Saturday, June 30, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He told an obvious lie, assuming he actually writes his tweets or reads them.

Today,  in reference to a pair of immigration bills authored by conservative Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Trump tweeted this:

Wednesday, Trump tweeted this:

Both bills failed to pass in the Republican-controlled House this week.

The most obvious explanation--that Trump cut and ran from what amounts to his own immigration plan amid plummeting poll numbers and nationwide resistance--is plausible. But Trump's history suggests at least two alternatives: that Trump simply forgot what his position on the bill was, or that Trump's earlier tweet was written by his staff and he was never informed of his "position."

Why should I care about this?

  • A president who can't remember what his positions are from day to day is probably unfit for office.
  • A president who doesn't care what his positions are from day to day is definitely unfit for office.

Friday, June 29, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got punked.

Comedian "Stuttering John" Melendez revealed today on his podcast that yesterday he had bluffed his way into a phone call with Trump and successfully posed as New Jersey senator Bob Menendez. 

Normally there are safeguards to prevent the President of the United States from being duped in this fashion. But this time, the call went through because Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, traveling with him at the time on Air Force One, involved himself and gave Melendez' number to Trump. Trump then called Melendez back from his personal cell phone. 

Trump congratulated "Menendez" for his recent mistrial verdict on federal corruption charges, which he said was "a tough, tough situation and I don't think a very fair situation." The fake senator, a Democrat in reality, dangled the prospect of political cover for the ongoing immigration fiasco and Trump's upcoming Supreme Court nomination, to which Trump reacted enthusiastically and praised "Mendendez" for his "good relationship with the [Democratic] party." (In reality, Menendez almost lost his primary race to a complete unknown and has been marginalized within the party because of the corruption allegations.)

While nothing in the call was especially scandalous in and of itself, the incident highlighted two recurring themes in the Trump presidency. Security experts have bemoaned Trump's carelessness with his phones, both for his inexplicable unwillingness to use secure models and for his habit of using them to circumvent his own staff--which is what allowed Melendez to get through in this case. 

For their part, intelligence experts have been alarmed at how easily manipulated Trump is--something that is especially troubling given his upcoming meeting with Russian president and ex-KGB operative Vladimir Putin.

Neither Trump, Kushner, nor the White House were willing to comment on the story today.

Why should I care about this?

  • When unqualified people are given important jobs because of who they're related to, bad things can happen.
  • It's not a good sign if the one member of the opposition party that a president feels comfortable talking to is the one most closely associated with corrupt political dealings.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took Russia's word for it.

Trump's anxiety about the ongoing Russia probe has been spiking recently, which has so far netted guilty pleas or indictments of 22 separate people and entities, including 13 Russian citizens, three Russian organizations, and a Russian-Ukrainian person with ties to Russian intelligence.

Even in the rare moments where he's been willing to consider that perhaps Russia might have had some designs on American democracy, Trump has always defended Putin, and rationalized it by saying that other countries probably did it too, and that the United States had done bad things in its history.

But in today's extended Twitter time, Trump retreated all the way back to his original position: that in spite of overwhelming and conclusive evidence that the Putin regime deliberately interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the intent of specifically electing Donald Trump, it could not have happened, because Vladimir Putin says it didn't.

Russian state-run media has been openly mocking Trump, saying earlier this week that cybersecurity should be a topic for the summit because it was how "we just elected Trump."

Trump will meet Putin for a summit meeting in July.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president who can't or won't acknowledge an attack on America cannot defend America.
  • It is humiliating for the United States for its president to be this captive to a foreign interest, whether he's a victim or a co-conspirator.
  • People who have no connection with horrific crimes generally want them to be investigated fully.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got, but probably didn't hear, a reality check on North Dakota from his own State Department.

At his campaign rally in North Dakota tonight, Trump was unusually quiet on the subject of North Korea, saying only this in remarks that lasted over an hour:
I was dealt a lot of bad hands. I was given North Korea, where, frankly we were very close to going to war. You could have lost 30 million people, 50 million people, Seoul is 30 miles off the border, they have what they call cannons, like howitzers, they have cannons, thousands of them, pointed. I had the meeting, we had the great relationship, we had a great chemistry together. The fake news was so upset when I said we had a good relationship, we had a good chemistry, they said, that's a horrible thing. No no, it's a good thing. Getting along with countries, getting along with China, getting along with Russia, getting along with these countries is a good thing. It's not a bad thing.
Trump has staked his personal political fortunes on the idea that he has succeeded in "getting along" with the Kim regime, even declaring on Twitter that "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea!"

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress otherwise today, and that North Korea still has not returned the remains of American servicemembers as it had pledged to do. (Trump has been telling everyone that it has already happened, and may actually even believe that.) 

Pompeo's testimony came as news broke that North Korea has actually been making rapid infrastructure improvements to its nuclear research facilities. 

What's the problem with this?

  • Whether a hostile nuclear-armed nation with a history of reneging on peace negotiations is a "threat" or not isn't something a president can afford to be confused about.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to punish a U.S. company that displeased him with higher taxes.

Trump has steadfastly refused that there could be any negative consequences to unilaterally imposing steep tariffs on our major trading partners. The closest he has come to acknowledging the pain they are already beginning to cause Americans was a vague promise to somehow "make it up" to the soybean farmers who are among the first victims.

Today, however, Trump continued to rant about Harley-Davidson's decision to move some production overseas so that it could sell its motorcycles in foreign countries without retaliatory tariffs inflating the sticker price. He also made a specific threat: that if the company followed through, "they will be taxed like never before!"

It is unconstitutional to levy a tax on one specific company, especially as a form of political punishment. And since Harley-Davidson isn't planning to sell its overseas bikes back in the United States, Trump couldn't try to hurt the company with more tariffs. On the other hand, as Trump's economic advisor Larry Kudlow wrote the week before Trump named him to the post, tariffs are really just taxes paid by consumers through higher prices. As things stand, Trump is already raising taxes--just not on Harley-Davidson.

Why should I care about this?

  • A president's job is to tend the economy, not try to destroy individual companies.
  • A country where businesses have to make keeping the leader happy a higher priority than their own bottom line is neither a democracy or a free market.

Monday, June 25, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He used his "executive time" to troll a small business whose owner doesn't like him.

Much of the business news around Trump in recent days has been the early warning signs of the damage his obsession with tariffs will do to large-scale businesses like manufacturers and farmers. But this morning, Trump took time off from the presidency to critique the exterior design of a 26-seat restaurant that had refused to serve his press secretary.

Trump has never visited the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, but lashed out at its "filthy canopies" and said that it needed a paint job. The building exterior is brick.

He also said that it was "dirty inside." In reality, the Red Hen has a stellar health inspection record. 

By contrast, the restaurant at Mar-a-Lago, where Trump is both the owner and a frequent customer, was cited at least 78 times over three years for "high priority lodging violations... which could pose a direct or significant threat to the public health, safety, or welfare." Trump's own failures as a restaurateur included storage of fresh fish at room temperature, and failure to treat sushi for parasites. Violations at other Trump restaurants number in the hundreds. Some, like the one at his Doral golf course, have been forced to shut down while they corrected health code violations, including the presence of dozens of dead cockroaches and a "slimy/mold-like build-up" in coolers.

Later in the day, Trump also attacked a very large business, Harley-Davidson, for announcing plans to move some of its production overseas in order to escape the worst effects of Trump's trade policies.

Why does this matter?

  • People who tell obvious and mean-spirited lies like this will tell lies about anything.
  • People who need to tell lies like this are probably too emotionally unstable to be president.
  • Presidents are supposed to try to promote small businesses, not destroy them. 
  • It may not be a good idea to put someone who doesn't care about serving food with parasites in it in charge of deciding what federal regulations are necessary.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said we should get rid of due process of law.

In a tweet sent this morning while he was en route to the golf course, Trump demanded that people apprehended on suspicion of crossing the US border illegally be sent back "immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases."

It's not unusual for Trump to use dehumanizing or even eliminationist language when talking about immigration. But openly defying the constitutional requirement for due process of law, which applies to all people subject to U.S. law regardless of citizenship, is a new twist for Trump--although he did hint at this turn last week, when he said, "I don’t want [immigration] judges. I want border security."

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents don't get to ignore the parts of the law and Constitution they don't like.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He changed his position on North Korea again.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Nevada tonight, Trump was once again full of praise for Kim Jong-un. He said that he was certain the North Korean dictator would engage in "total denuclearization," although Kim himself has publicly rejected any form of "denuclearization" that involves giving up his current nuclear arsenal. Trump also spoke warmly of Kim's intelligence and personality, and even his negotiating skills: "We have a good chemistry together. We get along great. He’s a smart, tough guy. He’s a great negotiator."

Outside of political rallies, though, Trump's stance on North Korea has swung wildly in recent days. Yesterday, Trump signed an executive order renewing sanctions against North Korea, in which he declared that
the existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the Government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.
Earlier in the week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly canceled a Congressional briefing on the supposed progress made at the summit.

Last week, in his rush to declare his meeting with Kim a success, Trump tweeted that "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

Previously, Trump has explained away Kim's human rights abuses by saying "a lot of people do bad things," taunted Kim with the nickname "Little Rocket Man," called Kim a "smart cookie," threatened to rain down "fire and fury" on North Korea, and expressed remorse for calling Kim "Little Rocket Man," offered to provide a guarantee of safety for the dictatorial Kim regime, and bragged that his "nuclear button" was bigger than Kim's.

So what?

  • It's bad if the president can't hold one consistent opinion about a nuclear-armed rogue nation led by a dictator.

Friday, June 22, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He refuted a claim nobody ever made with a lie.

At a White House event today, in the wake of an embarrassing miscalculation about voters' feelings about incarcerating children, Trump tried to put words in his opponents' mouths. 
I always hear that, "Oh, no, the [immigrant] population is safer than the people that live in the country." You’ve heard that, fellas, right? You’ve heard that. I hear it so much. And I say, "Is that possible?" The answer is it is not true. You hear it is like they are better people than what we have, than our citizens. It is not true.
Nobody has said that immigrants are "better people" than American citizens. But the Pew Research Center, researchers at SUNY-Buffalo, and dozens of other studies have said that immigrants to the United States are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Trump has gotten the immigration-crime relationship backwards. In a tweet attacking German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said, "Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!"

In reality, crime in Germany was lower last year than at any point since 1992.

Trump hired undocumented immigrants as construction workers to build Trump Tower, is married to an immigrant who almost certainly worked illegally in the United States, owned a modeling business that instructed immigrants to lie to U.S. immigration officials so that they could work illegally, the ex-husband of an immigrant, and the grandson and son-in-law to beneficiaries of what he calls "chain migration."

Why should I care about this?

  • It's bad if U.S. policy is based on things the president just made up.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He did a little positive visualization exercise in the middle of a Cabinet meeting.

When Trump assembles his cabinet officers, there is always a therapeutic element for him in the extravagant praise they have been told to offer for the cameras. Today, Trump joined in himself, offering this capsule summary of his administration's accomplishments so far:
Look, I’ve been given a very tough hand. Because I came up here, we had an economy that was going down. We had an Iran problem. We had a Middle East problem. Take a look at what was going on in the Middle East. It’s a lot better now. You’re a lot smoother right now than anything you heard over the last eight years.
Of course, Trump is entitled to his opinion about his own job performance, and by the usual standards of Trumpian self-aggrandizement, this is fairly weak stuff. But as the American Conservative noted, it's also hard to square with reality

For example, Trump claims to think that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that opened Iran's nuclear facilities to inspection was a "bad deal" because it might allow Iran to refine uranium in the future. As things stand, since Trump unilaterally withdrew from the framework, the United States is now in a position of levying sanctions against its own key military allies for legally doing business with Iran. Likewise, it's hard to guess what improvement Trump sees in Syria or the Israel/Palestine conflict on his watch.

But Trump's casual reference to the economy is especially telling. Presidents have relatively little direct control over the economy (by design), and what control they do have is slow-acting. Virtually every economic indicator, including jobs numbers--

The red bars on the right are the first year of the Trump administration

--and inflation--

Obama's average rate of inflation was 1.8%. The rate in 2017 was 2.1%. Both figures are low by historical standards.

--has continued along the trajectories of the seven-year-old recovery that Trump inherited. 

Trump's insistence that he deserves credit for the state of the economy comes as the Dow Jones Industrial Average sank further into negative returns (-1.1%) for the year on concerns over the potentially disastrous effects of Trump's attempts to start a trade war.

Who cares?

  • Past a certain point, positive self-esteem becomes pathological.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he reversed the policy change that wasn't a policy change, but he didn't.

In recent days, Trump and his staffers have taken almost every position imaginable on his recent policy change that forces the seizure of children from migrants and asylum-seekers. But the one Trump himself most often returned to was that there was no such policy, and that only a law could change the situation. 

(Often, it's unclear whether Trump is lying or confused. But given that the policy was not just announced but publicly celebrated barely two months ago, Trump's insistence that it hadn't happened is an audacious lie even by his standards.)

Today, Trump signed an executive order that acknowledged and reversed the policy change he had said didn't exist--but lied about the effect it would have. 

In both the statement announcing the order, and at the campaign rally he immediately traveled to, Trump claimed that his order would allow families to remain together. This is true, but they would be together in immigration jails--and the government is prohibited by a 1997 legal settlement from detaining children for more than 20 days. (Legal experts are not optimistic about Trump's chances of overturning that settlement.)

In other words, Trump has kicked the can down the road 20 days, at which point he will have three choices: resume the practice of forcibly taking children from their parents, take the politically humiliating step of backing away from his zero-tolerance policy, or openly defy a federal court order. 

The Trump administration has made no plans to reunite parents with children already seized.

Why does this matter?

  • Stalling does not make problems go away.
  • Policy should be built on what is best for the United States, not what is politically helpful for the president.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He partially defeated his aides' attempts to manage his moods on the immigration catastrophe.

As is often the case, Trump has blamed the media for the public outrage about his new child-separation policy. He believes that news outlets have selected especially provocative photographs and recordings to inflame public opinion. The reason is a familiar one for the Trump White House: as the Washington Post reported today, his aides have been feeding him positive and flattering coverage.
Trump has been closely monitoring the coverage but has been suspicious of it, telling associates he believes that the media cherry-picks the most dramatic images and stories to portray his administration in a negative light, according to one senior administration official. 
The images in the media contrast with more positive photos that Trump’s aides have shown the president depicting detained children smiling, playing video games and exercising outside, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
But this time, Trump seemed to gain at least a glimmer of understanding of the reality of the situation. Trump met with Republican members of Congress this evening, many of whom are both horrified by the effects of the policy itself, and almost all of whom are worried about its effects on their re-election chances in November. Trump told them that he now understood how bad the political optics were, thanks to a conversation he had with his daughter Ivanka.

If true, this may be the first concrete effect of Ivanka Trump's lucrative turn as a White House advisor that the public has ever seen.

According to the Republican members of Congress present, the meeting did not result in progress on the issue.

So what?

  • The problem here is actually bigger than whether incarcerating children looks bad.
  • It's bad when a president's staff feels the need to manipulate him, even if they don't completely succeed.

Monday, June 18, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried very hard to take every possible position on his administration's recent policy decision to seize children from migrant families.

It was a busy day for Trump and his staff, as they tried to contain the growing tide of outrage from all sides of the political spectrum over his new policy of arresting all adult migrants (including asylum-seekers) and interning their children.

1. White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley, 8:30 A.M.: idea that Trump is separating families is "completely false."

On Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade asked Gidley, "Do you think that the message from the media is correct that your administration is separating parents, moms and kids?”

"Completely false," Gidley replied. (Later on in the interview, Gidley took the opposite position, saying it was a "farce" to think that families could be kept together.)

2. Trump himself, via Twitter, 9-10 A.M.: we are separating families, and I hate it, but there is no policy, so "Change the laws!"

The number of tweets that Trump sends out about an issue, and the anger he lets show in them, is usually a fairly good indicator of how worried he is about it. (This is a security problem in its own right.) The six he sent out this morning about immigration were a mix of defensiveness and threats that immigrants would "violently change [the] culture." Ironically, given the original source of that kind of rhetoric, he used Germany as an example. But he continued to insist that the only reason for the sudden upsurge in child seizures was the always-unspecified "laws" that he blames Democrats for.

3. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, 11:15 A.M: "We do have a policy" of family separations, and it's a deterrent.

Sessions, whose DOJ must defend Trump's policy change in court, has been less careful than other Trump Administration members about insisting that the child-separation policy is somehow the result of some long-ago passed "Democrat law." Appearing at a meeting of law enforcement officers, he explicitly said that arresting all adult immigrants and detaining their children in separate facilities was a new change in policy, intended to deter potential immigrants and asylum-seekers.

4. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, 5:15 P.M.: family separations as deterrent? "I find that offensive."

Nielsen, who was rushed back to D.C. to address the press after appearing alongside Sessions in New Orleans this morning, refused to answer a reporter's question about using the policy to "send a message" to migrants and asylum-seekers to stay away. "I find that offensive," she said.

5. Trump himself, 12:15 P.M.: the separation happens because Democrats won't come to the bargaining table.

The Democratic minorities in both houses of Congress have already signed on to legislation that would immediately deprive Trump of the power to separate migrant children from their parents. (Those crossing the border illegally would still be detained pending deportation, but in the existing facilities which are suitable for families and refugees.)

This would be a political disaster for Trump: it would make him look weak, and it would cost him the leverage that seizing children has provided him. Accordingly, at a White House event on space travel this afternoon, he insisted that Democrats needed to give something up in order to pass such a law.

6. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, 5:30 P.M.: There's no quick legislative fix.

Both Trump and his opponents have said that the (non-existent) law Trump says is forcing the child seizures could be fixed in a matter of hours. But the White House is also sending signals that nothing short of a complete re-imagining of immigration law will suffice. To that end, Sanders told reporters that Trump would reject a standalone bill because "We want to fix the entire system, we don’t want to just tinker with it."

Why does this matter?

  • Using the children of desperate people as political leverage is evil.
  • If a president isn't willing to admit what he's done, he shouldn't have done it in the first place.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that giving North Korea exactly the military concessions it wanted had been his idea--and it's possible he's telling the truth.

Since returning from his meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Trump has been visibly anxious that he's not getting the praise he thinks he deserves for it. The main and most obvious criticism of the summit has been that it was an unnecessary capitulation to North Korean nuclear pressure, and that it gave the Kim regime concessions while getting nothing more than vague promises in return.

This morning, Trump once again took to Twitter to explain himself and demand that people appreciate him. He brushed off complaints that having the President of the United States meet with a rogue state dictator on the dictator's terms had any cost. 

In the same tweet, Trump said the U.S. had gotten back its "hostages/remains." This is a lie. North Korea routinely takes Western hostages in order to extort concessions from enemy governments, but the summit was by far the biggest prize they have ever gotten for them. No human remains from Americans killed in action have been returned since the summit and no concrete plans have been announced.

The most shocking part came in the next tweet, in which Trump insisted that canceling joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises--which Trump and North Korea call "war games"--was his idea. Ending the exercises amounts to a major step in reducing the American military presence in the region, to the benefit of not only the Kim regime but also Russia and China

But it's possible Trump is telling the truth. All indications are that South Korea and Trump's own Defense Department were both completely blindsided by Trump making the offer--and even North Korea seemed astonished by their good fortune.

Why does this matter?

  • If you give something to get nothing, you have made a bad deal.
  • If giving something to get nothing was your idea, you are too incompetent to be making deals.
  • How much praise Donald Trump gets is actually the least important thing about any of this.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got his bluff called on sanctions yet again.

Yesterday, Trump announced yet another round of tariffs on Chinese goods. In his statement, Trump warned that any retaliation would be met with further escalations. 

The good news is that it may be slowly registering with Trump that his actions on trade can provoke reactions. When countries find their goods suddenly subject to foreign taxes, they usually make adjustments to their own tariff schemes. Until now, Trump has either been unwilling or unable to believe that this would apply to his tariff increases. In one of the more alarming statements ever made by a U.S. president on the economy, he said that trade wars are "good, and easy to win." 

The bad news is that where billions of dollars are concerned, sternly worded letters instructing competitor nations not to retaliate aren't enough. This morning, China announced another round of retaliatory tariffs on American-made goods and farm products. 

Many American businesses and farmers, as well as consumers in general, have already begun suffering the consequences of Trump's recent trade actions.

Why does this matter?

  • The United States cannot afford to have a president this ignorant of economics.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Normally, WTDT limits itself to looking at exactly one thing Trump does on any given day. Today, we present a broader look at this day in the life of Donald Trump.

It is not a comprehensive list of newsworthy things Trump did and said today. In fact, it's not even really all that close.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had the 547th day of his presidency.

The schedule.

Trump's public schedule for today was essentially empty, although (paradoxically) it included entries for unscheduled interviews and appearances on the White House lawn this morning. Other than that and his daily intelligence briefing, which he frequently skips or ignores if his briefers are too boring, it was empty. This is not uncommon for the 72-year-old Trump, whose work week and work day started out short and have gotten shorter.

The interview.

Trump's first public appearance was in an interview with Fox News' Steve Doocy, the most memorable moment of which was his open admiration for Kim Jong-un and how his "people" seem to respect him: "Hey, he is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head. Don't let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same."

Kim Jong-un orders the murders of people he thinks don't respect him enough, including blood relatives. Trump has spent much of the past week defending Kim when reporters brought up the subject of his purges or other human rights abuses.


During the interview, Trump also managed to cause chaos in Congress with his surprise declaration that he would refused to sign the more moderate of two immigration-related bills that were moving forward. A little later in the day, a tweet that seemed to support some of the elements of the bill he'd just rejected only further confused matters.

The author of the second bill, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) hinted that perhaps Trump would change his mind again after some discreet requests for clarification. This prediction that Trump had meant the opposite of what he said turned out to be correct--or, in any event, the White House changed his story after the fact in a press release that afternoon.

This is not the first time that Trump has gotten confused about what his policy positions are. Immigration bills seem particularly challenging for Trump to keep straight.

Throughout the day, Trump doggedly repeated his lie that Democrats--and an unspecified law they supposedly passed at some point--were to blame his own administration's sudden and publicly-announced policy change requiring that migrant children be separated from their parents at the border. This is completely false and has been roundly debunked: no law requires that children be separated from their parents during immigration processing.

As "on-message" as Trump has been with this lie, he has been contradicted by three elements in his own administration, including two just today.

  • His own Justice Department. Attorneys for the DOJ charged with defending the policy in court have not been able to cite the imaginary law Trump talks about, and so have made their case based on the reality that, as president, Trump is entitled to dictate how federal law enforcement act.
  • Ryan Patrick, U.S. Attorney. Appearing on NPR's Morning Edition this morning, US Attorney Ryan Patrick confirmed in plain terms that the decision to begin seizing children was "a policy choice by the president and by the attorney general."
  • Himself. Later in the day, White House officials began confirming on background what Trump's behavior has implied: that he intends to use the fact that so many Americans are horrified by this treatment of children as a political bargaining chip.


Shortly after the interview, in a nearby federal courthouse, a federal judge ordered Trump's campaign chair Paul Manafort to jail for violating the terms of his pre-trial release. Manafort has been indicted for trying to tamper with witnesses while out on bond.

There is overwhelming evidence that Manafort himself conspired with the Putin regime before and during his time running Trump's campaign. and it is generally believed that if he began cooperating with the Russia probe, it would be disastrous for Trump's presidency.

Trump's subsequent actions and reactions to the Manafort news took a familiar pattern:
  • Overt lie. Trump said this to reporters: "Like, Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign."

    Manafort was the chair of Trump's campaign. Nobody besides Trump was more in charge of Trump's campaign.
  • Specific lie. Shortly afterwards, Trump said, "He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something? A very short period of time."

    Manafort worked for Trump for 144 days, most of it as the highest-ranking person in the entire campaign, until evidence of his connections to Russia and Russian-controlled puppet governments became too embarrassing.
  • Tweet. A few hours later, Trump tweeted out a complaint about the "sentence" Manafort had received (he has neither been sentenced nor convicted), and suggested that this was the sort of treatment that only mob bosses were supposed to get. (Although it's not what he's currently under indictment for, Trump might not have made that comparison if he really understood the kind of work Manafort did for much of the last two decades.)

    He also complained that Manafort had been jailed while James Comey and Hillary Clinton had not. Neither Comey nor Clinton have been accused of crimes, indicted for them, or violated any pre-trial release conditions.
  • Obstruction. A few hours later, Trump's "TV lawyer" Rudy Giuliani was dispatched to muddy the Manafort waters further. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Giuliani unsubtly hinted that Manafort's time in jail could be brief: "When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."

The gaggle.

After the Fox News interview, Trump wandered in the vicinity of the White House driveway, talking to reporters. This unscheduled press gaggle was a lengthy recital of the complaints, rants, misdirections, and outright lies that characterize his unscripted moments as president:
  • He congratulated himself on his electoral college victory. ("With all of that being said, I won Wisconsin, I won Michigan, I won states that a Republican hasn't won in many, many decades, years. [Hillary Clinton] didn't do a good job and you never gave me credit for doing a great job. But the fact is, I did a great job.") By one (incomplete) count, Trump has found a way to praise himself for winning the electoral college about 21 times this year alone.
  • He blamed the media for accurately quoting him.
    Q What did you mean just now when you said you wished Americans would sit up at attention when you spoke --

    THE PRESIDENT: I'm kidding. You don't understand sarcasm. Who are you with?

    Wait, wait, who are you with? Who are you with?

    Q CNN.

    THE PRESIDENT: You're with CNN! Hey, you are the worst.
  • He repeated an already discredited lie. ("[Kim Jong-un] gave us the remains of our great heroes. I have had so many people begging me -- parents, and fathers, mothers, daughters, sons -- wherever I went, "Could you please get the remains of my boy back?" They're giving them back. Nobody thought that was possible.")

    No part of this is true. Everyone has known all along that an exchange of remains was possible, because it's happened: North Korea has sometimes repatriated the remains of American troops in the past, in return for other concessions. Trump and Kim agreed in principle to resume the exchange, but no remains have changed hands yet and there has been no suggestion that any exchange will be happening soon.

    But mostly, Trump is just repurposing a lie he got caught in earlier in the week, that "parents" of Korean War veterans numbering in the "thousands and thousands" had "begged" him to bring their children's remains home. A typical parent of a Korean War veteran would be about 110 years old today.
  • He lied about whether someone other than himself had declared him innocent of "collusion." ("I think that the report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. And if you read the report, you'll see that. ...Now, here's the good news: I did nothing wrong. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. The IG report yesterday went a long way to show that.")

    In over 500 pages, the DOJ's Inspector General's report said no such thing.
  • He lost his temper. Trump declared that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Pressed by reporter Weijia Liang to explain what he meant by that, since North Korea is still a hostile nuclear power and has publicly stated its intent to keep its current arsenal, Trump extended his hand towards Liang's face and snapped, "Quiet!" He then turned to another person and said, "She's so obnoxious."

The afternoon.

The White House has hemorrhaged staff at a record pace since Trump took office, with two more vacancies in senior positions announced. All evidence to the contrary--like the fact that the White House was taking the unusual step of recruiting at a Capitol Hill job fair today--Trump continues to insist that there is no problem retaining White House employees, and that even if there were, everyone would want to work for him.

Later, Trump signed two bills into law: H.R. 4910, which requires the National Park Service to "furnish outer burial receptacles" for veterans buried in national cemeteries, and H.R. 3663, which renames a VA building. In 17 months in office, Trump has seen only one substantial bill reflecting his policy agenda passed, in spite of his party's control of Congress.

What is the problem with all these many things?

  • This was actually a pretty typical day in the presidency of Donald Trump.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reacted badly to action being taken against his illegal "charity."

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed suit today against the now-defunct Donald J. Trump Foundation for "persistently illegal conduct." The suit names as defendents Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and his adult sons Eric and Donald Jr., all of whom served as members of the organization's board of directors.

Trump has a long history of abusing charities for personal gain, although his signature move--publicly promising to give money and then failing to actually do it--is not strictly speaking illegal. It was that pattern that prompted Washington Post reporter David Farenthold to look into a pledge that Trump made during the campaign to give $1 million to veterans' charities. Farenthold found that, four months later, no such donation had been made. After a week or so of complaining about unfair media treatment, Trump belatedly wrote checks to a variety of charities for bundled donations made by other people, allegedly including his $1 million.

Farenthold ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on Trump's charity scandals, and the New York suit used it as a starting point. Most of the issues he uncovered dealt with "self-dealing," in which Trump used the "charity" as a checking account, using it to buy portraits of himself to hang in his businesses, or to settle lawsuits against Trump himself. Farenthold also showed that Trump himself had not given anything to the foundation in the last ten years, relying on other people's money instead.

But Underwood's investigation, backed by subpoena power, revealed new details about the extent of the Trump family's misconduct. Among other things, Underwood revealed that the board of directors had not met in 19 years, and that the official treasurer--an employee of Trump's business--didn't even know he was the treasurer. 

It also uncovered a more serious problem, which is that Trump's presidential campaign was actively directing the foundation's payouts in order to boost Trump's popularity. It is absolutely illegal for a nonprofit organization to assist a political candidate. Underwood made criminal referrals to the IRS and FEC as part of today's action.

Trump reacted furiously on Twitter, insisting that he "would not settle." (He made a similar claim about his fraudulent "Trump University" before settling with his victims for $25 million.) The Trump Foundation, separately from Trump and his children, has already admitted last year to self-dealing.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to try to cheat tax and election laws by running a sham charity.
  • A self-proclaimed billionaire who goes to these kinds of lengths to avoid making legitimate charitable donations is either incredibly stingy or not as wealthy as he claims

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got very confused about how negotiations work.

In an interview with Fox News airing today, Trump made two statements about his approach to negotiations with authoritarian leaders like Kim Jong-Un and Vladimir Putin.

On the subject of North Korea, Trump once again expressed his anxiousness to remove American troops from South Korea. Specifically, he said, "I would love to get the military out as soon as we can because it costs a lot of money." (Earlier in the week, Trump had cited the cost of joint military exercises with South Korea as a reason to comply with North Korea's demand that they be halted.)

Ignoring its nuclear arsenal, North Korea has assembled a staggering number of conventional missiles and artillery batteries along the border that could level nearby Seoul. U.S. troops are there as a deterrence against any such attack. Removing them from South Korea--and, therefore, the danger that an attack on South Korea would trigger instantaneous retaliation by the United States--is the ultimate military goal of North Korea. 

Trump seemed genuinely unaware that by taking the North Korean position on the subject, he removes any incentive for North Korea to make concessions of its own. 

But at the same time, he seemed to think he would be the beneficiary of a similar mistake on the part of Vladimir Putin. Returning to his sudden and unexplained interest in restoring Russia to the G7 economic meetings, Trump said this: "If Vladimir Putin were sitting next to me today instead of one of the others [at the G7] and we were having dinner the other night in Canada I could say, 'Would you do me a favor? Would you get out of Syria? Would you get out of Ukraine? Just come on.' I could ask him to do things that are good for the world."

Russia has paid dearly in economic terms for its invasion and occupation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula--although Trump has tried his best to soften the blow where U.S. sanctions are concerned--but in the end, its attempt to annex that Ukrainian territory may be worth the cost in terms of its value as an economic and military asset. Vladimir Putin probably won't cede it back to Ukraine just because Trump got him reinvited to an annual diplomatic meeting.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's bad if the president doesn't understand that hostile authoritarian dictators act in their own best interests, and not the United States'.
  • To be president requires at least basic reasoning skills.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He adopted the language of North Korean propaganda to talk about US military exercises--and then canceled them without warning his own Defense Department or allies.

For all the enormous pageantry surrounding the Trump-Kim meeting, there was virtually nothing concrete in the statement they signed today. North Korea committed to precisely nothing it had not already agreed to, except for a promise to "work towards" an agreement on "denuclearization." (North Korea interprets that phrase to mean something involving keeping its current arsenal.)

What Trump gave away, however, is a little more substantial--and it appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision. Trump promised to immediately end what he called "war games," otherwise known outside of North Korean propaganda as joint military exercises between the United States and South Korean armed forces. Again using language identical to DPRK state media, Trump said the exercises were "provocative."

This is valuable to North Korea not merely because it might degrade its enemies' performance in the event of a conflict, but because it represents a move towards decoupling the U.S./South Korean military relationship. While Kim has been evasive about "denuclearization," he has been adamant that a condition for a lasting peace would be a withdrawal of the American military presence from the region.

Kim's ability to extract this promise from Trump was so significant that the North Korean delegation immediately reported it to the Chinese government, which would also benefit from a US withdrawal. China then announced it before Trump did. This meant that China knew about Trump's promise of a military disengagement before either South Korea or Trump's own Department of Defense did.

This sort of result was exactly what diplomats and North Korea experts feared would come out of a meeting between Trump and Kim but none of their aides and advisors--especially after Trump insisted that his ability to get the "feel" of things made preparation irrelevant.

Late this evening, North Korean state-run media began announcing that Trump had agreed to cancel sanctions against the Kim regime. The White House has not yet commented, and there is no way to know for sure that this is not actually true.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't be bothered to prepare for something like this is derelict in his duty and unfit for the office.
  • It should not be possible to so easily manipulate the President of the United States during a 45-minute meeting that he comes out quoting his enemy's propaganda.
  • Making decisions that affect our allies without consulting them is a very bad idea.
  • Making military decisions without consulting our military is an insanely bad idea.
  • Deals in which you get nothing for something are not usually good deals.

Monday, June 11, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He read from his post-meeting talking points before the meeting. 

On the day that Trump let North Korea accomplish one of its major long-term policy goals--a peer-to-peer meeting with the President of the United States--Trump declared that his meeting with Kim Jong-Un was "tremendously successful."

Previously, Trump had insisted that he didn't need to spend any time preparing for the summit because he would be able to "feel" whether Kim was a serious partner "within the first minute." But before the two had had a chance to do more than shake hands and say hello, Trump had apparently decided he'd seen enough to declare victory. Asked by a reporter how he felt, he said, "I feel really great. We're going to have a great discussion, and I think, tremendous success. It'll be tremendously successful. It's my honor, and we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt."

Trump and Kim's first meeting will be entirely alone (except for translators), a move that has alarmed experts on the situation. Trump has fallen into the trap of meeting alone with foreign leaders before, which carries with it enormous strategic risks and can even endanger national security. 

But in this case, the absence of other US officials carries a political advantage for Trump. Without anyone to contradict him, and with no record made, Trump can declare success, escape on an early flight out, and then decide at his leisure why it was a success.

Why does this matter?

  • The President of the United States is supposed to represent the interests of the country abroad, not his own.
  • Negotiations that cannot possibly accomplish the one thing that matters to the United States cannot be "tremendously successful."
  • Reality does not change itself to fit what a president says he hopes it will be.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to invent a new catchphrase.

Trump, who is in Singapore to give Kim Jong-Un the peer-status visit that North Korea has sought for decades, spent much of his work day on Twitter, insisting that Canada and the United States' European allies were the real enemy. (Trump's Twitter-time didn't cut into anything more important: he said Thursday that negotiating with a hostile nuclear power was more about "attitude" than preparation, and that he'd be able to "feel" the situation in the first minute.)

One tweet insisted that any situation in which the United States bought more in goods from any country than it sold must now be called "Fool Trade." This was part of Trump's larger argument that, in effect, that selling things is to Americans is a form of theft from the U.S. national "piggy bank."

Trump, whose keen economic instincts enabled him to lead his companies into bankruptcy six times, may actually believe this. (In fact, he may believe a lot of things about trade that are completely false--like the idea that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, when in fact exactly the opposite is true.)  But in reality, trade deficits do not mean money is somehow lost to a country forever. If that were true, there would be virtually no international trade. 

Why should this matter to me?

  • It's bad if the president is economically illiterate and acting on that ignorance.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He agreed to, and then angrily withdrew from, a generic statement of support with America's allies.

Trump's brief appearance at the G7 summit in Quebec was reluctant at best. He came late, left early, and threw a bomb into the proceedings with his unscripted demand that Russia be allowed to rejoin the talks. But he tried to put a good face on the meetings he barely attended today, saying that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, scored the "level of the relationships" between the United States and its closest allies as a "ten"--out of ten, presumably. 

Later in the day, at the actual end of the conference with Trump en route to Singapore, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that all member nations, including the United States, had agreed to sign a joint communique.

The text of that statement is deliberately non-controversial, and had little to do with what Trudeau said next: that Canada would go ahead with retaliatory tariffs against the United States in response to the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed on Canada. Trudeau repeated his statement from last week that labeling Canada as a national security threat to the United States (a necessary legal condition for Trump to impose them without Congressional approval) was insulting.

Aboard Air Force One, a seemingly enraged Trump retracted the US endorsement of the joint statement via Twitter, calling Trudeau "very dishonest & weak." 

Destabilizing the relationship between the United States and other leading democracies is a major foreign policy goal of the Putin regime. 

Why is this bad?

  • A president who levies tariffs on major trade partners and then is surprised when there is retaliation is economically illiterate.
  • As a general rule, a president who consistently angers our allies and pleases our enemies is doing a bad job.
  • Canada is not a national security threat to the United States.

Friday, June 8, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he was a "nightmare" for Russia while directly advocating for Russian interests.

Just before departing for the Group of Seven summit, an annual conference between the world's major industrialized democracies, Trump announced his belief that Russia should be re-integrated into the talks.
It used to be the G8, because Russia was in it. And now Russia's not in it. ...Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having the meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend--and it's up to them--but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it. You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be "politically correct," but we have a world to run. And if the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out, they should let Russia come back in. Because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.
The other G7 nations, led by the United States, expelled Russia in 2014 for its invasion of Ukraine. Russia continues to occupy the Crimea, a large peninsula that the rest of the world considers part of Ukraine. It's not clear if Trump knows this.

Trump frequently insists he didn't "collude" with Russia's sabotage of the election for his benefit. But whether or not Trump actively helped Russia to help elect him, his administration's policies have been spectacularly pro-Russia. He has shared allies' top secret intelligence with the Putin regime, done everything in his power to delay or frustrate legally imposed U.S. sanctions against Russians, and even lavished praise on Putin personally. (Outside of the Trump White House, Putin is generally regarded as a corrupt kleptocrat who relies on murder and complete control of the media to hold on to power.)

CNN reported that Trump had not checked in with his national security advisors before making the comments.

Perhaps aware of how it would look for him to be going to bat for Russia yet again, Trump also insisted that he had been "Russia's worst nightmare" and that Putin would have preferred Hillary Clinton as president.

Why should I care about this?

  • If a president is doing the bidding of a hostile foreign power, it almost doesn't matter why.
  • Believing that others have your worst qualities is called projection, and it is not a sign of good mental health.
  • It's a problem if the only person the President of the United States seems to genuinely admire and care for is Vladimir Putin.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to defend a truly absurd lie.

Today, White House spokesperson Helen Ferre was sent before reporters to issue a seemingly innocent statement:
The 16,000 people the President was referring to were those saved thanks to the heroic efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard. In last year’s hurricane season, the U.S. Coast Guard saved almost 12,000 lives and in addition to that, nearly 9,000 were saved by FEMA search and rescue teams. The President is aware that the great people of Houston worked together to help each other. Some went out in their boats to save others who were trapped in their homes and ultimately needed assistance by authorities. The great community spirit demonstrated by the good people of Houston is heralded by this administration.
Ferre had been sent out to calm Texans outraged by a sneering comment Trump made yesterday, in an attempt to praise the Coast Guard at a FEMA briefing on the 2018 hurricane season. Referring to last year's Hurricane Harvey, Trump said this:
I said, I think this year the Coast Guard, maybe in terms of increased branding — the brand of the Coast Guard has been something incredible what’s happened. Saved 16,000 people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane. That didn’t work out too well. That didn’t work out too well. 
Setting aside the question of how much the Coast Guard cares about their "brand," this is an astonishing lie, even by Trump's standards. It's true that the Coast Guard rescued a great many people stranded by Harvey's floodwaters (11,022 to be exact) but exactly zero of them were people who had gone out in boats to sightsee.

The Houston Chronicle summarized the responses of the Coast Guard, Texas state officials, and first responders this way: "Nobody could explain the president's statement."

Blaming the victims of tragedies is pretty typical for Trump. He complained bitterly about Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, saying that the U.S. citizens there "want everything to be done for them" and attacked local leaders for demanding more assistance than Trump was willing to give. After the February mass school shooting at Parkland, Florida, he implied that the victims were responsible for the mental health of the shooter because "neighbors and classmates" had known he was "a big problem." (In fact, the shooter had been reported to law enforcement by both neighbors and classmates, which is why he had been expelled from the school to which he returned to commit mass murder.)

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if the president just makes things up on the spot.
  • Literally nobody in the entire 6.3-million person Houston metropolitan population was as stupid as Trump seems to think they were.
  • Presidents caught in a lie shouldn't send staffers out to claim they said something else entirely.