Monday, August 13, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went out of his way to insult a terminally ill man.

Today, Trump signed a routine defense budget bill, formally titled by Congress the "John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019," as a gesture of respect to Sen. John McCain who is gravely ill with cancer. McCain was a Navy pilot who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

Trump refused to refer to the bill by its name, and did not mention McCain once during 29 minutes of remarks. Neither did Vice-President Mike Pence, or anyone else who spoke at the signing ceremony.

Trump loathes McCain, and has since before he became president. On the campaign trail, he famously mocked McCain's years of torture and captivity by saying "He's a war hero because he got captured? I like people who weren't captured." (The audience at the conservative Family Leadership Summit gasped and booed.) Trump later added, "He lost and he let us down. I don't like losers." 

Their relationship deteriorated further during Trump's term. McCain voted against Trump's attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, more on principled grounds than any fondness for "Obamacare," and has called Trump's flirtation with Vladimir Putin "disgraceful." Trump, for his part, has bitterly blamed McCain for the failure of his legislative agenda, and pointedly refused to discipline a White House staffer who made a joke about McCain dying.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents who can't set aside personal grudges in order to do their jobs can't do their jobs.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He encouraged a boycott of an American company because it opposed his trade war.

When he's been able to tear himself away from the golf course, Trump has spent most of his extended "working" vacation doing photo ops and fundraising, like his "Bikers for Trump" event yesterday. (That's a bit of poetic license--lots of bikers don't have such high opinions of him.) Yesterday's soirée may have encouraged a tweet today in which he attacked Harley-Davidson for moving some of its production overseas to avoid retaliation against Trump's tariffs.
Harley-Davidson is based in Wisconsin, in Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's political backyard, and their products have been specifically targeted by retaliatory sanctions. In simplest terms, the company has a choice between producing motorcycles intended for foreign markets overseas, or not at all. (Bikes meant for the U.S. market will still be made domestically.) 

Trump uses the presidency as a way of rewarding or punishing Americans based on their personal loyalty to him, so this reaction isn't surprising. It wasn't that long ago that Harley-Davidson, whose executives made a pilgrimage to him at the start of his term, were getting praise from Trump rather than attacks.

Trump's boycott call originated with the so-called "Bikers for Trump," who share with him a general aversion to American-made products. The Trump t-shirts that some of the well-heeled "bikers" wore to Trump's luxury golf course yesterday were made in Haiti. The organizer, Chris Cox, explained it this way:

Why does this matter?

  • Making businesses choose political loyalty to the regime over their own best interests is what authoritarians do.
  • American clothing companies aren't "gouging" people by not trying to compete on price with companies that pay textile workers in the poorest country in the hemisphere about $5 a day, and the President of the United States should know that.
  • The responsibility for jobs lost to Trump's trade war lies with him, not the victims of it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked one of his "best people."

Trump took exactly one question from the press today. A reporter asked for his reaction to Unhinged, the tell-all book former reality show co-star and White House appointee Omarosa Manigault-Newman (who usually goes by her first name). "Lowlife. She's a lowlife," Trump said.

To be fair, Trump isn't the only person who thinks so. Omarosa was unpopular with other White House staffers, none of whom were entirely sure what her job actually was. She took a personal feud with a reporter into the headlines, abused the perks of working at the White House, and secretly taped Trump, which--while not exactly unprecedented--isn't exactly recommended workplace behavior.

Trump famously bragged on the campaign trail about hiring "the best people." Those people include his turncoat "fixer" Michael Cohen, his campaign chairman Paul Manafort (currently on trial for charges related to his work for a pro-Russian puppet government) and his deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates (who pleaded guilty to similar charges), his EPA administrator Scott Pruitt (the subject of literally dozens of ethics investigations before he finally quit), and his frequent-flying Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. 

It also includes Michael Flynn, whom he hired over the explicit warnings of the Obama administration, Attorney General Jefferson Sessions (attacked by Trump himself in a tweet just today), white nationalist publisher Steve Bannon, and Carter Page, the bizarrely unqualified "foreign policy advisor" who either knowingly or unknowingly helped kickstart the Russian campaign to conspire with Trump. (The last description applies equally well to George Papadopoulos, another of the administration's crop of convicted felons.)

Some of Trump's "best people" aren't household names, like his 24-year-old "drug czar" who had been fired from his only previous job for not showing up to work. Others were only famous briefly, like Anthony Scaramucci, who survived all of ten days as Trump's White House Communications Director. (Scaramucci was the fourth person to hold that job; it's not clear which of the five who have served under Trump was the "best.") Still others became famous against their will, like Matthew Petersen, Trump's nominee for a federal judgeship who was humiliated by a Republican-led Senate confirmation committee over his lack of basic legal knowledge.

Why should I care about this?

  • Hiring people for bad reasons usually gets people who are bad at their jobs.
  • Presidents are responsible for the people they entrust with the authority of the government.

Friday, August 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He thanked Kanye West for things he assumed Kanye West said about him.

For Trump, praise from one black man is the same thing as praise from all black men, which is why he frequently pivots from Kanye West's occasional gestures of support to insisting that he is popular with African-Americans.

Today, Trump thanked West again for his support, presumably in response to West's appearance on  The Jimmy Kimmel Show Thursday night, where Trump was a topic of discussion. But Trump apparently didn't actually go so far as to listen to what West was saying. West said that his public support of Trump was to prove a point, that nobody could tell him what to think. "It represented overcoming fear and doing what you felt, no matter what anyone said, and saying, ‘You can’t bully me.’ Liberals can’t bully me, news can’t bully me, the hip-hop community, they can’t bully me."

Kimmel responded by referencing West's famous call-out of President Bush after the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina:
In literal terms, there are families being torn apart at the border of this country. They are literally families being torn apart as a result of what this president is doing—and I think that we cannot forget that, whether we like his personality or not, his actions are really what matter. I mean you so famously and so powerfully said, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ It makes me wonder what makes you think that Donald Trump does (care about black people) or any people at all?
Kimmel paused for an answer, and West said nothing.

Who cares?

  • Treating all members of a group as though they were interchangeable is pretty much bedrock racism.
  • Assuming that all black people will follow the lead of one black celebrity is pretty insulting even aside from the racism.
  • Declaring yourself popular among a group where 80-90% of its members disapprove of you is delusional.
  • Not listening to your "one black friend" when he speaks is a good way to lose your one black friend. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He found an immigration topic he didn't want to talk about.

Trump's current mother- and father-in-law, Victor and Amalija Knavs, became American citizens today

They were sponsored by their daughter, Melania Trump, whose own "chain" of citizenship links to her relationship with Trump. She worked illegally in the United States before her marriage, and would be at risk of deportation under her husband's current enforcement priorities. So would the Knavses, if Trump's "merit-based" system were implemented: they are not wealthy, have not won Olympic gold medals or Nobel Prizes, are not currently employed, and are elderly (just about Trump's age, in fact). All of those factors would work against them under Trump's plan.

Trump, who references exactly this sponsorship program in his frequent attacks on people who come to the United States legally, refused to comment. The White House issued an anonymous statement also refusing to comment, demanding that the Knavses' "privacy" be respected. (The Knavs themselves are the ones who brought the news of their citizenship to light, through their attorney.)

The silence is notable for a White House that just this week proposed barring legal immigrants from the path to citizenship if they had ever used a wide variety of public services in the United States during their permanent residency, including ACA health care tax credits. 

Trump himself is the product of what he calls "chain migration" on both sides of his own family. Both his mother and his father's father followed relatives to the United States who had already obtained U.S. citizenship. 

Why does this matter?

  • Even by Trump standards, this

    is pretty spectacular hypocrisy. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gave himself a massive tax cut over and above the one he already signed into law.

Today, Trump's Treasury Department issued regulations defining how certain business structures known as "pass-through entities" will be affected by last year's tax bill. While unfamiliar to most Americans, pass-through entities were already a common tax shelter for a small subset of wealthy business owners. 

Now, the tax benefits will be much higher--but only to businesses that meet certain standards. Trump's regulations are written in a way that will greatly increase the portion of Trump's own businesses that will qualify for the lower rate. 

For example, the Trump Organization, which includes hundreds of pass-through entities, wouldn't qualify for much based on the plain text of the law. For example, businesses that sell the "reputation" of their owner don't get the break. Although he presents himself as a real estate tycoon and hotelier--industries where he went bankrupt six times--most of Trump's wealth now comes from licensing his name and image. Trump receives royalties on everything from hotels he doesn't own to vodka he doesn't drink

But the regulations define "reputation" very narrowly, and would allow Trump to pick and choose what parts of his business income qualified. More typical businesses, which earn their income in specific ways, would not have that option.

Trump adamantly refused to put his business interests in a blind trust when he took office, which would have prevented him from writing tax regulations that specifically benefited him.

What is the problem with this?

  • It's wrong to use your government office to make money for yourself.
  • Presidents who won't avoid conflicts of interest have already decided to put their own interests ahead of the country's.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about automotive jobs coming back to Michigan.

In an otherwise innocuous tweet congratulating the Republican gubernatorial primary winner in Michigan, Trump said that "lots of car and other companies" were "moving back" to the state.

Trump likes to take personal credit when companies hire workers, especially in high-profile cases like Michigan's famous automotive industry--even when, as is frequently the case, any growth is the result of plans made long before he took office. 

But in reality, auto companies have shed jobs in Michigan under Trump, reversing a long growth trend.

The picture is similar for automakers nationwide.

The latest confirmed data available is from May, so these statistics don't yet take into account any adjustments that U.S. factories may have made in preparation for the impact of Trump's tariffs. Automakers with factories in the U.S. are horrified by the prospect of what a trade war will do to sales of steel-intensive products like cars in an industry with low per-unit profit margins.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents shouldn't lie about the health of major economic sectors.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.

Monday, August 6, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied for political purposes about a natural disaster his government is supposed to be responding to.

In the wake of yesterday's Russia revelations, Trump hid from the media today, with nothing on his schedule except for a private dinner with political donors. But he had a busy day on Twitter, including seemingly bizarre claims about the wildfires burning in California. In two separate tweets, five hours apart, Trump said that the fires were "magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized."

The reaction from Peter Gleick, a scientist specializing in water resource management in California, was fairly typical.

To the extent that this year's wildfires are more severe than usual, the culprit is climate change, which Trump claims not to believe in--except when it affects his golf courses.

But Trump has political reasons for inventing fake water shortages. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who actively sabotaged his own committee's investigation into the Russian attack when it threatened to implicate Trump, wants the federal government to let agribusinesses drain California rivers dry. This would have disastrous environmental effects, which Nunes believes are a (literal) communist plot.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to try to score political points off of dangerous and destructive natural disasters.
  • It matters whether the president, whose branch includes FEMA, is completely wrong about the facts related to an ongoing emergency.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threw Donald Jr. under the bus.

Last night, the Washington Post reported on Trump's private fears that his son, Donald Trump Jr., would be prosecuted for crimes committed during the infamous "Trump Tower" meeting with Russian agents in June of 2016.

This morning, Trump pushed back--and in the process, pushed his son into the line of fire. Trump said that the meeting was "to get information on an opponent," which he said was "totally legal and done all the time in politics." But he also made sure to add, "I did not know about it!"

In reality, it's totally illegal for a presidential campaign to take anything of value from a foreign government, including help disseminating stolen information. It's also illegal to conspire with foreign agents to impair lawful functions of the United States government, like elections. 

As the scandal about the meeting broke last year, Trump himself personally dictated his son's false statement in which Donald Jr. claimed that the meeting had been "about the adoption of Russian children." That was quickly shown to be a lie: Trump. Jr. had enthusiastically agreed to the meeting because the Russian agents involved had enticed him with the promise of "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.

By admitting that the statement he dictated for his son was a lie, Trump is bringing his story more into line with the known facts. But by insisting that he had no knowledge in advance, Trump is giving himself space to claim that he personally was not part of any conspiracy between the Putin regime, his son, his son-in-law, and his campaign chair to influence the election. 

Two days before the meeting about the "dirt" the Russians had promised Donald Jr., candidate Trump announced that he would be giving "a major speech on probably Monday of next week" about "all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons."

Why does this matter?

  • People who are innocent tend to tell the truth the first time.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost his nerve (and his wife) in his fight with LeBron James.

Under pressure from the Mueller investigation, Trump has been moody lately even by his standards. Late last night, he erupted at basketball superstar LeBron James on Twitter, insulting James' intelligence and saying that he preferred Michael Jordan. 

Jordan responded this morning with a clear message of support for James--and was joined in that support by Melania Trump, who may lately have other reasons than sports to take the side of people who antagonize her husband. The usually reclusive first lady said through a spokesperson that she was open to visiting James' school.

While Twitter tantrums provoked by TV shows are nothing new for Trump, the timing of this one is interesting. The interview that set Trump off was about the charter school for at-risk children that James just opened in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and is highly regarded on and off the court throughout the basketball world, but will play for the Los Angeles Lakers in the coming season. Trump, who has made a specialty of trolling black athletes during his presidency, may have decided that James' departure from a state he desperately needs in Republican hands made him a safe target.

If so, that courage was short-lived. Trump spent this evening in suburban Columbus at a rally for a Republican candidate in a congressional special election. In spite of the fact that, true to rally form, most of his remarks were an airing of grievances rather than an actual endorsement of the candidate, Trump did not mention James.

Why does this matter?

  • Donald Trump, of all people, probably doesn't want to be drawing attention to his own history with philanthropy and schools.
  • A president who can't hear criticism without lashing out can't handle the job.

Friday, August 3, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He began an indefinite vacation. 

Today was Trump's first full day on his latest vacation at his New Jersey golf club and resort, where he will be spending an as-yet unspecified length of time. The only clue as to the actual number of days or weeks that Trump will be away from his typical work habits is a routine filing with the Federal Aviation Administration that limits air traffic around Bedminster. At the moment, those restrictions are in place through August 13. 

The White House is describing this as a "working vacation," although that is also how staffers described last August's 17-day excursion, only to have Trump insist that he was not on vacation. This year, virtually all of the interruptions to his golf course time for the foreseeable future take the form of political campaign rallies, which his staff sometimes schedules for him as a form of therapy

The only work-related task that Trump has set for himself in the next ten days is to "decide" whether he will agree to a voluntary interview with DOJ special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has occasionally insisted that he wants such a meeting, but the near-unanimous verdict from the legal community is that he cannot afford the legal jeopardy that such a meeting would put him in. That includes Trump's own lawyers and friends, who have openly said that if Trump agreed to be interviewed with Mueller, he would probably perjure himself.

Assuming Trump stays at Bedminster through August 13, he will then have spent 32% of his presidency at one or another of his own luxury resorts.

So what?

  • If you need to take every third day off from your extremely important full-time job, you probably aren't fit to do it.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He worked late into the night to praise a dictator.

Trump is normally an early-to-bed type, but he was up past his bedtime to send a tweet at 12:14 EDT thanking Kim Jong-un for "keeping [his] word" by returning what Kim claims are the remains of American servicemembers from the Korean war. Trump also thanked Kim for a "nice letter" Kim had sent.

Trump had already long since taken credit for the return of the remains, falsely claiming in June that it had already happened. He also memorably claimed he sought their return at the behest of the parents of Korean War soldiers (who would be in their 100s by now). North Korea has used the bodies of Americans as a bargaining chip over the decades, periodically offering parcels of them in exchange for diplomatic concessions or cash, until the U.S. stopped cooperating in 2005.

Since Trump unconditionally accepted Kim's invitation to meet, North Korea has redoubled its efforts to build ICBMs that can reach the United States. Just weeks after the summit, U.S. military intelligence also discovered that the Kim regime planning to hide its nuclear arsenal while pretending to disarm. 

Trump has not commented on either of those developments, but he has declared the North Korean nuclear threat to be over.

Why does this matter?

  • Repatriating remains is important, but not if it jeopardizes American national security.
  • A president who can't keep himself from telling obvious lies about a subject this solemn isn't mentally fit for the job.
  • A president who can't keep himself from praising enemy dictators isn't morally fit for the job.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made an interesting historical comparison.

As the second day of Paul Manafort's trial got underway, Trump tweeted out a cautiously sympathetic message for the man who may shortly be facing a choice between cooperating with the Mueller probe or spending the rest of his life in prison.
While Trump is not known as a student of history, he asks an interesting question, because their circumstances are quite similar. Like Capone (and a great many other suspected criminals), Manafort is being detained during his trial because he is a flight risk. Both Capone and Manafort were given unusually lavish "VIP" housing in their respective jails--to use the compliment Manafort himself paid his accommodations.

Trump is wrong about Manafort "serving solitary confinement." Neither Capone nor Manafort awaited trial in solitary confinement: Capone had a bodyguard in his cell and regularly entertained guests, and Manafort had long days in the company of his attorneys preparing for trial.

Like Capone, Manafort is--at the moment--on trial for tax crimes rather than the more notorious and serious crimes he's associated with. (In an interesting coincidence, prosecutors in both cases introduced incredibly expensive suits as evidence of hidden wealth.)

In fact, the most notable difference between the two is one that potentially works to Manafort's advantage. Capone was the undisputed king of Chicago mobsters. Manafort, whose connections to Russia's attempts to set up puppet governments go back decades, can trade his knowledge of Russia's attack on the United States for leniency.

So what?

  • Bringing suspected criminals to trial is what prosecutors are supposed to do.