The Great American Chess Match is underway – President Donald J. Trump vs. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. I’d like to believe the majority of Americans are as curious about this riveting duel as I am, but recent reporting tells us that most Americans are more concerned with how their two income households can make the rent, find or keep a good job, or help their children get to college than they are with Russian interference in the 2016 election or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
I’m not surprised but I find it alarming, because the Great American Chess Match may very well determine how American families will have to deal with their primary concerns in the future.
Chess is a game of strategy and tactics, and while Trump and Mueller are both cagey strategists their tactics are dramatically different. Trump distracts us from his end game (whatever that is) by turning over the board and scattering the pieces. Mueller quietly picks them up, resets the board, and methodically moves them as he closes in on the king.
America is in the midst of a dynamic reset with the pendulum swinging wildly between the structures the “founding fathers” carefully designed to protect the republic and the current global swerve toward populist driven autocratic governance. How else do we make sense of Charlottesville, the North Korean summit, the abusive treatment of traditional allies, Trump’s servile, bootlicking bromance with Putin in Helsinki, and his inconceivable decision to invite Putin to the White House for a state visit this fall?
For months I was in denial as Trump and his posse went about dismantling government institutions, ignoring traditions, repealing regulations and upsetting protocol. Look at what’s happened at the Department of Justice, State Department, Treasury, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, EPA, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Education, and most brutally by Homeland Security’s separation of migrant parents from their children.
I believed our system of checks and balances would counteract Trump’s one-man rule autocratic impulses and Republican leaders would see and react to the damage this ignorant, arrogant pretender was doing to their institutions and the lives of ordinary Americans.
I was wrong; tax cuts for the rich haven’t trickled down to wage earners, draconian border enforcement hasn’t kept asylum seekers from looking to America for a safe haven, racist xenophobic travel bans haven’t kept us safe from foreign intrusion, and cozying up to autocrats like Putin, Orban, Duterte, and Erdogan hasn’t enhanced our standing in the world order.
Protectionist tariffs are hurting American farmers and manufacturers like Harley-Davidson and Boeing. In March, 45 American trade associations representing some of the largest companies in the country warned in a letter to the White House that such tariffs would raise prices on consumer goods, kill jobs and drive down financial markets. But the beat goes on…
My childhood friend Bob Lucas (above), won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in macroeconomics predicting outcomes based on “rational expectations.” Like Bob, I’m a fan of rational expectations and I suppose it’s the reason I was in a state of denial for so long. Trump’s outrageous violations of normative behavior are crazy, vulgar, and undemocratic, and my “rational expectation” was that one of the traditional forces – the Senate, the House, the Department of Justice, or the Supreme Court would step in and end the carnage. It hasn’t happened.
Like many Americans I haven’t always supported the policies and decisions of those traditional forces but until the election of 2016 I believed that they and our presidents acted on the belief that what they were doing was best for the country and most Americans.
I was wrong. Rational expectations are out the window with this president and his spineless Republican Congress. I can’t wrap my head around it. I thought Congress would resist an assault on our democracy. I thought the American electorate would rebel too. I thought the rule of law would prevail. Not so. During his first year in office, his support hovered around a base of roughly 30%, but today his numbers are alarming. A recent poll shows that 88% of Republican voters approve of him and his actions. That’s not a majority of the population but it’s his base and it’s growing and coalescing in support of his policies. To me it’s scary to think he has that kind of support.
There is no way to explain the phenomenon in terms of rational expectations. We would normally expect Republicans to support limited government, free trade, individual liberty, lower taxes, balanced budgets, reduced deficits, and moral leadership. Strike those expectations. Trump has hijacked the party and today’s Republicans are redistributing wealth upward, increasing the national debt by more than a trillion dollars, imposing tariffs that restrict trade, and building useless walls while their president personally profits from his elected position and pays porn stars and Playboy models to keep them quiet about his depravity. What’s up with that?
Today, I’m pissed and we all should be. Even if you’re dyed in the wool “Live Free or Die” conservative you should be pissed. Donald Trump is an imposter who’s hijacked your government. Don’t let him get away with it. Find a righteous candidate who believes in democratic ideals and support the hell out of him or her.
When the Great American Chess Match is over I’m counting on Mr. Mueller to show us that the Emperor’s new clothes are the real Fake News and we can once again resume the test of the greatest political experiment in history… 240 years and counting. Today, our future is in the hands of a clear-eyed, clear-thinking, Princeton and Harvard educated ex-Marine bolstered by a free and independent press. Let’s hope the system is up to the test.