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.

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.