The Portrait of President Trump Amongst Republican Presidents

Although I suspect that most of you are aware of this, in President Trump’s recent 60 Minutes interview, the camera apparently captured a portrait hanging in the White House painted by a Trump supporter that depicts President Trump sitting at a table in the company of past Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and … Abraham Lincoln.  All except Mr. Lincoln (who is shown with his back to the observer) are portrayed with broad smiles on their faces, as if sharing some congenial moment with Mr. Trump.  Although – now back from travels – I really do want to get to substantive topics, the irony of this (apparently lost on Mr. Trump, or he wouldn’t have had the picture hung) is more than I can let pass …

What would Mr. Roosevelt – who, despite his wealth and standing, chose to fight in his late 30’s in the Spanish-American War and led the charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill, as President legendarily suspicious of big business and its abuses, the “Trust [Monopoly] Buster,” the regulator of railroads, the rabid outdoorsman who loved the environment and established and expanded national parks during his term — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?  (Of all his table companions, if I was Mr. Trump, I’d fear TR, the only one likely to just … slug me.)

What would Mr. Eisenhower – a man who devoted his life to the military service of his country, was a de facto “general-diplomat” during WWII that respectfully, patiently, tactfully, and thoughtfully held British, French resistance, and American forces in alignment, served as the first Supreme NATO Commander, and as President confronted soviet aggression while nourishing the NATO Alliance — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would Mr. Nixon – a highly intelligent and deeply-schooled foreign policy mind who devoted his life to thwarting soviet aggression – who, despite his personal failings, was as responsible as any single individual for forging and maintaining the American Era between 1945 and 2016, who brought an end to 20+ years of the deepest acrimony between the U. S. and China by forging what has remained a positive relationship with China until the Trump Administration, and established the Environmental Protection Agency [yes, really 😉 ] – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would Mr. Ford – perhaps the most honorable man to live in the White House since President Lincoln, devoted to his wife for 58 years, personally beloved on both sides of the political aisle, who was a trial to his advisors because he was loath to say or think anything bad about anybody, a steadfast supporter of the NATO Alliance, who took the courageous but politically unpopular step of pardoning Mr. Nixon that he knew could cost him re-election because he believed it was the right thing to do – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would Mr. Reagan — who most aggressively of all Presidents confronted Soviet advances, who set the stage for the fall of the Soviet Union (which Vladimir Putin, who President Trump “likes,” has been reported to have called, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”), who amicably compromised at times with the Democrat Speaker of the House, and who described his “City on the Hill” as “… A tall proud city … teeming with people of all kinds … with free ports … open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here …” — have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would George H. W. Bush – a man of gentlemanly demeanor, devoted to his wife for 73 years, who, despite his wealth and family standing, enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, as the first American representative to China reinforced the relationship established by President Nixon, as President skillfully crafted a multi-nation alliance to conduct Desert Storm and had the political courage to raise taxes when he felt the nation’s finances required it, and watched Mr. Trump shamefully impugn his son, Jeb, confiding to a friend that he was voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

What would George W. Bush, perhaps overmatched by the presidency but by all accounts a well-read man who as President provided Medicare Drug Coverage for Seniors and, whether wise or unwise, sought to spread the American ideas of freedom, human rights, and democracy into the Middle East, a fiercely loyal Bush who watched and listened to Mr. Trump disrespectfully impugn his father, his brother, and himself – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?

Finally, what would Mr. Lincoln – “Honest Abe,” a reader and self-made man, who fought fiercely to preserve the American Union, declared that “A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand,” freed African slaves and, after a bitter civil war that makes our current travails seem of no account, declared that Americans should move forward “With malice toward none and charity for all” – have of a congenial nature to share with Mr. Trump?  (Perhaps the painter had the grace to place Mr. Lincoln’s back to the observer because he could only fairly have shown tears in Mr. Lincoln’s eyes.)

The portrait portrays other Republican presidents standing a bit back from the table:  Presidents Grant, Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding.  I am surprised that the artist didn’t place Messrs. Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding at the table with Mr. Trump, since each seemingly has more in common with him than any of the Republican presidents discussed above:  in 1930, Mr. Hoover signed the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, which implemented protectionist policies that raised U.S. tariffs on thousands of imported items and is claimed by some economic scholars to have exacerbated the Great Depression; Mr. Coolidge most famously proclaimed that “The chief business of the American people is business”; and Mr. Harding, of course, presided over the Teapot Dome Scandal, wrongdoing uncovered as a result of an extensive Congressional inquiry that ultimately resulted in Mr. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, doing jail time for taking bribes from oil interests …

Forbes’ Article: Roberts Requests Tenth Circuit to Investigate Kavanaugh Ethics Questions

While quite a bit has already been said in these pages about the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, a good friend has called a Forbes article to my attention that the friend felt some might find of interest.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2018/10/11/chief-justice-roberts-requests-tenth-circuit-to-investigate-kavanaugh-ethics-questions/#6b6feb161877

P.S. to Last Kavanaugh/Bond Post

After posting last night’s entry, I saw that in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, William Galston made a passing reference in his column to the possibility that Democrats might seek, as “FDR tried,” to expand the number of Supreme Court Justices to counteract the effect of conservative Justices.  While I am an admirer of Mr. Galston, I hadn’t seen his column when I entered the last post  🙂 .

Final Kavanaugh Thoughts … and Determining James Bond’s Political Prescience: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there  🙂.

8.  A number of pundits have intoned over the last weeks that Justice Kavanaugh will have a “major impact” on American jurisprudence for “the next 30 or 40 years.” I’m not so sure.  The nominee’s baldly partisan performance, as noted in Part I of this post, has cast the Supreme Court as merely another partisan institution of government.  Every American should hope that this impression – and any reality underpinning it – are quickly dispelled.  However, I offer a couple of unintended consequences that might result from the current tarnish upon the Court’s nonpartisan image:

The first, in the near term, is Chief Justice Roberts’ reaction. As many are aware, Supreme Courts of various periods are identified by the names of their Chief Justices:  the “Warren Court,” the “Rehnquist Court,” etc.  I would offer that the history of the Court shows that renowned Chiefs have sometimes been more focused on the reputation of their Courts than they were the outcome of any particular case.  If, as seems likely, the Chief Justice doesn’t want the legacy of his Court to be one of rank partisanship, I’m wondering whether he might not become a swing vote – i.e., that to regain an impartial image for the Court, he might support liberal positions on some matters (such as abortion cases) rather than follow what might be his natural inclination.  Conceding that this suggestion is pure speculation, I do offer one point in its support:  his providing the fifth vote (with the four liberals) to uphold the substance of the Affordable Care Act – on a rationale neither seemingly at the core of the parties’ legal arguments nor aligned with the reasoning espoused by the liberals.  One might suppose that the Chief Justice didn’t want his Court striking down the signature legislation of a duly-elected President and Congress, and crafted a legal argument to effect that result.

There is a second consequence that might arise in the longer term from any enduring popular impression that the Court is politicized: a liberal recasting of the structure of the Court.  The Constitution does not specify the number of Supreme Court Justices.  Congress sets the number.  The number of Supreme Court Justices set by Congress ranged from six to ten during the nation’s first 80 years; the current arrangement of nine Justices was set at nine pursuant to the 1869 Circuit Judges Act.

I suggest that demographics may not abide conservative rulings by the Supreme Court over the length of Judge Kavanaugh’s projected term.  Every day, our voting population has more now-young and now-minority people inclined to view cultural issues – be they gender, race, religion, or other — as Democrats do, and fewer people that view those issues as Republicans – and Justice Kavanaugh – do.  A study released in April by the admittedly-liberal Center for American Progress projects that by 2036, 40% or more of eligible voters in as many as 14 states – including Trump-won states Georgia, Texas, Arizona, Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana – will be non-white.  In a polarized society in which a growing majority of citizens could feel that their views and rights are being thwarted by what they perceive to be partisan conservative judges, it seems not only possible but perhaps predictable that a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress will simply pass a statute expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court, and thereafter nominate and confirm liberal judges to those posts so as to neutralize the votes of Justice Kavanaugh and any other surviving conservatives.

As virtually all of us recall from our early schooling, what I’m suggesting could occur was proposed by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930’s, due to his frustration with the Supreme Court’s early vitiation of New Deal laws.  The proposal ended with the most stinging political defeat of FDR’s presidency.  Even the President’s fervent supporters were outraged that he was attempting to tamper with another branch of government.  I would suggest that the reaction might be different within the next 20 years if a popular impression of the Supreme Court as a partisan institution takes hold.  Roosevelt’s proposal met with widespread castigation because in those days – whether correctly or not – the Supreme Court was viewed by the populace as above the fray, indeed, sacrosanct; unless the damage done to the Court’s image by Judge Kavanaugh’s performance is rectified, it doesn’t strike me as that long a reach to suppose that a majority of citizens might within the next score of years come to favor a law that they believe is needed to provide them justice.

9.  Finally, we come to James Bond, and his projection as to which party will be helped in the midterms by the outcome of the Kavanaugh battle. Over the last few days, commentators have pontificated at length as to which party will be more inspired by the result of the struggle – the Republicans by their victory, or the Democrats by their defeat.  While I might feel otherwise if the mid-terms were to be held this Tuesday, I submit that ardor is cooled by victory, and inflamed by defeat.  I believe that the fictional 007 would feel the same.  In Moonraker, after relating Bond’s victory at cards over Hugo Drax in the seemingly harmless early contest between the British Secret Agent and the villain that formed the opening vignette of every classic Bond novel, Ian Fleming wrote:

 

“Before [Bond] slept [that night] he reflected, as he had often reflected in other moments of triumph … that the gain to the winner is, in some odd way, always less than the loss to the loser…”

Final Kavanaugh Thoughts … and Determining James Bond’s Political Prescience: Part I

Given Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and as we turn to consideration of other issues facing us, a few thoughts linger:

  1. Judge Kavanaugh’s unseemly partisan performance during his second appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee ripped away any remaining façade of high-minded impartiality attributed to the Supreme Court by the general public.  Judge Kavanaugh’s legacy, perhaps more than any vote he will cast during his tenure, may be the stain he has cast upon the image of the Court.  More on the potential ramifications of this in Part II.

 

  1. A liberal talking head recently made a point with which I entirely agree:  faced with the choice of getting conservative judges seated on the Supreme Court, or maintaining Senate comity, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opted to force through judges of his stripe without regard to the damage it would do to the fabric of the Senate.  I would add:  Sen. McConnell may hold an august office, while I’m just a Midwest retiree, but somehow it is he who has forgotten that the accommodation of competing views is what has made our form of government work.  His Senate leadership has been a gross disservice to our nation.

 

  1. While some Senators apparently believed Judge Kavanaugh and others apparently believed Dr. Ford, it’s hard to accept that every Republican believed Judge Kavanaugh, or that virtually every Democrat believed Dr. Ford.  Any Senators of either party that voted party lines despite their own respective inclinations are unworthy of the offices they hold.

 

  1. A few Senators, in my view, deserve praise: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, and Lisa Murkowski for not supporting the Kavanaugh nomination, although it was probably in their respective best political interests to do so, and Sen. Jeff Flake, for insisting that an FBI investigation be undertaken before the confirmation vote (the right thing to do, which I submit that citizens of all political persuasions should applaud although the outcome ultimately redounded to Judge Kavanaugh’s benefit).

 

  1. A few Senators, in my view, deserve severe criticism: in addition to Sen. McConnell, Sen. Joe Manchin was clearly a Profile in Cowardice – not declaring how he would vote until he saw how the political clouds were parting … and, obviously, Sen. Lindsey Graham.  Sen. Graham’s tawdry rant at the Judiciary Committee’s Ford – Kavanaugh hearing makes clear that he should immediately demand that Sen. John McCain’s remains be exhumed; it’s clear that Sen. Graham’s sense of decency and backbone were accidentally buried with his late friend.

 

  1. Although I had thought that President Trump no longer had the ability to disappoint me, I was — of course — wrong.  Earlier this week, he indicated that the campaign against Judge Kavanaugh “was based on lies and deception,” that Judge Kavanaugh faced … “[f]alse charges, false accusations, horrible statements that were totally untrue,” and that the opposition to Judge Kavanaugh “… was a disgraceful situation, brought about by people that are evil …” [My emphasis].  The President of the United States has essentially called Dr. Ford evil, and a liar.  Anyone that saw her demeanor during the hearing should recognize the President’s comments as loathsome cheap shots.

 

  1. Perspectives color perception. “Outraged activists” to one citizen constitute an “angry mob” to another.  I remain stunned by each group’s inability to see its own excesses.

 

Part II this week; and we will put 007’s skills as a political prognosticator to the test  😉

Let’s Hold Off in Counting our Chickens …

As we approach today’s Game 3 of the Milwaukee – Colorado NLDS, I admit that I was a bit disconcerted by the way the talking heads covering the Brewers’ second victory over the Rockies so cavalierly dismissed Colorado’s chances of coming back to win the series.  Those of us with longer memories will recall that even in the Brewers’ most renowned season to date, 1982, they fell behind the California Angels 2-0 in the ALCS … and sent California home by winning three in a row.  For those with more recent memories, our son reminded me yesterday that in the 2011 NLDS, the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks in the first two games in Milwaukee, then lost the next two games in Arizona, and only went to the next round by beating the D’Backs in Milwaukee in Game 5.

I would suggest that while Brewer fans might understandably feel optimistic, no chickens should be counted until the third victory has … hatched  😉 …

Kavanaugh Nomination: Current Impressions

As the maelstrom around the Kavanaugh nomination may perhaps be starting to draw to a close, a few impressions at the intersection of politics and policy:

  1. As indicated earlier, I submit that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination should be denied because no one has brought forth a tenable reason why Dr. Ford would make up a claim — of which she has testified she is “100%” certain – when she knew that she would provoke the whirlwind which will now forever mark her life and impact the lives of her family. As far as I can tell, even Republican Senators don’t – as I understand Sen. Orrin Hatch said – find her “uncredible.”  I ask my conservative women friends:  If the roles were reversed, and you knew in high school a now-liberal male judge nominated to the Supreme Court by a Democratic President, would you make up an alleged assault, purely to prevent your former classmate from being elevated to the Supreme Court?  And:  how likely is it that even after 30 years, you would be mistaken about the identity of your assailant?

 

  1. To parrot a point admittedly made by numerous talking heads: While, subject to the outcome of the FBI investigation, a “He Said, She Said” situation appears to exist, this is not a criminal investigation; it’s a job interview.  The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that would be appropriately required to convict Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault isn’t required to withhold consent to his ascension to the Supreme Court; what’s required are sufficient grounds to conclude that we as a people should look elsewhere for our next Supreme Court Justice.  That standard has – in my view – been easily met.

 

  1. I have been and continue to be disappointed at the majority of Republicans’ response to this controversy. Too many seemed obsessed by the timing of the presentation of the allegations.  I consider the timing of the presentation of the allegations irrelevant – a red herring to stir up the conservative partisan base.  I would have expected that the reaction of any Senator of either party to these allegations would have been:  Is Dr. Ford telling the truth, or not?  The truth, as well as it can be determined, is what matters – whether the allegations were brought forth months ago or minutes before the final confirmation vote.  Sen. McConnell is already saying that the Senate will vote “this week.”  Clearly, what he cares about is winning this fight, not truth or right – a shameful dereliction of duty on par with his failure to allow the Senate to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.  Virtually no commentators think Democrats will take control of the Senate in January, so presumably, if there is sufficient evidence of questionable behavior on Judge Kavanaugh’s part to dissuade a couple of Republican Senators from consenting to the Judge’s nomination, there are plenty of other conservative judges President Trump can nominate that will receive Senate confirmation in either this or the next Congress.  Sen. McConnell nonetheless clearly believes that he can’t take the chance – which says to me (if we needed further evidence, which I didn’t) that he prioritizes partisanship over truth and fair process.

 

  1. I found Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony on September 27 disqualifying in two additional respects not evident in the earlier proceedings. First, conceding (as just about everybody that reads these pages is well aware) that the poster of these notes can be subject to his own Irish eruptions, and that those of us with vitriolic natures sometimes need a bit of tolerant understanding when we erupt, Judge Kavanaugh’s opening statement, in which he stated that the concerns regarding Dr. Ford’s allegations involved:  “… a calculated and orchestrated political hit,” “apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election;” “Revenge on behalf of the Clintons”; and “millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups,” was … unseemly and unsettling.    This display of rank partisanship, no matter the provocation, is unfitting for a Supreme Court nominee and sullies the standing of the Court.  His elevation will cause doubt throughout his tenure whether any litigant with a position contrary to his natural inclination will get a fair hearing.  Second, and as important to me:  although Judge Kavanaugh apologized thereafter, his response to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s respectful question (given the circumstances) whether he had ever drunk so much that he didn’t remember what he had done the next morning was purely … bullying.  He bullied her.

 

  1. Nevertheless, unless Mark Judge, the only person Dr. Ford places in the room with her and Judge Kavanaugh at the time of the alleged assault, substantially confirms Dr. Ford’s account, I’d consider it highly likely that Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed.  Mr. Judge’s concern if he untruthfully supports Judge Kavanaugh’s account:  if Democrats assume a majority in the House of Representatives next January, they are very likely to commission a more thorough investigation of Dr. Ford’s allegations, which will certainly include checking with anyone that Mr. Judge might have talked to about the Kavanaugh-Ford incident.  Any material discrepancy uncovered between Mr. Judge’s informal exchanges and his account to the FBI could well ultimately have serious repercussions for Mr. Judge … and then-Justice Kavanaugh.

 

  1. I find it ironic that Republican Sen. Jeff Flake – sufficiently a pariah in some circles within his own state’s Republican party that he chose not to seek reelection – has, despite Sen. McConnell’s myopic preoccupation with Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation, perhaps saved a number of Republican seats in the upcoming midterms by forcing the FBI investigation of the sexual allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. We have been on the road, but even out in the great southwest, we sensed the paroxysm that would have resulted had the Republicans slammed through Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation without investigation of or regard to, and perhaps in disregard of, Dr. Ford’s claims.  Although the partisan skirmishing is continuing, some of the partisan steam seems to have been let out of the pot.  Unless the FBI comes up with credible evidence to support Dr. Ford’s claim, not only will Judge Kavanaugh be confirmed, but Republican candidates in close races may escape the wrath that I submit might have been visited on them for a Republican process deemed partisan and incomplete by a substantial number of Americans.

 

If I were President Trump and Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, I’d immediately nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative favorite.  Unless there is anything disqualifying in Judge Barrett’s background that has so far been unreported, a rejection of Judge Kavanaugh will sufficiently vent liberals’ furor while stoking conservatives’ anger that Judge Barrett’s nomination will sail through.