Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Thomas Jefferson, Donald Trump and the Dangerous Path of the Republican Party

by Nomad

Founding father Thomas Jefferson would probably not be surprised by the rise of Donald Trump and the decline of the Republican party. A few of his quotes remind us that Jefferson understood very well why governments fail their people. He also warned what happens when ruling parties ignore the warning signs.

Wolves over Sheep

Like all of the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was anti-royalist and had a strong dislike of all forms of despotism. He devoted much thought (and a tankerful of ink) on the subject.
The principal author of the Declaration of Independence considered monarchies and aristocracies to be governments of force, rather than the rule by consent, deeming them to be "a government of wolves over sheep."

Corrupt rulers- whether they are elected or assume power by undemocratic methods- never stopped innovating new and devious means of enriching themselves at the public expense. They are the curse for anybody who values their liberty and who despises criminal mismanagement. It has been the blight of humanity since the first governments were created.

With the establishment of the new American nation, those flaws of government would be amended.  First, to prevent the rise of a despot, there would have to be some basic ground rules. 
As Jefferson wrote to Lafayette in 1816:
"[To establish republican government, it is necessary to] effect a constitution in which the will of the nation shall have an organized control over the actions of its government, and its citizens a regular protection against its oppressions."
In an enlightened age, government must be thought of as public trust and politicians, employees in the service of a nation.  In this capacity, a president must expect to be under constant scrutiny by the press, he or she must expect to be fairly criticized by opposing parties. He or she can no longer expect to conduct financial arrangements in secrecy.
(In President Clinton's case, even a sexual dalliance between two adults was considered fair game for congressional investigations.)

As a president, for example, you will no longer be entitled to put yourself, or your interests above that of the people you serve. And the people have a right to know who they have as a leader, in all aspects of his or her conduct.  Keeping damaging secrets- which might or might not- affect the impartiality of the executive branch will not be tolerated. In that respect, a CEO of a private company is very different than being president.

But it doesn't stop there. A president must obey the rulings of the independent courts. He cannot choose which laws he will recognize and which he will ignore. There are no "so-called" judges.
Above all else, at the time of his inaugural, he swears to respect and defend the principles of the constitution, even ones he personally does not agree with. These are articles of a contract the leader makes with citizens of his nation. 

Perhaps at no time in American history have these very basic concepts been under greater strain than in the past month, under President Trump.

The Excesses of a Kingly President

Trump's determination to break rules regarding self-enrichment has largely gone unchallenged. Earlier this month, New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait explored Trump's illegal practices. He writes:
Last month, Trump announced a “separation agreement,” according to which he would continue to own his business while his children ran it in purportedly independent fashion. In the meantime, he has used his office to enrich that business in numerous ways (that we know of — the concealment of his tax returns means the extent of Trump’s self-enrichment will remain unknown to the public).
The ways that Trump has found the cash in on being a public employee is really quite astounding. In the first month as president, Trump's family trips have cost the taxpayer nearly as much as Obama spent in a full year.

Reports have disclosed that since his inauguration, Trump's three visits to veritable Florida palace called Mar-a-Lago, combined with his sons’ business trips, reportedly cost $11.3m (£9.1m).

With its motto "No one is above the law," the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch estimated Mr Obama’s travel expenses totaled an average $12.1m in each of his eight years in the White House. At this rate, in a year's time, Trump will spend around 12 times as much as non-billionaire Obama did. 

Any attempt to list all the ways that Trump and his family will profit personally from the executive office is impossible. It will have to be left up to investigators and historians.
As a proper smokescreen, Trump has surrounded himself with cabinet level appointees that are likely to engage in the same level of corrupt practices.

It is hard to imagine the number of scandals which will emerge from this administration is less than a year's time.  Even at this early stage, we can safely say that in all of America's history, there's has never been an administration more bent on self-enrichment than that of Donald Trump's.

Money for Nothing

Donald Trump Graph of TimeThe graph to the right also shows another problem: Trump's extreme laziness in comparison to previous presidents. Out of 744 hours of his first month in office,  293 hours were non-work time at the White House and 106 hours were non-work time at his palace.  During the campaign, Trump said of Obama's golfing
“I’m going to be working for you, I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
In reality, with less than 30 days as president, Trump has visited his two golf courses near his Mar-a-Lago estate — Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach and Trump National Golf Course in Jupiter — six times in his first month in office.
*   *   *   *
One might think that Trump's party- once so scrupulous when it came to Obama- would speak out, if for no other reason than to protect the party's image.
In fact, the Republican leadership has seen no reason to complain. Chait notes:
The Republican Party as a whole has decided not to object to any of this. Today, Mitch McConnell expressed a “high level of satisfaction” with the president’s behavior so far. “Back during the campaign, there were a lot of questions: Is Trump really a conservative? A lot of questions about it,” McConnell says. “But if you look at the steps that have been taken so far, looks good to me.” And it is true: Trump has supported mostly conventional conservative policies, and in return Republican leaders have turned their back to his unprecedented corruption.
In addition to his regal excess, Trump also flaunts a royal sense of governance.

The Enemy of the American People

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."
It was always only a matter of time before President Trump revealed his true nature- not as a man of the people but of a tyrant. To date, the best example was his awe-inspiring press conference last week.

In that conference, he declared without the slightest hesitation that the free press was the "Enemy of the American People."  It was a shocking thing to hear any president say. It's the kind of remark that tin-pot dictators in Third World nations might say.

Along with freedom of speech, the press, no matter how flawed it often is, still serves the proper check on the excesses of those in power. It acts in a manner similar to the Tribunus plebis of Roman days, the official voice of the will of the people.

In our time, Trump- and Trump alone- claims to speak for the American people. As he said in his nomination speech.
I am your voice, I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.
The press is the only private industry that the drafters of the constitution thought important enough to receive special protection from the government interference.

When issuing his complaints against the news media, Trump's rationale was that the free press had been corrupted by so-called fake news, and had abused its responsibility.
In some respects that might be true. The press needs to be held accountable.
However, almost immediately Trump stumbled and quoted a false story about riots in Sweden that never happened based on the only news outlet that Trump watches and admires.

Even without that flub, Trump's position on fake news was hard to take seriously. This was a man whose campaign was based on promoting a phony story that Obama was not born in the US. This was also the same person who hired as his closest advisor the editor of a tabloid which had no qualms about printed fake news.

Contrary to Trump's declaration, the press was not his enemy. In reality, it is the freedom of the press, the protected license to ask him questions he can not or will not answer, to investigate things that everybody suspects, that is his real enemy.

Trump might hope that his tirades against the press the American public will turn against CNN or MSNBC but that's not going to happen.  

Rights under Attack

"Where the citizens cannot meet to transact their business in person, they alone have the right to choose the agents who shall transact it; and... in this way a republican or popular government... may be exercised over any extent of country." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816
In fact, President Trump is not the cause of the problem. It's easy to focus all of our disgust at this one man. He makes an easy target.
However, Trump is only an exploiter of an existing and pervasive problem in Washington. We have allowed too many public servants to think of themselves as spokesmen for the entitled class.
Through gerrymandering, unlimited campaign financing by special interests and discriminatory voting restrictions, these public employees are no longer beholden to the citizens. In fact, every day they are becoming more and more detached from the very people they are supposed to represent.

The problem has become so corrosive to representative government that Republican-controlled states have begun pushing legislation aimed at limiting or prohibiting peaceful protests despite the fact that it is clearly a constitutionally protected right of all citizens.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the United States Congress from enacting legislation that would abridge the right of the people to assemble peaceably. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes this prohibition applicable to state governments. Moreover, the freedom of assembly is written about in the following human rights instruments:
Nevertheless, if it were left up to many state legislatures, peaceful demonstrations would be outlawed and citizens would be arrested for exercising their rights.

Face to Face

There are other signs of the detachment. A couple of weeks ago, the GOP chairman of the House oversight committee, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, learned the hard way what happens when you forget who your boss is. In a packed a town hall meeting in his Utah district, he came face to face with angry citizens who demanded explanations and accountability. Chaffetz, accused of coddling the President heard shouts from the crowds were "Do Your Job!"

Chaffetz called the treatment he received by the crowd "bullying and an attempt at intimidation." He alleged that it all was just a bunch of Democratic sore losers: "a concerted effort in part to just cause chaos." The Utah Republican said:
"Democrats are in disbelief that they have nothing but flailing and screaming to deal with this."
He was not the only Republican to feel the sting of public reaction.

A similar thing happened to Rep. Diane Black (R-TN). A meeting with constituents in her home state at an event held by Middle Tennessee State University College Republicans. The president's plan to repeal and replace Affordable Care with something not clearly specified has plenty of people worried. They ought to be. Beyond that, many citizens appear to think the proposal by the Republicans is immoral.

How, one citizen asked Black, could Congress be OK with "punishing our sickest people" rather than trying to "fix what's wrong with Obamacare," the sweeping health care that covers 20 million Americans.
To leave the sick to fend for themselves is simply ethically unacceptable.
"As a Christian, my whole philosophy in life is pull up the unfortunate."
Black had no answers to offer.

Just this week, Republican Joni Ernst from Iowa- once thought of as a rising star in the Senate GOP ranks- was given an unpleasant reality check in the tiny town of Maquoketa, Iowa. She was "greeted" with chants of "Shame on you" and "We want our voices heard!"

The Eminent Danger of Dismissal

Thomas Jefferson would, no doubt, be proud of Americans assuming the role he and the other founders carefully crafted for them.
And what was the reaction of Republicans?
Some Republican lawmakers have reportedly cancelled planned town hall events to avoid being confronted by constituents. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) called off an event scheduled to be held in April, with a spokesperson telling local media in his district that "liberal activists" planned to turn the event into "a disruptive show for their own political theater."
It was a sentiment that King George III might have used to describe the first signs of outrage in the American colonies. The assumption that most Americans would remain loyal to the crown, whom they saw as a despot, a government of force, taxing citizens without representation.

Thomas Jefferson would have given the GOP a stern warning about their dismissal of the angry citizens. This is, and has always been, the root cause of every bloody revolution.
To those who think that rigging elections, closing down safety nets upon which millions of Americans need, attending only to the interest of the super-wealthy and offending the basic moral principles of the people,  Jefferson would have advised them to think carefully.  

Experience, he said, shows us that the patience of the governed is long but not limitless. Mankind, said Jefferson, will suffer a great deal of evil before finally revolting.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.