Monthly Archives: February 2019

Next Steps

The same week brought “the Green New Deal,” further indications that Donald Trump will be impeached, and scientific evidence that the pace of catastrophic climate change has increased. Over the next two years, given these troubling times, what steps should we take to maintain our sanity?

(Here’s the outline of the “Green New Deal” released by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/691997301/rep-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-releases-green-new-deal-outline).)

1. Insist that the U.S. judicial process plays out and that Donald Trump and his corrupt associates are brought to justice.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation — into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and his report should be made public.

Wired reports that there are at least 17 separate investigations into Trump-Russia relationships (https://www.wired.com/story/mueller-investigation-trump-russia-complete-guide/ ).  All of these should be brought to conclusion.

If Trump tries to interfere in any of these investigations, his intrusion should trigger impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives.

Citizens should demand accountability for Donald Trump.

(By the way, we should also insist that the Federal government do much more to stop Russian interference in our elections.)

2.  Make sure that the blue wave continues into 2020; that Democrats win the Presidency and control of both houses of Congress.  The Democrats have fielded a strong contingents of presidential candidates (see my February 1st article, “Top Ten Democratic Presidential Candidates.”)   Early polls indicate that any of them could defeat Trump.  Nonetheless, we’ve all learned not to underestimate Trump; Democrats need to do everything possible to prevent him from doing more damage to the United States.

At the moment, Democrats occupy 235 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives — Republicans have 197 seats and 3 are vacant.  Dems have to work hard to maintain their advantage in the House.

Republicans occupy 53 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate.  22 of their seats are up for reelection in 2020 — versus 12 for Democrats.  The most vulnerable Republican Senators are: Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colorado) and Martha McSally (Arizona).  (The most vulnerable Democrat is Doug Jones (Alabama).)  Potentially vulnerable Republican Senators are John Cornyn (TX), Joni Ernst (IA), Lindsey Graham (SC), Pat Roberts (KS) — who is retiring, David Perdue (GA), and Thom Tillis (NC).  Democrats must work hard and win a Senate majority.

Trump has already started campaigning for reelection.  He’s making no attempt to reach outside his base — about 40 percent of the electorate (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ).  Trump is planning to inflame his base by touting false accomplishments — such as his claim that construction of his “wall” has already started [“Finish the wall”] — and dire warnings about Democrats — such as, “they want open borders.”

At the same time, Trump will try to suppress the vote of Independents and wavering Democrats by claiming that the Democratic presidential candidate is weak and “a socialist.”  (Republicans, in general, will try to suppress the vote by tactics such as selective voter “purges.”)

3. Reach out to Trump voters.  At some time in the near future, hopefully 2020, Democrats will regain control of the government.  But before we can repair the damage that Trump, and his Republican collaborators have wrought, we need to reach out to Trump supporters — those who view Donald as their last chance to get a shot at the American dream — and convince them that we are their allies.

If adequately explained, the new Democratic agenda, with its emphasis on healthcare, education, jobs, and infrastructure, should go a long way towards healing the breech between Democrats and Trump loyalists.  Nonetheless, Democrats must take extraordinary steps to quench the anger and hate that Trump has fed.

Reaching out to Trump voters is the right step, on moral grounds, but it’s also a practical reality: to deal with climate change, there’s an extraordinary amount of work that needs to be done and Americans have to work together.  No one should minimize what a daunting task this will be.  While a strong majority of Americans believe that climate change is an urgent problem that must be dealt with ( https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/consensus-emerges-climate-change-debate-n950646) only 15 percent of Republicans agree.  (In other words, most Trump voters say they are not worried about climate change.)

4. Support the Green New Deal.  As I write this, my travel plans have been disrupted by torrential rains and flooding in Northern California.  The pace of global climate change has increased; it’s time to declare a “national emergency” to deal with this reality.

The Green New Deal is the latest attempt to get the U.S. government to doing something about climate change.  (https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/14/politics/green-new-deal-proposal-breakdown/index.html )  The bill references the Roosevelt era, “the Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal;” it’s a resolution that insists we mobilize now.

The Green New Deal resolution has a lot in it but what jumps out is the call for a “10-year national mobilization” with several key objectives:

  •  “Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”  That is, eliminating our dependence on fossil fuel in 10 years.
  • “Upgrading all existing buildings” in the country for energy efficiency.
  • Working with farmers “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions … as much as is technologically feasible.”
  • “Overhauling transportation systems” to reduce emissions — including expanding electric car manufacturing, building “charging stations everywhere,” and expanding high-speed rail to “a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
  •  A guaranteed job “with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations and retirement security” for every American.  While this may appear to be a gratuitous add-on, the notion of a guaranteed job makes sense in light of the scope of the national mobilization, which will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

This is not a drill.  We’re in the midst of a national emergency and we need to work together to deal with these dire circumstances.

State of the Union 2019: Two Visions for America

If you just arrived in the United States and wanted to understand the difference between the Republican and Democratic vision for America, a good place to start would have been Donald Trump’s State of the Union address followed by Stacey Abrams’ Democratic rejoinder.

Donald Trump is a 72-year-old privileged New York white man who made a fortune in real-estate and reality television.  His near-record-length SOTU address — 82 minutes — was framed in military images: Trump noted that June 6th marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day when the allies invaded the European mainland.  He said, “Now, we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this great American adventure.”  He continued with the most controversial remarks in his speech, “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace in legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

Stacey Abrams is a 45-year-old Georgia African-American woman who rose from impoverished circumstances to become a lawyer, entrepreneur, politician, and the 2018 Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor.  Her 11-minute response was framed around community and service: “My family understood firsthand that while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible. But we do not succeed alone. In these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us.”  She used this perspective to criticize Trump: “Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food, and the sliver of hope since they hadn’t received paychecks in weeks. Making livelihoods of our federal workers a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people but our values.”

Typically, the State-of-the-Union address is where the President lays out his legislative agenda in broad strokes.  Trump chose to focus on immigration (16 minutes):  “Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis. Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure are very dangerous southern border.  Now is the time for Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business… walls work and walls save lives.”

In contrast, Stacey Abrams did present an agenda.  She emphasized voting rights: “Let’s be clear. Voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places, to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy… This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have a say the vision they want for our country. We must reject the cynicism that says every vote cast to be counted is a power grab. Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders, not where politicians pick their voters.”

Trump’s most controversial SOTU claim was about North Korea: “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula… If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”

Stacey Abrams most controversial line was: “Even as I am very disappointed by the President’s approach to our problems – I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.”

Trump chose not to mention many issues that vex Americans; for example, education, healthcare, gun control, and climate changes.

Stacey Abrams did mention all these issues.  For example, “Children deserve an excellent education from cradle to career. We owe them safe schools and the highest standards, regardless of ZIP code. Yet, this White House responds timidly while first-graders practice active-shooter drills and the price of higher education grows ever steeper.”

At the conclusion of his SOTU address, Trump asked: “What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?”  And responded, “I am asking you to choose greatness.”  This was consistent with the military frame of his address.  And Trump’s self-image as commander-in-chief.

Stacey Abrams concluded: “Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment – to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together.”  This was consistent with her emphasis on community and service.

It’s hard to imagine that there could be a starker difference between the Republican and Democratic vision for the United States.

Imagine That Trump is a Russian Asset

At the moment, it appears that Donald Trump’s attention is focussed on two subjects: his “wall” and the latest installment of the Mueller probe. Nonetheless, in the background, the Trump Administration continues to engage in acts that jeopardize our security; such as lifting sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Imagine that Trump is, in fact, a Russian asset. Does that explain his treacherous behavior?

Russia: It’s generally agreed that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.  (Although not everyone agrees that Trump was involved in this meddling.)  Trump has never acknowledged this fact;  he says he accepts Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere.

Even though Congress has levied sanctions against Russia, the Trump Administration has resisted these.  For example, Newsweek reported, “Trump’s administration has neglected for nearly three months to implement required sanctions targeting Russia that were intended to punish Moscow for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom last year.”

National Security Establishment:  To an extent not seen in previous Administrations, Trump has disparaged the FBI, Justice Department, CIA, NSA, and the national security establishment, in general.  (He called the FBI “a cancer in our country.”  As a result, public confidence in the FBI is eroding (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/fbi-support-is-eroding-but-most-americans-still-back-bureau-poll-says ).)

Of course, the U.S. national security establishment is responsible for protecting us from Russian interference in our elections.  (By the way, Trump has yet to call for a government-wide investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and seems unfazed by the fact that this interference continues.)

Strategic Alliances:  One of Russia’s foreign-policy objectives is to weaken US alliances.  When Barack Obama left office, these alliances were strong; two years later they are in disarray.  For example, Trump has consistently disparaged NATO.  (And, randomly tells his aides to move the U.S. out of NATO (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/us/politics/nato-president-trump.html ).)

As another example, the European Union has been weakened by the pending departure of Great Britain and the rise of right-wing populists.  In the latter part of 2018, the Trump Administration downgraded the EU’s diplomatic status ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2019/01/08/the-trump-administration-is-downgrading-the-e-u-s-diplomatic-status-in-washington-thats-going-to-hurt/?).

After Great Britain, the U.S.’s closest ally has been Canada.  That’s no longer the case.  Trump has disparaged Prime Minister Trudeau and Canada, in general.  That’s severely damaged the relationship (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/03/world/canada/trudeau-trump-nafta.html ).

In fact, it’s difficult to think of any strategic relationship that Trump has strengthened — except that with Russia.

National Unity: In order to stand up to a strong adversary, such as Russia, the United States must be unified.  But since entering the White House, Trump has been an incredibly divisive figure.  The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/wrong-track-public-sours-nation-s-direction-after-shutdown-n963051 ) found that 63 percent of respondents believed that the nation is headed in the wrong direction.  (In the same poll, 58 percent do not believe that Trump is “honest and trustworthy.”)

There’s no doubt that trump has fomented racial and ethnic animosity.  Many Americans feel that the U.S. is more divided than at any time in recent memory (https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/01/poll-more-voters-say-media-divide-country-than-trump-952209 ).

National Security Assessment:  On Tuesday, January 29, Trump’s Intelligence Chiefs appeared before Congress and Presented a National Security Assessment (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/01/30/us-intelligence-chiefs-de-facto-message-allies-around-world-youre-right-trump-is-wrong/?) that disagreed with Trump’s assertions.  For example, while Trump has a benign assessment of Russia, the Intelligence Chiefs reported, “Moscow continues to be a highly capable and effective adversary, integrating cyber espionage, attack, and influence operations to achieve its political and military objectives.”

The Intelligence chiefs also disagreed with Trump on Iran, ISIS, and North Korea.  Although Trump insists that immigration across the U.S. southern border is our number one security issue, and demands that a wall be built, this was not mentioned in the National Security Assessment.

On January 30, Trump pushed back against his Intelligence chiefs (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/30/us/politics/trump-intelligence-agencies.html ).  He said their assessment was “wrong” and called them “passive and naive.”  (This public split between the White House and the Intelligence community was unprecedented.)

Conversations with Putin:  Since entering the White House, Trump has had extended conversations with Putin on at least five occasions and has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the record of these conversations from being made public ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-has-concealed-details-of-his-face-to-face-encounters-with-putin-from-senior-officials-in-administration/2019/01/12/65f6686c-1434-11e9-b6ad-9cfd62dbb0a8_story.html?) : “U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader.”  (We have no way of knowing if Trump talks to Putin on the phone.)

The Washington Post reports that during the Trump presidential campaign there were, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives [and] the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/here-are-18-reasons-why-trump-could-be-a-russian-asset/2019/01/13/45b1b250-174f-11e9-88fe-f9f77a3bcb6c_story.html?)

Summary:  As time passes, there’s increasing evidence that Trump has an unsavory relationship with Russia.  Given how unpleasant Trump is, it’s easy for those of us on the left to conclude that Donald is a Russian asset.  As long as we only talk to each other, this position isn’t a problem.  But as soon as we talk to Trump supporters, it raises a big barrier — Trump advocates accuse us of “Trump derangement syndrome” and shut down.

A more measured stance is to say that whether Trump is a Russian asset, or just a “useful fool” being managed by Putin, the results are the same: Donald Trump is a grave national security threat.