Why Its Values Made America Great & the alt-Wrong Would Impoverish It

March 25, 2019

Last week I spoke about Trump’s other threats to American principles, unity, democracy and world power. This week I’d like to address why they matter.

Equality is a central American value, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and throughout the Constitution. Racial, religious and ethnic discrimination are at the heart of Trump’s attacks on refugees from Islamic countries, the so-called caravan from Central America, Puerto Ricans after the hurricane, and kudos to his alt-wrong loyalists after deadly attacks. But discrimination is extremely costly to all of us, not just to the victims. It denies us the best available people for jobs and wastes our efforts in unproductive battles with each other. Lincoln told us that “a house divided cannot stand.” Economists describe such battles as deadweight loss – deadweight because they add nothing to national welfare, income or resources; loss because the battle is expensive in time, money, and lives. The Civil War was an extreme example, killing and maiming a large proportion of American men. Economists add opportunity costs – all the time, money and lives that could have been put to productive and useful purposes. In effect by dividing us and dividing our politics on unproductive issues, the alt-wrong is beggaring America, making it poor again.

Democracy is also central to American values, enshrined in our founding documents. But Trump tries to shred the freedom of the press to criticize elected leaders, principally him. He tries to dismantle the obligation of office-holders to obey the law. And he tries to dismantle democratic processes to solve issues by verbal discussion, not guns, what he has called “Second Amendment rights.” His misbehavior proves that democracy makes mistakes. But democracy invites America to focus on the general welfare, not the welfare of the “dear leader” as Kim is described in Korea or his American friend here. Sure, there is plenty of corruption which our emoluments clause would have reduced had the Republican leadership paid more attention to our Constitution. But the Constitution provides the means to kick the bastards out, encourages competitors to try and parties to appeal to the great bulk of us, not just the rich and famous. Democracy could do better if more Americans took the principles of democracy seriously, including fair elections with universal adult suffrage and honest campaigning. Democracy is the scaffold; we get its benefits only if we cling to it.

American values of equality and respect have had a unique power in this world, allowing people across this globe to see the value of our principles to them, as respected members of the world that America tried to create. Chris Giannou said on Alternative Radio that people in much of the globe “love you for your values. They hate you for your hypocrisy, because you do not live up to your values.” Our values galvanized a unified free world. They underlay all the institutions the free world created to keep us united and working together. We still talk freely about working together in the context of sports. But Trump and his alt-wrong see no value in unity and working together and despise it in politics and world affairs. They waste their energy and ours in destroying the ways this country spread its influence across the world and led the world in the protection of freedom and democracy.

So yes, America can be torn apart. But what awaits is the whirlwind, the war of all against all, in which none of us is safe. All the blessings of unity, democracy and world power are at stake.

—  This commentary is scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, March 26, 2019. For comments on the Mueller report that I included on air, see the next post.


Trump’s Disloyalty

July 30, 2018

I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to the studio to record but the surgeon said “Sit down, sit down, sit down, you’re splitting my stitches.” Well, I’m here at last.

Trump and a number of Washington Republicans think the FBI investigation of the connection between Russia and the Trump Administration was biased against Trump because FBI agent Peter Strzok believed that the American people should have rejected Donald Trump for president. Since a large share of FBI agents are Republican, one could have credited Strzok as keeping them honest with regard to Trump. But the problem with the Trumpians’ automatic conclusion of bias goes much deeper.

As Rehnquist and Scalia have written, it is almost impossible for otherwise qualified and intelligent people not to have opinions about important public matters. Certainly, if agents are automatically disqualied from investigations of those they oppose politically, there’d be few other than Trump supporters qualified to investigate. But the same logic would make them biased in his favor. Hence no one could be fair to Trump and America.

Trump carries that a step further by suggesting that Russian President Putin, the principal suspect for interfering with the American presidential election, should have a look at the details of the investigation and have his investigators help out. Wow. By Trumpian logic the objects of investigations should control what people discover about their behavior. It’s fine for Russians to control the FBI’s investigation of Russian activities in the U.S. but long time FBI agents should not have anything to do with the investigation if they have ever expressed an opinion.

This Trumpian view of human nature casts light on their own motives. People imagine motives in others that are familiar to them. Trump has turned his presidency into a series of infomercials for his properties. Many members of his family and Administration have similarly been using their offices for personal gain. Most recently, Scott Pruitt was forced out of office because he couldn’t take his hands off opportunities to use his position for personal gain. So I can understand why they’d see everything through the lens of self-interest and conclude that everyone is biased – to which we must add, including themselves.

The Founders understood that the devil lurks in the hearts of human beings without respect to wealth, class, heritage or learning. People, they understood, are subject to temptation. They anticipated that the highest offices of the land could, from time to time, be occupied by the most despicable people. Understanding that, they inserted the emoluments clauses in the Constitution to try to block foreign powers from offering rewards for selling out our country. And they inserted the impeachment clauses to provide a way to depose traitors and crooks from office.

We now have a person in the White House with private assets that reflect the patronage of foreign governments. He conducts foreign policy as a set of infomercials, making sure to play at his various resorts for all to see. His political fortunes may hinge on a single foreign power which used cyber warfare in an effort to install him in the White House. And he’s loyal to foreign powers.

The Republican Party is often called the G.O.P. The G.O.P. stood for the Grand Old Party that won the Civil War under Lincoln’s leadership. They fought for the Union and for principle. Too many current Republicans are loyal to Trump, but not to America. They have neither patriotism nor spine. They prefer to sell their souls rather than protect their country. There is nothing grand or even old about this party.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 24, 2018.

 


The Nunes Memo and Trump’s Disloyalty

February 6, 2018

I prepared something else to talk about today but find myself furious about the misuse of the Constitution to prevent getting at the truth. Trump, and his supporters, are attacking the Mueller investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Nunes memo, written by congressional Republicans, is part of that attack. It says that, though well after the investigation began, a former member of British intelligence who had ties to the Clinton campaign, transmitted information which was included in a request for a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, the FISA court. Based on the Nunes memo, Trump and his supporters claim that the investigation is tainted.[i]

Members of the FISA court are all appointed by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Since 2005, that’s been Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican, Bush appointee. The Court found the papers sufficient and renewed the warrants.

But the Nunes memo and use of a source sympathetic to Clinton, are being used as part of a campaign to thwart the investigation and dump those who run it. No Democratic hands allowed. Most Republican commentary about the memo claim it proves that the FBI, and the Russia investigations conducted by the special counsel, are tainted by bias against Trump.

First, it is unacceptable for Trump or his supporters to insist that the FBI must decide whether to investigate based on whether the informants are Republicans or Democrats, supporters or critics of Mr. Trump, and forego finding out whether the information is or can be corroborated. Playing politics with policing that way violates the Constitution.

That’s the way police function in dictatorships. Are you for me or against me? If you’re against me, your knowledge and opinions don’t count and can’t be trusted. We alone count and we’re pure. The very idea of a loyal opposition is crucial to the survival of democracy. But it’s anathema to Trump Republicans.

So Trump’s release and use of Nunes’ memo is the best and most important reason to consider impeaching him. He lacks loyalty to democracy; instead, his power trumps all else. This man is the greatest danger to the values on which our country was founded. The fact that he was apparently born in the U.S., as he claims, only makes his disloyalty worse.

Second, a large part of the information gathered by any police organization comes from people who are in some way connected or involved. To exclude information by such informants would cripple policing. To rely only on information from one side of a dispute or the other threatens justice, as does refusing to investigate. Motives deserve consideration and were disclosed to the FISA Court, but the ultimate question is whether the information can be corroborated and is correct. To follow the Nunes approach would undermine the ability of American police to enforce the law, impartially, so that no one is above the law.

The FBI historically was a conservative organization. A succession of presidents insisted that it rise above politics and investigate crimes without regard to politics. Trump is the first president to insist that the FBI should begin with a political test – a political test for employees and a political test for informants. This president has no respect for constitutional norms. These too are grounds which deserve to be considered for impeachment.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Feb. 6, 2018.

[i] The Democratic response has not been released by the House Intelligence Committee but a Democratic statement of objections can be found here.


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