Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He defined anti-Semitism as things that people who aren't him say.

Today, Trump signed an executive order interpreting the Jewish faith as a nationality for purposes of enforcing existing anti-discrimination laws. There's a healthy debate among legal experts and Jewish communities as to whether this is a good idea, but the order itself is not expected to have significant consequences.

The real target of Trump's action appears to be colleges and universities that permit protests against the state of Israel. In particular, it seems to be aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to put economic pressure on Israel to pull back from illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories. 

In other words, Trump appears to be trying to silence political criticism of the government until recently run by his political ally, now-indicted former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by threatening the federal funding of colleges and universities that allow their students to make it.

Less than a week ago, Trump told American Jews at a private fundraiser that they "don't love Israel enough." He also said that Jewish Americans were "not nice people" but that they "had no choice" but to vote for him, because a Democratic candidate would take their money. If Trump had dabbled in those classic anti-Semitic stereotypes (that Jews only love money and are disloyal to the countries they live in) from the podium of a federally-funded university, he'd have presumably violated the executive order he signed today.

It's not the first time he's said these things. His long-established hostility towards Jews, even as he demands that they support him financially, may have something to do with the fact that they overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Why should I care about this?

  • Bigotry is as bigotry does.
  • It's wrong to accuse other people of prejudices you have yourself.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He bragged that he got Democrats to vote for what is now effectively a Democratic trade deal.

Trump had a busy day today: he met in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, he became the fourth president ever to see articles of impeachment drafted against him, and he held a campaign rally.

Predictably, most of Trump's rally speech was about working through the indignity of his upcoming impeachment. He railed about the "deep state" and how it was filled with "Bushies and Clintonites and Obama people"—perhaps not realizing, or not caring, that virtually all American voters fall into one of those camps too. But he did turn to policy briefly, to pat himself on the back for the Democratic-led House agreeing to pass a version of the USMCA trade deal. As he put it:

Congress will soon vote on my new trade deal. She [Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi] did it on the same day they announced they are going to impeach the 45th president of the United States, and your favorite president. And, the reason they announced it on the same day, one hour later, they announced impeachment ... you know why? It plays down the impeachment, because they're embarrassed by impeachment, and our poll numbers have gone through the roof because of her stupid impeachment.

In reality, Trump's poll numbers still have not gone up, and a slight majority of Americans already support removing him from office. But the real mistake in what Trump said here was the part about it being "his" trade deal. The reason that Democrats now support it is that in the year since Trump introduced it, Pelosi essentially rewrote it behind his back. It is now so clearly a Democrat-authored deal that the Republican-led Senate is now dragging its feet—to the outrage of Democrats.

In other words, Trump is claiming he forced Pelosi to pass a trade agreement that, if he knew or cared what was in it, he never would have agreed to himself.

So what?

  • Presidents should know or care what is happening with their signature legislation.
  • Presidents owe the American people their loyalty, not the other way around.

Monday, December 9, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He pretended to think the DOJ Inspector General's report said what he wanted it to say.

The Department of Justice released a report today by its Inspector General examining the FBI's decision to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign after evidence of its ties with Russia came to light.

In short, the report completely validates the FBI's investigation, and found absolutely no political bias against Trump. In fact, the IG notes that several of the agents involved were strong Trump supporters who were thrilled by his election—but who carried out their duties professionally all the same. (Trump, who may actually believe some of the paranoid "deep state" conspiracy theories he promotes, has been saying otherwise since before he was elected.) 

The IG found procedural errors in the process by which Trump's foreign policy advisor and known Russian intelligence target Carter Page was surveilled, but once again the report stated that the agents involved were not motivated by any bias. 

It's not clear if Trump, who had already hyped the report yesterday, was told what it actually contained. White House staff have been known to keep information from Trump to help him stay on message. Regardless, he declared that the report described an "attempted overthrow" of the American government.

Why should I be concerned about this?

  • Past a certain point, lies get so big that they're really just insults to the people you tell them to.
  • Presidents are not above the law.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He packed a lot of nonsense into one tweet about North Korea.

Yesterday, North Korea completely broke off nuclear talks with the United States—although arguably it was never really in them in the first place. Trump, who has pointedly ignored North Korea's continued provocations over the last year and a half since he declared he had personally ended the nuclear threat, tweeted this today in response:

Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore. He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere........with the U.S. Presidential Election in November. North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised.

Almost every part of this is false, although Trump may actually have convinced himself that parts of it are true. Kim Jong-un signed an agreement last year in the Singapore summit he convinced Trump to give him, but he never agreed that "denuclearization" meant actually giving up North Korea's nuclear stockpile.

It's true that Kim's relationship with Trump is indeed "special," but not in a way that helps Trump. Since their Singapore meeting, Trump has turned a blind eye to smuggling and other sanctions violations, and shrugged off increasing and deliberately provocative missile tests aimed at demonstrating North Korea's ability to launch nuclear missiles at Japan. He also completely ignored a U.S. government report showing that the Kim regime was actively planning to hide its nuclear stockpile and deceive inspectors if the "talks" got that far. For his part, Trump has twice canceled joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises for fear that they upset Kim.

Trump's warning for Kim not to interfere in the 2020 election is a bit rich, since he openly declared this summer that foreign countries may do so. (In that context, of course, he meant it was all right for foreign interference to benefit him.) The kind of "interference" Trump seems to mean here is that North Korea would make him look bad by exposing how one-sided the "special relationship" is. Unfortunately for both Trump and the United States, there is nothing that can undo the political leverage Trump has given North Korea over himself.

Why should I care about this?

  • The nuclear security of the United States is far too important for this level of incompetence from its president.
  • A president who cares more about his political viability than dealing with nuclear threats is unfit for office.
  • You are not a good dealmaker if, in your most important negotiations, you give up everything and get nothing, and then your opponent walks away.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He used convicted and indicted war criminals as a campaign prop.

Trump gave a closed-door fundraising speech to a conservative group in Florida this evening. Cell phones were barred and no audio or video has leaked out yet, but pool reports said that Trump brought along as a campaign prop two military officers he'd recently given pardons or commutations for war crimes.

Lt. Clint Lorance was serving a 19-year sentence, unanimously imposed by a jury of military officers, for ordering soldiers under his command to shoot at unarmed citizens in Afghanistan. Testimony against him from his own unit was crucial in securing his conviction on two counts of murder. As one of them said after the trial, "This isn't a soldier that went to war and gone done wrong. This is a soldier that had a taste for blood and wanted to have that fulfilled. And he did, but in the wrong way."

Maj. Matthew Golsteyn admitted to killing a suspected Afghan insurgent in an unauthorized mission in 2011, and conspiring to destroy the body so as to evade scrutiny from the Army. He was facing a murder trial when Trump pardoned him last month.

Both Golsteyn and Lorance made their case directly to Trump, appearing on TV they knew Trump watched, and trying to link their actions to conservative political causes. 

Trump, for his part, had already openly fantasized about campaigning with them, as well as a disgraced Navy SEAL he spared from a war crimes inquiry, even promising to make them appear at his renomination convention next year. It's not clear why Trump thinks convicted or admitted war criminals will play with voters, especially given the low popularity that Lorance and Golsteyn have among actual military servicemembers.

But for Trump, pardons have been political all along: he's offered them to all kinds of criminals who might be able to help him politically, and even though he legally can't, he's pointedly refused to rule out pardoning himself

Who cares?

  • It's wrong to release criminals just because they might say nice things about you.
  • Voters might not like Trump thinking that they want to see admitted murderers set free.

Friday, December 6, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to shift blame for his personal grooming habits.

Trump went on a lengthy, unscripted digression today about how terrible he thinks energy-efficient products are. Most of the attention this mini-rant got had to do with his apparently sincere belief that it is normal to have to flush a modern toilet "10 times, 15 times." 

But the reason Trump launched in on the subject was to blame LED light bulbs for his orange skin tone. 

TRUMP: The lightbulb: They got rid of the lightbulb that people got used to.  The new bulb is many times more expensive.  And I hate to say it, it doesn’t make you look as good.  Of course, being a vain person, that’s very important to me. It’s like a — it gives you an orange look.  I don’t want an orange look. Has anyone noticed that? So we’ll have to change those bulbs in at least a couple of rooms where I am in the White House.

This isn't the first time he's tried to blame his orange complexion on newfangled light bulbs, but there's a reason it was on his mind today. On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran a story in which his former housekeepers—undocumented workers that Trump hired illegally—shared unflattering details of his home life. They included a mention of the cheap orange concealer that Trump, a self-taught TV personality, insisted on having handy at all times.

Trump doesn't like to talk about his daily beauty routine, although professional makeup artists have long since diagnosed him as an overuser of thick concealers like the ones his undocumented servants mentioned.

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if Trump is still this upset two full days after his beauty "secret" was revealed.
  • One way for Trump to look less orange would be to use less orange concealer, or let a professional apply it for him.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threw himself under the bus in an attempt to keep anyone from seeing his financial records.

In an appeal filed today, Trump's personal lawyer William Consovoy asked the Supreme Court to decide whether Congress or law enforcement should be able to subpoena Trump's financial records. In his brief, Consovoy made the following claims:

It is the first time that Congress has subpoenaed personal records of a sitting president. It is the first time that Congress has issued a subpoena, under the guise of its legislative powers, to investigate the president for illegal conduct. And, it is the first time a court has upheld any congressional subpoena for any sitting president’s records of any kind.

Every single word of this is true. It's also legally compelling: the Supreme Court often hears cases when unique circumstances occur and there is no settled case law.

In other words, Trump's lawyer is conceding—correctly—that before Trump, no president had ever forced Congress to issue subpoenas like this, because no president's personal business records were ever suspected of implicating the president in crimes, and certainly not crimes of the magnitude that Trump is suspected of.

Obviously, this doesn't make Trump look good, which raises the question of why Trump allowed it. The answer seems to be that if the court agrees to hear the case, it will delay the enforcement of subpoenas for Trump's private books—and that nothing is more important than keeping the public from seeing those records.

Trump's tax and business records, which are the subject of the appeals the court is poised to consider, would allow investigation of a number of known or suspected crimes, including money laundering for Russian oligarchs, bank fraud, tax evasion, and the campaign finance crimes committed as part of Trump's attempts to pay hush money to his mistresses. They would also shed light on how much Trump is in debt to foreign entities, and which ones are paying him money now.

Why does this matter?

  • Nobody fights this hard to conceal evidence that they did nothing wrong.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threw a tantrum and rage-quit the NATO summit in London.

Last night, a video clip of the leaders of Canada, France and the UK talking about Trump went viral. In it, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is commenting on Trump's erratic behavior from the day before as the British prime minister Boris Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron nod along. Trudeau mentioned that something Trump said—possibly his sudden disavowal of pro-democracy protestors in Iran—made Trump's staff's "jaws drop to the floor."

As mockery goes, it was pretty gentle—but Trump is easily enraged by anything even remotely like criticism. The attention the clip got was enough to provoke Trump to quit the summit early, though not before he gave himself a chance to call Trudeau "two-faced."

It's not news to anyone else that world leaders think Trump is dangerous, mentally ill, ridiculous, or easily manipulated—because they've said so. But Trump himself, whose staff works very hard to keep him from seeing news that will upset him, may actually have been caught by surprise.

It's not the first time Trump has stormed out of a conference of America's closest allies. The last time he did so was at the June 2018 G7 summit in Montreal, rage-tweeting insults from Air Force One at Justin Trudeau on his way out.

How is this a bad thing?

  • This would be a disturbing lack of emotional control even in a small child.
  • A president who lets a temper tantrum get in the way of maintaining America's military alliances is unfit for the job.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot his Iran policy.

As of yesterday, the official policy of the Trump administration was one of active support for anti-government protestors in Iran. 

At about 2:30 p.m. London time today, Trump had this exchange with a reporter at the NATO summit.

Q    You mentioned earlier the Iran protests.  Does the United States support these protestors in Iran? 
TRUMP:  I don’t want to comment on that.  But the answer is “no.”  But I don’t want to comment on that.

Less than an hour later, somebody posted this to Trump's Twitter account:

The United States of America supports the brave people of Iran who are protesting for their FREEDOM. We have under the Trump Administration, and always will! 

A few minutes later, Trump—now at a different press availability—claimed he'd misunderstood the question.

The question was asked: “Do we support them” — I thought — “financially?” And we haven’t supported them. I don’t know that we’ve ever been actually asked to support them, financially. And I — you know, if somebody asked, maybe we would. But we support them very, very seriously.

Given the nature of the Iranian protests—not something anyone would think you could write a check to—this latest explanation doesn't make much sense.

Remembering his stance on Iran shouldn't have been difficult for Trump, who has never warmed up to the Iranian government the way he has to other hostile authoritarian regimes, like Russia or North Korea. (Trump also affectionately mentioned Kim Jong-un today, even as North Korea ramps up its threats.)

But Trump often forgets his own stance on signature issues, only to be gently "corrected" by his staff.

How is this a problem?

  • It's very bad if the president is forgetting, in real time, what his position is on major conflicts.

Monday, December 2, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He imposed more tariffs, for reasons that don't actually exist.

Brazil and Argentina have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies. which is not good for our farmers. Therefore, effective immediately, I will restore the Tariffs on all Steel & Aluminum that is shipped into the U.S. from those countries[.]

As Reuters noted:

In fact, the opposite is true: Both countries have actively been trying to strengthen their respective currencies against the dollar.

It's not clear what the real reason for Trump's action was, if there was one. But South American farmers have benefited from the United States being shut out of certain Chinese agricultural markets, thanks to Trump's two-year-old trade war.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • "In fact, the opposite is true" is not something that should appear in neutral coverage of a president's policy announcements.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He decided "due process" wasn't that important after all.

Today was the deadline for Trump to notify the House Judiciary Committee that he would be sending a lawyer to represent his interests in the next phase of the impeachment proceedings against him. By all accounts, Trump failed to do so.

Pretending that impeachment isn't happening might be a good political strategy—or at least a good psychological defense mechanism—for Trump. But he's been complaining bitterly about not getting "due process" in the House procedure so far, and one of his complaints had been that the House Intelligence Committee hadn't allowed him to send a lawyer to the first round of witness depositions.

Impeachment isn't a criminal process, so "due process" in the usual Constitutional sense doesn't apply. But by analogy, Trump wanting a lawyer in the depositions would be a little like a murder suspect asking to take witness statements for the police.

Why does this matter?

  • Trump is being accused of extremely serious abuses of power and crimes for which he'd already be in jail if he weren't the president.