Seth Meyers and Papa Duck

Seth Meyers is is an American comedian, writer, actor, and television host. He hosts Late Night with Seth Meyers, a late-night talk show that airs on NBC. Prior to that, he was a head writer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live (2001–2014) and hosted the show’s news parody segment, Weekend Update.  Like John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and others, he helps us find comic relief in the day-to-day dramas that inhabit the current administration in our federal government (ie., the government led by he-who-shall-remain-nameless-for-today).

This clip is more than a week old, from February 7th, but is still funny, still relevant, and well worth the eleven minutes it takes to watch the whole thing.  If you are like me, you really, really need a good reason to chuckle, so … give it a watch, okay?  The bonus is really the part toward the end, where Papa Duck (Phil Robertson) of Duck Dynasty was interviewed on Fox regarding his views on healthcare!

The United States of Chaos

I don’t know about you folks, but personally I am beginning to feel very irrelevant, inconsequential when it comes to the current administration and the republicans in Congress.  You will notice, those of you who are employed, that during the 35-day shutdown, federal income taxes continued to be withheld from your paycheck.  Every pay, like clockwork, we pay our taxes, and most of us don’t grumble about it, for we understand that it is our taxes that are used to build roads, maintain the military, provide food and shelter for those less fortunate, and pay the salaries of those who serve in our government.  It is as it should be.  BUT …

I don’t think there is a single person reading this blog who appreciates Donald Trump spending $50,000 for a toy to keep him entertained on rainy afternoons, during his 60% “Executive Time”.  What, you ask, am I prattling on about?  This …

Trump plays a lot of golf, as we all know.  When he was on the campaign trail in 2016, he criticized President Obama for the amount of time he spent playing golf, and said this …

“I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” – Donald J. Trump, August 2016

And yet, absorb this:  President Obama played 306 rounds of golf during the entire 8 years he was in office, which averages to approximately 38 rounds of golf per year.  But Donald Trump, the ‘man’ who said he would be working so hard that he wouldn’t have time for golf, has averaged 70 rounds of golf per year for his first two years!  Where’s all that hard work, eh?  But back to his latest toy …

During the 35-day government shutdown when nearly a million federal workers were either furloughed sans pay, or were expected to work without being paid, Trump’s advisors were apparently able to convince him that it would look really bad if he were out playing golf instead of working to come to an agreement to re-open the government and pay our people.  And thus, he went … wait for it … 69 days without playing golf!  And thus, the above toy … a room-sized golf simulator game at the cost of what, for most of us, is an entire year’s salary or more.  It is said by an anonymous White House staffer that Trump paid for the toy with his own money, but frankly, until I see a canceled check drawn on his personal checking account, I am skeptical.

It was recently reported that Trump spends 60% of his time doing ‘executive time’ … time that he spends watching television, tweeting and talking on the phone, and that he doesn’t leave his residence to begin work until around 11:00 a.m.  Now, you can add another hour to his ‘executive time’, for that is the time it takes to play a round of golf on the new toy.  I wonder … will he get all hot & sweaty and have to take another 20 minutes for a shower after he plays?

trump-golfing


And in other news … again on the campaign trail, Trump promised this …

  • In his official campaign launch address, Trump promised to “reduce our $18 trillion in debt,” which will not happen if annual deficits hit $1 trillion in two years.
  • On the campaign trail, Trump said he would “freeze the budget,” which has certainly not happened.
  • Shortly before his inauguration, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would “balance the budget very quickly… I think over a five-year period. And I don’t know, maybe I could even surprise you.”
  • Previous to that, in March 2016, he told Bob Woodward that he could get rid of the debt “fairly quickly.” When pressed, he said, “Well, I would say over a period of eight years.” Since Trump took office, his own budget director called that promise “hyperbole.”
  • Trump asserted during the second presidential debate that he would bring back energy companies, which would make so much money that they could pay off the national debt. This has not happened.

None of those things have happened but guess what DID happen.  On Tuesday, 12 February 2019, the national debt hit a record high of $22 trillion, nearly $3 trillion higher than when he took office just over two years ago.  Never before in our history has it topped $21 trillion.  For perspective, that is $22,000,000,000.  And climbing.  Why?  While there is no single reason, the biggest reason is the reduction in revenue as a result of the tax cuts for the wealthy that Congress passed, and Trump signed in December 2017.  As tax filers are finding out this month, those tax cuts were truly for the wealthy, and the average taxpayer got shafted.  And still, he presses on for his unnecessary, useless border wall.

Over the course of the last two years, we have gone from a democratic-republic to a plutocracy, a government by the wealthy.  We have ceased to matter to the current administration.  And while Trump’s supporters may crow about the low unemployment rate and the stable economy … a change is coming.  We cannot continue to exist on high deficit spending and an increasing national debt without paying the consequences which I believe are waiting just around the corner.  A rising national debt has been compared to driving your car with the emergency brake on.  Trump’s house of cards may well be about to come tumbling down around us, but he’s having fun playing with his new golf toy, so … no worries, right?

Meanwhile, the Trumptanic keeps chugging toward the iceberg …iceberg

Why Billionaires???

What does a person do with a billion dollars?  I’ve been pondering this for a while now, ever since Trump took office and began making decisions and policies that largely benefit only those who already have more money than they know what to do with.  I have a rather socialistic way of looking at the world, believing that it is wrong for one man to live a posh, hedonistic lifestyle while others are starving.  As such, I am aghast at the current administration’s constant pandering to those who already have too much at the expense of those who are barely getting by.

It seems somehow criminal to give tax cuts to the wealthy, while the rest of us are paying about the same or even more than before.  The latest news is that Trump is attempting to force the Tennessee Valley Authority to keep open a power plant that is no longer viable, simply because they buy coal from his uber-wealthy pal and supporter, Robert Murray, owner of Murray Energy of whom I’ve written before.  It seems criminal that Trump is rolling back efficiency standards on light bulbs, which is estimated to carry a high cost to consumers (us).

And those are only the most recent examples.  All of these decisions are made with an eye toward putting more money in the pockets of billionaires.  And what do they do with it?  I don’t know, but I will tell you what they don’t do with it.  They don’t pay a fair portion of taxes on it – taxes that might go toward such things as taking care of people less fortunate.  They don’t donate the bulk of it to worthy causes.  They hoard it.  It seems criminal to me, for any person to have so much money sitting around for bragging purposes while the vast majority of people in the world are truly struggling to stay alive.

I was in that frame of mind a few days ago when I stumbled upon an article by journalist Tom Scocca.  The title of the piece, No Billionaires, caught my eye.  Take a look for yourself …

No Billionaires by Tom Scocca

Tom-ScoccaSome ideas about how to make the world better require careful, nuanced thinking about how best to balance competing interests. Others don’t: Billionaires are bad. We should presumptively get rid of billionaires. All of them.

Does this sound like an incitement to the most dreaded kind of revolution, when people are struck down by the mob simply on the basis of some crude simple standard? It is not. The people who have a billion dollars are fine; they may go on living. It is just that, for the sake of everyone else (and, honestly, for their own sake) they must not be allowed to possess a billion dollars.

No one needs a billion dollars. No one deserves a billion dollars. There is a widespread moral and conceptual error, in a society saturated in the ideology of competition and monetary success, that the property a person has gotten does not simply belong to that person but is, somehow, itself an embodiment of their personhood—that to separate a person from property is to attack their human existence.

This is true to an extent—to the extent that property secures a person food, and shelter, and physical security, and health and futurity. Even, despite the inequities and injustices that have emerged by this level, a person’s opportunities to have leisure, to make art, etc.

None of this comes anywhere near adding up to a billion dollars.

Another error is the belief that billionaires have made their money by adding value to society, of which they take a minor share. One pictures some great industrialist inventing and manufacturing a useful item, which makes every single person’s life better, and in return receiving a small share of the price of the item.

A kindergarten teacher, teaching 25 new people a year not to bite each other and to work in occasional harmony with strangers, produces far more social good in a lifetime than an industrialist does. Even to picture the billionaire as a productive industrialist is too optimistic—read up and down the Forbes list, larded with monopolists, retailers, retail monopolists, the heirs of retail monopolies, real estate magnates, Mark Zuckerberg.

What do they do with all their extra money? They buy atrocious houses. They shut down publications. They buy politicians, over and under the table. Now a whole batch of them have moved directly into government—and we have the most corrupt and incompetent executive branch in memory to show for it.

When we speak of the better billionaires, we simply mean the ones who are not actively malignant. There are no good billionaires. There may be some relatively good people who are attached to a pile of money that stacks one billion dollars high, but the money does not improve them. It makes them worse. Their good points would be no less good if they held only, say, 500 million dollars. And their bad points would be that much less of a problem for anyone else.

What’s A Week Without Snarky Snippets?

Someday perhaps I will go an entire week without feeling a need to impart my snarky snippets, but today is not that day.


In dispute of science …

We’ve all seen and heard the climate change deniers … those who, regardless of background or education, claim that they know more than all the highly-educated scientists who have studied the environment and climate for years, some for decades.  But here’s a new one … a germ denier!

Fox News host Pete Hegseth has said on air that he has not washed his hands for 10 years because “germs are not a real thing”.

Say What???  Has this dude never caught a cold?

“My 2019 resolution is to say things on-air that I say off-air. I don’t think I’ve washed my hands for 10 years. I inoculate myself. Germs are not a real thing. I can’t see them; therefore, they’re not real.”

If you ever had doubts that Fox News does not hire the brightest in the field, here is your proof.  Hegseth later said that he meant it as a joke, but personally … I’m not so sure.

“We’re on a show and we have fun and we banter and I’m like, eh, you know, maybe I haven’t washed my hands for 10 years. My half-hearted commentary to the point is, we live in a society where people walk around with bottles of Purell in their pockets, and they sanitize 19,000 times a day as if that’s going to save their life. I take care of myself and all that, but I don’t obsess over everything all the time.”

This explains, maybe, why Hegseth works for Fox instead of CNN.


Oh yeah … alternative facts … how could I forget?

You’ll remember how Trump and his minions attempted to say that the crowd at his inauguration was “the biggest ever”?  Turned out it was a significantly smaller crowd than Obama had at his inauguration in 2008, but Trump never gave up the lie.  Well, last night he held a pep rally in El Paso, Texas, designed to stir up enthusiasm for his ridiculous border wall, and once again he inflated his crowd size.

Trump told the crowd gathered to watch him speak in the El Paso County Coliseum that so many people wanted to be there that the El Paso Fire Department found a way to cram 10,000 people inside the Coliseum, which typically has a capacity of only 6,500. The El Paso Fire Department, however, told Zahira Torres, an editor for the El Paso Times that the arena holds 6,500 people and that’s exactly how many were permitted to enter.

Trump also had to downplay Beto O’Rourke’s competing rally …

“A young man who’s got very little going for himself, except he’s got a great first name, he is, he has challenged us. So we have, let’s say, 35,000 people tonight — and he has 200 people, 300 people, not too good. In fact, what I would do is I would say that may be the end of his presidential bid. But he did challenge us.”

Beto-rally.jpgPolice estimated that Beto’s rally was attended by between 10,000-15,000 people.


The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree …

I don’t know why Trump’s older sons, Don, Jr. and Eric, are given a platform to speak, for neither are particularly intelligent, neither are charismatic, neither hold a position within our government, and thus they are irrelevant.  But speak they do, and like their father, neither are particularly well-spoken. Trump-jr.But that didn’t stop Trump’s eldest, Don, Jr., from speaking at the aforementioned rally in El Paso last night.

“I love seeing some young conservatives, ‘cuz I know it’s not easy.  Keep up that fight, bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth. You don’t have to do it.”

I repeat … Say WHAT???  Needless to say, Don’s comment did not go over well with teachers who, while not in the audience because they were out teaching socialism to these poor little kiddos, nonetheless heard about the comment.  If it’s possible, I think Junior is even dumber than Senior!


The master speaks … will Trump listen?

Fox News’ Sean Hannity had as much to do with causing that last shutdown that lasted 35 days as any, save perhaps radical bimbo Ann Coulter.  Today, Sean rides again!

Bipartisan negotiators in Congress have been working day and night to come up with a deal that would be acceptable to both parties, as well as Trump, and avert another shutdown starting at midnight on Friday.  A tentative agreement has been reached, but Sean is not happy …

“On this so-called compromise, I’m getting details. 1.3 billion and not even a wall or barrier… Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain.”

hannity-trumpGarbage compromise?  Sean Hannity, the lowest of low in the broadcast world, should be largely irrelevant.  Instead, the so-called president actually listens to Sean more than he listens to his experienced, educated advisors (Sean is a college drop-out with zero experience in lawmaking or government), and therein lies the danger.  Will Trump take Sean’s words to heart?  Is it possible that, rather than sign the bipartisan bill, Trump will allow the government to shut down once again on the advice of a media personality?

As of this writing, it is reported that Trump claims he is “not happy” with the deal and that if the government is shut down again, it is all the “fault of democrats”.  Yeah, right, Donnie.


And now, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming!

Two Jaw-Dropping Moments …

More than once I have said that it feels as if we are moving backward to a time of extreme bigotry and racism, to a time of segregated schools, a time of ‘whites only’ bathrooms and drinking fountains.  Two stories in yesterday’s news confirmed my worst fears.


A PEW research study was released yesterday that caused my jaw to drop.  The survey found that 34% of Americans … more than a third … think it is okay to wear blackface as a part of a costume all, or at least sometimes.  I am stunned at the ignorance, the utter crudity of these people!  Unthinking louts!  Morons!  The demographics are interesting … take a look …Pew-blackface-surveyNotice especially the differences between Republicans and Democrats — and the republicans wonder why the GOP has become known as the party of racists?  The survey was conducted January 22nd to February 5th, mostly before the revelation of Virginia Governor Northam in blackface in his med school yearbook.

The age breakdown is also interesting, for it seems that people ages 18-29 are least likely to say it’s okay.  But to me, the educational breakdown is perhaps the most relevant.  It seems that common sense, compassion, cultural awareness increase with higher levels of education.  Take a look …Pew-blackface-survey-2.pngI wonder, if this survey had been taken three years ago, when we had an African-American president, a man of conscience and compassion, and before the ‘man’ in the Oval Office gave off racist vibes, would the results have been the same?  For the record, it isn’t really a matter of opinion, but a matter of what’s right and what’s wrong.  Wearing blackface is a form of mockery, a form of denigration, and it is NEVER acceptable.  Period.  Not for a costume party, not for a small gathering of close friends, and not for a med school yearbook picture.  NEVER.Only one race


The second jaw dropper came with this headline …

West Virginia lawmaker compares LGBTQ community to the KKK

Say WHAT???  Ai ching … chihuahua!!!

In recent months, cities and municipalities in West Virginia have begun passing ordinances protecting the LGBT community from discrimination.  Enter West Virginia state Delegate Eric Porterfield, not surprisingly a republican, who argued in favour of a state-level bill that would make such local ordinances against state law.  The very notion that he is against equal rights for LGBT people is bad enough, but his rhetoric …

Eric-Porterfield“The LGBTQ is a modern-day version of the Ku Klux Klan, without wearing hoods with their antics of hate. The LGBT is the most socialist group in this country. They do not protect gays. There are many gays they persecute if they do not line up with their social ideology. I am terrified of these people. They represent a socialist activist agenda. They are opponents of freedom.”

‘Opponents of freedom’.  You, Mr. Porterfield, are a grade-A jackass!  Mr. Porterfield is blind, having lost the sight in both eyes as a result of an altercation in 2006.  Now, I just wonder how he would like it if somebody referred to blind people as being just like the KKK?

This is not his first time being a bully, as you might expect.  In 2016, he saw a Facebook post by his wife’s gynecologist arguing in support of a woman’s right to choose, right to abortion.  He told her in a Facebook message that, if she didn’t change to an anti-abortion position, he’d organize an economic boycott of her practice.

The situation escalated to the point of him filming a Facebook video calling for the boycott, and the doctor obtaining a protective service order from Magistrate Sandra Dorsey against Porterfield in court. Mercer County sheriff’s deputies then confiscated guns owned by Porterfield and his wife, Jessica.  (Wouldn’t you just know they owned guns?)

And then in 2018, a bill was up before the West Virginia Legislature to ban forced conversion therapy on minors.  The bill failed, but Porterfield was livid that the bill was even introduced, calling the bill bigoted and discriminatory.

This man is a prime example of what is wrong not only in our government, but in our society today.  If you don’t fit into the mold … the white, Christian, straight, and preferably male mold … then you are second-class and deserve whatever those ‘exemplary’ white citizens decide you deserve. lgbt flag


One cannot blame Donald Trump exclusively for creating the attitudes of hate and bigotry we are seeing in ever-increasing numbers today, but we can blame him for condoning the behaviours of hate groups, and thus making these vermin believe that it is ‘okay’ to be racist, to be homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic.  Donald Trump said he would get rid of ‘political correctness’.  Being politically correct is nothing more nor less than being polite, being kind, treating others fairly.  And yet, those are things that we are losing in this nation.  We are losing them because the ‘man’ at the helm of this ship says that white and Christian and straight are superior to all else.  He is wrong.  He is dead wrong.

Putting Paid To The Lie …

I think it’s pretty funny that while Trump carries on like a wild banshee about the need for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, while he shrieks about violent criminals “pouring” across the border, the states that are actually on that border say there is no need for the wall.  And they have just about had enough of Trump’s exaggerations and lies affecting their states.  A few examples:

In New Mexico, House Bill 287 would ban construction of a wall on state land along the Mexico border. State Representative Angelica Rubio who sponsored the legislation says she doesn’t believe a wall would solve the problems that many have raised.

“I think when investing in communities, investing in our schools are ahead of the issues that are being raised in the long term will work out, knowing that we’re making those real investments.”

In addition, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has ordered the majority of National Guard troops deployed at her state’s Southern border to withdraw, condemning what she called a “charade of border fear-mongering” by Trump.

“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the Southern border.” 

She added that the area has “some of the safest communities in the country.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected today to withdraw nearly 400 of his state’s National Guard troops from deployment along the border with Mexico and assign them to other duties.

The city council in Nogales, Arizona, passed a resolution unanimously last Wednesday to formally condemn the excessive razor wire, strung on Trump’s orders.Nogales razor wire.jpgThe resolution demands that it be taken down over safety concerns. Residents and business owners have told local reporters that it makes the town feel like a war zone — “an inquisition,” one said — and worry about the effect on its life and commerce downtown.  Nogales resident Allen Zale, who served with the Army, said it reminded him of his time stationed in Berlin.

Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino said he’s concerned that the wiring is more of a danger than a safety feature because of the way it is installed down to the ground. The town’s code prohibits the use of the wire, which is also known as concertina wire, except in industrial parks and storage areas. Even then, it has to be at least six feet off the ground. The wall it adorns stretches through many residential areas in the city, as close as 10 feet in some places to people’s property.razor-wire.jpgWould you want your kids walking home from school along this lethal path?  Or would you want to live in one of those houses and have to see this every time you look out your window?  It seems to me that Trump has made the town less safe.

U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva who represents the district said

“The additional wire is nothing more than a spectacle by the Trump administration to reinforce his twisted narrative of rampant lawlessness at the border. Border residents know that this mischaracterization couldn’t be further from the truth, and will not stand for the lies perpetrated by the Trump administration.”

And in Texas, State Representative Roland Gutierrez filed a bill on Wednesday to determine what environmental impacts such a wall could bring to the southern part of the state.

“The Rio Grande Floodplain is home to several towns that have seen devastating damage from record breaking floods recently, something that a border wall would only make worse.  Taking thousands of acres from Texas farmers and ranchers while cutting off communities from their own water supply just doesn’t make sense. We have a chance to be the first state Legislature to stand up to the federal government’s unprecedented land grab and we should take it.”

And there you have it, folks.  All four states that share a border with Mexico object to Trump’s wall and have put paid to his lies that the area is rampant with crime and lawlessness brought in by vicious immigrants.  We all knew it was a lie, and now we have it straight from the horses’ mouths.  Further proof, if any needed it, that Trump’s demands for We the Taxpayers to spend $5.7 billion of our hard-earned money on his damn wall is nothing but an ego trip for him.  And this ego trip is likely to lead us into yet another shutdown at midnight on Friday just like the one that lasted 35 days, ending only three weeks ago.

Saturday’s Snarky Snippets

When I wake on Saturday morning to no less than 12 “breaking news” updates on my phone, you know I’m going to be in snarky-mode.  So, here goes …

Another hat in the ring …

Elizabeth-WarrenElizabeth Warren announced her entry into the 2020 presidential campaign this morning.  While I respect Ms. Warren’s political views, believe she is as well-qualified as any, and while a year ago I would have considered her as my choice, I have to wonder at her decision today.  Given the very public controversy that she stirred over her Native American heritage, or lack thereof, she doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the democratic nomination, much less the presidency.  Frankly, I don’t relish the thought of listening to Trump and his faithful followers shrieking “Pocahontas” for the next 21 months! The more candidates who throw their hats into the ring, the more it dilutes the party unity, and that unity is going to be essential to winning an election next year.  I wish Ms. Warren had put country before ego.


He’s baaaaaaack …

roger-stoneLong time ago, July 2016, to be exact, I awarded Trump’s buddy Roger Stone (and his wife) my coveted Idiot of the Week award, and to this day he is still proving worthy of the title.  Stone, who has undoubtedly committed as many crimes as most any man alive, was arrested on January 25th, and indicted by Robert Mueller’s team on seven counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering, and making false statements.  You might think that would take some of the wind out of his sails, that he might ‘sit down and shut up’, right?  But no, this is Roger Stone who, like his buddy Trump, thinks he can do as he pleases and will never suffer the consequences.

Instead of silence, Stone went on a media blitz in a series of television interviews and Instagram posts, decrying the unfairness of his arrest, etc., etc., etc.  Judge Amy Berman Jackson, along with Robert Mueller, is considering placing a gag order on Stone, stopping him from publicly discussing his case.  In the Judge’s words …

“The upshot of treating the pretrial proceedings in this case like a book tour could be that we end up with a much larger percent of the jury pool that’s been tainted by pretrial publicity than we have now, and that’s what it’s my job to balance here.”

Stone’s attorneys argue against it.  On what grounds, you ask?  Because a) Stone doesn’t even have a Twitter account (he was kicked off Twitter more than a year ago for a series of expletive-laden posts aimed at CNN anchors), and b) Kim Kardashian has more followers than Stone.  Is there logic here?  I’m failing to see it.


More bad news …

Dr. Sean Conley, Trump’s physician …

“While the reports and recommendations are being finalized, I am happy to announce the President of the United States is in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his Presidency, and beyond.”


Will any be left standing?

A week or so ago, I read a column by George Will in The Washington Post that posited the most viable candidate in the large field of democrats seeking to unseat Donald Trump was Amy Klobuchar.

Amy-KlobucharHis points made sense, as Will’s points most always do, and I had added her to my list of potentials.  Then today comes the news that Ms. Klobuchar has a history of mistreating her staff.  It is even said it caused such concerns that in 2015, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid spoke to her privately and told her to change her behavior, though Reid neither confirms nor denies.  Sigh.  Another one bites the dust.  It becomes apparent to me that there will be early and multiple attempts to discredit any and every democrat who plans to run in 2020.  Somebody, republicans and/or Russians, has already begun a concerted campaign to sling as much mud, to dig up as much dirt as possible on every candidate who appears to present a challenge to Trump.  It is gonna be ugly, folks.  I have to wonder if there will be any whose past won’t come back to haunt them over the next 21 months.  Shoot me now.


And on that note, I leave you to enjoy the rest of your weekend.Weekend

The True Cost of Trumpism

I was reading a column by Max Boot in The Washington Post a day or two ago about Trump’s decisions regarding the Middle East, and the damage he is causing to our alliances, when one sentence jumped out at me:

“It’s dangerous to have a president who truly does not know what he is talking about.”

We can sugar-coat issues and say that Trump is merely playing to his base, which is partly true, but the bottom line is that Mr. Boot is right … Trump does not know what he’s talking about and it is dangerous … very dangerous.

Freedom House is a U.S.-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.  The organization’s annual Freedom in the World report, which assesses each country’s degree of political freedoms and civil liberties, is frequently cited by political scientists, journalists, and policymakers.  The latest annual report was released on Tuesday, February 5th, and I think it’s important that we think about what it says.  The report is too long for me to replicate here, but I would urge you to read some of it, at least the section on the U.S. — The Struggle Comes Home:  Attacks on Democracy in the United States.  Meanwhile, I have included some of the most relevant points.  All highlighting is my own.

Freedom report

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections.

So far, America’s institutions have largely honored this deeply democratic sentiment. The resilience of the judiciary, the press corps, an energetic civil society, the political opposition, and other guardrails of the constitutional system—as well as some conscientious lawmakers and officeholders from the president’s own party—have checked the chief executive’s worst impulses and mitigated the effects of his administration’s approach.

But the fact that the system has proven durable so far is no guarantee that it will continue to do so. Elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Venezuela, or Turkey, Freedom House has watched as democratic institutions gradually succumbed to sustained pressure from an antidemocratic leadership, often after a halting start. Irresponsible rhetoric can be a first step toward real restrictions on freedom. The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.US_Democracy_Scoreboard_Resized_FIW2019.jpgWhile not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law. President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

As a candidate in 2016, he questioned the impartiality of an American-born judge with a Hispanic surname who presided over a fraud suit filed against “Trump University.” Soon after taking office, he disparaged a federal judge who ruled against his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries as “this so-called judge.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent.

An array of independent media organizations have continued to produce vigorous coverage of the administration. But the constant vilification of such outlets by President Trump, in an already polarized media environment, is accelerating the breakdown of public confidence in journalism as a legitimate, fact-based check on government power. We have seen in other countries how such practices paved the way to more tangible erosions of press freedom and, in extreme cases, put journalists in physical danger. It would be foolish to assume it could never happen here.

Previous presidents have criticized the press, sometimes bitterly, but none with such relentless hostility for the institution itself. Trump alone has deployed slurs like “enemy of the people,” flirted with the idea that the media are responsible for and perhaps deserving of violence, and defended his own routine falsehoods while accusing journalists of lying with malicious, even treasonous intent.

From the outset of his administration, the president has been willing to ignore obvious conflicts of interest, most prominently with his decision not to divest ownership of his businesses or place them in a blind trust. Instead, he moved them into a revocable trust, managed by his sons, of which he is the sole beneficiary. During his presidency, his businesses have accepted money from foreign lenders, including banks controlled by the Chinese government. Trump has swept aside the norm against nepotism by having his daughter and son-in-law, both seemingly saddled with their own conflicts of interest, serve as senior White House advisers. He also rejected the tradition obliging presidents to release their income tax records.

Trump properties have hosted foreign delegations, business dinners, trade association conferences, and Republican Party fund-raising events, complete with Trump-branded wines and other products, likely arranged in the hope of earning the president’s gratitude. The Washington Post revealed that a month after President Trump’s election, lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia booked hundreds of rooms at Trump International Hotel in the capital. Indeed, a number of foreign and domestic interests allegedly sought to influence the new administration by arranging donations to Trump’s inauguration festivities, which are now under investigation.

The importance of credible elections to the health of a democracy should be self-evident. If citizens believe that the polls are rigged, they will neither take part in the exercise nor accept the legitimacy of those elected.  During the 2018 midterm elections, he suggested without evidence that Democrats were stealing a Senate seat in Arizona and committing fraud in Florida’s senatorial and gubernatorial balloting. He complained that undocumented asylum seekers were invading the country so they could vote for Democrats. He suggested that Democratic voters were returning to the polls in disguise to vote more than once.

At the same time, the administration has shown little interest in addressing genuine and documented threats to the integrity of US elections, including chronic problems like partisan gerrymandering and the fact that balloting is overseen by partisan officials in the states. But the most glaring lapse is the president’s refusal to clearly acknowledge and comprehensively combat Russian and other foreign attempts to meddle in American elections since 2016.

Trump has refused to advocate for America’s democratic values, and he seems to encourage the forces that oppose them. His frequent, fulsome praise for some of the world’s worst dictators reinforces this perception. Particularly striking was his apparent willingness, at a summit in Helsinki, to accept the word of Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies in assessing Russia’s actions in the 2016 elections.

Cambodian strongman Hun Sen consolidated one-party rule in sham elections last summer after banning the main opposition party and shutting down independent media. He acknowledged that he and President Trump shared a point of view about journalists, saying, “Donald Trump understands that are an anarchic group.” Poland’s president, whose party has sought to annihilate judicial independence and assert control over the press, similarly thanked Trump for fighting “fake news.” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince almost certainly ordered the assassination of a leading journalistic critic, apparently believing that the action would not rupture relations with the president of the United States. It seems he was correct.

All of these are things we already knew, things we have written of and bemoaned for the past two years.  But, seeing them cited by a respected bipartisan watchdog group as threats to our core principles, as a weakening of our democracy, should give us all renewed reason to sit up and take notice, to keep on fighting against these injustices.  According to the President of Freedom House, Michael Abromowitz …

The grim reality is that Freedom House now ranks the United States well below other large and long-standing democracies, such as France, Germany and Britain.

As Mr. Boot said, It’s dangerous to have a president who truly does not know what he is talking about.”