Saturday, January 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He offered a "compromise."

On the 29th day of the government shutdown that has 800,000 federal workers going unpaid and consequences mounting, Trump held another televised address to make the case for his border wall. The centerpiece of it was an offer to temporarily protect refugees already lawfully residing in the United States, and people brought into the country as children. In other words, an extension of both the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs.

In today's attempt, Trump said that to renew these programs would be "straightforward, fair, reasonable, and common sense."

Trump canceled DACA in September of 2017, saying at the time that it "violat[ed] the core tenets that sustain our Republic," that it was "unlawful and unconstitutional," and that it had fomented an invasion of gang members and a "humanitarian crisis."

It was a discussion of the TPS designation for Haitians living in the U.S. after fleeing a series of natural disasters that led to Trump's famous "shithole countries" remark.

To be fair to Trump, his sudden willingness to see these programs as "reasonable" and legally valid is less of a change than it may seem. He has often been confused about his own stance on DACA, endorsing it even after he'd rescinded it

Instead, his immigration position at any given moment has been more about placating a small part of his voting base. His suddenly renewed enthusiasm for the border wall—for which he didn't even request funds in his budget proposal—is generally attributed to his fear of being criticized from the right by extremists like Ann Coulter.

Coulter, for her part, was no more impressed than Democrats with Trump's offer.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents who make their policy based on what they actually think is right and best for the country don't offer to bargain it away.

Friday, January 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He added a little Islamophobia to his border wall campaign.

Trump's rationale for refusing to sign spending bills without money for his oft-promised border wall changes from time to time. Sometimes he claims that the issue is a humanitarian crisis, and that a wall at the very end of their journey will deter people who have traveled thousands of miles on foot to escape political or criminal violence. 

But for the most part, Trump prefers to accuse refugees from violence and starvation of being criminals themselves. Today, he added an Islamophobic twist to that narrative, claiming that an unnamed "border rancher" had found "prayer rugs," presumably abandoned by the Muslim terrorist infiltrators who Trump wants people to believe are hiding among refugees. 

"Prayer rugs" at the U.S.-Mexico border are an urban legend: much talked about, never actually found. One supposed example turned out to be a soccer jersey. More recent stories of borderland "prayer rugs" may have been inspired by those left behind by radical Islamic terrorists who bombed a Kansas City department store—in the 2018 movie Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Why should I care about this?

  • It's wrong to use one kind of bigotry to justify another.
  • Just in case Trump actually believes this: the president should be able to tell the difference between reality and a movie.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to take revenge on Nancy Pelosi.

Minutes before members of Congress departed on a planned trip to NATO headquarters in Belgium and then Afghanistan, Trump canceled their military transport. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump said the "excursion" was inappropriate during a government shutdown.

The tone of the letter made it clear that Trump was trying to retaliate against Pelosi for her suggestion that because of the security logistics involved, the televised State of the Union address should not happen in the House chamber during the shutdown. 

But regardless of its intent, the letter is revealing about what Trump does or doesn't know.

Trump sneeringly suggested that Pelosi could take a commercial flight instead. In fact, as Speaker and second in the line of succession to the presidency, she cannot, because of security rules put in place after the September 11th attacks. By revealing the secret details of the trip before it was underway, Trump essentially made it impossible for any member of Congress to go.

Trump also scoffed at the very idea of visiting troops and military commanders in a war zone, during a shutdown, calling it a "public relations event." Trump visited troops and military commanders in Iraq during this same shutdown

Trump has been furious over the political beating he is taking during the shutdown, which is beginning to erode his support among the "base" voters he is trying to rally in the first place. But his anger, and his sabotage of Congress's travel, may also be due to his own inability to leave the White House because of the political optics. Trump has been forced to spend almost every night since late November away from his winter resort home at Mar-a-Lago, where he normally spends two or three nights a week.

Trump's wife Melania took a military transport to Mar-a-Lago today.

So what?

  • The president isn't supposed to actively prevent other branches of government from doing their jobs.
  • A president who was reportedly too afraid to travel to a war zone for the first two years of his term should probably have a better understanding of the security implications.
  • Even by Trump's standards, this is petty.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He robbed Peter to pay Paul.

Today, Trump issued an order summoning 2,500 furloughed Department of Agriculture employees back to work—although not back to a paycheck. 

Among other things, this will allow the department to process claims from farmers devastated by the market disruption caused by Trump's trade war. Last year, Trump revived a now-obscure government program dating back to the Great Depression as a temporary bailout to affected farms, but the shutdown had stopped those payments from going out.

The move has some political advantages for Trump: it eases some pressure on Republican members of Congress from rural districts, at the expense of federal workers. Trump seems to think—incorrectly—that federal workers are mostly Democratic voters and therefore fair game.

But it contradicts other Trump administration statements on the shutdown. Recalled workers now cannot earn money at other temporary jobs, as the Trump administration had suggested they do (along with offering to do chores to offset rent, or holding yard sales). And being forced back for unpaid work is certainly the end of the "vacation" that Trump's economic advisor has been insisting that furloughed workers have been on.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Generally speaking, it's bad policy to make one problem even worse so that you can put a band-aid on another problem.
  • It's not optional for a government to govern, and it can't really be done piecemeal.
  • It's bad to make people work without paying them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He became the first president in the history of the United States to bounce a military paycheck.

Last week, most of the 800,000 furloughed or unpaid federal workers affected by the current government shutdown missed their first paycheck. Because the Coast Guard is paid on a slightly different schedule, however, Trump was temporarily spared the embarrassment of having to become the first American president ever to force military servicemembers to go without pay.

Today, members of the Coast Guard missed their first paycheck

The cause of the shutdown is Trump's insistence that he will not sign an appropriations bill that doesn't contain money for a border wall. (His 2019 budget proposal did not include a request for any such money.) The Coast Guard is one of the country's primary immigration law enforcement agencies, but is not performing that mission during the shutdown due to lack of funds.

Trump, who inherited the equivalent of about $400 million dollars from his father, has mostly shrugged off the hardships caused by missed paychecks—in part because he seems to think federal workers are mostly Democrats. But he has recently bragged to a military audience about legislation he'd signed raising their salaries by 10%, claiming that it was the first raise they'd received in "ten years." (This was a double-barreled "pants on fire" lie. Military pay increased by a fairly typical 2.4% in 2018, and the armed forces haven't gone without a raise in any year since 1983.)

Prior to Trump's most recent shutdown, no American military force has been required to serve without the promise of pay since the Revolutionary War. 

Why does this matter?

  • The commander-in-chief of the United States' armed forces cannot be this callous or incompetent towards those under his command.
  • One way to increase border security would be to pay existing border security agencies to secure the border.

Monday, January 14, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He mocked asylum-seeking immigrants for showing up to their court hearings.

Trump said almost nothing about farming for the first half an hour of his speech to the American Farm Bureau today, focusing instead on the border wall. (Trump was forced this morning to clarify his evasive answer about his allegiances to Russia, and did not revisit it in the speech.) 

Trump's remarks followed the general pattern of characterizing Latino migrants as criminals and terrorists, but also included what for him is a new lie about the habits of people fleeing through Central America and Mexico to seek asylum in the United States:

So we release [migrants seeking asylum]. So they go into our country, and then you announce—these are the laws—and then you say, "Come back in three years for your trial." Tell me, what percentage of people come back? Would you say a hundred percent? No, you're a little off. How about two percent?

In reality, about 90% of asylum seekers are present for their court dates. (The remainder includes people who have died or left the country voluntarily in the meantime.) Trump continued:

And those people you almost don't want, 'cause they cannot be very smart. Two percent, two percent, two percent. Two percent come back! Those two percent are not going to make America great again. 

Trump may be confusing asylum applicants, who deliberately seek out the American legal system, with undocumented workers who are illegally employed by businesses like Trump's golf courses, Trump's modeling agencies, and Trump's real estate companies.

Who cares?

  • It's a pretty bad sign if a president who is under investigation himself thinks that obeying laws is stupid.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had an interesting theory about Latino voters.

Trump had no official business on his schedule today, and so was free to spend it on Twitter. He did not address the revelation that he has been keeping his own national security and intelligence staff in the dark about what he's discussed with Vladimir Putin, but he did talk about the shutdown that is keeping the Russia stories from dominating the headlines. 

Specifically, he said that "Many Hispanics will be coming over to the Republican side" because Democrats were not willing to trade border wall funding for protection for DACA recipients.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was an immigration policy created by President Obama. It allowed undocumented children brought to the United States to live and work without fear of deportation to countries they had little or no connection to, so long as they maintained a clean criminal record. It was credited with reducing crime and poverty and improving mental health among affected populations.

It's not the first time that Trump has linked a government shutdown to DACA. In December of 2017, he accused Democrats of using a looming shutdown as leverage to force a deal to protect DACA recipients. (In reality, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress at the time.) Now, he appears to be upset that Democrats are not willing use DACA as a bargaining chip.

What's wrong with this?

  • Generally speaking, people don't give a hostage taker credit for being willing to negotiate over what he'll get in return for the hostages he's taken.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He insisted that he has a plan.

On the day that Trump set a record for the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, he went to Twitter to insist that he did have a plan. 
I just watched a Fake reporter from the Amazon Washington Post say the White House is “chaotic, there does not seem to be a strategy for this Shutdown. There is no plan.” The Fakes always like talking Chaos, there is NONE. In fact, there’s almost nobody in the W.H. but me, and......I do have a plan on the Shutdown. But to understand that plan you would have to understand the fact that I won the election, and I promised safety and security for the American people. Part of that promise was a Wall at the Southern Border. Elections have consequences!

Trump didn't say whether his "plan" involved actually ending the shutdown, which he recently threatened to keep going for "months or even years."

In fact, Trump didn't say what his plan was at all, a move which has some historical precedent. Richard Nixon campaigned for president in 1968 by circulating rumors that he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. (He didn't, and more than 21,000 Americans died in the war during his presidency.)

Many observers expect that Trump will declare a national emergency, claiming that this gives him the power to ignore appropriations bills and use disaster relief money for the border wall instead. This would be a face-saving gesture: the shutdown would end, Trump could declare victory, and when the courts overturned any attempt to bypass the spending bills he'd signed, he could try to gain political traction by attacking the courts. (Trump has already refused to accept any situation where he appeared to be giving anything up, telling his Democratic counterparts that he couldn't afford to "look foolish.")

However, there are other political reasons that Trump may need the shutdown to stay the top story of the day, making predictions about when or how he'll capitulate difficult.

Why does this matter?

  • People with plans to avoid bad things usually put them into action before setting a record for bad things happening.
  • It's wrong to value your personal pride over the safety and well-being of an entire country. 
  • Generally speaking, if Richard Nixon is the only historical precedent for what a president does, then what the president is doing is a bad idea.
  • The FBI having cause to investigate a sitting president as part of a counter-intelligence operation is arguably the worst thing that has ever happened to the presidency.

Friday, January 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He stiffed workers—again.

About a quarter of the federal government has been shut down for the past 20 days. The reason is that Trump refuses to sign any appropriations bill that doesn't include money for a $5.7 billion down payment on a border wall with Mexico. 

Today, as a result, 800,000 federal workers received pay stubs for $0.00—either because they had been laid off, or because they had been required to work without pay.

While this is the largest single number of workers that Trump has refused to pay at one time, it's actually a fairly common tactic for him. As a private citizen, Trump is a defendant in something like 1,500 lawsuits, literally hundreds of which deal with contractors or employees he refused to pay after they had done their work. 

Trump did not include any request for border wall money in the 2019 budget proposal he actually sent to Congress. The "emergency" nature of his border wall demand came at the very end of the appropriations process, after political commentators popular with some of his supporters started making fun of him.

Why is this bad?

  • It is wrong to force people to work without paying them.
  • A president who doesn't understand that missing a paycheck is a big deal for many Americans is too incompetent to serve.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He once again claimed not to know what his own campaign was doing with Russia.

On Tuesday, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's lawyers accidentally revealed shocking news: that Manafort had given secret, highly detailed Trump campaign data to oligarchs with ties to the Putin regime.

Modern campaigns are built on highly targeted data, and the kind of information campaign chair Manafort gave to Russian cut-outs was perfect for the pro-Trump campaign of fake news and social media influencing that the Putin regime carried out on Trump's behalf.

Today, for the first time, Trump was forced to address the issue, and simply denied that he'd known anything about it. Since saying anything else would be a confession to the most serious crimes a president has ever been accused of committing, this isn't very surprising. 

But Trump has issued a lot of denials that didn't hold up on this specific topic. Among other campaign- and Russia-related things, Trump once denied knowing about the hush-money payments to porn stars that was caught on tape making. He also denied that he was pursuing a building deal in Moscow even after he'd secured the Republican nomination in 2016, until legal documents proving it surfaced. He's also denied obtaining funding for his mysterious business enterprises from Russian sources, a denial that was pre-emptively rebutted by his own son, and refuted after the fact by his former lawyer

More broadly, Trump has issued any number of blanket denials about his campaign staff meeting with Russians in secret, which turned out to be false in the case of Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Wilbur Ross, Jefferson Sessions, Michael Caputo, Rick Gates, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump Jr., and Manafort (among dozens of others). 

The Manafort accusations are part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation in to the Russian attack. Recently, Trump declared he would not answer any further questions from Mueller. This is his right under the Fifth Amendment.


  • People who are innocent don't usually get caught lying over and over and over again about the crimes they're suspected of.
  • Conspiring with a hostile foreign power to disrupt an American presidential election is about as serious a crime as you can commit.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to punish the state of California for the effects of his own federal government's policies.

Trump announced on Twitter this morning that he would punish California for its recent devastating wildfires by denying it FEMA funds intended to help victims recover from those disasters. Specifically, he claimed that "Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen."

Trump has some truly bizarre ideas about what "proper forest management" involves, but the vast majority of the acreage burned in recent fires were on federal land, where California had no jurisdiction. The most devastating of them, the Camp Fire, started on and spread through a federally managed tract before destroying the town of Paradise.

In reality, Trump's problem with California's forest management strategy is about the politics of allowing private logging on public lands, not safety. 

There are a few problems with Trump's threat. For one thing, he may not even be able to legally carry it out. For another, the government shutdown he's promised to extend for "months or even years" means that FEMA is not releasing funds anyway. That includes money for the purely preventative brush-clearing and controlled burns which would normally be underway now.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to attack the victims of natural disasters in order to win a political fight.
  • Presidents don't need to be experts on forest fires, but they do need to be willing to listen to people who are when they're making policy on forest fires.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He did some campaign fund-raising.

Several hours before Trump gave a nationally televised prime-time Oval Office speech, his 2020 presidential campaign sent out a fundraising e-mail referencing the speech. He invited people to have their names put on "a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to the Official Secure the Border Fund," and said that the list would be delivered to him after the speech.

The "Official Secure the Border Fund" is a Trump campaign account. 

Previous prime-time presidential addresses have dealt with matters like the killing of Osama bin Laden, the September 11th attacks, other major military and diplomatic actions, national tragedies, and scandals affecting the president personally

No president prior to Trump is known to have tried to use a presidential address as a fundraising tool.

Why does this matter?

  • The point of governing is to govern, not to fund the next campaign.

Monday, January 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to pretend that a Democratic congressman supported his plan to use emergency powers to build his wall.

With public opinion against his oft-promised, ever-changing, never-built border wall, Trump needs all the allies he can get. But many of the people he claims agree with him on the wall aren't identified, like the "many" unpaid government workers Trump claims are secretly communicating their support. Others, like every living ex-president, have quickly refuted Trump's claims that they privately agree with him about border walls.

Trump tried again today in a tweet claiming that Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) agreed that he could use a state of emergency to force the building of a wall without a Congress appropriating money to pay for it. It's true that Rep. Smith said that Trump could declare a state of emergency. This is not exactly controversial: there has been at least one state of emergency in existence at the federal level at all times for the last four decades, and there may be dozens active at any given time.

But Smith's point was that Trump did not have the legal authority to use the powers granted to presidents under the National Emergencies Act to have the military build a border wall, and that he would lose a court challenge if he tried.
ABC NEWS: Let's get right to it, does President Trump have the ability, have the authority, to declare a national emergency, have the military build his wall? 
REP. SMITH: Well, unfortunately, the short answer is yes. There is a provision in law that says the president can declare an emergency. It's been done a number of times. But primarily it's been done to build facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. 
In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, where is the emergency? You have to establish that in order to do this. But beyond that, this would be a terrible use of Department of Defense dollars. The president spends most of his time talking about how we're not spending enough on national security, now he wants to take $20 billion out of the defense budget to build a wall, which by the way is not going to improve our border security. The president seems unaware of this, but we have actually already built a wall across much of the border, and all border security experts that I talk to say, where a wall makes sense, it's already been built.

Why should I care about this?

  • States of emergency don't give presidents the power to reshape reality.
  • Presidents whose policies are legal and/or popular don't need to lie about people supporting them.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reversed his plan to abandon U.S. allies in the Syrian conflict (without admitting it).

Last month, Trump abruptly declared his intention to unilaterally withdraw U.S. troops from the Syrian conflict. The order came without warning, shocking American military leaders and forcing Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign in protest

The biggest winners from such a withdrawal would be Russia (which is allied to the genocidal Assad regime in Syria) and Turkey (which would be free to attack Syrian Kurds, the United States' ally on the ground in Syria). The move also alarmed Israel.

Given the enormous political blowback, Trump's handlers almost immediately began walking back the announcement (even as Trump walked it forward), insisting that the troop drawdown would take place over a much longer timeframe than originally planned. Today, Trump's national security advisor John Bolton took that process to its logical conclusion, saying that U.S. troops would be withdrawn only at an unspecified future time when certain conditions were met.

One of those "conditions," the actual defeat of Islamic State loyalists in Syria, is something Trump has already (falsely) declared victory on.

How is this a problem?

  • Undoing bad policy doesn't undo all the consequences of making it in the first places.
  • Anything that weakens allies' trust in the United States is a threat to national security.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost the narrative on the "wall."

Trump tweeted nine times today about the border wall that is at the heart of his refusal to fund a quarter of the federal government. For much of his first two years in office, Trump basically abandoned his campaign promise to build a 1600-mile long physical barrier. But in recent weeks, he has suddenly decided (or decided to pretend) that it is so urgent that it takes precedence over literally anything else the government does—including paying 800,000 federal employees.

The consensus explanation for Trump's sudden renewal of interest in "the wall," as opposed to other forms of border security that actually work, is that he became frightened that a few fringe-right conservatives like Ann Coulter would turn on him. All presidents make political calculations, but for Trump there is a far greater danger in alienating his base than most presidents face. If a substantial number of Trump's strongest supporters abandon him, it could make him much more vulnerable to removal from office and post-presidency criminal prosecutions.

The latest tweetstorm came as reporting sourced to his own advisors and campaign strategists revealed that the whole idea of a "wall" was never supposed to be more than a mnemonic device. His handlers on the campaign trail felt that Trump, who even friends admit is undisciplined on his best days, needed an easy catchphrase to keep him focused. It was not intended by those handlers as an actual policy item. (Even conservative immigration hardliners don't generally think a physical, static wall will have any real effect on border crossings.)

The federal employees who actually do guard the border are being furloughed or forced to work without pay during the shutdown.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It's bad if a president is so easily manipulated that his handlers can end up creating policy by accident.
  • Actual border security is more important than Trump's political or legal future.

Friday, January 4, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he thinks of the shutdown as a "strike."

Today was the fourteenth day of the government shutdown caused by Trump's refusal to sign any appropriations bill that did not include $5,000,000,000 for a wall on the Mexican border. During that time, some 800,000 federal employees have either been laid off, or working without being paid.

Trump has repeatedly insisted—with no evidence—that the very workers who are now going without paychecks are the ones who support him the most. This morning, in a meeting in which he repeatedly lost his temper and erupted in profanity, he said he prefers to think of the shutdown as a "strike."

It's not clear if Trump, who inherited nearly half a billion dollars, actually knows what a strike is.

At a press conference today, he suggested, in all apparent seriousness, that those unpaid workers would continue at their jobs for "months or years."

But CNN reported today that TSA workers—some of whom make less than $30,000 per year—are already calling in sick, in large numbers, to the jobs that they have been doing for two weeks without a paycheck. A union representative said that those employees are likely seeking other (paid) work.

How is this a problem?

  • A "strike" is something workers do to improve their pay and working conditions.
  • A president who can say with a straight face that employees will work for "months or years" for free is either a liar or too stupid to hold office.
  • Maybe someone who thinks the government doesn't need to exist for years at a time shouldn't be in charge of it.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to stay in the spotlight.

Trump made an appearance at a hastily scheduled White House press briefing today. Under previous administrations, the occasional presidential drop-in at the daily press briefing served as informal press conferences. But Trump had never appeared at one until today—in part because he has practically ended the practice of allowing reporters to publicly ask questions of his administration in the first place.

Trump was in the room for eight minutes, much of which was spent congratulating himself for being there in the first place, and left without taking questions. 

The actual purpose of the "briefing" appears to have been to force television cameras to cut away from the opening of the new session of Congress. With Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, cable news coverage was heavy on how the majority would use their newly acquired subpoena power to investigate Trump's financial obligations, connections to the Putin regime, tax records, and other scandals

Trump's media strategy for the last month has been to divert attention from such things with his newly rediscovered passion for his "wall," something he indirectly admitted in a tweet on Tuesday:

It's not the first time Trump has given a "press conference" without actually answering press questions. 

Why does this matter?

  • The presidency is not actually a reality show and the president shouldn't treat it like one.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He trashed an outgoing Cabinet secretary at a Cabinet meeting.

There was a Cabinet meeting today, the first since the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis—although Trump has now decided to call that a firing. Mattis resigned in protest last month over Trump's sudden insistence on a pullout of American troops from Syria, which would amount to an abandonment of vulnerable American allies in the region.

Trump's opening ramble eventually turned to Mattis, about whom he said: "What's he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan, and I shouldn't be happy."

What Mattis has "done for" Trump in Afghanistan is carry out the Trump administration's policy. But it's not entirely clear what that policy is—as Trump himself demonstrated in the meeting when he bizarrely praised the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of the same country. This is what Trump said about his long-term Afghanistan strategy:

We're gonna do something that's right. We are talking to the Taliban, we're talking to a lot of different people. But here's the thing... Russia is there. Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia. So you take a look at other countries—Pakistan is there. They should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight and literally they went bankrupt. They went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union, you know a lot of these places you're reading about now are no longer part of Russia because of Afghanistan.

In other words, Trump is saying that the United States—which funded, under President Reagan, the Mujahideen opposition to the occupying Soviet force—was on the wrong side of the Soviet-Afghan War. He also seems to be saying that the United States should not simply withdraw from Afghanistan, but that it should do so specifically in order to allow the Soviet Union and Pakistan to take control. (Trump himself suspended U.S. military aid to Pakistan because of its support for the Taliban.)

Put even more simply, Trump is siding with two adversarial countries—one of whom is an ally of the United States' enemy in Afghanistan—against the policy of every presidential administration, including his own, for the last 40 years.

Put as simply as possible, virtually none of what Trump claims to believe about Afghanistan is true.

So what?

  • It's bad when an American president takes sides with the Putin (or Brezhnev) regime against the United States' interests.
  • Only incompetent leaders blame their subordinates when their plans don't work.
  • It's useful for presidents to have some knowledge of history, including the parts they were middle-aged adults during.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He thought a threat by North Korea was a compliment.

Trump was once again "confined" to the White House today by the government shutdown, now in its 11th day. And once again he spent most of the day (including the early morning hours) tweeting. Most of them were angry or defensive—they included sarcastic all-caps holiday greetings to his "HATERS," and calling a retired Army general a "dog"—but one of them offered what Trump apparently thought was good news.

Trump apparently took what virtually everyone else saw as a threat or a warning and concluded that Kim Jong-un was praising him. 

In reality, what Kim said was that North Korea would not make or test nuclear weapons unless the United States dropped its economic sanctions. Those sanctions are essentially the only thing besides the threat of nuclear annihilation that has kept the Kim regime in check until now. 

Basically, Trump was bragging that by "falling in love" with Kim Jong-un and agreeing to weaken the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, he had succeeded in getting North Korea to do exactly what it has been doing all along.

North Korea already has a stockpile of perhaps 60 nuclear warheads. Kim did not promise to give up this arsenal (and never has). He only suggested that he would not add to it, but warned that

if the United States does not deliver its promise and misjudge our people’s patience, making unilateral demands to continue sanctions and put pressure on us, we will have no choice but to seek a new path to protect the country’s independence, interests and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim has had Trump over a barrel politically since Trump went against the strenuous advice of his advisors and accepted Kim's invitation to a summit meeting. By declaring the summit a success even before it had happened, and by insisting immediately afterwards that North Korea was "no longer a nuclear threat," Trump gave Kim an enormous amount of leverage over his presidency. To even hint that North Korea was not acting in good faith would be to admit failure, something Trump seems incapable of even if he could afford it politically. This is, at least in part, why Trump has ignored his own intelligence agencies' findings that the Kim regime is accelerating work on their missile program and is developing plans to hide its nuclear stockpile from inspectors.

Why is this a problem I should care about?

  • No president can afford to be this incompetent where the nuclear security of the United States and its allies are concerned.
  • It's a problem when a president flies into a rage at a retired American military officer who criticizes him, and then "looks forward" to spending more time with a murdering, torturing dictator.
  • Good "dealmakers" don't get nothing in exchange for something, and aren't pleased with themselves when that happens.