The Trump Chronicles Volume 91: Abraham Lincoln Is Weeping

Talk to a Republican and within a few minutes he or she will eagerly tell you that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

Entire libraries have been written about President Lincoln and many of us have read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s an excellent book and I recommend it, but if you want to fully understand President Lincoln’s views on slavery I suggest The Fiery Trial by Eric Foner. This book traces Lincoln’s views on slavery. At first he was ambivalent but eventually he recognized that slavery is wrong because while free people can prosper from intelligence and hard work, slaves could not. No matter how hard they worked and no matter what they invented they (and their descendants) would always be slaves.

His view of people of color was more complicated. He didn’t envision the possibility of a fully integrated society (and there is evidence that he supported freed slaves returning to Africa) but he felt that everyone who lived in the United States could point to the Declaration of Independence‘s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We all have access to that.

He was our 16th President. What do you think he would say about his fellow Republican Donald Trump our 45th President? I think he would weep.

President Lincoln spoke about “the better angels of our nature” and “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

On the other hand we have President Trump. On Thursday he was meeting in the White House with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and they were discussing immigration reform. Specifically they were talking about people who come here fleeing some sort of catastrophe (e.g. the 2010 Haitian earthquake). Learning that most of these people came from Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador he asked why we were accepting so many people from shithole countries.

Oh yes, there’s this: President Trump is now denying he ever used that language.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 90: Here’s Why We’re Concerned

Dear President Trump:

It’s been a busy few days, and I have to tell you that I’m writing out of concern for you. Ever since you came onto the national scene we’re recognized that you have a thin skin and often overreact to perceived slights. Just so you know, a google search of “trump’s response to slights” lands 138,000 hits, but let me give you an example of my point from PBS.

I understand that you’re not the first President with quirks, but last week your judgement took a troubling turn. The publication of the book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff does not speak well of your Presidency and it frankly documents what many of us have thought all along. The book portrays you as a child in constant need of approval, prone to tantrums, and unwilling to pay attention to anything inconvenient, or frankly, complex.

The book claims that many of the people who work shoulder to shoulder with you fear your temperament makes you unfit for office. At a time when our nation, and our world, face grave problems from North Korea to climate change, you appear obsessed with making sure nobody touches your toothbrush lest you be poisoned.

Some have even spoken about the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. It was passed in 1967, three years after the assignation of President Kennedy. Article 4 of that amendment gives the Vice President and the Cabinet (through majority vote) the power to remove the President and install the Vice President. From my reading it appears this was intended for a limited time and that the President would later be able to resume office but it’s not clear.

Mr. President, I doubt this will happen. You hand picked both the Vice President and the Cabinet and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they would take this vote; you need not worry about this happening. But your reaction to Fire and Fury has shown us there may be something to this. Several news outlets reported that members of Congress met with Yale Psychiatrist Dr. Bandy Lee to seek her expertise on your mental state and she felt there is reason for concern.

Earlier in the week you (once again) needlessly provoked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. I spoke in an earlier post about how the the two of you are behaving like little boys with loaded guns and how previous Presidents have recognized that when dealing with North Korea somebody has to be the adult in the room. Kim Jong Un proclaimed last week that he has a nuclear button on this desk at all times.

No one is claiming we should cower from such a statement but there’s also no point in needlessly provoking him and ratcheting up the rhetoric. All you needed to do was ignore this, but instead you felt the need to respond by telling him and the rest of the world that your button is bigger. Aside from the clear phallic reference it does nothing to make the world safer. As commander in chief you have the authority to launch nuclear weapons and we all wish you had more respect for that power.

I’m just saying that we’d like you to act with more prudence.

When you were elected you were clearly the only person who didn’t know the Presidency was a tough job, calling for a high level of maturity and self awareness. And to be honest there are days when I can’t tell if you’re unwilling or unable to grow up. Had you ignored Kim Jong Un and Michael Wolff you could have spent last week planning out your agenda for 2018 instead of yet another round of needless bickering.

I hope it’s not too late.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 89: Here’s Why We Should All Support PBS and NPR

For over 20 years I’ve supported National Public Radio because I’ve found their news coverage superior to anything else. In the last few years I’ve subscribed to several podcasts connected to NPR and they tell me the best way to support these podcasts lies in support of my local NPR station (KPBS). Starting last year I sent in my donation to KPBS and have included a letter to the program director Tom Karlo.

I’m writing this in the hopes that more of us support NPR. Here is this year’s letter to Tom:

Dear Tom:

Last January we sent in our annual contribution to support KPBS.

In that letter I spoke about how freedom of the press found itself under unprecedented fire from the White House and those foolish enough to believe the President’s lies. A year later I still have the same concerns and, frankly, find PBS and NPR my best weapon to fight back and protect our First Amendment rights.

When I tell people I support public radio some will dismiss it as having a liberal bias. I used to ignore it, but I no longer do. I tell them this: PBS and NPR provides smart, in-depth, reasoned news that does not tell us how to think, but instead enlightens us to the issues. Time again I come away with an understanding of all sides of a controversial issue and I can form my opinion after considering all sides. I explain that PBS and NPR are not balanced because that creates a false equivalency. “Today’s topic is the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. On one side we have a renowned pediatrician and on the other side we have the mother of a child with autism. You decide.”

And finally I tell them that if this level of reporting leans left, I’m OK with that. I’m willing to be thoughtful enough to care about our environment, our neighbors, and our grandchildren.

In addition to listening to KPBS I also listen to several NPR podcasts and I want you to know which ones I support:

Up First
NPR Politics
Planet Money
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Fresh Air

Please give my best wishes to your staff and know how much all of you mean to me.

I hope you’ll support your local NPR station.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 88, the Money Chronicles, Volume 17: To Those Who Have Much, More Will Be Given

From his earliest days on the campaign trail President Trump has promised tax reform. As with many Republicans he bought into the fiction of supply side economics, previously known as trickle down economics. This theory claims that if we cut taxes more people will have more money. They will spend that money and create more wealth that will more than make up for the loss in tax revenue. Many of us argue that this is popular not because it’s true but because makes us feel good, much like the Atkins Diet. It doesn’t help people lose weight in the long run but it’s popular because it tells overweight people that they can eat bacon and cheese omelettes and still lose weight.

Last week the President signed into law a tax reform bill that he claims will be good for America, particularly the middle class. Additionally he claims it will hurt him. Of course since we don’t have access to his tax returns we can’t say, but he has often bragged about his wealth and since this bill will lower the highest tax bracket from 39.6% to 37%. And while 2.6% may not sound like much, if you claim taxable income of $100 million (not unheard of among the wealthiest), that 2.6% pencils out to $260,000, or a little over a quarter of a million dollars. That may not be much for Mr. Trump, but it is for the rest of us.

Many of us looked at this tax bill with hope as Republicans have often claimed that they are the party of fiscal responsibility, as opposed to Democrats who they characterize as the party of “tax and spend.” They claim the Democrats want all our money only to figure out how to spend it on frivolous programs that cause more harm.

We counted on Republicans like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Jeff Flake of Arizona who promised not to vote for a tax package that would increase the federal deficit. By the way, I wrote an earlier article on the difference between the federal deficit and debt.

So how do they get around this? They lie. They claim the tax cuts will pay for themselves but that depends on unsustainable economic growth. You can read an this article but basically Presidents have little control over economic growth. Anything less than hopelessly optimistic economic growth will balloon both the deficit and the debt.

Don’t care about this? Fine. But if you have children, grandchildren, nephew, nieces, or young people you care about you need to explain to them how they will have to repay the debt you saddled them with. It’s a little like using cash advances to pay for frivolous purchases with the knowledge that if you do it for long enough you won’t have to clean up your own mess.

To quote our President, let’s see what happens.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 30: No Roy Moore, Character Does Count

On November 9th the Washington Post broke a story about Roy Moore who is running for Senate in Alabama. They reported that in 1979, when he was the District Attorney for Etowah County, he was well known for his attraction to teenage girls. As I write this 9 women have accused him, one of whom was 14 at the time.

Mr. Moore continues to deny any of these allegations and is giving thought to suing them.

At first several members of the Republican Party called for him to drop out of the race and even President Trump said he should drop out of the charges are true. But that has changed. President Trump now endorses him because he doesn’t want the Senate to gain another Democratic seat.

But here’s the thing: character matters. We shouldn’t respect anyone who can vote for somebody who promises to vote their way while, at the same time, has shown he is not safe around our children. Moore claims to be pro life but sees no problem being a man in his 30s who sexually assaults a 14 year old girl. Decades later he sees no problem in accusing her of lying.

We all falter sometimes in what we do and we are all works in progress. But I find no excuse in someone not recognizing this and trying to do better. He told one of his accusers that there was no point in telling anyone because “nobody will believe you”. Sure enough when she came forward, he denied her claims.

The good people of Alabama will choose their senator next month and I pray they care about Moore’s character. Running against him is Doug Jones who is a Democrat. I pray that enough Republicans look at their daughters and recognize that Roy Moore does not represent their values.

The Money Chronicles, Volume 16, The Trump Chronicles, Volume 87: National Debt vs. Budget Deficit

It strikes me that we’ve been hearing a great deal about President Trump’s promise to cut taxes.  It’s not a new promise, nearly every politician claims this.  I have to confess some amusement that these promises also claim to improve the economy.  In my last post I spoke about the false promise to close loopholes.

Here I want to talk about the difference between the national debt and the budget deficit. Alas, most of the time these two things are talked about as if they were the same thing. They’re not.

By way of explanation let me start with debt and deficit in our own households. Many of us owe money to someone. If you’re making payments on your home, or car, or credit cards, you have debt. You’ve convinced someone to lend you money to pay for something you can’t pay cash for. Your lender (likely a bank) trusts you to pay both the money and interest over time, and if you can’t they can take whatever they financed. Or, if you borrow money on a credit card and can’t pay that back, they can report you to a credit bureau and make it harder to borrow money in the future. The government borrows a lot of money. As I write this the government debt is $20,453,245,142,792.62. If you’re keeping track it’s over $20 trillion.

In other words, our government owes $20 trillion dollars. Fortunately 68% is owned by Americans. Every time you give one of your grandchildren a savings bond you own part of the national debt. You lend the government money and the government pays you back with interest after a fixed time.

That’s the good news. The bad news? While we own 68% of our debt, the rest (32%) is owned by other nations. As I write this, China and Hong Kong own 6.9%. That may not sound like much but 6.9% of $20 trillion dollars translates to $141,127,391,485, or a shade over $141 billion (I hope I have the math right). If they want, they can demand immediate payment and cause a great deal of panic in our markets.

But that’s not what concerns me the most. I’m more concerned over the need to continue to borrow money. Every year the our government spends more money than it collects, we need to borrow money to close the deficit. If we translate this into our household budgets, it’s like going to your bank and telling them that you need a loan because last month you spent beyond your means. Not only that, but you expect to come back next month, and the month after that, and…well you get the point. At some point your bank (or for that matter, your loan shark) will simply refuse to lend you more money, believing eventually you’ll just give up and stop trying to repay your debt. But if you’re the United States you can continue to print savings bonds without limit. Unless something happens to change this trend there will be a limit: there will be a point where people (and nations) will begin to distrust our ability to pay back the loans and will stop lending money.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Many of us have seen our government run budget deficits for so long that it seems like a given. But it’s not. You can read the numbers here but the last few years of the presidency of President Bill Clinton we actually ran a surplus and had the opportunity to pay down the debt.

As I write this President Trump and Congress are rolling out a tax plan that will cut taxes (and revenue) but will likely dramatically increase the deficit and debt.

Since we are currently led by a President who promises America First it’s odd that his tax policy will make us increasingly debtors of other nations.

The Money Chronicles, Volume 15. The Trump Chronicles, Volume 86: Let's Look at Tax Brackets

In my last post I spoke about President Trump’s promise to reform taxes by closing loopholes and make filing your taxes easier, perhaps even on a postcard.

But that part of tax reform matters only to those taxpayers who itemize. If you file a tax return you have the choice of taking the standard deduction or itemizing. Here’s my layman’s explanation: Your employer is required to send you a W2 form that shows how much money they paid you the previous year. That’s your gross income. You now have to choose whether to take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions.

Currently the standard deduction is $6,350 if you are married but filing separately from your spouse. It’s $12,700 if you and your spouse file jointly. If you’re single and head of your household it’s $9,350. You deduct this number from your gross income and it becomes a taxable income. According to the Tax Foundation, 68.5% of filers do this.

But if you’re in the early years of an expensive mortgage, if you donate lots of money to charities, or if you’re eligible for some of the countless other deductions, you may want to itemize. If these deductions total more than your standard deduction it makes sense to itemize. From the Tax Foundation 30.1% of taxpayers do this. OK, if you’re doing the math that leaves 1.6%. Those are taxpayers who don’t make enough money to pay anything in taxes.

This brings us to the end of part 1: determining your taxable income. Part 2 determines how much tax we pay on this income. But what percentage do we pay? When the government began collecting income taxes in 1913 it was determined that the wealthy would pay a higher percentage of their income than poor people: they created tax brackets. They specifically did not institute a flat tax (where everyone would pay the same percentage of income), arguing that those with higher incomes could afford to pay a higher percentage than those with lower incomes. From time to time politicians suggest a flat tax and I wrote about it in 2011.

Currently we have 7 tax brackets, and those in the highest bracket (39.6%) report a taxable income of $418,400 or higher. President Trump proposes only 3 brackets, and lowers the highest rate from 39.6% to 35%. And yet he claims this won’t benefit him or the rest of the 1%.

Simply put, it’s not true. In my last post I argued that his promise to close loopholes won’t happen and in this post I’m claiming that lowering the tax rate for the wealthiest will benefit only themselves.

More later.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 85. The Money Chronicles, Volume 14: Let's Look At Tax Reform

While on the campaign trail President Trump spoke often about the need for tax reform. He promised lower our taxes.

From our earliest days we Americans have yearned for tax relief. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is widely believed to claim that the only things we can’t avoid are death and taxes.

As a hospice chaplain I tell you how hard we try to avoid both. I’m not normally a fan of the “good old days” but there was a time when many Americans saw paying taxes as a form of patriotism. You can see a funny Donald Duck video from 1943 that tied taxes into support for World War II.

But the IRS 1040 form from 1943 was only 4 pages long. In fairness, the 1040 from 2016 is only 2 pages long, but the instruction book for the 1040 is 106 pages long. Clearly paying taxes has become much more complicated.

Republicans promise to reduce our tax returns to a postcard. But here’s the thing: it’s already easy if you don’t care how much you pay. Filing taxes requires to do two things: finding the difference between gross income and taxable income, and finding out how much we owe based on our taxable income.

Most of us (myself included) hire someone to do our taxes (and if you live in San Diego I strongly recommend Mark Young). But we need to hire someone to find the difference between gross income and taxable income. We can deduct from our gross income the money we spend on charitable donations, interest on home loans, and countless other things. Simply put, the government uses deductions to encourage certain behaviors. The government wants us to donate money, purchase homes, etc, and they encourage us to do these things by giving us a tax break.

But if you don’t care about this, all you need to do is declare your gross income as your taxable income. If you do this, all you need to do is look on a simple table to see how much you owe and pay it. This would take less than a minute.

And when politicians promise to “close loopholes” they are promising to eliminate deductions and make your gross income closer to your taxable income. But every loophole has a lobbyist whose salary depends on keeping that same deduction. Do you want to eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction? Good luck. You’ve declared war on the National Association of Realtors. Do you happily donate money to your local charity? Good luck. Expect pushback from your church, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the San Diego Blood Bank, and well, you get the point.

In fairness President Trump has promised to keep deductions for mortgage interest rates and charities. But look over your last tax return and see how many deductions you were able to take. If the only difference between your gross income and taxable income came from these two places, how much more is there? Are you willing to lose those deductions?

I don’t think so and I don’t think President Trump can pull this off.

There’s much more to this and I’ll be writing more. Stay tuned.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 84: Can Someone Teach This Guy How to Lead?

Let’s begin with the obvious: leadership is difficult. Leading others requires abilities to inspire, encourage, persuade, cajole, and well, you get the point. Our nation was built on the belief that our leaders govern with the consent of the governed.

Since 1776 much of the world has chosen democracy over the absolute rule of dictatorship (by a King or Queen, or a military leader, some other absolute ruler). Dictators ruled without needing to care about those they ruled and didn’t need leadership skills. If you doubt this, you need look only as far as North Korea.

We now find ourselves with a President who simply does not know how to lead. I’ve spoken about this several times before, but a good leader commands respect while a poor leader craves approval.

This has created havoc in our nation in so many ways. Let me focus on a few:

  • On August 17th President Trump claimed that some of the White Nationalists were very fine people. He clearly sought the approval of those who came to Charlottesville to “Unite the Right.” And it worked: Former KKK member David Duke praised the President.
  • As a Democrat I applaud this, but on September 6th President Trump met with leaders of Congress over the issue of raising the debt ceiling for three months. Republican leadership came to this Oval Office meeting insisting that the debt ceiling be raised until after the 2018 elections. They gasped when the President pulled the rug out from under them and sided with the Democratic leadership. This came less than a month after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) suggested Mr. Trump had “excessive expectations” about the ability of the Senate to repeal and replace Obamacare. In other words, if craving Mr. McConnell’s approval didn’t work, he would crave the approval of Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
  • Finally, and most strikingly, he has shifted his views on President Obama’s executive order protecting the Dreamers several times. They are people who were brought here from other nations as children. They grew up as Americans, went to our schools, and thought of themselves as Americans. Many of them speak only English. From the day President Trump announced his candidacy he described Mexicans as rapists and murderers. When asked about these dreamers he has said many things. Two weeks ago he ordered his Attorney General to announce the end of DACA. But on the same day he announced that he has great love for Dreamers. He’s craving the approval of both sides and thinks that mixed messages will make this happen.

In the midst of all this, many of us Americans find ourselves perplexed over how he is leading us. Simply put, he isn’t. He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want us to respect his leadership, he wants us to approve of him. On June 12th we learned just how much.

OK, I’ve been wrong in all of my predictions of President Trump. As I write this he has 1146 days left in his term but I can’t imagine he’ll finish his term. One of his most faithful supporters, Ann Coulter now demands his impeachment. Breitbart, one of President Trump’s most vocal supporters, now posts videos of previous supporters burning “Making American Great Again

Many of us look at the investigation of Russian meddling and think this may end with his impeachment and removal from office. But I don’t think he will be impeached or convicted because I believe that his need for approval will force him to resign before the investigation ends. Sometime in the next six months he will declare that he was never given a chance and that “nobody was treated worse than me.” He will attempt to make the case that “everyone was against me” and nobody could have done this job.

Speaking only for myself I’ll celebrate his surrender. He never treated the Presidential election as a mandate to lead all of us. Instead he treated his office as a reality television show that he led. Now he’s found he has a hard job and he expects us to sympathize.

He was born into a wealthy family and was given more than most of us. The fact that he turned a small fortune into a large fortune doesn’t make me think of him as a leader. It makes me look at him as a toddler who craves approval.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 83: Saving DACA Helps All of Us

For well over 100 years we’ve struggled with immigration. Beginning in the 1850s large numbers of citizens from China came to our shores, many to help construct the transcontinental railroad which was completed in 1869. But many Americans of European descent looked on these immigrants with suspicion and in 1882 President Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886) he signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It made Chinese immigration nearly impossible. In fairness it also excluded “paupers, criminals, and lunatics.”

In 1924 the United States first began to restrict immigration by placing quotas on the number of people from each country can come here. I have no desire to wade into the complexities of our immigration system, but suffice it to say that more people want to come here than legally can.

And we continue to struggle to create a policy that respects our laws while at the same time recognizes that we are a nation of immigrants. Our pride for the Statue of Liberty shows this.

Our complicated history of “we are a nation of immigrants” vs. “we don’t trust people who don’t look like us” frames our frustration today.

And in the middle of this debate we find a group of young men and women we call “Dreamers.” They were brought to the United States as children. Their parents came here without going through the process of immigrating; simply put, they snuck in. But they did this because the process of legal immigration made legal entry essentially impossible.

However you feel about the adults, clearly their children cannot be held as lawbreakers. They came here and enrolled in school. By and large they did well and think of themselves as Americans; many speak only English and if deported they have no place to go.

In 2012 President Barack Obama ordered that they be protected and allowed to stay. As long as they came here before their 16th birthday, stayed in school, and did not break any laws, they could stay here and work legally. He called this order DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

But here’s where it gets even more complicated: President Trump promised on the campaign trail to end the DACA program but also, on other occasions appeared to support the Dreamers.

He’s never been known for his consistency but here he’s playing with the lives of real people. Last week he announced he would decide tomorrow, September 5th.

As I write this, it appears he will delay ending it by six months in the hopes that Congress will create legislation that will protect the dreamers. I imagine this gives the dreamers no relief as Congress appears to show no more compassion or maturity than the President.

Simply put, protecting the Dreamers benefits them, but also benefits us. Their conviction rate is 0% and they are educated. In other words, they are exactly what we are looking for. We gain nothing by deporting them because their parents came here to make a better lives for them.