Tuesday, June 30, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He used racist language to make an empty threat to defend racists.

Two minutes before midnight on June 30, Trump was up and trying to stoke a culture war over monuments to the Confederacy.

This is an empty threat, although Trump may be hoping his shrinking voting base doesn't know it. 

Sen. Warren's amendment to the must-pass defense spending bill was adopted on a voice vote in committee, meaning that committee Republicans either mostly agreed, or wanted to avoid having their names attached to a "no" vote. 

The provision that would require the renaming of military facilities named for Confederate officers may yet be stripped through political horse-trading—although in that case, Trump weighing in only gives Warren more leverage over the actual substance of the bill.

Senior military officials are increasingly open to renaming the ten bases and various smaller facilities bearing the names of Confederate officers. But Trump has spent much of the last few weeks defending Confederate statues and place-names, in an attempt to draw attention away from his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.

Trump's other contribution to Civil War history was putting up a brass plaque on one of his golf courses in Virginia commemorating a battle that exists only in his imagination. In the inscription, Trump pats himself on the back for having "preserved" the site of the fake battle.

Why should I care about this?

  • Someone who paid someone else to write a book about negotiation should probably know better than to negotiate this way.
  • Leaders with actual accomplishments don't generally try to start argument to distract from them.
  • America's reckoning with racial issues isn't actually about Donald Trump.

Monday, June 29, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said 5% of imaginary Republicans are stupid, fake Republicans.

Trump has suffered badly in polls for his handling of the economic, racial justice, and public health crises that have erupted this year. He now trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden by an average of 9.2 points in national polls, and is trailing Biden in every swing state

Much of that decline has come from otherwise reliable conservative and Republican voters. In what appears to be an attempt to stop the bleeding, Trump simply declared himself popular today.

The 95% figure is a tell. Trump has claimed numbers like this in tweets dozens of times. No such poll numbers exist in reality.

Ironically, Trump's default explanation for polls showing Biden with double-digit leads is that they are "fake."

Trump's overall approval rating is about 40%, meaning he apparently thinks about 60% of Americans are "stupid people."

Who cares?

  • When Americans are dissatisfied with their president, they deserve a better answer than "you're stupid."
  • Saying you're popular doesn't make it true.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tweeted.

At 8:37 A.M. this morning, Trump tweeted out what for him is a fairly typical campaign message:

Trump's opinion about his rival's intelligence within moments of his retweeting a video of one of his own supporters screaming "White power!" at counterprotestors in Florida.

The tweet was deleted by his staff a few hours later, while Trump was on the golf course. A spokesperson later said Trump did it accidentally, not knowing what was in the video.

So what?

  • This is not what a high-IQ person would do in this situation.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said nobody ever told him about the Russian plot to have American troops murdered in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, the New York Times broke a shocking story: that U.S. intelligence agencies had uncovered a Russian scheme to pay bounties on American troops in Afghanistan. According to the report—now independently confirmed by several news agencies—American spy agencies caught a Russian military intelligence unit offering to pay Taliban militants to kill Americans, in order to derail the peace process and further bog the United States down.

Twenty Americans were killed last year in Afghanistan, and the peace talks have broken down. Russia reportedly paid some of the bounties, indicating that the Putin regime believed the deaths were related to their offer.

The plot was detected in late March. Since then, Trump has spoken with Russian president Vladimir Putin five times and issued a joint diplomatic statement about U.S.-Russia military cooperation. He's also lobbied on Russia's behalf to rejoin the G7, and demanded alarmingly Russia-friendly troop redeployments in Europe. No action whatsoever was taken, internally or diplomatically, against Russia.

Trump dodged the story yesterday, and spent the morning and afternoon today playing golf. When the White House finally released a statement, it claimed that nobody had told Trump about it.

That is contradicted by all other sources so far, which report that it was discussed in the National Security Council, the agency whose job it is to keep Trump informed. The idea that American troops could be assassinated by a Russian spy agency without the president being informed is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. As David Gergen, a senior advisor to four presidents, put it today:

He would have been — in every single White House that I’ve ever worked in, and every single White House I know anything about. This is very, very important information. It does affect the relationship with Russia. He would have been briefed instantaneously. It would have been in the materials sent in to him, and it would have been discussed with him. And I think Vice President Biden makes a very good point, what is raising so many objections on Capitol Hill is that this was in the same timeframe the president has extended an olive branch to Putin, inviting him to this G-7 meeting over the objections of Chancellor Merkel and others who do not want that to happen. The president stood up for him. 
And so all of that suggests that this is a much more complicated story. What we’re possibly facing is that the White House was, the president was briefed but that he had reasons relating to his reelection and his relationship with Russia that he’s being very dovish about this.

It's entirely possible that Trump didn't understand what he was being told, or couldn't focus long enough to take action. His notoriously short attention span has been an enormous challenge for his intelligence briefers, who have struggled to keep him engaged long enough to get through one-page summaries. (One tactic that has had some success is using Trump's name frequently.)

It's also possible that Trump understood the situation in basic terms—Russia was paying the Taliban to kill American soldiers—but was simply unable or unwilling to act against Russia. It's difficult to quickly summarize the financial, criminal, and political leverage that the Putin regime has over Trump, but it appears to have completely paralyzed him.

Why does this matter?

  • A president this compromised by a hostile country—or by mental issues—is totally unfit for office.
  • The lives of American troops are more important than whatever interests Donald Trump is protecting.

Friday, June 26, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tapped Senior Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump to announce a "skills-based hiring" program.

Today, Trump signed an executive order directing certain technical changes to how the federal government assesses potential employees. The press release for it called this a shift to "skills-based hiring."

The order was publicly announced by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, Senior Advisor to the President.

Ivanka Trump had no public policy experience and no relevant skills before taking her senior leadership position in her father's administration. In fact, other than a brief stint as a model, she had no work experience whatsoever unrelated to her father's businesses or money. (In fairness, except for the modeling part, the same was true of Donald Trump himself for most of his life.) She was unable to get a security clearance, an absolutely essential "skill" for a senior White House advisor, until Trump rewrote the rules to give her one.

By all accounts, Ivanka Trump's real function in the White House, to the extent that she plays one, is as a sort of amateur therapist. She's one of the few people—including other Trump family members—who is usually exempt from his temper tantrums, and she's said to be a calming influence on him.

Who cares?

  • Nepotism is the exact opposite of "skills-based hiring."

Thursday, June 25, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He considered the lobster, and then lied about it.

Thursday is the day that unemployment numbers are released, and once again, they were catastrophically bad. Another 1.48 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims in the past week. For the second consecutive day, new COVID-19 cases set a record, with almost 40,000 new diagnoses by 8 p.m EDT. 

Trump, for his part, began the day focused on lobsters. He tweeted, "It was my great honor to free up 5000 square miles of ocean off the coast of Maine. Enjoy!" This followed on from a tweet he sent Wednesday evening:

Pres. Obama destroyed the lobster and fishing industry in Maine. Now it’s back, bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible. Enjoy your “lobstering” and fishing! Make lots of money!

As Maine newspapers and lobster boat captains alike pointed out, even on this highly specific topic, pretty much everything Trump said on the subject was a self-serving lie. What Trump recently "freed up" to lobstering was "off the coast of Maine" in roughly the same sense that Texas is off the coast of Alabama. And as it's much closer to Massachusetts, it's not a place Maine lobster boats typically go.

Also, the area Trump "freed up" is already open to lobster boats. Trump's order canceled a planned phase-out of lobstering in the Northeast Canyon and Seamounts Marine National Monument—a marine sanctuary—that was scheduled to happen in 2023.

As for Trump's claims about President Obama "destroying" the Maine lobster industry, exactly the opposite is true. The value of Maine's lobster harvest exploded under Obama, rising from about $300 million in 2009 to over $700 million in 2016. The next year, under Trump, the value of the harvest dropped more than $100 million, and has not yet fully recovered. 

Source: Maine Department of Marine Resources

As Maine's governor noted, the main economic threat to the state's fishing industry is Trump's trade wars. All Trump did yesterday was to authorize another taxpayer-funded bailout to offset the damage that increased tariffs have done.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents who actually accomplish things that help the country don't need to lie about them.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He declared himself above the law.

COVID-19 diagnoses hit a new all-time daily high in the United States today, with more than 38,000 new cases reported. 

The worst of the initial outbreak happened in and around New York City, but new cases are sharply down in the tri-state area. Today, the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut announced a 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling to their states who has been in a state with a high number of cases.

That would include Donald Trump, who yesterday held a crowded indoor rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Trump plans to visit his luxury golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey this weekend, as he does almost every weekend.

Today, Trump signaled that he had no intention of complying with the orders, which have the force of state law. "The president of the United States is not a civilian," a spokesperson said

Actually, the president of the United States is always a civilian, even if they once served in the military—which Trump notoriously did not

But whether or not that statement was meant literally, it's a pretty good summary of Trump's assumption that rules don't apply to him. He's declared that the Constitution gives him the power to "do whatever I want". (It doesn't; that's a dictatorship.) He's fired government watchdogs throughout the executive branch, and virtually declared war on the United States' own intelligence community for its pre-election efforts to stop Russia from interfering in the election on his behalf. 

Hundreds of people travel with Trump during his weekly taxpayer-funded visits to his resort homes, ranging from his personal household servants to his Secret Service detail. Two of the six people working his Tulsa rally event who tested positive for COVID-19 were Secret Service agents, and their illness has now forced dozens more into self-isolation. Trump hasn't commented on that, but he's known to be extremely careful about his own exposure to the virus, demanding that people around him wear the masks he refuses to wear because he's afraid of looking "weak."

Why does this matter?

  • The president of the United States is not above the law.
  • The health and safety of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's golf game or political fortunes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He celebrated 197 miles of border wall he hasn't built.

Trump traveled to Arizona today for campaign events in a state he now desperately needs to win. The official reason for the trip, though, was to deliver remarks on "the Commemoration of the 200th Mile of New Border Wall" on the Mexican border—which puts the travel costs on the taxpayers rather than the Trump campaign.

Three and a half years into the Trump administration, the fenced portion of the U.S.-Mexico border is three miles longer—not 200. The rest has been repairs or renovations to existing barriers.

Those three miles, though, are in Trump's signature style. At his insistence, the easily-climbed bollard fence is painted black, so that it will retain heat in the summer. (This will increase the total cost of border fencing by $500 million or more.) 

Other issues have arisen with Trump's "big, beautiful" fence. Large sections of it will require floodgates to be kept wide open for much of the year. Fences put up in the remote areas favored by drug smugglers, furthest from active patrols, are easily destroyed by household tools—or, of course, ladders.

Immigration was Trump's signature issue in 2016, even though he has a long history of hiring immigrants legally and illegally. He promised that Mexico would pay for it, although immediately after taking office he begged the Mexican president not to publicly contradict him on this. American taxpayers have picked up the bill instead. 

But at this point it's not clear why Trump thinks Americans still see immigration as a pressing issue. Only 2% of Americans cited immigration as the biggest problem facing the country in a recent Gallup poll. At the top of that poll of the things that Americans were most worried about were economic issues (19%), poor leadership in government (21%), the coronavirus response (20%), and racism (19%). 

How is this a problem?

  • Presidents who accomplish things people would actually be impressed by don't need to embellish.
  • It's wrong to take credit for things you didn't do.

Monday, June 22, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He pre-delegitimized the 2020 election, in case he loses.

Trump spent the morning of the first working day after his disastrous Tulsa rally sowing the seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. 


Trump, of course, sought Russian help for his 2016 campaign and was impeached for trying to force Ukraine to interfere in 2020. In fact, undermining Americans' faith in the legitimacy of their own government was the main goal of that Russian interference.

As usual for Trump's talk about mail-in ballots, none of this is true—not even the World War One reference. There was no presidential election during the United States' time in that war. But soldiers deployed away from home voted by mail in the 1944 election without incident. In fact, expanding the troops' access to ballots was a major priority for the federal government.

Trump himself votes by mail; so does almost every voter in five states, and mail-in absentee ballots are available in every state. Mail-in voting is extremely popular, and even after Trump's recent attempts to demonize it, Americans support expanding it to anyone who wants it by more than a two-to-one margin

Trump, who famously said in October of 2016 that that election was rigged unless he won, is more or less openly trying to give himself an excuse to delegitimize the 2020 race if he loses. He believes—falsely, as it turns out—that making it easier for voters to cast a legitimate ballot hurts Republicans.

It's hard to see why Trump would bother unless he was fairly convinced he was going to lose. If that's the case, he's in good company. Polls in June are snapshots of the current mood, not a prediction. But in that snapshot, Trump is losing badly to Joe Biden.

Why should I care about this?

  • "Elections are only legitimate if I win" is the philosophy of a dictator.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got COVID-19 testing all wrong—again.

With anger growing today over his "joke" yesterday about deliberately slowing down the pace of coronavirus testing, Trump tried again to spin his administration's track record on the subject. He tweeted:

First of all, American testing is absolutely not "more advanced." The diagnostic tests available now are the same ones used in the rest of the world, but at first, Trump's CDC inexplicably refused to use the reliable test developed by the World Health Organization. This led to incorrect results and confusion about how fast the virus was spreading. 

It's true that the United States (the third largest country by population) now leads the world in total numbers of tests. But that's a very bad sign at this point in an outbreak that is now almost five months old—just as it's a bad sign if a lot of fire trucks are called after a fire is raging out of control. Countries like South Korea that tested early and often and "flattened the curve" dramatically simply don't have enough sick people now needing tests.

In other words, the time when mass testing would really have been helpful in curbing the spread of the virus was in late February through mid-March. This was right around the time Trump was declaring "I take no responsibility" for the deadly slow rollout of American testing capacity because he thought it wasn't the federal government's job. 

The proof of this is in another number that Trump almost never talks about: the number of people who have died. At least 118,000 Americans are known to have died of COVID-19, although the real number is higher. That's about 25% of the worldwide total. The United States has about 4% of the world's population.

So what?

  • Americans getting sick and dying is an actual problem, not a political one.
  • Presidents who want to "take no responsibility" should resign.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He explicitly said he'd ordered a reduction in COVID-19 tests.

Much of the attention on Trump's rally tonight has been on the attendance, which was far lower than expected, in spite of his claims that more than a million people had requested tickets. (Only about 6,200 people attended the rally in the 19,000-person arena, and the overflow area outside was dismantled because there was nobody in it.)

The turnout clearly got under Trump's skin, and he began his speech by making excuses for the turnout. His campaign falsely blamed protestors and "the media," but the protests around the rally were peaceful, and Tulsa police reported only one arrest before the event got underway.

Trump's anger aside, the sparse crowd is almost certainly good news for Oklahoma. Public health experts were horrified by the prospect of a huge indoor rally during an increasingly severe pandemic serving as a "superspreader event." Smaller crowds with more room to spread out will mitigate the damage to some extent. 

Six Trump staff members who had been working in Tulsa in the past week tested positive before the event itself, and the campaign would not confirm that everyone working the event had been tested. 

On the subject of testing, Trump made an astonishingly damning confession: that he had tried to suppress testing because it was finding people with the disease, which looks bad. Confusingly, he then imagined a situation where a child with a cold was falsely counted as a coronavirus case—which wouldn't happen if a test was given.

Testing is a double-edged sword. We've tested now 25 million people. It's probably 20 million people more than anyone else, Germany's done a lot, uh, South Korea's done a lot.

(Trump is partially correct here, but for a bad reason. The United States has done vastly more tests than South Korea, for example, because South Korea successfully controlled its outbreak at the very start, and now only tests as part of its enormously successful contact tracing program. The United States has no effective nationwide contact tracing program, because Trump insists it's not really his job. So in the United States, testing is still mostly done on people who are actively sick.)

They called me, they said, the job you're doing—here's the bad part. When you test the—when you do testing to that extent, you're going to find more people, you're going to find more cases.  
So I said to my people, "Slow the testing down, please." They test and they test and we got people, they don't know what's going on. We got tests, "We got another one over here." The young man's ten years old, he's got the sniffles, he'll recover in about fifteen minutes. "That's a case! Add him to it, that's a case."

Trump admitted recently that he views the political damage that positive tests do against the benefits of allowing people to get medical treatment. And even though his administration's own plan calls for a massive increase in testing, Trump himself has never really seemed to understand why they're necessary.

Tonight's rally is the first time he's openly admitted that he's actively working against Americans getting tested. A spokesperson later claimed Trump was "obviously joking," but it didn't seem obvious to the audience.

Why should I care about this?

  • Americans getting access to medical care during a disease outbreak is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • "He was only joking" can't always be the way you explain away what a president says.

Friday, June 19, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened violence against protestors.

Tomorrow, Trump holds an in-person, indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Almost everything about the rally seems designed to provoke controversy. Trump threw gasoline on that fire today by threatening protestors with a violent police response.

It wasn't clear whether Trump actually thought police had responded gently to recent protests in those cities, or if he was trying to suggest that he could make Tulsa's police act even more aggressively.

Asked why Trump was targeting protestors—since protest against elected officials is a core Constitutional right—a Trump spokesperson insisted that he only meant violent protestors, like those in Washington D.C. before he "came in with the National Guard and calmed our streets with law and order."

The June 1 assault on a lawful, nonviolent protest that cleared the way for Trump's photo opportunity at a church across the street from the White House was the only "calming" of the streets he's been personally involved in. That "calming" took the form of assaults on journalists, tear gas and rubber bullets, and buzzing crowds with helicopters

Trump has no actual police authority in Oklahoma.

Why does this matter?

  • The whole point of freedom of speech is that you get to use it even if the government doesn't like what you're saying.
  • Deliberately trying to start fights between Americans is exactly what enemies of the United States would want the president to be doing.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He did more of the same on race.

In a Wall Street Journal interview published today, Trump was asked if he knew what Juneteenth was. Trump had originally scheduled his Tulsa campaign rally on June 19th, the day commemorating the end of slavery. His campaign has given several contradictory explanations about why that date was chosen and why he switched it. 

Trump responded: "I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous. It's actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it."

In the real world, almost everyone has heard of Juneteenth. It's a holiday in 47 states, and it's particularly significant celebration for many African-American communities. Trump's own White House (like all recent presidential administrations) has put out official statements commemorating it, although Trump was surprised to hear it, saying, "Oh, really? We put out a statement? The Trump White House put out a statement?"

Trump frequently claims that "nobody knew" things that he himself didn't know—like that health care was a complicated subject, that presidents issue executive orders, or that people die from contagious diseases.

His comment today was reminiscent of a flub from early in his term, when he thought 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was still alive.

A little later in the day, Trump tweeted a manipulated video implying that the real race problem in America was the "fake news" calling white Trump voters racist.

Also today, Mary Elizabeth Taylor, a senior State Department official, resigned in protest over Trump's response to handling of racial tensions. Taylor was one of only a handful of black political appointees in the Trump administration. She wrote: "Moments of upheaval can change you, shift the trajectory of your life, and mold your character. The President’s comments and actions surrounding racial injustice and Black Americans cut sharply against my core values and convictions."

Why does this matter?

  • It's bad if a president can't even acknowledge that racial problems exist.
  • This isn't something a United States president can afford to be ignorant about.
  • Thinking that everything is about you is not a sign of good mental health.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said it was a lie that he'd done with China what he'd done with Russia and Ukraine.

Today, Trump signed a bill targeting China for its human rights abuses of its Uyghur Muslim population. The bill passed 407-1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate, but in spite of that veto-proof majority, Trump's signature was by no means certain. 

For all Trump's blustery rhetoric on Chinese trade, he's been outright submissive when it comes to actually taking direct action against it for its human rights violations. He complained when Congress passed a law aimed at ensuring Hong Kong's autonomy during recent protests there, claiming it made it harder to get his trade "deal" partially de-escalating the trade war. Trump defended Xi Jinping during the Chinese government crackdown in Hong Kong, and proceeded to repeatedly praise Xi for China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak

Today also saw the release of the first excerpts from a book written by Trump's former national security advisor, John Bolton. In the book, Bolton says Trump pleaded with Xi for China's support for him during the 2020 election. In turn, Trump promised a friendlier policy than Democrats would offer China.

In other words, Bolton is saying that Trump tried to make the same deal with China that he did with Ukraine and, as a candidate, Russia: policy concessions in exchange for election interference on Trump's behalf.

Of course, Trump has also offered his part of a China quid pro quo on live TV—just like he did with Russia.

In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to silence Bolton, Trump has ordered his Justice Department to sue to prevent the publication of the book, and has even threatened criminal charges against Bolton. Trump's theory is that literally anything he said to Bolton was automatically classified, which is legally absurd. Confusingly, Trump is also claiming that everything Bolton is saying is a lie—which would mean it's not classified.

What is the problem with this?

  • The word for a government official who tries to make corrupt bargains with hostile foreign powers is "traitor."
  • The leader threatening critics with prison so that he can hold on to power isn't something that happens in a democracy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lectured Americans on what the real civil rights movement is.

Today, Trump signed an executive order dealing with police violence. It was mostly in the nature of suggestions that local police departments set high standards for themselves, in keeping with Trump's belief that there is no systematic racism in American law enforcement. (A clear majority of Americans disagree.)

Trump's remarks veered wildly from one topic to the next, only occasionally touching on the subject at hand. (At one point he said there would be a COVID-19 vaccine within the year because the same sort of "brilliant" researchers had developed an AIDS vaccine. No such vaccine exists.) 

Eventually, Trump shifted into a defensive tone regarding his administration's record on issues of importance to African-Americans—which he tends to assume means anti-poverty programs. That led him to make this statement:

We’re fighting for school choice, which really is the civil rights of all time in this country.  Frankly, school choice is the civil rights statement of the year, of the decade, and probably beyond — because all children have to have access to quality education.  A child’s zip code in America should never determine their future, and that’s what was happening.  So we’re very, very strong on school choice, and I hope everybody remembers that.  And it’s happening.  It’s already happened, but it’s happening.  We have tremendous opposition from people that know they shouldn’t be opposing it.  School choice.

"School choice" is the Trump administration's term for vouchers that would allow parents to use taxpayer money for private school tuition. It's been a controversial idea for decades, popular with religious conservatives, but research shows that it tends to increase racial segregation in schools.

In other words, Trump's reaction to massive protests against racial injustice was to redefine the term "civil rights" to mean a pre-existing Trump administration education policy that undoes the school desegregation that the actual civil rights movement was founded on.

Why should I care about this?

Monday, June 15, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He probably figured out that virus tests test for viruses.

Today, after tweeting that testing for COVID-19 was a "double-edged sword" because diagnosing sick people made his administration look bad, Trump appeared at White House event on senior citizens.

Referring to that COVID-19 testing, Trump told attendees that "if we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any."

One possible interpretation of this is true, as far as it goes: Trump is correct that without diagnostic tests, there wouldn't be many diagnoses.

The problem with that is that literally every plan to combat the spread of the disease—including Trump's own—relies on the near-universal availability of free, accurate, and rapid tests. Getting that kind of infrastructure off the ground in a country the size of the United States is difficult and expensive, which appears to be why Trump has insisted it's not something he needs to take any responsibility for. 

One frequently cited benchmark for the number of tests needed to contain the virus without imposing stay-at-home orders is 5 million per day. Trump claimed on April 28 that the country would hit that mark "soon." Six weeks later, the United States manages about 500,000 tests per day.

The other explanation for this remark is that Trump was briefly confused into thinking that testing somehow causes COVID-19. As alarming as that would be, it wouldn't be unprecedented. Trump has also mused out loud about using flu vaccines as a drug to treat the novel coronavirus, to say nothing of household cleansers.

Why should I care about this?

  • This is way, way too important for Trump to be confused about or giving up on.
  • Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away, especially when the problem is a contagious disease.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He showed his age.

Trump spent his 74th birthday as he's spent most Sundays since taking office—golfing and Tweeting. In those tweets, he continued to try to paint protests against police violence as a "radical left" plot:

Interesting how ANTIFA and other Far Left militant groups can take over a city without barely a wimpier [sic] from soft Do Nothing Democrat leadership,  yet these same weak leaders become RADICAL when it comes to shutting down a state or city and its hard working, tax paying citizens!  
Does anyone notice how little the Radical Left takeover of Seattle is being discussed in the Fake News Media. That is very much on purpose because they know how badly this weakness & ineptitude play politically. The Mayor & Governor should be ashamed of themselves. Easily fixed!

In the real world, Seattle has not been taken over by anyone. Local police are voluntarily giving a wide berth to a six-block area, dubbed the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), where protestors have congregated.

Trump has made threats—probably empty ones—to use military troops against the occupation. It's not clear why Trump thinks it won't "play politically" for Seattle not to use force against a still-nonviolent protest. He has badly misread the public mood.

76% of Americans see racial discrimination as a serious problem. 67% support the Black Lives Matter movement, which is the nucleus of the CHAZ occupation. And 74% of Americans—including more than half of Republicans—said that the country was on the "wrong track." (That poll was concluded before Trump's politically disastrous use of military force against peaceful protestors outside the White House.)

In recent weeks, Trump has mocked politicians who supported Black Lives Matter protests. He's insisted that there is no inherent race problem in policing. As for the "track" the country is on, the closest Trump has come to an admission that there are any problems on his watch is that his new campaign slogan is "Transition to Greatness."

Things have gotten so bad for Trump so quickly that one poll now shows Trump leading his Democratic challenger Joe Biden by only 2% in Arkansas—a deeply conservative state where whites outnumber blacks 5 to 1.

Why does this matter?

  • One way to be more popular with your constituents is to believe the things they believe by overwhelming majorities.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He sparked a discussion on health care, for himself and others.

Trump forced the United States Military Academy's graduating class back to West Point this weekend so that he could be seen giving a commencement address. Trump's boredom with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been fairly evident in recent weeks, but more than 20,000 people are still contracting it every day in the United States, and the disease has cut short the lives of more than 117,000 Americans, not counting those who died never having gotten a test. 

More than 15 graduating cadets tested positive for COVID-19 upon their return to West Point—even though all 1,107 of them were forced into a two-week quarantine before the ceremony. (In spite of his lack of interest in the virus's spread nationwide, Trump remains extremely vigilant where his personal exposure to it is concerned.) Those cadets, though asymptomatic, were potential spreaders on airplanes or buses during their travel back to West Point.

But as the ceremony progressed, Trump's own health became a more immediate concern for those watching. He suffered a return of his occasional difficulty pronouncing certain words, and struggled to lift a water glass and needed both hands to steady it. At the end of the speech, he walked unsteadily and gingerly down a shallow ramp. 

None of these are new problems for Trump, whose health—particularly his neurological health—has drawn concern from doctors and mental health professionals since he took office. These have intensified recently, as Trump has shown more signs of impairment during public outings. 

Trump ignored all criticism about exposing the USMA graduating class (and those they came into contact with) to a dangerous and sometimes fatal infectious disease. But the speculation about his own neurological function was too much for him to bear, and he lashed out this evening on Twitter with a detailed explanation of how the ramp was supposedly too slippery to walk normally on, although the weather had been sunny all day. (He also claimed he "ran" down. He did not.) Neither the military officer walking next to Trump nor any other person who used the ramp had any difficulty.

Who cares?

  • Presidents who are suffering from physical or neurological impairments owe it to the country to be honest about them.
  • Military officers aren't supposed to be used as political props.
  • The health and safety of all Americans, including military servicemembers and their families, is more important than Donald Trump's desire for attention.

Friday, June 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had some opinions about what he thought Christians would think.

In a Fox News interview airing this morning, Trump said that he thought his military-enabled photo op holding a bible in front of St. John's Church was playing well with Christians. "I think it was a beautiful picture. I’ll tell you, I think Christians think it was a beautiful picture."

The picture in question was accomplished by deploying National Guard troops, specifically instructed to use as much force as possible, against peaceful protestors near the White House. 

There's actually a lot of evidence as to what Christians think about the picture, starting with the clergy of the church itself. Here is how the parish rector, Gini Gerbasi, described it:

I drove home. Then Julia texted me: “Did we really just get gassed for a PHOTO OP?” My revulsion was immediate and strong, the reality of what happened sinking in: The president had used military-grade force against peaceful protesters, so he could pose with a Bible in front of the church. I sat in my driveway and wept. 
Before taking my current position as the rector of St. John’s in Georgetown, I had served as assistant rector at Lafayette Square. I understood the symbolism of its location, steps away from the White House. It’s known as “the church of the presidents,” because every one of them, since it was built in 1816, has prayed there. I’ve sat in Lincoln’s pew and preached to a sitting president. I knew the drill. When the president needed the park cleared, the police set up wooden barriers, sent police cars to block off streets, and stationed officers at key locations to block passersby. That is what “clearing the park” used to look like — orderly, gentle, peaceful. Now, clearing the park for the president looked like body armor, sounded like gunfire and burned the back of my throat.

In an earlier Facebook post about the incident, she described being forced off the patio of the church:

We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John’s, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear. We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually—with SO MANY concussion grenades—back to K street. By the time I got back to my car, around 7, I was getting texts from people saying that Trump was outside of St. John’s, Lafayette Square. I literally COULD NOT believe it. WE WERE DRIVEN OFF OF THE PATIO AT ST. JOHN’S—a place of peace and respite and medical care throughout the day—SO THAT MAN COULD HAVE A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH!!! PEOPLE WERE HURT SO THAT HE COULD POSE IN FRONT OF THE CHURCH WITH A BIBLE! HE WOULD HAVE HAD TO STEP OVER THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES WE LEFT BEHIND BECAUSE WE WERE BEING TEAR GASSED!!!!

The bishop responsible for St. John's told reporters, "I am outraged" that Trump was using the church "like a prop," adding:

In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of non-violence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd. 

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church also released a statement condemning Trump:

This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, lifted up a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us. 
The bible teaches us that “God is love.” Jesus of Nazareth taught, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” 
The bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts. 
We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Criticism of the assault on protestors near the church wasn't limited to Episcopalians. James Martin, a popular Jesuit priest, wrote:

Using the Bible as a prop while talking about sending in the military, bragging about how your country is the greatest in the world, and publicly mocking people on a daily basis, is pretty much the opposite of all Jesus stood for. 
Let me be clear. This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. And God is not a plaything.

Rank-and-file clergy also denounced Trump. A Tennessee pastor called Trump's action's "blasphemy" and said:

He used the Bible, the most sacred, holy scripture of our lord and savior as a political prop. Donald Trump’s actions yesterday in using violence against American citizens for a photo-op should have every American concerned for the future of our democracy.

Even Pat Robertson—as prominent a figure in conservative evangelical politics as there is—said that for Trump to make militaristic threats toward protestors "isn't cool."

Trump's confusion about what "Christians" think about him may stem from the fact that even some of his most devout fans don't think he's one of them. Only 27% of Americans think Trump is religious himself. Trump's standing with conservative evangelicals has taken an enormous hit in recent months: he was down 15% with that group in a poll that closed just before the assault on protestors in front of St. John's.

Their skepticism is understandable. Trump rarely darkens the door of a church, has frequently gotten confused about some of the most basic concepts of Christianity, including whether he's supposed to ask God for forgiveness and whether his own denomination (Presbyterian) counted as Christian.

Who cares?

  • Whether or not you like Donald Trump is not what determines whether you're a Christian.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He snubbed black police at a roundtable on racial violence in policing.

Trump flew to Texas for a political fundraiser today. En route to the $10 million dinner at a private residence, he held what was billed as a roundtable on police-community relations in African-American communities.

Notably absent from this discussion of race and policing were the police chief of Dallas, the Dallas County sheriff, and the Dallas County district attorney. None of them were invited to attend.

Trump did not mention George Floyd's name at any point, although he did stress how important it was to him that people not be unfairly labeled as racist.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents who don't want to seem racist or clueless about law enforcement should probably not actively avoid black law enforcement officials.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to sue CNN for a poll he didn't like, and may actually have meant it.

CNN released a nationwide presidential election poll on Monday showing Trump trailing Joe Biden by 14 points. While somewhat higher than other polls released in the past two weeks—Biden's average lead in such polls is 8.1%—it confirmed that Trump's support has plummeted.

Trump spent much of the day Monday complaining about it, and even paid his own pollster to "fix" the results by reweighting voters to count more Republican respondents. Today, he took it a step further, by having his campaign issue a cease and desist letter to CNN demanding an apology and retraction of the poll.

Representative of the "problems" that Trump's campaign cites with the CNN poll is that it was mostly conducted before last Friday, when less-terrible-than-expected economic news was released. Of course, polls aren't obliged to wait until there is good news for the incumbent, but an Economist/YouGov poll taken entirely after Friday also showed Biden with a commanding lead.

CNN responded with a flat refusal to retract the poll or apologize, noting that the only other time such demands had been made of it, they came from actual dictatorships like Venezuela.

There are two ways to interpret the letter.

The first is that it is an attempt by Trump's staff to soothe his temper. There is absolutely no chance that any legal action will be taken against CNN. But it's not clear that Trump, who is extremely emotionally sensitive to these things, understands this. (A former aide called Trump "malignantly crazy" where his supposed popularity was concerned.) He recently threatened to sue his own campaign manager for bringing him polls showing him losing, too, only to be pacified when Brad Parscale brought him "better" numbers.

This theory is supported by the fact that Trump's staff has a great deal of experience with manipulating him emotionally. Recently, for example, the campaign took the otherwise inexplicable step of buying ad space in the expensive Washington D.C. market. There is no chance whatsoever that he will win D.C., or even Virginia, but the ad buy appears to have been done in the hopes that Trump would be calmed by seeing the ads during his TV binges.

The other possibility is that Trump has already given up any hope of winning legitimately in November, and this is yet another attempt to plant the idea that any election he loses is rigged

Why should I care?

  • Americans either have the freedom to vote Donald Trump out of office, or they don't.
  • A president who can't control his emotions over polls is too unstable to do the actual work of the presidency.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spread a dumber-than-usual conspiracy theory about 75-year-old anarchists with imaginary technology.

Martin Gugino is the 75-year-old protestor who was knocked to the ground last Thursday by Buffalo, New York police officers during a peaceful demonstration. Gugino, who began bleeding profusely from the head as soon as it hit the ground, was just discharged from the ICU and remains in the hospital. Video of the incident led to two police officers being charged with assault.

Today, Trump tweeted a bizarre conspiracy theory about it. He called Gugino an "ANTIFA provocateur" and said the elderly man was trying to use a "scanner" to "black out" police radios. He also accused Gugino of faking his fall, ignoring the extensive stay in the ICU that resulted. (Trump, who is only a year younger, has noticeable balance issues.)

This is absurd, although that doesn't mean Trump doesn't believe it. To be clear: there is no such thing as a magical device or app that would allow a protestor to "scan" or "black out" police equipment. 

There's also no "ANTIFA" to use such imaginary technology. Most Americans are politically opposed to fascism, but there's no connection between that belief and violence at recent protests, as Trump's own Justice Department and FBI have found. 

Trump got the idea third-hand, after a conspiracy site that flatters Trump reported on an anonymous blog post. The "reporter" involved also writes for Sputnik, a Russian state media outlet.

Asked for comment, Gugino responded from his hospital bed: “No comment other than Black lives matter.”

Why should I care about this?

  • Even for Trump, this is pretty shocking.
  • It's extremely bad if a president can be this easily swayed by internet nonsense.
  • It's even worse if a president circulates this kind of thing knowing it's internet nonsense.
  • This is literal fake news.

Monday, June 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that he paid someone to say he was popular.

Today, CNN released a poll showing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a 14-point lead over Trump.

New CNN Poll Shows Joe Biden 14 Points Over Donald Trump

It's the third double-digit lead Biden has posted over Trump in polls released in the last two weeks. No national poll has shown Trump leading Biden since February.

Trump responded by tweet, by 3:14 p.m. on the day the poll came out, by saying that he had hired a private pollster to "analyze" the CNN poll. He attached a picture of their one-page report, which blamed "Democrat operatives" and encouraged Trump to "prove them wrong again."

In other words, Trump is saying that he paid money to a firm notorious for giving Republican candidates "friendly" poll numbers, and that this means that he's not losing badly and not extremely unpopular for an incumbent seeking re-election.

Trump didn't say how much John McLaughlin's firm charged him for the quick turnaround on a tweet-friendly memo, but it's not the first time his campaign has had to shell out for custom-made good news. Recently, Trump bizarrely threatened to sue Brad Parscale, his own campaign manager, for bringing him internal polls showing him losing to Biden. Parscale later patched things up by coming up with more flattering projections.

UPDATE, 6/9: The Trump campaign is now buying $400,000 worth of ads in the Washington, D.C. media market, apparently just to reassure Trump himself, who is likely to see them during one of his frequent TV binges. There is no chance that Trump will win Virginia, Maryland, or D.C. itself.

Polls change with public opinion, but national presidential polls have been pretty accurate in the last few decades. The last polls taken just before the presidential election had Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by 3.1%. She actually won by 2.1%.

Why does this matter?

  • A better use of the president's working day might have been to do his job, which then might have helped with his unpopularity.
  • Paying people to tell you what you want to hear isn't a great way to solve a problem.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He solved a problem he created by declaring that he'd solved it.

This morning, Trump announced that he was ordering military troops withdrawn from Washington, D.C.

It's true that the federalized National Guard troops that Trump ordered deployed against lawful protestors this past week are returning home. Trump is lying when he says that that "far fewer" protestors showed up on Saturday. In fact, it was probably the biggest day of protests so far.

But the reason Trump is giving for canceling the deployment is pure face-saving. In reality, he is bowing to enormous and bipartisan anger at a move that made him look both dictatorial and weak.

Trump ordered the deployment only in Washington, D.C. because, as a federal district, there was nothing preventing him from doing so. Although unrest and property damage that followed demonstrations was worse in other cities, no other governor requested that protests be quelled by military forces. And Trump, for all his bluster, almost certainly had no legal authority to force the issue.

Meanwhile, Trump has paid an enormous political price. His approval rating has dropped sharply over the past week, Joe Biden's lead in polls is spiking, and Republicans facing re-election are increasingly willing to speak out against him

Notably, almost every senior figure involved in last Tuesday's military-offensive-turned-photo-opportunity—from Attorney General William Barr to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley—has backtracked on it, insisting that they didn't know or didn't approve of Trump's plans. 

Career military officials, past and present, are furious, and saying so in public. And someone inside the Trump administration also leaked his demands that 10,000 active-duty troops be deployed within Washington—meaning he wanted far more than he got. It's not clear where Trump got that number, or whether he fully understood exactly what military forces were being called up. 

Ultimately, outside of last Monday's direct offensive that culminated in the now widely-mocked photo session, and an ominous deployment to guard the Lincoln Memorial from citizens protesting violence against African-Americans, the National Guard played almost no role in policing the city.

Ohio National Guardsman Removed Over White Supremacy | Connecting Vets
Win McNamee/Getty

So what?

  • It's wrong to pretend you've accomplished something when you haven't.
  • Leaders who are actually strong don't need to make shows of strength.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He imagined a world where he wasn't bleeding Republican support.

This afternoon, Trump tweeted a claim about his popularity with Republicans:

Trump does this a lot—and never actually says where he's getting the numbers. But as the Washington Post noticed recently, he is getting steadily more popular with Republicans in these imaginary polls, having risen from 93% to his current plateau of 96%.

While lying about his own popularity is par for the course for Trump, the reason he's likely talking about it today is significant. Trump's mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially his dictatorial approach to protests over police violence, have cost him the support of a number of prominent Republicans. As the New York Times reported today, Trump has lost the votes of the last two living Republican presidential nominees, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. (The 2008 nominee, the late John McCain, didn't vote for him in 2016 either.)

Normally, incumbent presidents can take the support of every prominent member of their party for granted. Other notable Republicans who have refused to say whether they'll vote for Trump, or have said they won't, include:
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
  • Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL)
  • Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI)
  • Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH)
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis (a Trump appointee)
  • Gen. John Kelly (Trump's former chief of staff)
  • Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN, later Trump's Director of National Intelligence)
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell
  • Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
  • Rep. Frances Rooney (R-FL)
  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-TN)
  • Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC)
  • Sen. John Warner (R-VA)
The bigger problem for Trump, who needs to be re-elected to prolong the period in which he is immune from prosecution, is that these prominent figures are following rank-and-file Republicans, not leading them. Trump has lost significant ground to Joe Biden in the past week, and now trails by an average of 7.1%.


Trump's average approval rating among all Americans has fallen to 41.6%.

Why does this matter?

  • Saying you're popular doesn't make it true, no matter how many times you do it.
  • It's bad if a president doesn't even pretend to care about people who aren't likely to support him.