Friday, September 20, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said it didn't matter if he tried to get a foreign country to intervene in the 2020 election.

Inevitably, Trump was asked today about yesterday's revelations about his apparent attempt to pressure the government of Ukraine to start an "investigation" of his political rival, former vice-president Joe Biden.
Q    Mr. President, on that point, did you discuss Joe Biden, his son, or his family with the leader of Ukraine? 
TRUMP:  It doesn’t matter what I discuss. 
Of course, it does matter if Trump is attempting to use the powers of his office to force a foreign government to interfere in yet another American election. It's illegal to corruptly influence a foreign government, to accept (or offer) a bribe, and to use federal office for personal gain.

The Putin regime in Russia broke American laws in a successful attempt to influence the election on Trump's behalf, with the Trump campaign's knowledge. In June, Trump openly invited foreign countries to do it again, saying that it wasn't necessary to alert the FBI just because a foreign government offered to illegally intervene on his behalf. 

In other words, Trump—who yesterday claimed in court that it was illegal to even investigate a sitting president for any crime at any level of government—is now saying that it "doesn't matter" if he commits crimes in order to ensure his re-election.

Further reporting today from ___ and ___ suggested that in his phone call with the Ukrainian president, Trump brought up the subject of the "investigation" eight times. At the time, Trump was withholding $250,000,000 in military aid that Congress had appropriated to help Ukraine fight the illegal Russian occupation of Crimea.

Why is this a problem?

  • Americans should be free to have open and fair elections without foreign influence.
  • No matter how hard he might try to be, the president is not above the law.
  • A president who can't put the country's best interests ahead of his own is unfit for office.
  • If this isn't abuse of power, nothing is.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried really, really hard to keep a whistleblower from telling Congress about something he did that his own appointee called a "credible and urgent" matter.

Over the last few days, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community has been attempting to inform the House Intelligence Committee about a whistleblower report that he deemed "credible and urgent." Reporting on the matter has suggested that the "urgent" concern has to do with a conversation Trump had with a foreign leader—possibly the president of Ukraine—and a "disturbing" promise that Trump extended.

As his lawyer Rudy Giuliani spectacularly demonstrated on CNN tonight, Trump has been pressuring the Ukrainian government to launch two "investigations." One was to be aimed at rehabilitating the image of his now-incarcerated campaign manager Paul Manafort, and one was intended to discredit Hunter Biden, son of Democratic candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden. Recently, and without explanation, Trump ended months of foot-dragging over a $250 million military aid package for Ukraine.

Although it is required by law, Trump's Director of National Intelligence has refused to allow the Inspector General to report to Congress about the matter.

Today, Trump weighed in on the matter via Twitter.

In other words, Trump is saying he knows better than to say inappropriate things when he's aware other people are listening in. That would, at least, explain why Trump has frequently sought out one-on-one meetings, particularly with hostile, authoritarian leaders like Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un where he might want to say "inappropriate" things.

For example, he met privately with Putin at the 2018 G20 summit, where only Putin's translator—and no American staff whatsoever—were present. At a different meeting with Putin, he confiscated his translator's notes and refused to tell his own advisors what the conversation had been about. When he met with Kim at their first summit, he demanded a block of time alone with Kim, with no American advisors accompanying him, something that horrified national security experts. (The immediate effect of that was that China found out before the United States military about Trump's agreement to unilaterally cancel joint military exercises with South Korea.)

In fact, even during the post-election transition phase, Trump was trying to establish secret backchannels to hostile foreign governments that American intelligence agencies couldn't intercept. His son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, asked Russian officials to let him use Russian communications lines—which are hardened against eavesdropping by American intelligence—so that Trump's team and Putin's could talk directly. Trump also enlisted Erik Prince, the CEO of the mercenary firm known as Blackwater, to set up a secret backchannel with the Putin regime during the transition.

That said, Trump frequently gets confused about what he is and isn't supposed to say out loud. Just yesterday, at his border fence photo op, he began speaking about sensitive details of the surveillance network built into the fence, and had to be gently pushed off the topic by a military official. Whether accidentally or on purpose, he's revealed classified information a number of times. Earlier this month, he tweeted a cell phone picture of a classified briefing on Iran that revealed technical details about U.S. surveillance capacities. He burned an Israeli intelligence asset by speaking carelessly about information shared by Israel to visiting Russian officials, and then made things worse by publicly confirming that Israel was indeed the source. He's revealed the location of American submarines—the whole purpose of which is to have their locations unknown. He let top-secret information about a terrorist attack in Britain leak while the hunt for the attacker was still underway, infuriating British officials.

Arguably, though, Trump has done more espionage damage to the United States by the things he's done intentionally. In an attempt to interfere with the Russia investigation, he ordered the partial declassification of a FISA warrant that revealed U.S. intelligence sources and methods. He tried to circumvent the usual vetting procedures to get his daughter and son-in-law security clearances they couldn't otherwise get because of lies they'd told while applying. And he kept Michael Flynn, now a convicted felon, as his intelligence chief in spite of knowing about Flynn's undisclosed ties to foreign governments including Russia.

The Inspector General who found the whistleblower's complaint "credible and urgent" is a Trump appointee. This may be significant, given the importance Trump has placed on surrounding himself with law enforcement officials who are willing to give him their personal loyalty—like Attorney General William Barr, whose Justice Department is reportedly leading efforts to protect Trump from Congress learning what the whistleblower has to say.

Trump's comments came on the same day that he filed a lawsuit against New York prosecutors, arguing that it is illegal to even investigate a sitting president, even for matters that have nothing to do with his conduct in office.


  • It's wrong for a president to use the power of his office to pressure other countries into doing his political dirty work.
  • Administrations that haven't done anything wrong don't try to silence whistleblowers.
  • The president is not above the law.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged that not only were American taxpayers paying for his replacement border fence, but he'd tricked Congress to make it happen.

Trump visited a section of existing border fence today for a photo opportunity, where he continued to try to lower expectations for his long-abandoned campaign promise to build a 1000-mile wall that Mexico would pay for. Instead, he talked about a roughly 450-mile fence, only 110 miles of which will cover areas not currently fenced.

He also boasted about how he had used legal trickery to take American taxpayer money that Congress had appropriated for renovations to existing walls:

Q: Mr. President, all told, where — how much is this border wall costing the United States, and where is that money coming from? 
TRUMP: ...I'll give you an example, you know they tried to stymie us, by saying $1.6 billion, but only for renovations. Well, if they have a little eight foot wall, seven foot wall, or ten foot wall, that's like, you know, they just pull down the paddle [sic] and they walk across. And if we rip that down, I guess you could say that's renovation. So, you know, we've, uh, used some of this water [sic], some of this comes right out of the budget. Much of the wall comes out of the budget. But if we have even a small piece of steel going around that's called a renovation because we take the piece of steel out, we put up a thirty-foot wall, and, uh, so, in many ways, that, uh, works very much to our advantage.

In reality, the replacement fence near San Diego that Trump stood in front of is 18 feet high. In spite of Trump's shrinking promises for border fence construction, the total fenced area of the U.S.-Mexico border today is essentially exactly what it had been under President Obama

Trump long ago stopped even mentioning the possibility that Mexico would in any way foot the bill for the fence, a promise he made countless times during the 2016 campaign. 

Instead, he's shifted to a strategy of denying he ever said such a thing.


Why does this matter?

  • Voters who believed Trump's campaign promises once may be less likely to believe them a second time.
  • Past a certain point, lying becomes pathological.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He went to a secret fundraiser.

Trump flew to a fundraising luncheon in California today, at which he was expected to pocket $15 million for his 2020 campaign. (For all his supposed wealth, Trump gives almost no money to his own campaign. In fact, he makes money from it, charging it top dollar for floor space that otherwise struggles to find renters in Trump tower.) 

Fundraising is a fairly normal activity for any politician, but what was unusual about Trump's trip today is that its location was kept secret, even from the gift-giving attendees, until the last minute. (It was eventually revealed to be the mansion of Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy.) 

This was an apparent attempt to save Trump the embarrassment of seeing protestors. If so, it didn't work: word leaked out in time for crowds to assemble as close to McNealy's compound as security allowed.

More importantly for attendees, the secret location helped save Trump's donors the embarrassment of being associated with him. While Trump himself is finding ways to make money for himself and his campaign, whether by steering Air Force NCOs to spend weeks' worth of government per diems at his luxury resorts, or selling overpriced straws as campaign merch, CEOs are finding that Trump and his perpetually low popularity is brand poison. 

For example, last month, the Soulcycle chain of fitness studios saw a customer revolt after one of its investors held a different fundraiser for Trump. And two weeks ago, when actress Debra Messing called for attendees at a different southern California Trump fundraiser to be named, Trump himself went nuclear, in part because Messing pointed out that other candidates' supporters aren't usually ashamed to be known as such.

Trump spoke at the event, but reporters were barred, and recording devices like cell phones were confiscated at the door, so there's no way to know what he said.

So what?

  • Candidates with nothing to hide don't generally try to physically hide their fundraising speeches.

Monday, September 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He whipsawed between taking orders from Saudi Arabia and Russia on the oil field attack.

Yesterday, Saudi oil facilities were set ablaze by an apparent drone attack. As much as 5% of the world's oil production capacity was affected, and oil prices spiked immediately.

The obvious suspects were either Iran or the Iranian-backed Houthi movement in Yemen's civil war. Saudi Arabia is essentially fighting against the Houthis in that war, thanks to de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Trump has bent over backwards to defend bin Salman in the past. Iran denied responsibility, and the Houthis claimed it, but the opposite may be true.

Trump gave up any diplomatic influence over Iran when he unilaterally withdrew the United States from an international agreement to control Iran's nuclear program, although recently he'd been trying to entice Iran back into a deal that would allow him to save face before the 2020 elections. 

But Trump responded to the attack by tweeting that the United States would intervene when the Saudi government told him what to do.

Asked about this today, Trump explained that he had to intervene on the Saudis' terms because they'd bought the privilege.

But we would certainly help them.  They’ve been a great ally.  They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years.  Four hundred billion dollars.  That’s a million and a half jobs.  And they’re not ones that, unlike some countries, where they want terms; they want terms and conditions.  They want to say, “Can we borrow the money at zero percent for the next 400 years?”  No.  No.  Saudi Arabia pays cash.

This isn't the first time that Trump has rationalized doing the Saudis' bidding over money. Faced with the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump repeatedly denied his own government's finding that it had been ordered by the Crown Prince, and then insisted that he was powerless to act because the Saudis had promised to buy weapons from American companies.

Trump, as a private citizen, is deeply financially entangled with the Saudi royal family—as is his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who Trump appointed to oversee a Middle East peace plan.

However, the Trump White House did sound one note of caution about the possibility of engaging Iran in a military conflict this morning—but only after Russia, which is aligned with Iran, pointedly warned Trump to "avoid any hasty steps or conclusions."

Why is this a bad thing?

  • The United States should choose its military engagements based on its own best interests, not whichever foreign power has the most influence over its president.
  • American foreign policy should not be for sale at any price.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He once again declared that women who report sexual assault are lying.

Yesterday, the New York Times released an excerpt of a forthcoming book on Trump-appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The authors corroborated the claim raised by his former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez that he pulled down his pants at a party and pushed it towards her face, forcing her to swat it away. The excerpt also reports on a separate party where witnesses say Kavanaugh pushed his penis into a woman's hand.

Ramirez's accusations did not get the same attention as those made by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, whom Kavanaugh reportedly assaulted while drunk at a high school party, and who testified against him directly at his confirmation hearing. Trump stonewalled allowing an FBI investigation until it became clear that Kavanaugh's nomination was in jeopardy, and then only allowed one that lasted a few days and had to carefully observe certain limits

The NYT report makes clear that the FBI was either unable, or—given Trump's absolute insistence that Kavanaugh must be found innocent—unwilling to pursue most of the leads they had about Kavanaugh's alleged crimes against women.

Today, Trump waded back into the debate, calling all of Kavanaugh's accusers liars and saying that Kavanaugh should sue them for "liable." (He later corrected it to "libel.")

While Trump is sometimes confused about what a libel suit would involve, he's correct that Kavanaugh could sue anyone making such an accusation. But any such trial would make Kavanaugh subject to an actual investigation, and force him to testify. This is why Trump has never made good on his own threats to sue the many women who have accused him of sexual violations ranging from harassment to rape.

In spite of some calls for his impeachment, Kavanaugh's Supreme Court seat is not likely in jeopardy, given that removing him would require 67 votes in the Senate. But it's no mystery why Trump is anxious to defend him: he has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least 24 girls and women. In spite of having admitted on tape to some of the same acts he's accused of here—for example, sexually grabbing women or using his status as a hotel owner to peep on pageant contestants while they undressed—Trump insists that every single one of them is lying.

Kavanaugh is hardly the only friend or supporter that Trump has defended against allegations of rape or harassment. He's also branded as liars the women who have accused former Fox pundit Bill O'Reilly, accused pedophile and Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Roy Moore, Mike Tyson (with whom Trump had a business relationship), Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and White House aide Rob Porter.
In fact, there are only two times that Trump has shown any willingness to believe that a woman has been sexually mistreated. The first was during his publicity-seeking vendetta against the so-called Central Park Five, a group of black and Hispanic teenagers wrongfully charged with the rape of a jogger. The victim in that case was unconscious and did not accuse them directly. (To this day, Trump continues to maintain, in the face of DNA evidence, that they must be guilty and should be executed.) The other time was immediately before a debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, when he invited as his guests three women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct.

Why should I care about this?

  • People's actions are what determine whether they're innocent of an accusation, not how Donald Trump feels about them.
  • Finding out the truth about criminal acts committed by people in high office is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • People in power assuming that all women are lying about sexual crimes is why women don't report sexual crimes.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had some morning mood swings.

Trump began the day by tweeting out thanks to someone or something invisible to the rest of his audience.

Trump himself is the original source of the quote, for which he was widely mocked at the time. It's not clear if a Twitter follower (presumably sarcastically) called him that, or whether he remembered that he was the one who coined the phrase.

But just twenty minutes later, Trump's mood had soured. He lashed out at MSNBC's Joy Reid, whose Saturday morning show had yet to begin:

The tweet itself makes clear that Trump knows perfectly well who Reid is, and who besides him watches her, which isn't surprising: Trump's habit of hate-watching his own negative TV coverage is well known. It's also a known Trump tic to throw highly specific tantrums about television programs he supposedly hasn't watched. In fact, his television habits are so voracious and so predictable that he's been targeted personally by lobbyists and critics who have taken out advertisements on shows they know he'll be watching.

Trump is an early riser and uses a DVR to catch up on TV he missed from the night before, so he may only just now have been seeing Reid as the guest host on Friday evening's All In with Chris Hayes. On that show, Reid noted Trump's apparent difficulty remembering and pronouncing the name of his vice-president (which he rendered "Mike Pounds"). She also made fun of Trump's "smoking-hot beauty tips" to Republican fund-raisers, in which he riffed on how energy-efficient LED light bulbs are the reason for his orange-looking skin.

In reality, as his personal makeup artist at the Republican National Convention has said, Trump looks orange because he usually does his own makeup and overapplies bronzer.

Why does this matter?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to emotionally manipulate the President of the United States.

Friday, September 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed to have helped the military, but got called out by his own Air Force.

In what looks like an attempt to mount a pre-emptive defense against impeachment, Trump tweeted out a number of reasons why he shouldn't be impeached. (His central argument was that a president can't be impeached as long as he's doing a "good (great!) job.") None Trump's claims had to do with his actual innocence of the various potential charges, and most of them were false anyway.

One particular claim—that he had "rebuilt [the] military"—was fact-checked by the United States Air Force. In a report that came into public view today, an Air Force review panel concluded that Trump's raiding of the Defense Department budget to build or replace border fencing is creating risks to national security.

Trump has effectively cancelled 127 military projects in order to finally make some progress on the wall he campaigned on (although obviously not the part about Mexico paying for it). Some of them, like construction or renovation of nine base schools, will only affect the quality of life for the families of servicemembers. Others, like replacing the malfunctioning boiler needed to keep an Alaska airbase habitable in winter, will directly affect military performance. And some, like shoring up security at a military base in Turkey, directly threaten servicemembers' safety.

The Air Force is not the only branch to object to Trump's attempts to make his political problem a military problem. In March, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, warned that deploying Marines to the U.S.-Mexico border would pose an "unacceptable risk to Marine Corps combat readiness and solvency."

So what?

  • The lives and safety of American military forces are more important than Donald Trump's political problems.
  • Congress, not the president, decides whether or not the president should be impeached.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What did Trump do today?

He bragged about a 9% approval rating.

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump famously singled out a black attendee at one of his campaign rallies, and shouted, "Look at my African-American over there!" That man, Gregory Cheadle, announced today that he was leaving the Republican Party, citing Trump's racism and "pro-white agenda."

Cheadle added, "President Trump is a rich guy who is mired in white privilege to the extreme. Republicans are too sheepish to call him out on anything and they are afraid of losing their positions and losing any power themselves.”

Asked about it by reporters today, Trump claimed he didn't know who Cheadle was, but said, “We have tremendous African American support. I would say I’m at my all-time high. I don’t think I’ve ever had the support that I’ve had now. I think I’m going to do very well with African Americans. African American support has been the best we’ve had."

In a CNN poll released this week, Trump's approval rating among African-Americans was at 9%. His disapproval was at 86%. This tracks a Gallup poll from August that had 8% of black Americans approving of his performance.

For context, Trump is also underwater on his approval/disapproval spread among all Americans (-16%) nonwhites (-47%), all women (-29%), all men (-4%), Hispanics (-38%), people aged 18-34 (-34%), people aged 35-49 (-15%), people aged 50-64 (-3%), people older than 65 (-15%), people in households making less than $50,000 per year (-29%), people in households making more than $50,000 per year (-9%), people who didn't graduate from college (-9%), people who did graduate from college (-31%), and independents (-23%).

Why does this matter?

  • Saying you're popular doesn't automatically make it true.
  • 9% approval is not "tremendous."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He explained why he had to fire John Bolton.

Yesterday, Trump claimed that he had fired John Bolton, something that is true at least insofar as Bolton is no longer Trump's national security advisor.

Today, pressed by reporters to explain, Trump first pointed to Bolton's role in pushing for a war with Iraq during the George W. Bush administration. (Trump, presumably, knew about that when he hired Bolton in the first place.) But then he said this:

But we were set back very badly when John Bolton talked about the Libyan model. And he made a mistake. And as soon as he mentioned that, the "Libyan model," what a disaster. Take a look at what happened to Gaddafi, with the Libyan model. And he's using that to make a deal with North Korea?  
And I don’t blame Kim Jong-un for what he said after that. And he wanted nothing to do with John Bolton. And that's not a question of being tough; that's a question of being not smart, to say something like that.

In other words, Trump is saying that he fired his own national security advisor because he thought North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un didn't like him.

Trump seems to think that by the "Libyan model," Bolton was suggesting that Kim should be murdered, as Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was when a civil war swept him from office.

In reality, Bolton did something different, but almost as "bad" from Trump's perspective. When Bolton used that term on a Fox News interview shortly after he became Trump's national security advisor, he was talking about the practice of committing to a specific plan for denuclearization before the United States would make concessions.

The White House quickly backtracked from those seemingly straightforward comments. A month later, it became clear why, when Trump gave the Kim regime a stunning diplomatic and strategic victory by signing an agreement that required no specific action by North Korea, while the United States made military concessions up front.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Nuclear-armed dictators of enemy nations shouldn't have any influence over who is on the staff of the President of the United States.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He either lied about firing John Bolton, or just got confused about what he'd done.

Today—or perhaps last night—Trump fired—or perhaps accepted the resignation of—his national security advisor, John Bolton. Trump and Bolton immediately began fighting in public over which version of the story was true.

What is clear is that the public learned of it when Trump tweeted, just before noon today, that he had fired Bolton yesterday evening. But it looks like the rest of the White House heard about it at the same time, because Bolton had been announced as part of a press briefing later in the day less than an hour before Trump's tweet. 

Bolton, one of the few people in politics with a reputation for a bad temper that rivals Trump's, immediately disputed Trump's claims on social media and by reaching out to media outlets. Bolton maintains he resigned last night, only to have Trump say he wanted to talk it over today.

In other words, Bolton was calling Trump a liar within 12 minutes of his firing.

While it's a he-said, he-said story at the moment, Bolton's claim is plausible. While Trump built his TV reality show host reputation on his willingness to decisively "fire" people, Bolton's hands-off and unclear dismissal fits a real-life pattern. Off-camera, Trump is skittish and uncomfortable with people he can't directly control, and frequently resorts to indirect ways to fire people, when he can bear to do it at all. 

For example, when he fired FBI director James Comey for refusing to soft-walk the Russia investigation, Trump had his personal bodyguard leave a note in Comey's empty office. He had his chief of staff, John Kelly, wait until his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was on a trip to Africa (and on the toilet) before passing along the news of his firing. Kelly himself was spared from firing for months because Kelly was the one who normally fired people for Trump, and Trump couldn't bring himself to confront Kelly directly.

Perhaps the best example of Trump's fearfulness around firings came when he ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Legally, Trump had the authority to do this, and was reportedly panicked about what Mueller would find: he told then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, "This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked." But when McGahn refused to carry out the act for Trump, Trump backed off entirely rather than talk to Mueller directly.

Bolton was Trump's third national security advisor since taking office 33 months ago. 

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents who can't muster up the courage to confront employees directly aren't strong enough for the job.
  • It's pretty bad when a president's ex-national security advisor waits all of 12 minutes to call the president a liar.

Monday, September 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He gave a fairly typical press availability.

As is his habit, Trump took reporters' questions today while standing next to the helicopter that was about to take him to a campaign rally. In most respects it was fairly typical of a Trump press availability. Among the things he said:

TRUMP: Well, Gianni, we’re going to have to extend my second term because 2026 -- I’m going to have to extend it for a couple of years. I don’t think any of you would have a problem with that. But I hope you’re going to remember me in 2026.

Trump, who is not known for his sense of humor, "jokes" about this a lot.

Q Did you get talked out of that meeting with Taliban? 
TRUMP: [Peace negotiations are] dead. They're dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead. They thought that they had to kill people in order to put themselves in a little better negotiating position. ...When I heard, very simply, that they killed one of our soldiers and 12 other innocent people, I said, “There’s no way I’m meeting on that basis. There’s no way I’m meeting.” They did a mistake.

The Taliban had been attacking American soldiers all the while Trump was trying to arrange a Camp David meeting during the week of 9/11 observances. They have increased the pace of attacks resulting in American fatalities since Trump took office.

There is a more likely explanation for why Trump's Camp David moment didn't materialize, but it's not one that makes Trump look good.

TRUMP: And we’ve hit the Taliban harder in the last four days than they’ve been hit in over 10 years.

As with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent claim that a thousand Taliban fighters were killed in response to a suicide bombing that killed an American servicemember, there is very little evidence that this is true.

Q Mr. President, are you willing to debate the Republicans who are running against you? 
TRUMP: You know, I don’t even know who they are, other than I know that --

Oh yes he does.

TRUMP: And the third one -- Mr. Tallahassee Trail or Appalachian Trail -- he’s the Appalachian Trail, right? The Tallahassee Trail is nice, too, but I think he was the Appalachian Trail. But he wasn’t on the Appalachian Trail; he was in Argentina.

There is no such thing as the "Tallahassee Trail," although Trump's gotten confused about that in the past. He's referring to former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who conducted an extramarital affair while claiming to be on a hiking trip.

Trump has cheated on each of his three wives, although he's learned discretion. His affair with future second wife, Marla Maples, happened in the full glare of the tabloids while he was still married to his first wife, Ivana Trump. But he really tried to keep it a secret when he cheated on his third wife, Melania Trump, with the porn film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal: he paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence (committing campaign finance crimes in the process), and had a friend who ran the National Enquirer buy the rights to McDougal's story in order to bury it.

TRUMP: A lot of [border] wall is being built. And every time we put up a mile of wall, that helps us a lot.

Considering how much money Trump has taken from the budget for military preparedness and renovations for military base schools and housing, you might think this was true. But almost three years into his term, long after he abandoned his promise to make Mexico pay for any such wall, the number of new miles of border fencing created is still zero.

Q Are you prepared to offer temporary protected status to people from the Bahamas? 
TRUMP: [No, because] we’re also recovering from a hurricane.

The vast majority of the country, from Alaska to Alabama, is not recovering from Hurricane Dorian.
TRUMP: But we have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation because the — look, the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there. I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers. So we are going to be very, very strong on that.

The Bahamian passengers turned away yesterday while attempting to legally travel from a pre-cleared port in the Bahamas had "totally proper documentation," which included affadavits from the Bahamian police that they had no criminal record.

Q On North Korea, sir -- on North Korea, when’s the last time you heard from Chairman Kim? 
TRUMP: Well, I saw a statement was just put out having to do with North Korea, and that’ll be interesting. We’ll see. It just came out over the wires a little while ago. So, we’ll see what happens. 

The "statement" was that North Korea continues to defy the U.S. and U.N. by conducting missile tests. Trump has been pretending to be unconcerned by these clear provocations, because Kim has him over a political barrel. Because Trump pre-emptively declared that he'd solved the North Korea problem once and for all, even before their first meeting, Kim has enormous leverage over Trump.

In the meantime -- in the meantime, we have our hostages back, we’re getting the remains of our great heroes back, and we’ve had no nuclear testing for a long time.

North Korea is not testing nuclear weapons because they've perfected their warhead design and are conserving fuel. The missile tests that Trump is ignoring continue, because North Korea still needs to perfect a reliably delivery system for them.

Q With the judge in the Ninth District Court -- the San Francisco judge that continues to issue nationwide injunctions on immigration policy, do you think that’s constitutional? 
TRUMP: I think it’s very unfair that he does that. I don’t think it should be allowed, and we’ll see what happens.

The judicial branch is allowed to issue injunctions that affect Trump's policies, no matter how "unfair" he thinks it is.

TRUMP: And we’ve won a lot in the courts over the last year. You know, if you look at the beginning, where we were losing, we will have about 180 judges approved over the next three or four weeks -- 180. 
When I came in, President Obama gave us a beautiful gift. He gave us 138 judges that he wasn’t able to get in or didn’t pick anybody, or couldn’t get them approved. One hundred and thirty-eight. I took that. And now, when you add the other that came through attrition and other things that have happened, we’ll have about 180 judges approved very, very quickly.

Trump seems to be forgetting that federal judges aren't supposed to be owned by one president or another. (He repeated the second paragraph, almost word for word, a few minutes later.)

Q Will you respond to the reports today that say that you have mishandled classified information to Russia? 
THE PRESIDENT: No, I know nothing about it. I see the CIA responded perfectly. So whatever the CIA said is fine with me. But I heard they responded perfectly. I know nothing.

Trump presumably does "know nothing" about the CIA's decision to extract a key source within the Russian government, because (according to reports out today) the whole point of exfiltrating that source was because the intelligence community thought Trump would give up his identity to the Putin regime.

Q Mr. President, how do you define -- how do you define victory in Afghanistan? 
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s always the question: How do you define victory?

Trump didn't answer the question.

Q Mr. President, on Turnberry: Will you discourage the Pentagon from having troops stay overnight at your properties? 
TRUMP: Soon you’ll find that out because I’ll be, at some point prior to the election, I’m going to be giving out a financial report of me. And it will be extremely complete. I’m going to give out -- I’m going to give or my financial condition. And you’ll be extremely shocked that the numbers are many, many times what you think. I don’t need to have somebody take a room overnight in a hotel.

The question refers to the sudden, unexplained jump in Air Force refueling stops at a failing commercial airport in Scotland that needs to stay open if one of Trump's struggling golf resorts is to stay above water. Military personnel forced to do overnight stays in the area have complained that their per diem allowance wasn't enough to cover the costs of staying at Trump's property.

As for whether Trump needs hotel room fees, he remains hundreds of millions of dollars in personal debt.

Why should I care about any of this?

  • This was a pretty normal 15 minutes in the Trump presidency, by Trump presidency standards.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He started turning away Bahamian refugees he claimed to be "helping."

Yesterday, Trump credited himself—personally—with preventing more casualties from the disastrous landfall of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.

Today, Bahamians attempting to travel (legally) to the United States without a visa were ordered off of ferries. Normally, a visa is not required for Bahamian citizens to enter the United States.

It's not yet clear how many people in the Bahamas were killed outright by the hurricane, but tens of thousands more are at risk now from disease, lack of access to clean water and medical care, and a shattered electrical infrastructure. 

In other words, it is very similar to the situation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. When the death toll there rose into the thousands, after months of neglect from a hostile Trump administration, Trump responded by claiming that those death statistics were fake.

Why does this matter?

  • "Helping" the victims of a natural disaster doesn't mean making it harder for them to escape the areas affected by it.
  • People will die who otherwise wouldn't because of this.
  • Presidents who are actually "helping" don't need to advertise it.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He woke up angry and confused again, this time about the media.

This past Sunday, Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker wrote a piece headlined "Trump’s lost summer: Aides claim victory, but others see incompetence and intolerance." It detailed the frustration that Trump staffers felt over Trump's increasingly erratic behavior and "self-sabotage" of his own agenda. The piece cited White House staff, and a number of named prominent Republicans. It joins a number of recent articles featuring Trump's own employees as sources that call his stability into question.

This morning, apparently, Trump got around to reading it. His response was to demand that Rucker and Parker be barred from the White House.

Trump's anger at the press is sometimes feigned, and even when genuine—he doesn't take it well when he thinks the media isn't fawning over him enough—it usually loses out to his desire to be in the spotlight. (He's given interviews to the Post, the New York Times, and other media outlets he supposedly hates.) In any event, his half-hearted attempts to ban reporters from doing their jobs have run into legal problems.

But the particular insult he hurled at Rucker is interesting. It appears to be a reference to a rumor that Rucker "burned" Trump's former personal assistant, Madeline Westerhout, who was fired last week for comments she made about Trump's daughters Ivanka and Tiffany. According to that rumor, Rucker incorrectly revealed Westerhout as the "off the record" source of those comments. (Rucker hasn't commented on the rumor, because to do so would be to confirm or deny that Westerhout was a source, which he couldn't do without her permission.)

In other words, Trump is angry at Rucker for "FAKE" sources—and also for supposedly revealing his sources, who are real enough for Trump to fire.

Donald Trump wasn't the only Trump to get confused about how journalism works this week. His son Eric was widely mocked after he angrily called out another Washington Post journalist for offering to let Trump Organization employees speak "on background." Eric Trump seemed to think that Pulitzer prize winning reporter David Farenthold was doing something wrong by letting Trump Organization employees know that they could speak to Post reporters without being quoted by name. In fact, it is normal and ethical for reporters to cultivate sources.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents don't get to tell the free press what they're allowed to say.
  • Freedom of the press is more important than Donald Trump's feelings.
  • It's bad if the president's own staff and advisers think he's bad at his job and mentally unsound.

Friday, September 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged about the economy, which is a bit of a stretch under the circumstances.

Trump briefly turned his attention away from Hurricane Dorian—or, rather, his ongoing attempts to dig himself out of the Alabama-shaped hole he's in—to tweet about the economy. 

According to government statistics released today, the U.S. economy added 105,000 jobs in August. (Jobs for the Census, which are temporary, are usually excluded from these figures. There were 25,000 of those.) 

About 145,000 new jobs per month are needed just to keep pace with population growth, so this month's job numbers are yet another signal of a contracting economy pummeled by the effects of Trump's trade war

Trump called them "Good Jobs Numbers!" 

It's difficult to say whether Trump understood that they weren't good jobs numbers, and was just trying to project confidence, or if he genuinely doesn't know why they're not. But he does seem to be aware that Americans are increasingly concerned about the many signs that the 10-year-old recovery is abruptly slowing down. He blamed the media for that.

Why is this a problem?

  • The health of the United States economy is more important than Trump's need to feel he's doing a good job.
  • "It's the media's fault" can't be a president's answer for everything.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got scared by Elizabeth Warren.

Yesterday, while Trump was on the fourth day of denying he'd gotten confused about where the state of Alabama was (something he continued to obsess over again today), CNN held a series of interviews with Democratic candidates on the issue of climate change. One of the topics that came up was Trump's plan to roll back energy efficiency standards on light bulbs dating back to the George W. Bush administration. Critics pointed out that this would cost consumers billions of dollars and contribute to a massive amount of avoidable pollution.

Today, the Trump campaign released a video of Sen. Elizabeth Warren talking about the light bulb rollback at the CNN forum. But the video was carefully edited to make Warren's position sound extreme. Trump's campaign did this by stopping right after the part where Warren, laughing, mentioned "lightbulbs" alongside "straws" and "cheeseburgers." This was a reference to a (false) claim that proposed environmental laws will outlaw the beef industry, and to the disposable plastic straws that the Trump campaign is selling for $1.50 apiece.

In reality, Warren said pretty much exactly the opposite. In fact, her whole answer points out that corporations benefiting from climate change—and their political allies, like Trump—are trying to distract Americans with manufactured controversies. (Trump's campaign, of course, cut that part out.)

CUOMO: But do you think that the government should be in the business of telling you what kind of lightbulb you can have? 
WARREN: Oh, come on, give me a break. 
CUOMO: Is that a yes?
Look, there are a lot of ways that we try to change our energy consumption, and our pollution, and God bless all of those ways. Some of it is with lightbulbs, some of it is on straws, some of it, dang, is on cheeseburgers, right? There are a lot of different pieces to this. And I get that people are trying to find the part that they can work on and what can they do. And I’m in favor of that. And I’m going to help and I’m going to support. 
But understand, this is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about. That’s what they want us to talk about.  “This is your problem.” 
They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers. When 70 percent of the pollution of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air comes from three industries, and we can set our targets and say, by 2028, 2030, and 2035, no more. Think about that. Right there. 
Now, the other 30 percent, we still got to work on. Oh, no, we don’t stop at 70 percent. But the point is, that’s where we need to focus. And why don’t we focus there? It’s corruption. It’s these giant corporations that keep hiring the PR firms that — everybody has fun with it, right, gets it all out there — so we don’t look at who’s still making the big bucks off polluting our Earth.

Trump and his political allies are increasingly worried about Warren, who is doing well in the crowded Democratic field. Trump tried to define her with racial slurs, which his political advisors considered his "best shot" at ending her campaign before it began, but they don't seem to have had much effect. Like all of the top-tier Democratic candidates, Warren is beating Trump handily in recent head-to-head polls.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • If you have to lie about your opponent's policies to make yours look good by comparison, then it's not your opponent that's the problem.
  • The only reason to lie to voters is because you think the truth would make them vote for someone else.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent a fourth day arguing about whether or not he knows where Alabama is.

With Hurricane Dorian's outer bands sweeping Florida's east coast, and the storm itself taking aim at the Carolinas, Trump's main contribution was to defend a four-day old claim he'd made that the storm would hit Alabama.

The entire saga of Trump's insistence that Alabama was in the forecasted path of the storm is a lengthy one, and one that has taken up a great deal of his time during the period in which he has supposedly been "monitoring" Dorian—mostly from the golf course

But in simplest terms, Trump accused the media, and his own government's meteorologists, of lying about Dorian's path and conspiring to make him look bad.

Today, he took it to a new level. He presented a map from last Thursday—three days before he claimed Alabama was in Dorian's path when none of the world's meteorologists had said so— marked by what looks like his trademark Sharpie marker, extended to (almost) the Alabama coast.

Again, to be clear, this is a map from Thursday, August 28th—presented as an "update" on the hurricane by Trump on Wednesday, September 4th—to justify his claim from Sunday, September 1st that Alabama was where Dorian was headed. 

This was what the actual NOAA map looked like at the time Trump first made his Alabama claim.

Trump told reporters today, "Actually, we have a better map than that which is going to be presented, where we had many lines going directly — many models, each line being a model — and they were going directly through. And in all cases Alabama was hit if not lightly, in some cases pretty hard. ... They actually gave that a 95% chance probability."

"Actually," this number is made up. As the Associated Press noted, no place in the United States, including Florida, has ever been given more than a 60% chance at any time of being hit by Dorian. (This remains the case as of Wednesday evening: while the winds and storm surge and flooding threatens much of the eastern seaboard, Dorian may never technically make landfall in the United States.)

It is a federal crime to publish "any counterfeit weather forecast" bearing the name of a government agency, as Trump's marked-up and week-old NOAA forecast did.

Why should this bother me?

  • It's dangerous to give false information about impending natural disasters.
  • A mentally healthy person could simply have admitted that they misspoke.
  • Even by Trump's standards for lying and inability to admit error, this is bizarre.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to threaten China with even more "easy to win" trade war if he gets re-elected.

Trump tried an interesting negotiating tactic today: he tweeted that if China didn't come back to the negotiating table, and if he were re-elected in 2020, then any future "Deal" to end the trade war "would get MUCH TOUGHER!"

Trump is eager for talks to resume, in part because he was recently caught lying about a phone call that supposedly indicated the Xi government's eagerness to negotiate. No such call happened, as the Chinese government was happy to point out. Trump was apparently motivated by a desire to stop a steep slide in the stock markets with some happy, if fake, news.

Regardless, there are a few reasons why China is probably not too concerned about Trump's latest threat. For one thing, his re-election is hardly a sure thing. Trump is losing by a wide margin to all major Democratic candidates in recent polls, enough to overcome even his built-in advantage with the electoral college.

Also, Trump is failing to meet even his own standard for victory. He has repeatedly insisted that he must impose tariffs as a matter of national emergency, because otherwise it would be letting China "rape our country" by perpetrating "the greatest theft in the history of the world."

In reality, a trade deficit is a sign that a country has money to spend on foreign goods. China isn't "raping" Americans so much as providing goods in exchange for money. But even by Trump's absurd standard, the trade deficit is skyrocketing under Trump, as Axios noted today:

Figures for the first half of 2019 are even worse, according to Trump's understanding of things.

Of course, it's true that tariffs are hurting China. By increasing the taxes that American consumers pay on Chinese goods in the form of higher prices, demand for those goods is reduced. But retaliatory tariffs—something Trump seems unwilling to believe is possible, no matter how many times it happens—have devastated whole sectors of the U.S. economy and slowed economic growth to a crawl.

Another way of interpreting Trump's threat is that he expects the trade war to drag on through the end of his term. When he started imposing tariffs on most of the United States' major trading partners back in March of 2018, he said that trade wars were "easy to win."

So what?

  • It's a bad idea to let your opponents in a negotiation know you're insecure about your position.
  • The economic security of the United States is more important than Trump's political future.
  • This isn't one of those things a president can afford to be this incompetent at.

Monday, September 2, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He celebrated Labor Day, as only he can.

Last Friday, as presidents do every year, Trump signed a Labor Day proclamation. It made only one indirect reference to the existence of labor unions, and read more like a list of campaign promises than a celebration of the labor movement, but went largely unnoticed as these things tend to do.

Today, though, on the actual day itself, Trump took to Twitter to attack a union leader for opposing his trade war. Trump's trade war is deeply unpopular with Americans, most of whom have seen the meager savings from the 2017 tax cut wiped out by increased costs in consumer goods caused by the tariffs. (Tariffs are taxes on consumer goods, and they are passed on to consumers like all business expenses.)

Trump also mocked union workers directly in the tweets, while at the same time insisting that he had "the workers'" votes sewn up.

Trump spent most of Labor Day at his luxury golf course in Sterling, Virginia. The Trump National Golf Course there is one of many Trump properties caught hiring undocumented immigrant workers. Trump denied any responsibility—although many such workers have cited close relationships with Trump family members who certainly knew. But he excused himself by saying (falsely) that "probably every club in the United States" illegally hired immigrants with no work papers.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's insulting for a politician to treat workers as though they belonged to him personally, especially if they didn't vote for him the first time around.
  • Presidents who rail against immigrants taking American jobs, but then do everything possible inside and outside the law to hire foreigners, should probably just stay quiet on Labor Day.
  • It's not unions' fault that an overwhelming majority of Americans don't like Trump's trade war.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He showed off his memory and attention to detail.

Trump was chauffeured to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency today, where he could be seen receiving an update on Hurricane Dorian. Afterwards, apparently eager to show what he'd learned, he made this statement:

I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed, and I’ve seen some Category 4s ― you don’t even see them that much ― but a Category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard the term other than I know it’s there.

Dorian is the fourth Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States during Trump's term. The first three were Irma, Maria, and Michael. Trump was at least briefly aware of their Category 5 status in each case, but appears to have forgotten again, and not for the first time.

Who cares?

  • Presidents don't have to be meteorology experts, but they do have to be able to remember a few basic facts.
  • Some degree of memory loss is normal in elderly people, but only some.