Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Name-calling. On Monday, Trump called Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) "one of the biggest liars and leakers." Schiff is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Devin Nunes, and was about to put Trump in the awkward position of declassifying a Democratic-authored memo that undid Trump's claims of political persecution by his own FBI. (Trump, who approved the release so-called Nunes Memo without reading it and over the objections of his own FBI and DOJ, ultimately decided to simply refuse to allow any Democratic response based on the same classified sources.)

There is no evidence that Schiff has leaked classified information--and in fact, Trump seems to be the only one even making the claim.

Executive time. Schiff responded by noting that Trump's tweet came during "executive time," and asking him to get back to work. "Executive time" is how the White House internally refers to the nebulous and ever-growing blocks of unscheduled time on Trump's schedule for which no information about Trump's agenda, even in general terms, is provided. Trump spends much of his "executive time" in the White House residence, watching TV and sometimes tweeting from bed, as he recently admitted.

But while Trump's morning and evening twitter-rants are a predictable feature of the calendar, they're not limited to "executive time," as his tweeting this week made clear. On Wednesday, he issued an all-caps blast: "NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!" (The bombshell in question was that then-President Obama had asked to be kept informed on the unfolding investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 election.) 

Reporter Kyle Griffin noticed that Trump's tweet came at 11:10 A.M., when he was supposed to be--and presumably was--in the middle of an intelligence briefing.

Presidential "daily" "briefings." This week, the Washington Post provided two pieces of context that help explain why Trump was tweeting during his daily intelligence briefings: that he refuses to do the reading for them, and often skips them altogether. In fact, Trump's ability to sit through the briefings--which are designed to be the most efficient way of delivering critical intelligence summaries to the president--shows the same pattern as his ballooning "executive time:" he is starting them later, skipping them more often, and frequently tweeting during them.

Parade-planner-in-chief. Trump's fascination with military parades--ostensibly like the one he saw for Bastille Day in France, but as described more like a Soviet-era display--was renewed this week. The White House confirmed this week that Trump has directed the Pentagon, which is normally more concerned with readying tanks and missiles for battle than for parade, to prepare such a parade for Washington, D.C. 

Public opinion generally ran against Trump--retired military veterans tended to have the sharpest criticisms--but the very next day after the news broke, he did get a kind of support from an unlikely ally: North Korea, which held a pre-Olympics show of force in the form of a parade. On Thursday, 10,000 DPRK troops marched stiff-legged behind tanks and trailers carrying the very same long-range missiles (capable of reaching the United States) recently developed by North Korea.

If Trump has thought better of his plans, he does not appear to have told the Pentagon.

Why are these bad things?

  • It's wrong to accuse people of things they haven't done.
  • The test of whether something should be classified is not whether or not it will help the president politically.
  • A president unwilling or unable to put in a full day's work should resign.
  • Listening to and (if possible) understanding the day's intelligence reports is a more important use of a president's time than Twitter.
  • Holding military parades solely for the purpose of creating good optics for the ruling regime is what authoritarians do.