A time to reflect

I think I have earned the right to speak to my Republican friends: I have spent more than half my voting life as a registered Republican and once served in local Republican leadership roles. I view myself as a fiscal conservative and a social centrist, a position the old Republican Party espoused. I worked for one of the campaigns of Lowell Weicker, an 18-year senator from Connecticut, in the era of Jacob Javits and Nelson Rockefeller. But in my view, the party left me, not vice versa.

But even as the Republicans moved right, I continued to understand why many stayed loyal. I even understood why so many of my neighbors and friends voted for Donald Trump. Frustration with our government and its inability to aid ordinary Americans, a fear the we are developing the rest of the world at America’s expense, fear of unchecked immigration and radical Islam, evaporation of middle-class jobs, and a stagnant or declining standard of living all gave many the urge to “throw the bastards out.”

So we did it. We elected a majority Republican House and Senate, led by Donald Trump. Is it time to question that decision? I think so.

In six short months, these elected officials have either acquiesced to or led efforts that I think are unquestionably terrible for the North Country, for New York and for America. Let’s take them in reverse order.

America’s position in the world is clearly diminished by the circular firing squad that is the Trump administration. We gained absolutely nothing but lost our leadership role by dropping out of the Paris climate accords. We are still bound by those accords through the Trump presidency (and cannot change the rules until 2020) but now have no real say in how others behave. We have offended the European Union, one of our largest trading partners and allies, so much so that Angela Merkel, the most powerful politician in Europe, has warned the block to plan on going it alone, without relying on its traditional partner, the USA. We have confused everyone in the Mideast by putting our thumb on the scale to move our implicit support to Saudi Arabia, away from the anti-Assad forces in Syria, and against an Iran that by all reports was behaving as hoped for under the negotiated anti-nuclear deal. We have dissed NATO and proclaimed Brexit a winner, even though both further weaken our strong relations with Europe and embolden Russia. But most Trump voters cared more about domestic than foreign affairs, so let’s talk about U.S. policies.

Trump campaigned on replacing “Obamacare,” revitalizing our crumbling infrastructure, making our tax system fairer, renegotiating trade deals to protect American jobs, and removing environmental and financial regulations that supposedly were holding back American growth.

It now turns out that health care is “more complicated” than expected. Who knew? And the various replacement bills threaten to reverse most or all of the gains made under the Affordable Care Act in the number of insured citizens, coverage of pre-existing conditions, and even the cost of health care. Worse, the replacement bills repeal the special tax on very wealthy taxpayers that was making subsidies for health care coverage possible, a huge tax windfall for those who need it least.

But health care is just one of many campaign promises not yet kept and not seemingly possible any more. There are also regulations that supposedly stifle growth. Regulations like not letting coal companies dump their “tailings” into streams and rivers, regulations that protect ordinary borrowers and credit card users from fraudulent or deceptive practices, mileage standards that require automobiles to become more efficient, and clean-air regulations that keep toxic elements out of our air and eventually our kids’ drinking water. So far, not one of these proposed deregulations has been shown to improve American productivity or competitiveness. In fact, most serious analysis shows that America becomes MORE competitive when it is a world leader in clean technology and responsible business practices.

But then there is the local question. Our North Country neighbors are among the most affected by the proposed new health care law. Many of them are among the 24 million expected to lose coverage under the House bill, and there is little that the Senate can do to remedy that without rescinding the key tax cut mentioned above, which in turn kills the funds needed for the tax reductions the administration has proposed that mostly benefit the rich.

Beyond health care there is the environment: the gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency and the assault on the clean air regulations promises to reverse decades of good news for our Adirondack water and air, a steady reduction in acid rain, mercury deposition and other horrors inflicted on us by environmentally (and economically) unsound power plants in the Ohio Valley and points west. Despite these assaults on local values and needs, our Republican representatives continue to parrot administration doublespeak and defend indefensible policies that affect their constituent most.

Then there is Trump himself. Our savior turns out to have feet of clay. Child-like, narcissistic, vindictive and an unguided missile, he has turned his back on those he courted to elect him and turned the presidency into a joke. If you are still a loyal Trump supporter, forgive me for that, but as someone who travels abroad on business a lot, I cringe at the view of the U.S. from afar. We are no longer the “shining city on a hill” that leads in its respect for the rule of law, civil liberties and its defense of freedom.

My plea to those of you still in the Trump camp is simple: Keep the values that made you want change and more respect for your elected officials. But take charge: Go out and work for candidates who will do what Trump said he would, i.e., improve but not destroy health care, re-empower our middle class, continue the job-creating (not killing) gains that new technologies and reasonable regulations create, and bring respect back to the White House, the Congress and America.

Lee Keet lives in Saranac Lake.