An Honest Appraisal of the First Weekend

On Friday, I pledged to be an honest appraiser of the new president and his actions, praising good ones and offering a critique for others not so good. Over his first weekend in office, President Trump gave me the opportunity to do both today.

Let’s begin with praise.

First, just seeing a photo of the Oval Office without its previous occupant is a relief for many of us. Second, Trump’s action in this photo is the beginning of fulfilling a promise: dismantling Obamacare. He issued an executive order that lessens the stranglehold Obamacare put on the federal bureaucracy—an initial step that prepares the way for a full repeal by Congress.

To those who may say this is no different than Obama’s use of executive orders, I say that it’s a world of difference. Obama used them to impose his will unconstitutionally; Trump’s simply eased the burden Obama imposed. That’s called reining in the government, not extending its overreach.

What may be perhaps a small token of the attitude of this new administration is also welcome: the return of the bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office. One of Obama’s first slaps in the face to our allies was his jettisoning of that bust.

Welcome back, Mr. Churchill.

There is another bust present in the Oval Office, that of Martin Luther King. Some in the media reported that it had been removed. That turned out to be utterly false; it was merely blocked out in a photo due to the angle of the picture with someone standing in front of it. That’s an indication of what the typical media will try to do. Shall we call that one fake news? Sounds right to me.

If only Trump had allowed his Obamacare executive order to be the focus. Instead, he had his new press secretary, Sean Spicer, come out in a press conference and trump up (sorry, I’ll do my best not to overuse that phrase in the next four years) an accusation that the media was falsely reporting on the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

To be fair, the media does do that on a rather consistent basis. Every year, at the March for Life (which will occur again next weekend), the media either ignores the March completely or does its best to downplay the turnout. So, yes, I know that happens. For a comparison of the inauguration crowds, this picture was used as evidence:

One can always question the use of such pictures. At what point was the picture of the Trump crowd taken? Was it at the height of the ceremony or before? I don’t know.

But why make such a big deal about it and push it to the top of the news cycle within 24 hours of taking office? Was it a smaller crowd than at Obama’s inaugural? I have no problem believing that for a number of reasons: concern for security may have kept some people away, especially in light of the predictions of violence at the ceremony; conservatives not being as motivated to go to D.C, seeing it as an essentially liberal place; the fact that most conservatives have jobs on weekdays.

One commentator, I believe, captured the real problem here:

Trump, being a reality TV star, puts a lot of stock in popularity and TV ratings. . . .

It was a lot of attention paid to what is a non-issue.

Whether it was a million people or five people who showed for the inauguration, Trump is still president and there’s still a lot of serious work he needs to be addressing. This is a non-issue.

Spicer (and Trump later) alluded to the TV audience being larger. Well, here are the facts about that, according to the Nielsen ratings as reported by Bloomberg:

Trump’s nearly 31 million television audience came 7 million short of Obama’s 2009 inauguration, and had almost 11 million fewer viewers than when Reagan was sworn into office in 1981.

According to Bloomberg, Trump did attract a larger audience than former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Those are the facts with respect to the TV audience, and it would be dishonest for Trump or anyone else in his administration to say otherwise.

As an aside, I remarked to my wife while watching some of the inaugural parade, that the stands set up for viewers, at least at one place along the parade route, were conspiculously empty. I was surprised by that. Was I seeing the only empty portion of the stands or was that indicative of the entire route? Again, I don’t know.

But what does crowd size really matter? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

What matters is whether President Trump does his job, and does it well. Let’s focus on that, shall we, and leave ego about crowd size behind us.

A Sober Assessment Going Forward

On this Inauguration Day, I want to address the following: the political spectacle Democrats are unleashing; a sober assessment of our new president; and the attitude I hope conservatives in general, and Christians in particular, should have as we embark on the next four years.

First, the Democrats. A new political cartoon this morning seems to encapsulate the mindset of the entire liberal/progressive political spectrum ever since the election:

As a number of commentators have noted, Democrats protesting the inauguration of a Republican president is nothing new. Many have done so at each inauguration dating from Richard Nixon’s in 1969. It has become a rite of passage for some into the ranks of the perpetually peeved. Rep. John Lewis has been in the news by calling Trump an illegitimate president and saying he will now absent himself from the inauguration for the first time in his life. He seems to have forgotten that he did it before, when George Bush was inaugurated. He considered him illegitimate, too.

Maybe it’s become more of a reflex than a thoughtful decision: “It’s a Republican; I have to stay away.”

The number of Democrat congressmen and congresswomen declining to attend may be greater this time simply because Trump is so controversial, but having them stay away from the Capitol may not be the worst idea they have had. If only they would do it more often the nation might be in better shape.

The Democrat reaction to Trump has given a whole new meaning to the festivities surrounding this day:

As for Donald Trump himself, let me offer, as I said at the outset, a sober assessment.

Most of you reading this know that throughout the primaries I was an adamant opponent of Trump’s nomination. In the general election, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him and turned to a third party for the first time in my life. The best results from that election, for me, were that we were spared another Clinton presidency and that Republicans not only maintained control of Congress but also increased their strength in state legislatures and governorships.

Despite my opposition to Trump, I am not like those Democrats. I recognize the legitimacy of his election because I understand how the electoral college system works. It was only the overwhelming California vote for Hillary that allowed her to win the popular vote. The rest of the country voted against her.

Therefore, as a loyal American citizen, I will do my best to support our new president. My attitude for the next four years will be to praise Trump when he does things that are constitutional and positive for the nation and to point out when he goes astray.

What have I seen since his election that gives me some hope? I can offer the following:

  • Most of his choices for people to man the administration have been very good—not all, but most. I give him credit for picking some who have principles that will help pull the nation back from the abyss if he allows them to follow their principles.
  • He has made it clear he will attempt to strengthen the military, ramp up the battle against radical Islamic terrorism, and stand with Israel when the rest of the world seems inclined to isolate and abandon that one country in the Middle East that is our ally.
  • He continues to promise to overturn Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders, to rid the nation of the Obamacare catastrophe, and to nominate a Supreme Court justice who will help return the Court’s decisions back to constitutionalism.

All well and good, if he follows through on those promises.

On the negative side are his affinity for Putin and Russia, his apparent disdain for NATO, his confusing comments on healthcare (everyone will be covered by the government, he says—how does that overturn Obamacare?), his bullying tactics at times, and—this is the one that continues to bother me most—his personal character.

Simply put, I don’t trust Donald Trump. His personal history reveals a man who is a constant braggart, totally self-absorbed, and unable in the core of his being to stop insulting his detractors. I’m afraid we have gone from the Selfie President to the Tweeter-in-Chief, and that’s not necessarily an improvement.

People keep saying Trump will “grow” into the office and not act so juvenile once the full responsibilities of the presidency hit him. Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not convinced. Donald Trump is Donald Trump; he’s unlikely to change. What could this mean for us if something really gets under his skin?

Can he handle criticism properly or will everything become personal? It’s a valid question. And while many of his most ardent admirers love the way he uses Twitter to get his “message” out, I find it rather demeaning to what may be left of the dignity of the presidency. Let’s at least not change the seal that goes with the office:

Last of all, an appeal to conservatives overall and Christians in particular. Keep in mind that Trump has no real ideological foundation for grasping Christian conservative principles. That, along with his character, was why I could not support his nomination.

Quite a few readers castigated those, like me, who considered themselves NeverTrump. Please know that we took that stance as a matter of principle. Even if you disagreed with the position, I hope you will grant us that, at least.

What I’m concerned about now is another group that perhaps can be labeled AlwaysTrump. These are people who will defend Trump no matter what, who will find a rationalization for everything he does, regardless of how unconstitutional or offensive his decisions/actions may be.

Here’s my appeal: don’t allow yourselves to be AlwaysTrump; never surrender your reasoning powers and your conscience; stand instead for principle; keep your integrity.

I will do my best to be an honest commentator as the Trump administration goes forward. I will not dump on Trump as a reflex action (I’m not a Democrat). I will give him credit where it is due. If he follows through on his promises, I will say so. I truly hope he surprises me in new ways over the next four years, and my fervent prayer is that God will use him (whether or not he acknowledges that’s what’s happening) and those he has chosen to serve with him to help restore our spiritual and moral foundation.

When I do critique his actions, though, I also hope that my readers will realize I am doing so not out of personal pique but as a sober assessment of what he has done.

If you are seeking a commentator who will criticize everything Trump does, no matter what it is, I’m not that person.

If you are seeking a commentator who will praise everything Trump does, no matter what it is, I’m not that person.

But if you want honest commentary, commentary with integrity based on a devotion to the Biblical worldview and to constitutional government, then I invite you to come back often to this blog. My pledge is that I will be that kind of commentator.

Fake News Is Not New News

Everyone is now decrying “fake news.” As if it’s a new phenomenon. I’m a historian; I can testify that fake news is nothing new.

Three decades ago, while working on my doctorate, I was immersed in fake news—from the 1790s. Newspapers of the era were sponsored by either Federalists or the Democrat-Republicans. The “news” in some of those papers was sometimes pure speculation, often made up just to undermine the political opposition. My subject of study was Noah Webster, who was editor of a New York City newspaper at the time. He stood out as one of the few who refused to succumb to the fake news temptation.

Read all the commentary on Abraham Lincoln during his presidency, then tell me that fake news has only popped up in the last campaign. I recall scurrilous stories about Ronald Reagan when he took office. He supposedly hated minorities; he sought to throw old people out in the streets; Nancy was taking taxpayer money to buy china for the White House (that’s “china” as in plates, not the country).

I hate to be the one to break this “news”—human beings lie, cheat, and slander other human beings all the time. It’s something called sin.

The latest example, apparently, is the report of a dossier about Russia that purports to show Donald Trump is pretty much owned by the Russians. Beyond that, there were hints of sexual improprieties. Those were only hints until a liberal organization called Buzzfeed decided to open the sewer.

Is everything in this dossier untrue? We don’t know. Is anything true? We don’t know. Why? Nothing has been substantiated. It was unethical in the extreme for Buzzfeed to feed the controversy without proof of the allegations.

Unfortunately for Trump, he has not done himself any favors by seeming to be almost buddy-buddy with Putin. He has made a number of statements that show admiration for the Russian dictator. He is the one who has created that impression, so if it’s not really how he feels, he needs to correct that impression as soon as possible:

Maybe Putin can do his part to help:

There also has been pushback against Trump in the arts. Some performance artists have decided to use the liberty this country provides to decline to perform at Trump’s inauguration (it’s a good thing they aren’t Christian bakers or photographers, for whom that liberty doesn’t exist). Well, who needs them? I’m sure Trump’s people can find substitutes:

Meryl Streep, at the Golden Globes, where Hollywood pats itself on the back each year, gave a short speech that, while not mentioning Trump by name, made it clear that she had contempt for him. Hollywood wants to think it is somehow the conscience of the nation.

Streep didn’t say anything unusual; these award ceremonies are always politically liberal. It’s just expected. Yet because Trump is going to be the president with the thinnest skin since Andrew Jackson, he couldn’t help himself—he had to immediately tweet that Streep is an “overrated” actress.

Now, while I disagree with everything Streep said, there is no way she is an overrated actress. When I know Streep is in a film, I know at least one thing about that film: the character she portrays will be handled wonderfully. She is an excellent actress.

Trump continues to hit back at anyone who insults him. Streep is only the latest in a long line of individuals and/or organizations to be called overrated, losers, etc. What if even the pope were to give him advice he doesn’t like, advice he considered insulting?

Let’s pray it doesn’t come to that.

Don’t Do Stupid Stuff

The new Congress is now seated and ready for business. Already the Republicans have moved forward with repealing Obamacare. They put that provision inside a budget bill that doesn’t allow a filibuster. Maybe they are finally learning how to govern.

The Democrats find themselves in an unusual situation after this past election:

Democrat leadership is at a historic low, and prospects for the future are not the greatest:

With electoral devastation all around him, President Obama seems oblivious to the carnage:

He’s giving indications he will not go away quietly. He plans to live in Washington and speak out whenever he thinks the country needs his “wisdom.” It could make for an interesting next four years:

My concerns about a Trump presidency remain. He has made some good choices for his cabinet, seems poised to approve the repeal-and-replace strategy on Obamacare, and I’m grateful for his solidarity with Israel.

The big question for me will always be his character. One never knows what to expect from him. We could be in for a surreal ride:

Yet haven’t the past eight years been a sort of Twilight Zone as well? If Trump follows through and reverses Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders and actually puts a good person on the Supreme Court to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat, some of my concerns will be lessened.

Now, if only he will see that Vladimir Putin is not really a man to be admired . . .

That’s very good advice. Will he take it?

Those Closest to Trump

Last week, I gave an overview of some of Trump’s picks for his cabinet, both the solid ones and ones I consider questionable. I omitted a few (hard to cover them all), but I should mention in passing the choice of Rick Perry for energy secretary (very good) and Elaine Chao for the Department of Transportation.

There are mixed reviews on Chao: she served as secretary of labor previously, where some said she did very well, but there is criticism that choosing the wife of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not exactly a prime example for the drain-the-swamp battle cry.

Many Trump supporters have high hopes for what he will accomplish, for sure:

That would be nice, but I’ll wait to see what kind of results we get.

Some of the jobs closest to Trump don’t require Senate confirmation. They tell you the most about who Trump trusts.

First on that list would be Stephen Bannon, formerly of the Breitbart website. All kinds of opinions have been offered about Bannon. My view of him is somewhere in between those who view him as the devil incarnate and those who see him as the policy savior.

With the lofty title of chief strategist, Bannon will apparently be responsible for guiding Trump in his decisions on what policies to push for and how to get the job done. Bannon is hard-driving, which can be good for such a position, but he also can alienate people very quickly.

My first acquaintance with Bannon was positive. He was one the writers/producers of a video that I use in my course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism.

That video, In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, details Reagan’s decades-long fight against communism and the strategy he used to take down the Soviet Union. It is a powerful video, one that offers a clear corrective to the liberal interpretation of events that led to the Soviet downfall.

The quality of the video is outstanding, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it.

Bannon’s latest position at Breitbart, though, gives me pause. I don’t accept the cry of “racist” that some would level at him. I am concerned, though, that he allowed that site to be a provocative place where the so-called “alt-right” felt comfortable. I want nothing to do with them, as they are far too close to neo-nazism for me.

Bannon is no racist or Nazi, but when you play footsie with those who are, you tarnish yourself. Just so you know, I used to be a contributor to Breitbart’s Big Government site, so I have no axe to grind here. During the election, though, I stopped reading anything from Breitbart, as I saw it devolve into a Trump propaganda mouthpiece, willing to smear other candidates in its devotion to Trump.

I’m definitely wait-and-see with Bannon.

Another controversial appointment is former general Mike Flynn to serve as Trump’s national security advisor. I’ve watched Flynn being interviewed on news programs, and again, I’m a little torn.

Flynn’s positive is that he understands the Islamist threat. His negatives are that he is potentially too emotional, too open to conspiracy theories (like his boss), and perhaps far too friendly to Russia, which I continue to see as a threat to our national security, not an ally.

As with all of Trump’s questionable choices, I simply hope and pray for the best.

Finally, there is the very first decision on personnel that Trump made: installing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. That decision was probably wise, as Trump needs someone who can work well with the Republican party overall.

Priebus, as chair of the Republican National Committee over the past years, has shown himself to be someone who can navigate the perils of politics. I’ve not always been a big fan of his, especially when he seemed to jump on Trump’s train much too soon and shut down any opposition to Trump at the national convention.

Yet if Trump is to succeed working with the party he so recently joined, he needs someone like Priebus to act as a guide.

I believe I’ve covered most of the key players in the upcoming Trump presidency. I hope the good ones can have a positive influence on him and his policies; I hope the questionable ones are either denied confirmation or will not detract too much from what this administration needs to be to reverse the political course of the nation.

Let me add this, though: reversing the political course is not enough; it’s the spiritual/moral foundation that is in need of the greatest repair, and that will never come through politics. Christian influence on the culture remains the top priority.

Trump’s Questionable Picks

My previous post was full of praise for a good number of Trump’s cabinet nominations. Proper analysis, though, requires honest scrutiny of picks who may not be as praiseworthy. There are a few.

It took a while for Trump to make a choice for secretary of state, and everyone was waiting for that crucial decision. The job is always considered one of the most significant, as it bears the responsibility of representing the administration to other countries.

Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been chosen to be the next secretary of state. That nomination, though, has already come under fire. The biggest concern for many is the close ties Tillerson has developed with Vladimir Putin.

Russia, in the Putin era, has not been America’s friend. It is an ally of Iran, which has lately reconfirmed its desire to wipe Israel off the map. Russia also has been the most visible backer of Syria’s despotic leader Bashar Assad.

With accusations of Russia’s attempted interference in our presidential election (pretty well established, but not necessarily something that influenced the outcome), Tillerson is a controversial pick.

I have that concern as well. Yet my concerns run deeper.

As head of the Boy Scouts of America, Tillerson led the charge to open the organization not only to boys who claim to be homosexual but to homosexual leaders, thereby changing the entire direction of the Boy Scouts. ExxonMobil also is a prominent donor to Planned Parenthood, apparently unfazed by the 300,000-plus babies who are murdered each year with the help of that organization.

I was gratified to see Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, come out firmly opposed to Tillerson’s nomination. Perkins had visibly lined up the FRC in favor of Trump during the election.

Some will say that those criticisms shouldn’t be part of this process, that the job of secretary of state won’t get Tillerson involved in those issues. That’s not necessarily so. When dealing with other nations, all kinds of policies may be on the table. I don’t want someone with Tillerson’s views representing this nation.

Less controversial, but also questionable, are the nominations of Steve Mnuchin for secretary of the treasury and Wilbur Ross for secretary of commerce.

Mnuchin was Trump’s national finance director for the campaign. He is a lifelong Democrat who spent seventeen years at Goldman Sachs, eventually becoming a partner in the firm.

What’s amazing to me is that for many of Trump’s most fervent backers, Goldman Sachs is the epitome of all evil. Trump himself attacked the firm during the campaign and loved to link Ted Cruz to it because Cruz’s wife, Heidi, used to work there.

Yet I hear crickets now from those who think Goldman Sachs is the focus of evil in the modern world. Trump wants a former Goldman Sachs partner running the treasury department and no one who vilified the firm earlier has publicly criticized the move.

Let’s be honest. Trump never really believed Goldman Sachs was all that bad. He was merely manufacturing outrage to get votes.

What bothers me most about this is the propensity of the most dedicated Trump backers to give him a pass for things they would loudly condemn if others did them. This is close to a cult of personality. Haven’t we had enough of that these past eight years?

Mnuchin may be a fine secretary of the treasury. I will give the benefit of the doubt, but his record certainly bears scrutiny.

Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce designee, is another lifelong Democrat who is an outspoken critic of free trade, which is Trump’s position also. Personally, I favor free trade, so I’m at odds with Trump’s views on that from the start.

As someone who has spent his career buying up and restructuring failing companies, Ross does have vital experience to offer if he truly knows how to bolster commerce in that way. But Trump has another reason for choosing him.

Trump owes Ross a lot. His relationship with Trump goes back decades. Ross helped Trump keep control of his failing Taj Mahal casino in the 1990s by persuading investors not to push out the real estate mogul.

What? Trump, the expert businessman who is great at all he does, needed to be bailed out? Balloon punctured.

Those are the most questionable of Trump’s cabinet picks. All of the ones I’ve highlighted, both positive and negative, over these last two posts, require Senate confirmation. Tillerson, in particular, may face some rough sledding, but Senate Republicans may feel like they have to give Trump what he wants at this point.

There are other appointments Trump has made that don’t have go through the Senate confirmation process. I will deal with those in another post.

Trump’s Good Picks

Now that most of Donald Trump’s nominees for significant positions in his administration have been chosen—most still needing Senate confirmation—I can say I’m pleased with a number of them. My goal today is to highlight the picks that I think are positive, the ones that offer some hope of wise counsel and prudent policies.

jeff-sessionsSen. Jeff Sessions has been tapped to be the next attorney general, the job that requires enforcing federal laws and prosecuting those who break them.

Sessions was the first senator to support Trump in the primaries, so this is his reward. From everything I know about him, he is an excellent choice for this particular task. Some have attempted to paint him as a racist, apparently because he’s a southern senator. That’s getting old, especially for someone who, as attorney general of Alabama, prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan.

betsy-devosBetsy DeVos, a proponent of education reform, school choice, and champion of parental rights in education, is slated to be the next secretary of education.

DeVos is a solid pick, someone who understands just how awful the education system has become. From what I can determine, she doesn’t believe the government is the answer for fixing it. At one point, she supported Common Core, but when she realized its true nature, she withdrew her support.

As long as there is an education department (for which there is no constitutional authority), I am glad, at least, that someone with her perspective will be in charge of it. If allowed to follow her beliefs, Christian schools and homeschoolers will have an ally.

It would be great if everyone grasped this truth:

source-of-problems

tom-priceGeorgia congressman Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who has consistently opposed Obamacare and has offered his own substitution for it year after year in Congress, is, hopefully, the next secretary of health and human services.

Price has been chairman of the House Budget Committee, thereby serving as a leader in attempts to control the budget.

With Price at the head of HHS, the Obamacare nightmare might be on its way out—finally.

james-mattisThe job of secretary of defense is crucial right now, given the sad state of our military after eight years of Obama. Handing it over to a general is not a bad idea, and most of the commentary I’ve read and heard about James Mattis confirms for me that he might be the answer.

Mattis’s 41 years as a Marine Corps general is filled with commendations. He led troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and also in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Most recently, he served as head of US Central Command, in charge of all American forces in the Middle East. It would be nice to have someone at defense who understands that region. He co-wrote, with Gen. David Petraeu, the military’s counterinsurgency manual.

Obama fired Mattis from his position at Central Command without even a phone call to him. He had to learn about it from others. The fact that he was at odds with Obama’s military policy makes him even more attractive, frankly.

ben-carsonFor housing and urban development secretary, Trump has picked Ben Carson, someone who knows what it’s like to live in public housing. Many thought Carson might be chosen for HHS instead, given his medical career, but HUD is also understandable.

I like Carson personally (though I have never met him), yet I have been critical of him for his early support of Trump once he (Carson) dropped out of the presidential race. I’ve never really understood what he saw in Trump, especially after the accusations Trump leveled at him during the primaries. But I do want him to succeed in this new position.

The only caveat I have is whether Carson knows how to administer such a large bureaucracy, particularly when he appeared at first to withdraw from consideration from any position, claiming he didn’t feel qualified. Well, we’ll see how it goes. All the best, Dr. Carson. I will pray for you.

john-kellyThe ongoing terrorist threat requires a steady hand at the Department of Homeland Security. From what I’ve gathered, putting former retired Marine general John Kelly in that position gives the nation the steady hand it needs for balancing national security with our basic liberties.

Kelly served as head of US Southern Command. In addition to his experience leading troops overseas, he is known for his strong knowledge of border issues and the drug trade in South and Central America. Sadly, he lost his Marine son to an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2010. Kelly knows what it means to suffer personally from the War on Terror.

nikki-haleyI’m glad to see South Carolina governor Nikki Haley chosen to serve as our next ambassador to the United Nations. While she has little experience in international affairs, she has impressed me with her strong conservatism and political acumen. Both qualities are needed in that post to adequately represent the US in the international arena.

scott-pruittWhile I have little knowledge of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice for leading the EPA, I’m heartened by what I’ve read. Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, has been a strong critic of the excesses at the EPA. His detractors will say he is anti-environment, but he appears to be simply anti-extremism on environmental policy. He considers the EPA an all-too-powerful agency pursuing an ideological agenda based on what he considers dubious science. More power to him as he seeks to provide balance in this area.

Those are Trump’s choices that I favor the most. I will follow up in another post with ones that I consider more questionable.