Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He named Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, as his choice for Secretary of Commerce.

Ross is most widely known as the owner of the International Coal Group, which operated a coal mine in Sago, WV. It was the site of a 2006 explosion that trapped 13 workers underground, 12 of whom died. Since Ross's purchase of the mine in 2004, it had come under intense scrutiny for its unusually poor safety record. Grieving families had to be physically restrained from company officials when the death toll was announced.

Ross admitted that he was aware that the mine had accumulated hundreds of citations for safety violations in the year before the fatal explosion, including 16 at the highest level of severity that regulators issued. In the aftermath of the disaster, he was criticized for the paltry size of the relief fund that his company set up for the victims' families--and the fact that Ross himself, a billionaire, had contributed nothing to it. 

Trump campaigned heavily in coal country, promising to revive the industry, which has suffered as demand moves towards cheaper and cleaner energy sources, by relaxing regulations.

What's the problem here?

  • The coal miners who supported Trump may not feel they're being helped by the appointment of a negligent mine owner to the Cabinet.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He suggested stripping Americans of their citizenship as punishment for certain (legal) forms of protest.

Under the Constitution, no natural-born citizen of the United States can ever be stripped of citizenship. Naturalized citizens can only have their citizenships revoked for certain crimes related to the citizenship process, like lying on an application. Trump was talking about flag-burning, which the Supreme Court has upheld as protected speech under the First Amendment. 

How is this a bad thing?

  • Making protest a crime and exiling the leader's political opponents is what happens in dictatorships.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed, via his press secretary, that his 306-electoral vote victory was a "landslide" and a "blowout."

16 of the last 20 electoral vote margins were larger, and Trump is only one of two electoral vote winners in the past century to lose the popular vote.

Later, Trump himself continued a multi-day Twitter tirade regarding his popular vote loss. He first castigated the Stein and Clinton campaigns for seeking a recount, then lashed out at CNN and their reporter Jeff Zeleny for questioning Trump's claim that "millions" of illegal votes had been cast for "#corruptHillary." Trump's assertion matches one from an unsourced story picked up by the Trump-friendly conspiracy site InfoWars.

Official tallies at the moment show Hillary Clinton ahead in the popular vote by about 2.2 million votes, or 2.4% more than Donald Trump received. 

Why should this bother anyone?

  • It's bad to undermine confidence in American elections.
  • Claiming that "millions" of votes were illegally cast against him makes it sound like Trump is very emotionally sensitive on the subject of the popular vote.
  • Presidents-elect should probably not be getting their news from websites that claim the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday week in review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He tweeted out a recommendation that Nigel Farage, former Brexit advocate and a campaign surrogate for Trump himself, be appointed the UK ambassador to the US. Farage is a political enemy of Theresa May, the current British Prime Minister.

British diplomats are not chosen for political reasons. The current ambassador, Kim Darroch, was not expected to leave his post. Ambassadors are supposed to represent their own countries' interests, not those of the leader of the countries they're appointed to.

Trump also admitted, through an IRS report from his foundation, that it had engaged in numerous acts of illegal "self-dealing," or using the charity's funds to personally profit Trump and his family. In one instance, it accepted as a "donation" $150,000 that Donald Trump was owed by an influential Ukrainian steel baron as a speaking fee for a 20-minute speech. This would have allowed Trump to illegally evade paying taxes on that income. It also suggests that Trump's influence can be bought through donations to his foundation, something he accused Hillary Clinton of during the campaign.

So what?

  • Things that needlessly upset the governments of important allies are bad.
  • Some jobs are too important to give as gifts to your friends.
  • It's wrong to illegally evade taxes through your charity.
  • If something is corrupt when your political opponent does it, then it's corrupt when you do it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

What did Donald Trump Do Today?

He reacted to the news that Fidel Castro had died with a four-word tweet: "Fidel Castro is dead!"

How is this a bad thing?

  • It's bad if the president-elect doesn't know about diplomacy.
  • It's bad if the president-elect knows but doesn't care about diplomacy.
  • It's very bad if the president-elect knows and cares about diplomacy but can't restrain himself from undiplomatic pre-dawn tweets anyway.

Friday, November 25, 2016

What did Donald Trump Do Today?

He allowed infighting between two hostile camps coalescing within his transition team to spill out into the press.

The debate over whether Trump should offer the Secretary of State job to Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani now seems to be oriented around whether Giuliani should be "rewarded" with the job for his political loyalty, or whether Romney should be forced to accept humble himself by issuing a public apology to Trump before being offered the post.

Romney and Trump made no secret of their mutual disdain for one another during the campaign. Trump bragged that Romney "would have dropped to his knees" in exchange for Trump's support in 2012, while Romney called Trump a "phony and a fraud" in remarks aimed at knocking Trump out of the 2016 race.

So who cares about this?

  • The Secretary of State's job is too important to be given out as a political plum.
  • Factions appearing in a president-elect's handpicked transition team within three weeks of the election is not a good sign.
  • Presidents should probably be above needing to see their political rivals publicly shame themselves for opposing them.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declined comment, through his business organization, on a report that the Secret Service was in negotiations with Trump's business to lease the space needed to protect Trump himself when he stays in New York, and his wife and young son who will be living there indefinitely.

The retail price of the floors is $3,000,000 per year, at least for now. By way of comparison, this is more than 100 times more than the Secret Service paid to rent a cottage owned by Joe Biden adjacent to his house ($26,400/year). 

Trump has enjoyed a string of sudden reversals of fortune in his business affairs since being elected on Nov. 8. This would be another; the two floors under consideration are currently vacant, and Trump Tower has been suffering from unusually low occupancy overall recently.

So what?

  • As long as Trump or his heirs remain in direct control of his business empire, the Secret Service will be paying him for the privilege of protecting him.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

Carson is a retired neurosurgeon, with no political or administrative experience outside of running for the Republican presidential nomination.  (Some reports have this happening on Tuesday; others suggest that Carson was being considered for a number of jobs until Trump settled on the HUD spot on Wednesday.)

How is that a problem?

  • Some people think that Cabinet secretaries should have some knowledge or experience specific to their jobs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He was tricked by his own chief of staff, Reince Priebus, into cancelling a meeting with the New York Times. 

According to three sources, Priebus misled Trump about the circumstances of the meeting because he was afraid that Trump was unprepared for it. 

The Times learned about the cancellation from Trump's pre-dawn tweet announcing it. The meeting was hastily rescheduled after the paper refuted Priebus' characterization.

And I should care about this why?

  • Presidents should not be so easily manipulated. 
  • Presidents should not appoint staff who will try to manipulate them. 
  • It's a bad sign if senior White House staff feels that tricking the President is necessary.

Monday, November 21, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He summoned representatives of the five major news networks to angrily complain about their coverage of him.

In what one witness called a "f--king firing squad," Trump reportedly dressed down the media representatives for several hours over what he felt were unfair portrayals and other slights during the campaign.

Why should this matter to me? 

  • This probably won't help convince anyone that media reports of Trump being thin-skinned, easily angered and prone to holding grudges are false.
  • Presidents don't get to demand favorable portrayals in the press.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Week In Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He invited about a hundred foreign diplomats to his new Washington D.C. hotel in order to hear a sales pitch for the facility. The hotel has hired a "director of diplomatic sales" and is expected to compete aggressively for foreign missions' business.

The hotel is one of the many Trump businesses that Trump has said will be managed in a "blind trust" by his three eldest children, all of whom are also members of his transition team. Even in theory, this would not be a blind trust, since Trump would know what businesses he owned, and his children will have access to the inner workings of his administration. But even pro forma separation seems unlikely: in the past week, his daughter Ivanka sat in on a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Trump and his children took a meeting with his Indian business partners.

Trump began the week by announcing that he was appointing Steve Bannon as his senior counsel and chief strategist. Bannon is the former editor of Breitbart News, and, like the site, has been variously described as "alt-right," white nationalist, or white supremacist. Neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations have been openly gleeful about Trump's candidacy and have seen Bannon's appointment as confirmation that Trump is sympathetic.

So why are these bad things?

  • It should not be possible to buy the influence of the President of the United States.
  • It's a problem if things look corrupt, even if a President isn't trying to be corruptible.
  • Presidents of the United States of America should probably be more bothered by compliments from neo-Nazis than they are by satire from Saturday Night Live.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He demanded an apology from the cast of Hamilton, claiming that they had "harassed" Vice-President Elect Mike Pence.

A cast member read a brief statement after the curtain call asking for Pence to work on behalf of "the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights."

So why is this so terrible?

  • It is bad if a president-elect demands apologies for peaceful political speech he doesn't like. 
  • The First Amendment protects free speech and in particular "the right of the people... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
  • Presidents-elect who react this badly to brief, polite appeals will probably react much more badly to actual challenges when president. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He settled a civil fraud lawsuit over his "Trump University" business, paying $25,000,000 to end the litigation.

The terms of the settlement included $1,000,000 in penalties for breaking New York state laws, but did not require Trump to admit wrongdoing. 

Trump had previously vowed to take the case to trial, saying "I just don't believe in settling, especially when you're right." Trump admitted in a deposition that he had lied about his ability to vouch for (or even recognize) the "expert" instructors, who were revealed to have little or no knowledge of the real estate business. Some of the Trump University employees themselves testified that it was a fraudulent scheme.

So why is this a bad thing?

  • The most likely reason that Trump was willing to pay $25,000,000 to people who accused him of fraud is that he believed a jury would order him to pay more than $25,000,000 to people who accused him of fraud.
  • Ideally, the President of the United States is not someone who has to settle a lot of fraud cases against him.
  • "I wasn't forced to admit wrongdoing" isn't necessarily the best look for a president.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What did Donald Trump Do Today?

He falsely took credit for saving American jobs by convincing Ford not to move production of Lincoln cars from Kentucky to Mexico.

Ford had never planned to move that factory, and will still be moving one of its production lines to Mexico. No American jobs were expected to be lost at any point. Trump claimed in a tweet that he "worked hard with [CEO] Bill Ford" to keep the Lincoln line, but the decision was made in 2015 without his input.

So what if Donald Trump did this?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He allowed a surrogate to claim that the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War provided a legal and practical "precedent" for the registration of Muslims by the United States government.

Trump's spokesperson declined to distance itself from the comments made by Carl Higbie, a fundraiser for a Trump-allied PAC. A spokesperson for Kris Kobach, a pro-registration member of the transition team, also refused to disavow Higbie's comments.

Trump repeatedly promised during the campaign to create a database to track Muslims living in the United States.

Approximately 120,000 American citizens and legal residents of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast were forcibly detained by U.S. authorities between 1942 and 1946. In the intervening decades, the internees have received formal apologies from the government and $1.6 billion in reparations. A 1988 law signed by President Reagan acknowledged that no interned person had ever been shown to be disloyal, and called the decision to establish the interment camps the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

So what?

  • It is not good to base new policies on the "precedent" set by war crimes.
  • If you argue that the government must be permitted to do "horrific things" and "things [that are] not right," people will think that your administration intends to do horrific things that it knows are not right.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He changed his policy stance on Medicare and Medicaid to align with the privatization plans currently being promoted by Paul Ryan.

Trump had campaigned on a promise to keep these programs in their current form, something he claimed no other Republican would do.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • It is bad to break campaign promises.
  • It is especially bad to break campaign promises on issues that many voters feel very strongly about.
  • When a presidential candidate runs against his own party on an issue, and then changes his position to align with his party seven days after being elected, voters may feel he has lied to them.

Monday, November 14, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He fired at least four members of his transition team because they had been recommended by Gov. Chris Christie. 

As a US Attorney in 2005, Christie had sent Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner's father to jail for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. 

Jared Kushner himself will now decide appointments to national security posts. Kushner has no national security experience. 

Why would a neutral voter think this was a bad thing? 

  • It is probably a bad idea to replace the few experienced government officials on your transition team with your son-in-law because your son-in-law wanted to settle an old score.
  • Positions of responsibility in government should be filled by the most qualified applicants, not by unqualified relatives.
  • It's not good if the President-Elect appears easily manipulated.
  • It's not good if the President-Elect is easily manipulated.