This blog is becoming a bit of a hybrid of what’s going on in Asia and how Trump and his cronies are working to destroy the U.S. as we know it.  The latter part of that last sentence may be a bit of hyperbole, though after some of the speeches at the CPAC conference, including Bannon’s, I wonder how much of that sentiment is really hyperbole. Yet that is a thought for another time or perhaps it will just continue to unfold in the messy way it has since Trump won the election.

Yesterday, Trump rolled back Obama era protections for transgender students that allowed them to use the bathroom of their choice.  Putting aside the legality of such a move given that the original decision was supported by Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, Trumps move raises two interesting points.  One, it’s a policy decision that re-opens the culture wars that the Republican Party and many voters were hoping to move beyond.  Two, it’s a relatively low-stakes policy move on the part of the Trump administration consistent with his seeming “do-little” approach to governing since taking office a month ago.

During the last presidential election, cultural issues related to gender and sexuality seemed to take a backseat to economic and national security issues.  The 2016 election was certainly a far cry from 2004 when it seemed that cultural issues were guiding both the left and right.  Think about what Trump campaigned on – jobs and national security, with which I am including immigration.  While I am sure there are many conservatives who are applauding this move, it’s interesting how muted the support has been from members of Congress who seem to want to avoid the controversy that engulfed North Carolina on a national level.  While polls show the American public pretty evenly split on bathroom access, if Americans were asked where they prioritize this issue relative to jobs, health care, the economy, national security, or even Russia, I am sure that this issue would be a rather low priority in terms of on what Americans want their politicians to focus.  Congratulations President Trump on firing another shot in the culture wars and taking the heat off of your ability to actually get things done that voters care about.

So the second point is that we now have one of Trump’s first major policy dictating who should be using which bathrooms in our nation’s schools.  The move does not seem like it’s going to do much to bring jobs back to the Rust Belt or Coal Country or help protect our borders, yet this is one of the matters on which he is expending his political capital.  It’s actually quite Trumpian in its simple logic.  He knows full well that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act or bringing back manufacturing and mining jobs are herculean, if not impossible tasks.  He also has the attention span of a gnat and such policy prescriptions would never fit on a single page, so he turns to something that is both easy to understand and execute on, while satisfying conservatives that he remains true to their principals.  I don’t know what’s worse in a Trump administration, barely governing or barreling full steam ahead and running into all sorts of potential roadblocks.  I’d argue the latter because at least then there is a chance of failure, which would hopefully set us up for something better than what we are currently getting.  This barely governing approach that involves throwing some red meat policy moves to his supporters could turn into a war of attrition where the opposition in all its forms simply grows tired and gives up before turning back the tide on what could be the end of America as we know it.

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In recent days, Vice President Pence and others from the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Tillerson and Defense Secretary Mattis have made the rounds in Europe reassuring our allies that the U.S. stands with them against Russia and other threats to the West.  Why was such a tour necessary so early on in the new administration?  It’s because President Trump has been doing everything he can do to stir fear in Europe that the U.S. is prepared to abandon its commitments that have undergirded peace and prosperity in the region since the end of WWII.  It’s problematic that you have the leader of the free world tweeting and giving speeches expressing adoration for Putin and his Russia while undercutting allies who have stood by America’s side for over 70 years.  Then you have his supposedly loyal lieutenants doing the equivalent of an apology tour to reassure those same allies that nothing is going to change, even with a megalomaniac in the White House.  Whose take on the future should we trust?

It’s naive to think that the triumvirate of Pence, Mattis, and Tillerson matters more than what Trump says or tweets.  In Trump’s first month in office, it’s been clear that anyone with a shred of reason or maturity is quickly sidelined.  Pence was kept in the dark for two weeks by the President and his people that Flynn had lied to him about discussing sanctions with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and only learned about it from The Washington Post.  Tillerson was not included in White House meetings with Netanyahu that were supposedly being led by Jared Kushner, who we all know is extremely well-versed in international affairs.  And then there is Mattis, the oft-cited grown-up in the room who is supposed to be the voice of reason in a Trump administration.  He seems to be more a show pony having already been to Asia and Europe to reassure our closest allies that nothing is going to change in these alliances even as Trump says and does the opposite of what Mattis is saying.  What happened in the aftermath of North Korea’s missile test except an open-air discussion during dinner at Mar-a-Lago?  Nothing.  While the theater of these three men reassuring allies is well-executed, it’s a stretch to believe that any of them hold any real sway with Trump who seems hell-bent on doing his own thing.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of anything Pence, Mattis, and Tillerson have said to our allies. However, I doubt that their boss shares their sentiments or cares to listen to what they have to tell him.  That is what scares me the most – the lack of a coherent and convincing foreign policy in the early days of the Trump presidency.  It seems that the same man who wanted to keep ISIS guessing as to his amazing plan to eradicate them also wants to keep our allies guessing how committed we are to supporting the Western world as we know it.

Enough is enough.  Or is it?  I live 13 hours ahead of Washington, D.C., so when I wake up in the morning I am hit with the full force of the day’s news versus the usual sporadic updating of headlines I would normally be subject to if I was still living in the U.S.  Reading about the absurdity that is American politics in such a concentrated form means my morning coffee is usually punctuated with quite a bit of head shaking, the occasional expletive, and calls and texts back home filled with words like “ridiculous”, “crazy”, “nightmare”, “horrible”, and “insane”.  I often feel like I have run out superlatives to describe what’s going on and we’re only a month into what is supposed to be four years of a Trump presidency.

Just when I am about to write about how the latest tweet or actual utterance is going to ruin the republic, something else happens that’s even worse than what preceded it.  The upside to not writing about what’s been going in real-time is that I have had a month to let things sink in for a bit of perspective, though I am not sure what good perspective is when facts are lies and lies are facts and when we have double-speak coming from within the same administration, whether it’s about our commitment to Europe or relations with Russia.  What’s missing from all this activity are actual policies, which to some may be a good thing, but it also means Trump can perpetuate the lies he needs to solidify support from his base.

I think it’s important to meet with and record interviews with his supporters to understand why they stand behind this man.  The Washington Post, part of the cabal of fake news, had an article with quotes rom Trump supporters.  Forget about the actual article and it’s macro point about a real divide in the country and focus on the words of his supporters.  They believe Trump and his attacks on the media and feel as if he is not getting a fair shake at things.  Trump’s PR plan is masterful in that his supporters believe him hook, line, and sinker.  When he says he saved thousands of jobs with the signing of an executive order or that Sweden suffered a terrorist attack, his supporters only look at the his tweets or the headlines that support his point of view and make up their minds.  This blind following begs the question – when do they lose faith?

That question is one that vexes me to no end.  What will break this almost spell-like enchantment with Trump?  Will it be when Republicans actually do something to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and people realize that when they next go to the doctor, they have no insurance?  Will it be when people who thought Trump was bringing back their jobs are still unemployed two years later?  Will it be when he gets us embroiled in another global conflict and American troops are being sent into battle?  Will it be when he launches a trade war and inflation skyrockets as the cost of imports soars?  I worry that given where we are as a country, none of these things will matter because Trump has these people hooked on the twin beliefs that all news that runs counter to his narrative is fake and any problems that arise will be deemed to have been handed to him by his predecessor, even a year or two on from when Obama was last in office.  Perhaps the better question is this one – what happens if his supporters, in spite of bad things continuing to happen, do not lose faith in him?

Then the answer depends on what the so far feckless Republicans decide to do about Trump and his lies.  I won’t even begin to discuss the Democrats because they’re still out in the wilderness trying to figure out the best way to make themselves heard.  It’s the Republicans, the part y of the majority, that have the power and moral imperative to ensure that Trump does not destroy the republic.  Yet, what we’ve seen from Republicans is more of the same that they pulled when Obama was president, except now they are in power and actually have to do something to ensure that our country continues moving forward.  House Republicans led by the increasingly unprincipled Paul Ryan are still talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails when it’s possible we may have a president and his administration colluding with what should be the true enemy, Russia.    Thank goodness for Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who while perhaps not aligned with my politics, speak about protecting the same country that am proud to call mine.  But other Republicans have not shown the same respect and concern for our country, blinded more by advancing a specific agenda that would be meaningless if what made America truly great was no longer.  Yet these Republicans are unable to see what could be the unraveling of America as a beacon of freedom, liberty, and democracy.  Rather they continue to operate in an environment that is increasingly looking like a quaint anachronism, where Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, left and right, were all we had to worry about when governing.  Unfortunately, it’s bigger than that.  It should not matter what side of aisle or political debate we are on.  Rather this is about America and the future of our country, what is stands for at home and abroad, as well ensuring we have something we’re proud off to hand off to future generations.

Today we face a president and his inner circle of truth-bending loyalists who boast of non-existent policy achievements and disavow themselves of any mistakes or errors in the first month of this administration.  Yet we have others hanging out in the other branches of government, namely Congress, willing to look away while he chips away at the foundations of our country in the hopes that they can get some policy concessions out of him.  Such behavior is not only short-sighted, but increasingly so partisan as to be nearly non-American.

 

Irrelevance

September 16, 2010

Linyi is the logistics center for all of northern China.  I had no idea that this was the case, but it explains the many Mercedes and BMWs I see in the streets and perhaps why they’re building so many new luxury buildings.  Yet, the city remains what my new Brazilian friend calls “a country city”.  It’s also a city where I can walk from my hotel to the gym across the bridge and make traffic slow down as people turn to look at me.  Today, a kid on a bike passed by saying hello and then came back with his notebook in hand and wanted me to write my name down in English.  As soon as I did, he hopped on his bike and rode away.

During that same walk home from the gym, I decided to count the cranes I could see on the skyline.  I came up with 45, but that did not count those hidden behind other buildings and those that I could not see through the haze.  Cranes might be a barometer for prosperity or the hope of prosperity. Cranes can also be a marker of irrational exuberance or a coming bubble if the number of cranes nearly equal the number of empty buildings.

After a fun lunch yesterday with my assistant Karen, whom one of my friends has taken to calling the “Young Commie or YC for short”, and a Brazilian professor, I met up with the Brazilian professor and his roommate, who is also from Brazil, for dinner this evening at Pizza Hut.  I know, I know.  Those of you who know me are probably wondering what I am doing in a Pizza Hut, but in China it’s an upmarket endeavor that is frequented by people who aspire to the upper classes of society and the Pizza Hut of Linyi was no different.  The Brazilians also do not care much for Chinese food, so this was a good compromise and provided a nice atmosphere for some good conversation.  After dinner, we went to McDonald’s for their soft-serve ice cream cones and a middle-aged Chinese woman approached us asking to take pictures of each one of us with her camera phone.  Oh China.

Between talking yesterday and today, I kept getting this feeling that America is becoming irrelevant in the new world order.  Apparently the university is trying to increase its ties with Latin America, both by building connections with institutions like the Universities of Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires and increasing their offerings of Spanish and Portuguese to their students.  Joe, the Brazilian professor, was telling me how many young Brazilians would rather get their PhDs in Europe than in the U.S. because of the onerous publishing requirements in American academia.  His friend Tom, who works in the department of Oriental languages at the University of Sao Paolo, was telling me that English is the fourth most popular language after French, Chinese, and Spanish (in that order).  Heck, I was hanging out with a Brazilian in China, all I needed was someone from Russia and India and I would have all of the BRICs represented.  Apparently, there are quite a few Russian and Indian students also here in Linyi studying Chinese.  America seems to be lost here.  The Brazilian innocently added insult to injury by informing me that Friends, Sex and the City, and Will and Grace were three of the most popular American television shows in Brazil, thus most Brazilians think Americans are lazy, superficial, and stupid.  After spending a week here and now hanging out with these Brazilians teaching and studying Chinese, I keep having this nagging feeling that unless America figures out how to play in a multi-polar world, it’s going to continue sliding towards irrelevance.

I’m off to Qingdao for the weekend to meet up with my friend Michael.  Excited about seeing the home of Qingdao beer and what is supposed to be one of the nicest cities in China.