Sunday, February 19, 2017


Progressives have been protesting Donald Trump since his inaugural and -- bafflingly -- huge segments of the Trump electorate haven't switched sides and joined the resistance. What's wrong with the left? Why haven't the minds of millions of Trump voters been changed already? It's been a whole month!

That's essentially the argument of "Are Liberals Helping Trump?," a New York Times story by Sabrina Tavernise. Instead of asking whether it's a difficult task to change minds across the ideological divide in a highly polarized electorate, Tavernise accuses Trump opponents of engaging in ideological thuggery:
But that momentum is provoking an equal and opposite reaction on the right. In recent interviews, conservative voters said they felt assaulted by what they said was a kind of moral Bolshevism — the belief that the liberal vision for the country was the only right one. Disagreeing meant being publicly shamed.

Protests and righteous indignation on social media and in Hollywood may seem to liberals to be about policy and persuasion. But moderate conservatives say they are having the opposite effect, chipping away at their middle ground and pushing them closer to Mr. Trump.
Tavernise draws this conclusion after interviewing three "moderate conservatives" (wow, huge sample size!). Let's meet one of them:
“The name calling from the left is crazy,” said Bryce Youngquist, 34, who works in sales for a tech start-up in Mountain View, Calif., a liberal enclave where admitting you voted for Mr. Trump is a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay. “They are complaining that Trump calls people names, but they turned into some mean people.”

Mr. Youngquist stayed in the closet for months about his support for Mr. Trump. He did not put a bumper sticker on his car, for fear it would be keyed. The only place he felt comfortable wearing his Make America Great Again hat was on a vacation in China. Even dating became difficult. Many people on Tinder have a warning on their profile: “Trump supporters swipe left” — meaning, get lost.

He came out a few days before the election. On election night, a friend posted on Facebook, “You are a disgusting human being.”

“They were making me want to support him more with how irrational they were being,” Mr. Youngquist said.
Tavernise suggests that Youngquist's support for Trump was lukewarm, and was largely a reaction to Trump opponents. Let's take a look at what he posted on Facebook a week and a half before the election and see if that's really the case:
The election has hit a boiling point for me. I am a #NeverHillary supporter more than ever now. I am convinced Hillary and her team are running one of the most crooked campaigns in history. Hillary’s past as a public servant contains so much shadiness. If you only watch/read CNN, NYT, Washington Post and NPR, you may think that Hillary has made only a few less-than-poor decisions. The mainstream media has been a huge force in this campaign painting Hillary as an angel. I do not trust Hillary and her potential administration in the White House. Below is just a brief list of Hillary and her campaign's shadiness.

McAuliffe/Dr.Jill McCabe/FBI Investigation
Getting debate questions ahead of time (Donna Brazile)
Treatment of Bernie
Anti-Catholic campaign emails
Hillary explaining about how she has a Public vs. Private position
Nonstop pay to play
Clinton Foundation accepting millions from awful human right countries
Weiner Investigation connections
2nd FBI Investigation 11 days before election day
Obamacare/HillaryCare - premium hikes
Scott Foval
Obama's homie Robert Creamer (340 WH visits)
Bill Clinton & everything there...
Benghazi (blame it on a youtube video)
33,000 Emails
Desire for "open borders"
Dirty Campaigning (Project Veritas videos)
Inciting riots in Chicago at Trump Rally
Mainstream media & HRC campaign conspiring
Received subpoena & then deletes emails
Hillary's questionable health
Bill Clinton (getting disbarred, lying etc etc)
Murder of Seth Rich

Trump may not be a saint but I am going to cast my vote for him. I am pushing to have an outsider in the White House. I can’t stand the corrupt career politician such as Hillary. Everyone laughs when Trump says "She has bad judgement." Can anyone prove that she does have good judgement? Can she be trusted with our country's security concerns!?! Can any Hillary supporter defend her on that!?! DC needs change and Trump/Pence is the answer I believe for the next 4 years. Trump is not the most polished figure out there (that may be an understatement) but he sure is a hell of a lot better than Hillary. I am hopeful that Trump & Co can turn this country in the right direction. Economy, healthcare, security... Make America Great Again!
Benghazi? Check. Emails? Check. Suspicions of Huma Abedin that go unstated because, well, it's just so obvious why she's a problem? Check. Invocation of James O'Keefe videos? Check. Assumption that the mainstream media and the Clinton campaign were "conspiring"? Check.

There are a couple of pro-Sanders items on Youngquist's list -- but, of course, we know that the Trump campaign (and its official and unofficial surrogates) exploited Democratic primary tensions to help Trump. And please note the last item on Youngquist's list:
Murder of Seth Rich
Click on the #NeverHillary hashtag in Youngquist's post and you see, among other things, this:

There's still no evidence that Rich's death was anything but a street crime gone lethal. Rich's father is certain that he wouldn't have leaked the emails. He was planning to take a job with the Clinton campaign. And rumors that he was the leaker were stoked by Wikileaks.

If you're wondering about the image above, the tell is in the reference to gun control. This wasn't the work of a progressive.

Youngquist isn't a "moderate" voter. He's someone who binged on fake and semi-fake news throughout the campaign, almost all of it from the right. Eventually he parroted the talking points for his Facebook friends. The anti-Trump movement largely consists of people who voted for Hillary Clinton, someone Youngquist despises, yet Tavernise thinks he might have joined the resistance by now if the anti-Trumpers hadn't been so darn mean.

Oh, and did I mention that Youngquist attended Trump's inaugural? Seriously -- Tavernise thinks that someone who attended a presidential inaugural might turn against the president within a month of that event? It's not as if she doesn't know about his attendance -- there was a story about it in the Times. She wrote it.

One of Tavernise's other "moderates" is Jeffrey Medford:
Jeffrey Medford, a small-business owner in South Carolina, voted reluctantly for Donald Trump. As a conservative, he felt the need to choose the Republican. But some things are making him feel uncomfortable — parts of Mr. Trump’s travel ban, for example, and the recurring theme of his apparent affinity for Russia.

Mr. Medford should be a natural ally for liberals trying to convince the country that Mr. Trump was a bad choice. But it is not working out that way.
A conservative Republican small-business owner from South Carolina "should be a natural ally for liberals"? Really?

The other is Ann O'Connell:
“I don’t have a problem with protesting as long as it’s peaceful, but this is destroying the country,” said Ann O’Connell, 72, a retired administrative assistant in Syracuse who voted for Mr. Trump. “I feel like we are in some kind of civil war right now. I know people don’t like to use those terms. But I think it’s scary.”

Mrs. O’Connell is a registered Democrat. She voted for Bill Clinton twice. But she has drifted away from the party over what she said was a move from its middle-class economic roots toward identity politics. She remembers Mr. Clinton giving a speech about the dangers of illegal immigration. Mr. Trump was lambasted for offering some of the same ideas, she said.

“The Democratic Party has changed so much that I don’t even recognize it anymore,” she said. “These people are destroying our democracy. They are scarier to me than these Islamic terrorists. I feel absolutely disgusted with them and their antics. It strengthens people’s resolve in wanting to support President Trump. It really does.”
O'Connell says she voted for Bill Clinton twice. Notice which Democrat we're not told she voted for, even once. She thinks protesters are worse than terrorists, but, more important, she's angry at the Democratic Party. I don't care about her voter registration. She's effectively a Republican. She might come back to vote for Jim Webb or Joe Lieberman, but that's not going to happen. She's lost to us

All of these people are on Team Democrat Hater. None of them will come around to the anti-Trump movement -- no matter how nice we are.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Politico acquired an audio recording of Donald Trump speaking to the assembled guests at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, back in the early days of the transition. The key revelation -- that Trump invited guests to "come along" while he was interviewing potential cabinet members -- is unsettling enough:
“We’re doing a lot of interviews tomorrow — generals, dictators, we have everything,” Trump told the crowd, according to an audio tape of his closed-press remarks obtained by POLITICO from a source in the room. “You may wanna come around. It’ll be fun. We’re really working tomorrow. We have meetings every 15, 20 minutes with different people that will form our government."

"We’re going to be interviewing everybody — Treasury, we’re going to be interviewing Secretary of State,” he continued. “We have everybody coming in — if you want to come around, it’s going to be unbelievable….so you might want to come along.”
But I'm struck by what Trump said about David Schutzenhofer, the club manager at Bedminster, whom he chose to decorate the White House.
TRUMP: And are we all liking David? And tell me, where is David going next week? Where are you going next week?


TRUMP: To the White House. [Applause.]

David is going to prepare the White House so it's in good shape so we can immediately start working on ISIS and various other things. [Cheers.]
Schutzenhofer -- a golf club manager -- is going to make it possible for Trump to "start working on ISIS." By redecorating. Trump apparently couldn't focus on ISIS otherwise.

In case you think perhaps Schutzenhofer's area of expertise extends into the foreign policy realm, here's his bio on the website of Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he's an adjunct professor in the International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Professor Schutzenhofer began his career in the hospitality industry as a teenager and has managed numerous private clubs in the New York Metropolitan area since 1989. He studied culinary arts and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Johnson and Wales University, Providence Rhode Island in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management and a Masters of Science Degree from New York University Department of Hospitality, Tourism and Travel.

Prof. Schutzenhofer is an 18 year veteran in club management holding positions at Scarsdale Golf Club, Hartsdale, New York, Orienta Beach Club, Mamaroneck New York, Forest Hill Field Club, Bloomfield New Jersey, Navesink Country Club, Middletown, New Jersey and is currently the General Manager and Executive Director at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Trump sees this man and his thought is: I can't really fight ISIS until David completes his work, can I?

Well, recall this detail from a New York Times story about Trump's early days in the White House:
For a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.
Oh, but I'm sure that was only because he needed excellent window covering options before he could give ISIS his undivided attention.


I have mixed feelings about this New York magazine cover story:

To some extent, it's the usual breathless worship of McCain:
It was not yet two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, and McCain had already become the fiercest Republican critic of the new administration. While party leaders like Paul Ryan were contorting themselves to defend even Trump’s most ill-conceived executive orders, McCain had been, for a member of the president’s party, on fire: He had criticized Trump for banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, for his failed first mission in Yemen, for his suggestion that he might lift sanctions against Russia; he even took diplomacy into his own hands, reaching out to Australia to assure the country of our continued friendship after Trump had bizarrely confronted its prime minister in their introductory phone call.

... he has watched as allegations about Russian involvement in the election — and possibly in American foreign policy — picked up steam, and as Michael Flynn was forced to resign as national-security adviser after revelations that he improperly discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador (and then lied to the vice-president about it). To McCain, these are red-line issues. No matter how much he likes the prospect of deregulation, the compromising of America’s sovereignty was pushing him closer to the barricades.
On the other hand, McCain is portrayed as a Republican first and foremost:
McCain is not a Republican in Name Only; he is a true believer, an elder of the tribe. He does not exactly relish being deemed the loyal opposition....

McCain shook his head at the notion that just because he had the temerity to criticize the president, congressional Democrats thought they could recruit him to their cause. “These are the same Democrats that shredded me in 2008,” he said. “I get along with the Democrats, but please, I’m not their hero. They’re trying to use us. We will work with them, but have no doubt, their agenda is not our agenda.” ...

“The Democrats are just off the reservation. They’re crazy the way they’re behaving,” McCain said to [Supreme Court nominee Neil] Gorsuch. “As for hearings, I’ve never seen anything like this. Just keep your flak jacket on. Steady as she goes.”
My first reaction to this was similar to Atrios's:

But that's how this works in the Beltway and the elite media: We as citizens can mount all the "resistance" we want, and we can hold congressional Democrats' feet to the fire until they're voting with us, but disgust with Trump doesn't become legitimate until it's endorsed by at least a few Republicans, because nothing becomes legitimate until it's endorsed by Republicans.

I don't think a focus on McCain necessarily "sucks all the air out of actual opposition" -- we have to keep fighting our fight until the Kewl Kidz are forced to take us seriously -- but in the meantime, if this is what it takes to make the Kidz believe that Trump is bad news, let's accept it and work with it, knowing full well that McCain will be a GOP loyalist at many, many key moments. We have to become a bigger movement than they're expecting. But for now this might help.

I've always felt that insider journalists lean culturally liberal -- they work in big Eastern cities, so they're cool with reproductive rights and LGBT rights and gun control and DREAMers and all that. These journalists occasionally become enamored of a progressive-seeming politician (e.g., Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign). But they turn up their noses as soon as a politician tries governing as a Democrat -- e.g., Barack Obama in 2009 and beyond -- even if, as in Obama's case, the politician isn't all that far to the left. As Josh Marshall says, D.C. is permanently "wired for Republicans."

The insiders never like Democrats in the actual act of presidenting or legislating. So they'll never respect the resisting Democrats in Congress as much as they respect the fitfully resistant McCain. I wish it were otherwise, but those are the rules.

So let's accept this and work with it. I suspect it won't amount to much -- McCain and sidekick Lindsey Graham will stand up for foreign policy traditionalism while all the other Republicans continue to suck up to Trump -- but if I'm wrong and McCain someday helps persuade enough Republicans to approve a serious investigation of Trump's fifth-columnism, there's nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, it won't be enough, and most of the time he won't be with us. But we have to just keep fighting our own battles.



Friday, February 17, 2017


Courtesy of Business Insider's Natasha Bertrand, we seem to have an explanation for the apparently false National-Guard-as-deportation-force story:
The White House quickly denied an explosive Associated Press report published Friday morning that said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was seeking to mobilize 100,000 National Guard troops to round up and deport immigrants living in the US illegally.

"It is false," the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said, according to a pool report. "It is irresponsible to be saying this. There is no effort at all to round up, to utilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants."

"I wish you guys had asked before you tweeted," Spicer added.

An AP reporter, however, replied that the wire service had asked the White House for comment multiple times before publishing the report, which was based off of a leaked DHS draft memo....
This seems to be a pattern for the Trumpers:
1. Wait for a draft memo of a proposal to be leaked to the press.
2. Refuse to comment when asked about the draft.
3. Wait to dispute a story's accuracy until the story is published.
4. Accuse the press of never having sought comment to begin with.
Bertrand quotes a number of reporters who've noticed this pattern. She also quotes the press secretary to Congressman Keith Ellison, who's noticed it, too.

The Trumpers are so determined to demonstrate bad faith on the part of the mainstream media that they're floating fake stories, refusing to comment on them, then saying they were never given a chance to deny them. But why? How does this help them accomplish any goal connected to governing? Do they even care about governing? Look, I don't want them to do any of the things they say they want to do in the governing realm, but I understand why this right-wing writer is frustrated (in response to a now-deleted and subsequently updated tweet by the president that's part of the press demonization campaign):

Do the Trumpers even want to do any of those things? It seems that they just want to pound on the press --or maybe it's just the president. The most powerful job in the world, and all he wants to use it for is, in effect, yelling at the TV. Bizarre.


Almost as soon as this report broke, it was denied by the White House:
The Trump administration considered a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by The Associated Press.

Staffers in the Department of Homeland Security said the proposal had been discussed as recently as last Friday.

The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana.

Four states that border on Mexico were included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The denial:
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Friday the document was "not a White House document."

"There is no effort to do what is potentially suggested," he said. Spicer called the AP report "100 percent not true, adding that there was "no effort at all to utilize the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants."

So what's going on? The Moscow deputy bureau chief for Bloomberg Businessweek thinks it's eleven-dimensional fascist chess:

But if that's how this was meant to work, you'd think the Trumpers would want it to hang in the air a little longer before issuing a denial. And you'd think they'd want to clear the news cycle a bit, to give it some breathing room. We still haven't stopped talking about yesterday's Trump press conference; this got wedged in between that press conference and what could be another Lenny-Bruce-shortly before-his-death moment, Trump's appearance today at Boeing, which is happening as I type.

Also, why propose a deportation force (authoritarian) and give governors an opt-out option (wussy)?
Governors in the 11 states would have had a choice whether to have their guard troops participate, according to the memo....
There's no way the Democratic governors of California, Oregon, and Colorado are going to say yes, and I'm not sure about the Republican governors of purple New Mexico and Nevada. It's as if the Trumpers want to come off as jackbooted thugs, but nice jackbooted thugs -- jackbooted thugs who say "Please."

It's my opinion that this would be very popular among white voters across the country, including some now-wavering moderate conservatives. So why not just do it? Get it written, get it vetted, get it done? I think it's because there's a crazy-idea shop in the West Wing (Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller), but there's no one who's skilled at putting policies into effect, which requires a minimal ability to interact with other human beings and coordinate with those other human beings on implementation. So the White House executive-order-and-memorandum shop is basically a federally funded version of a regular column at a wingnut online news site -- heavy on extreme ideas, but with not much skill at follow-through.

This might still happen. I just don't know why it isn't happening already.


The undisciplined preadolescents in the White House are the biggest impediment to an extreme-right transformation of America, but it's also true that Republicans in Congress can't agree on detailed plans to destroy all the things they've been promising to destroy for years. We know they've spent years promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, only to discover that all their healthcare ideas would horrify the public. But they also can't agree on a key element of the tax overhaul they want so much, as Politico reports:
Paul Ryan showed up to Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch on Tuesday hoping to salvage a controversial pillar of his tax reform plan that would change how imports and exports are taxed. “Keep your powder dry,” the House speaker pleaded.

The next day, Sen. Tom Cotton took to the Senate floor to slam Ryan’s so-called border adjustment tax, saying “some ideas are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.”

“Many other senators share these concerns and we most certainly will not ‘keep our powder dry,’” Cotton went on, without naming the speaker in his speech.

The sequence was an ominous sign for a linchpin of Ryan’s tax plan — and perhaps for the prospects of tax reform happening at all. The border adjustment tax would generate more than a trillion dollars over a decade; there’s no obvious way to replace that money, which is needed to help pay for a steep cut in corporate and income taxes.
I assumed that with a Republican in the White House they'd have no qualms about running huge deficits in order to slash taxes for corporations and the rich, but it seems that some of them actually believe their own talking points about deficits and debt. So they're trying to offset the huge cut in revenues -- and Republicans don't like the method Ryan has chosen.
Many Republican senators say privately they detest the concept, fretting that it will hurt their in-state retailers like Walmart, which is headquartered in Cotton's state of Arkansas. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), sources said, has warned Trump and Ryan that border adjustment won't likely have the support needed to clear the Senate....

That’s not to mention Ryan’s issue in his own chamber. A handful of Ways and Means Republicans — including some with close ties to Trump — are fretting that retailers slapped with an import tax will ultimately pass the cost onto consumers.
So this is another dog-that-caught-the-car issue for Republicans, just like Obamacare. But do you know who actually likes the border adjustment tax? Darth Vader himself:
Ironically, the speaker seems to have a strong ally in Bannon, the ex-boss of Breitbart News, which attacked the speaker mercilessly during the campaign.
Well, of course he likes it. Recall what I told you last week: Bannon is a believer in the generational theories of William Strauss and Neil Howe, who foresee a crisis point for America in which citizens will need to suffer in order to reach the Promised Land. They've written:
... new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention.
And Bannon said in 2010, foreseeing this moment of crisis:
“We are going to have to take some massive pain. Anybody who thinks we don’t have to take pain is, I believe, fooling you.”
So he has no problem with a tax that will passed on to consumers. The president presumably has no idea that this tax or the tax he proposed during the campaign, a levy on imports, will be passed on to consumers. And congressional deficit hawks don't want either.

So the GOP dysfunction is at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. To me, that's a relief.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


So this happened today:
After stewing in anger during four rocky weeks in the White House, President Donald Trump had his say Thursday.

He spent 80 minutes in an impromptu East Room news conference shredding his critics, relitigating the election, bragging about his crowds, crowing about his accomplishments and denying, deflecting and obfuscating a series of mushrooming bad stories that have dogged his presidency and depressed his approval ratings....

In Trump style, the news conference was heavy on braggadocio....

"There has never been a president that has done so much in such a short period of time," Trump said, reading a list of his own accomplishments.

He said his administration is a "finely tuned machine" ...
Before the hour-plus session was over, Trump had told a reporter from a Jewish publication that his question about rising anti-Semitism was very unfair and to sit down....

He ripped into CNN repeatedly.... The president also lashed out at “fake news” repeatedly, even while spewing falsehoods. He said he’d had the biggest electoral landslide since 1984. Not true.... He then said he’d been given “misinformation” about the size of his electoral win.
Shorter Trump today:

But that's what conservatism is now -- angry white people saying "Respect ME, dammit!" and insisting that everyone who doesn't agree with them deserves to be harangued or intimidated into silence.

Whether it's white working-class voters demanding an end to "political correctness" and Mexican and Muslim immigration, or alt-rightists harassing opposition voices on the Internet, or billionaires describing progressive protesters as Hitlerian, the message is: Those people are the scum of the earth, and they should just shut up forever. I'm talking now. Listen to me. Listen only to me and my allies.

During the campaign, many concerned political observers asked, "What does conservatism stand for now?" This is what it stands for. It stands for I have the floor, so you just shut the hell up.


Let's rosin up an itty-bitty bow and use it to play the world's most minuscule violin:
Congressional Republicans, who craved unified control of the government to secure their aggressive conservative agenda, have instead found themselves on a legislative elliptical trainer, gliding toward nowhere.

After moving to start rolling back the Affordable Care Act just days after President Trump was sworn in last month, Republican lawmakers and Mr. Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised. Efforts to come up with a replacement for the health care law have been stymied by disagreements among Republicans about how to proceed. The same is true for a proposed overhaul of the tax code.

The large infrastructure bill that both Democrats and Mr. Trump were eager to pursue has barely been mentioned, other than a very general hearing to discuss well-documented needs for infrastructure improvements. Even a simple emergency spending bill that the Trump administration promised weeks ago — which was expected to include a proposal for his wall on the Mexican border — has not materialized, leaving appropriators idle and checking Twitter.
Some of this is because Republicans believed their own worse-than-Hitler hyperbole about Obamacare and were blindsided by the fact that some people actually like the program and are angry about repeal plans. Some is because Republicans never realized that it would be ridiculously easy for Democrats to reverse-engineer GOP obstructionist tactics, for which Republicans, of course, paid no political price.

But the big problem for congressional Republicans seems to be that they're still waiting for the unsupervised, sugar-rushing, ADHD third graders who now make up the executive branch to settle down and do some serious work:
... The inactivity stems from a lack of clear policy guidance — and, just as often, contradictory messages — from the Trump administration, which does not appear to have spent the campaign and transition periods forming a legislative wish list....

Congressional Republicans seem wary of offering their own bills, lest Mr. Trump or one of his aides, who have largely been distracted by personnel and intelligence scandals, undercut their efforts. This was most visible when Mr. Trump demanded that Republicans come up with a replacement plan for a health care law they had hoped to simply repeal, sending members flailing. The administration also gave conflicting messages on a tax plan embraced by House Republicans that would apply the corporate tax rate to all imports while exempting exports.

“On our side, it’s pretty clear who drives policy,” said a Republican aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being written about by Mr. Trump on Twitter. “But take any issue and try to figure that out from their side.”
Just write the bills, you idiots. Do you seriously think this administration remembers its own pronouncements from one day to the next, however angrily delivered they may be? Do you think the president remembers?

If you're really afraid that you can't proceed on legislation without first having it carefully crafted by the White House, then you're going to be waiting a long time. The only work being done in this White House that's even vaguely along those lines seems to be the crafting of executive orders that are more like manifestos from a radical group that's actually one foul-smelling sociopath in a cabin in Montana.

Well, congressional Republicans, you bought this ticket, so take the ride. You thought Trump would govern like a normal person. You thought he really meant it when he said he'd surround himself with "the best people." You thought he'd "grow in office." Welcome to a hell of your own making.


David Frum is dismayed because his fellow conservatives in Congress remain loyal to the president, so he tries to sweet-talk them into dumping Trump:
Here’s something to consider. Trump has never shown much enthusiasm for the congressional agenda of reforming Obamacare and reducing taxes. He has developed no plans, and his White House staff is not structured in a way likely to produce such plans anytime soon.

Without presidential leadership—and with the visible and traditional disagreements between House members who mostly hold safe seats, and senators vulnerable to state-wide electorates—it’s hard to see how anything gets done in the next session. Congressional Republicans are now at risk of wasting this rare chance, risking an all-Republican government accomplishing nothing beside Trump’s self-aggrandizement and corrosion of constitutional government. That will suit Donald Trump fine. It can hardly suit Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.

Suppose Mike Pence were president now. Tax-reform legislation would be hitting the floor of the House. A competent White House staff, headed by people with intact reputations for honesty, would be hammering out the compromises necessary to repeal healthcare reform. A functional National Security Council would be generating options for responding to Russia’s cheating on arms-control treaties and aggression in Ukraine. Democrats and liberals would be assailing congressional Republicans on immigration and abortion—not espionage and treason. Instead, their hopes, their interests, their constituencies, and possibly their careers are all at risk, subordinated to the personal imperatives of a president who does not share their principles and does not care about their party.
But here's the problem: There's no reason to believe that congressional Republicans really care all that much about repealing Obamacare, restricting abortion, or the rest of the right-wing agenda. Sure, they always have cared about these things. But what they really care about is getting reelected forever. In the past, that was accomplished by doing whatever Fox News, the Koch brothers, the religious right, and the NRA told you to do. Now the important thing is doing whatever Trump wants.

It's true that President Pence would assemble a team of professionals who'd efficiently set to work dismantling Obamacare, the Great Society, the New Deal, and the Progressive Era -- or at least they'd be a lot more goal-oriented about all that. They'd work seamlessly with Republicans in Congress. There'd be no distractions. Everyone would be rowing in the same direction.

But GOP voters still believe that Trump is the strongest possible leader, a financial mastermind, and a preternaturally gifted dealmaker. Plus, he clearly hates darker-skinned people much more than Pence does.

And they also think he cares about the Fox/Koch GOP agenda as much as they do. (He does -- he just gets so distracted when someone insults him, or says he didn't win a landslide, or when Vladimir Putin does that thing he does when he smiles and the corners of his eyes crinkle.)

So Frum's plea is going to fall on deaf ears. Republicans in Congress aren't going to quit Trump, because their voters won't.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Yesterday, at the Washington Free Beacon, Adam Kredo speculated that Michael Flynn was ousted by a sinister cabal with a very specific aim:
The abrupt resignation Monday evening of White House national security adviser Michael Flynn is the culmination of a secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus and preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, according to multiple sources in and out of the White House who described to the Washington Free Beacon a behind-the-scenes effort by these officials to plant a series of damaging stories about Flynn in the national media.

The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes—the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber—included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn's credibility, multiple sources revealed.

The operation primarily focused on discrediting Flynn, an opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, in order to handicap the Trump administration's efforts to disclose secret details of the nuclear deal with Iran that had been long hidden by the Obama administration.
Today, Haaretz reports this:
In the bigger picture, the loss of Flynn on Trump’s team will surely come as a deep disappointment to those in Israel who counted on his uncompromising stance on Iran and Islamic terror to influence the direction of Trump’s policy....

The Israeli hard right loved Flynn. When he was first named to his post, right-wing pundit Caroline Glick wrote in a celebratory piece that he “is far-sighted and determined, and locked on his target: Iran.” She expressed her belief that “Trump intends to bring down the Iranian regime as a first step toward securing an unconditional victory in the war against radical Islam.”
But in a normal presidency, the departure of one adviser -- even a top adviser -- wouldn't result in the radical remaking of a president's policy. A president presumably has opinions of his own, and if they're strong opinions, you'd expect them to keep policy relatively consistent regardless of who the advisers are.

Trump certainly talks as if he has firm opinions on the Iran deal:
... Trump called the nuclear pact a "disaster" and "the worst deal ever negotiated" during his campaign and said it could lead to a "nuclear holocaust."

In a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in March, Trump declared that his “Number-One priority” would be to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
Trump said the same thing in the interview with Bill O'Reilly that aired on Super Bowl Sunday:
“I think it was the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated,” Trump told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly in an interview that aired prior to the Super Bowl.

The president continued: “I think they have total disrespect for our country and I understand that deal. I would have lived with it if they said ‘OK, we’re all together now,’ but it’s just the opposite. It’s like they’re emboldened. They follow our planes, they circle our ships with their little boats and they lost respect because they can’t believe anybody could be so stupid as to make a deal like that.”

Trump said it was a “deal that never should have been negotiated....”
But Flynn is gone, and now we assume that Trump isn't determined to scuttle the Iran deal and isn't particularly angry at the Iranians. That's not normal. He's the president. He said he was angry at Iran and unswervingly opposed to the deal, and that should still be true.

But, of course, this is Donald Trump we're talking about. I suppose he really might not care about Iran if the next person to whisper in his ear on the subject says the regime's behavior is acceptable and the deal really isn't bad at all. I think the Free Beacon's theory is off base, but if you wanted to completely upend Iran policy in the Trump White House, it's likely that you could do it just by targeting Flynn. He really might have been Trump's brain on this. Who knows what Trump believes about Iran now?Do you think Trump knows?


So, like everyone else, I'm reading this New York Times story...
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
And this CNN story...
High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN....

Among several senior Trump advisers regularly communicating with Russian nationals were then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and then-adviser Michael Flynn.
I'm amazed that the wheels are coming off this quickly. I'm listening to well-meaning hand-wringers who wonder whether it's a good thing that the national security apparatus is leaking this way. But I'm struck by the fact that the Trumpers involved in this didn't even seem to realize that their conversations would be monitored.

I know that the average person on the street might not realize that U.S. agencies routinely monitor the phone calls of Russian intelligence officials. But this was a big-league presidential campaign. Sure, the campaign was full of people from outside the world of politics and government, starting with the candidate. But Flynn worked in military intelligence and then was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Manafort was a longtime Republican operative and had a lot of dealings in the Russian sphere. Did they really not understand that what they were doing was known to our intelligence agencies? Was this ignorance, arrogance, or a combination of both?

The president is too ill informed to realize that he shouldn't deal with a national security situation in a public dining room, or allow ordinary citizens to take photos of the officer holding the nuclear football for him. But his crew was no more circumspect before the inaugural, even when scheming to undermine the international order. What's wrong with these people?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The hottest opinion piece in the right-o-sphere at this moment is "The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn" by Eli Lake:
It's possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It's also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government.

Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

He was also a fat target for Democrats....

[Representative Devin] Nunes [the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee] told me Monday night that this will not end well. "First it's Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus," he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.
The guilty parties are Democrats and "the national security state." The notion that Flynn might actually have done something that genuinely disqualified him for government service is barely addressed in Lake's column.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line writes, "The media-intelligence community pipeline is a swamp that needs to be drained. But can it be?" At Instapundit, Stephen Green writes,
The chatter against Flynn -- and it has come from Democrats, Republicans, and the intelligence community -- has been longstanding, intense, and in the end, effective. The motives for it also seem to come from across the spectrum: Partisanship, #NeverTrump, and for those concerned about his Russian ties, honest patriotism. It would also be too kind to say that Flynn is unloved by the I.C. following his troubled tenure as head of D.I.A.

But what really happened? It’s impossible to say, but if the intelligence community is still at war with the Trump Administration even after collecting Flynn’s scalp, then we we’ll know at least part of the answer.
And Trump himself, of course, is more concerned with how Flynn was exposed than with how Flynn might have endangered national security:

It's all of a piece with the voter-fraud excuse for Hillary Clinton's Electoral College victory, and with claims that anti-Trump protesters are paid agents, probably of George Soros. Nothing is ever a justifiable reaction to something Team Republican does. Any attack on Republicans is a back-alley mugging of holy innocents.

If the Trump administration continues to be one faceplant after another, angry right-wingers will continue to offer a one-size-fits-all explanation for the administration's failures: sabotage, sabotage, sabotage. They never do anything wrong -- period. And that will be the right's official narrative of the Trump years forever.


General Mike Flynn has resigned as national security adviser, and Breitbart finds the real enemy:
Flynn Resignation Raises Tough Questions for FBI, Intel Services

The resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Monday evening raises troubling questions about the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the intelligence services.

... [Flynn] was “caught” because the Department of Justice had been eavesdropping on the conversation....

Democrats are clamoring for a deeper investigation of Russian ties to Trump. But the more serious question is whether our nation’s intelligence services were involved in what amounts to political espionage against the newly-elected government.

We know that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of federal bureaucrats already using shadow communications systems. How far does that “shadow government” go?

The FBI, CIA and other agencies ought to reassure Congress, or come clean.
And if you think Breitbart is more extreme than the outlet it's trying to replace as the right's media source of record, Fox News, here's Steve Doocy on Fox & Friends this morning:

DOOCY: There are a number of major U.S. papers that apparently got the leaks from the intel community that said, "Hey, look, we've got the transcript of what Mr. Flynn said to the Russian ambassador," and, uh, looks kinda shady. Just the fact that there are these leaks inside the permanent government is troubling.
And ostensibly over on the left, here's a tweet from Young Turks reporter Michael Tracey that was, unsurprisingly, retweeted by Glenn Greenwald:

And, of course, there's WikiLeaks:

Right, WikiLeaks is appalled that anyone would engage in a "destabilization campaign."

To sum up: We're not supposed to be upset at Flynn's phone calls, or the policy they were in the service of. We're not supposed to worry about how many other Trumpers are colluding with the Russians. The villains here are the "Deep State," the Democrats, and the media. And that'll be the right-wing line and the liberal-hating-left line going forward.

Monday, February 13, 2017


This doesn't seem reassuring:
Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows over the weekend, and his comments about voter fraud have earned him justifiably dim reviews....

But amid all the baseless and false statements about electoral integrity, Miller did something even more controversial: He expanded upon his boss's views of whether judges are allowed to question President Trump's authority. And at one point, Miller even said Trump's national security decisions "will not be questioned."
On Face the Nation, Miller said:
One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is -- is -- is beyond anything we've ever seen before.

The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
Is Miller telling us in all seriousness that the Trump administration won't be constrained by the checks and balances built into our system? Or is it a lot of empty bluster?

The administration's actions have been very harsh, but the Trumpers don't seem ready yet to ignore the courts and impose their will by brute force. Greg Sargent writes this:
Taken together, Miller’s comments signal that, if the White House does manage to get a version of the ban past legal hurdles, it will have demonstrated that Trump’s powers “will not be questioned,” meaning that the judiciary will not stand in his way. There is simply no reason to assume in advance that this will end here.... the possibility cannot be ruled out that Trump could seek to extend the ban and expand it, in effect trying to simulate an indefinite ban on legal immigration from many Muslim-majority nations -- particularly if there is a major terrorist attack.
That's true, and it's bad enough, but if the way the administration plans to prove that it "will not be questioned" is by getting a revised version of the travel ban "past legal hurdles," that means it's respecting the legal system, however begrudgingly.

Or maybe the administration isn't respecting the legal administration so much as it's unprepared to launch a totalitarian assault on the legal system. I think that's closer to the truth. And I do mean "unprepared" in a very literal sense: Serious authoritarians would have have had a plan to neutralize the courts if they wanted to do something that could be blocked by a lawsuit. The Trumpers couldn't think one additional move ahead, and never consolidated power enough to try to rule with that kind of ruthlessness. They seemed to think had all the power they wanted already. They apparently believed they'd issue an executive order and that would be the last word on the subject.

This could change -- there might be people in the government who are not only as ruthless as Trump and Steve Bannon but who also possess the Government 101 level of knowledge necessary to grasp where the implementation of the agenda can be slowed or stopped.

One would assume that Miller understands how the government actually works -- he was, after all, an aide to Jeff Sessions when Sessions was a senator. But he offers no evidence that his idle threat because will be carried out -- he seems to be holding forth like the school-paper op-ed writer and talk-radio frequent caller he used to be:
In a column in his high school newspaper, titled “A Time to Kill,” he urged violent response to radical Islamists....

Ari Rosmarin, a civil rights lawyer who edited the student newspaper at time, recalled that Miller was especially critical of a Mexican American student group.

“I think he’s got a very sharp understanding of what words and issues will poke and provoke progressives, because he came up around it and really cut his teeth picking these fights that had low stakes but high offense,” Rosmarin said.

That skill led Miller to become a mini-celebrity in conservative intellectual circles because of his passion, age and home town. He appeared 70 times on [Larry] Elder’s show before his high school graduation, according to the host.
The Trumpers came into this full of revenge fantasies but with no idea how to rule by fiat in what is still a nation of laws, if barely. Miller doesn't scare me until the administration starts defying the courts or roughing up judges and journalists. For now the Trumpers are awful, and they still need to be passionately opposed, but they don't seem to have the will to be worse than that.


Mike Flynn's head might roll soon, or maybe not:
The White House is reviewing whether to retain National Security Adviser Mike Flynn amid a furor over his contacts with Russian officials before President Donald Trump took office, an administration official said Sunday....

Mr. Trump’s views toward the matter aren’t clear. In recent days, he has privately told people the controversy surrounding Mr. Flynn is unwelcome, after he told reporters on Friday he would “look into” the disclosures.

But Mr. Trump also has said he has confidence in Mr. Flynn and wants to “keep moving forward,” a person familiar with his thinking said.
And Flynn might not be the only Trumper who lacks job security:
Yet Trump’s concern goes beyond his embattled national security adviser, according to conversations with more than a dozen people who have spoken to Trump or his top aides. He has mused aloud about press secretary Sean Spicer, asking specific questions to confidants about how they think he’s doing behind the podium. During conversations with Spicer, the president has occasionally expressed unhappiness with how his press secretary is talking about some matters -- sometimes pointing out even small things he’s doing that he doesn’t like.

Others who’ve talked with the president have begun to wonder about the future of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Yes, we know that Priebus is in trouble because Christopher Ruddy -- another right-wing media bigwig who's befriended Trump -- has blabbed about this:
The friend, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, said in an interview that Reince Priebus was well meaning and well liked. But he said Mr. Priebus was in over his head, and he hinted that Mr. Trump may already be growing weary of the man he chose to run the White House.

“He doesn’t waste a lot of time,” Mr. Ruddy said of the president. “If he thinks somebody is not performing, he moves pretty quickly.”
There's chaos at the National Security Council, and incompetence:
Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls....

Two people with direct access to the White House leadership said Mr. Flynn was surprised to learn that the State Department and Congress play a pivotal role in foreign arms sales and technology transfers. So it was a rude discovery that Mr. Trump could not simply order the Pentagon to send more weapons to Saudi Arabia ... or to deliver bigger weapons packages to the United Arab Emirates.
And Trump just keeps getting into fights with people:
The morning after North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the sea, apparently to test President Trump’s resolve in his first days in office, the new commander in chief wanted to make one thing very clear to the world: Mark Cuban, the billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner, was not smart enough to have his job.

“I know Mark Cuban well,” Mr. Trump said Sunday morning on Twitter.... “He backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls. He’s not smart enough to run for president!”

It was not clear what provoked the insult....

He swiped at Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, for criticizing the counterterrorism raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL....

The same day, the president took on Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, for revealing that Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, had called Mr. Trump’s attacks on judges “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” ...
Are Trump fans upset about any of this? Nope. Here's what a Politico reporter tells us about a weekend trip to Terre Haute, Indiana:
“Oh, Trump -- I’m still all Trumped up,” Jane, a retired insurance broker, told me....

What I heard, in conversations with nearly a dozen Trump supporters, is that ... most of Vigo County is still “Trumped up.” ... You hear it in chatter at eateries like Logan’s and in coffee shops and diners such as Boo’s Crossroads Cafe & Corner Grind.... And the grist of the coastal media’s hot takes? The lies, the fumbles and faux pas that have rattled the D.C. establishment and global allies? None of it seems to resonate here.
Are they upset about the chaos and the Twitter beefs? Nahhh.
Nor are voters like Kelly lamenting his Twitter tirades: “He’s speaking directly to the people. Like Reagan!” Dick told me over lunch. Trump’s brusque, shoot-from-the-hip conversations with world leaders and allies? “We’re not going to go to war with Australia,” Kindsvatter said.

“I think he’s pretty much following The Art of the Deal,” said Ken Warner, 60, who works in the finance industry. “He’s got the price of fighter jets down. It’s not something we’re used to. It’s a little unorthodox. Listening to his Carrier negotiation, you have to shrug on the means but can’t disagree with the ends. You don’t want to be picking winners and losers. You don’t want to see a president calling out people on Twitter. However, the results so far have not been bad. So I can’t say it’s wrong.”
What I'm thinking is that these people aren't just tut-tutting "the means" while applauding "the results." I think they assume that anyone of their own political persuasion who's getting press this bad must be doing something right. I think the chaos reinforces the sense that Trump is "shaking things up."

Paul Krugman writes today:
At this point, someone is bound to say, “If they’re so dumb, how come they won?” Part of the answer is that disdain for experts -- sorry, “so-called” experts -- resonates with an important part of the electorate. Bigotry wasn’t the only dark force at work in the election; so was anti-intellectualism, hostility toward “elites” who claim that opinions should be based on careful study and thought.
I think chaos and incompetence are part of the secret sauce that signals to Trump voters that he's a refreshing change from the pols who've disappointed them in the past. Eventually, whewn the dust settles, they'll know they've been cheated. But -- if we haven't all died in a thermonuclear war or plunged into an economic depression by then -- it might not be until well into his second term.

Trump voters see crowd-pleasing policies accompanied by turbulence. They say the turbulence doesn't bother them. I think they see it as an affirmation of their worldview, and a sign that their champion is hard at work on their behalf.