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Donald Trump’s America: Families differ as Ronald Reagan country changes

The week after Donald Trump was elected president, Dr. Mai-Phuong Nguyen and two dozen other Vietnamese-Americans active in liberal causes gathered in a circle of folding chairs, consoling one another about an America almost beyond comprehension.

Now, days before Trump takes the oath of office, Nguyen sits in a restaurant booth in Orange County’s neon-lit Little Saigon and studies perhaps the most confounding face of the divide exposed by the election — her father’s.

“All I know is, if a man makes $100 million he is really something,” Son Van Nguyen, 76, says of Trump.

Here in a county transformed by waves of newcomers, the elder Nguyen — a government translator airlifted from South Vietnam with his family in 1975 as Communist forces pressed in on the capital — built a new life as a record-setting life insurance salesman, watching people strive and struggle.

Dr. Mai-Phuong Nguyen, right, and her father, Son Van Nguyen, 76, pose for a photo in the Little Saigon area of Westminster, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. The elder Nguyen _ a government translator airlifted from South Vietnam with his family in 1975 as Communist forces bombarded the capital _ built a new life as a record-setting life insurance salesman. “… I know a lot of people out there sit there and wait for welfare,” he says, explaining his hopes that Donald Trump will rein in such spending and create jobs. The younger Nguyen counters, “But he is trying to prevent other people from coming in and enjoying some of the same things you came here for, Dad.” (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

“And I know a lot of people out there sit there and wait for welfare,” he says, explaining his hopes that Trump will rein in such spending and create jobs.

“But he is trying to prevent other people from coming in and enjoying some of the same things you came here for, Dad,” says his daughter, a 47-year-old physician who pushed for health care reform and fears Trump will take away the medical coverage it extended to millions of Americans. “If he does wrong, are you going to support him?”

Their disagreement is a reminder that for Orange County, just as for the rest of the country, there has never been a moment quite like this one.

When Hillary Clinton won this county of 3.2 million in November, it marked the first time the OC had backed a Democrat for president since Franklin Roosevelt. Best known for Disneyland, and long a hothouse of conservatism in a blue state, it was the largest county in the country to flip.

The shift was expected eventually. Orange County’s citrus groves turned to tract housing decades back to welcome a mostly white influx from Los Angeles and Midwestern states. Today, though, Santa Ana’s quinceanera shops reflect a county that is a third Latino. One in five Orange Countians is Asian.

The hopes and anxieties stirred by Trump’s inauguration spotlight even more complicated tensions.

Most Vietnamese traditionally voted for Republicans, viewed as opponents of communism. But many of their adult children, also refugees, see Trump as rejecting American ideals and people like them.

Local Republicans, who once embraced the John Birch Society and recently erected a statue of Ronald Reagan in the park where he launched two White House bids, long espoused a muscular conservatism. Most voted for Trump, but not without soul-searching.

At Jimmy Camp‘s house, a “No Trump” sign made by Camp’s son still hangs in the window. Heading out to feed his family’s goat and potbellied pig, Camp recalls his start in Republican politics three decades ago — knocking on doors for candidates to earn cash.

Jimmy Camp feeds his goat and pig outside his home in an unincorporated area in Orange County, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Camp who started in Republican politics three decades ago, renounced his party membership in 2016 because of his disgust with Donald Trump. “If you go through and look at everything Jesus said in the Bible, this guy is opposite of it,” said Camp, 52, a pastor’s son. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Camp played guitar in a rock band then and embraced platforms calling for government to stay out of people’s lives. He’d always loved the outdoors in a county that stretches from the ocean to the Santa Ana Mountains. After meeting county native Richard Nixon, he read up on the disgraced president’s often forgotten chartering of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Camp became one of the state’s busiest Republican political consultants. Then, last summer he emailed fellow Republicans, renouncing his party membership because of his disgust with Trump.

“If you go through and look at everything Jesus said in the Bible, this guy is opposite of it,” says Camp, 52, a pastor’s son.

Jimmy Camp poses for a photo in an unincorporated area in Orange County, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Camp, who has friends from Iran and Egypt, cringes at a president who would castigate Muslims as supposedly tied to terrorists, though he doubts Donald Trump will fulfill his most extreme rhetoric. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Camp, who has friends from Iran and Egypt, cringes at a president who would castigate Muslims as supposedly tied to terrorists, though he doubts Trump will fulfill his most extreme rhetoric.

“I hope he doesn’t drive us off a cliff,” Camp says. “I hope that we survive the next four years. I think we will.”

Jimmy Camp poses for a photo in an unincorporated area in Orange County, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Camp was one of the state’s busiest Republican political consultants. Then, in the summer of 2016, he emailed fellow Republicans, renouncing his party membership because of his disgust with Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Others voice confidence in Trump.

Gloria Pruyne says her family had reservations about Trump’s morality early on. But the conservative activist ended up knocking on more than 500 doors to get out the vote. Now Pruyne, 78, says she wants Trump to install a conservative Supreme Court justice, revoke an Affordable Care Act she blames for a $500 increase in her family’s monthly insurance bill, and back Israel.

“We’re looking forward to a radical change with this president,” she says.

With the inauguration approaching, Ron Brindle has no plans to remove the 5-foot-square portrait of Trump from his oil well fronting a main road in Huntington Beach. Brindle bought this land for his tree nursery business more than 40 years ago. Today, it is surrounded by tract homes, many owned by Asian families.

Ron Brindle poses for a photo in front of a portrait of Donald Trump hanging on his oil derrick in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. Brindle bought this land for his tree nursery business more than 40 years ago. Today, it is surrounded by tract homes, many owned by Asian families. “Now I don’t have anything against any of them, but what happened to the country?” Brindle says. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The first thing Trump should do, he says, is close the border so Americans no longer have to foot the bill to care for foreigners. But Brindle also hopes that Trump will reach out to skeptics.

Steven Mai is ready to listen. Mai, a 42-year-old registered Republican, rejected Trump for criticizing the Muslim parents of a slain American soldier.

Steven Mai poses for a photo in the little Saigon area of Westminster, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. Mai, a 42-year-old registered Republican, rejected Trump for criticizing the Muslim parents of a slain American soldier. But Trump will be his president, he said. “I just hope he’s going to be the president that my parents were thinking,” Mai said. “If he can be a good president, then we all benefit.” (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

But Trump will be his president, Mai says.

Still, if Trump really wants to lead, he should come to places like Orange County, says Mai’s wife, Tammy Tran. He could work in a sandwich shop for a few hours, or see what it’s like to care for an elderly person. Maybe then, the couple say, Trump will understand his responsibility to the many Americas.

“I just hope he’s going to be the president that my parents were thinking,” Mai says. “If he can be a good president, then we all benefit.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Obama’s electoral legacy: After 8 years, we get a Donald Trump

(Part 2 of the Obama legacy)

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, it is a good time to review the electoral impact of eight years of the Obama White House. One of the impacts is the election of Trump which surprised the entire political universe.

Whatever Obama may have achieved in public policy, it is that policy which is in great part responsible for setting “the post-World War II record for losses by the White House party,” according to Larry Sabato. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats at the state and national level.

However important the Obama policies may have been, it is fair to argue that those policies contained the seeds of Democratic losses. The Wall Street and big bank bailouts led to the creation of the Tea Party. The Tea Party became a primary vehicle to organize disaffected Republicans against bailouts for Wall Street and not Main Street. Combined with opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mobilized Republicans took over control of both the House and Senate, and effectively denying Obama the needed votes to carry out the rest of his agenda.

After the 2016 election, Democrats held 11 fewer Senate seats than they did Jan. 20, 2009, a 16 percent decrease. Democrats hold 62 fewer House seats than in 2009, a drop of 24 percent. They also lost control of the White House giving Republicans complete control of the national government.

At the state level, the number of Democrat governors fell from 28 to 16, a 43 percent decline. In 2009, Democrats controlled both houses in 27 states; after 2016, the number dropped to dual control of only 14 states, a 48 percent drop. On top of this, Democrats lost 959 seats in the state legislatures, weakening them for years to come.

These losses mean that Democrats will have a difficult time in passing their agenda at the state and national level. It also means that the Democratic bench of future leaders has been wiped out, making it difficult for them to find and finance competitive candidates. Finally, since Democrats foolishly changed the filibuster rules in 2013, cabinet nominees and most court appointees will need only 51 votes to be confirmed. This creates the possibility for more extreme nominees to win confirmation.

One of the few positive thing for Democrats is that it is difficult to imagine them losing many more seats. The out-party normally makes gains in midterm elections. Unfortunately for Democrats, they must defend 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election in 2018, and Trump won 10 of the 25 states that Democrats must defend.

If the Democrats could pick up only two Senate seats in 2016 when Republicans had to defend 24 of the 34 seats, it is hard to imagine them doing better in 2018 when they must defend two out of every three Senate seats up for election.

Without Obama on the ballot in 2016 and 2018, fewer young and minority voters will turn out at the polls. Although Democrats have dominated among young voters, few of them turn out, especially in off-year elections.

Democrats have complicated their problem with young voters by having an array of senior citizen leaders. Nancy Pelosi has been the ranking Democratic leader for 6 terms, as has second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer. Third-ranking Democrat James Clyburn has served five terms as leader. Pelosi is 76, and Hoyer and Clyburn are 77.

Although Democrats have been devastated during Obama’s tenure, he is not solely responsible. Obama is only the third Democratic president to twice win a popular vote majority, along with Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt.

Democratic National Party Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Congresswomen from Florida, was widely viewed as an ineffective spokesperson for the party and was eventually ousted for what many Democrats viewed as her favoritism for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Obama appointed Wasserman Schultz to become chair of the Democratic Party and, critics contend, for standing by her for far too long.

Politics is a strange beast. Six months ago, almost everyone believed the Republican Party was on its last legs, and the Trump nomination would doom them forever. Today the Republicans control all three branches of the federal government, and it appears that the Democrats are on life support.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

___

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Mike Pence looks like he will be Donald Trump’s inside man in Congress

When Mike Pence landed in Congress after the 2000 election, he was a conservative agitator who often bucked President George W. Bush‘s agenda. Seventeen years later, he’s the vice president-elect and Donald Trump‘s inside man on Capitol Hill.

Pence, who spent a dozen years in Congress before becoming Indiana’s governor, is visiting frequently with lawmakers and promising close coordination after Trump’s inauguration Friday. In a sign of his attentiveness, Pence will have an office in the House as well as the traditional honorary office for the vice president in the Senate.

Pence’s role takes on greater importance, given Trump’s ascension to the White House without any experience in elective office.

Trump has few long-standing political alliances in Congress and a strained relationship with the Republican establishment, a hangover from the 2016 campaign. Trump’s agenda doesn’t always align with Republicans’ priorities, and his inflammatory remarks about immigrants, Muslims and women made many in the GOP cringe.

Pence has forged an enduring friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., dating to their early years in Congress, along with other House Republicans crucial to advancing Trump’s agenda. In early meetings with lawmakers, Pence has passed out his personal cellphone number and promised an open line to the administration.

“He’s the trusted intermediary. He’s the person that people on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue know and trust,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

If Trump is known for his brash form of disruptive politics, Pence represents the incoming administration in a more traditional manner, exemplified by his polite, Midwestern demeanor. He joined Trump in New York on Wednesday for the president-elect’s first news conference since the Nov. 8 election. Pence soon returned to Capitol Hill for meetings with several senators, including Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tim Kaine of Virginia. The latter was Hillary Clinton‘s running mate and Pence’s adversary in October’s vice president debate.

“Opportunities to work together on issues like infrastructure and child care we think represent a significant chance to bring together leaders in both political parties,” Pence said after meeting with Kaine.

Pence’s early days in Washington were marked more by his role as a conservative purist than deal-maker.

He opposed the Bush administration on issues such as the president’s No Child Left Behind education law and an overhaul of Medicare that provided new prescription drug coverage in 2003. Pence was a leading conservative voice, often arguing that the Republican administration had strayed from conservative principles and had failed to curb federal spending.

After Republicans were swept from power in the 2006 elections, Pence unsuccessfully challenged Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, to become minority leader. Two years later, Boehner backed Pence’s entry into the leadership team, elevating the Indiana congressman to chairman of the House GOP conference, the party’s No. 3 post.

One of the ways Pence built lasting ties with fellow lawmakers was through Bible study.

Pence often joined Ryan, House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, for weekly Bible study sessions. House Republicans say those are the types of interactions that will help him in Trump’s administration.

“Mike Pence is a House man. He cares about us and he will make sure that we are in the loop,” said Rep. Jack Carter, R-Texas, who also attended Bible study with Pence.

By having an office in the House along with the ceremonial one in the Senate for his role as the chamber’s president, Pence will follow a path set by Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Wyoming congressman who maintained a House office during the Bush presidency.

Pence’s conservative record gives rank-and-file Democrats few reasons to be hopeful that he could be a bipartisan deal-maker on Trump’s behalf.

Planned Parenthood, for example, mobilized after Ryan said he planned to strip federal dollars from their organization as part of repeal of Obama’s health care law. The organization pointed to Pence’s anti-abortion record and history of seeking to block federal dollars from the health care provider as one of the reasons for the quick GOP push.

“Mike Pence’s fingerprints are all over that,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president.

But Pence has tried to build some bridges.

When Manchin, a centrist Democrat facing re-election next year, called incoming Trump White House adviser Katie Walsh in early January to request a meeting with Pence, the senator found himself face to face with Pence only a few hours later. They exchanged cellphone numbers and Manchin again sat down with Pence on Wednesday for a discussion that included the Supreme Court vacancy and federal judicial appointments.

“My job is going to be trying to find pathways forward – how do you find a way to fix things, repair things and make things happen? So you’ve got to build these relationships,” Manchin said.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Randi Weingarten doesn’t share Jeb Bush embrace of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

Though education was rarely discussed by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, at the top of his list of priorities was to spend $20 million on school choice, which would come from “reprioritizing federal dollars.” In picking Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos to serve as his Education Secretary, he made it clear that intended to make school choice and voucher plans for low-income families a focal point of his education agenda.

And Jeb Bush has been effusive in praising the selection every step of the way.

In November, the former Florida Governor described DeVos as an “outstanding pick” for to lead the Department of Education. In December, he said he was “so excited” when talking about her at the National Summit on Education Reform, sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he founded and chairs and on which DeVos serves as a board member.

Now, just before her confirmation hearing was set to take place (since postponed until next week), Bush is back again, penning a letter to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where DeVos will appear next week. In the note, he praises her as a “champion of families, not institutions.”

“For her, local control of education decisions means local control,” he wrote. “She trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child’s best interests, and she believes in providing every parent with the resources to pursue those decisions.”

DeVos is a leader in the movement to privatize the U.S. public-education system but has quickly become a lightning rod in the education world since her nomination by the president-elect.

One of her biggest critics is Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the one-million-member-plus union that endorsed Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election. She says that DeVos simply doesn’t believe in public education.

“These are the schools that 90 percent of children go to,” Weingarten told FloridaPolitics on Monday afternoon. “The job of an education secretary, not a lobbyist, but an education secretary, is to strengthen and improve public schools. Her entire ideology, her zealousness, her lobbying for the last two-to-three decades has been to undermine public education.”

Weingarten said that was most evident in the past year in Michigan, where she says DeVos “fought aggressively against the consensus” that the establishment in Detroit had envisioned recreating a public school system.

One of DeVos’ various groups, the Great Lakes Education Project, supported an A-F accountability system that the state created for Detroit. But POLITICO reports that the group fought back hard against a proposed Detroit commission focused on improving both charters and traditional schools, contending it would be beholden to the city’s mayor and school district officials.

“Her antipathy towards public schools is something that she has worn proudly on her sleeve,” says Weingarten.

Bush’s embracing of DeVos isn’t just turning off officials with the teacher’s unions. As quickly became apparent on the campaign trail in early 2015, the one-time presidential candidate’s support for federal Common Core standards was a big turnoff for some conservative groups.

Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington, penned a column on the Townhall website calling DeVos selection “Jeb’s Revenge.”

“Jeb Bush and his ideological compatriots, including DeVos, advance what could be called a “government-foundation cartel” model of educational policy-making,” Robbins wrote. “Private foundations funded by wealthy individuals (who themselves may be dilettantes with no real experience in education) contribute ideas, and frequently personnel, to the government to achieve their policy goals.”

Robbins went on to say Bush “surely believes she’ll use the stratagems the cartel has employed for so long to impose its own vision of what American education should be. DeVos must instead assure the grassroots that she’ll use her new position to eliminate federal interference and truly return education policy to the states. Trump was elected to achieve that goal, not to install Jeb’s agenda. He should make sure DeVos understands that.”

Weingarten criticizes Bush’s education policies in Florida, saying he became obsessed with high stakes testing.

“Look at what Jeb Bush did, and all the work that was promised, by Jeb Bush, by George W. Bush, to have funding going into reading or any kind of investment to actually ensure that high standards were realized,” she says. “None of that materialized in Florida.”

Weingarten adds: “What happened instead was this competition amongst schools, this corporatization among schools, and this disruption which created huge anxieties amongst parents, teachers and children which cut the funding in so many different places and which created these restaurant-like reports cards from A to E or F that reduced everything to testing. Teachers were subjected to test based evaluation as opposed to other kinds of evaluation, and you see fewer people going into teaching and lack of joy in schools throughout Florida, and where superintendents rose up against it, parents rose up against it, and people have been fighting it, tooth and nail.”

DeVos confirmation is now scheduled to take place January 17.

Donald Trump denounces ‘disgrace’ of reports of Russian ties to him

A defiant President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday adamantly denied reports that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him, calling it a “tremendous blot” on the record of the intelligence community if such material had been released.

The incoming president, in his first news conference since late July, firmly chided news organizations for publishing the material late Tuesday night. After weeks of scoffing at reports that Russians had interfered in the election, he conceded publicly for the first time that Russia was likely responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said and quickly added that the United States is hacked by other countries as well, including China.

Trump’s extraordinary defense against the unsubstantiated intelligence report, just nine days before his inauguration, dominated a highly anticipated press conference in which he also announced a new Cabinet member, detailed his plans to disentangle himself from his sprawling global business empire, gave his outlook on the future of the “Obamacare” health care law and said he would soon nominate someone to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information, I read the information outside of that meeting,” he said, a reference to a classified briefing he received from intelligence leaders. “It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen,” Trump said in a news conference that saw him repeatedly joust with reporters. “It was gotten by opponents of ours.”

Asked about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump boasted that it is an improvement over what he called America’s current “horrible relationship with Russia” and did not criticize the Russian leader for any interference in the election.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset not a liability. I don’t know if I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin — I hope I do — but there’s a good chance I won’t.”

Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer also denounced the report about Russia’s influence on Trump, and the incoming president said it never should have been released. He thanked some news organizations for showing restraint.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that intelligence officials had informed Trump last week about an unsubstantiated report that Russia had obtained compromising personal and financial information about him. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the intelligence community’s findings last week, the official said.

Media outlets reported on the document late Tuesday and Trump denounced it on Twitter before his news conference as “fake news,” suggesting he was being persecuted for defeating other GOP presidential hopefuls and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the election.

The dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Trump’s inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts as well as unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump among other suggestions attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims.

Only days from his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president, Trump announced that he would nominate David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, elevating him from his current role as VA undersecretary.

He promised that a replacement for the health care overhaul would be offered “essentially simultaneously” with the repeal of Obama’s signature health law — something that would be virtually impossible to quickly pass given the complexity of the policy changes. Republicans agree on repealing the law but nearly seven years after its passage have failed to reach agreement on its replacement.

Trump has repeatedly said that repealing and replacing “Obamacare” was a top priority, but has never fully explained how he plans to do it. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that the House would seek to take both steps “concurrently.”

Turning to his plans to build a border wall along the southern border, Trump said he would immediately begin negotiations with Mexico on funding his promised wall after he takes office. He again vowed that “Mexico will pay for the wall but it will be reimbursed.” Trump recommitted to his plans to impose a border tax on manufacturers who shut plants and move production abroad. While the tax policy could retain jobs, it would also carry the risk of increasing prices for consumers.

Trump also said he would probably name his choice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in about two weeks after the inauguration.

And he announced his plans for the future of the Trump Organization, bringing to the podium attorney Sheri Dillon of Morgan Lewis, who worked with the Trump Organization on the arrangement.

Dillon said the Trump Organization would continue to pursue deals in the U.S., though Trump will relinquish control of the company to his sons and an executive, put his business assets in a trust and take other steps to isolate himself from his business. She said Trump “should not be expected to destroy the company he built.”

The move appears to contradict a previous pledge by the president-elect. In a tweet last month, Trump vowed to do “no new deals” while in office.

The lawyer said Trump would donate all profits from foreign government payments to his hotels to the U.S. treasury.

And pushing back against some ethics experts, Dillon said the so-called emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply to foreign payments to Trump’s company. While some ethics officials have said that foreign leaders who pay for rooms and services at his various hotels would run afoul of the constitutional ban on foreign gifts or payments to the president, Dillon referred to it as a “fair-value exchange.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jan. 20, 2017: A day that will live in infamy

When a family member or another loved one dies of natural causes, we understand that death is the price we pay for life. We must accept it and count on memories to console us.

But how do you grieve for your nation? How do you move beyond the death of everything you held sacred about the land of your birth? Whose uniform you wore proudly? Whose virtues you have tried to teach to your children and to anyone else who would listen? When you know that the tragedy owes not to an act of God but to the malice of a man and so many of his supporters? How can you accept this? How can you rationalize it?

For me, Jan. 20 will be the saddest day ever. I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.

Donald Trump is the most undeserving, unqualified, and untrustworthy person ever to seek the presidency, let alone obtain it. He is a clear and present danger to our principles, our economy, our self-respect and our national security.

No one has put that better than J. M. “Mac” Stipanovich, a trusted adviser to two Florida Republican governors, expressed it in a Facebook post earlier this month.

“Ignorant, unprincipled and amoral,” he wrote. That was in reply to a friend who had wearied of “my constant carping” against Trump and had challenged him to state his three “foremost objections” to Trump’s presidency.

There’s no need to try to summarize here the vast evidence of Trump’s unprincipled amorality. Everyone is aware of it, although only some care. In a world bristling with economic rivalries and nuclear-armed powers, Trump’s ignorance is the greater danger than what he might steal.

“I am concerned,” Stipanovich explained, “about what Donald Trump does not know, the fact that he does not know what he does not know and will not listen to those who do know.”

Some Republicans, perhaps most, may relish what Trump will let the Congress do to the Affordable Care Act and to Medicare and Social Security despite his transparently worthless promises to protect them. Some will rejoice in the destruction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in the neutering of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But my hope is that there are still members of both parties who understand that character — defined as integrity, trustworthiness, fidelity to principle and fundamental decency — is what America has assumed in its presidents since the Constitution was written with George Washington in mind. It was to prevent the ascension of someone like Trump that the founders opted against direct election. Ever since, Americans and the world have looked to the presidency of the United States as an avatar of America itself. But what do we see now? What does the world see? A braggart, a bully, a libertine, a cocky ignoramus, an infantile personality in the body of a 70-year-old man who has never cared, even once, about anyone or anything other than himself, who breathes contempt for the four freedoms of the First Amendment, who craved the presidency for self-aggrandizement and whose election was sought and applauded by the most vicious people among us as a license to make America hate again. For the first time, Nazis and Ku Kluxers have helped elect an American president. Think about that.

And if that weren’t enough, he is an apologist and sycophant for a murderous foreign tyrant who means to eliminate the United States as an obstacle to reviving the Soviet empire and dominating Europe. John LeCarré, whose novels envisioned a mole secretly subverting British intelligence, never imagined a scenario as wild as that of the cousins, as he called us, being taken over so openly at the very top. The most unenviable job in the United States today becomes that of an intelligence officer who remains faithful to duty and principles.

I don’t know which is more discouraging — that such a person is actually president or that so many people voted for him knowing what he is. That he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes is some consolation but the awful truth is that he is in the White House and the radical Republicans in Congress no longer have anyone there to check their worst ambitions.

The awful truth is that even with Russia’s assistance Trump would not have won but for the racists who haven’t forgiven the rest of us for twice electing a black man, the misogynists who couldn’t abide the thought of a woman president, the cynical opportunists who saw in Trump a reactionary Supreme Court, and the idiots who swallowed Trump’s absurd lies along with the false equivalency the media assigned to Clinton’s mostly decent record and Trump’s utterly deplorable one. These people are not going away, although more of a few may come to regret their votes when their Medicare is sacrificed to the insurance industry, Social Security is sold out to Wall Street, and they’re forced to wait until they’re 70 to begin collecting what’s left.

Is American democracy dead? Can it be resurrected? The answers depend on those of us who do not celebrate Inauguration Day. What we must do, for love of country and self-respect, is to make ourselves heard every day in Congress, and especially in the Senate, where there are still some grown-ups on the majority side, and which can’t be gerrymandered like the House.

We must never, never give up. The United States of America is too precious to waste.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

If Republicans have a better idea to replace Obamacare, let’s hear it

I have a friend who has owned a small restaurant in Tampa for decades. He voted for Donald Trump for two important reasons: Trump isn’t Hillary Clinton, and he hates Obamacare.

Let me rephrase that: He doesn’t like Hillary, but he loathes Obamacare with unyielding venom. Keeping up with its requirements, he said, has been an expensive nightmare. He wants it gone.

Today.

This is a kind and decent man who is all-in on goodness. He is charitable, law-abiding and is happy to lend a hand. So, over several plates of bacon and eggs at his joint, I have deduced that his position can best be summed up like this: He wants his employees and anyone in need to have access to health care, but he despises the bureaucracy and costs imposed by Obamacare.

It looks like he is going to get his way as the Republican-controlled Congress is tripping over itself to defund, defeat and dethrone the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama’s administration. But then what?

Well, to borrow the infamous quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was coming to life, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

That quote was taken out of context and fed to Pelosi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with Obama’s vow that people could keep the doctors they liked. That became the rallying cry for opponents, but Trump now basically is saying the same thing – promising Americans that law will be replaced with something great.

While we wait for greatness, consider these Florida statistics from a recent federal Health and Human Services report.

— An estimated 132,000 young Floridians have been able to keep insurance by the provision allowing them to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

— It claims premiums grew 1.3 percent annually from 2010-2015, far less than the 8.2 percent of the previous decade.

Hold on just a minute there.

The HHS apparently forgot to include the estimated 25 percent premium hike for Floridians this year. There are many factors for that, especially the fact that far fewer people enrolled in Obamacare than the government projected and fewer insurers are offering coverage now that federal backstops against financial losses have been phased out.

All this sets up as a trap for Republicans in their zeal to end the program, though.

With lower enrollments than expected and the end to the safety net for insurance companies, any plan Republicans pass to replace the ACA probably will come up short of what Obamacare offered.

I can see the attack ads now when congressional seats are up for grabs in two years.

Incoming HHS head Tom Price of Georgia, a ferocious critic of Obamacare, has proposed a plan that would include a series of tax credits, health savings accounts, state grants and so on. Analysists have said Price’s proposal, if adopted, could mean reduced coverage and much higher premiums, especially for older Americans.

Republicans have the votes, for now, to move ahead with something. What that is, though, is anyone’s guess – especially Republicans. After barking their hatred for Obamacare for six years, they have, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, become “the dog that caught the car.”

Now what?

I know my friend would say to get rid of Obamacare and we’ll out the consequences later.

My take is a little different. I know this makes some people cringe, but I think health care is a right in a civilized society. It’s not something only those who can afford it should have. If Republicans have a better idea, let’s hear it.

After all, as Schumer said, they caught the car. They need to do more than just pee on the tires.

 

In Tampa, Pam Bondi deflects questions about an impending move to work for Donald Trump

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi attempted to deflect questions about the possibility she may soon leave her job to join the administration of incoming U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday in Tampa.

Speaking at a news conference highlighting a new human trafficking awareness with Tampa International Airport, the Tampa native said, “I’m very happy being Attorney General of the state of Florida right now. I get to work with these great people behind me every day.”

“And,” she added, “I’m also committed to the President of the United States — elect — to make our country a better country, and get back on track.”

On Thursday, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that Bondi would take a job with the Trump White House, though no particular position was mentioned in the story. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if that were the case, as Bondi was seen visiting the President-elect in Trump Tower last month. She endorsed him at the Tampa Convention Center on the day before Florida’s presidential Republican primary election, an election that Trump won decisively, taking 66 of the state’s 67 counties. With Bondi frequently at his side at campaign events, Trump ultimately won Florida in November over Hillary Clinton by just 1.2 percentage points.

The issue of working under President-elect Trump first surfaced at the news conference at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s board room at Tampa International Airport when Bondi was asked if she would be able to continue her efforts in the White House.

“That’s a good trick question. I can tell you that I talked to the President-elect for half-an-hour. We talk frequently, as well as members of his family and his transition team on many issues that don’t involve me. But he is committed to fighting human trafficking in our country. He is committed to backing up the great men and women standing behind me, and we talk about that very frequently. So whether I’m there or here as Attorney General, where I’m very happy being, by the way, I plan on staying involved in that.”

When asked if she had been invited directly by Trump to join his team, Bondi said: “I’m not going to say anything confidential, nor should anyone, including in the Obama administration.”

When a reporter asked if she had a replacement in mind if she were to leave Tallahassee for Washington, Bondi joked, ” You already have me replaced?”

“I try to be grounded,” she added. “We’re doing a lot of great things.”

If and when Bondi is selected for a position in the White House, both she and Trump will undoubtedly be asked again about the $25,000 campaign contribution that her political committee received in 2013 from Trump’s charitable foundation. Shortly afterward, Bondi’s office opted not to pursue an investigation into charges by some Florida citizens that they had been defrauded by Trump University.

After an ethics group had filed a complaint with the IRS regarding the contribution, Trump’s foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

Bondi’s office has been vehement that they never were pursuing a case in Florida against Trump U. Although her office said she had only received one complaint, the AP reported that complaints against Trump University actually numbered in the dozens and that Bondi had personally solicited the donation from Trump weeks before she learned of the charges.

Her office decided not to pursue a case after the donation was received.

A traditional end to an unconventional presidential election

The end of the 2016 presidential election is at hand.

A joint session of Congress is set to count the Electoral College votes on Friday, a traditional ending to a most unconventional presidential election.

Friday’s vote count marks the last chance for Democrats and other anti-Trump forces to disrupt Donald Trump‘s election. But even if they are successful, the most Democrats could do is slow the process because they don’t have the votes to overturn the outcome.

Barring something bizarre happening, Trump will be declared the winner and will be sworn in at his inauguration on Jan. 20. Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the vote count in his role as president of the Senate.

All 538 electors met in their respective state capitals in December to cast their votes. Trump finished with 304 votes and Democrat Hillary Clinton with 227, according to a tally by The Associated Press. It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

Trump won even though Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes. His election has generated much angst among Democrats and others who oppose the billionaire businessman. But they have been powerless to change the outcome.

Despite rumblings of a revolt, only two Republican electors — both from Texas — cast protest votes for someone other than Trump. Clinton lost four Democratic electors in Washington state and one in Hawaii.

The secretary of state’s office in Washington said the four “faithless” electors would be fined $1,000 apiece.

During Friday’s session, Democrats will have an opportunity to file objections, questioning the validity of the vote count.

Under federal law, if at least one senator and one House member object to the vote from any state, the House and Senate would meet separately to debate the merits of the objection.

Several House Democrats have talked about filing an objection, but no senator has publicly backed the idea. Regardless, with Republicans controlling both chambers, any objection would have little chance of affecting the outcome.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., considered objecting but said, “This is not about trying to stop Donald Trump from becoming president.”

Perlmutter said he wants to register his objection to Russia after U.S. intelligence community findings that Moscow engaged in computer hacking to sway the election in favor of Trump. America’s top intelligence official told Congress on Thursday that Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“We cannot allow a foreign nation to ever influence our elections because it harms our liberty, freedom and independence,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “This is bigger than just one election, and for the sake of our democracy, we must remain vigilant.”

Trump has not fully embraced the findings of the intelligence community. In fact, he has repeatedly mocked America’s intelligence officials.

This week, Trump went on Twitter to question why an intelligence briefing he is to receive was delayed. However, intelligence officials said there had been no delay. Still, Trump wrote: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Bill and Hillary Clinton to attend Donald Trump inauguration

Falling in line with tradition, Bill and Hillary Clinton plan to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration. It’s a decision that will put Hillary Clinton on the inaugural platform as her bitter rival from the 2016 campaign assumes the office she long sought.

The Clintons announced their decision to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration shortly after former President George W. Bush’s office said Tuesday he would attend along with former first lady Laura Bush.

The Bushes are “pleased to be able to witness the peaceful transfer of power — a hallmark of American democracy — and swearing-in of President Trump and Vice President Pence,” Bush’s office said in a statement.

It is traditional for former presidents and their spouses to attend the inauguration.

But the decision to attend was fraught for the Clintons, given Hillary Clinton’s bitter campaign against Trump. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has largely avoided public appearances since Trump defeated her in November.

Bush, too, has had a difficult relationship with Trump. His brother Jeb ran against Trump in the GOP primaries. George and Laura Bush let it be known they voted for “none of the above” for president rather than cast a ballot for Trump, but the ex-president did call to congratulate Trump after his victory.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, earlier said they plan to attend Trump’s inaugural.

Former President George H.W. Bush, 92, and his wife, Barbara, do not plan to attend the inauguration due to the former president’s age and health, his office said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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