Saving ourselves from the whimsy of a mercurial man

I don’t agree with some of what conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru writes about, but I found myself in agreement with his latest editorial, “Keeping the US Economy safe from Trump’s feelings.” The key theme is the President’s whimsical tweets and statements regarding various policy statements can be harmful to the economy. In my view, it goes even further than the economy factoring into global relationships, climate change inaction, civil rights abuses, etc., but let’s start there.

Ponnuru notes that the President cannot say he was not forewarned by GM about the impact of his tariffs, as the company said in June the tariffs “could lead to fewer jobs, lower wages for our employees” and risked “undermining GM’s competitiveness against foreign auto producers.” He notes the reasons for the downsizings are more than just the tariffs, as demand for sedans is much lower than anticipated and interest rates are picking up. But, GM is not the only company to forewarn the President about his tariffs.

Yet, he notes the President is trying to convince GM to keep plants open using power he does not have. He cannot take away subsidies for electric cars, only Congress can do that. He cannot keep plants open as promised during the campaign, as market forces dictate that and publicly traded companies must respond to shareholders. Plus, he should not be commenting on the actions of any specific company, nor threatening one who do something that he does not like.

It should be noted that the two Senators in Ohio noted in the spring that the government should find ways to help GM retool and update their plants to do SUVs and electric cars rather than gas-powered sedans. This request for action before things got worse was not heeded. That would have been the time to step up to help. Now, his comments are just staging.

Ponnuru used a phrase that is on point to define the President’s actions. He said, “Trump tends to make policy decisions spasmodically.” He further notes the“President keeps adding to his reputation for making idle threats, and even self-canceling ones.”  The White House staff and various departments have been trying to manage the mercurial President’s whimsy. The resulting turnover has been pronounced. Decisions either have no substance because they are beyond the purview of the Presidency or they are unwound because of the next whimsical decision. Or, the staff may hope he forgets one of his inane pronouncements.

The best example of this is from Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House.” On a totally different subject related to Trump’s attempted ban of transgenders in the military, he was set to meet with more than a dozen members of his staff including his Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject. Great pains were taken to develop four ideas, noting how constitutional each was, and other pros and cons for the President’s consideration. As they waited that morning for the President, he noted he would join them soon. In the interim, the President sent out two tweets making his decision, noting that everyone was in agreement, which was not a true statement. He also picked the least constitutional action and a court has held up the change.

The key point of this story is not the subject matter. It is the lack of good-faith dealings with others. He said your opinion does not matter and then lied about them being in agreement. The other key is this type of decision-making is not an isolated occurrence. Using Ponnuru’s term it is “spasmodic.” Another conservative writer, David Brooks’ refers to the White House as “equal measures of chaos and incompetence.” I would add that it shows a lack of respect for his subordinates and is not the actions a true leader would take.

As we have painfully learned, the mercurial man is not prone to change. Saving ourselves is another story. Fortunately, the courts help as more than a few things Trump does are not constitutional. The other is to pressure Congress to remember their oaths. The Senate is quite concerned by the President’s blowing off the human rights issues surrounding the MSB’s knowledge of the murder of a journalist and Saudi Arabia’s atrocities on the Yemeni people. Another is to read and watch better news outlets. The media is not the enemy of the people, but many so-called news organizations are not unbiased.

We should also pay heed to conservative voices who have been critical and disowned by Trump’s followers. Ponnuru is not alone, but is less critical of the President than other conservative voices – Brooks, Gerson, Erickson, Will, Douthat, to name a few. These voices are important to echo as the President has done a tremendous sales job on his followers noting it is the media and Democrats who just don’t like him. When I am accused of this, I reiterate my independent status, but when that fails, I say what I dislike is people lying to me and then making decisions off the lies.

A few obscure heroes

The names Elliott Richardson, William Ruckelshaus and Archibald Cox do not conjure up physical bravery, but they are heroes nonetheless. Their honor and duty to their oaths of office gave them the conviction to stand up against the President of the United States. We did not know it at the time, but President Richard Nixon had sanctioned illegal activities and would later resign before he would have been impeached.

What did these gentlemen do that was heroic? Cox refused to back off his pursuit of the truth as the Special Prosecutor of the Watergate hearings. He was asked to do a job and he pursued it with a passion to uphold his oath to the constitution. When the President did not get his wish, he asked Richardson, the US Attorney General to fire Cox. Richardson declined to do so and resigned. Ruckelshaus, his Deputy, also refused and resigned

It came to a head and eventual Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork ended up firing Cox over a weekend in October known as the Saturday Night Massacre.  These resignations and firing may have been the tipping point for Nixon’s demise as the press realized something was indeed wrong. Shortly after the massacre, Nixon released the first set of secret tapes with 18 minutes deleted, which had been requested by Cox and the Senate Commission after learning that Nixon taped all his meetings in the Oval Office. So, Nixon’s own paranoia did him in as he recorded his illegal activity.

Many know the names Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post and their huge roles in reporting on Nixon and all of his henchmen. Yet, we should pay homage to three additional American heroes in Elliott Richardson, William Ruckelshaus  and Archibald Cox.

They were our Men for All Seasons.

Death of an American hero – a real journalist

As many know, Ben Bradlee, the famous editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate story and Pentagon Papers passed away. His funeral service was held yesterday and attended by a who’s who list of journalists and others. Bradlee was amply played by Jason Robards in the movie “All the President’s Men,” which many folks said captured the essence of the man. He wanted to be the first with a story, but he also wanted to be accurate.

He gave the freedom to be reporters to his staff, but unceasingly challenged them to get it right. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were about to accuse the President of the United States with being a crook. So, they better make sure the story was correct. Bradlee asking them to continually verify the facts is what makes the movie version of what they did so compelling. If they got it wrong, it would have been a disaster. But, the fact that about fifty people, including Richard Nixon’s key lieutenants, went to jail showed they got it right. But, the other key was Bradlee backed up his reporters in the face of a mountain of criticism.

We should all have bosses like that. Watching Woodward and Bernstein speak with Charlie Rose about Bradlee, a telling comment came out of which we should remind all journalists and pseudo-journalists. Woodward said Bradlee was often known to say “slow down” encouraging the reporters to take their time to do the homework, do the reporting and tell the story to the public. We need this more than ever, as too many want a quick sound bite report, sometimes on a Twitter feed, which leaves context, depth and accuracy at the train station.

So, we citizens, voters, and readers/ watchers of news need to challenge ourselves to get news from sources that are more trustworthy and offer more in-depth news reporting. We need to avoid the sensational and question things. We need to slow down. We need to be truth seekers. We need to hold our elected officials accountable and ask more questions of them. Truth be told, with so much money in politics, the hypocrisies, poor decisions, and conflicts in interest are rampant and the stories abound. We just need to slow down and pay attention. Thanks Ben Bradlee. *

 

* More on Bradlee can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Bradlee#Other_work

 

Don’t equate Obama with Nixon

I have witnessed at least one pundit and several letters to the editor make reference to Obama being like Nixon. The pundit, George Will, should know better and I would hope the others would, too. We should do a quick history lesson to refresh, but first we may want to wait until all the information is in before people lay Obama over the coals. More on that later. Nixon said often, “I am not a crook.” He was wrong. Let me tell you why:

– Nixon created a burglary group in the White House called The Plumbers, designed to plug leaks and exploit information about their political adversaries. Members of the group broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg to steal his reporting on classified issues known as “The Pentagon Papers” which indicated a conspiratorial Nixon presidency. Members also broke into the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex. They got caught which led to the Nixon’s Waterloo known as Watergate.

– Nixon Committee to Reelect the President, interestingly named CREEP, did childish and criminal disruption tactics to discredit Democratic adversaries. They did not want to run against Senator Edmund Muskie; so they made it their mission to get him to drop out of the race. They ran against Senator George McGovern, who was their choice opponent. Nixon won easily over McGovern.

– Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, went to jail. His Assistant for Domestic Affairs, John Ehrlichman, went to jail. His Attorney General, John Mitchell, went to jail. So, did White House Special Counsel, Charles Colson, White House Council, John Dean as well as several of the burglars, Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt and others and Donald Segretti, one of the CREEP tricksters.

– John Dean’s testimony was the most damaging, but it was the existence of tapes of all conversations in the Oval Office that were the smoking gun. Nixon was ordered by the Independent Prosecutor to turn the tapes over, but he asked the new Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Independent Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. The Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus refused as well and was fired. Cox was finally fired by Robert Bork (who had a later claim to fame, being denied as a Supreme Court Justice nominee). This was called the Saturday Night Massacre and was the beginning of the end for Nixon. He finally was ordered to turn the tapes over.

– Nixon was about to be impeached before he resigned on August 9, 1974. The Congressional Committees approved three articles of impeachment – Obstruction of Justice, Misuse of Power and Contempt of Congress for Defying a Subpoena. Congress was about to take action, but gave the President some time to think about it.

– Nixon could have gone to jail, but President Gerald Ford gave him a full pardon which angered many.

– While this was one of the worst moments in our history, it was also one of best. The president did and condoned criminal activity and tried to cover it up. The heroes are many: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post, Mark Felt (an undercover source known as Deep Throat), Richardson, Cox and Ruckelshaus for standing up to the President, Senator Sam Ervin of NC who chaired the Congressional Committee and Judge John Sirica, to name only a few.

– If you want a summary of the key characters, please click on this link or rent “All the President’s Men” starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.

http://www.historyteacher.net/HistoryThroughFilm/FilmReadings/WatergateCastOfCharacters.pdf

My wife laughs at me when I say the next statement, but “I did not make this stuff up.” Do not let anyone tell you what Nixon did was not that bad. Nixon was a crook. Yes, he did do some good things as President – opening China markets, creating the Environmental Protection Agency and ending the war in Vietnam – but his Presidency should be remembered for all of the above.

Getting back to President Obama. I have shared before the Benghazi scandal is on its last legs and if people read the report prepared by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullens back in December, they would not have carried it this far. Both Pickering and Mullens have offered to testify in front of Congressman Darrel Issa’s committee, but have not been asked to do so. Issa did want Pickering to testify with only the Republican committee members behind closed doors, but he declined. They obviously wanted to manage the message. He said he would be delighted to testify in front of the whole committee. Plus, the emails released by the President seem to corroborate the story that the CIA was editing talking points to protect their mission. So, unless something major happens or if  the IRS issue fizzles out, my guess is this will die soon.

The IRS scandal looks like it amounts to over-worked bureaucrats who were attempting to make their jobs easier by having the same people look at the same kinds of filings. The dilemma is there were tons of groups wanting tax exempt status. Yet, per pundit David Brooks, they are guilty of being oblivious to how this might be perceived. And, the managers that should have known better should have made changes. There may be more to it, but we should let the investigations run their course. And, unlike Nixon, Obama is outraged and trying to get to the bottom of it.

The one that gives me pause is the wiretapping for national security issues. I personally do not like what was done to these AP and Fox News reporters and there should have been more procedures followed in my mind. I want to see more on this. Yet, like the above two issues, let the investigations be completed before we rake people over the coals. And, do one more thing – let’s remember what really happened with Nixon.