I almost titled this “There is No Good News”, but decided that that was both depressing and inaccurate. But there is too much news. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around some of the stories because of either the sheer volume of information within them, or the complexity of the various threads composing the whole. We are residing in the old curse, ‘May you live in interesting times’.
I’ve written before about the changes in my personal intake of news. To sum up, I take in more information. I am following the Russian election interference scandal avidly. Yes, the Russia scandal is real. To claim otherwise is to be terribly foolish, and terribly wrong. What I am reading indicates that Robert Mueller is doing his best to condense an incredibly complex investigation, one that would normally take 10 years to complete, into a 3-year time frame. The good news is that the investigation began in 2016, so it may be completed by next year. News articles are coming out on the possibility of several reports being issued by the special counsel’s office, detailing the various aspects of the investigation and making recommendations. At that juncture, it would become up to Congress to take further steps.
Whether Congress takes those further steps likely depends on whether or not Congress is controlled by Republicans or Democrats. While it is certainly not unheard of for the ruling party to suffer mid-term losses, there are many indications that the 2018 mid-terms are going to be a political bloodbath. The much-vaunted tax plan is the ONLY major legislation passed so far by the Republican-controlled Congress, in conjunction with the White House. Early signs are that in most places, no one cares. Most people’s lives have not been substantially improved. This includes Trump voters, although they have proved themselves willing to vote against their own economic self-interest before, and most probably will again. The important thing to remember is, their numbers are not increasing. There has been no expansion of Trump’s base, although their enthusiasm remains high. I do not now, nor will I ever, understand this, but maybe that’s just me.
Setting aside the reality of the Russia investigation, also quite real is the amount of corruption and ineptitude being displayed by the administration in many departments. I rather suspect that the self-dealing corruption on display at the White House (Trump’s refusal to divest, his refusal to release his tax returns, the sheer cheesiness of illegally putting the Presidential seal on GOLF TEES, etc, etc, ad nauseum) has led to department heads believing that they could get a piece, too.
The EPA is in the spotlight this week, due to Scott Pruitt’s smug arrogance as much as anything. Pruitt was apparently under the impression that he could do no wrong. This was wrong. So far, we have under scrutiny Pruitt’s first-class air travel, 24-hour security detail, $43K sound-proof room in his office, living arrangements (renting a room, below market rate, from a lobbyist/acquaintance), using a provision of the Clean Air Act to give two staffers large raises (note: he is now blaming this on an unnamed (and so far, unfired staffer)), and a very suspicious trip to Morocco, where Pruitt did a bit of lobbying to encourage Morocco to buy natural gas. The kicker is the company that would be exporting the natural gas to Morocco is represented by the lobbyist who was Pruitt’s landlady. And this is only Pruitt’s PERSONAL corruption. He is also eviscerating the agency itself, believing that the EPA’s mission is to work hand-in-hand with various corporate interests to both preserve and increase their bottom lines at the expense of the environment. Climate change denial is only part of the program. He is also seeking to minimize or outright eliminate the role of science in EPA decision-making by dismantling various advisory boards and promulgating restrictive or unnecessary rules designed to discourage the use of science. This goes along with the re-writing of the EPA’s core mission. Dumb and dumber, indeed.
Over at the Interior department, Ryan Zinke is reducing public lands, while lying about meeting with all of the stakeholders. He has also exhibited a fondness for both first-class travel and expensive interior design (thousands on new office doors), with Interior’s Inspector General investigating. A company called Whitefish Energy, with an employee roster of two people, based in Zinke’s hometown, was initially hired (on a no-bid contract) to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid after Hurricane Maria. They were removed after being found to be unable to to the job. My question is, how did they get the gig in the first place?
At HUD, Ben Carson, whose sole qualification for running the agency was that he lives in a house, is making his mark. The Inspector General there is investigating both unreasonable expenses (a $31K dining room set. Note: I could re-furnish my house, top-to-bottom, for that amount. And it would look fabulous.), and possible conflicts involving his son’s business interests. I think it says a great deal about Carson, that when he was questioned by Congress about the $31K dining set, he blamed his wife. I’ll bet that went over well at home that night.
At the VA, David Shulkin, an Obama holdover re-appointed by Trump, first ran into trouble over the European vacation he went on with his wife. The devil’s in the details, and in this case, the detail was the government, at least initially, paid Mrs. Shulkin’s expenses. However, Shulkin’s larger crime, so far as Trump was concerned, was his refusal to implement any plans to privatize the agency. I feel very sorry for Admiral Jackson, who has been nominated to take over the VA. He seems like a genuinely good guy, who is likely to be chewed up and spit out by the administration.
At the State department, Rex Tillerson had a very bad time. There have been no reports of personal corruption, but most other reports conclude that he was not very good at his job. He began a department-wide reorganization, relying largely on outside (and very expensive) consultants. Many top positions were left unfilled, or eliminated outright. A large number of senior staff have left, leaving the State department in the same position as an army or navy would be without generals and admirals. There was also the issue of Jared Kushner running a shadow State Dept out of the White House. Additionally, Tillerson never got along personally with Trump. Now, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a point in his favor, but being a realist, I also know one has to get along with the boss.
At the Education department, Betsy Devos has risen to the highest level of her incompetency. Devos pays for her own private jets, which, quite frankly, is the least she can do. As was shown at her confirmation hearings, and again during her “60 Minutes” interview, she doesn’t know squat about education. What she does know is that she wants to spend more money on ‘school choice’ and no more money on helping public schools. She has NEVER visited a struggling public school. Additionally, she rescinded an advisory designed to help protect transgender students; rolled back regulations designed to protect students from predatory for-profit schools (think Trump University); and modified an Obama administration policy to forgive the loans to students defrauded by the Corinthian Colleges chain. Loan forgiveness is now tied to income. This completely disregards the fact that the students were DEFRAUDED. Essentially, those making a decent living now are being punished for it.
In the White House itself, the churn of personnel is continual. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow is tracking the personnel exits on a big board which just keeps getting bigger. The office in charge of vetting new personnel has been found itself to be a den of laziness and incompetence. John Kelly tried to constrain a president who is uninterested in being constrained, and in the process has forever stained his own reputation. Trump, in his arrogance and ignorance, appears to genuinely believe his own rhetoric, that he ‘alone can fix it’, whatever ‘it’ may be. He appears to believe that he can run the country as he ran his business. As his business evolved, from building actual buildings to simply marketing his ‘brand’, slapping his name on everything from airplanes to wine to steaks, what came to matter most was keeping his name in the public eye. It was with notable relief on Sunday that I read the NY Times, whose front page contained NO articles about Trump. I don’t think that’s happened in over two years. However, there was plenty of verbiage generated by Trump in his Twitter feed, most of it fact-free, and transparently aimed at feeding red meat to his base in the form of pseudo-toughness on immigration (the caravan of Hondurans walking across Mexico. That’s right, WALKING), Amazon (he’s mad at owner Jeff Bezos because Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which Trump thinks should be ‘nicer’ to him), and the FBI and Justice Department (riddled with ‘deep-state’ employees refusing to investigate Hillary Clinton).
There does not appear to be any coherent doctrine, policy, or method to the madness engulfing the White House. Donald Trump is NOT a ‘man with a plan’. There is no plan, because Trump has no clue. His daily schedule includes hours upon hours of what is euphemistically called ‘executive time’. This time is used regularly by Trump to live-tweet ‘Fox & Friends’. This is not a good use of ANYONE’S time. He is the embodiment of everyone’s experience with the bigoted uncle/aunt at Thanksgiving, the drunk at the end of the bar, the cab driver in whose cab one is temporarily trapped. These people have opinions on everything, and knowledge of nothing. They spew their thoughts out into the ether, and it used to be that they could be evaded. No more. It is genuinely wearying.
On the other hand, there is good news. I am coming to the belief that as damaging as the Trump administration has been, is, and will be for the forseeable future, they are not running amok completely unchecked. I think that Trump’s election has given us an “Oh, Shit!” moment. The Women’s March was the start. In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, #MeToo. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, #NeverAgain. These movements are operating alongside #BlackLivesMatter, which predates Trump. Thousands of people, most of them women, are exploring or actually running for office, at all levels of government. The non-profit activist groups are working overtime. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and countless others are experiencing huge increases in donations, and are using these donations to fund both public awareness and actual lawsuits. State governments, with Democratic attorney generals leading the way, are suing promptly whenever a new offense is committed by the administration. Most recently, California is leading the lawsuit against the rollback of automotive emissions requirements. The New York attorney general is investigating other aspects of Trump world, and has been in communication with Robert Mueller’s team. And finally, the Democratic party, while continuing to be a roiling mass of disparate agendas, is still fighting everywhere they can.
It is my steadfast belief that our democracy is stronger than Trump’s desire to destroy it for fun and profit. But as has been said elsewhere, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Trump’s presidency did not occur in a vacuum. It arose as a response to genuine problems – economic neglect and unending wars to name just two. But it also arose because of racism and misogyny. The unreasoning hatred of both Barack Obama and the woman who would have been his successor, Hillary Clinton, must be acknowledged, and hopefully, overcome. It’s going to take a bit more time, though. Maybe within the lifetimes of the Parkland activists. Wouldn’t that be something?