Thoughts On the End of 2016

The end of the year always causes us to think back on the past and look forward to the next. And on any given year there are some who celebrate because it’s been a hard year they’re ready to see it go.

My worst day of 2016 was August 4th when I learned of the death of my friend Fr. Henry Rodriguez. He died much too suddenly and much too soon.

My 2nd worst day was election day, November 4th. For weeks I advised everyone not to worry about Donald Trump because there was no way he would win. I was wrong.

And so as I say goodbye to 2016 I have to confess concern for 2017. Typically we look toward the new year with optimism. But twenty days into 2017 we will inaugurate someone that most of us didn’t vote for. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon to bash the Electoral College but our nation will be led by a man who didn’t win the popular vote, who likely won the electoral vote because a foreign nation successfully steered the vote in his direction. And yet he claims he won on a landslide.

This post is tagged in the “praying” category for a reason.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 16: Words Matter, and Bring Responsibility

Today Catholics around the world commemorate St. Thomas a Becket (1118-1170). On this day he was martyred on the high altar at the Catebury Cathedral.

Thomas had been the best friend of King Henry II (1133-1189) but by 1170 their relationship soured and King Henry snarled: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four of his knights took his words literally: believing they were acting on orders, they killed Thomas.

I write this because King Henry learned an important lesson that day: if you enjoy great power, you carry great responsibility. President Elect Trump has not learned this. Over the past 18 months we have watched him make dozens of false and preposterous statements. The web page Politifact (who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009) fact checked 342 of his statements. Of those, 114 (33%) were determined to be false and and 62 (18%) were determined to be “pants on fire.”

And while most of those statements are fairly harmless, others were not. The defense contractor Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 fighter plane. On December 22nd Don tweeted that he thought it was too expensive. Overnight the stock price of Lockheed Martin lost 2%, or $1.2 billion of value. It was also a hard day for anyone who works for Lockheed Martin. And this is from someone who claims he’ll be good for jobs.

Simply put, he dumps these tweets with no regard to the fact that many Americans’ jobs and livelihood depend on his actions. It’s true with any President but most of his 44 predecessors recognized their responsibility. This one does not.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 15: Tariffs Are a Bad Idea

Throughout the campaign and since the election we’ve heard President Elect Trump talking about “bring back manufacturing jobs.” In that light he talks about imposing tariffs, that is, charging other countries to import goods to the United States.

Historically we’ve used tariffs to prevent other nations from manufacturing or growing products cheaper and importing them to hurt our own manufacturers and farmers. In 1913 our government passed the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, allowing the government to collect taxes on the incomes of individual Americans. Before that, almost all government revenue came from tariffs.

But most economists hate tariffs. They feel that “government intrusion” on the free market chooses winners and losers. They feel that we all do better when the competition of the free market makes everyone work harder and produce better products.

So what happens if President Trump imposes tariffs? There’s a terrific article here that shows what happened in Argentina. In 2009 that nation imposed a 35% tariff on electronics as a way to protect the domestic electronic manufacturing industry. It went well for Argentinian manufacturing, but badly for everyone else.

It was a boon to the black market in electronics. But it was also a boon to Chile, next door. Droves of Argentinians streamed to Chile to purchase electronics. For example, an iPad mini 4 cost $1,260 in Argentina but only $640 in Chile.

So if you want the next generation of iPhone, you need to hope either (1) Trump isn’t successful, (2) You become wealthy enough to pay the 35% tariff, or (3) You live close enough to Canada or Mexico to skirt the tariff.

By the way, Argentina is repealing the tariff.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 14: Don, This is Hardly a Landslide

The elections of 2000 and 2016 have highlighted the role of the Electoral College and they met today. On election night it appeared that Mr. Trump won 306 electoral votes to Secretary Clinton’s 232.

Today electors in state capitals all over the country met and voted. Some states demand that the electors vote for the candidate who won their state, others allow the electors to vote for whomever they choose, and some did.

Mr. Trump won the state of Texas, but one elector cast a ballot for Ohio governor John Kasich and another elector chose Ron Paul.

Mrs. Clinton won the state of Washington, but three electors cast ballot for Colin Powell and one voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a woman from South Dakota and a member of the Sioux Nation.

I write this as background for Mr. Trump’s claim that he won “in a landslide.”

Despite the fact that Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by 2,500,000 and won the electoral college by only 76 votes, he insists that he won in a landslide. He wrote this in a tweet on November 27th: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Mr. Trump is famously thin skinned. Next month he will assume office with little to no mandate. A true leader would recognize this and work to build the trust of the American people.

Strong leaders command respect; poor leaders crave approval. Mr. Trump cannot abide the fact that the majority of Americans voted for someone else and he can’t accept the fact that only 12 Presidential elections were closer than his. Fifty elections awarded the winner more electoral votes.

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a tough ride as the role of government switches from serving to nation to propping up a frighteningly fragile ego.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 13: Mr. Trump, Intelligence Matters

In my previous post I spoke about the fact that hackers in Russia hacked into several databases in the United States in the countdown to the election.

So here’s what we know (much taken from this article):

  • We’ve known since November that the email server of the DNC and the private gmail account of John Podesta (Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager) were hacked by the Russians and leaked by WikiLeaks.
  • The CIA has concluded that the Russians did this to sway the election of Mr. Trump.
  • The Russians also hacked in the RNC but did not release that information
  • It’s no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin would rather deal with President Trump than President Hillary Clinton.

And so how does Mr. Trump respond to this? He dismissed them. His reasoning? Good question.

He provides no reason except that he doesn’t believe our intelligence community. This raises an alarming reality: his decisions aren’t based on reason but “how he feels.” Or, perhaps, something worse.

The evidence shows that his presidency begins with less than 50% of the popular vote. Now we understand that a minority of that popular vote may have been influenced by a foreign president who recognized an opportunity to choose “his candidate.”

Mr. Trump claims to desire a better relationship with Mr. Putin. But if Mr. Putin’s view of world domination is correct, he doesn’t want Mr. Trump to be a partner, but instead a lapdog.

In other words, Mr. Putin sees Mr. Trump as a useful idiot.

Mr. Trump, you’ve already told us that you don’t need daily briefings and you’re smarter than the Generals about Isis. Please give us evidence that you’re not a useful idiot.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 12: No Mr. Trump, Russia's Intrusion Is a Big Deal

Yesterday I wrote about how Mr. Trump doesn’t feel he needs to work hard at the job he’s about to assume. In the last few days we’ve learned how serious this can be.

Almost everyone I know who didn’t support Mr. Trump, and even some who did, felt uncomfortable with his admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a matter of fact, we understand Mr. Trump is considering nominating Rex Tillerson for the post of Secretary of State.

Mr. Tillerson currently runs Exxon-Mobile and bring no experience in diplomacy. But he is the 2013 recipient of the Order of Friendship from Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump hasn’t nominated anyone yet, and there is reason to believe that Mr. Tillerson may have trouble getting confirmed.

But it’s worth noting that Mr. Tillerson is not being looked at because of his experience in diplomacy or his depth of knowledge of foreign governments. He is an expert in only two things: running a multi-national oil company and impressing Vladimir Putin.

I’ll be writing more about Russia and its interference in our election in the next few days. Stay tuned.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 11: Mr. Trump, This is a Full Time Job

A few days ago we learned, without surprise, that President Elect Trump receives only weekly briefings. The current President is briefed daily, and Vice President Elect Michael Pence is briefed six days per week.

There is no requirement that Mr. Trump be briefed daily, but a decades old custom has the President Elect receive the same daily briefing as the President. This election has broken many traditions, not the least of which is the election of someone who has never held office.

Others in his position have recognized the awesome responsibility of the office and the steep learning curve. They’ve recognized that on their first day in office the buck stops here.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, bragged that I know more about Isis than the generals do and brags about not reading books.

In five and a half weeks he will be the leader of the free world. He will be awakened in the middle of the night and tasked to make incredibly important decisions in a matter of minutes. His decisions will impact the lives of members of our military, the population of our nation, and indeed everyone on earth.

And if his actions so far indicate anything, they indicate that he will be woefully unprepared. He claims that experience negotiating real estate contracts gives him the tools he needs, but it doesn’t. The President can’t suspend negotiations or ask the judge for a continuance. He can do his job only if he comes to the crisis with the background and understanding for the decisions he will need to make.

I pray he comes to an understanding of this before he stumbles too badly.

John Glen Was a True American Hero. Do You Know Who Was His Hero?

In the last few days many of us read about the death of John Glenn (1921-2016). His life embodied the best of the 20th Century. As a young man he joined the Marines and flew F-4U planes. He flew 59 combat missions in World War II. A few years later he flew an additional 63 missions in Korea.

He was also the first American to orbit the earth in space. He was the last surviving member of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, the first Americans in space. If you haven’t read Thomas Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff you should.

After his career with NASA ended he served his home state of Ohio as a U.S. Senator from 1975 to 1999.

By any measure he was an American hero. But his hero was his wife Anne.

You see, Anne lived much of her life with a stutter. Many of us learned about this from the brilliant movie The King’s Speech about King George VI.

Anne’s stutter was so severe that she could barely speak in front of others. You can read an excellent article from 2012 here. When taking a cab she would write the address on a piece of paper; at restaurants she would point to what she wanted on the menu. Time and again she sought treatments, but nothing worked until she found a doctor in Roanoke, Virginia.

For three weeks in 1973 she worked harder than I can imagine. And it worked. At the end of the program she called her husband. Hearing her speak he cried. And he dropped to his knees to thank God.

In the years since she has become a public speaker. She advocates not only for our brothers and sisters who stutter, but for all those who live with disabilities.

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved speaking in public and the fear of looking at a group of people and feeling paralyzed eludes me. That said, I can only imagine fearing the stare of a restaurant server and needing to point to my choice on the menu.

She’s my hero too.

Fake News: It Has Real Consequences

Last month we learned about “Pizzagate.” Social media took off with the false account that the restaurant Comet Ping Pong, in Washington D.C., was a front for Hillary Clinton and others to molest and traffic children.

I have a hard time imagining anyone would believe something so preposterous, but on November 27th, Edgar Welch drove from Salisbury, North Carolina with an AR-15 assault rifle to “investigate.” He entered the restaurant and pointed the rifle at an employee who was able to escape. He fired it a few times before surrendering to the police. Mercifully no one was injured.

But it could have gone differently. Posting (and profiting from) fake news is getting out of control. One of my favorite podcasts, Planet Money recently tracked down the author of a fake news outlet, the Denver Guardian. He wants it to appear to be a newspaper and it’s not. But enough people go to this website that he’s able to sell advertising and he’s making a good living. You can read about it here: here.

Many of us grew up seeing the National Enquirer at the grocery store and I think most of us recognized their stories are false. But it now appears that the crazier the story, the more believable it is. The conspiracy theorists still hang on to false stories even when proven false.

America, do yourself a favor: next time you see a suspicious story, check it out on Snopes. They do good work.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 10: Ben Carson at HUD? Does this Mean Trump Will Nominate a Contractor as Surgeon General?

Last Week I expressed surprise that President Elect Donald Trump was thinking of nominating David Petraeus for Secretary of State. He’s been convicted of the same crime that Trump (and others) falsely accused Hillary Clinton of. I suspected he wouldn’t be the last pick that would stun me.

Fast forward to December 5th. Mr. Trump chose Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD.

I’m not the only one I know who asked about Dr. Carson’s qualifications for the job. And we’re still wondering. He has an impressive resume: He was born in Detroit, Michigan and was raised by a single mother (his father abandoned his mother when Ben was eight). He was seen as a promising student and attended Yale University.

From there he graduated medical school at the University of Michigan and eventually became a neurosurgeon (yes, a brain surgeon).

But what qualifies him to develop policies to house poor people and urban centers? Well…nothing. Despite stories to the contrary he didn’t grow up in public housing. It was a poor neighborhood but his mother worked hard enough to keep them in housing without government assistance.

So here’s when I wander into the weeds. I think Mr. Trump nominated Dr. Carson not because he grew up poor, but because he’s black. I think Trump sees poverty as essentially a racial issue and he thinks Carson can best work with “the blacks”.

During the campaign he famously attracted, and even courted, the white supremacist vote. When speaking to minority communities he said this: What do you have to lose?

All this speaks to a latent racism that Mr. Trump denies. But we’re not fooled. He was born to wealth and wants us to believe that his ability to add to this wealth makes him smarter and will make him a better President. We elect a leader for all of us, but our next President makes it clear he cares only for those who look like him.

We all need to pray for those who are in need of affordable housing or who live in urban areas.