Tag Archives: Obama

MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA

Introduction¹

This is the first of a series of posts in which I will analyze the Mueller Report based on the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) investigation into two questions: (1) did the Trump Campaign conspire with the Russian government to affect the 2016 election in Trump’s favor and (2) did Trump engage in obstruction of justice regarding the Mueller investigation or otherwise? Based on the evidence adduced by the SCO, I believe the answer to both questions is ‘yes.’

Trump has argued that everything that transpired with Russia during and after the Campaign was intended merely to improve relations with Russia. On its face, there is nothing wrong with that — as a policy position – since Russia is clearly a major world power and, provided US interests are protected, better relations with it would be an important and valid foreign policy objective. Such claimed improvements in relations, however, must have mutual benefits, including that (1) vital relationships with allies around the world are respected and nourished, and (2) the personal and financial interests of our government leaders are not implicated in decisions regarding Russia. Because the Trump administration has been conducted largely in secret, often violating federal laws governing record-keeping by federal officials, and because the president has demonstrably lied about so many aspects of his governance before and after his election, including particularly his relations with Russia, little or no credence should be given to his protestations of innocence and doubts should be resolved against him.

Moreover, and this supersedes all other considerations, efforts to improve relations may not, under any imaginable circumstances, include seeking or accepting offers of assistance in the election of our leaders. Such activities by candidates are plainly and completely forbidden. It is well to remember, as President Obama reminded us when asked about possible changes to US foreign policy following his election, but before his inauguration, we have only one president at a time. Interference in the foreign policy of the United States by collaboration with a hostile foreign power, which Russia unquestionably has been, is beyond the pale. Every putative leader and those in the inner circle are chargeable with knowledge of, and the duty to comply with, this policy. Failure to adhere to it is a clear violation of the constitutionally prescribed oath of office (Article II, Section I, Clause 8) and is tantamount to, if not actually, treason.

Treason is a term that should not be thrown about lightly. The U.S. Constitution, in an effort to limit the abuses of the King of England, provides “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Since the Constitution provides only a limitation on what may be treason, the Congress enacted 18 USC 2381 of the federal criminal code:

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Historically, very few formal allegations of treason have been brought in the United States and, as a practical matter, there is little chance that Donald Trump will be so accused. Nevertheless, in evaluating his behavior, and that of his chosen associates, it is well to keep the concept in mind. “I didn’t know the law” is no excuse.

It is important to me personally and, I hope, important to readers, to understand the many curiosities and nuances of the Mueller investigation, especially now that the Trump-appointed Attorney General has taken it upon himself to “decide” the very issues about which Mueller declined to make a final prosecutorial judgment. In doing this, the AG has made blatantly false statements about the substance of the Mueller Report in an effort to shape the public understanding of that Report in Trump’s favor. The AG has acted more like Trump’s personal attorney than like the chief legal officer of the country.

Mueller opened the door to this chicanery by failing to state clear conclusions about many aspects of the investigation. He could have done otherwise even if he believed, as he says, he was constrained by Justice Department policies that prevent the indictment of a sitting president for the corrupt conduct of his office. But he didn’t state those conclusions. Overall, his approach to the investigation seems to lack an appropriate measure of aggression, considering what was and is at stake.

Understanding the Report is also important because the Republicans in Congress now seek to “investigate” the investigators, pursuing the false narrative that there was no justification for the investigation in the first place and, taking words from Trump’s tweet storms, it was all just an effort to “take down a president.” That characterization is plainly false. That fact does not mean, however, that the Muller Report is without shortcomings. In addressing what I believe those are, I will be unsparing in my own critique.

That critique does not support the false Republican narrative. Indeed, the reverse is true. For reasons I will state, Mueller, in my view, failed to pursue leads and to follow up and report on some obvious issues. I understand, of course, that Mueller is famous as a prosecutor and highly regarded as a man above reproach. I accept that, but that just makes the questions about the Report all the more pointed and the absence of answers more difficult to accept at face value. This was not a time to be timid and, I believe, the Report reflects a stunningly timid approach.

On the issue of election interference, the Report contains many details, some of which refer to what seem like peripheral matters. Large sections of Vol. 1, for example, deal with Russian cyber-attacks and how they were investigated, not with Trump Campaign coordination. If you choose to read the Report, do not be distracted by this. The Report’s crucial finding is that not only did the Trump Campaign “expect … to benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts” [I-MR 1-2] but the Campaign did not report what it knew was going on, and being attempted, to the FBI.

Also, keep in mind this warning from Mueller: “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” I-MR 2 There are many instances in which that statement applies to the situation the investigation was trying to explore.

Mueller has stated that if questioned in Congress, he will say nothing more than what is written in the Report. That is, for reasons that will appear, an unacceptable position. There are many legitimate questions about the conduct of the investigation, the framing of the analytical basis for the matters investigated and the conclusions (and non-conclusions) drawn. Mueller has, I believe, a solemn obligation to appear and respond to questions. He has apparently now agreed to do so, despite the continued entreaties of the Attorney General that he should not undergo that examination. I trust Mueller will not simply say “sorry, I have nothing further to say.” Time will tell.


[1] Page references are to the actual Report, not the pagination in Adobe Reader. I-I-MR X refers to Volume 1 at page X and II-I-MR X refers similarly to Volume II.

Next: Collusion vs. Conspiracy – Setting a High and Unnecessary Threshold of Proof

Woodward & Rhodes – Two Worlds

I have just finished reading two books: Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House and Ben Rhodes’ The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. I read them more or less together, two chapters of Woodward, then one or two chapters of Rhodes. I did this because reading the inside story of Trump and his enablers inside the nation’s presidential home was so disturbing that I literally needed an ongoing antidote to avoid being ill. Woodward’s authorial bio needs no recital here. Rhodes was officially the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.

It did not help that the fools comprising the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee were, as I neared the end of my reading, pretending to take seriously the testimony of a woman claiming that Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court had sexually assaulted her in high school. That charade ended in what purported to be a serious investigation by the FBI into the allegations, and similar ones from other women, but it’s now abundantly clear that the FBI’s investigation was compromised by the instructions issued by the White House to assure that it led nowhere. And the so-called president of the United States has quickly, and predictably, moved from stating that he was impressed by Dr. Ford’s testimony to openly mocking her at yet another of his mob gatherings in Mississippi. And, also quite predictably, Press Secretary Sanders once again spoke the ludicrous words that Trump was not mocking Dr. Ford but repeating “facts.” Of course, Trump’s mockery itself denied there were any facts, so Sanders once again is tangled up in her own deceits.

Returning to the matter at hand, I have thought a lot about the essential narratives of the two books. The table below represents what I believe are the fair and true portraits of the two presidents. One , who was elected twice, successfully led the country out of a recession/depression that threatened to bring down the world economy and also tracked down and directed the killing of Osama bin Laden. The other, elected with the help of a hostile foreign power whose authoritarian leadership he now embraces, is dedicated mainly to enriching himself, his family and the already extremely well-off top one percent of Americans while reversing as fast as possible the environmental and financial protections emplaced by the Obama administration for the welfare of all Americans.

OBAMA TRUMP
Collaborative Solitary
Reflective & Deliberative Impulsive
Honest Remorseless liar
Intelligent & Studious Uninformed & uninterested in learning
Empathetic Completely lacking empathy
Student of history Driven by money
Outwardly focused Self-centered
Hard working Lazy, physically & intellectually
Able to understand complex ideas Simplistic; gets ideas from Fox News
Calm under pressure Chaotic & unstable
Reads Watches TV
Listens to advice Claims to already know everything
Humane Cruel & shallow
Appeals to traditional American values Appeals to economic fear & racial anxiety

Anyone watching closely has to be aware that there are many Trump supporters who literally hate Barack Obama. The source of those feelings remains something of a mystery, though many of us believe it’s racism, pure and simple. But one thing seems certain – no matter what one may think of Obama’s policies, no one of even modest intelligence could argue that Barack Obama was dumb. On the other hand, several of Trump’s enablers in the White House have characterized him asa “moron” who is “unable to learn anything.”

One of the most prominent ideas in Rhodes’ memoir is the sheer difficulty of accomplishing anything meaningful, especially in foreign affairs, even without considering the relentless Republican obstruction of virtually everything that Obama sought to do. Obama had a clear-eyed understanding of what he wanted to achieve, not just because he had campaign promises to keep, but because he was trying to establish policies that would lift up the entire country for the benefit of all its citizens.

Trump, on the other hand, has surrounded himself mainly with right-wing ideologues who are often blatantly incompetent to manage a complex government while dishonestly stealing from the government, and thus from the people. They don’t understand how the government works, and they don’t expect it to work. Their goal is to undermine it. Theirs is a victory of ignorance, assisted by a foreign power hostile to the interests of the United States. The Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Putin. Trump led his party there and it went along enthusiastically. Republicans in Congress and at his “rallies” cheer wildly for his sneering denunciation of American values.

Rhodes’ personal life was drastically affected by his tenure in the Obama White House, as you would expect. His memoir is worth reading for its insights into the person of President Obama and as an insider reveal of life in and around the White House during a tumultuous period in our history. We can only hope that Trump’s administration will somehow avoid any major crises during what I hope will be a one-term, or less, presidential term. We must hope for this because there is a serious question whether the leadership can manage a crisis with Donald Trump at the helm of the ship of state. According to many reports, Trump will clean house after the mid-term elections. If that happens, we will have yet another collection of inexperienced incompetents surrounding the president and another otherworldly leadership failure.

The President of the United States Lied … Again

President Donald J. Trump has distinguished himself in the pantheon of American presidents by his remorseless lying about dozens of important issues. His White House support team has become famous by asserting “alternative facts” and arguing that actual facts are irrelevant now – the only thing that matters is what you choose to believe. (The lies have been listed in a multitude of places so I won’t repeat all of them here.)

Thus, it comes as no particular surprise that a few days ago, Trump awoke early, thought about the fact, yes, the fact, that his administration is embroiled in a serious crisis related to lying and/or dissembling about the relationship between his election campaign and the Russian government. This is an existential crisis for the President because if the truth emerges that his campaign people, with his knowledge, worked with the Russian government to tilt the 2016 election his way, his status as President will be in the gravest jeopardy.

So, at 6:35 am on March 4, 2017, Trump tweeted that he “just found out” that “Obama had my “wires tapped” [Trump’s quotes], citing no evidence because, of course, there is none. If there were, Trump would have published it. Instead, he has demanded that Congress investigate what he already “found out.” Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to media calls for release of confirming evidence by saying the administration will have nothing further to say until Congress ferrets out the truth about the President’s allegations. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for him, but he has chosen the bed he lies in so, no, no sympathy. And the Republican-dominated committees with jurisdiction appear to be complying by adding this issue to the Trump-Russia connection that they are, with extreme reluctance already allegedly “investigating.” They resist calls for an independent counsel to conduct the investigation because, of course, they want to investigate themselves and, surprise, “we found no evidence….”

It is tempting to say, as I and many others have said before, that Trump’s claim is another unhinged example of his erratic behavior that makes him unfit to hold office. It is that certainly, but it is also the latest example of Trump’s deflection skills. He is treating the country like a school yard where he the biggest bully. Then, just as someone is about to stand up to him, he yells “look, there’s XX, he stole the money, get him!” And the kids all chase after XX. The bully laughs and counts out the money.

Consider this. Suppose Trump had not “found out” about the wiretap but instead “found out” once again that President Obama was born in Kenya to non-U.S. parents and thus arguably all his actions as President would be null and void. Would the Congress then add that issue to the Russia-Trump investigation? Maybe they would. They likely appreciate that their “hold” on the government turns on Trump not being held accountable for lying to the American people. So they continue to do his bidding.

But that doesn’t make the lies anything but lies. Trump’s strategy earned him the presidency so he likely will continue to play the lying hand until it fails to work. If you read his infatuants’ tweets (I beg you to not expose your mind to them), you can understand how difficult it will be to deal with a president for whom the truth is simply whatever he chooses to make up.

The question for the majority of Americans is: how long will this continue before they rise up against Trump’s official supporters in Congress? Continuous, unrelenting pressure through calls, letters, postcards, demands for answers at town halls for those legislators with the courage to face their constituents, marches, demonstrations, public humiliations are essential elements of the process of making these people uncomfortable with what the President, and they, are doing. Give money to ACLU, Planned Parenthood and every other organization that has shown it will stand up against the tyranny of the Trump administration. Attend the rallies and demonstrations whose numbers are increasing almost daily.

This national disgrace and nightmare will not end until the people make it end. Go to https://www.resistancecalendar.org/ where you will find the amazing array of actions being planned. Take action.

 

Trump Spits in Women’s Faces; Calls on Nation to … What?

I am not making this up. Tomorrow the Federal Register of the United States will publish a Presidential Proclamation declaring that January 20, 2017, the date of Trump’s inauguration, shall be a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion,” the stated purpose of which is to “strengthen our bonds to each other and to our country — and to renew the duties of Government to the people.” See http://bit.ly/2j6VtJC  See also http://wapo.st/2j7soOc The proclamation is quite precise as to the date and does not say that the date is to be so recognized in future years. It appears, therefore, to be solely about Trump’s inauguration, attempting to unify the concepts of his election/inauguration and patriotism. The cult of personality is now with us. Can loyalty oaths be far behind?

This action aligns with the signing of an Executive Order today that cuts off U.S. funding to international non-governmental organizations that perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other countries. The history is that this “Mexico City Policy” was announced by President Reagan in 1984, rescinded in 1993, restored in 2001, rescinded in 2009 and now, once again, is restored. Women of the World, Trump has heard your cry for control of your own bodies and responded with contemptuous spit.

The monumental Women’s March on January 21 had better be the kickoff of a unified national and even global movement to counteract what Trump has in store or the essential nature of the American experience will be lost. Mobilize now.

The Democratic Party needs to make a decision too. Is it going to try to outplay Trump at his own game, or accept his rejection of “politics as usual” and take the game to him. The Party must get organized, develop an action strategy and communicate it through the massive networks developed by the Obama and Clinton organizations. Trump is going to pick everyone apart if they continue to try to placate him with “we want to work with you.” He has made it clear there is only one basis on which he will work with anyone and that is on terms he sets. The Party must decide where its soul is and act accordingly or abandon the pretense that it represents the liberal/progressive cohort in our politics.

As for the media, you have clearly been warned. It’s déjà vu all over again. Richard Nixon has risen and is embodied in Donald Trump. You must stop depending on the White House to feed you what they want you to get.  Stop giving air time to people like Kellyanne Conway just because they work for Trump. And please, please get rid of the Trump shills on the “panels of experts” that discuss everything Trump says and does. Go back to being news organizations. Trump is not entertaining.

Americans should not have to reply on the satire of Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show to point out the hypocrisy and absurdity of this administration and Congress. Take risks. Grab hold of stories and don’t give up. Where are the tax returns? What is he hiding? Call out the lies, every one of them. That alone will give you plenty to report on.

A Wall of Willful Ignorance: Suggested Reading for President-Elect Trump

Because of its familiarity and ease of access, I am using Wikipedia to introduce this piece; it also covers the salient aspects:

“The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource through their collective action.”

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Among many other earthly assets, the air and water, critical to advanced life on earth, are “commons” and are subject to the problem of the tragedy of the commons. I don’t know whether Donald Trump and his “infatuants” (forgive me) dispute the established scientific fact that the earth is warmer than at any time in human history, and well beyond, but I do know that they dispute that human activity contributes materially to the climate-change problem. This despite the overwhelming worldwide scientific consensus that human activity has fundamentally altered the environment and made the Earth threateningly warmer.

How can one deal with this when there is such strong dispute? I suggest that Mr. Trump should undertake a risk analysis. He should be familiar with this, since every real estate investment he has made must have involved such an analysis at some point. It’s pretty straightforward. Evaluate the risk against the consequences – weigh the costs, but more than just out-of-pocket costs, of ignoring the scientific consensus versus the risk and consequences of accepting, and acting upon, the scientific consensus.

If we ignore climate change and are wrong, it likely is the end of life as we know it and perhaps the end of all life other than some subterranean worm-like life forms. If, however we assume that scientists are right, we have chance to save our ecosystem by changing how we do business and how we live. This course of action will create many new, but different, jobs than in past. If this turns out to have been unnecessary, we are no worse off and likely are better off as beneficiaries of cleaner air and water, among other things.

On the other hand, the price of being wrong on this issue is simply too high to continue insisting that it is a “hoax” and that addressing it will be bad for the economy. Not addressing it could be (almost certainly will be) catastrophically bad for the economy and everything else. Risk analysis argues strongly for urgent changes in the way humans operate.

It was revealed during the campaigns that President-Elect Trump is not an avid reader. Indeed, he indicated he really didn’t care to read much at all. He boasted that he was very smart and got his information elsewhere, apparently through the Internet. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which is that it deprives him of information and modes of thinking about complex issues that have been studied by others, often for many years and often submitted to critical review by accomplished people in the fields of study. Without the benefit of readily available expertise and the propensity to rely on the views of inner-circle ideologues, the President threatens to become an unguided missile able to deliver mega-tonnage blows to the prevailing order that has existed for years and decades, or in the case of the environment, for centuries.

Even a brief look back at the effects of the Industrial Revolution would teach a reasonably coherent mind that uncontrolled industry is harmful to the environment, often in ways that take decades or longer to correct after remedial measures are begun. We likely do not have that luxury anymore because of the global impact of human activity.

Trump is the elected President of the United States. To steal a phrase from an old Willie Nelson song, there’s nothing we can do about it now. All of our lives are, in a very real sense, in his hands. I therefore propose to him, and such of his advisors who may be open to other points of view, a short list of books and articles that will educate him and his staff on a few topics of transcendent importance to the country and the world, starting with the environment.

I urge readers of this blog to send me your own examples. I will endeavor to incorporate them into a single message to the new keepers of the White House. I don’t know how to do that just yet because a wall of willful ignorance is harder to scale than the concrete border wall that the President-Elect claimed to be one of his top priorities. Beyond the “wall,” however, are a wide-ranging set of objectives that pose an existential threat to our environment and to the survival of many threatened species of animals and other life forms. The ultimate effects of losing these parts of the food chain are unknown and, therefore, killing off the threatened species may have effects that cannot be reversed and that could threaten our very existence.

I refer you here to a story by Julie Pace of Associated Press, published in http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/oil-billionaire-considered-lead-energy-department/:

“The Trump to-do list targets recent Obama administration efforts to reduce air and water pollution that have been opposed by Republicans and industries that profit from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, including the “waters of the United States” rule and ozone regulations.

Trump calls climate change a “hoax” perpetrated by China and others and has said he will rescind the Clean Power Plan — the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s strategy to fight climate change.

A coalition of conservative states has challenged the Clean Power Plan and also has challenged an EPA rule that expanded the definition of waters protected under the Clean Water Act to smaller non-navigable waters and seasonal tributaries.

The Obama administration says the rule would safeguard drinking water for 117 million people, but Republicans and some Democrats representing rural areas say the regulations are costly, confusing and amount to a government power grab. Federal courts have put the rules on hold as judges review lawsuits.

On his campaign website, Trump called for rescinding “all job-destroying Obama executive actions” and has vowed to unleash an American energy revolution, allowing unfettered production of oil, coal and natural gas. He would sharply increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands and open up offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and other areas where it is blocked……

In addition to repealing the power plant rules, the transition document also says Trump’s energy team is considering modifications to Obama’s ozone rule, which is meant to reduce smog.

Also on the chopping block are Obama administration regulations intended to limit harmful emissions and chemical-laden waste water from hydraulic fracturing operations at oil and gas wells.”

Since the survival of the planet is of the highest importance, the first items on my list are two related books by the same author, addressing the threats to the biosphere:

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson, a National Book Award Finalist in 2014

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, 2016. Edward O. Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize twice.

Then: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2014, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.

Trump’s people should look at the recently published The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War, by Robert J. Gordon, a distinguished professor at Northwestern University. Gordon was included on the Bloomberg 2013 list of the most influential thinkers in America. The book is a data-rich tracing of the forces that shaped America’s economic growth from the end of the Civil War until now and beyond. Just the first 200 pages will make clear the catastrophic consequences of allowing free market forces to rule unchecked over the production and distribution of food and medicine. Before Trump puts in place a hiring freeze on government workers and the Republican Congress slashes agency budgets, someone had better give some deep thought to the impact on the health of the American people.

Moving on to labor and jobs, it is not clear that Trump or his senior advisors are aware how labor unions emerged as a force in America, and how corporate America reacted to workers’ efforts to get protection for themselves and their children from abusive working conditions. Nor do they seem to be aware that trying to restore dirty energy (mainly coal) to its former place of prominence flies in the face of irreversible global forces of technological change that have been at work since before the Great Depression. It is an illusion that the American economy can be massively stimulated by restoring the old ways of doing work. Those who believed Trump’s promises made to Rust Belt workers and voted Trump into leadership of the Free World are going to be massively disappointed.

There are two books I am referencing. One is From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend from 2001. The back cover sums it up: “… the historic efforts of working people to win the rights we take for granted today: basic health and safety standards in the workplace, fair on-the-job treatment for men and women, the minimum wage, and even the weekend itself.” Yes, even the weekend itself. These features of modern life were once not provided to most working people.

The other work that would provide an even broader education is Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, David M. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning history published in 1999. The first few chapters may pique the interest of Trump’s advisors who are not mentally blocked to new information that powerfully shows how and why our society and government are structured as they are. Anyone who believes the country’s problems are new products of the Democratic presidency of the past eight years and can be solved by simply unleashing the “free market” are in for a rude awakening.

If they don’t wake up soon, everyone will suffer the most frightful consequences. Completely free markets ignore the Tragedy of the Commons and will create a problem that mankind will not likely be able to resolve by letting businessmen do what they like. And when rising seas encroach on coastal cities, increasingly severe winter storms crush entire states and unprecedented heat waves leave people gasping for relief, the people who only act when there is a profit to be made will be too little too late and too irrelevant.

 

 

 

We Will Not See Their Like Again

A phrase borrowed from Shakespeare is appropriate as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama move toward their last day in the White House and prepare, somehow, to turn the presidency over to Donald Trump. Based on interviews they have given, this must be a bittersweet moment for the Obamas, a mixture of sadness and relief. I have worked in high pressure situations many times in my professional life but never did I have the fate of the nation and even the world potentially turning on decisions I made. No decisions I made came remotely close to directly affecting millions of people. I don’t believe that any of us can imagine the stress on the person who holds the highest political office in the land. The Obamas were fortunate to have the humanist strength and character of the Bidens at their side but at the end of the day it was Barack Obama who made the hard calls and had to live with their consequences. Was he perfect, making all good decisions? No. But no president in history, no matter how venerated today, would have laid claim to such perfection.

I will not recount here the accomplishments or the failures of the Obama administration. Others are doing that. I will simply note that few if any occupants of the White House have lived there with the grace, compassion, energy, breadth of vision, commitment to people of all stripes, humor and drive that the Obamas have shown. They will be missed, oh, will they be missed.

Not by everyone, of course. There are the Republicans who, upon Obama’s election in 2008, made clear their principal, if not only, goal was to prevent him from having a second term. To fulfill that un-American objective, they obstructed almost everything of consequence that the President tried to achieve. They failed to deny him e-election, but were not deterred. The obstruction continued throughout his second term.

There also were the racists for whom Obama’s election and re–election were an abomination. The very idea that an intelligent, educated and accomplished Black man could be President of the United States was almost more than they could bear. Now that the Obamas are leaving, the racists are in full flower again, encouraged and enabled by the rhetoric of the incoming president. We who thought racism was on the way out in America were just dreamers. The exposure of police killings of unarmed Black men and the vicious disgusting racist statements made by members of the anti-Obama crowd, including people closely aligned with and serving as advisors to President-Elect Trump, have shocked all people of good will, including many who disapproved of Obama’s politics but who recognized him as the good man that he is.

While we always like to think that each person is evaluated on his own merits, the reality is that we also judge people based on the groups they choose to belong to. If you choose to hang out with a gang, you will be seen as the gang is seen, whether or not you actually behave the way they do. If your friends and associates are criminals, you likely will be suspect as well.

So it is that Mr. Trump has chosen to align himself with people who are openly racist. A prime case in point is the following undisputed statements by Carl Paladino, former Republican nominee for governor of New York and advisor to Mr. Trump [Caution: this is really offensive]:

“Artvoice: What would you most like to happen in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

Artvoice: What would you most like to see go in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

[Source: Washington Post at http://wapo.st/2ixpP8p]

Mr. Paladino denies that these and other similar messages he has sent are racist. He claims they are just political discourse and stands by them. See CBS News Report at http://cbsn.ws/2i8ihda. Judge this for yourself.

Despite all of that and more, President Obama has continued to conduct himself as a President should, with calm resolve and thoughtful actions. He has not responded in kind to Trump’s provocations. He and the First Lady have stated repeatedly that they will do everything they can to responsibly assist Trump’s transition even as Trump actively works to undermine the President’s authority by, among other things, interfering (unsuccessfully) in a United Nations vote related to Israel and by proposing to resume the nuclear arms race with Russia, all the while sucking up to Vladimir Putin for being such a “strong leader.”

Whatever one may think of President Obama’s politics, and I have some serious criticisms of my own, I do not believe it can be disputed that he and the First Lady are a model for the way a President and First Lady should conduct themselves. Based on Mr. Trump’s campaign style, which he has carried over into the transition period and thus is likely a forerunner of his style in the White House, we are about to witness a complete reversal in the tenor as well as content of the conduct of our national affairs. The Constitution itself is in jeopardy in the hands of an angry autocrat.

I do not intend by this to denigrate the point of view, or the people who subscribe to it, of responsible conservatives, of which there are many, who have legitimate arguments that should be considered in evaluating public policy. But what I cannot endorse are those conservatives who saw Trump clearly for what he was during the campaigns, but who now have knuckled under and sought to be employed by him.

If you believe in the efficacy of prayer, now would be a good time for it. But, I suggest, with respect to those in prayer, that we need a better plan than praying for good outcomes.  We need a leader to step forward now to establish himself/herself as the leader of the loyal opposition on a national scale — someone to lead the resistance, lead the effort to restore Democratic control of the Congress, and ultimately to occupy the White House if it is still standing in 2020. Meanwhile, we should all be grateful, as I am, for the often monumental and always difficult work, with grace and compassion, that the Obama and Biden families have given to our country.

One President at a Time

I recall that some years ago, during the Bush-to-Obama transition period, then President-Elect Obama was asked a question about some foreign policy issue that had emerged and responded with, as I recall it, “In this country we have one president at a time.” Thus, he declined the invitation to step publicly on the out-going-but-still-in-charge, administration of President Bush.

Contrast that with the conduct of President-Elect Trump and his crowd of Know Nothings. The issue du jour is the question whether the Russians, perhaps at the personal direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered with the presidential election through electronic hacking. Having expressly urged the Russians to do this during the campaign, Trump is hard-pressed to stand up to the Russians now. But there is another option. He could remain silent. He could defer, for now, to the sitting president of the country by keeping his mouth shut in public about this question that goes to the heart of the nation’s ability to conduct its democratic politics.

Instead, Trump suggests, via Twitter, that the Obama White House was fine with the Russian hacking as long as it thought Clinton would win the election. Then he has his attack dog, Kelly Ann Conway, publicly question the loyalty and integrity of the sitting president in this oh-so-classless statement: “If you want to shut this down and you actually love the country enough to have the peaceful transition in our great democracy between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, there are a couple people in pretty prominent positions — one is named Obama, one is named Hillary Clinton, since his people are trying to fight over her election still, they could shut this down.” In other words, Conway is, in essence, communicating that “we won the election and we don’t care what evidence exists of foreign interference; you, Mr. President, are so disloyal to the country that you put political gain ahead of the national interest in a smooth transition, the only thing that matters right now.” If there is any lack of love for country here, that stone must lay at Trump’s own feet for placing the interests of Vladimir Putin and his anti-democratic politics ahead of the interests of the United States.

Trump’s willful ignorance of foreign affairs is so profound that he may not even realize how damaging this type of public conflict can be. It gives aid and comfort to our enemies by dramatizing in public the conflicts within our own government. If he read a few books and actually tried to learn something before shooting off his mouth, it would do the country a great service.

The hallmarks of autocracy are showing in much of what Trump has said and done since the election. He has personally attacked American corporations and personally attacked individuals who voiced disagreement with his policies.  His transition team has demanded the names of government employees involved in climate change research (later retracted in the face of public outrage), and launched broad-based and factually-deficient attacks on the U.S. intelligence community (in the face of FBI concurrence in the CIA’s analysis of the Russian cyber-attacks) and made clear that anyone who opposes him risks being publicly excoriated by the President himself. This is one of the principal techniques that autocrats use to silence criticism and dissent, the hallmarks of free speech and the means by which a democracy tests and improves its ideas.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Secretary Clinton’s supporters were told “it’s time to suck it up, accept the outcome and get behind the new administration. Support the success of the new leader, for the benefit of the country, they were told. Every day, and every new revelation, makes it that much harder to follow that advice. The Republican politicians who eviscerated Trump during the Republican primaries and the general election have largely lined up at Trump Tower to seek forgiveness, redemption and of course, jobs in the administration. Their dissent has been interesting to watch but so short-lived as to lack any moral foundation.

The evidence is mounting that Mr. Trump only understands how to run a company where he is the sole owner and the only voice that matters. The United States government is so much more complex, so vast in reach and faces such different and more difficult challenges that his experience as the “boss” on reality TV (whatever that is) and building a real estate empire is utterly and completely irrelevant. He has said he is too smart to need regular briefings from our intelligence experts, that he pretty much knows what he needs to know, getting most of his information from postings on the Internet. He had denied the legitimacy of the scientific consensus on climate change, endorsed the possibility of using torture and taken other positions in overt conflict with American values. He has reportedly “walked back” some of those positions since the election, but why should we believe anything a remorseless liar says? Apparently, Trump’s mother did not teach him the lesson of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The Rust Belt voters who turned to Trump after hearing his rhetoric about returning old-style jobs to the area are going to be bitterly disappointed when they discover the harsh truth that such jobs are not competitive and simply cannot be restored to their central place in our manufacturing plants of yesteryear. A thoughtful piece in the Washington Post just today explains that there are many more jobs available in the Midwest than there are qualified people to fill them:

“Although some companies and state programs will cover tuition bills, some workers, particularly those who have held the same job for decades, are hesitant to take them up on the offer, even if unemployment is imminent and the wages are competitive.”

As manufacturing evolves, skilled labor hard to find,” Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2016, at A14.

The problem of dis-employment due to technological advances that produce more with less human input is a major economic challenge for all advanced countries. The solution, like the solution to climate change, will not be found through promises of a return to the “old ways.” That is the stuff of fantasy, a cruel one at that, because it plays on the deepest anxieties of a lot of good people caught up in forces of change they don’t, and in many cases simply don’t want to, understand. Living a lie does not make it any truer.

Obama, with generosity of which he alone among political leaders seem still capable, continues to say that Trump and his “team” are still largely in campaign mode and have not yet come to grips with the realities of governance. That is how he appears to explain Ms. Conway’s remarks. He appears to believe genuinely that these assurances will indeed have a calming influence. We are a little over a month away from the inauguration when all the powerful instruments of government will be at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief.

Those who still believe in democracy, who still believe that policy should be driven by facts rather than whatever people prefer to believe, who believe in science, who believe that a cornerstone of our freedom is the freedom to speak, write and perform without fear of chastisement, or worse, by the government … they must never yield in their active opposition to the degradation of American values. They must speak out and act up, remembering that the whole world is watching.