Sunday, July 21, 2019

WTDT may publish on a slightly irregular schedule between July 22 and August 1.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said people who say the things he's said about the United States should apologize.

Trump has spent much of the past week alternately running towards and running away from his claim that four Democratic congresswomen, all minorities and American citizens, should "go back" to the "crime infested" places they're from. (Three of the four were born in the United States.)

Today, he tweeted that they should "apologize" for unspecified remarks about the United States. It's not clear what he's talking about because most of the things Trump has claimed they've said, like praising al-Qaeda or calling the country "garbage", are lies. 

What is less clear is where Trump draws the line about what kind of criticism of the United States is acceptable. He himself has used the word "garbage" to describe the condition of the country. In fact, trashing the United States was a main theme of his campaign: Trump said that the U.S. was like a "third world country," and was being laughed at by other nations. In his inaugural address, normally a hopeful and optimistic speech, Trump gave a grim report on "American carnage."

Trump even managed to throw the United States under the bus in order to defend Vladimir Putin. Asked why he seemed so taken with a dictator who had murdered journalists, Trump shot back, "You think our country's so innocent?"

Why does this matter?

  • Any American, not just the president, is allowed to criticize the United States.
  • Lying by saying your political opponents support al-Qaeda is about as shitty a thing as it's possible to do in American politics.
  • Americans might not like Trump as much if they knew what he really thought of them.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He sort of tried to do his job, because Kanye asked him to, which may have been a bad idea.

American rap artist A$AP Rocky has spent the last few weeks in a Swedish jail, awaiting charges for assault after he allegedly got into a fight with a concertgoer on June 30. Mega-celebrities Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West have been lobbying to have him released.

Today, Trump jumped in front of the spotlight on Rocky. In a tweet that name-dropped Kanye, Trump said he had called the Prime Minister of Sweden to "personally vouch for his bail."

It's more or less unprecedented for presidents to ask foreign heads of state for personal favors, for the obvious diplomatic awkwardness it causes. It's even weirder for a president to brag about doing so in public. But there's a more basic problem: Sweden doesn't have bail.

This is not the first time Trump has personally intervened—or at least said that he did—in the plight of African-Americans jailed overseas. When three college basketball players were arrested in China for shoplifting, and later released after intervention by the State Department, Trump gloated that they would have to "say thank you President Trump" for their freedom. Trump then got into a messy Twitter fight with the father of one of the accused students, when the father pointed out that Trump himself hadn't actually done anything—something Trump was still fuming about over a year later.

Rocky's advocates have made the surprising claim that he is being mistreated in his Swedish prison. They have said that he was denied food, given inadequate bedding, and forced to drink dirty water in a facility that smelled "like a toilet." 

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if the president only tries to help people if they're friends with one of his supporters.
  • Past a certain point, needing attention and praise is pathological.

Friday, July 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot his position on the debt ceiling.

The Constitution says that only Congress can authorize the borrowing of money against the United States' credit. For over a hundred years, there has been a pre-existing "debt limit" written into law by Congress, which can be raised as needed with further legislation. 

Often, appropriations bills authorize money to be spent that would require an increase in the debt limit. If the debt limit were not raised in these situations, the government would eventually default on its bond obligations. Because virtually the entire world is heavily invested in U.S. bonds, a default would trigger a worldwide financial catastrophe.

Today, Trump told reporters that the idea of using the statutory debt limit as leverage in negotiations with Congress was unthinkable. 

I can’t imagine anybody ever even thinking of using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge. When I first came into office I asked about the debt ceiling, and I understand debt ceilings, and I certainly understand the highest rated credit in history, and the debt ceiling, and I said, I remember, to Sen. Schumer and to Nancy Pelosi, "Would anybody ever use that to negotiate with?" And they said "absolutely not, that’s a sacred element of our country." They can’t use the debt ceiling to negotiate.

Trump doesn't understand debt ceilings as well as he thinks. Several times in recent history, Congress has pushed the nation to the brink of default by using the threat of default to force a president to sign other legislation. Most recently, in 2012-2013, the Republican-controlled Congress tried to use this tactic to get President Obama to effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act. They were encouraged by... Donald Trump.

There is some context for Trump's remarks today. The country will need a debt ceiling increase soon, but Congressional Democrats rejected a budget proposal from Trump that would raise it and tie Congress's hands for future appropriations.

Who cares?

  • Anything that could potentially wreck the entire world economy is something the President of the United States needs to be able to remember his position on.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to have it both ways.

Trump has spent much of the week doubling down on his racist tweet that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and other women of color in Congress should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." He defended himself by saying that "many people agree with me."

Last night, at a campaign rally, some Trump supporters who apparently do agree with him chanted "send her back" when he mentioned Omar, a Somali-American congresswoman who as a child fled that country's civil war. He paused his speech and nodded as the chant rang out, for thirteen seconds.

Today, Trump—under pressure from horrified Republicans—said he'd tried to stop the crowd, although he added that "it was quite a chant." Video of what he actually did exists.

It's pretty common for Trump to tell people not to believe their own eyes, and the fact that something is on videotape doesn't mean Trump will admit it exists—even if he's previously admitted it does.

The "send her back" chant came on the same day that Trump lied that Omar had supported al-Qaeda, and told reporters "I hear she was married to her brother."

Why should I care about this?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He showed how worried he is about his tax returns being looked at.

Today, Trump took the highly unusual step today of asking to join, as a private citizen, his own administration's court battle with Congress over access to his tax returns. Earlier this year, House Ways and Means chair Rep. Richard Neal instructed the Treasury Department to provide that committee with copies of Trump's personal and business tax returns for the past six years. 

Legally, Congress's case against the Trump administration is extremely strong. By the plain text of the law, the IRS simply has to provide any requested returns, as long as they are viewed in a secure facility. Neal didn't even have to provide a reason—although he did anyway

Joining the suit as an individual doesn't really change Trump's chances of winning in the courts, although he may be hoping that it will let him keep things tied up in court until after the 2020 election. 

Ironically, Trump is one of the relatively small number of extremely wealthy Americans who appears to have genuinely broken tax laws, rather than simply taking advantage of legal tax shelters available to people with enough money and political influence. Much of Trump's inheritance, amounting to almost half a billion dollars, was funneled through tax avoidance schemes that ranged from highly questionable to outright fraud. (Even this doesn't really explain where Trump's current, post-bankruptcy fortune comes from.)

Why does this matter?

  • Innocent people don't usually go to this kind of extreme lengths to conceal evidence of their innocence.
  • Presidents aren't above the law.
  • Ultra-rich people cheating on their taxes hurts everyone who doesn't cheat on their taxes.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got manipulated.

Last night, Peter Thiel appeared on a Fox News program and accused Google of "seemingly treasonous" behavior with the Chinese government. Thiel is a Trump ally and chair of the data-mining company Palantir, and he wasn't very specific about what "treasonous" things he thought Google was doing. Thiel—who is also invested in several Google competitors and would benefit financially if the company stumbled—called for the FBI and CIA to investigate "in a not excessively gentle manner."

Thiel's argument seems to be that because he feels some Google employees are "ideologically super left-wing, sort of woke," the company as a whole is vulnerable to infiltration. He also falsely claimed that Google was doing business in China. It is not.

This morning, Fox and Friends mentioned the interview, prompting Trump to tweet this:

It's not yet clear if Trump—whose idea of secure communications is a bike messenger— really thinks that Thiel is an expert, or whether he'll follow through on his promise to investigate on Thiel's say-so. But it is very, very, very, very, very, very easy to get Trump to take action against companies he thinks don't support him enough.

Why does this matter?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to manipulate the President of the United States.
  • In a democracy, the government doesn't investigate companies just because the president's political allies tell him to.

Monday, July 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

Economics, as only he can.

Trump hosted a White House event aimed at showcasing American manufacturing. Trump used the occasion to repeat a number of outright lies about his trade war, which he claimed was helping American businesses. 

For example, he said that foreign countries were "paying a lot of money right into the Treasury." Although Trump has said it many times in the past, that's still not how tariffs work. In the real world, tariffs are paid up front by importers registered in America, and then that cost is passed along to American consumers. (Tariffs are about 2% of total U.S. government revenues.)

Trump also said that retaliatory Chinese tariffs weren't hurting farmers: "So our farmers didn’t lose anything by the fact that China targeted our farmers." This is totally false. Some—not all—of the tens of billions of dollars in lost farm revenue caused by the trade war were made up by American taxpayers in the form of handouts from an emergency farm support program dating back to the Great Depression. 

But farmers are also being hurt by being shut out of competition for Chinese markets, opportunities that will not be easy to regain when tariffs go back to normal. Also, artificial short-term government buying adds chaos to markets—something that actual fiscal conservatives oppose.

Trump insisted that "I never — I hadn’t had one farmer say, 'Please make a fast deal, sir. Please make a fast deal.' ...And the farmers are thrilled, I must tell you that." In reality, farmers are not "thrilled," and many (many, many, many, many) farmers have been openly calling for Trump to end his trade war immediately. (Although in fairness to Trump, it's fairly unlikely the farmers who feel this way would be allowed to talk to him.)

Trump also addressed the fact that he needs Congressional approval for the USMCA, his light re-working of the NAFTA free trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. He claimed that Democrats were holding up approval, because "the Republicans are totally onboard." Actually, they're not.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's a real problem if the president can't get his mind around basic economic concepts.
  • It's bad if the president doesn't know that people oppose his policies, and worse if he knows but lies and says they don't.
  • The agricultural sector of the American economy is much, much more important than Trump's political fortunes.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to start a fight in the Democratic party, and got condemned by Republicans.

Trump was up bright and early with a tweet thread that, even by his standards, was overtly "xenophobic, even racist"—and that's coming from one of his most reliable supporters

In it, he said that four freshman Democratic congresswomen who "came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."

Three of the four members of Congress Trump was talking about were born in the United States. The fourth, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), came to the United States as a child refugee from the civil war in Somalia.

Trump's real intent, on a day where golf was the only other thing on his schedule, appears to have been to try to drive a wedge between those members and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House. Both his original tweets and a follow-up thread mentioned Pelosi. He falsely claimed, not for the first time, that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) had called Pelosi a "RACIST!" 

As a political maneuver, it doesn't seem to have worked. As of Sunday evening, no national Republican had stepped forward to defend him, and those that did comment called his display "racist and disgusting," pointedly reminded Trump that "we're all Americans," and said that "it has to stop."

Democrats, predictably, found common ground in turning Trump's racist words back on him. Pelosi, the four congresswomen Trump attacked, and Democrats in general were all on the same page in their responses.

Why should I care about this?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this is racist.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He talked about his "popularity."

Today, Trump tweeted what may actually have been a fairly accurate assessment of his popularity: he claimed that he had a 94% approval rating among Republicans, and that this was even better than Ronald Reagan's 87%. 

Trump didn't say what poll he was citing—and he's been known to straight up lie about polling numbers in the past—but it's at least in the ballpark. (The part about it being the highest ever is flatly false, but Trump has already said he doesn't think public opinion counts where George W. Bush after the September 11th attacks is concern.) Gallup, a benchmark poll, has him at 90% approval among Republicans.

The problem, which Trump either doesn't realize or thinks his supporters won't figure out, is what this actually means.

His overall approval rating at the moment, according to Gallup, is 41%. That means that virtually everyone supporting him is a Republican, and the overall number of Republicans is shrinking under Trump

Trump gets 34% approval from independent voters in the Gallup poll, and 5% from Democrats. President Reagan, propelled to actual landslide victories by a movement of "Reagan Democrats," had an average approval rating of 31% among Democrats. Even President Obama, who took office in a much more polarized electorate, had almost three times Trump's popularity (14%) among the opposite party.

As though to prove the point, Trump lashed out at Republican former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan today, his second day of ranting at the "weak, ineffective and stupid" Ryan after excerpts from Ryan's forthcoming book—not particularly enthusiastic about Trump—were released.

So what?

  • Republican voters might not like Trump thinking they're his personal property.
  • It's fine for politicians to "play to the base," but presidents are supposed to respect the views of all Americans.
  • It's bad if a president thinks his supporters aren't very smart, and worse if he can't hide it.

Friday, July 12, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to talk over reality.

This morning, a reporter asked Trump about the visit to a border detention facility that Vice-President Mike Pence would be taking later in the day.

Q Mr. President, are you visiting an immigration detention center like the Vice President?
TRUMP: Yeah — and very importantly, today, in a few hours, Vice President Pence and the head of Homeland Security are taking the press and congresspeople into detention centers. And we’re the ones that said they were crowded. They’re crowded because we have a lot of people. But they’re in good shape.

Later in the day, Josh Dawsey, the press pool reporter assigned to Pence's trip, filed this report.

After negotiating with the VP's office, [I] was taken into an outdoor portal at the McAllen Border Station around 5 P.M., where almost 400 men were in caged fences with no cots. The stench was horrendous.

The cages were so crowded that it would have been impossible for all of the men to lie on the concrete. There were 384 single men in the portal who allegedly crossed the border illegally. There were no mats or pillows — some of the men were sleeping on the concrete.

When the men saw the press arrive, they began shouting and wanted to tell us they'd been in there 40 days or longer. The men said they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. It was sweltering hot. Agents were guarding the cages wearing face masks.

Water was available outside the fences, and agents said the men could leave and get water when the press wasn't there.

Most of the men did not speak English and looked dirty. They said they'd been there for 40 days or more upon questioning from [me.]

We were pulled out of the portal within 90 seconds, and a White House official said the Secret Service had expressed opposition to the Vice President going in. He briefly went into the room.

"I was not surprised by what I saw," Pence said later at a news conference. "I knew we'd see a system that was overwhelmed."

Trump hasn't offered any further comment today on the "good shape" he thinks border facilities are in. But this morning, he did offer an explanation for why he was sending Pence to tour a detention camp:

And the reason is because the fake-news New York Times wrote a phony story. ...So they’re touring detention centers. And that was my idea because I read a phony story in the New York Times today — or the other day — about the detention centers, about the conditions. And I had people calling me up at the highest levels from Border Patrol and ICE, almost crying, about that phony story. 
And they never saw anything. They have phony sources. They don’t even have sources. They write whatever they want. The New York Times is a very dishonest newspaper. They write what they want. And what they do is a tremendous disservice to this country. They are truly the enemy of the people, I’ll tell you that. They are the enemy of the people. And what they wrote about detention centers is unfair.

Trump is a little confused about what day he supposedly read the "phony" New York Times story, because he was repeating things he'd said this past Sunday. The article with "phony sources" about the McAllen Border Station Trump appears to be talking about has this headline

and is sourced primarily to this Department of Homeland Security report, published last Tuesday.

Why does this matter?

  • Reality doesn't change just because a president says everything is fine.
  • Presidents who can't or won't admit that problems exist can't solve them.
  • Reporting on official government reports doesn't make anyone the "enemy of the people."

Thursday, July 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

Social media.

Trump's day began with 16 tweets before 9:15 A.M, including a thread that reads as deranged even by Trump's standards. In it, he called himself "so great looking" and a "stable genius" before swerving into racial slurs and nicknames for Democratic presidential candidates. (He apparently tried to call South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg "Alfred E. Neumann," after the famous Mad magazine character, but accidentally tagged the unrelated Twitter user @AlfredENeuman99, who is not a fan.)

Some of the more alarming tweets were later deleted and re-posted, by someone with access to Trump's account, with better spelling, more coherent wording, and corrected tags.

Many of the other tweets were spent promoting what amounted to a campaign event about it in the form of a White House "social media summit." No actual social media company was invited, but the exclusively pro-Trump crowd of trolls and "influencers" did feature some notable names. The guest list included:

  • Ali Alexander, who tried to sabotage Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris as she rose in the polls after the first debate by spreading birther-style rumors that she was "not an American black." (Trump's son Donald Jr., who sometimes gets assigned social media outreach to the fringes of Trump's base, retweeted Alexander.)
  • Ryan Fournier, one of the founders of "Students for Trump," whose partner in that venture was arrested three months ago on federal fraud charges.
  • Ben Garrison, a political cartoonist known for his drawings of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, most famously one in which "the Rothschilds" and George Soros are shown holding the puppet strings of the U.S. military. Garrison was uninvited at the last minute, although Trump hasn't said why he was invited in the first place.

The main theme of the "summit" was Trump's favorite (but false) conspiracy theory that social media companies are targeting conservatives. None of the people invited have actually been banned from any social media platforms.

The summit attendees were also present when Trump announced his latest swerve on census policy, where they picked fights with actual reporters.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to use taxpayer money to reward your own political supporters.
  • The President of the United States has more important things to worry about than his Twitter follower count.
  • People who surround themselves with criminals, overt racists and anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists do it because they like what those people have to say.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He talked about emoluments.

Trump scored a victory in the courts yesterday, with a Fourth Circuit panel dismissing one of the lawsuits against him over his apparent violations of the domestic emoluments clause. In that case (and others like it), the plaintiffs have argued that Trump's DC hotel—in which he is both tenant and his own government landlord—violates the Constitution's prohibition against presidents being paid money by the government other than their salary.

Gloating about it on Twitter, Trump made a telling claim: "I don't make money, but lose a fortune for the honor of serving and doing a great job as your President (including accepting Zero salary!)"

In order to make sense of this claim, it's important to keep in mind that Trump freely admits that he lies about money. He's lied about being richer than he is for vanity purposes, and he's lied about being poorer than he is to avoid taxes. (The second kind of lie is a crime.)

There are three claims here: that Trump isn't making monetizing the presidency, that Trump is losing money as president, and that he's not taking a salary.

It's true that Trump is donating his $500,000 salary to government agencies, often popular ones like the National Park Service that he's tried to cut funding for.

It's a lie that Trump isn't using the presidency to make money. In fact, there are so many different ways Trump has leveraged his office to force money into his own pocket that it's difficult even for long articles to summarize them all. Simply by choosing to spend a weekend at his luxury resort hotels, obliging staff and the Secret Service to charge the government for their rooms, Trump can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself. (He's spent 30% of the nights he's been president at one of his own properties.) Foreign governments have openly declared that they buy Trump hotel rooms—and in some cases, like the government of Saudi Arabia, rooms they don't even need—to curry favor with Trump. 

But Trump is probably telling the truth when he says he's losing a fortune, at least in the short term. Having run real estate, casinos, an airline, and and consumer goods businesses into the ground, Trump only really found a reliable way to make money late in life: as a brand. And his unprecedented unpopularity has hurt the value of that brand, and bookings at the properties he still owns.

So what?

  • It's bad if foreign governments can buy access and goodwill from the president.
  • It's kind of sad to expect people to feel sorry for you that you get to be President of the United States.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to cut himself free from the unfolding Jeffrey Epstein child sex trafficking scandal.

Trump was forced to address his and his administration's connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the hedge fund manager who was given a notoriously lenient sentence for sex crimes against children, and who now faces new charges for child sex trafficking. He expressed sympathy for his labor secretary, Alex Acosta, whose as a prosecutor signed off on an extremely light sentence, and then illegally tried to hide the details of that deal from Epstein's victims. Trump also claimed he'd had a "falling out" with Epstein and that he "wasn't a fan."

Trump made no mention at all of Epstein's dozens of known victims.

Asked about his confidence in Acosta, Trump said, "I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job." He also floated the idea that Acosta wasn't really responsible: "I do hear that there were a lot of people involved in that decision, not just him."

As for his relationship with Epstein, Trump explained it this way:

Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people in Palm Beach knew him. He was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn’t a fan. I was not — yeah, a long time ago. I’d say maybe 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you. I was not a fan of his.

This is either a lie or a convenient mis-remembering. Trump was a fan of Epstein's, at least for a while. In New York magazine's 2002 profile on Epstein, Trump told a reporter, "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. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

Trump is not directly implicated in Epstein's alleged child sex trafficking, although he has openly admitted to behavior with girls and young women that ranges from creepy to criminal.

However, Trump is acting very worried by the unfolding Epstein drama. Probably the most important sign of how seriously Trump is taking the potential for scandal is the behavior of his famously Trump-protective attorney general, William Barr. Yesterday, Barr recused himself from the Epstein case, as he had promised senators he would at his confirmation hearing. Barr has several connections to Epstein that would normally prevent him from being involved: he was a partner at the law firm that defended Epstein, and Barr's father gave Epstein (then a college dropout) a job at a private school in New York.

Today, Barr "unrecused" himself.

Why should I care about this?

  • The attorney general is not the president's personal "fixer."
  • Presidents are responsible for appointing people who the public can trust with power.
  • Reality doesn't change just because the president wants to remember it differently.

Monday, July 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threw a temper tantrum because someone called him insecure.

Last week, the British tabloid The Daily Mail reported on leaked internal memos written by the British Ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch. They were harsh in their assessment of Trump. Darroch said that Trump was "inept," desperately insecure, and that his administration was "dysfunctional." He advised other British diplomats talking to Trump to "make your points simple, even blunt," so that Trump could keep up.

Darroch concluded that the situation was not likely to improve, and that Trump's presidency might well  "crash and burn" and end in "disgrace and downfall."

The release of the cables was indeed embarrassing for the British government—but not because Darroch had said something he shouldn't. A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said, "The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country. Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. But we pay them to be candid."

Today, Trump responded to the charge that he was insecure by tweeting this:

I have been very critical about the way the U.K. and Prime Minister Theresa May handled Brexit. What a mess she and her representatives have created. I told her how it should be done, but she decided to go another way. I do not know the Ambassador, but he is not liked or well........thought of within the U.S. We will no longer deal with him. The good news for the wonderful United Kingdom is that they will soon have a new Prime Minister.

In reality, Trump does know Darroch, having met him "seven or eight times" as of last year in the normal course of business. (It's very possible that Trump is unable to remember.)

Realistically, Trump probably could force Darroch out of his job. The problem is that Trump has already shown that he doesn't understand what ambassadors do, which is to serve their own country's best interests. Shortly after taking office, Trump told the British government (via tweet) to appoint his political ally Nigel Farage as ambassador, apparently in the belief it was his choice to make. The response was a flat "no."

UPDATE, July 9: Trump continued to lash out at "the wacky Ambassador" on Twitter today, again insisting (and perhaps believing) that he had not met and worked with Darroch on many occasions. Trump's own comments are starting to do damage as British politicians, including one of the likely candidates to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister, reacted angrily to his treatment of Darroch.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • The US-UK relationship is much, much more important than Donald Trump's feelings.
  • Throwing a tantrum in public because someone said you were insecure and slow-witted is a pretty good way of proving them right.
  • It's really important that presidents understand the basics of diplomacy.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that stories about migrants being abused and kept in inhumane conditions were "phony and exaggerated."

Trump was angry at pretty much all media everywhere today, even Fox News, which normally serves as a sort of safe space for the easily provoked Trump. In particular, he was upset about coverage of the shockingly inhumane conditions that many detained migrants and asylum-seekers were being kept in. He tweeted, "The Fake News Media, in particular the Failing @nytimes, is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers."

(In the same thread, though, Trump also insisted that he and he alone had foreseen the "crisis" and that if there was one, it was someone else's fault.)

The NYT is hardly alone in covering the latest rash of reported abuses in what amount to internment camps for migrant families seeking asylum in the United States. But it's hard to see what (if anything) Trump thinks is "phony" about their coverage. Here is a summary of some of their recent reporting on the subject.

  • June 21. "Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex." This article describes rampant overcrowding, a lack of basic necessities like soap and toothpaste, "outbreaks of scabies, shingles and chickenpox" among detained children, attempted suicides of children, and conditions so filthy that agents working at the detention center would carry the smell with them on their clothes after they left work.

    Sources for this article include the CBP's own chief accountability officer, "dozens of current and former Border Patrol agents and supervisors," the attorneys for interned children, a father of an interned child, a man whose house is adjacent to the station, and sworn testimony obtained by reporters. It includes detailed maps of the interior of the station. 
  • July 2. "Squalid Conditions at Border Detention Centers, Government Report Finds." This piece covers the Trump administration's own report that found serious problems in how migrants were being treated in DHS facilities. Government inspectors found that detainees were denied the ability to bathe themselves, put in frigid rooms with inadequate clothing, and given inappropriate or inadequate food. They also found severe overcrowding. Members of Congress who toured DHS facilities at the same time found migrants begging visitors for help and who said they were forced to drink from toilet bowls.

    The main source for the article is the report itself, as well as public statements by members of Congress from both parties and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • July 3. "Trump Says Migrants Are ‘Living Far Better’ in Overcrowded Border Facilities." This article deals with the political fallout from the most recent news about migrant abuses. It quotes Trump himself as saying that "many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions,” and that Democrats would find fault with conditions "no matter how good things actually look, even if perfect." It also quotes Trump as saying that if refugees didn't like being put in detention centers, "just tell them not to come. All problems solved!" It reports on Trump's policies—charging penniless refugees fees to apply for asylum, and allowing only a trickle of applicants across at legal ports of entry. (This has created massive backlogs on the Mexican side of the border and pushed some desperate families to attempt to cross at other points, with deadly results.) The article quotes the acting Secretary of Homeland Security as saying that a Facebook group for Border Patrol agents full of racist and violent sexual fantasies about detainees and Trump's political opponents was "disturbing and inexcusable.

    The sources for the article are Trump himself, public statements from members of Congress, government reports, and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security.

Trump hasn't said why he thinks any of these people are lying or exaggerating.

Why should I care about this?

  • Reality doesn't go away just because presidents wish it would.
  • Only dictators fear a free press.
  • Presidents who cannot even acknowledge a problem exists cannot solve a problem.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he didn't know whether he'd managed to fire all the undocumented workers he'd illegally hired over the years.

Recently, a group of undocumented immigrants who have worked for Trump for years have been trying to get Trump to meet with them. They were recently fired after Trump's businesses belatedly started verifying its workers' documentation, as required by law. The purge came as Trump was shutting down the United States government in order to force Congress to appropriate money for a border wall. 

Trump was asked about it by a reporter today.

Q: Mr. President, are you confident there are no undocumented immigrants working at your Bedminster property or other Trump golf properties? 
TRUMP: Well, that I don’t know because I don’t run it. But I would say this: Probably every club in the United States has that because it seems to be, from what I understand, a way that people did business. 
But we’ve ended — whatever they did, we have a very strict rule that — those rules are very strict. But it seems that every club, practically, in the United States — that’s the way they did business.

Trump's statement was four sentences long. In two of them, he excuses his illegal hiring of undocumented workers because, he claims, everyone does it. (Even if true, that wouldn't make it legal.)

Trump also claims he doesn't know if there are still undocumented workers at his businesses because he's not in charge. Actually, he is. Although he made a show, complete with fake legal documents, of handing over day-to-day authority to his two eldest sons, Trump is still effectively in charge of the Trump Organization, and has still profited from any money saved by illegal hiring practices.

It's possible Trump didn't know about these specific illegal hires, although his insistence that "every club, practically" does implies that he knew he was doing it too. But Trump has been caught many times breaking the labor laws that protect American workers from wage pressures and undocumented workers from exploitation. He was sued by undocumented Polish demolition workers after he used their vulnerable status as an excuse to underpay them, and settled for $1.4 million. Illegally hired workers at his golf clubs were also forced to work off the clock. And his defunct modeling agency, Trump Model Management—whose former employees include the current First Lady—also hired models without work visas.

As for Trump's claim about "very strict rules," if they exist, they've only been enforced very recently, after the massive number of illegal hires at Trump businesses came to light and the Trump Organization was forced to start actually verifying employees' work status.

In fairness, though, not all foreign-born employees of Trump businesses were illegally hired. Trump's businesses routinely make use of special "guest worker" visas. These are only supposed to be issued to companies for work that Americans cannot be hired for. In 2016 and 2017, for example, Trump's businesses used 143 such visas to fill waitstaff, cooks, cleaners, and bartenders at Mar-a-Lago—supposedly because they couldn't find Americans able to do such jobs.

How is this a problem?

  • Presidents are supposed to enforce labor laws that defend Americans' right to work, not break them.
  • "Everyone's doing it" isn't an excuse for criminal behavior.
  • Throwing your children under the bus for things you did isn't exactly inspiring leadership.

Friday, July 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He admitted he'd been lying about why he wanted a change in the census.

Today was the deadline for government lawyers to explain to a judge presiding over the census lawsuit whether they actually knew what legal argument Trump, as president, wanted to pursue. They didn't know on Wednesday, and they didn't know again today, in spite of working through the Fourth of July holiday to construct any remotely plausible legal justification for Trump's renewed efforts to get a citizenship question on the census. 

The Supreme Court ruled against Trump last week, but he tweeted today that he could get past that simply by issuing an executive order. (That's not how executive orders work.)

Asked about his refusal to abide by the Court's decision, Trump accidentally admitted that the main reason he wanted a citizenship question on the census was

for Congress, you need it for Congress for districting. You need it for appropriations. Where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens?

The Constitution requires that Congressional districts be drawn according to the total number of persons living in them, not citizens. In the recent Supreme Court case that the Trump administration lost, the plaintiffs argued that this unconstitutional justification was the real reason Trump wanted a citizenship question—and Justice Department attorneys insisted that it wasn't. By inadvertently telling the truth this time, Trump has all but ruined his chances in court.

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to lie.
  • Presidents don't get to ignore the judiciary just because they don't like how a case turned out.
  • Trying to rig the census is the same thing as trying to rig elections.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that there was a refugee crisis at the southern border, and it was refugees' fault for being its victims.

While White House staff scrambled to make sure that Trump wouldn't be giving his Fourth of July speech to too small a crowd, Trump himself was busy on his phone, sending 41 tweets and retweets. 

One of them was a link to an article titled "8 Times the Media Said There Was No Crisis at the Southern Border." Its main argument was that when Trump declared an "emergency" in February in order to let him shuffle money around for a border wall, some reporters noted that there was no emerging threat to the United States, and that the number of people crossing the border was relatively low. (This is true, although since February, the number of families seeking asylum has risen sharply as the situation in Central America has deteriorated.)

The border crisis that does exist is the one that has resulted from the Trump administration's policy of forcibly detaining all people crossing the border without papers, including asylum-seekers. This has created nightmarish situations in which children have been sexually assaulted, or have died, or have been psychologically traumatizedDiseases have spread as a result of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. Migrants have been forced to drink from toilets, go without bathing for weeks at a time, Hundreds of refugees have been crammed for weeks at a time into rooms so small that it is impossible even to lie down.

Yesterday, in a different tweet, Trump blamed refugees themselves for the mistreatment and abuse they were suffering in custody, saying that if they didn't like the conditions in American internment camps, they should have stayed at home. But he also said that in spite of the abuses and dangers refugee-seeking families face in American detention, they were still "living far better" than they had in the places they had fled.

In other words, Trump is saying that he believes that migrants were right to flee from violence and starvation, but also that they should be abused in American custody to deter others from following them.

How is this a bad thing?

  • It is un-American, un-Christian, and evil to mistreat refugees.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted that he intended to defy a Supreme Court order, which forced his own DOJ to throw him under the bus.

Last week, Trump lost a case at the Supreme Court case over whether a question could be added to the 2020 Census asking whether the respondent was a citizen. One reason not to have such a question is that it discourages legal, noncitizen residents from responding—which would unfairly disenfranchise minorities and hurt the Democratic-leaning states where legal residents often live. 

Wilbur Ross, Trump's Commerce Secretary testified under oath that there was no such partisan intent, but this was a lie: documents came to light after the Court heard the case proving that the actual rationale had been, in the words of a Republican consultant, to create voting districts that "would be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” and “would clearly be a disadvantage for the Democrats.”

Trump blustered about delaying the Census—which would be unconstitutional—but yesterday, his Commerce department appeared to finally admit defeat. Printers were given the go-ahead to print Census forms without the citizenship question.

Then, this morning, Trump tweeted that reports that he would abide by the Supreme Court's decision were "FAKE." And that in turn prompted George Hazel, the federal judge handling the case, to summon DOJ lawyers to explain themselves

JUDGE: So I guess the reason I wanted to have this call, obviously, we had our call [yesterday] — and then this morning I saw a tweet that got my attention. I don’t know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the President, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position that [DOJ lawyers] had shared with me yesterday.

I'm going to ask, frankly, the same question I asked yesterday... Is the Government going to continue efforts to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census?

The DOJ lawyer responded:

Your Honor, this is Mr. Gardner. I want to back up just a step and say that I’ve been with the United States Department of Justice for 16 years, through multiple Administrations, and I’ve always endeavored to be as candid as possible with the Court. What I told the Court yesterday was absolutely my best understanding of the state of affairs and, apparently, also the Commerce Department’s state of affairs, because you probably saw Secretary Ross issued a statement very similar to what I told the Court. 
The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the President’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor. I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the President has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on.

Later, another DOJ lawyer told Judge Hazel that the department "had been instructed"—presumably by the same tweet—to find a legal way around the Supreme Court decision. As a legal matter, there's almost no chance that the Supreme Court would give the Trump administration a second chance at finding an acceptable reason to ask the citizenship question after being caught lying about its first reason. As veteran Court journalist Linda Greenhouse put it:

Once the court rejected the administration’s stated rationale as phony — or “contrived,” as Chief Justice Roberts put it more politely in agreeing with Federal District Judge Jesse Furman that improved enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was not Secretary Ross’s real motive — the administration might have tried to come up with some other politically palatable explanation. That would almost certainly have failed, because courts generally will not accept what they call “post hoc rationalizations,” explanations cooked up under pressure and after the fact. But even if such a ploy had succeeded, its very success would have proved Secretary Ross to have been a liar all along.

In other words, what happened today was that Donald Trump tweeted that he was planning to defy a Supreme Court order, but forgot to tell his own Justice Department, which then had to admit to a federal judge that it didn't know what Trump was talking about.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • Presidents don't just get to ignore court orders.
  • There's more to making policy than rage-tweeting and then forgetting to tell anyone who actually works for you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about the military.

Trump took to Twitter this morning to insist that military leaders were "thrilled" to have been ordered to take part in his takeover of Washington, DC's local Fourth of July celebration.

In reality, American military leaders have seen this as an excuse for Trump to use them as political props, and are anything but "thrilled" about it. As the New York Times reported yesterday:

The president’s decision also reflects the divide between Mr. Trump and the forces at his command. Top military officials have expressed deep concern about letting the armed forces be used by the president to advance a political agenda, and earlier resisted his efforts for a military parade on Veterans Day. 
Pentagon officials have long been reluctant to parade tanks, missiles and other weapons through the nation’s capital like the authoritarian leaders of North Korea and China. They say the United States, which has the world’s most powerful military and spends more on defense than the seven next largest military spenders combined — China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, Britain and Germany — does not need to broadcast its strength.

As is often the case, it's not clear whether Trump understood what military leaders were telling him and is lying about it, or whether he simply couldn't or wouldn't understand what they were saying.

Regardless, the military's concerns about being used as a partisan prop appear to be justified. The Trump administration was caught distributing VIP tickets to the reserved seating area in front of his planned speech through the Republican National Committee and the Trump Campaign. A large area around the Lincoln Memorial and halfway through the area around the Reflecting Pool, normally open to the public for fireworks viewing, will be cordoned off for ticket holders.

Why should I care about this?

  • The United States military isn't a political prop.
  • Just because servicemembers can't openly contradict the president doesn't make it okay for the president to lie about them.

Monday, July 1, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got mad about law enforcement enforcing laws.

Trump took 27 minutes out of his mid-day "executive time" today to tweet one thread in particular, on the subject of investigations into his now-defunct fake charity. It read:

It is very hard and expensive to live in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo uses his Attorney General as a bludgeoning tool for his own purposes. They sue on everything, always in search of a crime. I even got sued on a Foundation which took Zero rent & expenses & gave away.......more money than it had. Going on for years, originally brought by Crooked Hillary’s Campaign Chair, A.G. Eric Schneiderman, until forced to resign for abuse against women. They never even looked at the disgusting Clinton Foundation. Now Cuomo’s A.G. is harassing all of my........New York businesses in search of anything at all they can find to make me look as bad as possible. So, on top of ridiculously high taxes, my children and companies are spending a fortune on lawyers. No wonder people and businesses are fleeing New York in record numbers! That’s right, The Trump Foundation gave away 100% plus, with Zero rent or expenses charged, and has been being sued by Cuomo and New York State for years - another part of the political Witch Hunt. Just in case anyone is interested - Clinton Foundation never even looked at!

It's safe to say that Trump is a little confused.

Barbara Underwood, not Eric Schneiderman, was the New York Attorney General who forced Trump to dissolve his "charity." Schneiderman was never part of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. "Campaign Chair" was the title held by Paul Manafort in Trump's 2016 campaign. (Manafort is now in prison.) Clinton's campaign chair was John Podesta, whose emails were hacked and then released by Russia as part of their efforts to elect Trump.

However, Trump is correct that Schneiderman resigned after four women accused him of physical or sexual violence against them. Trump, who bragged on tape that women had to let him "grab them by the pussy" because of his fame, has been accused of sexual assault ranging from unwanted groping to rape by at least fifteen women.

It's true that the Trump Foundation eventually "gave away" all the money it had. (Every nonprofit organization eventually does, by definition.) The reason that the Trump Foundation "gave away" its remaining assets recently is that it was forced to dissolve under court supervision. As part of the settlement, the Trump Foundation admitted to a number of criminal acts, most of them having to do with illegally acting to benefit Trump himself politically or financially.

It is very likely true that Trump's children, who were officers of the Trump Foundation, are spending money on lawyers. People likely to be sued or indicted generally do, if they can afford to. Trump's son Eric may be spending more than Ivanka and Donald Jr., since the separate Eric Trump Foundation has also been caught breaking the law and being used to make money for the Trump family directly.

It's also true that neither New York nor any other jurisdiction has ever "looked at" the Clinton Foundation for criminal activities, because it has never been accused of any wrongdoing, except by Trump himself. During the campaign, Trump floated a rumor that the Clinton Foundation had somehow laundered Saudi money for Clinton's benefit. (Trump himself is deeply financially entangled with the Saudi royal family.)

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents aren't above the law.
  • Fake charities are bad, and it's right to punish people who abuse charity laws for their own benefit.
  • Accusing other people of bad things you have done is called projection, and it's not a sign of good mental health.