With Emoluments Clause, Trump Places “Brand” Above Constitution

 

Image result for trump hotel washington

“Follow the money.” “It’s literally right there. It isn’t even trying to hide.”

 

The least surprising story of the week is also maybe the most enraging…

In January, Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the Trump Organization would donate any profits earned at Trump hotels from a foreign government to the US Treasury. The move was supposedly an attempt to stay on the right side of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits US government officials from taking gifts or benefiting from foreign governments. Ethics experts noted that the pledge, issued by attorney Sheri Dillon, did not truly address this violation of the Constitution. Trump needed to divest his ownership of the hotels, they contended. And now new documents released by congressional Democrats show that Trump is not taking even his insufficient effort seriously.

How does the Trump Organization determine which foreign funds ought to be donated? Not too assiduously, it appears. The House Oversight Committee several weeks ago asked the Trump Organization for information on this process. In response, the company sent the committee a nine-page pamphlet that instructs staff at its properties on how to handle this matter. The pamphlet indicates that the Trump Organization is not enthusiastic about gathering this information and doesn’t want its guests bothered by any efforts to comply with the Emoluments Clause.

The pamphlet notes that the hotels should not calculate the profit from foreign patronage but rather estimate it. After all, it says, calculating the actual profit would take a lot of effort: “To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical, nor would it even be possible without an inordinate amount of time, resources and specialists.”

When it comes to identifying foreign revenues, the pamphlet tells Trump hotel staff not to try too hard, for that could annoy the customers: “To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.” So, the pamphlet points out, the Trump Organization will not try to identify customers who do not inform the hotel that they are representing a foreign government.

(All from Mother Jones, which, as always, is on it)

This is, first of all, a textbook case of how Trump has always worked. Make a big show and then nothing coming of it, whether it is the huge birth certificate announcement or a solemn pledge to uphold the Constitution. Because in his oily reptilian brain Trump knows that the announcement gets the headline, but the follow-through never does.

It’s clever, too: “estimating profits” is perfect. They will “donate” a certain amount of hotel profits that they estimate come from foreign sources, which means, as MJ points out, a foreign government could spend millions of dollars at a hotel that is just breaking even, and none of that would be reported. And it goes without saying that “Trump Possibly Donating Only Percentage of Estimated Profits From Hotel Business” isn’t going to be front-page news.

But you don’t even have to get into the weeds of this scheme to see why it is breathtaking and maddening. They are literally saying that following the Constitution would be too hard, and that it wouldn’t be good for their business. To which one could say, well, shithead, you didn’t have to run for President, but that would be belaboring the obvious. He clearly ran for President partly as a way to make more money. He’s exactly the greedy and terrible person he always was. This isn’t a surprise.

This is exactly how corruption works. Not the minutia, or the actual taking of money; we’re all familiar with how greedy people try to enrich themselves. But how systems and countries become corrupted and rotted. This is how it happens.

I’m not being naive here. America has always been a greedy land, a capitalistic engine that destroys everything in its path. Politicians have always taken from the till, when they haven’t been outright controlling the till. But this is something different.

This isn’t just theft. It is a subversion of the Constitution itself, and it is done flagrantly and openly. That they are sort of dancing around it by being cute isn’t an attempt at subtlety; it is making the crassness behind the moneygrab even more blatant. They are saying, openly: what are you going to do about it?

That’s true corruption. It’s exposing the weakness in a system, which assumes decency but is also ruthlessly partisan, for you own advantage. It’s daring anyone to stop you and knowing that they won’t. It both assumes, and promotes, a moral decay.  Because what this says, clearly, is that the institutions, the rules, the very documents to which we pledge allegiance, don’t matter if you are powerful.

We’ve always known that power corrupts, and all that, but in ths history of the American Presidency it has generally been to get more power. People around the President have been greedy and venal, but even Nixon wasn’t bagging cash, for the most part. At least, that wasn’t his sole or even primary goal. It was “just” to crush the Democrats so he could run the world the way he goddamn saw fit.

That’s why this is different. It’s cheap and it is dirty. It’s grubbing and low and vile. This corruption is entirely about money. It reduces the Presidency to a casino, a back-alley game of craps, a bunch of sweaty mooks in a garage office selling phony insurance to widows. Jack Abramoff and and Boss Tweed broke the law to get money. Trump is breaking the Constitution, entirely for money, and no one is stopping him.

Think about it: they literally said that protecting their “brand” was more important than scrupulously following the Constitution. Their brand! I can’t think of a better encapsulation of our idiot moment, one that let a remarkably stupid and inhumanely crass and greedy reality show idiot lie his dumbfuck way to the White House. He won on his “brand”, and his brand is a guy who relentless promotes his brand. It’s looping nonsense, a post-postmodern commerical for commercials.

And no Republican is stopping this. That’s corruption in its truest sense. Putrefaction doesn’t happen because of death; death just allows the bacteria that was always inside to work its rotting ways. Death means you can’t fight off worms any longer. Death is merely the precipitating factor to corporeal corruption.

That was Trump. But we were already on our way. We are a nation obsessed with brands and disinterested in facts. We’re too big and unruly, and have become too partisan. Our system has allowed for the tyranny of the minority (and the seating of Neal Gorsuch is the starkest example of that). Trump corrupted us by being the final death, but we were on our way.

McMasters, Comey, and the Trump Endgame

faerie-tale-1293845_960_720

The fake king at the end of days

There are two ways that the Trump Presidency could end.

OK, that’s not true. There are many, many ways the Trump Presidency could end, including relatively normally. But that seems impossible, because we’ve elected a spoiled, ignorant, dauphin to become the most powerful person in the world. We’ve elected someone who is, without a doubt, in the bottom 10% of people in this country who should be President. You pull nearly anyone off the street, and the wouldn’t be as implusive, reckless, and vainglorious. They wouldn’t be as poor a manager or judge of people, and they wouldn’t let their ego overtake every affair. I’m not saying most people would be good Presidents (I’d be terrible), but few would be this bad.

And because of that, there are right now two paths that stand out among many, both with terrible repercussions.

The more straightforward one is that with the firing of Comey and the purported memo we’re pretty clearly in an Obstruction of Justice phase. Even Republicans are beginning to come around. Vulnerable ones in Illinois, like Adam Kinzinger, are calling for independent prosecutors, and others are just hiding. They feel the worm turning. Paul Ryan hasn’t come up for air in days, as he basically wants to avoid the parts of his job that don’t involve starving people.

The main counterargument, as Ross Douthat, of all people, points out, is that Trump probably is too stupid to even know he was obstructing justice. He was just asking Comey to do him a solid, lean on him a little bit, etc. No biggie. (Douthat thinks this is true, but says it proves Trump’s manifest unfitness for office).

Now, it is true that obstruction of justice is hard to prove, and it is true that there are enough emotional Trump supporters that the GOP might be scared of offending. They might duck behind the incredibly cynical “oh, so now you like Comey” ploy, as if (not actual!) hypocrisy by Democrats is an absolution for actual crimes. There will be a lot of wrangling as Republicans deal with the full scope of their moral failure, their irrational hatred for Hillary Clinton, their insane partisanship, and most of all, placing their desire to throw millions off health care and cut taxes for the rich over the needs of the Republic.

Will they be able to own up to it? If so, expect a lot of talk of their courage and bravery (mostly self-praise), and the nauseating spectacle of their “rising above partisanship”. A Trump impeachement will unleash all the howling anger that is already shaking this country, and they shouldn’t get praise for stopping, too late, a beast they helped create. But we’ll deal with that when we get to it if, hopefully, we do.

There is a worse scenario, here, and that involves H.R. McMaster, who has long been one of the most respected people in America, and certainly in the military, but who has been tainted and corrupted by proximity to Trump, as is inevitable.  Fred Kaplan captures the sadness of McMaster standing up for Trump, in a statement that is mostly a lie, at best an evasion, and in a way, aiding and abetting our deranged king. There is a part in Kaplan that truly stands out.

At the same time, he is still an active-duty officer, duty-bound to obey all legal orders from his commander in chief and perhaps inclined to regard him with respect. Will he remain conscious of the tension between his obligations and his character, asserting the latter whenever opportunities arise? Or will the former subsume all else?

That’s very true. McMaster is active duty, and sworn to civilian primacy. That’s the founding genius of our nation. But what happens if Trump, facing impeachement and disgrace, orders the military to do something terrible and drastic? What if he tries to bind it to him, instead of the country. In August, I argued that such behavior was the primary danger of electing Donald Trump.

Unlike in Turkey, the armed forces here take pride in the fact that they don’t need to guarantee democracy through domestic force; indeed, the fact that they don’t is why our democracy works as well as it does. But if an order is illegal, and insanely so, what then? Do they refuse the order and go against the basis of their existence? Do they do something illegal, which is also a betrayal of their values, because then it means that the military isn’t loyal to the US, but just its temporary and titular head? What happens? Which betrayal is worse? And at what point do they enact the ultimate betrayal in the name of the country: that is, a legitimate overthrowing of civilian power?…

The crisis can come because Donald Trump is a fascist, and think he can and should rule like one. He has no respect for the rule of law, and believes that everything is his toy, and should be used for his greater glory. He feels that civilian control of the military means that they should be loyal to him. That’s not what we are about. The result of this collision is impossible to know. But if he is elected, you can be sure it is coming, and it will be unlike any crisis we’ve faced since the Civil War.

McMaster obviously isn’t in charge of the military, but he is key to this. How long do they stay loyal? Are there mass resignations? Or do they actually betray one duty to uphold another? This is the most terrifying endgame for Trump, and it is far from outside the realm of possibility. It’s what we might be facing. It’s the question that will get hot as the summer starts to boil and the temper of our President reaches rageful and spiteful tantrumic heights: what will the military do?

That we are even asking that is reason why every politician who supported Trump should be disgraced, forever.

Dear GOP: Mike Pence Hates Health Care and Loves Tax Cuts, Too

 

You guys already bond over horrible things! Wouldn’t this be nicer?

 

If I were a Republican (which sharp-eyed and politically astute readers of this blog will recognize I am not), my basic calculations in the wake of the Comey firing would be this:

  • We’ve supported Trump so that we could kick millions of people off health care and cut taxes for the rich.
  • And oh yeah, destroy the environment and the public good!
  • And he’s been super willing to do that, so it’s been ok to ignore the troublesome what-have-yous over his total lack of mental or moral capacities for the job.  He’ll sign anything to get a win so he can pretend to be Mr. Businessgenius President, and anyway, the Mexican and the Muslim stuff has been a great bonus. Aces all around!
  • But ok, this might be too much. You can’t fire the FBI director because he’s investigating your Russian crimes, man. This looks superbad, even though we love the strongman thing. Except when the black guy does it, then it is tyranny.
  • So, can we get through this? If we get rid of him, can we still get our stuff done?
  • Let’s say we impeach. It’s a bad year, really bad. But we look brave! And the media calls us heroic, putting the country ahead of our party. And then we have President Pence, and he hates taxes, health care, the public good, the environment, hippies, and liberals as much as we do. And he hates abortionists and gays way more than Trump!
  • So we can weather this impeachment, because god knows our democracy is literally under assault, and still get stuff done before the midterms. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually pick up seats for our courage.

There are flaws in this calculation. For one, what if Trump doesn’t care if he is impeached and refuses to leave? And the drama of displacing a President might overtake everything else, especially this President. And you might lose the base entirely. And you might not be done by 2018.

And I may be assuming facts not in evidence. I am assuming there is a baseline of genuine patriotism here. That despite their love for voter suppression, the GOP doesn’t actually want to see us go full banana. That Trump, whole embarrassing, is sort of exactly what they want. So I might be making a few too many assumptions, really.

But dammit, come on. President Pence will give you what you want! I would loathe a Pence Presidency. He’s a theocrat and a bigot and kind of a dummy and I’d fight every one of his policies, but he is so within the acceptable norms. I even sort of fear a post-impeachment Pence, because the sigh of relief will be so great that he will be sort of unshackled. Any opposition might be seen as gauche.

But things are so bad now, and we’re so close to an epochal constitutional disaster, that I’d embrace that. Even if it is for the wrong reasons–to make it easier to pursue their terrible agenda–one has to hope that the GOP discovers some patriotism, before it is too late.

The Comey Firing and the Coming Constitutional Crisis: Crossing the Border

1961-11-01a

When talking about the firing of James Comey, that smirkingly moralistic Boy Scout who clearly decided to hand over the election to Donald Trump, there are a few things to stipulate.

  1. The stated reasons for his firing–that he engaged in a grotesque abuse of power, or at the very least, political malpractice in how he handled Clinton’s emails–were the correct ones. James Comey should no more be the Director of the FBI than I should.
  2. The stated reasons are clearly bullshit.
  3. The stated reasons are initially clever, but incredibly witless. They hang a lampshade on how cheap and petty the arrangement is.  They only make it more clear that this is, in one way or the other, about Russia.

You can tell the Administration is somehow stunned that no one believes their nonpartisan rectitude in this manner. They honestly expected to be praised for this. That’s how they operate: they still assume that if they say something, us normal non-billionaire totally un-President people should believe it.  It’s Trump’s way. One of the reasons for his increasingly erratic ways are that it isn’t working. The media isn’t just reporting what he says as reality.

Because really, this is too much. I bet there are 10 hours and 2000 tweets worth of material on top Republicans praising Comey for disclosing the Anthony Weiner email “investigation” (and I still can’t believe we have to talk about that as a world-changing event). Many of these are by the President! We’re expected to believe that they are now outraged about this? And if so, why five months in?

It is belaboring the obvious to say that this is about Russia. It’s either that Comey got “too close” to something they are trying to hide, or just that he refuses to close the investigation, to do the bidding of Donald Trump. Either way, these aren’t headlines we should be reading in America.

But again, the lie is the key here. In his public letter, Trump says “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Why even bring that up? It’s a way to change the story, to say, “see, there’s nothing here!” It’s the typical Trumpian con. You can just say anything, so long as it gets you to a yes.

That reckless cynicism and nearly supernatural disregard for the truth isn’t just a part of this crisis; it is key to it. They actual tawdry crimes and corruption that drive this Administration are, in and of themselves, enough to cause a genuine catastrophe, but it is what they are driven by that makes this moment so scary.

Our system of government is formed less around laws than it is around norms and expected behavior. There are rules, but when they are broken, there is shockingly little that can be done until the rule-breaker himself is forced to change his behavior. When the exemption on conflict of interest rules were carved out for the President due to the complexity of the job, it was assumed that the President would avoid potential conflicts, not that he would see it as carte blanche, an open door. That’s obviously not the case with Trump.

He has no instincts except to enrich himself and to further his brand. There isn’t a democratic bone in his body, or a thought for the greater good anywhere in the arid warped-mirror desert of his mind. That’s why he can fire the FBI Director for lack of loyalty: he thinks this is how it should be, and there is really no way to stop him.

That’s the problem, and that’s why we are in a crisis. It was assumed that the President wouldn’t be in hock to a foreign power and wouldn’t have every top staffer equally entangled. It was assumed they wouldn’t fire the FBI Director for looking into it. It was assumed that they would adhere to some basic democratic standards. Donald Trump, with his unique and terrible sicknesses and vanities, turned out all those assumptions.

That’s what has always worried me the most about this Administration. That the only real mechanisms to stopping his revolt against the Constitutional order were Republicans, enthralled with a right-wing strongman and unable to put basic patriotism over their lust for tax cuts. And even if they did (and now is the moment, boys), there is only so much that can be done.

Let’s say this is impeachable (High crimes and misdemeanors are not just jailable offenses, but crimes against the Presidency), or something is, and the GOP actually decides to do it.  Say they impeach, and the Senate convicts. Then what? What if he refuses to leave? Again, it is assumed that a convicted President will leave office, but what if he refuses to, claiming that Congress can’t usurp an election? What horrors await us there?

This is the problem. We assume a President will behave one way. This one won’t. I’ve been worried that at some point he will order the military to do something flagrantly illegal, or that he’ll govern as a strongman, ruining our democracy, and the military will have to decide to do something. (This is the Turkish model, as I argued) A coup against an elected leader is antithetical to democracy, but it also might be needed. It is a terrible, unfathomable situation. But it is fathomable, now.

We have no idea how this President will act or what he’ll do. We don’t know if we have the legal mechanisms to alter some of his worst behaviors. We don’t know if he’ll follow the Constitution, and impeachment is part of the Constitution. If he doesn’t follow that, then what?

The title of this post is about a border. I felt that on Jan 20th we crossed the border into another land, in a way. Our conceptions of ourselves have changed, because the norms that guided us don’t any longer. It’s a psychic shock, and I think the naked and sweaty corruption of yesterday’s assault on democratic norms is pushing us further across the line.

(B)eyond his ignorance, his vapid stupidity, his tireless and pathetic ego, is that he is the exact kind of dull and base grotesquerie we’d laugh at in other countries. There is nothing there but ego and avarice, brainless pronunciations in the service of cheap laughs from his braying sycophants, who react tumescently whenever he punches down. He’s the comic bouffant strongman, the kind you see in some wretched mountain land. And that’s the border we somehow crossed over.

The true psychic shock of this transition will, I think, be hard to measure, and hard to predict. But I do think, now that the elegies are over and Donald Trump is sworn in, placing his hand on the Lincoln Bible, that there will be a subtle breaking. Its effects won’t be felt all at once, of course. But our conception of who we are will change.

We’ll have a penny-ante Balkan-esque strongman in the White House instead of a President. We’ll have a witless dummy who thinks his smirks are poetry. We’ll have a man whose conception of leadership is finding and punishing enemies. Our country will be different. We’ll be different.

I wrote this in January. I was hoping to be wrong, and the resistance still makes me hopeful. I do think that this might really spur the GOP into action, partly because he made them look foolish (most of them praised Comey for the October letter with effusive partisan bonhomie). But we also might be slowly ground underfoot, one lie at a time, until we think the bottom of a shoe is the wideopen sky.

 

Trump Attacks the Antiquities Act; Public Land At Risk

 

They seriously had the nerve to announce this in front of Teddy Roosevelt, who created the Antiquities Act. 

 

While the grim and still-strong lingerings of slavery and Jim Crow animate much of the modern conservative movement, it also drew enormous energy from the Sagebrush Rebellions of the 70s, when western ranchers and farmers started “standing up” to an overbearing federal government who didn’t want them to destroy the land. It was this, dovetailing with Buckley’s ideas of conservative politics, that allowed Ronald Reagan to win by saying “government is the problem”; something that Richard Nixon wouldn’t even think, much less say out loud.  It’s not very well-known now, but its spirit is still around.

You see the spirit of Sagebrush in most Republican policies, which is that the there is no common good. It’s what makes the idea that corporations should be able to do whatever they want to whomever they want seem somehow principled, and even patriotic. But you also see it literally, in the actions of the Bundys, direct descendants of the movement.  And you see it in the actions of the Trump administration, run by a man who never saw anything he didn’t want to sell.

We talked about how the administration was planning to sell off public lands to be developed or mined or logged or stripped clean (the cruel quintessence of the GOP), but now they are paving the way to make it actually happen. Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists has the details.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president of the United States the power to designate lands and waters for permanent protection. Almost every president since Teddy Roosevelt has used the Act to place extraordinary archaeological, historic and natural sites under protection and out of reach of commercial exploitation.

Many sites originally designated as national monuments were later upgraded by Congress to become national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Saguaro and Death Valley. In many cases in the past, the Antiquities Act allowed presidents to protect vital natural and cultural resources when congressional leaders, often compromised by their ties to special interests representing coal, oil, timber and mining industries, were reluctant or unwilling to act.

A new Executive Order signed by President Trump on April 26th, 2017 puts this important regulatory tool for conservation and historic preservation at risk. The clear intention of the Executive Order is to lay the groundwork for shrinking national monuments or rescinding their designation entirely, in order to open currently protected public lands for untrammeled growth in coal, oil and minerals extraction.

Ryan Zinke, who this blog once made the mistake of calling “maybe not terrible“, is all in on this. Markham slaps him down.

Secretary Zinke himself was quoted ridiculing “people in D.C. who have never been to an area, never grazed the land, fished the river, driven the trails, or looked locals in the eye, who are making the decisions and they have zero accountability to the impacted communities.”

But, in fact, national monument designations almost always derive from a local grassroots demand for greater protections, and usually only come after lengthy periods of community engagement and consultations.

Because here’s the thing. In Zinke’s list, “graz(ing) the land” is the only thing that people will still be able to do. Maybe fish the rivers, if you buy commercial fishing rights. People can walk or drive the trails and visit the areas because they are protected. What do you think–if a mining company buys rights to land in Bear Ears they’re going to just let you waltz in?

Or course not. If you let rich ranchers like the Bundys take over more land, it is, by definition, no longer the people’s land. Go ahead. Walk onto Bundy property. They aren’t going to greet you with a Woodie Guthrie song.

Public designations are how we protect these lands for everyone. It’s how we protect our heritage. It’s a way of saying that not everything can or should be parceled off, exploited, turned into capital, and sold to benefit the very few. Because of that, it is anethema to the modern Republican Party. That this move is an immediate screw you to natives is just a bonus). Bear Ears didn’t

(Bear Ears didn’t create an idiotic Chaffetz controversy for no reason: it’s because Obama designating it a park became a cause celebre to the heirs of Sagebrush.)

I guarantee you that Trump has never heard of Sagebrush, and I doubt he has any strong ideological reasons for selling off the land, unless he gets a taste. But he hates things that Obama did, and his animating principle has always been “I got mine, so screw you.” In that, as in so many things, he is the perfect Republican. He is ready to sell, and our national sense of unity and a common good is paying the price.

Could the Wiretap Accusations Be Grounds for Section 4 Removal?

This is very not normal, and it shouldn’t be forgotten. 

Trumps baseless accusations of unprecedented high crimes, and the way the government was forced to contort themselves to his rage-filled lunacy, is a clear demonstration of being unable to discharge his duties. 

Continue reading

The Spiteful Illogic of the New Travel Ban

1961-11-01a

When the first “Travel Ban” executive order was announced a week into the Trump administration some 4600 years ago, some of the key pillars of a free society made their impact felt in a way that shocked even the most optimistic observer. The legal system had a two-pronged effort. Organizations like the ACLU protected the victims of the order’s cruelty and brought their cases to an independent judiciary, which treated the order as what it was: a legal measure subject to review; not the blessed fiat of a New Dawn.

The other pillar, of course, was public protest, which stunned anyone who expected obsequiousness after the snowflakes of the women’s march melted. It is doubtful that legislators, and possibly even the courts, would have reacted with the swiftness they did were in not for spontaneous acts of disobedience, compassion, and righteous fury. Protests were shown again to not be movements of self-expression or sideshows to politics; they are a vital part of civil society.

So, the reaction to the travel ban, and its being held up by the courts, led to the rollout of a newly revised order yesterday. This was supposed to be rolled out last week, but it was delayed so that news of it wouldn’t step on the reception to Trump’s Congressional address last week.

Now, it is a good demonstration of how deeply dumb the President and his people are that they genuinely thought the rest of the week–month?–should revolve around him garnering praise for clearing the lowest possible bar. Trump was reportedly livid that the news of Sessions misleading Russian testimony and subsequent recusal took away from what I promise you he believes is regarded as the finest speech in American history. That’s partly what led to this weekend’s insanity.

But more importantly, as everyone pointed out, the delay for some good ol’ self-gratification contradicted the fierce urgency with which the initial rollout happened, and made Trump’s truly dangerous tweets about how judges were making our country less safe even more reckless. But that hypocrisy is just one of the many contradictions that shows how pointlessly self-defeating (not to mention cruel and un-American) these travel bans really are.

Continue reading

An Amplifier for Madness: Trump’s Wiretapping Accusations

 

faerie-tale-1293845_960_720

What happens when we have a vain lunatic in charge?

 

There is limitless insanity in the President of the United States accusing his predecessor of illegal wiretaps.  Former FBI man and counterterrorism expert Clint Watts (who seems to be having himself a well-deserved moment) broke some of them down over the weekend. These include:

  • That the POTUS has no idea how wiretaps work
  • That the POTUS isn’t aware of what the FBI does
  • That he probably shouldn’t draw attention to a FISA-approved wiretap, since that’s pretty bad
  • That if the President did receive intelligence on an ongoing investigation of a foreign power, he immediately compromised the operation. The IC was already leery of giving the President information. Now why would anyone tell him anything? That’s no way to run a country.

But, to me, what this shows as much as anything is how Trump serves as a force amplifier for the democracy-eroding paranoia of the far-right/alt-right (which differ only in messaging), the movement that has now entirely consumed the Republican Party.

Their hatred of Barack Obama was bottomless, an endlessly replenished well of racism and always-waxing lunacy. And the way it would operate is that a story, equal parts reprehensible and laughable, would be invented in someone’s twitter feed or gibbered on Alex Jones or published in Breitbart or even a personal blog. It would then filter its way up to Beck or Rush.

This would start to get amplified in the echo chamber, building up steam, until a producer for Fox or a blogger at NRO or one of the most “respectable” voices of the right-wing media started bringing up this thing that “people are talking about.” That, of course, legitimized the whole affair, and at this point, liberal blogs and liberal twitter would start to refute and make fun of it, and, if all went well, it got picked up by the real news, who had to “report the controversy.” This made whatever the story was unquestioned in the minds of those predisposed to believe it. More importantly, it was a virus for borderline voters, low-information types, who heard something about the President being a Muslim, so it might be true.

Don’t get me wrong. These kinds of things getting mainstreamed was a low-percentage affair. But that was ok. As long as you had a constant stream of vitriol for the initiates, and the occasional breakthrough, it was worth it. The strategy is a constant stream of hatred to keep the faithful worked up, and an attempt to sew confusion for everyone else.

But the far-right has received the greatest gift anyone could ever give them, in Donald Trump. As the Times deconstructed, the illegal wiretapping accusations went from 1) talk radio to 2) Breitbart to 3) the leader of the free world, who promptly said them out loud.

The impact of this was clear. Once the President said it, it was all anyone could talk about. And because he said it, the machinery of government has to throw itself behind him, with mouthpieces like Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks promising investigations, and Republicans being unable to completely refute it.

This is perfect, if you’re a Steve Bannon, who seems to believe very strongly in the “firehose of falsehood” Russian propaganda model. You put distractions in your friendly media, and almost immediately, they will be known everywhere, because the President has an endless persecution complex, an unquenchable desire for vindication, limitless credulity when it comes to hearing things that make him feel better about himself, and no impulse control.

I don’t think that Trump did this as a distraction, at least not deliberately. As everyone has pointed out, this isn’t a dodge from the Russian stuff; this is the Russian stuff. If it turns out that there was sufficient reason for a federal judge to approve a wiretap, that’s damning.

But they might not have found anything, which would be a “victory” for Trump. It wouldn’t explain all the other Russian connections, but it could be used to tarnish everything else as fake news. And more importantly, by Thursday 35-40% of the country is going to believe that Barack Obama personally installed a bug in Trump Towers. That will be part of the story. There will continue to be conflicting realities, and an inability to agree on even basic facts.

A democracy can’t work that way. That’s long been the goal of rightist propagandists, to erode the foundations of self-government. That they have a family-based authoritarian, and one who will immediately mainstream their wildest falsehoods, is a possible death-knell for our democracy.

You Want it Darker? Trump’s Illiberal World Order

 

Image result for cartoon american imperialism

The plus side is maybe we’ll get more cartoons like this

 

Trying to figure out Trumpism, as it relates to foreign policy, is in many ways a mug’s game. After all, it seems, he doesn’t really think deeply about the world, or even much at all. Just as a place to screw people over or where America gets screwed. To imagine Trump with a unified theory is to imagine him really considering an issue, and that’s laughable.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have opinions, and half-baked self-centered beliefs. And one of this blog’s long-standing principles is that Trump’s personal pathologies perfectly fit the goals of the far and alt-right, which makes him the perfect vehicle. His empty faith that he is the world’s best negotiator allow for the breaking up of the multilateral order, and his own roiling racism dovetails perfectly for their anti-Muslim and white supranationalism fervor.

And, through that, we’re beginning to get an idea of what the foreign policy will look like. The Soufan Group watched his Fate of the Nation speech, and weren’t thrilled with what they saw.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has viewed and positioned itself as the leader of the free world….Despite the variations, (ed: in how this has played out) the core of U.S. foreign policy over the last seven decades has been that the U.S. would play a leading role in the global order. 

The Trump administration appears in both rhetoric and deed to be pivoting from this long-held stance in a noticeable fashion. During his campaign and his first month in office, President Trump has consistently stressed that he believes the U.S. has ‘been taken advantage of’ in terms of trade policies and defense obligations, and has promised that would no longer be the case. Trump’s February 28 joint address to Congress confirmed again that the shift to a transactional balance sheet approach to many international concerns will be a cornerstone of his administration. 

President Trump’s preference of viewing foreign affairs in a bilateral fashion—and to approach pacts as ‘deals’—was evident in both what was and was not said in the one-hour long speech. During his speech, the President never mentioned the word ‘democracy’ in any context—foreign or domestic. He mentioned the word ‘freedom’ three times, though none of the three mentions were in the context of foreign affairs or global stability. The only specific use of the word came in the context of health insurance. The term ‘free world’—whatever its merit—was also not mentioned, again consistent with the President’s preference to review and perhaps discard long-standing policies and treaties. He stated that the U.S. “will respect historic institutions, but we will respect the foreign rights of all nations. And they have to respect our rights as a nation, also.” He added: “America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.”

In theory, there might be something refreshing about a US President who doesn’t give grandiloquent speeches about how we’re a shiny beacon on the hill and how our endless struggle and god-given mission is to let freedom bloom around the globe. After all, in doing so, the United States have fomented or had its hands in a dozen bloody and grubby coups, started of perpetuated civilian-slaughtering wars in places as distant as Vietnam and Guatemala, and has generally run unchecked while acting like self-righteous.

But that’s not what Trump is doing. He isn’t wrestling with a tortured history in an attempt to be more decent. He’s saying that America’s problem was that it viewed itself as the guarantor of the international order, and that it hasn’t been aggressive enough.

The essential policy is that we deal from strength, running over those who are weaker, and forming alliances with those that are strong. There will be ideological alliances, of course, but only if they are suitable. If Le Pen wins, then France is a friend; if not: Paris isn’t Paris. To say that this is distasteful, and the opposite of what the post-war world has been like is to say that water is wet.

One doesn’t even have to bring in the Russian angle on this, though Putin’s Russia is the model, the inspiration, and maybe the daddy of it all. This has been the project of the right for a long time. The distaste in multilateral institutions isn’t that they take away American freedom–they really, really don’t–but that they constrain America from acting like a classic imperial power. From “cutting deals” to exploit weaker countries, from forcing our economic interests at the barrel of a gun (well, not really, but in theory), and from carving up the world in a great game.

Where do Mattis and McMasters fit in? Who knows? They probably see it as their duty to check this. The question is if they’ll be able.

As they say, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice plays to virtue. It’s fair to say that has been the essence of US foreign policy while upholding the world order that has gone a long way toward preventing catastrophic war after the fires of last century. Trump, though, isn’t even decent enough to be a hypocrite. For him, and for the team that channels his sicknesses toward their own ends, vice is the virtue unto itself.

100 Air Miles In: The Border Patrol Is Trump’s Front Line of Control

Image result for customs and border patrol

After the “Muslim Ban” went into effect, we were flooded with reports of overzealous Customs and Border Patrol agents interpreting the law the way they wanted, resisting court orders, and detaining people while past the point of legitimacy. In other words, they were acting like either rogue agents or a rogue agency–or rather, an agency with a very specific loyalty, and one that didn’t consider itself beholden to the court.

That loyalty, of course, is to Donald Trump. The CBP didn’t endorse Trump, though the Union for Border Patrol Agents did, very controversially. Though the CBP is officially non-political, it is clear that they lean very far right, and have been “rogue”, leading people to call them the most “out of control” law-enforcement agency.

But, as we said, one day you’re rogue, the next vogue. The undemocratic victory of Donald Trump has given them the green light they need, and his executive orders are opening the door. This morning, we’re hearing reports of border patrol agents checking “documents”, proof of citizenship, on domestic flights in domestic airports.

This is a “papers, please” sort of thing. To be clear, the CBP is acting within their jurisdiction.

The authority for this is based on the Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and copied in 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 287 (a)(3), which states that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States…board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.

But there is a difference between having the authority, and having actual cause to do so. Have you ever had your “documents” checked on a domestic flight before? In a domestic airport? I know I haven’t. I don’t even know what to present: my driver’s license?

This isn’t just intimidation, though it is also that. It’s the muscle-flexing of the new world order. Hyperempowered white nationalists will extend their reach to the full range of the law, and possibly beyond. Or maybe the laws will change and that 100 miles becomes 500. This will only get worse if Trump is able to hire his 10,000 new CBP and 5000 new ICE agents (which is

This will only get worse if Trump is able to hire his 10,000 new CBP and 5000 new ICE agents (which is far from a done deal). Who do you think is going to be applying for Trump’s ICE? Majority civil libertarians, or failed cops with a chip on their shoulders, latent white nationalists with statutes behind them.

To say this is a ‘make or break’ moment is an exaggeration, sure. But it is dangerous. Once we start accepting having our papers checked at any airport, what else do we accept? What happens when a law enforcement agency is loyal to the President, and not to the country? What happens when everyone is the enemy?

Democracies don’t die at the ballot booth. They die when your citizenship hinges on the mood of the armed and empowered.