The election was only four weeks ago. Every day I wake up at six a.m. to a new CNN headline about Donald J. Trump as president- elect. The title still seems surreal, but the actions and words very real. And they are exactly the same as the man who entered the race for president seventeen long months ago. Trump has created Twitter as the communication of choice, continuing to label the news media as “unfair and rough” , whether on paper or television. His 90 minute in- person interview with The New York Times was wide ranging and candid. Sitting next to the publisher and fielding pertinent questions from the reporters, Trump held his own throughout. He dodged his previous claim that climate change was “a hoax created by the Chinese” by repeating over and over, I am keeping an “open mind”. He appeared confident and joked that reading The Times every day had shortened his life. The entire transcript was published for interested readers to pursue and ponder. I did that, slogging through the opening boastful paragraphs to reach the serious question and answer substance.
Trump World presents a spectacle of surprises and shocks every day. He was and is a very skillful showman who keeps Americans and people across the globe watching and reacting to his words and actions. He has not changed in any recognizable way. We are the ones who have to accept who he is and deal with what is happening. Here are some of the highlights from the past month:
Cabinet Post Interviews: A parade of possible choices for Justice, State, Treasury, HUD, Defense , Labor, Education, Commerce , Health and Human Services arrived at Trump Tower daily to meet with the president-elect over the past four weeks. Some interviews were held at one of his golf resorts in Bedminster, NJ giving more opportunity for entry and exit photographs and comments from Trump and the men and women being considered for the positions. Cable news followed every fact and nuance as panels posed the questions of “loyalty versus competency” — especially for Secretary of State. Rudy Giulianni, Mitt Romney, David Petraeus , Senator Bob Corker … now John Bolton, Jon Huntsman are being considered. A cliff-hanger, still pending.
Certain announcements were made. An early choice was Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice. A loyal Trump supporter, with a history of racist remarks and turndown as a federal judge, Sessions may face a difficult confirmation hearing. Choices for Secretary of the Treasury and Commerce were mega- millionaire Steven Mnuchin and billionaire Wilbur Ross from Wall Street. Would Trump’s populist, working class voters approve? Education choice was Betsy DeVos, long-time advocate for funding charter schools vs. public schools across the country. Secretary of Health and Human Services was Representative Tom Price, critic of ObamaCare with a replacement plan in print. Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, was his choice to lead HUD’s huge 8,000 bureaucracy , although Carson said his only qualifications were having patients who lived in the Inner cities and being a home owner. Finally, Retired Marine 4 star General James Mattis, for Defense Secretary, admired widely by Republicans and Democrats for the position. Several appointments do not need Senate approval: Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, as ambassador to the United Nations, Retired Army General Michael Flynn for National Security Advisor, a close advisor and fierce surrogate for Trump at the campaign rallies, and Representative Mike Pompeo (Republican) to head the C.I.A., a strong critic of Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi committee.
Popular Vote Totals vs. Electoral College. Hillary Clinton’s total count now has reached over 2.5 million votes more than Donald Trump with additional votes still coming in from California, Washington and Oregon. (All states Clinton won.) Her percentage of votes is 48%. plus fraction vs. Trump at 46% .plus fraction. His response to the popular vote count is to insist that “Two million illegal aliens voted,. And “fraud took place in Virginia and two other states”. He cited no facts to support these tweets. Trump then, started a Victory Tour, later renamed Thank You Tour, in Ohio and other states. Meanwhile , Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate called for a recount in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania with very tight final counts. Clinton sent lawyers to be present at the recounts. It is underway in WI and MI, matching machine totals with paper ballots. PA does not have paper ballots in most districts. PA is also on hold due to legal challenges from Trump and surrogate lawyers. The margin there has already shrunk from roughly 70,000 to 49,000 as late votes arrived. The total in PA was over six million votes. MI and WI have closer margins of circa 20,000 and 10,000. The chances appear to be extremely unlikely that the electoral total could be overturned. What is certain is that Trump on his Victory Tour enters cheering rallies and boasting , “ We won in a landslide!” Facts: Trump is a Minority winner and 306 electoral votes is not a landslide.
Telephone calls with Presidents of Pakistan and Taiwan. Donald Trump accepted congratulatory telephone calls from many foreign leaders after his unexpected electoral college victory on November 8. Since all scientific projections from pollsters were for a strong Hillary Clinton victory, the world- wide reaction was shock and surprise. Trump did not seek state department counsel on the phone calls. Britain seen as our closest ally was not able to get through well into days after November 8. His entire approach to the diverse calls he received could include his business interests like his golf course in Scotland. He discussed the wind powered turbines that obscured the view with Farage the conservative leader from Britain who headed Brexit from the European Union. When he talked with the President of Argentina, he put his daughter Ivanka on the phone to add to the conversation.
Our government has not had normal relations with Pakistan for many years. Pakistan is a country with nuclear weapons in the Middle East and there have been concerns that a rogue group or ‘lone wolf’ could buy or obtain control of nuclear weapons there. It was also the country where Osama bin Laden , who lived for years in a compound, was captured and killed in a surprise raid by Navy Seals who entered by helicopters. Since the country’s leaders were not told in advance, our relations with Pakistan have been strained to say the least for years since that happened. Pakistan is also home to the Pashtun Taliban, the branch that reenters Afghanistan every Spring and takes over villages, poppy fields and the important opium trade from Southern provinces. After Trump’s talk with the president of Pakistan, there were reverberations from India since India is a major United States ally in Asia. India and Pakistan have had disagreements about disputed borders and the territory of Kashmir that date back to 1947 and the partition of India.
The United States President has not talked with the President of Taiwan since l979 ,when the United States severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognized China as The People’s Republic of China. On Friday, December 2, in a prearranged phone call, the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen called Donald Trump and congratulated him. In a tweet, Trump said that “Ms. Tsai CALLED ME.” His office said the two leaders, “noted the close economic, political and security ties between Taiwan and the United States”. It also said that “Mr. Trump congratulated President Tsai on becoming President earlier this year.” This remarkable conversation sent shock waves across the Pacific Ocean to and from China. It is not clear what Donald Trump’s motives were. He had not discussed the call with the State Department before it occurred.
After the Taiwan call, newspapers headlined: “Trump Disrupts China Relations with Taiwan Call.” “Trump Thrusts Taiwan into Glare, Rattling Asia and Raising New Tensions. Cable news panels had China experts discussing the fallout. Most agreed it was a serious error. A few saw it as a typical Trump action, seeking new openings around the world. Since l979, most nations have recognized the “One China policy” meaning they never recognized the leader of Taiwan. A quirk in our policy allowed the U.S. to send military supplies to Taiwan. China responded in a temperate manner. They appeared to be waiting to see what Trump’s actions— rather than his words –would be as president after January. China knew that Trump planned to pull out of Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) plan, aimed at the United States becoming a significant force in Asia. If that did occur, China would then have complete control of the entire Asia/Pacific region.
Trump’s Business Conflicts with His Presidency . All previous presidents have divested their financial holdings to a blind trust when elected to the presidency. That means they have neither knowledge of nor connection to business activities and income. This is of particular significance in the modern era when life, business and money are of enormous importance in our national life. Donald J. Trump enterprises exist mostly in the real estate world. They circle the globe with investments in his brand and selling the Trump name for decades. Since he has never released his tax returns, the public still does not know the facts and details. We do know that his business and wealth are central to who he is and how he thinks and acts.
Trump has said he found there is “no law” governing divestment, and he would reveal on December 15 how he would separate himself from his business before he enters the White House. From conversations he has had, it appears that he plans to turn over the operations of his business to certain of his children, but he would retain ownership. In “Trump’s Ethical Disaster”, NYTimes, Dec. ,2, 2016- Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007 explains why “ His business could violate the Constitution and put America at risk.” Painter writes, “There has been much discussion of Mr. Trump’s dealings putting him in violation of The Emoluments Clause of The Constitution, which prohibits government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments or corporations controlled by foreign governments.” He concluded, “To prevent this, he must sell or give away his ownership interest in his global business empire as soon as possible.”
There may be no law, but The Emoluments CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION is the legal restriction Trump must follow. In the rest of his fascinating article, Painter explains the complexities of Trump’s business empire being a security risk to the nation as well as a litigation risk to him as president. He could become enmired in constant law suits. Trump has included family members already; Ivanka in the meeting with Prime Minister Abe of Japan. Ivanka speaking on the telephone to the Argentine president, and his wife Melania with him when he met with Congressional leaders after his victory. Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are planning to move from New York to D.C. They both appear to be close advisors. Whether they will play official roles is not known at present.
Trump World is indeed upon us. We witness it unfolding every day. There are some surprises, but most of his actions and words seem familiar. And January 20 is not that far away.