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Testing the Will of the American People

Summary: National will to save our constitutional and democratic system is on the line in elections of 2018 and 2020. Americans have passed such tests before and can do it again. This is the fourth of four articles for Independence Day 2018 intended to encourage determination to stem the rising tide of Trumpism.

The congressional elections of 2018 and 2020, along with the presidential election of 2020, will be the most consequential since the end of the Cold War. Will the American electorate defend basic values and constitutional principles, or will accelerating factionalism undermine the concerted action needed to defend our constitutional system? The fundamental will of the American people is being tested.

The American electorate proved an ability to withstand crisis twice in the twentieth century. First was the test of new forms of federal intervention in a devastating economic crisis in the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt concentrated on remedial action in his first two years, then launched into transformative Social Security programs when congressional victories in 1934 and 1936 demonstrated public determination to support federal initiatives. An even more difficult test began in 1945 as the Cold War took shape. Both parties supported foreign policies based on containment and deterrence through nine presidents and changing congressional majorities until the collapse of the Soviet Union, demonstrating incredible persistence that made victory possible.

Once again, the long-term will and commitment of the American people faces a difficult test. Can we unite in coalitions with enough strength and persistence to overcome Trumpism? Does the fundamental will of Americans support our constitutional system or our international leadership of democracies and human rights?

Trumpian Crisis

The present crisis is due to the complete victory of Trumpism in a Republican party lacking courage to deal with open repudiation of principles they claimed were foundational. The burden is clearly on the American electorate to speak up definitively in multiple election cycles to repair constitutional processes that are being undermined. It is also essential that Trump voters recognize they were betrayed and join in stemming the Trumpian tide. When the will of a people is challenged, success depends on unification of effort and persistence for more than a two-year cycle.

The election of 2016 was not completely illegitimate. It was heavily influenced by hacking and weaponized social media content, as has clearly been established. Even though Trump refuses to acknowledge the Russian attack on our electoral system and the help he received, American voters saw him using the fruits of hacking and brazenly asking Russia for more help before television cameras. Even if the worst is true and Trump actively conspired with Russia to steal the election, there is no evidence of electronic ballot box stuffing or undermining of voter registrations that would have made the vote count illegitimate.

This legitimate, though tainted, election did not reflect the will of the American people. He won in the electoral college while falling 3 million votes short in the popular total. Immediate reactions, such as the women’s marches the day after Trump’s inauguration, showed broad-based rejection of the presidential winner. It is now time for Trump voters to join marches and protests, for damaging our constitution and undermining world peace were not what they intended with their votes.

Trump voters have been betrayed. He has not appointed the best people to offices or eliminated Washington corruption based on donors and lobbyists. In fact, he has installed the most corrupt and ethically compromised cabinet in history while turning the presidency and foreign policy into profit centers for his family businesses. Even though Trump’s campaign challenged the credibility of trade deals and diplomatic agreements, most of his voters were not rejecting NATO or choosing to pull out of multi-lateral agreements with friends in ways that openly benefit our chief adversaries Russia and China.

No doubt many Trump voters are concerned over erratic presidential behavior that insults friendly countries and finds encouraging relationships with autocrats all over the world. Did they really expect an all-out attack on American intelligence agencies, the FBI, and the integrity of our system of justice? Surely, they did not expect to see the State Department and diplomacy repudiated in favor of seat of the pants decisions and whims of the president. Even if they wanted to see tougher responses to immigration issues, did they want ICE agents to openly adopt practices like Hitler’s violent brownshirt supporters or a policy of separating children from immigrant parents to place them in Americanized concentration camps? Trump voters may have rejected political correctness, but did they really want policies that commit crimes against humanity at the level seen in authoritarian countries? All of these developments reflect betrayal of expectations.

The Cost of Failing the Test

Trump voters took a chance, placing their faith in a wild card they thought would settle down as he started governing. Now they see that Trump is not capable of being the kind of president Americans have always required. Will Republicans and others who voted for Trump support non-Trumpian candidates, whether Democratic, Independent, or Republican? That is the test.

Can this be achieved? Americans responded to Roosevelt’s New Deal and supported hard decisions from Truman to George H. W. Bush to win the Cold War. But we also failed after the OPEC oil embargo when Jimmy Carter wanted to eliminate foreign oil dependence through a series of conservation measures. Lowering the speed limit on highways was considered too inconvenient as people chose to support Reagan’s elimination of Carter’s unpopular rules.

What has been the cost of dependence on international oil? Eight years after Carter, our first Iraq War grew out of dependence on Middle Eastern oil. That war led to the emergence of Osama bin Laden as an American enemy and to a second Iraq War that again focused on oil. It is not certain, but possible, that deaths in oil-related wars and terroristic attacks of Osama bin Laden might have been avoided if popular will had supported conservation of energy.

Conclusion

Democrats may win majorities in both houses of Congress this November and fail to remedy the problem of Trumpism. Long-term repair is needed – and that requires Republican and Democrat efforts over several election cycles. Many Trump voters will also need to become aware they made a mistake and join coalitions fighting Trumpism.

Historically, the will of the American people has supported our constitutional system because large segments in two national parties made stability possible amidst the turbulence of changing congressional majorities. A broad segment of the American people must stand up and say ENOUGH! This kind of popular will must also be expressed in more than one election if essential foundations are to be restored.

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Donald Trump’s Revision of the Monroe Doctrine

Summary: Donald Trump may be following a strategy in plain view which is obscured by his daily media chaos. His actions show him moving to establish an autocratic American Empire similar to governments of Russia, China, and North Korea. This is the third of four articles for Independence Day 2018 intended to encourage determination to stem the rising tide of Trumpism.

Critics of Donald Trump’s behavior as president have said he follows no long-term strategies. Frenetic tweets and constant media distractions from serious issues make it appear he views each day as an episode in a reality television series. Nevertheless, he has been extremely successful at undermining a host of norms long taken for granted while building support among Republicans that has turned the Grand Old Party into Trumpism.

Is it possible he has a strategy, a Trump doctrine, that we aren’t seeing as he puts it in place before our eyes? Nixon gave us tapes with private statements that were “smoking guns.” Trump’s behavior has produced an armory of smoking guns that are daily cheered or laughed at and not taken seriously. His media strategy has worked thus far to numb the public as he boldly stomps on things previously considered sacred.

Based on emerging patterns that have been overlooked in the chaos of daily misdirection, I think it is possible Trump intends to turn the Americas into a hemispheric empire modeled on the governments of Russia, China, and North Korea. This strategy is built on nationalism, imperialism, and authoritarianism in the name of the Monroe Doctrine. There are two major components of this strategy.

First, Trump is reconstructing the Monroe Doctrine as he undoes American foreign policy since Theodore Roosevelt to focus on creating an Empire of the Americas. Second, he wants to be a strong leader and intends to belong in the company of the three strongest leaders in the world – Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong Un. Weakness is on display when democratically elected heads of state interact as equals, Trump seems to believe.

Monroe Doctrine Restored and Updated.

Prior to the twentieth century, American foreign policy combined isolation from European involvement with assertion of hemispheric power through the Monroe Doctrine. In 1823, James Monroe declared an American sphere of influence in the western hemisphere by saying new European colonies would not be tolerated. Theodore Roosevelt, in his State of the Union address of 1904, announced what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary when he justified our recent intervention in Venezuela as a national right to be a hemispheric policeman stepping in when our interests are threatened. Both formulations of this tenet of American foreign policy were within the scope of isolationism recommended by George Washington in his Farewell Address.

Theodore Roosevelt extended naval influence in the Atlantic and Pacific and thus began modifying American isolationism. Beginning with Woodrow Wilson, Democratic presidents became entangled in two world wars that began in Europe, even though American public opinion tended to support isolationism despite provocations until the attack on Pearl Harbor. According to a resurgent nationalism, foreign policy since 1945 blurred our focus on the Americas as we engaged in multilateral defense and trade agreements to promote globalization. Although the United States has been recognized as the dominant world power, revived nationalism points to the one-sided cost to support the spread of democracy, free trade and human rights.

The Trump reformulation of the Monroe Doctrine would mean withdrawing from European and Pacific alliances to concentrate on dominance of the Americas. This might result in a three-way partition of the world into a Russia-dominated Europe, China-dominated Pacific, and American western hemisphere. We would of course withdraw from NATO and take steps to bring Canada and Mexico into orbit around Trumpian leadership. Border and trade issues would be resolved to our satisfaction, as Mexico gladly pays for a wall and NAFTA becomes a means of hemispheric trade dominance by the United States.

Although Trump has made no pronouncements about the Monroe Doctrine, evidence is mounting to support this argument. Meetings with NATO or the G7 keep leading to friction with our official allies. The long tradition of peace with Canada and Mexico is being openly endangered and could eventually be used to justify military interventions.

Lifetime Presidency

As foreign alliances are rearranged, domestic policies would install the public discipline seen in Russia, China, and North Korea that are so appealing to President Trump. Criticism of hostile news media and independence by justice, law enforcement, or intelligence agencies would be overcome. Loyalty to the president and repetition of his propaganda would be expected of government employees. Perpetuating Republican leadership in Congress would be ensured, along with compliant Republican federal judges to support new policies. Success would result in granting our first “really strong” president a term for life, as is the case with the leaders he admires. When he dies, the presidency would naturally pass to a chosen successor, probably resulting in a female president for the first time.

Does this strategy sound absurd? Consider the agencies he attacked from the moment of his election. Intelligence, FBI, and Justice Department prosecutors have been demeaned since Russian interference in the election was confirmed and existence of an investigation into his campaign became known to Trump. Now he has co-opted Congress and brags about success in packing federal courts with open Republican sympathizers.

During the election Trump’s fitness was questioned by a bi-partisan host of former national security and intelligence officials. Hillary Clinton made Trump’s fitness a major issue, yet everyone knew she was under FBI investigation. The public was unaware of a more serious investigation into the Trump campaign. When President-elect Trump learned of the investigation, he began demanding loyalty of the investigators as he publicly denied intelligence reports of Russian meddling in the election and treated intelligence officials as political opponents.

As President, Donald Trump continues hostility to the press to the extent of excluding them from meetings with our adversaries while allowing their propagandistic agencies into the meetings. He is systematically attacking our closest allies while expressing no concern over the chemical assassinations by Putin and Kim Jong Un who are now his friends.

Responsible world leaders, which has included all presidents until now, take several experts into important meetings with other heads of state. Mafia bosses and other criminals insist on one-to-one conversations to prevent witnesses to criminal decisions. A summit with Kim Jong Un excluded diplomatic experts who would advise and record the conversation. Trump is about to do the same with Vladimir Putin immediately after another case of Russian chemical poisoning in Britain.

What is it he doesn’t want witnesses hearing him discussing with murderous autocrats? A clear pattern of public behavior suggests he has secret arrangements with Putin he wants to hide. Also, why would anyone consider it unthinkable that these private, unrecorded conversations might involve eliminating political opponents with chemical agents? These are specialties of Putin and Kim – would anyone believe that moral scruples would prevent Trump wanting to follow their examples in that arena?

Conclusion

This plan represents a realistic set of possibilities based on current trends in the Trump administration. Our president does not respect democratically elected leaders who stand up for human rights and dare think they are his equals. A strong leader, he has made clear, is not produced by democracy. He shows no respect for constitutional or ethical limitations recognized by previous administrations.

Just a few years ago someone proposing this two-part strategy as a serious possibility would have been considered outlandishly stupid. Congressional leaders and federal courts would not have allowed it to happen, we thought. American public opinion would not tolerate even a few steps in this direction.

Nevertheless, this may well be the strategy being implemented openly and brazenly by Donald Trump. He provides clear evidence of his values and purposes everyday to the applause of some media outlets and the compliance of Republican congressional leaders. Whether Trump is following this strategy intentionally or just blundering in this direction, the fact remains he is moving toward the major objectives that have been described – and thus far what he is doing has been working.

The Art of Presidential Deal Breaking

Summary: Presidents must negotiate with Congress and foreign governments. Donald Trump claimed it would be easy to make deals with politicians in Congress and to have far better trade deals; but evidence shows his specialty has been deal breaking and destruction. This is the second of four articles for Independence Day 2018 intended to encourage determination to stem the rising tide of Trumpism.

Did voters expect President Trump to make or break deals? Let’s count the deals he has made and kept versus those he has broken. He said making deals with politicians would be easy. Let’s see how he has done.

Accomplishments.

1. Executive Orders. President Trump has eagerly signed executive orders at public events in the Oval Office to undo Obama policies. Congressional Republicans had complained when President Obama dealt with issues they were unwilling to tackle by signing executive orders which were called illegal and even tyrannical. The same Republicans now cheer this president for executive actions on matters they would rather not have to vote on.

2. Tax Reform. Calling it a middle-class tax cut, President Trump celebrated a bill that rewarded wealthy donors and large corporations as it ballooned the national debt. Congressional Republicans considered this a major accomplishment they had worked toward for many years.

3. The Budget. A national budget was passed with Democrat support. Republicans who objected to the cost of items wanted by Democrats are now supporting President Trump in withholding spending – in other words, not following through on a deal.

Broken Promises and Deals.

1. Repeal and Replace Obamacare. Candidate Trump promised to replace Obamacare with better, less expensive, and all-inclusive healthcare. Once in office, it became clear there was no replacement plan. Failure to develop a replacement played a role in defeating legislative efforts at repeal. Now Obamacare is being slowly undermined in numerous ways, each of which hurts thousands of Americans without providing alternatives that help.

2. Political Deals. In a meeting with the four top congressional leaders, President Trump made a deal with Democrats for a “clean” DACA bill, to the astonishment of Republicans in the meeting. Soon thereafter he reneged, blaming the Democrats. Later he hosted a televised discussion with several members of Congress, promising to support whatever bipartisan bill the group proposed so long as it represented a “bill of love.” When a bipartisan group of senators presented a compromise to him, the president shouted it down and insulted African countries.

3. Multilateral Agreements. President Trump has made NATO allies uneasy with his insults, hesitancy to affirm the defense commitment that holds the alliance together, and even expressed reservations about defending Baltic countries being threatened by Russia. The Paris climate agreement and the agreement with Iran were rejected even though they were significant internationally supported achievements that worked. Traditional peaceful relationships with Canada and Mexico have been disrupted through attacks on NAFTA and mean-spirited comments directed at friendly neighbors. Refusal to join a Pacific trade agreement also broke commitments to Asian trading partners, leaving them at the mercy of Chinese economic power.

4. Pacific Defense. The single clear accomplishment of the summit with North Korea in Singapore was a betrayal of defense agreements with South Korea and Japan. Two previous administrations engaged in denuclearization talks with North Korea and gained written commitments at an early stage that were specific and required verification. At an advanced stage, North Korea balked at carrying out the agreements. The previous American administrations had negotiated with the participation of our South Korean and Japanese allies and did not give military concessions highly desired by China and North Korea.

But President Trump thinks making a deal with North Korea is not so hard. He launched the diplomatic process by having a personal meeting with Kim Jong Un. The summit included a private discussion between the leaders with only translators present so no one could make a transcript of their conversation. Records were not needed, according to President Trump, because of his fabulous memory of whatever would be discussed. The outcome of the summit was a short statement that was less specific than any previous diplomatic agreements with North Korea.

In a press conference at the end, the president announced a commitment to halt military exercises and eventually to remove American troops from North Korea. This was all based on verbal assurances from Kim Jong Un that North Korea would eliminate nuclear weapons and turn over bodies of American casualties from the Korean War.

Without consultation with South Korea and Japan, and also without specific written agreements including verification, President Trump jeopardized defense agreements with allies and announced, based on his personal confidence in Kim Jong Un, that the problem of nuclear weapons in North Korea had been solved.

Conclusion.

After a year and a half in office, President Trump has broken political deals, backed out of multilateral agreements, and threatened multilateral trade and defense treaties. Why has the deal maker turned into such a deal-destroyer?

The answer is demonstrated before the American public every day of his term in office. If Trump did not make the agreement, it has no value. Multilateral deals involving equality and give-and-take among parties do not measure up to Trumpian standards. As seen in other situations, everything is always about him. Instead of multilateral pacts based on equity, all participants in agreements must now rotate around a Trumpian sun. One secret conversation with Kim Jong Un solved the North Korea problem even though allies and the world see no hard evidence of what was agreed upon. We must trust Trump, who swears we can now trust Kim Jong Un. If Trump makes the deal, we must believe it is good.

Finally, dear voter, look at what American bankers and those involved in business deals said during the presidential campaign: he doesn’t pay his bills. Trump bragged about leveraging bankruptcy to get ahead in business. The real specialty of Donald Trump is breaking deals in ways that profit him individually irrespective of who gets hurt. If North Korean and Russian propaganda outlets sing the praises of Donald Trump, he thinks America is finally winning respect no matter the damage to our allies or world democracy.

Hope and Strategic Thinking: Historical Lessons for Dark Times

Summary: History books by Jon Meacham and Craig Symonds help add perspective to the dark tide of Trumpism in our country. Remembering the seeming hopelessness during Axis victories in World War II and the final eclipse of McCarthyism help to calm those of us who are troubled about the current direction of America. This is the first of four articles for Independence Day 2018 intended to encourage determination to stem the rising tide of Trumpism.

¬†As I approach birthday 75 at the end of July, there is a darkness and panic abroad comparable to 1942, the year before my birth. Our nation was losing a desperate two ocean war that seemed hopeless until the Battle of Midway in June 1942. British and American forces “survived the initial hammer blows of 1940-41,” according to naval historian Craig Symonds, “and could now contemplate taking the initiative.” Bold, determined leadership was at the helm in Britain and the United States and, equally important, was supported by their electorates despite waves of horrible news. We have forgotten the years of desperation and hopelessness as Germany and Japan embarrassed our forces in one engagement after another. (1)

Looking at our nation today from the perspective of the values that won the Second World War, I see a constitutional system receiving numerous hammer blows. Resistance to Trumpism is loud and growing yet lacking organized leadership and strategy. Still, battles must be waged at our Southern border and in the Senate, or wherever Trumpian flashpoints occur. But the most strategic battles now taking place are in races for Congress and Senate. Victory over the forces of darkness is only possible if the Party of Trump loses majorities in the House and Senate in November.

Let us not deceive ourselves. Victory in November is a matter of survival to halt damage to our nation and provide a base for taking the initiative. A strategy for victory must be waged in Congress, in the courts, and in the presidential election of 2020 to overcome the forces threatening to overwhelm our constitutional democracy and world peace. The election of 2018 may be compared to the Battle of Midway which, Craig Symonds reminds us, was a defensive stand that made it possible for the Allies to go on the offensive against the Germans in North Africa and the Japanese in Guadalcanal. Symonds also reminds us of Churchill’s assessment in November 1942, recognizing a turning of the tide that was only “the end of the beginning.” (2)

Feeling overwhelmed by the daily barrage of disgusting public actions and statements by the party in power, I have turned for solace to reading histories by Craig Symonds and Jon Meacham. Symonds’ comprehensive World War II At Sea is an unemotional accounting of the superiority of German and Japanese naval forces and of the desperately low fortunes of British and American forces until late 1942. It is amazing the calming effect that is found in reading about a time of utter hopelessness which nevertheless turned into victory.

Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America is calming for a different reason. We are experiencing another round of an internal struggle that keeps recurring – and the “better angels” usually win. Trump’s rally speeches bring Hitler’s ranting tirades to mind, as ICE agents remind us of brownshirts wreaking havoc among political opponents. A more American example, based on Meacham’s account, is Senator Joseph McCarthy whose personality, character, and use of the media have been updated in the Trump presidency. (3)

According to Roy Cohn, the lawyer for McCarthy who was a mentor for Trump, the Senator’s downfall came when the public tired of his endless salesmanship and media overexposure. This leads to hope that I am not the only citizen tired of the ruthless daily media barrage – and that perhaps national Trump fatigue may save our political system. The political rally in Montana on July 5 may indicate the tide is about to turn, for the audience was notably smaller and those standing behind the President rolled their eyes or showed less enthusiasm for his train of verbal indiscretions.

The international system sponsored by the United States since the Second World War has promoted peace and economic development throughout the world. It has not been perfect, but it has drawn most nations into a system that can be improved to work for everyone.

I am disturbed to see, toward the end of my life, an American President setting out to destroy the American world order that has worked pretty well for most of my life. Reading histories by scholars like Symonds and Meacham calms me and builds determination to help turn the tide of Trumpism. Perhaps others in the Resistance can draw strength from these and other histories as we do our best to ensure that November elections begin restoring balance and stability to the world.

Notes.

(1) Craig L. Symonds, World War II At Sea: A Global History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 268.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Jon Meacham, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels (New York: Random House, 2018), 184-203.