Friday, April 28, 2017

100 Days and Counting


The Trump administration has been in place for almost 100 days now and I thought that I might try to summarize my thoughts. The 100 day marker is really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. FDR's first 100 days have been mythologized at this point because of what he was able to accomplish in that time frame. The framework for the New Deal had been put in place in those frenetic 100 days of that administration. It is an almost impossible standard for anyone else to meet. FDR came into office riding a massive mandate given by the American people who were in a panic following the crash on Wall St. and mired in the first years of the great depression. The Democratic party had 72% of the House and 63% of the Senate and those numbers would actually increase in the mid-term election. The country had never been so united in the belief that one party had utterly failed them. Great things were indeed accomplished, although at this point most would believe that the country turned around immediately and that we returned to normal employment rates. That is far from the truth, however. We didn't dip under double digit unemployment until we started to ramp up for WWII, a full 8 years later. Segregation remained the law of the land, we didn't get a national health care plan and women's rights were also largely ignored.

We shouldn't let truth interfere with myth in this post-truth society. FDR saved the world in 100 days and so every President since has had the burden of having to produce a similar miracle, whether one was needed or not. So what have we gotten out the first 100 days of this presidency? Basically it's been a non-stop attempt to undo everything that the previous administration had put in place. Women's rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, sensible gun control are just a few of the things that have come under attack by this administration. Most have been done through executive orders as opposed to legislation but that's mainly because this administration has no real use for Congress. President Trump is used to being a CEO. Things get done with a stroke of his pen, not through an elected board of representatives. He has shown no ability to work with Congress or even to make a good faith effort to work with them. 

To his credit, the President has followed through on some of his campaign promises (the most important of those was to appoint a conservative justice to the supreme court). He therefore enjoys almost across the board support from the republican voters who put him in the White House. Of course the number of things he said he was going to get done on day one is a staggering list, so he hasn't come close to matching the rhetoric of his campaign. He has changed his position on numerous hot button topics like jailing Hillary Clinton, NAFTA, NATO, etc., and most often his change came from very short conversations from people who actually know what they are talking about. 

His staff has been a mess since day one. He has consistently put people in charge of government agencies who have no idea about what they actually do or are openly hostile to the mission of the agency. Climate change denier in charge of the EPA, a hater of public schools in charge of the Education department, someone who wants to eliminate the department in charge of Energy. Not to mention Ben Carson, whose qualifications for the Housing department appears to be that he once lived in public housing as a child. The most head scratching appointment is an unofficial one. His son in law has put in charge of fixing the world. His main qualification seems to be that he married Trump's daughter. 

I guess there's no point in rehashing all the ups and downs of this presidency. I will say that he has approached the job exactly as he said he would. He's an outsider who is trying to run the government like a CEO. If that's what you voted for, then I can understand why you would be satisfied with the job that he has done. For those of us who didn't, it looks like a confused and muddled mess. Maybe it gets better with time, maybe it gets worse. I actually don't know. If I were advising this president, I would propose that he switch his tune on the health care and get a truly universal health care proposal on the table. If he could do that, the Democrats would have to get on board and I believe he could convince enough Republicans to join with them to get something meaningful passed. His base of supporters would have say that he's doing what he promised, so they would have to be on board as well. It would be a political master stroke. The Democrats would be left scrambling having helped this president to secure a signature piece of legislation. The President could then truly say that he did what was right for the people. He would talk about not being beholden to any party. He could talk about a new vision for the country going forward. It would turn the electorate on it's head and would secure the legacy of President Trump. Of course it would take a lot of work and would need the help of more than just his son in law. 

Will it happen? Not very likely because as the President and rest of country have learned in the first hundred days of his presidency, this job is really hard. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Dream Lives On

I'm reposting this for the fourth and last time. I don't think that I could ever say this any better, so I'm not going to try. Hopefully you'll all forgive for not coming up with something new, but I think it's more relevant today than it was when I first wrote it.

"...in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope". Those are the words that Barack Obama used in his now famous speech after the New Hampshire primary and it illustrates perfectly his connection with the man whose birthday we celebrate as a nation today. Hope is the tie that binds Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. The hope and the belief that America can do and must do better. Obama's speech not only made the point that the destinies of all Americans are intertwined, but that people must have hope in order to make a better world. MLK's most famous speech was all about hope. It spoke of a nation that didn't exist. It spoke of the dreams of an America where someone like Barack Obama can reach the highest position in the land. They share the dream of a better America. Whether it is an America where people are judged by the "content of their character", or an America where we strive to build "a more perfect union", their goals were the same.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Obama's election is the culmination of MLK's dream. It is clearly a part of what he hoped for, but it is not the end of what he hoped for. Before his death, he was working on organizing another march on Washington. This one was going to be a poverty march. He looked across the country and realized that the underclass had no one to speak for them. He realized that the poor had no voice and no power to change their situation. His dream had expanded to include the poor of all colors. Whites in Appalachia, Hispanics in California, Native Americans in Oklahoma, they all became part of the dream. Injustice will always exist, that is why the dream will never be fulfilled. It is a moving target, as is Barack Obama's dream to build a more perfect union. Obama's words imply that the union can never be perfected, but we must always strive to make it better.

MLK led the greatest moral campaign that this country has ever known. He led a generation of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to make this country a better place. Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the WWII generation entitled "The Greatest Generation", however I think that designation should go to those who worked and fought and died so that the dream of America could be shared by all Americans. It is somewhat easier to make those sacrifices when the entire country agrees with you, but when you are faced with the opposition of the majority of the citizens of this country, it takes an extraordinary type of intestinal fortitude to persevere. Barack Obama is not the successor to MLK. As President, his moral compass will not be as consistent as MLK's was. His goals will not be as single minded as MLK's were. They can't be. The job of President is much more complicated and Obama is not just the representative of some of us, he is the representative of all of us. Those who have expectations that Obama will lead a moral revolution on the scale of MLK will be disappointed.

MLK was the leader of a movement that changed this nation forever. Barack Obama is about to become the leader of the country and his election has changed this nation forever. They will always be inexorably linked. The fact that Obama will be inaugurated on the day after this nation celebrates the birthday of MLK would lead many to invoke the term, poetic justice. MLK's dream is alive in Barack Obama as it is in every person who strives to make this world a better place. The Dream and the Perfect Union remain out of reach, but it is in the striving for those things that we tap into the better angels of our nature. It is our willingness to try, regardless of the obstacles in our way, that keeps the Dream alive. MLK would most likely be very proud of Barack Obama, not only because of what he represents, but because Obama is still challenging the nation to be better. Indeed that is ultimately what links them. We can be better, we just need someone to show us the way.