Public Servant? Hardly.

I continue to watch news unfold about the way in which Trump’s personal financial dealings will impact us as a collective nation, and it seems he is even less and less interested in even pretending that it matters to him what the impact will be, beyond his own bank account.  He refuses to divest himself in any meaningful way from his business empire.  Nobody’s buying, “It’s going to be run by my kids, so I will have no part in running the company.”  Throughout his campaign he held events, housed offices, and booked rooms for events at his own properties at a considerable mark-up, essentially having his campaign (public) pay his business (private) exorbitant amounts of money.  He has refused to divest himself of his reality show, where he will remain an executive producer and by extension will maintain a financial relationship with NBC, who will have to weigh broadcasting decisions, including news about the President-elect (and eventually, President) through the lens of that relationship.  He has already made quite a public showing (via Twitter, naturally) of going toe-to-toe with Boeing because of inflated costs of building Air Force One, and makes no qualms about calling out any business that he personally feels doesn’t fall in line with his bottom line.  Finally, because his youngest son is still in school, Melania and Barron will continue to live in New York, with frequent stays by Trump as well, essentially at least doubling America’s price tag for security, as a full detail will have to be maintained on a full-time basis on both coasts.  Who pays that price?  We do, of course.

Naturally, there will be arguments in favor of each of these business decisions of his.  “Why should he have to give up the empire he built?”  Well, his job now is one of public servant, though I sincerely don’t think he understands the full implication of that concept.  If one can curry favor with Trump by being willing to fork out the money to hold events at hotels he owns, there is a built-in potential for financial reciprocity in lobbying, political support, etc. there—a pay-to-play sort of relationship that will always potentially be part of the equation.  The same concept applies to NBC maintaining a financial relationship with him.  How can a media outlet, who is responsible for reporting news and being part of our checks-and-balances in the public system (no doubt that this has become a major function of our news media), maintain a semblance of objectivity in reporting negative news about someone in whom they have a great stake in helping remain financially successful?  And Boeing? Why NOT call out excessive price tags on businesses who do commerce with the government?  I get that argument—of course I do.  Except for the kind of money he is making on his own business holdings at the expense of his campaign coffers, and in future—at the expense of the American people.   Melania and her son choosing to stay in New York because of his schooling is understandable—she wants him to continue on in his current private school.  So be it.  But if I were offered a job across the country and I wanted my spouse and my kids to stay in their current location, I wouldn’t expect my future employer to foot the bill for it.  What employer would agree to such terms?  Trump knew what a win would entail, including the relocation of his family.  If that was not his intention, he himself should pay the extra cost of choosing to maintain a separate residence and all the security detail and additional expense that comes along with it—not me.  Not the American tax dollars.

You know what though?  All of the financial intertwinings of Trump and our taxpayer dollars are just the tip of the iceberg.  They are disturbing and worrisome, but in reality, only the beginning of what we must be vigilant about.  His international diplomacy policies, his human rights policies, his domestic policies—these are even more worrisome, and follow the same pattern of being in service to Donald Trump the man, and not Donald Trump the public servant.  Trump’s inability—or flat out lack of desire—to divest himself of his own personal gains for the greater good is the most problematic issue we face.  His business transactions continue to be symbolic of the greater issue at hand that should be a red flag: Donald Trump’s desire to rule this land is not—has never been—about ‘Making America Great Again’ or about ‘fixing what’s wrong’.  His desire to rule remains a desire to rule.  Period. A desire to continue to build power and wealth to the one person who matters to him—Donald.

Advertisements

Forest > Trees

I’ve been reading a lot lately about important issues like the imminent repeal of the ACA, the dismantling of Medicare, the reconfig of Social Security, the relentless parading of extremist potentials for cabinet positions… but that’s all noise.  The real problem with the Trump transition is that the string of events over the past few weeks, while we were focused on this or that, has showed us his expertise in distraction.

Let me be clear:  Trump is an idiot.  He’s unread, anti-intellectual, and uncouth.  But there is one area where he is a master:  Simultaneously funneling all the attention in the room to himself, and not allowing you a straight line vision to what he’s really doing.  I’m certain that it’s the cornerstone of his “success” in business, and he took that into the political realm during this election cycle.  But at its core it’s a scam – Trump’s entire life and career has been a giant shell game.  A street hustler is about to become our 45th president.

Hustlers are primarily out for themselves.  Their livelihood depends on the ability to pull one over on their mark.  They’re known by other names – con men, grifters, swindlers… but the thing that sets Trump apart from the minor characters of the past is the fact that he ran for president.  And enough marks chose the empty shell.

While we were busy looking over there,  Trump’s been working on a cabinet that will significantly alter our country’s relationship with the world.  If you’ve been paying attention, you know that no less than three retired generals have been offered major roles within the Trump administration:  John F. Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security, James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Defense Secretary, and, perhaps most concerning, Michael Flynn as White House National Security Adviser (Confirmation not required by congress).

This military influence will no doubt affect the Trump administration in a lot of negative ways, due to the fact that Trump is an idiot.  But what’s more concerning to me is the combination of this military influence and his most likely choice for Secretary of State, the ultimate shell game:  while you were worried about the repeal of Obamacare, let me present Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil.  Yeah.  Exxon.  As in gas stations, etc. Did you know that ExxonMobile made $16.2 billion IN PROFIT last year?  And that was in a low price-per-barrel environment.

Put that all together – heavy military presence in the cabinet alongside an oil and gas capitalist as our top diplomat – not just a corporatist, but an environment raping opportunist – in charge of our relationships with other countries.  A Secretary of State who just happens to have interests in the most profitable commodity in the world.  Ever wonder why it’s a bad thing when oil prices drop?  We have a tendency to get excited when we hear that, because it means that our bill at the gas pump will be lower.  But our lower gas prices are bad for Big Oil and the folks who invest in it.  And apparently, now it’s bad for the presidential administration.

I wonder what possibly could happen.  No worries though… I’m sure most of us will be looking the other way when it does.

1.157

The United States owes foreign nations a lot of money.  For example, we owe China $1.157 trillion.  That’s a shit ton of money.  For visual purposes, imagine that your mortgage is $1,157 a month.  The US owes China $1,157,000,000,000.  According to The Balance, that’s about 30% of our foreign debt.

The reason foreign countries are so comfortable buying US debt is due to that “full faith and credit” thing that a) insures that we will always pay our obligations, and b) almost got shot to hell during the 2013 government shitstorm shutdown, which saw our credit rating drop for the first time in fucking ever.  See, normal countries aren’t really concerned that we pay back the principal.  They want that annual interest nut.  That feeds into their economy – that’s income in their books.

But the more debt a single country holds, the more leverage they have.  For example, China.  And the fact that they hold 30% of our foreign debt.  China is not a “normal” country when it comes to the reasons for holding US debt.  There are many arguments on the interweb about the main reason China holds so much US debt – some folks think it’s simply a way to get that sweet, sweet interest income that a huge economy needs to help fill the gaps that communism creates.  Others think that it’s to eventually devalue the US dollar and replace it with the yuan as the global standard.  I tend to agree with the second camp, but I am also a paranoid conspiracy theorist, so I like to take it a step further:  China owns so much of our debt because it makes them feel like they own us. Think about it: If they get pissed enough at us that they want to destabilize us, or worse yet, ruin us, they can call due our debt. I’m not a government employee, so I don’t know the conditions that go along with our selling of debt, so on paper China and other countries may not be allowed to call in our obligations all at once. But if something unacceptable happened, perhaps they’d be inclined to break the rules.

Maybe the unacceptable is breaking the “one China” rule that’s been in place for almost 40 years.  See, for a long time, the US did not see the People’s Republic of China (“China”) as a legitimate government.  We preferred to deal with the more moderate island called the Republic of China (“Taiwan”) and leave the big commies alone.  Nixon’s 1972 China visit with Chairman Mao softened that stance, and by 1979, we had, diplomatically, “unified” China as a combo plate of Taiwan and the mainland PRC.

Why is this important?  Because diplomatic protocol has dictated that US leaders communicate directly with Chinese officials for nearly four decades – effectively ignoring the leaders of Taiwan to appease the egos of the mainland Chinese regime.  Over the course of many decades and presidential administrations, this has been an area where great caution has been exercised.

Until this past week, when president-elect Dipshit called the president of Taiwan, who of course was more than happy to speak with him.  So what happened? Bowels were loosed all over DC (people shit themselves) as folks scrambled to figure out if we were at the brink of World War III, or if their weekends were just fucked.

This wasn’t some one-tooth Twitter follower telling you how Melanoma’s going to be the hottest First Lady ever, you dumb fuck.  This is real.

China’s already sent a warning to the Orange Shitgibbon, who’s not even fucking president yet.  Let’s say that again:  a guy who’s not even president for another (oh my God) seven weeks has already pissed off a country that holds us by the testicles.  This is not good, it’s not normal, and it’s not acceptable.

And it’s only the start.

A Month In…Where Are We Now?

November 27, 2016

It’s been nearly a month since the election, and I’m still struggling with the outcome.  Nearly every day some new alarming piece of information comes to light, and we are left to figure out what it means and how it will impact our future.  I am not one of those who is espousing the #NotMyPresident mantra; just as I felt when President Obama was elected and folks complained and protested and lamented, I believe that embittered divisiveness is counterproductive for all of us.  Yes, my friends, there was protesting and loud lamentation when the votes were tallied for Obama, much as many Trump supporters would love to ignore. And yes, I understand why people get behind the #NotMyPresident movement; it’s just that I think the deed is done, and what must be done now is to be watchful and proactive of the potential ramifications, rather than choose not to acknowledge the reality in which we find ourselves.

That reality is this:

We have the appointment of Steve Bannon, a man considered by many to have close ties to racist White Supremacist groups, to Chief Strategist.  We have the appointment of Betsy DeVos, wealthy private school product with no experience or connection to public education to Secretary of Education. Jeff Sessions, known for his racist and anti-LGBT stances, has been appointed Attorney General, causing heightened concern for civil liberties moving forward.  There is a host of other recently appointed and rumored appointees that draw from one of two categories—long-time career politicians that fly in the face of Trump’s “Drain the Swamp” rallying cry, and wealthy political donors and lobbyists with approximately the same amount of experience Trump himself possesses in the political arena.  Now don’t get me wrong; I am frankly relieved to hear that there will be someone with the keys to the playground who’s actually been there before, but it would be a whole lot less concerning if those being invited back to the playground weren’t all part of the same gang that tried to run everyone else out to begin with.

What is most striking about all of these appointments of the good old boys is that Trump supporters, many of whom voted for him on the promise of new ideas and new voices in government, haven’t found themselves betrayed by these appointments.  Similarly, Trump has already backtracked, before even taking office, on his plans to charge Hillary for presumed crimes, his pledge to completely repeal Obamacare, and his vision of the Wall.  Like many, many politicians before him, he has said whatever he needed to say in order to get himself elected, and people fell for the act.

The reality—our reality—is that the populace has perhaps the most important responsibility we’ve ever had.  We must hope, though it seems counterintuitive in this case, for the success of our President-elect, because that is the only way we succeed.  What success looks like for America, for the people, might be much different than what it looks like for a wealthy businessman.  We need to teach our inexperienced leader and his cabinet what we believe success looks like; as in any relationship, we must teach them how we expect to be treated and accept nothing less.  As the fringes have moved center and to the primary seats at the table, we have to make sure we maintain the voices of all, loudly and persistently, especially those who seemingly have been uninvited to the feast.  It would be easy to, with time, forget that the dinner party is going on in our absence, but we simply cannot allow those at the feast to forget that the pantry belongs to us all.

–Donna Lutjens

Claiming My Labels for Myself

November 13, 2016

I don’t know when the word ‘liberal’ (and even more so, the shortened ‘libs’) became an insult, but somehow it has.  Rather than owning a liberal stance, many of our public officials have shied away from proclaiming themselves liberals for fear of alienating more conservative constituents, and the general populace has followed suit.  When someone asks me if I am a liberal, my first instinct is to temper my response because the conservative base has turned that term into something dirty, or at the very least, uneducated.  In reality, the very definition of the word, according to Merriam-Webster, is one who “believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change” and one who is “not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving”.  Why have we backed away from owning this term?  We are an evolving and changing society; being open to new ideas and social change is something I am proud of.  It is vital to be forward-thinking in our world.  We need to take back the definition of the word and not let someone else define what it means within the scope of our society.  I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself here, but I am a Christian and a liberal, and I’m taking my own labels back.  I am educated, I am smart, I am independent, and my opinions are formed by reading, listening, thinking, challenging, and processing.  I believe in love and support of all people, and I believe that there’s a greater spiritual being than humans out there in the universe.  And that’s what a Christian liberal woman looks like in me.

–Donna Lutjens

Post Election Distress

November 13, 2016

Like much of the United States last Tuesday, I sat riveted to the reported updates of the presidential election.  In disbelief I watched as the unthinkable happened.  As the evening progressed, it became more and more clear that the brash, unpredictable, and volatile Donald Trump would become our 45th president of the United States.

Since then, I have watched the inevitable ‘us versus them’ arguments break out online.  Like a great deal of the rhetoric that preceded the election, they veer, in the vast majority, toward grand, sweeping generalizations and divisiveness.  They all think this; we all think that.  Friendships and families have been broken over the results of the election and people’s support of their chosen candidate.  Tuesday’s election was indeed a historic election, though not historic in the sense we all thought it would be; we have been plunged in the midst of a civil war for the modern age, if not literally, at least figuratively.

“Libs need to get over it and quit being crybabies.”

“We won and they need to get over it.  You didn’t see us protesting when Obama won!”

“Trump says it like it is!”  and also, interestingly, “He didn’t really mean it like that!”

“You can’t hold it against him that he said something you find disrespectful to women in private, many years ago.”

These are just a few of the dismissive and divisive comments I’ve heard, both from friends and strangers over the course of the last week.  This unrest in this great country of ours is not about a temper tantrum because one side didn’t get its way; the unrest stems from a genuine and true fear that many of the people now have in the wake of this election.  We have elected a president who has said he believes in “stop and frisk”, believes in deporting millions, believes in banning Muslims, believes in erecting a wall to keep out Mexicans, believes that he can say anything he wants about women, because ‘if you’re famous, you can get away with it’.  We have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-LGBT who supports ‘conversion therapy’; we have elected a vice-president who is firmly anti-Planned Parenthood; we have elected a vice-president who believes he should get to decide the reproductive rights of women.  The demonstrations and protests are not about being poor losers in a casual game of baseball; they are about being on the losing side of a privileged majority who has just reasserted its ability to further marginalize and exclude the rights of whole groups of people who have had their voices wrested away.  This isn’t a game in which poor sportsmanship is mildly unbecoming; this is the real world where people’s rights, their dignity, their lives are in danger.

I do not believe that all people who voted for Donald Trump are racist or sexist; that’s exactly the kind of generalized, incendiary comment that I don’t like directed at anyone.  Make no mistake, however, the racists and the sexists have been mightily, dangerously emboldened by this newly elected administration.  The KKK is holding victory rallies, and students are being told at schools by classmates AND teachers that their parents will be sent back to where they came from. Swastikas and racist graffiti have cropped up in alarming numbers.  People have been harassed and assaulted because of their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender.  Is this what folks wanted when they said the world was getting too “PC”?  I would hope not. But this is the world we have chosen when we have elected a man who is publicly and unabashedly a bully; you get justification to behave in this way.  Words matter.  And the words of our president-elect matter.  Don’t believe me?  Look at how the men and women of this country have chosen to respond.

I am not naïve.  I know that there was still racism and homophobia and sexism before the election; of course there was.  But many of us, myself included, had allowed ourselves to believe that progress was being made—that we had moved toward a more inclusive and hopeful society.  But in one night, we have moved back our societal clock and eradicated many of the gains our society has seen in the recent past.  I now have friends who fear their marriages will be declared invalid; I have friends who fear seeing their families torn apart; I have friends who fear that their voices won’t be heard when they speak out against sexism in the workplace.  I have students who don’t feel they can voice their opinions about the election for fear people will find out their parents are immigrants; I have students who fear bullying because of the traditional clothing they wear.  The response I’ve heard again and again from pro-Trump supporters is, “Don’t worry; I’m sure it will be fine.  We just all need to get over it and work together.”  But how can you work together under someone who negates your existence? Who trivializes your fear? Who does nothing to assuage half of the nation who has no idea if there’s even a place in this country for them anymore?

Words matter.  Protests matter.  If you fear your voice is being silenced, speak loudly, and again and again.  I need to speak, to give rise to my own voice.  It matters.  If I don’t speak, my silence makes me complicit in the injustices that follow.  This is not the world I want for my daughters, for my son.  I want them to see that their voices, too, matter, and that they need not simply be subject to the world in which they live; they need not simply accept where they see injustice in the world because they feel they don’t have power.  They can be forceful agents of change.  If I did not speak, I would be complicit in the silence of my own children, and that is not the world I wish for them.  Speak.  And for those who say, “If you’re not happy, you can leave the country,” I say it is my right—my responsibility—to speak for what I believe in in this, my country.  Speak.

–Donna Lutjens