I've been trying to come up with a few hopeful signs to balance off the gloom and doom feelings about Donald Trump becoming our president. But I keep getting bombarded by news items like this:
1. Outgoing National Security Adviser Susan Rice says that the Trump National Security Team is so far behind in getting organized that most of them don't yet have security clearance. So they can't fully brief them before they have to take over. They're having to give them unclassified briefings as an interim.
The NSA director and his team are supposed to be the ones that bring together all the information from CIA, FBI, NSA, State Dept. and others and give the president a daily summary of what he needs to know. From what she says, they are not ready to take over. And of course this will not be unknown to our enemies, who could take advantage of this lack of preparation.
2. It's not news, but each day of new hearings on Trump's cabinet secretary nominees confirms what we have known: that a significant number of them will be in charge of an agency that they would really like to gut . . . if not outright abolish.
3. Trump's massive budget cutting plans, among other things, will include privatizing PBS -- and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
So the bad news goes from risking our basic security from terrorists and war-mongers, at one end, to cutting what enriches the quality of life at the other. Is there anything on the hopeful axis to provide even a smidgen of balance?
The only encouraging thing I see is that, in their Senate hearings, a significant number of his important cabinet choices have expressed opposition to some of Trump's more outrageous statements and plans. For example: Tillerson at State, Mattis at Defense, and Haley as U.N. ambassador all regard Russia as an adversary that we must be on guard against. Trump, at least publicly, has not reacted to what they have said in their testimony.
So it gives me a little more hope that some of his cabinet will stand up to him and give him advice that might differ from his preconceptions and from the advice he has been getting from Gen. Michael Flynn, his National Security Adviser and former foreign affairs adviser during the campaign. Gen. Flynn is the loose canon in the lot, with his conspiracy theories, his links to Russia, and his outrageous loose talk. In that way, he's probably worse than Trump himself, and he's supposed to be the one who pulls everyone's ideas together and gives a reasoned, calm assessment to the president.
Here's what the hearings have revealed about some of the nominees' positions:
1. Gen. James Mattis (Sec. of Defense) differs sharply on Russia, saying that it is "one of the top threats to American-led world order." He also strongly supports NATO and the Iran Nuclear Agreement. He also has said that he has no intentions of reversing the Obama administration's decisions on social issues in the military.
2. Rep. Mike Pompeo (Director of CIA) says he will continue to pursue investigating Russia's involvement in our election and "pursue the facts wherever they lead us." He also emphatically declared that he would not resume the use of torture in interrogations and, if ordered by Trump to do so, he would not comply.
3. Rex Tillerson (Sec. of State) also took a relatively hard line on Russia, supports our role in NATO, and he said that he is opposed to any general ban on Muslims entering our country.
4. Gen. John Kelly (Homeland Security) says a physical barrier on our border (i.e., a wall) will not fix the immigration problem. He will probably prefer to beef up technology to check identities and monitor crossings.
5. Rep. Jeff Sessions (Attorney General) opposes a Muslim registry. He also gives the impression of being a straight-forward follower of the law with deep respect for the law. The valid complaints against him stem from past times when his racist bias affected some of his decisions and his language. But its unlikely that he would go along with any attempt by Trump to circumvent the law to punish enemies, for example.
6. Nikki Haley (Ambassador to the United Nations) has differed with Trump on a number of issues that are important, first and foremost, on his opposition to the U.N. as an institution. She also joins several other nominees in differing with him on Russia, NATO, and his proposed ban on Muslims. In response to a question about differing on so many issues with the president, she pointed out that he has already changed some of his views because of discussions with people he has appointed. (He did reconsider his view that torture worked after Gen. Mattis told him that it doesn't.) Haley generally took a positive view, based on the fact that he did appoint people who differ with him and the likelihood that he will listen to them.
Do these differences with Mr. Trump, and in some cases with his National Security Adviser Gen. Flynn, indicate that Trump is choosing a cabinet that will present him with different views that will then get hashed out in discussions of input from all views? Or will it be a situation (as we have feared) that he will adopt the view of the last one to talk with him -- in most cases that being his NSA? The former would be good; the latter very bad.
There are some bad choices in these cabinet picks (a Treasury Secretary who manifests some of the worst abuses of Wall Street, an EPA Secretary who minimizes human causes of climate change, a Labor Secretary who opposes workers rights and unions, and Education Secretary whose entire focus seems to be doing away with public schools, even while she claims to be passionate about finding solutions to failing public schools). But Gen. Flynn seems in a class by himself; and, since the NSA is not subject to Senate confirmation, he has not been questioned and vetted. With him my objections are not the policy differences but that he is too much like Trump himself and seems to encourage his worst instincts instead of being a moderating influence who helps him focus and reason.
Well, whatever will be . . . it all starts at noon today.