Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Phantom obstructionists. Trump began the week by blaming "Dems" for "taking forever" to approve his nominees, calling them "nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS!" There are a few problems with this logic, though. First of all, Senate Democrats are the minority party, and confirmation votes are not subject to a filibuster. 

But more to the point, Trump has only made 83 nominations out of 558 positions requiring Senate confirmation. By comparison, President Obama had made 222 nominations by this point in his presidency. The Senate cannot confirm people Trump has failed to nominate.

Last-minute NATO snub. At a joint press appearance with the president of Romania, the first time Trump has faced reporters since he met with NATO leaders in Brussels in May, Trump conceded that he still endorses Article V, the cornerstone provision of the NATO charter that states that an attack on any one member is considered an attack on all. (Article V has only been invoked once in NATO's history, on the United States' behalf after the September 11th attacks.) 

Under normal circumstances, it would be an absurd and unnecessary question to ask an American president, but Trump's mood about NATO has ranged from outright hostility to ambivalence, and he appears obsessed with the false idea that other member nations are failing to pay the United States some sort of dues or protection fees. His affirmation of Article V came as a relief to member nations, but he had been expected to say so at the Brussels summit, and pointedly refused to do so. It was reported this week that at the last minute, Trump removed any Article V endorsement from his speech without telling his own diplomatic and military staff, who had insisted that it be included.

Saudi deal "fake news." Another element of Trump's overseas trip came into clearer focus this week as well. Trump had barely left the country before he was declaring the trip a triumph, thanks to his supposed negotiation of a blockbuster arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the value of which was in the vicinity of $110 billion. 

However, a closer analysis of the "deal" reveals two key details Trump neglected to mention. Most significantly, it doesn't really exist. It involves the non-binding expression of intention to purchase military hardware in the future (much of which doesn't yet exist). There is reason to doubt that Saudi Arabia could afford it even if they really wanted it, as the Saudi economy has been battered by low oil prices. Brookings Institution analyst Bruce Reidel notes that Israel, which regards military superiority over other Middle East nations as an existential priority, has not asked for similar sales from the United States, which it surely would if the Saudi deal were actually happening.

Even more politically unmentionable for Trump, the promises and suggestions that make up the "deal" were made by President Obama's administration.

Satellites. Amidst all the drama of James Comey's testimony before the Senate intelligence committee, one detail was especially telling. Comey testified that Trump said "that if there were some ‘satellite’ associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out that we weren’t investigating him."

Trump's basic response to the testimony has been that everything Comey said was a lie, except for the parts that might exonerate Trump personally, which are entirely true. But the reference to "satellites" who might have, for example, colluded with the Putin regime to interfere in American elections, is telling. If Trump were the beneficiary of what amounts to treason, he would almost certainly have been shielded from any details about the operation of it--both for his own safety and because criminal conspiracies are more likely to succeed the fewer people who know about them.

Nobody disputes that Trump was keenly interested in whether he was personally under investigation. And since it is the overwhelming bipartisan consensus of investigators that the Putin regime did everything in its power to illegally interfere on Trump's behalf--the surest outcome that involves Trump surviving with his presidency and freedom intact would be if the blame for any illegal collusion could be put on a small number of "satellite" conspirators.

Eric Trump's foundation. Trump abolished his own charitable foundation in December amid evidence that it was engaged in illegal self-dealing that personally profited the Trump family, and its own admission that it had broken tax laws. (Technically, it cannot be fully dissolved until the ongoing investigation into it is concluded.) But the Trump Foundation was back in the news this week, in revelations that it had been linked to Eric Trump's own legally troubled "charity."

Forbes reported that donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told that their money would go to helping pediatric cancer patients, but that in fact, $500,000 of it was re-donated to other charities that were themselves linked to the Trump family--and that four of those charities paid Trump businesses a total exceeding $100,000 to host golf tournaments. According to Forbes' sources, Donald Trump himself personally directed his business to charge his son's foundation.

Eric Trump blamed the Forbes report on Democrats, who he called "not even human."

Why are all these bad things?

  • It's wrong to blame other people for work you were unable or unwilling to do.
  • Presidents who can't be bothered to notify their military and diplomatic staff of major policy changes aren't doing their job.
  • It's wrong to take credit for work you didn't do.
  • Presidents are responsible for the actions of their subordinates, or "satellites," particularly if those actions amount to a criminal conspiracy to benefit that president.
  • It's bad to misappropriate money meant for children with cancer.