A few quotes tell a consistent narrative

The following are a few quotes that have a consistent theme in defining the current incumbent US President. I had many to choose from, but I felt these frame the sentiment from a variety of perspectives within and outside of the US.

Former FBI DIrector James Comey as quoted in The Guardian article entitled “Comey book likens Trump to a mafia boss ” – “This president is unethical  and untethered to the truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Japanese Finance Director Taro Aso as quoted in Reuters article “US will only rejoin Pacific Trade pact if terms improved”“Trump is a person who could change temperamentally, so he may say something different the next day.”

Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Ralph Peters  in his resignation email to Fox News “In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

Chief Executive Gustavo Grobocupatel of an Argentine Agricultural Group quoted in a Reuters article entitled “US seeks to outshine China at Latam summit without Trump”“Trump’s plan seems to be to ensure the US is no longer the world’s leader.”

Four Star General (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey as quoted in an article in The Daily Mail – “Donald Trump is a ‘serious threat to U.S. national security’ due to Russian inaction.”

Conservative columnist, author and pundit David Brooks during a speech made in Charlotte in April, 2018“Donald Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.”

Editor-in-chief of Red State, a conservative webcast, Erick Erickson quoting on his show an anonymous Republican Congressman he bumped into at a grocery store“Here’s what the US Congressman said: ‘It’s like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really f*cking stupid Forrest Gump.’ He went on to explain that if the president tries to fire the Special Counsel Mr. Mueller, he and his fellow Republicans were ready to impeach him over it, for the sake of trying to save the GOP from going down with him.”

Thomas Wells who penned the article in The Huffington Post in July, 2016 entitled “Donald Trump Hired Me As An Attorney. Please Don’t Support Him For President” – “It is a special and unique form of arrogance to think you could even consider being literally the leader of the free world without doing the work to deeply understand the job.” He also noted Donald Trump “lies all of the time.”

I will leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. With the exception of the two foreign leaders, these people swore an oath to the Constitution and/ or are Conservatives.

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Over-politicized and under-moralized

I had the pleasure of hearing columnist and author David Brooks speak the other night. He was invited to my city by a church known for being inclusive. While his speech and following Q/A was filled with poignant quotes and observations, his caution that “we are over-politicized and under-moralized” resonated with me.

His speech was far more focused on America’s changes over time than it was political. He noted we were much more community oriented before 1968, but still had many faults around racIsm, bigotry and gender inequality. He noted the gains made post-1968, but we tore down institutional cache and became more individual minded, even more narcissistic in nature, as he explained with a few key  statistics. He thoughtfully spoke of how we have come to the current tribalism. He noted tribalism is based more on fear and hatred of others than it is love for your tribe.

This was occurring long before Trump and he said he frankly did not think Trump would win. He said people are disenfranchised and want to be heard. To Trump’s credit he reached out to these folks, yet he sold a message of fear and isolationism. An example of one of Brooks’ quotes is “Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.”

From his travels, reading and teaching, he noted people are thirsty for moral direction. We desire a moral compass. We want to do the right thing, but we have become so lonely and alienated (he again accentuated with statistics) we have limited avenues to a community mindset. We are not talking to one another and have looked less to institutions and more to movements.

Early on he defined we are consumed by both a “desiring heart” and “yearning soul.” We want to love someone and belong. We want to find contentment for our soul nurturing it. This is why we long for a sense of community or family. He noted an answer to a previous time in the 1890s when we became so disenfranchised, we saw community movements that led to better working conditions, the suffragette movement, the temperance movement, environmental protection, etc.

That is likely the answer we need to diminish this tribalism. We need to seek community oriented solutions. He said our places of faith can be more helpful, but need to focus on our being better people and picking each other up. He noted an example of a man in Shreveport who helped identify a community house in each area of the city. The house would be a place where BBQs, community events, parties et al could happen.

When someone asked what is a key takeaway, he laughed and said that is your job as I just throw out ideas. Then, he eloquently noted a story about a psychologist who was captured by the Nazis and placed in a detention camp. The question no longer was what should I do with my life? The question was now what does life have in store for me? He said that may be the better question we should ask ourselves.

As he left the stage, I witnessed a humble man who seemed to be saying through his body language, why are you clapping for me? He deserved the adoration. Even the minister of the church noted Brooks’ message had a strong sense of a Judeo-Christian ethic. We need more voices like him. We need more discussions like these.

A mean spirited, dishonest budget

On PBS Newshour last night, Mark Shields and David Brooks defined the President’s budget succinctly. They said it was a “mean-spirited, dishonest budget.” I had been searching for the right words to define a proposed budget that kicks people in poverty in the teeth. Fortunately, Senator John McCain said the budget was “dead on arrival.”

The budget is bothersome in so many levels as it severely cuts Medicaid and food stamps, as well as other programs. The latter has grown because of the greater number of people in need. Yet, while these cuts are occurring, tax breaks for the wealthy would be provided.

But, it does not end there. It has been reported about the extra rosy and very hard to achieve projections on revenue growth. While this is not too uncommon, it is still sleight of hand. When people say tax cuts pay for themselves, that is as believable as the check is in the mail. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget will say there often are some revenue improvements, but nothing near paying for the entire cut.

Yet, there is more dishonesty. Former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post that there is some double counting of revenue sources, an obvious error. Per Summers, “You can’t use the growth benefits of tax cuts once to justify an optimistic baseline and then again to claim that the tax cuts do not cost revenue. At least you cannot do so in a world of logic.” Summers noted he has not seen something like this in a budget proposal in 40 years and a business person should know better than to double count like this.

To be brutally frank, this is not what the President advertised in the campaign. He touted his business leadership as something the country sorely needs. Yet, former Speaker John Boehner said with the exception of foreign policy, Trump’s presidency has been a “complete disaster.” I would argue his point on the foreign policy omission. But, it should be noted is how this budget, the AHCA bill, and other measures harm the very constituents that rose up to vote for this newcomer. He is screwing them and they still lack awareness that is what he is doing.

Getting back to Brooks, I have cited his earlier observation after the horribly planned and executed travel ban. “This White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Summers used the latter word in his piece, as well. We can now add “mean spirited and dishonest.” These are not words that he had hoped to elicit when elected.

 

 

Just a man with words

My favorite editorial offering each week is when conservative columnist David Brooks joins with liberal columnist Mark Shields on PBS Newsour. Each Friday, they say grace over the news events of the week.

Usually facilitated by Judy Woodruff, these two pundits offer context and civil discourse. It is obvious each has profound respect for the other, as even when they disagree, the rationale is supported by good observations.

It should not be a surprise that both are somewhat alarmed and bemused by our President. In fact, Brooks (along with fellow conservatives Michael Gerson, George Will and Charles Krauthammer) has been a recurring critic of the man who became our President.

Earlier in the year, Brooks described the White House under our new President as “equal parts incompetence and chaos.” This was just following the horribly crafted, vetted, communicated and executed travel ban that caused so much negative reaction.

Recently, after yet another week of bizarre statement and actions that the President’s people had to scurry to defend, he made another insulting reference to the President as being “just a man with words.” Taken in the context of the piece, the President is not a man of conviction and will say just about anything, often not with a lot of thought.

And, that is a sad state of affairs. George Will spoke of the unforced errors when the President just says or tweets things. Will said he has made the world more dangerous and hopes that when the 3 am calm comes with a real problem, they just let the President sleep and wake up Genetal Mattis.

Just a man with words. Unfortunately, many of them are not truthful or well thought out.

 

Chaos and Incompetence

Conservative columnist David Brooks appears weekly on PBS Newshour as well as NPR to recount the week. Last Friday on PBS, he and Mark Shields discussed their concerns over our new President’s decision-making, unforced errors and fights that he has picked in his first eight days.

Yet, what caught my attention most was Brooks reference to how our President has conducted his Presidency. He said he has exhibited equal parts “chaos and incompetence.” I could not agree more. While I support the President since his success is tied to ours, I have a very low bar of expectations, which he has not met. And, I am not too optimistic at this point, given his difficulty in admitting any fault.

Management has not been his strength. He is a great salesman and merchandiser, yes, but manager, not so much. His executive order to block entry to people coming from seven countries has been total chaos and coupled with his torture comment makes America out to be a pariah in the eyes of others. Issuing an order should allow time to execute and include some instruction to make it effective as well as being vetted by various agencies. And, per Senator John McCain, it makes us less safer providing fuel to the ISIS fire.

Chaos and incompetence. Remember these words. Add them to the words lying and thin-skin. And, let’s pray that our President begins to learn a few lessons before he does even greater damage to our country and its reputation.

This is not a rehearsal

One of the anthems of the 1980s is “It’s My Life” performed by Bon Jovi and written by Richard Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi and Max Martin. While the ladies are quite fond of Mr. Bon Jovi, his group would not be as successful without great songs. This one should resonate with all, as evidenced by the first few lyrics.

This ain’t a song for the broken-hearted
No silent prayer for faith-departed
I ain’t gonna be just a face in the crowd
You’re gonna hear my voice
When I shout it out loud

It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive
(It’s my life)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just wanna live while I’m alive
It’s my life

Folks, this is not a rehearsal. Yes, there may be an afterlife but we won’t know for sure until the time comes. My suggestion is living a life that is worth living. That does not mean partying hard all the time, but as David Brooks has noted in his recent book on “The Road to Character,” live a life for what they will say at your eulogy, not on your resume. Please do have your fun, but I have discovered that a life where I try to help people, gives me back so much.

In the documentary movie, “I AM,” the punchline is money does not create happiness. Having some money does alleviate unhappiness as it shelters, feeds and clothes you and your family, but amassing a lot of money has a diminishing return on happiness. Per the interviews with countless psychologists, sociologists, faith leaders, etc., the key to happiness is reaching out to others and interacting with them. The psychic income from that effort is huge.

Yet, whatever you decide to do, live your life. Take some chances. You will fail from time to time. Don’t worry. Learn from it. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and move forward. Travel somewhere beyond your boundaries. Meeting fascinating people is a wonderful experience. When our family took a vacation to Ireland, I remember meeting Oola from Belgium in a café near the Cliffs of Moher. What a delight she was. I remember the advice from a cabbie who told my son who wanted to start a tavern, to be sure not to “drink away your profits.”

Live your life. It is not your parents’ life. It is yours. Of course, listen to what your parents have to say, as they tend to know a thing or two, but stretch your wings. But, remember to be generous of your self. Your time and interest for others can mean a great deal to them and you. I mentioned living for what is said at your eulogy.

A good man and friend died the other day. His funeral was well attended by many as he was as generous a soul as you will find. His kids’ friends were always welcome at his house and his son said he treated them like he was interested in them. His colleagues had many wonderful stories about this kind man. I guess if I had to sum up his life, he was generous with his time for others. He was a wonderful and devoted husband of over 50 years. And, he died well-loved and remembered.

A dysfunctional Congress – a national security risk?

This is actually not my question. I was reading an article on the inability of Congress to do much of anything, and the author of the comment noted that Congress is so dysfunctional it is actually a national security risk. The point was in reference to Congress is so busy doing make work on scandals of the month, they are actually forsaking the role to govern various oversight functions. But, I think it goes further than that. I believe Congress’ inability to do anything, even in crisis mode, jeopardizes the health and welfare of the United States.

The smaller VA Health Care Bill which should be celebrated as a bi-partisan effort between Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller was only passed because it funded much less than is needed. It will help immensely, but it is not near enough and they will have to come back next year. It should be noted, Sanders’ earlier legislation for four times as much was not passed in the spring before the problems in Phoenix and elsewhere blew up. Plus, a very small transportation infrastructure band-aid was passed at the eleventh hour before the funding law expired, but it does not address our major infrastructure needs. There are other exceptions of collaboration, but herein lies the problem. These collaborations should not be so newsworthy.

Last night, the House adjourned by passing two bills to address the border crisis which will go nowhere. Conservative columnist David Brooks shared his frustration on PBS Newshour last night saying the Republican party gave up on governance and passed a bill that would look good on Fox News. The bill was passed after a compromise bill fell through the day before. Brooks lamented that Senator Ted Cruz worked with Tea Party Representatives to craft a bill that will go beyond deporting all of the refugee kids without a hearing, but also lead to the deportation of about 500,000 people who are here on work-visas after they expire. Brooks noted the party desperately needs an “anti-Cruz” person to step up and speak about governance.

Never mind, there are votes to pass the bi-partisan, collaborative Senate Immigration bill that was passed last year. Yet, most major bills have passed the House in the past two years with an unusual caucus. The only way for Speaker Boehner to secure passage of needed legislation, with a couple of exceptions, is for some moderate Republicans to join in with the Democrats to get enough votes in a bi-partisan collaboration. This was how the unfortunate government shutdown was ended. This was how Hurricane Sandy relief was passed. This was how the fiscal cliff crisis was resolved and so on.

The Senate is in a much better place as the majority caucus is more unified. Plus, the Senators are subject to state-wide election, so the gerrymandered districts do not affect them like they do Representatives. These Representatives face more strident candidates in primaries, which may determine the winner as they run unopposed in the fall. If a candidate does not have to face someone in an opposing party, then some more zealous ideologues can win and they are less prone to collaboration. So, the Senate can find a higher percentage of collaborators, Senator Cruz withstanding.

So, with this context, our country is not addressing the key issues. And, even when crises come to the forefront, the dysfunction gets in the way of governance. The government shutdown which was harmful to so many and led the President to cancel an Asia-Pacific trip to open markets should not have happened. The country was held hostage by a handful of people and it hurt our country and made us look like stooges in the global community. It took the bi-partisan, collaborative efforts of several female Senators to end the madness and show the men how it should be done. Some of these same Senators are working on a bi-partisan collaboration for a bill to address sexual violence on college campuses, following their successful efforts to refine the legal process on sexual violence in the military. The key words are bi-partisan collaboration.

There are many problems to deal with and neither major party has a license on the solutions. Some folks don’t even understand the problem, so their solutions are off the mark. We also have donors and lobbyists who generally rule the roost and feed some of this lack of understanding through misinformation. To combat this, we can at least get people to the table who will collaborate and hear each other out. And, as I have said in two earlier, recent posts. If an ideological candidate is touting “my way or the highway” this election, as voters, we need to show them the highway.