June 6, 2020
76th Anniversary of Normandy Invasion, 1944.
A conservative person I deeply respect recently gave me this challenge. “Put aside Donald Trump’s vicious character and objectionable personality and tell me what he has actually done wrong.” So let’s ignore his psychology and focus on his behavior. Headings will make this easier, though some items will overlap.
A. Isolates the country internationally.
- In a 2017 conversation with Russian ambassador Segei Kislyak and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the President unwittingly revealed Israel as the source of highly classified intelligence about plans for terrorist attacks by ISIS.
- Kowtowed to dictators: Putin (Helsinki), Kim (Singapore), Xi (G20 in Osaka), Erdogan (Dec. 4, 2019, the White House), thus undermining our democratic traditions.
- Diminishes support for NATO, our bulwark against Russia, and co-defender of our democratic ideals.
- Withdrew from international accords limiting Iran’s nuclear development (the Iran Deal).
- Abandoned the Kurds in Syria, our allies against Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS, to curry favor with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who opposes them in Turkey.
- Weakened U. S. support of Ukraine against Russia.
- Mercantilism (economic nationalism). Trade wars. Tariffs on all goods from China, on steel, aluminum from Canada and Mexico.
- His exaggerated emphasis on a Southern border wall weakens ties with our neighbor, Mexico.
- One good thing: opposes China’s theft of intellectual property.
B. Weakens environmental safeguards:
- Removes many environmental checks on industries — unwise given global climate change.
- Supports coal and petroleum industries, which emit carcinogens and carbon dioxide, thereby causing disease and warming the planet.
- Withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, the beginning of an effort to attack a global problem on a global scale.
- Cuts budget of Environmental Protection Agency.
C. Exacerbates hatred.
- After the “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville, August 11-12, 2017, Trump, in a misguided effort to please everyone, declared “There were very fine people on both sides.” Note that one of the organizers of the rally took the internet alias, Crystal Knight, a punning allusion to the first, nationwide action against Jews in Nazi Germany, Kristallnacht, 9-10 Nov, 1938. Prior to the march that killed a counter-protester, the demonstrators prepared in neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, and Klan meetings and, online, declared their despicable loyalties. As they marched, they chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
- Stigmatizes categories of people with pejorative language: Muslims (“terrorists”), Mexicans (“animals, rapists, drug dealers”). Uses criminal or terrorist fringe, like MS-13, hardly a typical group, to characterize whole populations. Stigmatizes women, “who will let you do anything if you’re famous.”
- Fostered cruelty against immigrants as a deterrent, thus undercutting U. S. reputation as a refuge for the persecuted (like many of my professors in graduate school).
D. Oppresses the needy.
- Although I cannot find the actual source, Ronald Reagan is frequently credited with expressing this sentiment: “Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.” Donald Trump fails to meet this deliberately minimized standard.
- Oppresses women worldwide by eliminating reference to sex education, contraception, and abortion from international aid programs. He applies this “gag rule” at home and abroad.
- His tax cut of Dec. 22, 2017 increased the national debt although it distributed its benefits inequitably. It (1) reduced corporate tax rate from an average in 2012 of 29% to a 22% stipulated rate (not counting deductions) and (2) limited deductions for state taxes, which impacts states that tax more heavily. Upshot: makes it more expensive for liberal states to offer social services.
- Restructured Affordable Care Act. (1) Removed the individual mandate, which thereby reduced the size of the insurance market and increased premiums for sicker individuals. (2) Encouraged states to restrict Medicaid expansion (a benefit for the poor) by, among other things, adding work requirements. (3) Allowed states to essentially substitute their own Medicaid programs. Because many states are required to balance their budgets, the removal of federal aid reduces medical help to the poor.
E. Exaggerates Presidential Authority.
- Banishes note takers from his summit meetings. Without notes, we cannot hold our leaders accountable. We cannot “trust but verify” (Ronald Reagan’s advice) whatever the foreign leader might have agreed to, so the arrangements cannot be enforced. This violates the first of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points. “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at. . . . Diplomacy [should] proceed always frankly and in the public view.”
- Appointed Brett Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court because he wrote an essay exaggerating the powers of the executive branch and despite fact he was beneath inclusion on a list of 25 recommended by the conservative Federalist Society.
- Appointed William Barr who, as an AG hopeful, wrote a brief (probably much like this speech) designed to augment the unitary executive, which misrepresents the president’s power to act alone.
- Circumvented congressional power over the budget and declared an emergency, Feb. 15, 2019, where none existed, to obtain funding for a border wall.
- Preference for acting heads of federal agencies, thus avoiding need for congressional advice and consent — a fundamental aspect of constitutionally mandated checks and balances.
- Demanded loyalty from FBI Director James Comey even though Comey’s revival, in October, 2016, of the case against Hillary Clinton over her private email server was instrumental to his election. As the FBI is, in principle, an independent agency, a demand of loyalty is not appropriate. Loyalty pertains more to feudal lords than to constitutionally limited presidents.
- The Mueller investigation into the possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian interference in the 2016 election, “does not exonerate” Donald Trump on 10 counts of obstructing justice. Because the president cannot be exonerated of obstructing the investigation into his collusion with the Russians, his participation in the collusion remains unresolved. Our president should be above suspicion of collusion with a foreign power to secure his own election.
- In Helsinki, on July 16, 2018, he naively, publicly, embarrassingly, accepted Vladimir Putin’s guarantee that the Russian president had not meddled in our 2016 election despite evidence to the contrary, which, at that time, was growing. At the very least, he should have declared it an open question and thanked Putin for his opinion.
F. Errors of omission. Our president fails to solicit, engage, or heed information from experts in science, medicine, policing, diplomacy, international law, and military affairs. He ignored early signs of the danger from the Coronavirus, redrew the path of Hurricane Dorian contrary to expert projections, advised police not to shield heads of arrestees being put into cars, advised ingesting bleach to treat Covid-19, denies the status of refugees despite the international standing of the right to sanctuary, claims noise from wind turbines causes cancer, ignored CIA station chief in Iraq prior to abandoning the Kurds in that country. “Once again, we’ve turned our back on a loyal ally, an ally that not just shared our ideology and our goals, but actually bled for the United States on the battlefield. . . . The Turkish military was poised and immediately filled the vacuum,” said veteran Doug Wise.
G. Tells lies: This heading violates the rules of this exercise because the president’s mendacity is part of his character. Still, it harms the country when a president makes untrue statements — especially if he does so often. A Republican supports this observation here. And here is a link to the fact-checkers of the Washington Post.
In conclusion: It’s not true that character and personality don’t matter. Presidents should exemplify a leadership that emanates from probity, courage, service, patriotism, and statesmanship.