The latest scandal surrounding Trump is either farcical or truly scary:
Seven months ago, a respected former British spy named Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia. Last week, the explosive details — unsubstantiated accounts of frolics with prostitutes, real estate deals that were intended as bribes and coordination with Russian intelligence of the hacking of Democrats — were summarized for Mr. Trump in an appendix to a top-secret intelligence report.
Mr. Trump denounced the unproven claims Wednesday as a fabrication, a Nazi-style smear concocted by “sick people.” It has further undermined his relationship with the intelligence agencies and cast a shadow over the new administration.
Remarkably for Washington, many reporters for competing news organizations had the salacious and damning memos, but they did not leak, because their contents could not be confirmed. That changed only this week, after the heads of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency added a summary of the memos, along with information gathered from other intelligence sources, to their report on the Russian cyberattack on the election.
Now, after the most contentious of elections, Americans are divided and confused about what to believe about the incoming president. And there is no prospect soon for full clarity on the veracity of the claims made against him.
Of course, Trump doesn't want this investigated further, thus his protestations that it's a complete fabrication. But as others have pointed out, if non-partisan officials in our government and others believe that the incoming president may be compromised by a long-standing adversary, shouldn't we find out the truth?
But Trump isn't interested in the truth, and never has been. Which is why taking anything he says at face value is farcical. But not clearing him of being a Russian asset? That's scary.
Since records began with Eisenhower's inauguration in 1953, no incoming president has had an approval rating below 50% at the start of his administration. Reagan and George HW Bush came in at 51%, and both managed to improve (to 68% and 56%, respectively) in the first 100 days. Even George W Bush, despite the taint surrounding his election, came in at 57% and inched up to 62% by April 2001.
And along comes Trump. A Quinnipac poll released today has him at 37%, and falling. As Josh Marshall puts it, "Trump, his agenda and his party are deeply unpopular. Indeed, Trump's gotten steadily more unpopular over the last four weeks. All of this tells us that political gravity still exists. Indeed, it is already shaping events on Capitol Hill."
For comparison, shortly before he left office under a pall of sex scandals and rampant corruption, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi polled between 33-35%. And immediately before the watershed UK election in 2010, the Labour Party under Gordon Brown polled around 30%. And in 2015, just before losing to Justin Trudeau, Canada's Stephen Harper polled around 33%.
In other words, Trump is coming into office approximately as popular as discredited and failing leaders of other modern democracies right before their defenestrations.
It'll be interesting to see if he notices.
You know, it's hard to feel sorry for anyone who invested in this charlatan's buildings, but still:
Two signs of a slowdown in Trump's signature building have emerged: a decline in sales of condos and a stack of unsold listings that is bigger than in competitive buildings.
At year-end, sales in the building were down from 2015, according to Gail Lissner, vice president of Appraisal Research Counselors, which tracks the downtown real estate market. There were 34 sales in the building in 2016, a drop of almost 40 percent from 2015's 56 sales, according to Lissner.
That's compared to an 11.3 percent increase in sales of all condos priced $650,000 and up, from 1,451 sales in 2015 to 1,616 sales in 2016, according to Midwest Real Estate Data. (Though many condos at Trump are priced in the multimillion-dollar range, the prices on currently listed condos start in the mid-$600,000s.)
The Trump building has the highest percentage of units on the resale market within a group of 10 downtown condo buildings all completed within several years of one another, according to a Crain's analysis.
Investors are out millions, and it seems directly attributable to Trump being Trump. Pity.
In yet another unprecedented rejection of historical norms that has tremendous potential to encourage corruption and double-dealing, Senate Republicans are rushing Trump cabinet confirmations so much that the Office of Government Ethics can't keep up. This means that some confirmation hearings might start before nominees have even finished their background checks and ethics disclosures:
In a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the leader of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., said on Friday that “the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me.”
He said the packed schedule had put “undue pressure” on the office to rush its reviews of the nominees and he knew of no other occasion in the office’s four decades when the Senate had held a confirmation hearing before the review was completed.
Democrats plan to keep the focus on the president-elect to a degree with few historical parallels. New presidents usually serve as a backdrop; this year, by contrast, Mr. Trump’s words will loom over the hearings as Democrats press the nominees to take a position on them.
Democrats have little chance of blocking any of the nominees, having given up the use of the filibuster in such cases when they were in the majority, but they say Mr. Trump has handed them ample political ammunition.
My hope is that the hearings will at least get a lot of this on the record, even if we can't stop the nominations from succeeding. But the people Trump has nominated seem calculated to do the most damage to the Federal government as nearly all of them have financial interests within the scope of their nominations, or are openly hostile to the departments they'll be running. Get ready for a mind-boggling term of wholesale theft from the American people.
The last two days, I've been in meetings more than 7 hours each. I'm a little fried. Meanwhile, the following have popped up for me to read over the weekend:
I'm now off to the opera. Thence, perhaps, to sleep.
Even though there are about 58 hours left in the year, I still have work to do. Meanwhile, a few things to read have crossed my RSS feeds:
OK, back to work.
OK, traveling tomorrow, reports as circumstances warrant.
Krugman's column from yesterday—the day Donald Trump was actually elected our next President—echoes a concern I've had for years:
I couldn’t help noticing the contemporary resonances of some Roman history — specifically, the tale of how the Roman Republic fell.
Here’s what I learned: Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.
Famously, on paper the transformation of Rome from republic to empire never happened. Officially, imperial Rome was still ruled by a Senate that just happened to defer to the emperor, whose title originally just meant “commander,” on everything that mattered. We may not go down exactly the same route — although are we even sure of that? — but the process of destroying democratic substance while preserving forms is already underway.
... [T]he sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.
Meanwhile, Trump set another new low yesterday when 7 electors voted for someone other than who they were pledged to vote, the largest such group since the 12th Amendment essentially enshrined two-party politics into our system.
The usually-Republican Brookings Institution reports (.pdf) on why our Constitution has an emoluments clause, and how Trump is exactly why it has one:
Foreign interference in the American political system was among the gravest dangers feared by the Founders of our nation and the Framers of our Constitution. The United States was a new government, and one that was vulnerable to manipulation by the great and wealthy world powers (which then, as now, included Russia). One common tactic that foreign sovereigns, and their agents, used to influence our officials was to give them gifts, money, and other things of value. In response to this practice, and the self-evident threat it represents, the Framers included in the Constitution the Emoluments Clause of Article I, Section 9. It prohibits any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Only explicit congressional consent validates such exchanges.
While much has changed since 1789, certain premises of politics and human nature have held steady. One of those truths is that private financial interests can subtly sway even the most virtuous leaders. As careful students of history, the Framers were painfully aware that entanglements between American officials and foreign powers could pose a creeping, insidious risk to the Republic.
Never in American history has a president-elect presented more conflict of interest questions and foreign entanglements than Donald Trump. Given the vast and global scope of Trump’s business interests, many of which remain shrouded in secrecy, we cannot predict the full gamut of legal and constitutional challenges that lie ahead. But one violation, of constitutional magnitude, will run from the instant that Mr. Trump swears he will “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”1 While holding office, Mr. Trump will receive—by virtue of his continued interest in the Trump Organization and his stake in hundreds of other entities—a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers and their agents.
It's not like we told you so, but...we told you so.
Just when you think Trump's cabinet picks couldn't get any worse, the Washington Post connects dots that weren't immediately visible:
Tillerson and Trump had no previous relationship, but the Texas oilman and the New York developer hit it off when they met face to face. One of the things that they have in common is their shared affection for the works of Ayn Rand, the libertarian heroine who celebrated laissez-faire capitalism.
Andy Puzder, tapped by Trump last week to be secretary of labor, is an avid and outspoken fan of Rand’s books. One profiler last week asked what he does in his free time, and a friend replied that he reads Ayn Rand. He is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is owned by Roark Capital Group, a private equity fund named after Howard Roark.
Trump has been huddling with and consulting several other Rand followers for advice as he fills out his cabinet. John A. Allison IV, for example, met with Trump for about 90 minutes the week before last. “As chief executive of BB&T Corp., he distributed copies of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to senior officers and influenced BB&T’s charitable arm to fund classes about the moral foundations of capitalism at a number of colleges,” the Journal noted in a piece about him. “Mr. Allison’s worldview was shaped when he was a college student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and stumbled across a collection of essays by Ms. Rand.”
The answer to this post's headline? See for yourself.