Tag Archives: Donald J. Trump

Do We Really Need a President?

After five months of Donald J. Trump, we find ourselves in the midst of an unscheduled test of the relevancy of the U.S. constitutional power structure.

It could be argued that, much as it is the underlying premise of medical ethics, “do no harm” should be the first requirement of any president. Like so many other controls on presidential power that were assumed to be unnecessary in the early days of the federation, that simple rule was left out of constitutional consideration.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that the U.S. constitution is currently viewed by many originalists as almost equal to the Word of God in its unassailability, there is solid precedent for some pretty radical amendment to that original document. At least half of the country would probably agree that there are enough fundamental issues open to serious debate that a new constitutional convention is more than warranted…not that that is likely to happen anytime soon.

If it were to happen, we might want to reconsider the office of the presidency in its entirety. If Donald Trump has taught most Americans anything it is that entirely too much license is left to the President to do as he pleases. I suppose, at the beginning of the American experiment, the assumption was that any person who would be chosen by majority vote for a limited time in office would essentially be pre-selected for having the highest integrity, or at least feel compelled to perform convincingly as a man of integrity. The three branch model of governance, with its hallowed system of “checks and balances,” was all that was deemed necessary to limit presidential power.

Since then, we’ve seen the creep of partisan gerrymandering and unbridled influence peddling undermine congressional integrity. Threat-enabled executive order powers and highly politicized manipulation of Justice Dept. appointments have completed the trifecta of corruption, delivering us to the dangerous crossroads at which our democracy stands today.

Enter Donald Trump; by majority opinion, the worst president in history. The best we can hope for is that he remains as ineffective as he is irresponsible. We have no tools to control him. As he puts it: he is president and we are not.

He is president, not because the majority of people chose him over all the very smart and capable people in the land, but because flaws in the political system enabled an extremely venal and incapable individual to exploit the worst instincts of a poorly prepared minority electorate. Now he holds absolute control over the most terrifying capabilities in human history.

Say what you will, this is NOT what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

Why do we even have an all-powerful presidency? I would argue that it is only because our fledgling nation had not fully weaned itself from the paternalistic model of monarchy.

A parliamentary system, such as that of Canada, might make more sense for us.

There still would be one nominal head of state, the Prime Minister, but his power would be sharply limited by the need to maintain not only a majority endorsement from voters, but also consensus within his/her entire party on an ongoing basis. If support from fellow party members dipped significantly, an election would be called and a new party leader chosen.
Whether or not the party maintained control of the government would then be a question for the voters.  If a sitting Prime Minister’s own popularity dipped to Trumpian lows, he would be forced to call an election.  ‘None of this carte blanche for four years business in the parliamentary model.

Two-hundred-and-forty years of nationhood may sound like a long time but relatively speaking, the U.S. is still in its toddler years. One is tempted to call them its “terrible twos.” Even the president’s cabinet level appointments seem to be more focussed on dismantling the longstanding agencies of public service than effectively administering them.

What we have now is a dangerously dysfunctional governance model that seems increasingly unlikely to withstand the test of time. We’ve already suffered through one terrible civil war and it seems we are revisiting some of the same old grievances. Political tribalism is at a fever pitch, and the political success of Donald Trump guarantees that he won’t be the last venal charlatan to scramble all the way to the top.

As much as many may fear the uncertainty of a Constitutional Convention, it is a reckoning that is long overdue.   Happy Fourth of July.americanflag

Your Friday Trumping

It has been another in a line of dizzyingly chaotic news weeks since Trump became president. It started off well enough for Trump. As President, Donald managed to read a teleprompter speech to the US Congress in a suitable tone — “Nationalism in an indoor voice.” And following through on campaign promises he made, his new EPA head started slashing away at the agency, proposing to cut their budget by 24%.

Rounding off the week, Commander-in-chief Donald started boosting his plans for a U.S.  arms build-up with a speech given to sailors aboard the soon-to-be commissioned aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford.

Not sure if any political pundits noted it, but I’m probably not the only one impressed by the remarkable restraint Trump showed  not pinning any shiny gold medals to the military styled jacket and cap he happily donned after they were given to him by sailors aboard the aircraft carrier.


However by weeks’ end, the growing problem over questions of Russian attempts to influence his administration hit close to home. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was shamed into recusing himself from any investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Reports then surfaced of a previously undisclosed meeting Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner had in December at Trump Towers in New York  with the Russian ambassador to “establish a line of communication.”

And finally The Onion reports the Russians are far ahead of their timeline to carefully undermine the legitimacy of the American political system

MOSCOW—working frantically to readjust the schedule they had outlined back in June 2015, Russian officials admitted to reporters Thursday that they have been left scrambling after seeing their plan to delegitimize Western democracy move much faster than they had intended.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said: “[…] we never thought so much public trust in the White House would erode in a matter of a few weeks. We’re pleased, of course, but keeping up is going to be a real challenge.” Lavrov went on to say he was deeply concerned that Trump’s impeachment would occur well before the president could cause the amount of damage to America that the Kremlin had originally intended. [Ed. note: not real news, for humorous use only, not to be taken internally]

All this leaves one to wonder as President Trump charges off to Florida today if Donald will grow tired of “winning” all the time? Perhaps he will stop-over at Mar-A- Lago, his shining gold-plated palace in Florida, get in a couple rounds of golf and all the world will be right again — at least in his own mind.

Organizing in the Aftermath

I first got involved in advocacy and political organizing during the 2004 presidential elections. People around me at that time, and one professor in particular introduced me to ideas that I hadn’t thought about before. I’m going to list them here and then share a little bit about what I think they mean in the context of President Trump’s inauguration and the incredible mobilization of demonstrators for the Women’s March that followed this past weekend. I hope this spurs a discussion here on GMD about what happens next in Vermont and beyond.

1. Civic Responsibility – Our political institutions are inherently adversarial and require a diversity of opinions and ideas to evolve.

2. Privilege – The special advantages that one group of people has that another does not are invisible to many of us, but are real and powerful.

3. Organizing – There is a difference between strategy and tactics. Effective communications, field work and fundraising require skills that can be taught. Learning how to effectively organize and mobilize people is the way to bring about change in a democracy.

My first reaction to the Women’s March was something like “Where the hell were all of these people last year?” I was running for a seat in the Vermont House (a race I narrowly lost) so I was deep in the thick of talking up Democratic candidates, attending and putting on events, making phone calls and knocking on hundreds of doors. Over and over I heard people say things that scared me about hating politics, hating all of the candidates and NOT voting. I heard longtime Democrats say they weren’t coming to help work at the campaign HQ because of what the Dems did to Bernie or because of one of Hillary Clinton’s scandals.

A lot of people who were mobilized by the 2008 Obama campaign (and even 2012) were MIA in 2016. Why didn’t people feel the same sense of civic responsibility? Some thought that there was no chance Trump would win. Some felt betrayed by the DNC and the Party’s (very predictable) resistance to a challenger from the outside in the form of Bernie Sanders. People weren’t excited about Hillary as a candidate in the same messianic way they were excited about Obama. So, they excused themselves from organizing and mobilizing and the leaders of the Democratic party, including Hillary Clinton, had no effective message to fire them up.

What does this have to do with Privilege? The first campaigns I worked on were about global access to health care, especially HIV/AIDS treatment. I felt (and initially had to be called out) when I was 19  that my privilege and the power it gave me obligated me to do what I could to advocate for people who did not have the same privilege and power. I still feel that sense of obligation and I feel strongest when I help lift up voices that aren’t as powerful as mine. I was proud to work with Migrant Justice to get Driver’s Privilege Cards for undocumented farm workers. I loved working on the campaigns of women who were running for State Senate.

A photo has gone viral that to me captured a troubling aspect of the difference in the acknowledgment and the manifestation of privilege between serious advocates and first-time demonstrators, not to mention between white and minority participants in the marches. If you were wearing a PussyHat and taking selfies, please don’t take offense. I’m glad you were out. Thanks for demonstrating. Just listen to what Angela Peoples had to say, too.

Angela Peoples holding sign (Kevin Banatte)

The people I was trained by when I was bird-dogging John Kerry and Howard Dean while they were running for President in 2004 taught me that good campaigns have a clear strategy. Our strategy in 2004 was to get the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria funding by raising the profile of global health issues during the presidential campaign. Our primary tactic was to bird-dog the candidates, showing up at every public appearance and asking whether they would Fund the Fund. We had a clear ask of all of the candidates that was directly connected to the accomplishment of our goal.

Marching and demonstrating is a tactic- not a strategy. I spent some time at womensmarch.com trying to figure out what the march was officially about. Friends and family have told me that it was about “being inspired”, “making voices heard”, “solidarity”, “protesting Trump’s illegitimate election”, “protecting reproductive rights” and a host of other reasons. I could not for the life of me find a single concrete “ask” on the website.

Angela Peoples, the woman in the photo with the sign said,

“[Fifty-three percent] of white women voted for Trump. That means someone you know, someone who is in close community with you, voted for Trump. You need to organize your people.” And some people said, “Oh, I’m so ashamed.” Don’t be ashamed; organize your people.

Angela Peoples knew why she was at the march. She wanted to be inspired and she wanted to guard against complacency. She recognized that the Women’s March had to be the beginning of something, not the end of something. The key to achieving any of the disparate and diverse goals of the marchers would be sustained organizing and engagement.

So are you ready to take responsibility for your part? Are you ready to exercise and protect the privileges that we have to speak, demonstrate and run for office? Are you ready to organize? Come to a meeting, bring your friends. Organize your people. It’s going to be a long four years and there’s plenty of work to do.

Burnt orange or pumpkin, what color will Donald Trump be today?

Early on not many would have wasted a bet on Trump winning the election. And online speculation has been rampant about Trump’s changing color tone since before November. So, in a way it seems logical that now, as he takes office you can place a bet on what color he will be during the swearing in ceremonies.trump_skin_colour

An Irish betting website is taking wagers on the tone of President-elect Donald Trump’s skin at his inauguration, with options ranging anywhere from “deep saffron” to “vivid tangelo.”

The “Inauguration Skin Color” contest is just one of several tongue-in-cheek categories of bets that poke fun at Trump, famous for his orange-hued tan, on bookmaker Paddy Power’s website. The skin tone “Tiger’s Eye” is given 6/1 odds of appearing on Friday, while “Mahogany” is an 18/1 shot.

The online bookmaking site also offers 4/1 odds that President Trump will be impeached in his first six months in office.

Oh, and bets can also be placed on how soon President Trump will pay a visit to Russia-odds may be good Donald’s thank you visit to Vladimir Putin will be sooner rather than later.

Trump the Bugblatter: some survival suggestions

A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing ; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.” If only it was that funny…or simple.trumpblatter2

A day or so after Trump won, I read Autocracy: Six Rules for Survival. Practical suggestions shared  by Russian/American journalist and LGBTQ activist Masha Gessen, someone familiar with the tactics of Trump’s buddy, Putin.

Now, about 2 months later, with Donald John Trump (no denying it, or hiding from it) about to be sworn in as the 45th President of the USA, it’s an additional  jolt to re-read the six rules … it can happen here.


Here are rules #1 and #3 of  Gessen’s six Rules for Survival:

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.

Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system.

Of course, the United States has much stronger institutions […] The problem, however, is that many of these institutions are enshrined in political culture rather than in law, and all of them — including the ones enshrined in law — depend on the good faith of all actors to fulfill their purpose and uphold the Constitution.

The national press is likely to be among the first institutional victims of Trumpism.

One thing for certain: we’re headed into an unknown and wild four years (or more), so any tool at all could prove useful to survive Trump the autocratic Bugblatter.

Donald Trump: Yes, to Beans, No to Don’s Johns

The Office of Governmental Ethics issued a general reminder to the incoming administration that government officials should refrain from endorsing any product, company or service days after Donald Trump tweeted we should go out and buy LL Bean products. Is it possible they have taken it to heart? Or is Team Donald simply picking winners and losers: ‘Yes’ to Beans and ‘No’ to Don’s Johns ?donaldsjohns


In an “unpresidented” move, the logo reading “Don’s Johns” (Motto: We’re #1 in #2 ) on almost three thousand portable toilets rented by the government for use along the National Maul during the inauguration are having their logos hidden from view with tape.

Don’s Johns has provided portable toilets for many large events in Washington, including the 2009 and 2013 inauguration ceremonies for President Barack Obama, Weghorst said. No logos were taped over during those events, he said. And here is Don’s Johns homepage  — he has testimonies and a blog … really!

The Washington Post reports the Architect of Capitol has come clean and is taking responsibility for ordering the cover-up, which, they say, will bring the toilets into compliance with previously ignored restrictions on Don’s Johns logo “advertizing”.

It could be sensitivity to the Ethics Office warning. Or perhaps someone in the Trump camp is hyper-sensitive after his rumored Russian hotel exploits to the possibility of  the logo Don’s Johns  being shown around the world and permanently associated with Donald’s Presidential inauguration ceremony. Always protect the TRUMP™ brand — keeping him #1.

The Donald’s poll numbers are falling, not good…sad.

How bad are President-elect Trump’s poll numbers? Well, so bad they may be record setters. You can find the newest Quinnipiac poll results here. And the Washington Post has rundown of how bad they are and what rough a honeymoon Trump is having as president elect. The poll was conducted here in the USA, not Russia.

Trump’s favorability rating, which had risen slightly since the election, is shown by Quinnipiac to be quickly dropping back to record lows for a president-elect. Here are some highlights or low-lights if you want: American voters give President-elect Trump a negative 37 – 51 percent favorability rating, compared to a divided 44 – 46 percent favorability rating November 22. trumpoww

Vice President- elect Mike Pence gets a split 37 – 34 percent favorability rating. [Note: the second number is the unfavorability rating.]

Before entering office recent U.S. Presidents have had much higher numbers than Trump now has: Bill Clinton 58%, George W. Bush (2000) 59% and Barack Obama 68%.

Before he’s even sworn in Trump has already got a rough task ahead — making his favorability poll numbers “great” or even “good” again.

Ending Presidential Carte Blanche

The practice of gerrymandering, which played a crucial role in bringing Donald Trump to the White House, seems about to be tested in the Supreme Court. It certainly would not be the first time the Supreme Court has been tasked with adjudicating the fairness of redistricting, but the Wisconsin case has resulted in the development of practical metrics for determining fairness that were not available in the past.

With that glimmer of hope on the distant horizon, I thought we could use this time before the other presidential shoe drops to reflect on the deficiencies in legal restrictions on the conduct of a President that have been exposed by Donald Trump’s first weeks as President Elect.

Around this time last year, I was bitterly coming to grips with the reality that, for all of its progressive values, Vermont did not have a code of ethics, under which violations of the public trust (like those of which Norm McAllister stands accused)would have immediate and meaningful consequences. How many times did we hear the lame excuse that “we never needed one before”?

Here we are, a year later, discovering that the office of the presidency of the United States suffers from a similar lack of mandated ethical rules. That back door has been left wide-open, apparently with no thought given to the possibility that someone as arrogant and shameless as Donald Trump might one day use it to walk off with the nation’s silverware.

While we breathlessly await the President Elect’s next breech of traditional presidential ethics, it might be wise to note a wishlist of rules that now need to be imposed on any elected president by law rather than merely by custom. Candidate Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he cares little for truth, respect and conventional decency. We are therefore obliged to codify even the most rudimentary obligations of the presidency.

Here are a few suggestions, should Democrats regain the ability to initiate in 2018:

1)  All presidents should be required by law to place any and all holdings in a true blind trust. We thought that was the case, but apparently the devil is in the details.

2) The definition of a “blind trust” must be clearly and rigidly defined by law, and arranging for that transfer to a blind trust should be the first obligation of the President Elect before he/she even begins to consider appointments. That blind trust shall not be administered by anyone having a familial relationship to the President, and the President must not have any access to particular information about his holdings while in office.

3) Husbands, wives, children and siblings of the President should be barred by law from any official position in his/her administration. No matter how brilliant one’s relatives may seem to be, the idea of presidential advisors is to serve the people’s best interests by permitting the “decider in chief” to entertain ideas beyond his own echo chamber.

4) As those family members should be barred by law from occupying official positions, they should as well not receive security clearance beyond the necessary scope of their own personal security vis-a-vis the president. They should not be privy to security briefings ofany kind beyond the security of their own person; and, by extension, should not be allowed in the room when sensitive foreign or domestic business is discussed.

5) The fact that family members are ethically barred from profiting from the presidency appears an insufficient deterrent even in these earliest days of the Trump administration. It is  therefore necessary to establish specific and far-reaching definitions for the concept of “profit” because we can no longer trust that the President’s own judgment will not be ethically compromised.

6) A President who deliberately misleads the public should be subject to stiff penalties. With a President who famously lied 73% of the time during his campaign for office, it is unfortunately necessary to establish consequences for lying when one is the ‘leader of the free world.’ A President who doubles down on lies when challenged, and never admits that he is wrong,is extremely dangerous and requires additional legal constraints to keep him truthful.

7) The President should be required by law to allow a rotating pool of journalists from
a representative cross-section of established national news sources to accompany him throughout his schedule, being excluded only when it is a matter of national security. What exactly comprises a “matter of national security” must be clearly defined.

8) Press conferences allowing an opportunity for question and answer exchanges with the President should be established by law, to occur on a regular schedule…biweekly or monthly at the very least.

9)  The Presidentand his/her immediate family should be required to make the White House their primary residence.  Secret Service details should be limited to those members of the President’s immediate family who make the White House their primary residence. The costs and inconvenience accrued to the general public by any more whimsical arrangement in these security challenging times make it imperative that this simple rule be firmly enforced.

10) Anyone who has engaged in lobbying in the previous five years should be banned from appointments by the President. Anyone leaving elected or appointed service in the U.S. Government should be banned from lobbying activities for at least five years.

11) In order to ensure transparency and undetected avoid conflict of interest, the President Elect should be required by law to disclose his income tax returns for the past five years before election, and every year thereafter until he leaves office.

Why should the occupant of the highest office in the land be held to a lesser standard than any other elected official?  It is completely indefensible.

One must now accept that someone completely lacking in a moral/ethical compass will occasionally ascend to the White House.  The only way to protect our democracy under those circumstances is to established clearly defined laws, with meaningful consequences, specifically governing the president.

Of course, its time for a constitutional overhaul to replace the Electoral College with direct democracy; to overturn Citizen’s United; and to reintroduce the expired Voting Rights Act.

So, as P.E.D.J.Trump builds his historic legacy as the worst president ever, we have a to-do list that stretches far beyond his (hopefully) brief regime.

It begins with an urgent call for Democratic voters to turn out in record numbers to reverse the GOP majority in 2018.

The woman who thought Donald would keep a promise

Darcie Johnston, Trump’s rough and ready GOP campaign leader for Vermont, is The woman that knew Trump would win according to an interview done with her by VtDigger.com’s Mark Johnson.dypdonald3

Johnston explains that she has no qualms about the divisive methods Donald unleashed from the start and believesthere had to be some shock and awe to get through the process.”  She was likewise impressed by Trump’s powerful triumph of will: “He knew what he had to do to become the nominee and he was going to do it.” If he reached the general election she knew he would say and do whatever was needed in order to win. Note to Darcie: ugly election campaign rhetoric does have consequences in the real world.

As a longtime VTGOP operative and an opponent of single payer healthcare plans here in Vermont (she started Vermonters for Health Care Freedom) Johnston was encouraged by Trump’s emphatic promise to repeal Obama-care. So, she dismissed Trump’s harsh racist and sexist rhetoric — talk of a Mexican border wall as “shock and awe” campaign rhetoric. Yet, Donald’s promises to push to repeal the Affordable Care Act she took seriously.

Her anti-Obamacare heart must have positively fluttered with joy each time during the campaign when Trump promised:“On Day 1 of the Trump administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare”. Johnston happily went to battle in the trenches for the Donald — mostly in New Hampshire where he finished second by a very small margin to Clinton.

Since Trump’s win Johnston told VtDigger she hopes to seek  a job with the new administration, on health care reform. That dream may have taken an unexpected turn when, just days after becoming president-elect, Trump quickly backed away from his promise of “total repeal [of] Obamacare on day one.”

It now seems likely “full repeal of the Affordable Care Act on day one” could actually mean keep Obama care in Trump-speak. So … surprise,Trump did what he had to do to win — shock, awe and say anything. And now he’ll ignore his promises and do whatever he wants.

So the sad fact for anyone like Johnston who bought-in to his campaign and actually believed Trump, there may be little to no time to gloat publically before President-elect Donald tosses your favorite campaign promise over his own wall at Trump Tower.

Round-up the usual Trump storylines

It will take a while  weeks, but more likely years  to sort out exactly how and why Trump won on Election Day. Unreliable first drafts of “conclusions” are already forming. Speaker Paul Ryan is claiming Trump “just earned a mandate.”   Well, I got to say it “mandate my ass.”

unusualtrumpsOnce certain storylines  true or false  take root, it is hard to dig them back out. Steve Waldman writes in Washington Monthly about four storyline “conclusions” that “don’t comport with what the exit polls show.” Here are two recent “conclusions” about Trump’s win that seem prominent now and could be with us for while.

  • This was a revolution of the economically downtrodden.

Many pundits were saying Donald Trump’s victory was fueled by people who are economically dispossessed and struggling.  Here’s what the exit polls actually showed:

Voters with incomes under $50,000 went for Clinton 52%-41%.   Over $50,000 went for Trump 49% to 47%

That’s not to say economic anxiety wasn’t a factor in eroding support for Clinton. She did lose among those without college degrees. Relative to 2012, [Trump] did better with the less affluent than Romney. But the bulk of his winning coalition was wealthier.

The alienation seems more complex – having more to do with racial standing and a sense of whether their futures seem bleak or hopeful more than whether they can actually put bread on the table at that moment.

  • This was a Trump landslide

It was shocking. It was disruptive. It was unambiguous. But by recent historical standards, it was not a landslide. For one thing, Hillary may end up winning the popular vote.  That would mean Democrats will have won the popular vote 6 of the last 7 times.

Beyond that, in the last ten elections, the winning candidate got more than 300 electoral college votes seven times. If you look at both the popular and electoral college, this would count as the second or third closest election of the last ten.

While sifting through the wreckage I’m going to keep in mind this dictum: eye witnesses are the least reliable at recalling details. Meanwhile popular pundits and politicians struggle to find storylines to explain how and why they all got it so wrong about President-elect Trump. A hint to help them find a major piece of the puzzle: try looking in the mirror.