Letter to U.S. Rep. Pocan, re: His bill to Abolish ICE

A letter I’ve just mailed [I cling to the old hard copy approach 🙂 ] to Mr. Pocan, the U.S.  Representative for Wisconsin’s Second Congressional District:

Dear Representative Pocan:

I am writing to express my deep disappointment at your ill-considered introduction of a bill to terminate the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).  While I abhor both the policy under which we separated parents and children at the border and our apparent treatment of many of those reaching our border as rabble rather than human beings, the fact remains that we need enforcement of our immigration laws.  I’m confident that ICE agents undertake dangerous and difficult responsibilities on a daily basis that those of us in our ivory towers prefer not to think about.  Your meat-axe approach seems to lack any substantive solution to the immigration enforcement challenges we face.  I assume that you are feeling suitable embarrassment if, as The Wall Street Journal reports, you intend to vote against your own bill if the House Republican leadership submits it for a vote.

On a less important level, liberals seem determined to be their own worst political enemies.  Our state and a number of other states and districts are closely divided.  Judging by the President’s polling numbers, he’s lost support during his time in office.  Today, it seems likely that few of those that voted for Secretary Clinton would vote Republican, while a significantly higher number of the more centrist voters that ultimately voted for the President rue their vote.  Right now, Democrats are on the Republican side of the 50-yard line.  While it may be exhilarating to strike a gesture for a party’s most ardent supporters by taking actions like you did, it’s not the way to win elections.  There’s no need to stoke the enthusiasm of Democratic loyalists; their fervor against the President and Republican policies is so strong that they’ll come out and vote.  What you and other Democratic office holders should do – if you wish to win, and not simply feel exhilaration — is focus on earning the confidence of those 2016 Republican voters that have developed misgivings about the Republican actions over the last 18 months.  Many of these voters fear that their values no longer have a place in our country, have the impression that our immigration policies are too lax, fear crime, etc., etc.  To vote for Democrats, they must be assured that their justifiable concerns will be taken seriously by Democratic office holders.  If Democratic Party strategists advise that providing these sorts of assurances will require the party to renounce the societal openness it also champions … then the party needs new strategists.

In an early chapter in his book, The Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam wrote the following about John F. Kennedy’s assessment of his chances for winning the Democratic Party nomination in 1960:

“[The liberal intellectual wing of the party was] not only dubious of [Kennedy] but staunchly loyal to Adlai Stevenson after those two gallant and exhilarating defeats.  That very exhilaration had left the Kennedys, particularly Robert Kennedy, with a vague suspicion that liberals would rather lose gallantly than win pragmatically, that they valued the irony and charm of Stevenson’s election-night concessions more than they valued the power and patronage of victory.  [My emphasis].”

Although it is unusual for me to align with House Speaker Paul Ryan on domestic issues, I agree with his comment quoted in this weekend’s Journal:  “[Democrats advocating abolishing ICE] are tripping over themselves to move too far to the left.”

Will it be exhilaration or pragmatism?  Has the party learned anything over the last 60 years?

Initial Reactions to the Kavanaugh Nomination

Back in February, I entered a long note on the two-factor methodology that I believe should govern a Senator’s decision whether to vote to confirm a President’s nominee to the Supreme Court [including edited versions of letters I had previously sent to Sens. Charles Grassley and Tammy Baldwin respectively related to the nominations of Judge Merrick Garland and then-Judge Neil Gorsuch — to which letters, alas, neither Senator paid any heed ;)].  The approach that I believe should be adopted is straightforward:  Is the nominee judicially qualified?  If so, is there any other objective reason why s/he should not be confirmed (criminal indictment, substantiated drug abuse problem, etc.)?  I do not believe that the candidate’s substantive views on any issue should play a role in whether s/he should be confirmed.  The Constitution gives the President the power to nominate and appoint federal judges; the Senate should promptly discharge its duty to consent to qualified nominees, and to withhold its consent from those that are not.

 

As I stated in my letter to Sen. Baldwin, I consider the Senate Republicans’ refusal to promptly hold hearings on Judge Garland’s nomination (and – unless unexpected issues had been uncovered – to have confirmed him) a dereliction of their duty.  It frankly grates on me that Senate Republicans flouted by procedural tactic and with partisan malice what I consider their constitutional duty to have fairly and promptly assessed the merits of an apparently qualified nominee put before them (by the way, put before them by a President elected by over 50% of the votes cast, with almost a year left in his term).  The Senate Republicans’ actions can be viewed as even that much more galling since Judge Garland was in effect replaced on the Court by a judge (albeit indisputably qualified) of a different philosophy nominated by a President who, while validly elected, didn’t even receive the most votes cast – let alone 50%.

 

Having vented my spleen at the disreputable behavior of Senate Republicans toward Judge Garland’s nomination (for what I would wager will not be the last time), I would assert that any citizen that claims respect for our system and belief in fair play doesn’t get to pick and choose when s/he supports those principles.  Our constitutional officers and we as a people need to stop answering one partisan act with another.  Assuming that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is as qualified a jurist as early accounts make it appear, I would if a Senator vote to confirm him to the United States Supreme Court unless some other objective reason (of the type noted above) indicating his unfitness surfaces during the Senate confirmation process.  Those that espouse the need to have respect for our processes … should respect those processes.  We have the President we have, and he has lawfully exercised his power to make the nomination he has made.

The Time for Outrage is Past: MAAA

Although I’ve been tied up with other pursuits the last couple of weeks, ongoing events have caused me to consult my American Heritage Dictionary.  It defines “shock” in part as follows:

“[An] unexpected blow … A severe offense to one’s sense of propriety or decency; an outrage.…”

I would suggest that although our institutions are so far holding fast, they are under the greatest internal strain since the civil war.  Every day, President Trump assaults our basic foundations purely for his own self-aggrandizement.  His enablers support him to protect their own interests.  It’s no longer unexpected; the time for outrage is past.  I would submit that every citizen has a duty to think critically about where we are going as a country … and what s/he is going to do about it.

Mr. Trump lies chronically – indeed, promiscuously.  I assume that even those that support his substantive policies recognize this. Truth – what is – is more important than the substance of any issue.  Our republic cannot indefinitely survive breathing the carbon dioxide exhaled by the President.

The President and his allies engage by turns in an unceasing and unwarranted attack on the courts, law enforcement, and the mainstream media.  While clearly none are perfect, the rule of law and freedom of speech have supported our way of life over this nation’s history.  The President seeks to trample them for his own purposes, with his sycophants shamefully and cowardly abetting him.

Mr. Trump incites racial and religious hate.  Using broad strokes to label immigrants and Muslims as our enemies manifests a malevolent disregard of what this country stands for.  The vast majority of Americans – including him – are descended from immigrants.  The right to freely practice one’s faith is a cornerstone of this Republic.  His constant reference to gangs such as M-13 when discussing southern migrants seeks to create an inference of a general criminal invasion that the relative numbers show is absurd.  Separating parents and children at the border is inhumane.  Making children pawns in a legislative negotiation for his border wall is monstrous.  He stokes his followers’ fears and encourages their darker emotions because it helps him, not them.

A transgression that to me is as destructive as those above is the way the President is letting his own supporters down … and they seemingly don’t recognize it.  I would offer that the way he manipulates the millions that believe in him is as cruel as his treatment of his adversaries.

  • His massive tax cut predominantly benefited big corporations and the rich, at a time when unemployment was already steadily dropping and The Wall Street Journal was reporting the U.S. economy to be in the forefront of worldwide economic growth. Economists unanimously expect the tax cut to aggravate deficits that will in turn more quickly endanger entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  This threat won’t much matter to Mr. Trump, his family and friends – they’re rich.  It will matter to the great percentage of the President’s supporters who do and will rely on these programs.

 

  • His attempt to protect legacy industries such as coal mining and certain of our manufacturing segments are as if Theodore Roosevelt had attempted to protect horse buggy manufacturers while slapping tariffs on materials Henry Ford needed to build cars. Through his phrases, Mr. Trump assures his financially desperate supporters that it isn’t their fault that their fortunes have deteriorated over the last decades.  While a serious physical condition may not be the patient’s fault, there is no return to health by blaming others or administering outdated care plans.  He’s lulling them with a pipe dream.  Challenges created by automation, globalization, an aging population, etc., etc., aren’t going away.  Instead of alerting his followers to their and our nation’s need to focus on the industries, technologies, and opportunities of the future, he’s giving them Leave it to Beaver.

 

  • Perhaps the most remarkable: It is now undisputed that the President dictated the statement that Donald Trump, Jr., initially issued in the summer of 2017 indicating that Trump Campaign officials’ meeting with Russians in the summer of 2016 did not involve a campaign issue.  It would have taken no prescience for the President to realize that if the truth came out – which it did, in a matter of days – the false statement would be putting a bull’s eye on his son for an obstruction of justice charge.  Who endangers one’s own child?

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan summarized some of the challenges we will be facing in the coming months in a piece she published in May, 2017:

“The question, at bottom, is whether Donald Trump has demonstrated … that he is unfit for the presidency—wholly unsuited in terms of judgment, knowledge, mental capacity, personal stability.”

Although I obviously consider Mr. Trump to have shown his unsuitability in the areas listed by Ms. Noonan, I would offer that he has demonstrated his unsuitability in two areas that matter even more:  his apparent lack of moral compass and his selfish disregard for the well-being of the people he has sworn to serve.  It’s no longer unexpected; the time for outrage is past.  Although I will give the President credit in the future when I think he deserves it, now is the time to devote energy, within the bounds of law, morals, and ethics, to the electoral contests ahead.

It’s time to Make America … America Again …

Letter to WSJ Editor, re: Sen. Hatch’s “Protect Mueller, but Not Like This”

Ever persistent, I just emailed the following Letter to the Editor to The Wall Street Journal in response to Sen. Hatch’s cited article:

While asserting in “Protect Mueller, but Not Like This” (Opinion, April 25), that a bill being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee to constrain the president from firing special counsel Robert Mueller is unconstitutional, Sen. Orrin Hatch indicated in several ways that he believes that Mr. Muller’s investigation should be allowed to run its course.  Mr. Hatch went so far as to say that if the president dismisses Mr. Mueller, it would “trigger … possibly even impeachment.”  He concluded with a ringing affirmation that the rule of law cannot be protected by “… violating the supreme law of the land.”

About 20 years ago, conservative commentator Ann Coulter argued in one of her books that the Founding Fathers did not consider grounds for impeachment in the American system to be limited to legally criminal behavior, and that the standard was simply that the official “behave amiss.”  Sen. Hatch is presumably as aware of these authorities as Ms. Coulter.  The senator’s expressions would have had a greater ring of sincerity – and potentially a greater impact on the president’s behavior — if he had concluded his essay by stating that if President Trump does dismiss Mr. Mueller without cause, Mr. Hatch will vote to impeach Mr. Trump if an article of impeachment citing the dismissal comes before the Senate while Mr. Hatch remains a member.

Letter to Wi State Journal: Walker Tweet

What is set forth below is a Letter to the Editor I just forwarded to the Wisconsin State Journal; I have categorized as “U.S. Domestic Policy” rather than “Politics” because I consider the discord that currently exists and is being sown amongst our people to have risen from a question of politics to a substantive domestic issue:

In your editorial expressing support for Judge Dallet’s victory, you mentioned Gov. Walker’s subsequent tweet – in which he said, in part, “The Far Left is driven by anger & hatred.”  Such vitriol seems intended to send a message to his supporters that those that oppose him are angry at and hate them.  I am no fan of the Governor, but what I detest is any implication that my deep disagreements with his stewardship in any way equate to any ill feelings toward his supporters (some of whom are beloved family members).  No party or group is the font of all wisdom and virtue nor the pit of all ignorance and depravity.  Although obviously not the first to make this point, I suggest that this should be our central theme in the coming electoral cycle:  whether we Wisconsinites are Republican, Democrat, or other, most of us are Packer fans, appreciate fish fries, cheese and beer, enjoy our beautiful seasons, and would prefer our politicians to compromise rather than confront.  No matter our substantive views, we all need to recognize and reject any attempt by any politician of any stripe to sow venom in order to gain political advantage.

The President and Mr. Mueller

What follows is a note I wrote in mid-July, 2017.  As I say at its conclusion:  “Opinions are easy; we’ll see what’s borne out”; but if there is evidence that implicates the President and/or his close associates in wrong doing, a graceful withdrawal seems a less available path now than it may have been then …

As all are aware, A.G. Sessions has been under increasing pressure from the President, in large part due to Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself (undisputedly in accord with DOJ rules and procedures) from the Russia investigation.  It’s hard to contest that the President’s irritation with Mr. Sessions arises from the President’s belief that Mr. Sessions could have controlled the Russia investigation, and his concern that Mr. Mueller’s probe is, from the President’s point of view, expanding in an unacceptable manner.

As perhaps all are aware, if the President was to get rid of Mr. Sessions, get rid of Mr. Rosenstein (the Assistant A.G. that appointed Mr. Mueller), and then fire Mr. Mueller, a number of legislators of both parties have indicated that Congress would reinstitute a Special Counsel law, place Mr. Mueller in that role, and have him proceed.  I had wondered whether there was actually sufficient support to bring that about.  What has brought the President’s predicament home to me is the fact that 7 Republican senators – Barrasso, Hatch, Grassley, Graham, Shelby, Tillis, and one on the video I didn’t recognize – went on record yesterday as supporting Mr. Sessions.  Together with 48 Democrats, that’s but 5 short of overcoming any attempt to filibuster the bill.  It is hard for me to believe that those five votes couldn’t be gathered from Sens. McCain (if he’s around – VERY sad), Burr, “Never Trumpers” Flake and Sasse, Collins and Murkowski, “Little Marco” Rubio (what goes around comes around), and Paul.  Sen. McConnell himself is obviously no fan of the President, and wouldn’t want to be “on the wrong side of history.”  Although the House isn’t as easily weighed, it’s pretty hard for me to believe that there wouldn’t be a sufficient number of Republicans that “wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of history” to vote with Democrats for the Special Counsel law; supporters of the measure could all claim that they weren’t voting against the President – simply voting that “the truth should come out,” or some such.

Thus, the advice:  Mr. President, you aren’t going to be able to get rid of Mr. Mueller.  If there is something illegal in your past – either with Russia, or in your other business dealings – Mueller is going to find it.  So if there is, get out now.  Those adoring crowds won’t be able to save you.  Furthermore, if the conservative media – Fox, Breitbart, Limbaugh, etc. — turns on you (there has been little discussion about the fact that the result of your departure will be Mike Pence – whom the conservatives like better than you), it will feed your base in a way that will ultimately cause it to desert you.  Make up a pretext – health, whatever – resign, and go back to the life that you clearly liked considerably better than your current life.  The appetite to continue investigation of your activities if you’re out of office – particularly while Republicans control both chambers – will be zilch.  It very likely gets both you and Don, Jr. off the hook.  Although you’ll leave dangerous loose ends behind – Flynn, for example – you have a reasonable shot of getting clear of this.  Go back to New York, start your own network that appeals to your base, whatever.  If you stay, and if there’s something to find, you’re lost …

Opinions are easy; we’ll see what’s borne out.

Ann Coulter: Impeachment Law Resource

If you are researching impeachment issues, I recommend as one source conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors:  The Case Against Bill Clinton.  I bought the book assuming that Ms. Coulter had argued that the bar for impeachable behavior was pretty low.  I wanted to see whether she and the conservative commentators who lauded her scholarship when applied to President Clinton would try to distinguish her arguments if applied to President Trump.  Four impressions emerged.

First, Ms. Coulter asserted persuasively that the Founding Fathers considered grounds for impeachment in the American system to be primarily related to a moral standard, not necessarily linked or limited to legally criminal behavior, and that the standard was simply that the official “behave amiss.”  She also flatly declared:  “Lying is an impeachable offense.”  An argument can fairly be made that according to the standard Ms. Coulter outlined, a number of Mr. Trump’s undisputed actions in office would be grounds for impeachment.

Second, her exhaustive allegations of inappropriate behaviors of President and Ms. Clinton stirred lost memories.  Ms. Coulter’s accuracy has sometimes been assailed, but if but half of what she recounts is accurate, even those who don’t vigorously oppose the Clintons gain a better appreciation as to why their activities – and their apparent ability to get away with them — so infuriated conservatives.

Third, Ms. Coulter’s recitation of the methods used by the Clinton White House to defend itself seems a literal playbook of the approaches now being used by President Trump and his adherents:  aggressive attacks against officials whose careers had theretofore been above reproach; assailing investigators’ alleged motives as a manner to distract from the strength of the evidence they uncovered; decrying leaks; sudden reversals in accounts supported by a cohort of advocates; claims that The New York Times and The Washington Post were biased against the president, etc.

Finally, Ms. Coulter makes a number of declarations about Mr. Clinton that have ironic and disturbing resonance given the circumstances in which we find ourselves today:

  • “Instead of reflecting Americans’ virtues and aspirations, President Clinton reflects the country’s dark side.  He has debased the White House, the administration, and the entire country, not only by what he has done but also by how he has defended himself …. Clinton has done worse than lie:  he has told lies that no one can believe, and forced those around him to lie as well.  And then he and his cronies have denied not only the facts but even basic standards of decency …. Clinton’s legacy is that he has no shame, no sense of duty or obligation to the country, and no concern for his own reputation.”
  • “Clinton’s [behavior] has led directly to monstrous ‘factions’ of hypnotized zombies spouting the absurd…. [H]is own lack of integrity has infected the nation …. People who used to say controversial, but not preposterous, things are now having to twist themselves into pretzels to defend him.  The line of defense shifts away from protests that the president is innocent to charges that the accusers have bad motives.  (Even if their accusations happen to be true.)”
  • “Ruthless political gamesmanship has overtaken the law and finally overtaken the truth.  Politicians are allowed to reshape our understanding of facts and truth, because it’s all just political spin.”
  • “Clinton draws on every sick theme of our culture to win politically …. Under Clinton the country has grown accustomed to believing that there is no truth.”
  • One of the most terrible things [Italics in Original] Clinton has done to the country is to make it respectable to lie.”
  • “It may sound trite, but truth is all that separates us from the cave.  People cannot communicate if they cannot assume that most of what they hear is true.  Truth is prerequisite for a society to survive, for capitalism to flourish, and for a system of law to dispense justice, rather than raw power.”

The last quoted passage in particular contains good words, seemingly written from a real sense of outrage (even if the outrage blazed more brightly due to Ms. Coulter’s substantive policy differences with Mr. Clinton).  Although I suspect that most presidential historians would indicate that President Clinton was not the first president that may have twisted the truth and it seems pretty indisputable that he hasn’t been the last, what matters now is how and whether we as a people can escape our cycle of tribalism, distortion, and recrimination.  As our mothers taught us, two (or more) wrongs don’t make a right.  It’s time for us to stop.