Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Cyber-surrender. Trump took to Twitter today to defend himself after a G20 summit in which--even by the most aggressive of the White House's various statements on the matter--he agreed to let Russia off the hook for their espionage and disinformation campaigns that helped elect him. (Trump remains effectively the only person in American government still expressing doubt that Russia did this.) 

But having agreed not to "re-litigate" the crimes that Russia committed to help him become president, Trump is now apparently doubling down on the trustworthiness of the Putin regime where cybersecurity is concerned. He announced that he and Putin had "discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded" against.

To reiterate, Trump now says he agreed on behalf of the United States to enter into a joint cybersecurity arrangement with the country that American intelligence officials know engaged in election-related cyberattacks against the US, in order to prevent future cyberattacks on elections.

In related news, the Washington Post reported yesterday that in June, Russia began attacking the computer networks of US energy companies, including nuclear power plants

North Korea blame-shifting. Shortly after inviting China to dictate the international response to North Korea's missile test--which China immediately took advantage of--Trump was offering excuses. He complained on Twitter: "Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!"  

There are a few problems with this. One is the fact that Trump's apparent faith in China's ability to unilaterally solve the North Korea problem lasted less than a day, which suggests he still doesn't really understand even the basics of the situation. Another is that China cannot simply make North Korea behave as Trump would like. Still another is that China and the United States have very different interests. China values North Korea as a buffer state between it and the US-aligned south, and as a "container" for refugees that might otherwise spill into China. 

Finally, while Trump is roughly correct on the numbers--China did 37.4% more business with North Korea in the first quarter of 2017--those numbers have been out since April. And China did work with "us" and other UN member states by radically changing the type of trade it conducts with North Korea, in accordance with new UN sanctions. 

Sexual harassment "hyperbole." Trump is being sued for defamation by Summer Zervos, who says he sexually assaulted her. In response, Trump said that she and the many other women who have accused him of sexual assault or harassment were telling "totally phoney stories, 100% made up by women," among many other statements impugning her honesty.

On Friday, Trump offered a novel defense: that he could not be sued for defamation for things he said during a political campaign. Instead, Trump's legal team claims, anything said to discredit Zervos while Trump ran for office was mere "non-actionable rhetoric and hyperbole that is protected by the First Amendment." 

In effect, Trump is claiming that nobody would have been fooled into thinking that his claims about Zervos were true--and therefore there is no damage to her reputation--because he was obviously only saying them in an attempt to get votes.

Trump is no stranger to the concept of hyperbole and lies. In his book Art of the Deal, he recommended lying as a sales tactic, though he preferred the term "truthful hyperbole." (The name itself is an example: what Trump is telling his readers to do has nothing to do with truthfulness.)

How are these bad things?

  • Even if the FBI, CIA, NSA, and DNI had not all reached with absolute certainty the conclusion that Russia committed crimes against the United States to influence the election on Trump's behalf, there's still no reason whatsoever to trust Russia when it says it has not launched cyberattacks.
  • Forming an alliance with the country that attacked yours in order to help them not attack you again is an incredibly stupid plan.
  • If Trump has begun believing in "impenetrable Cyber Security units" as a magical defense against "negative things," it means his grasp on information security is actually getting worse.
  • Presidents need to be smart enough to understand that other nations will pursue their own interests, and will not work against them just because they're asked nicely in tweets.
  • It's bad if a president isn't aware of relevant facts about major policy issues until months later.
  • Some people who voted for him may have thought Trump was telling them the truth on the campaign trail, rather than engaging in "non-actionable rhetoric and hyperbole."