Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donald Trump Is a Danger to Our Country

So much from Donald Trump's February 16, 2017, press conference is worthy of commentary that one scarcely knows where to begin. This post will focus on the two things that struck me most -- Mr. Trump's repeated turning the truth on its head, and his almost inexplicable position on matters related to Russia.

Donald Trump and the Anti-Truth

Mr. Trump's first few weeks in office have been, to use one of the phrases he frequently applies to others, "a total disaster." He has attempted to govern by fiat through a series of ill-considered executive actions. He has questioned the legitimacy of our judiciary and our press when they challenge or disagree with him. He has asserted ballot box fraud based on nothing more than his egocentric belief that he could not possibly have lost the popular vote in a fair election. He has needlessly provoked our allies, done about-faces on diplomatic positions long espoused by presidents of both parties, and called into question the usefulness of the international bodies through which we maintain alliances and promote international stability. He has dealt with a national security matter in public at one of his resorts. He has chastised a company for not doing business with his daughter. His national security advisor was forced to resign when news broke of his premature policy talks with a Russian official.

In response to the chaos he has wrought, Mr. Trump offered us even more chaos by calling a press conference in which he painted a picture of the world that is exactly the opposite of what I suspect most of us perceive. Some of his basic points are set forth below, along with parenthetical reality checks.

  • He had the largest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan. (Both Obama victories, both Clinton victories, and George H.W. Bush's victory were larger than Mr. Trump's. When informed that his claim was false, Mr. Trump responded by saying that he was "given that information" and that he had "seen it around.")
  • He inherited a mess from Mr. Obama. (Although the country he inherited was by no means perfect, by many measures, including those related to economic stability, illegal immigration, and crime, it was doing quite well -- certainly much better than when Mr. Obama inherited it.)
  • He is fulfilling his campaign promises and getting things done. (He is signing executive orders and saying what he plans to do, but as discussed in previous posts he has not really made many meaningful changes because that requires working with Congress, which he has yet to do.) 
  • His administration is a fine-tuned and well-functioning machine. (See the introductory paragraph to this section.) 
  • The rollout of the travel and immigration ban was smooth but the court's reaction to it was wrong. (The immediate aftermath of this ban included nationwide protests, confusion at airports worldwide, swift court challenges, and a hasty White House clarification regarding its scope.)
  • The media is categorically dishonest, full of hatred for him, and promoting "fake news." (The media consists of human beings who sometimes make mistakes, but in general they are doing their job by printing assertions for which they have solid sources and challenging politicians, not limited to Mr. Trump, on their words and deeds.)
  • The leaks about Michael Flynn's contact with a Russian official were real but the news about that incident is fake. (This flunks the basic logic test. If classified information was leaked and the leak was real, then reports of the leak cannot simultaneously be fake news. Especially when Mr. Trump claims to have fired Mr. Flynn not for what he did but rather for telling the Vice President that the very information contained in the leak was untrue.)
  • He has no relationships with Russia and the media's focus on that issue is a ruse. (There are very real questions about his relationship to Russia, which he could answer at least in part by releasing his tax returns and providing other concrete information about his businesses and political dealings. Instead he asks us to take his word for it and changes the subject.)
My last post was devoted to how Mr. Trump's attempt to control the narrative is a serious threat to democracy, and his performance on Thursday was a clear case in point. It should be clear that Mr. Trump is creating fake news, not combating it. It also should be clear that Mr. Trump is making a mess of the imperfect but relatively stable situation he inherited from Mr. Obama, not untangling a mess he inherited. The real danger here is that the more Mr. Trump asserts his falsehoods about the state of the world to be true, and the more he makes the press expend energy to show they are not "fake news," the more people will distrust the press and instead believe his untrue claims. George Orwell's "1984," here we come.

What is Going on Between Donald Trump and Russia?

Mr. Trump's attitude toward Russia has long raised eyebrows. He has consistently praised Vladimir Putin. He invited the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's email, which they took him up on. He pilloried the US intelligence agencies for concluding that Russia sought to sway the election in his favor. Although he since has reluctantly said he believes the Russians were involved, he apparently does not feel the need to either publicly condemn their actions or investigate this very serious matter.

The statements he made with respect to Russian-related matters during his press conference, however, elevated concerns about his relationship to that country to a whole new level. In addition to what we already knew about Russia's role in the election, the intelligence agencies now have evidence that members of Mr. Trump's campaign staff had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign. Although the nature and extent of those contacts is not yet clear, the mere fact of them is downright chilling. Mr. Trump on the one hand indicated that he believed the people reportedly involved in such contacts when they denied involvement, yet on the other hand he refused to answer definitively the press's questions about whether such contacts occurred. Instead, he tried to distract us by claiming concerns about Russian contacts were a ruse. They're not a ruse. The extent of his campaign staff's interaction with Russian intelligence, and what Mr. Trump himself knew and did on that score, are very serious questions to which the American people deserve a clear and fully-documented answer.

And that's not the only serious question regarding Mr. Trump and Russia. He claims that the real problem with Michael Flynn wasn't the substance of what Mr. Flynn did, although the conversations Mr. Flynn had arguably were illegal, but rather the associated leaks through which the rest of us learned what Mr. Flynn had done, that he lied about it to the Vice President, and that Mr. Trump knew all this for weeks before it became public. Indeed, Mr. Trump did not see fit to take action against Mr. Flynn until after the leak. What this essentially indicates is that Mr. Trump thought everything was OK until he and Mr. Flynn were publicly exposed, and now instead of taking responsibility and seeking greater clarity he is shifting blame to the people who exposed them. Even if the leaks themselves were inappropriate, this attitude toward the underlying information they contained is appalling.

In addition, Mr. Trump did not have a coherent answer about how he might respond to Russia's recent deployment of a cruise missile in violation of an international arms control treaty or the presence of a Russian spy ship 30 miles off the East Coast. Understandably he doesn't want to telegraph the details of specific actions, but again, the American people deserve to know the general stance our country plans to take when a geopolitical foe challenges us like this. Is Mr. Trump refusing to tell us his general approach because he doesn't have one, or because he doesn't want us to know what it is? Either of those answers is unacceptable.

To all appearances, Mr. Trump's stance toward Russia is at best bizarre, and the overarching question the American people need answered is "why?" Mr. Trump tells us to trust him that there's nothing amiss, but he refuses to provide any hard evidence, most notably his tax returns, that would support his assertion and ease our minds. Until either Mr. Trump provides a coherent and evidence-backed explanation of the tack he is taking or the intelligence community and Congress investigate and get to the bottom of the Russia-Trump nexus, the rest of us are left to speculate about the reasons for his stance on Russia. Three possibilities occur to me.

(1) It's once again all about Mr. Trump's ego, which Mr. Putin has flattered, in which case we could expect Mr. Trump to remain enamored of Russia as long as Mr. Putin keeps "being nice" to him, especially if our press and intelligence agencies continue to uncover unflattering truths.

(2) Russia knows something about Mr. Trump that he would rather not have the rest of the world know, perhaps related to Russia's role in the election or to the content of the dossier compiled by a former MI6 agent. In other words, political blackmail.

(3) Most ominous would be if Mr. Trump were actively colluding with the Russians. One fervently hopes that is not the case, but in light of all the oddities in his approach to Russia it is a possibility that cannot yet be ruled out.

We still don't know which of these, if any, explains Mr. Trump's highly unusual attitude toward Russia, but we should all, regardless of party or ideology, be demanding an answer because our national security and integrity are at stake. Until we get an answer, how can we trust our president? And if the answer indeed turns out to be any of the three possibilities identified above, how can we let him remain in office?

Conclusion and Next Steps

In short, Donald J. Trump in a few short weeks is simultaneously threatening a constitutional crisis at home and starting to upend the entire postwar order abroad. He is a serious danger to our country, not only to our national security but also to the very foundations of our democracy. I would go so far as to argue that Donald Trump is a more serious threat to our country right now than China, Russia, or ISIS.  Talk about a sentence I never thought I'd write.

I'm not sure if Mr. Trump has brought us to this point because he is totally inept, an evil genius, mentally ill, or still pursuing strategies that worked in his business dealings and campaign but do not translate well to governing. Although understanding the root cause of Mr. Trump's behavior is important, there are more important questions still as to whether Mr. Trump understands the issues facing our country and the magnitude of what he is doing with respect to them, whether he can learn from his experiences and improve his performance, and whether he can set in place a team that can help him govern responsibility. The answer to those questions so far appears to be "no." This should gravely concern us all, regardless of partisan or ideological bent.

The question now is what we citizens should do. I have three suggestions.

First, consider signing the "We the People" petition at, which requests the release of Mr. Trump's tax returns. You must provide your name and e-mail address and verify the latter, and agree to terms & conditions and a privacy policy. There are other petitions you might find worth signing as well.

Second, call and write letters to members of Congress and urge them to support an independent investigation into Mr. Trump's ties to Russia. I plan to focus my outreach in two ways, by approaching (1) Republicans such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and, remarkably, Mark Sanford, who already are pushing back at Mr. Trump and (2) Republicans in leadership positions who should be standing up to Mr. Trump but thus far have not, primarily Paul Ryan and Jason Chaffetz.

Finally, check out a group called Indivisible, if you have not already. It was started by former progressive Hill staffers who are deploying grass roots tactics, which the Tea Party used so effectively against Obama, to resist the Trump agenda. It involves a network of small groups that coordinate outreach to their local members of Congress. I recently learned, to my great surprise and delight, that the very red congressional district in which I live has an Indivisible group, which I plan to join.

I remain hopeful that if all of us who are deeply concerned engage actively and articulately, our Congress, which is the institution best poised to rein in Mr. Trump, will no longer be able to ignore what a serious threat he presents to our country.

*This blog post consists solely of the views and opinions of its author.

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