Friday, July 31, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot that people die from COVID-19.

Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared before a House panel for a briefing. During his questioning period, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), referred to a chart showing the disparity in cases between the United States and Europe. Europe is a convenient point of comparison for the United States because it has roughly the same population size and medical infrastructure.

US Rep. Jim Clyburn wants national plan to fight coronavirus ...

The chart was generated from this interactive data visualizer. Here is a recreation of Clyburn's chart. It shows daily confirmed tests for COVID-19 in the United States, and both Europe as a whole and the European Union, on a per capita basis. 

Trump took offense.


But there is another way of measuring the impact of the disease, and that is by counting the number of people it kills. The difference is less pronounced because not every positive test results in a death, but the effect of Trump's constant insistence that the crisis was already over can be seen in the death toll as well.

Roughly 154,000 Americans are known to have died from COVID-19. 

Trump is correct that the United States is doing more testing than Europe is, though. This is for roughly the same reason that fire trucks pump more water on a burning building than they do on nearby buildings that are merely at risk of catching fire. 

In places like most of Europe where carefully observed shutdowns contained the outbreak, testing is mostly precautionary and the result of contact tracing. In the United States, most cases are caught only after a person has already been ill long enough to be showing symptoms. By then, they are likely to have infected other people.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can lose sight of the fact that people die from this illness is not mentally fit for the job.
  • Fixing problems is a better use of a president's time than yelling at people who noticed the problem.
  • The lives of Americans who don't need to die from this illness are more important than Donald Trump's pride.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

This morning, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia was laid to rest in Atlanta. Lewis was a hero of the civil rights movement. As the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he made voter registration and vote equality a particular emphasis. During the campaign to secure passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he nearly died when a march he was leading was set upon by Alabama state police and a "posse" that included members of the Ku Klux Klan. Reaction to "Bloody Sunday," as the day Lewis was beaten nearly to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge became known, galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act, which passed later that year.

Before his death last week, Lewis arranged to have a farewell message printed in the New York Times on the day of his funeral. It reads:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity. 
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on. 
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars. 
Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain. 
Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself. 
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others. 
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring. 
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

President Barack Obama was one of three former presidents to speak at today's services. (President Jimmy Carter, 95 and in fragile health, sent his condolences.) Obama's eulogy touched on his personal relationship with Lewis, but also emphasized the urgency of restoring the legacy of Lewis's lifetime work to ensure voting rights.

The Voting Rights Act is one of the crowning achievements of our democracy. It’s why John crossed that bridge, why he spilled that blood. And by the way, it was the result of Democrat and Republican efforts. President Bush, who spoke here earlier, and his father, signed its renewal when they were in office. President Clinton didn’t have to because it was the law when he arrived. So instead, he made a law to make it easier for people to register to vote. But once the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, some state legislators unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder, especially, by the way, state legislators where there’s a lot of minority turnout and population growth. That’s not necessarily a mystery or an accident. It was an attack on what John fought for. It was an attack on our democratic freedoms, and we should treat it as such. If politicians want to honor John, and I’m so grateful for the legacy and work of all the congressional leaders who are here, but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there. Just trying to get back to where we already were.

Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better by making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance. By adding polling places and expanding early voting and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are somebody who’s working in a factory or you’re a single mom, who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot. By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., and in Puerto Rico. They’re Americans. By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering, so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around. And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.

Now, even if we do all this, even if every bogus voter-suppression law is struck off the books today, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves that too many of us choose not to exercise the franchise. Too many of our citizens believe their vote won’t make a difference, or they buy into the cynicism that, by the way, is the central strategy of voter suppression, to make you discouraged, to stop believing in your own power. So, we’re also going to have to remember what John said. If you don’t do everything you can do to change things, then they will remain the same. You only pass this way once. You have to give it all you have. As long as young people are protesting in the streets hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful, but we can’t casually abandon them at the ballot box. Not when few elections have been as urgent on so many levels as this one. We can’t treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy, and like John, we have to give it all we have.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to delegitimize the 2020 election because Americans casting their votes probably won't re-elect him. Specifically, he suggested that because Americans might vote by mail—as he does—the vote would be "the most rigged election in history" and the election should be postponed.

American presidents cannot postpone their own elections. That only happens in authoritarian regimes.

It's not clear whether Trump was trying to draw focus away from the outpouring of affection for Rep. Lewis, the worst-ever quarterly economic numbers in the history of the United States, or the COVID-19 death of former presidential candidate Herman Cain who became ill after attending Trump's June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • Either Americans can vote under the rule of law, or Americans don't live in a democracy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about American troops in Germany.

In trying to explain his decision to redeploy American troops currently stationed in Germany, almost universally seen as a gift to the Putin regime, Trump tweeted this today:

It's not clear whether Trump is still genuinely confused about what NATO is "all about," or simply hoping his Twitter audience is. American troops are stationed in Germany to advance American interests, which include a stable and democratic Europe.

There is no "2% fee to NATO." (NATO's administrative budget is tiny, and Germany is paid up on its obligations.) But it will cost the United States billions of dollars to redeploy its forces.

Germany trades with Russia for the same reasons that the United States does with every country—like China, for example—with which it is not actively at war. Not only does Germany need some amount of natural gas, Russia's desperately fragile economy cannot survive without selling it. This economic reality has helped keep the peace even as Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed part of its territory—something Trump would like to forgive.

Of course, Trump is personally beholden to Russia in both political and financial ways. It's impossible to ignore the possibility that he is doing this simply because Putin wants him to. Trump has spoken with Putin eight times since Trump was warned that Russia was paying the Taliban bounties to kill American troops and destabilize the peace process, but Trump insists the subject has never come up. He defended Putin again today, calling his own government's intelligence reports "fake news."

Why should I care about this?

  • There should never be any doubt about what country a president's loyalties lie with, much less this much doubt.
  • A president who can't remember basic facts about our most important military alliances is unfit to be commander-in-chief.
  • Germany is a military ally of the United States and Russia is not.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said a doctor who thinks disease is caused by sex with demons was a valid medical authority on COVID-19.

For the first time in his presidency, Twitter outright deleted one of Trump's tweets: a video that the company said was "in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy."

The video in question featured Stella Immanuel, a Houston-area doctor who has touted the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which Trump seized on early as a miracle cure for COVID-19. (It is not.)

In fact, the video specifically calls hydroxychloroquine a "miracle cure," and urges Americans not to wear masks. Neither Immanuel nor the other members of the hastily-formed group named "America's Frontline Doctors" have any experience in epidemiology, pharmacology, or public health

But Immanuel also says that real-world medical problems like cysts and tumors are the result of witchcraft and sex with demons. She also claims that modern medicines use extraterrestrial alien DNA as an ingredient.

Pressed on that point today, Trump called Immanuel "spectacular" and "very impressive," touted her "tremendous success with hundreds of different patients." He added, "I thought her voice was an important voice."

In another tweet deleted by Twitter for spreading misinformation, Trump accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of misleading the country about hydroxychloroquine. Trump dodged the question of what he thought Fauci had done wrong, but instead focused on the public health expert's popularity, which is an extremely sore spot for him.

So — you know, it’s interesting: He’s got a very good approval rating, and I like that.  It’s good.  Because remember, he’s working for this administration.  He’s working with us, John. We could have gotten other people. We could have gotten somebody else. It didn’t have to be Dr. Fauci.  
...So it sort of is curious: A man works for us — with us, very closely, Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx also highly thought of. And yet, they’re highly thought of, but nobody likes me. It can only be my personality. That’s all.

Polls show Trump's personality is indeed one reason he's not highly thought of, but it's more likely that there are more immediate reasons that so few people like how he's handling the pandemic.

How is this a problem?

  • Spreading misinformation about an infectious disease literally kills people.
  • The health and safety of the American people are more important than Donald Trump saving face on a drug that turned out not to be a miracle cure.
  • A president who can't tell the difference between medical experts and people who think dream sex with demons causes disease is mentally unfit.

Monday, July 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained about "illegal" free speech.

Trump used Twitter today to complain about Twitter, apparently hoping for sympathy:

For the record: it is not "illegal" to say unflattering things about the president. And although it's not what Twitter does, it wouldn't be illegal for them to highlight people who did.

Trump is half-right, though: there are a lot of unflattering hashtags about him trending on Twitter. As of about 9:20 p.m. EDT, the following topics are trending:

Two baseball games, two trends referencing the very thing Trump is complaining about, and a neutral reference to the malaria drug that Trump gambled would solve the COVID-19 crisis for him. (It didn't.) 

Again, it is not illegal to tweet about any of these things, or to point out that people tweeted about them.

It wasn't the only fake law Trump decreed via tweet today. He also insisted that because of the "recently re-enacted... Statues and Monuments Act," anyone vandalizing federal property would spend a "MINIMUM TEN YEARS IN PRISON."

Vandalism has always been a crime, but no such law exists. Assuming he wasn't simply lying, Trump may be thinking of an executive order he recently signed authorizing surveillance of lawful protestors against Confederate monuments.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents don't get to just make up laws on the spot.
  • No matter how much it upsets him, it's not a crime to say mean things about Donald Trump.
  • Playing the victim isn't a great look for the single most powerful person on the planet.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

UPDATE, July 27: The New York Times is reporting today that Trump announced that he would be throwing out the first pitch on August 15 without being invited by the Yankees, or even notifying them, which may be part of the reason for his cancellation.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He avoided baseball, which is probably for the best.

Today, after spending his 266th day at the golf course, Trump announced that he would be too busy to keep an August 15th appointment to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium.

There's actually a lot to unpack here, beyond the fact that Trump's schedule isn't all that crowded.

Despite being a former high school baseball player, Trump is the only president in the last century never to throw out a first pitch. This may be because of a rather embarrassing incident in 2006, when he threw out the first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game.

Have you ever seen this photo before?

It may also go to Trump's obvious defensiveness and anxiety about his own physical condition. Recently, when he needed to lean on another man to shuffle his way down a ramp, Trump was so incensed by coverage of it that he spent fifteen minutes exaggeratedly trying to explain it away at a campaign rally.

Of course, embarrassingly bad first pitches are more common than good ones. Most politicians grin and bear it. But Trump has spent years exaggerating his prowess as a baseball prospect. He's claimed he was second only to Hall of Famer Willie McCovey at a tryout—but McCovey is eight years older than Trump and was already playing in the majors before Trump started high school.

Published reports of the games Trump played in give him a .138 batting average as a high schooler. (That's bad.)

It's not clear why Trump agreed to throw out the first pitch in the first place, but it may have something to do with the fact that major league games in 2020 are being played in empty stadiums. This is ideal for Trump, who never goes anywhere in public where he can't be guaranteed a friendly crowd. He hired actors to cheer for him at his campaign announcement in 2015. He gives commencement addresses at military academies, where attendance is compulsory and cadets can't boo. He cancels rallies altogether if he thinks he the size of the crowd will embarrass him—and his obsessive anger when crowds do underwhelm has been a hallmark of his time in office.

Why does this matter?

  • It's pretty important that a president have thicker skin than this.
  • Even when lies are so obvious no one would ever believe them, it's still wrong to lie.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to make money off of Ronald Reagan, even though he said he wouldn't.

Trump has been selling commemorative coins with the image of former president Ronald Reagan in order to finance his campaign. The Trump campaign is struggling to keep up with the money raised by Joe Biden—almost unheard of for an incumbent.

Screenshot from 11:25 P.M. today

There's nothing unusual about selling merchandise, but making money by selling Reagan's likeness requires permission from the Reagan Foundation, which pointedly demanded Trump stop doing it last week. The Republican National Committee immediately said it would, but Trump seems willing to force the Reagan Foundation to take him to court.

Reagan's memory remains popular among Republicans, which may explain why Trump is trying to associate himself with the former president. At this point in Reagan's presidency, he had a 55% approval rating and was cruising toward a landslide victory over the Democratic nominee Walter Mondale. (Trump is at about 40% approval and polls show him struggling to get to 150 electoral votes.)

It's not the first time Trump has tried to get Reagan's popularity to rub off on him. Last year, Trump tweeted a photo of the two meeting in 1987. The caption was a fabricated quote from Reagan in which the former president says he felt like he was meeting the president when he met Trump. It's extremely unlikely that Trump, who is obsessed with his own fame, didn't know it was fake.

But in terms of policy and personality, the two could hardly be more different.  Reagan was well-liked even by his political opponents for his warm demeanor, but he was a party man first: his famous "eleventh commandment" for the GOP was to never speak ill of another Republican. He declared an amnesty for undocumented immigrants and provided them a path to citizenship. Relations with the Soviet Union warmed considerably on Reagan's watch: he was horrified by the prospect of a nuclear war. But where hostile countries were concerned, Reagan saw things in terms of good and evil, and urged Americans not to give up the fight against totalitarianism by conceding the moral high ground.

There is one way in which Trump and Reagan are often compared—their apparent cognitive decline while in office—but it's a sensitive subject for Trump.

Why should I care?

  • A better way for Trump to improve his popularity would be to emulate some of Reagan's traits.

Friday, July 24, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He used his political capital to defend Confederate officers.

Trump has already threatened to veto the NDAA, the must-pass defense spending bill that passes Congress by wide, bipartisan majorities every year. Today, he doubled down on his demand that military installations named for Confederate officers not be renamed, claiming that he somehow had an ace in the hole with the support of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

It's not up to Trump what gets passed in Congress—but it's not up to Sen. Inhofe, either, especially since Inhofe's party doesn't seem to want to die on this particular hill. Versions of the NDAA have passed by overwhelming majorities in both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. Both versions contain a renaming requirement.

Neither Inhofe nor the White House was able to say exactly how Inhofe was planning on accomplishing this. It's quite possible that Inhofe is simply lying to Trump, currying favor with him and knowing that Trump's interest in this is purely political. (Trump's understanding of the basics of how Congress works is shaky at best.) Defense bills enjoy broad support because they create jobs in all parts of the country, so there's not much Trump has to negotiate with in order to protect the names of long-dead traitors. 

And while Trump is openly hostile to the idea of paying servicemembers enough to afford basic necessities like food—he explicitly objected to a provision in this NDAA that would help with that—the political optics of denying troops pay in order to protect the image of the Confederacy isn't likely to help him in an election year.

Why should I care about this?

  • Readiness to fight actual wars is more important than starting a culture war.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He cast himself as the hero of his convention debacle.

In early June, Trump made the sudden decision to move the Republican National Convention—a massive event years in the planning—from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. He bitterly attacked the governor of North Carolina, a Democrat, for refusing to guarantee months in advance that the planned gathering of some 50,000 attendees in a single confined space would be allowed under public health rules.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic raging out of control in Florida, it wasn't clear if anyone was willing to actually attend it. At least half a dozen sitting Republican senators were refusing to show up in person. Even the hastily-assembled Jacksonville host committee was uneasy. As one member told Politico, "Everyone thought it was foolish. COVID is spiking and we’re going to have this event in Florida." 

Today, Trump bowed to the inevitable and canceled the rest of the convention. In making the announcement, he claimed that he was overruling his political advisors for the public good. In reality, his political team has been desperate to get Trump to engage more seriously with the problem.

It may be too late to save Trump's political fortunes in Florida, though. A poll released today—before he abruptly announced the cancellation—showed that Florida residents thought it was unsafe to hold the convention in Jacksonville by a 62%-34% margin.

That same poll showed Biden beating Trump by 13% in Florida, which is normally decided by razor-thin margins in presidential elections.

So what?

  • Even if you accept Trump's claim that he's handled this pandemic perfectly, this was still a pretty big and obvious screw-up.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He treated being non-white and being poor as the same thing—again.

Trump has resumed giving the COVID-19 briefings he was forced to abandon in April after wondering out loud whether drinking cleaning products could cure the virus. The main difference now is that his Coronavirus Task Force briefings are given without any of the actual task force present.

Today's "briefing" featured this exchange:

Q: Would you like to respond to Joe Biden, who, today, described you — you might have heard that — as the first racist to be elected President.  Those are his — that was his words. 
TRUMP:  Well, you know, it’s interesting because we did criminal justice reform.  We passed criminal justice reform, something that Obama and Biden were unable to do.  We did opportunity cities.  We did the greatest — if you look at what we’ve done with Opportunity Zones, nobody has ever even thought of a plan like that. 
Prior to the China plague coming in, floating in, coming into our country, and really doing terrible things all over the world — doing terrible things — we had the best African American, Hispanic American, Asian American — almost every group was the best for unemployment.  The unemployment numbers were the best. 
You look at — so you look at employment; you look at Opportunity Zones; and maybe most importantly of all, you look at criminal justice reform; you look at prison reform.  I’ve done things that nobody else — and I’ve said this, and I say it openly, and not a lot of people dispute it: I’ve done more for black Americans than anybody, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.  Nobody has even been close.

In other words, Trump's response to being accused of racism was to brag about things he always associates with non-white Americans: poverty, crime, unemployment, and the "China virus."

Although Trump seems unable to believe that people of color live in anything other than grinding poverty, it's not clear why he always refers to "Opportunity Zones" in these moments. They are places—not necessarily low-income or with large minority populations—where certain kinds of capital gains taxes are waived.

Until the pandemic, employment among Black and Hispanic Americans was little changed under Trump, who inherited very low rates from the Obama administration. Since then, minority workers have been hit even harder by skyrocketing unemployment rates than whites.

How is this a bad thing?

  • Hearing a mention of race and free-associating to crime and poverty is pretty much the definition of racism.
  • When Black unemployment is at 15.4%, it's probably a bad time to be bragging about how much you've done to help African-Americans get jobs.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said exactly why he thinks keeping Confederate names on military bases is more important than paying the soldiers stationed on them.

Today, Trump released a statement threatening to veto this year's National Defense Authorization Act, the main funding bill for the United States military. It passed the House today by a wide margin and with broad bipartisan support.

The issue wasn't the funding level or the specific line items, which Trump admitted he was satisfied with. Instead, the main issue was a provision that would have required the renaming of military installations named after officers who fought against the United States for the Confederacy.

Renaming Certain Military Installations and Other Defense Property (Section 2829). The Administration strongly objects to section 2829 of the bill, which would require renaming of any military installation or defense property named after any person who served in the political or military leadership of any armed rebellion against the United States. Over the years, these locations have taken on significance to the American story and those who have helped write it that far transcends their namesakes. The Administration respects the legacy of the millions of American servicemen and women who have served with honor at these military bases, and who from these locations have fought and died in two World Wars, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other conflicts. Further, the drive to rename will not stop at the limits written into section 2829. Section 2829 is part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct. Beyond section 2829, loud voices in America are also demanding the destruction or renaming of monuments and memorials to former Presidents, including the our first President, George Washington; the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson; and the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left wing cultural revolution. 

Of course, renaming bases would not actually erase the Civil War from American history, or any of the military successes that have happened since. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln are not affected by the bill, as they did not take up arms against the United States. And while "loud voices" may say things Trump doesn't like, freedom of speech is not generally considered a threat to the United States military.

Trump also specifically objected to providing a basic needs allowance—money for food and uniforms—to low-income servicemembers because, by his reckoning, "military members are well-compensated."

A typical enlisted member with three years of service will be at the E-4 pay grade and make about $28,000. At lower grades, servicemembers are below the federal poverty line for a family of four. Many military families are on public food assistance because they cannot afford groceries.

The bill Trump is threatening to veto to protect Confederate naming rights is what funds military salaries.

Why is this a problem?

  • The national defense of the United States is more important than an election year culture war issue.
  • Any president who thinks a salary starting at $20,000 in the year 2020 is a lot of money is dangerously out of touch.

Monday, July 20, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said he'd send more anonymous federal agents into cities, but only where his political enemies were in charge.

For the last few days, Trump has sent federal employees into Portland, Oregon. In theory, they are there to "investigate" crimes committed on federal property, which—by the Trump administration's own admission—mostly amounts to graffiti.

In practice, this has meant anonymous men in unmarked uniforms selecting peaceful protestors at random, dragging them into unmarked rental vans, and detaining them without charging them with a crime. They've also been caught on camera beating protestors, including a Navy veteran, without provocation.

The brutal and flatly illegal tactics used in Portland are likely due in part to the fact that the federal employees involved are taken from a hodgepodge of federal agencies, and not part of a regular police force. In some cases, they may not be trained in law enforcement at all. 

Trump today praised the "fantastic job" that the unnamed employees of unnamed agencies were doing keeping order. In reality, tensions that had died down have now dramatically risen again in response to the provocation.

He also said today that he intends to deploy more of these anonymous enforcers in riot gear and military-style camouflage to other cities—and explicitly linked those deployments to states and cities governed by Democrats.

TRUMP:  The Democrats — the liberal Democrats running the place had no idea what they were doing.  They were ripping down — for 51 days, ripping down that city, destroying the city, looting it.  The level of corruption and what was going on there is incredible.  And then the governor comes out: “We don’t need any help.” 
How about Chicago?  I read the numbers were many people killed over the weekend.  We’re looking at Chicago too.  We’re looking at New York.  Look at what’s going on.  All run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats.  All run, really, by radical left. 
...Well, I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you.  Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess.  We’re not going to let this happen in our country.  All run by liberal Democrats.

It's not clear whether Trump understands that the recent protests all across the country have been against police violence and the militarization of American law enforcement.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Secret police are un-American.
  • Physically attacking American citizens to score political points is wrong.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

Not much.

As Trump's chances of being re-elected grow slimmer, and his handling of the coronavirus crisis becomes ever more unpopular, prominent Republicans are beginning to sever their ties to him. This included two Republican governors who appeared on Sunday morning news programs, Arkansas Asa Hutchinson and Ohio's Mike DeWine.

In a response, a White House press operative said:

Any suggestion that the president is not working around the clock to protect the health and safety of all Americans, lead the whole-of-government response to this pandemic, including expediting vaccine development, and rebuild our economy is utterly false.

Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that he has already solved the problem, played golf for the second day in a row before holding his third campaign rally of the weekend.

Why should I care?

  • It's important that presidents actually do their jobs.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He honored John Lewis as only he would.

Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a towering figure in the civil rights movement, died Friday afternoon at the age of 80. His passing was announced Friday evening, instantly setting off a wave of remembrances and tributes across the political spectrum.

Trump, meanwhile, was conspicuously absent. As is typical for him, Trump spent his Saturday morning and early afternoon golfing and tweeting. He lashed out at political enemies, including his former national security advisor John Bolton and his own niece, Mary Trump. Finally, at 2:05 p.m., Trump declared himself "saddened" by Lewis' death.

He also ordered federal buildings to lower their flags to half-staff—though he waited until mid-day to do it, and the order only lasted for the rest of the day. (Normally, that honor would have gone out immediately upon the announcement of the death of a sitting member of Congress.) 

Trump actually has quite a history of playing games with this kind of thing. He falsely claimed he gave permission for Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) to be buried with military honors—Dingell had earned that privilege by serving and Trump's permission was not required—then told a shocked Michigan audience that Dingell was in hell. He had to be forced to order flags lowered for Sen. John McCain, whom he hated. And when political pressure arose to fly the flag at half-staff to honor the first 100,000 COVID-19 victims, he timed it to overlap with the Memorial Day observance.

Lewis, often referred to in life as the "conscience of the Congress," infuriated Trump nearly as much as McCain. In December 2017, Trump lashed out at Lewis for being unwilling to honor "the incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history," because Lewis refused to attend the opening of a civil rights museum in Mississippi with him. (Lewis, who was beaten and nearly killed for his activism, was, of course, one of the leaders Trump accused him of not honoring.) Trump also attacked Lewis' wealthy suburban Atlanta district as "crime-infested," apparently on the assumption that this was true of any majority-minority district that elected a Black representative.

Why should I care about this?

  • There is a certain minimum level of emotional maturity presidents need to do their job.

Friday, July 17, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied and got caught and then lied about getting caught.

In a pre-recorded interview with conservative Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, Trump once again falsely claimed that Joe Biden has endorsed the "defund the police" movement. Wallace corrected him, and Trump flared in anger at being contradicted. He then demanded his staff produce proof, only to find that Wallace was correct.

TRUMP: Because they want to defund the police and Biden wants to defund the police. 
WALLACE: Sir, he does not. 
TRUMP: Look, he signed a charter with Bernie Sanders... 
WALLACE: And he said nothing about defunding the police. 
TRUMP: Oh, really? It says ‘abolish,’ it says … Let’s go. Get me the charter, please.

Wallace then narrated what happened next to his television audience today:

WALLACE: So that led to a very interesting exchange where he had his staff go out and get the highlights from that 100-page compact that the Biden team and the Trump team, or rather the Biden team and the Sanders team had signed, and he went through it and he found a lot of things that he objected to that Biden has agreed to, but he couldn’t find any indication, because there isn’t any, that Joe Biden has sought to defund and abolish the police.

Trump was apparently still furious about the exchange tonight:

In reality, this is the closest the Biden-Sanders document comes to any talk about police and funding:

Democrats believe every school should have sufficient funding to employ guidance counselors, social workers, or school psychologists to help guarantee age-appropriate and racially equitable student disciplinary practices, rather than turning to police to resolve these issues.

Trump is correct that the phrase "defund the police" polls badly, but the ideas behind it are overwhemingly popular. A Reuters poll using nearly identical language found that 76% of Americans support "proposals to move some money currently going to police budgets into better officer training, local programs for homelessness, mental health assistance, and domestic violence."

How is this a bad thing?

  • A president whose policies had the support of the American people wouldn't need to lie about his opponent's.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He equated fair housing regulations with bringing crime to the "beautiful suburbs."

Trump held another campaign rally disguised as an official event at the White House today. He used the occasion to accuse his political opponents of wanting to "destroy" the country's suburbs:

The Democrats in D.C. have been and want to, at a much higher level, abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs by placing far-left Washington bureaucrats in charge of local zoning decisions. They are absolutely determined to eliminate single-family zoning, destroy the value of houses and communities already built, just as they have in Minneapolis and other locations that you read about today. Your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise. 
Joe Biden and his bosses from the radical left want to significantly multiply what they’re doing now. And what will be the end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer as we know it. So they wanted to defund and abolish your police and law enforcement while at the same time destroying our great suburbs. 
The suburb destruction will end with us. Next week, I will be discussing the AFFH rule — AFFH rule, a disaster — and our plans to protect the suburbs from being obliterated by Washington Democrats, by people on the far left that want to see the suburbs destroyed, that don’t care. People have worked all their lives to get into a community, and now they’re going to watch it go to hell. Not going to happen, not while I’m here.

The regulation he cited is an anti-discrimination rule that requires cities to take

meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics
Specifically, affirmatively furthering fair housing means taking meaningful actions that, taken together, address significant disparities in housing needs and in access to opportunity, replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns, transforming racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty into areas of opportunity, and fostering and maintaining compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws. 

In other words, Trump is saying that desegregation will cause neighborhoods to "go to hell" with rising crime rates that will "totally destroy" the "communities" that people in segregated areas wanted to be in.

Trump's own history with housing discrimination goes all the way back to his very first appearance on the public stage, when he was sued for discriminating against African-American tenants in his rental properties. (Trump's employees were ordered to tell Black applicants that there were no vacancies.)

Trump has made no secret of his belief that predominantly Black neighborhoods, Congressional districts, or countries are "crime-infested." He famously pitched himself to African-American voters in 2016 by saying, "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs... What the hell do you have to lose?"

Why should I care about this?

  • Even by Trump's standards, this is pretty racist.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He fired someone who deserved it, for once.

Today, Trump replaced his campaign manager Brad Parscale with his one-time White House political director, Bill Stepien. This was how he announced it on Facebook:

Of course, campaign managers aren't fired because polls are rising. It's more likely that Parscale was fired because he made the mistake of showing Trump that his polls were not rising. Absurdly, Trump threatened to sue Parscale.

In any event, whether or not Trump fully understands it, Parscale was correct. Just today, two national polls showed him trailing Joe Biden by 11 points (NBC/WSJ) and 15 points (Quinnipiac).

It's also possible that Trump fired Parscale because of an advertising campaign paid for by his political opponents aimed at manipulating him into doing just that. The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans, has been targeting ads directly at Trump himself, including this one about Parscale:

Parscale now joins other former Trump campaign managers Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon, and convicted felon Paul Manafort.

Why should I care about this?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to manipulate a president.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He appointed a supporter with bogus academic credentials and connections to literal Nazis to a national security job.

Today, Trump announced the appointment of "Dr." Sebastian Gorka to the National Security Education Board. The NSEB oversees a program that administers scholarships, awards grants, and funds language initiatives aimed at enhancing American national security.

Gorka briefly served in the Trump administration at the start of the term, but was forced out after it became apparent that he'd lied during his application to become an American citizen. Specifically, he failed to disclose his ties to an extremist, Nazi-linked Hungarian group. 

At the same time, Gorka's supposed academic credential—a doctoral degree from "Corvinus University" in Hungary—was discredited. It was awarded by a committee made up of two members who lacked graduate degrees themselves, and a third who had already published a book with Gorka. Its topic is Islamic terrorism, but Gorka has never traveled to the Middle East and does not speak or read Arabic.

So what?

  • National security jobs are too important to hand out to unqualified political supporters.

Monday, July 13, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He took the side of a game show host against his own administration's public health experts.

Today, Trump retweeted former game show host Chuck Woolery's accusation that "the CDC, Media, Democrats, [and] our Doctors" were "lying" about COVID-19.

Trump often claims that his more ridiculous or offensive retweets are accidents, but this is part of a pattern of attacks on his own government's health experts. He's spent much of the last few days trying to demonize Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert. Fauci, whom Americans overwhelmingly trust more than Trump, has been kept away from the press and has not been allowed to brief Trump directly for two months

On Sunday, the White House leaked an anonymous memo undermining Fauci, summarizing his supposed mistakes—a kind of "oppo dump" that politicians normally use against their opponents.

Trump also tried to pick a fight with the CDC last week, railing against their school reopening guidelines and demanding that they change their findings to suit his stance on the issue.

The underlying reason for all this is that doctors—and the overwhelming majority of Americans—simply don't accept Trump's claim that the pandemic is over and dealt with.

More than 138,000 Americans are known to have died from COVID-19, with death rates rising again in recent weeks. 

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Doctors and public health officials, not former game show hosts, are the experts a president should consult during a disease epidemic.
  • A president this desperate to avoid hearing bad news can't do anything to solve the problem he's afraid of.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He complained about ineffective Trump-style border fencing.

Trump's anger found an unusual target today: a border fence with Mexico. Specifically, a three-mile stretch built by a Trump supporter. No taxpayer money went towards this section of fence—although $1.7 billion of public funds did go to its developer to build other border barriers. The fence, which is situated along the Rio Grande, is the subject of a lawsuit over its violation of a treaty with Mexico and environmental regulations. It's also rapidly weakening from erosion.

Trump, either displeased by the bad press the fence is getting or worried about the ongoing investigation into the contracts awarded to its builder, tweeted this morning about it:

It might be making Trump look bad, but that wasn't the idea, and he knows it. The company that built it has Trump's political guru Steve Bannon on its board, and its backers were likewise Trump supporters. In fact, the taxpayer-funded government contract for other fence construction is under investigation because of the political connections between the awardee and Trump's campaign.

Three miles might be a "very small (tiny)" wall, but it's not something Trump should be making light of, since that's about how much of the border he's managed to put new fences on, too. (The rest of the supposed "500 plus miles" was repairing or replacing existing barriers.)

Trump also might not want to throw stones where quality is concerned. If his fences haven't had quite the same erosion problem, it's probably because they require large gates at their base, which must be left open for months at a time to let floodwaters through. And given the ease with which Trump's fences can be cut, climbed, or defeated by ladders, it's a little dubious to say that they "work" at all.

How is this a problem?

  • Not everything is about Donald Trump.
  • It's wrong to steer federal contracts to political supporters.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent a quiet evening in the White House.

Trump has spent this Saturday evening in the White House. In any week, this would be unusual: he almost always spends Friday through Sunday at one of his luxury golf resorts in Florida or New Jersey, courtesy of taxpayer-funded travel on Air Force One. 

Tonight, though, Trump was supposed to be in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for a campaign rally. That was abruptly canceled yesterday, with Trump tweeting that he'd been "forced" to reschedule because of dangers posed by the remnants of a storm system moving up the east coast.

The weather in Portsmouth today was beautiful: sunny and warm all day. That's not a surprise, as the forecast had shifted dramatically towards good weather well before Trump bailed out. As of 1:35 yesterday, shortly after the cancellation was announced, there was a 15% chance of showers during the scheduled rally time. 

The rally was to be held indoors.

Trump's real reason for canceling is not his notorious difficulty interpreting weather maps—although his tweet announcing the cancellation suffers from some of the same geographic illiteracy where storm projections are concerned. 

Instead, it appears to be his fears that he'd once again be speaking to an embarrassingly empty hall. New Hampshire is—at least in theory—a swing state, and given the circumstances, Trump cannot afford to ignore its relatively small haul of four electoral votes. 

But with fears about the uncontrolled COVID-19 pandemic rising again, even in ruby-red Oklahoma, Trump couldn't even manage to fill a third of a 19,000-seat arena last month. (Even the small crowd of 6,200 appears to have contributed to a spike in local coronavirus cases.) The virus is not nearly so widespread in New Hampshire, where the state's Republican governor gave permission for the rally but refused to attend himself.

Neither Trump nor his campaign have addressed the question of why the virtual certainty of spreading a potentially fatal disease was an acceptable risk, but rain showers were not.

Why should I care about this?

  • The safety and health of the American people is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • It's not a good sign for a president if his strongest supporters don't trust his judgment.
  • A little face-saving now and then is part of politics, but it helps if it's less obvious than this.

Friday, July 10, 2020

WTDT reports on one thing Trump did every day, but not necessarily always the biggest news story of the day. For information about Trump's commutation of Roger Stone's sentence, see these news accounts.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused Joe Biden of having a "radical left" economic plan that he stole from Donald Trump.

Yesterday, Joe Biden unveiled his economic plan. It centers on infrastructure, government support of emerging industries, and worker-friendly policies like an increased minimum wage.

Asked about it today, Trump said this:

Q: What did you think of Joe Biden’s economic plan that he put out? 
TRUMP:  He plagiarized from me, but he can never pull it off.  He likes plagiarizing.  It’s a plan that is very radical left, but he said the right things, because he’s copying what I’ve done.  But the difference is he can’t do it, and he knows he’s not doing that.  It can’t be the same because he’s raising taxes way too much.  He’s raising everybody’s taxes.  He’s also putting tremendous amounts of regulations back on.  And those two things are two primary reasons that I created the greatest economy we’ve ever had.  And now we’re creating it again.  Okay?

In other words, Trump is saying that Biden stole his "radical leftist" economic plan from... Donald Trump, except that it's different in every way.

For what it's worth, Trump is correct that Biden intends to raise some taxes. Not on "everybody," but certainly on people as wealthy as Trump claims to be. That said, Trump may fare better under Biden's plan than the billionaires he claims as peers. He is nothing if not a skilled and daring tax evader, having legally written off over $900 million in losses sustained by other people—and illegally collected more than $400 million of his father's fortune tax-free.

Who cares?

  • Trump doesn't have to like or even read about his opponent's platform, but if he chooses to talk about it, he should be able to make more sense than this.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a bit of a meltdown over his taxes.

The Supreme Court today, in a pair of 7-2 decisions, refused to grant Trump the "absolute immunity" from Congressional oversight and criminal investigation he'd demanded. The practical upshot is that, at the very least, New York state prosecutors and a grand jury will be able to subpoena Trump's taxes and financial records. 

Congress had also sought Trump's long-hidden taxes, but will have to make their case again in lower courts. Practically speaking, this means Trump will probably be able to stall long enough to prevent any pre-Election Day release of information about his financial empire's connections to Russian oligarchs and foreign banks—or, for that matter, how he used campaign funds to pay hush money to two women he had affairs with.

In other words, it was good news and bad news for Trump, which may be why his spokespeople spun it in different ways.

Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow said he was "pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President's financial records." 

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany declared that the administration was "pleased by the 9 to 0 opinion to send this back to the lower court, though we’re not pleased by the absolute immunity component." (The Court's complete rejection of Trump's claim to "absolute immunity" from investigation is what the 9-0 portion of the opinion was about.)

Attorney General William Barr, on the other hand, said he was "disappointed" by the ruling.

And this was how Trump himself responded, on Twitter:

PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! “We know what took place. We have already seen criminality. What is happening? Biggest political scandal of our time.” @MariaBartiromo You are 100% correct, Maria, it is a disgrace that nothing happens. Obama and Biden spied on my campaign, AND GOT CAUGHT...BUT NOTHING! PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT! The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration! Courts in the past have given “broad deference”. BUT NOT ME! We have a totally corrupt previous Administration, including a President and Vice President who spied on my campaign, AND GOT CAUGHT...and nothing happens to them. This crime was taking place even before my election, everyone knows it, and yet all are frozen stiff with fear.......Won all against the Federal Government and the Democrats send everything to politically corrupt New York, which is falling apart with everyone leaving, to give it a second, third and fourth try. Now the Supreme Court gives a delay ruling that they would never have given.......for another President. This is about PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT. We catch the other side SPYING on my campaign, the biggest political crime and scandal in U.S. history, and NOTHING HAPPENS. But despite this, I have done more than any President in history in first 3 1/2 years! POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!

Later, Trump appeared on Sean Hannity's TV show and complained bitterly that he was being investigated by New York state law enforcement even though the federal government had supplied New York City with hospital equipment during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Why is this a problem?

  • Presidents are not above the law.
  • Nobody expects Trump to be happy about losing his criminal investigation shield, but that's quite a tantrum even by his standards.
  • The presidency is not a protection racket.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He pretended he was president of countries that had dealt with COVID-19 much better.

Today, Trump demanded that schools reopen in the fall no matter what the pandemic situation is in any given place.

Of course, in reality, no adult—parents, "Dems," employers, educators, or anyone else—wants schools to remain closed unless absolutely necessary. 

It's not clear if Trump understands how much more severe the COVID-19 outbreak is in the country he's president of than in those four. This is a graph of positive coronavirus tests in the United States and the countries he mentioned:

Sweden is something of an outlier among them. Unlike every other country in Europe, it pursued a more voluntary form of social distancing—essentially, the closest thing in the developed world to Trump's version of a quick and mild shutdown. The result has been a much more serious and persistent outbreak than in its neighbors.

In any event, Trump has no legal power to defund public schools, which are administered and paid for at the local level. He could—and did—force the CDC to abandon its recommendations to schools.

Why does this matter?

  • Trying to turn public health into a political wedge issue isn't good for public health or politics.
  • Leaders who aren't weak don't make empty threats.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He decided to be "flexible" after all with the Republican National Convention.

Last month, Trump made the unprecedented decision to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. He blamed North Carolina's Democratic governor for refusing to give assurances months in advance that the enormous crowds of a presidential nominating convention would be permitted. 

Major-party conventions are years in the making, and Trump's last-minute pull-out in favor of a city where convention-goers wouldn't be required to wear masks cost local organizers $50 million—money that is no longer available to pay for the Jacksonville convention. 

Now, with Florida in the midst of a devastating surge in COVID-19 cases, top-level Republican officials (including five senators) are signaling they won't attend the Florida convention. It's not clear if the city or the state—both led by Republican allies of Trump—will even allow the gathering Trump wanted to go forward. Jacksonville's mayor announced today he's in self-quarantine after exposure to someone who tested positive.

And Jacksonville has issued a mask-wearing order.

In other words, Trump burned tens of millions of dollars and picked a fight with a swing state he cannot afford to lose, in order to avoid social distancing requirements and public health orders that will now probably be in force anyway, because a pandemic he says he's beaten is raging out of control.

Today, in an interview, Trump effectively admitted defeat:

We're always looking at different things. When we signed in Jacksonville, we wanted to be in North Carolina. That almost worked out, but the Governor didn't want to have people use the arena, essentially. And so I said, 'Too bad for North Carolina. And then we went to Florida, and when we went, when we signed a few weeks ago, it looked good and now all of a sudden it’s spiking up a little bit and that’s going to go down. It really depends on the timing. Look, we’re very flexible, we could do a lot of things, but we’re very flexible.

Washington Post

Neither Trump nor anyone else seems to know at this point what "flexibility" will be possible.

 Why does this matter?

  • Presidents who can't admit that problems exist can't solve them.
  • The health and safety of North Carolinians and Floridians is more important than Donald Trump getting a crowd that looks good on TV.
  • It's bad if a president makes rash decisions and then shrugs off the consequences.