The Protestations of a Man Who Seems to be Concerned His Lawyer Will Turn on Him

Mr. Twitterfingers is busy this morning.

The thing about our president is that you can always tell what he’s thinking. And today’s he’s laying the groundwork to contend Mr. Cohen is lying if and when Cohen ever implicates Mr. Trump in wrongdoing.

I have no idea if Mr. Trump committed any crimes. That said, I’ve never seen anyone make himself look so guilty.

I sure hope your generation has more sense than mine, Vera. And is never tempted to elect a man such as this to the highest office in the land.

(P.S. Here’s the NYT’s story that seems to have set the pres off this morning.)

Why Does Bombing and Killing Make Us Feel So Good?

Once again, our president bombed another country. And once again, so many of my fellow citizens take delight in such actions. I’ll never understand.

Here’s what our president tweeted this morning:

So just what has America accomplished in Syria?

Well, we (or our surrogates) killed a lot of people. And destroyed a lot of homes and property.

We’ve caused untold suffering. And helped create millions of refugees.

In short, we’ve been an agent of death and destruction.

Mission accomplished, America. To some we “could not have had a better result.”

To others, we lack the good sense to feel shame.

Former F.B.I. Director Comey Reminds America of Its Recklessness

From the former director of the F.B.I.:

I had never seen anything like it in the Oval Office. As I found myself thrust into the Trump orbit, I once again was having flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob.

The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview.

The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and the truth.

Describing a different meeting with Trump in January 2017, where he was asked for his personal loyalty:

To my mind, the demand was like Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony – with Trump in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man’.

Here’s how he described a meeting about Russian election interference:

Holy crap, they are trying to make each of us an ‘amica nostra’ – a friend of ours. To draw us in.

As crazy as it sounds, I suddenly had the feeling that, in the blink of an eye, the president-elect was trying to make us all part of the same family.

The election of Donald J. Trump was the most reckless act I’ve witnessed in national politics in my lifetime. Mr. Comey is making sure we don’t forget.

Are You a Good Judge of Character?

I’m a lousy judge of character. Early on, that is. Once I get to know someone well, it’s a different matter (although I still tend to be too generous, even then). But I suppose anyone could say they’re good at sizing up the situation when the body of evidence is large. The true test is, can you judge someone’s character when you meet them? Or early on in a relationship, when the body of evidence is slight? I can’t. I tend to give people too much credit, only to be disappointed later when reality reveals itself.

I take some solace that I’m not alone in this weakness. Indeed, most people are poor judges of character. But that only gets me so far, principally because your grandmother is a pretty good judge of character, Vera. She’s a constant reminder of just how bad my judgment is in this regard.

The “Dunning-Kruger effect” comes to mind (named for David Dunning and Justin Kruger). Continue reading

When Does Character Not Matter?

The Trump phenomenon got me to wondering: When does character matter? Should character matter? I used to think the answer was obvious. I was wrong.

No one can seriously argue that Mr. Trump is a man of good character. After all:

  • He lies all the time.
  • He had sex with a porn star four months after Mrs. Trump gave birth to their son.
  • He’s bragged about assaulting women.
  • He regularly mistreats and humiliates people, including firing people by tweet.
  • He pokes fun at disabled people.
  • He’s racist and ridicules people because of their race or ethnicity.
  • He’s crude and vulgar.
  • He calls people losers just because they don’t support him.
  • He stiffs contractors.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of good character in this man. His character is just about as bad as it comes. Yet he’s popular with millions of Americans, including many self-professing Christians.

It’s clear, then, that character doesn’t matter to many of my fellow Americans. Which makes me wonder, am I making too big a deal over Mr. Trump’s character flaws? Should we be concerned only about his official decisions and policies and not be distracted by the man himself?

I’ve pondered these questions a lot during the past 17 months, especially when I find myself agreeing with one of his policies. My quick reaction is to be judgmental, both of the man and those who empowered him. Yet it’s hard to dismiss the reality that, to millions of people, Mr. Trump’s character is not a sufficient reason to withhold their support. Could so many people be so wrong?

I’ve come to the conclusion that whether the voters were wrong or not in supporting such a despicable man is not my concern. I am not responsible for the decisions of others and, in any event, there’s nothing I can do about it. It is what it is.

But I’ve also concluded that, at least for me, character does matter. A lot.

It’s not that I think any politician is a saint. Or that any of us are for that matter. But that doesn’t mean I have to support someone who is seemingly devoid of good character traits. Or vote for them.

It also doesn’t mean I have to work for liars, swindlers, or thieves, or for people who are crude and vulgar, or who harass subordinates or take advantage of other people. Admittedly, I’ve been lucky: I’ve never been in the position of having to work for anyone of really bad character, save one instance. And in that instance, I could leave, so it wasn’t a big deal.

I realize some people might not have the luxury of walking away from a job. I also surmise it’s possible to work for a bad actor without supporting him or allowing him to contaminate your own character and conduct. But sometimes it isn’t possible.

In fact, sometimes bad actors pull others into their orbit, and before you know it the person who thought he had better character now finds himself lying, cheating, or stealing his way through the work day. Most if not all of us have encountered such people.

They can make excuses and say they’re just doing their job (the Nuremberg defense). And, indeed, they might get a pass from society because of that defense. But whether or not they get a pass, they’re dirty. And no other person has the power to wash that filth away. Only the individual controls his or her actions. Only the individual gets to decide where to draw the line.

As with the concentration camp guards in Nazi Germany, sometimes there is a lot at stake in doing the right thing, or at least in refusing to do the wrong thing. Few if any of us will ever have our lives at stake as the prison guards did. but quite a few of us have had or will have our jobs or livelihood at stake. Doing the right and honorable thing can be costly indeed.

But doing the wrong thing can be rewarding, as Mr. Trump and others have demonstrated — rewarding from a financial perspective that is. Or from the perspective of position and power.

So, does character matter? It’s easy to have an opinion on whether Mr. Trump’s character should matter. The issue of character is a harder one to confront when it involves one’s own. Especially if doing the right thing comes at a cost.

Easter Lessons from Our Christian President

The president claims to be a Christian. And a Presbyterian. What are the lessons in all of this?

  1. Labels are meaningless.
  2. It’s easy to fool people.
  3. It’s impossible to convince people they’ve been fooled.
  4. People often don’t believe what they say they believe.
  5. Nastiness pays. Depending on what your objective is.

And for a brief walk down memory lane. Here’s Mr. Trump’s 2015 Easter tweet from Palm Beach:

Jesus’ sentiment exactly. At least for some people.

What Will We Have When Mr. Trump Is Done Breaking Eggs?

Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s new Director of the National Economic Council and long-time confident of Mr. Trump, was quoted last week as saying the president “loves to break eggs.” And, indeed, for better or for worse, Mr. Trump has been breaking a lot of eggs recently.

I’m sure people have different opinions on the matter. Some are terrified by some of Mr. Trump’s actions; others are heartened. My opinion on the matter isn’t very important (to anyone but me, of course). Of course, the media think opinions matter. They’re constantly polling the American people.

I’m not one who is fond of the media’s incessant polling. Whether the polls suggest support for or opposition to the egg breaking is of no consequence to me. The only poll that counts is the one taken on election day.

I remain troubled by the poll taken in November 2016, when the American people decided to hand over the keys to the Oval Office (and our nuclear arsenal) to a megalomaniac. But it was their decision. It is what it is.

Given that election, I’m not particularly bothered by Mr. Trump’s egg breaking, mainly because none of it is coming as a surprise. Mr. Trump was upfront about his intentions during the campaign. Everyone knew (or should have known) he was going to break the eggs he’s been breaking. Obviously, that’s what a lot of people wanted or they wouldn’t have voted for him.

Naturally, the question on some people’s minds these days is, what will the country look like once all the eggs have been cracked? Will it be a better place? Or a worse place? How will our future be impacted? Will our kids and grandchildren’s lives be better or worse?

Many people have their predictions, but no one can know for sure. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. And be prepared to reap the benefits or suffer the consequences, whatever they might be. Perhaps the results of all of this egg breaking will be better than some people fear. But, of course, the ramifications could be worse than anyone can imagine. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, people aren’t left to be mere spectators. They have other people whom they’ve elected to represent them — people to whom they can reach out to express either support or disgust for the president’s egg breaking. And they can prepare for the next election, too — to ensure the election of a Congress that either supports or rejects the egg breaking.

The decision the country made in November 2016 has consequences, like all decisions do. And the decisions we make today have consequences, too — whether we decide to do nothing, voice support, or voice opposition. Perhaps even more importantly, the decisions we make in November 2018 will have consequences.

It will be interesting to see what those decisions will be.

Why Check the DJIA When All You Have To Do Is Follow His Tweets?

This is hilarious.

When the Dow Jones average was inflating, our dear president, the Tweeter-In-Chief, was constantly taking credit for the stock market, boastfully tweeting away as if imbeciles were on the other end (true, there were some). But then the market topped and entered correction territory. All of a sudden it was as if there wasn’t such a thing as a stock market.

Prepare Yourself, The Crisis Is Coming

I lived through one. A constitutional crisis that is. It resulted in the resignation of a president (Nixon). And now it appears we’ll be living through another one, except this one will be worse.

All along, I’ve thought President Trump would fire the special counsel if there was any wrongdoing in Mr. Trump’s past. There is no way I could be sure there was any wrongdoing, although, based on what we know about Mr. Trump’s character, it seemed likely there would be skeletons in the closet. But there’s no way to be certain.

Suspicions have been heightened, of course, by Mr. Trump himself. Over the past year, he certainly has acted like someone who’s guilty of something. I’ve represented some bad actors in my day, but I’ve never had anyone act so guilty as our president has acted these past 14 months.

And then this weekend unfolded. First, Mr. Trump’s lawyer called for the firing of the special counsel. That’s bizarre behavior for any lawyer. The only explanation is that he was instructed to float this trial balloon by his client. And, to no one’s surprise, it’s didn’t take long for that to become obvious.

On Saturday evening, Mr. Trump tweeted this:

The president followed this up the next day (Sunday morning) with three tweets attacking the F.B.I. One of his tweets cited Fox and Friends as supporting authority. (Yes, that’s what we’ve come to.)

It’s obvious the president is feeling the heat. And it’s just as apparent he thinks he or his family are in deep trouble should the special counsel be permitted to complete his investigation. Therefore, it seems equally apparent to me that it’s only a matter of time before the president has the special counsel fired, thereby triggering a constitutional crisis. The alternative is to do nothing and allow the justice system to do its work. But if one fears that means jail or impeachment, the risks associated with firing the special counsel are worth it.

The only thing that might keep him in check would be a Republican leadership that would not countenance such shenanigans. And I suspect that’s what this weekend’s tweets were designed to test. Not surprisingly, the Republican leadership resembled crickets. They’re a pathetic bunch. They care more about power and their own political fortunes than the country.

In short, I have no expectation the Republican House of Representatives will do anything to stop a constitutional crisis, which is more likely today than it was last week at this time. If anything is to be done, it will have to await a change of control of the House next January, assuming the electorate choses to throw out those who are complicit and install the opposition party. If they don’t, then nothing will be done.

But even if nothing is done, the crisis will not be contained. It will trigger a correction in or collapse of the stock market and possibly the bond market, too. It may even trigger a recession, although I’m less certain of that. There will be a myriad of other consequences, both domestically and in foreign affairs. Adversaries will be emboldened by a U.S. government in a state of crisis. For all intents and purpose, the Trump presidency will be over. But we might have to live through several more years of it just the same.

Most of us don’t have any say over what happens with Mr. Trump, the economy, or stock market, but we do have say over how we choose to invest our savings. And whom we vote for. But that process takes time to unfold. Constitutional crises don’t wait. They happen in real time. And on their own schedule.

Don’t be surprised if one is coming our way. Soon.

P.S. 3/19/18 – This morning’s tweet from the child king:

P.S. # 2 – It has only just begun.

P.S. # 3 – The latest installment of the setup.

Did Trump Just Help or Hurt the U.S.? Look to Indiana for the Answer

My (new) home state of Indiana is the top steel producing state in the country. It’s also the most manufacturing intensive state. We manufacture a lot of automobile and truck parts here, parts that rely on cheap steel and aluminum. So when assessing whether the new tariffs imposed by President Trump will be good or bad for the country, Indiana’s may be the bellwether state. We may see the impact first — for better or for worse.

Meanwhile, I’m still grinning from ear to ear at the ways the Republican Party has been transformed under Mr. Trump. Who would have thought that the Republicans would become the party of protectionism? Not me. Or anyone else if they’re being honest with themselves.

I’m also taking delight in Mr. Trump’s recent desire to take guns from people without due process of law. All I heard during his predecessor’s administration was the ludicrous fear mongering from the right claiming that Obama was “coming for their guns.” And now it turns out it’s the Republican president who wants to come for their guns. I have to admit taking some perverse delight in the way the worm has turned.

But back to trade. This could well be a train wreck in the making. Or not. Only time will tell. But it’s hard to imagine a good outcome should other countries retaliate, which one would assume is likely.

Of course, protectionist trade barriers are nothing new. Every state in the Union already has them. They’re called licensing requirements, etc. They inhibit commerce across state lines, ostensibly to protect consumers. But that’s often a ruse. Usually, it’s to protect incumbents from competition, thereby propping up the income and wealth of the incumbents (to the detriment of others, of course).

Countries have protective barriers, too. Including the U.S. Just ask any farmer in Brazil or sugar cane grower in any other country. Or foreign producers of any of the myriad of other products that already carry stiff tariffs.

So, despite the impression the press may be giving people, the world isn’t new to tariffs and protectionist policies. That doesn’t mean they’re good. They’re usually not. And it doesn’t mean we should add more. But it does mean it’s not the black and white issue that many are projecting it to be.