Thursday, February 28, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took yet another dictator's word for it.

Trump's summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un ended abruptly today, with no agreement reached. While it will hurt Trump politically—he had already been actively campaigning for a Nobel Peace Prize on the results of it—the result is actually far better than some observers had feared. With Trump facing increasingly dire legal threats back home, there was reason to believe that Trump would make extraordinary concessions to Kim simply to change the news cycle.

But in a brief post-cancellation press conference, Trump bent over backwards to absolve Kim of the death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died after he sustained a brain injury in a North Korean prison camp. It's not clear whether Warmbier was simply tortured to death, or whether he was driven to attempt suicide as a result of torture.

TRUMP: I really believe something very bad happened to [Warmbier], and I don't think that the top leadership knew about it. ...And I will—I did speak about it, and I don’t believe that [Kim] would've allowed that to happen. Just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough. They're rough places. And bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was -- I don’t believe he knew about it. 
REPORTER: Did he say—did he tell you that he did not—did Kim Jong Un tell you— 
THE PRESIDENT: He felt badly about it. I did speak to him. He felt very badly. But he knew the case very well, but he knew it later. And, you know, you got a lot of people. A big country. A lot of people. 
REPORTER: Why are you— 
THE PRESIDENT: He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.

For decades, North Korea has held hostages from other countries, including the United States and Japan, in order to trade for concessions. At the time he fell into a coma, Warmbier was the subject of intense diplomatic negotiation. It is inconceivable that Kim was unaware of Warmbier's situation.

It's not clear why Trump—having been effectively humiliated by his inability to get any concessions whatsoever from Kim—would continue to defend him. But it fits a pattern of behavior. Trump also ran interference for the royal family of Saudi Arabia after his intelligence agencies presented him with overwhelming evidence that Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman had U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered:

I will say this: I don’t know, I don’t know. But whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently. His father denies it, the king, vehemently. ...We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia, an ally that said at the very top level, the crown prince, they did not commit this atrocity.

And when he held a joint press conference last July with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and was asked about Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election on his behalf, Trump said this:

I have president Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. 

UPDATE, 3/1: The Warmbier family has denounced Trump's appeasement.

So what?

  • Stupidity, cowardice, or mental illness are really the only reasons an American president would defend someone like Kim Jong-un.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared himself "honored" to be meeting with his "friend" Kim Jong-un.

Travel to Vietnam, 14 hours ahead of D.C. time, has not altered one aspect of Trump's schedule: he has still found room for "executive time" to spend on Twitter. At 9:31 a.m. Hanoi time today, he enthused about the "AWESOME" opportunities ahead of the man he referred to as "my friend Kim Jong Un."

Trump's "friend" Kim Jong-un has, during Trump's term, tortured an American hostage until he committed suicide. He's also committed atrocities including the murder and mass imprisonment of political dissidents, the punitive rape and murder of family members of those accused of political crimes, and the use of mass starvation as a tool of political control.

The man Trump said today that he was "honored" to be meeting with also runs a slavery operation, forces women to undergo abortions against their will, and uses torture.

Kim Jong-un, with whom Trump says he "fell in love" at the Singapore summit, has used its nuclear capabilities to issue a veiled threat to the United States within the last two months.

It's at least possible that Trump's pledge of "friendship" (and even "love") is an attempt at diplomacy, and not simply his long-established admiration for dictators

But if so, Trump seems to have realized that it's not working. Trump attempted to dramatically lower expectations immediately before leaving for the summit, effectively giving his blessing to a nuclear North Korea. On Monday, Trump said, "I'm not in a rush. I don't want to rush anybody. I just don't want testing. As long as there's no testing, we're happy."

In fact, Trump has even given up on insisting that North Korea disclose how many nuclear weapons it currently has. (The Kim regime has already been caught planning to deceive any future inspections about this subject anyway.)

North Korea has stopped testing its nuclear weapons because it has developed a working design. The United States, which is also a nuclear power, has not tested its nuclear weapons since 1992.

Why should I care about this?

  • "Friendship" with a murderous totalitarian dictator who threatens the United States with nuclear weapons is not possible.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He made a reasonable point about Michael Cohen.

Trump spent most of the calendar day en route to Vietnam, but left marching orders for surrogates to attack his former "fixer" Michael Cohen. Cohen is testifying before three Congressional committees this week about his knowledge of Trump's criminal behavior before and since being elected.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders summarized the Trump stance on the revelations Cohen is expected to make tomorrow at a public hearing before the House Oversight Committee. In a statement, Sanders said:

Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statement. Sadly, he will go before Congress this week and we can expect more of the same. It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.

Sanders' characterization of Michael Cohen as a liar and a felon is correct. He was convicted of lying to Congress in order to help hide Trump's secret business ties to Russian oligarchs, and also on campaign finance charges related to his role in concealing the hush money he funneled to women Trump had sexual affairs with.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • Even by Trump standards, attacking someone's truthfulness in testifying about the crimes he committed on your behalf because he committed crimes on your behalf is pretty absurd.

Monday, February 25, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He redefined racism to make himself the victim of it.

Last night, Spike Lee won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his film BlacKkKlansman. The film dramatizes the real-life story of a black Colorado Springs policeman who, in 1979, infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. 

Lee read his acceptance speech from a piece of paper he brought with him to the stage. This is the speech in its entirety.

The word today is “irony.” The date, the 24th. The month, February, which also happens to be the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History month. The year, 2019. The year, 1619. History. Her story. 1619. 2019. 400 years. 
Four hundred years. Our ancestors were stolen from Mother Africa and bought to Jamestown, Virginia, enslaved. Our ancestors worked the land from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. My grandmother, Zimmie Shelton Retha, who lived to be 100 years young, who was a Spelman College graduate even though her mother was a slave. My grandmother who saved 50 years of Social Security checks to put her first grandchild — she called me “Spikie-poo” — she put me through Morehouse College and NYU grad film. NYU! 
Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.

Trump was apparently infuriated by this speech and deemed it both a personal attack on him and a "racist" one to boot.

The White House did not offer any explanation. But there are reasons Trump might have taken this personally. The movie depicts David Duke, a prominent Klansman and vocal Trump supporter who Trump pretended he didn't know in order to avoid having to denounce him during the 2016 campaign. (Trump's own father was once arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally.) And the film closes with a clip of Trump himself, praising "both sides" after a white nationalist rally in defense of Confederate statues led to the murder of an anti-racism protestor.

Other people of color who Trump feels are racist include former president Barack Obama, CBS journalist Bryant Gumbel, the writer Touré, PBS journalist Tavis Smiley, and black voters who preferred Obama to Mitt Romney in 2012. (The full list of people who Trump believes have victimized him with their racism is much longer.)

So what?

  • Not supporting a president is not racism.
  • Trivializing racism is.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He let North Korea put him in a box.

North Korea's official press agency released a statement today demanding that Trump ignore American critics of the Kim regime, a group that includes essentially every North Korea expert, and both Democratic and Republicans. Trump's willingness to make concessions to and publicly praise the North Korean dictator has alarmed many, and Kim's government is apparently concerned that some of those critics might manage to undo some of the influence Kim has over Trump. The statement warned:

If the present U.S. administration reads others' faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity.

By declaring that he had ended the North Korean nuclear threat after last year's summit (and even declaring the summit a success before it had happened), Trump has given the Kim regime enormous political leverage over him. Anything that looks like failure—something Trump is incapable of admitting to—would be politically devastating, which means that Trump has been highly motivated to ignore North Korea's flagrant abuse of the "agreement" signed in Singapore.

Trump immediately echoed the North Korean sentiments in a tweet.

 Why should I care about this?

  • It should not be this easy to manipulate a president.
  • The nuclear security of the United States is more important than a president's ego.
  • No one who has killed, tortured, starved, and silenced as many people as Kim Jong-un can ever be allowed to have influence over the President of the United States.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He started rewriting the history of the 2018 midterm elections.

Trump has kept an unusually low profile today, even by the standards of his visits to the Florida vacation home where he spends two or three days out of most weeks in the winter. But he did make an interesting claim on Twitter: "There is far more ENERGY on the Right than there is on the Left. That’s why we just won the Senate and why we will win big in 2020."

Of course, how much "ENERGY" one political party has relative to another is subjective, and Trump is entitled to his opinion—even though it's probably colored by the fact that he may need to retain the presidency in 2020 simply to avoid being criminally prosecuted for another four years. 

But the 2018 midterms aren't the best evidence. Republicans picked up seats in the Senate that Democrats had been swept into during their successful 2012 presidential year, but far more Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican candidates. Democrats got about 45.2 million votes, while Republicans got about 39.3 million, for a difference of almost 7%.

In fairness to Trump, Senate popular vote totals don't reflect the entire nation's "ENERGY," since not every state had a Senate election (and some, like deep-red Mississippi, had two). But the total votes for the House do cover the entire country. In the highest-turnout vote for the House in more than a century, Democrats got 9.8 million more votes than Republicans, for a margin of 8.6% and a gain of 41 seats.

Trump has a long history of ignoring, self-deluding, or simply lying about how popular he is. He claimed—and may even have believed—that the massive Women's March protests held after his inauguration were not about him. Trump also continues to insist that Hillary Clinton's popular vote victory was the result of literally millions of illegal votes somehow cast by unknown millions of co-conspirators, exclusively for her (but not in states that would have mattered), and without leaving a single shred of evidence

Why should I care about this?

  • Past a certain point, self-delusion becomes pathological.

Friday, February 22, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He talked about crimes.

At a brief press availability today, Trump was asked about the arrest of Robert Kraft, his friend and the owner of the New England Patriots, for soliciting prostitution. Trump was circumspect:

Well, it's very sad. I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence totally, and — but I'm very surprised to see it.

Trump has often stressed that men accused of sex crimes have declared their innocence, so long as those men are his friends or allies. When a high-ranking aide, Rob Porter, was accused of having physically beaten two of his ex-wives, Trump said this:

He also, as you probably know says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well, he did a very good job when he was at the White House.

When Roy Moore, the Alabama politician Trump campaigned for in a special Senate election last year, was accused of having preyed on underage girls when he was in his 30s, Trump said this:

He denies it. Look, he denies it. If you look at what is really going on, if you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen, and you know, you have to listen to him also. You're talking about, he says 40 years ago, this didn't happen, so, you know. ...Roy Moore denies it, that's all I can say, and by the way, he totally denies it.

And Trump has made similar defensive remarks on behalf of Corey Lewandowski, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly—all political allies—and Mike Tyson, with whom he had a business relationship. And, of course, Trump himself has said that every single one of the 22 women who have publicly accused him of sexual assault or harassment over a period of several decades are lying.

Most recently, Trump declared that Christine Blasey Ford, who accused his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of having attempted to rape her in high school, was part of a "big fat con job." He mocked Ford for not having reported the assault when she was a teenager, and also said that nothing any investigation could possibly turn up would change his mind.

But the Kraft incident was only one crime he was forced to address today. Two others concerned criminal matters the White House has stayed absolutely silent on as they unfolded this week.

When asked about Christopher Hasson, a self-proclaimed white nationalist and Coast Guard lieutenant who was caught planning a mass terror attack targeting Democratic politicians and journalists, Trump said this:

I think it's a shame.

Asked if he felt any responsibility for the actions of people incited to violence against the people he rails against and calls "enemies of the people," Trump responded:

No, I don’t. I think my language is very nice.

Hasson's internet search history included queries like "what if trump illegally impeached" and "civil war if trump impeached." Trump has publicly said that "the people would revolt" if he were impeached.

Trump was also forced to comment on the 2008 plea deal given to Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire and close friend of Trump's, on charges dealing with sex trafficking and child rape. Epstein is believed to have trafficked in sex with more than 40 girls and women. Trump himself jokingly commented on Epstein's behavior before he was brought up on criminal charges, saying,

I've known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.

The reason that Epstein is in the news this week is that a federal judge ruled that Trump's labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, had broken the law when, as a federal prosecutor, he had brokered an incredibly lenient plea deal for Epstein and then hidden it from victims. (The law requires that victims of such crimes be notified.) Epstein pleaded guilty to only one assault, and served 13 months in the local Palm Beach jail, with daily work release privileges.

That led to this exchange today:

REPORTER: Mr. President, do have any concerns about the Labor Secretary tampering with the Jeffrey Epstein case? 
TRUMP: I really don't know too much about it. I know he's done a great job as Labor Secretary. And that seems like a long time ago. But I know he's been a fantastic Labor Secretary. That's all I can really tell you about. That's all I know about.

Trump's diffidence on pending criminal justice matters comes a day after he crowed online about the arrest of actor Jussie Smollett for falsely claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.

So what?

  • It's bad if the president only cares about crimes when they aren't committed by his friends and allies.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent part of 18 minutes celebrating black history.

Trump has had his share of troubles trying to accomplish the relatively straightforward task of commemorating the history of African-Americans, and this year's effort was no exception. Trump began an 18-minute appearance at a reception in the White House by introducing the Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams.

Adams—an accomplished public health official—seems to have been present because Trump has no African-American senior staff. Other than the controversial HUD secretary Ben Carson, who Trump personally dislikes, Adams is effectively the only black American in a senior position in the entire executive branch.

After a few minutes of fairly straightforward recitation of famous names in black history, Trump interrupted himself to praise his own handling of the economy:

Since my election, we have created 5.3 million new jobs. People thought that was -- and I tell you, you know, I'm very proud of it being the lowest ever in the history for African Americans. But today, right now, we have the most people working in the history of our nation. Almost 160 million people. We've never had that many people working. Right? 
Tell me: How do they beat us on the debate stand when we say we have the best unemployment numbers ever? Right? The best unemployment numbers ever and the most people working ever. The best economy perhaps that we've ever had. We got a lot of things going on here. Very good things. And we cut your taxes, by the way. And we cut your taxes.

He concluded that section of his remarks by touting his administration's creation of tax breaks for "distressed communities." Trump has a long history of assuming that all people of color, both inside and outside of the United States, live in poverty-stricken "shithole" places.

Trump also invited Catherine Toney, an African-American woman released from prison under sentencing reform laws, to come up to the podium to praise him.

Why is this a problem?

  • Black History Month events should arguably have something to do with black history.
  • Part of being president involves doing things that aren't campaign rallies.
  • The black experience in America is about more than poverty and incarceration.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said—and may even believe—that North Korea not doing nuclear testing means that North Korea is denuclearizing.

At a joint press conference with the Chancellor of Austria, Trump had this exchange with a reporter on the subject of his upcoming peer-status summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea:

Q How hard is it going to be to get North Korea to completely, verifiably denuclearize, which I think you —

TRUMP: ...When we started, as you know, there were a lot of problems. There was the missiles going all over. There were hostages that were being held. There were remains that we wanted to get back. There were many, many things. Now there’s no nuclear testing, no missiles going up. And we have a good relationship — a very good relationship, I’d say.

Trump's own administration has repeatedly told him that North Korea has absolutely no plans to denuclearize—so often, in fact, that Trump reportedly thinks that his hand-picked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is "not loyal" and is considering firing him.

Trump's belief that North Korea is not a nuclear threat seems to hinge on three pieces of evidence. First, that Vladimir Putin told him so, which is an answer he liked better than that provided by the U.S. military and intelligence communities. Second, that he himself tweeted out a declaration that he'd ended the North Korean nuclear threat, and therefore cannot afford to change his position. And third, that North Korea has stopped testing nuclear weapons.

The reason that North Korea is not testing weapons is that North Korea now has a working nuclear design, and no further tests are necessary. Tests would only waste plutonium and enriched uranium that could be used for the stockpile of weapons that the Kim regime has already been caught planning to hide, after the last time Trump rewarded North Korea with a summit.

The United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992 for the same reason: it doesn't need to.

As for the "very good relationship," if Trump is referring to his personal "love" for Kim, it may be true. But the United States and North Korea are still in a de facto state of war.

Why is this bad?

  • A president who ignores his military and intelligence advisors endangers the security of the United States of America.
  • Vladimir Putin does not have the United States' best interests at heart.
  • Neither does Kim Jong-un.
  • It is not disloyalty to tell a president things he doesn't want to hear.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had no comment.

Today, the New York Times published a massive investigative reporting piece on Trump's efforts to subvert, shut down, escape, and discredit the investigation into his and his campaign's culpability in Russia's efforts to sabotage the election on his behalf. Among other previously unreported stories, it shows that:

  • Trump ordered his press secretary to lie about Michael Flynn's departure, incorrectly saying that it had been at Trump's insistence;
  • Trump thought that firing Flynn—one of seven close Trump associates now indicted or convicted—would end the Russia investigation;
  • Trump overruled the White House Counsel's Office when they expressed concerns about the consequences of lying to the public about Flynn;
  • Trump was desperate to get then attorney general Jefferson Sessions to quit, believing that it would allow him to nip the Mueller investigation in the bud, but was afraid to do it himself;
  • Trump even asked his former campaign chair Corey Lewandowski (who had no position in government) to pressure Sessions to resign;
  • Paul Manafort and Flynn were approached by a Trump lawyer to discuss pardons, which would have been witness tampering;
  • Trump recruited vulnerable House Republicans to try to discredit the FBI and Mueller himself; and,
  • Trump and his new lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, were "slow to comprehend" the threat posed by Michael Cohen's cooperation with law enforcement.

But the most explosive reveal is that after Trump finally fired Sessions, he pressured the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, to put a loyalist in charge of the investigation into Cohen. 

Taken as a whole, the piece—sourced to "several dozen interviews with current and former government officials, members of Congress, legal experts and more"—reveals a whole host of new conduct by Trump that would likely have had him indicted for obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and conspiracy, if he were not probably immune from indictment while in office. 

Asked for comment today about, Trump paused, then would only say that the whole thing was "fake news." The White House has not otherwise commented.

UPDATE, 2/20: Trump "elaborated" Wednesday morning in a tweet:

So what?

  • This is the political equivalent of taking the Fifth—which, to be fair, may be Trump's best course of action.

Monday, February 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got mad at the Constitution.

During this morning's "executive" Twitter time, Trump once again live-tweeted the cable news shows he watches. Today, he quoted a Fox News guest who referred to a "coup" attempt against him. Specifically, he meant the claim in former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe's new memoir that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein had discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. This took place, according to McCabe, after Trump fired FBI director James Comey in an effort to shut down the Russia investigation.

As McCabe relates it, Rosenstein's concern was that Trump was incapacitated by the influence that Russia appeared to have over him, presumably as a result of his complicity in their efforts to illegally influence the election that put him in power.

In reality, there are four ways that a president can leave office, and none of them are "coups": death, resignation, impeachment and removal by Congress, and removal under the 25th Amendment. Supermajorities in Congress are required for either impeachment or removal under the 25th, and Trump's vice-president and a majority of his cabinet would also have to agree that Trump was unable to serve as president.

In other words, Trump is saying that it is "illegal and treasonous" for people to talk about a situation in which Vice-President Mike Pence, and at least eight out of fifteen cabinet secretaries hand-picked by Trump, and 67 out of 100 senators (including at least 20 Republicans), and 290 out of 435 members of the House (including at least 55 Republicans) all thought that Trump had been compromised by his Russian co-conspirators.

Trump did not explain why, if Rosenstein was fomenting a "coup" against him, he has been allowed to continue to work in the Justice Department.

How does this matter to me?

  • Presidents are not above the law.
  • Legally removing a president under the Constitution is not a coup.
  • Talking about the Constitution is not treason.
  • Declaring themselves ruler no matter what the law says is what authoritarians do.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called for "retribution" against people who made fun of him.

Last night, Saturday Night Live started its broadcast with a parody of Trump's declaration of a national emergency.

Notwithstanding his legendary TV appetite, Trump sometimes claims not to watch SNL, a show he hosted during the 2016 campaign season. But the show he "doesn't watch" often manages to bait him into an angry response, like the one he gave this morning:

This isn't the first time Trump has called for "retribution" against people who report on or make fun of him. From time to time, he gets his wish.

Trump has also threatened to "look into" NBC's over-the-air broadcast license on several occasions. It's an empty threat—local stations hold those licenses, not the network itself, and the First Amendment offers ironclad protection for satire of political figures.

Who cares?

  • Anyone who can't handle being joked about is too emotionally fragile to be president.
  • Threatening to silence anyone who dares speak out against the leader is what authoritarians do.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he was building a wall he's not building.

On day 2 of Trump's "emergency" over the record low numbers of illegal crossings at the southern border of the United States, Trump played golf and tweeted. In one of them, he claimed to be "BUILDING THE WALL."

Of course, Trump wasn't literally building the wall at that moment—or doing anything at all. He supposedly had meetings in the afternoon, once the morning's golf was done, but there is reason to believe that the White House lies about the amount of work he does during "executive time."

But more to the point, Trump's administration has not constructed any new walls, fences, or other barriers on the Mexico border—not today, not yesterday, and not for the foreseeable future. The only barrier construction to date is the repair of existing fences.

The budget bill that Trump signed yesterday has funds for 55 miles of new barrier construction, which would be a tiny increase in the total existing barrier, but the "emergency" money that Trump will be taking from military readiness budgets will be tied up in lawsuits through the end of his term, if it's not blocked by Congress.

Again: the U.S.-Mexico border has zero additional miles of "wall," by any definition, since Trump took office.

Trump began his term by privately begging the Mexican president not to contradict him when he said Mexico would pay for the wall, and then almost entirely lost interest in his signature campaign promise before right-wing commentators forced him to recommit to it. As a result of that pressure, he has been desperate to show progress on the "wall," and has settled on a strategy of simply telling supporters that "wall" is being built where none is. He even tried to re-train supporters at a recent campaign rally to chant "finish the wall" instead of "build the wall"—although once again, there is no new wall to "finish."

If the intent is to placate his political base, it doesn't seem to be working. Ultraconservative commentator Ann Coulter, a hard-line anti-immigrant voice, said this week that Trump was an "idiot" who was simply "scamming the stupidest people in his base."

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents shouldn't say they've done things they haven't done.

Friday, February 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared a non-urgent emergency.

This morning, Trump declared a national emergency with respect to the historically low and falling numbers of illegal border crossings into the United States. This would, if it survived any number of legal and procedural challenges, allow Trump to abate the "emergency" by reallocating money to build a border wall. 

Then, in a long and occasionally incoherent Rose Garden speech announcing the declaration, Trump said this of the "emergency" that he has been publicly musing about for months: “I didn’t need to do this."

Admitting that a national emergency isn't actually necessary is likely to hurt his chances of defending the declaration in court. 

Trump left directly from the announcement to spend the weekend at his Florida golf resort. Recently, Trump's resorts have been quietly firing the undocumented workers they illegally hired over a period of decades.

Why should I worry about this?

  • National emergency declarations are for national emergencies.
  • One way to decrease illegal border crossings is not to illegally offer undocumented immigrants work at your for-profit businesses.
  • It is bad for the country if the president appears confused or unfocused in public. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot his talking points on school shootings.

Today was the anniversary of the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen students and three school employees were killed when a gunman, a former student, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. Trump's most memorable most memorable contribution to the ensuing grief and debate was to claim that he'd have been braver than the police who responded.
Plus, you know, I got to watch some deputy sheriffs performing this week. And they weren’t exactly Medal of Honor winners. All right? The way they performed was, frankly, disgusting. They were listening to what was going on. The one in particular, he was then — he was early. And then you had three others that probably a similar deal a little bit later, but a similar kind of a thing. You know, I really believe — you don’t know until you test it — but I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t had a weapon.
In a written statement today, Trump offered his thoughts and prayers to all communities affected by "gun violence."

But as the Washington Post noticed, when he tweeted about the statement later, he pointedly misquoted himself, changing the reference to "school violence."

This was presumably to avoid offending the gun manufacturing lobby. The NRA spent nearly three times as much money on Trump's 2016 campaign than it had on Mitt Romney's in 2012, in spite of the fact that Romney—unlike Trump—actually came into office agreeing with their position on gun control. Prior to his career in politics, Trump favored a ban on weapons like the one the Parkland shooter used, and during his presidency he has frequently expressed support for gun control measures, only to quickly reverse himself.

Maria Butina, a Russian citizen posing as a pro-gun activist, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to her association with the NRA. The NRA is suspected of having financed its campaign on behalf of Trump with money illegally funneled from Russian sources.

Why should I care about this?

  • Reasonable people can disagree on what the right gun control policy is, but the president really has to be able to remember what his is from day to day.
  • It's bad if a president is this exquisitely sensitive to lobbyists.
  • One way for a man of Trump's age to prove his physical bravery in the face of assault rifles would have been to not avoid the Vietnam draft.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got facts and laws wrong, this time on trains.

Trump used some of his "executive" Twitter time today to attack the state of California for cancelling its high-speed rail project.

California has not cancelled its high-speed rail project, although it has scaled it back. 

Trump also insisted that California "owed" the federal government $3.5 billion. Recent comments by Trump suggest that he believes—or at least wants people to think he believes—that presidents can reallocate money that Congress has budgeted. But they can't. 

Trump has a political grudge against the governor of the state, Gavin Newsom, and has attacked the state repeatedly—most recently blaming its devastating fires on the state's forest management practices, although the blazes began and spread on federally managed land. (Trump responded by threatening to cut off the federal money that California uses for forest maintenance, which would only have made the problem worse.)

But more to the point, Trump's sneering at the supposed failure of a "green" mass transit program is likely at the behest of the coal and oil industry figures who funneled money into his inaugural committee (currently under criminal investigation as a slush fund) and received extraordinary return on investment in the form of policies and cabinet secretaries.

Who cares?

  • Presidents do not get to rewrite laws, including budget laws, just because they want to.
  • It's bad if a president is openly hostile to one of the United States and is rooting for its failure.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He planned a parade that already exists.

Trump has spent a surprising amount of his time during his presidency planning parades—specifically, the kind that would have tanks and missiles rolling down the streets of the nation's capital. Unfortunately, Trump is 0 for 2 as a parade planner: the military brushed aside his demand to have that kind of display for his inaugural, and he balked at the price tag for a Veteran's Day parade last year.

Today, he elaborated on a new idea: a Fourth of July parade in Washington, D.C. He described it to reporters this way:

We're thinking about doing, on the Fourth of July, or thereabouts, a parade. A "Salute to America" parade. It'll be a, uh, really a gathering as opposed to a parade. I guess you'd have to say, uh, perhaps at the Lincoln Memorial, we're looking at sites, but we're thinking about doing something which would become perhaps a tradition. "Salute to America" on July 4th, or July 4th weekend, somewhere around that area. ...And you'll see how, uh, how it works out with schedules of everything else. And I think it could be a very exciting day, and the fireworks is there anyway. So we just saved on fireworks. You get free fireworks, because it's already being done. So that's very good.

This time, Trump is very likely to get his parade (or "gathering") on the Fourth of July (or "thereabouts"), for a good reason: it already exists, as both a parade and gathering.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department appeared to be hearing about the idea for the first time, but gamely agreed that Trump's one specific contribution—the phrase "Salute to America"—was a "great idea."

Why should I care about this?

  • There are already people in the federal government who do event planning as their main job.

Monday, February 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He traveled to El Paso to lie about El Paso.

Trump held a campaign rally in El Paso, Texas this evening, where he repeated a lie about crime and border fences that he debuted in his State of the Union Address. During that speech, he made this claim:

The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the entire country, and considered one of our nation's most dangerous cities. Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country.

In reality, before border fences went up near El Paso in 2008, it was one of the safest cities in the United States, according to the FBI.

Trump may simply have assumed that all border cities are dangerous, or it may have been a deliberate lie. Treating all potential migrants from Latin America as criminals has been a central theme of his campaign since its very first day, but in the real world, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

The city's current Republican mayor, Dee Margo, gently corrected Trump yesterday, prompting this response from Trump tonight:

And I've been watching, where they've been trying to say, "Oh, the wall didn't make that much," well, you take a look at what they did with their past crimes, and how they made them from very serious to much ser—you take a look at what the real system is, I spoke to people that have been here a long time, they said when that wall went up, it's a whole different ballgame. Is that a correct statement? Whole different ballgame. I'll give you another example, and I don’t care if a mayor is a Republican or a Democrat, they’re full of crap when they say it hasn’t made a big difference.

But again, in the real world, El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the country, long before any border fence went up nearby.

Trump did not say who were the "people that have been here a long time" that he spoke to, presumably in the 30 minutes between arriving at the rally and going onstage.

Why should I care about this?

  • Facts don't change just because a president wants them to.
  • Treating all members of a group as though they had the same bad characteristic is pretty much the definition of bigotry.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed he could spend taxpayer money however he liked without Congress's approval or invoking a national emergency.

Trump has painted himself into a corner over funding for the "wall" that Mexico was supposed to be paying for: Democrats in Congress can easily defeat any funding bill that includes a legal appropriation of money for it, but the far-right elements in his base he desperately needs for political survival have started to hold him to his promises. Trump's record-shattering multiple-paycheck shutdown backfired politically. And Republicans in Congress show no appetite for one possible solution—declaring that historically low numbers of illegal border crossings counts as an "emergency."

Trump's Budget Director and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was dispatched to Fox News this morning to argue that there is a way out of the dilemma that involved neither declaring an emergency nor getting Congress to give in to Trump's demands: simply spending money appropriated for other purposes on a wall that Congress has explicitly refused to pay for.

"There is money that he can get at and is legally allowed to spend... all of this is going to be legal," Mulvaney said.

There are two problems with this statement: first, it's not really true. Both the Constitution and existing federal law put severe restrictions on a president's ability to reappropriate funds, especially where Congress has made an explicit choice. If that were an option, Trump would not have needed to shut down the government for 35 days in an attempt to force Congress to capitulate.

(This is why, for example, the Reagan administration found it necessary to break the law outright by selling weapons to Iran in order to fund the Nicaraguan rebels that Congress had refused to support with taxpayer money. Moving money around in the open wasn't an option.)

The second issue is that Trump has already identified where he'd like to take the money from: flood control projects meant to protect New Orleans from another Katrina, critical military readiness programs, and disaster relief agencies serving Texas and Puerto Rico. Even if Trump were to try to take money from these programs to start building on any wall, he'd face lawsuits at every turn and opposition from both parties in Congress.

So what?

  • Presidents don't get to ignore the Constitution just because it's inconvenient for their political situation.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared himself the (legitimate) winner of the 2020 election.

Trump's Saturday morning Twitter rant included this statement: that by asking his acting attorney general to testify at a hearing yesterday, "The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win!"

No one on the House Judiciary Committee is running for president in 2020, but Trump may mean one of two things by that statement. 

One is that he believes he is simply too popular not to be re-elected. Trump's entitled to his opinion, but in terms of what actual voters are saying, this is, to put it mildly, absurd. Recent polls show 57% of Americans are already determined not to vote for him, and his approval rating is 15% underwater at 40%—which puts him at 11th out of the last twelve presidencies at this point in his term.

The other possibility is that Trump, who openly invited Russian interference on his behalf into the 2016 election—and got it in spades—is simply trying to undermine the idea that elections can be legitimate. This is a tactic he used during the 2016 election: he declared the election was "rigged" months before it took place, when polls showed him losing, and then promised to abide by the result of the election if and only if he won.

Why should I care?

  • Accusing others of things you have done is called projection, and it is not a sign of good mental health.
  • Neither is an inability to accept that people may not all love you.
  • In a democracy, the results of elections aren't legitimate if and only if the "right" candidate wins.

Friday, February 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He outdid himself with praise for Kim Jong-un.

Trump will give North Korea another "meeting of equals" summit in Vietnam later this month. But he is already pledging his support for Kim Jong-un. Today, he said this on Twitter:

Kim has already ruled North Korea since 2011. In that time, he has:
Trump did not explain what about this résumé had particularly impressed him.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents should not praise murderers, hostage takers, dictators, enslavers, human rights abusers, hostile nuclear powers that threaten the United States, rogue states, or incompetent leaders.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He felt attacked.

Trump once again spent the day's "executive time" on Twitter, complaining about "Unlimited Presidential Harassment," by which he meant the various investigations into him and his businesses. He seems (not without reason) especially concerned about the revived House Intelligence Committee investigation, which is no longer chaired by his close political ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). 

In one tweet, he insisted that "Republicans never did this to President Obama, there would be no time left to run government."

This is, to some extent, true. President Obama did not have a private business other than his book royalties, so there were no concerns that his business connections could be used to buy influence over him in violation of the emoluments clause. Since there was no such business, it could not have violated campaign finance law by illegally funneling hush money to the porn-star mistresses Obama didn't have. Nor could it have been suspected of helping launder money for Russian oligarchs and drug cartels. Also, his tax returns were made public every year, so there was nothing to investigate in terms of what entities he might have owed money to.

By a similar token, the only "investigation" into the possibility of secret ties that Obama had to foreign governments was the one (supposedly) launched by Trump himself into whether Obama had in fact been born in the United States. It's not clear that the "investigators" Trump said he had dispatched to Hawaii actually existed or did any work, but in the end even Trump acknowledged that the "birther" conspiracy theory was wrong.

It's also fair for Trump to say that President Obama was not suspected—even by the Republican-controlled Congress that spend thousands of committee-hours investigating other aspects of his administration—of having collaborated with hostile foreign countries to sabotage the 2008 or 2012 election.

Obama operates a charitable foundation that has not admitted to illegal "self-dealing" or allowing itself to be used to further Trump's political ambitions. Neither were his inaugural committees accused of being slush funds, or any super-PACs associated with him of illegally accepting foreign donations, so no investigations were done there either.

Why should I care about this?

  • Suspected criminals don't get a pass just because they feel "harassed."
  • Presidents don't get to opt out of Congressional oversight.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He helped spread HIV.

One of the least controversial proposals Trump unveiled at last night's address to Congress was a call to fight HIV infection:

In recent years we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. Together, we will defeat AIDS in America.

The only criticism of this line in Trump's speech was that he offered no specific steps to accomplish this goal than a reference to the budget—and that nothing so far in Trump's presidency suggested he'd be willing to take the necessary steps.

Today, the Trump administration announced it was filing a lawsuit to prevent the opening of a safe drug injection site in Philadelphia. Such facilities allow for intravenous drug users—which include those addicted to opioids—to inject drugs using clean needles and under the supervision of medical professionals who can provide counseling and intervene in the case of overdose.

By law, the federal government tolerates, and even funds, needle exchange sites because dirty needles are a major risk factor for the transmission of HIV and other diseases.

Why should I care about this?

  • There's no point in a president announcing a policy he doesn't intend to enact.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He found some bullying he didn't like.

One of Trump's guests at today's State of the Union address will be a Delaware sixth-grader name Joshua, who has been suffered bullying at school. (Trump's wife, Melania Trump, has campaigned against bullying.) Trump said that the reason Joshua was bullied was because of his last name—Trump.

Other audience members will include Sen. Richard "Da Nang Dick" "the Dick" Blumenthal (D-CT), "Sleepin'" Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), "Liddle'" Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Sen. Richard "Dicky" Durbin (D-IL), Sen. "Sneaky" "Leakin'" Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), "Lightweight" Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Doug "Puppet" Jones (D-AL), Sen. Tim "Total Stiff" Kaine (D-VA), Rep. Conor Lamb, "the Sham," (D-PA), Speaker of the House "High Tax" "High Crime" "MS-13 Lover" Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. "Wacky Jacky" Rosen (D-NV), Sen. "Little Marco" Rubio (R-FL), Sen. "Crazy Bernie" Sanders (I-VT), Sen. "Cryin'" Chuck Schumer (D-NY), "Goofy" Sen. Elizabeth "Pocahontas" Warren, "The Indian" (D-MA), Rep. "Crazy" "Low IQ" Maxine Waters (D-CA), "Wacky Congresswoman" Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Rep. "Little" Adam "Schitt" Schiff (D-CA). 

Sen. "Lyin'" Ted Cruz (R-TX) will also be in attendance, although it's not clear if he will be joined by his wife Heidi (whose appearance Trump made fun of) or his father Rafael (who Trump accused of being involved in the assassination of President Kennedy). 

The audience will also include private citizens George "Mr. Kellyanne" Conway, and several "Obama" "So-Called" judges. 

Among the media figures covering the speech for "Fake News CNN" are reporters and commentators "Crazy" Jim Acosta, Michael "Broken Down Hack" D'Antonio, Paul "Dopey CNN Flunky" Begala, and "Sour" Don Lemon, "The Dumbest Man on TV." (CNN's president is "Little" Jeff Zucker, not to be confused with New York Daily News owner "Dopey" Mort Zuckerman.) The "Amazon" Washington Post, where "Sloppy" Carl Bernstein won his Pulitzer during Watergate, and which is owned by Jeff "Bozo" Bezos, will also report on the address. The "Failing" "Corrupt" New York Times' coverage will include reporting from Maggie "Crooked H Flunky" Haberman and commentary from "Crazy" Maureen Dowd and "Dope" Frank Bruni. "Liberal Fake News" MSNBC's "Low IQ Crazy" "Dumb as a Rock" Mika Brzezinski will discuss the speech tomorrow morning, joined by her fiance "Psycho Joe" Scarborough, with "Little Katy" Tur appearing later in the day, potentially as a guest of "Sleepy Eyes" Chuck Todd. Conservative independent press coverage will be handled by "Wacky" "Irrelevant" "Failing" Glenn Beck and "Sloppy Steve" Bannon. 

Foreign press coverage will include contributions from "Mr. Kurd," as Trump refers to the Kurdish journalist Rahim Rashidi, and Canadian writer "Sloppy" Graydon Carter (who, to be fair, called Trump names first when he called Trump a "short-fingered vulgarian" something Trump is still furious about decades later).

Other "Enemies of the People" in the "Crooked Press" for whom Trump doesn't have specific nicknames will also be reporting on the speech.

So what?

  • Only feeling empathy for other people if you can somehow connect them to yourself is a known symptom of a serious mental health disorder.

Monday, February 4, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took the revelation of how he spends his time poorly.

Trump today relied on surrogates to deal with yesterday's revelation by the news site Axios that he spends even less time at work than previously thought. Kellyanne Conway was dispatched to a press gaggle in which she insisted that the leaked internal White House schedules, much more accurate and complete than the limited information contained in public schedules, were still not the real schedules. (Conway did not provide examples of how these purported über-schedules would show Trump using his "executive time" for anything other than Twitter or television watching.)

But Conway, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other surrogates, said that the release didn't matter, and that there would be no attempt to find the leaker because, as she claimed, "nobody cares."

That would be amazing if true—and it isn't, according to further reporting today. Trump's explosive temper is reliably set off by what he perceives as disloyalty, and the leak of the schedules really does appear to be yet another attempt from within Trump's own administration to weaken him

It comes on the heels of another humiliating leak from inside the White House. Trump's own intelligence aides—the people who create and present the briefings he often ignores—told Time reporter John Walcott that he is almost comically ignorant about current events, and needed to be tricked into paying attention to briefings by using his name frequently during them. 

Why should I care about this?

  • It's bad if the people hand-picked to be part of a president's team are spending this much time trying to keep him in check.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a pretty typical day.

Trump spent the weekend at Mar-a-Lago, after the political realities of the recent government shutdown forced him to go weeks without a trip to one of his vacation homes. He tweeted, played golf, watched television, attended a private party, traveled in a motorcade and on Air Force One, and according to his public schedule, did no work.

In other words, it was a pretty typical Sunday in the Trump administration—and, as an article coincidentally published by Axios today shows, it was pretty typical of many weekdays.

Trump's use of "executive time" has ballooned to include more than 60% of his schedule. The term is a euphemism that the White House schedulers use for periods during the workday when Trump is watching TV, tweeting, chatting with friends, or otherwise disengaged from the specific duties of the presidency. 

Axios also published the evidence, leaked copies of Trump's private internal White House schedules for the last three months. These actual schedules contradict the ones prepared for public consumption, which depict Trump hard at work in the Oval Office during "executive time." In reality, the internal schedules prove, Trump rarely puts in Oval Office time, or takes meetings, or does other discernible work in the mornings.

Why does this matter?

  • The presidency is a full-time job.
  • It's bad if all it takes to embarrass a president is to show how he spends his day.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He found a way to hire Ronny Jackson.

Navy physician Dr. Ronny Jackson first came to the public's attention last year when he gave a glowing report after Trump's first physical examination as president. Jackson took reporters' questions for over an hour and deeply impressed the television-obsessed Trump with his poise on camera. At times, Jackson almost seemed to be channeling Trump himself, saying that the 71-year-old had "good genes" and "might live to be 200 years old." 

(It also probably helped that Jackson was willing to report Trump's weight as a suspiciously flattering 239 pounds, exactly what was necessary to move him into the "overweight" category for his height, rather than "obese.")

Trump responded by nominating Jackson to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, a gargantuan administrative department that oversees, among other programs, the VA hospital system. Jackson had no particular administrative or management experience, but probably would have been confirmed regardless, except that the scrutiny of the confirmation process exposed other problems. Jackson had been under the influence of alcohol while on duty as a Navy doctor, handed out prescription drugs without examinations, and was at the center of a toxic and dysfunctional work environment in the White House medical office. Jackson eventually withdrew himself from consideration.

Today, Trump announced that he was appointing Jackson to a job as "assistant to the President and chief medical advisor." He also recommended that Jackson, currently a one-star rear admiral, be promoted. Jackson is currently under investigation by the Department of Defense for the same wrongdoing that derailed his nomination.

Trump's annual physical exam is scheduled for next week.

Why does this matter?

  • Positions of trust in the government and the military are supposed to be given because of a person's actual qualifications, not personal flattery of the president.
  • There are probably physicians who can advise Trump on medicine who haven't been caught drunk on duty, mishandling medicines, or abusing co-workers.
  • It shouldn't be this easy to manipulate a president.