Friday, April 6, 2018

Will Trump's End Justify His Means?

Maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump has a sense of history. After all, despite all his bravura claims about the efficiency and accomplishments of his presidency, he has yet to claim he has “made the trains run on time” (editor’s note—for those unfamiliar with the claim, google it. You’ll find it under Mussolini or Il Duce). 

Seriously, though, The Trumpster has added fuel to a long simmering debate: Does the end justify the means? 

Are his bluster, his arrogance, his indignities, his lying, his disdain for anyone not a Trump, just for show, to be ignored as long as he secures his objectives? Or, do all his character flaws impoverish the office of the president and the heritage of the United States as the beacon of the civilized world?

For Trump, for all of us, the bottom line, the “end,” is his presidency. When will it end? In January 2021? In January 2025? Or sometime before?  

America used to be known as a country where protagonists debated ideas. Trump has reduced politics to a contest of name calling powered by personal animosity and vengeance. 

Too many respected observers of our political landscape, including former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, have issued warnings about the Trump effect and the world’s and our possible slide into fascism for their misgivings to be ignored (your choice of sources: an Op-Ed piece by Albright in The New York Times: or or an interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air

To keep our heads above a fascist tide requires perspective plus a knowledge of history, science and basic truths. In the extraordinary teenage response to the Parkland, FL, high school shooting, what should we make of the use of the #NeverAgain hashtag? As repulsive as the killing of 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was, does it compare to the six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust often commemorated by the phrase Never Again? (

Let’s hope the new Never Again movement has more success than the last. Since first promulgated, the world has witnessed genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Syria, Chile, Argentina, Myanmar. Given the frequency of school shootings, I am not confident of more success. 

Perhaps the students, even the Jewish students among them, did not know of the Never Again association with the Holocaust. Chalk it up, if so, to the sad condition of American education. We’re seeing that sorry state play out in the teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky. It is difficult to attract quality teachers for the poverty wages states pay.

When I started as a reporter in Connecticut back in 1972, my immediate supervisor resented teacher pay scales. He reasoned, as too many do even today, that teachers led cushy lives, that they had summers and holidays off, that their work day ended in the early afternoon, not realizing they spend evenings grading papers and preparing lesson plans. And that they often spend their own money to supplement the meager supplies they need to properly instruct their students.

Back then, teachers, like nurses, social workers, police and firemen, were thought to not need higher pay, that they received part of their remuneration in the positive feelings generated by their good works. Ha! Try paying your mortgage or your grocery bill with positive feelings!

Among the signs held up by a student at one of the Oklahoma teacher protests was one stating, “My textbooks are older than me.” Proper grammar would have taught him he should have written “than I,” but the sentiment was appropriate.

Our country’s history is full of less than noble chapters. Slavery. Near annihilation of Native Americans. Robber Barons. Jim Crow Laws. Segregation. Discriminatory laws against Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese immigration. Yes, we are a great country, but we must also keep in mind that dangerous precedents inhabited our past.

That’s why it is so important for our leaders to embrace the symbols of our diversity and greatness. Consider just two events of the past week. For the second straight year Trump chose not to attend a Passover seder at the White House. 

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump did not visit the monument to the slain civil rights leader a short distance from the White House. He merely tweeted a canned video praising King, but his unrehearsed comments of the last two years have exposed him as a bigot, a racist, a xenophobe and a sympathetic friend of budding, if not already, dictators around the world. 

“Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, he (Trump) touts the doctrine of ‘every nation for itself’ and has led America into isolated positions on trade, climate change and Middle East peace,” wrote Albright. “Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, Mr. Trump, with his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks, has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Mr. Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.”

Trump has used his bully pulpit, both in person and via Twitter, to harangue adversaries. His latest target is Amazon and its alleged sweetheart shipping deal with the U.S. Postal Service. Trump further claims Amazon is the reason many Main Streets across America have vacant storefronts (

Imagine that! Sen. Bernie Sanders agrees with Trump that Amazon is getting too big.

Amazon revenues last year totaled $178 billion. But what about Walmart? Its revenues reached $500 billion. Arguably, Walmart has done more to close down rival merchants than Amazon. To my knowledge Trump is not calling for a breakup of Walmart. Sanders, meanwhile, does criticize the Arkansas-based retailer for paying low wages to most of its associates.

Interestingly, while Trump bemoans the growing strength of Amazon he applauds the consolidation of local news outlets under the banner of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a steadfast supporter of his views. If Sinclair receives approval to purchase Tribune Media it will have entry into seven out of 10 U.S. households. 

Trump also says Amazon should be required to collect state sales taxes to even the playing field with brick and mortar stores. He’s right, but Trump should be the last person to criticize anyone for not exceeding the requirements of the law. For its direct sales Amazon need only collect sales taxes in states where it has nexus. It is not required to collect sales taxes from sales made by its third party vendors. 

As are too many of our fellow citizens, Trump is under the impression that America owes its greatness to settlement by Western Europeans. He fails to recognize the contributions of Hispanics and Africans to our culture and economic growth. He scapegoats them in appeals to white nationalists and those who live in fear of imminent poverty or financial dislocation because America has shifted first from an agricultural economy to one dominated by manufacturing and now to a service-oriented platform.

Trump promises a return to greatness without ever spelling out the time period he wants to return to. His roadmap to wherever and whenever presumes America needs no partners other than on Trump’s terms. 

Will we be willing fellow travelers? Trump wants to get reelected. So do congressional Republican majorities who have mostly sublimated their constitutional obligations in favor of coattail election politics. 

It’s the people, however, who will determine—even in heavily gerrymandered districts—if democratic values will outweigh a strong man’s bombastic rule and attack on  cherished norms of society and politics.