Point of View Columns

Stop in the Name of the Law

By now we have been bludgeoned by reality and accept that there is no rule, law or moral norm that means anything to Donald Trump. Whether its discriminating against black men and women trying to rent apartments in Cincinnati, or buying the silence of former lovers and porn stars (in Trump’s case on several occasions they are the same), or not paying hundreds of workers and contractors doing work on his failed casinos, or simply swindling thousands of aspiring dreamers who thought they could learn something from attending Trump University (spoiler alert – they learned that Donald Trump cannot be trusted), Donald Trump has found that he can get away with anything if he is willing to pay some money. But there are limits – even for Trump.

Ever since the Trump-induced government shutdown ended, Trump has loudly hinted that he might declare a national emergency and siphon funds from various federal agencies to build his hallowed wall if Congress won’t give him what he wants. Somehow his bullet head advisors like Steven Miller and John Bolton have Trump believing that all he has to do is to say “emergency powers” like some sort of magical incantation and presto – he will have the power to build his wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. But Trump and his enablers are making a huge misstep because (a) they don’t read or (b) they can’t read or (c) they don’t care what the laws and the Constitution say. For those keeping score at home (c) is the correct answer.

Clearly Trump and his minions haven’t read, can’t read and don’t care about the National Emergencies Act of 1976. If they did they would know that it was enacted for the specific purpose of limiting the use of emergency powers by the President of the United States. If they were willing to peruse modern history, they would see that national emergencies have been declared by presidents as the result of hurricanes, tornadoes, 9/11, earthquakes and the like.

The National Emergencies Act in its language and in its application was never meant to give the President an option if he/she could not reach an agreement with Congress. As they roast slowly in Hell, true fascist dictators like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin must watch Trump with some admiration as he tries to be a dictator in a government with a Constitution that was specifically designed to block dictators. Trump’s dilemma probably makes them chuckle as they are basted by Satan.

A bit of history – when the Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1787 there were some basic concerns that needed to be addressed. First, since the Articles of Confederation had resulted in near total governmental chaos, it was important to establish a government structure that could work.

A close second however, was the almost universal belief of the delegates (Alexander Hamilton notwithstanding) that the power to govern could not and would not reside in one person or even one branch of government. And that is how three co-equal branches of government – executive, judicial and legislative – were established with a system of checks and balances so that no one person could control or direct the government. It turns out that the delegates were really serious about the concept of sovereign power resting with the people.

And now Trump threatens Congress with his supposed emergency powers somehow believing that the legislative branch (Congress) and the judicial branch (Supreme Court) will simply go along with this unprecedented grab for power. Trump will meet Nancy in Court and my money is on Nancy and the Court.

Point of View Columns

Trump as Avatar

Trump as Avatar

What follows are excerpts from a paper on the Socioeconomic Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election presented on 4.11.17 in New York City at the Academy of Business and Retail Management 6th International Conference on Business and Economic Development

The morning of November 9, 2016 was like no morning in recent American history. There have been upset elections in U.S. presidential elections, but Donald J. Trump’s candidacy was sui generis. His fact-free and gaffe-full campaign shouldn’t have even come close to being successful – but it was. And there was a reason.

The Trump campaign may have been fact-free but it also offered simple solutions to America’s socioeconomic challenges, both real and imagined. For example, Candidate Trump bemoaned the rising crime rate that was sweeping the country when in fact during the past two decades the American violent crime rate fell by almost half, from 758.20 per 100,000 in 1991 to a low of 387.1 per 100,000 in 2011. Nevertheless, Candidate Trump created a new reality that supported an overly simplistic Law and Order solution to a nonexistent American crime wave.

 Similarly, Candidate Trump argued vehemently in his uniquely fact-free fashion that the American economy was “a mess”. ……….. What is so remarkable about this alternative fact is that by any useful indicia, it is simply not true. What is true is that between 2009 and 2016, the timeline and arc of the Obama presidency, unemployment declined from 9.4 % to 4.9 %. What is true is the Dow Jones Industrial average rose to a record high of 10,000 during this same period. What is also true is that in this fact-free and truth-challenged reality authored by President Trump, the truth doesn’t matter. …..in examining the socioeconomic impact of the election of Donald Trump, it would be a mistake to overstate it since November 8, 2016 was really a time of revelation. ………..Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president was the result of over 40 years of conservative progression. These efforts, carried on largely by the Republican Party, have sought to deconstruct the federal government so that the dispersal of power to the individual states would have the desired effect of diminishing the power of the federal government – forever.

 This vision of American governance is literally older than the Constitution itself. ….. a cursory reading of the contemporaneous writings of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and James Monroe, including the formal presentations in The Federalist Papers reveal an almost genetic conflict built into the Republic, in effect a contest between those who believe in the need for a strong and powerful central government and those who champion the autonomy and sovereignty of the various and several states of the Union…..Donald Trump is a showman, marketer, occasionally successful real estate entrepreneur and most importantly, he is a man who has cracked the code on how to turn himself into a brand and then sell that brand worldwide.

President Trump is not the leader of a movement to change America. He is an avatar who conveniently appeared at a time when he could ride the rising tide of the conservative agenda – a tide that has been rising for half a century.

 There are deeper trends and movements that lie just below the surface and we ignore those trends and movements at our own peril. That is because the 2016 U.S. presidential election is mirrored in France and Germany and Poland and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. …..there is more to the ascendancy of Donald Trump than the vengeance of underemployed angry white men who never could accept the reality of an African American President of the United States. Although it would be a mistake to ignore the race rage that Donald Trump has been able to channel.

 There is the reality that the deconstruction of the American economy played a major part in the Trump as President scenario. Theories about the rights of states and the role of the federal government do not resonate as loudly with the base of his electorate as the very real fact that access to a better life is less accessible than ever before.

Terms like “leveraged buyouts” and “green mail” and “corporate raiders” and “vulture capitalists” entered the vocabulary of global finance about 35 years ago. Since then there has been an incredible accumulation of wealth for bankers, financiers and well-placed corporate executives……….This upward distribution of wealth – and power – is unprecedented in world history and has created political debates and contests that are unknowingly based upon these new and uncomfortable economic realities.

 In this scenario, a Donald Trump can be successful because he has continuously provided simple solutions to what should be obviously complex problems. ………one could argue that Donald Trump is the perfect candidate for the conservative movement.

 First, viewing his public persona over the last four decades, it is clear that he is politically agnostic when it comes to most major issues………… Donald Trump weaves between expediency and reflecting the loudest, last voice that he has heard.

 As a result, he has been able to levitate from one political position to another without regard to his precedent position or his latest speech. Being politically agnostic also has allowed Donald Trump to espouse contradictory statements with ease and more importantly, he has advanced the conservative agenda without seeming to be fully conscious that he was doing so……………………Because he had so few core beliefs, Candidate Trump had no problem advocating incredibly simple solutions to incredibly complex challenges facing the United States. Consider, for example, his “solution” to the issue of illegal immigration – deport over 12 million men, women and children, many of whom have established credible and worthwhile lives in this country – all while building an unbuildable wall…………………His position with respect to trade deficits and how the three card Monte of international trade had left many Americans with hands thrust into their empty pockets – to “get tough” with China and Russia and Mexico – toughness that to date has produced late night television fodder but no new jobs for Americans. And yet, the Trump base” has not wavered in its support.

The real issue for the United States, however, is how the various socioeconomic challenges of the world’s largest economy can be addressed. It is fair to state that many of these challenges – health care, income inequality, trade deficits, the lingering legacy of racism, structural unemployment, urban displacement and environmental endangerment, lend themselves to simple conservative solutions. In many instances that solution can be summarized as giving the power to the states – a.k.a. the people – denying the reality that these challenges are impervious to local or regional solutions.

Donald Trump is the perfect messenger for these simplistic solutions.

 And, since many Americans do not have the appetite for, or interest in, the more complex and nuanced solutions to these challenges, progressives find themselves marginalized as the United States careens from crisis to crisis, a player in a demonic pinball game where the American people lose every time. And, in the process the socioeconomic changes do not disappear, they do not go away, they do not get better.

 The delays in addressing these concerns only exacerbate these concerns and, in the final analysis we find that the socioeconomic challenge of the Trump presidency is the deferral of legitimate and thoughtful solutions. And since the time of any nation is never infinite, delays can result in irreparable damage.

 This vision only seems apocalyptic if viewed through a singular prism. But history tells too many stories of great civilizations that became dust-laden memories because they did not act,

Point of View Columns

An American Carol

Almost two centuries ago Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” and it is credited with making his English audience more aware of the disparities in the society of that time giving real support to a number of social services initiatives. It is in that spirit that “An American Carol” has been written in the hope that a similarly positive outcome is forthcoming.

Wilbert Thompson, a U.S. Congressman from rural North Carolina walked up to the Capitol Hill townhouse that he shared with three other Tea Party congressmen. He was pretty pleased with himself as earlier that day he proudly saw the federal government shut down by virtue of the Tea Party caucus to refuse to pass any budget that did not include the defunding, or at least the evisceration, of the Affordable Care Act.

Having already dined at one of Washington’s finest restaurants with some operatives from FreedomWorks, he was both satisfied and quietly at peace. In Congressman Thompson’s mind a great victory had been won. He slept soundly as soon as his head hit the pillow and was surprised to have been awakened by loud footsteps and the low murmur of voices.

He saw standing before him four people, two women and two men – black, white, Latino and Asian – seeming to be between twenty and seventy in age. “We are the Ghosts of America’s Present. We are the American people who are living in the United States right now. Whatever you do in Congress affects us. So tonight you will be visited by the Ghosts of America’s Past and the Ghosts of America’s Future.

Somewhat shaken he fell back to sleep and when he opened his eyes again he was even more surprised as he saw Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson standing in front of him. And then he heard them speak –

“Congressman Thompson, we are the Ghosts of America’s Past. We were ardent rivals during the formation of the United States, but we found enough to agree on so that there would be a Constitution and a government. We thought that the people of the United States deserved more than conflict without resolution”.

And then the Ghosts of America’s Past showed Congressman Thompson the results of bipartisan cooperation – the Constitution itself, the Louisiana Purchase, the Transcontinental Railroad, the attempted liberation of black Americans through the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and compulsory and free public education, Social Security, the G.I. Bill, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, NASA, Medicare, and Medicaid. As the ghosts of America’s Past began to dissipate Thompson heard them say “you will be visited by the Ghosts of America’s Future and America’s Present before morning”.

Being an ultraconservative possessed of a healthy streak of skepticism, Congressman Thompson dismissed the visitation as a bad dream occasioned by a bit too much lobster or chateaubriand. And then, just after he went back to sleep, unburdened by the consequences of the government shutdown that he had help to engineer he heard a scraping, scuffling sound that woke him once more.

Standing before him were two emaciated, unwashed children who were dressed in filthy shapeless overalls. “Congressman Thompson, we are the Ghosts of America’s Future. As it turns out, a few weeks after the federal government shutdown in 2013 America defaulted on its national debt and the world economy collapsed. Within a few years the international battle for resources turned into international wars for survival – and then civil wars broke out in what used to be the United States along with famine, epidemics and the total breakdown of the American way of life.

“The elders have told us that people from something called the ‘Tea Party’ caused so much disruption in what used to be called the United States that it is hard for us to believe that there was ever a time when this country was a place where people wanted to live”.

And then the Ghosts of America’s future took out some kind of device that flashed pictures on the wall – pictures of a devastated and wrecked American infrastructure, long lines of starving Americans all over the country begging for food. He saw great cities and suburban mansions devastated by civil wars and unchecked natural disasters. And he saw the hollow burned out shell of the Capitol building – empty and useless since the federal government no longer worked.

When the Ghosts of America’s Present reappeared, a now chastened Congressman Thompson asked, “What can I do? Please tell me!”

You can go back to Congress in the morning and work for the benefit of all the American people and not just the few people who you claim to represent, and not just for the few billionaires who finance your campaigns and keep you in office. You can get up tomorrow and be the patriot that you claim to be.”

“I will, I will!”, cried Congressman Thompson. And when he woke up in the morning he led a successful bipartisan group of congressmen in end the shutdown of the American government. And from that day on he tried to “be the patriot” that he claimed to be.

That’s a dream to be sure. But dreams have been known to come true.