August 28, 2017 -- Ordinarily when you set out to record events of a week like a diary you begin at the beginning, Monday. And so it shall be here even though as the week closes we are consumed by the catastrophe that is Hurricane Harvey. The destruction it is causing is ongoing and will continue for days—years— to come so I will get to that at the end of this report.
Let us begin with the President’s speech on Monday.
It was a well-crafted speech delivered very well which we will be hearing about for days to come. I put my thoughts on paper, before I heard from pundits, on what I should take away from it.
First, it was hurried forward, moved up a week or two, speculation being reaction to the sudden departure of Steve Bannon. Vice President Pence had to cut short an official trip to other countries in order to hurry back to take part in determining what our official policy shall be for Afghanistan.
The President began with lavish and certainly warranted praise for all men and women in the military who serve their country, making reference to those buried in the national Arlington cemetery nearby. He spoke of how men and women of all stripes serve side by side without bias. It is hard to overlook the irony here because of the way he has come out against LGBT in the military. Many of those graves, Mr. President, contain the remains of LGBT military members.
The new policy is short on details on purpose, Trump said, because the number of troops needed will be determined by commanders in the field. We will not announce, he said beforehand, to the enemy what we are going to do. And here he made an outrageous statement.
Someone should tell him the history of the war in Iraq. Obama did not pull out of Iraq too soon. He fulfilled a treaty made by the Bush administration. Had Obama not lived up to it the world would have condemned him for not honoring our treaties. Obama offered to keep some troops there but the Shiite government, installed via the Bush administration, would have none of it. Any American personnel left in Iraq would be subject to their laws. That Shiite government took its revenge on the Suni population many of whom feel safer living under ISIS then Baghdad. The fact that the President does not know this is disturbing.
Then Trump insulted Pakistan who despite their harboring of terrorists we consider an ally and need their help. By introducing India into the equation he has pitted two sworn nuclear armed enemies against each other.
The military in the Pentagon and in the administration have maneuvered Trump into the position of owning this war. At least we have a policy which is to force the Afghan government to learn to stand alone. We can but hope the cooler heads of the military around him can restrain him from doing something terribly foolish.
The editorial board of the Washington Post mulled over what a reasonable outcome might be. We need to “build Afghan stability, not weaken it. The point is not some kind of flashy victory but avoiding a terrible defeat.”
In other words, we win if we don’t lose?
Tuesday Night In Phoenix, Vintage Trump
After having to read a carefully written speech by others Monday night, while looking presidential, I suspect Trump really needed his Tuesday night rally in Phoenix. Kind of a catharsis. Like his old time campaign rants. Read a little on the teleprompter, then just say what was on his mind, to brag about his accomplishments or to demean someone else and he didn’t miss anyone.
Defending his comments on Charlottesville he pulled a stack of rolled paper out of his coat pocket and read excerpts of what he said that he claimed were distorted by the media.
Trump blamed the media for all of our troubles being the causes of the nation’s divisiveness. All except Fox News, praising Sean Hannity by name.
It was thought that Trump might issue a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County sentenced to jail for abusing Hispanics but after praising Arpaio he subtly promised to do so in the future when there was apt to be less kickback.
The real Trump, as we have come to know him, stirs up a crowd of hardcore supporters and obviously having a great time doing it.
Of course there were demonstrations. A brief summery by the New York Times:
“In freewheeling remarks, President Trump abandoned a theme of national unity to focus on the news media that he said ‘are trying to take away our history and our heritage.’ "
“The police used tear gas to disperse crowds numbering in the thousands on Tuesday night outside the Phoenix Convention Center as tempers flared around President Trump’s divisive speech at a campaign-style rally here. ... Police helicopters circled above downtown Phoenix.” It turned out about the way the mayor of Phoenix predicted when he asked Trump not to come.
Wednesday the President spoke to the American Legion at their convention in Reno, Nevada which with few departures he read from teleprompters. Even here he managed to leave a bad taste in our mouths. American Progress noted: “Trump spoke of an ‘inclusive society’ and promised the audience that he would ‘rebuild our depleted military.’ But removing willing, capable service members from the military because they are transgender does the exact opposite of what he promised.”
“When the ban was first announced by Trump on Twitter, it drew widespread backlash from people across the political spectrum, including many of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
“VoteVets, a prominent veterans group, called the ban an example of ‘the President’s embrace of hate.’ Trump—who repeatedly avoided military service with five deferments from the Vietnam draft—is ignoring the outcry.” In fact he took the next step as soon as he got back from his trip west.
But that was not all. At a time when it would have been appropriate for Trump to salute John McCain for a lifetime of service to his country who probably is in the last years of his life, as he suffers from brain cancer, choosing instead to take McCain to task, though not by name for his lack of a yes vote on killing the ACA. Smirking all the while.
Any other president would have used the occasion to speak eloquently about the sailors who lost their lives in the Pacific this week in the collision of the destroyer ironically named the McCain (after the Senior’s father and grandfather, both admirals) and an oil tanker. Offer comfort to their families, gratitude for their sacrifice. But Trump came off as blasé. It really was not about him you see.
Questioning The President’s Mental Health
What an extremely difficult subject this is. If it were any other health issue but mental all manner of diagnosis and possible treatments would abound. Mental health professionals are bound by ethics to make no comments or judgments without personal examinations of the individual under scrutiny. However, Trump’s continuing erratic behavior is leading more and more observers to speak out.
Level headed Eugene Robinson writes in the Washington Post: “How unstable and divorced from reality is President Trump? We’ve reached the point where the nation has the right and the need to know.”
But Aaron Blake also in the Washington Post quotes what some others have to say:
“I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office,” former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said Tuesday night after Trump's rambling speech in Arizona.
“He’s unhinged. It’s embarrassing,” CNN's Don Lemon declared Tuesday night, adding, “There was no sanity there.”
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said on a hot mic a month ago: “I think he’s crazy. I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) responded, “I'm worried.”
Longtime Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines: “I get the perils of diagnosing someone they haven't treated. But when a President falls physically ill there are backseat MDs everywhere.” And “It's time to unleash shrinks to tell the public what they as experts believe is clearly wrong with him.”
Even a Republican senator seemed to allude to the president's fitness last week. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence” to be president.
Blake: “Here's what we can say about this:
- It's completely true that this is something lots and lots of Americans are concerned and/or wondering about, making it a valid topic.
- It's a completely pertinent issue, given that we are talking about the president of the United States here.
- It's verging on impossible to cover in a responsible way.”
The problem with this topic is that there is almost nothing to go on except speculation. The American Psychiatric Association has on multiple occasions warned its members against talking about Trump's mental state, and it reiterated that long-standing policy to me Wednesday.
“Our position on the Goldwater Rule hasn’t changed — it’s still unethical for a member of the APA to offer a professional opinion on the mental state of someone they have not evaluated,” spokeswoman Amanda Davis said.
The American Psychological Association agrees. “The American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics counsels psychologists against diagnosing living individuals whom they have not personally assessed,” spokeswoman Kim Mills said.
The American Psychological Association put it this way: “The question of whether the president is able to discharge the powers and duties of the office is the stated responsibility of the vice president and other key federal officials, as specified by the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. Therefore, we would look to our federal officials to carry out their constitutional responsibilities related to the presidency.”
The 25thAmendment has four sections, the fourth of which provides for removal of a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office …”
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
This makes the recent activities of Vice President Pence, holding big fund raisers for his political campaign, even more suspicious. Does he believe something is going to happen to Trump? Or is he just hedging his bet?
As Trump had said he would he took action on two very unpopular issues. First, from The Times:
“President Trump signed a long-awaited directive on Friday that precludes transgender individuals from joining the military but gives Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wide discretion in determining whether transgender personnel who are already in the armed forces can continue to serve.”
“A senior White House official told reporters that Mr. Mattis’s decisions will be based on several criteria, including military effectiveness and budgetary concerns. The official also said that the military would no longer pay for sex reassignment surgeries unless withholding such funds would harm the health of someone already transitioning.”
Does this not take away the civil rights of a large group of citizens? I would think there will be lawsuits filed over this and it will end up in the Supreme Court.
Trump waited until Friday night to issue his promised pardon to Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County. That is supposed to be the best time to draw the least amount of media coverage especially since the nation was absorbed with Hurricane Harvey but he did not get away with it. It is so disgusting the story got big coverage anyway as everyone in broadcasting was still on duty reporting the storm.
Let us all remember if Arpaio was prosecuted for doing his duty, as the President insisted, it means his duty was to arrest people because he did not like their looks; his duty was to hold people in jail for days at a time with no charges filed against them. Did Arpaio mean it when he proudly said his jail was the worst concentration camp there ever was, and more people died in his custody than one would expect. Although complaining about not being given enough budget to run his department he found the funds to go to Hawaii to prove Barack Obama’s birth certificate was false.
Our Attention Is All On Houston
There is much brewing out there for our nation, as in new progress in the Russian influence investigations (which is said to be haunting the President bigly), the EPA is ravaging the land, the interior department may try to sell off some of our national park lands, North Korea is firing more missiles, and Paul Ryan and his tax benefits for the wealthy in the guise of a budget is in the offing.
On the big scale we are as Joe Biden has just said “We Are Living Through a Battle for the Soul of This Nation.” We have a President “who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate. We have an American president who has emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support. This is a moment for this nation to declare what the president can't with any clarity, consistency, or conviction: There is no place for these hate groups in America. Hatred of blacks, Jews, immigrants-all who are seen as 'the other'-won't be accepted or tolerated or given safe harbor anywhere in this nation.”
But for the next few days we are going to focus on how six million people in the Houston area are going to deal with an unprecedented disaster. Like so many in Texas I have family and friends severely impacted including a daughter whose home on the coast was destroyed and a friend whose brother lost his home and two boats in Rockport.
I went through many hurricanes growing up in Baytown and living in Houston during my early adult years so I know what is happening but what may be ten times worse than I ever experienced. As of this writing no one has been able to get to Baytown, subject to a four or five foot surge and tornados have been reported.
In Houston even a few inches of rain can flood the city and I am trying to envision what 50 inches will do in three or four days will do.
This is a disaster for the whole nation since about 35 percent of our energy is produced there. I saw an unconfirmed report that in places the price of gas at the pump has jumped twenty cents a gallon.
Meantime, we can but watch and worry and offer assistance any way we can.
You of Greater Houston…you are in our minds and in our hearts.
A Roundup of Tweet Trivia Sent Out This Week Under #Shared Humanity
I invite you to follow them in real time - @Trav_McKinney)
Houston where 17 railroads used to ‘meet the sea” now becomes “beneath the sea” as storm Harvey unloads. #Harvey &Houston
A night awash in water, storm Harvey epic flooding, racist Joe Arpaio victims mournful tears #Bleaknight
Good news from 9 Northeastern States who are to further lower emissions from power plants by 30% from 2020 levels. #Breatheasier
On Trump’s agenda is a-gender again as he moves to deny LGBT their civil right to serve their nation in the military #StraightTalk
Pony up big bucks for my wall or I’ll Huff & Puff & shut the Government down says erratic huffer-puffer D. Trump. #OvalOfficeBlowhard
POTUS & McConnell don’t speak Mitch unhappy with abuse & no success which bodes not well for G.O.P. agenda. Dems take heart! #Senatestalled
Westward came Trump to praise not yet pardon his favorite xenophobe meany old X-Sherriff Joe. Worry not Joe it’s in the mail #Arizonagasbag
Insult Pakistan? Don’t confuse them Mr. President with your usual target, members of the U.S. Senate #POTUSspeaks
Lavish praise for all buried at the National Cemetery but you forgot your favorite caveat Donald T, demeaning naughty LGBT #POTUSspeaks
An eclipse in the sky this of all weeks seems symbolic of the eclipse of our Union’s bright future #SolarEclipse2017