Watch for these Trump warning signs
With the surprising election of Donald Trump, the question on the mind of most people that I talk to is: What kind of president will he be?
Will it be the quiet, measured individual we have seen in the last week who seems almost in awe of the responsibilities he will rapidly inherit? Or will he be the bombastic, angry individual who preached a message of intolerance for minority groups, disrespect for constitutional limits and a strong inclination toward authoritarian rule?
While I am not much of a tea leaf reader, here are some signs for which I will be watching in the transition period and early Trump administration to decide which president we will actually get:
1) How was the Trump University lawsuit resolved?
Amid the “Lock her up” hysteria over the Hillary Clinton emails was lost the very real class-action fraud lawsuit over the Trump University real estate program that had been scheduled to go to trial Nov. 28 after over six years of delays, then was settled out of court last week. The $25 million settlement came with no acknowledgement of wrongdoing. We will never know how the case would have been decided if it had gone to trial, but it is a positive that the power of the presidency was not used to further delay the trial.
2) Will the Trump businesses be put into a blind trust?
Right now Trump is taking the position that it should be enough just to turn his businesses over to his children. Yet his children are intimately involved with the transition process and son-in-law Jared Kushner is likely to be a close adviser to Trump. Anything short of a blind trust will set the stage for the transfer of critical information (intentional or not) to the benefit of the Trump organization. Our own governor realized the need to avoid any appearance of impropriety and set up such a blind trust for his fortune.
3) Will John Koskinen be rapidly replaced?
Replace who??? Koskinen is the commissioner of the IRS. His five-year term is scheduled to be completed in 2018. While in day-to-day operations the IRS commissioner works under the Secretary of the Treasury, the president appoints the position with Senate confirmation. However, a commissioner can be forced out. Currently the president-elect is undergoing an IRS audit. Rapid replacement of the IRS Commissioner followed by a rapid resolution of an audit would look suspicious, especially if the tax returns were then not released by the Trump administration. The public review of the tax returns is critical to understanding what business relationships (including foreign) the Trump organization may have and what potential conflicts of interest may exist if there is no blind trust.
4) Are any solid proposals introduced to restrict First Amendment freedom of speech rights of individuals and the press?
Especially in times where either party controls the presidency as well as both the U.S. House and Senate, a free press is the best oversight vehicle that citizens have to become aware of government excesses and to ferret out conflicts of interest or wrongdoing. During the campaign president-elect Trump made no secret of his desire to sue columnists, reporters and newspapers with whom he disagreed. Any legislation to decrease protections of free speech and the press should be seen as an ominous sign towards authoritarianism.
5) Are attempts made to restrict or suspend due process requirements for government actions with any group based on race, religion, sex or other demographic factors?
Equal protection under the law is a cherished cornerstone of American democracy. If attempts are made to restrict or eliminate due process requirements to facilitate deportation of immigrants, detention of alleged lawbreakers or blocking the entry of individuals into the country based on characteristics that in the past would have been constitutionally protected would again be an authoritarian danger signal.
6) Is legislation introduced that is hostile to labor unions, worker rights and minimum wage or overtime laws under the guise of economic reform?
If economic development is pushed by laws that are so business-friendly that they reduce lower and middle class workers to the level of serfs who have to hope for their employers to be beneficent, then we may well be entering an era of domination by an authoritarian business elite. Passage of so-called economic turnaround agendas on a national level would only serve to weaken the middle class, creating an ever-larger population of discontented individuals who may be ready to respond to messages that their plight is due to immigrants, minorities or whatever group is convenient to scapegoat at the moment by authoritarian demagogues.
We do not need to wait until these events occur before taking action. Now is the time to make your legislators aware of where you stand on these issues and even more importantly continuing to make the time to maintain regular contact with them. Now is the time to join organizations that reflect your views and get active in them. The majority of voters in the U.S. wanted someone other than Trump. They can still influence the direction that the president-elect takes on policy issues, if they remember that voting is not the finishing step of democracy but the beginning.
Stephen Soltys of Springfield is a retired psychiatrist who still does volunteer teaching at SIU School of Medicine.