For people concerned with the trajectory of the US it is becoming ever more difficult to key the proverbial eye on the ball. Whether out of strategic intent as some postulate or out of near-deranged narcissism or dementia, Trump and company keep the hits coming to the point that journalists, pundits, and armchair bloggers can hardly keep up. Just when you think it can’t get more ridiculous, someone ups the ante.
We’ve dealt already with the near steady stream of lies coming from the White House, to include topics of no real significance such as crowd size and “landslide” status of victory, to more harmful claims regarding crime being at an all-time high (it isn’t), immigrants committing disproportionate amounts of crime (they aren’t), refugees flooding in with no vetting (they are thoroughly vetted and come in at a relative trickle), etc. Over the weekend we were treated to baseless nonsense about President Obama wiretapping Trump’s phones during the campaign. Today we heard a different sort of nonsense from HUD Secretary Ben Carson, equating slaves brought over against their wills to immigrants traveling to the US in search of a better life. This comparison is gallingly insensitive and moronic. (See Samuel L. Jackson’s response here.)
These statements are alternatingly ludicrous, shocking, incendiary, irresponsible, and psychotic. Some of them are tied to policy decisions, some are not, but they all have the effect of distracting us from real issues. Even when associated with legislation or executive policy, we often get too focused on how absurd or easily debunked the claim is and forget to watch what is actually happening in terms of executive or legislative action.
The wiretapping assertion was seen as a deflection from concerns over alleged Russian collusion with members of the Trump campaign. That is worthy of concern and even investigation, especially given that we know with certainty that Russia attempted to (and arguably did) influence the outcome of our presidential election through cyber activity and propaganda, and that we know certain members of Trump’s cabinet and campaign were not honest about their dealings with Russians during the campaign. There are other issues worthy of consideration as well, though, such as:
Russia: What is our overall strategy with regard to Russia? US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has stated that sanctions will remain in place as long as Russia occupies Crimea, but will that be sufficient to dis-incentivize the Russians from holding the territory? What are the proposed next steps? What of continued Russian information operations and destabilization operations within Ukraine? Haley expressed unwavering support for NATO – a departure from remarks by Trump over the last year – but Ukraine is not a NATO country (yet). How far are we willing to go? What is our plan for dealing with Russian malign influence in Europe such as cyber-attacks and influence operations meant to possibly influence elections in various countries and naval build-up in the Baltic Sea? What about Russian operations in Syria working at cross-purposes to US operations (supporting the Syrian regime and bombing US-backed rebels) or deliberate antagonism of US forces in the Black Sea. How does the White House intend to deal with these issues? How will the business connections of key cabinet members influence policy? Will pressure not to appear too deferential lead to increased strain in US-Russia relations? Will Trump continue to undermine the legitimacy of the IC and dismiss intelligence information that should inform policy decisions? What can the Congress do in lieu of executive action?
North Korea: Aside from continuing antagonistic rhetoric from the DPRK, there is the very recent issue of ballistic missile launches. DPRK attempted five launches; four were successful, and three landed within Japan’s economic zone. What is the US strategy for dealing with this rogue nation and their advancing nuclear program?
Other major global threats include China (economic competition; cyber-security issues; illegal tech transfer; naval modernization; South-China Sea), Iran (nuclear development/proliferation; terrorism sponsor); and global terrorism.
We also have Middle Eastern governmental instability, refugee crises, and humanitarian crises; Terrorism and humanitarian crises on most of the continent of Africa; Central and South American drug cartels and migratory/refugee crises; to name just a few other issues. Domestically, we have issues related to infrastructure, economic development, education, energy development, climate change, social programs, healthcare and military buildup. All of these issues are being impacted by the new cabinet and the GOP-controlled Congress. To varying degrees, these issues can be influenced by popular action, whether directed at Agency/Department leadership of legislative leadership.
My point is that, while many of the news emanating from the White House and cabinet leadership is genuinely a distraction from more important issues, we mustn’t focus all of our energy on ousting Donald Trump. Investigation is warranted, and impeachment may be a result, but in that eventuality he will be replaced by Mike Pence and the Congress will still be controlled by the GOP. Don’t direct all of your effort to the removal of one person, because Trump ultimately isn’t doing everything by himself. Contribute to legal action groups (like the ACLU), call your representatives and executive agency leadership, and volunteer locally. Take action at whatever level you can to improve inclusiveness and equity here and abroad, and don’t get too side-tracked by the quest for removal of one person.
(And, no, this isn’t a call to “stand down” from Trump-Russia concerns. Just don’t only address that one issue.)