for the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee.  However, this finding will not bring an end to Republican criticism of the investigation and of Clinton's lack of trustworthiness.  

FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday that "no reasonable prosecutor" would bring a case against Clinton, but he noted that Clinton and her staff were "extremely careless" in their email use.   Clinton had used a private email server located at her New York residence while she was secretary of state.  A year ago the inspector general for intelligence agencies informed the Justice Department that he had found classified information among emails Clinton had sent and received.  Comey said today that a small number were found to be marked classified at the time they were sent, and such information is not to be sent on an unclassified system.  

The House Select Committee on Benghazi discovered that Clinton was using a private server in their investigation of the attack on an American outpost that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.  Subsequently, Clinton agreed to turn over 30,000 emails from her tenure as secretary of state.  She did not turn over those she deemed as personal.  Ultimately, government agencies determined that several hundred should have been marked classified, including a couple dozen that should have been designated top secret.  In his statement, Comey also said, "We found no additional evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them."

Clinton's handling of emails has been used by her critics as further evidence that she is not trustworthy.  The FBI's recommendation will now go to the Justice Department for final action.  It is unlikely that the Justice Department will bring charges.  But questions have been raised about the department's independence following President Bill Clinton's awkward meeting last week with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who subsequently said she would accept the recommendation of the FBI.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wasted no time to express his reaction on Twitter.  "The system is rigged.  General Patraeus got in trouble for far less.  Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment," he tweeted.  Moments later he wrote on Twitter, "FBI director said crooked Hillary compromised our national security.  No charges. Wow!  #RiggedSystem."   It is clear that Trump and Republicans will use this finding as an example of the Clintons getting special treatment, and they will continue to attack her on the issue.

Clinton supporters welcomed the findings.  Virginia Senator Tim Kaine told CNN,  "I never believed that this was going to be something in the criminal realm or even close to it."   Nonetheless, the FBI finding that Clinton was extremely careless in her email is very damning.   And Clinton has mishandled the email probe from the very beginning, saying on several occasions that, "I am confident that I never sent or received any information that was classified at the time it was sent and received."  The FBI finding is that she should have known.   

The cloud of controversy surrounding Clinton's email use at the State Department will continue to hang over her campaign for the White House.  She has yet to offer a credible explanation for using a private server while she was secretary of state.  Later this month Democrats will nominate her as their candidate for president.   But, because of her "mistake," as she now calls it, her lack of judgment and trustworthiness will continue to be questioned by Clinton opponents.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Task Master Bill Clinton

With just over four months to go before the national elections, both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are limping into their party's conventions, which will be held later this month.  While it is unlikely that either of their nominations will be derailed, both candidates have been plagued by large unfavorable ratings in opinion polls and many unforced errors.  

Perhaps Clinton's biggest liability is that a majority of likely voters view her as not trustworthy, even more so than Trump.   Her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has hung like a dark cloud over her campaign.  The FBI is investigating the matter, and there are reports that they will interview Clinton this weekend at her home in Washington.  This could signal that the FBI is close to wrapping up their probe, one that could lead to the indictment of Clinton or some of her former department staffers.

Clinton has mishandled the email matter right from the get go.  To make matters worse, former President Bill Clinton decided to meet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her government aircraft at the Phoenix airport.  He delayed his flight out of the city when he learned that the attorney general would soon be arriving.  What was the former president thinking?   Lynch already had been asked by Republicans to recuse herself from the FBI investigation into his wife's emails, the findings of which the department would bring to the attorney general for the final decision on whether to bring charges.  

When asked Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival what she wished former Attorney General Eric Holder had told her, she replied, "Where the lock on the plane door was."   Because Lynch is a political appointee she has previously indicated she would accept the FBI findings.  She stated that clearly on Friday, noting, "I understand that my meeting on the plane with former President Clinton could give another reason to have questions and concerns."  She described the Clinton meeting, which lasted a half-hour, as social, adding, "I certainly wouldn't do that again." 

President Clinton's blunder casts another shadow over his wife's campaign at a time when she was trying to open up a lead over Trump.  Recent national polls show that Clinton has a small lead over Trump.  This after Trump's campaign had been damaged by organizational problems and the candidate has made racist statements about a federal judge and had called for a ban against Muslims entering this country.    

Clinton has appeared to gain momentum following her enthusiastic joint appearance with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the progressives.  And, while popular Senator Bernie Sanders is still seeking the Democratic nomination, he has indicated he would vote for Clinton.  Last week the House Select Committee on Benghazi released a report that found no evidence of wrongdoing by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following its exhaustive investigation into the deaths of four Americans in 2012.   Additionally, the sister of the ambassador killed in Benghazi, Chris Stevens, said she did not blame Clinton for her brother's death.  Instead, Dr. Anne Stevens blamed Congress for underfunding the State Department.  

Nonetheless, Trump will continue to assail "Crooked Hillary" in an effort to leverage her perceived lack of trustworthiness.  While Trump is viewed as only slightly more trustworthy than Clinton according to polls, he speaks with swagger.  "I'm honest, I'm trustworthy, I tell it like it is," he said on Fox News.   His supporters seem to overlook his miscues, his misdeeds, his lack or temperament, perhaps because they are frustrated with Washington and just want change.

Hillary Clinton has many challenges ahead in her pursuit of the presidency.  Uniting the party, picking a strong vice presidential candidate, motivating voters to support her, clearly articulating a compelling vision for her presidency that appeals to all Americans are among her hurdles.  But the biggest hurdle may be dealing with the outcome of the FBI probe into her use of a private server. 

Former President Bill Clinton has just made that task a lot harder.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Republican Party in Turmoil

The Republican Party is in turmoil.  Its leadership has so far chosen to support a presumptive nominee that has used hate, fear and personal attacks to secure enough delegates to be nominated at its upcoming convention.  Does the GOP really want to be the party of Donald Trump?
Does it want to cave to the rebuke Trump challenged them with on Wednesday in campaign a speech Atlanta?  "You know, the Republicans, honestly, folks, our leaders -- our leaders have to get tougher," he said.  "This is too tough to do it alone.  But you know what?  I think I am going to be forced to."  Does the party want to roll over in the face of the stinging criticism it received from Sam Clovis, Trump's campaign co-chair? "Either they want to get behind the presumptive nominee, who will be the nominee of this party, and make sure that we do everything we can to win in November, or we're just asking them if they can't do that, then just shut the hell up," he said.
Following Trump's outrageous statements about an American born judge of Mexican heritage, and his statements about Muslims, he has seen his support among Americans sharply decline.  An astonishing 70 percent of Americans surveyed recently by ABC News now have an unfavorable view of Trump.  Yet Trump intends on doing nothing to address this problem.  Instead, he is using the same narrow strategy that brought him victory in the Republican primaries--attack, divide and bully.  But in order to win in the general election he will need to attract independents, Democrats, women and minorities. 
A growing number of Republicans at all levels are distancing themselves from Trump. Asked to comment on Trump's ridiculous statement that President Obama was responsible for the terrorist massacre in Orlando, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded, "I am not going to be commenting on the presidential candidate today."  Last week, when McConnell was asked who Trump should pick as his running mate, he said, "He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it's pretty obvious he doesn't know a lot about the issues."  
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced his support of Trump after many weeks, still has not fully embraced the candidate.  In an interview with NBC News, which will air Sunday, Ryan was asked whether Republicans should follow their conscience?   "The last thing I would do is tell anybody to do something that's contrary to their conscience," he said. "I get that this a very strange situation. He a very unique nominee. But I feel as a responsibility institutionally as the speaker of the House that I should not be leading some chasm in the middle of our party. Because you know what I know that'll do? That'll definitely knock us out of the White House," he added.  
Fundraising is now a problem for the Republican Party.  And many major companies that sponsored the GOP's 2012 convention have announced they will not be sponsoring its upcoming convention.  Down-ballot races are now threatened because Trump's behavior is undermining Senate and House candidates across the country.  The problem is so severe that the party has turned to former President George W. Bush, who was very unpopular when he left office, to help save its most vulnerable senators.  
Stopping Trump from becoming the Republican presidential nominee will not be easy at this point.  Trump received more than 13 million votes in the primaries, and he has won more than enough delegates to be nominated.   If the party gives its nomination to someone else, and there is no clear alternative, it will risk revolt.   But would the GOP really be worse off if it did so?
For the past eight years the Republicans have been the party of obstructionism in Congress. Its leadership has allowed a minority of conservatives to dictate the direction of the party no matter the consequences, including shutting the government down.  The leadership has repeatedly said no to compromise with Democrats for fear of upsetting those on its far right.
So it should be no surprise that the party's leadership has not stood up to Donald Trump. His bullying tactics, racist statements and lack of temperament have damaged their brand, and they will do nothing except hope for the best in November's elections.  
In short, Republicans will reap what they have sown.    

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Clinton v. Trump

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made history on Tuesday when she won enough delegates to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for president.  "Thanks to you, we have reached a milestone," she told thousands of wildly enthusiastic supports in Brooklyn Tuesday evening.  "The first time in our nation's history that a woman will be a major party's nominee," she said to a thundering ovation.  

Clinton's received her supporter's adulation with warmth, emotion and authenticity.  Like a great marathoner, she had crossed the finish line first following a difficult and challenging race.  She had her mojo back; she was poised and confident in demeanor, expressing gratitude to her supporters, and graciously reaching out to her competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders.  

"I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for the extraordinary campaign he has run," she said.  "The vigorous debate that we have had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequality, increase upward mobility, have all been good for the Democratic Party and for America," she added.  With her decisive victory in California and several other states, Clinton dashed the dim fire of hope that Sanders' supporters had going into Tuesday.

Telling her supporters that the stakes in this coming presidential election are high, she attacked the presumptive Republican nominee.  "Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be commander and chief," she declared with resolve.   She said Trump wants to win by "stoking fear and rubbing salt in wounds."  She cited Trump's attacks on a federal judge, born in Indiana of Mexican heritage, immigrants, a reporter with disabilities, women, Muslims, and the press, saying, "It goes against everything we stand for."  And in a play on Trump's campaign motto, she said firmly, "When he says 'Let's make American great again,' that is code for let's take America backwards.  Back to a time when opportunity and dignity were reserved for some not all."  

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, at the Trump National Golf Club in suburban New York City, Trump addressed supporters in an attempt to calm the waters that have roiled his campaign this past week. Reading a well-prepared script from TelePrompTer, something he has criticized Clinton for doing, Trump carefully read words meant to assure his party's restless leaders.  "I understand the responsibility of carrying the mantle, I will never let you down," he asserted.  Trump has received growing criticism from GOP leaders for the very things Clinton cited in her later speech.  He was unapologetic, instead announcing he would soon give a major speech attacking the Clintons, noting, "Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her private hedge fund."

Both candidates have many challenges ahead.  Clinton has to consolidate her party to bring disappointed Sanders' supporters into the fold, which will be no easy task.  She also faces an FBI investigation around her private email server, which will continue on for many weeks.  Trump must apologize for his many insensitive and racist remarks, and prove that he is presidential.   But can the pugnacious fighter, who has won his party's mantle by swinging freely from hips, campaign "on message?"  Will an apology from Trump make up for his ill-tempered remarks?

This has already been an historic presidential campaign; the first woman presidential nominee is facing a real estate developer with no political experience.  On Tuesday it appeared that these two campaigns were headed in different directions.  But this election has so far demonstrated that anything can happen.  Hang on.  

Smith School

(My address to the graduates of the Smith School, New York, NY)

It is an honor to be with you this evening.  On this very special day, we celebrate you and your accomplishments.  You have successfully completed the courses that will now serve as a foundation for your future. 

For those of you who now move on to high school, you will soon enter an important phase in your life.  The next four years will expose you to subjects and ideas that will challenge you, but also prepare you for your adulthood.   I encourage you to focus all your energies on your studies—and to make the most of your high school years.

For those of you graduating from high school, you have now completed an important phase in your life’s journey.   Now go forth with confidence and the knowledge that you are well prepared for the future.

Because of the Smith School’s unique approach to education, and its caring teachers and nurturing environment, here you have been given an opportunity to learn and to succeed.  You should all be proud of yourselves—your parents sure are! 

Many great people throughout the world’s history have recognized the importance of education.  The great South African leader and civil rights icon, Nelson Mandela, said, “Education is THE most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world.” 

The great American philosopher Allan Bloom said, “Education is the movement from darkness into light.”  And the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  This is a very important idea—for the pursuit of your passion, whatever it may be, inevitably leads to great personal reward.

A great American educational reformer, Horace Mann, said, “A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated.”  A great (and very large) former NBA basketball superstar, Charles Barkley, said, “People cannot rely on government to come help you in times of need.  You have to get your education.” 

The great American historian, Daniel Boorstin, said, “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.”  Here at the Smith School you have been given a wonderful opportunity to learn many things you did not already know.  But learning, and educating yourself should be, must be a life long experience.   And the tools you have obtained here at the Smith School can be applied in your continuous pursuit of learning, and your career.  The great Chinese Philosopher, Confucius, said, “You cannot open a book without learning something.”

The Smith School mission statement is inspiring, and it contains several important words:

Responsibility.  You should strive at all times to be a responsible person, a responsible employee and a responsible citizen.  So be fully engaged in your life. 

Adapt.  Everyday technology is advancing and Society is evolving—you must be able to adapt to change.  Do not fear it--rather embrace change.  The great American inventor and Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin, said, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Innovate.  Do not be afraid to develop new ideas, and to bring them to fruition.  Conversely, do not be afraid to make mistakes, or to even fail.  Everyone makes mistakes--everyone has failures.  The key is to learn from your mistakes—and you will.  The great Irish author, Bram Stoker, the man who wrote Dracula 100 years ago, said, “We learn from failure, not success.”  The great founder of the Apple company, Steve Jobs, who endured some failures along with great success, said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” 

Alas, this is not the time to speak of failure, for today is a culmination of your success, your hard work has paid off.  You all have overcome many challenges and have navigated uncertain seas to prove to yourself that you can do it--you can succeed. 

So take the many lessons you have learned in this wonderful institution, and build upon the foundation you now have in place.  

President Barack Obama wrote a note to my daughter several years ago that still today hangs on her bedroom wall.  “Dream big dreams.”  Like so many people, President Obama was challenged by childhood difficulties.  But he dared to dream.

I tell all of my students to find their passion--then put all of their energy into pursuing that passion.  Shine a light, light a fire, reach for the heights, and change the world.  Be true to yourself—be who you want to be—but never stop being a student.