Sitting in the center of New York Harbor is our Statue of Liberty. A gift from our long-term ally France, it is one of our most iconic images, recognized the world over as a symbol of freedom, equality and opportunity. Holding her torch high in her right hand, she lights the way towards those ideals not just for the physical immigrant arriving on our shores, but for the aspirational immigrants who seek a better life for self, family and neighbors in their own country.
America has shown the way for the world over four centuries. It has led not by force, but by ideals and example. Showing what can be possible, we have been respected by being respectful, serving as the yardstick for progress in the great human endeavor. Until the week of June 8 through 15, 2018. It was a week when all seemed to come apart, when America the noble became America the ignoble, and the light dimmed in Lady Liberty’s bright lamp.
First came a meeting of the G-7 group of our most longstanding allies since WW II. In the months preceding this gathering, Donald Trump unilaterally pulled us out of the Iran nuclear treaty negotiated together with some of these world leaders. At the G-7 meeting, he then imposed new tariffs on these valued trading partners. He justified tariffs against Canada as required because “our [non-existent] $100B trade deficit with them constituted a threat to our national security.” Canada? A threat to our security? Understandably, Prime Minister Trudeau threatened retaliatory tariffs against the U.S., while saying that “Canadians would not be pushed around.” Trump and his advisors responded as they usually do when challenged: they resorted to name-calling and insults, incapable of conducting a respectful, intelligent, fact-based discussion. Further insulting our apparently unimportant friends, Trump rudely arrived late to the gathering, then left it early. In-between he called for his best friend Vladimir Putin to be re-admitted to the group in spite of Russia’s previous expulsion due to its military aggression in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, each national leader returned home to determine their own individual courses of future action. No wonder Donald Trump is despised by the general populations of most of our allied countries.
Then it was off in a whirlwind to Singapore for a summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. It was an off-again / on-again meeting, with hardly any planning for the substance of the talks versus the theatrics. Trump was embarrassingly effusive in his non-stop praise of Kim: “smart, strong, funny”; “loves his people, his people love him”; “we had a real chemistry”; “I trust him” – ignoring the poverty, the killings, and abuse of human rights that this absolute dictator exercises. Kim got everything he could have wanted: a rogue nation led by a leader now on par with the President of the United States; an offer to lift economic sanctions and encourage external investment; a unilateral end to US/South Korean war exercises (originally recommended by Putin) – an unwelcome surprise to South Korea, Japan and our own military. The U.S. got a promise “to explore denuclearization on the Korean peninsula” with no specific worksteps or timetable – a promise violated many times before by Kim’s father and grandfather. It was, simply, a big theatrical “photo op” of no material substance and a “signing ceremony” of a de facto blank page. Our negotiator-in-chief got snookered by the lack of any real negotiation.
A day later, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice released the results of an internal probe specifically and narrowly focused on the DOJ’s and FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The conclusions? 1: James Comey did not follow proper protocols and chain of command authorizations in his public announcements. 2: The decision not to prosecute Clinton was correct based upon the evidence. 3: Political bias did not drive the investigation or its conclusions. Trump claimed that the IG report fully exonerated him of any collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign, and that the Mueller investigation was improperly initiated. In fact, neither issue was within the scope of the IG’s investigation or conclusions.
On Friday, Paul Manafort, one of Trump’s several campaign managers, had his bail revoked due to witness tampering. He was then sent immediately to jail to await his two upcoming trials. He had spent months talking defiantly about fighting his multiple indictments, sitting in his million-dollar home dressed in his thousand-dollar suits. Will that song change when he is sitting in a small, solitary cell dressed in an orange jumpsuit surrounded by an unsavory jail population?
On Friday, it was revealed that over 2500 immigrant children arriving at the Mexican border, from babies to teens, had been pulled away from their parents and sent off to various holding centers. It reflected a new “zero tolerance” immigration policy from Trump/Jeff Sessions against illegal immigrants and legal asylum seekers, all treated the same. Ill-prepared Administration agencies are unable to verify where each child went, which child belongs to which parent, or how (or when) these families are to be reunited. The news led to an immediate explosion of condemnation from virtually all quarters of the country: all living first ladies; bi-partisan politicians; religious, charity and medical groups; governors and national guard units; police and social workers; and the public at large. Trump typically tried to blame everyone else but himself: “it’s the law” (no); “it’s the Democrats’ fault” (no); “Obama and Bush did it” (non-comparable situations with minimal numbers); “it can’t be changed by Executive Order” (disproven five days later when Trump changed course and issued such an Order). Concurrently, Trump did what Trump does best: stoking our worst fears by demonizing these migrants as subhuman criminals “infesting” and threatening our country. The policies were ultimately acknowledged to be a (cynical) negotiating strategy to force the passage of Trump’s border wall and other immigration measures. Nevertheless, the pictures of crying children – all alone, sleeping on mats on the floor, held in cages or dormitory “camps” – rightly managed to shake this country’s sense of itself and its values as no other outrage has done.
In ordinary times with a normal president, any one of these stories would be the headline news and national discussion for weeks. Instead, in these unordinary times with an abnormal president, all of these happened in just one week. Generating dizzying volumes of stories is the Administration’s priority; planning, substance and follow-though are unimportant; competency is irrelevant; chaos is the intended tactical result. The public is left increasingly exhausted.
The pictures of these isolated kids and weeping parents was just the final culmination to this week from hell. We continue to say, “it can’t get any worse.” And then it gets worse. The current public and institutional outcry may reflect the country nearly at a breaking point. The daily barrage of White House lies and misrepresentations is bringing trust between the people and their government to its lowest point. Lady Liberty’s lamp is still lit, but its intensity has dimmed greatly, making it hard to see our path forward in the political darkness. We were promised to “make America great again.” So far, America – once the great beacon of light for trust, hope, and good will for all – now simply seems lost, unadmired, unexceptional, increasingly alone.
© 2018 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com