Did Anybody Notice … ?

In this morning’s post, Jeff from On the Fence Voters made the very salient point that we need to focus less on Trump’s rhetoric, and more on what he is actually doing.  I fully agree, and as an example, one thing that nobody seems to be talking about is the fact that today ends the INF treaty that was signed by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.

In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which led to the removal of more than 2,600 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles — specifically, ground-based weapons systems with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 and 3,417 miles). That proximate distance, and the fact that they could hit their targets within 10 minutes, made such missiles the source of constant fears of miscalculation during the Cold War era.

The landmark agreement, backed by a verification process and inspections on both sides, effectively eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. It lifted the veil of permanent nuclear threat that hung over Europe. It also launched a lengthy subsequent process under which both Washington and Moscow reduced their nuclear arsenals.

In February, Trump announced that the U.S. would be exiting the INF Treaty in six months, citing long-standing U.S. complaints that Russia was violating the treaty’s terms with the development of a new land-based, nuclear-capable cruise missile. The Russians first denied the existence of the missile but now claim its range is under 500 kilometers (310 miles).INF-treaty-range.png“Now that the treaty is over, we will see the development and deployment of new weapons,” said Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. The United States also is believed to be developing at least three new types of medium-range missiles — all of them intended to carry conventional warheads.

Jan Techau of the German Marshall Fund warned that the collapse of the INF Treaty is “the most visible proof” of the shifting geopolitical winds …

“Washington calculated that in order to regain strategic parity with China in this field, it was worth sacrificing European stability.”

National Security Advisor John Bolton recently indicated that he also wants to end the Obama-era New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which expires in 2021. Another historic agreement, it limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia. Similar to their grievances with the INF agreement, Bolton and his ilk argue that New START is insufficient for the present moment and complain that it did not include short-range or tactical nuclear weapons — no matter that the treaty was not intended to address those sorts of capabilities.

This seems to be the mentality of Trump and Co these days:  If something isn’t good enough or strong enough, rather than work toward making it better, just trash it.  This is exactly what Trump attempted to do with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).  There were problems, it needed tweaking, but rather than iron out the problems, rather than work toward improving it, building on the foundation, Trump tried to ditch the whole thing.  This amounts to what is called “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”.

Here’s what some of the experts are saying …

“There is a very real risk that the whole security architecture around nuclear non-proliferation that was built up during the decades of superpower confrontation may collapse, through neglect, miscalculation and ill-founded threat analysis.” –  former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

“This is serious. The INF treaty has been a cornerstone in arms control for decades, and now we see the demise of the treaty.” – Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

“When something like the INF goes down the drain almost like nothing, it shows you the degree to which people have forgotten the power of these weapons. One day it’ll be too late.” – George Shultz, the U.S. Secretary of State who was instrumental in negotiating the 1987 INF Treaty

The entire world would be safer without nuclear weapons.  Period.  Were it in my power, I would see them all destroyed … every last one.  Today, the world became a little less safe … well no, actually a lot less safe, for far too many of those nuclear weapons are in control of power hungry madmen.  It would seem we are in a race to see whether mankind will destroy itself by destroying the environment, or by blowing up the world with nukes.  As George Shultz said, “One day it’ll be too late”.

President Reagan’s Daughter Speaks …

This morning I came across this OpEd by Patti Davis, daughter of former President Ronald Reagan.  Her words ring true, her thoughts are those most of us have been having for the past two years.  I thought the piece worth sharing with you …


A child occupies the White House — and the world knows it

Patti-DavisBy Patti Davis
December 17 at 3:34 PM
Patti Davis is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Earth Breaks in Colors” and the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Lately, I’ve been looking at home movies and photographs of my childhood years; I’m working on a documentary about my family’s life before politics claimed us. A time before the world moved in. There is something transformative about looking back at your parents when they were younger than you are now and seeing yourself as a small child gazing up at them, reaching for their hands. It resonates in some deep part of us — they were the first adults we knew, and we relied on them to lead us into a big unfamiliar world. We didn’t know that generations whispered behind us. We didn’t know the pull of ancestry or the fears and doubts that may have trailed our parents throughout their lives. We only knew we were supposed to hold their hands and trust them to keep us from falling.Patty Davis, Ronald ReaganThere is an inherently parental role to being president of the United States. The person holding that office is supposed to know more than we do about dangers facing the country and the world, and is entrusted with making the appropriate decisions to keep us safe and secure. The president is supposed to keep us from falling. What happens when the president is the biggest child in the room — any room? It upends the natural order of things as surely as if a child’s parents started throwing tantrums and talking like a second-grader.

I’m not sure the country has fully comprehended the damage being done by a president who misbehaves so frequently, it’s a news story when he doesn’t. Globally, the United States has lost its power, its aura of seriousness and decisiveness that once made autocrats hesitate before crossing us. Now we are a country that can’t seem to stand up to a ruler who orders the murder and dismemberment of a dissident who was a legal U.S. resident or call out Russia’s intrusion into America’s democratic process. Children know how to scream and sulk; they don’t know how to take control and restore order. They don’t know how to plot out a responsible position and then act on it. A child occupies the White House, and the world knows it.

A friend’s young son thought it was really funny when the president called someone “Horseface.” He giggled when he saw the president on TV telling a reporter that her question was “stupid” and that all her questions are stupid. Nine-year-olds should be able to look up to the president of the United States, not feel that the president is one of them.

Immaturity in adults has serious consequences. My friend, the author Marianne Williamson, once said, “Adults who behave like children do adult damage.” We’re starting to see some of that damage, most recently at the southern border. This president has slammed shut America’s door as loudly as a petulant child slams his bedroom door and shouts, “Go away.” The result is that thousands of migrants are living in squalid conditions just beyond the U.S. border, trying to keep babies from getting sick. This is adult damage, and there will be more.JFKWhat will happen if the country faces serious danger? I was 10 years old in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation about the Cuban missile crisis. I remember sitting on the floor in my parents’ bedroom watching him on television. I remember asking my father if we would go to war. He replied, “I hope not. But the president is doing the right thing.” Kennedy’s somber confidence did make me a little less afraid. At the end of the speech, he said: “The cost of freedom is always high — but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose is the path of surrender or submission. Our goal is not the victory of might but the vindication of right.”

Who would speak to the nation like that if global turmoil turned into a crisis that threatens America’s future?

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The Senate Stands Up To The Bully …

“We swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, including the First Amendment. Today, every senator upheld that oath by sending a message that we support the First Amendment, and we support the freedom of the press in the face of these attacks.” – Senator Brian Schatz, 16 August 2018

We should not need a Senate resolution to declare that the free press is not “the enemy of the people”.  It is rather akin to needing a Senate resolution to declare that parents should not beat their children to death, or men should not sexually abuse women.  It is already the damn law!  The U.S. Constitution protects the free press, so why do we need a Senate resolution to acknowledge the law?  Why?  Because we have a buffoon instead of a president who has, for 71 years, gotten what he wants by bullying, and he thinks he can still do that in the White House.

press-enemy-NixonSo, while we should not need the Senate to confirm that the press is not the enemy of the people, it is comforting to know that the Senate unanimously voted to confirm, for the sake of the madman in the Oval Office and his blind-faith followers who hang on his every word.

“Resolved, that the Senate affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people; reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate, and otherwise advance the most basic and cherished democratic norms and freedoms of the United States; and condemns the attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as an attack on the democratic institutions of the United States; and it is the sense of the Senate that it is the sworn responsibility of all who serve the United States by taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States to uphold, cherish, and protect the entire Constitution, including the freedom of the press.”

The resolution mentions a number of former leaders who have spoken on behalf of freedom of the press:

  • Benjamin Franklin in 1722 wrote, ‘‘Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech.’’;

  • Thomas Jefferson in 1786 wrote, ‘‘Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.’’;


  • James Madison in 1789 introduced the freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States;


  • James Madison based the freedom of the press on the Declaration of Rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which in 1776 declared, ‘‘The freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.’’;


  • President Ronald Reagan proclaimed August 4, 1985, as Freedom of the Press Day, stating that ‘‘Freedom of the press is one of our most important freedoms and also one of our oldest.’’;


  • President Reagan also said, ‘‘Today, our tradition of a free press as a vital part of our democracy is as important as ever. The news media are now using modern techniques to bring our citizens information not only on a daily basis but instantaneously as important events occur. This flow of information helps make possible an informed electorate and so contributes to our national system of self-government.’’;


  • Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in International Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992), ‘‘The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.’’;


  • The United States Supreme Court also affirmed the history and intent of the freedom of the press in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), stating, ‘‘In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.’’;


  • Tyrannical and authoritarian governments and leaders throughout history have sought to undermine, censor, suppress, and control the press to advance their undemocratic goals and actions; and


  • The United States, including the long-held commitment to and constitutional protection of the free press in the United States, has stood as a shining example of democracy, self-government, and freedom for the world to emulate.

That this resolution was passed unanimously without a single dissenting vote even among the boot-lickers on the right side of the aisle, speaks volumes.  It tells us that even Mitch McConnell and all the rest are disturbed by Trump’s denigration of the press, and that they understand that the press is the only thing standing between a ‘president’ and a dictator.  However, it should be noted that this is only a non-binding resolution, meaning it does basically nothing more than send a message to Trump & Co saying that the Senate supports the free press and does not agree with Trump calling them the enemy of the people.  The law already exists in the form of the Constitution … we just need Congress to enforce that law upon the president.

It Trickles Up … Not Down!

Trickle-down economics is a theory that says benefits for the wealthy trickle down to everyone else. It is a theory that makes sense … on paper.  In reality, it has been tried more than once and proven that it does not work.  Repeat after me:  Trickle-down economics does not work.  It does not trickle down, but rather pools in the bank accounts and investment portfolios of those who already own most of the nation’s wealth.

economy-8The theory is that if the government provides substantial tax cuts, industry de-regulations, and negotiates trade agreements that favour the big businesses of the nation, those big businesses will earn higher profit margins, and will therefore use their additional wealth to build more factories, hire more people, create more jobs, increase workers’ wages and benefits. The workers will have more money to spend, will buy more ‘things’, thereby increasing the profits of the big businesses who will use that additional profit to … well, you get the picture, right?  Sounds about right, don’t you think?  Yes, it sounds good, looks good on paper or white boards in boardrooms and congressional offices around the nation … but it does not work in reality.

economy-3Ronald Reagan tried it in the 1980s, thus leading to some calling it ‘Reaganomics’.  It did not work.  The U.S. economy was in a slump when Reagan took office in 1981, so he did two things:  lowered taxes and increased government spending.  Now, at this juncture I want to take a minute to let you know that I do not intend to provide a lesson in economics.  I am savvy enough, but I am not an economist, and I typically leave these discussions to fellow-blogger Erik Hare over at Barataria.  But Erik sometimes goes into more depth than is needed, as he IS an economist.  Since I am not, I will put what little explanation I deem necessary in layman’s terms.  So, using an over-simplification to explain what happened under Reagan …

Think of it on a personal level.  You decide you want to enjoy life more, so you cut back your hours, thereby reducing the income from your job.  At the same time, since you want to enjoy life more, you spend more money on such things as dining out, travel and household goods & clothing.  For a while, perhaps, life is great, but then … the homeowner’s insurance comes due, there is a huge auto repair, and your daughter starts college.  Uh-oh … it just caught up with you and now you must take out … loans.  Go further into debt.

This is what happened under Reagan.  He decreased the federal revenue by cutting taxes, increased federal spending in order to stimulate the economy, and for a while there was the illusion that it was working.  People had more money, and spent more, and they were happy.  But … time came to pay the piper and the money wasn’t in the treasury, so our federal debt tripled from $997 billion in 1981 when Reagan took office to $2.85 trillion in 1989 when he left office. Money is a finite resource.  If you rob from Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes, then soon you will need to rob from somebody else to pay Peter back.  And remember that debt is not free.  Take out a loan for that new car, and you will pay approximately 4.5% in interest.  The federal government must also pay interest on its debt.

Then in 2001, George W. Bush tried the theory once again, cutting income taxes in an effort to stimulate the economy.  Which it did … temporarily, until unemployment began to rise.  So in 2003, he further cut taxes on business.  According to the theory, the tax cuts should have helped people in all income levels. In fact, the opposite occurred. Income inequality worsened. Household income rose 6 percent for the bottom fifth. And 80 percent for the top 1 percent who saw their income triple. Instead of trickling down, it appears that prosperity trickled up.

economy-4

Okay, so we see that it does not work, but why?  I could point you to any number of studies with lots of graphs and charts to show inverse correlations, etc., but we would all be bored.  The bottom line, I firmly believe is multi-fold.  First, tax cuts reduce the revenue of the federal government, meaning that, since our government will almost never cut military spending, it will instead cut funding for social welfare programs, meaning the lowest income families will actually have less spending power.  Second, federal debt will have to increase to cover the deficiencies caused by the tax cuts.  And … here is, perhaps, the biggest reason:  GREED.  Big businesses that benefit from tax cuts are typically corporations who owe their very existence to their stockholders.  They will keep those stockholders happy with higher annual dividends before they consider paying their employees higher wages or increasing benefits, let alone hiring additional staff.  Purchasing additional factories?  Perhaps, but that is not likely to increase jobs significantly, especially with today’s rapidly growing technological advances cutting jobs in many fields.

Now why, you are asking, is Filosofa boring me to tears with all this?  Because, friends, Donald Trump is proposing/planning to go far beyond what either Reagan or Bush did in order to help big businesses, and he is dead wrong.  I won’t expound on the potential outcomes if he is fully successful in pushing his plans, for that is an entire topic in itself.  However, he has already begun with his rollback of certain regulations for which we will pay a terrible price, with no benefit to those who most need it.

Take, for example, what he said last week in a speech in Missouri: “We must reduce the tax rate on American businesses so they keep jobs in America, create jobs in America and compete for workers right here in America — the America we love.” Excuse me, but a large portion of Trump’s own products are manufactured overseas, as I have mentioned in previous posts, and 100% of his daughter, Ivanka’s products are manufactured overseas. Put your money where your mouth is, Trump!

What has Trump done thus far to help businesses see higher profits?  Let us look at a few:

  • He has postponed rules that protect workers from dangerous silica dust and beryllium
  • He has given green lights to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which will help create a few thousand very temporary construction jobs
  • He has pulled out of the Paris climate accord, is seeking to scrap rules against coal-fired power plants and allowed the dumping of coal waste in streams
  • He has claimed credit for the opening of the Corsa coal mine in Pennsylvania, even though the mine opened some two months before Trump was inaugurated
  • He claims to have kept some 1,200 jobs at the Carrier plant in Indiana from being moved to Mexico, but between layoffs and some jobs relocating to Mexico after all, the net number of jobs remaining in the U.S. is around 200

There is more, but this is enough for a wake up call, especially when we look at the cost of some of these moves, especially as pertain to the coal industry and oil pipelines.  Coal companies dumping their waste in streams in their backyard obviously, to those of us with eyes and brains, poses a health threat for the families of those coal miners Trump claims to “love”.  The rollback of regulations against coal-fired power plants and the blatant disregard for the environmental studies surrounding the pipelines is nothing short of criminal negligence and failure to protect the environment and those of us who inhabit this planet.  Add to that, the fact that coal jobs may come back in very small numbers and for a short time, but overall, increased use of cleaner energy substitutes like natural gas, solar and wind have come too far and proven effective both in terms of a cleaner environment and cost-effectiveness to ever take a backseat to fossil fuels again.

economy-6.jpgIn addition, Trump has been applauded by businesses for rolling back or repealing workplace regulations – safety regulations – that were costing businesses billions of dollars annually.  I don’t know about you, but I would rather see OSHA do its job in keeping workers safe than trust businesses to take matters of worker safety into their own hands.

So what’s next on the Trump agenda?  Why, tax cuts for business and industry, of course.  And this brings me, after a circuitous route, but I hope one with some value, to the reason for this post.  Tomorrow, Congress returns from its summer break, and among the first, highest-priority orders of business will be Trump’s budget.  The key feature of said budget, from what I am able to discern, is increased military spending coupled with tax cuts, primarily large tax cuts for corporations.

Cuts in revenue, the result of cutting business taxes, must be offset by either cuts in spending or an increase in costly debt. One of the more egregious items reportedly in Trump’s budget proposal is to cut money for mine safety enforcement and eliminate funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has aided hundreds of coal counties by financing job retraining and social services, helping to cut Appalachia’s poverty rates nearly in half.

economy-7The most recent jobs report shows that job growth is slowing and wage rates are stagnant.  No surprise there, as the job growth rates over the first six months of Trump’s administration were merely a continuation of job growth under Obama.  Slow job growth with stagnant wage rates is not exactly a win-win, and Trump has adamantly argued against a raise in the federal minimum wage.

economy-2The budget debate is just about to begin in Congress, and I expect it to be contentious, especially in light of funding that will be required to help with disaster recovery from Hurricane Harvey.  One thing that is not needed, that will not help We The People, is tax cuts for large corporations and the top 1%.

Healthy and Educated? Or Sick and Poor? Your Choice …

Two talking points in this election year have gained a lot of attention: health care and education. While one side proposes to demolish both the Affordable Care Act and the Department of Education, the other side supports expanding ACA to a universal health care system and providing free college education for all. Perhaps there is a happy medium? What is your stance on these two issues?

Health Care

Bernie Sanders states that “We are the only major country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people as a right.” Is Mr. Sanders right? It turns out that depending on how one defines “major country”, he is very nearly correct. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States and Mexico are the only two member nations that do not provide universal health care coverage. As of today, Mexico has made remarkable progress toward some degree of universal healthcare, given that Mexico is a much poorer nation than the U.S. and is still considered to be a developing nation. That said, one could argue that even Mexico provides better healthcare to its citizens that the U.S., even with ACA (Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare). ACA was never actually intended to provide universal care, but merely to make health care insurance affordable for all, a goal which to date is approximately 90% successful.

For the purpose of simplification, let us look at only the OECD member nations, though there are many nations around the globe outside this list that do provide some form of universal health care ranging from free health care for only pregnant women and children, to full care for all. Below are the OECD nations that do provide universal heath care:

• Virtually all of Europe has either publicly sponsored and regulated universal health care or publicly provided universal healthcare.
• Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel
• Asia: Japan, Korea

Just a few examples of non-OECD nations that provide a significant level of universal health care

• China, Hong Kong, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, UAE …
• African nations of: Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia

I bet some of these surprise you. As you can see, many countries that are considered “developing” nations yet offer better opportunities for at least basic health care than the U.S. There are some differences between “universal health care” and a “right to health care”, differences that are too detailed to cover in any depth here. Additionally, each nation has its own definitions of coverage that makes a complete analysis worthy of a book, which is not my intention. My point is that almost every other nation on earth has acknowledged the need to provide its citizens with some form of health care. Apart from Medicare/Medicaid, the United States had done very little toward that end until President Obama launched the Affordable Care Act. Even that is not enough, but it is a start and needs to be built upon going forward. I find it impossible to understand the mentality of those who completely oppose ACA without even a thought of alternate proposals. For one of the most technologically advanced nations on the globe, it is shameful to let people go without health care under any circumstances.

A couple of very useful links for anyone who is interested in delving deeper into healthcare systems around the globe:

http://chartsbin.com/view/z1a
http://healthcare.procon.org

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Education

Do you remember the time when you often heard “He/she is the first in the family to go to college”, or “I am going to make sure my son/daughter gets the opportunity for college that I never had”? That was once the way in the United States … each generation saw more young people entering college than the generations before. Today, however, the reverse is true. The reasons are fairly simple: college costs have soared, student loans are a lifelong burden for many, there is very little help available outside student loans, many “blue collar” jobs pay better than those requiring a college education. The OECD released a report on college graduate rates in 2014 saying that the U.S. ranks 19th out of 28 countries included in the study. Not the bottom of the barrel, but certainly far from top of the list. In 1995, we were at the top of the list, ranking first in graduation rates (33%) of all OECD nations. We have fallen from 1st to 19th in just over two decades, leaving us to wonder where we will be in another twenty years.

In this election year, the politics point to two polar opposite sets of ideas: one side seems convinced that we need to disband the Department of Education, that there should be no free rides for college students, while the other side strongly advocates at least two years of free tuition for all students. Free college tuition, while not nearly as globally prevalent as universal health care, is the norm in several countries: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Demark, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, France, and Brazil. Many other countries provide additional assistance to students, including free college tuition for certain courses of study, no interest or low interest student loans, and other incentives.

The Department of Education, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, is a cabinet-level agency tasked with three main goals:

• Provide financial aid
• Collect educational data
• Identify education issues

Ronald Reagan attempted, but failed to abolish the department in 1980, and the republican party has rallied to abolish it almost ever since. The argument in favour of abolishing the department is purported to “end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning.” The bigger reason, I suspect, ties to economic platforms and the desire to “get rid of big government”. (One word here, to be covered in depth in a later post, is that the U.S. is a large country with over 318 million people … such a large and diverse country requires a large central government.) With all the controversy surrounding “common core” today, there is ever-increasing and understandable support for abolishing the department. However, there are also some strong arguments against such a move:

• Some states would fail to implement minimum standards and there would be no national standard, resulting in inequalities from state-to-state
• Elimination of the Department of Education would also eliminate federal funding for schools
• Left to the states, it is almost certain that civil rights violations would occur in many states

In my own opinion, our system of education, both at the federal and the state level needs an overhaul, however I do not think that simply abolishing the Department of Education is the answer. I am almost certain that it would lead to a further drop in our ranking within the next decade, and that is not acceptable if we wish to maintain our status as one of the world’s leading technological and humanitarian nations.

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In sum, universal health care and education are two areas in which we lag woefully behind many other developed nations. Improvement in these areas will take much work. Neither education nor healthcare are free, but we need to address both as a nation, distributing the cost more equitably rather than simply shrugging our shoulders and leaving “every man for himself”. We will not resolve this overnight, it will take years, decades perhaps, to catch up in just these two areas. Any move in the opposite direction, such as dismantling the Department of Education or abolishing the Affordable Care Act is a step in the wrong direction and can only have disastrous results for the citizens of this nation. These are not the steps we need to take if we truly want to “make America great again”.