The Trump Chronicles, Volume 96: Can Someone Explain To The President How Democracy Works?

Back in May 2016 I suggested that then candidate Donald Trump was not a Republican but was instead a Fascist. Sadly, his first year in office has shown us how right I was.

As I argued, the Republican party stands for smaller government. Government should do fewer things and do them better, and government should do only those things that only the government can do. Fascism is different: a fascist demands absolute power with the promise of protecting us from our enemies. From his entry into the 2016 Presidential campaign he identified his target: immigrants.

But what makes him particularly dangerous is that there is no such thing as a fascist democracy and it’s become clear that he has no interest in leading a democratic nation. Simply put, he has chosen ignorance of the democratic process. Let me give a couple of examples:

He doesn’t understand that government employees work for us, not him. Even before his election there was concern over possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. President Trump appointed Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General fully expecting him to end the Russia probe. When General Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, President Trump was livid because he felt Sessions should have had his back. In other words, he felt Jeff Sessions works for him, and not the American people.

He sees disagreement not as free speech, but as treason. Last month he gave the annual State of the Union Speech. Article 2, Section 3 of the US Constitution requires that the President “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” We all know that the State of the Union has become a political speech but it’s also a time where members of all three branches of government come together. And several times during the speech the President pauses for applause; some of those in attendance clap at his last line, and some don’t. It’s just how it happens. Good Presidents accept it. President Trump does not. Speaking a few days later he said this. He suggested that those who didn’t applaud him were un-American and even treasonous. He doesn’t seem to understand that we pledge allegiance to our nation and our Constitution but not our current President.

He’s demanded a parade to show the world that we are powerful. As Americans we all love parades as a way of celebrating what we value. But our parades celebrate our diversity (think of the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving or the Tournament of Roses on New Year’s Day) or our heroes (think of the recent parade to celebrate the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory). But President Trump wants a military parade that will show our strength. Frankly, I think that’s what Viagra is for.

Fascist leaders depend on isolationism from trade with other nations. This creates both poverty and a dependence on their leader. Candidate Trump spent much of his campaign criticizing the Trans Pacific Partnership and NAFTA. He does not believe international trade benefits us (it does) but instead believes it makes us weaker (it doesn’t). He claims our best future lies in self sufficiency when the rest of us know our future lies in free trade. Free trade results in the European Union while isolationism results in North Korea.

In fairness, we’ve been a democracy for nearly 218 years. It’s unlikely one person can destroy that. But history buffs like me fear that Trump supporters will eagerly trade their patriotism for the false promise that they will do better with a fascist leader. I’m more worried about the 46th President than the 45th. I pray the 46th will be more like the 44th than the 45th.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 95: Mr President, This Won’t Work

In this last week our nation has been saturated with news of a “secret memo” that really isn’t secret. It was written by Republican House member Devin Nunes of California; he’s the chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His committee has been investigating possible Russian collusion in the 2016 Presidential election. Please note this is completely separate from the criminal investigation by Robert Mueller.

On April 6, 2017 Mr. Nunes recused himself from the Russian probe for ethics violations. It appears that hasn’t done much for his ethics.

Last month he released a memo that you can read it here. The memo alleges that the Department of Justice and the FBI sought permission to gain information on Mr. Trump’s campaign advisor Carter Page. The memo also claims that this permission depended on information from Christopher Steele.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to investigate if Russia was attempting to influence the Presidential election. Fusion GPS does opposition research, or “oppo research.” If you’re a candidate for elected office you would hire a firm like Fusion GPS to find opposition research on your opponent. There’s an excellent book titled We’re With Nobody that describes this.

In September of 2015 Fusion GPS was hired by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative web page who raised concerns about Donald Trump winning the Republican primary. In April of 2016 the Free Beacon stopped the investigation, but the campaign of Hillary Clinton showed an interest and they hired Fusion GPS. Working for Fusion GPS, Mr. Steele began to look at Russia. Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign so alarmed Mr. Steele that he feared Mr. Trump was being blackmailed by Russia.

Still with me? Good. The Nunes memo claims the application to surveil Mr. Page relied almost entirely on Mr. Steele’s “dossier.” They claim that since Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS were clients of Mrs. Clinton, anything Mr. Steele wrote brought with it a bias against Mr. Trump.

So here’s their narrative: When the Department of Justice and the FBI sought information on Carter Page they relied on evidence against Mr. Trump that was biased and therefore suspect. This proves that any investigation of Mr. Trump or his campaign depends on government employees who don’t want to work for Mr. Trump (he calls them the Deep State) and this proves there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. Mr. Trump claims this the Nunes memo vindicates him.

Except it doesn’t. Here’s my list of what’s wrong with the Trump narrative:

  1. Mr Steele’s dossier does not prove an anti-Trump bias. If you’re a candidate who hires oppo research you need accurate information. If you give the candidate incorrect information you’ll never work again.
  2. The application to surveil Mr. Page is classified and we’ll likely never have access to it. But we do know from several sources that the application would never have been approved only on the Steele dossier. We also know that the warrant is only good for 90 days and it must be renewed. You can read about this here but this warrant is difficult to get, and can only be renewed if it’s shown that the surveillance is providing information. It can’t be renewed only for the reason to continue fishing.
  3. The Mueller investigation is a criminal investigation. The Nunes memo criticizes the FBI in Congress’ oversight powers over the Executive Branch of government. While Mr. Nunes and Mr. Trump hope that this memo will compromise Mr. Mueller’s investigation but it won’t. They depend the American people thinking that this is one investigation and is suspect. It isn’t

I believe that the American people are smarter than President Trump needs them to be.

Yosemite 2018

As readers of this blog know, Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park every winter.  We began this in 2000 when we stumbled on what was called then “Chef’s Holidays” but is now called Taste of Yosemite.

It’s a magical time as we avoid the gridlock that happens most of the year but it’s also terrific for Nancy who attends several cooking demonstrations (and Tom who gets to eat the recipes she brings home).

We also enjoy hiking the valley floor and taking pictures of what we see.  But several of the last few years we’ve been concerned over the effect of climate change and this year was no exception.

I recognize that many of you who read this blog live in areas that would love warmer temperatures in the winter but that misses the point.  Yosemite thrives on a weather pattern that is not affected by human interference.  This year we heard the sound of chainsaws and learned that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of trees were cut down as a result of drought and infestation of bark beetles.

Climate change harms all of us, but not right away and not all at once.  We who love Yosemite and other national parks fear that the things that make these places magical are in danger.  In addition to drought and beetle infestation, Yosemite has also endured fires that scar it for decades.

We pray that 2019 is more like 2017.