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Trump has not been completely idle on environmental policy: just last week Trump rescinded an executive order issued by President Obama requiring the federal government to consider flood risks and mitigation strategies when making investments in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