The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The pro-wrestling hypothesis

I had a thought last night that disturbed me. It goes something like this:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being set up as the heel, so the President can fire him without it looking like a step in shutting down the Mueller probe.

Think about it. Sessions has doubled down on a monstrous policy decision that almost the entire Republican Congressional caucus wants to stop. He has become almost a comic-book villain now, taking responsibility for a policy that actually came directly from the White House. Even he has to see how unpopular the policy is, as Republicans in Congress certainly do because their jobs are on the line. Why would he persist?

So this gives Trump an opportunity to be the hero that fires Sessions, reverses the policy, and (oh, incidentally) installs a new Attorney General much more likely to fire Rod Rosenstein. That this policy came directly from the Oval Office, and that firing Sessions would be a complete reversal of everything Trump has said about it for weeks, really won't make a difference.

If this sounds like a pro-wrestling storyline, don't forget where Trump came from. He doesn't really care about policy; he cares about ratings. And this story has given his reality show tremendous ratings. Never mind that thousands of real children will never see their parents again. When has this administration cared about real consequences?

As the President frequently says, "we'll see what happens." If this is, in fact, the play, I expect it to happen in the next week, before Congress can pass a law that would set the President up for a veto fight with his own party.

Stephen Miller will always be a troll

McKay Coppins, who profiled Miller for The Atlantic last month, believes that the outrage over the immorality of the administration's immoral immigration policy is exactly the point:

A seasoned conservative troll, Miller told me during our interview that he has often found value in generating what he calls “constructive controversy—with the purpose of enlightenment.” This belief traces back to the snowflake-melting and lib-triggering of his youth. As a conservative teen growing up in Santa Monica, he wrote op-eds comparing his liberal classmates to terrorists and musing that Osama bin Laden would fit in at his high school. In college, he coordinated an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” These efforts were not calibrated for persuasion; they were designed to agitate. And now that he’s in the White House, he is deploying similar tactics.

As public backlash has intensified in recent days against the new border policy, Trump administration officials have predictably struggled to formulate a coherent, unified defense. Amid all the bumbling recriminations and shifting talking points, one can sense in some of these officials a natural response to the situation developing at the border—if not shame, then at least chagrin.

But for Miller, it seems, all is going according to plan—another “constructive controversy” unfolding with great potential for enlightenment. His bet appears to be that voters will witness this showdown between Trump and his angry antagonists, and ultimately side with the president. It’s a theory that will be put to the test in November. In the meantime, the heartrending orchestra on the border will play on.

We may be stuck with this asshole for another 2½ years. But in just 140 days, we can send him and his boss a clear message.

Sweet little lies, tell me sweet little lies

The President has essentially admitted he lies constantly:

In short, the president is saying that it’s totally acceptable to lie to the press, and by extension the public, as long as he is not under oath in the justice system. (As I’ve reported, Trump is far more honest under oath.) As a matter of law, this is true, but as a matter of character and leadership, it is not. The president is freely telling the public that he has no compunctions about lying through his teeth. Why does anyone still debate whether he means it?

There were other dishonest statements peppered throughout his remarks. He said that the inspector general’s report found “total bias” in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails; in fact, it found the reverse, saying political bias did not affect decisions. He said that the report “totally exonerated” his statements; in fact, it rejected the entire thrust of his statements about Comey. Trump said that Comey acted criminally; the IG report does not say that. He said Mueller’s team has no Republicans; Mueller is a lifelong Republican who has served under GOP presidents as well as Democrats.

There’s a long list of these lies, both in what Trump said today and running back for months. It becomes tiresome to fact-check them, trying to prove that Trump is not telling the truth about them. But there’s no need to take reporters’ word for it: The president makes no secret that he thinks it’s OK to lie to the public. After all, he said so himself.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the same Bible verse that previous generations of slave-owners invoked to justify forcibly separating children from their parents:

Romans 13 does indeed say to “submit to the authorities,” because they “are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” But this is in the context of what comes before it (“share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”) and after (“owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”) – and, indeed, admonitions to care for the poor and the oppressed that come from Isaiah, Leviticus, Matthew and many more.

Evangelical leaders who looked the other way when Stormy Daniels and the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced this time have denounced Trump’s recent “zero-tolerance” policy that, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and others wrote to Trump this month, has the “effect of removing even small children from their parents.”

“God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” they wrote. The leaders urged Trump to end zero tolerance and use “discretion” as previous administrations did.

I guess we should all be happy they haven't come for us yet.

Creating reality?

Andrew Sullivan says the President "is making us all live in his delusional reality show:"

The president believes what he wants to believe, creates a reality that fits his delusions, and then insists, with extraordinary energy and stamina, that his delusions are the truth. His psychological illness, moreover, is capable of outlasting anyone else’s mental health. Objective reality that contradicts his delusions is discounted as “fake news” propagated by “our country’s greatest enemy,” i.e., reporters. If someone behaved like this in my actual life, if someone kept insisting that the sea was red and the sky green, I’d assume they were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s vital for us to remember this every day: Almost no one else in public life is so openly living in his own disturbed world.

This, in fact, is the poignant and quite bonkers script in Trump’s head: that the economy was in free-fall until he took office, after which it soared; that he alone has brought black and Hispanic unemployment down; that his administration has accomplished more than any other at this point in its term; that the Democrats colluded with the Kremlin to try to rig the election; that Robert Mueller is a closet Democrat; that climate change is a hoax; that the American-created international trading system was designed to hurt the U.S.; that you can borrow over a trillion dollars in a full employment economy with no consequences in inflation or debt; and that sabotaging the ACA will lead to lower premiums, greater choice, and better health outcomes for all. Each one of these assertions is what he wants to be true. And so they are true. As the chairwoman of the GOP just explained to any skeptics left in the formerly conservative party: “Anyone that does not embrace the Donald Trump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

The bad news is that a vast chunk of the American public wants all this to be true as well.

Woe to thee, o land, when thy king is a child.

I am shocked—shocked!—by this event

New York State has sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation for—wait for it—self-dealing and general corruption:

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the complaint asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

The attorney general’s referrals to the I.R.S. and the F.E.C. could add another wrinkle that might slow the foundation’s dissolution. The agencies are not known for their expeditious handling of enforcement actions, and the lawsuit notes that the foundation cannot legally complete its wind down “until the complaints to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission have been resolved and it is determined if any penalties or fines will be imposed on the foundation.”

Trump immediately blamed "New York democrats," because of course he did.

Pass the popcorn.

What the fuuuuuu?

Someday, soon I hope, we'll look back on this administration.

When we do, I expect this will come up:

Reporters thought this video was North Korea propaganda. It came from the White House.

But then the video looped, playing this time in English. And then Trump walked onto the stage and confirmed what some had already realized.

The film was not North Korean propaganda. It had been made in America, by or on the orders of his White House, for the benefit of Kim.

“I hope you liked it,” Trump told the reporters. “I thought it was good. I thought it was interesting enough to show. ... And I think he loved it.”

The crowd sounded skeptical. Some wondered if Trump had not, in fact, just provided U.S.-sanctioned propaganda to one of the country's oldest adversaries.

And then, in his usual style, Trump was thinking out loud about the “great condos” that might one day be built on the “great beaches” of North Korea.

“I explained it,” he said. “You could have the best hotels in the world. Think of it from the real estate perspective.”

As the screens above Trump emphasized, he certainly had.

I get it now. North Korea, a country so poor that it's nearly invisible from space at night, ruled by what may be the most repressive regime in modern history, is one big real-estate opportunity for the Trump family.

It's all about money. Lives, history, nuclear weapons pointed at Tokyo, handing an adversary we are still technically at war with one of the biggest propaganda coups they could dream of: none of that matters as long as Trump can make a buck.

(The frequency of posts today came from running some lengthy automated tests that I have to monitor.)

Standing up to our adversaries

Dana Milbank highlights President Trump's latest triumphs:

Finally, the United States has a president with the brains and the guts to stand up to the menace of the north. This weekend President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “meek,” “very dishonest & weak” for protesting U.S. tariffs. Trump’s trade adviser said “there’s a special place in hell” for Trudeau, and Trump’s economic adviser said Trudeau “stabbed us in the back” and is guilty of “betrayal” and “double-crossing.”

Trudeau earned his place in the underworld for some truly appalling rhetoric, saying “we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.” Offensive! He also found it “kind of insulting” that the Trump administration said it was imposing tariffs on Canadian goods “for a national security reason” given that Canadians “stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far off lands in conflicts from the First World War onward.”

Trump bravely punished Canada by withdrawing the United States from the communique of the weekend’s Group of Seven meeting, which was hosted by Trudeau. The communique Trump rejected is loaded with objectionable provisions such as “a clean environment,” “a healthy, prosperous, sustainable and fair future for all,” “quality work environments,” “a more peaceful and secure world” and “ending violence against girls and women.” In other words, it was like all the other bad, terrible, crazily made, one-sided, miserable deals that make us the laughingstock of the world — such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the ­Trans-Pacific Partnership, NATO, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

He goes on to list the "more sympathetic world leaders" our only president has cozied up to.

The totality of the circumstances

Way back in my first day of law school, Prof. Neil Williams exclaimed that the basis of contract law was "the totality of the circumstances!" Meaning, when evaluating a contract (from whether it exists to whether it's enforceable), you have to look at the context, the facts, the intentions of the parties—everything.

Take, for example, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice's description of the following circumstances:

If Mr. Putin were calling the shots, he would ensure that America’s reliability is doubted, its commitments broken, its values debased and its image tarnished. He would advise the new president to take a series of steps to advance those aims:

First, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership....

Second, criticize NATO and cast doubt on America’s willingness to defend its allies....

Third, for the coup de grâce: start a trade war with our closest allies.

There is no evidence that Mr. Putin is dictating American policy. But it’s hard to imagine how he could do much better, even if he were.

Josh Marshall ups the volume on the same issue, and points out whether there was active collusion doesn't really matter:

If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilize all US security and trade alliances (especially NATO, which has been Russia’s primary strategic goal for 70 years) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done.

We have a President who clearly got a great deal of assistance from Russia in getting elected. We can argue about how important it was to his victory. But the reality of the help is not in any real dispute. His campaign at a minimum had numerous highly suspicious contacts with people either in the Russian government or acting on behalf of the Russian government while that was happening. That is a very generous interpretation. He’s doing all the stuff he’d have been asked to do if such a corrupt bargain had been made. At a certain point – and I’d say we’re clearly at or past that point – it really doesn’t matter whether we can prove such a bargain was made. I’m not even sure it matters whether it was explicit or even happened. The bank robber helped the teller get the job and now the teller just won’t seem to lock the safe or even turn on the alarm. We can debate forever whether the teller is just absent-minded or has some odd philosophical aversion toward locks. The debate may be unresolvable. It truly doesn’t matter.

No, it really doesn't, though I expect historians will spend centuries debating why Trump has so thoroughly trashed our country to the benefit of Russia. What matters, right now, is that we at the very least install a Democratic Congress this fall, so that we can at the very least put the brakes on.

Lunchtime reading

Stuff that landed in my inbox today:

Also, while we're on the subject of the C-word, I love Minnie Driver's response: "That was the wrong word for Samantha Bee to have used. But mostly because (to paraphrase the French) Ivanka has neither the warmth nor the depth."

The flaw in the argument

Lawfare Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes points out that President Trump's legal team has not only made a frivolous argument about the president's obstruction of justice, but a stupid one:

The president’s argument leads to an absurdity and it therefore must have a flaw, but identifying what precisely is wrong with it is a bit of a puzzle. And it’s worth doing carefully—not simply dismissing the argument because of the clownish aspects of the letter or because of the argument’s audacity.

The key question here is not whether Article II limits the application of the obstruction laws but how much it does so—whether it does so absolutely or only partially. And critically, if it does so only partially, what is the principle under which the obstruction statutes operate against the president?

Let’s dispense with the easy question first: It is definitely possible for a president to obstruct justice. A president who coaxes a witness to lie, who pays off a witness, who bribes a juror, or who picks up the phone and threatens a federal judge would of course be amenable to criminal prosecution (at least after he leaves office) for obstruction of justice. There would be no plausible defense that he was entitled to do these things because of Article II.

But the allegations against Trump are different, and trickier. They are allegations that his use of his acknowledged Article II powers might constitute an obstruction. The allegations all involve acts—firing people, for example, and supervising investigations and staff—that the Constitution specifically gives the president the power to do. So these allegations raise a different question: Is it possible for a president to obstruct justice in the context of performing his constitutionally assigned role, that is, using only otherwise valid exercises of his constitutional powers?

Before your knee jerks as you exclaim, “Of course!” keep in mind that Congress cannot with a mere criminal statute take away power that the Constitution gives the president. With that principle in mind, it simply has to be the case that Article II, at least to some degree, limits application of the obstruction statutes to otherwise valid presidential actions.

We knew we wouldn't get out of this era without a serious constitutional crisis or two. How we resolve this, and the ones to follow, will define our country for the next century.