Category Archives: Donald Trump

but her emails

An Assault on Reason and Reality

Donald Trump: An American in Name Only, Part 2

By now it should be overwhelmingly clear that Donald isn’t exactly a gifted reasoner.  His meandering thoughts and nonsensical arguments — if one can even give his ramblings that label — show a man incapable of basic rationality who largely bases his points of view off a world that doesn’t at all resemble reality.

In doing so, and given his voice’s volume, refusal to backtrack on his obvious lies, and now his position as president, Donald Trump parlays his shortcomings into those of the nation.  Whenever someone commands 46 percent of the vote and a base so rabid it ignores all words that don’t fawn in favor over their hero, that person has a frightening ability to shape the thoughts of others and to fundamentally change what a broad swath of the population believes.

Donald is doing just that.

Reason

“But her emails” has become a popular joke on the left precisely because it’s seemingly all Trump supporters and voters know how to rebut an argument.  Trump led them to believe that Hillary Clinton’s emails somehow showed a nefarious character secretly working to undermine American greatness by putting service members lives at risk, allowing foreign powers easy access to classified information, and exposing a woman, paradoxically, both so incompetent and yet so conniving and plotting as to have a private server.

Never mind that the Clinton email case never deserved the attention it received.

Never mind that Vice President Mike Pence used a personal email for work during his tenure as Indiana’s governor.

Never mind that Trump transition officials acted carelessly with sensitive information.

Never mind that Trump himself blurted out highly classified information to a foreign adversary simply to brag about all he’s told.

It doesn’t matter because Clinton had a personal email server and deleted 33,000 emails.  (Of course, they don’t realize she deleted personal emails.  That takes thought to understand.)

This is called “whataboutism,” a propaganda technique used to point out another side’s shortcomings, often when unable to defend your own point of view.  It perfectly describes how Trump and his supporters rationalize their beliefs.  Rather than defend Trump or his policies on their own terms, lawmakers and supporters simply say “well, what about [x]?”

(Interestingly, conservative outlets have already risen to the defense of whataboutism, a further example of the intellectual dishonesty and atrophy in the Trump-supporting right.)

We see this throughout the “healthcare” debate: No supporter of Trumpcare bothers to defend the policy on its merits; they instead say “what about Obamacare?  It’s completely failed.”

Trump himself frequently resorts to whataboutism on his Twitter account, ignoring and failing defend his shortcomings but saying “what about her emails?” or “what about Clinton receiving a debate question?” or “what about Obama?”

Those are neither arguments nor reason to support a politician and his policies.  But when actions, beliefs, and the president are so indefensible, it becomes natural to simply abandon reason and instead cling to Soviet propaganda techniques that arise only from being on the wrong side of history.

Reality

Trump’s campaign speeches — and even his “American carnage” inaugural address — painted a dying America beset by crime, riddled with terrorism, and at risk of losing its sovereignty to…someone, or something.  These speeches managed to convince supporters that the United States was burning and that we needed a strongman — even, perhaps, a slight authoritarian — to crackdown on those destroying this country in order to revive civility and American greatness.

The world Trump described and which his supporters began to see does not exist.

His speeches of imminent doom find no support in the reality of American life yet by continuing to push demonstrably false outlooks, Trump’s creating an alternate world in which he and his supporters live.  He then crafts — and his voters adamantly support — disastrous policies designed for another world, policies that are disastrous for our reality.

Take the murder rate.  Trump constantly says murder is at a 40 year high.  That’s simply not true.

murder rate

Or illegal immigrants, who Trump, in his very first speech as a candidate, labelled as “rapists” and “criminals.”  But that’s also not true.

Illegal immigrants have a lower rate of crime than the native population.

The reason for that should be clear: Always at risk of deportation, committing a crime would make such an action a near certainty.

Similarly, Trump and his supporters view sanctuary cities as liberal hellholes devoted to protecting illegal immigrant criminals.

In reality, sanctuary cities encourage undocumented immigrants to turn to local law enforcement without fear of deportation.  That makes communities safer.

Or take terrorism.  Trump sees an America at constant threat of being attacked by “radical Islamic terrorists” and wants to ban all Muslims from entering the country.  His most deplorable supporters simply want to ban Islam, no questions asked, and either deport or kill the Muslims living in America.

But terrorism hardly qualifies as a threat.  You’re more likely to die from furniture than you from a terrorist.likelihood of dying from terrorism

probability of terror attack

But that doesn’t stop Trump and his supporters from irrationally fearing 1.6 billion people, a feat of which people are capable only if they live in an alternate world.

Conclusion

Trump’s delusions and his supporters’ susceptibility to the rhetorical appeals of a demagogue leave all too many voters and American citizens ignoring reason and reality.  The dangers for democracy and our country cannot be overstated.

Politicians and voters no longer try to defend candidate or policy merits.  Instead, they point to a bogeyman and scream “WHAT ABOUT HER?!?!”  This requires no reason and no understanding of the issues at hand.  It leaves people vulnerable to irrational fears and biases that lead to unenlightened and wholly irrational decision making.

Similarly, creating and supporting policy based on lies endangers us all.  It forsakes addressing real problems with addressing non-existent ones contrived by a power-seeking candidate and which often wrongly vilify or target minority populations (scapegoats for the nation’s problems).  Policy comes from hate and fear rather than a desire to better our current reality.

And so we must resist these types of appeals.  We must truly rationalize our support for a candidate or policy with real arguments.  We must reach out to those caught up in a cult-like faction and try to return them and their thoughts to reality.

We must end this senseless and disastrous war on reason and reality.

donald trump free press

Donald Trump and The Free Press

Donald Trump: An American in Name Only, Part 1

President Donald Trump holds very few patriotic or American beliefs – unless ignorance and obtuseness now define the American character.  His principles don’t originate from natural rights or a devotion to liberty.  They stem from a malicious character hooded in hate, versed in vengeance, and shrouded in stupidity.

For a man whose oath of office calls for him to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Trump deviates from the words and rights enshrined by our founding document at every twist and turn of his volatile presidency, a continuation of his assaults on the Constitution and democratic norms that so defined his campaign (and, embarrassingly, appeal).

Of all constitutional protections, Donald J. Trump has most assailed a First Amendment right integral to the creation of our country and its preservation: The free press.  We cannot understate the vital importance the free press plays in maintaining a healthy Republic.  Voters unversed in issues and unaware of candidate beliefs and character cannot be expected to make informed decisions.  Transparency, a fundamental democratic tenet, withers without a hounding press that demands information from officials, elected and otherwise, and holds administrations to account.

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Trump’s disdain for the press knows no bounds.  He frequently dismisses valued news organizations as “fake news” simply because they publish articles critical of him and his presidency.  However, for all of his verbal attacks, and angry early-morning or late-night tweet tirades, Trump cannot point to specific instances of actual “fake news.”  The president, on whom the burden of proof falls, fails the first step of constructing a persuasive argument – supporting his assertion.

Most recently, Trump’s pointed to a retracted CNN article as evidence that network spews nonsense designed solely to degrade him.  But that obviously misses the mark.  CNN retracted its story and issued a humbling apology which the story’s subject accepted.

Three employees then resigned, a clear sign of journalistic integrity and accountability that demonstrates CNN commitment to providing its readers and viewers with the truth.  Its admission of error actually boosts its credibility: Rather than wrongly standing by its story and acting defiant in the face of evidence, it took actions to resolve a wrong and correct the record.  That’s integrity and the exact opposite of how a “fake news” network would react when confronted with its mistake.

Trump doesn’t realize that (or he does, but his frustrations with critical coverage still provoke him into fits of uncontrollable rage in which he lashes out with little regard for the deleterious effects he has on public discourse and the institutions that make democracy possible).

Instead, he retreats into the dens of Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, or Breitbart.  The former recently denigrated himself into the pits of hell by peddling the nonsensical and wholly debunked conspiracy relating to DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, alleging – without proof and in the face of official police statements and findings – that the Clintons had him murdered.  Fox, for its part, has done little to ensure its viewers and online readers understand that Hannity’s delusions, as with all delusions, fly in the face of all evidence.

Alex Jones, on whose show Donald Trump has spoken and who Trump called shortly after winning the presidency, lambasts 9/11 as an “inside job,” believes the government carried out the Sandy Hook shooting, and fervently promotes every other lunatic conspiracy imaginable.  His outlet has no integrity, no accountability, and no regard for the truth.  If anything should be classified as “fake news,” it’s InfoWars.  That doesn’t stop Trump from enjoying its content.

And, lastly, Breitbart News markets itself to white nationalists in an effort to corner the news market for avowed racists.  Its content either fabricates information or distorts in such a sensational way that context fades to oblivion and instead bestial and tribal mental processes control the brain and bring bigotry to its forefront.  Breitbart operates with racial motive and cares little for nuance or truth, especially truth that in any way undermines its nationalistic and borderline segregationist outlook.  Trump frequently tweets and praises the outlet.

Clearly, Trump doesn’t actually take issue with fake news (though he does enjoy hanging fake Time magazine covers in his golf resorts).  He takes issue with critical coverage.  Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Breitbart all wax poetic about the president and so Donald Trump ignores their journalistic malpractices and endorses their products.  But the likes of CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post bother with the press’s actual purpose – guarding our liberty to ensure our Republic (to paraphrase Jefferson).

We must treat his actions seriously.  Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric – rhetoric echoed by his staff, favorable media outlets, and, most shamefully, some members of Congress – causes millions to, at best, doubt the press and, at worst, fall into the same derisions while simply ignoring information needed to understand the country and world.  This Trumpian assault hurts the country by undermining its bedrock.  It promotes ignorance and willing stupidity.  It’s an effort to subvert democracy to the statements of a deranged demagogue.

 

america decline

The Decline of a Nation

 

Demagoguery destroys nations.

America.  Conceived under tyranny and borne by patriots fighting for freedom and liberty.

Its ideals – our ideals – ring through our founding documents.  Our Declaration of Independence boldly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Constitution recognizes fundamental and natural liberties destined to remain ever untouched by the corruption of mischievous faction.  These rights, to be heralded above all, constrained government and set forth the vision of our nation: A state dedicated to the equal liberty of all its residents.

declaration of independence

To be sure, our nation has not always lived up to its ideals.  The tree of liberty has been occasionally watered with the blood of citizens fighting for righteousness and always with an eye towards expanding liberty, both within and outside our country.

But now our country finds itself in unchartered territory.  For once, the denigrating forces of demagoguery have consumed enough voters to find itself in the Oval Office.  This presents dual problems for the country.

First, Donald Trump’s gross incompetence and actions motivated solely by animus, whether at racial or religious minorities or those who dare criticize him, threaten the global order and the continued democratic traditions here at home.  His political career started by alleging incorrectly that the country’s first black president was born in Kenya, not the United States.

While campaigning for president, he called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country; claimed that challenger Ted Cruz’s further had been involved in the JFK assassination plot (another lie); called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed; and continuously railed (incorrectly, again) that outside forces would collude to steal the election from him.

national enquirer cruz oswold
Trump pushed this obviously false story in hopes of hurting Ted Cruz’s presidential bid.

Now, as president, he’s wrongly furthered the notion that 3 to 5 million ballots had been cast illegally.  He called Russian interference into the 2016 election a “witch-hunt” and “hoax.”  His tweets and virulent diatribes against the media as well as other foundations of our democracy threaten long-standing democratic mores and encourage millions of voters to live in willing ignorance.

Secondly, and intimately related to the dangers Donald Trump himself poses, his core supporters fervently embrace and believe all that Trump says – and only what Trump says.  That endangers democracy as the only person who can reach and influence millions of Americans is Donald Trump, a man whose lies as president already near 1,000.

trump fake news
Not one Trump supporter can actually explain why CNN is “fake news.”

These supporters have, by and large, foregone the values that make America great.  They care little about the Constitution or the democratic norms that have long brought success to our grand experiment.  Fundamental freedoms and liberties mean little so long as their abrogation benefits Donald Trump.  Charlie Sykes best described the phenomena when he decried conservatism’s morphing into an ideology that abandoned principles to instead annoy liberals.

Trump supporters lust for, or seeming desire, authoritarianism led by Trump (who many proclaim to be the “God Emperor”).  Demagoguery’s potent appeal leave many inebriated from the violent, ignorant, and condescending rhetoric from a man whose cult of personality attracts the constitutionally and ideologically ignorant.  And to them, Trump can do no wrong and his actions need not be motivated by the pursuit of constitutionalism or constitutional rights.

Bizarre propaganda.
Bizarre propaganda.

Now, their fervent belief that press critical of Trump is at best “fake news” and at worst, as adviser Kellyanne Conway put it, “unpatriotic.”  That precludes them from learning about policy, truly judging Donald Trump’s character, and challenging their fanaticism.  Instead, they turn to the likes of Fox News, which has portrayed itself as a de facto state media outlet, often ignoring information or revelations that would hurt Trump while attacking liberals or Democrats in a (succeeding) effort to further tribalize political divisions.

This leaves the country with increased polarization driven not so much by ideology but by different sets of facts and different truths, as irrational and impossible as that may be.  It’s possible these voters cannot be reached by any outlet with integrity.  Would that extend to Democratic politicians or activists?  Probably.  Divisions, then, may be insurmountable.

Such a phenomenon, of course, is neither new nor confined to Trump supporters.  Factions motivated by demagoguery have arisen throughout American history.  Democracy has long been known to suffer from a demagoguery problem, but America has largely remained safe from such forces due to a fervent belief in natural rights and our Constitution – democratic mores, in the worlds of Alexis de Tocqueville.  But as mentioned above, those democratic mores seem to be disappearing, perhaps as collective memories of the horrors perpetuated by illiberal and autocratic regimes fades.

The far-left also suffers from such a problem.  Democratic socialists and their even more radicalized comrades similarly distort history and facts to abandon constitutional rights and advocate instead for a revolution – democratic or otherwise – to change the regime.  They, however, number far fewer than those on the Trumpian right and so, for now, pose less a threat to our democracy’s success.

Socialism, of course, has never worked.
Socialism, of course, has never worked.

And so we see ourselves in the midst of our nation’s decline.  Liberties, rights, and democratic behavior becomes increasingly unimportant to large swaths of the population interested only in promoting their tribe (in this case, Donald Trump).  We’ve been here before and we’ve already emerged a stronger nation.  But it’s always taken a national emergency or collective, bipartisan action, the likes of which seems unlikely in this highly polarized time.

The best remedy may be a return to fundamental American values.  We must promote natural rights and use our history as a common building block to unify the nation and return political discourse to how we can best collectively protect and further these liberties to all Americans.

lindsey graham donald trump

What’s Wrong with Lindsey Graham?

The warmongerer somehow applauds the Commander-in-Chief for his uncertainty, volatility, and utter ignorance.

Senator Lindsey Graham prided himself in being an outspoken Donald Trump critic throughout the 2016 election, primary and general. He routinely slammed Trump for his position on immigration, proposed Muslim ban, and general attitude towards the military, partisan competitors, and democratic norms. But then Trump became president and Graham changed his tune.

Graham prides himself in extensive foreign policy knowledge. His outlook, though hawkish, often has sense: A strong – and constitutional – response to Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes and increased manpower in the fight against ISIS would be go for the world. Effective foreign policy, however, cannot be carried out when the administration has no clear message or outlook.

The Madman Theory

The madman theory of foreign policy does not work. Trump has stumbled onto this practice likely without realizing it; his gross incompetency and lack of foreign policy understanding – a fact he demonstrated time and again during the campaign – leads to his administration often issuing conflicting remarks about crises or other happenings and operating without a clear vision for the role and America’s place in it.

This uncertainty and volatility driven by Trump’s frightening ability to change his mind within hours, given that he sees a picture or two, hurts America’s image and creates a less stable world. Adversaries, fearing spontaneous reaction from Trump, have every reason to stockpile arms so they can retaliate to the unexpected. It’s a form of insurance – you never know when Trump may launch a strike against your country, so it’s best to have the weapons ready to retaliate in a meaningful way. North Korea’s already following this strategy.

kim jong un madman
Do we want out president to adopt the same foreign policy theory as this dictator?

Resultant Arms Races

Basic game theory teaches us that a military buildup in one country leads to similar actions in neighboring and adversarial states; research and history tells us that arms races make violent conflict more likely. In other words, Trump’s instability and unpredictability ignites a logical chain reaction that risks global conflict.

Why, then does, Lindsey Graham support such uncertainty and applaud the conflicting foreign policy lines offered by different members of the Trump administration?

Party Before Country

Perhaps Graham hopes that Trump’s instability will lead to war and through that war, despotic regimes in Syria, Iran, and North Korea will be overthrown. Perhaps Graham doesn’t understand the potential ramifications of pushing North Korea into further developing its weaponry (a true worry as South Korea and Japan could easily be his with even rudimentary nuclear weapons). Or perhaps Graham hopes that by praising Trump’s foreign policy decisions – even those announced on Twitter or which actively undermine the maneuverings of his Secretary of State or Ambassador of the United Nations – might help Graham join the cabinet if ever there’s a staff shakeup.

Understanding motives, of course, proves no easy task. Graham’s actions, though, undermine his campaign posturing as a continuing thorn in Trump’s side, a voice of reason emerging from the cacophony of a party kowtowing to its adopted leader. He’s rewarding and encouraging behavior that makes America less safe. If he cared about good foreign policy, Graham would be a close ally of Rex Tillerson or Nikki Haley and would constantly pressure the administration to better coordinate with its foreign policy speakers – those who at least understand the value of a discernible American position and who don’t recklessly bumble about on Twitter deriding happenings they don’t understand.

In short, Graham’s praising a madman who doesn’t understand foreign policy and whose actions undermine our interests abroad. He’s returning the respect, credibility, and admirability he earned on the campaign trail when he bothered to call out Trump’s actions. Graham has now receded into the typical and destructive Vichy Republican position: Bow to Trump and challenge him on nothing. Reward recklessness and pray for the best.

trumpcare medicaid cuts

Trumpcare Medicaid Cuts – It’s Going to be “Yuge” and Disastrous

Trumpcare Medicaid cuts will leave 15 million without insurance.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign laid out two simple healthcare promises: No cuts to Medicaid and coverage for all.  The healthcare bill he wholeheartedly endorses, despite considering it “mean,” breaks both pledges in one fell and disastrous swoop.

Trumpcare Medicaid cuts total $880 billion (that’s $880,000,000,000), money which, by and large, will flow to the rich through tax cuts, a type of reverse-Robinhood that if enacted would defy the presumed laws of politics (that broad social welfare programs that deliver obvious benefits cannot be rolled back).

Furthermore, Trumpcare’s Medicaid cuts will throw 15 million off insurance, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.   7 million more would lose insurance for other reasons.  In total, some 22 million individuals will lose insurance under Trumpcare, leading the CBO to project that around 50 million Americans — around 15 percent of the nation — will be uninsured within the next decade.

This, of course, violates a promise then president-elect made: “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.”  So he proclaimed in a Washington Post interview where he touted putting the finishing touches on a healthcare plan that ultimately failed to deliver on his promises to his voters and the country.

Trumpcare Medicaid Cuts

But that’s not all.  Trumpcare Medicaid cuts may well force senior citizens out of nursing homes.  700 rural hospitals at risk of closing may be pushed into bankruptcy.  These hospitals by and large help older, poorer, and sicker individuals who, due to Trumpcare, will likely be unable to afford health insurance and unable to receive emergency treatment due to close hospitals.

The New York Times’ Upshot found that Trump’s own voters — those who placed their faith in the uncaring demagogue; who truly believed Trump when he claimed he would leave no American behind, least of all his base — would suffer most from Trumpcare and its Medicaid cuts.

So, not only does Trumpcare violate two major Trump campaign and post-Election Day promises, it does so at the expense of older, poorer Americans, those who by and large supported Trump and pushed him to electoral victory.

Trumpcare’s Medicaid cuts are going to be yuge, and they’re going to devastate a number of Americans.  Trump’s willing to screw tens of millions of Americans and break his word simply to cut his own taxes.

impeach trump

8 Reasons to Impeach Trump

Congress should immediately impeach Trump

Here are all of Donald Trump’s constitutional violations and other high crimes and misdemeanors – in other words, here are the reasons Congress should immediately impeach Trump.

1. Foreign Emoluments Clause

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8: “[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Any market transaction – regardless of “fair” price – from which an employee or stakeholder benefits financially constitutes an emolument, as our Founders understood and used the word.

Corporations owned by foreign governments fall under the Foreign Emoluments Clause, as do foreign government agencies and diplomats spending foreign government money.  Even if they do not pay above the fair market rate for their leases or rooms, the definition of “emolument” covers the transaction and, as the money originates from a foreign government and Trump, as a financial stakeholder in the Trump Organization, ultimately receives part of it.

Donald Trump’s refusal to divest himself from his sprawling, global businesses that frequently interact with (agents of) foreign governments means he has violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause since his first day in office.  A few examples include:

  1. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a massive financial entity largely controlled by the Chinese government, rents space in Trump Tower New York.
  2. Abu Dhabi’s government tourism agency rents from a Trump-owned building.
  3. The Trump Hotel DC has drawn international visitors as well as diplomats and other foreign agents who book rooms at the president’s hotel in hopes of currying his favor.

Congress should immediately impeach Trump for violating a clause so serious that in 1810, a constitutional amendment stripping the citizenship from anyone receiving a foreign emolument fell one state short of ratification.  That state chose not to ratify the amendment because legislators found it redundant given the existing Foreign Emoluments Clause.  The potential for the president to be corrupted by foreign actors – or in any way be subject to a conflict of interest that causes the president to act without regard for the country’s best interest – greatly worried our Founders (see Federalist No. 22).  We should not take this impeachable offense lightly.

2. Domestic Emoluments Clause

Article 2, Section 2, Clause 7: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased [sic] nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

In other words, the president’s compensation for his duties may not exceed the predefined presidential salary.  The president cannot receive any other emoluments from the government, thus preventing government officials at the federal and state level from tapping department or local coffers to buy favor with the president, causing the president to be biased in favor of certain states (much in the same way the Foreign Emoluments Clause seeks to prevent the president from being biased towards foreign interests).

Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Linda McMahon (who heads the Small Business Administration), and Gary Cohn (economic adviser) all call the Trump DC hotel home during the work week.  They are paid by the government; they use that pay to live in the Trump Hotel; Donald Trump has a financial stake in the Trump Hotel and profits from each dollar spent in the hotel.  Therefore, Trump receives an emolument from the United States above and beyond his presidential salary (and also unfairly increases the demand for his hotel because patrons may stay there – and be tempted to pay more – in hopes of spotting Trump or a cabinet secretary).  Impeach Trump for this constitutional infringement.

3. Obstruction of Justice

Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey because he “faced great pressure because of Russia,” which he figured had been “taken off” by dismissing the actor leading the Trump-Russia investigation (to boot: He gave this reasoning to Russia officials).

Comey’s firing occurred not long after Trump begged Comey to stop investigating Michael T. Flynn, former National Security Adviser.  “Let this go,” pleaded Trump, “he is a good guy.”  Furthermore, Trump had reportedly grown ever-more incensed that Comey refused to support Trump’s obviously false allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped him.  Trump repeatedly asked for Comey’s sworn allegiance, which Comey – having sworn his loyalty to the Constitution, not a fallible politician – refused to give.  This, too, angered Trump and, combined with Comey’s devout interest in the Trump-Russia investigation (rather than identifying administration leakers), led Trump to fire the director.

Clearly, doing so represents obstruction of justice: Infuriated that Comey would not back down from the Trump-Russia investigation, drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, or swear loyalty to the president, Trump attempted to kill the probe by removing its head.  This obstruction well aligns with earlier administration actions:

  • The Trump administration selectively leaked classified information to Devin Nunes, who originally headed the House investigation into Russia’s 2016 influence, which Nunes then leaked to the press and public, hoping to stall the investigation. Nunes had to recuse himself.
  • Trump and his aides tried to block former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump fired) from testifying before Congress. Yates, as would be revealed, cautioned Trump that Russians had compromised Flynn; Trump ignored those warnings and kept Flynn in the White House.  Naturally, Trump didn’t want such damaging information to be revealed, so he tried to block Yates from sharing her story with Congress and the American people.

Impeach Trump for doing his best to hinder investigations into his campaign and preventing those involved with the investigations from delivering correct information or testifying before Congress.

4. Witness Intimidation 

Worried that recently-fired James Comey would contradict publicly made statements, Donald Trump threatened to release White House tapes of conversations between the two actors (we still do not know whether these tapes exist).  Doing so constitutes witness intimidation as Comey, whose memos had recently leaked to media outlets, would almost certainly be called to testify before the House and Senate (indeed, not long thereafter, he was).  This threat, likely empty, represented an attempt to silence a potential witness in order to obstruct justice, preserve a narrative, and not be contradicted by someone more credible than himself.

This follows Trump’s attempts to silence Sally Yates and, before her testimony, more tweeted threats that amount to intimidation and witness discrediting.  It should hardly be a surprise, then, that Donald Trump – against direction from the White House Counsel – reached out to Michael Flynn, witness and subject in an FBI investigation, urging him to “stay strong.”  Such a message perhaps intimidates Flynn to silence; regardless of its result, Trump tampered with a potential witness to reassert his own interests.  Congress need not tolerate such behavior – the legislative branch should impeach Trump for his attempts to silence, intimidate, or otherwise tamper with (potential) witnesses.

5. Abuse of Power

 The actions described above constitute an egregious abuse of power: While the president of course has authority to fire the FBI Director, doing so in the midst of an FBI investigation into the president’s campaign and top aides politicizes the agency and shows that Trump believes he is above the law – or at least that he should be.  Impeach Trump for abusing the powers of the president.

6. Violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments

Trump’s initial travel ban executive order, since struck down by court and abandoned by the administration, would have given refugee preference to Christians (necessarily at the expense of Muslims).  Preferring Christians to Muslims violates the First Amendment – “the clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another” (Larson v. Valente).  The same case holds that the government “may not aide or oppose any religion,” constitutional law clearly at odds with Trump’s original desire to give Christian refugees precedence vis a vis Muslims and spells out, in six simple words, why Trump’s campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the country would never stand constitutional scrutiny.  Even though courts blocked the original travel ban, Trump still signed an unconstitutional order that ran against the First Amendment. That’s grounds for impeachment.

“An executive order or law displays unconstitutional animus and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause when it has the ‘purpose and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state law,’ as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor” (Corey Brettschneider, Politico Magazine).  The intent of Trump’s travel ban couldn’t be clearer: Prohibit as many Muslims as possible from entering the country.  Such an interpretation, of course, finds support throughout Trump’s campaign and even from top Trump supports.  Rudy Giuliani stated in an interview that prior to signing the first travel ban, Trump called him in hopes of advice on how to make the campaign’s Muslim ban legal.  The resultant ban, then, emerged as an attempt to make legal a blanket religious ban, one obviously motivated by animus.  That, according to the principles laid out in Windsor, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

7. Unfaithfully Executing Laws

Realizing that a blanket Muslim ban would surely be struck down by the courts, Trump unveiled the two immigration executive orders that trade a religious ban for a country-specific one.  However, in doing so and in hoping to executive such an order, Trump violated the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which forbids discrimination on the basis of national origin.  He knowingly signed an executive order that broke a legitimately enacted law; enforcing the executive order necessarily mean failing to enforce the 1965 INA – the two cannot coexist.  In hoping to do so, Trump violated Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, which holds that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  Impeach Trump for neglecting to do the president’s most import duty.

8. Inciting Violence

Three protesters have sued Donald Trump for inciting violence at one of his riots.  Recently, a federal judge ruled it “plausible” that Trump “incited a riot.”  At the rally, Trump screamed to his crowd: “Get ‘em out of here!” in reference to peaceful protesters.  Such charged rhetoric led to violence in other rallies, too, often driven by Trump’s own words (see: Mashable).  Trump glorified campaign violence, going so far as to encourage, in a likely form of stochastic terrorism, for “Second Amendment people” to stop Hillary Clinton from taking their firearms (which she obviously had no intent to do).

As CNN reports, “Judge Hale reiterated that Bamberger began pushing the protesters on Trump’s order and that as Trump’s supporters began shoving protesters, the would-be president said, “Don’t hurt ’em.”

“Presumably,” the judge wrote in dismissing Trump’s free speech defense (incitement is not speech), “if Trump had intended for protesters to be escorted out by security personnel, Trump would have instructed the intervening audience members to stop what they were doing, rather than offering guidance on how to go about it.”

In fact, the two attendees who attacked the protesters “blame Trump for their behavior at the rally, saying he encouraged the violence by telling the crowd to “get ’em out of here,” referring to protesters. At earlier rallies Trump had promised to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they got in trouble,” a clear indication that Trump appreciated and supported efforts to violently put down protests (why else would he be willing to foot the legal bills?).

Trump’s a threat to protesters and others seeking to exercise their right to free speech. Impeach Trump for encouraging violence and the suppression of dissent.

fake news

What is Fake News?

How is fake news so hard to understand? 

Fake news has become the newest political buzzword for casual observers and presidents awake at 3am furiously tweeting rather than doing something productive with their time, such as, say, reading policy briefings (though to be fair, Fox News doesn’t yet have any 3am shows to occupy the simple minds of these presidents).  Donald Trump frequently hurls the word; his supporters, not to be outdone by the Monkey-in-Chief, take to Twitter and decry anything they dislike as “#FAKENEWS.”  Of course, in doing so, Trump and his cult demonstrate they fundamentally misunderstand the term and risk our Republic’s prosperity and very existence by demeaning and dismissing the writing of their discontent.

What is Fake News

Discerning fake news should be world’s easiest endeavor.  Fake news, by its very definition, puts forth demonstrable and obvious lies as facts and then typically uses these fictitious points to ramble into a delusional and often malicious article meant to denigrate a politician’s standing.  This is, presumably, a definition agreed to by all – for how could it not be?  Determining “demonstrable and obvious lies” is a little more difficult, but should still be so easy and obvious that a sophisticated gorilla could accomplish such a task.  A story from an unknown blog or site (an objectively disreputable source) that asserts as fact, for instance, a candidate’s deathly illness or a vast conspiracy about pedophilia and rape without any sources is fake news designed only to prey on ignorance and cognitive bias to slander a leader.  That’s fake news.

What isn’t Fake News

Stories from reputable sites that cite “unnamed” sources are not fake news.  Those “unnamed sources” are administration officials speaking candidly on the condition of anonymity so their sharing information doesn’t result in their being fired.  News organizations – and this means the oft and ignorantly reviled “mainstream media” – have set standards for “unnamed sources”: Journalists, of course, know the name of the source (as do editors) and such stories are corroborated with a second source to prevent misinformation from being given.  Even if the sources give incorrect information, the story is not fake.  It doesn’t seek to destroy character for pleasure or political aim.  It conveys to the public information as given to the organization by a well-placed source(s).

Similarly, opinion pieces that analyze motive, outcome, or make commentary based on accepted facts are not fake news.  They couldn’t be because they are opinions built off facts.  Opinions can’t be fake and these stories are not portrayed as absolute fact.  There’s a clear distinction between a journalistic piece and an opinion piece.  One conveys facts and does not delve into subjective speculation; the other does.  That people point to opinion pieces as evidence of a source being fake news shows our society is plagued by the morally and intellectually bankrupt.

And to that end, those who either mistakenly or purposefully accept fake news while dismissing actual news as fake for political ends – essentially what the president does on a daily basis – endangers political society.  A Republic relies on a well-informed populace to make informed decisions when electing leaders.  News organizations, the Fourth Estate, play an integral role in a Republic by supplying the electorate with needed information.  Dismissing this information and encouraging others to do so as well means voters will make ill-informed decisions – especially when they satiate their appetite for news with sources that manipulate and lie.  Ignorant voters opt for demagogues or other authoritarian inspired strongmen who act for sake of power and self-interest.  That’s self-evident and it’s self-evident, too, that electing enemies of a Republic endangers the entire regime.  History is our lesson: Democracy dies in darkness and an assault on knowledge and information spearheaded by the President of the United States and carried forth by millions of willing minions does not portend well for the future of our country.

congressional republicans trump

Republicans: It’s Okay to Oppose Trump

Really.  You Can Do It.

Congressional Republicans have, throughout Donald Trump’s norm-destroying presidential campaign and four-month presidential tenure, managed to stand by his side, offering weak defenses for his petty, dangerous, and abusive actions.  They stick with talking points Trump himself dispels in tweets or interviews.  They run from reporters when reporters question them about the most recent Trump scandal.  They bend over backwards to protect and defend a man best understand as a low-information voter.

But why?  Why do congressional Republicans continue to shield Trump?

Trump, of course, has no interest in the Republican party.  He has no interest in conservative policies, save slashing taxes on the wealthy so he and his children can further avoid paying their civic dues.  There’s no doubt that Trump is indifferent to the very real plight of many Americans.  It’s easy to understand Trump’s desire: Self-enrichment.

Unlike his predecessors, Trump refused to release his tax returns.  Nor did he divest from his business interests (and neither has Ivanka, a handbag designer who finds herself tasked with overseeing foreign policies that affect countries – namely, China – in which she has extensive business interests), resulting in doubtless foreign and domestic emoluments clause violations.

Trump visits his own properties every three days in an effort to drive up their value and membership costs as members would have the chance to see and speak with the President of the United States.

Why defend this behavior?  Why demean yourself to protect a man acting out of self-interest?

Republicans, are you scared of Trump’s bite?  I assure you, his teeth are weak and while his bark may be loud, those who fail to speak softly rarely carry a big stick.

Take, for instance, his attitude towards the House Freedom Caucus.  After his firth healthcare bill failed, he angrily took to Twitter and viciously attacked HFC members.  But just a few weeks later, he directed Paul Ryan and other legislative leaders to give the HFC everything it wanted in the healthcare bill.  Trump entirely conceded, despite his vitriol.  There were no repercussions – they got everything they wanted.

Do you fear being primary challenged?  You shouldn’t.  Trump only received 42 percent of the competitive primary vote and no congressional candidates who contort themselves to fit his mold have succeeded.

It must not be forgot that while Trump may now be popular with Republicans, he barely skated by in the primary, receiving only a plurality of the votes and not topping 50 percent in states until his competitors dropped out.  He’s not popular when given another conservative choice.

This is further proved by Trump-esque congressional candidates all failing to win.  A Trump wannabe primary-challenged Paul Ryan and though he earned the ardent support of Breitbart and alt-right members everywhere, Ryan utterly vanquished him in the primary.  Kansas Republicans had an opportunity to choose a Trumpian candidate to run for a recently vacated House seat, yet they demurred.  The Trump wing of the party may have seized the presidential nomination, but it is unable to overthrow sitting representatives and senators.  You have nothing to fear.

The Constitution Matters.

It’s time to put the Constitution above your party.  Trump has abused his power by firing the man leading an investigation against his campaign because that man refused to swear loyalty to the president.  He endangered US sources and future intelligence acquirement by sharing highly classified information with a foreign adversary – an adversary that meddled in our election to boost Donald Trump!  He routinely breaks norms and undermines faith in democratic institutions by, for instance, comparing our intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany, accusing (with no evidence or semblance of credibility) his predecessor of illegal wiretaps, and diminishing the very necessary free press by referring to it as “fake news,” rhetoric which serves only to promote willful ignorance among his base.

Our Republic depends on congressional Republicans checking Trump’s power.  Why let him abuse and consolidate power; right now, all that’s stopping Trump from fundamentally challenging our system is his easy distractibility and fundamental incompetence.  But why rely on that?  Why not proactively work to defend the government created by the Founding Fathers?

You swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  So do so.  Don’t let a chauvinist brought to politics only by hobby and hopes of boosting himself undermine the very document you claim to treasure and have promised to defend and protect.

It’s okay.  You can do it.

trump tariffs

Trump, Tariffs, and How to Actually Revitalize the Economy

Trump knows nothing about the economy.

Donald Trump’s deep-seated idiocy and shocking ignorance prevent the altogether foolish man from understanding economic reality.  His willing stupidity has led His Accidency to routinely promise a return to industrial greatness, all premised on turning America’s back on globalization – the force that has led to unprecedented worldwide standard of living increases and 70 years without a major conflict – and returning to an economic policy that failed in 17th Century.

The president hopes to improve American manufacturing by levying tariffs on our trading partners, those whose goods contribute to a global supply chain that leads to affordable goods.  His solution will hurt workers, consumers, and the economy.  If he were intellectually curious – a big ask for a man who assumes he knows more about ISIS than do the generals – he would quickly realize that revitalize the American economy, we need significant investments in education, not a return to pathological protectionist plight.

Our perfidious president fails to understand that automation guts manufacturing’s demand for labor.  The computer – not China, not Mexico, not immigrants – takes jobs.  And there’s no rolling back such progress.  Technology’s relentless forward march will inevitably displace former industrial workers (capitalism: creative destruction).  Tariffs do not vanquish computers; angry 3am tweets don’t kill robots; all the campaign promises and bluster will make Luddism successful for history’s first time.

Tariffs Don’t Work

In fact, Trump’s desired tariffs and other reworkings of trade pacts will hurt the economy, including (especially) the very workers from whose cultish trust Trump thrives.  Tariffs disrupt the global supply chain.  Trump wants, for instance, to slap a tariff on Chinese steel imports.  That raises the price of steel for all manufacturers that create products with steel, such as cars.  Such companies, paying more for supplies, stay profitable by laying off or refusing to hire new workers (to save labor costs) and increasing costs for consumers.

Suddenly, factory workers aren’t working because companies can’t afford to pay salaries.  Consumers slow their buying habits because of price increases – this further hurts workers because demand for goods creates demand for labor.  Fewer workers = less income; less income and more expensive goods = less buying; less buying = less demand for labor; less demand for labor = fewer workers.  It’s a vicious cycle, kicked into gear by ill-advised tariffs.

So tariffs don’t work.  (And there is no economic evidence or accepted/logical/rational theory that believes tariffs magically bring production back to America’s shores, so there’s skirting tariffs’ negative externalities.)  Manufacturing jobs will increasingly be lost to automation and disrupting trade can’t change that.  What, then, can help displaced workers?

Education

In an economy that increasingly relies on new technology, we need a workforce prepared for new and innovative industries.  We can create that fairly easily.  Displaced workers should have a robust safety net and easy access to job retraining and continuing education programs.  The former, ideally, would work with local employers to train directly for demanded needs; the latter would help workers continually improve their skillset so that they can fluidly transition to new industries.  Future generations of workers can be prepared for the new economy by expanding coding and other STEM classes and middle and high school.  No more pottery or cooking – instead, let’s teach Python and biotechnology and 3D manufacturing.  This requires fiscal policy dedicated cultivating America’s human capital.  What could be a better use of money?

Rather than idiotically come up with moronic solutions meant to preserve outdated industries, our leaders need to look to the future.  Unfortunately, Donald Trump seems utterly incapable of grasping our modern economy.  He looks back to bygone days on which the sun has forever set.  Trump makes impossible promises and condescends to voters; for their part, voters must realize that only a charlatan promises a return to the past.  Instead, they too must look ahead and realize that the economy’s dynamic nature is its greatest asset.

trump syria strike

Trump’s Syria Strike: Needed, but Illegal

Trump attacked Syria, a needed, yet unconstitutional, move.

Bashar al-Assad is a monster.  His atrocities have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.  He’s committed war-crimes, most notably multiple chemical gas attacks against Syrian rebels, resulting in hundreds of death and unimaginable agony for women, children, and all dissidents.  Make no mistake: Assad belongs behind bars; regime change – democratization – is absolutely necessary.  The despot must not remain.

American intervention has long been needed.  Our failure to act over the course of four years has condemned too many to suffering or death.  It’s allowed Russia to assert itself into the region to support the autocratic regime, nominally in the name of fighting ISIS, but actually fighting Syrian rebels.  We need to act, but, as a nation of laws, we must only do so with respect to domestic and international law/

Trump’s surprise airstrikes that followed a dramatic policy shift, overturning in just 48 hours beliefs he held since 2013, are illegal.  They find no justification in domestic or international law.  Let’s break it down.

Domestic

Congress, not the president, has the power to declare war.  Such a constitutional design emerged from the Founders’ brilliant separation of powers.  There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule: The president “is bound” to respond to any attack on the country regardless of congressional approval for such actions.  But the true extent of the president’s unilateral authority remains hotly contested with constitutional purists giving the president little war-making leeway while some analysts declare that to preserve national security and promote national security interests, the president has broad powers to commit military strikes without receiving explicit approval from Congress.

The Supreme Court has not fully grappled with or solved this difficult balancing act.  That said, Justice Robert Jackson’s concurrence in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer guides constitutional and jurisprudential thinking on the subject.  He divides executive power into three categories:

  1. Full congressional approval. “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.”
  1. When Congress has been silent. “When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain.”
  1. When the president acts against the wishes of Congress. “When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.”

Into which bucket did Trump’s action fall?  Certainly not the first – though President Obama (and likely President Trump) use an early-2000s authorized use of military force (AUMF) to fight ISIS, though many analysts do not believe the AUMF covers ISIS engagements, that certainly does not cover attacking a standing regime that poses no international terror threat.  Likewise, his actions probably don’t fall into the third bucket.  Congress has not explicitly forbidden strikes against Assad or the Syrian regime.  Back in 2013, both chambers refused to consider an AUMF desired by Obama and many members still in power today voiced their opposition to such an action.  That may be the “implied will” of some members, but certainly not the chamber writ large, especially given that in recent days, many representatives and senators have supported some sort of American action to punish Assad for his most recent war-crime.  It could, however, be easily and validly argued that since, in 2013, 100 representatives urged Obama to receive explicit authorization from Congress before attacking Syria, Congress would expect the same request after a less horrendous gas attack in a more complication geopolitical situation.  Trump’s actions probably fall into the “twilight zone,” the most difficult to analyze.

The White House Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) provides justification for executive action.  Though, as Jack Goldsmith (from whose writing much of the following paragraphs is based) notes, the legal reasoning presented by the OLC carries no judicial weight, it still serves roughly as precedent for administrations as they grapple with unilateral executive military authority, especially action in the “twilight zone.”  In interpreting Article II, the OLC “sets forth a two-part test for determining when a presidential use of military force abroad is consistent with the Constitution”:

  1. Does the president have “presumptive authority to use force unilaterally”?
  1. What is the (anticipated) nature of the strike or engagement?

America’s “national interest” permeates answers to the first question.  The OLC believes the president can unilaterally act if doing so furthers the “national interest,” especially if such an action does not risk dragging America into a long-term engagement (ie, if the action is of limited nature and scope).  Trump’s actions quite likely fulfill the second question’s requirements.  A one-time airstrike against Syrian airfields that gave advanced notice to other state actors whose military supplies and assets lived near the targets risks little escalation.  Of course, Trump being Trump, there’s much uncertainty as to whether he is content with a single airstrike.  The favorable news coverage he’s received might push him into further action; such speculation, though, is not reason to question whether this strike broke the OLC’s second test.

Though the second criterion is likely fulfilled to legal satisfaction, the first is not.  What “national interest” is Trump defending or promoting by attacking Syria?  We have few assets in the state – just 1,000 troops.  Regional stability and peace could satisfy the test, though pointing to such actions, a step removed from the immediate national interest, puts the president on still shakier ground.  Even those are lacking in Trump’s actions.  Risking Syrian, Russian, and Iranian retribution or escalation would greatly destabilize the Middle East.  Similarly, a central argument against overthrowing Assad is the fear that doing so would create a power vacuum form which ISIS or another extremist organization could emerge, especially if in the process chemical weapons are dispersed among disparate and antagonistic parties.  Little immediate regional stability can be gained.  Attacking Assad should discourage further use of chemical weapons, therein promoting peace, but the opposite could be true as well.  Assad could react by refusing to help fight ISIS, putting Russia in an uncomfortable position of naked regime support without the guise of fighting terrorism.  The lack of clear consequences is another reason why unilateral action should not have been taken: These questions and discussions should be debated by the body with war-declaring authority so we can publicly examine all potential consequences and act without haste.  Neither our national interest nor the region’s stability are augmented by unilateral executive action, meaning that Trump’s strikes fall short of the OLC test.

It’s important to note that by its very executive branch nature, the OLC takes an expansive viewpoint of executive authority.  The office seeks to make legal broad presidential power – their reasoning might not be accepted by a court of law.  If actions fail to meet lenient OLC tests, they almost certainly wouldn’t find favor by constitutional jurists.  Therefore, it’s reasonable and logical to conclude that while Trump’s actions fell in the “twilight zone” of authority, his actions are unconstitutional.  His strike needed congressional approval.

International Law

Trump’s actions also break international law.   As Marty Lederman notes, “done in the absence of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and without any apparent justification of self-defense (as the Pentagon explained, its function is to “deter the regime from using chemical weapons again,” presumably against Syrian nationals),” Trump’s attack “violate Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, which requires the U.S. and all other signatory states to ‘refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.’”  The UN charter is a treaty and thus the supreme law of the land.  Violating the treaty without congressional authority (Whitney v. Robertson, Chae Chan Ping v. US, and Breard v. Greene) is tantamount to violating Article VI of the Constitution.

This is notably different from Obama’s actions in Libya because, despite having no congressional authorization, he had cover from the United Nations Security Council.  Similarly, using President Bill Clinton’s Kosovo bombing as precedent does little to make legal the Syria strike.  Ashley Deeks, another Lawfare blogger, emphasized the important distinction between a legitimate and a lawful action.  Humanitarian concerns make legitimate any American actions, but legitimacy does not equate with legal.  Another glaring difference immediately emerges: NATO and the EU both condoned military action in Kosovo; no international organization approved such action against the Assad regime.  So while the Kosovo precedent further strengthens the legitimacy of the strike, it doesn’t address legal questions, leaving Trump in violation of international law.

Conclusion

The United States needed to attack or otherwise punish Assad.  However, the use of military force requires congressional authorization, an argument made repeatedly by the likes of Paul Ryan in 2013.  There is no domestic legal or argued precedent for such unilateral behavior.  International law similarly provides no such cover.  As a nation of laws and process, we must follow those principles even when facing monsters.  Trump violated the Constitution.  He must immediately ask Congress for an AUMF and not act in Syria again until he has such authorization.