Donald Trump an embarrassment everywhere

Just when you thought Donald Trump had already taken the Presidency as low as it could go, he asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries coming here?” Our esteemed President, according to credible reports, told a group of bipartisan legislators Thursday he didn’t want Haiti, El Salvador and African nations sending their foul and nasty immigrants here. At a meeting about saving the DACA program, Trump wondered why we just couldn’t have more (pure and white) immigrants from Norway.  Sounds like Adolph Hitler’s preference for Aryan types.

The timing of Trump’s disparagement of places with black and Latino populations couldn’t have been more telling. A day later he was issuing a Martin Luther King Day proclamation with MLK’s nephew looking on. Sadly, his racist remarks were predictable.  The specific language, crude as it is, is not the issue. We’ve heard his “locker room” style before and have come to expect his racist persona, manifest in his dog whistle innuendos, re-tweets of white nationalist propaganda, ignorant misrepresentations of fact and outright lies.  From his New York race-baiting days and discriminatory practices as a landlord, to the Obama birther calumny to his countless 2016 campaign ethnic slanders  to his Charlottesville white nationalist embrace, his record is clear and undeniable.

To his defenders I say, what’s in his heart is not the issue.  Trump is sullying our international reputation and besmirching such fundamental American values as diversity and inclusion. In diminishing our standing in the world and giving succor to our enemies, he is making us less safe.

Last night in Palm Beach, our august President proclaimed, “I am not a racist.” Kind of reminds you of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” doesn’t it?  Trump’s rhetoric is far less important that his policies and the need to provide a check on his powers by winning back at least the House in this year’s mid-term election.

Trump’s base was largely unmoved by the “shithole” episode, save for the David Duke, The Daily Stormer and their neo-Nazi soulmates cheering that their guy wasn’t going soft on immigration. Fox commentators provided an expected amen chorus, though some of their reporters acknowledged Trump’s language was disparaging and ham-handed.

Remember when Speaker Paul Ryan described candidate Trump’s assault on a Mexican heritage federal judge as a “textbook definition of racist comment.”  This time he could only muster that the President’s language was “very unfortunate, unhelpful.” Shame on Paul Ryan and the rest of the GOP Trump-enabling leadership team.

Republican Utah Congresswoman Mia Love, whose parents came from Haiti, said “The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.” But will she prepare a resolution condemning the remarks? Democrats will try to do so, but will Ryan or Senate President Mitch McConnell permit a vote? The press should get on record, preferably on tape, the response of every targeted, and retiring House and Senate Republican.

I assume Trump has never been to Africa and seen the modern cities that belie his “huts” slur or the graduate students in STEM fields and medicine who chose to stay and contribute to their home countries.  I suspect he is also ignorant of data describing the reality of immigrants from his “shithole” countries who come here, many of whom do as well if not better than native-born Americans.

Since 1994, Presidents of both parties have participated in a day of service to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. Not Donald Trump. No, he took off for Florida for a round of golf. Better were he to attend a naturalization service for wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital and personally thank those from “shithole” countries who have sacrificed more for this country than he ever has.

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Trump trumpets economic performance: questions remain

The stock market is up “very, very big today” and the “tax cuts are really kicking in far beyond what anyone thought,” President Trump said last week, making an illogical cause-and-effect connection between the two. He also touted the latest jobs report. During the week, he claimed the gain in market value was due to his actions over the first seven months of his presidency and also asserted he was reducing debt. Fake news. Fake news.

Yes, the stock market hit new highs last year and every day of the first week of the new year. And, yes, according to one index, unemployment went down to 4.1 percent. But let’s pull back the curtain on the data that the President hails to create the world according to Donald Trump.

If you have money in the market, you doubtless feel pretty good about the Dow, up 25 percent for equities last year. And it’s not just the ultra rich who have a stake in the market. Thirty-two percent of workers have 401K’s through their employers and 15 percent have IRA’s.  However, some 45 percent of working households have no retirement savings.  And it’s the wealthiest ten percent of the population who own 90 percent of all the stocks and benefit from this metric of Trump’s self-proclaimed success.

Whatever President is in office, he will take credit for any good economic news. In 2016, candidate Donald Trump derided as “totally fiction” the five percent unemployment asserted by the Obama administration, claiming the real rate was 42 percent if you counted people underemployed or those who had dropped out of the workforce altogether. This was a wild exaggeration, but taking those factors into consideration, the real unemployment under Obama was probably more than 11 percent, more than twice the rate credited.

Now that Donald Trump is President, he is happy to embrace the announcement of 4.1 percent unemployment. Suddenly, underemployment (the “marginally attached”) no longer matters; nor do the many who have just given up looking for work. Including these numbers would push unemployment under Trump more than eight percent.

Labor force participation is now at 62.7 percent, slightly down from when Trump was inaugurated, and wages have grown just 60 cents an hour at a time when the economy is booming.

Trump campaigned on a pledge to increase manufacturing and coal industry jobs. Both of these are up 1.6 percent in the last year, not bad but definitely not great. Meanwhile, the trade deficit in the same period increased more than ten percent, and the budget deficit has also gone up. These two deficits have not made it into Trump’s tweets.

Many of today’s data points are trending in the right direction but point to a recovery that began under Barack Obama and is continuing under Donald Trump. When an inevitable market correction comes, perhaps later this year, will Trump embrace the downturn as his own. Let’s stick to the facts, Mr. President.

Most presidents bend the facts or use them selectively to shape their message. But, let’s remember, it was Donald Trump who proudly embraced the usefulness of mendacity as “truthful hyperbole” in his book The Art of the Deal.  And he has told an unprecedented number of outright lies (and here they are).

When Trump hears news stories he doesn’t like, it’s “lies, just lies” or “fake news.” To his unqualified self-congratulatory views of his role in the economy, I just say “it’s sad. so sad.”

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Headlines I’m looking for in 2018

My New Year’s gift to you is a list of headlines.  I have precious little expectation that we will see them atop newspapers, magazines,  newscasts or on social media in 2018.  Please send your own in the comments section below.

I won’t do something snide like: President receives heart transplant, develops empathy and humility. Perhaps the headlines will read: Trump’s annual check-up includes mental health assessment; family confirms President’s cognitive impairment; cabinet invokes 25th Amendment.

President Trump renames Affordable Care Act as Trumpcare, saying it’s the best ever; subsidizes premiums for millions forced out by tax bill.

President Trump defies Ryan, keeps campaign promise to preserve Medicare and Social Security, raises taxable base.

Red Sox go all the way with Alex Cora at the helm.

Court approves Mueller request for Trump tax filings.

Bipartisan group saves DACA and Children’s Health Insurance programs, unencumbered by wall.

Congress blocks Trump from putting himself on the $20 bill.

100 percent of Puerto Ricans back on electric grid, new arrivals in Florida turn state blue.

Celtics win first championship since 2008.

“Real” Mitt Romney elected Senator from Utah, leads GOP moderate movement.

Democrats win control of House and Senate.

Charlie Baker gets T running well, reelected MA governor with more than 60 percent of vote.

Bryon Hefner sells life story to Miramax, spouse Stan leaves Beacon Hill for Venice Beach.

Pot shops open in Massachusetts, grannies flash Mona Lisa smiles.

Jeff Bezos moves second headquarters to Massachusetts, funds affordable housing initiative.

Elizabeth Warren defies alt-right money to win reelection, supports younger Presidential nominee.

Gatehouse Media ups $$$ investment in Boston Herald, pledges commitment to its future.

Patriots win Superbowl, Bill Belichick smile linked to gas.

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Marty Walsh sounds right tone

The last inauguration I listened to was a little less than a year ago when the worst President of my lifetime was sworn in. This morning, with former Vice President Joe Biden by his side,  Marty Walsh took the oath of office for a second term as mayor of Boston, a stirring reminder of what happens when elected leaders speak to the best of our natures.

The ceremonies were a celebration of diversity and the driving mission of expanding possibilities for the middle class. “There’s not a mayor in America who better understands the importance of the middle class” than Marty Walsh, said Biden, who noted that mayors and governors are more important than ever as an antidote to the divisiveness coming out of Washington. (This past year, Walsh early on assumed a position of leadership among the nation’s big city mayors in denouncing Trump’s retrograde policies. When Trump launched his first assault on immigrants and cities that shelter them, Marty Walsh said that, if necessary, he would house them in City Hall.)

Boston established the first public school, the first public library, the first public transit. It was the birthplace of the American Revolution and the first state to legalize gay marriage (though it was one of the last to sanction birth control).  “Boston still owns the finish line,” said Biden, adding “The rest of the nation looks to you.”

Both Walsh and Biden spoke to the historical importance of Boston. “Since 1630, Boston has been a refuge: from religious persecution, from hunger and war and discrimination, and now, also, from climate change,” said Walsh. He spoke broadly about his long-term  Imagine Boston 2030 plan (developed parallel to the rightly failed Boston 2024 Olympics bid) and in great detail about rebuilding the school system’s infrastructure, linking BPS to local colleges and universities and jobs.

Walsh also spoke with passion about housing as the key to opportunity. His already robust housing plans will be amplified by a new regional approach, to be announced this spring. His history of addiction and recovery made all the more authentic his approach to the opioid crisis and homelessness, promising to rebuild the bridge to Long Island and creating long-term recovery programs there.  He pledged to become the nation’s first major city to end chronic homelessness.

Standard Democratic Party fare? Perhaps, but considering the Trump administration assaults we have witnessed, hearing someone paint an alternative to the politics of divisiveness, the assault on health care, rounding up of immigrants,  undercutting of environmental protections, and withdrawal from global leadership, that fare seems pretty sustaining.

Also pleasing were the shout-outs to Republican Governor Charlie Baker, listening attentively in the first row. Joe Biden praised him, saying “I am always proud to be with you. You’re a stand-up guy.”  Walsh spoke of the importance of collaboration with the state, especially around issues of education and universal pre-K programs. Bi-partisanship lives, at least in Massachusetts.The mayor wrapped up his speech smoothly and passionately:

“We are more than “a city upon a hill, with the eyes of all people upon us.” We are a city built by all the peoples of the world, as they turn hunger into hope, crisis into recovery, and conflict into community.

“We are one of the greatest cities of the world, and after nearly four centuries our greatest days are yet to come,” he said.

There’s no doubt that Boston faces many challenges, especially in the areas of race relations, housing costs, education and transit.  And inaugural addresses tend to be part self-congratulatory and part aspirational. But to do the right thing one must start by saying the right thing. At least Walsh and Biden, while acknowledging Boston’s challenges, today gave voice to the values of character, integrity, community, diversity, the development of individuals’ full potential, collaboration and  respect that have seemed far gone from the national scene.  This New Year’s Day pocket of resistance was reassuring and inspirational.

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Oh, what a year it has been!

Queen Elizabeth had nothing on us when she declared 1992 an annus horribilis.  All she had to endure were the respective marital difficulties of son Andrew and daughter Anne, a tell-all book by Princess Di about Charles and Camilla,  and a fire at Windsor Castle. We, on the other hand, in 2017 have had to endure Donald Trump.

This was a year in which I arose each morning with a knot in my stomach in anticipation of whatever the Trump administration was going to do that day  to roll back progressive policies of the last quarter century.  Despite media assertions that the tax bill was the “first big win” of the Trump administration, Donald Trump has had dystopic successes, win after win after win, as he has systematically rolled back regulations protecting the environment, health care and consumers. He has undermined the standing of the United States among other nations, named epically unqualified  candidates to the federal bench and other important positions. Through excess of ego and lack of discipline, he has brought us closer to war with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, a parallel nutcase if ever there were one.

Trump has disparaged the intelligence community and has consistently denied the Russians have messed with our election process.  How can we fix things if the Republican majority and the White House deny or underplay credibly identified of interference?

While painting the news media as the “enemy of the people,” Trump has shown little respect for truth and has garnered historically high numbers of “pinocchios” as he moves through an alternate universe, one of  his own creation.  Scientific fact has become optional at best, driving scientists out of government (especially at the EPA) and discouraging others from getting involved. In an Orwellian way, he has sought to eliminate evidence-based language from government communication, treating it as political correctness run amok.

He has been pitiless toward immigrants, threatening even those among them who are law-abiding, tax-paying individuals. He has fueled divisiveness among the American people, feeding his ever-shrinking (though not quickly enough) base with lies and still successfully deluding them that he is working in their interest.  In playing to their anger (something to which the Democrats were oblivious in 2016), Trump has degraded the level of public discourse, cultivating incivility and grievously harming the body politic.

Most, if not all, of his cabinet members have functioned as bobble-heads, obsequiously kowtowing to his need for constant doses of adulation, unable to stand up for principle or simply acknowledge uncomfortable truths for fear of setting off his juvenile, vindictive and hurtful tirades. The Republican Congress has followed suit, with one after another Senator or Representative caving on the inequitable tax bill because they’ve been bought off with special interest provisions or empty promises they may never see fulfilled.

Are there causes for hope? Some. Perhaps. Trump’s approval ratings float in the mid thirties.  The Democrats have, following early special election results in which losses by lower-than-expected margins  were touted as faux “wins,” actually did win the governor’s race in Virginia and the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, the latter the first such Democratic win in a quarter of a century. But, hypothetical match-ups almost a year in advance are meaningless.  I fear that, without much hard work, significant fund raising, zealous grassroots organizing and GOTV programs, hopes that next year’s mid-terms will shift the balance of power in Washington may not pan out.

One small piece of good news this year is that, although we seem to have a serial sexual predator in the White House, scores of women have felt safe in numbers and begun to fight back against sexual assault and gender-based abuse of power in all parts of the workplace. But Congress, despite bipartisan lip service to clean up its act, left town with Speaker Paul Ryan putting the issue on the back burner.  Regardless how widespread the transgressions have been, crossing  professional, partisan and economic lines, the MeToo movement may not be a voting issue in 2018.

So where does all this leave us when the President proudly asserted he had no regrets for anything he had done in his first year? I’m glad to put a terrible year behind us, but not at all sanguine that our democracy has not been changed forever, and certainly not for the better. Happy New Year to all, and to all a good fight.

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Doug Jones victory just Step One

Getty images

It was a lot easier getting up this morning knowing the headline out of Alabama read: first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in a quarter of a century from the state known as “the Heart of Dixie.”  Was there finally a candidate so loathsome that voter interest in integrity prevailed over tribal instinct, country over party? Perhaps. But it is sobering to reflect that 80 percent of Alabama’s registered voters either stayed home or voted for Roy Moore.

If Roy Moore had just been anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-choice, anti-woman, and a raving racist, he likely would still have been elected. But his total package, a pending Senate investigation if he won, his becoming a poster child for the GOP in 2018 and the adverse economic impact of firms deciding not to relocate to Alabama motivated the 49.9 percent of Jones voters, and another 1.69 percent, presumably anti-Moore Republicans, write-ins.

There are many lessons from the race  (African-American turnout, millennial engagement, moderate Republicans turning their backs on Moore to write in other candidates), a well organized get-out-the-vote effort in bluish counties, the dignity of Doug Jones, his decision not to nationalize the campaign, even to the point of keeping out national endorsers until last weekend.

There is still a racial divide, with blacks being overwhelmingly for Jones, and Moore’s support being predominantly among whites. A plurality of voters believed Moore’s accusers, but many voted for Moore anyway. Moore won among white women, leading by almost 50 points white women without college degrees and by 25 points white women with college college degrees. Jones got 56 percent of the overall women’s vote and doubled what Obama had received. Hillary carried white women with college degrees, but Jones did not.

For all of Evangelicals’ talk about morality, white Evangelicals went for Moore 80-19.  I guess they’re more concerned about the rights of the unborn than the safety of a 14-year-old girl preyed upon by a Bible-thumping sexual assaulter.

Jones’ margin of victory was so slim that millennials and Republican moderates, writing in other candidates or voting Democratic, might claim credit for the victory. But there would have been no victory without the dramatic turnout of African-Americans, especially women.  What was particularly instructive on election night was the observation of that great philosopher and Alabama native Charles Barkley that the Democrats mustn’t take for granted the support of African-Americans and poor whites.  In other words: (note to Hillary apologists) cut out the identity politics; stop slicing and dicing the demographics; and make clear you intend to deliver for everyone on health care, infrastructure, jobs and economic justice. We all have a stake in those issues.

Democrats now believe they can take back the Senate in 2018 and are looking at Tennessee, where Bob Corker is retiring. They’re also looking at Arizona and Nevada, even Texas for heaven’s sake. Long shots? You bet. This is a time for cautious optimism but also for hard work. Keeping the races local. Selecting candidates like Doug Jones who are attuned to local values. Paying attention to the ground game, including GOTV efforts. Taking no one for granted. Making clear what they stand for.

While we’re rejoicing now, remember how close Doug Jones came to losing. And despite Jones’ assertion that there’s more than unites us than divides us, it’s not clear that Alabama will lead the way to a more peaceful union. But it certainly feels good when people of all persuasions seem, if even temporarily, to speak up for common courtesy and decency.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

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Sexual transgressors: the beat goes on

Dr. Seuss asked the right question: “Could this go on all day and night? It could you know, and it just might.” Every day, another high-visibility man named as having behaved inappropriately toward women. Every day, another sexual creep forced out of a position of power. Every day, another media revelation pulling back the curtain on how women, especially younger or more vulnerable, have been forced to accept unwanted advances for fear of losing their jobs. Now, except for the man in the White House and, perhaps, the Senate candidate from Alabama, sexual transgressors are paying the price.

When the story originally broke about Al Franken’s loutish behavior, it seemed to be a one-off and at a much different place on the predator spectrum than, say,  convincingly alleged pedophile Roy Moore. It seemed reasonable to await the results of an ethics committee investigation and perhaps even to let the voters of Minnesota decide. But it became clear Franken’s was part of a larger pattern, not an isolated incident. Wherever he is on the sexual harassment spectrum,  Franken, who had victimized women, has become a political victim of the times, one of three members of Congress to forced to resign this week alone. In this zero tolerance environment, we mustn’t forget that the real victims were those women whom he had harassed and who, until now, feared coming forward. That’s why, this week, Time Magazine named as Person of the Year the silence breakers.

Franken  was quite correct to note the irony of his resigning while Donald Trump stays in the White House.  That said, his Wednesday speech on the floor of the Senate reflected how, notwithstanding his positive impact on policy matters important to women, he still doesn’t get how his personal behavior deeply injured the women he targeted.  His speech was in the tradition of “If I’ve offended anyone, I’m sorry.”  If?? If???

The Washington Post invited suggestions from thought leaders in various sectors, from airlines, to media, politics, Wall Street, domestic workers, religious institutions. Laws need to be changed, facilitating accountability. Many companies, skittish about what they may have overlooked, are trying to figure out what needs to be done. (One suggestion is a  corporate reporting responsibility on sexual harassment that would be analogous to the Sarbanes-Oxley bill requiring companies to report to the SEC on procedures to protect investors. I can hear the groans about government regulation from here.)

Every sector needs strategies to minimize abuses of power in the workplace, defining what constitutes sexual harassment, stipulating behavior that falls short of criminal but is clearly unacceptable, providing safe havens for lodging complaints, and imposing scalable penalties for those who step over the line. Admittedly, this will be harder to achieve at the lower rungs of the economic ladder, with hotel and restaurant workers and the least empowered among us. But this deserves no less attention.

There’s a lot to think about.  Is there a difference between a co-worker making an unwanted pass and a colleague making a seemingly identical gesture where the recipient welcomes it?  In developing new rules, we need greater clarity in defining what is permissible and what is not.

The only long-term solution to abuse of power in the workplace is changing the balance of power, making sure more women make it into the C-suites, the halls of Congress, boards of companies,  and other decision-making positions. Progress has been glacial. The Boston Club, this region’s largest organization of senior women executives and professionals (full disclosure: I once sat on its board) has, for 15 years tracked the number of women directors and executive officers at the state’s top 100 companies. While the percentage of women directors has nearly doubled in that time, it is still just 19.5 percent.  Forty-seven percent of the top 100 MA public companies have no women executive officers.

Without enough women at the top, women who can help shape the rules, women who can field complaints, some men will continue to see the world as their locker room. The #MeToo movement has given a sense of the magnitude of the problem. But we may not yet be at an inflection point, where offenders can expect swift punishment  when they’re outed. Those without a shame gene are still unmoved.

We also would do well to understand that not all offenders have transgressed equally. We must ensure that punishments are nuanced and fit the individual cases. We all have an interest in making clear the rules of the road and what happens when you cross the median strip.

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