Archive

January 19th, 2017

Trump is not the real danger

    I take my next-door neighbor's political temperature by perusing his bumper stickers. During the reign of Bush II, Rob's work van sported this exhortation: "Visualize No Liberals." I didn't take it literally. I even managed a smile. It was pithy and rather witty.

    I knew Rob didn't want me gone, just like I didn't believe what I heard in Catholic school: that all Protestants were going straight to hell. My mother was an eminently lax Episcopalian.

    No, it would take more than a bumper sticker to drive a wedge between Rob and me, not to mention his wife, Helen.

    For years, Rob hayed my field and stored the bales in my barn before selling them. We've cut firewood together, drunk beers together on our decks, swapped organic vegetables and fresh eggs. I feed his cows on occasion, and a time or two I helped corral them when they got out. When an intruder spent the night in our house while my wife and I were away, Rob collared the guy. Now that's a good neighbor.

    Besides, I like bumper stickers. One of my all-time favorites was on the rusty old pickup driven by a guy who helped build our house: "I Brake for Hallucinations." Nobody tailgated John for long.

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Trump and the conceit of the entrepreneur

    Watching Donald Trump conduct his news conference Wednesday, it suddenly struck me that, underneath all those now-familiar idiosyncrasies, the president-elect is just like many successful entrepreneurs and owners of family businesses in his management style.

    For them, business is personal. They are the sun around which all the stars and planets revolve, the source of all the energy and inspiration, the guiding light and the gravitational force that holds it all together.

    They shape the product and the business strategy, cut the deals with suppliers and bankers, and cultivate personal relationships with the customers. They do the hiring and, when necessary, the firing. And although they delegate day-to-day responsibilities to a tight set of family members and loyal lieutenants, they keep a close eye on operations and are not shy about rolling up their sleeves when a problem arises and micromanaging the nitty-gritty details.

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Myths and truths about the Trump presidency

    To liberal Democrats and a few Republicans: Get over it. Donald J. Trump will become president of the United States this week. Accept it.

    As unsettling as the prospect may be, it's better to go in open-eyed, recognizing realities and dispelling myths, including:

 

-- Trump is unpredictable.

    He likes to convey this notion, and he is mercurial and unconventional. Most presidents-elect don't attack a renowned actress or belittle a Republican senator. But almost nothing he has done since Nov. 8 really is unpredictable, including his appointments, policy pronouncements (such as they are) and thin-skinned outbursts against anyone he feels sighted by. His policies will be guided more by political instincts -- which have served him well -- and what sells, rather than by any principles or ideology. Last week, he embraced the government negotiating drug prices, a long-held liberal dream.

 

-- He will be a Twitter-happy front man, leaving governance to others.

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For these Trump voters, no amount of change is too much

    It's literally impossible for Donald Trump to shake things up too much in Washington, in the eyes of those who backed him for president.

    That's my big takeaway from a post-election focus group of a dozen Trump backers convened in Cleveland by longtime Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

    In a memo documenting the results of the gathering - a quadrennial exercise that Hart has done for each of the past several presidential elections - the pollster writes: "Trump's voters are not about to let him forget these promises, and they fully expect the untraditional outsider to shake up a storm in Washington and make real, tangible improvements in the economy and in their day-to-day lives."

    Let's take the first part of that sentence first. It's saying that Trump's voters believe that Washington and the politicians who inhabit it are fundamentally corrupt and deaf to their concerns. They badly want "tangible" signs of change, the sort that official Washington not only rolls its eyes at but also gasps in horror at.

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Trump's lies, media threats show what to expect from the 'gaslighter in chief'

    At the northeast corner of the National Archives building sits Robert Aitken's sculpture "The Future," inscribed with some famous words from Shakespeare's "The Tempest": "What is past is prologue."

    If you buy that, it's possible to have a solid idea of what Donald Trump's presidency will be like for the American media and for citizens who depend on that flawed but essential institution.

    The short form: hellish.

    Consider, for example, the saga of Serge Kovaleski, the highly regarded New York Times reporter whose disability limits the use of his arms.

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The Trump and Pony Show

    As a professional skeptic, I’m going to remain doubtful that Donald Trump has been a willing Russian tool, masterfully serving the needs of a dangerous American adversary. I’m not going to buy all the sordid details of “that crap,” as the president-elect called intelligence reports of his being compromised by nasty people operating out of the Kremlin.

    I’m going to believe Donald Trump, for now, which is more than he ever did for the graceful president soon to exit. Trump has been a garbage conveyor belt, passing along every bit of half-fermented slop that came his way. “An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he tweeted in 2012, to cite one lie among thousands.

    I’m going to believe this same Donald Trump who urged Russia to interfere with an American election, because to believe otherwise, without irrefutable evidence, is a pretty damn horrific thing to imagine. It would mean that in a week, the Russians will have installed a stooge — and done it with the right wing of this country cheering them on.

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Obama, Trump and the power of 'we'

    Our nation is about to replace a president who loves soaring rhetoric and extended argument with a chief executive who prefers tweets to the big speech.

     And there is an irony in this transition. Barack Obama resolutely makes the case for moving forward by referring again and again to the lessons of American history. Donald Trump, by contrast, wants to bring us back to a glorious past -- we need to become great again -- but rarely cites history at all, preferring anecdotes about his own experiences or knocks on the last eight years.

    The presidency itself, of course, often pushes those who hold the office to higher rhetorical ground. Trump seems reluctant to change much of anything about himself, but he might usefully consider what he could learn from Obama.

     We ask that question knowing that speechmaking genius is not and has never been essential to a successful presidency. Over the last century, the list of presidents we lift up as especially gifted speakers is short -- Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama.

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January 18th

Why politicians don't make great art critics

    Congress has a lot of touchy issues to deal with these days, including one that boils quite literally beneath their feet.

    A painting, entitled "Untitled #1," by former Missouri high school student David Pulphus, has been on display in the busy underground walkway between the Cannon House Office Building and the Capitol since June 2016.

    But as the new year arrived, the painting touched off a cultural tug-of-war after some Republican lawmakers noticed what was in it.

    In a montage of images, the painting shows a street protest in Ferguson, Mo., confronting police. Some of the people have the heads of animals, including the heads of razorback pigs on the police.

    The unflattering depiction of police was too much for some members of Congress to take. Three times, Republican lawmakers (Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Doug Lamborn of Colorado and, as a team, Dana Rohrabacher of California and Brian Babin of Texas) have taken the painting down and delivered it to the office of Rep. William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat whose district includes Ferguson.

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Can Trump's Cabinet save him from himself?

    The Trump administration's first Cabinet meeting should be an interesting affair. On issue after issue -- Russia, the border wall, the Iran nuclear deal, climate change, torture, NATO -- President-elect Donald Trump's nominees have diverged from his stated positions. So whose views will prevail? Could Trump's secretaries help save Trump from himself -- and the country from Trump? Will they offer a sobering dose of reality therapy for the reality TV president?

    There are strong arguments for either outcome. I am tending ever so cautiously -- clinging perhaps -- to the optimistic one.

    The official position of the Trump transition is no. "At the end of the day, each one of them is going to pursue a Trump agenda and a Trump vision," incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Thursday.

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Why Trump can't fire America's consumer finance watchdog

    Republicans are putting a great deal of pressure on President-elect Donald Trump to fire Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He should resist that pressure. Any effort to discharge Cordray would be illegal -- and it might even precipitate something close to a constitutional crisis.

    Here's the legal background. Most federal agencies count as "executive," meaning that their heads serve at the pleasure of the president. But some agencies are "independent" -- meaning that by law, the people in charge of them can be removed only for good cause, which Congress often specifies to mean "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office."

    The Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are independent agencies -- and so is the CFPB. Under the law, Cordray's five-year term extends until July 2018.

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