January 20th, 2017

Inauguration Consternation

    Why is this inauguration different from any other?

    Let's start with the fact that most Americans are not happy that Donald Trump is about to become president. The Washington Post/ABC News poll this week found that Trump enters the Oval Office with the lowest favorable ratings since the question has been asked. Only 40 percent view Trump favorably. That compares with 62 percent for George W. Bush as he entered office in 2001 and 79 percent for Barack Obama in 2009.

    In the past, presidents facing public doubts of the sort Trump confronts have practiced what you might call self-interested humility. Bush declined to acknowledge the anger so many felt at the time about how the Supreme Court had paved the way to his presidency, but in his well-wrought inaugural address he did show how to reach out and reassure those who worried about what he might do with power.

    "Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment," Bush declared. "It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos."

Call it payback for that birther business, Mr. Trump

    If you're going to play the victim, make sure you're really victimized.

    That's the lesson that I hope conservative CNN commentator and radio host Ben Ferguson learned after criticizing Rep. John Lewis for describing Donald Trump as an "illegitimate president."

    Ferguson said it was "unprecedented" for the Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon to challenge Trump's legitimacy. "I can't imagine the fallout, the backfire that you would have if a Republican ever implied that about Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or JFK or anyone else for that matter," Ferguson said.

    Ah, how soon we forget.

    "Ben, Ben, Ben, that's exactly what many Republicans did," CNN host Poppy Harlow interrupted, "including the president-elect for years questioning the legitimacy of the first black president."

Inauguration under a shadow

    On the eve of Donald Trump's swearing-in as the 45th American president, there is nothing to stop it despite public dissent, such as Democratic Congressman John Lewis's contention that Trump will be not be a "legitimate" president.

    Those many voters who cling to the Georgia civil-rights icon's view have come up with no way to give teeth to their lament. Trump has dismissed with the back of his hand the judgment of ethics arbiters that his plan to turn over his real estate empire to his two eldest sons still violates conflict-of-interest standards, which dictate a clean blind-trust arrangement.

    Departing President Obama from the start has promised to do his utmost to assure the same smooth transfer of power that his own Republican predecessor afforded him in 2009. Even so, Trump's incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus has called on Obama to "step up" by refuting Lewis's comment and rebuking his plan to skip Trump's swearing-in.

No shiny shoes at this inaugural ball

    Looking around the ballroom, the first thing you notice is the lack of regalia -- no tuxes, no flowing gowns, no shiny footwear, no clinking jewels.

    Nor should there be, for this is the Inaugural Consolation Ball for the people of Not Trump Nation.

    There is nothing to celebrate for them – for us -- when into the Oval Office strides meanness and venality in the place of grace and dignity.

    It’s bad. But some things about the Inaugural Consolation Ball are quite heartening.

    One thing is how many people are there -- nearly 65.8 million, the number who voted for Hillary Clinton (contrasted with the winning 62.9 million for you-know-who).

    And something about all those not-Trump voters:

    A whole bunch weren’t interested in dancing when the inauguration rolled around. They were interested in marching – hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., hundreds of thousands in the nation’s capitals, hundreds of thousands overseas.

Dear Trump: Defending democracy is no vice

    For decades, American presidents have used their inaugural addresses to celebrate the values of freedom. In his second inaugural address in 2005, President George W. Bush declared, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." Sixteen years earlier, his father had asserted, "We know what works: Freedom works. We know what's right: Freedom is right." President Ronald Reagan said the same at his second inauguration, declaring, "America must remain freedom's staunchest friend, for freedom is our best ally."

    At his inauguration on Friday, President Donald Trump will take to the podium to declare his aims for his next four years in office. Will he have anything to say about the importance of freedom? Will he depart from decades of Republican Party tradition -- and American tradition -- by declining to embrace America's role as the leader of the free world? As a presidential candidate, Trump had almost nothing to say on this score. If he persists in ignoring the United States' special relationship with these ideals, he risks undermining democrats around the world and damaging American national interests.

Trump vs. Lewis: One is a legend. The other is a lightweight.

    We shouldn't be surprised anymore.

    There's apparently no depth too low for Donald Trump to sink in his unpresidented attacks on anyone who challenges him. And Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., certainly did that, citing Russian interference in the election and questioning the legitimacy of Trump's presidency .

    Even so, the president-elect's Twitter tirade against Lewis at the beginning of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend is still mind-boggling and a national embarrassment.

    Trump called Lewis, who risked his life to defy segregation, who has been arrested 40 times for his unrelenting activism, who helped get voting rights for millions of Americans, who kept fighting even after his skull was fractured, "All talk, talk, talk - no action."

    So let's compare Trump's actions to Lewis's actions.

    We can start in 1960, when Trump was 14 and Lewis was 20. They both clearly showed their leadership potential early.

Forget Putin; Fox News and Trump is the biggest romance in politics

    When Donald Trump takes the oath of office Friday, becoming the 45th president, two factors will have helped in a big - no, huge - way. He had one dominant message and one dominant messenger.

    A new Pew Research study shows that Trump voters coalesced around a single primary news source: Fox News.

    Hillary Clinton voters did the opposite. Some watched CNN and MSNBC or local TV news; others read the New York Times or listened to NPR. No news organization got more than 18 percent of the Clinton-voting total, while Fox had 40 percent of Trump voters. (Facebook was a major distribution source for voters of all stripes, but doesn't produce its own news.)

    Trump's theme was memorable and constantly hammered home. Clinton's was muddled and hard to understand.

    As for the message, The Washington Post reported Wednesday after a telling interview with Trump that he arrived at his campaign slogan way back in 2012, just after President Barack Obama was re-elected.

With All Due Disrespect

    As a young man, Congressman John Lewis, who represents most of Atlanta, literally put his life on the line in pursuit of justice. As a key civil rights leader, he endured multiple beatings. Most famously, he led the demonstration that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, suffering a fractured skull at the hands of state troopers. Public outrage over that day’s violence helped lead to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

    Now Lewis says that he won’t attend the inauguration of Donald Trump, whom he regards as an illegitimate president.

    As you might expect, this statement provoked a hysterical, slanderous reaction from the president-elect — who, of course, got his start in national politics by repeatedly, falsely questioning President Barack Obama’s right to hold office. But Trump — who has never sacrificed anything or taken a risk to help others — seems to have a special animus toward genuine heroes. Maybe he prefers demonstrators who don’t get beaten?

Why Obama is the Jon Snow of American foreign policy

    As Barack Obama packs up his belongings and prepares to not be president anymore, the postmortems and assessments of his administration are coming in at a rapid pace. I have a pretty strong interest in foreign policy, have written at length about Obama's grand strategy and concluded that his record is actually quite significant. For both good and bad reasons.

    Let's start with the good: I don't think even foreign policy folks remember just how bleak America's position in the world appeared to be in January 2009. The outgoing president was spectacularly unpopular. In the preceding few months, the worst financial crisis in a century had hit the acute phase. The U.S. economy was shrinking by about 8 percent. Lots of foreign observers, and lots of American observers, too, were writing the obituary for American leadership in the world. The German finance minister was predicting that the United States would lose its status as the financial superpower. Beijing was on the rise, and the looming power transition seemed to augur poorly for American interests in the world.

    And yet, as I wrote over the summer, things turned out rather differently than a straight-line extrapolation would have predicted:

Trump picks the perfect time to show off his ignorance about black Americans

    How did you celebrate MLK Jr. weekend?

    President-elect Donald Trump decided it was the perfect occasion to criticize a living civil rights icon, unloading a series of tweets describing Rep. John Lewis's Georgia district as "crime infested" and accusing the former Freedom Rider of being "All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"

    He later added: "Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!"'

    Sad indeed. But Trump's tweets might have actually been MLK-weekend-appropriate, in a perverse way. They serve as an illuminating if disheartening preview of what the next four years might look like for black Americans, unwillingly led by a president who sees us as a barely functioning sector of society.

    Whatever his political flaws, President Barack Obama helped to normalize the idea that black people in the United States are, in fact, people - who could be professionally successful, have admirable family lives, might live not in crumbling projects but even in the White House.