January 1, 2017


          During the Christmas season it is customary to send greetings to friends and distant family members that include wishes for a “Happy New Year.” Although the phrase did show up again this year many of us have a sense of foreboding. There is major concern, if not outright apprehension, that our political leadership is likely to drastically interfere with our “inalienable right” to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The year 2017 is likely to become a crucial one for our country and over its entrance portal hang question marks as to where the Trump administration will lead us. On a personal level this will be the 18th presidential inauguration I will have witnessed since coming to this country and none had been accompanied by this extent of unease around the country.

          The question mark I placed in the headline of last month’s installment can now be removed unless some disaster was to befall the President-elect prior to January 20. The vote recount effort has fizzled and so did the attempt to sway Republican electors to change their vote. Although the official electoral vote count will have to wait till January 9, when Congress reconvenes, the media have already told us the result and the January 9 ceremony will be just that, a ceremony. It is time to get used to the thought of a President Trump, which had been unimaginable a year ago. As I wrote on February 1 in these pages after President Obama’s last State of the Union address it was obvious that Republicans had already assigned him to “lame duck” status and whatever he wanted to achieve during his last year was irrelevant. To prove the point John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress during early March, just prior to Israeli elections. The purpose was to give him an opportunity for a blistering attack on the Obama administration’s impending nuclear agreement with Iran. There was to be no cooperation with their Democrat colleagues and when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia died in late February the Republicans blocked Obama’s effort to appoint his replacement. They were waiting for the November election that would bring them the hoped for Republican victory. The old saying “be careful what you wish for” proved again true. They did win in November, but their new standard bearer was hardly what they had imagined.

          In last year’s April 1 issue, entitled Twin Specters Haunting America’s Politicians, I mentioned the unexpected rise of Bernie Sanders on the Democrat and Donald Trump on the Republican side. The issue then continued with a comparison of Trump’s “movement” with Hitler’s “Bewegung” prior to his appointment to the Chancellorship on January 30, 1933. There are indeed some parallels, as shown in that essay, but to round out the picture the differences also need to be mentioned.  This will be done in the February installment because for now we have to discuss the President-elect’s activities during the past month.

          Mr. Trump was quite busy. He conducted a “Thank you” tour through the states that had awarded him the sought after prize and some of our Utahn’s were disappointed that he did not include our state. But others, although Republican by mental outlook if not party affiliation, were less pleased with his election and there was talk that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would not participate in the inauguration ceremony. The issue was resolved that those who felt that their conscience would not allow them to attend would not be forced to do so and the Choir has a sufficient number of other volunteers who would do President Trump the honor.

          The major portion of Mr. Trump’s considerable energy was devoted towards filling the positions for White House Staff as well as Cabinet and Ambassadorships. All in all about two thirds of them have so far been filled and some of the persons who have been named have raised serious concerns. It is becoming obvious that much of the campaign rhetoric cannot readily be discounted because the people he is surrounding himself with are mostly in agreement with it. Since too little is known about some of the nominees I’ll concentrate here on those who are likely to become major players on the international scene. This is, after all, the arena where the most important decision of peace vs. war will be made. The following information comes from Wikipedia to which I express my thanks.

Vice-president Mike Pence is a solid Republican conservative who represents Tea party values and is against the closure of Guantanamo. Internationally he expressed unqualified support for Israel’s current policies and is against a Palestinian state. He also favored the Iraq war as well as Kaddafi’s removal. He is against the Assad government in Syria and Russia’s help to keep it in power. The Iran nuclear treaty should be “ripped up.” He believes that Israel has the right to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities if its politicians felt the need to do so. In spite of all this belligerency he regards himself as not only a Christian, but “a born again, evangelical Catholic.” How his political convictions square with the teachings of Jesus is a question nobody seems to raise but goes to the root of our problems. We are probably, without even realizing it, the most hypocritical country the world has ever seen; although the British Empire was its close second.

          White House Chief of Staff will be “Reince” (Reinhold Richard) Priebus who graduated with cum laude from law school and is Chairman of the Republican National Committee. He seems to incorporate middle of the road Republican sentiments and tries to build bridges rather than blow them up. He may provide a voice of sanity in what is bound to be a turbulent White House. But how he will be able to get along with “Counselor” Steve Bannon, over whom he has no control, because Trump made them co-equals, is an open question. If Priebus is the man I believe him to be his tenure may be reasonably short lived.

Steve Bannon seems more in line with Trump’s ideas about what the world should look like. He clearly is what one may call a “colorful character.” He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1976, has a Master’s degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University as well as in 1985 a Master’s of business administration with honors from Harvard Business School. He served for seven years in the US Navy, part of which was spent on board of the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster before becoming special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon. Thereafter he worked at Goldman Sachs in the Mergers and Acquisition Department. With colleagues from Goldman Sachs he then launched Bannon & Co. a “boutique investment bank” specializing in media, which turned out to be quite lucrative. After its sale he became an executive producer in the Hollywood film and media industry. But while managing Bannon & Co. he also became acting director of “Earth-science research project Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. Under his aegis the emphasis was shifted from research on space exploration and colonization toward pollution and global warming. Through his media contacts he met Paul Schweizer and publisher Andrew Breitbart. Thereafter Bannon became a founding member of the board of Breitbart News, an ultra-right wing publication. Bannon commented: “We regard ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class.” In August he joined the Trump campaign as its chief executive officer. He likes to regard himself as a villain and in a November 18 interview he remarked in regard to negative comments about him: “Darkness is good: Dick Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they are blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” All one can say is that at least he’s honest and that hypocrisy is not part of his character. On the other hand how a person of this type will be able to get along with his partner Reince is a good question and this is why I feel that the latter’s White House stint may not last the four years of Trump’s presidency. This expectation receives additional likelihood when one considers some of the other White House appointments, which by the way do not need congressional approval.  

National Security Advisor Mike Flynn seems to be a kindred soul to Bannon. He is a retired US Army Lt. General with combat service, conventional and special operations assignments, as well as those dealing with intelligence matters. In April of 2012 President Obama nominated Flynn as the 18th Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The assignment was short-lived and he resigned from the position two years later. Resignation was the polite word for having been fired. Rumor had it that he had been “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management and other non-specified complaints. He was also “loose with facts” and his repeated questionable assertions were regarded as “Flynn facts,” which would also be applicable to his new boss, Mr. Trump. Flynn stated that he disagreed with Obama’s policy of removing Syria’s President Assad because his agency’s intelligence reports concluded that radical Islamists were the main force in the Syrian insurgency. His constant stream of warnings in this regard to an administration that in his words “didn’t want to hear the truth,” led to his dismissal. He also stated that the drone war, as conducted by Obama, is futile and fuels the conflict. While I agree with these assessments his views on Islam cannot be condoned. He is reported to have said on Fox News that the Muslim faith is one of the root causes of Islamist terrorism and he described Islam as a political ideology and a cancer. On Twitter he stated that fear of Islam is rational and that Islam wants 80% of people enslaved or assassinated. These notions reminded me of the years I lived in the Third Reich where “the Jew” was assigned the role of ultimate evil.   

Since not enough is known about the political views of other White House staff appointees I shall now mention some key nominees for cabinet positions and ambassadorships. In contrast to White House staff positions these will require Senate approval. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, was named Secretary of State. He has no experience in the diplomatic service but his extensive business contacts around the world are felt as an appropriate substitute. He has friendly relations with the Russian government and was awarded in 2013 the “Order of Friendship” by President Putin alongside his Italian colleague Claudio Descalci, head of Eni.

For Secretary of Defense retired Marine Corps General James N. Mattis was chosen. He was greatly respected by the troops because he shared their hardships and was also known for having carried Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations at all times with him. He never married, does not have children, and was nicknamed the “Warrior Monk” for his devotion to literature on war and other aspects. His political views can only be described from my perspective as mixed. He admonished his troops that the civilian population has to be respected because “whenever you show anger or disgust towards civilians, it’s a victory for al Qaeda and other insurgents.” For the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he supports the two state solution. He regards the current situation as: “unsustainable” and that the settlements are harmful for the peace process and could eventually lead to an apartheid state. He appreciates the work Secretary Kerry has done for wisely focusing laser like on a two state solution. Iran rather than ISIS, he feels, is the principal threat for stability in the Middle East but the nuclear accord, in spite of being flawed; we will just have to live with. As far as Russia is concerned he sees Putin as wanting to dismantle NATO and that the President-elect’s conciliatory statements towards Russia are ill-informed.

As head of the Department for Homeland Security Marine Corps General John Francis Kelly was chosen. Wikipedia only tells us about his successful military career but there is no information on his political views. 

For the position of head of the Energy Department Rick Perry, former governor of Texas was nominated. It is ironic that in one of the debates during Primary season he listed government departments he would abolish if he were to be elected but couldn’t recall “Energy” which contributed to his early withdrawal from office seekers. The department is actually a hybrid for civilian and military affairs. The six volumes of the 2017 budget request that had been submitted to Congress lists in the first two items related to the country’s nuclear and other defense programs. In regard to political views he severely criticized the Federal Reserve for printing money that serves partisan political purposes. He was also opposed to Trump’s Wall on our border with Mexico and would treat undocumented immigrants and their children more leniently. He is skeptical about the human contribution to climate change but is in favor of clean energy, especially “new” coal. In regard to foreign affairs he is a supporter of the state of Israel with apparently little sympathy for the Palestinian’s plight and also favors water-boarding to extract information from prisoners.

In regard to ambassador positions there are two that could have a major impact. One is to the United Nations and the other to Israel. For the UN position the governor of South Carolina, Nimrata “Nikki” Haley (née Randhawa) was proposed. Her parents immigrated from Punjab, India, via Canada and she holds a BS degree in accounting. She is married to Michael Haley in a joint Methodist-Sikh ceremony and identifies with both faiths. Politically she is regarded as “a strong supporter of the State of Israel.” Yet her personal background might suggest that this may not automatically include unqualified acceptance of Likud policies towards Palestinians.

The nomination for ambassador to Israel, on the other hand, can only be regarded as highly problematic. Mr. David Melech Friedman is a bankruptcy lawyer whose only qualification for the job seems to be that he is a long-standing friend of Donald Trump whom he rescued from disaster during the bankruptcy proceedings over his Atlantic City properties. If he were to be confirmed by the Senate a new Palestinian uprising would be unavoidable.

Mr. Friedman is an ardent Zionist who is regarded as standing even to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu. He has a home in an affluent section of Jerusalem, and makes considerable financial contributions to Israeli charitable institutions. Concerns for Palestinians or sentiments in regard to Arab feelings do not exist and he strongly favors the continuation as well as expansion of the settlement program. He also favors the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to indicate America’s support for this city’s status as “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” Not only are Arabs discounted in his view so are American Jews who do not subscribe to this concept and who feel that their first loyalty is towards the US rather than Israel. Their political headquarter is on Washington’s  J Street and Friedman labeled them as “worse than Kapos.” These were Jewish inmates of concentration camps who had been put in charge over the other Jewish inmates to keep the system running. Their official title was Funktionshaeftlinge i.e.  prisoners who served the regime, thereby reducing the number of SS troops that would otherwise have been required to keep order and oversee forced labor. They did their level best in regard to brutality to please their Nazi superiors in order to keep their jobs and with it their perks. This is, therefore, the worst insult a Jew could hurl against a fellow Jew.

David Remnick Editor of The New Yorker and secular Jew addressed the problem a Senate confirmation of the Friedman nomination would present for the US as well as the rest of the world. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump_daily_bankruptcy_israel_ambassador_david_friedman. The  article appeared in the  December 16 issue and was headlined: “Trump’s  daily bankruptcy and the ambassador to Israel.” It is worth reading but I don’t think his conclusion that whoever is appointed to the ambassadorship is really irrelevant because “the Palestinians have given up anyway,” is necessarily correct. A US ambassador is expected to represent American interests rather than those of a political party. Our country, as a whole, is judged by the locals on his/her conduct on the scene. Trump, as well as in the past Mitt Romney, have promised the relocation of the embassy but neither one has considered the backlash against our country that would result. One cannot think of a better present to ISIS because they could rightfully state that America has sold out Muslims, and especially Arabs, to Jewish interests. Their only possible answer would be more Jihad. It seems likely that volunteers would flock to its banners and terrorism would intensify world-wide because it is the only weapon at their disposal at this time. Let us not forget that Osama bin Laden created al Qaeda in response to the Saudi government allowing us to establish bases in his Holy Land as part of the first Gulf War under President Bush 41. Jerusalem is the second holiest city for Muslims and permanent exclusively Jewish occupation, that threatens access to the Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa mosque, is likely to be regarded as intolerable. One truly wonders how Trump and his supporters can be so blind to what is obvious to anyone who is not biased by political or religious prejudices.

While Trump may backpedal on other campaign promises, Zionism is a family affair and he is likely to get caught in its snares. He owes his electoral success largely to his son-in law Jared Kushner. But Jared is not necessarily a free agent. His father is a fervent Zionist and the fact that Ivanka had to convert to the orthodox branch of Judaism prior to marriage is testimony to the father’s influence over his son. Even if Trump might see that unquestioned support of Zionist aspirations is not a wise course for America, he will run into opposition from some family members as well as some of the people he has appointed or nominated.

During the last week of December President Obama attempted to throw up two roadblocks to the Trump bandwagon. He instructed our ambassador to the UN to abstain from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s settlement policy and he also placed further sanctions on Russia for its cyber meddling with our election. One obviously wonders about the timing because the President has only three weeks left in office and will be unable to follow up on his convictions. It seems that the Israeli vote abstention was designed to make his views clear for posterity while the Russian initiative was intended to show that he is not in favor of any rapprochement with that country. To emphasize the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire secretary Kerry gave an impassioned speech in which he expressed his frustrations over the failure of bringing the two sides to the peace table. He criticized both for lack of faith and while he appreciated Israel’s security concerns there was no excuse for the settlement program because it will make the two State solution impossible. Yet it is the only way to achieve a permanent peace. If Israel were to continue to pursue its present course towards a single Jewish State it could no longer be democratic because nearly half of its people would have been disenfranchised. The speech was a cri de coeur and an attempt to set the record straight. But he found no echo in the media who roundly denounced him for being critical of Israel.

What does all of this tell us about the incoming New Year? One thing can safely be predicted: it will be turbulent. The different opinions in his administration on fundamental policy questions will be hard to reconcile and any hope that he will be able to rally Congress and the majority of the American people to his decisions is likely to remain unfulfilled. All we can realistically hope for is that he will be prevented from inflicting further harm on us and the world by rash, ill-considered actions. This is the major danger. He would need to realize that any action he undertakes will automatically lead to a reaction by the other side. My father taught me an ancient Roman admonition: quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem. Whatever you do, do it wisely and consider the outcome. It is truly staggering to consider how much evil could have been avoided if our political leadership had adhered to this simple statement.

The book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament sums up the wisdom of the day: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born; a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up, that is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal ….” So how should mankind conduct itself? Basically the advice was carpe diem: “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works.” But it was not quite as simple as that because the final conclusion was: Fear God and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” Prayer to the Divinity, which is so essential for Christians, seems not to have been in the preacher’s vocabulary. Nevertheless now is the time to pray for our country so that the abyss may yet to be avoided.

It is remarkable that at the end of life I should be reliving, on the other side of the world, some aspects of early adolescence. I shall never forget the evening of March 11, 1938 when the family sat at dinner, the radio played classical music and the program was interrupted by an announcement that Kurt von Schuschnigg, the chancellor of Austria, was about to address the country. He told us that the German government had demanded that Sunday’s plebiscite in regard to Austria’s independence be cancelled and a Nazi government installed. Failing to do so would have resulted in Austria’s occupation by the German Wehrmacht. After urging the citizenry to avoid bloodshed he concluded with: We yield to force. May God protect Austria! We were stunned; life had changed from one moment to the next. Regardless of Schuschnigg’s abdication the Wehrmacht was actually already on its way. For Austrians the “thousand year Reich” lasted all of eight but it took about another 25 before the country recovered to some extent from the ravages Hitler had inflicted.

For America the lesson is that we, the private citizens, will be in no position to avert looming disasters. We can talk, we can write, we can protest, but it will be of no avail. Greater powers are at work. In Goethe’s Walpurgisnacht scene Faust, and Mephistopheles find themselves amidst a mob on the Blocksberg that strives to get a glimpse of Satan who holds court at the top. The memorable phrase is: Du glaubst zu schieben und wirst geschoben,” You believe that you are pushing but are being pushed. This seems to characterize also what can be called our Trumpistas who believe they’ll find salvation in their attempts to rectify the system. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan is supposed to have answered a journalist as to what is most likely to blow governments off course: “Events, my dear boy, events.” Yes indeed. They will inevitably befall President Trump just as they did all previous ones. How he will react to them cannot be predicted but it is bound to profoundly affect all of us.

 For politicians it is customary to finish some patriotic speech with “God bless America.” They may or may not mean it, but not to say these words would get them into serious difficulty with the media. But in these troubled times it behooves us to be more humble and pray that God may protect us from the foolishness of our political leaders in this year and hopefully even enlighten them as to the likely consequences of their actions.     

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