Tr-mp: “I Am Your Voice”

It’s one thing that the Russians interfered with our election last November and sowed confusion and doubt about Hillary Clinton and about our electoral process, while obviously trying to get Americans to do the impossible and vote for a disturbed candidate. We should expect our anti-democratic enemies to muck up our experiment with democracy, to attack our democratic institutions, including, most important of all, a free press.

But it is another thing, and a very dangerous thing, to have the clear beneficiary of Russian interference to himself attack our democratic institutions, to especially attack and undermine the legitimacy of the real press, those outlets outside of his influence and control. Plenty of people have criticized Tr-mp for saying, four days ago via a tweet, the following:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

From Chris Wallace at Fox “News” (“I believe that crosses an important line”) to Senator John McCain (“That’s how dictators get started”), many expressed their concerns about what it means to have Tr-mp say such things about the press, things like what he said in Florida on Saturday at a campaign rally just a month into his term:

They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” “Truth itself,” he said, “becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” that was June 14, my birthday, 1807. But despite all their lies, misrepresentations, and false stories, they could not defeat us in the primaries, and they could not defeat us in the general election, and we will continue to expose them for what they are, and most importantly, we will continue to win, win, win. We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live, or what to believe. We are free and independent people and we will make our own choices.We are here today to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Those words came from a man whose personal pathology produces lies at a faster flow rate than water draining from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario at Niagara Falls. And for those of us who know a little about Jefferson, it is nauseating to see him used in such a damned dishonest way. Jefferson, despite often criticizing what he read in the highly biased newspapers of his day, was an advocate of a free press, as most people know (“were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”). But what people forget about Jefferson’s famous remark about preferring a free press over government, is the next line:

But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.

The crucial thing is that people are “capable of reading.” That phrase certainly goes beyond merely being able to recognize the words, either written words, as in Jefferson’s day, or spoken words on television or radio or podcasts in our time. It carries with it the idea of comprehending what one reads or hears. And such comprehension is not always easy. That’s why so many people get their “news” from headlines, which are essentially crude summaries of the gist of news stories. Headline writers are doing the hard work of comprehension. But as we found all too often in the campaign coverage last year, headline writers failed, and sometimes failed miserably (often to sensationalize stories to get attention), to accurately summarize the stories. People incapable of reading in the Jeffersonian sense were thus misled.

The biggest danger with what Tr-mp is doing, in trying to delegitimize the press he can’t control or the press that isn’t predisposed to support him, is related to people’s tendency to avoid the harder work of actually comprehending what they read, of putting it into, say, a historical context or in the context of other events happening at the same time. The people behind Tr-mp’s efforts to destroy the credibility of outlets like The New York Times or CNN or other independent sources know exactly what they are doing. Conservatives, since the movement became a more organized and media-savvy effort with the founding of William F. Buckley’s National Review in 1955, have always attacked the mainstream press as biased, as favoring liberal ideas against their own. That’s not new.

What is new is that Tr-mp is louder and uglier and more openly willing to actually tell complete and demonstrable lies about the press, to the point of now actually calling independent journalism the enemy of the people. That is unprecedented for a man holding the office, quite illegitimately, that he holds. Such an act is exactly why many of us work to unpresident him. Tr-mp is deliberately blinding people with his fierce anti-press rhetoric. He wants them to “see through” everything they read or hear, to not believe it unless he authenticates it. I often quote what C. S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, and will do so again:

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.

Blindness is the result of always seeing through things Tr-mp wants his followers to see through. His delegitimization of a free and independent press has a post-modernist touch to it. There is no truth out there until Tr-mp calls it truth. No facts exist until they are validated by him. Journalists lie. Tr-mp tells the truth. Journalists hate people who like Tr-mp. And Tr-mp is there to protect his people from those journalists, from their lies. All that is required is for one to take a Kierkegaardian “leap of faith” into the Tr-mp “movement” and become a believer. “I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it,” he said during his disturbing convention speech last summer, “I am your voice.” Accept that simple claim and then quarter-truths and half-truths and lies easily become gospel.

And if enough people accept that simple claim, then our democracy perishes.

 

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12 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  February 21, 2017

    Duane,

    I continue to read your blog but refrain from commenting for obvious reasons. Primarily I see you condemning Trump and all he tries to do in the harshest possible phrases. But your only alternative to Trump is decidedly “democrats” or “left leaning politics”. In many cases I don’t disagree with your criticism. But I choke when I read your solutions!!

    Much to the amazement of you, me and the world in general, Trump won the election. Why? To claim “the Russians did it do us”, the “press was too hard on Clinton”, “only rednecks supported Trump and “the left” failed to turnout as needed”, (go ahead and add more if you like), misses a fundamental point, in my view at least.

    The real argument in America today is “the government” must do more, much more, to relieve the burdens of life on the American people, particularly the poor, disabled, disadvantaged, etc. (domestically and around the world).

    The problem with that never-ending call for “more from government” is the innate ability of “government” to do much of anything that is meaningful, valuable and sustainable and in fact really benefits ALL Americans.

    One great example is Interstate Highways. It was a great achievement of government beginning in the 50’s to design and bulid that system. But now we can’t even fill all the potholes, etc. within that system. Solution? MORE MONEY FOR HIGHWAYS, right? Why wasn’t routine maintenance of a great system included each year in the cost of the “interstate”? Want another? I would be living in my children’s home today without Medicare and my medical costs to them would probably make college for grandkids prohibitive. Another great system (like SS) that contributes to massive deficit spending each year.

    If government is going to do “it” then do “it” and do “it” well, period. And for God’s sake, don’t take on additional “its” until we pay for the ones we already have on our plate.

    I have gained real insight into VA health care in the last three years. Very few Americans would be satisfied with the comprehensive health care provided within that system. I could write a book about how sloppy that organization has become, or always has been perhaps. See today’s Globe for an AP story of drug thefts within VA. Employees are stealing opiods and selling them on the street from all over the 1,000 or more VA facilities around America.

    Trump hit a real nerve with many, many Americans by strongly and brashly criticizing many things government does (or tries to do). His criticism of government performance is justified in my view. His attempts to improve government performance are thus justified in many cases, again in my view. I agree with his “ends” but his “means” are nuts right now.

    But it is now clear he will fail in such efforts. Want to know why that is the case?
    The “bureaucracy” will literally kill him or impeach him. By “bureaucracy” I mean the forces of “we have long done it this way and we won’t change”. Best example I can offer right now is how the “intelligence community” will expose any and all possible efforts by Trump to improve that stale and stagnate community (private and public) to eliminate the wasteful and unneeded and put in place things that WORK.

    Note I don’t in any way try to defend Trump. Much of what he has said and done are indefensible. But when we tear him down, which will happen in my view, just what the hell do we put in his place. If your only solution is another round of Obama, or worse, then I will only read your blog to see, again, the inanity of the “left” calling for more and more government when what we have fails us all the time!!

    Anson

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    • Anson,

      I have invested a lot of time and effort in my criticisms of Tr-mp and Tr-mpism for good reason. The man’s pathology is a threat to the country (as is the involvement of the Russians, which, it seems to me, you continue, much to my amazement, to discount). And besides that, there aren’t any policies or legislation to discuss (other than the Muslim ban), since so far nothing of policy substance has come out of either Tr-mp or Congress.

      As far as “solutions,” I’m not sure I have advanced anything, so far, beyond unpresidenting Tr-ump and discrediting the philosophy that accompanies his “movement,” as well as urging Democrats to oppose him in every way they can. Since I oppose political violence in a still-viable democracy, assassination is not in my quiver of solutions, thus I can only recommend non-violent responses to his outrages (and besides the immorality of the act, I wouldn’t want an assassin to take him out for practical reasons; I want the people to throw him out on his golden ass, via an election).

      Now to the meat of your response. You mention Interstate highways. Great example of how investment by the government (the investment facilitated by taxation of those with income) can benefit everyone and improve the country’s well-being. I don’t know if “routine maintenance” wasn’t part of the original plan, or that it was but changed by stingy legislators. I have no idea. But that misses the point. There shouldn’t be holes in the roads in a country as rich as ours. The reason there are holes is because people, mostly in the Republican party but in the Democratic Party too, don’t want to pay more taxes to fix those holes. It’s pretty damned simple.

      The same goes for Medicare and Social Security. In a country as large as ours, and as old as ours is getting, these programs will require more revenue. But one party, I’ll let you guess which one, is opposed to providing that revenue. They talk in terms of cutting benefits and limiting eligibility. Democrats, for whatever you think of their plan, have a plan to address the problems. Raise revenue from those who have the money. As you know, I also think middle-income people ought to contribute more to the system, too. But if Democratic politicians proposed such a plan they would be demagogued by people in the party you tend to support. And they would lose every election. So, we are stuck. And let it be clear: we are stuck because one party believes in government and what it can do to improve the lives of ALL people and one doesn’t.

      As for whether Tr-mp’s criticism of government inefficiencies is accurate is, again, not the point. Democrats have similar criticisms. The problem is how to solve the problems of inefficiencies, whether it be in the VA or any other agency. The stupid approach is, alas, the one Tr-mp has taken. It won’t work. He does not understand the bureaucracy of which you speak. It is a beast that has peculiar attributes. And it doesn’t respond well to authoritarian pronouncements. It grew incrementally and it will be fixed incrementally. That’s the truth of the matter. No bullying by Tr-mp will change that reality.

      I want to address the “intelligence community” separately. If you have done any reading on this matter at all, you know this isn’t just a bureaucratic problem. Those people are in that business, mostly, because they believe in what they are doing. They believe they are serving their country in the same way soldiers are serving their country. And they don’t take kindly to being compared to Nazis. And they don’t take kindly to having their profession put in quotes like Tr-mp often refers to them. And they don’t take kindly to a draft-avoider, non-sacrificer like Tr-mp standing before a wall of fallen CIA heroes and raving about his tiny election victory. They aren’t opposed to anyone improving the agencies in which they serve, Anson. They are opposed to someone so stupid and disrespectful telling them that the conclusions they came to regarding the Russians are not real, essentially “fake news.” I can understand why some of them would want to rat out the rat in this scenario.

      Finally, it’s not just me or Democrats who should be tearing Tr-mp down. It is people like you. Or perhaps you have forgotten your obsession over the national debt and government spending. I don’t think there is a calculator in existence that can reckon up the debt that Tr-mp’s policies, at least as far as one can deduce any coherent policies from his ravings, will generate. He will break the bank, literally, if all he wants to do were to be realized. But, of course, there will be a lot of pushback, eventually, from conservatives in Congress who aren’t going to indulge his fantasies about how government works and how it doesn’t. They will submit their own budget with their own priorities and Tr-mp will either sign it or, to put it bluntly, face impeachment over any number of constitutional violations. I remind you now that it won’t be Democrats who impeach this bastard, it will be Republicans, if he doesn’t sign their reactionary, budget-cutting, tax-cutting legislation.

      Duane

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  2. Anson’s comments have some merit. I hear what he has to say and wonder what he makes of the one thing government does and does rather well, one thing that he and I know from first hand experience – the Armed Services, specifically the USN for the two of us and more specifically, Naval Nuclear Power for both of us.

    That particular program, at least under Admiral Rickover, met the goals it set year after year, and had few failures (not least was the sinking of the Thresher). I got out of the Navy before Rickover retired, but I think Naval Nuclear Power continues to be successful. I state this to demonstrate that a government-run program CAN be effective. It is not the fact that it is government owned and operated that makes a program ineffective, but that it is not managed with skill, passion, and mutual dignity and respect for all. Rickover had his faults, certainly, but he and the Naval Ractors program respected those who demonstrated knowledge and skill, even as they demanded more.

    I say this to make the point that we don’t need “large” government or “small” government. We need the exact-sized government that we decide is required to perform the missions we want government to perform, and we need the best manageers and people in that government. I contend that today we do not have those conditions anywhere in government, except in the military. The military continues, with all its faults, to perform its mission with great skill and good management.

    I also think that we have about zero chance of getting to that Nirvana-like state with the current administration. I think “right-sized” government, effective government, is what those in opposition to Mr. Trump should begin to discuss with the electorate, and get away from the “large vs. small” government distractions.

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    • Michael,

      I strongly agree with this statement you made:

      …we don’t need “large” government or “small” government. We need the exact-sized government that we decide is required to perform the missions we want government to perform, and we need the best managers and people in that government.

      The thing I would add to this statement is that the “exact-sized government” will vary over time. We didn’t need the government we have today in, say, 1828. And we may need a bigger government in 2128, if Tr-mp doesn’t get us all killed before then.

      Here’s the problem I have with what you said after:

      I contend that today we do not have those conditions anywhere in government, except in the military. The military continues, with all its faults, to perform its mission with great skill and good management.

      The military, like any huge bureaucracy, has its management problems. And I’m not talking about mismanaging tactics and strategy in a wartime situation. I’m talking about managing the bureaucracy itself, even in peacetime. There is plenty of waste in the Defense budget, as any number of articles will demonstrate. And waste in the Defense budget is largely, though not totally, attributable to poor management at the Pentagon. I, personally, am all in favor of a damned strong defense. But even those of us who are in favor of a robust military presence in the world have to admit that spending 40% of all the world’s arms spending may be too much (those are 2009 numbers).

      Having said that, I am not in favor of defense cuts, like so many liberals seem to be. I am in favor of undertaking a complete audit of defense spending (perhaps done by an independent commission) and reallocating resources to better prepare for more likely confrontations in the future. I want the U.S. military to be so strong that no one would challenge us in conventional warfare. But I also want it to be flexible enough to engage in conflicts, like counter-terrorism, which require multiple deployments and, thus, more troops will be needed who can be deployed to fight in such conflicts. Like your assertion about “large vs. small” in government, I think there shouldn’t be a large vs. small debate about the military. We need a military that is better managed and is the right size for the jobs they are asked to do, both conventional and unconventional.

      Duane

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      • I’m glad that you, Michael and Duane, are discussing the Defense budget because it is central to the overall fiscal problem. But, unlike you two, I blame politics much more than bureaucratic management for DOD inefficiency. Defense spending since WW II has been exactly what Eisenhower feared, a political mess. At its heart of course is the problem of jobs. That is why, year after year, the industrial complex delivers weapons systems that the services neither need nor even want. Where oh where is the statesman who will stand up and say that “rebuilding” the military is not what’s needed, but rather restructuring it according to evolving threats. Loosening up a few billion dollars here and there could do amazing things for infrastructure and healthcare.

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        • I agree strongly with what you say, Jim. DoD could certainly tighten the budgetary belt and still do very well. However, I think most of the bloat in the DoD budget comes from Congress working to create jobs in their respective districts and states. While I understand that imperative, it creates an artificial demand within DoD to maintain the DoD budget level despite the usefulness of the systems “desired” by Congress to create/maintain jobs, and wastes money, as you say, that could be better employed elsewhere. Ultimately, that points to suboptimal management, one of the points I made above.

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        • Jim,

          No doubt politics, especially state and district politics, adds a lot of waste to the defense budget. We’ve discussed that a few times here, way back when policy mattered more than deranged personalities. I guess I have just sort of considered that as part of the price of getting agreement on the things we definitely need in the defense budget. Politics is and always has been very messy that way. So long as the “wealth” is spread around, the overall result is a military second to none, which I, as a commited liberal, am more than happy to have. How else can we protect liberal democracy, if we don’t have the means to do so?

          I tried, also, to make the point you made about “restructuring [the military] according to evolving threats.” I couldn’t honestly tell you whether that would result in a net increase or decrease in the military budget, but I don’t want to understate the point above about having the world’s most powerful military. Restructuring the military to address not only the conventional threats we still face, but to address the kind of threats we have faced since the rise of militant Islamism, as well as perhaps the most dangerous theat of all, cyberwarfare, may cost more. And I don’t mind that, if it can be demonstrated. Because, unlike a lot of liberals, I see our military—so long as it is firmly under civilian command and the culture of the military is such that it will always bow to that command—as a force not only for protecting our own democratic experiment from external threats in all forms, but a force for creating the kind of world stability that would allow other experiments with democracy to flourish.

          As you know, supporting NATO, for instance, is not merely an altruistic act on our part. We suppport it out of a concern for our own national interests, including economic ones, but we also support it because European democracies are, historically, fragile little things. We need to keep them stabilized as best we can, and Russia has an obvious hegemonic interest in destabilizing them. This is why I don’t worry as much as others about what other members of NATO are paying for their defense. I used to (and I think putting pressure on member countries to increase their budgets is not a bad thing). But I’ve come to see NATO as primarily insurance against world war, as well as catastrophic failure of the world’s economic system, which, as we saw in 2008, can severely damage us no matter how much stronger we are than other nations. And that world economic system depends on strong democracies. If democracies fail, economies fail. And we all, even here in the U.S., will suffer.

          Finally, on your point about freeing up money for infrastructure. I agree with that entirely. But if the money you free up means manufacturing jobs connected to military spending disappear, what are you accomplishing in the end? We are wealthy enough to afford both a large military that meets all threats we face and still have nice roads and bridges and airports. The problem is in the distribution of wealth. Too few have way too much for our own national good.

          Duane

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          • Once again, my friend, you demonstrate an excellent understanding of a proper place in the nation’s budget for a strong defense, and I agree completely with your view. My pleas here were principally motivated by what I see as the president’s (the President, for god’s sake!) apparent complete lack of understanding those same issues. Here in the age of technology he is still measuring relative military strengths by numbers of planes, ships and troops without due consideration of quality and precision of systems, systems which are increasingly independent of mere numbers. My concern then is only heightened when I hear that he wants to hold National Security Council meetings without the counsel of the Joint Chiefs. The inmate is in charge of the asylum, which was, because of Congress, already going off the rails in my opinion. Example, a destroyer that costs $5 billion and that could potentially be sunk by a single submarine-launched missile or torpedo.

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            • Two things, Jim. You rightly express utter and continuing shock that this man is, only in a technical sense, POTUS. I still have trouble, more than a month into this nightmare, processing that. The address he will give tonight before Congress is, well, a damned weird moment in American history. I am embarrassed. I hate to say it, my friend. But I am genuinely embarassed to be an American. Never thought I’d say that in my entire life. The only thing that keeps me going, in terms of my love for this country, is that so many people are in the resistance to what is happening. So many out there do cherish those American values that President Obama so elegantly championed and represented. So many are standing up and fighting back, in the name of a better America than the one Tr-mp describes and represents.

              Second, let’s keep in mind that Tr-mp would essentially be powerless without the blessing of the Republican leadership, as well as almost all the rank-and-file members, in Congress. When the history of this period is written (if we survive and there are historians around to write it), congressional Republicans will get their share of the blame for what has happened–the election of a mentally impaired man–and the damage he will, no doubt, do to the country.

              Damn. Still can’t come to terms with it.

              Duane

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  3. While the left sometimes places too much confidence in what the government can do for those it governs, the right often goes to the opposite extreme and claims that the government can’t get anything right. I think reality is somewhere in the middle. Also, the private sector is similarly in the middle. While it does good things, it also does horrible things. Sunday’s 60 Minutes report on the Remington 700 provides an example of the latter: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/popular-remington-700-rifle-linked-to-potentially-deadly-defects/

    Also, Anson mentions the government’s lack of foresight regarding road repair. Well, how about the lack of foresight of the coal companies when it comes to their waste that — thanks to P. Grabber – they can now go back to dumping in local streams?

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    • Dayan,

      Liberalism, in my view, is that “somewhere in the middle” you talk about. Far-left folks have way too much confidence in the government to handle most of the problems we face and far-right people have far too much confidence in the private-sector and free markets to handle those problems. Liberalism is about striking a balance, which sometimes we get right and sometimes we don’t.

      By the way, related to that Remington story, and the court case here in Missouri, there is a concerted effort by a wealthy Joplin family, the Humphreys, to rig the system against having to pay out huge product liability penalties for poor products. Here is a link to a good story about it, in case you haven’t seen it. I have written in the past about the Humphreys and their attempt to influence politics here in Missouri and elsewhere. This year they hit the mother lode. It’s scary.

      Duane

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  February 22, 2017

    To all of the above,

    One of the best Left Right exchanges I have read on this blog in a long time. Particular thanks to Michael for his depth of understanding of my position. I was not aware that he had Navy experience as well and even an understanding of Navy Nuclear Power. Whenever I observe a “government program” my reference point of excellence is Navy Nuclear Power initiated under the genius of Hyman Rickover and continued, fundamentally unchanged by his successors for now some 60+ years, of real excellence.

    I learned, reluctantly, at a very young age that when something goes wrong I must first ask what did I do the allow that to happen. A valve leaks. Why did “I” allow that to happen and what can I do to both fix the leak and not let it happen again. Crazy, right? But when you look very carefully within, well you find all sorts of things you missed along the way, even when things seem trivial. It was that unrelenting drive/demand to find and fix the REAL “root cause” of problems that was first demanded of me and later demanded by me from others.

    It is very hard to find a politician or career bureaucrat that has been trained to think and act like that. Both professions try hard to shift the blame to others. No one survived in the navy nuclear program doing that, no one and I suspect it is still that way.

    Most of you have long seen me write that “You don’t get what you expect. You only get what you inspect”.

    When i left the Pentagon and thus the Navy I told several people that at least half of the uniformed and civilian workforce therein should be summarily fired, never to find another government job anywhere. I still think that is a good idea and would now extend the sentiment to the “intelligence community”. Look back, Duane and Jim W. to past critiques herein of intelligence spending since 9/11 found in this very same blog.

    Rickover and his successors always had at hand a team of “inspectors”. “Go find out what they are doing wrong, only. I don’t want to know what they are doing right” was Rickover’s dictate. Imagine working for a boss that way today. But you see, despite all sorts of screams of anguish from almost everyone in the military, Rickover stuck to his guns and look what happened. A program of excellence not seen in any other military program, then or now. Rickover won that fight with the Navy because Congress backed him up. He started the program as an obscure Navy Captain. Some 30 years later when he left government service as a Four Star Admiral everyone knew that every selection Board convened by the Navy passed him over (no promotion). Then Congress would step in and hand him another star.

    Rickover by the way would rarely if ever wear his uniform. He hated the Navy “bureaucracy” and all it stood for. When a new Engineering building was named in his honor at USNA “someone” convinced Rickover to wear his uniform. He looked ridiculous, all shrivelled up, hat too big, pants too long, shoes unshined, but four HUGE stars on his shoulder, glaring at the press and surrounding brass!!! I’m surprised he did not piss on the sidewalk when walking out of the new (and very impressive) building!!

    My lengthy point is simple. Why cannot we find today men (or women) for government service today that have an absolutely unrelenting demand for true excellence in everything they oversee.

    No, Trump is no Rickover, not even close. But Trump is demanding excellence now from the “bureaucracy”, just like Rickover did. Rickover not only survived, he thrived for 30 + years running a program of real excellence, no matter what. Trump is now talking himself out of a job and it will happen in less than four years in all likelyhood. Maybe that is best for the country but what the hell do we replace him with? Hillary, Bernie, some Obama clone?

    Just imagine if you can, half the offices in DC with half the workforce therein walking out the door, never to return. I bet the country won’t miss a beat in anything really important to all Americans!! I would include the entire Congressional staff, every damn one of them, in that collection of losers. Let the damn Congress people write their own letters, bills, etc. I felt the same way about 3 and 4 Stars on the E-Ring in the Pentagon.

    Anson

    ..

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