A New Way to Look At The Trump Problem?

Everyone owes it to themselves – if they value being wise – to question whether a strongly held view on a particular subject might just be wrong.

Not surprisingly, quite a number of commentators are doing that in the wake of the calamitous Helsinki summit.

While those commentators generally continue to deplore Trump, they are wondering if he may have simplistically, honestly and even naively been trying to improve US-Russian relationship, despite bumbling into what looks now to be improper collusion. This “incompetence” argument isn’t limited to Helsinki, though; instead, it’s being applied more broadly to the whole “Russia thing.”

That reading also helps to explain why Trump seemingly believes he never did anything wrong, and is incapable of grasping how he makes mistakes in going about his political life and what the repercussions of those errors might bring.  Probably by his lights, this thinking goes, Trump thought he had a legitimate idea of how to improve the world.

The core problem with that explanation is that it flies in the face of abundant and growing evidence of both the connections between Trump World and Russia, and Trump’s own, specific behavior during and since his campaign.

If those contacts were as completely innocent as Trump insists, and if he had explained them in the terms he’s now trying to apply retroactively (and often in direct contradiction to his own previous statements), he might have avoided a lot of headaches for everyone—particularly himself.

Accordingly, what we are now watching play out may be less evil than many of us have thought, but instead it provides serious evidence of stupidity, gross incompetence and lack of knowledge and experience.

The Constitution says “High Crimes and misdemeanors.” It does NOT say “consciously and deliberately.”  The consequences of naïve, and even unintended, treason can be just as bad for the country as treason conducted deliberately and consciously. In all events, either form of treason is much more a political issue than legal.

A valid and sound judgment today about Trump is that the best possible explanation he can offer is that he is guilty of gross incompetence and negligence in his narcissistic quest for grandeur and fame.

It didn’t have to be this way. If Trump had read more (he prefers pictures and charts, we’re told), listened to genuine experts more (“I know more than the generals”) and thought it through carefully (instead of relying exclusively on his “feel”), he might just have pulled off something worthwhile.

Instead we have been witness to a witless man trying again to be a great TV star cast in the role of a President turning the world on its head hoping to make that reeling, anxious and weary world recognize him as a GREAT President!

In the process he may have actually turned the whole world upside down – by starting trade wars with friend and foe alike, undermining NATO, accepting empty promises to “solve” the North Korea nuclear threat, insulting our closest allies and their leaders and now seeking to embrace Putin and Russia. If we’re lucky, all of that will cost many American jobs and jeopardize our national prosperity. If we’re not lucky, the consequences could be far worse.

This all adds up to clear and convincing evidence that Trump turns out to be even more incompetent than his strongest detractors and many supporters ever might have believed. But sadly, all that still may not be an impeachable offense, politically, even if were treasonous practically or legally.

The so-far insurmountable challenge is to convince the Republican leadership of this perspective (which news reports increasingly say many of them share privately), and hope that they will help to ‘contain’ Trump  enough to prevent disaster so that we can all safely live through 2020. The recent Senate resolutions in support of NATO (97-2) and killing Trump’s “fantastic idea” of letting Russian agents question former U.S. diplomats (98-0) suggest that the Senate might, at last, be willing to establish limits to its public tolerance of Trump’s self-aggrandizing antics.

A dismal Republican showing in this November’s election hopefully will probably be enough to send Republicans scrambling in the opposite direction from Trump, and compel them to exercise the tough oversight and restraining powers afforded Congress.  It will also raise red flags about 2020, when more Senate Republicans will be up for election and vulnerable than they are this year.

In 2020, both Parties should have a clean new chance to put forward sane, experienced and competent people with clear and convincing records, able to be a President who will truly be able to reclaim America’s greatness and leadership in the world.

It is getting late but it can never be too late!

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Pin Drop

Once upon a time when our politicians did not tend to apologize for our country’s prior actions, here’s a refresher on how some of our former patriots handled negative comments about our great country

These are good…

 

Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60’s when De Gaulle decided to pull out of NATO.

De Gaulle said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded, “Does that include those who are buried here?”

De Gaulle did not respond.

You could have heard a pin drop.

*************************************

When in England, at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of ’empire building’ by George Bush.

He answered by saying, “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

*************************************

There was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American.

During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, “Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intend to do, bomb them?”

A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly:

“Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships; how many does France have?”

You could have heard a pin drop.

*************************************

A U.S. Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Admirals from the U.S., English, Canadian, Australian and French Navies.

At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries.

Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks, but a French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, “Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?”

Without hesitating the American Admiral replied, “Maybe it’s because the Brit’s, Canadians, Aussie’s and Americans arranged it so you wouldn’t have to speak German.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

*************************************

AND THIS STORY FITS RIGHT IN WITH THE ABOVE.

Robert Whiting, an elderly gentleman of 83, arrived in Paris by plane.

At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on.

“You have been to France before, monsieur?” the customs officer asked sarcastically.

Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously.

“Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.”

The American said, “The last time I was here, I didn’t have to show it.”

“Impossible. Americans always have to show their passports on arrival in France!”

The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look.

Then, he quietly explained, ”Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on, D-Day in 1944 to help liberate this country, I couldn’t find a single Frenchman to show a passport to.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

*************************************

What Next?

While we are amidst the sturm and drang of perhaps the most unusual and difficult Presidency in our history, most of us are more focused on trying to understand what is going on and ways to end it than on what to do AFTER it ends.

It may surprise some of you to know that in 1942, right as Eisenhower was securing his landing in France, Franklin Roosevelt was beginning to spend real time and attention on what to do AFTER the war ended. This occurred, it should be noted, when Allied victory was still not a sure thing.

If the leaders of the ‘free’ world had waited until after the war, they would have been ill prepared to deal with a suddenly and vastly different world. So they assembled a very smart, experienced group of people to start to think about what to do with and about that post-war world.

Out of that came the United Nations, the structure of Europe and NATO and the US involvement and relationship to all of that including Japan as a major ally. And, even with plenty of time and forethought, now with the aid of hindsight, they made plenty of mistakes. But, without planning ahead it is highly likely there would have been more and worse mistakes.

Ok. What does WWII have to do with today?

Today’s ‘war’ will definitely end someday, somehow and if we are totally unprepared, the consequences will be inevitably ad hoc with simply a wish to get back to “normal”.

But normal is what got us into today’s mess and we owe it to all our people to do a lot better than that!

Starting NOW.

Ok. What do we do next?

We start by collecting a group of elders from all parts of the country – lawyers, doctors, academics, politicians, housewives and educated working people – a good test of success will be diversity, judgment, established wisdom and respect for others’ views. The collection of people in Philadelphia in the 1790s that brought us the present Constitution is a useful yardstick.

We gather those folks together and ask them several questions:

–How did we get where we are today?

–If we had seen this coming, could we have better prepared to deal with it?

–Knowing what we see and know now, are there things in our constitutional system we might need to change to be able to avoid the effects of a minority of the population holding sway over a clear majority?

–If we do need some other constitutional changes now, what else should we be thinking about while we are at it?

–Lastly, perhaps, we should explicitly ask them what they think of the Electoral College system and the allocation of state populations into fair and proportionate districts.

Note – we have not explicitly asked any political, geographical, economic and social questions as that likely could steer them right into the middle of today’s mess.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained?

Beyond Crazy And Stupid

At the outset of the Trump/Putin press conference it occurred to me that Trump might be trying to do something clever – like Jiu Jitsu – with Putin to embrace him in such a way as to co-opt his stopping election interference.

But the deeper Trump got into the maneuver, it quickly became clear that, whatever his initial goal, he was either in way over his head or Putin already had his head in a deadly vice of fear.

Putin dodged a simple yes or no answer to the question ‘Do you have incriminating information on Trump?’ by saying that he did not even know Trump was in town, as he was only one of an anonymous 500 rich businessmen who were of no interest to Russia. Even Hilary said “Now we know!”

So what was going on?

No one — simple minded or a genius — would dispute that the USA and the world would be better off if the US and Russia could be on better terms, all other things aside. If that had been in fact Trump’s sole strategic goal for the meeting, perhaps he might have gotten away with it.

But it became crystal clear that Trump was aiming at something more. He was trying to sweep everything else with Russia—Syria, Iran, North Korea, etc.—into the calculus to bury ‘the witch hunt’ of Russian collusion in such a way that his personal exposure to the Mueller investigation might be ended and go away and leave him free of doubts of the legitimacy of his election, with which he still seems obsessed.

So what are we left with?

We are left with a President metaphorically having hung himself, but, typically for him, he failed to tie all the right knots in the right way to make it a swift and painless death when the trap door opened. Now he is still breathing and we all are twisting with him in a breeze of uncertainty, surrounding his treasonous action of blaming our intelligence community, and the USA at large, for the Russian interference in our 2016 Presidential elections.

In a perfect world we ought to be able to hold a new Presidential election.

Our only practical options today are to go forward with our limited Constitutional process and elections.

If Trump were not crazy, he might be shrewd enough to negotiate a clean future and resign.

Perhaps the Nixon model of the Republican leadership telling him ‘it’s our way, or you are on the highway naked and alone’ should work. It ought to be the most promising approach, except for McConnell’s “party before country” stubbornness.

Meanwhile, all important long-term matters including Supreme Court appointments should be suspended until after this year’s and the 2020 election?

Yes, it is a bloody mess with Trump’s blood splashing on us all.

The time has come to minimize long term damage, and hopefully learn from our mistakes.

I will be more than pleased to hear your thoughts and compile them – without any attribution – in a future blog?

Whoa There!

The Republicans led by Mitch McConnell in 2016 blatantly flaunted the clear and undebatable Constitutional requirement that the Senate must vote, in a timely way, up or down, on a proper Presidential nomination for a Supreme Court (and, for that matter, any Federal Court) appointment.

Using a simple delay tactic dubiously based on the election calendar and a rule about ending judicial filibusters (though not yet for Supreme Court seats), he denied Obama’s nomination of outstanding Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland when the Democrats in the Senate still had a majority to confirm.

If it were not for the extreme and long term significance of that appointment at that time, one — no matter his/her political views — could almost be breathtakingly admiring of McConnell’s chutzpah and gall in attempting and pulling off his astounding stunt.

But, ‘what goes around-comes around’ and here we are two years later with a very similar situation in reverse.

We are a nation committed to the rule of law, to our veritable Constitution AND to precedents that arise along the paths of politics and justice.

Even some hard-right Trump supporters will privately say the Senate process of 2016 was wrong and to be fair this year a confirmation vote should not be held until after this fall’s election to give the voters a real voice in the vitally important Supreme Court seat. To do otherwise would surely taint the prestige and authority of the Court down the road. As polls have repeatedly shown, the Supreme Court holds a special place of respect among our institutions, on both the left and the right, as an unbiased arbiter of justice. Democrats didn’t abandon that view even in the wake of Bush v. Gore.

That in turn could lead to all kinds of ways to change the composition of the Court. Remember, for example, FDR’s effort to expand the size of the Court, which was only avoided when FDR backed away after a timely Court retirement. It was said at the time that ‘a stitch in time saved nine’.

Accordingly, what is really at stake today is not just a few important precedents, but the forever forward precious standing of the Court in our constitutional system. Roosevelt perhaps mistakenly would have robbed the court of its independence virtues but it saved the day by its timely compliance—as a virtuous lady might have under comparable circumstances.

Republican and Democratic Senators should stop and pause to consider these thoughts. Despite all indications that Republicans will still hold the Senate this November, there is a good case to be made that riling up Democratic voters even further by pushing the nomination through might be in the longer run a greater threat to the Republican majority than delaying further gratification to that base for a few months. But that does not protect the Supreme Court’s reputation.

Regardless of any political implications, it is hard to believe that any single Senator –R or D–could put his or her personal tenure ahead of the country’s and the Court’s vital interests when compared to the colossal damage that is about to happen to our most revered institution—up to now—the Supreme Court.

Have A Heart

We take a lot of things for granted in our lives.

Perhaps the most taken for granted and least well understood things among most of us are integral parts of our bodies like our innards – liver, kidneys and even our faithful pump – the heart.

They are taken for granted because, for most of us, they simply do their day and night jobs without much fuss or notice. If we were transparent (ugh), there is little doubt in my mind most of us would be more interested and knowledgeable about our inner workings. But we are, in fact, opaque; therefore we go along blithely until some chain jerks us into reality.

Which is what recently prompted me to quickly learn a lot more about my pump than I had planned or anticipated.

My doc is a leading NY cardiologist who has been tracking my heart for more than 30 years and noting that I have had a constant murmur of arrhythmia but otherwise it has been doing its job nicely. He has been treating my cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood thinners and saying we will keep an eye on developments.

Recently I called his attention to some new shortness of breath and sleepy fatigue – completely different from my normal excess of energy and curiosity.

After a few new tests that showed my heart beat more slowly than usual and blood pressure drooping, he said the time had come to get a pacemaker.

I have, of course, heard of pacemakers, but knew next to nothing about them.

Not surprisingly, not all pacemakers are created equal—as to size, function and purpose.

Mine is installed next to my left shoulder and has ‘wires’ that are cleverly installed in the left and right, lower ventricles and I am told should keep my heart pumping nicely in rhythm for a very long time. At least, all other things equal, long enough to need a battery replacement in about six years.

At 87 today, that is great news!

Why am I telling you all this gruesome detail, you are no doubt asking yourself.

The answer is that about half of all the people I have spoken to since have chastised me for not asking for their advice because they have had a pacemaker, or 2 or 3, for 25 years. Shame on them, and me, for being so private that I stayed so ignorant for so long.

And, I thought perhaps the time has come to share this useful information for everyone’s long term benefit.

Indeed modern medicine is truly amazing.

And, now another doc has suggested that I amend my living will to add a clause reading, “When my brain dies be sure to turn off the f#&%ing pump, or I might linger forever!”

And nobody would want that!

The Vital Need For Different Views

Every now and again we make mistakes that could have been avoided had we gotten input from a more diverse group of people.

A group of Proctor and Gamble white shoe junior executives in Cincinnati regularly shared a commuting car with a Jewish lawyer who was their neighbor and friend. One morning, the P&G gang was excited about a new shampoo product they were about to announce. Seeing that they were particularly excited about the name, the lawyer pushed his friends to reveal it. After swearing their friend to secrecy, the executives told him they would be calling it “Dreck” after one of its active ingredients. The lawyer was struck dumb.

“Are you guys crazy?”

The executives didn’t understand why the lawyer was getting so worked up until he explained that ‘dreck’ is a Yiddish word that basically translates to “shit.”

According to the story, that is how Breck shampoo got its name.

Of course, the story is apocryphal—Breck shampoo was named after its creator and had nothing to do with P&G which has very few Jewish employees —but it is told and retold because it contains a deep truth: a diverse group can catch a potentially very embarrassing problem faster and better than a homogeneous one.

This is why vetting must be done by multiple people. Candidates should rarely be hired or appointed by executive fiat. When that happens, the result is often a disaster.

For example, ask rear admiral Ronny Jackson who was, until recently, the president’s physician, a role to which he was appointed by Barack Obama and in which the most attention he had previously drawn centered on his bizarrely hyperbolic statements about the health of the current Patient in Chief. But when Trump attempted to elevate him to the head of the VA without a proper vetting process, Jackson went down in scandal.

Trump looks—once again—like he has no idea how to run a competent organization, and Jackson received what may be a career-ending black eye. Maybe Jackson should have known better than to accept the nomination given his past, but he also probably should have known better than to loosely distribute opioids and drink while on official White House business.

Trump is used to the world of private business, and an idiosyncratic portion of it, at that. Perhaps he should have sought the advice from someone from the public sphere before attempting to install Jackson at the VA.

Like any sector of society, this White House needs to enable better cross-pollination between business, government, and non-profit types. While he does little to aid his own cause, the President is also paying dearly for the inexperience of White House and senior executive branch staff. There is a White House fellowship program that brings private sector stars into the White House for several months; making better use of it could help an administration that stumbles over its own feet all too frequently, and could be a model for similar exchanges in Cabinet agencies. Even (especially?) Congress and business and not for profits could benefit from perspectives and insights gleaned elsewhere.

While it is impossible to prevent every mistake, we owe it to ourselves, and everyone we have contact with, to try harder by elevating a diversity of viewpoints!