Dangerous times demand citizen involvement

Sacramento Bee

For over 20 years, at the end of the year, I have given talks to students and groups on the condition of the world. Never, though, have I been as discouraged by the international situation and America’s response to its problems.

The post-World War II Western Alliance defeated Hitler and Japan, beat back a challenge from Russian communism and contained Chinese communism fairly well for many years. But now the critical strong arm of that alliance, the United States, is going AWOL in world politics.

President Donald Trump turned his back decisively on Europe and the Spring 2017 G-20 conference, where he fawned over Russian czar-in-training Vladimir Putin and his disciples. In contrast, he was curt and somewhat dismissive of our allies, as European, Asian and American press corps reported.

In the Far East, there is another dangerous problem involving North Korean missile developments and threats to South Korean and potentially other U.S. allies, such as Japan. North Korea’s leader and Trump have traded explosive barbs.

Along the way, the administration cut the State Department budget by 31 percent and, though a small amount was restored recently, we still have no ambassadors to over 20 countries, including our vital ally South Korea. This behavior gives both friends and enemies the impression that we don’t care — and that’s a hard way to entice people to trade with you and stand with you. It is the way you lose friends and shrink your own economy as well.

Recent reporting has shown that the president is scarily refusing to accept the reports his staff has assembled on Russian interference in our election, and even encouraging his hyper-conservative friends to criticize the special counsel investigation of Russian involvement in the administration and the money the Russians have loaned Trump and his sons for business.

The president cries “fake news” at every hint of criticism. This strongly suggests that the country needs to see those Trump tax returns the president is so reluctant to release. This situation would make engrossing fiction, if it weren’t so tragic and potentially threatening.

In past crises — Watergate, for example — the Republicans themselves policed their own when President Richard Nixon tried to fire Special Prosecutor Elliot Richardson. Yet now, congressional Republicans are trying to protect the president from the FBI investigation and show little interest in the reports of social-media placements by hundred of Russian “trolls.”

Topping even the questions of the president and his allies’ loyalty — or stupidity, if you prefer — is the recent tax bill. People are just beginning to realize what a stupendous giveaway it is to the wealthy, with peanuts dribbled out to anyone making less that $100,000, and perhaps one trillion dollars added to the national debt.

The big winners are the large banks and corporations who get tremendous tax breaks with little regulation on how they can and should use the money. The result: multimillion-dollar windfalls to real-estate investors such as Trump, his sons and son -in-law Jared Kushner. The bill cuts away the last remains of credibility related to Trump’s populist posturing.

The president’s approval rating is 37 percent, according to the latest Gallup poll. Republican leadership, particularly in the Senate, has been almost deaf to what will affect people. Sen. Mitch McConnell has nearly destroyed his own reputation with his total subservience to the president’s capricious moves, and Sen. Rand Paul has been pretty well irrelevant out on his own particular island.

Correcting the situation is too big and too complex a job to get done without more people paying attention. History shows us that when citizens pay attention, they can move the goal posts. There are many organizations engaged in politics, from party groups to political interest groups. Check them out, and join the battle to start cleaning out the stables.

We are overdue for serious thought and change, and it should begin by talking among ourselves, defining what we really want, and pressing forward.

John D. Stempel, retired director of UK’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, is a member of the Bluegrass Activist Alliance.