Tom Perez, Paul Ryan and the End of 2016


For all of you who view 2016 as one of the worst years in memory, hold onto your hats because 2017 is likely to be even worse. After all, this year Barack Obama is still president, but that will come to an end January 20. Today we are still speculating about what kind of president Donald Trump will be; next year we will actually have to face the reality of a Trump presidency.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to listen more carefully to people with different political views, an approach the leadership of the Democratic Party might try as well. Not all Trump supporters come off the pages of “Hillbilly Elegy”, are in desperate financial straits or are overdosing on opiates.

Most of them are not racists or xenophobic though they do tend to have very different views about the role of government than I do and different values about the balance between community and the individual. And however much quiet discussions might add to the nation’s sense of civility, the early indications are that neither the Trump circle nor Republican Party leaders are in any mood for either compromise or conversation.

In North Carolina, the outgoing Republican Governor, defeated in his reelection bid, is conniving with the Republican dominated legislature to erode the executive powers of his successor.  You can dress that up anyway you want, but in essence it’s a coup d’etat.  Respect for the outcome of an election and for the legitimacy of the opposition party are foundations of our political system.  Since George Washington chose to leave office after two terms, the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another has been a  touchstone of American democracy.

Let me say clearly that I disagreed with the efforts to pressure electors to change their votes and not support Trump for president.  While an argument about the strengths and weaknesses of the Electoral College is a worthy debate topic, you don’t change the rules during an election.

Moreover, the proponents failed to recognize that in the absence of one candidate receiving a majority in the Electoral College, the winner would be selected by a vote of states in the House of Representatives.  Same outcome with a lot of bitterness in the process.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the contours of the Trump Administration are steadily being filled out.  As the appointments are announced, a different picture of the President-elect has emerged.

Trump has already stepped away from many of his campaign promises and assertions.  His proclaimed lack of interest in intelligence briefings, his short attention span and his proud insistence that he doesn’t read much all add up to a president who is not terribly engaged on most matters.

The risk of his blundering into a foreign policy crisis from ignorance, lack of interest or impatience has been widely noted.  Another, more likely product of his approach has not, on the other hand, received much attention.  Trump, who never served in the military, likes associating with generals.  He’s already selected three of them for high level positions.  It’s hard not to conclude that a significant factor in picking James Mattis to head up the Department of Defense was that Trump likes referring to him as “Mad Dog Mattis.”  You also wonder if his comparing Mattis to General George Patton is based only on having watched the George C. Scott movie since Trump doesn’t read books.

Then there are the very rich financial and business sector people who donated large amounts to Trump’s campaign.  These appointments have more the look of rewards for services rendered than picking a team to carry out a Trump agenda.

The appointees who are neither generals nor wealthy seem to come from an entirely different pipeline.  Most of them are people Trump doesn’t know personally, including several from the U.S. House of Representatives.  For example, he just named an extreme budget cutter to head up OMB, which won’t be easily reconciled with Trump’s announced plans for major infrastructure spending.

All roads seem to lead back to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.  Ryan, with a big assist from Trump Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, is stocking the new Administration with loyalists to himself who share a radical agenda.  So far, in addition to OMB, the list includes the head of the CIA and the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Interior.

Ryan, when he finally endorsed Trump during the campaign, spoke of his confidence that Trump would support the House Republican agenda if elected.  The Speaker apparently saw a more compliant candidate than most other observers did and realized that Trump would have little interest in the details of governing.

Paul Ryan has cultivated an image as the brains of the Republican Party as well as of a reasonable person.  He may, however, be more dangerous than even Donald Trump because he has a very ambitious agenda while Trump is a purely transactional figure.

Before I leave you with that gloomy prognosis for 2017, I want to end on a more encouraging note.  Secretary of Labor Tom Perez has announced his candidacy to head the Democratic National Committee.

Perez is a true progressive: smart, passionate about issues of equality, access and opportunity, and knowledgable about the working class voters who the Clinton campaign largely ignored in 2016.  I first met Perez in 2006 when he was a candidate  for Attorney General in Maryland.  He was ruled ineligible to run though a debatable interpretation of the State Constitution, but rebounded brilliantly.  After serving as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, he moved to the Obama Administration, first as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and then Secretary of Labor.

In every office that he has held, Perez has been a champion for the disadvantaged in our society, whether it was voting rights, benefits for workers or fairness for citizens of all categories.  He is tireless in his advocacy, relentless in his commitment.

It’s hard to imagine an individual who better personifies what the Democratic Party can and should be than Tom Perez.  His record of achievement built upon an amazing life story makes him an ideal choice to head the Democratic Party’s efforts to rebuild itself.  Finally, a bit of positive news.