Sunday, December 4, 2016

Foreign Affairs: Be Very Afraid

I think I've decided that the best way to incorporate the reality of Donald Trump being president is to just assume that what he's saying at the time is undergirded by willful ignorance, lack of knowledge, boasts, and the idea that he's a huckster showman who has little working knowledge of the United States Constitution, the country's history, and his responsibilities as the head of its executive branch. In fact, I have begun to sleep better at night assuming that he's going to make a shockingly terrible decision on a weekly (daily?) basis, and at some point will provoke both domestic and foreign crises simply to keep himself in the news.

Perverse? Yes, but such is the state of our politics.

The litany of Trump's ignorance of diplomatic and presidential protocol is concerning, especially for a 70 year old man who has some impressive educational accomplishments. I certainly understand that he believes that he was elected to shake up the system and to drain the political swamp in DC. The problem is that there is a right way and a wrong way to make great change. The right way is to have a comprehensive plan as to how you're going to do it and to tell your friends first how your approach might affect them. Gushing over the dictators in Pakistan, the Philippines and Kazakhstan is not the way to do that, especially when British PM Theresa May only gets a "come by if you're in the US" invitation. Trump is playing the businessman who doesn't want to upset any potential customers, but this is reason one why electing business people with no political experience is a terrible idea.

And then there's Taiwan and China. Somebody needs to tell the know-nothing who will occupy the Oval Office come January, that the Chinese have a great deal of power and that they are not afraid to use it. He can't treat the Chinese as some backwater nation that can be cowed with 45% tariffs or threats about undercutting American companies with cheap materials and labor. Might Trump be the one who ultimately tames China and revives US trade? Possibly, but he's not going to do that by wading into the one issue that China cannot abide, which is recognition of Taiwan. Perhaps Obama can save this bit of face before he leaves, but he and his team need to pointedly remind Trump that there are still some rules he needs to respect.

But what do you expect from a man who is surrounding himself with generals. Talk about sending a message. The problem, again, is that Trump is sending the message that he doesn't really understand the constitution. The military is supposed to be under civilian control, not making major decisions about the country's policies. And the bigger problem is that because Trump doesn't have a clear plan and is ignorant of both policy and world events, he's going to have to rely on those generals for advice, and there are going to be a lot of them in the room during cabinet meetings. If he appoints a Secretary of States that he doesn't really respect, like Mitt Romney, Trump will more likely minimize his advice and turn to his military men. Not that Mitt Romney knows how to be Secretary of State. On-the-job training is going to be a hallmark of this administration. The will make unnecessary mistakes. I hope they learn from them.

If we could only have General Tso. But, alas, his creator is gone.

As for domestic affairs, the deal with United Technologies and Carrier was a public relations win for Trump, but at the expense of the taxpayers in Indiana who will pay more and get less because Trump and Mike Pence did the Republican thing and gave the company a tax break. Bribery? Yes. Smart? No. Because Trump will not be able to replicate what he did with Carrier with other companies. If he had thought about a long-term strategy, maybe he would have a template to work with., but he's making it up as he goes along and the people who voted for him based on his jobs promise will be terrifically disappointed with the trade-off.

And my bet is that those 1,000 saved jobs will ultimately go to Mexico. After all, as Trump has said, it's just good business.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Trump's Education Pick: Making American Public Schools Worse!

Just remember: Most voters rejected Donald Trump's vision of the United States. They rejected his rhetoric, his vile comments about women and minorities, and they don't want large tax cuts to the wealthy, a trade war with China or a Supreme Court that overturns hard won democratic victories for women, gays, and those that desperately need health insurance. They also rejected the far right's view that religious people should be able to discriminate in the name of God's love and that hate groups should have a seat at the country's table of power.

Donald Trump will, of course, not pay any attention to this. That's why we need to remind him at every turn that we are here and we will be loud. And by the way, Charles Blow is my new hero.

As Trump builds his cabinet, it's becoming clear that he is not a new Populist, but an old-style Republican with the added twist of not respecting the Constitution or his responsibility to be president 100% of the time, not part time so he can also sell his name on buildings. He also hasn't given a lot of thought about how his appointments will actually contradict what he ran on.

For example, his proposed choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, her choice would have reflected a commitment to public schools with a mixture of Charter School policies sprinkled in. Ms. DeVos, however, has never taught in a classroom, doesn't have experience with public schools, doesn't have any political experience, and doesn't respect that public school teachers need representation and protection from a very political public school system. She begins with a firm commitment to school vouchers and Charter School, with public schools an afterthought. Oddly, she worked with Jeb Bush in Florida and is a fan of national standards, though not calling them Common Core. Her track record is terrible. Just what we need for education policy.

It's a very good thing that the federal government has no constitutional role in the public schools because both Arne Duncan, President Obama's Secretary of Education, and Ms. DeVos could do far greater damage. As it is, Ms. DeVos can try to guide policy towards more school competition, but she can't force districts to radically change their curricula or administration. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the choice of Ms. DeVos sends a message that the Secretary of Education need not have very much actual education experience. It's insulting to have someone foisted on you who knows less about education or what works in the classroom for students than you do. It's also a travesty that Ms. DeVos has little respect for the associations, such as the NEA, that continue to work hard to defend teachers against unwarranted interference and ensure that every education professional earns a livable salary and works in a safe, productive environment. Living through the Christie years here in New Jersey saw the education establishment fight for every scrap of respect and bargaining right we ever had. We won some and lost some major ones. We will fight, but it would be nice if we didn't have to.

Donald Trump and the new know-nothing Republicans he's appointed so far have a point-of-view that does not reflect the majority of voters in this country. They are anti-Muslim, supportive of far right wing hate groups, or just inexperienced to the point that they will be learning on the job for the first year, including the president-elect himself. Many of his supporters want to make America great again, when it's pretty great as it is.

It's a shame that we'll be taking three steps backward before we take one stride forward.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Will of the Minority

The American people have spoken. And a majority voted for Hillary Clinton. Which would be great if we had a democracy in this country, but we don't. We have a republic, if we can keep it, and in a republic some funny things can happen. Like protecting the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

But who's going to protect the majority from an especially rabid minority who now controls every branch of the government and has little reason to consider the effects of their policy proposals on the country at large? It will take some thoughtful opposition from the GOP majority to put a brake on what I'm sure will be some terrible ideas. And I have very little confidence that Donald Trump, the rather self-centered con man huckster who will sit in the Oval Office, will moderate his ideas in the interests of unity. He might, but I am extremely skeptical.

Consider his latest appointments. He is bucking the Republican establishment with his picks for CIA Director, National Security Advisor and Attorney General. That mix of Mike Pompeo, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions should create an explosive brew of anti-Muslim sentiment, seasoned with a hatred of Hillary Clinton and a bias towards torture. And of course we have the very real prospect, I'd say a certainly, that Trump will nominate a climate denier for Interior and a hawk for Defense. I understand that the president-elect wants to shake up Washington, but he's doing nothing to help bridge the wide chasm between the majority who voted against him and the minority who set aside many of the things he said in the campaign that show him to be less than a moral leader for this country, including support from the far right voices of hatred. Does he care that a shift of 70,000 votes would have cost him the election? Probably not, but ignoring those voters will turn out to be perilous for him.

What's also becoming clear, and will be clearer as we get into the first months of his term, is that just because Donald Trump said he was going to do certain things like rip up trade agreements and set punishing tariff rates, doesn't mean that the world will stand still for them. China and Mexico have weapons at their disposal to make things difficult for our economy and the people whose manufacturing jobs Trump has promised to create. Getting rid of NAFTA will actually cost the country jobs. Plus, if the bond market continues to firm up, that will mean higher interest rates on mortgages and automobiles which will then require wage hikes and probably higher inflation. All we'll need is disco and polyester to complete the 70s throwback. How fun. And if you thought the Carter family was interesting, just wait. The Trump family will be far more entertaining and one of them will conduct themselves so badly that they will be disowned via Twitter by the midterm elections.

Despite the hopes of the liberal press, and even some of the conservative media, Donald Trump is no moderate. He will try to deport millions of people, demonize Islam, ignore his more enthusiastic right wing hate group supporters when he should be strongly condemning them, criminalize abortion in many states and open up more public land for commercial use. The rest of the GOP will then take a knife to social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which are exactly the programs that Trump's core supporters rely on. How terrible it will be when they realize, too late, that the Republicans actually want smaller social programs. Yes, we will likely get better roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements and some jobs for the people who are hurting, but at what cost?

All of this will also come in an atmosphere where Trump will complain loudly and often on Twitter about the unfairness and inaccuracy of anyone who opposes him. This weekend's Hamilton incident is a case in point. We can debate whether the cast should have broken protocol and addressed Mike Pence, but in an era where Republicans and Democrats talk past, over and under each other, getting a message directly to the incoming Vice President was a smart move. Trump's response, that Hamilton is an overrated show, tells me volumes about the thickness of his skin and his artistic appreciation. And besides, the real point was to stop speech and to stifle dissent. 

For someone who doesn't command the will of the majority, that is dangerous.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest