Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trump World

America's first post-truth president will be sworn in as the Nation's 45th chief executive at noon eastern time on January 20.  Just exactly what will happen after that seems so far to be unclear, including to his inner circle and supporters.  Trump marches to his own tune. One thing for sure, though, is that the man who has pledged to "Make America Great Again" will be making the Trump brand even greater.

While Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes in November's election, he did win the votes necessary to secure the electoral delegates needed to become president.  He was propelled by a large group of Americans who are fed up with Washington politics because for decades they have been left behind. They had listened and believed all the past promises from red and blue politicians, only to be pushed back into the dark background when the contest was completed.   They were taken for granted again and again.

Many Trump voters came from aggrieved members of the working class who have seen technology and globalization rip their livelihood and self-respect from their soul.  Politicians who busily courted special interests to perpetuate their positions in government regularly ignored their plaintive cries.  For some, Bernie Sanders seemed to be an authentic alternative to the status quo.  But when he was pushed aside by the Democratic political establishment, many of his supporters found Trump appealing.

To many Americans Washington needed a wake up call.  Washington needed to be shaken up.  It was time for a new reality, even if it was a post-truth reality.  The aggrieved turned to a loud, boisterous, politically incorrect, mendacious, prevaricating entertainer-real estate mogul.  Trump appealed to their emotions rather than their minds.  They heard what they wanted to hear, and Trump was their champion.  

A recent PPP national poll found that 67% of Trump voters believe unemployment increased during the Obama presidency, when in fact it sharply declined.  Only 41% of Trump voters say the stock market went up during the Obama administration, meaning most don't know that the market has almost tripled over the past eight years.  And 60% of Trump voters believe Hillary Clinton received millions illegal votes, a lie that Trump has repeated several times since the election.

But does the truth really matter to these aggrieved voters?  Many don't believe that Trump will build a huge wall from one end of the Mexican-U.S. border to the other.  Many don't believe that Mexico will pay for the wall.   They certainly don't believe that Trump will deport all 11 million people who are living in this country illegally.  They certainly don't believe he will ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.  They certainly don't believe Trump saw thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey when New York's World Trade Center was attacked.  They know it was a  lie. They certainly don't believe that Trump will bring back millions of manufacturing jobs as he has promised.  

What do they believe?  They believe Trump will "drain the swamp" of politicians and bring an end to business as usual.  They believe Trump has their backs, that he hears their voices, that he will make their lives better.   They have given the president-elect a pass on releasing his federal tax returns. They have given him a pass on eliminating his many conflicts of interest.  They don't care if he produces a reality television show while in office.  They don't care that he attacks the press, evades serious questions, and regularly communicates via Twitter at all hours of the night.

Some have noted that Trump has appointed wealthy bankers, experienced politicians and retired generals to serve in his administration.  While this seems to contradict his promise to drain the swamp, so far they are giving him the benefit of a doubt.  The fact that Trump and some of his appointees are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a ruthless and corrupt leader who views America as the enemy, seems not to have resonated with the president elect's supporters.  So much for Ronald Reagan's evil empire!   

Soon Trump will be confronted with the full weight of the responsibilities that fall upon the shoulders of America's president. He will actually have to make decisions.  Will he gradually replace the existing Medicare program, as the Republican platform proposes, with a defined contribution program where seniors will be provided a fixed amount of money to purchase private health insurance of their own?  Will he repeal Obamacare and leave millions of Americans without healthcare?   Will he push to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion?  Will he go ahead with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline?  He said he would make a decision soon after taking office.

How will President-elect Trump deal with President Putin?  Will he move to ease sanctions on Russia for its occupation of Crimea? Will he impose import tariffs on Chinese products, even if it means higher prices in the U.S., and leads to the cancellation of contracts for Boeing aircraft and other U.S. products?  Will he send U.S. troops into Syria?  Will he implement his secret plan to eliminate ISIS?

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, a majority of Americans are either uncertain or pessimistic about his presidency. The country that he has vowed to unify remains deeply divided.  For sure, Trump's presidential campaign was unconventional, but he made many enemies, including within the Republican Party. So Trump make think all the world's a stage, and that he can bully and bluster his way through his daily challenges.  However, he will soon find out that the presidency is not just a television show.   

Thomas Jefferson once said, "No man will ever carry out of the Presidency the reputation which carried him into it."  Let's hope so, because America’s future is at stake, and all the world will be watching. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trump and Putin

President elect Donald Trump is a loggerheads with the U.S. intelligence community just weeks before he is to be sworn into office. The Washington Post reported that the C.I.A. had determined that Russia had interfered with last month’s presidential election in an effort to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. The Russians broke into Democratic National Committee computer networks and released embarrassing documents and emails in the weeks prior to the election. The New York Times reported the Russians had also hacked Republican National Committee computers but did not release any of those documents.

The Post quoted a senior U.S. official as saying, “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help get Trump elected.” The Trump transition team responded with a snarky statement, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” In an interview released Wednesday, Trump told Timemagazine, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe (Russia) interfered.” But President Obama has now ordered a full review “of what happened during the 2016 election process” to be completed before he leaves office.

While there is no evidence yet that the Russians or President Vladimir Putin did anything that would alter the outcome of the election, Trump supporters are concerned that these reports may be an effort to delegitimize his presidency. Trump praised Putin as a strong leader during the presidential campaign. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter Saturday, “I’m not challenging the outcome of the election, but very concerned about Russian interference/actions at home & throughout the world.”

President Putin has been waging a multi-front campaign for years to destabilize Western democracies and undermine NATO. Trump was critical of NATO during his campaign. Russia has endured tough sanctions as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions have added to the severe economic problems the country is facing. While Russia has been a partner of the U.S. in the Iranian nuclear deal, it has been at odds with the West over its military support of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, which has only intensified that country’s civil war and compounded the human tragedy currently taking place.

Putin is a master manipulator, and he may be betting that businessman Donald Trump would be easier to deal with on several fronts. Trump’s imminent announcement of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State nominee is an added plus for Putin. Tillerson and Putin are friends and have done business together. The ExxonMobil website claims that the company “has had a continuous business presence in Russia for more than 20 years.” No project is more important than a joint venture between Exxon and the Russian state owned company Rosneft to drill oil in the Arctic’s Kara Sea. That project had been halted due to the

sanctions, but Tillerson has said he does not believe the Russian sanctions work. This week it was announced that Russia sold a 20% stake in Rosneft for $11.7 billion based on expectations that sanctions would be eased under a Trump presidency.

Putin is a trained KGB officer and he runs his country with a ruthless hand. He has cracked down on civil society, the media, he has intensified persecution of his critics, and he has fanned anti-Western sentiment in Russia. Two weeks ago Republican Senator John McCain warned Trump against another reset with Putin. “At the very least, the price of another “reset” would be complicity in Putin and Assad’s butchery of the Syrian people,” he said. “When America has been at its greatest, it is when we have stood on the side of those fighting tyranny. That is where we must stand again.”

A Russian friend of mine recently asked me if I heard the latest joke from his homeland. “President Putin has appointed Donald Trump as the head of America,” he said with a chuckle. This may be funny to Russians, but it is a scary thought to any American. President elect Trump should be treating all U.S. national security agencies with the highest respect. To attack them will only weaken and discourage their efforts at a critical time. Further, he must treat Putin as a serious threat to this nation. The future of freedom and democracy is at stake.