The Trump Chronicles, Volume 58: Do We Have Our New John Dean?

The unfolding possibility that President Trump and members of his administration colluded with Russian agents to interfere with or sway the 2016 election occupies many of us.

And those of us “of a certain age” remember another Presidential scandal: Watergate. In the early hours of the morning on June 17, 1972 five men were found inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. It was soon found out that they broke into the offices to install listening devices on the phones to give President Nixon and his campaign intelligence on his opponent, Senator George McGovern.

Virtually nobody believes that President Nixon knew about the this in advance, but within a few days he directed his staff to bribe the burglars to plead guilty and not implicate anyone else from the campaign.

President Nixon easily won re-election in November of 1972 but by the first few months of 1973 things began to unravel. On April 6, 1973 Presidential Counsel John Dean reached out to members of the Senate Watergate committee. His cooperation came to light and Mr. Dean was fired on April 30th.

During all these months, President Nixon became more and more insulated and desperate. His press secretary Ron Ziegler continued to press the line that “there’s nothing to see here” and that Watergate mattered only to the press.

It’s not a stretch to see President Trump now playing the role of President Nixon and Press Secretary Sean Spicer reprises Ron Ziegler’s role.

In the last few days we’ve learned that Mr. Trump’s original pick for National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn has a story to tell. But he demands immunity from prosecution before he will tell his story.

Ironically, John Dean asked for immunity from President Nixon. It wasn’t granted.

General Flynn finds himself in a different place as he is asking for immunity from Congress. Nevertheless, I have to think that as I write this several occupants of the Trump administration are praying General Flynn does not testify to what he knows.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 57: Where Do We Go From Here?

Some of you may recognize this phrase from the song Games People Play by The Alan Parsons Project. It’s been a few days since the death of the AHCA and we’ve grown weary of who is to blame.

Hopefully we can now pivot to our next step. President Trump has spent the last several days blaming the Freedom Caucus, the Democrats, and perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan (don’t believe me? Ok, look at Mr. Trump’s tweet encouraging people to watch Judge Jeanine who blamed Speaker Ryan).

By all accounts the AHCA would have denied healthcare to millions of Americans, particularly th elderly poor. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that 24,000,000 Americans would lose health coverage, and most of those are Americans 50 or older.

Enter the Alan Parsons Project. Here is a line from Games People Play:

Where do we go from here now that all of the children have grown up?
And how do we spend our lives knowing nobody gives us a damn?

I’ll confess that I’m somewhere north of 50 years old and I’m blessed to have health insurance from my employer but I also live with the recognition that my wife and I are locked in to keeping our jobs. Before the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 I would have been denied private insurance for a pre-existing condition (I use a bipap for sleep apnea). The ACA would allow me to purchase health insurance on a state exchange (because I live in a state that participates in it).

But the AHCA would have made health insurance unaffordable. And despite the fact that the AHCA failed, I’m still not safe. President Trump has executive authority to gut enough of the ACA to render it useless.

I get it that you may not care about me, as I’m probably safe. But if you know someone my age who fears losing his job, you need to oppose President Trump’s determination to destroy the ACA and blame his predecessor.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 56: President Trump, We All Knew Healthcare Was Complicated

Today we received word that the Republican flagship legislation, the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), will not come up for a vote because of a lack of support.

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Republicans have voiced a false narrative that it won’t work and we can’t afford it. It’s certainly far from perfect but instead of continuing to work on it (as we have with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) the Republicans saw the ACA as a way of gaining power.

And to be fair it worked. In 2010 the Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Running on the promise of repealing the ACA Republicans scored victories gaining majorities in the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016.

But Candidate Trump ran on the platform that replacing and improving the ACA “on day one” would be a top priority. He made this statement on March 3, 2016: “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” You can see the link here.

In October of 2015 I predicted the demise of the Republican Party and suggested that our next President would never be a Republican. OK, I was wrong. At least on the timetable.

But the demise of the AHCA today showed us while my timetable may have been wrong, my point was not. Currently the House is divided into 237 Republicans, 193 Democrats, and 5 vacancies, and any bill needs 216 votes to pass. Most people (myself included) expected the Republicans would have no trouble passing the AHCA: Even if every Democrat and 21 Republicans voted against the AHCA it would pass. Frankly we thought the Senate fight would make headlines.

But Mr. Trump (who is still wrapping his head around the recognition he can’t fire anyone who irritates him) never expected opposition from the Republican Freedom Caucus, who are some of most conservative members of Congress.

So here’s his reality: of all the things he promised as a candidate, this was supposed to be the easiest. This was supposed to be his victory lap. This was supposed to be the first chapter of an epic Presidency. As I write this we have 1,326 days in his Presidency. It’s hard to imagine that it gets better from here.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 55: Is Today the Last Day of Affordable Health Care?

Yes, this a bit of a hyperbole but it got your attention. On March 23, 2010 President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. From the moment Mr. Obama signed this legislation, the Republican Party announced it would destroy America. It didn’t.

But it didn’t prevent the GOP from spending the last 7 years claiming it was imploding even though evidence disputes this.

With Republican victories in November they found themselves in the unenviable position of having to keep their promises. Earlier this month President Trump released his plan, called the American Health Care Reform Act of 2017. It’s been a hard sell.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that 14,000,000 Americans who currently have health insurance will lose it. This act particularly hurts Americans too young for Medicare (in their 50s or 60s), who don’t have health insurance from their employers, and don’t make much money. Many of these groups live in rural areas that voted overwhelming for Mr. Trump.

You can see this in an article in the Denver Post but they are about to find out that they’ve been betrayed.

Mr. Trump promised that nobody who has health insurance will lose it. Clearly Mr. Trump is lying.

Tomorrow the House of Representatives will vote on Mr. Trump’s plan. Fourteen million Americans, and those who care about them, hope it will fail.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 54: Our Budget Reflects Our Values

For as long as I can remember Republicans have promised to cut the size of government. So far none of them have. There’s no single measure of government growth but I found an excellent article from Forbes magazine. They measured the number of government employees (GE) as a percentage of US population (P), or GE/P and used this as a tool and measured each President since 1980.

The percentage has increased over every President:

President Trump ran on the same GOP platform, but he appears to be serious. Last week he released his proposed budget for 2018 and it’s garnered a great deal of attention.

All budgets give us survivors, winners and losers. Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt are survivors as Mr. Trump has chosen to not to meddle with them (even though many members of his party demand Medicare and Social Security reform). His list of winners is pretty small: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs will see an increase of 6%. Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security gains 7%, and the Department of Defense’s budget will increase 9%.

So how about the losers? I don’t have the bandwidth for all the losers, but let me highlight a few. The Environmental Protection Agency will be cut 31%. The Department of State will lose 29%.

There is obviously more, but here’s my point: under this budget our water and air will get dirtier with the cuts at EPA. Cutting the State Department’s budget while increasing Defense focuses our our nation away from diplomacy and toward conflict.

When I was a Catholic priest I spent a fair amount of time working with engaged couples in the last few months before their marriage. I told them that if they gave me their bank statements I could tell them what they valued. None of them took me up on the offer but I was serious. How we allocate our limited resources shows what we think important. A couple who begins their marriage in a modest home and fully funds their retirement (even though it’s 40 years in the future) values responsibility and patience. In the same way the couple that purchases fancy cars and the latest high tech electronics want what they want with little regard to the possibility that they will need this money for an unexpected future expense.

In the same way Mr. Trump makes it clear that he values fear over hope, immediate profit over long term investment. He cares a great deal about his time in office and cares nothing for the world he will leave to his grandchildren.

You have to wonder who he will leave Mar a Lago to when it’s under water.

Happy Birthday To My Prius

Eleven years ago today I bought a brand new Prius. As I drive for my job it’s important that I get a car with good gas mileage. Today it has a few dings and I had to replace the battery 3 years ago, but with 242,040 miles on it it’s doing well. Happy birthday Prius!

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 53: The President Didn't Mean What He Said

Last week I spoke of President Trump’s silly claim that his office in Trump Tower was wiretapped by former President Obama. You can read the original tweet here.

He was pretty clear that he “just learned” that Mr. Obama has his wires tapped. It’s been a little over a week and he has refused to tell us where he “just learned” it from.

Today Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, said this: “I think there’s no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities.”

Also today Kellyanne Conway took to the airwaves to also claim that Mr. Trump didn’t mean that Mr. Obama personally wiretapped his phones. She posited the theory that Mr. Obama used microwaves that turn into cameras. When pressed she acknowledged that she is not Inspector Gadget.

I have to confess that I have some sympathy for those who have to explain President Trump’s tweets. In the second decade of the 21st Century the greatest country on earth is led by a lunatic with a twitter account. Trying to make him sound sane and reasonable is a job I would never want. Sean and Kellyanne, you have my sympathies.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 52: Ben Carson's Ancestors Are Weeping Right Now

I’ve spoken about this before but the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) stunned many of us. Nobody argues his intelligence: he’s a retired brain surgeon after all. But he brought no experience either in public service or housing. I posted the theory that President Trump nominated him out of a belief that any African American understands public housing, even though Dr. Carson has never lived in public housing.

I can only imagine the reaction of all the career HUD public servants to their new boss, but that pales in comparison to what they must be thinking after his first meeting with them. I was not able to find this on the HUD webpage, but here’s what he told them:

That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.

My grandparents came to the United States to make better lives for their children and descendants (including me), but they came voluntarily. They didn’t come in chains. When they arrived they were seen as people and not property. I sincerely doubt that Dr. Carson’s ancestors dreamed of anything as much as they lived a nightmare.

The first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. In 1808 it became illegal to import slaves to the United States and slavery was outlawed by the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.

The descendants of those who arrived here in chains may well benefit from being Americans but in no way does this make it OK that people arrived on the bottom of slave ships to spend their lives working for the benefit of others.

As much as we admire the 13th Amendment, it does not remove the stain of its need to have a Constitutional amendment to see all people as people and none of us as property.

And Dr. Carson’s remarks still offends all of us who see people as people and not property, even his ancestors.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 51: Wiretapping, Late Night Tweets, and General Paranoia

If we needed a microcosm of the administration of President Trump we found it early Saturday morning.

Friday we learned that Mr. Trump went ballistic on learning that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation of the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia. This came after Mr. Trump professed “total confidence” in Mr. Sessions.

In the wee, small hours of Saturday morning Mr. Trump tweeted that former President Obama wiretapped him.

It’s a pattern for Mr. Trump. When faced with negative attention he attempts to divert attention to something else. I’m pretty certain that’s what he tried to do.

But this time he overplayed his hand. This latest accusation created a firestorm that nobody seems to know how to manage. Like many of his tweets it caught everyone off guard, even his own staff. By Sunday morning several staff members attempted to regain control of the story. Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on ABC’s This Week. When asked where Mr. Trump is getting his information Ms. Sanders said this:

Look, I think there have been quite a few reports. I know that Jonathan and others earlier in the program mentioned that it was all conservative media, but that’s frankly not true. The New York Times, BBC have also talked about it and reported on the potential of this having had happened. I think the bigger thing is, let’s find out. Let’s have an investigation. If they’re going to investigation Russia ties, let’s include this as part of it. And so that’s what we’re asking.

When asked again for the basis of Mr. Trump’s charge, Ms. Sanders said this:

Look, I think the bigger thing is you guys are always telling us to take the media seriously. Well, we are today. We’re taking the reports that places like The New York Times, FOX News, BBC, multiple outlets have reported this. All we’re saying is let’s take a closer look. Let’s look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.

I could go on, but you get the point. Mr. Trump tweeted that he “just found out this happened” but has not told us where he got it. When asked, his staff insists that a Congressional inquiry should look into it.

Perhaps they should ask him where he got this.

Mr. Trump, when you look back on the rubble of your Presidency, this past weekend will be instructive.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 50: We Best Honor Ryan Owens By Finding the Truth

On the night of January 29, 2017 Seal Team 6 executed a raid in Yemen for the purpose of acquiring intelligence.

It didn’t go exactly as planned, and to be fair, most military operations don’t. And, like countless previous operations, not everyone survived. Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens lost his life that night.

This operation has commanded national attention for several reasons, chief being the fact that it was the first military operation ordered by President Trump.

But it’s also commanded national attention because of the reaction of the Trump administration. And with so many issues, it’s become a battle between Mr. Trump’s interpretation and the rest of us. Much of Mr. Trump’s reaction troubles many of us.

Earlier this week Mr. Trump spoke to Congress and commended CPO Owens. He also invited his wife Carryn Owens and publicly recognized her. She received a well deserved standing ovation.

And yet many of us still find ourselves troubled. Mr. Trump quickly moved the discussion into a debate between “success” and “failure.”

As I said earlier, many of us find ourselves troubled by Mr. Trump’s binary view of the world. A binary world contains only two colors: black or white. There is no in between, there is no gray. Any act is either a success or failure. There is no mixed result.

In the world of American military action there are several examples of success and failure. Virtually all of us see the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 as a success. Osama bin Laden was killed and no members of the American military died.

On the other hand, we view the attempt to rescue our hostages in Iran on March 24, 1980 as a failure as eight soldiers died and none of the hostages were rescued.

These are extreme examples. Most operations have both costs and benefits. But from the very beginning the White House has scrambled to portray this as a complete success.

Within a week we were reading that it may not have been. According to an NBC News report from March 1st, none of the laptops, hard drives, or cell phones have given us anything useful. Additionally, Arizona Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) also questioned the success of the raid.

Typically, Mr. Trump attacked Senator McCain by tweeting: “He’s been losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore.”

Mr. Trump’s demand that this raid be deemed a complete success distracts us. In fairness we may not know for some time how to value this raid but his actions going forward chill many of us. As Commander in Chief he orders our brave men and women in uniform into harm’s way for our defense and freedom. I pray that when he is called to do this, his primary concern is for them and not his own reputation.