Shocking! Trump won’t release tax returns

White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said a few  things this morning that didn’t surprise me.

Perhaps the least-surprising statement was that her boss, Donald J. Trump, won’t release his tax returns for public review.

There. Having said that, the fact that it doesn’t surprise anyone doesn’t make it any less outrageous.

The president quite clearly should release the returns. He didn’t do so during his winning fight for the Republican nomination; he refused to do so while waging his winning campaign for the presidency.

He’s been relying on the dodge that the IRS was conducting a “routine audit.” The IRS has countered — while declining to comment on the specifics of an audit — that such a thing doesn’t preclude release of those returns for public scrutiny.

Now, though, the stakes have been raised to a new level since the election and the swearing-in of the president. There are swirling questions about whether the president has business dealings in Russia and, specifically with interests tied to the Russian government — which is the very government that has been accused of meddling in our presidential electoral process.

Trump has denied any such business ventures.

However, if the Watergate scandal taught us anything at all, it is that the public cannot take the president’s word on its face. To be fair, that rule has applied to many politicians before and after the scandal that toppled one of Trump’s predecessors.

If only this president would agree to disclose proof of what he has declared. Believe me, if he has no dealings with Russian government officials, he could start to rebuild the trust he will need to govern.

POTUS displays a clenched fist

We’ll have plenty of opportunity during the next four years to discuss politics and policy regarding the fellow pictured here.

For the next moment or two, though, I want to inquire about the image you are seeing here. It’s the president of the United States of America, standing on the podium before a yuuuge crowd on the National Mall.

He has just delivered his inaugural speech and he gestures with a clenched fist.

Is that the posture of a man truly interested in unifying the country? Is this how Donald J. Trump plans to bring people together?

It’s been said repeatedly that “words matter.” So does body language. So do gestures. They transmit certain images and reveal, I believe, a certain belief system of the person who offers the gesture.

I am not going to belabor this point. I’ve made it. Now I am out.

I just want to see the president of the United States open his arms, not raise his arm and display a clenched fist.

How do ex-presidents cope with it all?

Try putting yourself into a spot that most of us — at least everyone within my sphere of friends and acquaintances — will never experience.

That would be transferring oneself instantaneously from being the most powerful human being on Earth to being just another ordinary guy.

My mind does tend to wander into strange places at times. This is one of them.

After the election of a new president, I try to transport myself into the shoes of the individual who goes from being Somebody to a relative Nobody. How does that feel? Is there a palpable, discernible sense of great weight being lifted from one’s shoulders? Is there a temptation to thumb one’s nose at the successor or offer a snarky “Take it away, pal”?

Or is there a temptation to worry oneself silly over this or that crisis?

Barack Obama might be feeling a little weird today as he continues his transition to husband, father, son-in-law, friend, next-door neighbor.

MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews — who in a previous life served as a speechwriter for President Carter and was on hand to watch his boss hand it over to President Reagan in 1981 — offered an observation the other day I found so very fascinating.

He said the Secret Service presidential detail keeps its eyes riveted on the commander in chief and his immediate surroundings at all times. On Inauguration Day, their attention shifts dramatically at the instant the chief justice of the Supreme Court says, “Congratulations, Mr. President” to the new head of state.

It’s a ritual repeated with utmost precision and without the slightest impact on the event that’s taking place. It happened this past Friday as Barack Obama passed the baton to Donald Trump.

We’ve been focused, quite naturally, on the new president’s activities — and the protests that have greeted his arrival on center stage.

For reasons, though, that have little to do with my affection for the most recent former president, I will hope he adjusts as smoothly to a “normal life” as he did when he became the focus of billions of us living on Planet Earth.

Ex-CIA boss ‘deeply saddened and angered’

John Brennan believes the new president of the United States conducted a “shameful” display in a most inappropriate place.

I happen to agree with him.

Brennan is the former CIA director who reportedly is “deeply saddened and angered” that Donald J. Trump would stand before the CIA Memorial Wall to chastise the media for its reporting of the crowd size at the president’s inaugural ceremony.

The Hill reported this, quoting former CIA deputy chief of staff Nick Shapiro: “Former CIA director Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Donald Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes. Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself,” Shapiro said in a pair of tweets.

Yep, that’s the president.

The Memorial Wall contains 117 stars that memorialize the CIA agents who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty for the United States. They are heroes. It’s a place of honor and dignity. It is not the place for anyone — even the president — to make patently political statements.

Yet there he was today. He virtually ignored the sacrifice made by the individuals honored on that wall. The president chose instead to make cheap political points.

The former CIA director is correct. The president’s actions were a “despicable display of self-aggrandizement.”

How will the president deal with this mass protest?

I am about to state the obvious … which is that Donald Trump’s presidency is off to a rocky start.

He took the oath of office as the 45th president of the United States, gave his inaugural speech, witnessed a parade in his honor, signed an executive order or two in the Oval Office, went to some inaugural balls and then awoke this morning to an entire planet protesting his inauguration.

Millions of women — and men! — hit the streets all over the nation and the world to signal their dissent at his election. It might not end for a while.

White House press flack Sean Spicer held his first news briefing today at the White House. What did he talk about? Not about the protests … oh, no, not at all. He griped about the media’s coverage of inaugural crowd estimates!

I think the president needs to deal with this. Somehow and in some fashion he needs to address the nation about the concerns expressed on streets all across the nation.

Women are concerned about the president’s stated disrespect of women; his admission of sexual assault on women; his disparagement of women; the degrading manner in which he talks about women’s appearance. The litany of insults goes on.

Women now are fearful of what Trump and Congress will do to issues close to their hearts: reproductive rights, women’s health, equal pay, to name just three.

Let’s set aside that Trump was elected in the first place. He won an election he wasn’t supposed to win. Women around the country wanted to see of their own — Hillary Rodham Clinton — make history by becoming the first women elected president. It didn’t happen.

The candidate who did win, Trump, has a record with which he must face his critics.

Will he do it? Will he face his critics? Will he answer their concerns specifically?

I believe a real leader would — and should — stand before the nation and talk specifically about the protests that have been mounted.

Recalling another conservative press flack with fondness

Take a look at this guy. His name was Tony Snow. He was a noted conservative columnist, TV news anchor and then a White House press secretary during the George W. Bush administration.

A response to an earlier piece I posted on this blog about the current press spokesman, Sean Spicer, came from a cousin of mine — a conservative as well — who remembered Snow and the “class” he brought to the White House job he held.

My family member’s remembrance spurred a memory of my own that I want to share here.

I met Tony at a National Conference of Editorial Writers conference in Phoenix. The year was 1994. We had a drink in the lounge at the hotel where all us ink-stained wretches were staying. Snow then was a syndicated columnist for the Detroit News. We chatted and shared a few memories about politicians we both knew. I regaled him with stories about the late U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks of Beaumont; Tony knew of him and his reputation as a partisan Democrat who pretty much hated Republicans.

Not long after that, Snow got a gig at the Fox News Channel that made him famous. He became host of “Fox News Sunday.”

I left Beaumont the year after meeting Tony and moved to Amarillo.

Snow then got an invitation to speak at the annual Amarillo Community Prayer Breakfast. I got wind of the invitation and got in touch with Snow. I invited him to visit us at the Globe-News, where I was working as editorial page editor.

Tony arrived and we got reacquainted. He told me he remembered our Phoenix meeting and then we chatted about current events and his assignment as “Fox News Sunday” anchor.

Then he told me something that gives Snow some relevance in the context of today’s political/media climate. He told us at the Globe-News that his best friend on the Fox News talk show was Juan Williams, a staunch liberal columnist who was a contributor to the Fox News Channel.

Tony said his goal every Sunday was to ensure that Williams and Brit Hume — another participant on the show’s weekly panel — got into an argument. He laughed heartily as he talked about how he would bait Williams and Hume into arguing over a policy disagreement.

I mention this because Snow’s broad disagreements with colleagues did not get in the way of their friendships. We hear too little of that kind of kinship these days. Adversaries become enemies, which is too bad.

Tony died of cancer in 2008 after he became press spokesman for President Bush.

Yes, I miss him, too.

Sean Spicer: media puncher in chief

Sean Spicer sauntered into the White House press briefing room today and did something quite extraordinary.

The White House press secretary looked the media in the eye and echoed what the new president of the United States has said repeatedly: He called them dishonest.

Think about that. The fellow who will be the president’s spokesman, his point of contact with the White House press corps, took off his proverbial glove and slapped the media square in the face.

And over what? This is the best part.

He challenged the media’s reporting of the size of the crowd at Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. The crowd, he said, was bigger than the media reported. It rivaled the size of the crowd that gathered for Barack Obama’s first inaugural and was larger than President Obama’s second inaugural.

Spicer bitched about pictures he said misrepresented the size of the crowd.

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen. The president of the United States is continuing his campaign to discredit the media. He trotted out his spokesman to lash out at the press corps while he — Trump, that is — was accusing the media of being full of “dishonest people.”

It’s been said that people in power shouldn’t “punch down.” If you’re the president of the United States, you pick fights, say, with members of Congress over policy matters or you argue with heads of state of adversarial nations.

Arguing over crowd size? To be candid, a lot of Trump’s supporters think he’s right, that the media deserve to be taken down, that they are too big, too powerful, too smug, too elitist and, oh yes, too liberal.

Let’s all get ready, folks. There’s much more of this to come. Of that I am quite certain.

Trump’s anti-CIA tweets are media’s fault

Let me see if I have this correct.

Donald J. Trump sends out dozens of tweets questioning the CIA’s intelligence-gathering ability while dismissing the agency’s conclusions about alleged Russian hacking during the 2016 election.

Then he blames the media for it.

It’s the media’s fault that it reported the president’s tweets.

Is that he said today while meeting at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.?

I admit to being slow on the uptake at times. This one, though, muddles my cognitive ability.

Here’s the thing that’s even nuttier. There will be those among us who will agree with Trump. The media have somehow made up something that the president himself stated about the CIA. Didn’t he criticize the spooks for sending out false intelligence about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction?

The media deserve criticism for reporting it?

Trump said this today while meeting with CIA operatives:

“I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth, right? And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want you to know that there’s a reason you’re the No. 1 stop: It is exactly the opposite,” he said.

“I love you,” Trump concluded. “There’s nobody I respect more.”

Which is it, Mr. President?

The world is watching a ‘great’ nation’s turmoil

I’m watching the news today and getting an eye and earful about how the world is reacting to Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States.

I received this e-mail message from a friend of mine in Australia. He is a worldly fellow, a keen student of U.S. politics. My friend writes: “We’re all praying for you … and ourselves as well. We’re all in this together. For historical precedent, check out Germany 1918-1939 or the Cultural Revolution in China. I honestly thought the extent of Russian involvement in the election was grounds for treason, but clearly the rules have changed!”

No mention, of course, of the women’s marches around the world that are occurring today.

I’m guessing women marched in my friend’s city in South Australia.

I won’t elaborate on his statement regarding pre-World War II Germany or what happened in the 1960s in China.

Suffice to say that, though, that the world — if my friend’s message is any indicator, and I believe it is — cares deeply about what happens in the United States.

What does that mean? To me it means two things.

One is that we are in fact the world’s most indispensable nation.

The other aspect is that the United States of America continues to be “great,” despite what the brand new president has bellowed to the contrary.

Trump does battle with … ‘W’?

Yochi Dreazen has offered an interesting analysis on Donald J. Trump’s inaugural speech in an essay written for

It is this: The real target of the new president’s barbs and brickbats wasn’t his immediate predecessor, Barack H. Obama; rather, Dreazen writes, it was the guy who served before Obama — George W. Bush.

Here’s the essay:

When you think about it, the notion makes sense.

Trump didn’t mention the Affordable Care Act, or the Iran nuclear arms deal or the return of diplomatic relations with Cuba in his inaugural speech. Republicans all across the land have been critical of all three policy issues.

His target instead, if you parse the president’s 16-minute inaugural speech, was the amount of money we’ve spend on foreign wars while neglecting our roads, bridges, airports and rail lines.

Dreazen writes: “Take Trump’s comments about how the US had wrongly ‘spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.’ The president who launched those costly wars — and who was responsible for the bulk of the estimated $5 trillion that the US has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bulk of the 8,000 American military deaths in the two countries — was Bush, not Obama.

So, this seems to portend an interesting dynamic as the new president prepares to craft his agenda and present it to a Congress controlled in both chambers by Republicans.

GOP lawmakers do not believe we’ve wasted our effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor do they hold the Bush administration in the same highly negative light that Trump cast on it while he campaigned for the presidency. He called the Iraq War a “disaster,” a “huge mistake.”

President Bush — along with his father, Bush 41 and brother Jeb, the former Florida governor and 2016 GOP presidential candidate — returned the favor by refusing to campaign for Trump. None of them attended the GOP convention in Cleveland. They sat on their hands.

I’m going to venture not too far out on the limb here by suggesting that the Bushes are held in considerably greater regard by establishment congressional Republicans than the 45th president.

How will this play as Trump has to work with Republicans who control the flow of legislation and laws? Let’s all hold our breath … and wait.

Commentary on politics, current events and life experience

%d bloggers like this: