Historical Context For Bush 41

How appropriate that there was a historian, Jon Meachan, among the four who gave George H.W. Bush eulogies at the National Cathedral. It helped to put this presidency and this president in context–and add to the subtle but notable juxtaposition between George and Barbara Bush and the current POTUS and Lady MAGA, polar opposites in all the ways that matter. There was family, former President George W. Bush; long-time friend Alan Simpson, the ex-senator from Wyoming; former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney; and Meacham, who is also Bush’s biographer.

Meacham called Bush 41 “America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th Century founding father.” He was, underscored Meacham, “an imperfect man, (who) left us a more perfect union.” Meacham also, in effect, explained to Trump what those “thousand points of light” were all about.

Locally, John Belohlavek, the esteemed USF history professor, pointed out that while Bush is not part of the pantheon of presidential stalwarts that includes the iconic likes of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, he will be remembered for being “balanced and thoughtful, both in his foreign and domestic policies. Experienced and affable,” said Belohlavek, “his successes came through attempts to unify the nation and his allies behind him.”

How sad that as we honored President George H.W. Bush, we can only be nostalgic for a time when a president’s priorities included national unity and the shared principles of valued allies.

Trumpster Diving

* “Dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”–That was Trump’s recent reference to Rex Tillerson, his former secretary of state. Imagine a president even appointing somebody “dumb” and “lazy” to such a critically important position in the first place–especially someone he hadn’t even personally met before hiring him. Sounds like a “moron,” to quote Tillerson.

* “Remember … I am a Tariff Man.” No, we haven’t forgotten. Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley never looked so prudent.

* So, Trump, according to a theory getting increasing attention, may be exhibit A for the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” (Yeah, I had to look it up.) But it’s hardly a coincidence that this term is surfacing right now in the context of the Trump Administration. “D-KE” refers to a self-perception bias. In short, inept people are often confident in their own abilities, because they’re too, well, inept to know how badly they’re doing.

* Trump will have his third chief of staff in less than 24 months. You have to wonder about who would actually take this job (Sean Hannity, Corey Lewandowski, Eric Trump, Kid Rock?), working for an arrogant, pathologically lying narcissist who treats the Oval Office like it’s the 26th floor of the Trump Tower. But, no, H.R. Haldeman is no longer available.

* “There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw.”–That was Sen. Lindsey Graham after hearing the CIA briefing on what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and how autocratic Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had to have been responsible. Graham has a reputation for sound-bite wit, but this was in poor taste–even for Graham.

* Michael Avenatti has announced that he will not be running for president. Thank you.

* “It’s not a job for a glorified spokesperson.”–That was Susan E. Rice, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, on the appointment of State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert as UN ambassador. She’s right. Moreover, it’s not a job you prep for by being a host for “Fox & Friends.” But it helps when Ivanka and Jared are big fans. I miss Madeleine Albright. Hell, I miss Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Who We Once Were

They couldn’t, alas, be more different. The beloved, late George H.W. Bush and the loathsome, still-among-the-living Donald Trump. Both presidents for their times.

One presided over the end of the Cold War, the military removal–with an international coalition–of Iraq from Kuwait, and also yearned for a “kinder, gentler nation.” His resume included Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, war hero, congressman, envoy to China, ambassador to the UN, RNC chair, CIA director and two-term vice president before being elected president. He had a working, honest relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. He was married to the same woman for 73 years. He was respectful and respected. He loved writing personal letters and notes. He had a sense of self and a sense of humor that even allowed for friendly banter with Dana Carvey, his “SNL” satirist. The most regrettable thing he ever said was: “Read my lips; no new taxes.” That and Ross Perot cost him re-election.

There was no Oval Office sense of presidential ego, recalled Bob Martinez, the former Tampa mayor and Florida governor who served as Bush’s drug czar. “It was always about ‘we’–not ‘I.'”

He was a statesman and a gracious gentleman who also understood the world–and that having class mattered. He elevated the country as well as the presidency.

The other has disparaged America around the world, befriended sinister authoritarians and polarized the U.S. by demonizing those–from judges to reporters–who haven’t fallen in line with white nationalism, protectionism and climate-change cynicism. His resume includes a bone-spurs deferment, inherited money, bankruptcy filings, a fraudulent “university,” “branding” fees and reality-TV fame. His mentor was Roy Cohn. He has a suspicious, weirdly deferential relationship with Vladimir Putin. He is a manifest misogynist and serial philanderer. The most unregrettable thing he ever said was: “Grab ’em by the p***y.” It cost him nothing with his basket of deplorables.

He’s also a pathological liar as well as a practicing narcissist. He tweets to attack others, defend and exalt himself, and remind his cult followers that he determines the news cycle.

He’s a bombastic, largely unread charlatan with no sense of history and no pertinent preparation for the presidency. He’s motivated by anger and grievance and ego. Gentility and dignity are beneath him. He has mocked Bush’s “thousand points of light” reference.

The juxtaposition couldn’t be more stark living through this “Make America Great Again” charade. It’s sad and tragic that we’re not trying to make it more like the Bush 41 America.

China’s Priorities

* Amid all the talk of China overtaking the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy and becoming a key player in international development, there is one area that continues to hinder China’s progress. For all its hybrid, ethically-challenged economics–including cyber espionage and theft of technology and intellectual property–its military impact is not in sync with its growing economy. The military controls roughly 70 percent of airspace in China. Among other things, it restricts options for departure and arrival routing. It thus limits the number of takeoffs and landings that airports can handle. By comparison, the U.S. military controls 20 percent of America’s airspace.

* Speaking of China, I recall an insightful exchange I had with Chinese officials back in the early 1990s. I was the media relations manager at USF at the time, and the officials were visiting the College of Business as part of their nation’s outreach to capitalist countries. The subject of the recently devolved Soviet Union came up. (OK, I brought it up.) One of the Chinese visitors succinctly summed it up. China, he said, was only about a globally-pragmatic “economic revolution,” not a political one. The Soviets’ fatal mistake: They were experiencing “two revolutions” at the same time: economic and political. In short, the Chinese were no fans of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, the restructuring of economic AND political systems, or glasnost, societal and governmental openness.

Ultimate Partisan Political Hell

Some things just shouldn’t be part of the partisan-politics-as-usual mix. It’s bad enough that constitutional issues, the media, the economy, the military and foreign policy are subject to it, but what’s even worse–as in existentially worse–is the inclusion of climate change and its ongoing and impending impact.

We’re talking the ultimate bottom line: life and quality of life–not anti-bureaucracy, deregulation politics.

It’s frighteningly unacceptable–and hellish timing–that we would now have a president who’s a climate-change skeptic. Indeed, one who has appointed a former coal lobbyist to run the blindsided and bludgeoned EPA.

Because Donald Trump doesn’t read anything not fit for a bumper sticker or a political-rally teleprompter, he hasn’t read his own government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment that looks at how climate change is already disrupting life in this country. The report–with input from 300 U.S. scientists representing more than a dozen federal agencies and departments–is overseen by the U.S. Global Change Research Program and warns that action must be taken now. As in NOW.

The report minces no words on the ever-increasing threat. “The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social and economic well-being are rising,” underscores the report. “The global average temperature is much higher and is rising more rapidly than anything modern civilization has experienced, and this warming trend can only be explained by human activities.”

And Florida, as most of us know, is ground zero for what’s happening with storm surges and “sunny day flooding” from obviously rising sea levels. Even if this president, this outgoing governor and this incoming, Trump-lackey governor see little reason for public concern. Hell, Rick Scott even tried to ban the formal use of the term “climate change.”

And, BTW, the National Climate Assessment report was released on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a ploy by the Trump Administration to try and bury news of an inconvenient truth.

They know they won’t be in office or in residence on this planet when the worst-case scenarios they helped enable wreak horrific havoc. What an ignorant, nefarious legacy. A carbon tax never looked so benign.

Trumpster Diving

* There are a lot of legitimate reasons why the U.S. should not be satisfied with the status quo trade relationship with China. Not with a country that engages in cyber espionage, insists on one-sided joint venture requirements and routinely traffics in stolen technology and intellectual property. President Trump is right to want a reset. But he’s wrong to go about it by unilaterally playing the blunt-instrument tariff card. By ignoring or alienating allies, he has lost leverage with other players in China’s mercantile orbit. “Nationalism” shouldn’t preclude the savvy self interest of globalism. We need our allies, our free-trade partners. Now more than ever.

* It’s still beyond ironic that this president’s fawning base likes, among other Trumpian traits, his “tough-guy,” tell-it-like-it-is, politically incorrect manner. He doesn’t sound like some politically elite, establishment careerist. More like the loudest drunk at last call who’s buying the house a round.

He has no compunction about callously calling out a judge, a Supreme Court Justice, a former CIA chief or his own attorney general. He is the “Lock her up,” “Enemy of the people,” cult-figure populist who insults allies and demonizes the media and immigrants. And yet, he has no guts when it comes to firing people in person (Rex Tillerson, most notably), speaking directly to Robert Mueller, talking candidly to Vladimir Putin, getting North Korea to agree on a working definition of “denuclearization” or even showing up at the annual Correspondents Dinner to give as good as he gets.

* The rationale for Trump choosing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general seems obvious. He’s a known Robert Mueller antagonist. He was a loyalist Trump mole inside the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. He’s no fan of Marbury v. Madison that established the precedent of judicial review. And, oh yeah, he looks like he’s prepping for a Benito Mussolini casting call. Trump loves optics.

* The relationship between the U.S. and Mexico is becoming a rather fraught one. From NAFTA differences to “the wall” that Mexico will never underwrite to the “caravan” amassing in Tijuana in hopes of U.S. asylum in San Diego. Now add this: On Saturday (Dec. 1), Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will be inaugurated. He’ll be Mexico’s first leftist president in decades, hardly what an authoritarian American president would prefer. And among those invited to Obrador’s inaugural: Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro.

* “He is a clown, a dangerous clown.”–That sobering Trump assessment didn’t come from Michael Moore or Rosie O’Donnell or the 2016 versions of Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz. It came from Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann. I wish I disagreed.

* “It’s going to be devastating.” That was Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile Harvard law professor emeritus, assessing the likely impact on Trump of the Mueller investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. It’s especially notable since Dershowitz has been a frequent defender of Trump.

Overlooked Anniversary

Last week (Nov. 22) marked the 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. You’re excused if you forgot; media acknowledgement was negligible.

The JFK killing should always be with us. It was arguably America’s seminal moment in the 20th century. It was a reminder–before Watergate and the Trump presidency–that we can take nothing for granted just because we are America.

Trump’s No Nixon

* It’s no surprise that the longer the Donald Trump Administration continues, the more parallels there are to the presidency of Richard Nixon. The Mueller investigation–and what it possibly portends–guarantees no less. Plus, both were self-serving and duplicitous, both kept enemies’ lists, and both were given to race-baiting to gin up a base.

But there will always be one notable difference.

However impeachment worthy and however unlikable, Nixon was not unqualified for the presidency. He wasn’t jumpstarted by a millionaire father. He was a Duke Law graduate. He served in the Navy. He was a member of the House of Representatives, a U.S. senator and a two-term, Cold War vice president. Trump had no government experience, was largely unread and was best known for branding towers and reality TV. The EPA was started during the Nixon presidency. The EPA has been under assault during the Trump presidency. And while both presidents showed animus toward the press, only Trump has labeled it “the enemy of the people” and encouraged violence against it.

“Tricky Dick” never looked so presidential. Watergate vs. Global Threatgate.

* Trump has told reporters that any new rules for press access would focus on “decorum.” “You have to act with respect,” he (actually) said. “You’re at the White House.” This, of course, from the bully pulpiteer, the disparager-in-chief, the spewer of insults, the one who routinely demonizes the press as “the enemy.”

What we need to remember about presidential press conferences, which are a relative rarity anymore, is that they are often more performance art than information sharing. It’s the convergence of the First Amendment, show business and showboating. Ratings matter for everybody. Fourth Estate elites has been known to preen; presidents have been known to palaver and pivot.

Advice to Trump: Watch some old video of John F. Kennedy press conferences. They weren’t all love-ins. Some were contentious. But never uncivil. This, after all, was America’s commander-in-chief, the one who was speaking to his fellow citizens–and global interests–through a press conference forum. There were always multiple agendas–including how a president handled media push back on controversial subjects. Trump, alas, is still an Apprentice, one who pathologically cannot grow in this job.

I miss Sam Donaldson and Helen Thomas.

* Trump recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which reminded us that this country’s highest civilian commendation is beyond eclectic. Exhibits A, B and C: the late Babe Ruth, the late Elvis Presley and the not-yet-late, retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.

* Speaking of Hatch, the Utah Republican had a take on Trump that defies credulity–but certainly not fealty and sycophancy. “Eight years ago to 10 years ago, Trump was not what I consider to be a pillar of virtue,” he said. “I think he has changed a lot of his life once he was elected. I think Trump is a much better person today than he was then.” Yeah, he really said that.

* While the president was stewing over the mid-terms, what Bob Mueller was up to, how to respond to the Saudis over the brutal murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how many soldiers and how much barbed wire to order up to halt a Central American caravan of asylum seekers, Vice President Mike Pence pinch hit for him at the Asia-Pacific summit meeting in Singapore. Pence managed to speak out for human rights for Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and called for press freedoms in a part of the world known for government-controlled media. Given that he signed on for this and represents moral-cherry-picking evangelicals, he probably doesn’t see any hypocrisy in lecturing others.


Aesha Kendrick, a nursing assistant and African-American mother of five, was having breakfast on her front porch at 10:00 a.m. on a recent Sunday when shots rang out. They came from a neighbor’s house across the street and were aimed at a passing vehicle. A stray bullet hit Kendrick, however, and killed her as she was eating a bowl of Trix. An African-American male was arrested for the fatal shooting. It’s not an isolated incident. There’s been a spate of gun violence in South St. Pete. Kendrick is not the only black victim.

It’s tragic, senseless, dystopian and, frightfully, not uncommon. One would hope that a local “Black Lives Matter” affiliate would take a high-profile stand–even though this outrageously lethal act didn’t involve a cop. Unless no one has an issue with the seeming connotation that Black Lives only selectively Matter.

Another Trump Week

Sometimes being in the business that necessarily includes chronicling the reality TV from hell is too much. Enough of the insulting, alarming, disingenuous and stupid stuff that comes out of the Oval Orifice. Sometimes you just want to move on to a Water Street Tampa addition, a reflection on passed initiatives involving schools and transit or maybe a Bucs soap-opera update.

In short, Trump’s week began with that media-demeaning, insult-filled news conference performance. Losing NFL locker-room interviews have had more class–and been more informative. Then he doubled down by banning CNN’s Jim Acosta from the White House. I would love to have seen how Sam Donaldson would have handled the Apprentice trash talk.  Then came the formal firing of AG Jeff Sessions and the appointment of special-counsel attack dog and Justice Department mole Matthew Whitaker as acting AG. Then footage of the president saying, “I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.” This was followed by more recent footage of the president saying, “I don’t know Matt Whitaker.” Whatever; it’s pathological. Then Trump accused election officials in Florida (and Arizona) of rigging the vote against his surrogates before he tweeted that the tragedy and devastation of the California fires were a function of poor state preparation. Then he and Lady MAGA flew off to France for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, after underscoring his identity as an uber American “nationalist.” After arriving, he canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and was the only one among 72 heads of state and government to skip out on the inaugural Paris Peace Summit. No one mistook him for Woodrow Wilson. Quelle dommage!