As we see potential disasters unfolding — the Roy Moore and other similar scandals, the expansion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and the growing conflict over the U.S. government budget and tax reform — it is hard not to believe that America is entering very choppy waters.
No one seems to care enough which way America is headed, despite the severity of the challenges and the lack of understanding of the real trouble at the highest level.
The New York Times on Nov. 18 suggested that the president is erratic and lacked attention and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “is widely seen as ill-suited to diplomatic leadership and determined to dismantle his own department.” The State Department’s budget has been cut 31 percent, top jobs have not been filled, communications are not being maintained and several key countries, South Korea among them, do not have ambassadors assigned. All this, if extended much longer, will create serious shortages of talent and costly mistakes.
The Pentagon is moving to raise its budget by 15 percent but if diplomacy cannot stop crises from breaking out, it will need much more than that, and many more American and friendly lives will be lost in conflicts that are avoidable with solid diplomacy.
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Such current U.S. governmental inattention borders on moral turpitude. The next step could be acceleration of an Iranian takeover of Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq, which has been set in motion by presidential aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s inept diplomacy three months ago.
Plus, Saudi Arabia is now in the throes of a revolution that no one had foreseen, which could easily scramble the world oil markets and, in the bad scenarios, run gas to $6 or more a gallon.
In the case of Mueller’s assessment of the Russian problem, the Trump administration is whistling in the dark, saying and hoping it will go away without much damage. But in recent weeks, subpoenas to a number of potential witnesses and the indictments of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, have raised the stakes considerably.
Former chief of staff Reince Preibus and others are candidates for investigation in coming weeks. If investigations continue and indictments come down, political temperatures could rise to a degree that would seriously endanger the safety of the country and the good order of our lives.
There is one last major element which, mixed with any of the others, can bring these problems squarely to all our front doors.
That is the combined efforts of the Senate and the House to produce a final tax bill that would appear to disrupt the country down to the state and courthouse levels. Both bills have big tax cuts for corporations, unincorporated businesses and rich people. They also contain new limits on popular deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes, which will hit a large percentage of us. Under the House bill “by 2027, most middle-income families would be paying more in taxes,” according to a study by the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Why, you may ask, are all these things coming out just now? Well, we have been doing business as usual and not keeping a sufficient eye on what they are doing. Perhaps it is time to bite a few congressional and senatorial ankles and put more pressure on the president and his jolly band of pirates. Demand the media pay more attention to these things.
The most important point is that we, as citizens, need to pay far more attention and speak out, or we will wind up in a major train wreck in which we, the people, will be the principal victims.
The somber echoes of the alt-right marches in Charlottesville are a poignant reminder that we are not immune to bad times and we must work to make better ones.
John D. Stempel is a retired professor from University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and a former Navy and Foreign Service officer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.