The new Democratic majority in Congress maps out its investigations of the Trump administration.
To avert an investigative free-for-all, Democrats decided early on that they needed to prioritize their inquiries within a basic narrative framework: How is misbehavior X endangering the health and safety of our democracy or of the American people?
Issues ranking high on Democrats’ inquiry list include the administration’s
- response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; its decisions
- not to defend the pre-existing conditions provision of Obamacare and to undermine the program by starving it of funds; its policy of
- separating migrant families at the southern border; and its
- rollback of environmental protections. Other prime lines of inquiry are
- whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stood to benefit personally from decisions he made in office,
- whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied to Congress about his efforts to add a question about citizenship to the new census — and
- pretty much every decision made so far by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Such potential maladministration may not be as buzzy as, say, exploring
- whether Mr. Trump paid hush money to former mistresses or
- underpaid his taxes by a few hundred million dollars. But it does concretely influence the health and well-being of the public.
This is not to say Mr. Trump will get a pass on his personal behavior, simply that Democrats will try to keep the focus on the bigger picture. For instance, Mr. Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax returns is part of his family’s sketchy financial dealings, which raise serious questions about everything from emoluments violations to inappropriate dealings with foreign interests. The crucial question isn’t whether the president has violated the law but whether he has been selling out the nation for personal gain.
Catastrophes, natural or man-made, can make or break leaders. They offer the ultimate opportunity to show the qualities that people seek in those whom they have chosen to take command: courage, empathy, serenity, fortitude, decisiveness. Under extreme circumstances, true leadership comes to the fore; if one does not possess the requisite qualities, their lack is immediately evident to all and sundry.
Few such leaders of modern times come to mind more readily than Winston Churchill, in the face of Hitler’s aerial onslaught against Great Britain, during the Second World War. As odd as it may seem to mention Rudy Giuliani in the same paragraph as Churchill, when Giuliani was the mayor of New York, he behaved well, even heroically, during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. His actions earned him a measure of public respect that, his latter-day transmogrification into Donald Trump’s chortling henchman notwithstanding, has endured, at least among certain Americans.
.. Trump behaved with negligent condescension toward the disaster from the beginning. He had made two visits to Texas in the days after Hurricane Harvey hit that state, gushing fulsomely over the handling of catastrophe and “great turnout” for his visits.
.. In a press conference, he appeared to issue a scolding for the cost of the assistance, saying, “Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack,” and he minimized the island’s tragedy by drawing comparisons between its reportedly low death toll and the “hundreds” of people who had died in Katrina.
.. His rosy rendition stands in direct contradiction to the opinion of most Puerto Ricans, eighty per cent of whom view his response unfavorably
.. Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him. NO IT IS NOT.”
.. what is more egregious, in Puerto Rico’s case, is the obviousness of the double-standard that he has applied to the island—an unincorporated U.S. territory—and the suspicion that it is racist in nature. Trump’s sign-off on his tweet denying the death toll was, “I love Puerto Rico!” That felt about as convincing as his proclamations of “I love Hispanics!”during the 2016 Presidential campaign.
.. “After the storm, it is evident that the treatment that was given, say, Florida or Texas, was very different than the treatment given in Puerto Rico. We are second-class U.S. citizens. We live in a colonial territory. It is time to eliminate that, and I implore all the elected officials, particularly now in midterm elections, to have a firm stance. You’re either for colonial territories or against them. You’re either for giving equal rights to the U.S. citizens that live in Puerto Rico, or you’re against it.”
.. In the past, referenda have shown Puerto Ricans to be split roughly into three groups—the smallest being in favor of independence, the next largest in favor of the current relationship, and an apparently growing majority in favor of statehood.
It also announced that President Trump was nominating the White House physician to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. What do these announcements have in common?
The answer is that both are indicators of how Trump views his job. He doesn’t seem to see actual policymaking as important; instead, he treats it all as an exercise in reality TV.
.. The point, instead, is that running veterans’ health is a management, not medical, job — and Jackson has no managerial experience.
.. Once you start looking at the Trump administration as an exercise in publicity, not policy, you see signs of it everywhere.
.. Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn in that role, Kudlow’s remarkable track record on the economy — he’s been wrong about everything
.. nothing in Kudlow’s role as a shouting head on cable TV has prepared him for the job he’s supposed to do.
.. So Trump is acting as if his job were to run up ratings for his TV show, not to make actual policies.
.. Wall Street had a big relief rally when investors tentatively concluded that Trump wants to only play at trade war, and can be bought off with symbolic wins that change nothing real.
.. Trump hasn’t managed to repeal Obamacare, but his officials have undermined the program’s efficiency, driving up premiums and reducing coverage.
.. if and when America needs real leadership, there will be nobody home.
.. So far, the Trump era has been almost free from crises Trump didn’t generate himself. One of the few such events demanding an effective response was Hurricane Maria — and the response was disastrously inadequate.
.. So what happens if there’s a foreign policy crisis, a financial crisis, a health crisis
.. we’ll need actual policies. And who’s going to devise those policies? Lincoln had a team of rivals; Trump has assembled a team of poseurs.
.. And even if Trump should come to realize he needs better people, he probably couldn’t get them.
.. Trump can’t even hire good lawyers!
.. one of these days, the reality TV administration is going to bump up against actual reality. And it’s not going to end well.
And the Trump administration seems increasingly to see this tragedy as a public relations issue, something to be spun — partly by blaming the victims — rather than as an urgent problem to be solved.
.. And as The Washington Postnotes, there’s a very telling piece of editing: One segment showed Forest Service workers clearing a road, but it cut off just before the official being interviewed praised local efforts: “The citizens of Puerto Rico were doing an outstanding job coming out and clearing roads to help get the aid that’s needed.”
Puerto Ricans behaving well, it seems, doesn’t fit the official story line.
.. Meanwhile, it took almost three weeks after Maria struck before Trump asked Congress to provide financial aid — and his request was for loans, not grants, which is mind-boggling when you bear in mind that the territory is effectively bankrupt.
.. Puerto Rico was in severe financial and economic difficulty even before the hurricane, and some of that reflected mismanagement. But much of it reflected changes in the global economy — for example, growing competition from Latin American nations — reinforced by policies imposed by Washington, like the end of a crucial tax break and the enforcement of the Jones Act, which forces it to rely on expensive U.S. shipping.
.. Puerto Rico is hardly the only U.S. region suffering difficulties in the face of global economic change — and such regions can normally count on federal support to help limit the hardship. What do you think West Virginia would look like if Medicare and Medicaid didn’t cover 44 percent of the population?
.. what would happen to employment in health and social assistance, which provides jobs to 16 percent of the state’s work force, which is vastly more than coal mining?