AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: I usually let each edition of WAJTW stretch broadly across three topic areas. On rare occasions, I feel compelled to focus in on just one. This is one of those weeks.

Because I refuse to let my social media feeds descend into a single ideology echo chamber, I’m seeing a lot of posts screaming that Justice Kennedy is a “bad man” or has “betrayed the country” buy announcing his retirement. While everyone is entitled to have and voice their opinion, the simple act of having or voicing that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you right.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is 82 years old. He was first appointed to the federal bench by President Gerald Ford. Take a breath and let that sink in. He was appointed to the US Court of Appeals in 1975 and elevated to the Supreme Court in 1988. Take another breath. That means he has been serving his country as a judge for more than 40 years – longer than I’ve been alive and certainly longer than the angsty millennials who seem to make up the largest block of those calling him a “traitor” have been around.

I don’t always agree with Justice Kennedy’s reading of the law, but after entering his 9th decade and serving 43 years on the federal bench, I’d say he’s entitled to move off into retirement any damned time he wants to. If you think an 82 year old man wanting to retire is an act of political cowardice, I suspect you’re the one who has a particularly craven view of politics.

Here’s a pro tip – if you can’t somehow manage to see life through any lens other than politics, go outside for a while, or pick up a book, or watch a movie, or do whatever you need to do to get your head a little unfucked. Seriously. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

Diplomacy…

I’m not, either by training or disposition, suited for the world of diplomacy. There they use find words and polite phrases to make even the simplest issues sound complex. The complex issues, well, they make sound too difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. Certainly not all people will ever grasp the detail of policy but the brad strokes don’t feel like they should be out of reach.

While I can’t in good conscience support all of the activities on the world stage of our current president, I do have something of a gut feeling that an occasional shake up in the polite world of diplomacy might actually be a net good overall. Turning the polite, made-for-tv photo op frippery of international diplomacy on its ear makes a dark little corner of my heart just a little bit happy.

With the G7 conference left in a tizzy, I’m waiting with great interest to see what news comes from Singapore. I fully expect the hand wringing of the international media, talking heads, the left here at home to be something worth seeing – even if only for its entertainment value.

No, I don’t want to watch the world burn, but I don’t mind at all seeing it dragged out of its comfort zone from time to time.

Like I said, I’d well and truly suck as a diplomat.

Someone to vote for…

I did something stupid this evening. I waded into the middle of a Facebook post in which the basic premise is “If you don’t hate Trump you’re a filthy bastard.” Normally I don’t weigh in, but despite the lead in, most of the comments were reasonable and well considered. Of course we’ll see how long that lasts now that I’ve showed up.

To revises and expand on my comment there, let me start by saying I didn’t love candidate Trump nor am I a dyed in the wool fan of President Trump. Still, I voted for him. It’s a statement of fact that I wont hide from or be ashamed of.

In a discussion that swirled around the topic of “how did this happen, I offer offered this thought:

The real issue is’t just in President Trump. The issue is with the whole slate of candidates. If the best we can put up here in a country of 300 million citizens was reflected in this past election I don’t know how to go about fixing the root of the matter.

I’m a Republican who has voted across party lines for local, state, and federal offices when I thought the Democrats had a better candidate. In my mind, then and now, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were never candidates I would be able to get behind.

If you want better results give us better candidates.

Put up a Kennedy Democrat who isn’t threatening to tax more money out of my pocket or repeal the Second Amendment and I’ll give them every chance to earn my vote. As long as both parties are trying to swing themselves the extreme edges, there’s a vast unrepresented swath in the middle that’s crying out for someone to vote for instead of turning out to voting against.

The hundred days…

Dear America,

Donald Trump has been president now for (almost) 100 days. Civilization has not collapsed. We’ve not all been forced to start speaking Russian. There are still 50 states. And as far as I can tell, not one left-leaning celebrity has actually carried through with their promise to leave the country.

From my vantage point, the country isn’t all that much different than it was at 11:59AM on January 20th. The Democrats in Congress are fighting a long war of attrition hoping to gain ground during the mid-terms. The Republicans in Congress are at war with themselves. No major legislation has been passed and we’re racing towards another impending government shutdown at the end of the month. Abortion is still legal. Everyone can still get married. And states still don’t have to recognize the 2nd Amendment.

The 25% of the population who think’s President Trump can do no wrong are the same 25% of the population who thought President Obama could do no right. The 25% of Americans who think President Trump can do no right are the same ones who though President Obama could do no wrong. The 50% of us in the middle are still utterly perplexed by the extremists on both flanks.

Our politics is brutal and ugly, but the market keeps ticking along flirting with Dow 21,000. Home sales are brisk. Unemployment continues to trend down through the statistical area known as “full employment.”

FDR, with the help of a willing Congress, set a ridiculous standard for the first hundred days of a new presidency. In contrast, Lincoln saw seven states leave the Union before he was even sworn in to start a hundred day countdown. All I’m saying is that the first 2400 hours of an administration may not be the single best tool by which we measure where we are and how it’s going.

My suspicion is there have been far better and far worse times to be both alive and American simultaneously… but that it’s neither as bad nor as good as some of us think it is in the moment.

Best regards,

Jeff

It goes with the territory…

I had every intention to write tonight about the history of controversial White House staff appointments in the last few administrations, but largely due to not wanting to do the research to validate my memory, I’ve decided against it. The truth is, almost as soon as your party finds itself out of power the memory of anything they did that stirred the least bit of controversy flees from memory. Except in a few rare circumstances, we tend to remember presidential administrations for all of their virtues and none of their vices. For the time being just take my word for it that every incoming president appoints staffers that the opposition believes is the devil incarnate. It goes with the territory.

During these transitions of power we all tend to forget that the presidency is bigger than any one man. It’s bigger than any single administration. Given our seemingly insurmountable differences we rarely stop to marvel at the unbroken succession of peaceful transfers of power stretching back to George Washington. Given the number of young democracies that fall into chaos when a chief executive departs, it really is something quite remarkable that we manage to get it done with little more than yelling at each other.

That’s not to say that the process is pretty or that it’s in any way satisfying for anyone involved. No matter the results of a presidential election, no one ever gets the whole loaf. Even with one party ascendant over the executive and legislative branches, there are plenty of opportunities for policy goals to be held immobile. One of the wonders of the American system is just how difficult the Founding Fathers made it to get anything done. That wasn’t done by accident.

Anyway, everyone take a breath. In 1933 Republicans screamed that FDR was going to turn us all into socialists. He didn’t. In 2016 Democrats are screaming that Trump will turn us all into Nazis. He won’t. Relax and remember that campaigning for the next presidential primary is only about two years away.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Week in and week out this space is reserved with near epic exclusivity for What Annoys Jeff this Week? As the only recurring feature of this blog and almost always the most read thing that ends up here every week, you can understand that I’m hard pressed to move it for any reason. I write that intro purely to highlight how strongly I have to feel about something to deviate from years long precedent. Fortunately, I also find this week’s issue an annoyance, but one deserving a post all its own rather than as part of a set.

In the wake of the election the memes have flowed hot and heavy from both sides of the political spectrum. The one that’s sat worst with me, though, is one that extorts Trump supporters to explain their vote to their gay, foreign, black, or otherwise non-white friends and then proclaims them to be bigots, xenophobes, and racists. The internet hasn’t done much for the fine art of subtlety.

Let me be clear on this: I cast my vote in the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump. He was not my first choice. In fact he was not even my second choice. On the morning of election day, however, he was the only one of the field of candidates with a chance to win that even remotely represented a slate of issues that I find non-negotiable. He also opens his mouth and often spews a whole laundry list of ideas that I find morally abhorrent.

I like to think that my gay, foreign, black, and otherwise non-white friends are bright enough to understand that I don’t cast my vote on any single issue. I hope they understand that the world is a complex place, far too complex to be governed by just one or two issues. I hope they If they don’t, my words here are wasted. If their minds are closed to any ideas beyond their own, likewise, these words are wasted.

I’ve spent the last eight years alternately condemning and supporting policy ideas put forward by President Obama. I spent the eight years before that condemning and supporting policies put forward by President Bush. I have every intention of continuing that trend beginning on January 20th when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United State. If my thoughtful and objective analysis of policy issues isn’t sufficient to pass whatever stringent standards someone establishes for themselves and their circle, well then, I suppose I’ll be able to live with that too. I don’t now nor do I intend to expect my friends to think as one hive mind. If you’re my friend and that’s what you expect of me, I’m afraid you’re going to find me a terrible disappointment. Even so, I won’t apologize for that.