At The End Of Year One

Slowly, warily — like a cat carefully but resolutely stalking a strange, apparently interesting, but potentially dangerous object — we’re seeing people approaching the assessment of the first year of the Trump presidency.  It’s fascinating to watch the process.

trump-presser-gty-ml-171220_12x5_992The passage of the massive tax bill this week is triggering a lot of the reassessments.  On the conservative side of the spectrum, you see lots of people — including those who formerly were among the “Never Trump” crowd — now arguing that Trump has had a “year of accomplishment.”  Their lists include the tax cut bill, the nomination and confirmations of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and other conservative jurists, the military successes against ISIS in the Middle East, the rollback of many regulations, and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Add to that the upsurge in the stock market and the current indications of strong economic and jobs growth in the American economy, and these commentators contend that Trump has had a strong year and may just be getting his footing.  I’m sure my conservative friends would come up with additional things to add to that list.

On the liberal side of the spectrum, the reassessment is the polar opposite.  Many liberal commentators see Trump as an appalling, bumbling, dangerous, bullying, harassing buffoon who’s likely heading for impeachment, or indictment when the ongoing Mueller investigation is completed, and nothing Trump has done in the first year changes any of that.  They think that his foreign policy initiatives, such as his insult duels with Kim Jong Un, his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his attempt to reorient relations with China and Russia, are grossly reckless, marginalizing American influence in the world and making war more likely — which makes everyone more nervous in view of the fact that Trump has his finger on the button.  And they are sickened by many of his regulatory decisions, his judicial nominations, and his support for initiatives like allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  To the liberal side, Trump seems to be turning out to be far worse than they really imagined — and I’m sure my liberal friends would say this list is just scratching the surface.

What about The Great Middle of the political spectrum?  I think most of those who fall into this category continue to shake their heads at Trump’s ill-considered tweets and his apparent inability to resist expressing his opinion on any topic in the world of sports, entertainment, or anything else — which isn’t consistent with what we think is “acting presidential” — and by the incessant taffing shake-ups and unseemly jibes at Congress and cultural figures and unconventional approach to just about everything.  We don’t know how the changes wrought by legislative and regulatory initiatives will affect us, or the economy.  Many of us have just kept our heads down, hoping the country survives the current bitter political climate.  It’s almost a surprise that we’ve reached the end of the first year — and made it.

Perhaps we all can agree on one thing:  next year is going to be interesting.

Cruz Missile

Last week Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, announced that he was running for President.  He consciously chose a venue and a topic that would help to define his campaign:  the speech was given at Liberty University, described as the largest Christian university in the world, and his speech was styled as being about liberty itself. In his announcement speech, Cruz staked out the unabashedly conservative position (or the far-right position, depending on your political perspective) on a number of issues.  He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, for example, and he’s against Common Core and wants to abolish the IRS.  Although Cruz is the first to announce his candidacy, the Republican field is expected to be crowded.  Other potential candidates include former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, as well as Dr. Ben Carson and Donald Trump.  With President Obama ending his second term, other Republican hopefuls may be tempted to throw their hats into the ring. I’m glad Cruz has declared — not because I agree with his politics, but because I think we as a country would be well-served by a thorough airing of different positions on the issues of the day.  Cruz, and other anticipated Republican candidates, no doubt will present the various conservative and libertarian positions on the issues in a forceful way.  I’m hopeful that, on the Democratic side, too, potential candidates forget about the concept of Hillary Clinton and her inevitability and enter the race so that competing perspectives at the other end of the political spectrum also are thoughtfully explained and advanced. Elections should be contests of ideas, not coronations.  When candidates meaningfully joust about policy proposals they can expose flaws and sharpen concepts, as well as present voters with real choices.  But elections also are about the candidates themselves and their baskets of resumes, skills, and personal characteristics, evaluated in the context of the issues of the day.  I wonder whether, in our increasingly dangerous world, 2016 voters will be looking for a candidate with more experience, who is perceived as having a steady hand and sober judgment, to succeed a President who was elected as a first-term Senator?  If so, Cruz — a first-term Senator himself who was elected only three years ago, and whose resume includes playing an instrumental role in bringing about an ill-advised governmental shutdown that left Republicans with egg on their faces — will be out of luck.

Political Neutrality In The Classroom

In a heated presidential election campaign, are college classrooms becoming improperly political?  Two recent news reports address the issue.

At The Ohio State University, a professor notified fellow professors that the Obama campaign was willing to send a volunteer to classrooms to encourage students to register, a pitch that would take about five minutes of class time.  The message also said the staffer could talk to students about volunteering with the Obama campaign, but if professors “weren’t comfortable” with that, the presentation would be limited to voter registration.  A report about the message appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the OSU administration reacted promptly.  The University Provost sent a message to faculty stating that “we must make absolutely certain that Ohio State does not engage in partisan political activities,” which includes “inviting political organizers into our classrooms.”  The message added that national elections are important and exciting, but the OSU faculty and administration needed to ensure that “Ohio State will be seen as a base for impartial discourse.”

More recently, a professor at a Florida college is reported to have handed out pledges to vote for President Obama to her students during a math class; when the reports came to light, the school commenced an investigation to determine if its policies had been violated and the professor went on a leave of absence.

Do these reports show that our colleges and universities are being vigilant in ensuring that classrooms aren’t used as political indoctrination sessions?  Or, as some conservatives claim, are such reports merely addressing the tip of the iceberg of partisan political discourse — discourse that conservatives suspect is overwhelmingly liberal in orientation?

Colleges always will be hotbeds of political discussion among students, but I think most colleges and universities are legitimately trying to avoid partisan hackery by faculty members.  I was encouraged by the Lantern article which quoted OSU students as saying that professors weren’t expressing their personal political views in the classroom or pressuring students to vote one way or another.

This is an election where there is heated feeling on both sides.  Under such circumstances, you’d expect a professor to cross the line now and then.  The important thing is for school administrations to keep an eye our for such policy violations, respond to any reports with appropriate investigations, and remind faculty and staff of the rules.  American institutions of higher education should strive to achieve a neutral setting where students feel free to discuss and debate all political viewpoints — which is a lot of what college should be about.

Newtered

Today South Carolina Republicans vote in their state’s presidential primary.  Polls indicate it is a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich apparently has been given a boost by the most recent Republican candidates debate.  Gingrich was asked about the recent comments of his ex-wife, who said he asked that she agree to an “open marriage” in which he could have both a wife and a mistress.  In response, Gingrich lashed out at the questioner and the media, generally, for focusing on irrelevancies and making the first question in a presidential debate one about his long-ago personal affairs.  The audience of Republicans, who apparently hate the media with every fiber of their beings, ate it up and gave Gingrich a standing ovation.

I don’t care about Gingrich’s past personal behavior — but I also don’t see why his set-piece smackdown of a question about it is such a great thing.  Some rock-ribbed conservatives seem to despise the media and love to see them publicly criticized for any reason; I don’t share that view.

To me, the little diatribe was an obvious, planned bit of political theater, and the fact that Gingrich palled around with the questioner after the debate just confirms it.  Gingrich has deep roots and connections in the Washington social milieu of politicians, lobbyists, reporters, and consultants.  When he gave his little angry performance, his inside-the-Beltway buddies no doubt leaned back, nodded to each other, and agreed that Gingrich was just doing the necessary political thing, knowing the rubes would eat it up — and they did.

Gingrich’s debate diatribe may well win South Carolina for him, but I think his performance really exposes him as just another calculated politician.

Bye Bye Blue Dogs

See full size image

Time and time again polling data seems to indicate now more than ever that we Americans want our politicians to work together to achieve compromise on issues that are important to us. The problem which this article points out is that one faction of the Congress, the Blue Dogs took a huge hit after Tuesday’s election.

The Blue Dog Democrats have always been intriguing to me because they are the moderate to conservative Democrats committed to financial security and national security who favor compromise and bipartisanship over ideology and party discipline. What an interesting concept !

The Blue Dogs have faced criticism from the political left because of their efforts to find common ground and the left feels that their initiatives have been watered down because of them. It’s only my opinion, but I think we need more of these types of politicians right now as opposed to less. People who are willing to work on bridging the gap between the right and the left trying to find common ground.

It’s not only happening on the left, but as I mentioned in a prior blog, George Voinovich, a moderate broke ranks with the Republicans and sided with the Democrats by voting for a much needed Small Business Reform package. He did so not only because it was the right thing to do for the country, but because he wasn’t seeking re-election. Lincoln Chaffey from Rhode Island and Arlen Spector from Pennsylvania were moderate Republicans who were either forced out of the party or had to change party.

Due to the large number of Tea Party candidates and the loss of so many Blue Dogs and moderate Republicans I am afraid compromise, bipartisanship and common ground will be if the aren’t already things of the past.