Monday, December 18, 2017
Recently, conservative columnist George Will, an unrepentant member of the "never-Trump" movement, announced that president Trump's strong endorsement of Alabaman Senatorial candidate (and accused pedophile) Roy Moore marked him as the worst president ever. The usually apolitical USA TODAY also published a similar editorial recently, stating that Trump's recent tweet about Senate member Kristen Jillibrand that all but called her a whore, made him "...unfit to clean toilets in Obama's presidential library or to shine George W. Bush's shoes". Other editorial pages across the country (and the political spectrum) have characterized Trump as leading us into new lows for presidential behavior.
It's an easy thing in our deeply divided country to dismiss a president we don't agree with as the worst ever; those words were often repeated by conservative commentators during the Bill Clinton years, and then were inevitably brought back during Barack Obama's reign. And now, with a deeply unpopular and divisive president in the White House, they are being spoken again (and not just by progressives). From his constant lies, boasts and childish insults, to his appointment of unqualified family members to important advisor roles, to his bratty insistence on tweeting, it's easy to see why Trump can be called the worst president ever. And while I certainly find his behavior despicable, I'm not entirely sure if he yet qualifies for that title. Despite all of Trump's flaws, he still may be above George W Bush.
From the beginning of his career, Bush seemed to represent one of the main things wrong with this country: that it's better to be born to a family of enormous wealth and privilege than to be someone who works hard and plays by the rules. An admitted heavy drinker and lazy worker for the first forty years of his life, Bush attended Yale entirely because of his family name and money, and was, as he himself characterized it, a "c" student. He then went into the family oil business and did poorly, never showing much initiative and eventually picking up a DUI arrest. At around the age of forty, he found Jesus, gave up alcohol, and decided to get into the other family business of politics. Just as he used his family name and money to get into Yale, he also used that name and money to raise support for his political career, often raising money from the same donors who supported his father before him.
And then there was the chaotic presidential election of 2000, which came down to the severely contested state of Florida; the closeness of the vote there led to all manner of law suits and recounts. Amidst all of that came the charge that hundreds of African American voters turned up to vote in the state and were told that their names were not on the voting list, this in a state where Bush's margin of victory was only around five hundred votes. On top of that, Bush's own brother, Jeb, was governor of the state at the time, making the appearance of corruption of the voting process a definite likelihood. Or to put it another way, because the presidency was something that George W Bush couldn't buy with his father's money, he had his brother steal it for him.
Even if you think that he won Florida legitimately, it was an undeniable fact that he lost the popular vote to Al Gore by around half a million votes. This didn't stop him from swaggering into office like he had some overwhelming mandate. And then after 9/11, his approval swelled as the country was showered with global sympathy, which he then proceeded to squander with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Let's not put a fine point on this; the Bush lead Iraq invasion was one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history. The war was fed to us on a string of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies. There were no weapons of mass destruction there, no links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the war was obviously not finished quickly, the Iraqi people certainly did not greet American soldiers as liberators and oil revenues did not pay it. Instead, tens of thousands of Iraqi people and thousands of American soldiers were killed or wounded as the country fell into chaos and the war dragged on into an occupation. And as it dragged on, the Bush administration refused to cover the cost of the war, instead tossing it onto the national deficit; they even avoided a draft by hiring mercenaries to fight there at an increased cost to the tax payers. Meanwhile, the administration expanded the so called war on terror by endorsing torture techniques like water boarding and sleep deprivation, claiming that suspected terrorists were not subject to the Geneva convention.
To make matters worse, as the Iraq war was proving to be more and more of a quagmire, Bush ran for reelection in 2004 by openly endorsing a Constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage for gay and lesbians in perpetuity, making his the most openly homophobic campaign in presidential history, and putting him on the wrong side of history. Sadly, this strategy worked as he eked out a narrow victory against Democrat challenger John Kerry. In his second term, the Iraq war continued to be a mess, his response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was disastrous, and the revelation that his administration had wiretapped American citizens without getting warrants appeared criminal. In the middle of all that, he attempted to privatize Social Security, a plan that got less and less popular the more he talked about it, until his own party thankfully killed it in the senate. His approval sunk to levels lower than Nixon's during Watergate as he appeared sullen and angry. And last but not least, the financial crash of 2008, while not exactly the fault of his administration, caught him flat footed and made him look even more like what he was; a spoiled brat in over his head.
So, am I saying that Trump isn't so bad? No, he's absolutely terrible, it's just that he has yet to sink the country into an unnecessary and horrible war, or reside over the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. But, given his policy decisions and erratic behavior, such things don't not appear impossible in the coming years of his presidency. He just hasn't sank to the level of George W Bush yet, but he may get there.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
Last Wednesday president Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It's a move that rolls back decades of American policy and it was swiftly condemned not only by Palestinian leaders, but also by many European leaders and Pope Francis. While many political analysts see this as mostly symbolic move, it's one that could lead to increased turmoil in the Middle East, and also set back the always difficult peace process between Israel and Palestine.
While the move was not surprisingly cheered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and hard line American supporters of Israel like billionaire Sheldon Adlelson, there was also rejoicing from the American Evangelical movement. But why? Obviously Jerusalem has enormous resonance with Christians given that it's where Jesus Christ was crucified, but why should American Evangelicals care so much about where the capital of Israel is located? It all has to do with their interpretation of the biblical book of Revelations and their belief in the so called rapture.
As lined out in the surprisingly popular Left Behind book series, (and the not so popular, crappy looking movie series of the same name) millions of American Christian Evangelicals believe that at any given moment, they will be magically spirited up to heaven in what they call the rapture. The rest of the earth will then be plagued by years of violent turmoil, leading to armageddon and the return of Jesus, who will cast all people who aren't Christians into the fiery pits of hell. Furthermore, they also believe that for the rapture to take place, a Jewish homeland must be created in the Middle East. This belief has lead to an interesting phenomenon: conservative Jews from Israel who oppose a two state solution will often travel to American Evangelical churches to speak about their beliefs to the churchgoers, who happily receive them and donate money to their cause. Left out of their discussions is the fact that the Evangelicals all believe that, as non-Christians, all of the Jewish people they're donating money to are doomed to burn in hell! I would assume that the Israelis themselves are also aware of this, but don't care as long as they can get financial support. While it should be pointed out that the Left Behind books do have a Jewish character in them, and that he, after the rapture, converts to Christianity and gets to go heaven at the end. Yet this would seem more like an absurd fig leaf defense against anti semitism (Jews for Jesus get to go to heaven!) than any real acceptance of Jews (or Hindus or Buddhists for that matter) as anything other than unholy.
It would appear that Trump's goal for the move was to appeal to both conservative donors like Adelson and white Evangelical voters who voted for him in high numbers. So Trump has just made a a major foreign policy decision that could have tragic, fatal consequences, at least partly driven by the pipe dream belief of Evangelicals that they can go to heaven any minute while avoiding that whole pesky dying thing. It's crazy things like this that make me wish that religion and politics could just move to mostly neutral corners, accepting that their goals rarely sync up in a positive way, which is the prevailing wisdom in most industrialized nations. Just not in the US. But then, I also can't believe that our president has decided that his son in law Jared Kushner, who has no foreign policy experience whatsoever, (and who very well may soon be indicted for his relation to the ongoing Russia scandal investigation) should be in charge of Middle East peace talks. Sadly, this disastrous move will be seen as just another in the long list of reasons why Donald Trump should never have gotten anywhere near the White House.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
In what is yet another ground breaking moment in modern presidential history, President Trump recently marked his first big legislative victory and then almost immediately saw a scandal explode in his face. He is the first president ever to be so heavily investigated about a possibly impeachable scandal so early in his regime. While it seems like decades since he first ranted his way into office, it hasn't even been a year yet.
First, the good news for Trump; the Senate recently passed a massive tax cut bill that he has been pushing for. Although there will have to be a few changes made to square the Senate bill with the one that the House of Representatives passed a short time ago, that's mostly a formality, and the bill will probably be on the president's desk before the new year. After he was unable to get the Senate to repeal Obamacare, this is a big win for him.
But is the bill good news for the American people? For the vast majority, the answer is a resounding no: it's centerpiece is a reduction in the corporate tax rate; it is assumed that the money saved by companies will be spent on hiring more workers and raising salaries for the workers they already have. But there's no guarantee that that will be the result, and, based on past corporate behavior, it's far more likely that the money will be used to benefit the companies already wealthy stockholders and CEO's. While the tax plan does contain some cuts for most middle class people, those cuts are set to expire sometime in the next decade, while the ending of the estate tax, which benefits literally only the wealthiest 1% of Americans, will not be coming back. The tax bill will blow a hole in deficit of well over a trillion dollars, the same deficit that the Republican party was so worried about increasing while Obama was president. And the changes it makes to the Affordable Care Act are estimated to take healthcare away from a stunning thirteen million people. This bill is a complete repudiation of the populist campaign that Trump ran; from his claim to speak for "the forgotten man" to his frequent bashing of Wall Street, he always said that he wanted to help the common worker. And he's about to sign a bill that will do nothing for them, and even worse, the lowering of government revenue may very well result in cuts to Medicare and Social Security, the very programs he pledged to protect. To top it all off, he recently gave a speech claiming that this bill was going to be bad for him; as the New York Times pointed out, his leaked tax returns of 2005 show that the plan will save him at least a billion dollars. So, add yet another lie to the list of the many, many ones he has told as president.
Even the drafting of the bill was despicable; it was passed on a party line vote with little to no real debate, and once it was sure of passage, new provisions were literally penciled into it in the wee hours of the morning. There's even an antiabortion provision! Quite frankly, the passage of this bill will see the country drift even more towards third world status, with more and more total wealth being held by fewer and fewer people, while the poor and middle class will have worse healthcare and education choices. It may be a bigger disaster than the aborted Obamacare repeal, and that's saying something.
And now to the bad news for Trump: former National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn has admitted guilt to lying to the FBI (among other charges) and has accepted a plea bargain in return for aiding special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into just how much the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in the 2016 election and whether or not the president has obstructed justice by trying to kill the investigation. This is very bad news for Trump: for one thing, it's the third felony conviction made against members of his administration (Paul Manafort and George Papadopolous were both charged last month) and it definitely looks like this is just the tip of the iceberg. The investigation will probably lead to an inquiry and possible charges made against the president's son in law Jared Kushner. Yes, it's quite possible that very soon we will get another unprecedented political moment; a president that pardons a member of his own family.
Just how far will the investigations go? At this point it's hard to say. But one thing to note is that, once the tax bill is passed, the congressional Republicans may be more willing to cut him loose. With his low approval ratings and increasingly erratic behavior, there may come a time when the Republicans feel that President Pence (or even Ryan) would be easier to deal with. And the fact that Trump's constant state of anger and childish tweets have lead him to attack Republican members of congress may come back to haunt him. It would be nice for once in his life for Trump to realize that lying, boasting and childish insults are not the way to run a country, or even manage an Arby's, for that matter.