Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Less Than a Day to Fresh Start: Thank You, Don

 With fewer than 24 hours before Joe Biden takes the oath of office as our 46th president, the nation can collectively exhale and be proud to have survived the last four years. As a blogger, I am thankful Donald Trump provided endless inspiration. I would have been a lot less productive without his stimulating presence. 

For the record, since The Don and Melania descended the escalator at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, to announce his candidacy, he has been mentioned in my blog 311 times out of 482 posts. No doubt, even after eviction from the White House Trump will continue to be part of the national discussion. He is a gift for journalism that keeps on giving. 

Of course, I probably would not have lost sleep, nor developed a nightly arrhythmia, had he not sucked the air out of political discourse, but let’s not quibble over details of his deplorable and inefficient presidency, such as his repeated promise of a better and cheaper health care plan that he failed to deliver.

You can read or listen to lots of reporting and commentary on specific achievements and underachievements of Trump’s tenure. No need to repeat them here. Instead, I will try to highlight some unique aspects of life under Trump.

I am proud that during these last four years I never once wrote the title “president” immediately followed by Trump’s name.

A presidency that began with an inaugural address characterized as “carnage in America” has ended that way. 

Nearly 400,000 deaths related to COVID-19. For sure, Trump is not responsible for the pandemic. But he bears overwhelming responsibility for the ineffective, deleterious manner in which his administration handled the scourge, from his disdain for its potential disaster to his failure to effectively promote wearing masks to limit its spread to his failure to mount a national response. 

Plaudits to Trump for Operation Warp Speed to develop vaccines, but disses for his administration’s handling of its dispensing. Even to the very end his government lied about the availability of vaccines. Too many of those 400,000 deaths can be attributed to Trump’s actions and inactions.

Carnage showed up, as well, at the Capitol two weeks ago. Trump’s army of deplorables, yes, deplorables, savaged our democratic heritage of the peaceful transition of power. Trump has yet to admit defeat. He has yet to admit he lost in a free and fraud-free election. His subterfuge of our election process fueled the miscreants who invaded the Capitol. 

By inciting the assault on the Capitol and refusing to acknowledge results of a free democratic election, Trump probably blew any chance he had to win a Nobel Peace prize for his Middle East peace initiatives. After all, it would be more than awkward to reward overtures for international tranquility to a person who stoked the flames of domestic violence, insurrection, racism and anti-Semitism.  

We should, in an ironic fashion, be thankful to Trump for providing visual evidence of the dangers of demagoguery. We should thank him for informing us to the susceptibility and receptivity of vast swaths of the population to manipulation. 

We should thank him for providing an object lesson on the oath of office taken by a president and our elected representatives and senators. A president says, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“To the best of my Ability.” Surely we have found out that  Trump’s ability is limited.

Members of Congress, meanwhile, say, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

“Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Let’s thank Trump for exposing in a very real sense domestic enemies. No longer should we concentrate solely on how foreign agents might sabotage our freedoms and elections. Domestic terrorists, working in tandem with or at least with the benign approval of the president and members of Congress, are a more radical threat. 

We no longer can be holier-than-thou when addressing undemocratic actions in foreign lands. Trump’s not so subtle flirtation with white supremacists has lifted the veil on racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant, misogyny and homophobia so prevalent in our society.

We should be thankful that Trump and his toadies in Congress showed us being president can place one above the law, be it from enrichment through emoluments previously thought to be forbidden, or through pressing foreign governments to interfere in our elections. 

Americans like to humanize our presidents. Often it is by  observing their interaction with a pet—FDR’s mutual allegiance with Fala, his Scottish Terrier; Obama’s Portuguese Water dog, Bo. Or it could be through their self deprecating sense of humor, evidenced by JFK’s or Reagan’s. 

Trump had no dog, no pet. He exhibited no sense of humor beyond ridicule and insult hurled at detractors, swallowed whole by his guffawing, adoring sycophants. 

What we learned from Trump is that his ego bruised easily. Some attribute his decision to run for president to the night Obama and Seth Meyers made fun of him during a White House Correspondents dinner in 2011. We can be sure that in exile Trump will try to exact revenge on the 10 Republican congresspeople who supported impeachment and on any GOP senators who might vote to convict. 

Though we knew it in the abstract, we learned concretely from Trump that a president has the power to circumvent judicial norms in civilian and military courts. All presidents exercise the power to commute or pardon criminals. Trump used his authority to absolve men who tried to undermine our election process and who violated the military’s code of honor. 

Biden cannot reverse any of those commutations or pardons, but I would advocate for him to commute the remainder of Michael Cohen’s sentence. Yes, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer committed crimes. But he also has spoken truth about Trump’s violations of law and civility. 

Equally worrisome, Trump turned the attorney general and the Justice Department into his personal lawyer and legal firm rather than the people’s representative. 

With the acquiescence of Republicans in the House and Senate, Trump showed the executive branch can act independent of any congressional oversight. I wonder how Republicans will react to similar behavior from Biden. 

For too long social media have given a pass to extremists. We should be grateful that in exorcising Trump from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms an intense discussion has begun on the responsibilities and limitations of technology companies. 

When he campaigned in 2016 Trump claimed to be an expert on debt. As president he has added $7.8 trillion to the national debt, largely due to tax cuts for the rich and corporations he pushed through and for the economic collapse from his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paying off the added debt will be a decades long legacy.

To stimulate business and buttress families in need, Biden will push for more deficit spending. As the recession of 2008 demonstrated, there’s no better way to jump start the economy. Of course, Republicans who were silent partners in Trump’s fiasco handling of the economy can be expected to revert to being deficit hawks. 

Biden should ignore them. He has two years with slim majorities in the House and Senate to push expensive but necessary programs before the next election could shift the balance of power in each chamber. 

One last thing I’m thankful to Trump for—assuming nothing happens before noon Wednesday, I’m thankful he proved me wrong and never invoked martial law.