Saturday, December 28, 2019

WTDT will resume regular posting on January 3.

What did Donald Trump do today?

Stochastic terrorism.

Trump's all-tweets, all-golf, no-work two-week-plus vacation continued as usual today. Today's tweets included a pre-dawn post linking to an article that supposedly identifies the intelligence community whistleblower who first brought to light Trump's attempt to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election on his behalf. 

More accurately, since the whistleblower wasn't on the July 25th call at the root of Trump's impeachment for abuse of power, it was the whistleblower's report of what many other horrified executive branch employees who were on the call had said that launched the inquiry. (The partial memo of the call that Trump himself released, in an ill-fated attempt to get ahead of the story, completely confirmed the whistleblower's account.)

Federal law gives the whistleblower the right to anonymity and protection from being fired or disciplined. (In fact, Trump's repeated demands that the whistleblower be exposed are themselves illegal.) But legal protections don't guarantee physical safety. The whistleblower, and their lawyers, have received death threats. Those threats are serious enough that they have been given an armed guard.

Trump himself has called the whistleblower "almost a spy" and said that their actions were "treason," adding that traitors used to meet a violent end.

The term for trying to turn a huge crowd against a target, in the knowledge that at least a few individuals in that crowd will probably make threats or commit violent acts, is stochastic terrorism. Even if the whistleblower Trump is trying to make an example of survives, it makes it less likely that other people who have witnessed Trump committing crimes or immoral acts will be willing to take the risk of coming forward. 

Trump knows from direct personal experience that stochastic terrorism works. Among other examples, the "QAnon" hoax that he and his campaign have promoted resulted in a man shooting up a restaurant, and one of Trump's followers mailed pipe bombs to media outlets and government officials that Trump attacked.

Why should I care?

  • Threatening people who report crimes is what criminal gangs do.
  • The president is not above the law, no matter how many times he breaks it.

Friday, December 27, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He retweeted QAnon fan accounts, twice.

Trump had another fairly typical Friday, at least by his standards: zero scheduled work, a round of golf, and lots of tweets. 

At least two of today's tweets were from fan accounts of the conspiracy theory/troll group QAnon, best known for spreading the "Pizzagate" hoax that accused Hillary Clinton of running a child sex slavery ring out of a DC-area pizza joint. Trump campaign officials have promoted QAnon hoaxes, which led to a man shooting at employees in an attempt to "save" the nonexistent children being trapped in the restaurant's nonexistent basement.

The basic idea behind QAnon, like a lot of Trump-era viral media—including the Russian fake news posts that flooded social media in 2016 and since—seems to be to create the idea that nothing is really real. Or, as Russian dissident and chess champion Garry Kasparov put it:

Trump openly tells people not to believe their own eyes if something makes him look bad, and his political handlers have embraced the message. Kellyanne Conway famously invented the concept of "alternative facts" as a way of explaining why Trump insisted that his press secretary lie about his inaugural crowds in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

It's not clear whether Trump, a master hoaxer in his own right, knows what QAnon is or whether he believes any of their "theories." (He does retweet them a lot, though.) But he apparently liked the look of the posts he sent to his millions of Twitter followers today. One references an out-and-proud misogynist movement, and the other was a picture of a dog turd.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It's bad if the most powerful person in the world is spending a weekday helping internet trolls and scammers go viral.
  • Facts and reality exist even if it would be better politically for Donald Trump if they didn't.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained that other countries weren't pretending the United States still had troops in northeastern Syria.

Trump tweeted what was probably intended as a warning to Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria, telling them not to kill "thousands if [of] innocent civilians in Idlib Province."

Idlib Province is in the northeastern quarter of Syria, the region where American forces used to be until they were suddenly relocated in October on Trump's order. The move allowed Turkey to invade, committing war crimes in the process against the Kurdish forces that had been fighting ISIS on behalf of the United States. 

Trump's tweet today also claimed, without evidence, that Turkey was trying to protect civilians in the region. In fact, the only recent news out of Turkey on the subject was that country's refusal to shelter any more of the Syrian civilian refugees that Trump was talking about.

Trump's order also meant that Russian forces took over the very same defensive positions that American soldiers abandoned. He later claimed that he was redeploying them to "get the oil"—Syria's oil fields are in the eastern part of the country—but American forces are simply doing guard duty over defunct wells at the moment. (The United States has no claim on the oil fields and would not be profiting even if they were producing.)

In other words, Trump is complaining that America's enemies in the Syrian Civil War are not acting as though he hadn't unilaterally abandoned the territory that they're now threatening civilians in.

Trump's insistence that the U.S. cut and run from the parts of Syria it was actually helping cost him a Defense Secretary (James Mattis), the top U.S. envoy to the anti-Assad coalition (Brett McGurk)  and a national security advisor (John Bolton), both of whom—among many others—warned that this would happen.

Why does this matter?

  • When presidents are incompetent in military matters and refuse to listen to experts, innocent people can die as a result.
  • The actual American military is a much bigger deterrent than a sternly-worded tweet.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about holiday sales on Christmas.

At 2:32 on Christmas Day, Trump went to Twitter to post what might have looked like some mildly good economic news.

It's not true.

As conservative writer and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum noted, there are two different lies in that one sentence. First of all, it simply isn't the biggest increase in holiday sales, not even in recent years. In 2010, for example, they were up 5.5% from 2009.

The second lie is the lie of omission. Holiday sales were roughly average this year—a big increase over last year, because of the terrible numbers in 2018, when Trump was also president.

Trump often brags that economic indicators are the highest they've "ever been"—stock market figures, number of Americans employed, and so forth. Of course, numbers like that are supposed to get a little bigger than they've ever been before, each year, because of normal inflation and population growth. Bragging about it is a little like bragging about your parenting skills because your 3-year-old has grown taller over the last year. It's not clear whether Trump genuinely doesn't understand this, or simply thinks voters won't.

The flip side of this is that Trump also frequently denies bad news exists, or ignores it completely. Again, it's hard to say whether he genuinely can't understand that he might have failed in some way, or just knows better than to be straight with voters about it. 

So what?

  • People who have actually succeeded don't need to lie about what they've done.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He provided his supporters with talking points in the hope that they'd yell them at family members.

On Christmas Eve, Trump's campaign unveiled a website to help supporters pick Christmas dinner fights with their family members—"snowflakes"—who don't support Trump. 

Politics being what it is, some of Trump's supporters may genuinely not mind that the site has more than a few obvious lies. (Most or all of them are mainstays of Trump's Twitter feed anyway.) There are garden-variety flat-out lies about what Democratic presidential candidates have said they'd do, and some lies—especially those about the Ukraine scandal for which Trump has been impeached, that would require readers to be very, very gullible. (For example, a YouTube video in which the presenter says with a straight face, "It is thanks to President Trump that the Ukrainians are getting the aid in the first place.")

For the most part, though, the "facts" are just opinion statements—although not necessarily opinions that anyone really has. For example, the idea that Trump is an environmentalist, that Americans love their health insurance being tied to having a job, or that he is popular with African-Americans. (Some aren't even really claims: one script simply yells "BIG GOVERNMENT SOCIALISM.") Traditional conservatives might find these a little hard to swallow, much less serve up to family members.

"Snowflakes," according to the Trump campaign, are cowardly people who are "afraid" of Trump, who "run and hide" from arguments, and who shouldn't be allowed to "get away with it" any longer.

According to an average of recent polls, Trump believes that about 53% of Americans are "snowflakes." 

Why should I care about this?

  • Forcing people to choose between family and their loyalty to the leader is what dictators do.
  • Americans define who the president is, not the other way around.

Monday, December 23, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He shared his thoughts on his impeachment, as only he can.

Trump spent the day at his private luxury resort and on the golf course, which is not all that unusual for any given Monday, although he has the excuse of the midweek Christmas holiday this time. But Trump never stops tweeting, and today's rants included this:

Trump doesn't say why he thinks "fairness" is a bad thing, although in another tweet today he openly said Senate Republicans should use their ability to make the trial a "partisan scam," so he apparently means it. As for the "trial" in the House, archconservative Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan pointed out that there is no such thing:

As his closest confidants have told the media, Trump has for months been—even by his volcanic standards—extremely agitated about having been impeached. It is, by a wide margin, the subject he's tweeted most about for months. He even resorted last week to retweeting Vladimir Putin's "defense" of him, a move that made even supporters cringe. Trump has used every word in the book, including "treason," when railing against people who supported impeachment or his removal from office.

The most recent poll on the subject shows that 52% of Americans support Trump's removal from office.

What is the problem here?

  • Presidents are not above the law.
  • The Constitution, not the president's wishes, is the supreme law of the land.
  • A president who cannot bear the emotional strain or shame of impeachment should resign.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to milk "phase one" of his trade war concessions with China a little more.

Trump had an unusually media-quiet day today. He found time to go to his luxury Florida golf club—twice—but his total number of tweets was sharply down from the triple-digit daily numbers he posted in recent weeks. Some of this may have been the effect of the holiday weekend—Trump himself is taking at least two weeks off—but it's also likely that he was trying to duck direct comment on the latest Ukraine blackmail revelations.

He was, however, willing to tweet about the ongoing trade war with China. There haven't been any new developments since Trump announced earlier this month that, in effect, he would stop escalating the trade war, which he branded as "phase one" in undoing the damage. But today Trump tweeted out links to articles about China's part in that "phase" anyway.

It's not clear if Trump read the articles—but then it's rarely clear if Trump knows how tariffs work at all. What the articles actually report is that China's annual adjustments to its tariff lists were unrelated to the trade war—except that countries that aren't the United States are getting much better rates. As the Bloomberg News article Trump linked to noted:

China’s leadership has reiterated its intention to further lower duties in order to meet specific domestic consumption needs. Goods from New Zealand, Peru, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Iceland, Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Georgia, Chile and Pakistan will have even lower levies under the re-negotiated free trade agreements with China, according to the statement.

It's normal for countries to make periodic adjustments to their import taxes in response to basic needs—or for political purposes. China's totalitarian government is largely immune to political pressures, but Trump hastily cut tariffs on China earlier this year, before any "deal" was reached, in an attempt to goose holiday sales numbers.

Why should I care about this?

  • A president who knows what his own tariff policy is would not have linked to these articles, unless he thought Americans were too stupid to understand them.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about the border wall again.

As of today, Trump is in full vacation mode, and will be for at least the next two weeks—something that his own aides are telling reporters has them worried. But Trump never takes a break from tweeting, and today he tweeted about the defense appropriations bill he signed. 

He bragged that the "New planes, ships, missiles, rockets and equipment of every kind" it authorized the purchase of would all be "made right here in the USA." That's probably at least as true as it always is. 

But then Trump added "we got Border Wall (being built) funding. Nice!"—which isn't really true, because he didn't get what he asked for and no wall is "being built." Trump had asked for $5 billion dollars to build his much-talked about, still-never-built wall. What he got was $1.37 billion dollars in maintenance and upgrades for existing fenced areas. 

This is the same amount of money he got last year, after he shut the government down for over a month in a vain attempt to force Congress to budget more money for border fences. 

In a way, it's not really Trump's fault that zero miles of new "wall" have been built. Even if Congress—or most Americans—actually wanted Trump's fantasy of a wall, it couldn't have been built by now anyway. A wall that was actually useful in deterring or preventing border-crossing would have to be carefully sited and tailored to the local terrain, on land that had been purchased from the private owners it would have to cross. Trump hasn't done or even tried to do any of these things, which would take years.

Why should I care about this?

  • It's wrong to lie about having done things you haven't done.

Friday, December 20, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got a reality check on American steel jobs.

On Wednesday, at almost the exact moment he was being impeached for obstruction and abuse of power, Trump told a Michigan rally audience this:

Look what I’ve done for steel. I mean, the steel is back. We taxed all the dumb steel coming in from China and other places, and US steel mills are doing great — they’re expanding all over the country, and they were gonna be out of business within two years the way they were going.

Today, two days later, US Steel announced it was closing its Great Lakes Works, a Detroit-area mill. 1,545 steelworkers will lose their jobs.

Trump sent his trade representative, Peter Navarro, out to explain that when the steel industry falters, it's never Trump's fault. US Steel "did not adapt with the times. They are paying for it dearly," he told reporters today.

Navarro and Trump are right that the huge taxes he imposed on the American manufacturers who bought foreign steel were a temporary boost for the domestic steel industry itself. The problem is that by forcing American manufacturers to pay more for steel, Trump also raised costs for American consumers, who ended up paying those taxes. He also invited retaliation against other vulnerable American businesses, like the farms that saw record bankruptcies this past year thanks to Chinese retaliation. American taxpayers had to pay for that, too, in the form of $28 billion in bailouts for the farms that survived.

This is not the first time that Trump has openly lied about the supposed successes of US Steel on his watch. Last year, he claimed that the company would be adding six new steel mills to its existing four—or, as of today, three.

So what?

  • A plan that doesn't work is nothing to brag about.
  • Ignoring failure doesn't make it go away.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost (some more) evangelicals.

Trump has had an interesting few days where the subject of religion is concerned. Last week, he told Jewish Americans they had to vote for him because they loved money and he'd help them keep theirs. On Tuesday, he accused Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic, of lying and "offending Americans of faith" when she said she prayed for him. He compared himself to the victims of the Salem witch trials, in which the victims were accused of being in league with Satan. Yesterday, he reveled in a Republican congressman's claim that Jesus Christ had been treated more fairly by Pontius Pilate than Trump was by Congressional Democrats.

And last night, in front of an audibly shocked Michigan campaign rally crowd, he suggested that the late Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) was in hell. Trump has now said publicly twice in a week that he's angry with John Dingell's widow, Rep. Debbie Dingell, for voting to impeach him even though she was polite in a courtesy call after her late husband's funeral. 

Attempting today to get ahead of the metastasizing Dingell story, Trump sent his seldom-seen press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, out with a defense: he's a "counterpuncher." But even Grisham, who had to carefully avoid actually apologizing on Trump's behalf, seemed unwilling to really commit to defending Trump on this point:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: I want to move on to the President's comments about Congressman Dingell last night... It's drawing rebukes from many Democrats but also from Republicans. Cindy McCain has tweeted on it this morning. Fred Upton, one of the senior Republican congressmen from Michigan, has also put up a tweet... He says, "I've always looked up to John Dingell, my good friend and a great Michigan legend. There was no need to diss him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due." Will the President apologize to the Dingell family?
GRISHAM: I haven't spoken to the President about that. I would say that I'm very very sorry for her loss. And I would thank her and I would thank her late husband for all of the service to our country. Uh, the President did lower the flags at the White House to half staff to do everything he could to honor him at her request. Uh, so we'll see what happens from there. We do thank them for their service, and again, very very sorry for her loss. 
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think the President said that overnight? 
GRISHAM: Uh, you'd have to talk to the president about that. He was at a political rally. He has been under attack, and under impeachment attack, for the last few months, and then just under attack politically for the last two and a half years. Uh, I think that as we all know, the president is a counter-puncher. ...He was just riffing on some of the things that had been happening the past few days.

Today, Christianity Today—a major online magazine for evangelical Christians founded by archconservative preacher Billy Graham—called for Trump to be removed from office

But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral. 
The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused. 
...We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.

Trump is twice divorced, has appeared in pornography and bragged openly about his extramarital sexual habits, has on at least one occasion forgotten what Christian denomination he's supposedly part of, and has rarely if ever been seen in a church outside of a political context.

Why does this matter?

  • Evangelical Christian voters don't like being treated like chumps and taken for granted any more than anyone else does.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He was impeached.

This evening, the House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He wrote a letter.

On what is most likely his last full day as an unimpeached president, Trump wrote a six-page rant accusing House Democrats of everything from treason to insufficiently sincere prayers for his wellbeing. 

The letter, which reads like a string of tweets, may have been an attempt by Trump to emotionally soothe himself. Trump almost immediately declared that the letter was getting "good reviews." It was certainly getting attention, although it was not difficult to find even Republicans calling it "unhinged." The White House Counsel's Office, for its part, quietly made sure journalists knew they had no control over it.

News organizations set about the considerable task of fact-checking the letter, but one lie in particular had an interesting resonance with another story that broke today. In the letter, Trump, as he has in one way or another on almost every day of his presidency, attacked the FBI and the intelligence community for investigating his campaign's coordination with the Russian government's attempts to illegally interfere in the 2016 election. Trump called the legally authorized investigation, blessed by the Department of Justice's own Inspector General, an attempt at a "coup" and the investigation itself as "spying."

Hours earlier, Trump's deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates was sentenced to 45 days in prison and three years' probation for obstruction and lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation. The sentencing judge explained the light sentence by noting Gates' extensive cooperation with prosecutors, and emphasized the far-reaching and ongoing nature of the government's efforts—Trump himself aside—to protect the integrity of American elections.

Gates' debriefings, his multiple incriminatory bits of evidence on matters of grave and international importance are a reminder that there was an ample basis for the decision makers at the highest level of the United States Department of Justice — the United States Department of Justice of this administration — to authorize and pursue a law enforcement investigation into whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the known foreign interference in the election, as well as into whether there had been any attempt to obstruct that investigation, and to leave no stone unturned, no matter what the prosecutors determined they had evidence to prove at the end of that investigation.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents are not above the law, or the Constitution.
  • Declaring all opposition to the leader is "treason" or a "coup" is what dictators do.
  • It's not surprising that Trump is upset about being impeached, but it's still bad if he can't control his emotional outbursts.

Monday, December 16, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He retweeted a Jewish "supporter" who also happened to be a day-old bot account.

As of this afternoon, Trump's Twitter feed contained this mysterious post, a retweet from his political advisor Sebastian Gorka:

The original tweet that Trump was trying to broadcast to his millions of followers was from "Joseph," supposedly a Jewish man in New York who was writing to Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to say that he would never vote for Nadler or another Democrat ever again because of Trump's imminent impeachment—and neither would his "family and community."

Somehow, the tweet reached the attention of Gorka—who has refused to renounce ties to an anti-Semitic Hungarian group—in spite of the fact that "Joseph" had only been on Twitter for a day. Trump retweeted it the following day, just in time for Twitter to suspend it as a bot account.

Twitter bots using pro-Trump disinformation were and continue to be one of the major avenues for Russia's interference in American elections.

It's impossible to know if Trump, who has been fooled by Twitter bots and other hoaxes many times while in office, actually believed that "Joseph" was real. But given that he was recently caught putting the same worshipful story about himself in the mouths of at four different supposed Jewish friends (at least two of whom actually exist as real people), Trump may have been desperate to change the subject.

In the real world, Trump is very unpopular with Jewish Americans—and he doesn't think much of them either.

Why does this matter? 

  • Politicians who have the support of real people don't desperately retweet fake people.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He continued to pretend that bad news about impeachment doesn't exist.

Fox News released its latest poll on impeachment, finding that fully half of Americans want to see Trump removed from office. 9% of those polled who did not favor Trump's removal still thought that he deserved to be impeached.

Trump responded on Twitter:

In reality, the Fox News poll of the 2016 election was—like almost all professional nonpartisan polls—quite accurate. Its last poll before Election Day predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote 48-44. She actually won the popular vote by 48.2-46.1.

Who cares?

  • Nonpartisan polls report what Americans tell them, not what the president wants them to say.
  • Bad news doesn't go away just because the president can't or won't admit that it exists.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that because someone was polite to him once, he can't be impeached.

On a rare Saturday evening in the White House—though his day still included a conspicuous stop at a Trump-branded property—Trump watched Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) on TV as she mentioned the fact that he had blocked White House staff from testifying before the impeachment inquiry. He immediately lashed out on Twitter:

In other words, Trump is saying that because a grieving widow was polite to him once, she cannot now support his impeachment for the crimes he's committed in office—or talk about his attempts to obstruct investigation into them.

When former Rep. John Dingell died in February, he was given a private funeral and laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery because of his military service in World War II. Trump's permission was not necessary for either of these things.

So what?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this is self-absorbed and petty.

Friday, December 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reached a "deal" with China.

Today at the White House, Trump talked about what he is calling a "phase one deal" with China on trade.

TRUMP: We have — the China deal, as you know, it was just approved a little while ago.  And it’s — to me, it’s not complicated, but that’s what I do.  It’s a phenomenal deal.  The tariffs will largely remain at 25 percent on $250 billion.
...This is a very large deal — the China deal.  It covers tremendous manufacturing, farming — a lot of rules, regulations.  A lot of things are covered.  It’s a phase one deal, but a lot of big things are covered.  And I say, affectionately: The farmers are going to have to go out and buy much larger tractors, because it means a lot of business — a tremendous amount of business.

Trump is whistling past the graveyard of a huge swath of American agriculture here. The record number of farmers who have already been forced into bankruptcy as a result of the Trump tariffs destroying their market in China presumably won't be buying tractors. There's also nothing in the deal that will make American taxpayers whole for the $28 billion bailouts aimed at keeping some farms afloat during the crisis.

In reality, almost everything about the ongoing trade war will remain the same as a result of the "deal." Almost the only thing known for certain is that future tariffs that Trump had threatened, and which China would have retaliated against, now won't happen. (Trump had already caved on some of them, getting nothing in return, in an effort to boost holiday shopping numbers.) Most of the existing tariffs, which make Chinese goods more expensive for American consumers, will remain in place.

Trump didn't give further details about the "deal"—but neither did anyone else. For example, Trump has been saying for months that China would promise to buy $40 billion worth of American farm products—roughly 16 months worth of normal imports during the peak trade during the Obama administration. 

But nobody has offered any specifics about the time frame over which China promised to buy that much farm products—and the deal's specific targets are being kept absolutely secret.

It's not the first time that Trump has promised farmers that unenforceable promises about future Chinese purchases were right around the corner. Almost exactly a year ago, he said this:

How is this a bad thing?

  • No amount of political face-saving undoes the loss of family farms.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you haven't done.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

Twitter, in ways that he'll probably regret.

Trump has spent the work day on what is an epic Twitter-binge even by his standards. He had already tweeted a record 108 times as of 2:30 EST. But one in particular stands out. Trump attacked 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who yesterday was announced as Time's "Person of the Year."

Trump often uses Twitter to distract from other things he's doing, or because he thinks it will score political points. That doesn't seem to be the case here. 

Instead, Trump's tweet came from genuine hurt and anger that he was not selected as "Person of the Year." (In fact, his outburst was widely expected and predicted in advance by pundits.) 

Trump, who at 73 years old may remember the magazine's glory days a little better than Thunberg, has long used it as a barometer of his self-worth. He's claimed to have appeared on its cover more than anyone else—which was a lie, even ignoring the fact that many of those covers showed him in a completely negative light. In 2017, he explained away not being named "Person of the Year" by saying he'd taken himself out of consideration—another lie. (The magazine doesn't ask permission, and sometimes chooses people whose influence was totally negative.)

Trump even made up a fake Time cover, featuring his own picture and with a headline calling his reality TV show The Apprentice a "smash," and then hung it on the walls of his luxury golf resorts. (Just last month, a Trump political appointee to the State Department with fraudulent credentials that included a fake Time cover of her own was forced to resign.) 

Thunberg, who has been insulted by Trump before, responded the same way she did the last time: she made Trump's tweet her Twitter bio.

Why does this matter?

  • Emotional outbursts, inappropriate hostility, overreaction to perceived slights, and projection are all signs of a serious mental health problem
  • There were probably more important things for the President of the United States to be doing with his Thursday than sending out hundreds of tweets.

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.