E Pluribus Unum: Who Are We? (reprinted from the Frank Church Institute Conference held in October 2017)


Image of E Plurebus Unum patch
E Pluribus Unum.  Out of Many, One.

These words are on the Great Seal of the United States. They are on every piece of currency and coin we use. It is a motto as old as the Republic, dating back to 1776.

They define America and make us a beacon and example for the world. Or do they? Are we at present—or have we ever been—a welcoming nation to immigrants? Does our history embrace the melting pot and rejoice in our diversity? Do we live up to the inscription chiseled on the base of the Statue of Liberty?

From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The answer, it seems, is that it is complicated. Let us examine a brief history, particularly our own political history, and then consider where we are in 2017.

As much as we refer to America as a nation of immigrants, this is only technically true. From the importation of slaves, to the treatment of Native Americans, to the influx of Irish, Italian, German, Asian and other immigrants, to the rejection of Jews fleeing the Nazis, to the current fears directed against Hispanic immigrants, America has not always laid out the welcome mat.

As Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, points out, over 12 million slaves were sent to the New World between 1525 and 1866. Most went to the Caribbean and South America, only about 388,000 were sent to North America. By the 1860 census, however, due to a growing population, the number of slaves in the United States stood at 4 million (out of a total population of 31.5 million). Political and economic calculations up until the Civil War led our leaders to embrace the sad and immoral practice of slavery. This was hardly a shining example of “all men are created equal.”

Now those who hold the power are those who used to be persecuted. While 32 million Americans, about 10% of our population, celebrate their Irish roots on St Patrick’s Day, they were not always treated as equal citizens. Beginning in 1845 with the potato famine, until the late 1850s, nearly two million Irish immigrants came to the United States. The response was strong and immediate by the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party. They elected eight governors, 100 members of Congress and big city mayors in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Abraham Lincoln took them head-on in a letter written in 1855: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’” Everywhere, the Irish were confronted with “No Irish Need Apply signs and newspaper advertisements.

The Irish were far from the only victims. For Italians, prejudice and discrimination, even lynchings and Catholic Church burnings, confronted them upon arrival. America initially welcomed Germans as teachers of the language in the late 1800s, but as World War I approached that changed radically. The country used Chinese labor to build our railroads and mine our gold, but prejudice arrived with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that lasted until its repeal in 1943. Finally, the Japanese internment camps during World War II are a sad reminder of our treatment of American citizens of Japanese descent.

Politics mitigated anti-immigrant fervor and brought change by electing new officeholders at all levels. New York and Boston elected Irish mayors starting in the 1880s, which paved the way for the Kennedys and Fitzgeralds later on. Italian politicians rose to prominence in New York City (Mayor Fiorello La Guardia), New York State (Governor Al Smith – of the Ferraro family), and San Francisco (Mayor Angelo Rossi). As America elected more leaders of color and diversity, they began to push back against unacceptable rhetoric. Through political power and influence came change and greater acceptance of diverse, multicultural viewpoints.

Where are we now in America? Unfortunately, not in a very good place.

Due partly to Donald Trump, people are more aware than ever of the role and presence of immigrants, refugees, religion, race and ethnicity. From Trump’s very first announcement, where he railed against immigrants, called them rapists and demanded a wall that Mexico would pay for, Trump put the issue of America’s diversity front and center. He called for a ban on people from six majority-Muslim countries. He has made it clear that his campaign and his presidency will be heavily defined by his hardline policies on immigration. His appeal to disaffected, less educated white voters, living in rural areas carried him to the presidency and form a core part of his base.

In a very real sense, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric kick-started his campaign for President. It played to many who felt left out, alienated and economically harmed by “the system.”  Traditionally, one of the key measurements of the national mood is whether voters believe the nation is headed in the right direction or is off track. In most national polls over the last ten years, 60-70 percent of voters consistently feel that the nation is on the wrong track. Fear dominates and voters are looking for someone or some group to blame. Immigrants, once again, are the preferred target for the new ruling coalition.

With an estimated 11 million people residing in the United States without identity papers, and the inability of our elected officials to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the kindling was ready to be ignited. When the economic crisis of 2008-2009 hit Americans hard, many of whom had not seen appreciable increases in their salaries over the past 15 years, their anger and frustration, especially against immigrants, trade, and income inequality, ballooned. Soon it became visceral and personal.

There are now more than 65 million people displaced by war and conflict. Over 500,000 new refugees have recently been added to this total with Muslim Rohingya fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh. Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and Yemen all are enduring protracted conflicts. The plight of refugees cannot be ignored. Yet, the United States under President Trump wants to admit less than 50,000 refugees a year. Moreover, Trump would extend these restrictions to legal immigration as well.

Trump’s effort to single out Muslims throws gasoline on a smoldering fire. Muslims comprise 1.8 billion people and 24 percent of the world’s population. It is worth asking a simple question: how can we survive in an increasingly global, interdependent world if we stoke conflict with one quarter of the world’s population?

Fortunately, there is another path.

Here in Idaho, we have seen a positive example with the success of the Chobani plant in Twin Falls. 1,000 employees from diverse backgrounds, nations, and religious beliefs came together to carry out an investment of over $550 million. Yet, extremist talk show host and conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones and his pseudo-media company InfoWars chose to attack Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya anyway. Additionally, Breitbart and other outlets falsely linked Hamdi to extremism, terrorism and even rape. Ulukaya filed a lawsuit and ultimately received a settlement and retraction from Alex Jones. It is not easy overcoming prejudice and taking on false accusations – Twin Falls has been at ground zero dealing with anti-Muslim activity, as the New York Times recently reported. Fortunately, local government, business leaders and Idahoans from all walks of life recognize the importance and the success of what Ulukaya has accomplished.

The success of immigrant entrepreneurs is widespread. CBS News reports that immigrants have started twice as many businesses as those born in the U.S., that one-third of companies that went public (2006 to 2012) had at least one immigrant founder, and that of the 87 private companies worth over $1 billon, 51 percent had immigrant founders. According to an article from the George W. Bush Institute, “when immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise the GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus.”

It may be that E Pluribus Unum remains an aspiration, but it is worth putting at the top of our political agenda once again. By reaffirming who we are, what we stand for, and the acceptance – indeed embrace – of immigrants, we will be much stronger as a nation and a true example to the world. It takes political courage to resist the demagogues and those who want to close the doors behind them, but we can have security and stability as well as openness and freedom.

The “huddled masses” still yearn to “breathe free” and to contribute to an even better America. It is up to all of us to make that dream a reality.

Photo of Peter FennPeter Fenn worked as an aide to Senator Frank Church on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in his Senate office and on his political campaigns. He co-founded the Center for Responsive Politics/Open Secrets and has been a political media consultant, working in all 50 states and internationally, for over thirty years.

Time for the 25th Amendment

Time for the 25th Amendment

It’s imperative that Republicans move to oust President Trump.

Time for the 25th Amendment

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

Aug. 18, 2017, at 2:15 p.m.

For Republicans and Democrats alike, businesspeople of all stripes, columnists from various political perspectives, and even those behind the counter at the grocery store, it is harder and harder to comprehend this president.

Even when he mentions past presidents such as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, let alone modern ones like Clinton or Bush or Obama, it becomes crystal clear he does not belong. As I have said before, this is the bad kind of not normal, rather than the good. This is a president way over his head, and while he was flirting with disaster before, he is creating it now.

He responds to his shrinking base by attacking fellow Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., in crass personal terms; his idea of uniting the nation is a wink and a nod to Nazis and racists and anti-semites; his leadership skills place everyone on the chopping block and create chaos and consternation among his advisers and throughout the country. He is an embarrassment to the nation and totally incapable of governing.

And my guess is there is more to come: Violence at increasing numbers of alt-right racist rallies, more nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea, more tension with China as well as our allies, more legislative paralysis on tax reform, infrastructure and health care. Also, Trump and his aides are intent on attacking efforts to clean up our environment and make progress on climate change, protect our national parks and public lands, enhance public education, and further the cause of voting rights, human rights and our civil liberties.

It is now time for Republicans, both in Congress and within this administration, to consider replacing Donald Trump. Many have already spoken out over these past seven months; many have formed pretty clear opinions of the damage he is doing; many understand that although politics is in play, this is about the country. Every day brings a new crisis, a new disaster that Republicans must confront. I sense that a foreign policy crisis of Trump’s making, where the generals and foreign policy advisers revolt, or a clear financial and political linkage with Russia made clear by Robert Mueller will precipitate invoking the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal of the president. It is very likely that we are getting very close to a tipping point.

Make no mistake, this is a big lift. It is the Republicans who must make a move, just as it would be to initiate impeachment proceedings, a long and drawn out process. But using the 25th Amendment can be fast. Although it comes initially from a decision by the vice president and a majority of the cabinet that the “President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” it realistically will come from the determination that two-thirds of the House and Senate, which affirms the cabinet’s decision, are convinced that Trump must be removed. He can protest, but Congress can remove him in 21 days.

Making such a move may be the smartest thing that Republicans can do. Many are petrified of living under the Trump sword of Damocles and they fear what might come next. They are tired of issuing statements of disagreement, facing themselves in the mirror when they are told to be good soldiers, and looking ahead to not only potentially disastrous elections but other consequences of Trump’s folly. Many Republicans have known the depth of the dangers of Trump since his rise, but have chosen to convince themselves that he will behave rationally and will have people around him who can steady the ship of state.

With every passing day, that notion melts away like so many icebergs in the summer. Truly, this is the summer of their discontent. And Republicans have a way to bring it to an end.

Trump’s Television Obsession

Unreality TV

Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ rhetoric shows how his television obsession informs his decision-making.

Unreality TV

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

Aug. 9, 2017, at 4:46 p.m.

Vice News reported Tuesday that President Donald Trump is presented with a folder, twice a day, of glowing press reports, tweets, transcripts and even screen shots from TV news he may have missed, with photos of himself and laudatory comments.

According to the article, the only feedback the White House communications operation has gotten is “it needs to be more f******g positive.” Lovely.

Judging from his daily barrage of self-serving tweets, it appears that the only approach to gain favor with him is to flatter, praise and preach to the choir. As we know, his main channels for information are not books, studies, lengthy memos (or even short ones), but the television. The almighty television.

I have had a theory for a long time that those of us who grew up as baby boomers grew up as the real focus of modern television during the 1950s and 60s. Our parents came of age during radio and movies; our children and grandchildren have been the digital generation, with cellphones, games, all manner of hand held devices and programming on demand.

Trump is the ultimate “tuber” who has carried his obsession with television into a method of decision making. When we were kids the programs such as “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” “Bonanza,” “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Lone Ranger” all had one thing in common: They all solved a problem or crisis in one quick half-hour or hour. The characters were introduced, the plot established quickly, the heroes and villains identified and, by the end, everything was neatly tied up in a bow. No fuss, no muss and good triumphed. We got used to a simple world, where the TV sitcom defined America and we got used to easy answers, unquestioned values and a paternalistic, very white, WASP culture.

Of course, none of that was ever true, but it took the turbulence of the late 1960s and the rapid evolution of our culture to produce accelerated social change. I am afraid that Trump has been engulfed in the baby boom television era for far too long – he has clearly exploited it with his celebrity culture, “The Apprentice” and pushing the hot buttons in today’s politics. He certainly has played on today’s cynicism and anger, and has promised to take us back “to those golden, thrilling days of yesteryear” – when TV was king.

So when he says that North Korea should expect the “fire and fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he seems to be taking a page from a 1950s Western, not from any sense of modern diplomatic history. Can you imagine President John F. Kennedy using such terms during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or President Dwight Eisenhower issuing such threats during the Soviet put-down of the 1956 Hungarian uprising?

The statement from Trump was calculated and deliberately bombastic. It’s sad, really, when we had the world behind us in the 15-0 vote at the United Nations for added sanctions and increased isolation of North Korea. The objective is not to bring about a war, but to avoid one by ensuring that the Chinese and the Russians put added pressure on Kim Jong Un and his generals.

Trump seems to be still living in that television world of yesteryear, where he cannot resist constant simplicity, over-the-top language and egotistical, self-aggrandizing rhetoric. The problem is that such sitcom behavior will not play so well in the real situation room.

The Destruction of the American Presidency

The Destruction of the Presidency

The office is being degraded before our eyes. How much longer will Republicans tolerate it?

The Destruction of the Presidency

(Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

July 28, 2017, at 2:15 p.m.

One of the most repeated lines to describe the 2016 presidential election was that Hillary Clinton’s voters took now-President Donald Trump literally but not seriously, while the Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally. Sadly, for the Trump supporters, it is now clear that he should have been taken very literally, and for the Clinton supporters and the country, this is way beyond serious.

What is happening at the White House is nothing less than a full-frontal assault on the presidency and our system of government. Those who believed that Trump would grow into the presidency and that things would stabilize over time were sadly mistaken. Instead, this has gone from bad to worse. What started on Jan. 20 as a silly and stupid effort to prove the unprovable – that Trump’s inaugural crowd was larger than Barack Obama’s – has morphed into complete and total dysfunction, pathetic infighting and an almost pathological inability to tell the truth about almost anything.

The hiring of Anthony “scarethepantsoffme” Scaramucci, and his interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, were the latest in a long list of inept and incompetent patterns of behavior that debases the presidency. If he is Trump’s Mini-me then we are in danger of a total White House and governmental meltdown.

What we saw during the Trump campaign is what we are getting in spades with this government. More petty than we could have imagined, more incoherent than we could have imagined, more destructive than we thought possible. Why obsess on Russia and fire former FBI Director James Comey? Why attack your most loyal operative, Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Why even entertain the notion of firing special counsel Robert Mueller and launch research attack dogs on his staff? Why insult Republicans you need in Congress on an almost daily basis? Why launch political barbs and tell a host of falsehoods at a Boy Scout jamboree? Why reverse yourself on LGBT rights? Or health care? Or infrastructure efforts?


The White House Stinks at This

Anthony Scaramucci’s weird CNN call-in revealed a lot, little of it good.

Does Trump have no guiding principles? Does he have absolutely no moral compass? Does he have no sense of how to pick staff other than watching them on TV? He is one of the most vapid, clueless, ignorant decision makers to serve in government at any level, let alone the presidency. He can’t hire and fire like a normal president; he doesn’t grasp the issues at hand or try and understand the basics; he doesn’t have people around him whom he trusts or who trust him, other than his immediate family.

How will this end? It can’t go on this way for three and a half more years. I sense that Trump and his incompetent operatives such as Scaramucci will make outrageous decisions that the Republicans simply cannot abide. I sense that many congressional Republicans now know that Trump isn’t the “auto-pen” who would sign what they put before him. Instead, he is incapable of being president of the United States.

And, of course, this Republican congress is showing the same dysfunction in its inability to accomplish much of anything. For them, a President Mike Pence is their only option. The Republicans are waiting for the poll numbers to further erode, a serious Trump mistake with Mueller or foreign policy disaster with his national security team hitting the exit doors. Then they will pounce. It will be time to stop the destruction of the American presidency.

We’re Sorry, World…..

We’re Sorry, World

America owes the global community an apology for electing President Trump.

We’re Sorry, World

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

July 20, 2017, at 1:45 p.m.

1. a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.

Well, I am ready, many of us are ready, and the times call for it. After six long months in office, it is incumbent upon America as a country to apologize to the world for our so-called president, Donald J. Trump. He is a supreme embarrassment, not a supreme commander-in-chief; he cannot manage or operate as the leader of the free world, but, instead, leaves our country at sea, unable to deal with foreign leaders.

He is unlike any president we have had, certainly in modern times, in his lack of knowledge of world affairs or his desire to learn; he does not grasp the gravity of the job or the awesome responsibility to operate around the globe. He antagonizes 24 percent of the world’s inhabitants, the 1.8 billion Muslims, with his statements and policies, further exacerbating what he is trying to stop, terrorism.

Forget about the tweets, the outbursts, the fights with his attorney general or others on his team; it is hard to ignore his changes of mind from day to day on health care or infrastructure or Medicaid or the rocky domestic dealings with Congress. Yet this president has so confused and insulted our allies while cozying up to our enemies that he has put our leadership in the world at severe risk.

Who will trust America with Trump as “the decider,” the man in charge of the nuclear football? Who will trust a man who does not trust his intelligence chiefs? Who will trust a man who is so preoccupied with his Russian relations that he cannot make important decisions without consulting Russian President Vladimir Putin?

Many of us who travel to other nations, who meet with people from other countries, who talk to the foreign press, are constantly asked to explain the Trump phenomenon, to reassure them that this is temporary, that others will bring sanity – the McMasters, the Tillersons, the Mattis’s. People want to know that it will be OK. Many of us find ourselves apologizing for Trump and trying to rationalize the craziness of the moment to ultimately reassure others that it will be alright and we, too, will get through this.

Nevertheless, we are not convinced that Trump could handle a Cuban Missile Crisis or navigate a Korean conflict or deal with a Russian incursion into a neighboring nation. We are not convinced that he will work effectively with China on trade, let alone secure China’s help with North Korea. At the end of the day, the greatest fear is that there will be a true international crisis where Trump will be totally unable to navigate the options, or to ask the right questions, or to show calm and deliberate decision making skills. He will act impulsively, as General Curtis LeMay did when he urged President John Kennedy to bomb and invade Cuba instead of instigating the blockade that was successful and defused the crisis. Or Trump just may not listen to his advisers, the generals or intelligence chiefs he derided during the campaign and still criticizes.

Yes, it is time to apologize to the world for Donald Trump, to provide “a regretful acknowledgement of an offense or failure.” We have a president who does not measure up, pure and simple.

Will we get through it? Probably. But we need to speak out and convince our allies and the world that for many of us, he is contrary to America’s leadership on human rights, standing with our allies and pursuing policies that uphold long accepted moral values that are consistent with a world community.

RFK’s Words Ring so True Today

It’s Up to Us All to Fix This

After the Alexandria baseball field shooting, it’s time to push back against America’s trend of violence.

It’s Up to Us All to Fix This

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

June 14, 2017, at 5:15 p.m.

What is happening in our country? Whether it is attacks at schools in Colorado or Connecticut; carnage at a gay nightclub in Orlando; the shooting of a congresswoman and others in Arizona; or the latest premeditated attack in the early morning against members of Congress on a baseball diamond, we are confronted with that question.

What drives people to mass violence? And when politics or a public statement of hate is involved, how do we process that? Is violence more acceptable? Is the heated and nasty rhetoric possibly becoming a trigger? Are we, as a country, degenerating into a vicious and violent cycle that we cannot control?

Hard to say. I hope not. But one thing is clear: If any responsible public official or politician begins to condone violence, or suggest that doing harm to another with whom they disagree is tolerated behavior, we are on a very slippery slope. President Donald Trump has let his temper show at rallies and taunted demonstrators. Democrats’ rhetoric has become heated as well. The decibel level has been turned up. I, and many others, are not immune from that criticism.

We will surely find out more about this latest attack in the coming days. But for those of us old enough to remember the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy, this is a scary time. Unsuccessful efforts to murder former Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan are fresh in our minds as well. Violence in our politics has been an integral part of American history, but for a society that believes it should become more civil, more humane, more kind, what happened Wednesday must give us pause.

We need leaders who condemn such violence in the strongest possible terms. We certainly need leaders who do not incite others to violent acts. We need leaders who control their tempers and carefully weigh their words, their speeches and their off-the-cuff comments. We need leaders who calm the waters, not stir them up.

Most important, we need a public that pushes back on these societal trends and rekindles the move to a more civil society.

To quote Robert Kennedy, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. :

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black … Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

It is up to all of us to say a prayer and to do all we can to make gentle the life of the world.

Trump’s Voter Fraud Commission is the FRAUD

The Voter Fraud Fraud

President Trump’s voter fraud commission is a naked attempt to suppress Democratic turnout.

The Voter Fraud Fraud

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

June 9, 2017, at 8:00 a.m.

When I was in grade school in the 50s, like most young boys, I played Little League baseball. I wasn’t the best third baseman out there, but I tried hard. One day at the plate, I decided to be clever; I jumped out and pretended to bunt, even letting out a yell in the middle of the pitcher’s wind up. My goal was to get the pitcher to throw wildly, advancing runners and maybe get a walk.

At the end of the inning my father came over to the bench and laid me out. “Don’t ever do that again. It’s a cheap shot, and it’s no way to win,” he said. I was cheating, he told me. He was right, and I was embarrassed and never did it again.

Sadly, we have a president and many in the Republican Party who have decided that one way to win is to suppress the vote in U.S. elections. Victory by intimidation. Cry foul when there is no foul. Alternative facts. Yes, cheat.

President Donald Trump signed one of his ubiquitous executive orders last month to create a national commission to root out supposed voter fraud after accusing millions of illegal immigrants of voting for his opponent. He told a group of members of Congress that “between three million and five million unauthorized immigrants voted for Mrs. Clinton,” The New York Times reported. This was to justify his absurd claim that he would have earned more of the popular vote than then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton if it hadn’t been for those foreigners and scofflaw voters. See this tweet:

In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally


Two dozen secretaries of state, Republican and Democrat, have released statements denying that voter fraud occurred in their states. The National Association of Secretaries of State released the following statement on voter fraud: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump … In the lead up to the November 2016 election, secretaries of state expressed their confidence in the systemic integrity of our election process as a bipartisan group, and they stand behind that statement today.”

The implications of this executive action by Trump are twofold. First, it encourages state laws that restrict voting for the most vulnerable in our society and severely reduces the turnout of minorities, young people and the poor. Second, it further affects the already abysmal voter turnout that plagues U.S. elections.

Let’s start with turnout and voter participation. The United States has one of the worst records of voter turnout among developed nations. According to Pew Research, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark rank in the top three, with voter turnout at 87 percent, 83 percent and 80 percent respectively. The United States scores way down the list at 27th, with 56 percent. It’s hard to imagine that the world’s largest democracy ranks that abysmally. We seem to make it more difficult for our citizens to vote by requiring more and more hoops to jump through.

For decades, we have had discussions of voting on weekends, creating a national holiday, incorporating more vote by mail, instituting universal voter registration at age 18, reducing long lines and wait times with more locations, encouraging more early voting and more. With Trump’s commission, though, we are facing one of the most nefarious and crassly cynical efforts to not only depress voter turnout but to game the system so that Democratic-leaning voters are prevented from being allowed to vote. Not since the segregated South, with poll taxes and literacy tests, have we witnessed such a direct assault on voting rights.

But make no mistake this is where we are headed. The appointment of Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who has made it his signature cause to attack voting rights and rail against immigrants, is leading the newly appointed commission, with Vice President Mike Pence as the titular head. Kobach has been a regular Johnny-one-note on cable television for several years, trying desperately to come up with some semblance of justification for his cries of voter fraud.

His goal: Use wild accusations and a few minor cases to draft legislation for Republican legislators and governors to prevent those who will likely vote Democratic from registering and voting. Require birth certificates or passports, refuse student photo IDs and find voters who have moved but not canceled their previous registration and deny them a vote. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states now have restrictive voter ID laws. If Kobach and Trump have their way, more restrictions are in store.

The courts have thrown out some portions of the more absurd state laws that were clumsily written or outright discriminatory. In North Carolina, the appeals court went so far as to assert that “the new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” But that has not stopped Kobach and many Republican state legislators from trying to draft new laws to prevent citizens from casting a ballot.

In Texas, they passed a law stating you can vote with a concealed weapons permit – but not a student ID at the University of Texas. Wisconsin passed legislation denying 300,000 registered voters the right to vote. Other states have severely reduced early voting, done away with same day registration and reduced the number of voting stations.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there is a serious threat currently underway in 2017. “Overall, at least 99 bills to restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced in 31 states. Thirty-five such bills saw significant legislative action (meaning they have at least been approved at the committee level or beyond) in 17 states.”

But why push ahead if there is so little evidence of voter fraud?

In all of Kansas, Kobach found nine people, that’s it – nine people – who had some sort of problem. So, I guess he is going to take his great success over the last six years and go national with it, proving in the end, that there is no there, there. The Kansas City Star called Kobach the “Javert of voter fraud,” referring to the famous character from “Les Miserables” who pursued Jean Valjean for the theft of a loaf of bread.

The reason for pursuing voter fraud, of course, is that it pays serious political dividends, especially in close elections like this past year’s presidential campaign. A recent analysis of the 2016 election published in the Washington Post by Bernard Fraga, Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner indicated that a depressed black vote and increased white vote likely made a decisive difference in three critical states – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. A win by Clinton in those states would have given her the presidency. When they calculated the change from 2012 to 2016, they found an increase in the white vote in Pennsylvania of 5.2 percent and a decrease in the black vote of 2.1 percent. In Wisconsin the black drop-off was 12.3 percent, Michigan was 12.4 percent. Even North Carolina was 7.1 percent and Ohio 7.5 percent, though the margins for Trump were wider in those states.

Republicans get this: Depress African-American turnout, and you can win. Depress the Hispanic turnout, and you can win. Depress the under-35 group turnout, and you can win.

Kobach is not a stupid man. He is not a simplistic demagogue. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, earned a Ph.D. from Oxford and graduated from Yale Law School. He may be very ambitious, and he may be riding this horse to national prominence, but he knows what he’s doing. Writing this movement off to unsophisticated wrongheadedness would be a serious mistake.

That is why it is all the more appalling that Kobach is heading up what the Trump administration is calling the Commission on Election Integrity. There is no integrity here. There is no effort to expand and enhance voter participation in American politics. There is no effort to play fair, to play by reasonable rules, to bring more people to the polls. The evidence is clear on voter suppression versus voter fraud: Fraud is practically non-existent, suppression is on the move.

As I learned on the Little League ball field, winning isn’t everything, the ends don’t always justify the means and, more basically, you don’t cheat. Democracy is at stake here, and anyone who cares about our system, Republican or Democrat, should be vocal and do their damnedest to stop it.

Donald Trump’s NOT So Excellent Foreign Adventure

The Ugly American

Trump was a bull in a china shop on his international tour.

The Ugly American


By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

May 26, 2017, at 3:00 p.m.

No one could ever accuse Donald Trump, in all his 70 years, of playing well with others. Unless, of course, he was being feted, praised, his ego stroked and he was the total center of attention. Saudi Arabia spent $68 million to do just that, rolling out the red carpet and raising the swords.

But the situation sure was different as he moved on to meetings with our longtime NATO allies. He was a bull in a china shop.

Just listen to his words and watch as he pushes aside the leader of Montenegro to assume center stage. Look at his body language with other NATO leaders and watch their reactions. He tells the Saudis “we are not here to lecture” and yet he does just that as he attacks NATO leaders, our allies, who have been with us in the foxholes since World War II. He refuses to endorse Article 5 because he is fearful of antagonizing his friend Putin but berates our allies over money. Every president since Harry Truman has affirmed the mutual defense of any NATO member, but not Trump. These were the NATO allies who were “all-in” after the attacks of 9/11. In short, he acted very much like the Ugly American, depicted in the famous 1958 book of that title by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, as he gripped and grinned from meeting to meeting.

He opened up the door for more violations of human rights by General Sisi of Egypt and the Bahrainis who stormed an opposition encampment two days after he told them there would be no more “strain” in the relationship. After decades of America trying to encourage open democratic governments and a respect for the basic rights of women, minorities, the poor, Trump tossed it all aside. He doesn’t understand the balancing act that is necessary for an American leader to achieve in the Middle East; he doesn’t understand the history of the religious factions or the effect of tipping the scales to one group or another. When he thinks only in terms of billions in arms sales that he cannot control or who throws him the best welcoming party, we are all in trouble.

This isn’t a game of cops and robbers, good guys against the bad guys, this is, as Trump might say, “complicated.” So to throw in totally with the Saudis, to ignore the landslide victory of the moderate Hassan Rouhani in Iran, he stokes more fires than he puts out. Failing to understand the effects of Wahhabi terrorism or what is happening in Yemen or even the basic conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites is one very big problem.

An American president must use the leverage that our country and our allies have to achieve reduced violence, to encourage increased acceptance of human rights and pursue more freedom, not less, around the world. What we have seen from President Trump so far is a foreign policy based not on those principles but bellicose rhetoric blasting our allies and cozying up to many who export terrorism and discord. This is not a policy that is either pragmatic or consistent with American values. “Nuance” is not exactly Donald Trump’s middle name.

The sad truth is that this president is viewed overseas by our allies as more of a hindrance than a help in achieving peace and prosperity. The Europeans, and others, are gearing up for one very rocky road.

Get It Together Democrats!

Get It Together, Democrats

The Democrats should consider holding a midterm convention in 2018.

Get It Together, Democrats

(Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

April 13, 2017, at 4:45 p.m.

More than ever, political junkies of both parties are focused on the latest shiny object. We focus on tweets from President Donald Trump, the latest gossip on who is up and who is down in the White House wars, the real conflicts with Syria, North Korea, Russia – even special congressional elections have been catapulted to front page news.

Some of this will matter as we approach the 2018 and 2020 elections, but much of it won’t. The key is to sort it all out and focus.

The Democrats need to get their act together, take a longer view and prepare for the midterm elections. They need to pay particular attention to their messaging this time around, and also recruit candidates early who can take on Republican incumbents.

One idea the Democratic Party should consider, under Chairman Tom Perez and Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, is organizing a midterm convention in June of next year. Bring together candidates at all levels, feature the key races, lay out the message for the fall 2018 campaign, raise funds, show unity and pull together all segments of the party to focus on Trump, the Republicans and a real change in direction. In short, tell the Democrats’ story.

In the modern history of the Democratic Party, there have been three midterm conventions; admittedly, not all of them were successful examples of unity. But one I was involved in during my early days was in 1982.

We met in Philadelphia for several days and kicked off the campaign for the midterms. I was the executive director of Democrats for the 80s, the PAC created by Pamela Harriman and the leaders of the party, and we unveiled a comprehensive, several hundred page “Fact Book” that hit hard on the Republican record and proposed Democratic solutions to a whole host of issues and problems. It had the statistics, the arguments and suggestions for speech material. Leading Democratic experts authored chapters and the result was impressive.

For many candidates up and down the ballot this became their political bible for the next five months. In those days, we had to actually pay to publish a real book – 10,000 of them actually – whereas today you can just put it up on a website.

The 1982 mini-convention featured not only possible presidential candidates for 1984, but the impressive candidates that were recruited to run all across the country. The press was hungry for a Democratic response and we gave it to them. Democrats had been pummeled in the 1980 Reagan landslide, losing 12 Senate seats and 34 House seats, in what could only be characterized as a political tsunami. We were licking our wounds in 1981, much like today, but the midterm convention became a strong organizing tool to get back into the trenches.

The midterm elections in 1982 were fueled by a well-organized Democratic effort, and resulted in regaining 26 of those House seats we lost in 1980 and a strong showing across the country.

In order to pull off a major effort next summer, Democrats should begin planning now. Discussion with the myriad groups and organizations who would be involved should start now; efforts to raise the money and select a host city should begin now; pulling together the authors of the “Fact Book” should begin now. Assignment of responsibilities and working with state parties should be pulled together as soon as possible.

The midterm convention would be much less extravagant and much less costly than a regular convention, of course. It would not need the huge hall or the large number of delegates or last nearly as long. It could be done over a long weekend, in three or four days. Workshops could be held instead of long periods of speeches; experts could be asked to do training and fundraisers could be organized; social media would be a centerpiece of the activity. The party could feature the stars in the Democratic constellation and give them a forum and national attention.

But, most important, this would be the time to kick-off the fall campaign and have a coherent, cohesive, compelling message that Democrats across the nation could unite around from June to November. It could also be a way to ensure that all the groups and activists who are pounding the pavement and energized after last November are part of an organized effort to actually win elections. Not exactly a revolutionary thought for a political party!

Lower Than Low Expectations and Trump Can’t Meet Them

100 Days of Not Normal

Trump hasn’t even been able to meet ridiculously low expectations for his presidency.

100 Days of Not Normal

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

April 25, 2017, at 4:00 p.m.

It is not really that hard. The bar is set absurdly low. You won an election you weren’t supposed to win. People really didn’t expect much, after all you never did anything like this before. The economy is humming along. Obama left you a pretty sweet deal, a lot better than he inherited eight years ago. All you had to do is stop tweeting, stop bragging and read from a teleprompter. The Congress should be able to do the heavy lifting.

But here we are, 100 days in. And according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 40 percent of Americans give you a positive rating, by far the worst for any president in modern history.

One lousy downer of an inaugural speech, plenty of tweets complete with misspellings and falsehoods, saber-rattling that has us perilously close to war and nothing on health care, taxes or jobs to show for all the sound and fury.

All we see is you at that little desk, signing fake, outrageous “executive orders” – photo op after photo op – pulling people into the White House like some sort of sale at Macy’s. Everything will be “great,” “the best,” “fantastic,” “trust me.”


The ‘American Carnage’ Speech

Trump’s inaugural address indicates that his presidency will be just like his campaign.

Meanwhile, you continue to do 180s on policy positions, including four in just one day: China and currency manipulation; NATO; the importance of the Export-Import Bank; and possibly reappointing Janet Yellen. I guess that should be considered good news. But the fundamental fact is that you don’t know what you are doing. You are presiding over the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, as the late Jimmy Breslin put it in his book of that title.

You don’t know beans about how to fix health care. You don’t understand foreign policy or assessing military options even though you “are smarter than the generals.” You have no clue about the effects of your budget proposals to eviscerate everything from medical research to food aid to housing for the poor to help for coal miners. Policy details seem to bore you; reading takes a back seat to watching cable news blab-fests; bluster beats boning up on issues. As you say, “sad,” or beyond sad, really – dangerous.

Your government is simply not working after 100 days. It is chaos, even more than Mr. Chaos, Steve Bannon, could ever have comprehended. This is a cross between “Family Feud” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” You can’t run the government with a handful of sycophants as you did your real estate business. According to The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, as of today, 470 of the 556 key positions in government requiring confirmation are not filled. Only 23 have been confirmed. This borders on malpractice.


The Apprentice President

Trump is proving the presidency is no place for on-the-job training.

And let’s not even talk about ethics or trips to Mar-a-Lago or Russia and the campaign or lawsuits. Let’s talk about the potential for very big mistakes: on Korea, on Syria, on Russia, on Iran, let alone removing 24 million Americans from health care rolls, gutting environmental protection, destroying civil and human rights.

The road we are on after these first 100 days is not normal, not under any circumstances reasonable or understandable, or for that matter, American. From all accounts, very little is likely to change in the next 100 days.

Maybe that is why 45 percent of Americans believe Donald Trump is off to a “poor start” while only 14 percent say a “great start,” according to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The number of Americans who will lose patience will only continue to grow, Republicans in Congress will abandon ship as November 2018 approaches and it will be apparent that despite controlling the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court, Donald Trump will be incapable of passing any meaningful legislation.

Those who thought he had nowhere to go but up after the campaign must now confront the fact that despite low expectations, he is only making matters worse, for himself and the country.