Donald Trump is taking us into the heart of darkness

By Robert Mann

Ten percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.” ―Susan Sontag

With his profanity and crude insults, his threats of violence against opponents and his insults of the disabled, women and prisoners of war, President Donald Trump has contributed much to the coarsening of American society and politics.During his six months in the White House, he has made the U.S. government callous — even hostile — to the poor and powerless. More troubling, he’s abetted in his immoral enterprise by so-called Evangelical Christians, who ignore Jesus’ admonition to care for “the least of these,” or as I prefer to call them, “God’s beloved.”

Trump didn’t prompt his Evangelical and other supporters to abandon the poor and the sick. Many of them had done so long ago. He has, however, fortified their animosity and vitriol toward the powerless.

What, in God’s name, has happened to us? The United States was once a country people in dark, violent corners of the world saw as a refuge from persecution and torture. People everywhere knew America stood, not only for freedom but for universal human rights.

They had faith the U.S. government — embodying the decency and goodwill of its people — would help them after earthquakes, floods, famines, genocide and war. They knew when no one else would take them in, Americans would throw open our doors to the “poor . . . huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

America has long been a beacon of hope and a staunch defender of the oppressed. Under Trump, however, that’s ending.

We are becoming a sick and sad shadow of our former self. A president elected by a minority of voters and buttressed by a gutless GOP majority in Congress is taking the country on a terrifying ride into the heart of darkness.

Trump and his shrinking but still-potent base oppose offering refuge to oppressed people from other lands, especially if they are from the Middle East. Trump imposes a cruel travel ban against Muslims, and people cheer. Neither he nor his supporters find it within their hardened hearts to defend immigrants with young children before they toss them from the country.

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Donald Trump isn’t ending politics, as usual, because it’s his actual defense

By Robert Mann

“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” –President Donald Trump tweet, July 17

In the spring of 2005, I betrayed a close friend and destroyed our friendship. It was a panicked, spur-of-the-moment choice I made for political reasons. It was wrong, needless and the decision I most regret in my 58 years.

I was communications director to then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. I had asked my friend to create a website to defend Blanco and criticize her political opponents. When a reporter discovered the memo he wrote me, outlining the specifics of the ill-considered plan, I threw him under the bus. “I get lots of emails,” I said, hoping to leave the impression I was the passive recipient of the plan, not one of its originators. I immediately regretted my cowardice and tried to correct the record, but the damage to our friendship was done.

I thought about all this the other day when President Trump’s son Don Jr. released an email chain from 2016, which revealed his willingness to collude with Russian officials to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. “I love it,” Trump Jr. replied to the nefarious message.

Trump Jr. lied about his subsequent meeting with the Russians and later explained he couldn’t help what people sent him. Later, he and his father settled on the justification, summarized in the tweet above, that everyone does this kind of thing. No big deal.

Yes, very big deal.

The emails and Trump Jr.’s meeting demonstrate how much Trump’s campaign wanted to collude with Russian agents working to undermine our elections. And they showed us how far Trump and his campaign would go to win.

So much for draining the swamp and ending politics as usual. Politics, as usual, is now their actual defense.

I’ve never served on a presidential campaign staff, but I worked in politics for 20 years, including on a half-dozen statewide campaigns. I can tell you that winning is not just an important part of politics; to many, it’s the only thing. No one wants to lose. And it’s no secret politicians and their aides go to extraordinary — sometimes illegal — lengths to win.

By the time I turned 45, I was weary of this feature of politics. I did not like the person I became in the midst of a tough election. I hated how the competitive juices turned me into a person I did not recognize. I was happy to abandon that aspect of the political arena in 2006.

I never broke the law, but I sometimes did and said things in the heat of battle that cause me shame today. Some of what I said in print about former Gov. Buddy Roemer during the 1995 governor’s race bothered me so much that I invited him to speak to one of my classes at LSU in 2008 and apologized to him in front of my students.

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President Trump has been great . . . for Europe


By Cyril Vetter

Donald Trump has been a great President, so far. At least if you’re a European.

In June, I had the pleasure of traveling to Berlin with my friend James Carville, who gave a talk to the staff at the U.S. Embassy there. His comments were deliberately apolitical.

James talked about how impactful and important the work of career Foreign Service officers is to the U.S. and to the countries in which they are stationed. He compared career Foreign Service officers to career military personnel, both of whom have dedicated their lives to maintaining the interests, international prestige and involvement of our country.

James Carville (left) and Cyril Vetter talk with LSU Mass Communication students in Berlin in June 2017

We also had the opportunity to join up with an LSU Mass Communications study abroad group and both of us were impressed and humbled by LSU’s student presence and participation in world affairs.

And with that group of impressive young representatives of LSU we met Ulrich Brueckner, PhD, on the faculty of Stanford in Berlin and a specialist in European integration.

Herr Dr. Brueckner described in some detail how the election of Donald Trump, layered on the Brexit vote, worked to marginalize the right- and left-wing nationalist, white supremacist movements in Western Europe and move countries like France, Germany, Austria, Holland, et al, to the center and toward more moderate elected officials and a more moderate electorate and civil society.

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Donald Trump, Republican Party are marooned on Know Nothing Island

By Robert Mann

Marooned on an island of discarded ideologies and false beliefs, members of the modern-day Republican Party are like Japanese dead-enders from World War II who thought the conflict was still raging and that victory — long ago lost — was still possible.

Simply put, the U.S. Republican Party is the most extreme, isolated major political movement in the Western world.

Regarding man-made climate change, Republicans are as anti-science as the church officials who persecuted Galileo in 1615 for claiming the Earth revolved around the Sun. They cling to ignorant, antiquated views in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence. Most of the world’s people accept peer-reviewed scientific research on the world’s climate. Only 15 percent of conservative Republicans do.

Among the world’s developed countries, there are more people who believe NASA faked the Moon landing than say society shouldn’t care for the sick. Only 32 percent of Republicans believe the government has any role in guaranteeing health care to its citizens.

And in Europe and other developed nations, more people than ever can vote, while the Republican Party tosses millions of minorities and young people off the rolls. Only 35 percent of Republicans say “everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.”

Across the developed world, people accept that climate change is real, more people should vote and everyone deserves good, affordable health care.

Among developed nations, however, only the United States has a ruling political party devoted to the minority view on these questions and others (including marriage equality, greater rights for women and minorities and affordable college education).

It’s difficult to understand what a radical, know-nothing retrograde outfit runs the United States government if you follow only American politics. What appears normal to domestic eyes is among the most unusual set of political and scientific beliefs in the developed world.

In two cases — voting rights and health care — the questions are about what it means to call ourselves a democracy devoted to equality and human rights. In the other — climate change — it is a willful decision by party leaders and their propaganda arm (Fox News) to deny and lie about the near-unanimous results of decades of peer-reviewed research.

Consider voting rights. From our beginning, the nation has argued over which people will elect our leaders. Since 1776, the franchise has expanded to those without property, to women, to blacks and other minorities, to young people and to ex-offenders who have served their time.

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Trump’s disdain for the world is making America weak again

By Robert Mann

PRAGUE — “People over here ask me about the difference between America and the UK. I tell them, ‘The UK is crazy; America is stupid.'” So observed a 60-something Louisiana man I met the other day in a Strasbourg, France, train station. What he meant was the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) is foolhardy, while America, under Donald Trump has dangerously abdicated world leadership.

This Denham Springs resident sporting an LSU jersey was succinct in capturing the widespread view that my students and I encountered everywhere we traveled during June. From London to Paris to Strasbourg to Berlin to Prague, the observations we gathered in dozens of conversations are supported by a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

According to Pew, “a median of just 22% [in 37 countries] has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.”

In Germany last year, Obama enjoyed the confidence of 86 percent of the public. Only 11 percent now expresses confidence in Trump. The numbers are similar across Europe: In France, 84 percent were confident in Obama compared to 14 percent who say the same about Trump; in the U.K., 79 percent confidence in Obama compared to 22 percent for Trump; in Turkey, 45 percent had confidence in Obama’s leadership, while only 11 percent feel the same about Trump.

In only two countries — Israel and Russia — does Trump enjoy higher public confidence than did Obama.

This widespread distaste for Trump is probably a result of his disdain for the EU, NATO and the Paris Climate Accords, his racism and sexism and his predilection for strongmen and autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. It also is a byproduct of his theme, “America First,” which is not only an echo of the American pro-Nazi “America First” movement of the 1930s but also connotes a harsh, dismissive attitude toward the world.

The Pew survey, however, does have some good news. “While the new U.S. president is viewed with doubt and apprehension in many countries, America’s overall image benefits from a substantial reservoir of goodwill,” Pew said. “The American people, for instance, continue to be well-regarded — across the 37 nations polled, a median of 58% say they have a favorable opinion of Americans.”

Trump’s successor will need this goodwill to assert American leadership after he is gone.

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Senate health care bill is a risky vote for Sen. Bill Cassidy, GOP

By Robert Mann

You need not be a politician with the superior political intuition of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton to understand how dangerous the Republican health care bill is to the future of that party’s majority in both houses. Even so, it looks like Louisiana’s GOP senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, will support legislation that could damage the GOP’s chances of holding onto Congress in 2018.

Could Republicans’ irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act drive them to an insane act of self-immolation by replacing it with a disastrous bill that most Americans oppose?

The House-passed American Health Care Act is not only the most unpopular legislation Congress has debated in decades; it’s also earned the disdain of President Donald Trump, who threw a party for the bill in the Rose Garden but later called it “mean.”

Cassidy, who has a bill to replace Obamacare, suggested weeks ago he would not support the House bill (and I applauded him for that). More recently, however, he has warmed to supporting a new version that 13 male senators wrote in secret.

From the outline Republicans released on Thursday, the Senate effort isn’t much of an improvement. Like the House bill, Republicans in the Senate would slash deeply Medicaid and eliminate health insurance for tens of millions to finance tax cuts for millionaires.

As a bipartisan group of governors wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, the bill “calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant costs to the states.”

McConnell and other GOP leaders are likely urging Cassidy to get on board (it doesn’t appear Kennedy needs his arm twisted to support the legislation). If you’re Cassidy, the worst position is to be a senator whose opposition to the bill killed the repeal-Obamacare effort.

Well, that might be the second-worst outcome, as worse might be the passage of the bill with Cassidy’s crucial vote to help. If Cassidy is betting his constituents’ hatred of Obamacare is so intense they will abide a bill that cripples their health insurance coverage, the evidence suggests he is wrong.

Using eight surveys from respected national pollsters and a sophisticated statistical method called M.R.P. (multilevel regression and poststratification), researchers Christopher Warshaw and David Broockman, of MIT and Stanford respectively, concluded there is not one state in which most people support the GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA).

As they wrote recently in The New York Times: “Across all the states that voted for President Trump last year, we estimate that support for the A.H.C.A. is rarely over 35 percent. A majority of Republican senators currently represent states where less than a third of the public supports the A.H.C.A.”

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London attacks bring out the best in Londoners, worst in Trump, Clay Higgins

By Robert Mann

LONDON — U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins may be the former “Cajun John Wayne,” but he is now auditioning for the role of Dirty Harry of the House — the bravest, boldest member of Congress, one who will stop at nothing to secure justice.

Unfortunately, the former St. Landry Sheriff’s Department spokesman was never much of a cop; he mostly played one on TV. And now, in pursuit of greater fame, he’s playing an anti-Muslim bigot. His recent screen test was a bizarre, bloodthirsty statement posted to Facebook the day after the deadly June 3 London terrorist attacks:

“The free world … all of Christendom … is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Is Higgins an anti-Muslim Clint Eastwood? Hardly, although he might stand a better chance of winning that role by conversing with empty chairs.

Higgins resembles Barney Fife more than Eastwood. That’s because the character trait that best describes him is not toughness, but cowardice. It’s fear — abject terror — that motivates people like Higgins to lash out so hysterically.

It takes little courage to advocate — from the comfy confines of Lafayette or the cozy corridors of the U.S. Capitol — the summary execution of millions of Muslims who are, by Higgins’ vague estimation, “radicalized.”

If anyone is radicalized, it is Higgins, who libels the Christian faith by invoking “Christendom” in his demand for a 21st Century crusade. Invading Muslim countries to wage indiscriminate war has always gone so well for us, hasn’t it? Maybe the problem that Higgins has brilliantly identified is that we haven’t killed and maimed enough Muslims?

“Kill them all” is a compelling bumper sticker slogan for mindless haters of Islam. It’s also a recipe for helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations sign up untold millions more recruits.

While Higgins’ statement feigns courage, it’s anything but courage.

You know what courage is? It was the average citizens of London who fought back against the terrorist attackers near London Bridge. One London paper I read the other day described the heroic, “Kristi Bowden, 28, a nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, who was stabbed to death as she dashed on to the bridge to help the wounded.”

The next day, most London citizens displayed remarkable fortitude and pugnacity by rising, overcoming their fears and going into Hyde Park, Westminster Bridge or any of a thousand local pubs and coffee shops.

My son and I witnessed that London courage, having arrived in town the day before the attacks. And we saw it the morning after the tragic events, as my LSU colleague and I greeted 19 students to London. Most had boarded transatlantic flights the previous night, aware of the carnage on and near London Bridge. In spite of their anxiety when they first learned of the attacks, not one of them demurred. They landed here as local police were still investigating the attackers’ identities.

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Sen. Bill Cassidy passes the Jimmy Kimmel test

By Robert Mann

I don’t know if congressional Republicans are wise enough to take his advice on health care, but if they wish to remain in power, they might listen to Louisiana’s senior senator, Bill Cassidy.

The low-key Cassidy is not only a physician who practiced for years at Baton Rouge’s now-defunct charity hospital, Earl K. Long Medical Center; he also understands the travails of the financially strapped patients he once treated. And unlike most GOP House members, Cassidy seems to believe fixing the health care system is more important than cutting Medicaid by $880 billion to finance a tax cut for millionaires.

Screenshot 2017-05-12 17.37.24
Screenshot of Sen. Bill Cassidy’s appearance on ABC’s “Jimm Kimmel Live”

Cassidy is not new to the issue. Instead of destroying Obamacare and replacing it with something as immoral as the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA), Cassidy and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins say they want to address Obamacare’s worst flaws.

Their bill, the Patient Freedom Act of 2017, would repeal the personal and employer coverage mandates while keeping Obamacare’s most popular features, especially the prohibition on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. The bill also would give states the flexibility to maintain portions of Obamacare, including the mandates, while fashioning their own programs. “If states like California or New York think Obamacare works for them, then God bless them,” Cassidy told the Senate when he introduced the bill in January.

Because of his legislation, Cassidy was already a player in health care reform. Now, thanks to ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, Cassidy could play a larger role in this debate — and in a way that could be politically advantageous to him.

After Kimmel disclosed that his newborn son had open-heart surgery for a congenital heart defect, the host pleaded with Congress preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions. “If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make,” an emotional Kimmel told viewers last month.

In a CNN interview a few days later, Cassidy said any bill he would support must pass “the Jimmy Kimmel test.” Cassidy explained that meant, “Would a child born with a congenital heart defect be able to get everything she or he would need in the first year of life?”

That pleased Kimmel, who invited Cassidy on his show last Monday night, whereupon Cassidy expanded the test to include “not only on the first year [of the child’s life] but every year thereafter.”

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What Donald Trump and Gov. John Bel Edwards inherited from their predecessors

By Robert Mann

Obamacare’s fate is now a crisis for Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. It’s delicious irony that, after railing against and vowing to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the care and feeding of a program so loathed by Republicans now belongs to our new president and the GOP Congress — and they don’t know what to do with it.

More than a month after Trump took office vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare, he and Congress are no closer to agreeing upon on a replacement. That’s sparked panic among smarter Republicans, who now realize that some of the energy they put into holding more than 60 House votes to kill the law might have been better spent on developing a viable alternative.

Now, because they know they must not repeal Obamacare without a replacement, Republicans are talking about repairing it (which is what Hillary Clinton and Obama once proposed).

That’s because, with Obama gone, the Affordable Care Act is experiencing a resurgence of popularity. In a Fox News poll last month, only 23 percent of Americans surveyed said they want the law repealed. The same poll showed that 50 percent had a favorable opinion of the law. Other polling has shown a similar rise in popularity.

That’s a dramatic change in fortunes and the reason Trump and congressional Republicans, who now control the executive and legislative branches, fear voters will punish them for whatever calamity follows Obamacare’s repeal.

The problem for Republicans is even if the law remains unchanged, voters will blame them for premium increases and any other future problem with the program. Like it or not, Republicans own Obamacare. How they wriggle out of this mess would be delightful to watch if millions of lives were not at stake.

Here in Louisiana, the political winds shift slowly, but the same dynamic is at work. If you are governor, what was once the other guy’s problem will eventually become yours.

As Gov. John Bel Edwards struggles to fix the obscene budget mess former Gov. Bobby Jindal left him, the public blames Jindal. In a February poll by the University of New Orleans’ Survey Research Center, 60 percent of those surveyed said the state’s budget crisis was Jindal’s fault. Only 13 percent blamed Edwards, while 23 percent pointed to legislators. Even 35 percent of Republicans said Jindal was the leading culprit, far more than the 21 percent who blamed Edwards.

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Louisiana’s cowering GOP krewe in Washington

By Robert Mann

If the Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation created a new D.C. Mardi Gras organization, we could call it the Krewe of Deilos. This ancient Greek word for fear and cowardice is the perfect moniker for the Congress of the chicken-hearted who cower before Donald Trump.

Cowardice is apparently what prevents Republican “leaders” like House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and four other Louisiana GOP House members from voicing public concerns about shocking behavior by Trump and his staff.

Let’s review the highlights:

During the campaign, our GOP delegation said nothing about evidence of Russia’s efforts to influence the election and undermine confidence in our democracy.

They were quiet about the stunning 2005 recording of Trump bragging about committing what amounts to sexual assault.

They’ve been mostly silent about the alarming joint report of the top U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded Russia not only attempted to influence the election, but did so to help Trump.

They’ve revealed few complaints about the inept, unconstitutional executive order that banned travel to the United States by people from seven majority-Muslim countries. (In an understatement, Cassidy said it should be “further refined.”)

They’ve backed all of Trump’s unqualified Cabinet nominees, including the ridiculously inept Education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

They uttered not a peep when Trump signed an executive order making Steve Bannon — the former publisher of the white nationalist website, Breitbart News — a principal member of the National Security Council, while he demoted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA director.

They seem unconcerned by Trump’s bizarre affection and respect for Russia’s murderous, authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. (In what passes for robust criticism in this delegation, Kennedy said on Wednesday, “I do not trust Russia. I do not trust Vladimir Putin.” One presumes he still trusts Trump.)

They were mute when Trump compromised national security by discussing confidential (and maybe classified) information regarding a North Korean missile test, all in full view of the guests at his Florida Mar-A-Lago resort.

None protested when he insulted the prime minister of one of our nation’s staunchest allies, Australia.

They voiced no objections to his false allegations of election fraud in New Hampshire and his baseless charge he would have won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal voters.

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