Saturday, December 31, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He wished a happy new year to his "many enemies," his tone betraying perhaps just a wee bit of insincerity.

Whatever would be the matter with that?

Friday, December 30, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He sided with Vladimir Putin against Obama administration sanctions, calling Putin "very smart" and saying his response to the situation was a "great move."

President Obama imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election. This was controversial: most Republican leaders (to say nothing of Democrats) said the sanctions were too little and too late.

Trump, however, continues to reject the conclusion of the FBI and CIA that Russia worked to get him elected (in spite of Trump's public request that Russia do exactly that). Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, and filled his campaign and administration with friends and former operatives of the Russian leader. This has raised questions about whether Trump may be vulnerable to bribery, blackmail, or psychological manipulation on Russia's part.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It's wrong for a president-elect to side with a hostile foreign power against his own party, the sitting president, and the interests of the United States.
  • It's extremely bad if a president's actions raise questions about the degree of influence hostile foreign powers have over him.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He continued to insist that he had created 8,000 telecommunications jobs out of sheer optimism.

On Wednesday, Trump announced that Sprint and OneWeb were going to be adding 5,000 and 3,000 American jobs respectively, saying the companies told him they were doing this "because of me." His spokesperson, Sean Spicer, repeated that message today, promising more such announcements because companies were "really inspired by the philosophy and agenda and business climate that the president-elect wants to establish in this country."

However, Sprint's decision to restore those jobs had been made in April of 2015, before Trump even entered the presidential race. And both the Sprint and OneWeb jobs are part of an investment drive into the US tech sector by a conglomerate of foreign investors--again, announced before Trump won the election. (Trump also took credit after the fact for that.)

Even counting the 5,000 promised Sprint jobs, under its CEO Masayoshi Son, who acquired the company in 2013 and who Trump has now publicly praised twice, the company has ended thousands of American jobs.

How is this a problem?

  • It's wrong to take credit (twice) for things you didn't do.
  • It's bad if a president is rewarding companies who fire a larger number of American workers and then later promise to rehire a smaller number.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a bit of trouble making up his mind about his feelings toward President Obama.

At 6:07 a.m., Trump tweeted his anger at Obama and his "inflammatory... statements and roadblocks," saying that he was "doing [his] best to disregard them." It's not clear what specific "roadblocks" Trump had in mind, but he has been visibly upset for several days now over Obama's statement that he could have beaten Trump if he could have run in 2016.

Within hours, however, Trump was telling reporters that the transition was going "very, very smoothly," later adding, "I'm getting along very well with [President Obama] other than a couple of statements that I responded to and we talked about it and smiled about it and nobody is ever going to know because we are never going to be going against each other."

Trump was in Florida today and spoke briefly with Obama between his tweet and his press comments. It's not known if Obama made any direct effort to pacify Trump, or whether Trump's mood regarding the state of the transition improved on its own.

So what does this matter?

  • It's not a good sign if both sides of a president's mood swings are visible to the public.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He continued to press the claim that he'd saved the American economy before even taking office, literally thanking himself for an uptick in the Consumer Confidence Index for December.

Trump has been claiming credit for all manner of (positive) things since Election Day, whether or not he had anything to do with them. However, as the Washington Post noted, his claim that he's behind a spike in the CCI is fairly plausible. The reason, however, is not especially flattering to Trump: it came from increased short-term expectations (which the index's compilers track separately from answers about the present state of the economy), and almost exclusively among Republican responders

In other words, Trump's voting base expects him to succeed, and a survey reflected that fact.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents, if they must thank themselves publicly, should do so for things they have accomplished rather than things they're expected to do in the future.
  • It's bad if a president feels the need to publicly thank himself.

Monday, December 26, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted that his victory had caused a 10% stock market surge, goosed the Christmas sales numbers, and replaced "gloom" with "hope" the world over.

While no major US index is up 10% since the election, Trump's claim to have influenced the markets is plausible. The DJIA is up 8.7% since the November 8 close, largely on the strength of bank stocks, which are expected to benefit in the short term from Trump's regulation (or lack thereof) of the financial sector. The S&P is up 5.8% and the NASDAQ is up 5.2% in the same period.

It's not clear what figures Trump relied on for his claim that holiday spending was at $1 trillion, but there has been annual improvement in Nov.-Dec. retail sales numbers every year since the end of the last recession. Trump offered no specific reason why his election was a more significant driver of holiday retail than low unemployment rates or other economic factors.

Trump's claim that "the world was gloomy--there was no hope" may have been part of a continued reaction to President Obama's assertion than he could have beaten Trump in the election.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do. 
  • It's probably a bad sign if a president-elect believes he's personally restored hope to the world.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He confirmed that he thought the United States should provoke (and could win) a nuclear arms race with... actually, it wasn't clear who he was talking about. The United States' main nuclear concern for most of the last half-century has been nonproliferation.

In addition to dissolving the Trump Foundation (pending the conclusion of an ongoing criminal investigation into it), he was also forced to order his daughter and sons (Donald Jr. and Eric jointly, and Eric by himself) to stop fundraising practices that suggested they were selling access or breaking nonprofit rules.

He sought permission, from the Labor Dept. that is about to report directly to him, to hire temporary foreign workers to prune vines at his winery. (There is some doubt about whether Trump owns the winery now, or whether he bought it and then gifted it to his son Eric--the website says one thing, and Trump says another.) The workers would be paid $10.42/hour for 40 hours per week over the next six months. Trump has sought to hire at least 190 other foreign workers since he began running for president last year.

So why should anyone care about these things?

  • Nuclear arms races make it more likely that unstable and hostile regimes will become nuclear powers, not less.
  • It's bad if so many of a president's supposedly virtuous acts violate ethics rules or nonprofit laws.
  • Voters may have taken Trump seriously when he said he wanted to protect their jobs from foreign competition.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He announced that he was shutting down the Trump Foundation to avoid the appearance of corruption--but that can't happen until criminal investigations into it are complete.

Trump presented his decision as a way to avoid the appearance that his influence could be bought through his charity. (This has been a recurring theme for the Trump family in the past week, and something Trump himself accused Hillary Clinton of during the campaign.) He also seemed to imply that he and his family were being barred from philanthropy, although nothing prevents them from giving their own money to charity.

However, the Trump Foundation--which Trump gave no money to at all between 2009 and 2014--has been a continuing source of legal problems for Trump. He recently admitted that he had used it for "self-dealing"--that is, using its resources to benefit Trump himself financially. 

The New York Attorney General's office, which is investigating the Trump Foundation, noted today that it cannot legally be dissolved until that investigation is concluded.

Why is this bad?

  • Americans who give their own money to support actual charities may have a problem with Trump claiming the moral high ground here.

Friday, December 23, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He approvingly quoted Vladimir Putin, twice.

Trump began the day by releasing Putin's personal holiday greetings, saying that Putin's "thoughts are so correct" on the subject of improving US-Russia relations. While Trump has presumably received Christmas cards from other foreign leaders, this is the only one he has drawn any attention to.

He later took to Twitter to amplify Putin's comments from earlier in the day about Hillary Clinton's "humiliating" loss. There was no apparent reason for bringing up the election, although Trump has recently shown a great deal of sensitivity on the subject of having lost the popular vote.

Trump has long expressed admiration for Putin, although most Republicans and Democrats see Putin as an autocrat who has (among other things) had journalists and political opponents murdered. Trump continues to vehemently deny that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election on his behalf, although US intelligence agencies have concluded that it did.

So why should this matter?

  • It is bad if a president is easily manipulated by foreign powers.
  • It is a very bad sign if winning the presidency is not enough to emotionally satisfy a president where the election is concerned.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted that the United States needed a bigger and more powerful nuclear arsenal, at least "until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

The United States has about 1,900 nuclear weapons. There is no possible deterrent effect from more or bigger ones. Trump has struggled with the basic elements of nuclear strategy in the past.

Reducing an unnecessarily large and inherently dangerous stockpile has been an important goal for the US (and its adversaries) since the 1960s. Non-proliferation has been an even higher priority with respect to nuclear weapons for even longer.

The tweet outlining what may be a Trump nuclear doctrine was met with horror, with the notable exception of Vladimir Putin, who had made a similar call on Russia's behalf several hours earlier. 

Why is this so bad?

  • Nuclear weapons policy should not be blurted out over Twitter.
  • It's a bad sign if it's not clear where sudden changes like this are coming from.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got up at 5:15 to remind people that he, and not Hillary Clinton, had won the "more difficult and sophisticated" electoral college vote.

Trump's comments coincided with the completion of the popular vote count, which Clinton won by about 2,865,000 votes, or 2.1% more of the total than Trump. He and surrogates also lashed out at media mentions of his popular vote loss, calling this an attack on his legitimacy. 

In the six weeks since the election, Trump has shown sensitivity to his popular vote deficit, claiming that he could have won it if he'd wanted to, that his electoral vote margin (46th out of 58 elections) was a "massive landslide," and that Clinton only won it because of millions of illegal votes. There is no evidence for the latter claim, as Trump's own lawyers argued on his behalf during recounts.

So why should anyone care?

  • Legally elected presidents get to be president, not to demand that no one talk about the circumstances of their election.
  • It's not a good sign if a president needs more validation than being elected can provide.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed his sons had nothing to do with a charity event featuring them organized by a charitable foundation they started last week.

Yesterday, an ad for a Jan. 21 event hosted by the Opening Day Foundation was leaked. Trump's office refused to comment, but referred reporters to the event's publicist, who confirmed its legitimacy. Donors at the $500,000 and $1,000,000 level were to be granted meetings with Trump and/or his sons. Donald Jr. and Eric Trump will run their father's businesses and play an ambiguous but substantial role in his incoming administration.

A Trump spokesperson claimed today that the Trump sons "are not involved in any capacity" with the event and noted that the brochure had been revised to avoid any mention of access to Trump or his sons. The spokesperson called the brochure "merely an initial concept" that had been drafted without the Trump family's knowledge or consent.

However, it was revealed today that Donald Jr. and Eric Trump are created the foundation last week and are half its board of directors, and that the "initial concept" had already been circulating amongst prospective donors for several days.

What's so bad about this?

  • It's bad if a president's influence is for sale through his children.
  • It's bad even if it just looks like a president's influence is for sale through his children.
  • Even if fictional "explanations" for mistakes are sometimes necessary in politics, they shouldn't insult the intelligence.

Monday, December 19, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declined to comment on evidence that he was selling post-Inauguration access to himself and his sons for $1,000,000 and $500,000, respectively.

A document leaked to TMZ, and then independently confirmed with its authors by Politico and TPM, advertised private access to Trump for million-dollar donors, and a "multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion" with one or both of Trump's adult sons. Eric and Donald Trump, Jr., will be managing their fathers' business concerns, but have also taken an active role in shaping their father's administration. The Trump transition team referred questions to the organizers.

The document says that the proceeds will go to unspecified conservation charities. During the campaign, Trump said that Hillary Clinton was corrupt because she accepted charitable donations to her foundation, and that this was like taking bribes.

So what?

  • If something is corrupt when your political opponent does it, it is corrupt when you do it.
  • Some of Trump's voters may have taken him seriously when he said he thought doing things like this was corrupt.
  • It's bad if presidents literally sell access to themselves.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He canceled a scheduled press conference where he was to explain his plans for dealing with the conflicts of interest his business empire will create for him as president, citing his busy schedule. He then met with Kanye West. This would have been Trump's first press conference since July 27, when he famously asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton. 

He signaled, through a surrogate, that he's open to lifting sanctions on Russia that the US imposed after Russia's invasion of the Crimea. Oil and gas sales make up more than half of the country's budget, and getting those sanctions lifted has been an urgent concern for Putin's regime. Trump's nominee for Secretary of State is among those who have spoken against the sanctions.

On the post-campaign trail, Trump called his supporters "vicious," "violent," "nasty," and "mean," but expressed his hope that they would now be "mellow." During the campaign itself, Trump had blamed the many acts of violence committed at his rallies on paid Democratic infiltrators and media bias. He also told a majority-white crowd to thank African-Americans for not voting.

Finally, he named Rep. Ryan Zinke as his nominee for Secretary of the Interior, surprising many who expected the job to go to veteran Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The deciding factor was apparently the relationship Zinke had formed with Trump's sons Donald Jr. and Eric. Trump's sons will head his business affairs.

Why are these bad things?

  • Avoiding public discussion of a problem does not resolve the problem.
  • One way for a president to prove that he is not in the pocket of a foreign power is to not give that foreign power what it most wants out of his presidency.
  • Treating supporters as a violent mob loyal only to the leader is textbook authoritarianism.
  • It is worse, not better, if the lobbyists influencing the president are family members who control his business interests.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a variety of reactions to the news that China had seized and then agreed to return a US Navy research robot.

On Friday, China seized a submersible drone used for oceanographic research in what China regards as its territorial waters. Trump's first tweet, in which he angrily condemned the "unprecedented" seizure, came shortly before China arranged with the Obama administration to return the drone. The second, which came after that agreement, said that the US should tell China to keep it. 

All the same, Trump claimed credit for the return through a spokesperson.

It is not clear if Trump understands that the seizure was probably intended as a provocation in response to his protocol-breaking public acknowledgment of the Taiwanese president as a head of state.

Why should anyone care?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • It is a very bad sign if Trump thinks this was resolved by an angry tweet.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He (and his surrogates) said that if Russian espionage and interference in the election took place, it might have been for the best.

Trump had flatly denied that Russia could have had anything to do with his election, going so far as to claim that the issue had even not been raised until after he was elected. (It was--in all three debates, by the Director of National Intelligence, in hundreds of newspaper articles, and by Trump himself.)

Given the likelihood that some congressional Republicans will join with Democrats to permit an investigation to go forward, however, Trump seems to be changing his tactics, claiming that hackers found "illegal" activities in the stolen e-mail archives of the DNC. As Trump surely knows, this is not true: while the contents of the e-mails angered some supporters of Bernie Sanders, they contained no suggestion that any laws had been broken.

What would I have to believe to be upset by this?

  • Espionage against the United States is not a good thing.
  • Interference in American elections by foreign powers is not a good thing.
  • It is bad when a president lies about his political opponents.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He let Vanity Fair magazine troll-bait him once again.

The occasion for this Twitter outburst (part of a pre-dawn spree that included swipes at media reporting on his conflicts of interest and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election) was a negative review of the Trump Grill.

Vanity Fair's editor, Graydon Carter, has a long history of successfully provoking Trump. In the January 1988 issue of Spy magazine, Carter called Trump a "short-fingered vulgarian," prompting Trump to send Carter pictures of his hands for years afterwards. The joke was revived for the 2016 campaign and used by Trump's primary opponents, which eventually led to Trump referring to the size of his penis during a presidential debate.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • If a magazine editor can provoke Trump this easily, then America's enemies can too.
  • A bad restaurant review is nothing compared to the problems that a president faces.
  • It's probably a bad sign if a president complains about the media three different times before sunrise

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He was ordered by a federal judge to report for a deposition in early January.

In this case, the deposition relates to an ongoing legal dispute between Trump and celebrity chef Jose Andres, who are suing each other over a contractual matter that arose when Trump made derogatory statements against Mexicans on the campaign trail. 

Presidents can be sued for personal matters unrelated to their office, and can be compelled to testify during their term. For example, Bill Clinton was deposed in a civil suit while president, and this ultimately formed the basis of perjury charges against him in his impeachment trial.

Trump has been party to approximately 4,000 lawsuits, at least 75 of which are ongoing and may require his testimony. More are certain to follow--including by government agencies that will report to him--if Trump continues to refuse to divest himself of his business holdings.

Why is this a problem?

  • It is bad if personal legal problems distract the president from his full-time job.
  • A president who is an easy target for lawsuits can be manipulated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He asked Rick Perry to become the head of the Department of Energy, which Perry believes should be eliminated.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, the Department of Energy was one of three government agencies that Perry said "needs to be done away with."

Although Perry is the former governor of an oil-producing state, the DoE's main focus is on nuclear issues--regulating nuclear plants, funding reactor technology, and securing waste. It also oversees research and development of new energy technologies, particularly renewable energy. The last two Energy Secretaries have been nuclear physicists, one of whom is a Nobel winner.

How is this a problem?

  • Cabinet secretaries should probably be people who think their job should exist in the first place.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about whether Russian interference in his election had been brought up during the election itself.

In fact, Russian attempts to influence the election were reported on exhaustively at many points. Hillary Clinton brought it up at the first and second debates; Trump was asked directly about it in the third. In October, the Director of National Intelligence released a statement, widely reported on, stating that the US was "confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises." His running mate Mike Pence said a week later that there was "no question that the evidence continues to point" to Russia and that it should be investigated.

Trump himself directly and explicitly asked Russia on live TV to "find" deleted e-mails from Hillary Clinton's private server during a press conference on July 27.

Trump's tweet was part of a larger media push to make it seem like the CIA's conclusion that Russia had interfered to help Trump get elected was sour grapes from Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans.

So what?

  • Presidents should not ask Americans to believe things that are obviously, provably, fantastically untrue.
  • It's very, very bad if a president acts like he doesn't care if the election that brought him to power was tainted.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He lied about the circumstances of his phone call with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen, according to his own team. Trump had insisted that the call had been initiated by Taiwan and was a mere courtesy, but aides later confirmed it was intended to be provocative and had been arranged weeks in advance.

He became irritated at how Time portrayed him in its "Person of the Year" feature. He objected to the idea that he was in any way a divisive figure, and also to the fact that the "title" was has been gender-neutral for the last 17 years. Prior to this year's announcement, Time had annoyed Trump by failing to pick him.

He lashed out at a steelworkers' union and its president for pointing out (correctly) that the number of jobs being retained at the Indianapolis Carrier plant was not "over 1,100 people" but only 730. Like many private citizens singled out by Trump, Jones immediately began to receive anonymous threats.

How are these bad things?

  • It's not great diplomacy to simultaneously claim that something was a harmless courtesy and a deliberate provocation.
  • It's not a good sign if being named "Person of the Year" isn't enough to satisfy a person's ego.
  • Lashing out at critics, knowing that supporters will take the hint and threaten them, is not what happens in a democracy.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hinted at the appointment of a Secretary of State with close ties to the Russian government, a day after he attacked the CIA for its report that the Russian government had interfered in the election on Trump's behalf.

Rex Tillerson is the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, and an outspoken opponent of economic sanctions currently in place against Russia. (Tillerson currently holds Exxon stock options that would become more valuable if the sanctions were lifted.) He was given an award by Putin himself in 2012.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported the results of a CIA investigation that concluded that Russia had interfered with the US election with the intent of helping Trump win. The Trump team immediately responded with a terse statement saying the CIA was incompetent and declaring the issue settled. 

However, the rest of the political spectrum--notably including Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham--expressed deep concerns about further entanglements between Trump's White House and the Putin regime.

So what?

  • It is insanely bad, for everyone, if foreign powers have successfully interfered in American elections.
  • Blaming the messenger does not solve problems.
  • Neither does pretending problems don't exist.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What did Donald Trump do Today?

He offered a fourth Goldman Sachs executive a position in his administration.

Gary Cohn, the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, would become the director of the National Economic council. He would join other Goldman alums Steve Bannon (Trump's senior advisor), Steven Mnuchin (Treasury Secretary), and Anthony Scaramucci (transition team executive).

Trump tapped into populist outrage against the gigantic investment bank during the campaign, claiming that opponents like Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton were its "puppets."

Because of their role in causing the housing collapse of 2008, and then profiting from the bailout, few companies are as powerful or as widely reviled as Goldman Sachs. On the campaign trail, Trump and Bernie Sanders were singing the same tune about its corrupting influence and the harm it had done to ordinary Americans.

Why should anyone care?

  • Voters may have believed Donald Trump when he said he was opposed to Goldman Sachs influencing government.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He chose a fast-food CEO whose restaurants repeatedly violated labor laws as his Labor Secretary.

Andrew Puzder is the CEO of a restaurant group that includes the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. chains. Those restaurants were repeatedly found to be in violation of the FLSA, the law that governs wage theft, overtime, and worker safety among other things. He is a lawyer but has no experience in government.

Puzder's current companies would benefit directly from his ability to help overturn an NLRB rule holding restaurant chains liable for illegal work practices they encourage in their franchises.

Puzder is an outspoken opponent of raising the minimum wage and has spoken fondly of the prospect of all-automated fast food restaurants, saying that touchscreens and robots are "always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

So what?

  • It's bad if a Labor Secretary's main experience with labor law is as a violator of it.
  • Wage-earners who voted for Trump in the hope of making more money will probably not be too happy about a Labor Secretary who sees higher wages as a problem.
  • Workers who voted for Trump in the hope of keeping their jobs will probably not be too happy about a Labor Secretary who sees automation as preferable to human workers.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forced the Obama White House to issue a statement clarifying that the United States is opposed to the epidemic of vigilante murders in the Philippines.

The statement was provoked by an interview with Trump published today by Time, which just named Trump its "Person of the Year." In it, Trump seemed unbothered by comparisons to Duterte, an authoritarian who has actively encouraged the murder of thousands of Filipinos suspected by their fellow citizens of being connected with the drug trade. 

Instead, Trump used the reference to Duterte's campaign against drug dealers to bring up the topic of supposedly super-tough Central American immigrants who were "killing and raping everybody out there."

Trump has also refused to deny Duterte's claims that Trump endorses his actions. Last week, he invited Duterte to make a state visit during Trump's term.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • It's bad if presidents don't mind being compared to brutal authoritarians.
  • It's very bad if it's not abundantly clear how a president feels about mass-murder campaigns.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took credit for foreign companies' pre-existing plans to invest $50B in American businesses.

Trump claimed that Masayoshi Son, CEO of the Japanese firm SoftBank, would not have made the investment had Trump not won. However, the money appears to be coming from a larger $100B investment fund established with Saudi Arabian backing in October.

Trump also claimed the deal would bring 50,000 new jobs to the United States. No details were provided. However, SoftBank owns the US telecom company Sprint, which is in the process of cutting "thousands" of U.S. jobs. 

Trump's favorable comments towards foreign investment firms came on the same day that he threatened to cancel contracts of the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing. That outburst came shortly after a Chicago Tribune story was published that relayed mild criticism of Trump from Boeing officials.

What's the problem here?

  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.
  • It's bad if presidents don't make a distinction between flattery and fact.
  • Presidents shouldn't say things that could hurt major American industries just because someone hurt their feelings.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost the electoral vote of Chris Suprun, a Republican paramedic from Texas.

Suprun cited Alexander Hamilton's argument that electors should ensure that presidents are "qualified, not engaged in demagogy, and independent from foreign influence" He said that Trump failed on all three counts, citing (among other things) the help that Trump's campaign received from hostile foreign governments and Trump's unwillingness to separate his business and political interests.

Suprun praised George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan as leaders who united the American people, while Trump "chooses to stoke fear and create outrage."

Trump has now lost two electors. Art Cisneros of Texas resigned rather than vote for Trump. Electors who refuse to vote for their pledged candidate are not unheard of in the modern era, but no elector had intentionally refused to vote as a protest against the candidate himself since 1976.

Why should I think this is a bad thing?

  • If a president-elect loses the support of two party members chosen for their loyalty during his transition, it might be a sign he's off to a bad start.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Week in Review

What did Donald Trump do this past week?

Today, Trump defended his diplomatically awkward phone conversation with Taiwan's president by noting that China has also done things that offend the United States. The casual approach to these calls that Trump has taken during his transition may have something to do with the fact that he has been largely avoiding his intelligence briefings.

Earlier in the week Trump suggested, through his surrogate Kellyanne Conway, that he would not investigate or prosecute Hillary Clinton for unspecified crimes he believed she'd committed while she was Secretary of State because he was "magnanimous" in victory. Later, after a heated exchange with Clinton campaign officials, Conway partially reversed herself, saying that Clinton could possibly face investigation by Trump's Justice Department after all. The DOJ investigates and prosecutes federal crimes, but presidents cannot order its officials to investigate or prosecute specific individuals--nor can they order investigations stopped.

Trump tweeted that he would soon announce plans to avoid conflicts of interest by drafting legal documents that would take him "completely out of business operations" of his various companies. As the Office of Government Ethics noted, unless this is an odd way of saying that he will be fully divesting (selling off his ownership stake) to a non-family member, there will inevitably be conflicts of interest. Trump's adult children have taken an active role in his transition and met with foreign leaders since his election.

Who cares?

  • Presidents probably shouldn't make it sound like law enforcement depends on their personal moods.
  • It's bad if a president's efforts to avoid the appearance of impropriety don't avoid the appearance of impropriety.
  • Presidents-elect with no government experience and no particular knowledge of foreign affairs really ought to be going to intelligence briefings.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He continued to complain on Twitter that Saturday Night Live was "unwatchable," "not funny," and that Alec Baldwin's version of him "can't get any worse."

Trump has had a great deal to say about SNL in the past year, most of it bad--except for the episode he hosted. Ironically, tonight's Baldwin sketch centered on Trump's undisciplined Twitter habits.

And this is bad because?

  • It probably shouldn't be this easy to get under a president's skin.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spoke on the phone with the President of Taiwan, in the process causing both diplomatic and ethical problems.

The United States has only informal relations with Taiwan, which the People's Republic of China regards as a renegade province. The diplomatic situation is complicated, but Trump openly treating the Taiwanese President as a fellow head of state would be roughly equivalent in diplomatic terms to China referring to Hillary Clinton as the "Popular Vote President of the United States." It does not seem likely that Trump understood the significance of his actions, although the Taiwanese government certainly would have.

The fact that the Trump Organization is looking to build in Taiwan--and will therefore need the cooperation of the Taiwanese government--makes this one of several calls where Trump's business goals and foreign policy may be getting mixed up.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's extremely bad if foreign policy is being affected by a president's financial interests.
  • It's only a little less bad if it just looks like foreign policy is being affected by a president's financial interests.
  • A president who doesn't know or care about diplomacy is likely to have it used against him by countries that do.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took credit for using the promise of Indiana state tax incentives to keep a Carrier air conditioning plant open, a practice he was calling "crazy" last month while still a candidate.

The state of Indiana is offering Carrier $7,000,000 in tax incentives to keep the plant open, which will keep 800 jobs at its Indianapolis plant. Another Carrier plant in nearby Huntington will still close, costing 700 employees their jobs. Overall, Carrier is still moving 1,300 jobs to Mexico.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly condemned the practice of using tax breaks to keep employers from offshoring jobs. He called it "crazy" and pointed out that companies sometimes simply reneged on the agreements once they'd reaped the benefits, or used the threat of moves to extort money from governments.

Sarah Palin and Bernie Sanders, who are far enough apart on the political spectrum that they almost never agree on anything, both condemned the deal as an unfair and dangerous precedent.

What's wrong with that?

  • Voters may have taken Trump seriously when he told them a few weeks ago he would not do this.