Where To Focus: Day 115

We’re beyond the first 100 days. Time to remember that there are 1460 days between presidential elections (or between inaugurations) in the U.S. We have to endure 13 more stretches the length of this first one. Are we ready for that?

At my Quaker Meeting recently, I rose to speak about the difficulty I was feeling in staying alert and active in the midst of this Trump presidency. I said that most days I find myself reading, reading, reading the news, alert to every fresh nuance and turn in the drama. In the midst of that I notice two further things.

One is that taking in the news is making me feel passive. Whatever is happening now, I realize, will be subsumed by something else in a few hours. The pace of change in the stories is so rapid, the turns so unexpected, and the number of awful issues being addressed that I’m allowing myself to become a spectator. I have a hard time knowing when to act and what to do. (And no, I don’t find the urgings from the Democratic Party or from MoveOn, etc., to sign this or that petition and then “pitch in” a few bucks at all helpful.)

Even worse, I find myself amused and entertained by the spectacle. Who needs any other form of amusement in life when the Trump White House (or Ryan or McConnell) will hourly deliver up some fresh horrible idiocy for me to stare at in wonderment? Trump throwing Rosenstein under a bus!  Spicer in the bushes! It’s like watching gladiator fights each day. How can I watch such spectacles? But then again, how can I turn away? Pass the popcorn; I’m ashamed.

Back in late February (just 40 days in) I urged Strategy: Follow the Russia Connection. As I take a deep breath this morning, that still seems like the right focus. More particularly.

First, Keep the Focus on the Russia Connection. We need a full understanding of what the Russians did in the 2016 election and who in the United States may have assisted or encouraged them. That means we need the various investigations (FBI, House, Senate) to continue. Writing in The Atlantic, David Frum makes a persuasive case that A Special Prosecutor Is Not the Answer, even though twenty state Attorney Generals have called for this. Read it for yourself, but Frum argues that a special prosecutor would take the story off the front page for months or even likely years, and would focus solely on criminal behavior. Criminal behavior would be important if there was any, but the bad-acting may instead be just politically unacceptable behavior. We need to know the truth.

So beyond FBI, House and Senate we need the continuing excellent work of investigative journalists. Much of what we already know has come from fact-reporting journalists. I’m also drawn to Adam Jentleson’s urging about how Democratic Senators can keep the pressure on.

Second, insist on release of the tax returns. Likely Trump’s tax returns will tell us more than anything else. We need to continue to insist on their release, and insist that they be subpoenaed if not voluntarily released. The recently released Morgan Lewis Bockius letter on Trump’s taxes is only the most recent evasion. According to ABC News, “Jack Blum, a Washington tax lawyer who is an expert on white-collar financial crime and international tax evasion, called the [Morgan Lewis Bockius] letter ‘meaningless.’” We should see every President’s tax returns. Trump’s behavior has only shown us why we need to see the returns, in full, for ourselves.

Third, stay attentive to health care. Then Comey firing has taken the public focus away from the disastrously bad wealthcare bill passed by the House Republicans on May 4. Call your Senator, call your Senator, call your Senator.

Fourth (if we can keep four things in mind) is the assault on environmental protection. We need to talk to Congress about that, too.

I look back at my February 28 list of where we should be focusing and see that it holds up pretty well: 75 days later, keep the focus on Russia, the taxes, healthcare and the environment.

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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