Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trump's State of the Union Lies And Skutniks And Calls To End The Rule Of Law

Politifact has this chart out on Trump's record of truth telling over his presidency.

Here's their take on the State of the Union. It doesn't look like the checked every statement to me.


What is a Skutnik?  From a January 2016 TIME article:
In his 1982 State of the Union speech, Reagan did something new. Almost 200 years after George Washington gave the first annual message from the President to Congress, Reagan’s first State of the Union started a tradition by inviting Lenny Skutnik to attend.

The article tells us that Skutnik was a 28 year old Congressional Budget Office employee, and as TIME tells the story,
"On Jan. 13, an Air Florida plane crashed into Washington D.C.’s 14th Street bridge. Skutnik jumped into the Potomac to pull a victim ashore, gaining national notoriety along the way."
Sputnik was invited to the State of the Union two weeks later. Skutnik
“was a bit unnerved when Nancy Reagan sat down next to him in the House gallery” and he wasn’t expecting to be called out by name. As the crowd clapped, “Skutnik, looking slightly stricken, stood up with the help of a shove from behind. ‘My mind went blank, I didn’t move a muscle. I was stunned. Not many people get standing ovations, and for somebody like me…’”
The article says that since then every president has used a Skutnik at one or more of their States of the Union.   I don't know what the record is, but it sure seemed like a lot at Trump's first State of the Union.  But, I guess, it's a good way to associate oneself with heroes and people who somehow illustrate issues.  It's also a good way to take up time without really talking about policy except in the most general way.

VOX identifies (and gives more detail of) 15 people who were spotlighted during Trump's speech.

  • Corey Adams: A welder from Dayton, Ohio. He and his wife became first-time homeowners in 2017. 
  • Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger: Owners of a metal fabrication company 
  • Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens; Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas: Parents of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, respectively, two teenagers murdered on Long Island in 2016. Federal authorities have indicted members of MS-13, a gang founded in Los Angeles by Salvadoran refugees, for their murders. 
  • Agent Celestino “CJ” Martinez: An ICE agent whose investigations have led to more than 100 arrests of MS-13 gang members, 
  • Retired Cpl. Matthew Bradford: A member of the Marine Corps who deployed to Iraq and was badly injured by an IED in 2007, losing his eyes and both his legs. He is now the first blind double amputee to reenlist in the Marine Corps, according to the White House.
  • Ashlee Leppert: A US Coast Guard member who participated in rescue missions during hurricane season.
  • Staff Sgt. Justin Peck: A staff sergeant in the US Army who participated in operations in Raqqa, 
  • Preston Sharp: The 12-year-old Sharp is leading an initiative to put American flags and carnations on soldiers’ graves through the Flag and Flower Challenge (#FandFChallenge).
  • Jon Bridgers: A founder of the Cajun Navy, whose volunteers helped rescue stranded victims of Hurricane Harvey. 
  • David Dahlberg: A fire prevention technician with the US Forest Service who saved 62 children 
  • Ryan Holets: A police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He and his wife adopted a baby from a homeless mother with an opioid addiction. 

One more little thing that was tucked into the speech.  I thought I heard him say something about accountability and keeping government accountable by firing federal employees.  But it went by pretty fast.  It was alarming, but then there were a couple more Skutniks and I forgot it.

Fortunately, Slate didn't forget it. 

"Under the cover of his soothing rhetoric about unity and bipartisanship, Trump called on Congress to give him unprecedented and unquestionably antidemocratic powers: “Tonight,” he said, “I call on the congress to empower every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

By design, it is easy to overlook the true significance of the second half of that phrase. But dwell on it for a moment, and imagine what this would actually look like in practice. Under Trump’s proposal, any Cabinet secretary could decide that, say, a law enforcement official investigating the president had “undermined the public trust” or “failed the American people”—and fire him on the spot. In other words, Trump is calling for an end to any semblance of independence for the IRS, the FBI, the Department of Justice, or any other federal agency.
To be sure, such legislation is unlikely to pass.  While the constant standing ovations for Trump from the Republican benches demonstrate the degree to which the GOP has now embraced the president, they are not yet at the point of dismantling the rule of law quite so brazenly; even if they did, the Supreme Court would be very likely to strike such a law down as unconstitutional.
But the fact that Trump’s authoritarian demand is unlikely to be realized anytime soon does not make it unimportant. In his first State of the Union, the 45th president of the United States asked Congress for the authority to end the rule of law. And that—not Trump’s supposedly unifying policy proposals, much less his supposedly presidential ability to read a speech off a teleprompter—should be the headline of every newspaper tomorrow.
There are rules and laws in place to insure that career government employees cannot be arbitrarily fired.  They must have first gone through an investigation and hearing to proves they violated a significant enough rule or law to justify firing.  Allowing a cabinet secretary to arbitrarily fire an employee on the spot does not comport with the rule of law.

It really shouldn't come as a surprise that Trump would like to fire any employee who displeases him, after all his fame is in part associated with the phrase "You're fired!"  And it's not inconsistent with his apparent attempts to block the investigation into his ties with Russia.  But it's chilling.

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