The fallout from Friday's executive order halting some immigration continues to rain down on Washington, and no one has emerged unscathed. Medium still thinks it's the beginning of an executive-branch coup against the rest of the U.S. government, and that Bannon on the NSC is the real news. They have some good points, but for now I'm going to go with Brian Beutler's analysis: it's incompetence, not (entirely) malice:
The early days of Trump’s presidency, and the humiliating rollout of the anti-refugee order in particular, show Trump internalized none of [Obama's advice].
A great deal of reporting backs up the claim that the most ideologically extreme members of the administration cobbled the order together without external input, but the scapegoating is an effective admission that Trump signs whatever is put in front of him, without reading or understanding it. The incentive for ambitious operators within the administration is thus to do whatever’s necessary to get unvetted orders and choices before the president by any possible means, so they become national policy before sensible people can intervene.
Heeding Obama’s advice might have helped Trump avoid making an obvious and monumental error, but Trump either lacks the capacity to run the government in an orderly fashion or intentionally discarded Obama’s recommendations, or both. When reality quickly asserted itself, as Obama promised it would, Trump claimed (out of ignorance or malicious dishonesty) that he was merely reprising “ what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months”—a “ban” that quite literally never happened.
Meanwhile, Trump firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates surprised no one, least of all Yates. And her action, while well within her authority as AG, was at the same time a deliberate finger in President Trump's eye. But the White House statement announcing her departure still managed to break another norm of government and simultaneously diminish both the President and his office another notch.
This is only Day 11. In just a few hours, the President will announce his first supreme court nominee with all the pizzazz of a reality show. It'll make him happy, for a moment. And then the nominee will reach the Senate. Should be fun.
Writing for Medium, Yonatan Zunger thinks the insanity the administration unleashed over the weekend might have been a trial balloon for a coup:
First, the decision to first block, and then allow, green card holders was meant to create chaos and pull out opposition; they never intended to hold it for too long. It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal is to create “resistance fatigue,” to get Americans to the point where they’re more likely to say “Oh, another protest? Don’t you guys ever stop?” relatively quickly.
However, the conspicuous absence of provisions preventing them from executing any of the “next steps” I outlined yesterday, such as bulk revocation of visas (including green cards) from nationals of various countries, and then pursuing them using mechanisms being set up for Latinos, highlights that this does not mean any sort of backing down on the part of the regime.
Note also the most frightening escalation last night was that the DHS made it fairly clear that they did not feel bound to obey any court orders. CBP continued to deny all access to counsel, detain people, and deport them in direct contravention to the court’s order, citing “upper management,” and the DHS made a formal (but confusing) statement that they would continue to follow the President’s orders. (See my updates from yesterday, and the various links there, for details) Significant in today’s updates is any lack of suggestion that the courts’ authority played a role in the decision.
That is to say, the administration is testing the extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.
Combine that with Russia's historical interests in destabilizing the Western alliance and enriching Putin's inner circle plus their obvious influence over the current administration, could this be worse than a coup? Could we be looking at a Russian takeover of the United States?
As I said, this could be alarmist. Never confuse malice and incompetence, and all that. But...yikes. Either way, it's bad, and getting rapidly worse.
Corollaries to what we're seeing:
We will now resume the terror.
By now, everyone in the world has heard about President Trump's patently unconstitutional order to ban refugees from some majority-Muslim nations (except, coincidentally, not from those with which he has business dealings). But after his first Take Out the Trash Day, he did something a lot more far-reaching and dangerous yesterday:
President Donald Trump is reshuffling the US National Security Council (NSC), downgrading the military chiefs of staff and giving a regular seat to his chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Mr Bannon, formerly the head of the populist right-wing, Breitbart News website, will join high-level discussions about national security.
The order was signed on Saturday.
The director of national intelligence and the joint chiefs will attend when discussions pertain to their areas.
Under previous administrations, the director and joint chiefs attended all meetings of the NSC's inner circle, the principals' committee.
On the point of the anti-Muslim ban, Lyft this morning announced a $1m donation to the ACLU to protest it. Good for them. (Uber only turned off surge pricing at JFK and offered to compensate their drivers who were detained, which at the moment could be as few as zero.)
Meanwhile, Republicans who slammed trump just 13 months ago after he said that he was going to do this were remarkably conciliatory when it actually happened. It's almost as if they're opportunistic toadies, who are morally complicit in Trump's attacks on American institutions.
So, anti-Semite and power-drunk Steve Bannon scores a twofer, nicely capping the president's first horrific week in office.
And for those who want a reminder of the reference:
After seeing ABC's interview of the President, Charlie Pierce hadn't "been this horrified since JFK told us about the Cuban Missile Crisis:"
Holy mother of god.
The only demonstrable difference between Muir's conversation with Donald Trump and Katie Couric's legendary encounter with Sarah Palin is that Trump actually is the President* of the United States. He actually has the nuclear codes. He actually is enacting actual policies that will affect actual people. He actually did happen to the oldest self-governing republic on Earth...
And lest we lose sight of why Zaphod Beeblebrox is now in the Oval Office:
I wish the biggest problem with the new president* was that he doesn't know what he's talking about, and that what he is talking is insane ragtime from a campaign that, in his mind, never has ended. However, the biggest problem is that, while he's out talking the insane ragtime, truly retrograde policies are zooming into place from people with their own private agendas.
The more stringent "gag rule" on abortion that Trump signed into place with his executive order is pure Mike Pence. While Trump is blathering on about crowd size and Peyton Manning, Paul Ryan is as close as he's ever been to his golden dream of dismantling the social programs that, in his mind, stopped serving a useful purpose when they got him through college. The country's environmental programs are being handed over to people who would frack their grandmother's old gray head if they thought there was a buck to be made in doing it.
They need a front man who is both unintelligent enough not to get in the way, and enough of a freak show to distract the public from what they're really up to. Luckily, we hit the jackpot for them.
Four years of this? It hasn't even been a week.
I was going to post about Bruce Schneier's observation that President Trump continuing to use his personal Android phone was a huge security risk simply because it has a microphone that can be triggered remotely.
But then, just this morning, the Washington Post confirmed that the entire senior management of the State Department abruptly resigned:
[S]uddenly on Wednesday afternoon, [the State Department’s undersecretary for management, Patrick] Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. All are career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.”
“Diplomatic security, consular affairs, there’s just not a corollary that exists outside the department, and you can least afford a learning curve in these areas where issues can quickly become matters of life and death,” he said. “The muscle memory is critical. These retirements are a big loss. They leave a void. These are very difficult people to replace.”
So, we now have a president with no governing experience and the temperament of a four-year-old, a Secretary of State with no governing experience and a worrying relationship with Russia, and no senior leadership at State. And Trump hasn't even been president a full week yet.
And just before I clicked "post," the Mexican President cancelled his visit to Washington.
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.