Something Like the Truth

Trump isn’t prepared to be president — and that’s a dangerous thing

By Robert Mann

There is an episode in the new Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth II, “The Crown,” in which the new, 27-year-old sovereign frets about her lack of education. “I know almost nothing,” Elizabeth complains to her mother before she retains a tutor to help her with history and world events.

What a quaint notion: one should prepare for one’s job, especially if one is head of state. If only our callow president-elect, Donald Trump, cared half as much about his readiness as the Netflix version of the queen.

It’s one thing if Elizabeth has nothing intelligent to say to President Dwight Eisenhower; it’s quite another if, in real life, Trump phones Taiwan’s president and bumbles into an international incident with China.

Or if, instead of British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump makes Nigel Farage, the racist former United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) head, his first official post-election contact in the UK. Or if he compounds his error by suggesting — in a tweet, no less! — that May should make Farage the UK’s ambassador to the United States. Or if he honors the murderous Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, with a coveted White House invitation.

And he not only lacks diplomatic skills. He’s also at sea in domestic affairs and, even, the basics of running the White House. Remember how Trump bragged about refusing debate prep?

On his first visit to the Oval Office, Trump was reportedly shocked that Obama’s staffers would leave and he must replace them. Days later in an interview, Trump confused climate change with clean air (after having said it was a Chinese hoax). And he labors under the bizarre impression that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in a rigged election — that he won.

Trump apparently does not even grasp the basics of the Constitution he will swear to defend. In a meeting with House Republicans in July, a member asked Trump if he would protect Article I, which vests federal lawmaking authority in Congress. Trump, witnesses reported, responded, “I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII.” Trump seemed unaware the Constitution has only seven articles.

This is the ignorant man who, in a few weeks, will have the nuclear codes and unfettered authority to use them. Oh, did I mention that Trump, despite knowing next to nothing about military and foreign affairs, has repeatedly stiffed his national security briefers? Last year, you may recall, he told NBC he gets his national security information from “the shows.”

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Thanks to Bobby Jindal, we know how disastrous Trump’s education policies could be

By Robert Mann

Let’s be grateful for former Gov. Bobby Jindal. He was a failure, but at least one of his failures gave us an inkling of how disastrous President-elect Donald Trump’s national education policies could be.

In nominating billionaire activist Betsy DeVos for education secretary, Trump has signaled that, like Jindal, abandoning public schools is one promise he hopes to keep. Trump proposes using $20 billion in federal funds as block grants to encourage states to fund private-school vouchers. That would mean diverting another $110 billion in state and local funds to send students to private schools that conservatives like DeVos claim are superior to their so-called “government school” counterparts.

However, Trump and DeVos — who has spent $1.6 million trying to influence Louisiana elections — must persuade cash-strapped governors and legislators to spend scarce resources on a scheme that’s failed wherever it’s been tried.

This is where the disappointment of Jindal’s voucher program enters the picture, as policy makers and the media will inevitably examine its dismal performance. At Jindal’s urging, in 2008 lawmakers created the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), enabling some disadvantaged students to leave public schools graded a C or lower and enroll in a participating private school. By 2014, more than 6,000 public school students attended one of 126 private schools.

In 2015, Jindal bragged about his program. “For students attending private schools on public dollars, almost all of whom arrived several years behind, their lives are being turned around,” he wrote in a column on CNN’s website.

If only that were true. In a paper published last year by the National Bureau for Economic Research, three scholars documented “the large negative effects” and the reduced academic achievements of scholarship program students in 2013, the first year after the program’s expansion.

“Our results show that LSP vouchers reduce academic achievement,” the researchers concluded, explaining, “attendance at an LSP-eligible private school is estimated to lower math scores” and “reduce reading, science and social studies scores.”

Why? “We find evidence,” the researchers wrote, “that the negative effects of the LSP may be linked to selection of low-quality private schools into the program.”

A comprehensive 2016 study of the program for the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans also concluded “an LSP scholarship user who was performing at roughly the 50th percentile at baseline fell 24 percentile points below their control group counterparts in math after one year. By year 2, they were 13 percentile points below.”

Imagine that. Pluck kids from troubled public schools, put them into substandard private schools and — voila! — you’ve made their academic condition worse.

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Heil to the Chief: Trump’s Nazi problem

By Robert Mann

As anyone who has seen the 1981 film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” understands, you need not be a historian to know Nazis are bad people. It’s right there in one of the movie’s early scenes, when Harrison Ford’s character, Indiana Jones, leans out from his perch and sees the strutting German soldiers below. “Nazis,” he mutters. “I hate these guys.”

Anyone familiar with actual history will recall that much of the civilized world fought a world war to rid the planet of Nazis and their homicidal racism.

That seems to elude President-elect Donald Trump and those around him, one of whom, Steve Bannon, was executive chair of Breitbart News, the leading purveyor of “white ethno-nationalism.” Bannon, soon to be Trump’s chief strategist and on par with the chief of staff, once described his publication as “the platform for the alt-right.”  

“Alt-right” is an anodyne phrase that sounds like the first step in unfreezing your computer. It’s meant to obscure the disgusting beliefs of its adherents. Let’s call these creeps the names that fit them best: racists and neo-Nazis.

If you’ve been reading the news, you have noticed that neo-Nazis are thrilled with Trump’s election. One of their ideological cousins, the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan, says it plans a parade to celebrate Trump’s victory. Spray-painted swastikas and “Heil, Trump” have appeared across the country on homes and churches. There have been many reported acts of violence or harassment aimed at minorities by self-proclaimed Trump supporters.

David Duke, the prominent Louisiana neo-Nazi, is so delighted about Trump’s election he can barely contain his glee. “Make no mistake about it,” Duke wrote, “our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”

Then there was a triumphant conclave of neo-Nazis in Washington a few days ago. As reported in The New York Times, an alt-right conference convened in a federal building a few blocks from the White House to exult in Trump’s win. Led by Richard B. Spencer, a leading neo-Nazi, the conference featured 11 hours of speeches and panel discussions about the ascendant neo-Nazi movement under a Trump administration.

The Times reporter observed that Spencer “began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the ‘children of the sun,’ a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were ‘awakening to their own identity.’ 

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Voters to state lawmakers wanting to abandon higher education: Not so fast

By Robert Mann

If there was an unequivocal message in the Nov. 8 election returns in Louisiana, it was that voters are tired of rising college costs. They rejected — 57 percent to 43 percent — a proposed constitutional amendment to give the state’s higher education governing boards unfettered authority over tuition. Louisiana colleges and universities will still need a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to hike tuition.

A few observations after studying the returns:

Voters do not trust the higher education boards to set tuition rates, no doubt fearing that tuition would skyrocket with no legislative control over prices. It’s not likely that LSU and other institutions would have gouged students. But voters apparently want a check on the boards, especially given the Legislature’s recent abandonment of higher education and the resulting higher tuition and fees.

Voters seemed to say lawmakers still have a role to play in funding higher education, including controlling tuition costs. Lawmakers were hoping to jettison this responsibility. What better way to “solve” the state’s higher education funding crisis than to turn over almost everything to the boards? Then, next time a college president showed up asking for more state money, legislators could dismiss him or her, saying, “We gave you all the authority you wanted to generate revenue. We’re done with increasing funds for universities. Cut your budgets or raise your tuition, but leave us alone.”

Now, that conversation is less likely to occur. Like it or not, the Legislature remains integral to the process of funding Louisiana higher education. It can take the lead and produce additional appropriations, approve modest tuition increases or demand structural reforms — or some combination of all three. It cannot say, however, that it has no responsibility in this area.

The amendment’s failure does not mean an end to tuition increases. Fees, not subject to legislative approval, will continue to rise. And tuition costs will continue their slow, steady upward climb. As they have in the past, lawmakers are likely to grant the higher education boards limited authority to increase tuition.

This amendment might have passed easily several years ago before lawmakers began to dismantle TOPS, the state‘s tuition assistance program.Last year, legislators decoupled TOPS from tuition, meaning it might not cover the full price of tuition. Sure enough, this year lawmakers cut the program’s funding by 30 percent and then pushed back all the reductions to the spring 2017 semester, meaning that most TOPS students will see a one-time, staggering 60 percent reduction in tuition support in January.

That reckless legislative budget maneuver undoubtedly created much ill will and suspicion among voters already unhappy with lawmakers’ mishandling of higher education. Undermining TOPS backfired.

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My hits and misses on the 2016 election

By Robert Mann

Over the past 18 months, I’ve opined about the wacky 2016 presidential election more than any other subject. I ventured many predictions — some of them accurate, others not so much. Now that it’s over, let’s review my mistakes. And please indulge me for noting where I was on target.

I agreed with most experts that Hillary Clinton would win. In early October, I wrote about the Louisiana Republican leaders who, after endorsing Donald Trump, distanced themselves from him. While I accurately predicted they would ignore Trump through the Nov. 8 election, I suspect the next statement will be proved wrong: “After which they will pretend they never knew him.” To the contrary, I believe people like U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and Sen. Bill Cassidy wish they had been more vocal about their support of Trump.

In August, regarding the GOP’s nomination of Trump, I wrote: “Sensible Republicans realize that this is not a bad dream. It’s an existential threat to their party.” I was referring to the damage Trump’s nomination would do to the party’s standing among young voters. “A party hell-bent on driving away millions of young people and minorities cannot lead a diverse, multicultural nation,” I wrote.

While I maintain that, long term, the GOP is not poised for success with millennials and minorities, no one is writing its obituary today. Instead, it is the Democratic Party that lies in shambles.

Over the months, I wrote about the need for young people to do what their elders wouldn’t — reject Trump’s bigotry. “[Y]our elders are about to drive this country into the abyss by voting for Donald Trump,” I wrote in September. “Like it or not, your generation, along with black and Latino voters, is all that stands in the way of a Trump presidency.”

I believed voters under 30 might save the country from Trump. Instead, while a strong majority of them voted for Clinton, they turned out in relatively anemic numbers. They represented only 19 percent of the electorate. Meanwhile, voters over age 50 were 45 percent of voters.

Regarding evangelical support for Trump, I was correct in predicting many “may be duped or irrational enough to elect a man whose policies are about as unchristian as anyone who has ever sought the presidency. The chilling prospect of a hatemonger like Trump in the White House should be enough to put the fear of God into almost anyone — even an atheist.” It wasn’t. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals supported Trump.

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What Trump can learn from Woodrow Wilson’s remarkable 1916 election-eve resignation letter

By Robert Mann

On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 5, 1916 – near the end of a bruising reelection campaign – President Woodrow Wilson sat writing a letter in the study of his cavernous New Jersey summer retreat, a rented mansion called “Shadow Lawn.”

For most of the summer and fall, Wilson had presided over a flawless political operation. His small campaign staff, ensconced above a bank in nearby Asbury Park, had helped him stage the most modern and effective American presidential campaign ever. Every week, from the house’s front porch, Wilson greeted thousands of supporters who flocked there to hear him speak.

Over the late summer and fall, he had made his case in passionate speeches that emphasized his wise, sober leadership during a dangerous year in which the country inched closer to entering the murderous war that raged across Europe. Wilson’s message, trumpeted by the Democratic Party: “He kept us out of war.”

President Woodrow Wilson speaks to a campaign crowd at Shadow Lawn in 1916

After running a virtually flawless campaign, and having tried to broker a diplomatic end to the war, Wilson was confident of victory. “I have surveyed the field,” he wrote earlier that day to his closest advisor, Colonel Edward House, “and I cannot reach any other conclusion but that the fight is won.”

And, yet, he hedged his bets. This was the reason he sat down to compose another letter that afternoon, just two days before the election.

He addressed his words to Secretary of State Robert Lansing. Prompted by an October 20 from his friend House, Wilson now laid out a stunning plan for how he would respond should he lose the election.

Wilson informed Secretary Lansing that, if he lost the election, he would immediately instigate a remarkable scheme to turn the White House over to Hughes and become the first American president to resign from office.

Wilson’s plan involved persuading Vice President Thomas Marshall and Lansing to resign at once. Wilson would then appoint President-elect Hughes as secretary of state. With the vice presidency empty, the secretary of state would become first in the line of succession (adoption of the 25th Amendment in 1967 would later render a plan like Wilson’s impossible). Wilson would then resign the presidency, making Hughes president four months before his scheduled inauguration on March 4. Continue reading “What Trump can learn from Woodrow Wilson’s remarkable 1916 election-eve resignation letter”

If Republicans can’t win without suppressing black votes they should find other work

By Robert Mann

What persuades some Republican leaders and operatives that their ideas and policies are so unpopular that they can win elections only by preventing young people, black people and other minorities from voting? If your party can’t win majorities without stopping people from voting, shouldn’t you find other work?

As early voting continues around the nation, daily reports stream in about alleged Republican efforts to influence the fall elections by suppressing the votes of people who vote for Democrats. This is particularly appalling in North Carolina where Republicans have challenged the registration of thousands of people, most of them black Democrats.

A conservative group with an Orwellian name, the Voter Integrity Project (VIP), allegedly helped compile a list of Democratic voters. Local Republicans then mailed these targeted voters non-forwardable letters. If a voter’s mail bounced back undelivered, the Republican challenger contested the person’s right to vote.

If the voter receives mail at a post office box or his or her letter was incorrectly addressed or mishandled by postal workers, that person is automatically assumed to be living at another address and, therefore, ineligible to vote.

Among those purged was 100-year-old Grace Bell Hardison, who has lived nowhere other than her town of Belhaven, N.C., and has voted for the past 24 years. After an outcry, local officials restored Hardison’s voting rights. Others were not so fortunate.

This is not the first time North Carolina Republicans have been accused of minority voter suppression.  In July, a federal appeals court ruled against the state’s voter ID law, finding it illegally “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Republicans tried something like this in Louisiana 30 years ago in a U.S. Senate race between then-U.S. Rep. John Breaux, a Democrat, and his Republican House colleague, Rep. Henson Moore.

In the fall of 1986, Louisiana Democrats sued to stop the GOP from purging 30,000 voters in 11 parishes. Testimony in state court revealed that many of those challenged lived at the residences where they were registered. Regardless, the GOP effort was almost exclusively about disenfranchising black Democrats. A Republican judge ordered a halt to the operation.

The purges also ran afoul of a 1982 federal court order — still in force today — that prohibits the RNC from engaging in “ballot security measures” where “the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision.”

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Trump vs Clinton? Ask a Republican

By Robert Mann

Among my Democratic friends, almost none of them are conflicted about voting for Hillary Clinton for president. Even those who aren’t enamored of the former secretary of state are terrified of Donald Trump. For these friends, the specter of a Trump White House is a disaster too horrible to comprehend.

Some of my Republican friends, however, are quite conflicted. They don’t want to vote for Clinton but they are even more troubled by the thought of casting a vote for Trump. As more one has told me, in essence, “I just don’t know what I’ll do.”

My advice to these conflicted Republicans? Don’t listen to me. Consider what other Republicans have said this year about the current GOP nominee. They include:

Former Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee: “I am far from the first to conclude that Donald Trump lacks the temperament of be president,” Romney said. “After all, this is an individual who mocked a disabled reporter, who attributed a reporter’s questions to her menstrual cycle, who mocked a brilliant rival who happened to be a woman due to her appearance, who bragged about his marital affairs, and who laces his public speeches with vulgarity.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “This man is a pathological liar,” Cruz said. “He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.” Trump, he said,  is “utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:  “Always beware of the candidate for public office who has the quick and easy answer to a complicated problem,” Christie said, attacking Trump for acting like a “13-year-old” when he threatened to boycott a Fox News debate. “What’s that tell you about what we can expect if things go sideways when you go into the Oval Office? What are you going to do? Go upstairs to the residence and say ‘I’m not playing’?”

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse: After Trump said that California U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel — an Indiana native of Mexican descent — could not preside over a federal lawsuit against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage, Sasse tweeted:  “Saying someone can’t do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of ‘racism.’”

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee: After the Washington Post released an “Access Hollywood” video in October in which Trump made lewd comments about women and bragged about committing sexual assault, McCain said in a statement, “There are no excuses for Donald Trump’s offensive and demeaning comments in the just released video; no woman should ever be victimized by this kind of inappropriate behavior. He alone bears the burden of his conduct and alone should suffer the consequences.” McCain withdrew his endorsement of Trump.

Conservative columnist George Will: “If Trump wins, the GOP ends as a vehicle for conservatism.”

Conservative columnist and Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer (who is also a board-certified psychiatrist): “I used to think Trump was an 11-year-old, an undeveloped schoolyard bully. I was off by about 10 years. His needs are more primitive, an infantile hunger for approval and praise, a craving that can never be satisfied.”

Enough about Trump. What have prominent Republicans said about Clinton? Turns out, when she’s not running for president, many of them love her.

Sen. John McCain in 2013: “Secretary Clinton is admired and respected around the world. She and I have been friends for many years. We used to travel together… So, I have – I admire the fact that she is admired throughout the world and a very effective Secretary of State.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2012: “She’s dedicated to her job. She loves her country. . . .[She is] one of the most effective secretary of states, greatest ambassadors for the American people that I have known in my lifetime.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush presented Clinton with the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal, praising her for having “dedicated her life to serving and engaging people across the world in democracy.”

Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush has said he will vote for Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2010: “Hillary Clinton is someone I’ve known for a long, long time. She’s a patriot. I think she’s doing a lot of the right things. . . . I think she’s doing a fine job. I really do.”

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2010: I think she’s done a good job for the . . . secretary of state’s position, and I have high respect for her and think a great deal of her.”

Don’t believe those Republicans’ assessment of Clinton? Well, there is one more you might find persuasive. In a 2008 radio commentary, weeks before Barack Obama wrapped up the Democratic Party nomination, this prominent Republican said: “I know her and she’d make a good president or good vice president.”

That radio commentator? Donald Trump.

This miserable election is proof it’s time for America’s youth to take charge

By Robert Mann

Near the end of a brutal election season that reminds me of a bad episode of Wrestlemania, I wonder if our young people think their elders have gone mad? Do they see them acting like 2-year-olds and respond, “Politics has nothing to offer my generation”?

I suspect many teens and those in their early twenties look at this election — likely the first to which they have paid close attention — and conclude that politics is a bizarre blood sport and a depressing, dispiriting one, at that. Could the worst consequence of this sorry election be its role in suppressing youth civic participation when we most need it?

Many young people now believe politics is a poor way to advocate for change. Some of the most civic-minded opt for careers with nonprofits or nongovernmental organizations. Better, they say, to give oneself to a worthy cause — helping the poor, protecting the environment, advocating for social justice — than entering politics and laying bare one’s life for personal attacks.

Surely many who consider politics ask, “Why put my family through a meat grinder of press scrutiny and political invective to win election to a legislative institution that is paralyzed and gridlocked? Why seek a job that requires my perennial humiliation and debasement to keep it?”

One of the many blessings of youth is optimism and the knowledge that the future belongs to them. I love they reject the notion that society should be ordered on terms dictated by their elders. I love that the wisest of our youth know they have it within their power to fix our politics and reshape our society.

They see far more clearly than their elders the value and necessity of change. They are impatient for it, which is one reason so many of them reject creaky, hidebound partisan politics as a vocation. And who could blame them?

Many young people I know are also repelled by leaders who project a dark vision of America’s future. They don’t want to make America great again; they want to make it greater than it already is.

Like the founding fathers, they understand that this country is not a place but an ideal. They know their role is to foster the perpetual process of its perfection. That is why so many of them turn away, disgusted, from older leaders who cynically exploit fear and despair for political gain. They know that’s not patriotism but, rather, its opposite.

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