Remember when we in the reality-based community said that Donald Trump didn't have the bare minimum intellectual, emotional, or moral capital to qualify for the office of president? We weren't bloody wrong. New York Times reporter gives us a glimpse into the new life of President Trump that confirms our deepest worries:
“These are the most beautiful phones I’ve ever used in my life,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.
His mornings, he said, are spent as they were in Trump Tower. He rises before 6 a.m., watches television tuned to a cable channel first in the residence, and later in a small dining room in the West Wing, and looks through the morning newspapers: The New York Times, The New York Post and now The Washington Post.
But his meetings now begin at 9 a.m., earlier than they used to, which significantly curtails his television time. Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.
“They have a lot of board rooms,” he said of the White House, an apparent reference to the Cabinet Room and the Roosevelt Room.
He said he was enjoying himself so far, despite his visible displeasure with the coverage of his inauguration and the first performance of his press secretary, Sean Spicer, who shouted at the news media and made numerous false statements about Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowds in the White House briefing room on Saturday.
Read the whole thing. Every paragraph has a jewel in it. And then, at the bottom of the article, the Times website has this:
This, you see, is punctuation. Because the least-qualified human being ever to be president of the United States still has the enormous power that comes with the office, and he's using it exactly as he said he would.
James Fallows has come out of his hiding place (he's writing a book and so has been offline since January 1st) to annotate President Trump's inaugural address. I didn't hear the speech, and now that I've read it, with Fallows' annotations, I'm incrementally more nervous about the next four years.
And then came the bald-faced lies about the crowd size at the inauguration. Crowd scientists, such as those at the CIA, estimated perhaps 160,000 people attended the inauguration, somewhat fewer than Obama's record 1.8 million in 2009. The president said he had more like 1.5 million spectators. Press Secretary Sean Spicer had a testy press conference Saturday in which he asserted (at CIA headquarters no less) that Trump had record crowds. For those of us used to the evidence-based world, it made no sense: why would the president's press secretary say something so obviously untrue to the White House press corps?
Well, chess champion and Human Rights Foundation chair Garry Kasparov, who (a) plays chess well and (b) grew up in the Soviet Union, suggested a reason that Americans aren't generally equipped to perceive:
The purpose of the Trump administration’s lies is not necessarily to deceive, but to separate the believers from the disbelievers—for the purpose of rewarding the former and punishing the latter. As chess champion Garry Kasparov, an expert in authoritarianism as an outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, tweeted on Saturday: "Obvious lies serve a purpose for an administration. They watch who challenges them and who loyally repeats them. The people must watch, too."
Jeet Heer concludes:
Trump’s self-centered decision process is authoritarianism, and it’s anything but irrational. He campaigned in an authoritarian style, with rallies where he riled up large crowds to jeer at the press and protesters. One of the defining tactics of his campaign was disinformation, coupled with accusations of the same against the media. That hasn’t changed now that Trump is president. The administration’s unified anti-press and anti-fact message over the weekend is part of a deliberate, long-term strategy that was hatched many months ago, and is only likely to intensify. The president will wage a rhetorical war against the media, with the intent of delegitimizing one of the few institutions that can hold him accountable, and he will wage it with his most effective weapon: Lies, damned lies, and false statistics.
I've never thought that Trump was crazy or stupid, though I have thought he was unhinged, narcissistic, infantile, immoral, and declassé in the extreme. I've also thought he would try govern very badly. So far I haven't been wrong.
President Trump—oh, how I hate writing that, but I still respect the office—shut down the National Park Service Twitter account after they tweeted two photos comparing the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations. From Snopes:
On 20 January 2017, the day Donald J. Trump took office as President of the United States, news outlets posted photos purporting to compare the size of the crowd attending Trump's inauguration to that attending Barack Obama's first inaugural ceremony in 2009. Although there was not yet an official count of how many people actually showed up at the Trump event, so an accurate numerical comparison couldn't be made, the photos did appear to show a significant disparity between the sizes of the crowds, with far fewer in attendance at Trump's inauguration than Obama's.
For obvious reasons, the side-by-side images were relished by anti-Trump factions, who shared and retweeted them all day long.
All of which caused a small uproar on Twitter, where some users joked that the National Park Service had "gone rogue," others wondered about the legality of the retweets, and still others defended their content as "factual, not anti-Trump." Later that day, the NPS Twitter account, along with all the other Department of Interior accounts, went silent.
Snopes quotes a CNN report that the order came from a career civil servant, not the administration, but still the optics are really bad for the president. Meanwhile, he continues to whine that the news media reported crowd estimates incorrectly. Here are the photos; you judge:
While there are vast differences between the Roman Republic and the United States, there are many ways they compare directly. There is always a temptation, in any system of government, for public officials to rule rather than govern; but a well-functioning republic has institutional safeguards to prevent that. Institutions can be corrupted from within, however. And just a few minutes ago, one of the deepest infections in American history just burrowed into the center of our government.
I'll leave it to Brooks and Krugman to suggest what we do now. First, Brooks:
We’ve wondered if there is some opponent out there that could force us to unite and work together. Well, that opponent is being inaugurated, not in the form of Trump the man, but in the form of the chaos and incompetence that will likely radiate from him, month after month. For America to thrive, people across government will have to cooperate and build arrangements to quarantine and work around the president.
People in the defense, diplomatic and intelligence communities will have to build systems to prevent him from intentionally or unintentionally bumbling into a global crisis. People in his administration and in Congress will have to create systems so his ill-informed verbal spasms don’t derail coherent legislation.
Krugman agrees, to an extent, but has more fear:
Crises of some kind are bound to occur on any president’s watch. They appear especially likely given the crew that’s coming in and their allies in Congress: Given the stated priorities of the people about to take charge, we could very well see collapsing health care, a trade war and a military standoff with China just in the next year.
Real crises need real solutions. They can’t be resolved with a killer tweet, or by having your friends in the F.B.I. or the Kremlin feed the media stories that take your problems off the front page. What the situation demands are knowledgeable, levelheaded people in positions of authority.
But as far as we know, almost no people meeting that description will be in the new administration, except possibly the nominee for defense secretary — whose nickname just happens to be “Mad Dog.”
No more than 1,469 days, 23 hours, and 54 minutes remain in this horrible, horrible administration.
And I haven't fully read any of these:
Only a few more hours until we see how much closer to Rome we get.
Tabs open but not read in my browser:
There was one more item, but it's too big to gloss over.
I grew up in Chicago, so I have some recollection of how things were before Harold Washington's mayoral administration. Particularly under the first Mayor Daley, large sections of the city lived under authoritarian rule. It wasn't pretty.
New Republic's Graham Vyse explains what this might look like nationally. It won't be The Hunger Games—and that's part of the problem:
Tom Pepinsky, a government professor at Cornell University, recently argued that Americans conceive of authoritarianism in a “fantastical and cartoonish” way, and that popular media—especially film—is to blame.
“This vision of authoritarian rule,” he wrote, “has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus.”
“If you think of authoritarianism as only being The Hunger Games and Star Wars, you’re likely to focus on the wrong types of threats to democracy,” he said in an interview. “You’re out there looking for something unlikely to happen and you’re missing the things much more likely to happen.” Such as legal gerrymandering, he said. “One way to not lose elections that’s very common and essential to Malaysia is the construction of so many safe legislative seats that the party doesn’t need to get most of the voters to get most of the seats.”
In other words, it's already happening in places where Republican governments rule with minority popular votes, such as in North Carolina and (starting Friday) at the Federal level.
Meanwhile, Josh Marshall lays out pretty clearly how Trump and Putin are trying to destroy the EU and NATO, which average Americans might not care about until they're gone.
The next few years are going to suck.
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.