Trump 101

The one hundred days are over. On May Day – International Workers’ Day, the date chosen by the Second International, a pan-national organization of socialist and communist political parties, to celebrate workers, not capitalists, and a holiday in most of the world, but not here – Donald Trump begins the rest of his presidency. There’s some irony there. He is the ultimate capitalist. He owns things and has a history of screwing the little guy, and probably, unlike the rest of us, he hasn’t paid any taxes in decades – but he is the president. Still, those first one hundred days were a bother. FDR ruined things for the presidents who would follow him. It was those first hundred days – starting on March 4, 1933 – and by the end of those first one hundred days, working with Congress, Roosevelt created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and got Congress to pass the National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA) and create the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) – the building blocks of the New Deal. Obama got his stimulus package and more in his first one hundred days – and Trump’s got nothing much. Trump might be judged a failure when all he has are legislative stumbles, legal setbacks, and his senior staff kneecapping one another, and the quick resignation of his national security adviser and near daily headlines and headaches about his folks’ links to Russia. The date hung over the West Wing like the sword of Damocles as the unofficial deadline for his administration to find its footing – or else. Trump’s inexperience was presented as part of an anti-establishment package – as contempt for the quibbles of smaller men – but it was time to put up or shut up.

Of course there had been nods to the working man. Coal miners would be back at work, even if coal has become a cumbersome and expensive and rather useless energy source. He’d work something out, and of course everyone’s taxes will be lower. No one knew how. His tax plan was a single page of bullet-points – a general idea. Economists shrugged. Wall Street fell. He also said manufacturing would return, but no one knew what America would build now. Others pointed out that America’s unemployment woes are really caused by automation. What’s he going to do, outlaw industrial robots so that American cars are built by hand, one weld at a time, and integrated circuits are individually etched, one by one, by women with large magnifying glasses? There was no answer to that, or to the news that massive numbers of retail jobs are disappearing. Malls are closing – everywhere. Everyone shops on line now. What’s he going to do, shut down Amazon and all the rest? And of course none of this can be done by executive order. He needs legislation – and that replacement for Obamacare went down in flames, even with a Republican House and Senate. Democrats didn’t need to oppose him. His Republicans couldn’t agree on anything. He couldn’t close the deal.

That called for this:

To mark his first 100 days in office, President Donald Trump released a glowing review of himself in the form of an op-ed published by the Washington Post.

“One hundred days ago, I took the oath of office and made a pledge: We are not merely going to transfer political power from one party to another, but instead are going to transfer that power from Washington, D.C., and give it back to the people,” Trump’s op-ed began. “In the past 100 days, I have kept that promise – and more.”

Read the whole thing and note that it’s a bit thin. The Washington Post declined his request to publish a full-color map of the Electoral College results on its front page, with all the red, the map he’s been handing out to all reporters who interview him. What’s the point? That was a long time ago. Nothing much has been accomplished. Trump says he’s “changed the direction of the government” – and maybe he has – but that’s the problem:

On a sweltering April day, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled in Washington on Saturday for the latest installment of the regular protests that punctuate the Trump era. This large-scale climate march marked President Trump’s first 100 days in office, which has already seen multiple rollbacks of environmental protections and Obama climate policies.

The Peoples Climate March, which originated with a massive demonstration in New York in September 2014, picked a symbolically striking day for its 2017 event. The temperature reached 91 degrees at D.C.’s National Airport at 2:59 p.m., tying a heat record for April 29 in the district set in 1974 – which only amplified the movement’s message.

On the eve of the march, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was beginning an overhaul of its website, which included taking down a long-standing site devoted to the science of climate change, which the agency said was “under review.”

President Trump was in Pennsylvania for a rally on Saturday and did not tweet any immediate reaction.

What was he going to say? The crowd was obviously much larger than the crowd at his inauguration. They all are now, and there was this:

The climate event differs from last week’s March for Science in its focus and also its participants – only 1 out of 8 contingents of Saturday’s protest featured scientific researchers. The rest included labor activists, indigenous people already facing severe effects from climate change, and children and young people who will live with the effects of climate change longest as the Earth continues to warm.

They’re worried:

The motivation for the current climate march is clear: The Trump administration already has moved to roll back former president Barack Obama’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan, and Trump and his team has taken many other actions to weaken environmental protections of air and water, and to enable fossil fuel exploitation on public lands and waters.

And there’s that other matter:

The administration is grappling with a major climate policy decision: whether to remain in the Paris climate agreement. Several of Trump’s Cabinet picks are advising against following through on his campaign pledge to “cancel” the accord.

Hell, even Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil is telling Trump to remain in the Paris climate agreement – the United States needs a seat at the table – and there was this:

The marchers unleashed their anger as they passed directly in front of the Trump hotel where they booed loudly and chanted “Shame!” and “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” and “we will not go away, welcome to your 100 days!”

Fine, but Donald Trump doesn’t do shame. Shame is weakness, and anyway, Trump was miles away, and as Chris Cillizza notes, he knows no shame:

The contrast couldn’t have been more stark. In Washington, journalists celebrated the First Amendment (and themselves) at a glitzy and ritzy dinner. In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the President of the United States delivered up slabs of red-meat to some of his most loyal supporters who had gathered to celebrate his first 100 days in office.

It was the split-screen image that President Donald Trump wanted, a living, breathing testament to just how out of touch the “elites” in Washington really are and how he remains, despite all the barbs thrown at him by those elites, beloved among real Americans.

“As you may know there’s another big gathering taking place tonight in Washington, D.C. Did you hear about it?” Trump asked the crowd in Harrisburg. “A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now. They are gathered together for the White House correspondents’ dinner without the President. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from (the) Washington swamp spending my evening with all of you and with a much, much larger crowd, and much better people.”

Someone wasn’t happy:

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen late Saturday said President Trump delivered “the most divisive speech I’ve ever heard from a sitting American president” at a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania.

“To bring your campaign speech into the presidency is something presidents rarely do,” Gergen said on CNN.

“He played to his base and he treated his other listeners, the rest of the people who have been disturbed about him or oppose him, he treated them basically as ‘I don’t care, I don’t give a damn what you think, because you’re frankly like the enemy.'”

Gergen, who has advised four U.S. presidents, said he found Trump’s speech “deeply disturbing.”

That’s what Cillizza saw:

That message is this: Elites in Washington (and Hollywood and every other big city in the country) think you are dumb. That you are “out of touch.” That you don’t get it. But what they don’t get is you are the majority. You are the hardworking people who might not talk on TV or wear tuxedos to fancy dinners, but who have always comprised the backbone of our country.

The split screen between the White House correspondents’ dinner and Trump’s Harrisburg speech was, then, a fitting encapsulation of Trump’s first 100 days. He has struggled mightily to adjust to the challenges of being president, seeming flummoxed by his inability to simply tell Congress (or the judiciary) what to do and have them immediately carry out his orders. But even as he flails in his effort to make Washington work for him, his most die-hard supporters remain totally and completely in his corner, committed to the belief that even when he swings and misses, Trump is more in tune with their interests than any other politician.

For the moment, Trump seems entirely content with that dichotomy. As long as he can hold a rally like the one in Harrisburg on Saturday night where loving crowds cheer his every word, he believes he is succeeding.

That may not be so:

President Donald Trump said that the crowd at his Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, rally Saturday broke the “all-time” record for the arena and that people were lined up outside hoping to get in. But tweets from at least one reporter who was there show several empty seats.

Jonathan Tamari, Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted photos of unfilled seats high in the Harrisburg’s Farm Show Arena, and spotted empty spots on the floor as well…

Trump said during his speech that he wanted to “thank the fire marshals. They have a lot of people standing outside,” he added. “We really maxed out. We broke the all-time record for this arena. We broke the all-time record.”

He really does know no shame, or will simply say anything:

Trump also called Harrisburg “just rotting, a war zone” during his presidential campaign. But on his 100th day as president, far from the press, he described it as a “wonderful, beautiful place.”

A Trump opposition rally was held across the street hours before the president spoke. Harrisburg’s Democratic Mayor Eric Papenfuse said the event’s goal was to “send a message to the president that he needs to be more moderate and more inclusive,” reported the Washington Post. “I hope he will look around and understand that he needs to do more than rally his supporters. He needs to listen to and speak with those who didn’t vote for him.”

Cillizza says it’s more than that:

Whether Trump likes it or not, he will need to learn to play the Washington game far better in his next 1,000 days than in his first 100 days if he wants to a) get things done or b) put himself in position to be re-elected in 2020.

The realities of political Washington are that Trump will need some Democrats to support things like his tax reform proposal or his health care legislation if he wants them to have a chance of passing. And, speeches like the one he gave Saturday night in Harrisburg do nothing to begin building those across-the-aisle bonds.

This rally may have been a mistake:

Everyone loves to hear people applaud for him or her. And every politician knows a good scapegoat when they see one. But savaging Washington “elites” and calling real news “fake” has its limits as a political strategy. Trump, at some point over the next 1,000 days, will need some actual accomplishments that go beyond signing executive orders in photo ops at the White House. He’ll have to demonstrate that his campaign promises of fixing Washington’s broken systems weren’t just empty rhetoric.

And so, Trump’s split-screen moment may have worked for him on Saturday night, but that’s a single battle in his presidency, not the broader war. And he still seems entirely oblivious to the fact that politics isn’t simply telling the people who support you what they want to hear. It’s finding ways to convince the people who don’t support you why they should.

That may not be necessary, as Cleve Wootson reports here:

Reviving a controversial theme that President Trump brought up on the campaign trail, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday that the administration has “looked at” potential changes to libel laws that would make it easier for Trump to sue news organizations that criticize him.

“I think it’s something that we’ve looked at,” Priebus told Jonathan Karl on ABC’s “This Week.”

“How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story,” he added.

Priebus criticized “articles out there that have no basis or fact” and alluded to reports on cable news stations about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russia.

Priebus said the media needs “to be more responsible with how they report the news.”

Once again, all our intelligence agencies confirm that, but the Russians say it didn’t happen. Trump says it didn’t happen. Now Reince Priebus says it didn’t happen. Who are you going to believe, all our intelligence agencies, as reported in the press, or the Russians? Trump has made his choice – shut down the press – but Wootson suggests that’s the choice:

Trump is a public official – the most public of officials in the world. To sue, he would have to meet a high bar to prove that journalists, their news organizations or anyone else had met the judicial standard of actual malice when criticizing him.

But he has been talking about changing the law for months.

On the campaign trail, at a rally in Texas, Trump initially said he wants to “open up” federal libel laws, making it easier to sue journalists and outlets that criticize him – such as the New York Times and The Washington Post. In June, he banned Post reporters from campaign events.

Callum Borchers also says that changing libel laws is a long shot, and really cannot be done, at least by Trump:

It’s hard to imagine any serious debate about an attempt to alter libel laws, however; such an effort would clearly exceed Trump’s – or any president’s – authority.

Alternatively, Trump could simply use the bully pulpit to promote a culture of frivolous libel suits that ultimately wouldn’t go anywhere but would force media companies to spend precious resources on defending themselves. If his goal is to cause news outlets to lose money, Trump could conceivably achieve that objective without changing any laws at all…

Through judicial appointments, Trump could theoretically reverse decades of legal precedent that requires a public figure like him to prove “actual malice” in a libel case.

So this is possible, but only indirectly, and Wootson notes this:

Trump has threatened legal action against news organizations before. As a candidate, he warned that he would sue the New York Times after the newspaper printed stories about unwanted sexual advances Trump was accused of making toward several women.

In a response, the newspaper’s attorney wrote: “We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

This could get hot, and Josh Marshall adds this:

The changes President Trump wants are blocked by decades of decades of jurisprudence which is little contested, unlike other hot button points of constitutional law. If you want what Trump wants, you have to amend the constitution – and not the constitution in general but the First Amendment specifically. Amending the First Amendment to allow the head of state to sue people who say things he doesn’t like amounts to abolishing it.

None of these are tenuous connections. Each link in the chain of reasoning follows logically from the other.

This, needless to say, should set off everyone’s alarm bells. If this isn’t really what Priebus meant, he should be given the chance to categorically disavow it. The plain meaning of the words, on the record, is that abridging or abolishing the First Amendment is something the Trump White House is currently considering.

The first one hundred days of the Trump presidency have been problematic. The days that follow will be even more so, as Sarah Kliff notes here:

President Trump gave a lengthy interview Sunday morning to CBS’ John Dickerson about the Republicans’ health care plan.

His responses to basic questions – like what provisions the bill includes or how it would change the health insurance system – suggest he either doesn’t understand how the American Health Care Act works, or doesn’t want to tell the truth about it.

This was a hot mess:

He says that people with pre-existing conditions will be protected. Under the latest amendment to the American Health Care Act – the one that got the Freedom Caucus on board – they won’t be. He says that deductibles will go down under the Republican plan. Non-partisan analysis expects deductibles would go up.

The health care plan that Trump described on Face the Nation is not the one that the Republican Party has offered. His answers suggest an unfamiliarity with basic policy details of a plan that has been public for nearly six weeks at this point – a plan that his administration has pushed Congress to pass.

The man is confused:

Much of the Trump interview centers on Trump claiming that new changes to the Republican health care bill will protect people with pre-existing conditions. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite: an amendment to the AHCA introduced this week would give states authority to let insurers charge sick people higher premiums.

But he blusters on:

Trump knows there were changes to the bill. But he gets them backwards, insisting that the updates strengthen protections for sicker patients:

“This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn’t have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn’t have done again is put a timeline. That’s why on the second iteration, I didn’t put a timeline.”

This goes on and on:

“But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have – we’ve set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall.”

Trump is describing the evolution of the Republican plan backwards. The protections for those with pre-existing conditions have gotten weaker, not stronger. It sounds like Trump may be confusing pre-existing conditions with high risk pools – which an amendment last month would have provided $15 billion more in funding for – but it’s hard to tell.

Eventually, Trump becomes insistent that any bill he signs with protect people with pre-existing conditions. He appears to throw cold water on that new amendment, the one that won over the support of the Freedom Caucus.

There’s much more but it’s not worth rehashing. The man is clueless, or alternatively, he knows no shame. Maybe it’s both, and that will be what follows those first one hundred days:

When President Trump called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Saturday, White House officials saw it as part of a routine diplomatic outreach to Southeast Asian leaders. Mr. Trump, characteristically, had his own ideas.

During their “very friendly conversation,” the administration said in a late-night statement, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines, to visit him at the White House.

Now, the administration is bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.

The State Department and the National Security Council know this guy. Duterte has boasted that he has personally shot guys people told him were drug dealers – no trial, no nothing. Duterte has also boasted that he has thrown quite a few of them to their death from a helicopter. The reaction was predictable:

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Twitter, “We are watching in real time as the American human rights bully pulpit disintegrates into ash.”

Trump should be ashamed of himself? Some of Trump’s folks agree with that:

Mr. Duterte’s toxic reputation had already given pause to some in the White House. The Philippines is set to host a summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in November, and officials said there had been a brief debate about whether Mr. Trump should attend.

It is not even clear, given the accusations of human rights abuses against him, that Mr. Duterte would be granted a visa to the United States were he not a head of state, according to human rights advocates.

Still, Mr. Trump’s affinity for Mr. Duterte – and other strongmen as well – is firmly established. Both presidents are populist insurgent leaders with a penchant for making inflammatory statements. Both ran for office calling for a wholesale crackdown on Islamist militancy and the drug trade. And both display impatience with the courts.

Both know no shame, and that calls for a bit of tap-dancing:

Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, drew a connection between a visit by Mr. Duterte and the tensions with North Korea. Building solidarity throughout Asia, he said on ABC’s “This Week,” is needed to pressure North Korea on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Experts said that argument was tenuous, however, noting that it was more important to corral a country like Malaysia, where North Koreans hold meetings to buy or sell weapons-related technology.

Ah, but there’s this:

Mr. Trump has a commercial connection to the Philippines: His name is stamped on a $150 million, 57-floor tower in Manila, a licensing deal that netted his company millions of dollars. Mr. Duterte appointed the chairman of the company developing the tower, Jose E. B. Antonio, as an envoy to Washington for trade, investment and economic affairs.

These guys stick together:

Even Mr. Trump’s prime antagonist – the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un – has earned a surprisingly generous assessment from the president in recent days. Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Mr. Trump expressed admiration that Mr. Kim had been able to keep a grip on power.

“A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else,” Mr. Trump said. “And he was able to do it. So, obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie.”

That’s Trump 101 – the introductory class that America took in the first one hundred days. Now it’s Advanced Trump. The man is clueless, or alternatively, he knows no shame, but it really seems to be both. A Trump second term would be the graduate seminar in that sort of thing – but perhaps America won’t sign up for that.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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