During four years of living, working and traveling in Asia, I learned some things about the culture. Late one afternoon the Australian corporate safety manager rushed into my Hong Kong office seeking legal advice. Two employees at a small manufacturing facility near Pusan, South Korea had died in a tragic accident. The plant manager had conducted a causation investigation but adamantly objected to a similar review by headquarters personnel. Perhaps he believed it would reflect blame on him or weaken his authority.
My recommendation wasn’t based on law: “Just suggest that he tell his people that it was ‘his’ idea to get the Hong Kong personnel involved.” After a brief phone conversation, the local manager readily agreed to this win, win plan. He was able to “save face” with his Korean staff by showing that he was in charge of the situation and the corporate safety team was able to do their job.
I don’t think President Trump understands this important nuance of Asian culture. He seems to prefer using hardball measures to force his opponents into agreements. Well, there’s no way Chinese President Xi can risk losing face with the nearly 3,000-member National People’s Congress and over a billion of his fellow citizens. Allowing Trump to bully him into a trade deal would show he’s a weak leader. I believe Xi would rather remain tough, endure a slowing economy and blame Chinese unemployment on U.S. tariffs.
China’s trade and intellectual property abuses must be confronted but Trump’s strongarm tactics could extend the current trade war into next year, seriously damage the U.S. agricultural exporting business and weaken the overall economy, perhaps for several years.
After the senseless murder of over 30 innocent people on August 3 and 4, I can’t help thinking about the 2008 decision by the Supreme Court that made these deadly rampages more likely. In Heller v. the District of Columbia the conservative majority held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to “keep and bear arms” for traditionally lawful purposes. They rejected the argument that this phrase applies to service in a militia.
This decision made gun control laws subject to stronger legal challenges and emboldened the National Rifle Association. For years, this organization has pumped millions of dollars into GOP congressional campaigns, making the ludicrous argument that any law that restricts gun ownership is the first step toward banning all guns in the United States. In 1996, Republicans even limited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s ability to study the causes of gun violence.
When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the NRA fear mongering machine went berserk. Certain rifles and pistols were flying out of stores like milk and bread after a hurricane warning. In time, dozens of manufacturers were producing military-styled semi-automatic rifles. Today, an estimated 15 million of these killing machines are owned by the American public.
Now, the slaughters in El Paso and Dayton, have revived strong demands that Congress enact legislation to ban assault rifles and approve the bill passed by House Democrats that requires background checks for all gun purchases. Trump claims he supports this legislation but he’s consulting with the NRA. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won’t allow a vote on a bill in the Senate unless he’s sure Trump will sign it. Trump’s erratic support will make the chances for passing meaningful gun control legislation in the Republican-controlled Senate very slim.
Even when Democrats regain control, however, their agenda will face an uphill battle. Conservative federal judges appointed by Trump will make sure of that.
Hardly any major legislation that has been passed by the Senate since Trump was inaugurated. Majority Leader McConnell has been using the Senate’s floor time to confirm a flood of Trump appointed judges to the federal courts. So far, the total is 144, a huge number in a president’s first term and Trump has at least 16 more months in office. These confirmations include lifetime appointments for 99 district court judges, 43 circuit court of appeals judges and 2 Supreme Court justices, all in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
Past presidents have considered American Bar Association recommendations for judicial appointments. But Trump takes his guidance from the Federalist Society, an elite organization of conservative and Libertarian lawyers that place a premium on individual liberty and favor a limited federal government. All five conservative justices on the Supreme Court are Federalist Society members who claim to interpret the Constitution narrowly and as it was written.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, himself a staunch conservative, joined the liberal justices to save Obamacare in 2012, perhaps in an effort to protect his legacy. Yet, he voted with the conservative majority in the Heller case on guns, the Citizens United v. FEC case that flooded political campaigns with corporate money and the Shelby County v. Holder case that gutted significant sections of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. I believe these last two were among the most democracy-damaging decisions in the court’s history.
This Supreme Court – and now many federal judges in the lower courts – will likely be antagonistic toward a Democratic president and a Democratic-controlled Congress that enacts laws to control guns, combat climate change or expand health care coverage.
Replacing Trump in 2020 won’t eliminate the damage he’s done – but it’s a good first step.