Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to play off a pardon scheme as a "joke."

Citing Trump's own aides, the Washington Post reported yesterday that Trump is so desperate to make some kind of progress on his long-promised border wall that he told staff he would pardon them if they had to break laws to get it done. Specifically, he ordered staff to simply seize property from private landowners without going through the legal process of eminent domain. (Trump knows only too well how uncertain that process is: he once tried and failed to get Atlantic City to use its power to seize an elderly widow's house so that he could build a casino parking lot.)

No one doubts Trump's anxiety over the wall. He's privately admitted he doesn't think it will actually do anything to stop border crossings, but he believes it's popular with likely Trump voters. (It's much less popular closer to the actual border, where landowners would be affected by it.)

Having failed in his first two and a half years to build even a single mile of new wall, or to get Mexico to pay a dime for it, Trump is now insisting that the whole project be done by the election. In the real world, experts think that even the most modest plans would take ten years to build, and that's before Trump's personal esthetic touches are added.

Trump didn't deny having dangled pardons to induce people to break the law. Instead, he explained it this way today: he was just joking.

This isn't the first time Trump has pretended he was "joking" after getting caught saying something he regretted. Last week, after looking to the heavens and calling himself "the chosen one"—on the same day he retweeted someone who called him "the King of Israel"—Trump backtracked by insisting that it was a joke. (Specifically, he said that reporters knew it was a joke because he was smiling when he said it. He wasn't.)

Trump was also "joking" when he begged Russia on live TV to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails. In that case, he didn't reveal the "joke" until almost three years later. Russian agents apparently didn't get the joke—they began attacking Democratic Party servers that very same day.

Trump also likes to "joke" about calling his political enemies traitors or un-American, something that has led to a surge in violent crime committed in his name. He's "joked" that President Obama was behind the Islamic State, and that Democrats who failed to clap for him at a speech were treasonous.

Why does this matter?

  • Conservatives who voted for Trump might not like how willing he is to break the law to seize private property.
  • There is a difference between a lie and a joke.