This Just In 305

Rutland Herald and Monpelier (Barre) Times Argus

December24/25 2016


In the spirit of the Christmas season I know it is time to suppress my raging doubts with the outcome of the presidential election. Actually, in the decade of writing this column, I have consciously tried to be a voice of moderation. But recent events are proving an enormous challenge. In the face of an on-coming political cataclysm, how does one, or indeed should one demonstrate moderation?

According to the man whose birth some two thousand years ago we Christians celebrate this weekend, when slapped in the face by an adversary or misfortune, we should turn the other cheek. In spite of what ultimately happened to him, Jesus was not wrong, in the sense that in order to create a perfect world, we need to be able to do that. But the world then and now is far from perfect. And too often in history and in the present, moderation is not seen as a virtue - but as a weakness to be exploited by those who live by their own rules.

And so, when it comes to Donald Trump, I will show moderation when he does. And among those who love him or hate him, the word moderate is never used

I have many reasons for being anti-Trump. But at the top of my list is his demonstrable threat to the very institutions that make up American democracy. True, these institutions have been seriously tested through the years- most notably by the Civil War. Even today the poisonous residue of slavery continues to exist. The criminal justice system cries out for dramatic reform of laws which discriminate against people of color. Still most Americans tell pollsters they believe that on the question of race, the country is significantly better than it was fifty years ago and they often cite Barrack Obama’s election as president for two terms, as proof of this. Ironically, Obama’s critics, first among those one Donald J. Trump, blame Obama for a new crisis in race relations. Exploiting racial issues is of course the deceit of the demagogue, at which Trump has demonstrated his mastery. But divide and rule will not “make America great again.” It will accomplish quite the opposite.

Through his cabinet choices, Trump seems to be deliberately trying to weaken the institutions of governance by guaranteeing their dysfunction and ultimate failure. Some notable examples:

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s choice to be Labor Secretary, is a fast food executive who specializes in television commercials showing scantily clad young women pigging out on burgers. He opposes increasing the minimum wage laws and is expected to roll back Obama rules designed to protect the large number of federal contractor workers.

Scott Pruit is the designated administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma’s attorney general he is a leading climate change denier and widely believed to be in the pocket of the oil, gas and coal industries. He wants the US to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement

Tim Price an orthopedic surgeon and six term Georgian Republican is to head Health and Human Services. Price has made a career out of trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act on the specious grounds that it interferes with the doctor patient relationship. Repealing the act will deprive at least 20 million Americans of health insurance. Price will no doubt play a role in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s dream goal of privatizing Medicare and Social Security.

Betsy Devos, is to be Secretary of Education. Trump has said he wants to drastically cut the department. Devos, who is a strong supporter of charter schools and equally strong critic of public education, would therefore seem to fit the bill.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is the nominee as Attorney General. Sessions is a hardliner on immigration enforcement and tough-on-crime measures- not exactly the man to lead reforming the criminal justice system. Nor is he inclined to vigorously defend what’s left of the Voting Rights Act. In 1986 Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship but was rejected by the senate for things he had said and done which were deemed to be racially charged.

Then there is Lieutenant general Michael j. Flynn, named to be Trump’s national security adviser. He does not need senate confirmation. His last job was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from which he was relieved by the Obama administration. He is militantly anti-Islamic and recently was outed for having forwarded a fake news item as a “Must Read” which suggested that Hillary Clinton and others had been involved in a child- sex ring. Flynn would be Trump’s closest foreign and military adviser.

I am withholding judgment on Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon-Mobile and Marine Corps General James Mathis, named as Secretaries of State and Defense respectively. In terms of competence they seem among the best of Trump’s nominees. We’ll see the extent of their negative baggage during their confirmation hearings.

There are also several billionaires and a trio of Goldman Sachs executives to run Treasury and economic matters. You get the picture.

However there are two other crucially important institutions which Trump has been openly challenging – the United States intelligence community and the American mainstream news media.

Trump says he simply does not believe the collective conclusions of all 17 government intelligence agencies that Russian government operatives hacked the files of the Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager; and that President Putin personally guided the dispersion of the hacked material to places like WikiLeaks to discredit the American political system- AND- to help Trump. The central question is: does the roughly $80 billion a year America pays for gathering intelligence out -weigh the ill-informed opinions of Donald Trump’s gut (and what he sees on Cable TV Talk Shows like MSNBC”s Morning Joe)?. Stay tuned.

As for the news media, they have yet to concede their critical role in getting Trump elected, while Trump continues to vilify reporters and to limit their access with the apparent goal of greatly diminishing their role in reporting on him. Barring the unforeseen, that will be the subject of my next column.

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