Sunday, January 22, 2017

Call to Action: The First Million Steps

Wendy continues her series designed to translate our anger into meaningful action by highlighting those who make a difference.  Today she writes about the Women's March.

Like so many of you, on Friday I watched, and I wept.  And like so many of you, on Saturday, I marched.  Marching was a temporary antidote, a period of solidarity with like-minded Americans walking in protest and with some measure of disbelief. 

Image may contain: 12 people, crowd and outdoorThe marches across our county and the world -- the world! -- are historically unprecedented.  As we traveled together to the march on a standing room only train, one woman said, "This is great."  Yes, but it would have been even greater if this expression of outrage were unnecessary.

We -- readers of this blog -- participated from sea to shining sea.  In Washington, of course.  Women from two extraordinary organizations with which I volunteer -- Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic and Hope's Door -- drove to Washington to raise their voices and one of my nieces traveled from California to be in DC.  Tom and I marched in New York City as did many, many of our friends.  My sisters-in-law and a niece marched in California.  A friend rallied in Chicago and a friend of hers in Seattle.  And we marched in smaller cities too.  A group from Women on Watch, about whom I wrote last week, marched in Stamford, Connecticut.  A Facebook friend marched in Poughkeepsie. 

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoorMarchers carried signs, not just about women's rights, but about gay rights, racism, the environment, education.  The signs ran from the blunt to the clever, but all spoke of deep conviction. "I Stand with Planned Parenthood." "If my daughter had another 23 cents for every 77 cents she earned, she'd be my son." "Women Organized This." "A Woman's Place is in the Revolution." "Not Putin Up With This." "Nasty Women Are Watching." "I Can't Believe I Still Have to Protest This Shit." "Fight Like A Girl." "Not My President." "None of This Is Normal." "We Say Nyet." "Hate Won't Make Us Great." "Pussy Power." "I Am a Strong Woman Because A Strong Woman Raised Me." "Resist." "Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights."

The marchers were women, they were men, they were black, white, Hispanic and Muslim.  They were young, they were old.  For many, it was a mother/daughter day. So many little girls were walking with their mommies, not understanding the crowds, the noise, the very long day, but being taught, early, the importance of speaking up and speaking out.  The marchers walked with groups they supported, with their book clubs, with their churches and synagogues, with their friends, their families and some, on their own. 

And they chanted.  "This is what democracy looks like." 

Indeed.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoorFor me, the most poignant moment came as we neared Trump Tower, the march almost at a standstill but electric with energy.  To my left was a little girl, maybe four years old, holding her young mother's hand and peering through the barriers at supportive onlookers.  And to my right, sandwiched amongst thousands of chanting protesters, was an elderly woman.  She had gray hair.  She wore a pink coat.  She wore a pink hat with cat ears, a "pussy hat," as they were called.  And she pushed a walker. Every step of the way.  I think she pushed it for that little girl.

Did it matter?  I believe it was an excellent start.  Trump seems to have an ability to craft his own reality, so I have no doubt we'll hear that the media has overstated the numbers of protesters, that somehow the pictures of wall-to-wall marchers in city after city were photoshopped.  But we who were there know that the streets were so crowded with angry but peaceful protesters that New York City came to a complete standstill.  And our Senators and Representatives know it too. 

Heading home on the train, a fellow traveler said to me, "It was a great day.  But it can't only be a day.  We have to keep it up."  Couldn't agree more.  Let's keep it up. 

Putin on the Ritz: Trump’s Inaugural is a Kremlin Smash

Steve on the Trump Inaugural address...

Much has been made of Donald Trump’s unpredictability and inconsistency, but give the man his due: he has consistently and predictably refused to learn anything from history. Historically, newly elected presidents have used their inaugural address as the critical moment to heal the wounds of divisive presidential campaigns, to articulate a vision for the future that binds Americans in common purpose, and to send a message to the world of America’s unceasing role as champion of democracy and freedom. Above all, it is their moment to signal their understanding that they have made the leap from candidate to president.

I suppose I would have been pleased had Trump given his best shot at any one of these messages individually, but I must admit to disappointment – though not surprise – when he whiffed on all four.

If Donald Trump had any historical perspective that Inaugural Addresses are exercises in unification and elevation, he ignored it.

Rather, the 45th President of the United States viewed his inaugural address as the epic finale to the multi-city stadium tour that was the hallmark of his campaign. He viewed the Capital building as, like, wow, an awesome venue in which to wrap up this season of The Donald, Live! Trump’s inaugural address was the stale fish wrapped in yesterday’s tweets. The only real news was that the isolationism, anger, and ignorance that got this man elected would now be cast forth as the official policy of the United States of America.

Somewhere in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin was hoisting a vodka to his world-class team of hackers, and toasting that the new United States – isolationist, defensive, belligerent to friend and foe alike – was the glorious outcome of their long efforts. Why, Putin probably noted with his customary KGB charm that he couldn’t have written Trump’s speech better himself.

And for all we know, he did.

What more could Putin have possibly wished for? The new President bluntly sent forth a message to the international community that the United States had too many ugly problems of its own to waste its time or money trying to fix everybody’s else’s messes.  That the people of the United States were sick and tired of getting screwed in global trade by all the nations on earth.  That the United States spent too much time worrying about the borders of other countries and not enough on its own.  That we were going to rebuild our military so we could hastily fix any thorny, complicated, and nuanced global hot spot the good, old-fashioned way. In the Donald’s own words:

“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

Note carefully how our new President has lumped our longest and most loyal allies in with every banana republic, dictatorship, competitor, and hostile adversary in saying that his new decree will be heard in “every foreign capital.” Hey, you – Beijing, Mexico City, and you, too, London, Paris, and Berlin -- listen up! We are tired of getting beaten up by you sleezeballs!

Could Putin have possibly wished for more? Here was the President of the United States announcing to the global community that its citizens were tired, laid low, and desperately in need of protection from conquering hordes, that its infrastructure was collapsing, its educational system hopelessly dysfunctional, and that it was simply not rich enough and needed to institute policies in order to keep more of the world’s wealth to itself.  Das vidanya! The new President even ended his speech by essentially conceding that America is not all that great… that it needs to be made great again!!

As fate would have such things, I was actually sitting in one of those “foreign capitals” – Vienna, Austria, to be precise – when Donald Trump launched his presidency with his aggressive and unapologetic “America first” inaugural address.  Most puzzling to my hosts that evening was the message that the United States of America was the grievously weakened nation the new President described. Most people had the sense that by traditional measures – the stock market, unemployment figures, steady economic growth – the United States was once again surging if not nearing new heights. They seemed to say that had Trump’s speech been delivered in 2009, there might have been a relevant context, but that the notion of a terribly vulnerable America --an America routinely pillaged if not brought to its knees by shrewd and unprincipled international competitors – simply did not square with the reality so easily observed and so readily apparent.

Please, let me take a moment and be clear about what I am criticizing. Donald Trump said some things we all welcome… notably a desire to dramatically improving our infrastructure, which he lustily declared was a superior investment to wasting billions of dollars overseas.  I could hope that his reference was to the idea that George W. Bush wasted billions of dollars initiating war on a phony pretext in Iraq, and we should have used that money instead to fix our schools, interstates and hospitals. While one could have inferred that this was in part what the man said, there is the wholly separate matter of the gestalt of what domestic and global audiences heard.  Rather than appear to be a comment on the wisdom of the ways we spend money overseas, Trump’s words seemed to be an indictment of the wisdom of spending money overseas, period.  The theme line “America First” did little to mitigate this implication.

All of which why it is so important to think about Donald Trump’s inaugural address through the lens of his own perception of the unique context in which it was written and delivered.

In fact, the circumstances at the moment he placed his hand on the Bible have never been witnessed in American politics: the Russian hacking scandal, the rogue actions of the FBI Director, and a shockingly large deficit in the popular vote have, in concert, created a profound question about the very legitimacy of his presidency.  I am not suggesting for a moment that action should be taken or even contemplated to address the underlying issue of his legitimacy. But there can be no doubt of widespread anxiety in the American population that nefarious forces have, in concert, shifted the outcome of the election in such a way that this President does not reflect the majority will of the nation.

Were Donald Trump a man of stature and vision, he could have startled us all by acknowledging this very fact in his inaugural: that his Presidency was narrowly won in a divided electorate and then challenged by a swirl of controversy. Imagine how impressed we’d all have been if he had announced that his very first goal to assure the nation that he intended to win the faith and trust of all citizens.

But this man, Nixonian in the manner that he is riddled by insecurity and feels routinely belittled by the press, desperately needed to begin his Presidency with a re-assertion of its validity. There should be little surprise that he felt a need to go back on the campaign trail and finish the job once and for all at just the moment that he needed to begin his journey on an entirely new and higher path.

Inherent in the need to re-litigate the case was the need to re-enter his closing arguments into testimony. So Donald Trump went back to the applause lines that played in the stadiums. He invoked the concerns about our borders, the worries about immigrants, the loss of jobs to foreign nations, and he painted a picture of a hopelessly flawed and failing nation.   While no government on earth, at no time on earth, has ever been fully immune from sharp criticism about its ability to fully meet the needs of his citizenry, Donald Trump painted a picture of a nation in calamitous free-fall at a time when its economic vitality and global stature were robustly rebounding from the disasters of the Bush presidency.  

As he had throughout the campaign, Trump found it convenient to blame the rich and privileged moneyed class and career politicians for the plight of the unemployed and underemployed, somehow not quite squaring his outrage with the reality that these numbers now stood at historic lows. But blame he did – blame those billionaires who don’t pay their share of taxes, who hire undocumented workers, who don’t pay their bills and who game the system to make a buck off the little guy. You know…. People like, uh, Donald Trump.

In the end, all we witnessed yesterday was a cheap rhetorical trick.

Donald Trump needed to fabricate a benchmark so low that his own presidency would be measured favorably.  

He needed to frame a situation so dire that he could claim a mandate for radical change… be it in our immigration policy, our trade policy, domestic security, or our willingness to act in concert with other nations to address the dangerous disputes and rivalries that fester around the globe.

He needed America to look bad to serve that far more critical purpose of making The Donald look good.

Ah, irony. Trump does not need to invent reasons why America does not look good right now in all those foreign capitals.

After all, we elected Donald Trump.

And, yes, there’s a guy in Moscow who figured this all out a long time ago.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Blind Transition: Assuming Power The Trump Way

How does one characterize the 73 days of the Trump Transition?  Clearly a Herculean undertaking.  But in the spirit of the times, which require an ability to distill complex matters into 140 characters, here is my executive summary:

No unifying; amateur arch-right mega-rich cabinet; Hamilton; Putin-loving hack denial; conflicts; ACA mess; worst ratings ever! #sad #scary

Expanding my executive summary “tweet” a bit, Trump’s transition has been a mass of contradictions.    After a conciliatory acceptance speech and meeting with Obama, he has made no attempt to unify a brutally divided electorate.  He has taken, at times, a more moderate stance on many issues than in his outrageous campaign, yet he has populated his cabinet and key staff positions largely with hardliners.  And he has walked onto the grand global stage with all the deftness of not just a bull in a china stop, but a blindfolded bull in a china shop with the lights out.  He has deified Vladimir Putin and insulted just about everybody else, including the entire NATO alliance.  His own hardline cabinet choices have taken the remarkable step of publicly disavowing many of his signature programs.

He has realized, more than ever, that every move he makes will instantly gratify his favorite passion, which is watching himself on the presumably Very-Large-Screen-TV that by all reports he is addicted to – and perhaps that provides the motivation for kicking off more controversies than you can possibly imagine, covering the geopolitical landscape from China to Russia to UK and Germany and Israel and more.  Not even the hit musical Hamilton and legendary Representative and civil rights hero John Lewis have been spared.

We will focus first on the numbers, and then provide commentary on why those numbers are the way they are.

Evaluating the Trump Transition by the Numbers

Trump himself and his transition have received historically low marks across the board.  He is viewed less favorably – by far – than his three immediate predecessors, well under 50%, which is almost unimaginable, even below his share of the popular vote (46%).  Trump is performing in a similarly dismal way in terms of how he is handling his transition and approval of his choices for cabinet and other senior positions.  He will almost certainly have the lowest approval rating of any recent President at this Inaugural. 

TRUMP TRANSITION MEASURES VERSUS PREDECESSORS

Favorability pre-Inaug. (Jan)
Approval of Handing of Transition (Jan)
Approval of Cabinet & High Level Appts.
Approval Rating at Inauguration
Trump 2016
40%
44%
40%
TBD
Obama 2008
78%
83%
71%
68%
Bush 2000
62%
61%
58%
57%
Clinton 1992
66%
68%
64%
58%
Source
Gallup
Pew
Pew
Gallup

One is tempted to attribute some of this to the increasing divisiveness in our country and not to Trump alone, until one lingers on the Obama numbers.  Our country was viewed as remarkably divided back then – Obama essentially ran on it as the primary national issue.  “Hope and change” was not about the economy, it was about the perceived Obama opportunity (since disproven) to “transcend” the partisan divide. 

Trump’s favorability rating did rise with his election, but that increase was modest and has since leveled and, more recently declined.  It remains significantly below 50%.

TRUMP FAVORABILITY RATINGS
October and pre-Election November
Post-Election November
December
January
Favorable
37%
39%
45%
40%
Unfavorable
60%
58%
49%
50%
Change Fav.
n/a
+2 pp
+6 pp
-5 pp
Net
-23 pp
-21 pp
-4 pp
-10 pp

The lack of confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the Presidency is utterly striking, particularly in the context of his predecessors.  Trump, simply stated, is viewed dimly when compared to each of them, whether Democratic or Republican.

CONFIDENCE IN TRUMP VERSUS PREDECESSORS
% Somewhat/very confident…
Handle an international crisis
Use military force wisely
Prevent major scandal in his administration
Work effectively with Congress to get things done
Trump 2016
43%
47%
44%
60%
Obama 2008
73%
71%
74%
89%
Bush 2000
71%
78%
77%
74%
Clinton 1992
70%
n/a
n/a
n/a

I am currently reading Jean Edward Smith’s devastating biography of George W. Bush.  It is harrowing to recall – in the context of Trump’s imminent presidency -- Bush’s lack of curiosity, limited attention span, unwillingness to think through nuances or even be exposed to contrary opinions, eagerness to make decisions, disdain for options, desire to have everything boiled down to black and white, his intense personalization of the presidency, and his willingness to bend the law and the facts to support his messianic vision of his power.  It is hard to read this without feeling that not only are we repeating this type of presidency, but doubling down on the worst of Bush’s impulses.  At least Bush (purportedly) read 16 biographies of Lincoln in his time in the White House (not that much rubbed off).

Presidential transitions usually cover three essential areas:  the post-election unification of the country, the building of the government (led and exemplified by Cabinet selections) and the setting of policies, particularly to define the “first 100 days.”  Let’s look at each in turn.

Unifying the Nation

Trump has approached this traditional transition task with the thorniest of olive branches ever imagined.  His effort in this arena is perhaps best typified by his New Year’s Eve tweet, which I quote in full:  “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.  Love!”

He actually got off to a good start.  You will recall his dead-of-night acceptance speech, which was brief, conciliatory and restrained.  He exhibited none of the self-promoting over-the-top persona we had come to know well.  He was gracious and hit the proper notes.  This extended into his meeting with President Obama days later, in which he lauded a president that he had ridiculed, and certainly seemed to listen to the substance of Obama’s message, particularly on health care and the need to sustain at least some aspects of the ACA.  The only off-note was that Trump truly seemed to shrink in the moment, looking more than a little overwhelmed, and seemingly leaning on the President rather heavily.

But like the several times in the campaign when it appeared Trump was moving to a more “presidential” mode, this era of humility and restraint proved impossible to sustain for more than a few days.  Perhaps it was the protests in the streets, or the Hamilton moment (when a cast member asked Vice President-elect Pence -- in attendance – to, in essence, govern on behalf of the whole nation, not just the “base”).  But whatever the trigger, the old Trump roared back, and this familiar Trump has been anything but unifying.  He embarked on a “Victory Tour,” rallies among the faithful, returning to campaign mode, with the same language, the same arrogance, the same disdain for his “enemies” – and the tour was only conducted in states he had carried.  What more symbolism does one need?

Trump’s Policies

In the immediate post-Election period, Trump seemed to walk back nearly every hardline position he had articulated in the campaign.  On health care, his post-Obama statement indicated a willingness to protect at least aspects of the ACA (a practical impossibility given that the unpopular parts pay for the popular ones).  On the environment, he signaled that he would at least review the previously condemned Paris Accords, perhaps prodded by the closet-liberal daughter Ivanka, a well-known advocate for confronting climate change.  The call for The Wall turned into a recognition that it might be merely a “fence” in certain areas.  And so on.

But again, this has given way to a return to the hard-line Trump.  Obamacare would be repealed and simultaneously replaced (a trapeze act worthy of the Ringling Brothers, and destined to follow a similar fate – the circus is closing and there is no way to reconcile the dozens of GOP proposals on any kind of rapid timetable).  Obama’s environmental executive actions appear to be ready for the scrap heap, a stroke of the pen undone as easily as they were enacted.  And The Wall is back, in full, albeit on what Trump now claims will be a “pay later” basis by the Mexicans.

There is irony here, and it is embodied in Trump’s cabinet picks.

Trump’s Cabinet

Trump’s policy olive branches stopped at roughly the same time he began to select his cabinet, and that seemed to be no coincidence.

Democrats, in a display of gallows humor, have had fun with monikers for the Trump Cabinet.  My favorite is “The Worse and the Whitest,” offered by a friend of mine.  Sheldon Whitehouse, the Senator from Rhode Island, referred to them as “either members of the arch-right, billionaires or arch-right billionaires, plus some generals.”  He could have thrown in that a number of them have absolutely no experience in the area to which they are now assigned, and several others hold views that are essentially antithetical to the mission of the departments they will (presumably) be leading.  One of them once proposed eliminating the very department that he is now charged to run.  I bet you know who.

We have put together this handy chart to sort it all through and to dramatize these themes, and compare the selections to those of George W. Bush.  We have focused only on the highest ranking cabinet offices (though similar conclusions would be drawn if you looked at every selection of cabinet rank.)  You may quibble with some of the specific ratings and descriptions, but I don’t believe you can argue with the conclusion.

Trump Selections
Position
Appointee
Ideology
Experience
State
Tillerson
TBD
Low
Treasury
Mnuchin
Establishment
Medium
Defense
Mattis
Establishment
High
Atty. Gen.
Sessions
Hard Right
High
Commerce
Ross
Hard Right
High
Labor
Pudzer
Hard Right
High
HHS
Price
Hard Right
High
HUD
Carson
Hard Right
Low
Trans.
Chao
Establishment
High
Energy
Perry
Hard Right
Low
Education
DeVos
Hard Right
Low
Veteran Aff.
Shulkin
Establishment
High
Home. Sec.
Kelly
Establishment
High
Bush 43 Selections
Position
Appointee
Ideology
Experience
State
Powell
Establishment
High
Treasury
O'Neil
Establishment
High
Defense
Rumsfeld
Establishment
High
Atty. Gen.
Ashcroft
Hard Right
High
Commerce
Evans
Establishment
High
Labor
Chao
Establishment
High
HHS
Thompson
Establishment
High
HUD
Martinez
Establishment
High
Trans.
Mineta
Establishment
High
Energy
Abraham
Establishment
High
Education
Paige
Establishment
High
Veteran Aff.
Principi
Establishment
High
Home. Sec.
Ridge
Establishment
High

Bush, of course, led a different Republican Party, and ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism,” which may have struck many as an oxymoron, but he ran as a pragmatist.  He filled his cabinet with very experienced hands and establishment figures.  (Ultimately the hard right influence of a radicalized Dick Cheney became apparent, but that was hardly clear on Inauguration Day.)

Trump has shown no such compulsion.  His Cabinet selections are filled with arch-conservatives who, on paper (and some in practice) seem intent on fulfilling the worst excesses of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  And the praise he received for these selections from the hard right perhaps has emboldened him to resume the tough talk.  He has appointed many business people and many billionaires, and generals as well, far more in aggregate than the usual array of career politicians. 

Some of Trump’s cabinet picks are notorious for their inexperience.  Rick Perry has admitted to not even knowing what the Department of Energy actually does, and now – having been told – he has no interest in abolishing it.  (This was the very department he could not recall – “oops!” -- as he stumbled his way through a debate five years ago).  Nikki Haley may be an establishment darling and future presidential prospect, but she has zero foreign policy experience to qualify her as an appropriate nominee for UN Ambassador.  Dr. Ben Carson helps Trump diversify his cabinet, but he has zero experience in housing, which is a funny thing to say about the nominee for HUD.  Education Secretary designate Betsy DeVos may be a huge backer of charter schools, but she has zero experience in public schools, at all.  And, in a different twist, Scott Pruitt of the EPA is, of all things, a climate denier.

The national security side is more promising.  There is more of a comfort level with the men (and they are all men) that Trump has selected.  James Mattis in Defense, John Kelly in Homeland Security and Mike Pompeo at the CIA are all experts in their fields, at least, and “grown ups” with a belief in post-WWII global security infrastructure. The big concern here is National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who is – how else to say it? – basically a nut.  It will be interesting to see who prevails in the first Mattis/Flynn showdown.  I’m betting on “Mad Dog” Mattis, but who really knows. 

But with all these hardline picks, a funny thing is happening at the hearings.  Many of Trump’s most conservative selections are disavowing or walking back Trump’s “policies,” particularly on the national security side.  Mattis and Pompeo have made it clear they consider Russia to be an enemy and Putin a villain, and have no interest in a return to the days of “enhanced interrogation.”  John Kelly sees no need for a wall on the Mexican border.  All have reinforced the important and historic success of the NATO alliance.  Mattis even endorsed the Iran nuclear weapons deal and believes in climate change.  Ryan Zinke, the Interior nominee, is also a believer in man-made climate change.  So the irony remains that while Trump has returned to a more belligerent and hard right tone in his more recent statements, he does so while his nominees are openly disagreeing with him on many of those same issues.

Say one thing for Trump’s picks that there is no disputing – they are, combined fabulously wealthy.  The first dozen people in the line of succession are all multi-millionaires, most far richer than that, and two of them – DeVos and Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, are billionaires.  All told the estimate of the Cabinet’s net worth is in the $13 billion range, more than the entire GNP of 70% of the world’s countries and about equal to the net wealth of the lower third of American households.  The next level is not on the food stamp program either, with Linda McMahon at Small Business and Todd Ricketts, the #2 at Commerce, each in the 9 to 10 digit net worth range.  And, of course, Trump himself, who tells us he is a billionaire, though, of course, we can’t be really sure absent tax returns, can we?

Controversies

There have been many controversies in the crash bang of this transition, starting with the strange process of receiving calls from heads of state, which immediately set off shock waves.  Trump eschewed the traditional practice of accepting the first congratulatory call from our closest ally, Great Britain; instead Egypt was first, for no known reason.  Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, flummoxed at the paucity of “normal channels” through which to make his call, managed to get Trump’s cell phone number from golfer Greg Norman.

But the big news was Trump’s acceptance of a call from the Taiwanese President, shattering decades of precedent and signaling either a crafty strategy to upset the Chinese or utter buffoonery on the part of Trump.  (Naturally, the spin was the former.)  Trump is apparently intent on resetting relations all around the globe – okay, he’s entitled to try -- but his methods for instigating these resets have been incredibly clumsy.

But forgetting about these faux pas, and the dissing of the protesters, and getting in a twitter fight with the cast of Hamilton, the absolute dominant news of the transition has been Trump’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin.

Trump has long been fascinated with Putin, the classic strongman who rides horses bare-chested, has his enemies shot and killed, and take possession of countries and regions with little regard for world opinion or the interests of those peoples.  During the campaign Trump praised Putin and compared him favorably to Obama as a leader.   During the transition, intelligence reports made it clear that the Russians had attempted (rather successfully) to influence the elections through their hacking of the DNC, which resulted in the WikiLeaks’ publication of John Podesta’s emails, and that Putin himself was orchestrating this strategy and its execution.

Politicians, observers and citizens alike rose up in anger at the Russian meddling, which can be interpreted as an act of war, certainly cyber war.  (Ask John McCain.)  But Trump, mystifyingly, took it all extremely personally, defending Russia and insisting the intelligence community was wrong, and that everyone was conspiring to delegitimize his victory.  He did not seem to realize that he was damaging his relationships with his own intelligence community, or that he himself had questioned the validity of the election process time and again during the campaign, and even after he won (when he claimed that Hillary Clinton had received “millions” of illegal votes, with no evidence thereof). 

Finally, when fully briefed by the CIA, Trump concluded the Russians were involved but continued to focus on the fact that there was no evidence that they had tampered with ballot boxes, as if that was his litmus test for him considering it noteworthy.  He seems oblivious to the bigger picture of Russian aggression.

The other controversy worth mentioning is the mammoth conflict of interest that the Trump presidency presents, and how little Trump has done to assuage the very real threats posed by the confluence of his business interests and those of the country’s.  It is hard to underestimate the temptations Trump (and his Cabinet) will surely face to further personal interest in setting policy.  All you need to do is watch Al Franken’s grilling of HHS designate Tom Price to understand the potential, and then add a bunch of zeroes onto one of Price’s transaction to get the order of magnitude.  This Administration of billionaires has the U.S. Treasury at its disposal and the world economy as its playground.  Vigilance will be required, and GOP efforts to dismantle ethics offices is not a comforting start, to say the least, as well as Trump’s ongoing campaign to delegitimize the media.

What are we left with?  As I write this – with literally minutes to go before the swearing in ceremony -- I can safely say that no one really knows.  Trump’s team has been relatively tight-lipped about his first 100 days, or even the first week, aside from the jockeying over Obamacare.  Trump may roll back some environmental restrictions, announce lobbying “bans” and the like, but nothing is really known.

At this point, most observers, including world leaders, have been left to wonder what any Trump utterance means – is it random blurting to be ignored?  Crafty mixed messaging to keep his options open?  Outrageous opening bids for future negotiations?  Or actual brand new policy?

But we are certain of two things.  

One is that we can never believe another feint toward the “presidential” Trump.  He is who he is and that is not likely to change at age 70, especially with the positive reinforcement that his astounding victory provided to him, affirmation that he knows all.  We just have to see how it plays out when the games really count.

And the second thing – whatever you make of Trump and his transition, the American people do not like what they are seeing -- in record-shattering numbers.  That much is clear.  Nothing he has done has enhanced his standing since Election Day, and an approval rating below 50% means he is already on notice, and will have a hard time spending political capital he may not have.

Donald Trump may have shattered half of the Mario Cuomo truism – that campaigning is “poetry” – but the other half remains stubbornly true – that governing is “prose.”  It’s showtime, and we’ll see how the First Celebrity Apprentice fares with his appointment not with reality television, but with reality itself.