Thursday, August 31, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he intended to donate $1 million to Harvey relief.

Millions of Americans have made donations to charities that are assisting with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and today, via a spokesperson, Trump said he would become one of them. Specifically, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that he would donate $1m. When pressed by a reporter to clarify whether this was his own money, Sanders hesitated, saying that she "assumed" it was.

There's reason for skepticism. Trump's former "charity," which collected donations from other people but only rarely and begrudgingly honored its own pledges, is under investigation by New York State officials for a host of possible crimes. It has already admitted to illegal self-dealing. But even with the ignominious demise of his foundation--to say nothing of several similarly troubling schemes involving his adult children--Trump has relished playing the role of a benefactor, showily donating his presidential paychecks to government agencies whose budgets he proposes to cut.

Former Office of Government Ethics chief Walter Schaub summarized it this way:

So what?

  • It's bad if a president's claim that he intends to do something nice is greeted with enormous skepticism.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about what he'd seen on his visit to distinctly un-ravaged parts of Texas.

In a tweet this morning, sandwiched in between saber-rattling at North Korea and complaints about unfavorable coverage from the media, Trump said that his heart went out to Texans whose "horror and devastation" he had "witness[ed] first-hand." 

There is plenty of devastation in coastal Texas, but Trump witnessed none of it first-hand. He split his several hours in Texas between photo-ops in Austin (about a hundred miles from the affected areas) and a two-minute speech in front of emergency vehicles in an undamaged area of Corpus Christi. Trump, for whom even the appearance of empathy does not come easily, is making an effort to give the appearance of engagement: his schedule calls for him to return for a second visit to a sufficiently dry and undamaged part of Texas on Saturday. UPDATE, 8/31: The White House is walking back Trump's "first hand" claims.

It would not have been possible for Trump to see damaged areas first-hand, as he chose to visit while floodwaters were still rising. It would have been possible for him to get second-hand accounts of the damage from Americans directly affected, a more traditional sort of "witnessing" for presidents, but Trump didn't do that either.

So what?

  • Presidents shouldn't say things that are obviously untrue.
  • If a president can learn nothing and offer no comfort by visiting a disaster area, he shouldn't go.
  • Political damage control and boosting hat sales are not good enough reasons for a president to insert himself into the spotlight during a national tragedy.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He traveled to Texas during an unfolding natural disaster, and said the following things during an appearance in Corpus Christi:

"What a crowd, what a turnout!"

Trump was ostensibly in Texas to observe the destruction and offer help, rather than attract crowds, but as crowd-size bragging is a staple of his improvised rally speeches, he may not have known what else to say. The people watching Trump speak from the vicinity of two parked fire trucks numbered in the hundreds. Because it was not a campaign stop and non-supporters could not be screened out, Trump had the highly unusual experience (for him) of actually seeing protestors as he spoke.

"We are going to get you back and operating immediately." 

The only thing that will happen immediately is that flooding in the affected areas will get worse as the remnants of Harvey continue to add water to overflowing rivers and reservoirs. As every official at every level other than Trump has noted, recovery will be measured on the scale of years.

"@foxandfriends We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don't need many of them - reduce size of government. @IngrahamAngle"

Trump tweeted this from Air Force One en route to Texas, responding to rare criticism aired on his favorite cable news show about his failure to staff many of the agencies now responding to Hurricane Harvey. Once on the ground and in front of actual Texans, Trump switched to effusive praise of all those involved in the recovery effort and made no further suggestion that on-site officials and government emergency managers were unnecessary.

Who cares?

  • A president who inserts himself into disaster relief efforts for purely political purposes disgraces his office, or so Trump himself once believed.
  • The middle of an ongoing natural disaster is not a good time or place to bottle up emergency vehicles and brag about how presidents can draw crowds.
  • It is wrong to tell obvious lies for political purposes.
  • A president who says one thing at 8:26 A.M. from inside Air Force One, and then the opposite in front of a crowd a few hours later, is lying at least once.

Monday, August 28, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He dragged Finland into his unwillingness to ever say anything remotely negative about the Putin regime.

Trump appeared with visiting Finnish president Sauli Niinistö today and briefly took questions. A Finnish reporter detailed recent incursions by Russian planes into Finnish airspace, and asked Trump whether he considered Russia a security threat. Trump responded, "Well, I consider many countries as a security threat, unfortunately, when you look at what’s going on in the world today." He refused to be drawn back, in a follow-up question, to the specific concerns about Russia.

When another Finnish reporter asked about the role Trump saw Finland playing in US-Russia relations, Trump said, "Finland is respected by Russia. Finland has been free of Russia, reallyjust about one of the few countries in the region that has beenfor 100 years." Finland and Russia (as part of the Soviet Union) have fought four wars in the last 100 years. The Soviet "respect" for Finland's "freedom" during the Cold War took the form of forcing Finland into a humiliating policy of de facto support for the Soviet bloc in exchange for nominal independence. It's not clear if Trump knew any of this.

Trump, who otherwise never lets diplomacy or wisdom rein in his penchant for insults, has yet to say a single even mildly reproachful word about Vladimir Putin or his government. Today's instance of weirdly specific politeness came amidst revelations that he was actively courting the Putin government's help in building a second Trump Tower in Moscow during his presidential campaign, despite many categorical denials that he had any business in Russia.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who cannot bring himself to offer even mild criticism of an adversarial foreign power is a president who cannot do his job.
  • Getting the basic facts of a country's history wrong during a five-minute appearance with the leader of that nation is too simple a mistake for a president to make.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Ends climate change panel. Trump has been forced to disband a number of his advisory panels—or, in several cases, claim he retroactively disbanded them after they quit—in the wake of his ambivalent response to the white nationalist march on Charlottesville that ended in the murder of an anti-fascist protestor. But this week, he found a panel he could disband for different political reasons: his Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment

As with many issues, what Trump claims to believe on climate change varies with his audience and mood, but he's made abundantly clear what policy he intends to make with respect to it: none. The dismissal of the panel means that the forthcoming quadrennial National Climate Assessment—a draft of which was leaked by its authors for fear that the Trump administration would bury it—will not be translated into actionable policy items.

Trump has not been completely idle on environmental policy: just last week Trump rescinded an executive order issued by President Obama requiring the federal government to consider flood risks and mitigation strategies when making investments in flood-prone areas.

Condolences and well-wishes. Trump found himself pressed for reaction to two tragedies—the USS John S. McCain's collision with a merchant vessel and the impending Harvey disaster—in situations where he had not yet been given formal talking points or a teleprompter speech.

With respect to the accident that claimed the lives of ten US Navy personnel, he offered this: "That's too bad, too bad."

His reaction to Harvey's imminent landfall was somewhat more optimistic: "Good luck to everybody. Good luck."

Twitter bots. It was a relatively slow Twitter week for Trump, who only found time to tweet 57 times from his personal account. But in what seems to be a recurring pattern, one of them was a retweet of a bot account that had offered up gushing praise of him. Trump was so taken by @aroliso's assessment of his character—
—that he retweeted it within five minutes.

It's no secret that Trump is susceptible to flattery (and enraged by its absence), but @aroliso was a recently activated bot account, that was linked to another bot account (since erased), which in turn was linked to a custom-built piece of software used to interface with Twitter's API, which in turn referred in its source code to a defunct maker of pro-Trump movie parodies.

The good news for Trump is that nobody associated with these nested fake accounts seemed to have recently tweeted anything overtly genocidal or anti-semitic, which has been a problem for his retweets before. But given that Twitter bot-nets and (actual) fake-news propaganda are at the forefront of known Russian cyberwarfare operations, the frequency with which Trump is tricked into reading and amplifying fake Twitter accounts is troubling.

Friday news dump. Trump attempted to sweep three—or, arguably, four—major stories under the rug on Friday night when the nation's news appetite was largely taken up with reports from the Hurricane Harvey landfall. But because of the audacity of the dump (and the insightful analysis of frankly heroic websites), it had something of a Streisand effect.

As is increasingly the case, the chorus of people calling Trump out for what he was trying to hide prominently featured Republican voices.

Why are these bad things?

  • Dismissing advisors because you're afraid you won't get the advice you want to hear is stupid.
  • It doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in a president's ability to do his job if he can't muster up a vaguely appropriate response to obvious tragedies without help from aides.
  • A president who can be manipulated this easily can be manipulated far too easily.
  • There is a difference between political messaging strategy and cowardice.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed, via his press secretary, that it was "only natural" for him to have tried to interfere in the prosecution of Joe Arpaio.

The Washington Post reported today that Trump asked Attorney General Jefferson Sessions whether the Justice Department could drop its criminal contempt prosecution of Joe Arpaio, a key political ally. According to three separate sources, Sessions responded that it was inappropriate for Trump to intervene in this way. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump's attempt to intervene, saying “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”

But in fact, a president seeking the dismissal of criminal charges against a specific person--let alone a political ally--is highly "unnatural" because of the potential for corruption and the undermining of the rule of law such a discussion would present. Trump's pardon--essentially doing after the fact what the Justice Department warned him off of before--presents similar problems.

Trump has struggled to understand the concept that the president cannot subordinate the Justice Department to his political aims. His attempt to let Arpaio off the hook echoes his request to then-FBI Director James Comey to end the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." 

Why should I care about this?

Friday, August 25, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

A great deal--between about 7 and 9 p.m. on a Friday in August during a major natural disaster.

In the space of a few hours, the Trump White House made three announcements that, under normal circumstances, would each have dominated a day's news cycle. They were the pardon of Joe Arpaio for federal criminal contempt, the resignation or forcing out of the politically embarrassing aide Sebastian Gorka, and the implementation of Trump's spur-of-the-moment ban on military service by transgendered people.

It's not uncommon for politicians to wait until the end of the weekly news cycle to release sensitive news, but tonight is not merely a lull in the collective attention span. Nearly 8,000,000 Americans on the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana are in the path of the first major hurricane landfall in ten years, a Category 4 storm that is likely to cause massive or even catastrophic damage. 

The transgender service ban is very unpopular, and has earned Trump rare public pushback from active-duty military leaders. Trump is walking a very fine line with the white nationalists who are his strongest supporters, and has especially good reason to want to sweep the Arpaio and Gorka stories under the biggest possible rug, as the two are admired chiefly by white nationalists and Islamophobes.

Who cares?

  • Presidents who are doing their jobs well don't generally need to resort to this kind of distraction from what they're doing.
  • It's hard to know whether this is being done more out of cynicism or cowardice.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried, via his press secretary, to walk back his admission from earlier in the week that American taxpayers alone would pay for his proposed Mexico border wall.

During his Phoenix rally, Trump threatened to shut down the government if the short-term spending bill necessary to keep it open did not include funding--American funding--for the wall. Regarding that new emphasis on American taxpayer funding for the wall, this exchange took place during today's White House press briefing:
CECILIA VEGA (ABC NEWS): On this threat of the government shutdown if Congress doesn't secure funding for this wall, how is that not a concession from this WH that Mexico isn't actually going to pay for this wall and American taxpayers will?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again this is something the president's committed to, he's committed to protecting American lives, and doing that through the border wall is something that's important it's a priority and we're moving forward with it
VEGA: But he's not saying that Mexico is going to pay for it–
SANDERS: He hasn't said they're not, either.
In fact, he has--to Mexico. In August, when a transcript of a January phone call between Trump and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was leaked, Trump's unwillingness to pressure Mexico on this issue became public. On that call, Trump quickly retreated from his campaign stance--calling the wall "the least important thing"--and merely asked Peña Nieto to refrain from publicly repeating Mexico's refusal to pay.
PEÑA NIETO: I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient. But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall. 
TRUMP: But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances. 
PEÑA NIETO: I understand you well, Mr. President. I understand this critical point and I understand the critical political position that this constitutes for your country and for you, Mr. President. Let us look for a creative way to jump over this obstacle. ... Let us for now stop talking about the wall. 
TRUMP: Okay, Enrique, that is fine and I think it is fair. I do not bring up the wall but when the press brings up the wall, I will say, “let us see how it is going – let us see how it is working out with Mexico.”

Why is this a bad thing? 

  • Presidents should not lie, and having been caught doing so, they should not allow their press secretaries to repeat those lies.
  • Voters who heard candidate Trump lead them in chants about Mexico paying for the wall may have believed that he meant for Mexico to pay for the wall.
  • It remains absurd and dangerous to have a President of the United States root for a costly and embarrassing failure of his own government to function.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got the United States called out by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The committee's function is to help member nations remain in compliance with the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In that capacity, its membership of 18 human rights experts issued a highly unusual decision letter regarding the events in Charlottesville. In announcing the letter today, CERD called on "high-level politicians and public officials, to unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country." 

The decision does not mention Trump by name--but he is essentially the only "high-level politician" in the government of the United States whose condemnation of the racist violence was qualified and conditional. The Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Vice-President and virtually every member of the Senate all gave statements specifically tying the terrorist violence directly to the hate groups that had committed it.

Formal decisions like this are rare. In the last ten years, CERD has issued them to only five other countries: Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Iraq, and Kyrgyzstan. 

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who manages to single-handedly drag the United States government's reputation for human rights protections down to the level of Kyrgyzstan and Burundi is a disgrace.
  • It matters whether other countries believe that the United States cares about human rights and opposes racial discrimination.
  • There are real consequences to a president being unable to offend white supremacist supporters.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He asked a rhetorical question about convicted criminal Joe Arpaio.

At a campaign rally tonight in Phoenix, Trump asked the crowd "Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" The reference was to former Maricopa County Joe Arpaio, a political ally of Trump's who was implicated in literally dozens of criminal or unethical acts before being voted out of office.

In fact, Joe Arpaio was convicted of federal criminal contempt because he refused to do his job. Arpaio ordered his deputies to racially profile Latinos and detain people they believed to be in the country without documentation, even if they were not suspected of having committed a crime. After repeatedly ignoring orders from a federal judge to stop, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for having "willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates' compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed." In the case that gave rise to the orders, Arpaio destroyed evidence and on separate occasions opened investigations into both the presiding judge and the judge's wife.

Trump, who has recently become very interested in pardons, all but promised the crowd he would pardon Arpaio at a later date, saying, "You know what, I'll make a prediction: I think he's going to be just fine, OK? But I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe should feel good."

So what?

  • It is not possible for a law-abiding police officer to be convicted of a crime for "doing his job," and no president should suggest otherwise.
  • It's disgraceful for a president to use the power of the pardon to try to boost his popularity.

Monday, August 21, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gave a speech outlining a new Afghanistan policy, apparently--though not necessarily--the one he told the military he would.

Trump's address tonight on the US military involvement in Afghanistan was a major reversal from one of the few consistently held foreign policy views he had articulated during and before his campaign. Candidate and private citizen Trump repeatedly denounced President Obama for wasting American "blood and treasure" and urged him to withdraw immediately. But an abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan would now cost Trump political capital he doesn't have--and would happen over the strenuous objections of actual military experts.

Previously, Trump had dealt with this awkward contradiction by all but abandoning Afghanistan policy to the military. He allowed the Pentagon unprecedented authority to determine troop levels for itself, and took himself out of the decision-making process for greenlighting major operations. 

Trump offered no advance text of his announcement, which is unusual--and also kept the military and Pentagon in the dark as well. The military leaders who developed Trump's were reportedly concerned that Trump would announce a substantially different policy, either impulsively or deliberately.

So what?

  • It's bad if the United States military can't trust that what a president says on Friday will still be policy on Monday.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Phoenix and pardons. In the wake of his initially sluggish, ultimately catastrophic response to the race-based terrorist violence in Charlottesville, Trump began publicizing his upcoming campaign rally in Phoenix. The mayor of that city has begged Trump to postpone it, citing the volatile atmosphere around Trump in the wake of Charlottesville and the likelihood of violence and disorder. 

Complicating matters is the possibility that Trump will use the event to announce a pardon for the convicted criminal Joe Arpaio, a darling of the neo-Nazi and white nationalist movements that Trump was so reluctant to offend last week. Arpaio, the former sheriff of the county Phoenix is in, was convicted of criminal contempt for his refusal to obey a federal judge's orders to halt illegal and discriminatory raids on populations Arpaio suspected of containing undocumented immigrants. While this is the first time charges have been brought against Arpaio, he is widely regarded (even by supporters) to have run a corrupt criminal enterprise from within the sheriff's department for decades. Arpaio reveled in the publicity generated by his "tough" acts like forcing county jail prisoners to wear pink underwear, but he has also used his police powers to attack and intimidate critics, reporters, other local politiciansopposing candidates for his office, and the judge presiding in his own trial.

Trump, who delights in stealing the spotlight as much as Arpaio, has been publicly musing about the possibility of a pardon.

The press conference that wasn't. On Monday, Trump was supposed to give a "big press conference," according to an announcement he made the week before. Instead, Trump read a brief statement directly from a teleprompter walking back some of his initial comments (or lack thereof) on the terrorist violence in Charlottesville. He then began to leave the room. Asked by the reporters present why they weren't having a press conference after all, Trump said "we just had one."

A press conference, by definition, includes taking questions from the press.

Tuesday. However, Trump's idea to have a press conference without the press may have had some merit. The following day, to the surprise and alarm of his staff, he did take questions from the press in the lobby of Trump Tower, walking back the previous day's walking back and defending the "very fine people" he imagined were marching in solidarity with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

For all the attention that Trump's remarks attracted, he did not entirely overshadow the people standing behind him. John Kelly, Trump's new chief of staff, became something of a viral sensation for his miserable body language as Trump spoke. (When Kelly was appointed on July 31, it was amid optimism that he would exert some semblance of control over Trump's most destructive impulses.)

But three other Trump administration officials were also put in awkward positions by his equation of neo-Nazis and their fictional "alt-left" counterparts. The official reason for the lobby appearance was to introduce Trump's infrastructure plan, and he was joined for that purpose by his secretary of transportation Elaine Chao, his treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, and his chief economic advisor Gary Cohn. Chao was born in Taiwan, and Mnuchin and Cohn are Jewish. Pressed for comment, Chao and Mnuchin eventually offered tepid restatements of the White House press office's statement on Trump's remarks. Cohn has made no statement and was reportedly furious, but planned to remain in his job for fear that his departure would leave the Trump administration with no real economic policy experience at all.

Carl Icahn. Dozens of people symbolically employed by Trump for their advice resigned this week in frustration with Trump's inability to offend his white nationalist supporters, but at least one of his unpaid advisors resigned in the more traditional fashion: under a cloud of suspicion.

From the moment of his appointment, there has been suspicion that Carl Icahn, one of the few people whose advice Trump appears to actually value, would steer policy toward things that would benefit people like him--that is to say, billionaire investors. But Icahn's resignation appears to have been prompted by an article in the New Yorker spelling out his participation a much more direct form of conflict of interest. Icahn owns companies that trade in pollution credits, and appears to have used the news that he would be appointed to oversee regulations affecting those credits to drive down their price. This is significant because Icahn took the apparently unprecedented step of "shorting" those credits, meaning that he earned additional profits the lower their price went.

Manipulating the price of investments and trading on secret information are serious crimes, as is using an office of public trust for personal gain.

Why are these bad things?

  • Presidents who reluctantly read speeches denouncing white nationalists, and then speak positively about pardoning a hero to white nationalists, probably don't have much of a problem with white nationalism.
  • When presidents avoid taking questions, it's usually because they don't have good answers.
  • A president who would rather offend his staff than white supremacists is unfit for office.
  • Presidents are responsible for the ethical behavior of the people they appoint to positions of trust.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He earned the thanks of the nation's foremost arts and culture organization for his decision to stay away from them.

Trump announced today that, in a break with presidential tradition, he would not attend the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony. The Center immediately released its own statement praising Trump for staying away and saying that it was "grateful for this gesture" that would allow the focus of the ceremony to stay on the awardees. In an echo of Trump's recent hemorrhaging from his advisory panels, several honorees had already announced that they would boycott the White House gala before the ceremony itself. These included television producer Norman Lear, musician Lionel Richie, and dancer Carmen de Lavallade

The White House's immediate fear seems to have been that Trump would do poorly in a public setting where he could not guarantee the audience would be supporters. The audience at the normally sedate event almost certainly would have been hostile to Trump. In his March budget proposal, Trump threatened to effectively zero out government support for the humanities, arts and art education, and public broadcasting.

Presidents have occasionally skipped the event in the past, but Trump is apparently the first to be thanked for his absence.

Who cares?

  • When you're getting thanked for not showing up to parties, you have a problem.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

For the second and third time this week, he got into a debate with people leaving his administration about who quit from or fired whom.

Earlier this morning, the 17 members of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned en masse, citing Trump's moral cowardice following the Charlottesville tragedy--and calling on Trump to resign as well. But the White House insisted that Trump had already decided, without having mentioned it before now, to end the PCAH, saying that it "merely redirects funding from the federal cultural agencies (NEA/NEH/IMLS) that answer directly to the President, Congress, and taxpayers. These cultural agencies do tremendous work and they will continue to engage in these important projects.”

Since the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities), and the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) would all be shut down completely if Trump's 2018 budget were adopted, it's unlikely that saving money for their "important projects" was actually on Trump's mind before this morning. 

There was also some ambiguity about whether Trump forced Bannon's resignation today, a characterization the White House did not dispute, or--as Bannon himself claimed--he resigned two weeks ago. Trump was reportedly furious over an "accidental" interview Bannon gave with the liberal American Prospect this Tuesday, in which he undercut Trump's position on North Korea. But Trump is also reportedly afraid--perhaps with some justification--that Bannon is more popular with Trump's white nationalist base than Trump himself.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to lie.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted out a racist fairy tale that, for all anyone knows, he may actually believe.

In response to terrorist vehicular murders in Barcelona (which, this time, he did not hesitate to label as such), Trump tweeted a racist urban legend about Gen. Pershing executing fifty Muslims in the US-occupied Philippines with bullets dipped in pig's blood. According to Trump, this so horrified potential Muslim attackers that they refrained from "radical Islamic terrorism" for 35 years. 

Trump, who justified his hesitation to offend torch-wielding neo-Nazis and Klansmen by saying that he always waits to get "the facts," is repeating a lie with no basis in fact. He didn't invent this myth, although he seems to embellish it every time he tells it. (Last time, it was only 25 years; in reality, neither pig blood nor any other substance had much effect on a conflict that had Muslims on both sides.)

Pershing was the military governor of the predominantly Muslim Moro Province of the Philippines. In reality, he tried to de-escalate the rebellion by avoiding civilian casualties and fostering civil society among non-rebelling populations. While the Moro people were almost all Muslims at the time of Pershing's governorship, they were not radicalized: they had been resisting rule by Western governments since Spain colonized the Philippines in the early 16th century. 

Why is this bad?

  • The president of the United States of America should not be endorsing savagery and religious hatred, under any circumstances whatsoever.
  • Mocking non-radicalized Muslims as superstitious cowards is a good way to radicalize them.
  • If Trump is not dumb enough to actually believe this, then he must think his supporters are.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He told a face-saving lie about defections from his CEO advisory panels.

After several days of increasingly embarrassing resignations from two advisory councils over his response to the terrorist murder in Charlottesville, Trump tweeted today at 11:14 A.M. that he was disbanding them

This was a lie, at least with respect to his "Strategy and Policy Forum." That group had decided to disband itself in protest, and informed Trump of its decision before his tweet. Only after that discussion had concluded did Trump announced that he was disbanding it, along with his "American Manufacturing Council," which was also rapidly shedding members. 

Prior to his Tuesday press conference, at which he declared that "some very fine people" were marching on the side of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, Trump took a much less magnanimous approach to resignations from the panels. He called the CEOs who resigned "grandstanders" and insisted that "For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place." 

Why is this a problem?

  • Given that most of the members of these panels freely admitted they were only taking part for the access it gave them to Trump, it's pretty stunning that it was even possible for them to resign in protest.
  • Past a certain point, an inability to handle or even acknowledge criticism becomes pathological.
  • It is wrong to lie.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He shored up his base.

Here is a sample of the favorable reactions to Trump's impromptu press conference today.

  • David Duke's wikipedia entry accurately describes him as "a white nationalist, politician, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier, convicted felon, and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan."

  • Richard Spencer, also a white nationalist, coined the term "alt-right." He toasted Trump's victory with a Nazi salute and a cheer of "Heil Trump!" He later elaborated on that thought: "Trump has opened the door to nationalism in this country — not American nationalism but the white race. Once that door has fully swung open, you can’t close it."

  • Jack Posobiec, whom Trump approvingly retweeted yesterday, was the director of Citizens for Trump during the campaign, and was granted a press pass to cover the White House. He also helped promote and apparently actually believed the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory, which held that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement of a DC-area pizza place. (He was thrown out of the restaurant for barging in on a child's birthday party, but was not the person who ultimately shot up the walls looking for the non-existent basement.)

Duke and Spencer were present in Charlottesville. The overall thesis of Trump's statements today was that there were "some very fine people" among the neo-Nazis and Klansmen who marched on that city prior to the terrorist murder of a counter-protestor.


  • If a president says something that makes Klansmen, white nationalists, and conspiracy theorists this happy, he's done something terribly wrong.
  • People who voted for Trump who do not want to expel non-whites and Jews from the United States may have thought that Trump would have the courage to offend people who did.

Monday, August 14, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He quickly and unambiguously denounced something he found unacceptable.

At 6:00 A.M. EDT, Kenneth Frazier, CEO of the drug manufacturer Merck, resigned from Trump's "American Manufacturing Council." Frazier, who is black, said that "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy." Though he did not specifically mention Trump's ambiguous statements on the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, which have pleased only the white supremacists they were notionally directed at, Frazier did say that resigning from the Trump panel was "a matter of personal conscience."

At 6:54 A.M., Trump responded on Twitter: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!" Apparently still seething nine hours later, Trump again attacked Merck in a subsequent tweet

Less than a month ago, Trump called Frazier one of the "great, great leaders of business in this country" and praised Merck for its part in creating "thousands of American manufacturing jobs."

Who cares?

  • A president who only cares about a business leader's opinion when he agrees with it does not care about the opinions of business leaders.
  • A president who only values the things an African-American has to say when it flatters him does not value the things African-Americans have to say.
  • A president who gets angrier about a peaceful expression of dissent than a terrorist murder, and responds more quickly and forcefully to it, gives comfort to terrorists.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, mood swing edition

What else did Trump do this week?

He experienced some mood swings.

Self-satisfied. Vice News reported this week that RNC and White House staffers have been preparing twice-daily "propaganda documents" for Trump's personal enjoyment. ("Propaganda document" is the term used inside the White House.) The document consists entirely of pro-Trump headlines and cable news screenshots that praise him. On days where no really favorable coverage is available, aides insert photographs of Trump "looking powerful" for him to admire.

The practice apparently started as a means for Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus to gain a regular audience with Trump—and to be a regular bearer of good news. In fact, Spicer and Priebus fought over who would get to deliver it: Trump is notoriously susceptible to flattery. Also, having regular face-time with him is more important than it would be for any other president, as he is known to be easily swayed, meaning the person who gets the last word often gets their way.

This appears to be an aspect of the larger tendency of Trump's employees to control him by controlling the media he consumes. Since this includes keeping unflattering things from him (including the fact that they keep things from him), it's not at all clear whether Trump knows even now the real purpose of the "propaganda document."

Pissed off. Retired general John Kelly, the new chief of staff, has inspired hope that he will be able to bring some semblance of order to the epically chaotic Trump White House. Trump seems to respect military men (as much as he is capable of respecting anyone, which is to say, inconsistently) and for a few days, at least, White House staff reported that Trump was making a real effort to impress Kelly. The evidence: that Trump had begun paying attention in meetings.

But setting that remarkable accomplishment aside, Kelly has apparently failed in the greatest challenge he set himself: gaining some semblance of control over Trump's Twitter addiction. Perhaps fearing that Trump would engage in nuclear brinksmanship 140 characters at a time if he didn't intervene, Kelly optimistically sought to steer Trump's tweets towards safer topics. 

Not only did Kelly not succeed, but Trump learned about the plan to influence his ability to be "MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL" and was, in the words of an aide, "pissed."

Bellicose. Trump's nuclear taunts at North Korea this week alarmed many Americans, who saw Trump's weirdly casual use action-movie phrases like "fire and fury" and "locked and loaded" as exactly the kind of deranged rhetoric the Kim regime usually spouts at the rest of the world. Apparently fearing that North Korea would feel the same way, aides promptly leaked that Trump was merely in a "bellicose mood" and that his improvised threats should not be taken seriously.

Deranged (but just for pretend). Trump himself was reportedly thrilled at the attention his nuclear threats earned him, quite possibly because of the rally-round-the-flag effect it had in at least one poll. (Trump remains about twenty percentage points underwater in his overall approval ratings.) But lest he be misunderstood, he retweeted a Fox News explanation of his erratic behavior: that he was merely pretending to be erratic, so that North Korea would not know how to handle him.

This is not the first time a strategy like this has been tried: President Nixon deliberately tried to make Communist leaders think he was impulsive and irrational, so that they would avoid accidentally provoking the United States into a first nuclear strike.

However, as Nixon was aware, this only works to your strategic advantage if you are not simultaneously telling the whole world that it is just a ruse.

Sad and persecuted. His statement yesterday about the Charlottesville tragedy made clear that Trump was either ideologically unwilling or politically unable to condemn terrorist murders when committed by white supremacists. But today, his homeland Security advisor Tom Bossert pushed back, saying that "What you need to focus on is the rest of his statement."

Fair enough: the rest of the statement does give some indication of Trump's emotional state. Immediately after saying
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.
—which was the sentence that provoked almost (but not quite) unanimous outrage, Trump added:
It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.
He then said:
Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record — just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it's been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others, they're coming back to our country. We're renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country. So when I watch Charlottesville, to me it's very, very sad.

...Federal authorities are also providing tremendous support to the governor [of Virginia]. He thanked me for that.
In other words, Trump was distressed that people might think this was somehow his fault, and that the terrorist murder of an American by his white supremacist supporters would overshadow his "trade deals." But he was pleased to be thanked on behalf of the parts of his government actually involved with the response.

Why are these bad things?

  • A president who needs twice-daily flattery is not mentally healthy enough to do the job.
  • It's bad if a president is so easily manipulated that his staff is fighting over who gets to do it.
  • At this point it doesn't really matter whether Trump cannot, or merely will not listen to the people begging him to think before he tweets.
  • It is not clever strategy to tell a nuclear adversary something and then tell the entire world you didn't mean it.
  • A president who, in a statement about a terrorist murder, can't talk about terrorism but can't not talk about his "great" negotiating skills, is a disgrace to the office.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reacted to the terrorist murder of an anti-racist demonstrator in Charlottesville saying that there was hatred and violence "on many sides."

Forced to react to today's ramming attack that has killed a demonstrator and injured at least 19 more, Trump said this:
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country – not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time.
Presumably because he has received valuable political support from the Klan, Richard Spencer, and other white supremacy or "alt-right" groups, Trump pointedly refused to call the incident terrorism or mention the fact that white supremacist groups were party to it. (Democrats and other Republicans less beholden to white supremacists were not as hesitant.) By way of contrast, when a similar ramming attack occurred in Paris in April, Trump didn't hesitate to immediately label it "radical Islamic terrorism" and predict (incorrectly) that it would help his preferred candidate in the upcoming French elections.

Not all Trump supporters are white nationalists, but Trump has been extremely reluctant to criticize the openly racist "alt-right" groups that helped secure his victory--a fact they noticed and appreciated today. Richard Spencer, a leader of the movement who celebrated Trump's victory with a Nazi salute and a cheer of "Heil Trump!" was present at the rally today. Former Klan leader David Duke, who Trump once pretended not to know rather than renounce Duke's support of his candidacy, was also there. Duke renewed his support for Trump and said the rally was to fulfill Trump's promise to "take our country back."


  • A president who hesitates to denounce terrorism that kills Americans when it is politically inconvenient is a coward.
  • "Many sides" did not kill anyone in Charlottesville today.
  • People--even racially motivated terrorists--do not support politicians unless they believe those politicians share their values and will help them accomplish their goals.
  • Condemning "violence" without condemning the people who foment it is no better than approving of violence.
  • The fact that violence existed in the world before a president's term does not excuse that president from dealing with it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He put a U.S. military attack on Venezuela on the table, in what appears to have been an improvisation.

Speaking from his luxury golf resort in New Jersey today, Trump remarked that Venezuelans "are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary." He was unable or unwilling to be any more specific. The sudden interest in Venezuela came days after similarly improvised threats about North Korea, which Trump's handlers later attributed to a "bellicose mood" that had come over him.

The situation in Venezuela has indeed been chaotic, with a collapsed economy fueling deadly conflict between the now-dictatorial government of Nicolas Maduro and a substantial resistance movement. One way that Maduro has shored up support has been to paint his regime as the best defense against supposed attacks by the United States. Until today, however, no one outside of Maduro regime propaganda seriously believed the United States would take unilateral military action.

The Pentagon was, as is frequently the case with Trump, the last to know of its commander-in-chief's plans and referred further inquiry to the White House, saying that it had received no orders on the subject.

Why is this a problem?

  • Presidents who threaten military invasions on a whim make the United States weaker.
  • It's bad if a president does exactly what a dictator's anti-American propaganda said he'd do.
  • The military should generally be informed about military matters.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He thanked Vladimir Putin for expelling diplomats from the US embassy in Moscow, saying:
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”
Trump's tone was ambiguous. This is the sort of statement that Trump has, in the past, tried to claim after the fact was a joke. At least as of Thursday, his White House spokesperson was unwilling (and so probably unable) to say one way or the other whether Trump was serious.

The Putin regime, which intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win, is retaliating against Obama-era sanctions by forcing the United States to reduce its Moscow embassy staff by 755 people, or more than half its current staffing. Many of these will be Russians in clerical or support positions, but some will be Americans who will be forced to return to the United States (with their families). But they will return to other duties (possibly at the desperately understaffed State Department) and so will not save the United States any money.

Trump has long been starstruck by the Russian leader, even before Putin intervened to help make him president. Typical of his usual approach to Putin, Trump defended him against charges of political murder by saying, "At least he's a leader... You think our country's so innocent?" Trump, who has insulted almost everyone who has ever crossed his path, including the United States' closest allies, appears never to have even hinted at any kind of criticism of Putin.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who is psychologically incapable of finding fault with a dictator hostile to the United States cannot do his job.
  • American diplomatic personnel and their families are not inconveniences that a president should be glad to be rid of.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about America's nuclear arsenal.

Shortly before heading out for a round of golf (though he still insists he is not on vacation, even a "working vacation"), Trump made the following claim on Twitter: that as his "first order as president" was to "renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal," making it "stronger and more powerful than ever before."

None of this is true. Overhauls of the United States' nuclear weapons are done on a regular and legally mandated basis. The most recent review, which is still ongoing, began under President Obama in 2016. Trump signed an executive order related to that ongoing review on Jan. 27th. The Defense Department began the report Trump requested in late April and it is not expected to be finished until the end of this year. No changes to the arsenal itself could have happened in this time that had not been planned for years in advance.

This tweet may have been intended to let Trump save face the day after he gave an unplanned, improvised, and un-vetted speech in which he promised that further threats from North Korea would be "met with fire and fury the likes of which the world have never seen." North Korea, whose current nuclear arsenal would be outclassed by the United States' in 1949, immediately responded by threatening an attack on the US territory of Guam, which is within range of its more proven missiles.

Why is this a problem?

  • This is not the first time Trump has been deeply ignorant of how nuclear weapons work in the real world.
  • It's dangerous and stupid for presidents to make off-the-cuff military threats without consulting the actual military.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things other people did.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He promoted a Fox News story sourced by leakers of classified military intelligence.

The astonishing leakiness of Trump's administration is more than a personal embarrassment for him. Because leaks about Michael Flynn's undisclosed ties to Russian agents helped precipitate the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the Trump-Russia collaboration, it's also an existential threat to his presidency. As a result, Trump's efforts to rein in leaks have escalated dramatically. The Justice Department, after being tweet-shamed, announced a campaign last week to unmask and prosecute leakers

By law, however, most leaks are not criminal matters. A government employee can be fired for disclosing information without authorization, but generally speaking only the leaking of classified information is a crime. As Trump himself tweeted last Saturday about the prosecution of leakers, "For National Security, the tougher the better!" In fact, Trump was thinking about the national security implications of leaks as far back as February, when he asked, "Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N.Korea etc?" 

Today, Trump retweeted a Fox News story that cited material gathered by US intelligence agencies about North Korean missile tests, attributed to "U.S. officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region." UN Ambassador and Trump appointee Nikki Haley confirmed that the leak was not authorized, and called it "a shame." Haley added that “it's incredibly dangerous when things get out into the press like that.”

So what?

  • Presidents who only care about a crime when it affects them personally don't care about that crime at all.
  • It's bad if a president publicly celebrates things his own hand-picked diplomatic staff is calling "a shame" and "incredibly dangerous."

Monday, August 7, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared himself popular and beloved, if you ignore the polls.

In the midst of a 9-tweet flurry sent this morning from his luxury golf resort (though Trump maintains he is not on vacation) Trump declared that, ignoring "Fake News," his "base" was "bigger & stronger than ever." Trump's disapproval numbers have been higher than his approvals for all but a few days of his presidency, usually with about a 20% gap between the two.

But Trump's tweet specified his "base," not his overall numbers--and polls specifically show his base is abandoning him. White voters with no college degree, whom Trump famously courted by declaring "I love the poorly educated!" now disapprove of him by a 50-43 margin. A separate CNN poll shows only 35% of non-college whites expressing strong approval. Trump won 66% of this group in the election. Trump's 76% approval rating among Republicans may sound high, but in fact it is dangerously low, especially for this early in a presidential term, and is down from a high of 89%.

Trump generally defines "fake news" as news that is unflattering to him, as opposed to deliberate and knowingly false bot-driven social media propaganda of the sort that Russia is known to have deployed on his behalf. By Trump's definition, even the Republican-friendly pollster Rasmussen--the only one ever approvingly cited in a Trump tweet--is now "fake news." Rasmussen has his "strong approval" rating down 19% from its high (25% today vs. 44% in the week after his inauguration). Joining Rasmussen in unintentional "fake news" category is senior advisor Kellyanne Conway, who apparently had not gotten the memo about Trump's popularity when she admitted that Republican voters were frustrated with him.

So why is this a bad thing?

  • After about the fourth grade, declaring yourself popular does not make you popular.
  • Presidents who are capable at their jobs use opinion polls to help craft policies in line with Americans' values.
  • Not being able to believe or accept that people don't like you is an aspect of narcissism, and it is not a sign of good mental health.
  • Presidents who are only interested in what their supporters think are not doing their job.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sunday Week In Review, communications edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

In the absence of his most recent communications director, he struggled to communicate.

E-mails. This week saw the revelation that an online prankster successfully used low-tech methods to fool Trump appointees in the White House into believing that he was one of their colleagues. The prankster (who does not appear to have solicited sensitive information--this time) posed as Reince Priebus in order to bait then-comms director Anthony Scaramucci into a fight. More alarmingly, he also tricked Trump's homeland security advisor, Thomas Bossert, into chummily accepting an invitation to a "soirée" hosted by (fake) Jared Kushner.

One of the main themes of Trump's campaign was that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had maintained a private e-mail server which in theory could have been hacked. Trump repeatedly said that this potential insecurity meant that she could not be trusted with sensitive government secrets. He also bragged that he hires only "the best people."

Twitter. Most of Trump's 47 tweets between last Sunday and yesterday were par for the course, but one in particular caught the wrong sort of attention for the 71-year-old who regards himself as a master of social media. Trump was apparently touched by "Nicole" (@proTrump45) who thanked him yesterday for "working hard" for the American people--just as Trump himself was feeling a bit sensitive about whether 17 days in golf clothes counted as a vacation--and so he responded with his personal thanks.

What Trump didn't--and likely still doesn't--know is that "Nicole" is less a person than a drone in a Twitter-bot brigade with a stock photo and a link to a merch site. In the unlikely event that a staffer is brave enough to tell Trump he's chatting with a bot, though, he may find a website that went live this week useful. Hamilton 68 tracks known Russian bot-led disinformation campaigns in social media in real time. For example, the current top-trending hashtag among known Russian propaganda outlets is #MAGA.

Jokes. Trump's underappreciated sense of humor was fully on display this week. One of the jokes that Americans largely failed to get was his zinger suggesting that police "rough up" people during arrests. Wet-blanket police departments across the country misinterpreted the funnyman's remarks and issued pointed rebuttals.

White House comedy identifier Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed after the fact that his "police brutality" routine was simply an example of Trump's Andy Kaufmanesque wit.

Trump's comedy partner Ed Butowski got him in hot water this week too, after the latter's "joke" that Trump had personally directed Butowski to push a fake news story about the death of a DNC staffer resulted in a lawsuit. The gag came to light after Butowski met with Trump's joke-writer (and occasional acting communications director) Sean Spicer, then sent a text message to a Fox News contributor demanding that he publish an article falsely claiming that DNC employee Seth Rich had been collaborating with WikiLeaks, saying: "Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you.” Butowsky subsequently continued the comedy routine in a voice mail message, saying, “A couple of minutes ago I got a note that we have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And, tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we've got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.”

The joke--although it ruins comedy to have to explain it--is that if Seth Rich, who was murdered in a botched robbery, was secretly in cahoots with WikiLeaks, then it would bolster Trump's claim that neither he nor Russian accomplices were behind the Russian government's known efforts to influence the election on Trump's behalf. Rich's parents, perhaps not in a laughing frame of mind given their grief over the murder of their son, have begged Trump and his conservative media supporters to stop telling this joke.

Phone calls. Trump either lied about or imagined two phone calls this week. In the transcript to a Wall Street Journal interview that was released Tuesday, Trump said that his campaign-style appearance before the non-political Boy Scout Jamboree had prompted a call from the president of the Boy Scouts of America in which the latter said that "it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them, and they were very thankful."

The BSA's president, who as a former scout himself once pledged to keep himself mentally awake and morally straight, denied that any such phone call had taken place. The Scouts did, however, apologize for "the greatest speech that was ever made to them" immediately after it had taken place.

On Monday, Trump claimed that the President of Mexico had called him recently to congratulate him on slowing the flow of migrants. Unfortunately for Trump, phone conversations between heads of state are the sort of thing that get remembered, and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto confirmed that no such phone call took place.

However, Trump and Peña Nieto did speak in January, shortly after Trump took office. The official White House transcript of that conversation was leaked this week. In it, Trump begs Peña Nieto not to publicly deny that Mexico would bear the cost of Trump's border wall, arguing that the wall was "the least important thing." Trump campaign rally attendees would be forgiven for thinking that the wall was actually the most important thing. Trump also called the state of New Hampshire a "drug-infested den," mistakenly identifying it as a state he had won in November. (He did not.)

The bad taste of begging Mexico for political cover on his wall promises may have contributed to Trump's short fuse in a conversation he had the following day with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The transcript for that call also became public this week. Frustrated with Turnbull's repeated attempts to explain why Australia was not, in fact, sending criminals to the United States in the guise of refugee resettlement, Trump snapped that "Putin was a pleasant call--this is ridiculous."

Speech. Trump's WSJ interview was, to put it charitably, difficult to interpret at times. Here are some excerpts.
WSJ: What are the main goals [of your tax reform plan]?
TRUMP: We have — nobody knows what the number is. I mean, it used to be, when we talked during the debate, $2.5 trillion, right, when the most elegant person — right? I call him Mr. Elegant. I mean, that was a great debate. We did such a great job. But at that time I was talking $2.5 trillion. I guess it’s $5 trillion now. Whatever it is, it’s a lot more.  
WSJ: You tweeted this morning about trade talks with Britain.
WSJ: Can you tell us more about what’s going on?
TRUMP: No, but I can say that we’re going to be very involved with the U.K. I mean, you don’t hear the word Britain anymore. It’s very interesting. It’s like, nope.... Is Scotland going to go for the vote, by the way? You don’t see it. It would be terrible. They just went through hell.
WSJ: Besides, the first minister’s already made it clear she –
TRUMP: What do you think? You don’t think so, right?
WSJ: I don’t.
TRUMP: One little thing, what would they do with the British Open if they ever got out? They’d no longer have the British Open. Scotland. Keep it in Scotland.
WSJ: We just had a –
TRUMP: By the way, are you a member there?
WSJ: But we can’t expect any more staff changes in the immediate – in the immediate future?
TRUMP: No, I don’t think so. [Reince Priebus was forced to resign two days later.]
WSJ: No?
TRUMP: But I’m very happy with Anthony [Scaramucci]. I think Anthony is going to do amazing. [Scaramucci was forced out by Priebus's replacement six days later.] 
WSJ: Would you consider pardons, Mr. President, given the investigation is –
TRUMP: You know what? I don’t even think of pardons. Here’s why, nobody did anything wrong. Look at Jared, everybody – we do appreciate the editorial – but everybody said Jared Kushner. Jared’s a very private person. He doesn’t get out. I mean, maybe it’s good or maybe it’s bad what I do, but at least people know how I feel. Jared’s this really nice, smart guy, who’d love to see peace in the Middle East and in Israel, OK?
The White House has not revealed the identity of "Mr. Elegant."

What are the problems with these things?

  • Presidents who live in houses with poor e-mail security practices shouldn't throw stones.
  • Trying to walk back embarrassing statements by saying they were jokes doesn't work for presidents any better than it does for anyone else.
  • However "modern day presidential" it might be, a president who publicly and unknowingly chats with a bot meant to sell t-shirts is too easily fooled.
  • It is truly awful to promote the slander of a murder victim for political purposes.
  • Presidents should not lie.
  • People who voted for Trump may have believed him when he said he actually cared about the proposed Mexico border wall.
  • As a rule, presidents should not unfavorably compare our closest allies with hostile nations.
  • A president who is exhausted and emotionally off-balance from making phone calls with allies cannot handle the job.
  • It's not a good sign when a president's allies in the media decide to conceal his actual words from public scrutiny for fear of how it will make him look.