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Posts published in April 2019

Celebrating Law Day


The first day of May is Law Day, which was first designated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 to celebrate our remarkable legal system. The rule of law is the bedrock of our society. The law protects us, our freedoms and our property against arbitrary government action.

The United States grew into an economic powerhouse because foreign governments and businesses recognized and trusted our dedication to following our laws, including our treaty obligations. The honest system of laws set up by the Founding Fathers has made our country the moral beacon of the planet.

One of the most admired features of our legal landscape is that even the most powerful individuals are subject to the law. As President John Adams so aptly stated, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” Or, as President Teddy Roosevelt put it, “No man is above the law, and no man is below it.”

Unfortunately, many of the actions of our current President have tarnished America’s reputation for lawfulness, both at home and abroad. He seems to feel unconstrained by laws that the rest of us must follow.

The most glaring examples are the efforts of the President to obstruct the Mueller investigation, including his order that White House counsel Don McGahn fire Special Counsel Mueller, then that McGahn commit the felony offense of lying to Mueller about it, then trying to cover up the whole thing. But for a questionable DOJ opinion that a sitting President cannot be held accountable for criminal misconduct, Trump would likely be facing criminal charges. This is all a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s mandate that the President “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

But, this is just part of a pattern of ignoring the laws of our great country. During his first two years in office, the President has lost over 90% of the court challenges to his administration’s policies--everything from Medicaid expansion, to teen pregnancy prevention, to amnesty policy, to rollback of environmental regulations. Of 63 court losses in that period, two-thirds were for failure to comply with the 73-year-old Administrative Procedures Act, which bars arbitrary government action.

The President has repeatedly violated our treaty obligations by making false claims that tariffs against the products of close allies, such as Canada, are justified by national security concerns. It is somewhat doubtful that Canada will launch an attack against the U.S. in the near future, unless we keep treating it and our other valued allies as enemies.

The President has sicced government agencies on persons and companies that he regards as enemies. He tried to override postal regulations by demanding that the U.S. Postal Service increase rates for Amazon, because he perceived that the Washington Post, owned by the founder of Amazon, was being unfair to him. That smacks of authoritarian action.

Trump wanted the Justice Department to block AT&T’s merger with Times Warner because he was torqued off at CNN, an AT&T asset. The administration lost the suit. This certainly appears to have been an abuse of government power.

Law Day is a time to reflect upon the economic strength and moral authority this great country has derived from its reliance on the rule of law. We have been that “shining city upon a hill” President Ronald Reagan often spoke about because of our exceptional legal system. Instead of abusing that system and disparaging its judges, we should respect and celebrate it. That job starts at the very top position in our government. If we recognize the great benefits the rule of law has bestowed upon us as a people, it will remain the protector of our society and the envy of the world.

Number 2 important too


Show biz folks refer to it as a “cattle call” when open auditions are announced for a new movie or play and hopefuls come running.

Seems fitting to use the same terminology since everyone but your Aunt Susie has jumped into the 2020 race for the Democrat presidential nomination. Most Democrats are O.K. with the large field of names, hoping the “best” person wins. Well, you can always hope.

But, my question is this: Who’s running for vice president? Who wants that second spot on the ticket? Who’s looking at 2024 or 2028? And, you know some of them are.

No one I know can name all the candidates to date. There are several I’ve never heard of and we probably won’t see their names much longer. The winnowing process - lack of money and support - will take care of them sooner rather than later.

The field is hard to handicap. Most don’t have enough national political experience to be called “qualified” candidates. Biden, Warren and Sanders do. Maybe Klobuchar. But, a larger number are either governors, former governors, a mayor or two, some in their first terms in Congress and a couple of folks who like the idea of just running. Experience or no.

Barack Obama was a rarity as he jumped from the Illinois legislature to the U.S. Senate to the presidency in a series of quick moves. But, none of the congressional one-termers, so far, seems to have that possibility. They’re not able to “light the fire” Obama did.

There are some very able people in the field. Washington Governor Inslee is one. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Klobuchar have some good state and federal experience. All capable but short on foreign affairs and military issues. Important for a president.

Pete Buttgieg is a candidate with a name most folks can’t remember and even fewer can spell. Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. No prior national experience of any kind. Not someone who’d normally be considered a serious challenger. But - after listening to him and checking out some of his history - he’s getting a better welcome from some Democrats than you’d expect. Bright. Multi-lingual. Veteran. And seems to be catching on with younger voters. A “comer.”

When it comes to experience and background you’d look for in a presidential candidate, Biden tops them all. But, four things work against him. Age. An uncanny knack of verbally stepping on his own feet from time to time. The baggage all that 40 years of experience brings as he’s grown and evolved - as we all do - have put him on both sides of several major issues. And he was found guilty of some plagiarizing many years ago. All that is fodder for any opponent in a presidential race. When that opponent is certain to be Donald J. Trump, Biden could find himself on the defensive 24-7.

Two other names are worth considering for VP - Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke.

There’s a lot of talk these days that younger folks are looking for the new - the interesting - the next “big thing” in politics. You even hear it said that “older, more experienced” candidates should “move over” and make room for the “new faces.” Interesting talk but the plain fact is our national problems require some “gray hair” in the front office.

It’s obvious Castro and O’Rourke have captured a lot of attention with intelligence, grasp of issues, ability to “light up” a crowd and a kind of dynamism not often seen in our national politics. Both would seem to have bright futures. Either one would make a good vice president. And, maybe that’s just what they’re positioning themselves for.

Neither has the “seasoning” or broad experience critical for the next President. There’ll be a lot of wreckage to clear away and many fences to mend. But, four years of on-the-job training would make either a formidable candidate for the top job in 2024.

Or, possibly, either or both would make good cabinet appointees in a Democrat administration. Get on “the inside” and learn the finer points of making a success of some of the tougher jobs. Become part of the decision-making process at the highest levels. Get that good, broad, international exposure they both lack.

When you’ve got 10 or so serious candidates to consider, there are many variables and outcomes on the table. Democrats are just a couple of votes shy of taking over the Senate. If they can do that, if they can hang on to the House and IF they can win the White House, they’ll face some very tough times trying to straighten out the mess left by Trump, his terrible decision-making and his “rogues gallery” of a cabinet.

Democrats need a combination of experience and youth. It’s not just the top job on the line here. The subject of succession needs to be at the center of the 2020 choice.

So, a very important question to answer is - who’s running for vice president?

A surprising politician


Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson is one of the few politicians these days that can genuinely surprise with his words and actions. He surprised me twice in the last week.

The original version of this column was a lengthy critique of Simpson for his surprisingly tepid parroting of White House talking points related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Almost immediately after Mueller’s 448-page report was issued late last week, and certainly before Simpson had time to digest its content, the Congressman from Idaho’s Second District, dismissed it entirely by invoking the “liberal media and Democrat (sic) leadership” that “have spoon fed the American people a false narrative about Trump/Russia collusion.”

Never mind, as journalist Susan B. Glasser noted, that Mueller has in fact produced “surely one of the most damning insider accounts ever written about a Presidency in modern times,” documenting a “breathtaking culture of lying and impunity, distrust and double-dealing.” If you have avoided reading Mueller’s work you are avoiding your responsibility as a citizen. The Republican special counsel, appointed by a Republican, has produced a document for the ages about the shocking conduct of a Republican president. In his heart of hearts Mike Simpson surely knows this amounts to a very serious matter.

Having known Simpson since his days as Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, I’ve come to expect more of him. He’s not – at least not often – a blind partisan, and unlike his Idaho congressional colleagues he is solution oriented, a real legislator. So Simpson disappoints with his dismissal of Trumpian misconduct, but then he almost immediately surprises – really, truly, amazingly surprises – by delivering what is surely the most important speech by an Idaho politician in at least 15 years.

Simpson was a featured speaker earlier this week at a conference on salmon and energy organized by the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University and he displayed all the political leadership and courage that his admirers have come to expect.

“All of Idaho’s salmon runs are either threatened or endangered,” Simpson told a room full of energy producers and users, including the Bonneville Power Administrator, farmers, fish proponents and assorted other advocates. “Look at the number of returning salmon and the trend line is not going up. It is going down.”

It is not enough, Simpson said, to keep salmon from extinction. “We should manage them to bring back a healthy, sustainable population in Idaho.” Simpson said, “I am going to stay alive long enough to see salmon return to healthy populations in Idaho.”

Admitting that it won’t be easy or without discomfort, even pain, Simpson essentially threw down a gauntlet to the standpat policy makers who have slow rolled salmon recovery for twenty years, technically operating the Columbia and Snake River system in clear violation of federal law. Simpson did not call for breeching the lower Snake River dams, the chief culprit to allowing juvenile wild salmon to migrate downriver and eventually return to spawn in Idaho, but critically he also did not rule out removal.

The room was silent as Simpson described the region’s dilemma – and the moral imperative – to preserve its most iconic species.

And the silence was more reverential than shocked. More than 400 regional policy makers and advocates were seeing and hearing something that has become so rare these days as to cause a slack jawed response – they were seeing political guts and real leadership.

It was clear that Simpson and his staff – particularly chief of staff Lindsay Slater, who was pivotal to his boss’s historic legislation creating wilderness protection for the White Clouds and Boulder mountains in central Idaho – has thought long and hard about what it will take to break the regional stalemate over salmon. He’s ready to lead a legislative effort to create a new Northwest Power Act that comprehensively deals with BPA’s fragile financial status, the economic impacts for a host of stakeholders, fixes river operations and restores sustainable levels of fish in Idaho.

Simpson also understands that the Pacific Northwest can once and finally legislative fix these seemingly intractable problems with wisdom that originates in the region or, as he put it, “Someone else will write it and impose it upon us.”

Perhaps the best signal that Simpson has embraced the role of salmon advocate was his moving personal testament to the incredible story of the fish. The congressman, who has come to speak passionately of the wonders of Idaho’s unspoiled places, related a story about his own visit to March Creek, the magically tributary to the Middle Fork of the Salmon, where he watched an adult salmon complete the seemingly impossible voyage from ocean to Idaho backcountry.

“She swam 900 miles to get back to Marsh Creek,” Simpson said. “All to lay her eggs for the next generation of salmon. It was the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. These are the most incredible creatures, I think, that God has created. It is a cycle God created.”

A conservative Republican speaking this way is, well, both surprising and remarkably encouraging. Simpson has undoubtedly shocked some who are invested in the status quo. Many of his natural allies may well read his moving account of why we must finally, seriously, passionately engage with real solutions and shudder at the complexities of dealing comprehensively and successfully with energy, fish, agriculture and transportation. But if they discount Simpson’s determination they will misread badly the congressman’s commitment.

Politicians don’t often make speeches like Mike Simpson made this week and, while he surprised me – disappointed me – on Mueller I’m more than happy to salute his courage and commitment to salmon. He’s going to tackle these issues. Take that to the bank. Every one of us who cares about fish, the region’s future, our energy resources and the world we’ll leave to our kids and grandkids should follow his leadership.

Testing under the influence


And the tests of Idaho’s elected officials go on. The next one might involve medical marijuana.

A measure proposed for Idaho ballot status in 2020, already in the early stages of its process, would set up a regulated but legal regime for medical marijuana and industrial hemp in the state. Many of the people who sought to restrict (or nearly eliminate) initiative ballot access seemingly - to judge from what a number of people around the Idaho Legislature said during the session - made that effort partly out of concern that voter approval of medical marijuana might be the next thing voters could adopt after getting no traction at the legislature.

After a session in which legislators were beaten up week after week for loudly telling voters what they couldn’t do and the choices they couldn’t make … they might be stuck with more of the same after the 2020 election. Maybe.

For now at least, the cannabis ballot issue is going forward. Answers to at least one and maybe both of the key immediate questions may be apparent by the time the legislature next meets:

Can the marijuana advocates climb the massive hurdles that the Medicaid expansion forces did, and manage to get their proposal on the ballot?

And, if they do, would the voters of Idaho pass it?

The answers to each question are highly uncertain in the spring of this year. But for now, positive answers to both questions do seem plausible.

Although the ballot restrictions the legislature proposed this year failed (remember, they may be back in the 2020 session), the difficulties already on the books for getting a citizen initiative on the ballot are large. A big, well-organized and reasonably well-funded grass roots effort would be needed to accomplish it. The Medicaid expansion forces had that, and by pushing exceptionally hard managed to reach their goal.

Whether the Idaho Cannabis Coalition and its allies will be able to put together as strong an effort is far from clear; a marijuana ballot issue failed to reach the ballot in 2018. But the Medicaid forces did set out a template: They showed issue advocates exactly what was needed and how such a campaign could succeed. With enough resources and energy, the ICC and others might be able to follow in its tracks.

If they do, could the measure pass? Idaho voters cannot be mistaken for those in Washington or Oregon or California, or most other legalization states, no doubt. But voters in places like Utah and other deep red states have approved medical marijuana. And there is this: The tough bar for getting on the ballot could help the advocates win an election, because of the immense amount of organizing and persuasion they would need to do to get in front of the voters at all. By the time voters saw the measure on the ballot, a lot more of them might be persuaded than would be the case if ballot access were a slam dunk.

Of course, we don’t yet know how capable the cannabis organizers will turn out to be (we can’t assess that until we see them in action), and we don’t know how persuadable Idaho voters may be.

But if it does pass, two more questions will quickly emerge.

One is whether the Idaho Legislature once again wants to put itself through a repudiation of the voters of the sort it did this year. (A good bet would be yes.)

The second test would go to Governor Brad Little, who last year said he would respect the will of the voters when they acted on Medicaid expansion. Last week, at his first Capital for a Day event, Little declared clearly his opposition to marijuana legalization. So, if the voters were to pass the planned initiative in 2020, what would Little do? Would he respect the will of the voters even when he happens to disagree with it?

Fighting false memes


When a junior high classmate was a fool, we usually ignored him. When he said foolish things, we usually dismissed his statements. But when he spread falsehoods, we knew it was the right thing to do to call a lie a lie.

There has been a repeated meme coming from Idaho legislative Republicans that “the voters didn’t know what they were voting for” when they approved Prop 2 Medicaid Expansion, last November. I can’t speak for every voter’s knowledge, but I collected a lot of petition signatures. When I spoke to registered voters, asking for their signatures on the petitions to qualify for the ballot, in the cold, in the snow, in the sun and in the wind; when I asked them in Clearwater, in Idaho in Nez Perce, Kootenai and Latah Counties, I found most were already informed about the issue and had decided already whether to sign the petition or not. Many came across the parking lot to sign. Some shook their heads and waved me off, already opposed.

I worked with Reclaim Idaho to both draft the initiative and inform their volunteers. When talking with voters, you better be informed and accurate because you don’t want just their signature, you need their trust. False claims destroy trust; or they should. Further, the fastest way to burn out trusted, informed volunteers is asking them to misrepresent something. Trust is built from the ground up.
As to whether the volunteers were informed or just biased advocates, I would stand any Reclaim volunteer up against any Idaho Republican legislator on a Jeopardy about Idaho Medicaid Expansion Facts:
“Alex, I’ll take Eligibility for 200.”

So, the idea that Reclaim Idaho hornswoggled Idaho voters with falsehoods or misrepresentations is a lie. Legislators might be thinking of the other initiative on the ballot that used mostly paid signature gatherers and the voters clearly saw through. Or they might be confused.

Another false meme being spread by butt-hurt legislative Republicans is that “the costs are unknown”. Sorry, the costs are in the federal law: Idaho will pay 10% of the total costs. Of course, If Idaho would have enrolled in 2016, the costs would have been 0%, ramping up to the full 10% in 2020. So, by delaying this expansion, fiscally conservative Idaho Republican legislators have made Idaho buy in at the highest price. Doing this six years ago would have saved Idaho taxpayers hundreds of millions. It is true, we don’t know what the full enrollment numbers will be. We have good estimates. But the cost will be 10% state, 90% Federal.

Next, the Republican legislators have their shorts in a twist about how the initiative did not designate where the funds would come from. Of course not; that’s the legislature’s job to figure out the budget.

May I point out that the “Sideboards” bill the can’t-sit-down Republican legislators passed did not designate where its funding would come from either? Further, the “fiscal note” on the “Sideboards” bill was a joke, a sham, an insult to any serious budget planner, and the state employs a few good ones. But the butt-stung Republicans sure voted for that one, didn’t they?

When we confronted the junior high fool with his lies, the untruths might have continued to spread. We humans are so susceptible to the contagion of untruth. But the confrontation was not just to stop the spread, but to change future behavior. Maybe the fool would learn to be more careful with the truth in the future.



The Mueller report took a little while to read, at 448 pages of fairly dense type. (I did skip many of the footnotes.) But it sped along in many places for this reason: So much of what it had to say, the people involved and the things they were doing, is by now familiar.

One of the appendices includes a list of the people involved, a rather long list. Some of the names tend toward the obscure, but a great many, from members of the Trump family to campaign personnel to shadowy Russian operatives, have become household names over the last nearly three years.

They've gotten that way through news stories - in newspapers, wire services and magazines - and through books and other media. In fact, if you've read the books about the Trump White House from writers from Bob Woodward to Michael Wolff to Cliff Sims, you've seen this story. (The fullest still might be Seth Abramson's Proof of Collusion, which covered much of the same territory as the Mueller Report but also reaches further back in time.)

It's not that there's nothing new here. There are new pieces, and even some striking quotes from Donald Trump, and a good deal of additional context has been added. Even if you've read many of the earlier reports, there's reason to add this one to your reading list. (And it reads in a clear enough manner that non-lawyers can absorb it readily enough.)

But the really striking thing about the Mueller Report is this: It confirms so much of what we already knew.

If you thought, or wondered, if much of what we've been told about the White House, Russia, cover-ups and related matters was true, then the Mueller Report as much as anything else serves as confirmation of it. Seldom has so much investigative work by news reporters been so firmly nailed down - by documents, sworn testimony and much more - than it has in this case. Mueller did not set out simply to provide confirmation of news reporting, but he wound up doing it.

Others have remarked about how no additional new charges came out of the final report, and the president was neither charged nor exonerated. And the point has been made, as Mueller took great care to do, that he felt constrained (by Justice Department rules and procedures, legal definitions and interpretations and other considerations) when deciding not to turn the final report into a prosecutor's charging document.

So then what was it for? It was written, and in the end released (the redactions raise serious questions but do not seem critical to the overall effort), with the same idea as the news reports were: To shine a light, to encourage action where it should be taken.

The location for that action, presumably and for now, is Congress.

Secondarily, next year, it may be as well in a more scattered location: The ballot box. And that might come be considered the final confirmation.

Sense on immigration


Congressman Mike Simpson has once again distinguished himself as the member of Idaho’s Congressional delegation who can think for himself. Simpson reportedly told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday (April 16) that undocumented immigrants in the U.S. should be given permanent Green Card status.

That would allow them to live and work in the country without fear of being uprooted and deported, so long as they do not commit a deportable offense. Simpson observed what should be fairly obvious - that deporting the undocumented population “would be devastating for our economy.” Recent estimates put that population at around 11 million people.

Green Card status would allow undocumented workers to continue working without having to worry about being rounded up and tossed out of the country. A large number of these folks perform necessary work that American citizens simply won’t do.

Idaho’s multi-billion-dollar dairy industry would not be able to sustain itself without immigrant labor. About 7,000 of the 8,300 workers on Idaho dairies are immigrants and around 5,000 of them are undocumented. Thousands of other agricultural-related jobs in our state are being performed by immigrants who don’t have valid papers.

Idaho’s economy is growing faster than other states and construction is booming. Many of those construction jobs are held by workers without proper documentation. They are helping to build our economy, which would suffer if they were to be sent home.

The unemployment rate across the country is well below the historic average. The February jobless rate in Idaho was 2.9%, while the national rate in March was 3.8%. Those who want to rid the country of undocumented workers have not indicated who would fill the jobs left vacant if millions of them were deported. Kicking these folks out of the country would amount to economic suicide.

Simpson correctly concludes that comprehensive immigration reform is the answer to the problem because we can’t or won’t get rid of this immigrant population. Giving permanent status to those who are helping to build and sustain our economy just makes common sense.

Many of these folks are paying taxes and contributing to Social Security and Medicare. However, some are being paid off of the books, either because they fear they will be discovered or because their employers want to avoid the taxes or pay less than minimum wage. Simpson’s proposal would bring these workers out of the shadows for their protection and for the benefit of the tax system.

While Simpson has not proposed that the undocumented population be provided a path to citizenship, I think that is the ultimate solution. There is no reason why people qualified for the DACA program - people who were brought to the U.S. as minors--should not be given citizenship. There are about 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” in the country, over 3,000 of whom live in Idaho. Many of them did not even realize they were not citizens until years later.

There should also be a path to citizenship for others in our undocumented population. Some say that we should only grant citizenship to people who have advanced skills, like engineers and physicists. We should certainly welcome those folks as immigrants, but I doubt that many of them would fill the back-breaking jobs that citizens won’t touch in packing plants, dairies, orchards, and the like.

Thanks for bringing some common sense to the immigration debate, Mike. I hope you can make some headway in your efforts to get both sides of the aisle engaged in the effort to comprehensively reform the immigration system.

One dangerous section


So, we have the Mueller report. Rather, we have most of the Muller report. Some days ahead, we will have it all. No redactions. No phony accompanying “gas lighting” from an attorney general who’s failed his constitutional responsibilities and become a political whore for a failed - and likely doomed - president.

Strong words? Yes. Strong feelings? Yes.

But, there is a particular portion that scares the hell out of me. Just one section but its implications go far, far beyond the report.

Trump - who doesn’t know the legal difference between obstruction and collusion - has claimed “vindication” because he was “cleared” of obstruction. No, he wasn’t. The largest contributing proofs of that are the reasons I’m frightened.

The following is taken directly from the Muller report, courtesy of CNN:


"The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."

"(James) Comey did not end the investigation of (Michael) Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn's prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. (Don) McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the special counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President's order.

(Corey) Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President 's message to (Jeff) Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President's direction to have the special counsel removed, despite the President's multiple demands that he do so. Consistent with that pattern, the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction charges against the President's aides and associates beyond those already filed," the report said.

Permit me to translate all that. Trump TRIED to obstruct justice but his staff refused to follow his direct orders. Simple as that. Scary as that.

Take Trump out of the equation for a moment. Think only of the Office of the President of the United States.

I’m reminded of a line from the Spielberg movie “Lincoln” when an angry Abe pounded the table and railed “The is the office of the President - clothed in immense power!”

That’s an absolute fact. And it can be personally overwhelming when you stand silently in an empty Oval Office, listening to your own heart beat. The very real sense of authority - read “power” - is as authentic as the furniture.

That authority comes directly from the Constitution and is both specific and overarching. Whoever sits behind that desk is “clothed in immense power” and decisions and orders emanating from that spot are expected to be followed. Most often, previous occupants have made decisions or issued orders only after consultations with staff and discussions with experts in their fields to assure all relevant facts have been examined to assure accuracy.

Now, put Trump back in the picture. Like him or hate him, he’s also “clothed” in that power - that authority. His decisions - his orders - are issued with the same constitutional backing as his predecessors. Even if they don’t have the same group thinking.

BUT - many of his staff and advisors - those who know him best - have been given their orders from Trump and, without telling him, have refused to carry out ones they disagreed with. They’ve disobeyed and secreted their decision to do so,

I’ve written before about instances of such real resistance to Trump in activities of the military. Clear cases of finding ways to not do as ordered - no military parade, unarmed rather than armed soldiers at our southern border, Pentagon refusing to allow immigrants arrest powers, etc.. Again, a constitutionally authorized portion of our national government finding ways to block presidential authority.

Now, we know such resistance is occurring in the White House.

Given world conditions today - given Trump’s legal authority to unwisely conduct negotiations of a nuclear treaty with North Korea - given the failure of Congress to perform its duties as a co-equal branch of government - given Trump’s mercurial nature in his conduct of our national affairs - given even our military leaders thwarting some of his orders - given his serial lying - we should be afraid.

And, now, Robert Muller’s report contains specific examples of staff closest to Trump deciding, on their own, which orders they’ll obey, putting verbal gasoline on an already smouldering situation.

The pervasive thought, that people we’ve never heard of, elected to no leadership roles, people surrounding the President of the United States, individuals at the highest levels of our nation are often secretly ignoring legally-issued orders based on their own thinking - all that is quietly terrifying to me.

If that doesn’t kick-start a sleeping congress - especially Republicans - to perform their co-equal branch responsibilities, we’re in greater trouble than we know.

Too smart to be president . . .


I have always thought that Bill Bradley, the one-time United States senator from New Jersey, could have been a great president. Basketball fans of a certain age will remember Bradley as a standout star at Princeton, a place known more for quantum physics than baseline jump shots. Bradley, an All-American, postponed his professional career in order to attend Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, then played 10 seasons in the NBA — the Knicks retired his number — and was then elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

In his famous 1965 New Yorker article on Bradley titled “A Sense of Where You Are,” the writer John McPhee quoted Bradley’s high school principal as saying, “With the help of his friends, Bill could very well be president of the United States. And without the help of his friends he might make it anyway.”
“Dollar Bill” Bradley, too smart to be president

My wife also liked the idea of Bradley as president, but was more realistic. “He’s too smart to be president,” she said, and she was right.

I’ve been thinking about the three-term senator recently, while reflecting on the intense interest in the young, smart and amazingly well-spoken mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg. The 37-year old Navy veteran of Afghanistan is the openly gay mayor of an old rust belt town and improbably he has vaulted from nowhere to the top tier of Democratic presidential aspirants. His cable news appearances have left the most jaded political observers impressed. Buttigieg easily offers insights from what is clearly a close study of history. One of his favorite books is the Graham Greene classic, “The Quiet American,” a novel that explores the perils of political hubris.

Buttigieg speaks several languages, including Maltese, and reportedly taught himself to read Norwegian so he could read a favorite author in that language. By contrast, I can think of one candidate for president who couldn’t spell lutefisk, let alone describe it.

But, like Bill Bradley, I suspect Mayor Pete may be too smart to be president. The current occupant of the White House has so devalued competence and intellect that it may be difficult for many voters to conceive of a real brain in control of the nuclear codes. As for drawing on history to inform current policy, well, what a quaint notion that is. Harry Truman used to check out stacks of books from the Library of Congress. The current occupant gets all he needs to know from Fox News and his Twitter feed.

The president of the United States who actually suggested that aerial tankers be used to fight the tragic fire at Notre Dame in Paris is an artifact of a country where education, particularly education about history, has been so diminished that Donald Trump could actually say a while back that Abraham Lincoln was a “great president. Most people don’t even know that he’s a Republican, right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don’t know that.”

For more than a generation, conservatives, while systematically diminishing public education and bemoaning “elitism” in higher education, have led an assault on expertise and embraced a corrupted notion of history. Charlatans of pseudo history, such as Bill O’Reilly and Dinesh D’Souza — one fired for harassing behavior of co-workers, the other jailed for making illegal campaign contributions — have created a lucrative right-wing “history” industry that may be impressive propaganda, but couldn’t withstand the vetting a typical seventh-grade research paper endures.
The President of the United States at Mount Vernon…giving “branding” advice

During a recent visit to Mount Vernon, the home of the first American president, Trump suggested that George Washington had erred by not doing a better branding job with the estate along the Potomac. Should we remind him that the nation’s capital is named for, oh well, never mind.

One White House aide, accentuating the obvious, pointed out that Trump’s lack of historical knowledge, not to mention basic interest in history, isn’t a big problem because most of his supporters simply don’t care. “If anything,” one handler pointed out, “they enjoy the fact that the liberal snobs are upset” that Trump doesn’t know history.

We’ve all seen the research showing how historical literacy has been diminished. Lots of young people can’t place the American Civil War in the right time period. Many don’t know that we fought with the Russians in World War II and faced them down in the Cold War. Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement and Watergate seem as relevant to many as stories of the ancient Greeks.

And you might well ask why you should care if a national leader doesn’t have a working knowledge of Lincoln or can’t grasp the significant of the NATO alliance?

Award-winning Princeton historian Kevin Kruse provides an answer.

“History offers lessons,” he says, “in what was tried before and what was not, and what worked before and what did not.” Moreover, Kruse says, “The study of history imparts critical skills in assessing evidence, weighing the differences when contradictions arise, forming a coherent narrative and drawing conclusions from it.”

We are fated to live in perilous times. Democracy is in retreat across the globe. Basic truth is under assault. Institutions at every level — the courts, the press, the Catholic church, among others — are diminished and in decline. And in such an environment, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation reported recently that a majority of Americans in every state except Vermont would fail a test based on questions in the U.S. citizenship test. In Idaho only 41 percent of those surveyed could pass.

If we can’t bring ourselves to embrace the smart leaders and the dim bulbs remain content to distract us with empty slogans and shiny diversions, then we’re on our own. The fundamental test of our times involves being smart enough to know enough to think for ourselves. It starts with grappling with our history.