Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Racial slurs. On Monday, Trump once again referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as "Pocahontas." Trump has made the racial taunt--in reference to Warren's family history suggesting Cherokee and Delaware heritage--many times before, but this time it came as a sort of free-association during a ceremony honoring the Navajo "Code Talkers" of the second World War.

Native American groups were not amused, particularly because this latest use of the Powhatan woman's name as a slur distracted from what was supposed to be a celebration of Native American war heroes. 

Trump had a history of racial attacks on Native Americans long before Sen. Warren got under his skin. In 1993, he suggested that he had more "Indian blood" than the leaders of tribes who operated casinos in competition with him. He also said that the tribal organizations were fronts for organized crime, a claim he later worked into TV attack ads aimed at halting the construction of a new Mohawk casino that would compete with his.

Revisionist history. One of the defining moments of Trump's political career was the release of the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. The release prompted an "apology" notable for its anger and defensiveness, but it did at least acknowledge that the tape was real: "I said it. It was wrong and I apologize." The statement was remarkable at the time because it was arguably the only time Trump had ever been known to publicly admit any sort of wrongdoing, much less give a grudging apology.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump has been telling people that he now believes the footage was somehow falsified. (It was not.)

As is often the case, it is hard to know whether Trump is deliberately lying, or has genuinely convinced himself to remember things differently. The Times piece cites Trump's own advisors, who admit that he "privately harbor[s] a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact," and that his changing view of the tape may be one of them. His advisors are not the only ones wondering lately about the extent to which Trump is fully engaged with reality.

On the other hand, Trump has been accused by at least sixteen individual women of sexual assault or harassment, not counting pageant contestants (some of them underage) who reported that he deliberately barged in on their dressing rooms while they were changing.

Diplomatic crisis. On Wednesday, Trump retweeted Islamophobic videos by an ultra-nationalist fringe group implicated in the murder of a British member of Parliament. When the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her disappointment, he immediately raged back at her on Twitter, telling her in so many words to mind her own business.

In short order, Trump was repeatedly denounced from the floor of Parliament. Language used in the House of Commons is often blunt by American political standards, but for a Member to say that a sitting American president was "either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking—or all three" is unprecedented in the last two centuries. By Friday, there were other consequences. The British government canceled a "working visit" where Trump was to ceremonially open an American embassy in London that had been scheduled for next month.

The "working visit" itself had been a compromise to avoid the massive protests that were expected if he were given the honor of a full state visit. (While a state visit was still on the table, Trump had been eagerly looking forward to it, specifically requesting a ceremonial carriage ride with the Queen.)

Meritocracy. In October, Trump declared a "public health emergency" on opioids--an act which freed up $57,000 to combat an epidemic of addiction which killed about 30,000 Americans in 2015. This is distinct from a declaration of a national emergency, which would have allowed the government to tap into the $13 billion FEMA budget.

On Wednesday, Trump appointed a "czar" to oversee the administration's efforts to combat the opioid epidemic: his former pollster and TV surrogate Kellyanne Conway.

What is so bad about these things?

  • A president who can't control the impulse to make racial slurs at a ceremony honoring war heroes of that race is not mentally fit for office.
  • Telling big lies in the hopes that people will believe you rather than their own ears is what authoritarians do.
  • It's a problem if an American president is so toxic in our closest ally that he's blacklisted from even informal visiting.
  • It's bad to appoint unqualified political operatives to manage a medical crisis.