The Trump Chronicles, Volume 124: Why This Isn’t a National Emergency

Last Friday many of us gathered around our televisions, radios, and social media with one question: will our government stay open? We all were grateful that President Trump signed an continuing resolution to keep the government open despite not getting all the funding he wanted for a border wall on the Mexican border.

I’ve written about this before but a border wall is expensive, ineffective, and unpopular.

Unfortunately we knew it was only a matter of time before the other shoe would drop, and it did. President Trump has shown us again and again that he believes his office gives him unlimited power and that we are not citizens but subjects. I’m not sure who, but someone told him about the National Emergencies Act of 1976. It allows the President, during national emergencies, to act now and wait for Congress to support it. You can read his remarks on February 15th here: here. Previous presidents have invoked this during emergencies like 9/11 and hurricanes. These were events were it was clear that fast action was needed and consensus was assumed.

Enter President Trump’s wall. He recognized that he’ll lose much of his base if he doesn’t build the wall and he’ll pay an even higher price if he shuts down parts of the government again knowing the House of Representatives will never agree to the wall.

And so he manufactured an emergency. He’s claiming that we need the wall to stop drugs even though a wall won’t fix it. He also claims this will stop criminals from coming and committing crimes against Americans even though the crime rate among the undocumented is lower than the crime rate among Americans.

Clearly the emergency he speaks of isn’t an emergency for the United States. It’s an emergency for his re-election campaign. He’s recognized that the road to victory in 2020 becomes much more difficult if he doesn’t have a wall to point to.

His base doesn’t care that Hillary isn’t in jail or that coal isn’t coming back. But to his horror, Mr. Trump does know that when he promised to build the wall they were listening.

The rest of us care more about our future than we care about his future. The president’s road now goes through the court system and I pray the Judicial Branch cares more about our future.

Fortunately the next step is the Judicial Branch. As I write this 16 states have filed suit to stop this. I believe they will rule in favor of our nation instead of our president, but even if they don’t, there’s a good chance it will be tied up long enough to land on the desk of the next president.

We can only hope.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 123: All Americans Should Read James Comey’s Book

This morning my wife Nancy and I finished reading James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty.

It’s an excellent book and I recommend it to everyone. In it Mr. Comey describes the highs and lows of his life and his commitment to serve our nation. By any measure Mr. Comey’s patriotism reminds us all of what we should all aspire to as Americans and pass that along to our children.

President Trump’s election came three years after Mr. Comey was appointed by President Obama for a ten year term. And while the FBI director normally serves for ten years, he serves at the pleasure of the President. He can be fired by the President for any reason, or for no reason.

And Director Comey was indeed fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017. There’s much to this and I encourage everyone to purchase Mr. Comey’s book to get the whole story. It’s seriously a good read.

But I want to zero in on a paragraph toward the end of Mr. Comey’s book. He and his wife Patrice were blessed with daughters and a son (Collin) who died as an infant in 1995. Collin’s death made Mr. Comey a more compassionate and caring man. He recognized that their pain, and the pain of their surviving children, called them to greater empathy to the suffering of others. Collin’s death not only made Mr. Comey a better husband and father, it made him a better law enforcement officer. It further emboldened him to do justice better.

In his book Mr. Comey wrote about his experience against the reality he saw with President Trump. He wrote this, and I want all Americans to read this:

I see no evidence that a lie ever caused Trump pain, or that he ever recoiled from causing another person pain, which is sad and frightening. Without all those things – without kindness to leaven toughness, without a balance of confidence and humility, without empathy, and without respect for truth – there is little chance President Trump can attract and keep the kind of people around him that every president needs to make wise decisions. That makes me sad for him, but it makes me worry for our country.

We all deserve better leadership. We all deserve a President that leads all of us, that values our values, and lives the values that we embody in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 122: This Deal You Can’t Make

Dear President Trump:

Let’s face it, things are not going well for you these days. In a previous post I spoke of the need for you to give up on your promise to build a wall on our border with Mexico.

During your campaign you made several promises that your base never really took seriously. You promised to lock up Secretary Clinton. You promised to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

You made these promises because your base believed that you knew how to make deals. They read with devotion from your book The Art of the Deal.

And let’s face it: you thought yourself untouchable. During the campaign you bragged that your support was so strong that you could stand in middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes.

But to your horror your base expects you keep your promise to build the wall. The political commentator and author Ann Coulter has already turned on you.

So what now?

Well, you are clear in your book that when negotiating a deal you should never be afraid to walk away. That was easy when you leveraged your father’s money to build something, but the President negotiates in an entirely different world and neither you nor your base ever figured that out.

Funding the government isn’t just another deal: it’s an imperative for our nation. Last month you walked away from the table with Congress which resulted in 800,000 federal employees and more than 1,000,000 contractors not being paid. In fairness it was assumed that the federal employees would receive back pay, but the it’s worth noting that the contractors likely will not.

Our government doesn’t need a real estate developer with mixed results and several bankruptcies, it needs someone who understands that a deal must be made. It needs someone who understands that this is the real world and your petulance (and fear of losing your base) affects the lives of real people who want nothing more than to serve their country. It needs someone who understands that families who live from paycheck to paycheck are not irresponsible.

President Trump, I understand that your ego and insecurity demand that you win your reelection at all costs, and that while strong leaders command respect, you crave approval. I understand that you honestly believe you will be remembered as a successful President. And I understand your greatest fear lies in the possibility that you will be held accountable, even by your base, by your actions.

Frankly I don’t envy you. From North Korea to Russian interference to your inability to keep talented staff, nearly nothing you’ve done has realized success. I know this isn’t what you signed onto. But the rest of us live in a world where we accept the consequences of our actions and move on.

At the very least I encourage you to step out of the 2020 election, and perhaps you need to admit you’re in over your head and resign.

Seriously, call me.

Congratulations to My Father in Law on His First 100 Years

On January 23, 1919 Paul Graff (1882-1967) and his wife Theresa Sailer Graff (1892-1978) gave birth to their first child, Al Graff.

Today we celebrate his 100th birthday.

Several years ago I got a copy of his parents’ marriage license from Mandan, North Dakota. They married on September 10, 1917. Their marriage license was incredibly involved. A physician (whose name I can’t read) attested that they weren’t related and neither was “an idiot, epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded person, common drunkard, insane person or person who has heretofore been afflicted with hereditary insanity, or afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages, or afflicted with any contagious venereal disease.” Another part of the application attests that neither of them “has one-eighth or more negro blood.” I’ve often thought it would be good to have a document that attests that I’m not an idiot, imbecile, or feeble minded person.

By any measure Al has lived an incredible life. He came of age during the Great Depression. He and his cousin Paul Graner attended Loyola High School because the pastor of their parish, Our Mother of Sorrows paid their tuition in return for them spending each Saturday cleaning the church.

After high school Al worked for a year at the Cudahy Packing Factory to save money for college. He was then able to attend the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1942 with a degree in engineering.

Seven months before he graduated the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and his classmates were told to stay in school and hone their skills. After graduation General Electric hired him and moved him to Schenectady, New York. He was deferred from service during World War II because he worked on a team that developed the first jet engines.

After the war he married his sweetheart Marion Goetz (1922-2000). In 1958 they moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California and joined St James and St. Leo’s Catholic Church.

As his career in engineering wound down he began studies to become a permanent deacon. In 1983 he was ordained and began his second career.

As a deacon he preached, taught, counseled, and served the people of God. And even into his 90’s his generosity wasn’t done. He donated seed money to St. James Academy, ensuring that future generations could be given the opportunity he was given as a member of the class of 1936 at Loyola High School. He paid it forward.

Full disclosure: I’m his son-in-law, married to his youngest daughter Nancy. Twenty one years ago he welcomed me into his family with enthusiasm and joy. Eighteen years ago, after Marion died, he agreed that we should purchase a house together and we live in a wonderful neighborhood.

For the last two decades I’ve been blessed to stand in his shadow and benefit from his generosity. He has perfected the ability to give without remembering and accept without forgetting. His belief that God’s love for us surpasses our ability to create chaos and hurt each other has taught me the seismic ability of God’s forgiveness.

I stand in awe.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 121: Your 2.0 Report Card

Dear President Trump:

Two years ago today you became our President. I don’t think you expected it and I know I didn’t, but it happened. At the time your told us you were going to be the greatest President in our history. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now; two years ago I set us some benchmarks and told you that you would be graded against them. So here’s what I have:

  • The Dow Jones average was 19,732.40. Today it is 24,706. That looks good but you caught a break coming into office after President Obama rescued the economy from the brink of disaster. Last year at this time it was 26,071.72. You’re going backwards.
  • Likewise the NASDAQ was 5540.08 on January 20, 2017. A year later it was 7336.38 and today it’s 7157.23. Again, you’re going backward.
  • Finally, the Standard and Poor’s 500 (the S&P 500) started at 2663.69 and last year it was 2810.30. Today it’s 2670.71. More backwards.
  • You’ve done well with the unemployment rate. In 2017 was 4.7% and in 2018 it was 4.l%. Currently it’s 3.9%. I give you props for that.
  • Currently 153,340,000 are employed in the United States and that’s good. It’s up from 123,570,00 two years ago. Of course, it doesn’t count the government employees that aren’t being paid. More later.
  • Gallup tells us that your approval rating stands at about 37% and that’s been consistent for your time in office. Your minimal base appears to continue to support you
  • You ran on a platform to make us great again. When you entered the White House the federal deficit was $590 billion (that is, we spend more than we earn). Today it’s $985 billion.
  • The deficit is different from the national debt. The deficit means we need to borrow money to keep things working. The debt tells us how much money we’ve borrowed (and need to repay). Two years ago the national debt was just under $20 trillion. Now it’s approaching $22 trillion.
  • You ran promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better. Your best efforts to replace the ACA didn’t work, though you have had some success in disabling it. Two years ago 11% of Americans didn’t have health insurance. Today it appears to be 12.2%

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. As I write this we are nearly a month into a partial government shutdown. Thousands of government employees and contractors are not being paid (even though some are forced to work) because you insist on building a border wall that most Americans recognize as a bad idea. You’re not doing this because you think it’s a good idea or good for the country. You’re doing this because you recognize that Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter will not support you and you’re afraid of them.

Mr. Trump, you could resign, go back to your tower in New York, and never have to worry about paying your bills. If you do that thousands of government employees and contractors will also have to stop worrying about their bills.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 120: Your Shutdown Appears to Hurt Everyone But You

As I write this we approach the 26th day of the partial government shutdown. We’ve had shutdowns before but this is our longest.

This shutdown does not affect all federal employees and is called a “partial shutdown.” But that’s little comfort to those are not being paid. And those who are not being paid are divided into two groups: essential and non-essential.

The non-essential federal employees cannot work and are not being paid. Essential employees must work and are not being paid. So what’s the difference? Good question.

I believe that all federal employees are essential because they serve all of us. In the past few days I’ve suggested that we abandon essential and non-essential and instead use the words safety related and non safety related. This made some sense because safety related employees guard our safety (e.g. the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Transportation Security Administration) and we can’t function without them. But other agencies provide essential services that don’t endanger our safety.

But here’s where it get complicated for our President: as the shutdown continues we’re finding that his base may suffer from his unwillingness to care about the work that our federal employees do. As a candidate he promised to improve the lives of American farmers and by overwhelming numbers they voted for him. But his protectionist policies make their lives more difficult because other nations reduce how much they purchase from us. We can see soybean farmers as an example.

In response to this Mr. Trump allocated subsidies to soybean farmers. Some of them grumbled that they chose farming to grow crops, not to cash checks but I haven’t heard of anyone who refused to cash the checks.

But the government shutdown has meant that farmers aren’t getting their checks.

Today we received word that 2500 federal employees were ordered back to work to ensure these farmers get their checks.

In other words, 2500 federal employees who haven’t been paid since the government shut down are now ordered back to work without pay so that the President can ensure that the minority of Americans who voted for him will continue to receive checks for not farming.

It’s hard to imagine that anything will make him care for the people who work for him and stop pandering to his base.

Adieu Scully

Seven and a half years ago our neighbors Craig and Alison rang our doorbell with a generous gift. They were walking their dog when they heard a kitten meowing. He was on pitcher’s mound at a little league field on the edge of a canyon at dusk. They recognized that if they didn’t scoop up and save this kitten he would have been eaten by a coyote within minutes. They couldn’t take him home as they have a dog.

They rang our doorbell asking us to keep this kitten overnight and in the morning they could take him to see if he had a microchip that would identify his owner. The next morning Alison drove him to the San Diego Humane Society. Unfortunately they couldn’t check for a microchip and they took him across the street to the San Diego Pound. The pound immediately took control of this kitten for a week, waiting for the owner to claim him. I wrote about this at the time. It was an ordeal but we adopted him and named him Scully after the long time Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully.

Our cat Scully was a good cat. We loved our time with him and both of us appreciated the fact that he liked to sleep on our laps. Last Tuesday Tom woke up and brought in the newspaper. But when he tried to pet Scully on the loveseat he recognized that Scully died during the night. Tom took him to an emergency veterinary clinic where they confirmed that Scully died from a massive stroke.

He died in a sleeping position and that makes us think he didn’t suffer. We miss him terribly but are comforted by the fact that he didn’t suffer or die in pain.

Adieu Scully.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 119: Mr. Trump, It’s Time To Give Up On the Wall

Dear President Trump:

I’m writing to you today to encourage you to give up on the idea of a border wall and reopen government. Two weeks ago government funding stopped for several departments out of dispute over funding your promise to build a wall along our southern border.

All presidential candidates make promises that, once they are elected, recognize they can’t keep. Famously President Obama promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo.

And let’s face it: you have your own broken promises. Eleven times on the campaign trail you promised to jail Hilary Clinton. You also criticized President Obama for playing golf while on the job and promised not to do the same.

I could go on, but that’s not the point. Now that you’re President you need to recognize that building the wall will not stop illegal immigration. It will cost a great deal of money and won’t do what it’s supposed to do.

Simply put, Mr. Trump, we all recognize that this is one campaign promise your base cares about. But your base has never been the majority of Americans and most of us oppose the wall.

You need to stop worrying about losing your base and start leading our nation. And you need to stop making federal employees hostages of your fear. Employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and the United States Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration (among others) are currently working without pay. They are praying that they won’t lose their homes, that their credit ratings won’t suffer, and that their children won’t lose necessary services.

Mr. Trump I understand that your corporations have declared bankruptcy at least four times. But all of these bankruptcies were corporate and did not cost you anything personally. No matter what happened to your employees your home in Trump Tower remained safe.

This won’t be true for federal employees who suffer from your fear of losing your base. I pray none of them will need to declare bankruptcy but if they do, you will not pay any price for their pain or their future.

I have no confidence that you will suddenly develop a moral compass but I will never stop praying for the people you are hurting.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 118: If You Think It’s OK to Ask About Citizenship Status in the 2020 Census, Ask an Elderly Japanese American

The United States Constitution instructs that a census of all persons in the United States be conducted every 10 years. The first census was 1790, the latest in 2010. We conduct a census every 10 years to ensure that every member of the House of Representatives represents the same number of people. Every 10 years states take this information and draw congressional districts.

But the census has become much more. The Census Bureau has also asked questions about age, place of birth, marital status, education, etc. And we update these questions with each census. Historically this gives us a “snapshot” of our nation. For those of us who choose to climb our family tree, this information gives us an incredibly amount of information.

The Census Bureau comes under the Department of Commerce and two years ago President Trump nominated Wilber Ross. Not long after Mr. Ross assumed his office he began to advocate that the 2020 census ask each person in America about their citizenship status.

At face value that sounds benign but it’s not. From the first day of his campaign President Trump has proclaimed that they (noncitizens) are out to destroy our (citizens) way of life. It is their hope that families with undocumented residents will lie and exclude those household members from the census. Those uncounted people will not factor into the congressional district. Or perhaps they will answer truthfully and undocumented residents will in danger of being discovered and deported.

Those who favor this question respond by saying (rightly) that individual census information doesn’t become public information until 73 years after the census. Anyone can access information on the census from 1790 to 1940; in 2023 the 1950 census will be released.

Except. Except that in the 1940s, during World War II, the United States decided to inter Japanese Americans. They used several tools to determine who were Japanese, and one of them was data from the 1940 census. They broke the law. Don’t believe me? OK, at least read this article.

So in 2020 people with family members who are undocumented have to face a terrible dilemma: should they lie and give up some representation or should they tell the truth and fear a knock at midnight?

And, by the way, if you think the census should only count people with legal status, you need to amend the Constitution. The census counts all persons, not just persons the President likes.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 117: Is This the Beginning of the End?

Things are not looking good for President Trump these days, and virtually all of his wounds are self inflicted.

Last week his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned and wrote a scathing resignation letter. Secretary Mattis, in a break from most resignations, stated clearly that he holds a different world view than the President. He offered to stay until the end of February, but when Mr. Trump saw the reaction his letter was getting, he ordered him to leave by next week. When Mr. Trump was inaugurated nearly two years ago he appointed a group of retired service members he called “my generals.” They included Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor; H.R. McMaster as Mr. Flynn’s successor; and John Kelly, first as Secretary of Homeland Security, then as Chief of Staff. Now they are all gone, and Mr. Trump can’t avoid the view that he does not want advice, he wants yes men.

Mr. Trump moved into the White House during a bull market (ie, the stock market is going up) and has claimed credit for its ongoing rise. As I write this the Dow Jones Industrial average is 23,138. At the beginning of the year it was 24,824. The last week or so has been particularly volatile but we’re probably due to experience a recession in 2019. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 didn’t become another Great Depression in large part because President Obama slammed the brakes on it by working with the Federal Reserve and pouring money into the economy. President Trump lacks even a basic understanding of how the Fed works and if we do slip into another recession I fear he won’t know what to do.

Finally, we are on day 6 of a partial government shutdown over his promise to build a wall along the entire US/Mexico border. He’s broken several promises before (e.g. promising to jail Hillary Clinton) and his supporters haven’t seemed to mind. It’s often said that they take him seriously but not literally. The border wall appears to be different. Last week he appeared to be willing to defer funding for the wall to avoid a government shutdown. But he turned on Fox and Friends and saw that he was being criticized for backing down. He’s not a man who does well with criticism, but it goes deeper. I think he recognizes that if he doesn’t build the wall he will lose support from his base. The partial shutdown can’t go on forever, but he’s really trapped. Next week the Democrats take control of the House and there is no way he will get wall funding once that happens.

Unfortunately he is no longer hosting a reality TV show. His missteps have real consequences, for him and for us.