Trump on Jerusalem: He Got It Right!

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsNotwithstanding our considerable criticism of President Trump’s many and varied pronouncements, policies, tweets, and decrees, we think he got it right this time.

For seventy years the United Nations and the rest of the international community have considered Jerusalem (now, hold on to your hats) a corpus separatum (a separate body). With all due respect, we would suggest that this arcane and now meaningless designation, given the history of the region, has become an argumentum ad absurdum (when a belief leads to an obvious absurdity, then the belief is false).

Jerusalem is the seat of government of the State of Israel. That, by the way, is the only definition of a national capital. President Trump committed no calamity by stating the obvious. Jerusalem is where the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) is located, as is Israel’s Supreme Court, the offices of its Prime Ministers and Presidents.  It is Israel’s seat of government—its capital.  It is where dozens of other countries’ Presidents and Prime Ministers have come to address the Israeli people.  It is where Egyptian President Anwar Sadat went to propose peace and where dozens of other heads of state have come to address the Israeli people, including three Presidents of the United States, and the Presidents of Turkey, India, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Parliament, Canada, France, Poland, Kenya, Ukraine, Croatia, to name just some of the heads of state who have come to Jerusalem to address the Israeli government and the Jewish nation’s people.

Now, ironically, seventy years ago when the State of Israel was created by the United Nations, Israel accepted (somewhat reluctantly) the designation of Jerusalem as a so-called corpus separatum. The Arab States didn’t. The Arab states rejected everything the United Nations codified including the notion of Israel at all, or of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, or, for that matter, as an international city.

Instead, the entirety of Israel’s Arab neighbors went to war to destroy the new state and undo what the UN had promulgated. With that fateful decision by Israel’s Arab neighbors, all bets were off including Israel’s acceptance of her capital as a corpus separatum. But fate or, as some believe, divine providence, didn’t smile on the Arab world’s attempt to crush the infant State. Instead, the infant State prevailed and in the intervening years has developed into an incredibly strong, democratic, vibrant and stable nation.

It is worth remembering, however, that when the Arab league captured the old Jewish Quarter of the Old City during the fighting in 1947, they systematically destroyed and looted everything Jewish including fifty-eight synagogues. The Jordanian commander is quoted reporting, “For the first time in 1,000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews’ return here impossible.” The Hurva Synagogue, originally built in 1701 (about the time William Penn gave Pennsylvania its first constitution), was blown up by the Jordanian Arab Legion. During the years of Jordanian rule from 1947 until the six-day-war when Israel freed the old Jewish Quarter, a third of the Jewish Quarter’s buildings were demolished. All but one of the Jewish houses of worship in the Old City were destroyed. The synagogues were razed or pillaged and stripped. It is reported that their interiors were used as hen-houses or stables. So much for the corpus separatum.

We have read and listened to various correspondents and talking heads refer to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as another Trump blunder and as not being in America’s interest. Why is it not in America’s interest?  They say the decision will cause protests and bloodshed. Sadly, it already has. But it doesn’t take much at all to cause protest and bloodshed in this part of the world or wherever fanatics dwell. That is why, ten years ago, a benign cartoon in a Danish newspaper depicting the prophet Muhammad caused riots all over the world. More than 200 people died, and there were attacks on Danish and other European diplomatic missions. Churches and Christians were attacked, and a major international boycott was initiated. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the reaction to a newspaper’s cartoons as Denmark’s worst international relations incident since the Second World war.

We recognize that there are those public personalities and media representatives who will look at any pronouncement or decision made by President Trump as an opportunity to criticize him. That has become their mission. Lord knows we’ve done our share of criticizing. But those who are critical of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital because of the likelihood of protest and violence or the alienation of some, if not most, Arab nations would have used that concern to justify rejecting Israel’s statehood in the first place.

President Harry Truman made the decision to recognize Israel seventy years ago in the face of total opposition by his own Arabist state department.  George Marshall, our Secretary of State at the time, and one of the most revered Americans in the world was strongly opposed to Truman’s decision to recognize Israel at all. He felt we couldn’t antagonize 120 million Arabs over recognition of a tiny Jewish state in the former British Mandate, which was the successor to 400 hundred years of Ottoman rule. In fact, Secretary Marshall resigned over it. But President Truman was a far greater thinker than people gave him credit for at the time. He saw a bigger picture and had a greater sense of destiny.

Truman was correct then, and Trump is correct now.

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What A Week!

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe took a brief hiatus at Thanksgiving and a news explosion the size of the Lituya Bay Tsunami erupted while we were gone.

Where to begin?

The most important news would be the major tax legislation passed by both the House and the Senate, but the most scintillating would be Special Council Mueller’s dinging of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn for lying during an interview with the FBI.

Never, ever, do that! Just ask Martha Stewart.

So, we’ll start with the Flynn imbroglio that has all the talking heads talking impeachment – a bit prematurely, we would suggest. Nonetheless, Mueller has what he needs to squeeze Flynn into singing falsetto.

While there were, reportedly, a number of more serious charges that could have been directed against Flynn relating to Flynn’s undisclosed work for a foreign government (Turkey), Mueller chose a relatively minor offense in return for Flynn’s agreement to cooperate in the investigation of other “senior” and “very senior” officials. Think former campaign advisor George Papadopoulos (“senior”), and think son-in-law Jared Kushner (“very senior”).

As usual, based on what is thus far known, the criminal idiocy appears to be the determination to cover up an offense rather than the offense itself. So far, the focus does not, at this time, seem to be on Trump campaign collusion with Russia designed to cripple the Clinton campaign, but rather collusion by the Trump campaign to tamp down Russian retaliatory reaction to President Obama’s sanctions against Russia. Specifically, the Trump campaign’s  “very senior” official (presumably Kushner) apparently directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to feel them out on a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israeli settlements.

Because the Obama administration was still in office, this “very senior” official apparently wanted Russia to delay the vote or defeat the resolution. This would have been a violation of the arcane Logan Act which has never been used to prosecute anyone. The Logan Act prohibits private citizens from negotiating foreign policy with a foreign government. At the time, Kushner was still a private citizen. The “gotcha” here is probably lying about or trying to cover up, that such an entreaty was made by a “senior official” of the campaign, rather than a technical violation of the Logan Act itself.

Now, regarding the biggest tax overhaul in a generation.

We often quote the late Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He was one of the wisest men in a chamber where wisdom is invariably in short supply.  Moynihan wisely counseled that transformative legislation should never be passed on a purely partisan basis because, when all is said and done, it seldom turns out well. So, let’s take a look at this sausage-making exercise. Dubbed the Tax Cut and Job Creation Act, the new House and Senate tax versions of the new tax legislation, which now await reconciliation between the two chambers, is the first major legislative accomplishment of the Trump Administration.

Senate rules both helped and hindered getting a satisfactory tax bill passed. First, how the rules helped. Generally, Senate rules require a supermajority, or 60%, to pass a resolution. There can be a one-time exception to the 60% rule in each term as long a new Act won’t increase the deficit over a predetermined amount within ten years. The Senate passed a budget that requires that any new tax bill not add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. That means some tax reform measures have sunset or phase-out provisions so that the deficit effect will not exceed the predetermined ceiling within ten years. In addition, a new tax law might also literally have provisions to raise revenue to offset the lost income from tax reductions. The new tax legislation just passed by the Senate does both. It includes both phase-out provisions and revenue generation provisions.

For example, the legislation makes tax-rate reductions permanent for businesses (a reduction from 35% to 20% for C-corporations {mostly large businesses} and a reduction to 25% for so-called pass-through or S-corporations {mostly small businesses}, the profits of which are currently taxed at personal income rates for the owners.) Needless to say, businesses like these provisions.

Another strong pro-business provision allows corporations that hold their profits abroad to repatriate those profits at a one-time tax of only 10% instead of 35%. That could draw anywhere from two to three trillion dollars back into the United States from abroad. The impact of such an infusion of dollars into the American economy could, the argument goes, stimulate enormous economic growth as those dollars find their way into circulation through higher wages, capital purchases or other investment. Even if the funds are used to buy back corporate stock, the money winds up in someone’s hands and, therefore,  would be available for further investment or for other consumer purchases.

Because most of the tax reductions for individuals in the new tax resolutions are subject to expiration, the new legislation is often referred to as a giveaway to the wealthy (business people) at the expense of the middle and lower economic classes.  There is some truth to this and some exaggeration as well.

One of the existing “tax provisions” the Senate tax bill eliminates is the Obamacare mandate. Repealing the mandate frees up more than $300 billion to help finance the proposed tax cuts. It also could result in millions of people losing their health insurance. Fortunately,     Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray have introduced legislation modeled after proposals drafted by the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, which would maintain insurance coverage for at least the next two years.

Another questionable provision taxes tuition waivers for graduate students as income, even though they receive no income. Now, we recognize that imputed income may be taxed, but taxing tuition graduate-school waivers which could run $20,000 or more as income is, in our opinion, a stupid thing to do. First, these graduate students almost assuredly can’t afford the tax, and taxing learning is something only unlearned people would do, which, come to think of it, probably explains the thinking (or lack thereof) that went into this provision.

The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation, however, estimates 80% of Americans earning $50,000 to $75,000 would get a sizable reduction in their taxes by 2019. Overall, about 62% would pay less in taxes in 2019. A bugaboo, however, is that the Senate bill has the lower rates for individuals disappearing after 2025, assuming there is no new tax legislation introduced by that time. Republicans, of course, argue a future Congress is almost certain to extend the cuts. Also, there would be a reduction in refundable tax credits, a mechanism in which payments are made to those who don’t earn enough to pay any taxes at all.

Republicans also believe the tax bill provisions (especially the corporate tax cuts and the repatriation of corporate dollars held abroad) will promote so much economic growth that all costs will be offset by new revenue. How much new revenue? It’s next to impossible to accurately estimate how to “dynamically score” the legislation to account for increased economic activity that hasn’t occurred yet. Therefore,  most estimates of economic impact are predicated on static scoring which makes few assumptions about economic growth stimulated by the money the new legislation leaves in the economy or attracts to the economy.

And of course, Americans who own stock, either directly or through their pension funds have, for the time being anyway, enjoyed an incredible windfall as the stock market surges to new highs week after week.

In any event, the new tax legislation is clearly historic and will influence how history looks at the Trump years.

On other matters, we’ve given up tallying the titans in business and government who have fallen as their unwanted sexual predations have caught up with them. Similarly, President Trump’s tweet storms are just as unwarranted and just as hard to keep up with. Suffice to say, our President enjoys cutting adversaries down to size with his tweets and outbursts. Sadly, he fails to recognize that it’s the office he’s cutting down as well.

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Willful Ignorance: The New Plague

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsAnd it might be just as deadly.

Last January we penned an essay, “The Death of Truth.”  It began, “We have a very serious and destructive problem in America. Yes, we know, we have many.  But this one is different because it is widely tolerated and, sadly, carefully nurtured by our nation’s leadership regardless of party. Truth has become one of the lowest coins in the realm.  The narrative, carefully conceived, studiously nurtured, and determinedly communicated has, it seems, become the highest coin of the realm.”

Today, we believe the problem is even worse. That’s because we have become willfully ignorant. Too many of us have abandoned truth as our bedrock value, and, instead, embraced any narrative that best suits our beliefs, biases and comfort levels. It is a dangerous place to be. It is a realm where mischief and demagoguery thrive, and where altruism and good citizenship go to die.

This realm is not home to any particular party in America. Politicians, both Democrat and Republican have, do and will continue to focus herculean effort on constructing narratives that are seductive rather than truthful—not so much to fool people, but rather, to provide people versions of reality that they most want to see, hear or read.  Sadly, far too many of us largely, and willingly, seem to prefer seduction to candor. To be fooled is bad enough.  To seek to be fooled is far worse.  Today, many people turn the dial (okay, press the button) to find “news” that comports with their preferred version of reality rather than the hard, solid, truth.

President Trump defines truth as being that version of events that best satisfies his needs or objectives, or salves his sense of self. Hence his inaugural crowds were the largest ever, and he would have won the popular vote but for the three million illegals who voted for Hillary Clinton. Both ridiculous assertions. President Trump simply says what serves his interest with complete abandon. For example, he blithely stated that his budget plan would offer “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” But in fact, Congress raised defense budgets by larger percentages than the 10 percent increase that Trump proposed three times since 2000. The base defense budget grew by 14.3 percent, in 2002; by 11.3 percent, in 2003, and by 10.9 percent, in 2008.

Trump bragged that since his election, “Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Walmart and many others have announced that they will invest billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs.”

Why President Trump chooses to misrepresent facts that are so easily checked is beyond us. Many of these announcements reflect corporate decisions that predate Trump’s presidential election, making it unlikely that his administration had much, if anything, to do with these corporate decisions. In the case of Intel, construction of the Chandler, Arizona, factory referred to by Trump actually began during Barack Obama‘s presidency.

Then we have the consequences of years of demographic change in America. Candidate Trump, sensing palpable xenophobic stress in the country, milked that unease for everything it was worth during the presidential election. He threatened to deport millions of undocumented men, women, and children who were here largely because we, as a nation, looked the other way when we needed their labor.

Lest anyone misinterpret our essay this week as an anti-trump screed, it is not. We do not believe the precipitous diminution of truth in American politics began when Donald Trump decided to march to the oval office by turning the 2016 Presidential election into a reality tv extravaganza.

After all, President Barrack Obama knowingly assured the nation that under his healthcare program, (1) premium costs would decline $2400 by the end of his first term, (2) that everyone who wanted to keep his or her doctor could, (3) everyone who liked his or her plan could keep it, and (4) that he would veto the Affordable Care Act if it increased the deficit by one dime. To which, for emphasis, he added “period!” It wasn’t true.  It was never true, and the President knew it wasn’t true.

Remember when one of the key architects of the federal healthcare law, MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber told a panel that a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” were essential in getting Congress to approve Obamacare. “Lack of transparency, he said, “is a huge political advantage,” Gruber continued, “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” He said that voters would have rejected Obamacare if the penalties for going without health insurance (the so-called mandate) were interpreted as taxes, either by budget analysts or the public. “If CBO scored the individual mandate as taxes, the bill dies,” Gruber said. “If you had a law that made it explicit that healthy people are going to pay in and sick people are going to get subsidies, it would not have passed.

What we find most disturbing, isn’t that Presidents are prone to exaggerate or even lie. What is disturbing, if not terrifying, is that most people don’t seem to care anymore.  The impact of this reality is that truth is greatly devalued and deceit pays a far higher dividend.

We are living in a strange and troubling time. Politicians have always been willing to stretch the truth as long as they believed they could get away with it. Being caught in a deliberate, out-and-out lie, however, was once a deal breaker for most voters. Not anymore. If the lie comports with what one wants to hear, then it seems to have become de rigueur in American politics.

So, the reader might ask if we are being alarmist when we write of willful ignorance and describing it as a plague on the American body politic. We are not establishing a moral equivalency between lies that are self-serving and lies that are deemed to be for the public good. We are, however, sounding an alarm that widespread acceptance of lies, defamations, and misrepresentations simply because they comport with our sense of right or our sense of comfort, even when we know they are untrue, is a step back into very dark history.

Tellingly, a few days after the last election, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” had been chosen as the 2016 word of the year. — A strange and troubling time indeed.

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Clinton-Russian Uranium Deal: Much Ado About…Not Much.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWhere there’s smoke…there’s smoke.

But not much fire—not in this case, anyway.

To listen to Fox News, one would think the Kremlin (or its operatives) bribed Hillary (or Bill) Clinton to hand over twenty percent of America’s uranium to Russia. It just isn’t so. It isn’t even close.  But it does make for great Kabuki in this bizarre political climate.  The Clintons or, more accurately, the Clinton Foundation may take a back seat to no one when it comes to pure guile where a buck is concerned, but avarice is not espionage or treason.

A few facts:

(1). Uranium One is a Canadian uranium mining company that has mining operations in Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, South Africa as well as the United States.  In 2009, ARMZ (the full name of this acronym would cross the reader’s eyes), the mining subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear regulatory agency, acquired a 16.6 percent interest in Uranium One and increased its ownership in Uranium One to 51 percent a year later.

(2). Uranium One’s mining operation in Wyoming accounted for 20 percent of the then licensed uranium in-situ recovery production capacity in the United States. In-situ recovery is simply the extraction method currently used by ten of the eleven licensed US uranium producers. Today, Uranium One would account for only about 6% percent of in-situ recovery production capacity in the US because of additional production licenses that have been approved since 2010.  Uranium One also has exploratory projects in Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

(3).  Any shipments of Uranium out of the county would have to be approved and, contrary to inferences on Fox News, there is no evidence that any uranium has ever been shipped to Russia.

(4). The acquisition of Uranium One by a Russian company (or any foreign entity) required multiple approvals by the United States including the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which must review all foreign investments that raise potential national security concerns.

 (5). The Committee on Foreign Investments has nine members, including the secretaries of the treasury, state, defense, homeland security, commerce and energy; the attorney general; and representatives from two White House offices (the United States Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy). So, the State Department had one vote on this committee.

The State Department’s representative who participated in the review of this transaction was Jose Fernandez, then Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, not Hillary Clinton.  Furthermore, additional agency approvals would be required before any uranium could be exported. While these agencies can approve the sale of a uranium mining operation, they cannot disapprove or stop such a sale. Only the President can do that. Thus, their approval is, essentially, advisory.

(6). It is important to note that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission also had to approve the transfer of these two uranium recovery licenses in Wyoming from Uranium One to the Russian company. The NRC announced it approved the transfer on Nov. 24, 2010. But as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission explained at the time “no uranium produced at either facility may be exported without US government approval.”

The reason the so-called Clinton-Russian uranium deal has provided so much grist for the anti-Hillary mill is because of the tone-deaf greed of the Clintons (or of the Clinton Foundation), which apparently has never seen a greenback that it didn’t like or a contributor that it wouldn’t embrace. We don’t doubt for a minute that the Russians thought that anything Clintonian was worth contributing to, but we don’t find a shred of evidence that there was, or even could have been, a quid per quo between contributions to the Clinton Foundation, or speaking fees for Bill Clinton, and all of the approvals necessary to finagle the approval of the Canadian Uranium One deal with the Russians.

The deal was underway at the very start of the Obama Administration when the White House wanted to “reset” relations with Russia.  Contrary to the Fox News drumbeat the United States DID NOT sell or transfer 20 percent of its uranium to Russia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not unilaterally approve the mining license transfer, nor could she have if she wanted to. It was not a State Department show.

There is plenty to criticize about how the Clinton Foundation and the Clintons operate. The donations from those with ties to Uranium One weren’t publicly disclosed by the Clinton Foundation, even though Hillary Clinton had an agreement with the White House that the foundation would disclose all contributors. Playing it smart-and-a-half, the Clinton Foundation disclosed donations from a Canadian charity, but not the donors to that charity who were associated with the uranium company.

Bill Clinton spoke at a conference in Moscow on June 29, 2010, for which he received $500,000 — which was after the Rosatom-Uranium One merger was announced in June 2010, but before it was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States in October 2010. The Clintons and their Foundation may slip and slide to avoid looking greedy, but that doesn’t equate to selling out the United States.  They didn’t and they couldn’t have in this instance even if they wanted to.

We would suggest that Republicans look elsewhere to divert attention from the foibles of the Trump White House. Forget the uranium mine in Wyoming.  Really, we strongly suspect there’s no there-there.

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Trump: The Rise of an American Cult of Personality

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWe suppose it had to happen sooner or later in America; the emergence of a leader whose followers are devoted to persona over and above, or even instead of, policy. “Drain the swamp” is not a policy. Ending free, open and unvetted immigration is not a policy if, in fact, there is no free, open and unvetted immigration in America.  We don’t usually associate the term Cult of Personality with American Politics. Certainly, we’ve had our share of charismatic leaders who were more likable, homespun, down to earth or just plain more popular than their opponents—think John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, or Barack Obama. They were certainly admired, but they were admired primarily because they were, at least in the moment, admirable.

“Cult of Personality” was coined as a political term by former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in a speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party on February 25, 1956. He referred to the ardent followers of Joseph Stalin as a Cult of Personality that would condone anything the dictator commanded, including internecine banishment and murder. No, we’re not equating Trump with Stalin or other 20th Century dictators, but blind support of illiberal and incoherent pronouncements and a willingness to ignore behavior unbecoming a president or a presidential candidate is pretty much a modern American version of the antiquated Russo-Sino Cult of Personality.

In the bad old days, state-controlled media run by skillful propagandists carefully nurtured various Cults of Personality (think followers of Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler). Today, it doesn’t take state-run media.  All it takes are social media sycophants creating or passing along, non-stop and unmitigated praise of a political personality.  And with literally billions of Facebook, Twitter and Google users throughout the world, it is small wonder that Trump takes to Twitter and Facebook as often as he does.

No President in history has, nor could they have, deliberately and so studiously cranked out missives to so many people throughout the world. Trump himself has 42 million followers on Twitter and 22 million “likes” on Facebook. Add to this the number of “shares” and “retweets” his comments garner, and he personally reaches, on a daily basis, an incredible number of people. Then, of course, his utterances and his behavior garner more newsprint and broadcast coverage every day than any other president in history.

Sociologist, Robert N. Bellah has written, “It is hard to determine the extent to which the media reflect the cult of personality in American politics and to what extent they have created it. Surely, they did not create it all alone, but just as surely, they have contributed to it. In any case, American politics is dominated by the personalities of political leaders to an extent rare in the modem world…in the personalized politics of recent years the “charisma” of the leader may be almost entirely a product of media exposure.”  And, we would add, no one has manipulated American media as has President Donald Trump. 

 While we might identify political cultists with the likes of Stalin, Mao Zedong, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong-un today, political cults can arise anywhere, as long as there is a distinctive political figure, with a keen sense of media.

In America, we don’t have huge banners hanging from public buildings with the likeness of our Presidents. Traditionally, we might simply see buildings festooned with American flags rather than the likenesses of our presidents.  Interestingly, we do have large skyscrapers in our major cities emblazoned with the name (often in lights) of our current President, who either built the structures or “leased” his name to the developers. That’s not a criticism, just an observation of a new phenomenon in American politics.

Trump also has the biggest, outsized personality of any president in memory.

National Public Radio recently asked four historians for their take on how the presidency has changed Trump and how Trump has changed the presidency. Their answers are illuminating. H.W Brands, author of biographies of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan: “Previous candidates who get elected are almost always sobered by the office and the responsibility they take on,” Brands says. “Donald Trump shows no evidence of that. He’s the same Trump that he was when he was the host of his reality TV show. He’s the same Trump that he was when he was a candidate.”

Douglas Brinkley, author of biographies of Gerald Ford, John F, Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both Roosevelts: “By tweeting incessantly, he sets the agenda for the media and controls the narrative. Richard Nixon ate up a lot of clock trying to destroy the press. Trump now has a mechanism to do it because he’s not beholden in any way, shape, or form to traditional media…So by going over them, it gives him an instant kind of power and credibility… every day he wants the lead story to be ‘Trump.’ Even if it’s controversial, it allows him to be the dominant force in American politics.”

Barbara Perry, director of the Center for Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and editor of books on George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton: Perry says Trump has used his dominance to change the traditional relationship between a president and his party…”But because Trump has succeeded in remaking the party in his own ethno-nationalist, populist image, he has managed to confine that public criticism to just a handful of Republicans. And all of them share one important characteristic — they are no longer running for office. Perry says Trump and his former political adviser Steve Bannon have created a new party line for the GOP. “It does appear that they have cowed the party regulars. They’ve cowed the party traditionalists,” Perry says. “We have seen it already with the Jeff Flakes in the party, who are having to step aside and actually step out of politics at least for a while. And if that happens, if people who oppose him leave the party, or leave politics, that will be a success for him.”

William Inboden, associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and onetime staffer in the George W. Bush White House: “…He’s ignored the traditional boundary between the chief executive and the Justice Department, repeatedly calling on the FBI and the DOJ (agencies that are supposed to be independent when it comes to criminal investigations) to go after his political enemies.” Inboden wonders how many of the changes Trump has made to the office will outlive his tenure.”

President Trump brooks no criticism. He is a political pugilist looking to scrum with anyone who has the temerity to question his judgment. Millions of Americans, fed up with Washington elitism cheer him on. They channel their dissatisfaction with the ways of Washington into support for a President who gives voice to their dissatisfaction, even though he evidences little skill at governing. We’ve seen this before in history. It generally hasn’t ended well.

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The Coalition That Made Trump President

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsWho elected Donald Trump?—conservatives?…free traders?…isolationists?…well educated?…less educated?…bigots?…high-income voters?…low- income voters?…anti-immigration voters?…liberal immigration voters?…pro government-mandated health care voters…anti government-mandated healthcare voters? The answer is Yes.

Many people are still asking, “How did this happen?” The question, of course, refers to the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. Dr. Emily Ekins, Director of Polling at the Cato Institute, has provided the most definitive answer that we’ve seen yet to that nettlesome question.  Her analysis of data relating to the 2016 election provides some interesting answers to the questions people are still asking.

She observes, that like all elections, there is no one type of voter in a country as diverse as America that puts anyone into the White House.  It’s always an amalgam of voters, a coalition of voters, often with different interests who decide who sits in the oval office. This election was no different. There was no basket of deplorables, but there was a basket of converging interests.

That basket consisted of five different types of voters. The largest, (31% of the basket) was, as might be expected, simply staunch conservatives. They were no more likely to vote for Hillary than staunch liberals were to vote for Trump.

The next largest segment of the Trump coalition was (is) what Ekins calls the free marketers. While they probably voted for other Republicans in the primaries, they cast their ballots for Trump over Hillary on election day. They made up about 25% of the Trump coalition. They have the highest level of education and income among the Trump voters. They also are, ironically, favorable towards immigrants and racial minorities.  As Ekins, notes, they look just like Democrats on those questions. They really want to make it easier to legally immigrate to the United States, They are, by and large, free traders and free marketers, so government controlled healthcare is not a high priority with these voters. They also happen to be very fiscally conservative.  Not surprisingly, they were not prepared to turn the national fisc over to Hillary Clinton.

The group Ekins calls “the preservationists” is the group most people assume were the typical Trump voters, but they were, in fact, only about two voters out of every ten of the coalition. They have lower levels of education and, correspondingly, lower levels of income. They are the underemployed, with about half relying on Medicaid.  Ironically, they are the least like Republicans in the Trump coalition. They like raising taxes on the wealthy, they’re very concerned about Medicare,  and they’re actually more economically progressive.  On the other hand, they’re not very receptive to immigration. They don’t like illegal immigration nor are they particularly fond of legal immigration.  While they seem like Democrats by many criteria, they actually want to make it much harder for people to legally immigrate to the United States.  Perhaps, more than any other issue, immigration is what draws them to Trump.

A little farther down the food chain, we have the anti-elites who make up about nineteen percent of the Trump coalition. They rather uniformly are progressive on economic issues, and they have no particular problem with immigration. They did, however, have a problem with Hillary Clinton and were probably the group most influenced by the anti-Clinton news coverage.  This group seems to offset the voters who were undoubtedly negatively influenced by the anti-Trump news coverage.

Finally, but not surprisingly, the Trump coalition was topped off by the five percent who were simply disengaged voters. These are the voters who typically answer “I don’t know,” to most of the issue-oriented questions pollsters ask. About the only things about which they seem to have pretty firm opinions are concern about immigration and elites. Both groups make them uncomfortable.  The “disengaged” voters tend to be a little bit younger, have a little bit less education, don’t pay much attention to politics, but are skeptical about immigration. Trump was unambiguous about his animus toward immigrants and that got him what he needed from the otherwise disengaged voter.

One thing that really stands out in Ekins analysis of polling data is that liberal immigration policies are somewhat of a minefield in today’s political environment. Cutting immigration across the board would find very little opposition across the American body politic. Even those who don’t consider themselves anti-immigration warmed up to the idea of Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from certain countries.  Given the vital role immigration has played in the growth and success of the American experiment, we find it sad that immigration has become, (as it has always been) perhaps, the easiest issue to demagogue.

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Do We Have a Fascist in the White House?

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThe term fascism was “born” in 1921. Its proud father was Benito Mussolini. Interestingly, the adjective “goofy” was born in that same year.

Referring to President Trump as a fascist has become de rigueur in many circles. We’ve toyed with that sobriquet ourselves, as well as with its 1921 birth mate mentioned in our opening paragraph. Alas, we find President Trump’s antics and governing style to be more “goofy” than fascist. We’re not suggesting that one is necessarily cause for less alarm than the other. We just think it’s a good idea to know with what or with whom we are dealing. While President Trump’s demeanor and behavior are eerily, almost comically, reminiscent of the late Italian dictator, a key tenet of Mussolini’s fascism is, and we quote from Il Duce, himself “The growth of empire! That is, to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence.”  Mussolini also preached that the State is Everything and that the individual is always subservient to the State. Trump evidences no such philosophy.

President Trump may be a thin-skinned, narcissist and remarkably lacking in the qualities we like to identify with those we send to sit in the Oval Office, but he is no expansionist and he is not a statist. His dream of “making America great again” does not anticipate empire nor does it embrace any notion of manifest destiny. His game plan, if one exists at all, for Making America Great Again is economic growth, stronger exports and a positive balance of payments.

We can explore the efficacy of his program(s) to Make America Great Again (assuming such a program exists) in a future essay, but today we deal with Trump the Fascist, which is easy to do because he simply isn’t. He is bombastic, intolerant of criticism, inarticulate and, unquestionably, vindictive, but none of that makes him a fascist. It might make him dangerous, but not a fascist. We see no evidence that President Trump wants to plant the American flag anywhere other than, perhaps, at every NFL team’s bench.

Now, we believe our readers know that we have not been happy with President Trump. We would rather see him working back on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in New York than in the Oval Office in Washington. That’s because we don’t think he has a worldview to lead the free world, and we don’t believe he identifies with the diverse and wonderful mix of humanity that is the United States of America. Some of his statements regarding trade suggest an incredibly narrow view of world trade and a loathsome view of those with whom we trade (Mexico is our third largest export partner).

We believe, as we have written in some of our columns, that the “anything goes” school of criticizing Trump will return him to the oval office in 2020, assuming Independent Counsel Mueller finds nothing impeachable with which to charge the President. Calling Trump a fascist, as many critics have done, and are doing, will backfire when the voters go to the poles three years from now.

In spite of all the ridiculous coverage devoted to President’s Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen American soldier last week, we believe most Americans will, and should, view the call as an attempt to provide comfort and pay respect, however inarticulate some may judge that call to have been. Some commentators referred to Trump as treasonous last week. Salon, the leftist news and opinion website proudly ran the headline just prior to Trump’s inauguration, “Congratulations, America — you did it! An actual fascist is now your official president.”

Many Americans, especially those on either coast, love this sort of hyperbolic political scrumming. Most Americans, however, don’t.

And, no we didn’t elect a fascist. and no he isn’t one. President Trump is a lot of things we don’t particularly care for. We think he’s a demagogue, a nativist, a poor leader, narrow-minded, unread, over-rated, and an outstanding candidate to replace James Buchanan as our pick as America’s worst choice for president. But he’s not a fascist and he probably didn’t collude with the Russians to steal the election.

There is plenty of which to be critical with this President. But keep criticizing him with complete abandon, with an anything goes agenda, with constant ridicule, as various media outlets are doing, and we’ll see the 45th President become the 46th President.

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Political Ataxia: The Threatening Collapse of the Republican Party

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThe utter lack of cohesion and coordination within the Republican Party represents a type of political ataxia that could well prove terminal. Other than those Republicans for whom utter stalemate is a cause célèbre, the unease among serious Republicans is growing, maybe, exponentially. Utter collapse is no longer a far-fetched fear. It could happen. Just ask any old Whigs who are still around holding out for the return to the good old days. The reader will recall that the Whigs (circa 1854) were pathetically ambivalent about the expansion of slavery in the United States, and from its ruins rose the modern Republican Party, which was determined to stop the spread and scourge of slavery.

A new orthodoxy, consisting of a gaggle of Republicans who see any cooperation and compromise in the halls of Congress as heresy, has all but paralyzed the party. The new orthodoxy takes its cues from no one—not the party leadership, not the White House and not from voters who reside in other districts. They do not fear being labeled as obstructionists—in fact, they rather like the epithet. They have, more or less, congealed into the so-called Freedom Caucus, of which there are only about three dozen members. They, along with the strangest White House circus we have ever seen, could very well bring down the Republican Party in the mid-term elections next year. President Trump, the ringmaster in the oval tent, marches to his own drummer and no one can predict where his parade will lead, nor, it seems, can anyone influence its course. Truth be told, the so-called Freedom Caucus could care less how little gets done. Their congressional seats are probably pretty safe.

The founding fathers did not evolve the concept of co-equal branches of government out of naiveté.  They intended that the executive branch and the legislative branch, each having the best interests of the country at heart, would work hard to hammer out consensus wherever they could to accomplish what could be accomplished in the country’s best interest. They established a system that demanded a willingness to give and take, and to debate long and hard, but ultimately to do the nation’s business.

Trumpian White-House tumult has created an aura of confusion, if not bedlam, in Washington. The danger, of course, is that the nation will not just see a lack of Republican party discipline, but rather an abundance of Republican party incompetence. And when that happens, the Party could be dispatched to the political wilderness from which it may never return.

The Republicans in Congress have, so far, cut the President a lot of slack. They know he has weathered some rather incredible challenges. His record of verbal inanities would have sent almost all political aspirants to the dustbin of history faster than one could say, “when you’re a celebrity you can grab…,” but Trump, so far, has been immune to hoof-and-mouth disease. That’s because American voters have grown tired, even fed-up, with politics as usual in Washington – politics that seem oblivious to the voters’ needs and anxieties. American voters were remarkably and collectively ready to give the ruling class a proverbial poke in the eye. And did they ever. With one ridiculous debate performance after another, candidate Trump’s ratings went up. Each debate inanity represented another chance to poke the ruling class in the eye, and did the electorate poke, right through election night.

But now, ten months into the Trump presidency, the Republican Congress has produced nothing, literally nothing. The President has gotten into a nuclear, school-yard shoving match with the goofy kid from Pyongyang. He has demanded a ransom for the basic humanity of resolving the Dreamers’ issue by demanding the funding of a wall on our southern border; you know the one for which Mexico was going to pay. We’ve unilaterally walked from the Paris climate accord, and decertified the Iran nuclear agreement without any of our allies walking with us.

The voters gave the GOP an opportunity of a lifetime. They gave the Republicans everything—both houses of Congress, the White House, thirty-four governorships and control of both chambers of thirty-two state houses. When much is given, much is expected. The voters expected repeal and replacement of Obamacare with something better. They wanted to see America respected once again throughout the world. They wanted a Congress that got busy doing the work of the country.

The Republicans face the voters again in one year. The American people will take stock of what the Republicans have produced, compared to what they promised. This doesn’t look like a Party making America Great Again.

The Republican party may be approaching a state of extremis. The American body politic gave Washington a poke in the eye last November. The Republican Party might soon learn the American voter is an equal-opportunity eye poker. It might be a poke from which the GOP doesn’t survive.

Available at Audible, Amazon, Kindle, Nook and Barnes and Noble.

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Time to REDO the Second Amendment

(Excerpted from an essay we originally published five years ago.)

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsActually, we think it is.

Notice we said, “redo” not “repeal”.

While it is sometimes difficult to divine what the framers intended with any particular provision of the constitution, that isn’t true with respect to the second amendment. The driving motivation for the second amendment was to assure that the people could protect themselves against their own government were it to turn despotic or tyrannical.  Many of the great thinkers and patriots of the day weighed in. Noah Webster argued, “…The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.”

George Mason argued, “To disarm the people…(would be) the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”  Writing after the ratification of the Constitution, but before the election of the first Congress, James Monroe wrote, “the right to keep and bear arms” in a list of basic “human rights,” which, he proposed, should be added to the Constitution.

Patrick Henry, in the Virginia ratification convention June 5, 1788, eloquently argued for the dual rights to arms and resistance to oppression. He said, “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”

The most influential framer of the Constitution, James Madison, often referred to as the father of the constitution, compared in Federalist No. 46, the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he contemptuously described as “afraid to trust the people with arms.” He assured his fellow citizens that they need never fear their government because of “the advantage of being armed….”.

Like it or not, that’s the thinking that informed our greatest minds as the second amendment was considered and finally codified into the sinews of the American body politic.  Gun control activists who constantly, and rhetorically, ask, “Who needs assault rifles or machine guns to hunt?” miss the point and render their case irrelevant.  The second amendment was never about hunting.  Subsequent history cannot negate the original history.  Only thoughtful and, perhaps, brave lawmakers can do that and, then, only with the overwhelming support and consent of the people through referendum (think constitutional amendment).  That could be a long slog, but we think it’s about time to begin slogging.

So where does this leave us?  First, we must remember that the ballot had not yet, in 1788, been demonstrated to be a plausible or an effective way to guarantee that, in America, governments would govern only with the consent of the governed.  America, during its relatively brief history, has, through the ballot box, changed direction time and time again.  We have demonstrated that we can throw the rascals out whenever the people decide to throw them out.  We’ve never had to march them out with the arms we bear.

Furthermore, there is no longer parity between the arms available to a standing army and the civilian citizens of the country.  The day has long since passed when civilian militias and standing government armies would both, essentially, be equally armed only with rifles and side arms.  For a citizen militia to have parity with a standing armed force it would have to have automatic weapons, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles, aircraft, anti-aircraft, incendiary and explosive weapons, unmanned drones and who knows what else.  No sane person would, today, entertain such a thought.

So, perhaps the second amendment would be more relevant today were it re-amended with a 28th amendment to the constitution to guarantee the right of the people to own and use firearms for personal self-defense as well as for the protection of home and property against criminal intruders, and for legal recreational sport and hunting.  Such a reorientation of our constitutional right to bear arms would allow for sensible regulation of firearms.

It is true, as second amendment advocates rightfully remind us, that assault weapons (semi-automatic rifles) are, relatively, rarely used in the commission of a crime in the United States.  But it is also true (as we would remind them) that assault weapons (including semi-automatic pistols) have been the weapons of choice in 100% of the 29 massacres (assaults in which four or more people were victims) that have taken place in the United States since 1984.  We have reviewed each of these grotesque attacks and found that semi-automatic rifles or semi-automatic pistols (i.e. assault weapons) have been used in every such massacre, resulting in over 600 casualties, including 278 deaths.  That seems to us to be more than enough justification for rethinking our gun laws. At some point, enough is enough.

For example, the types of weapons to which the people would have a constitutional right could be rationally restricted (in addition to hunting) to that required to protect a home from intruders without being sufficient to mow down scores or hundreds of people in an open field a mile away (or innocent children in a classroom).

Today, any machine gun manufactured and registered prior to May 1986 can be purchased almost anywhere in the United States.  In fact, we counted 39 states that allow the private ownership of fully automatic machine guns to any non-felon 21 years of age or older.  Generally, the only requirement is that the weapon be registered with ATF.  That means anyone qualified to own a pistol, is qualified to own a machine gun.  It is estimated that there are about 120,000 machine guns owned by civilians in the United States.  While we acknowledge that (with but two exceptions); no legally owned machine guns have been used to commit a homicide in America during the past 70 years, we ask who in their right mind doesn’t dread the thought of a future, first-time machine-gun massacre at some elementary school or shopping mall and wouldn’t want to take steps now to impede, if not stop, that future event from happening.

Mass shootings have occurred consistently throughout our history in every region of the country. These attacks have become increasingly more lethal as large capacity ammunition magazines (defined as more than 10-rounds) have become more available.  They enable an assailant to rapidly fire off as many as 100-rounds without having to reload the firearm. They are designed for military use in order to kill greater numbers of people more effectively. Large capacity ammunition magazines have facilitated some of the worst mass murders ever committed in the United States.

We will not presume to recommend solutions to the problems resulting from the ubiquitous presence of firearms in America.  We simply recognize that sensible gun control cannot any longer remain the third rail of American politics.   Mass murder has occurred in every region of the country and it is, therefore, the federal government’s responsibility to evolve uniform measures to protect Americans.  It seems rather ludicrous to us for politicians to continuously state that any Administration’s primary responsibility is to protect America from foreign aggressors while insisting that the federal government should have a very limited role in protecting Americans from domestic aggressors.

We question the rationale that allows large capacity ammunition magazines designed for the armed services to be sold with only cursory regulation in the retail American marketplace.

Strict and timely gun registration requirements should follow a gun regardless of how many times the weapon may change owners.  There should be strict consequences for a prior owner of a gun if that gun is used in a crime when the prior owner had not reported the sale (or gift) within a statutory very brief period of time.

Gun control advocates and gun control opponents are active in both political parties in America.  While most of the money raised and contributed to politicians by the National Rifle Association generally goes to Republicans, we note that in the 110th Congress, then-Representative Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, introduced a bill on June 12, 2008, to reinstate the assault weapons ban (that had expired) for ten years and expand the list of banned weapons. The Bill, H.R. 6257, the Assault Weapons Ban Reauthorization Act of 2008, had four co-sponsors, all Republicans: Michael N. Castle of Delaware,  Mike Ferguson of New Jersey, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Christopher Shays of Connecticut. The Bill never got out of committee and died at the end of the Democratically controlled 110th Congress.

If ever there was a time when Democrats and Republicans could work cooperatively to seriously address the problems that are a by-product of our gun culture, it is now.

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NFL Players Taking the Knee: Yes, Insulting is a Right.

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThe NFL players who choose to “take the knee” to protest police brutality or all forms of inequality in America are certainly within their rights. So are the club owners who kneel with them.  That’s not even debatable.  In fact, it is, ironically, just one of the things that make this country so wonderful. Let an athlete in China or North Korea, or Myanmar, or Russia try to do the same thing and we would probably see the last of that athlete for decades, if not forever.

So, let’s not debate whether they have the right to kneel instead of standing respectfully during the national anthem. Insulting anyone or any national symbol is a universal right in America. It is a lame protest, but it is a right. The owners who kneel with their players are simply demonstrating that they think they know where their bread is buttered. But do they? They might look across the field, or over their shoulders, to the tens of thousands of fans who are standing and proudly singing their country’s national anthem.

The players contend that they are kneeling because they really have no other powerful platform on which to express their grievances. Really? A quick check of their Facebook and Twitter pages suggests otherwise. The top twenty NFL players alone have over 55,000,000 regular followers with their combined Facebook and Twitter pages.  Just the top twenty! That’s not a bad platform.

Now, we happen to think they have a very legitimate grievance, one that all Americans should share. We do have some serious problems in America.  To whatever extent racially-motivated police brutality or any other brutality exists anywhere in America, it should be condemned thoroughly, loudly and clearly. So should every remaining vestige of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, fascism and every other irrational hatred. Such calumnies are a body blow to the very fiber of America.  But showing collective disrespect to America serves the bigot’s interest far more than it serves the protester’s interest. And refusing to show respect for the flag or the national anthem is pure oxygen for those who wish to divide us.

Most Americans love their country and most Americans deeply respect its flag and its national anthem—as well they should. So, when the flag or the national anthem is disrespected, tens of millions of Americans are offended and insulted, not because they question anyone’s right to offend or insult, but because they rightfully feel that the insult is also directed at them. It suggests that those who stand for the national anthem with their hands over their hearts, must not share the same sense of indignation at the corrosive and, sometimes, deadly prejudice that continues to hang on in America. And that simply isn’t true. It just hasn’t turned them against their country nor motivated them to recoil from its flag or anthem. Quite the contrary.  When true Americans stand for the flag and the anthem they stand against those who choose bigotry over brotherhood.

Now, we recognize that President Trump’s targeting of the NFL players at his Huntsville Alabama rally a week ago was toxic and, we suspect, it resulted in the reaction he intended. Nearly every player joined the protest by kneeling for the anthem the following week along with some owners, and the kneeling controversy probably became the cause célèbre the President intended it to be. Much of the country and the media was and are talking about it, choosing sides, and voicing their collective opinions to anyone who will listen.  More than anything last week’s protest was about Trump, and his clumsy reality-show showboating. The flag and the anthem, however, are much bigger than Trump, and that might be the understatement of the year.

Sadly, the kneeling controversy poisons the proverbial well. Relatively few people seem to be talking about the social and cultural problems that truly exist in America. Most are talking about the efficacy of kneeling as a protest. The injustices that need to be addressed are elbowed aside as millions of Americans weigh in on how they feel about the kneeling protest. Ballplayers are being interviewed and asked to opine on the protest controversy. Constructive dialogue yields to anger. Trump wins.

We’ve read dozens of statements by NFL players and they are obviously heartfelt.  However, we believe Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, made the most sense: “I disagree with what the president said and how he said it. I think it’s very unbecoming of the office of President of the United States to talk like that to a great people. And obviously, he’s disappointed a lot of people. But as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American that the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country.”

Our country is trying.  It will not, and cannot, ever be perfect. There will always be injustices and setbacks. But what we stand for is worthy of our respect, and without it there is little hope.

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Ideas and commentary with allegiance to neither the left nor the right, but only to this sweet land of liberty.