Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, Denial edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He issued--and existed in a state of--denial.

Russia warnings. It was reported this week that the Trump campaign (as well as the Clinton campaign) received a briefing warning them of the possibility that Russian intelligence agents would try to target them. The existence of the briefing is not really a surprise, but it does call into sharper relief the fact that the Trump campaign did not go directly to the FBI when approached by Russian contacts with the promise of "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. (Instead, they enthusiastically sent three of Trump's most senior confidants to a meeting, then attempted to conceal that it had taken place.)

Trump, who had previously categorically denied that there were ever any contacts between his campaign and Russia--an extravagantly false claim--denied this week that the briefing meant anything.

2017 elections. Still fuming over Roy Moore's loss in the Alabama Senate race, Trump took to Twitter on Monday to remind anyone still listening that the Republican party was not collapsing. "Remember, Republicans are 5-0 in Congressional Races this year. The media refuses to mention this," he wrote, referring to special elections. In fact, Republicans are 5-2 after Doug Jones' victory in Alabama and Jimmy Gomez' victory in the race for the seat vacated by Xavier Becerra (D-CA),

Setting that aside, however, the picture painted by those victories is fairly grim for the GOP under Trump. By a wide margin, the Democratic candidates in those safe Republican seats outperformed Hillary Clinton's vote share in their districts--and Clinton herself beat Trump in the popular vote.

The picture in state legislative special elections is even more dramatic. Democrats gained 11 seats over the course of 98 elections in 2017 to date. (A typical year sees about 70 special elections in state legislatures, and no year since 2011 has seen a partisan shift of more than three seats.)

2018 elections. These were some of the points made by Republican leaders in a "come to Jesus" meeting held Wednesday in the wake of the tax bill passing. (The timing of the meeting may have been intentional--Trump's aides have long since learned to take advantage of his mood swings by presenting bad news when he is in a good frame of mind.)

Trump's response to warnings of a "bloodbath" in 2018 has been to ask aides whether he is "getting enough credit for his accomplishments." (Presumably the answer he was looking for was "no.")

Petitioning the government for redress of grievances (suspended). On Tuesday, Trump shuttered the popular "We The People" online citizen petition page created by the Obama Administration and housed on the White House's website.

Under President Obama's rules, all petitions that reached a 100,000 signature threshold were supposed to received an official response by the White House within 30 days. Trump has not responded to any of the 17 such petitions that satisfied that requirement since he took office--probably because many of them were critical of him. Some of the qualifying petitions had called on Trump to release his tax returns, comply with ethics rules, or resign.

The Trump White House claims that closing the site will save $1.3 million, although it was not clear where this number came from. (The site itself would not cost that much to host if it received a hundred times the traffic it did.)

Haitians and Nigerians. Some of Trump's denials were more straightforward. Back in June, according to two sources within his own administration, Trump livened up a meeting on immigration with some observations about the kinds of people he believes are coming to the United States. Haitians, Trump said, "all have AIDS," and Nigerians would "never go back to their huts" once they'd seen the United States.

The Trump White House response: no, he didn't say that.

Why do these things matter?

  • Presidents shouldn't conspire with foreign agents after being warned by the FBI not to conspire with foreign agents.
  • A president's political problems aren't the most important things, but that doesn't mean that pretending they don't exist will make them go away.
  • It's bad if a president is unwilling to hear criticism, or even suggestions, from citizens.
  • Even if there isn't documentary proof one way or the other, it shouldn't be so plausible that a sitting president would say insanely offensive and racist things.