Archive for January 2017


January 29, 2017

Unknown.pngIn her September 23 piece in The Atlantic recounting her interview with then Candidate Trump, Selena Zito came up with the best two-liner of the year: “When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” She actually presented him with the idea during her interview, and he thought it was “Interesting.”

How interesting? Wasn’t it soon after that that he really started stepping up his criticism of the press? Maybe Zito’s comment was just reinforcement of what was already bugging the soon to be presumptive nominee, but maybe that comment really iced it for him. What could infuriate a narcissist more than not being taken seriously? And how much worse, for it to be by the noisy press. I’ll bet he thought, “I’m going to get those bastards.” And he’s proven to be pretty good at it.

Yesterday, Brooks and Shields on NPR were discussing two possible explanations for the President’s behavior during his first week in office. Essentially: 1. He’s calculating and Orwellian (did you see how popular 1984 has again become?) or 2. He’s a 5 year old who needs to do this to feed his ego. (For the record, I was twice as charitable calling him a 10 year old.) David Brooks (staunch Reagan republican, mind you) thinks he’s a 5 year old. Take me seriously or I am going to hit you, Press!

Now that we are all taking him seriously (like a heart attack), my theory is that the string of executive orders this week were his attempt to be taken literally too. Give the President credit, he has not forgotten his campaign promises. This was a week of: See, I was serious and literal. I’m going to build a wall, I’m going to keep Muslims out, I’m going to end Choice, etc.

So here’s what’s interesting. If Selena Zito was right with the second part of her pithy quote, are those serious-but-not-literal supporters having second thoughts after the literal first week of the new presidency? Were some of these voters thinking?: “I think we should tighten up the borders a little, but of course we won’t build a wall, that would be ridiculous. And of course we won’t ban Muslims, that would be un-American.” And now…holy moly!

And, more interesting, how about the Republican Congressional Leadership? Were some of them only comfortable getting in line with Trump Republicanism because of the false comfort of assuming he was not being literal? Any second thoughts? Yes, the Republicans own the Congress, but the big question is does the President own the Republicans? More to the point, does he own all the Republicans. It only takes three in the Senate to break ranks on an issue and the vote flips the other way. Literally. Seriously!


Is the Foreign Payments Lawsuit Spurious?

January 24, 2017

I’m not thinking the lawsuit filed Monday holds a lot of water. I’m neither a lawyer nor Unknown.jpegconstitutional scholar (and I’d love my attorney friends to weigh in with some case law) but I really don’t believe the framers intended the Constitution to ban routine business transactions.

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 reads, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

We’re clearly not talking about present, office or title, so the concern must be with an “Emolument.” I have to confess I missed that one in the SAT study guide. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.” I have a hard time seeing how a foreign government involved in a fair quid pro quo for a product or service from one of the Trump businesses would meet that definition. Is there really something wrong with our neighbors to the north putting up Justin Trudeau at the Trump Hotel in Vancouver? There are likely scenarios that would sound shadier, but in any case the claims seem too broad.

The suit was filed by smarter guys than I, including actual constitutional scholars and former White House ethicists (both Democrat and Republican). So where were they coming from? Well, there must be enough of a case that it will not be deemed frivolous. And, all are on the record as saying the the President has not gone far enough to separate himself from his businesses. So, they must calculate this will give them a bit of a stick to help whack him into taking steps towards a blind trust. Perhaps they are also thinking this might be a lever to force a peek at the secret tax returns.

If I works, then good. He does, IMO, remain tied far to close to The Trump Organization. And he should, like all other President’s, release those tax returns. The public does care, not just the press.

Barefoot Phil’s Political Rant

January 22, 2017

I don’t think the President is ill-intended, stupid, or evil. He sincerely believes that he can make America great. But, I am extremely skeptical, and his actions since the election have done nothing to bolster my hopes. In fact, his speech, his Day 1 executive order allowing 170121123548-women-earthcam-exlarge-169.jpgagencies to stonewall the ACA and yesterday’s ludicrous speech at the CIA have more or less torpedoed any hopes I have that he might, in some ways, do a good job.

I get the appeal, I really do. The political correctness pendulum has probably swung too far; a little plain talking can be refreshing. It would be fantastic if everyone could magically have terrific healthcare at affordable prices. I’d love to see the obliteration of ISIS, more jobs in America, sparkling new infrastructure, a better education system, an even more vibrant economy…a Big Rock Candy Mountain! That would be unbelievable! It is unbelievable. Literally.

It’s baffling that thoughtful people buy into this rhetoric. The only rational explanation is “You can’t take him literally.” He says, “We’re gonna build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it, folks” means we are going to tighten up on border security a bit. Maybe. And then there’s “He’s just saying what he has to get elected. After that he will become presidential.” Evidently not, unless we write off the weekend and he pulls a 180 on tomorrow, or sometime soon.

Come on, “folks,” he’s irrational. He’s out of touch with reality. He says X one day and not X the next and may end up back at X. And doesn’t even know he’s doing it. How can we expect the executive branch to move forward in any direction when the compass is constantly spinning? And, facts don’t matter; he makes shit up. All the time! It’s a deeply engrained habit, it’s reflexive. Who can trust him? Congress? Foreign powers? Us?

The scary thing is how effectively he has been able to marginalize the press whose job it is to call him out. The founding fathers understood the critical role of a free press in maintaining a free society. In essence, we depend on the press to fact check, to hold elected officials accountable for being truthful. When have we ever needed that more? And, yet, somehow, Trump’s relentless attacks press’ veracity and ethics seem to have raised more than a question mark in the collective mind of the people. An uninformed electorate allows corruption to grow unfettered.  Said Jefferson, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.” Chris Matthews went too far with the adjective “Hitleresque.” Trump is not Hitler. However, Hitler understood the power of controlling the message; witness the work of Goebels. Putin gets it too. Dictators and kleptocrats blindfold the public by neutering the press.

And he’s a prickly 10 year old bully. Now that he is in command of weapons far more dangerous that his Twitter account, is it really so far fetched that he might fire back more than a tweet at a foreign state that personally offends him? Do I really think he’s launch a nuclear F You? Probably not, but combine the revived isolationist, protectionist “America First” posture with his big-stick disposition and the types of calamity we all feared during the Cold War become more plausible.

Finally, the guy is over his head and seems to have no clue. A shrink might identify underlying insecurity as the root of his bravado, but the practical manifestation is that the hand at the helm disregarding (along with the facts) the educated inputs of the experienced professionals that surround him. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that The President is new to elected office. The political kid needs adult supervision.

Trump is not stupid and some of his instincts may be good, but if he can’t get out of the way of his ego, this country will be flying by the seat of his pants. In As You Like It, Shakespeare said, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”  And some call me a fool for running barefoot. Oy.