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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A 'NEW (AB)NORMAL' Takes Hold

I really have to laugh at the ‘surprise’ exhibited by certain people, mainly newscasters, whenever Donald Trump announces something, tweets something, appoints someone or when he goes to partake of dinner with Mitt Romney at a New York restaurant.  It’s both laughable and tragic – whatever Mr. Trump does. 

So folks – let’s stop being so surprised and awe-struck whenever the Donald does or says something unexpected, contradictory, inflammatory, or unwise.  It’s too late now to be surprised, or caught off-guard.  This is scheduled to be the new (ab)normal for the next four years, and we will all have to learn to live with it, or make plans to move to Canada. (Maybe enough of those Trump Electors – we need 37 of them -- will switch their votes to Clinton on December 19th, but that’s extremely doubtful).

BUT –– don’t say you weren’t warned. On this Blog alone, since the Donald announced his candidacy, there have been 26 posts about how wrong Trump will be for this country.  At least a half-dozen of those dealt with his tendency to be authoritarian and even fascist-like in his approach to policy, legislation, established law and even to accepted procedure.  Here are some of the things I have said previously about Trump that one might want to consider again in relation to the new (ab)normal:

  • “Avoidance of tough questions is nothing new to politics, or to politicians.  It happens all the time; and often it happens because the candidate knows he is in deep trouble with donors, with voters or with the media, and sometimes with his party colleagues.  Trump avoided several questions of what he would actually do to solve certain problems and instead emphasized his wealth and what that means in terms of governing.” (8/9/2015)
  • “What we heard...from the Republican presidential candidates only serves to prove my point:  this is not just about winning an election.  This is about the use of POWER.  Republicans want that power in the hands of a few elite persons, states and industrial entities.  Progressives want that power in the hands of servants of the people and of the People themselves. It is a fundamental difference in the social-political-economic philosophy and activism of the Right and the Left; of Republican and Democrat; of those who serve to crave and to profit themselves, and those who crave to serve and profit the People.” (9/21/2015)
  • “It cannot be under-stated that one of the most attractive pieces of Fascist philosophy... was the myth that a strong man in charge will make all things right again, and contribute to the strength of the Aryan race at the same time. It is also important to recognize the place of intimidation and violence in the myth of the strong man. They also made sure that their strength showed in their competence, their timeliness and in results.  Need I mention the obvious – “the Donald.”   The words are those of a Social Darwinist; of someone who believes that might makes right or will win the day.  We are talking about authoritarianism – the principle of subjection to authority as opposed to a principle of individual freedom.  We’re talking about the actions of a potentially peremptory, dictatorial strong man...” (11/17/2015)
  • The promotion of unquestioning patriotism --or rather of misplaced patriotism -- is a force that is invasive and destructive.  In touting American “exceptionalism” no matter the realities of our national life, is to numb us to realities that are destructive of our ideals and of our true patriotism.  “Exceptionalism” is not so much found in being first in various fields of endeavor, or being strongest militarily, or being out front earning unmatched profits.  Greatness or exceptionalism is rather found in how much we can, as a people and a nation, give to others; on what we can share to enhance life upon our earth, and on what we can promote so that others can have the opportunities that we have.  The Republican Right wing is attempting to pull us in the opposite direction so that we value self-protection more than accepting refugees; so that we value profit more than quality or equality, strength more than empathy, and self-aggrandizement rather than charity.  We must not allow Right-wing fanatics to rob us of our heritage, and to use a growing moral numbness as a tool of destruction of our democracy.” (11/30/2015)  
  • “... a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he was writing his dissertation, sampled 1,800 voters from across the entire political spectrum and ran a “statistical analysis” of the poll answers. He found that it didn’t really matter what age, race, religion, etc. the voter was, they tended to support Donald Trump if they agreed with authoritarian values.  Authoritarian leanings are defined by as --“A personality pattern reflecting a desire for security, order, power, and status, with a desire for structured lines of authority, a conventional set of values or outlook, a demand for unquestioning obedience, and a tendency to be hostile toward or use as scapegoats individuals of minority or nontraditional groups.”  Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions—from the Republican Party to the press—that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.  “It is time for those who would appeal to our better angels to take his insurgency seriously and stop dismissing his supporters as a small band of the dispossessed. Trump support is firmly rooted in American authoritarianism and, once awakened, it is a force to be reckoned with.” (1/22/2016)
  • “It doesn't much matter what consequences may get strewn in the path on the way to victory, for winning is the ultimate goal and the ultimate pay-off.  Trump is not in this campaign to win friends; he is only in it to win and to draw a huge number of unsuspecting ordinary people... and enough of the powerful and influential into his circle of admiring worshippers.  This campaign is all about Donald Trump, the Trump name and the Trump Enterprises.  It is not about governing or serving or acting on behalf of the People.  All the talk from this man is about him, his art of the deal, and the billions that will accrue to him (beyond his present wealth) as he builds a Trump empire bigger than ever expected. 
    Those who believe that Donald Trump is speaking their language, speaking for them in terms of their needs and wants, or is going to care one wit about whether this country wins, have missed the point.  Donald Trump is using the People, and will use the entire mechanism of both the government and the economic system, to make them all work for him.  This man is not a philanthropist; he is not a servant of the people; he is not someone who cares deeply about people's problems or hopes; he is a competitor, a bully, an authoritarian, an entertainer, a deal-maker.  But don't be bamboozled friends.  He is not in this campaign for any of the reasons usually given -- making our country a place of hope, building on our principles of equal justice, individual freedoms and equal opportunity.  He is not seeking to protect or enhance the lives of vulnerable people, or to use government as the defender of our God-given rights.  He is out to win big for himself, and will do that in whatever ways he needs or desires or wants.” (3/22/2016)
  • “With a radical Republican President Trump, an ultra-right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, and a Congress controlled or obstructed by Tea Party ideologues, YOU ARE ABOUT TO WISH YOU HAD NEVER HEARD OF DONALD TRUMP.  Just as Ronald Reagan betrayed his union followers when he fired striking Air Traffic Controllers, Trump followers are about to be betrayed beyond their wildest fears.  THEY ARE ABOUT TO BE EATEN ALIVE by the forces of destruction, division, diminution, denigration, deregulation, distrust, demonizing and demoralization.
“I tend, therefore, to pity those followers who believe that Donald Trump, once in office, will carry out every promise he has made to help particular groups of people.  Why do I say that?  Because he has constantly demonstrated in his life and in his work that his personal status, profit, power, prestige and winning are all that matter.  Equality and Justice, charitableness and service to others are not important to him unless they can be used as tools to CON others into following his lead.  Therefore, I end with a personal message to Trump supporters: YOU WILL LIVE TO REGRET YOUR SUPPORT OF TRUMP because his support ultimately means your downfall, and the probable deterioration of our economy, our daily existence, our democratic values and your livelihood.”  (9/23/2016)

It is extremely provocative (and not surprising!) that the Trump Transition Team is now embarked on a tactic that is straight from the Fascist playbook.  It involves the diminishing (and possible destruction) of a career civil service component within the top echelons of government bureaucracy.  Something one must understand about our Executive branch of government: some civil servants work in the government for a good number of years, and in many ways, the stability they provide is very helpful.  On the other hand, depending on the circumstances as to what particular Party controls the White House, those same civil servants, with years of experience and some accrued authority, especially in the top echelons of departments and offices, can set up resistance to changes that do not make sense to their minds and in relation to their principles and experience.  In other words, the Trump people already see these civil servants as a problem in some areas and are beginning to assert their own power of appointment, perhaps seeing opportunities to assert their own purposes, mission and authority.

At any rate, the story from the Washington Post is that Trump Transition people are calling for the names of EPA staff and the dates they met with others about environmental issues.  More precisely, Trump’s people are looking for the identities of those staff who were pushing the Obama environmental agenda.  Here’s some of what the article explains:
“The Trump transition team has issued a list of 74 questions for the Energy Department, asking officials there to identify which department employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.

The questionnaire requests a list of those individuals who have taken part in international climate talks over the past five years and “which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The questionnaire also appeared to take aim at the national laboratories, which operate with a high degree of independence but are part of the Energy Department. The questionnaire asked for a list of the top 20 salaried employees of the labs, the labs’ peer-reviewed publications over the past three years, a list of their professional society memberships, affiliations, and the websites they maintain or contribute to ‘during work hours.’ Researchers at national labs focus on a range of issues, including renewable-energy development and climate analysis.”

The questionnaire, which one Energy Department official described as unusually “intrusive” and a matter for departmental lawyers, has raised concern that the Trump transition team was trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama.”

In addition to all I have said leading up to this point, let it be clear that this tactic is not that of a usual gentle purging of left-over appointees from a previous administration.  This appears to be more of an attack upon certain civil servants who acted to implement the environmental agenda of the Obama administration. 

Similarly, using the Civil Service Law of April 1933, Nazi Party authorities began eliminating Jews from governmental agencies, and state positions in the economy, law, and cultural life. Although not a direct corollary to the Nazi agenda in the early 1930’s, this move by the Trump Team has the unusual flavor of individual targeting of certain people for removal from the government.  This is not a good sign. 

Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), a physicist, warned that the questionnaire “threatens to undo decades of progress we have made on climate change,” and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said punishing civil servants for their work under previous administrations “would be tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt and would have a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce.”

Finally, we should no longer be astonished or surprised by the appointments being made by Donald Trump.  In case it has not become entirely evident at this point, the appointments so far do not appear to this writer to be made on the basis of loyalty or ‘cleaning the swamp’ or bringing in outsiders.  The one common pattern or thread appears to me to be the anti-Obama, anti-central government, and anti-liberal programs and policies inherent in those nominations.  We are talking about destruction here, not about construction. 

 “A strikingly similar situation occurred in Reagan’s first term when Anne Gorsuch was appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency amid a major push for regulatory rollback. But after Gorsuch resigned amid controversy in 1983, Congress opened investigations into supposed “hit lists” at the agency used to track the views of members of scientific advisory boards, according to contemporary news reports.” (NY Times)

So far, in my mind, the present situation contains an even worse scenario.  We have a leader who believes he has a mandate to destroy much of what has been built in the past to benefit the People.  “While there have been many instances of political appointees and career scientists clashing in various administrations, what is novel is the request for the names of so many individual scientists, and the fact that it comes during the transition period, before the Trump administration has even taken power. This may be a signal of even more intense politicization after the inauguration.”

Trump has so far appointed some department heads who will take their mandates very seriously, and whose credentials, experience and policy positions can only lead to politicization, certain deregulation and probable dismemberment of their agencies.  The current example speaks to that contradictory scenario.

Scott Pruitt, EPA Director nominee --the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, named to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  When the nomination was announced, the press release from the Transition team called Pruitt “an expert in Constitutional law” saying he “brings a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy.”
According to the NY Times, “Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead.  The Times suggested this move “signals an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy.” 

The press release quoted Trump as saying: “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs, while also undermining our incredible farmers and many other businesses and industries at every turn.”  Trump added: Pruitt “will reverse this trend and restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” My administration “strongly believes in environmental protection, and Scott Pruitt will be a powerful advocate for that mission while promoting jobs, safety and opportunity.”

Pruitt himself was quoted as saying: “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

The words behind the quotes are clear and resounding.  There will be a detailed dismantling of regulations formulated during the Obama administration that put certain laws and policies into practice.  There will be what is known as a ‘reduction in force’ as certain key participants are identified for removal. 

There will be what may become, under the Trump administration, a widespread involvement of government agencies openly conducting their departments to create the most positive atmosphere possible for corporations and businesses, to the exclusion of other important functions. Protecting the environment, enhancing public education, ensuring that people’s rights, welfare and health are addressed, attending to national needs like rebuilding infrastructure, alternative fuels, and research into childhood diseases, plus public health reform will all be on the back burner. 

For that reason, we will next take a look at the nominations so far for cabinet positions and other leaders of the Trump administration because those appointments are illustrative of where this nation is headed under the Alt-Right.   

President-elect Donald Trump's transition team on Wednesday disavowed a survey sent to the U.S. Department of Energy that requested the names of people working on climate change in the agency.
"The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said. "The person who sent it has been properly counseled." 

Notice please: no one said the survey was not sent -- it was and that's the problem!
...hours before the disavowal, Democratic U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the head of the transition, saying the team is entitled to select political appointees who share Trump's climate views, but that any effort to marginalize civil servants on the basis of their scientific analysis would be an "abuse of authority."