The Atlantic shares "50 moments that define an improbably presidency:"
This week marks the midway point of Trump’s term. Like many Americans, we sometimes find the velocity of chaos unmanageable. We find it hard to believe, for example, that we are engaged in a serious debate about whether the president of the United States is a Russian-intelligence asset. So we decided to pause for a moment and analyze 50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency to date.
Our 2016 editorial was a repudiation of Donald Trump’s character as much as it was an endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. It was not meant to be partisan. The Atlantic’s founders promised their readers that we would be “of no party or clique.” This remains a core governing principle of the magazine today. What follows is a catalog of incidents, ranked—highly subjectively!—according to both their outlandishness and their importance. In most any previous presidency, Democratic or Republican, each moment on this list would have been unthinkable.
Number 50: "Donald Trump touches the magic orb." Number 1: "Children are taken from their parents and incarcerated."
It's chilling, seeing them all together in one place.
We're gonna have the greatest government shutdown ever! It'll be a big, beautiful shutdown, because we need a wall!
Yep. It's the biggest one ever, all right:
Approximately 800,000 federal employees are estimated to be furloughed or working without pay because President Donald Trump and Congress cannot reach a deal to reopen the government. They are at an impasse over $5.7 billion for construction of a wall along the southern border.
The number of furloughed employees does not include federal contractors like Estes. It’s unclear how many contract or grant employees are affected by the shutdown — or even how many there are in total — but a Volcker Alliance report estimated that nearly 5.3 million worked as contractors in 2015.
Unlike furloughed federal employees, who have received assurances that they will be paid once the shutdown ends, contractors are not owed back pay. That has left them in an even murkier economic position.
Of course, I have to take NBC for saying the President and Congress cannot reach a deal, as if they're equally responsible. Nope! The buck stops at the Resolute Desk, let's not forget:
By the way, has anyone told Mitch McConnell that Congress can pass a law without the president's signature?
President Trump is, and has always been, a fraud. And now it may have caught up with him.
The man who claims to have written a book on negotiating couldn't get what he claimed was his first priority through a friendly Congress. Now Congress is no longer friendly. Josh Marshall concludes from this that "Trump cannot learn how to be President:"
Democrats were actually quite willing to fund the wall. They offered tens of billions of dollars for it, far more than they’re refusing to support now. But Trump had to give them DACA. He said he would but then refused, apparently because his most rage-driven advisors said it would make him weak, much as he was goaded into this shutdown by Coulter and Limbaugh. He’s weak in respect to his supporters who control him and manipulate him. It’s probably better to say that he couldn’t than he wouldn’t.
There were a number of red state Democrats who were quite ready to make deals and the entire Democratic caucus would have in exchange for something they wanted. But he couldn’t do it. He can only dictate. This shouldn’t surprise us. He couldn’t manage to get Obamacare repealed, even by the 50 vote standard, one in which he needed only Republican votes, even though Republicans had campaigned on doing just that for almost a decade. That’s a remarkable level of governance failure.
And now he's discovering that his self-lauded negotiating skills just don't seem to work:
Trump’s approach is a hallmark of a president who eschews strategic planning and preparation in favor of day-to-day tactical maneuvering and trusting his gut. But as he digs in against an emboldened Democratic opposition, Trump has found that his go-to arsenal of bluster, falsehoods, threats and theatrics has laid bare his shortcomings as a negotiator — preventing him from finding a way out of what may be the biggest political crisis of his presidency.
White House allies professed confusion over the president’s tactics. Trump aides initially signaled he would support a continuing resolution from Congress to fund the government through early February, but the president reversed course in the face of intense criticism from conservative talk show hosts and border hawks.
As James Fallows said:
“Give me a lever that is long enough, and I can move the world,” Archimedes is supposed to have said. We now have a Coulter corollary, descended perhaps from Iago and Lady Macbeth. It is: Give me a man who is weak enough, and I can taunt him into anything.
We're still 10 days away from the half-way point of this administration. Heaven help us all.
James Fallows argues that television networks have clear precedents as well as unprecedented reasons not to air President Trump's speech tonight:
The challenge for the news media was to “make the important interesting,” rather than to search for the purely interesting. Car-crash footage, or the last seconds of a sudden-death playoff game, will always be more eye-catching than reports on a drought, or on sexual-harassment patterns, or emergency-room standards, or a million other topics. But things that are merely interesting will never lack for coverage. The definition of news is that it attempts to explain things that matter, things that a democratic society needs to know about in order to make sane decisions.
Donald Trump has been the most entertaining figure on the public stage since he came down the golden escalator in 2015. TV news, in particular, has therefore not been able to resist showing him (and his rallies) or talking about him. It’s the civic equivalent of seeing that 9-year-olds are guzzling down the Mountain Dew and asking for more Spam. Trump’s going live? Let’s switch to the White House! This needs to change.
Trump just lies. He doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care, about the difference between claims that are true and those that are obviously made up. (Daniel Dale, of the Toronto Star, has indefatigably catalogued Trump’s lies, at a rate of more than 100 per week.) Maybe 4,000 “terrorists” have been apprehended at the southern border? Maybe zero? Who can ever really know? Over the past week Trump has claimed that former presidents “privately” told him they supported building his wall. All four living ex-presidents have taken the unusual step of denying that they said any such thing.
The network executives’ position has a lot in common with that of the Senate Republicans. Each group knows with perfect clarity what Trump is actually doing. The Senate Republicans know that Trump is using the wall as a distraction and life raft. They know that because they had unanimously approved, by voice-vote, a plan to keep the government open, with no mention of the wall, before Trump panicked in the face of criticism from Ann Coulter and Fox News. They could pass that resolution again tomorrow—but they won’t speak up in public, so fearful do they remain of being criticized, too. For their part, the network executives know exactly what Trump will do if given air time. (Though they also realize that the formal Oval Office speech is Trump’s weakest venue. He’s not good at reading prepared texts, with his trademark ad-libs of “that’s so true” when he encounters lines he had clearly not seen before.) But they are giving it to him.
They were not afraid of criticism for turning down Obama. They are afraid about what would happen if they turned down Trump. You can think of lots of explanations. But the difference is clear.
I won't watch or listen to the speech live because I have other plans, and because Fallows is right. Why listen to half an hour of untruths coming from a person manifestly unfit to sit behind the desk he'll be sitting behind?
President Trump's administration had no idea what a government shutdown would do until they started looking into it after shutting down the government:
Two devastating reports in the Washington Post over the weekend detail the horrifying scope of their ignorance. The administration did not realize that 38 million Americans lose their food stamps under a shutdown, nor did it know that thousands of tenants would face eviction without assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It’s likely the administration was lulled into complacency by a previous, abbreviated shutdown that took place in early 2018. This interruption in funding lasted only a few days and had barely any effect. Perhaps the administration assumed a longer shutdown would work the same way, but, you know, more of it. The reality is that the effects of a shutdown compound over time. Government agencies can creatively stretch their budgets to mask gaps in funding, but at some point, their capacity to maintain services snaps. The relationship between the length of a shutdown and its impact is not linear. A 30-day shutdown is not ten times as damaging as a three-day shutdown. It is probably 100 times as damaging.
The impending reality of millions of Americans going hungry and homeless is just one aspect of the horrors that await us. At some point, the shutdown will impinge upon Trump’s C-suite constituency. Employees of the Transportation Security Administration have had to work without pay, but that cannot continue indefinitely. Already, employees at some airports have begun staging sick-outs. At some point, air travel will grind to a halt, and with it large segments of the economy. By next month, tax refunds will be in jeopardy.
Facing an economic cataclysm, Trump appears to have no endgame in mind.
Also, there's this matter of the air-traffic control system.
We're only two weeks short of the the half-way point in this presidential term, and the White House still hasn't figured out how to do their jobs.
The White House has simply stopped responding to basic press enquiries, not even bothering to issue a "no comment:"
“This is the least responsive White House press operation I’ve ever dealt with by far,” said Peter Baker, a veteran White House reporter for the New York Times and one of the co-authors of the story about Trump’s isolation. “There are certainly individuals there who are professional and try to be helpful when they can, and I appreciate their efforts, I really do. But as a whole, I’ve learned not to expect answers even to basic questions.”
The White House has had no response to stories large and small in recent days: reports that Trump planned to meet with Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell, whom he has criticized (no response to Agence France-Presse); the partial shutdown of the federal government (no response to Reuters or USA Today); a report by an advocacy group that wealthy donors gave $55 million to groups supporting his reelection, despite Trump’s stated opposition to such donations during the 2016 campaign (no response to Washington Post); Trump’s statement that former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was “dumb as a rock” (no response to CNBC); a piece in the Times reporting that a podiatrist may have helped Trump dodge the draft when Trump was a young man at the height of the Vietnam War.
At the same time, the White House seems to have all but stopped explaining Trump’s bizarre tweets.
I don't think this should surprise anyone. The current administration, abetted by the Republican Party, don't believe that the US Government works for anyone but them. They have shown for almost two years they don't value the basic values of civic engagement that a republic requires.
Regardless of which Democrats run in 2020, I think at least we can expect that their campaigns (and the resulting new administration) will at least issue a no-comment response.
The Trump Shutdown will last until the new Congress convenes on Thursday, for the simple reason that there is no longer a Congress to vote for new funding:
Republican leaders gave up hope on Thursday of reopening the government before the new year, leaving the border wall impasse to House Democrats as they assume the majority next week — and presenting Representative Nancy Pelosi with her first major challenge as speaker.
House Democrats, who take control on Wednesday, are weighing three approaches to getting funds flowing, none of which would include additional money for President Trump’s proposed wall along the southwestern border. Whichever path they choose, party leaders said they would vote promptly on Jan. 3, hoping to project the image of Democrats as a steadying hand in Washington even as Republicans try to blame Ms. Pelosi and her party for the shutdown and lax border control.
“We will vote swiftly to reopen government and show that Democrats will govern responsibly in stark contrast to this chaotic White House,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement.
Ms. Pelosi is determined to prevent the shutdown brinkmanship from interfering with the Democrats’ assumption of power and her ceremony-soaked return to the speakership. But it appeared almost certain that the careful rollout of Democrats’ legislative agenda — including a sweeping anticorruption and voting rights bill — would be at least partly eclipsed by the funding crisis.
The shutdown has affected about a quarter of the government, left 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay, and on Thursday entered its sixth day.
Meanwhile, even Republicans have started arguing that the best way to deal with the president is simply to ignore him.
Would that the world could. And we're not even halfway through his term yet.
Just a quick post of articles I want to load up on my Surface at O'Hare:
Off to take Parker to boarding. Thence the Land of UK.
As someone joked after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned yesterday, "we have to worry when the grown-up in the room is nicknamed 'Mad Dog.'" His resignation letter doesn't seem that mad:
One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.
Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions - to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Interesting times. And to the reason that Mattis has resigned (a disagreement with the president over pulling out of Syria), Josh Marshall rightly points out that if we don't know why the president is doing something, that's a problem in itself:
This most basic level of transparency – knowing roughly the reasons why the government is doing the things its doing – is something Americans have mostly been able to take for granted. But today we can’t. And that has knock-on effects down the line of democratic self-government and accountability. If we don’t know why things are happening, whether they’re happening for plausible policy reasons or because of pay-offs or extortion or whims, we can’t properly react to them. We can’t properly understand what is happening with no clear idea why it is happening. We lack the basic information around which political groupings properly react to those in power, supporting the government’s actions or opposing them. It generates a climate of profound uncertainty and civic paralysis.
Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is exactly what Russia and China want. We really are in an upside-down world, when Democrats are worried about our adversaries and Republicans don't care.
As we finish the 23rd month of the Trump Administration, Philip Bump has a graphic showing how all of the investigations into the president's organizations overlap:
An article from The Washington Post on Saturday opened with such a striking line that it’s worth lazily co-opting for the opening of this article: “Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.”
That report outlined the scope of existing probes targeting President Trump, his administration, campaign and even transition team. On Monday, Wired’s Garrett Graff went further, delineating no fewer than 17 investigations and lines of inquiry facing Trump and those associated with him.
But the scope of what Trump alone faces is daunting, particularly when coupled with the existing probes into people close to him. The timeline of those investigations, in fact, stretches back well over a decade.
I should note that Bump published this yesterday. Since then, the Trump Foundation has announced it will dissolve after the New York Attorney General found so much to charge them with I don't have room on this blog to list it all.
I have a degree in history, and spent a lot of time looking at the 20th Century United States. President Harding was the most corrupt person in the White House during that century. And he was a rank amateur compared to the current guy. It's really quite amazing.