When he’s right, he’s right

December 30, 2018

In this column, I’ve written several times that I’m not a fan of the current president of the United States. I wish he’d never gotten elected. I believe he’s a cruel authoritarian and a narcissist beyond repair and that he’s appointed a gaggle of corrupt, incompetent and/or repugnant toadies to high positions. If I had that many loathsome vermin in my cabinet, I’d be on the phone with Orkin right now.

But dadgummit, when he’s right, he’s right and deserves credit. You don’t have to overlook Donald Trump’s tower of flaws to recognize good decisions. And I’ve seen a few in recent days. Between the time I’m writing this and the time it’s published, he’s liable to do 20 things — and tweet 200 things — to make me regret this piece. But like I say, credit where credit is due.

First, on Dec. 20, Trump signed the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, which, among all the other things farm bills do, legalized the production of industrial hemp throughout this great nation. He didn’t take the stance of our outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez that legalizing hemp would lead to confusion among law enforcement because hemp is from the same plant family as marijuana. (For all her pro-police rhetoric all these years, this position sure doesn’t respect the intelligence of the brave men and women in New Mexico law enforcement.)

The farm bill takes hemp out of the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the new law, prospective hemp growers will have to submit cultivation plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture or state government agencies. Because our Legislature won the veto battle over Martinez earlier this year, the state Department of Agriculture already has started accepting applications from New Mexico farmers who want to grow hemp.

Hemp has so many uses — getting stoned isn’t one of them — that this law has the potential of creating a whole new industry in New Mexico.

Just one day after signing the farm bill, the stopped clock that is our president was right again. He signed the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform measure.

This new law — long overdue in my book — gives judges more discretion in sentencing some drug offenders and increases prisoner rehabilitation efforts. The legislation increases “good-time” credits for federal inmates. It also makes retroactive reforms made by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. That law reduced the disparity of sentences between federal crack and powder cocaine convictions.

The new law only affects the federal courts and corrections system, which currently has more than 180,000 inmates. And some have noted that the reforms in the bill are fairly modest. As German Lopez wrote on Vox, “Nothing in the legislation is that groundbreaking, particularly compared to the state-level reforms that have passed in recent years, from reduced prison sentences across the board to the defelonization of drug offenses to marijuana legalization.”

But as the title of the law says, it’s — hopefully — just a “first step.”

One great thing about signing legislation is that a temperamental president doesn’t get to take it back. If Trump changes his mind about these issues, he can’t unsign and veto either bill.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for another Trump decision, for which I’m offering limited praise: pulling American troops out of the hellhole that is Syria.

Last week, Trump tweeted, “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever?”

When I saw this, I heard a voice in my head. It wasn’t Trump’s, it was my late, beloved pacifist grandmother. From the time I was in junior high until the war ended when I was in college, Nana made similar statements, not about Syria, but about Vietnam.

I’m still uneasy about the impulsive way Trump made this call. And I do worry about the fate of the Kurds, about what Trump might have promised the authoritarian regimes of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. (Is the latter country’s offer to rebuild Syria just blood money for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi?) And I have to wonder if Trump will follow through, given that he’s got a whim of iron.

But he’s right and Nana was right. We shouldn’t have our military in all these places over so many decades.

Now, if you’re not already hating me for praising this awful president, I’ll give you another piece of ammunition:

I also like Melania Trump’s red Christmas trees.

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