The Trump Chronicles, Volume 138; The Justice Chronicles, Volume 36; The Election 2020 Chronicles, Volume 7: Impeachment and Acquittal In the Rear View Mirror

I write this post in three categories and suspect that for the next nine months that several of my posts will also join these three.

This past week we learned, to nobody’s surprise, that President Trump was acquitted by the Senate. It didn’t come as a surprise and it’s worth asking why we even bothered.

President Trump and his allies argue that the American people will decide whether or not he remains in office and they have a point. Like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi I opposed impeaching the President after the Mueller report because there was not bipartisan support for it.

But while the Mueller report reviewed interference the 2016 election, we learned in July that President Trump attempted to use his Presidential power to throw the 2020 election in his favor. At that point both Nancy and I recognized that even though he wouldn’t be removed from office, he needed to be impeached.

Make no mistake: President Trump threatened to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the their President announced he would begin an investigation of a charge against Hunter Biden that no adult believed was true. President Trump had no concern for the truth, he simply wanted to create suspicion on one of his opponents.

He won in 2016, in large part, by falsely claiming that Hillary Clinton’s emails were somehow subversive. She was cleared of wrongdoing and all (all) investigations showed she did nothing wrong. But President Trump successfully suggested that “there must be something there” and it was enough for voters in key states to either vote for him or stay home.

Fast forward to 2019: President Trump wants to be reelected, and it’s no surprise as most Presidents want to serve 8 years. But on some level he recognized that he can’t win without foreign interference. And in Ukraine he found his path.

In an impeachment proceeding the Senate are jurors and they voted to acquit the President. But in a larger sense the real jurors in 2020 are the American voters and I pray we show more courage than the 47 Republican senators who voted for their job security over patriotism.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 137; The Justice Chronicles, Volume 36, The Election 2020 Chronicles, Volume 6: Thoughts on Impeachment, Removal From Office, and Where We Go From Here

I began this blog and called it “my thoughts and musings” knowing that I’m interested in politics. Blessed by growing up twenty five miles south of Washington D.C. my school field trips took me to the Smithsonian, the Capitol, and Arlington National Cemetery.

But most importantly I grew up reading the The Washington Post. A month after my 12th birthday we read about a burglary at the Watergate Hotel.

It’s a long story but let me edit it here: In 1972 President Nixon ran for reelection against North Dakota Senator George McGovern. While President Nixon’s reelection campaign appeared to be a lock, he demanded that his campaign dig up dirt on his opponent.

President Nixon named his reelection campaign the Committee to Reelect the President. They called it CRP but it quickly took on the acronym CREEP. The committee tried several things to upset the McGovern campaign and most of them either didn’t happen or didn’t work. On the night of June 17th several people working for CRP were arrested in the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel

Nobody believed President Nixon either planned or knew about the break-in but within a few days it became clear that he used his office to ensure nobody would connect the break-in to his campaign. He directed several people to bribe those under arrest to plead guilty and shut up. By 1974 his actions became public and he resigned because he knew he would be impeached and removed from office.

It was different time. President Nixon resigned after Senators from his own party told him that they couldn’t, in good conscience, vote to acquit him. They recognized that their obligation to their country mattered more than their obligation to their party.

Fast forward to 2020. Like President Nixon, our current President Trump used his office to illegally advance his reelection. Both believed that his reelection would benefit our nation and anything they did in advance of their reelection would benefit our nation.

The fact with President Trump are clear: he threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine unless its President announced they were investigating Presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Only this time Republicans aren’t recognizing that they have an obligation to their country. They aren’t recognizing they have an obligation to their constituents or the Constitution.

Clearly their only obligation lies in their job security. The Trump administration has made it clear that any Republican who doesn’t support him is disloyal and will pay the price. And he will be acquitted because Republican senators are afraid to cross him.

I pray we can survive this President

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 136: We Have Betrayed the Kurds Again

From the middle of the 20th Century we’ve seen conflict in the Middle East. As Americans we’ve often looked through the lens of Israel and their Arab neighbors. But the Middle East is more complex.

Eight years ago, in 2011, a civil war broke out in Syria. Any conflict in this part of the world complicates easy answers and I wrote about this conflict here.

I described the war as having three sides: President Assad, revolutionary Syrians, and Isis. The United States supported Syrians who wanted to overthrow Assad and we allied ourselves with the Kurds. The Kurds are an ethnic group in the Middle East.

The end of World War I redrew the map of Eastern Europe and the Middle East and the Kurds hoped they would be recognized as the nation of Kurdistan. Unfortunately that didn’t happen (and if you want to read an excellent book on this I recommend Paris 1919). The Kurds found themselves living in parts of Eastern Turkey, Northern Syria, and Western Iran, and Western Iraq.

In 1991 the United States invaded Iraq to counter Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Then President George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraq’s population to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. The Kurds in northern Iraq did just that. But once the United States forces liberated Kuwait we pulled out, and Saddam Huessin turned his guns on those who followed President Bush’s encouragement. Saddam Hussein used poison gas to slaughter the Kurds.

Fast forward to Syria. When the United States decided to support Syrians who wanted to overthrow Assad we also decided to support the Kurds who populated Northern Syria and opposed Assad. This troubled Turkey because the Kurdish population in Eastern Turkey have wanted independence since 1919. Some of the Kurds formed a terrorist group called the PKK in the 1970s. Since then Turkey has viewed all Kurds as possible members of the PKK.

So here’s the question: Is there overlap between the PKK and the Kurds in Syria who wish to overthrow Assad? Turkey is clear: these aren’t two groups, but one. Allow the Syrian Kurds any encouragement and they will use their power to fight against Turkey. Frankly, I haven’t found proof of this, and not for lack of trying.

And now enter President Trump. On October 7th he tweeted that we are pulling our troops out of Syria. I imagine he thought this would be seen as a good thing as he has often promised to keep out people safe.

It didn’t happen like he thought. The Kurds have (once again) been good allies. In addition to fighting against Assad’s troops they have also successfully rounded up and imprisoned members of Isis. But now the Kurds need to pull out of guarding the members of Isis and fight the Turks.

The freeing of Isis fighters makes us less secure, but it also reminds the Kurds that the United States is not trustworthy.

Going forward the Middle East will continue to be a volatile place. I don’t think it’s in our best interest to become an isolationist nation and pretend that what happens in other parts of the world don’t matter (and I hope that 9/11 makes my point). Our retreat from Syria does nothing more than make us less safe and tell the Kurds that only idiots believe promises made by the United States.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 135: Words Matter Mr. President. Your Words Matter

In a previous post I lamented the fact that President Trump shows little or no respect for his office, and does not see himself as a public servant but instead as the undisputed head of the United States

Time and again he has shown recklessness and a lack of sensitivity, but in the last few weeks he has reached a new level. We recently learned that in July the President spoke with the President of Ukraine and many of us heard that our President held up aid that Ukraine needs until they investigate charges of corruption by Joe and Hunter Biden.

As I said a last week this renewed calls for the President to be impeached and removed from office (you can read this here.

We’ve come to expect irresponsible rhetoric from him, as when he referred to the free press as the “Enemy of the People.”

But he called those who gave information to the whistleblower “almost a spy.” He demands to know the identity of this person for a confrontation. He has accused California Representative Adam Schiff of treason.

But a few days later the President ratcheted up to an even more dangerous level. Last weekend he read that evangelical pastor and Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress suggested that if the President were impeached and removed from office it would lead to “a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” It was irresponsible for the pastor, but much worse when the President retweeted it.

It’s well known that the President isn’t a student of history, but those of us who are find this chilling. At the end of the Civil War when the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox Court House there was talk that instead of laying down their guns, the Confederate Army should “head for the hills” and begin a guerilla war that would make Union occupation impossible. Confederate General Robert E. Lee stopped it. You can read an excellent article here.

Simply put, our President feels that anyone who opposes him is a traitor and those who support him should take up arms. Already this is being taken up by armed militias.

We are a nation that cares deeply for our future, being led by a man who cares only for himself.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 134: Props to the Whistleblower

It’s been quite a week and there’s lots to unpack. In my last post I suggested that we need to reconsider impeachment, even if probably won’t lead to the Senate removing the President from office.

None of this would have happened had not a civil servant (the whistleblower) read the transcript of a phone call. Our President, never one to care about anyone other than himself, has called this civil servant almost a spy and suggested he (or she) committed treason.

The Republican response is no more responsible. They claim that since the whistleblower was not on the call, anything he says is hersay and this needs some unpacking.

When someone testifies in a court of law, he (or she) can only testify to what he saw or heard. For example, if I witness a robbery I can testify to that. But I can’t testify that I overheard someone tell another person that he committed the robbery. That’s hearsay.

But here’s the problem: the whistleblower isn’t testifying: he’s reporting. His report doesn’t claim there was a crime or an impeachable offense, only that there might be something that bears a look.

Let me draw a parallel from my own life: because of my job as a hospice chaplain I’m known as a “mandated reporter” for elder abuse. If I see or suspect abuse I’m required by law to report it to the authorities. Nobody gets in trouble for what I report and all it means is that someone will investigate.

That’s what the whistleblower did. He reported his concerns to the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General.

Stay tuned. More later.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 133: Reconsidering Impeachment

Six months ago I wrote that impeaching President Trump probably wasn’t a good idea. At the time (a month before the release of the Mueller Report) we suspected much but knew little.

The report’s release stopped short of accusing the President of a crime, but also didn’t exonerate him. The President, of course falsely claimed it did exonerate him and most Republicans sided with him. I still believed impeachment wasn’t a good idea.

But the events of this week have cause me (and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) to reconsider. In the last week we learned that someone in the intelligence community read a transcript of a phone conversation between the President and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, 2019. This person became so alarmed by what he read that he wrote a report to the Intelligence Community Inspector General raising the possibility that the President implied that he would sell anti tank missals to Ukraine in return for Ukraine investigating Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

These reports are often called “whistleblower” reports and this public servant has become known as the “whistleblower.” We don’t know who this person is.

The “transcript” he read isn’t a verbatim transcript but a report written by someone was listening to the call. You can find a link to the transcript from the White House page.

This is pretty common and most of these transcripts are classified. They aren’t normally shared with the public, but they are shared with members of Congress. But here the administration attempted to block it from Congress. It didn’t work and the White House eventually released it.

So where does this leave the question of impeachment? Good question. Democrats, and even a few Republicans, have reacted with alarm. Not surprisingly, the President insists this is just another witch hunt and most Republicans are ducking for cover or supporting the President. The idea that, if impeached, the Senate would vote to remove him is pretty remote. While the House can impeach with a simple majority, the Senate needs a 2/3 majority to remove him from office.

When President Bill Clinton was impeached, but not removed from office, in 1998 there was a backlash and his popularity increased. The President’s opponents have a well founded fear that this will aid his re-election next year.

But on the other hand, if we allow him to continue with this behavior, I believe we are tacitly complicit. The Republicans in Congress have shown a breathtaking amount of cowardice in the face of wrongdoing. If nothing else, impeachment and removal will force them out of the shadows and explain to their constituents and the American people why they support this President.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 132: Cokie Roberts is Praying For You (and I’m Trying)

Yesterday I posted about the death of Cokie Roberts (1943-2019). As you can imagine people from around the world have posted remembrances and condolences.

President Obama said this: “Michelle and I are sad to hear about the passing of Cokie Roberts. She was a trailblazing figure; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over forty years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way. She will be missed ― and we send our condolences to her family.”

President George W. Bush said this: “We are deeply saddened that Cokie Roberts is no longer with us. She covered us for decades as a talented, tough, and fair reporter. We respected her drive and appreciated her humor. She became a friend. We know Steve, their children, and grandchildren are heartbroken. They have our sincere sympathies.”

Meanwhile, our current President (who must not be named) said this: “I never met her. She never treated me nicely. But I would like to wish her family well. She was a professional, and I respect professionals. I respect you guys a lot, you people a lot. She was a real professional,”

Way to make it about you.

The Trump Chronicles Volume 131, The Money Chronicles Volume 18: More Tax Cuts?

A year and a half ago I argued against the Republican belief that cutting taxes will benefit the economy and pay for themselves. Granted, tax cuts can increase consumer spending in the short run and that’s good for the economy. But it also balloons the budget deficit and the national debt.

Now, in August of 2019, we see signs of an upcoming recession. This is nothing but bad news for President Trump as a recession would likely doom his reelection.

Hoping to stave this off, in the last few days he’s suggested another round of cuts to payroll taxes (in fairness, as I write this, he now claims he’s not considering it). Then again, since he reacts to the last thing he saw on Fox TV who can tell what will happen?

There are times when higher deficits make sense, and President Obama’s quick action to recover from the Great Recession added to both the deficit and the debt. Ironically, this led to a recovery that lasts to this day, and a recovery that President Trump claims credit for.

But our economy rises and lowers, booms and busts. Frankly we are overdue for a downturn. President Trump clearly hopes not so much to prevent the inevitable next recession as to delay it until after the election 15 months from now.

But here’s the problem: his proposed payroll tax cuts work like taking cash advances on your credit card. Responsible consumers sometimes use cash advances in a short term crisis. But responsible consumers know that they need to plan a path to their repayment. Maybe the need cash to relocate for a better job or make a necessary purchase. Irresponsible consumers, who don’t have a repayment plan, learn eventually that they’ve dug a hole they can never climb out of.

Unlike the United States, irresponsible consumers can declare bankruptcy. Our nation can’t.

And we are led by a President who has declared bankruptcy six times.

Can somebody tell him that the United States economy can’t?

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 130: You Should Read This Book

I just finished Daniel Okrent’s book The Guarded Gate. Here’s what I’ve learned:

This was not an easy book to read, particularly to those of us who follow the news. In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species that found that plants and animals change and develop to adapt to a changing world. In the decades that followed, many people asked the question as to whether humans do the same.

It’s a decent question and we’ve found that skin color has changed incrementally over millennia based on our distance from the equator and sunlight. We all began in Africa with dark skin because of the sun: we needed dark skin to block skin cancer. But as a species we migrated to areas where the sun was not as intense, areas that we now know as Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Those migrants needed lighter skin because they needed the Vitamin D that the sun provided. And over thousands of years they developed exactly that. The different skin colors between Africans and Scandinavians had everything to do with the sun and nothing to do with anything else.

But in the decades after Darwin this debate took a horrifying turn: a number of Americans took Darwin’s theory to argue that people from certain countries were “good” and some were “bad” based on skin color and where they were born.

From the late 16th Century much of what we now call America saw a huge influx Western Europeans. In 1776 we declared ourselves independent from Europe (England) and opened our shores to all who wanted to come, not thinking much about skin color (except for the slaves we brought here in chains but that’s grist for another post). This lasted until 1882 when we decided that we didn’t want to include people from China.

Shortly after this descendants of Western European immigrants feared they would lose their wealth and their identity because of current Eastern and Southern European immigrants. With calls of “Keep America for the Americans” they decided that some immigrants were good and should be welcomed and some were bad and should be banned. They claimed science on their side and named their belief “eugenics.”

Daniel’s book documents this belief that Europeans could be divided into three groups: Nordics, Alpines, and Mediterraneans.” With no evidence they claimed a hierarchy: Nordics were good, Alpines were suspicious, and Mediterraneans were inferior. In no small part they recognized that Nordics had fair skin and fair hair while Mediterraneans had olive skin and dark hair.

In 1924 Congress passed (and President Coolidge signed) a law that placed horrific quotas on immigration from different nations of Europe. I encourage you to read the book but basically they wrote this law that set up immigration quotas from each nation. Those from Northern Europe and Scandinavians enjoyed generous quotas (including, by the way, President Trump’s mother who came from Scotland in 1930) while those from Italy, Austria, and the Balkans were essentially shut out.

The horror of this law wasn’t realized until the 1930s when Jews from Europe frantically attempted to flee Nazi Germany and were turned away from our shores because of their misfortune to come after their quota had already been met. Thousands were turned back where they perished in concentration camps. If you don’t think this has real consequences, read about the St. Louis.

Today, day after day, we see that men, women and children come to our borders. They are desperate to flee because of the same fear that Jews faced in the 1930s. They don’t face antisemitism but instead face death threats. Their fathers, brothers, sons, and grandsons face threats from local gangs who demand that these young men join their gang or face death.

They don’t want to join gangs and they began a long and dangerous journey in the hope of a place of safety: the United States. They want what our ancestors wanted. But when they arrive at our border they are seen as “invaders” who want to “take our stuff.”

In 2019 we cannot condemn xenophobia in the 1920s and defend xenophobia today.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 129: Thoughts on Gun Violence and Mental Illness

News reports about mass shootings have become part of our lives ever since Columbine in 1999.

And the reaction to these shootings has divided our nation. Many of us look to gun control. We believe that military weapons were designed to kill a maximum number of people in a minimum amount of time, and don’t they belong in the hands of civilians. Others claim that these weapons of max destruction aren’t the problem. Instead they suggest that these massacres are the result of bad people or bad circumstances, or…whatever. In the last several years they have settled on a scapegoat: people who struggle with mental illness.

One some level I understand their choice: while we’ve found success in treatments for our kidneys, hearts, and pancreases we had a much harder time with brain disease. Gun control opponents have seized on this opportunity to claim that we should continue to allow military grade rifles for all those except who are mentally ill. After the shootings the President said this: “[W]e must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence, and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

So here’s the problem: nobody knows what level of mental illness should block someone from buying or owning a gun. Simply put, opponents of gun control point to a problem with no solution and celebrate the appearance of concern.

If we’re not good at treating mental illness, we’re even worse at diagnosing it. The idea that we can predict the next mass shooters while treating those who suffer but aren’t a threat is, frankly put, a myth. People who live with (among others) depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia normally do more damage to themselves or their immediate circle of family and friends than they do to large numbers of strangers.

Recent massacres in Gilroy, California, El Pao, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio have made my point. None of these shooters would have been classified as mentally ill.

And even if you don’t buy my argument that we can’t predict these mass shootings, I’ll also argue that this will make it harder to provide treatment to those who suffer from mental illness.

How do we classify mental illness? We already have a “cannot purchase” list, but these are primarily those who have felony convictions, are on terrorist watch lists, or have been convicted of domestic violence.

But the term “mental illness” is much more fluid. Do we include only those who have been involuntarily institutionalized? What about those who have been voluntarily institutionalized? What about those currently in the care of a psychiatrist? Or those formerly in the care of a psychiatrist? What about those currently in the care of a psychologist? Or those formerly in the care of a psychologist?

Do we include those who participated in a depression support group? How about those who participated in a grief support group?

Many who suffer refuse to ask for help because of a well founded belief that they will be unfairly labeled as weak or crazy and will put themselves at risk of discrimination. Now imagine a troubled teenager who comes from a family who hunts. He knows that if he asks for help he may well be put on a database that prevents him from purchasing a gun.

We already have reasons for people to fear mental health treatment, we don’t need to create another.