Monday, March 27, 2017
Learning on the Job Too
Even if you ignore the absurd personal attacks, the fabricated and seemingly paranoid tweets and the doubling down on indefensible statements and positions, there is this pervasive naiveté, Trump-world inexperienced cabinet appointees with little or no government experience, folks opining on legal rulings with obviously absolutely no legal training or understanding.
You can see this in Donald Trump’s recitation of the statutory provision upon which his Muslim travel ban/executive order is based. He admonished the rallying Trumpsters in Nashville on March 15th by challenging the intelligence of anyone to tell him how anyone could stop his ban based upon the plain reading of the enabling statute (a fairly long statute, originally passed in 1952 and recorded as 8 United States Code, Section 1182 – Inadmissible Aliens) that gives the president the ability to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens” that he finds are detrimental to the interest of the United States.
Yup, if that’s all you read, you’d think that the President can pretty much shut down our borders to classes of people he believes are a threat to the country. But what non-lawyer, non-government-experienced Trump never mentioned, the very basis for what courts have used to stop his Muslim ban order, is something called “the Constitution,” which severely limits how statutes can be applied and what considerations the government, including the President, cannot make. Whether the Constitution winds up supporting or overturning that executive order has yet to be determined is not the point. Not addressing that potential and thinking that the statute is enough is the issue.
That Congress can make no law abridging religious freedom (set forth in the Constitution’s First Amendment), for example, limits the Presidential discretion in any matter. Does it apply to this instance? Several federal district courts and one federal appellate court have effectively ruled that as Donald Trump has applied the above statute, he has stepped over the constitutional line. Some people have asked, “If this statute or this section of the statute is unconstitutional; why wasn’t it struck down way back when?” Courts cannot review a statute on their own. Somebody has to bring a case involving that statute, and courts are then obligated to make a decision on the narrowest grounds they can.
Until Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric throughout the election process, reaffirmed in recent rallies, was rather directly linked to his executive travel ban order, there was no reason to for the courts to intervene. But several states’ attorneys general saw that order as disruptive to their own people and violative of their perception of constitutional proscription. Formal cases were filed, and the decision moved through the courts.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s rather obvious ignorance of the law, which “failure to get it” is anything but clear to his non-lawyer followers, did not address anything beyond a statute, a law which of necessity lives within a greater legal system with checks and balances, a system designed to check both executive and legislative branches to insure constitutional governance. Donald Trump does not like that system. He does not like judges. He likes to attack them, personally challenging their intelligence, noting that federal judges are appointed for life. Trumps insults to judges are “disheartening” and “demoralizing” according to Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. These insults reflect Donald Trump’s rather profound ignorance of both our judicial system and our Constitutionally-defined legal system… unless he intend to ignore them and rule by fiat… which does not augur well for the survivability of the American “democracy.”
That limited knowledge, an unwillingness to learn the ropes before embracing a policy, seem to be pervasive in the Trump administration. Between “draining the swamp” and attacking anyone who disagrees with Trump administration dictates, there seems to be this arrogance that the Donald was elected purposely to ignore the law and anything else Washington stands for, even including the Constitution.
We have also recently alienated countries in every corner of the world, from England to Germany, from China to Mexico, and now we have our most senior diplomat making “wet behind the ears” mistakes. In the world of diplomacy (I am a Foreign Service brat; grew up with stuff), the words you choose are often symbolic of underlying policies. Experienced diplomats understand this jargon in detail, and misuse of words can send the wrong signals to your negotiating partner. When someone without foreign policy experience steps into a policy leadership role, no matter how “successful” in the business world, there can be some ugly ramifications in the universe of international relations.
Here’s one example from thecipherbrief.com (March 21st), which aggregates views from seasoned professionals: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concluded his first trip to China over the weekend with affirmations from Beijing of cooperative and friendly relations between the two countries. Tillerson met Chinese President Xi Jinping, who later said ‘the joint interests of China and the United States far outweigh the differences, and cooperation is the only correct choice for us both.’ In a press conference on Saturday, Tillerson said that China and the U.S. had agreed to cooperate on finding a solution to denuclearize North Korea.
“The Cipher Take: While Tillerson’s visit seems to have diffused the tension over some of the Trump Administration’s rather hostile statements directed at China, some experts believe it may have gone too far. Tillerson’s statements acknowledged the term ‘mutual respect’ between the two countries. Previously, the Obama Administration had avoided this term - preferred by Beijing -because it is thought to imply that the two countries are equals in the region and that the U.S. respects Beijing’s ‘core interests,’ namely its claims over Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and second-tier security interests such as the South China Sea. While Tillerson’s approach may facilitate more productive relations between Beijing and Washington in the near term, it could have far-reaching ramifications for the United States’ relations with regional allies whose interests often conflict with those of Beijing.” Ouch!
This failure by Trump appointees to understand the underlying responsibility of their new government jobs goes beyond an EPA head who simply doesn’t want to believe that carbon dioxide is the greatest cause of greenhouse-gas-driven global warming (the average annual global temperature continues to rise, year-by-year). It extends, for further example, to the new head of the Department of Education, a person who has openly advocated replacing public schools with vouchers that could be used for private education. Traditionally, where vouchers are allowed (e.g., Florida), they are overwhelmingly used to place children in religious schools, clearly the intent of super-evangelically-oriented, Betsy DeVos (the new head of that agency).
But what is most interesting is how little she really understood about the department she is now running, or what its legal obligations are. For example, she had no idea that the law required schools to accommodate students with disabilities. Take these exchanges during her January confirmation hearings: “Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked Betsy DeVos about how she’d enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA, as the law is known, requires that public schools provide children with disabilities a ‘free and appropriate’ education just like other students.
“As DeVos danced around his questions, Kaine grew agitated, asking her point-blank if schools should have to follow federal law… ‘Should all K-12 schools receiving government funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act?’ he asked… ‘I think they already are,’ DeVos responded, suggesting that no school is failing to meet the law.
“‘But I’m asking you a ‘should’ question,’ Kaine followed up. ‘Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet [the law]?’
“‘I think that’s a matter that’s best left to the states,’ DeVos responded, essentially saying the federal government should abdicate enforcement of its own law… Kaine pretty much lost it at that point… ‘So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, other states might not be good, and then what? People can just move around the country if they don’t like [the schools]?’
“When it was her turn to quiz DeVos, Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who has a son with special needs, returned to the topic of IDEA, and wanted to pin down whether DeVos was even familiar with it… ‘That’s a federal civil rights law,’ Hassan said. ‘So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the state whether to follow it?’
‘I may have confused it,’ DeVos responded.” Huffington Post, January 18th. Or this little exchange showing that she really doesn’t even understand the basic terminology used to explain student metrics:
“Sen. Al Franken asked DeVos to explain her thinking on whether test scores should be used to measure students’ proficiency or their growth. That’s an important, and basic, difference because it affects how schools are labeled as succeeding or failing… But DeVos had no idea what Franken was talking about.
“‘I think if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student according to the advancements they are making in each subject area,’ she said to Franken… ‘That’s growth,’ Franken retorted, correctly. ‘That’s not proficiency.’” By the time DeVos understood Franken’s question, she had no time left to answer.’’ Vox.com, January 17th.
In the end, the United States is only as good as its leaders and representatives, how people see us and define their perceptions of who Americans are. And right now, most of the world doesn’t think much of us. As the world smolders, the United States seems little more than a political circus to governments and press around the world. Keystone cops making freshman mistakes. Can we afford such awkwardness, such obvious mistakes when there are really serious issues over which we seem relatively unconcerned?
“Aggression is growing along the westward reach of Russian influence and the southern boundary of Chinese influence. Intercontinental nuclear capacity may soon be in the hands of a mental pubescent in North Korea. In the Middle East, a hostile alliance of Russia and Shiite powers is ascendant; radical Sunnis have a territorial foothold and inspire strikes in Western cities; America’s traditional Sunni friends and allies feel devalued or abandoned; perhaps 500,000 Syrians are dead and millions of refugees suffer in conditions that incubate anger. Cyberterrorism and cyberespionage are exploiting and weaponizing our own technological dependence. Add to this a massive famine in East Africa, threatening the lives of 20 million people, and the picture of chaos is complete — until the next crisis breaks.
“It is in this context that the diplomatic bloopers reel of the past few days has been played — the casual association of British intelligence with alleged surveillance at Trump Tower; the presidential tweets undermining Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his Asia trip; and the rude and childish treatment given the German chancellor. When President Trump and Angela Merkel sat together in the Oval Office, we were seeing the leader of the free world — and that guy pouting in public.
“Every new administration has a shakeout period. But this assumes an ability to learn from mistakes. And this would require admitting mistakes. The spectacle of an American president blaming a Fox News commentator for a major diplomatic incident was another milestone in the miniaturization of the presidency.
“An interested foreigner (friend or foe) must be a student of Trump’s temperament, which is just as bad as advertised. He is inexperienced, uninformed, easily provoked and supremely confident in his own judgment…
“Foreigners see a Darwinian, nationalist framework for American foreign policy; a diminished commitment to global engagement; a brewing scandal that could distract and cripple the administration; and a president who often conducts his affairs with peevish ignorance… Some will look at this spectacle and live in fear; others [like China and Russia] may see a golden opportunity." Michael Gerson writing for the March 20th Washington Post.
Should we think that does not matter, I have already watched hundreds of millions, even billions, of foreign investment dollars vaporize in my little entertainment industry alone… because there is an aversion over doing business with an unpredictable new Trump-led America. They have been less-than-subtle. We are increasingly have to go it alone to effect American priorities around the world, with fewer and fewer allies ready to stand by our side.
I’m Peter Dekom, and how many jobs or deals do we have to lose before we wake up and become one nation again… if we ever do?