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.

From “Record Crowds” to Comey — The Unraveling of Donald Trump

From ‘Record’ Crowds to Comey

Americans are realizing that Trump isn’t bringing the good kind of abnormal to the presidency.

From ‘Record’ Crowds to Comey

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

May 12, 2017, at 4:30 p.m.

Folks, we are not yet 4 months into the Trump presidency and from day one, we have confronted the seriously abnormal. Make no mistake, many voters demanded a not-normal president. But they thought he would be not-normal good. It sure looks now like not-normal bad. Even many of his supporters are beginning to reassess, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, released on May 10 and conducted before the Comey fiasco.

Trump’s approval rating has dropped 10 points among white voters without college educations in just one month. He has dropped 9 points among independents, who now give him a 29-percent approval rating. More devastating for Trump, 61 percent say he is not honest, 66 percent say he is not level headed and 64 percent say he doesn’t share their values.

The poll also asked respondents what single word best described Trump. The top three words were – get this – “idiot” at number one, “incompetent” at number two and “liar” at number three. Now that is very strong medicine for the president to take – akin to Castor Oil. The other words in the list were not much better.

As Tim Malloy, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, put it: “The erosion of white men, white voters without college degrees and independent voters, the declaration by voters that President Donald Trump’s first 100 days were mainly a failure and deepening concerns about Trump’s honesty, intelligence and level-headedness are red flags that the administration simply can’t brush away.”

Donald Trump is incapable of reasoned, rational, responsible decision-making. He does not play political chess, he does not think out his moves, anticipate his opponent’s possibilities, consider the ramifications of his actions. It is all queen to the center of the board.

Of course, it was clear from the beginning that he would be proved wrong on the crowd size at his inauguration. Yet he persisted and sent his spokespeople out there to make fools of themselves. Of course, he would have to back off on Mexico paying for the wall, or China as a currency manipulator, or NATO being obsolete. But now with his decision to fire James Comey, he has gone down the rabbit hole and got himself into such a twisted, ridiculous mess that he can’t extricate himself. In fact, he is dangerously close to obstructing an investigation – a crime – and fails to grasp that the tweets about the possibility of “tapes” of his conversations with Comey will cause him irreparable harm. He makes it so easy for others to call him out, to shine the light of day on his lies and absurdities. This is not normal. This is not presidential. This is not sustainable.

I have tried to think of something about Donald Trump’s presidency so far that I can agree with or support. At first, he talked about opioid abuse and I was pleased, but then it became clear that he was going to cut $364 million from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, effectively killing it, according to Rolling Stone magazine. Then I thought we might be headed to a serious effort to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, maybe even fix and expand our high speed and metropolitan transportation systems. That now seems to be not just on the back burner, but removed from the stove. He talked about fixing the problems of the “decaying” inner cities but eviscerates the HUD budget. He campaigned on a non-interventionist foreign policy but now seems to be ready for expanding the war in Afghanistan, injecting America further in the Middle East conflicts and stumbling into a devastating exchange on the Korean peninsula.


100 Days of Not Normal

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

Honestly, I really would like to find a modicum of agreement on something Donald Trump is planning on doing – is there anything serious on early childhood education, or affordable day care for working families, or making it easier to send our kids to college or engaging in job training? Would he consider a bill to create a program for national service for young adults? Would he get behind efforts to increase voter participation instead of announcing a commission on voter fraud, which he knows does not exist?

I wonder whether Trump cares about issues or solving problems or engaging beyond petty arguments. The Comey fiasco shows that what he cared about in his breaking bread with the former director was loyalty. Comey’s pledge of honesty with Trump didn’t cut it – he wanted more. Donald Trump’s reliance on “alternative facts,” fake news, false claims all are designed to feed his narcissism and dictatorial tendencies. This has all the earmarks of an abnormal presidency gone bad, a dysfunction that grows every day and a man without the internal fortitude or moral compass to govern effectively in a democracy. In the end, it is not all about him, it is all about us. My sense is that most Americans, many who supported him, are beginning to figure that out.

Jimmy Breslin — A Story From Long Ago

A Jimmy Breslin Story

America will miss his journalism and character.

A Jimmy Breslin Story

(Jim Cooper, File/AP Photo)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor

March 23, 2017, at 2:45 p.m.

The passing of Jimmy Breslin this past week reminds us not only of the rarity of great print journalism in our country, but also of the lack of true characters in American life. We are far too buttoned down, too prone to the 24/7 easy hit journalism, relying too much on talking heads and gladiator TV.

Breslin was a reporter’s reporter, a true “digger” of the news, a real writer who went beyond the who, what, when, where – and truly explored the why. He generated controversy and never hesitated to go off the beaten path. He was a character, a piece of work, and he made us think.


Jimmy Breslin, Chronicler of Wise Guys and Underdogs, Dies

Jimmy Breslin, the legendary New York newspaper columnist who chronicled wise guys and underdogs, has died.

I have one memory from the late 1970s when I traveled with my boss, Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, to Minneapolis where he was giving a speech to a very large conference of senior citizens. He was the chair of the Aging Committee in the U.S. Senate, and I was nearly a third of the age of many in the room. The other speaker that day was Breslin, and he spoke ahead of Church to the assembled crowd with their walkers and hearing aids.

I will never forget Breslin’s first line: “I hate old people.” To say that there was a loud gasp from the audience would be an understatement. Church and I looked at each other wondering whether we should head for the exits.

Breslin followed that up with something like, “You are wrinkled, you are losing your hair and your teeth, you have trouble walking.” He went on to describe the maladies of aging. He certainly had no trouble getting the attention of his audience.

Then he pivoted. He talked about growing up in Queens, about being around old people, his relatives and his friend’s relatives. He talked about living in the same house, or at least on the same block, with your grandparents or great-grandparents. He talked about taking care of one another, about the natural process of families nurturing the young as well as the old, of learning from one another, of love. He talked about what the elderly have given and contributed and sacrificed and what they still give to those closest to them. He talked about what he had learned from living under the same roof and how natural it was to be a part of a multi-generational family, close-knit and caring.


A Talk With Jimmy Breslin, New York’s ‘New Yorkiest’ Writer

In 2002, Associated Press National Writer Jerry Schwartz sat down with New York’s “New Yorkiest” author and columnist Jimmy Breslin to talk about his life, work and New York.

Breslin was old school for sure, and on that day he talked openly and with passion about what it means to grow old in America, about the tendency for more nursing homes, old people living in assisted living, families spreading out across the country and the world and about the disappearance of what he knew of family as a boy in Queens. He understood, but he didn’t like it. Something was being lost. A part of him was gone. A part of America was no more. It was a plea to hug those closest to you a little bit closer, certainly if they were older and in the twilight of life.

He may have joked that he hated old people, but he really loved them, especially up close.

The Chaos Budget Has No Soul

The Chaos Budget

Donald Trump’s budget is abnormal, vapid and senseless.

The Chaos Budget

(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor USNews & World Report

March 16, 2017, at 12:15 p.m.

First of all, let’s stipulate that the Trump budget is dead on arrival on the Hill. Most presidential budgets are wish lists and aren’t enacted as presented. No exception.

The big surprise is just how outrageous and out-of-line President Donald Trump’s proposals are in today’s world. Trump’s misplaced priorities and lack of pragmatism penetrate loud and clear. With cuts to 18 agencies and an increase to one, the Department of Defense, we are presented with a dark and depressing future. He is using a defense buildup to justify the tearing down of who we are as Americans.

When we are confronted with a climate crisis, he wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by over 30 percent and eliminate 50 programs and 3,200 jobs. When we are confronted with complex and new diplomatic threats across the globe, Trump wants to cut the State Department and Agency for International Development funding by 29 percent or $10.1 billion. He would cut the Treasury’s international programs, with widespread bipartisan support, by 35 percent or $803 million.

When we are confronted with public health issues such as Ebola, Zika and the need to combat cancer and opioid abuse, Trump seeks to cut the National Institutes of Health budget by $5.8 billion or nearly 20 percent. And while Trump talks a good game on rebuilding America’s failing infrastructure, he proposes to get rid of the Department of Transportation program that funds $500 million in just these kinds of road projects.

As Trump makes great promises to the inner cities, he proposes cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing, nutrition assistance and fixing up existing water and sewer issues. He cuts $6.2 billion or over 13 percent from the HUD budget. Let them eat cake.

As we see cuts to education, labor, agriculture and many other departments of double digits, we also get a clear sense of Trump’s priorities with the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, as well as PBS.

This budget has no soul.

John F. Kennedy, as we approach his 100th birthday, may have said it best at Amherst College in 1963, shortly before he died:

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.

This Republican president and this budget embodies an America we hardly recognize – based on a vision to wall us off, withdraw from engagement with even our own citizens and inflict unnecessary harm, all in the name of disruption and chaos. Why spend over $4 billion this year of a projected $22 billion on a wall with Mexico as you eviscerate funds for our environment, our health, our way of life?

There is no answer. This budget and this president are not normal, are not a reflection of American values, optimism, pragmatism. Vapid, empty, senseless.

Let us hope that Congress and the American people come to grips with that, sooner rather than later.

All Hell Breaking Loose….

Imagine Democrats Did It

Republicans would be apoplectic if a Democratic attorney general did what Jeff Sessions did.

Imagine Democrats Did It

(Alex Brandon/AP)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor USNews & World Report

March 2, 2017, at 3:05 p.m.

As much as I would like to, I’m not going there on policy, personnel, plans or programs to help people if Hillary Clinton were in the Oval Office instead of President Donald Trump.

Instead, I am going there on how all hell would have broken loose if her first 30 days were anything like Trump’s. Really. The investigations. The press conferences. The attacks. The calls for impeachment, resignations, firings. We can only imagine.

First, think about what Republicans would say if Clinton had appointed billionaires and multi-millionaires from Wall Street and big business, many of whom have no clue about their jobs – the likes of Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rex Tillerson or Linda McMahon. How about a cabinet nominee who didn’t pay taxes for an undocumented immigrant for five years and was accused of domestic abuse by his former wife?

What would Republicans say to a White House where a handful of iron-fisted aides attempted to justify “alternative facts” and choose to accuse the legitimate press of “fake news,” when this had been the modus operandi they and their alt-right crew had used throughout the campaign?

But the main event is now before us: the explosion of the “Russian problem,” wherein the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has failed to tell the truth to the United States Senate and to the American people.

So, what if one of Clinton’s earliest political supporters, the appointed attorney general, had lied to congress about his meetings with Russians during the campaign? Not just once at his confirmation hearing but twice, the second time in writing? What if he constantly refused to investigate relationships between campaign operatives and the Russians or to support the appointment of a special prosecutor? What if the president had called over and over for a special prosecutor to investigate the opposition candidate, just as Trump had for months?

Suppose Clinton’s national security advisor had talked repeatedly with the Russians during the campaign and before the inauguration, downplaying sanctions for Russian meddling in our elections, and then lied about it? And what if it was clear that hacking of the opposition and leaks of emails were a deliberate effort to sway the election?

Would the Republicans not be up in arms with investigations and shooting subpoenas left and right for the Clinton administration to testify? Would there not be calls for “getting to the bottom of this criminal and traitorous behavior”? If the dominoes were falling one after another and the national security of the United States were at stake, would not Republicans be attacking and holding hearings and calling witnesses?

Instead, we have an attorney general who has lied and is stonewalling. We have a White House that is attempting to control the damage, to cover up what John Dean so aptly called “the cancer on the presidency” during Watergate. This is so Nixonian.

Enlisting members of Congress to go out and rebut the press, even including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., goes down a dangerous path. Nunes warned of a “witch hunt” and now finds himself in a very awkward position as his committee tries to uncover the facts.

The White House, which also insists on placing low-level operatives to oversee Cabinet secretaries and report back to political strategist Steve Bannon, is making the Nixonian mistake of thinking this is about dictating. Trump and Bannon are not kings. As Nixon discovered, this does not end well.

We are seeing the splintering of those in Congress who know that Sessions’ lies will not stand, that keeping the lid on an investigation of Russian ties to the Trump inner circle is a futile endeavor, that our democracy won’t allow a Watergate cover-up on steroids.

Americans know that if Clinton were in the White House a Republican congress would be all over her. Even some Republicans know that it is time to have a full and complete investigation of the Russian activities, despite the attorney general’s actions and the Trump White House’s desire to deep-six any inquiry.

The Jesse Ventura/Pat Buchanan Election

The Perfect Political Storm

Trump won over voters with his combination of Jesse Ventura’s style and Pat Buchanan’s substance.

The Perfect Political Storm

(Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor USNews & World Report

Feb. 24, 2017, at 12:00 p.m.

I have been thinking about this for quite some time – before November actually. What is the best way to characterize this unusual presidential election cycle?

The conclusion that I have reached is that 2016 might be called the Jesse Ventura/Pat Buchanan election. Jesse “The Body” Ventura, of course, was the professional wrestler elected as governor of Minnesota in 1998. Pat Buchanan worked in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan White Houses and ran for president several times as a populist conservative.

The bottom line is that the Trump victory was a triumph for an anti-politics, entertainer/outsider (Ventura), who also railed against immigration, “unfair” trade deals and a social and cultural elite (Buchanan).

Clearly, the high negatives of both Trump and Clinton played heavily as did the Russian, Comey and Wikileaks factors. But rather than dissect the back and forth, which has been discussed fully since November, I’ll stick to a more thematic explanation for 2016.

When it comes to Jesse Ventura, I remember well my Minnesota friends calling me on election day 1998 and telling me they were seeing a lot of voters showing up at their polling places whom they had never seen before. Riding in on motorcycles, lots of tattoos, many who were taking advantage of the “same day” voter registration law in Minnesota. These were not traditional voters who favored Ventura’s opponents, the Democratic attorney general, Skip Humphrey, or the Republican St. Paul Mayor, Norm Coleman. These were voters who were responding to Ventura’s rallying cry: “Don’t vote for politics as usual!” Ventura never led in the polls until election day – sound familiar?

Jesse Ventura (real name: James George Janos) was well-known as a “bad boy” professional wrestler, radio talk show host and elected mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. He was famous for wearing a feather boa, and his slogan in the World Wrestling Federation ring of “win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat” defined his role as an entertainer. But his ads for governor and his role in the debates characterized him as a candidate not afraid to take on the status quo, garner large amounts of free press and provide an alternative to the traditional two parties. One ad showed him as Rodin’s “The Thinker,” poking fun at himself and the system.

Jesse Ventura was a lot like Donald Trump – loud, outspoken, often outrageous, easy to mock and criticize, but always giving the press good copy. Also, Ventura tended to suck all the oxygen out of the room in the debates.

We will see when the final turnout and voter registration numbers are in this summer for 2016, but Trump may have not only communicated well with disaffected voters but may have brought new ones to the polls. According to a study by Ohio State University researchers Dean Lacy and Quin Monson, Minnesota turnout as a percentage of voting-age population was 60 percent in 1998 compared to 53 percent in 1994. In addition, 15 percent of voters registered on election day in 1998 compared to 10 percent in 1994. It is also important to note that there weren’t any Senate or presidential contests on the ballot in 1998, so the turnout of 2.1 million votes was a high-water mark given that the governor’s race was the main game in town. It may well be that we will find that turnout of new voters or less likely voters was critical for Donald Trump in the key battleground states.

But there is no question about it, Donald Trump was a Jesse Ventura-type of candidate, certainly in style.


The ‘American Carnage’ Speech

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

Having spent nearly a decade going back and forth with Pat Buchanan on Saturday mornings on MSNBC, I can attest to the similarities between his views and Donald Trump’s. For over two decades Pat has hit the theme of America First. In his campaigns for president, in his books, in his speeches, he has been clear about his opposition to trade deals, his fight for workers in the Rust Belt, his opposition to immigration, his anger at the establishment. Way back in November of 1993, his column was entitled “America First, NAFTA Never.” His sub headline was “It’s not about free trade – It’s about our way of life.” Pat Buchanan has been consistent.

In his famous speech at the Republican Convention in 1992 he talked about a culture war. In many respects the Trump campaign tapped into those same concerns about a society that was leaving what they termed “traditional America” behind. Here is what Pat Buchanan said in 1992 and has reinforced ever since:

“Friends, this is radical feminism. The agenda Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat–that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.”

Pat Buchanan’s hard rhetoric, in many respects, became Trump’s 25 years later. Some of it was nuanced for the times, but the sense that America was no longer first, that it was no longer “God’s country,” that the world that they grew up in was just changing too fast, that they were powerless and left behind – that penetrated in 2016 with a certain key, white segment of the electorate. Rural America and those highlighted in J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy” flocked to Trump in record numbers. The Buchanan Brigade of the 1990s was back with a vengeance.

It seems that Democrats should come to better understand the convergence of these two men, Jesse Ventura and Pat Buchanan, in style and substance, if they are going to understand not just the election of 2016 but where a segment of America is coming from with their political choices.

Trump: The Apprentice in More Ways Than One

The Apprentice President

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

The Apprentice President

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor–USNews & World Report

Feb. 22, 2017, at 7:00 a.m.

Watching President Donald Trump for the last month, I have made many of the same observations as other critics: He is unstable, his ego knows no bounds, he has no allegiance to the truth and he is unquestionably ignorant of anything other than what he sees on cable news (crisis in Sweden!) or what he gets from briefings from his small and alt-right staff.

But his press conference and Florida rally of the last week show me something else. He is going to behave as president just as he behaved as the star of his TV show “The Apprentice.” He will read from teleprompters when he needs to, he will ad lib and expound on a whim when it suits his fancy, and he will lash out at perceived slights or seek to berate and put down anyone who he perceives as in his way. He will make any statement, no matter how outrageous (the press is “the enemy of the American people”), he will never apologize or admit he is wrong, and he will act as a circus reality-show performer from the stage, not as what is an acceptable president of the United States.

Thus, anyone who believes that there will be a Trump-change and that he will grow into the role of president is, in fact, dreaming. “The Apprentice” show is now “The President” show. Or, at least, it has been over the course of the last 30 days.

His press conference was jaw-dropping. The first two rows in the room were filled by family and staff, then a break before the press was seated. This was absurd and a total departure from precedent – or as Trump would say, “president.” Just as was his January appearance at the CIA, where he reportedly brought cheering and clapping staff.

At least they didn’t applaud at his press conference. At the presser, he read wild accusations from notes written for him and proceeded to attack the press. He repeated ridiculous claims of his electoral victory that he had been making for weeks, which he had to know were wrong. He made statements about General Michael Flynn’s resignation, the role of his campaign with the Russians and his own business dealings which raised more questions than they answered.

I could not help but think – as this presidency is unfolding with the fleeing of the White House for Mar-a-Lago, the continued nasty tweets, the senseless attacks on “enemies” and the embarrassing appearances – that we are experiencing one more episode of “The Apprentice.”

The other thought that occurred to me is that we are in the throes of an old adage: “the presidency is no place for on-the-job-training.” In fact, Trump is the apprentice. But there is no one to supervise him, no adult in the room to help him out, no David Gergen to guide him. Instead, he has Mr. Chaos, Steve Bannon, and his clueless, but arrogant assistant, Stephen Miller, whispering in his ear.

So we have an apprentice president in more ways than one – a P.T. Barnum showman and a man with no sense of history or ability to actually do the job. That is a dangerous, combustible combination.

Time for Democrats to Flood the Zone!

Flood the Zone

Stopping Trump’s deluge of atrocious policies requires ceaseless opposition.

Flood the Zone

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor USNews & World Report

Jan. 30, 2017, at 4:35 p.m.

Anyone who expected Donald Trump, or the likes of White House strategist Steve Bannon, to conduct a government that was reasoned, deliberate, thoughtful, fact-based, collaborative or even somewhat rational or professional should have had their heads examined.

For those who felt that it was time to “blow up” our government, discard the advice and counsel of those with expertise and experience and issue dictatorial declarations from day one, they have their man. And for those who thought campaign rhetoric was just another way to vent anger and frustration but would not result in devastating policy to match the blowhard candidate, you were hopelessly naive and voted to install someone who is going to do what he said, and more.

The main tactic of the Bannon-Trump administration is to flood the zone with one action after another without vetting, without serious explanation, without consulting Congress or even those within their own administration. They then follow up these executive declarations with tweets and invective directed against one perceived enemy after another. The desire to create chaos, regardless of the consequences, follows on from the writings of Bannon and the speeches of Trump.

The theory is simple: Flood the zone. Put so much out there, so fast, that all the press and the public can do is react as one outrage after another sucks the oxygen out of the room. So, as the furor builds over the ban from seven Muslim countries, they announce that a Supreme Court appointment will be unveiled earlier than planned on Tuesday. This all resembles a cynical magic trick, where our eyes are kept shifting to the next shiny object.

As Republicans become concerned with one policy and begin to coalesce around alternatives, the Bannon-Trump administration changes the subject. The Republicans will now have a nominee to the Supreme Court to focus on, with likely unanimity. Some will breathe a sigh of relief that they aren’t being asked by the press about the previous outrageous actions – silliness over ego-driven inauguration crowd estimates or spending hundreds of billions we don’t have on a wall we don’t need or Bannon’s takeover of the critical National Security Council or the horrendous immigrant and refugee ban or any of the other executive orders that weren’t vetted or discussed outside the Eagle’s Nest.

Inside the Eagle’s Nest, they are counting on this disruption to further their “alternative facts” and put the press in the position of creating much sound and fury that they say signifies nothing. They will use the demonstrations and the marches to isolate vast numbers of Americans in opposition to “making America great again.”


The ‘American Carnage’ Speech

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

The worst thing we can do is play their game – lose focus and allow them to move on to the next atrocity. Or, for that matter, overly engage in the silly tweets that are emblematic of Trump’s outrageous narcissism. We must build our case and our own movement against his policies, engage experts and lawyers, go to court, go to the media (mainstream and social), continue protests, contribute money, volunteer on the front lines, convince those who may have voted for Trump and Republicans now in elective office that our fundamental values, and even our country, hang in the balance.

In short, we must flood the zone ourselves. We must not lay back and assume that someone else will step forward, that traditional means of waiting two years until the next election will suffice, that we are in normal times. And let’s be clear, we need a growing consensus among the vast majority of Americans and a large coalition of Republicans that what is taking place must be stopped – now. If Trump cannot be convinced to alter his policies, his behavior and his method of governing, removal from office should be considered. At the very least, his policies need to be blocked and investigations conducted into his actions. This is not about Democrat vs. Republican, this is about taking our patriotic duty as seriously as ever.

What we are facing with this administration has real and sustained and, possibly cataclysmic, impact. Whether we are talking about fundamental civil rights and civil liberties, voting rights, destroying our health care system, dismantling environmental protections, upending international alliances or undermining human rights around the world, Bannon-Trump is not playing around the edges. And neither should we.