The tweets never stop. It was another morning of Trump Tweets™ – they really ought to be trademarked and probably will be trademarked one day soon. There’s nothing like them. Donald Trump could charge a fee to allow folks to read them, and charge an even higher fee to the news folks to link to them, or even refer to them. Everything can be monetized – but that would defeat the purpose of these tweets. Donald Trump wants everyone in America to read his tweets, to get to know “the real man” – not the dull chief executive, constrained by convention and diplomacy, tied down by political correctness, who has to be nice to even duller people, and to our allies around the world. There will be no firewall around his tweets. They’ll remain free to everyone. They’re a loss-leader. They draw everyone into the store, where they’ll then pay big bucks for the good stuff. Supermarkets sell bananas at a loss for that very reason.
Trump’s latest tweets, however, were a bit bananas. CNN’s Dan Merica covers that:
White House aides, facing a week focused on Thursday’s testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, told reporters over the weekend that President Donald Trump would spend his time focusing on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
Or, at least, they hoped he would.
Trump woke up on Monday morning and rattled of a series of tweets that lambasted his own Justice Department, undercut the credibility of his press secretary and attacked the mayor of London, who is currently trying to navigate his city though its latest act of terrorism.
“Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it,” Trump tweeted, taking a comment made by Khan out of context.
Yes, CNN ran the loop, again, of Sadiq Khan saying there was “no reason to be alarmed” by all the police and soldiers in the London streets now – that should actually be reassuring. Trump had been wrong. He won’t admit it. He doubled-down, because he’s a real man or something. Real men don’t admit they’re wrong. That’s weakness – and so on and so forth.
This was a bit tiresome, but there was that other tweet:
“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN,” Trump said, undercutting White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said earlier this year in that calling his plan a travel ban “misrepresents what it is.”
That’s trouble, but that’s life in the White House:
Former Trump campaign aides have said that during the campaign they would regularly wake up in the morning in fear of what their boss, then a candidate for president, would have tweeted in the wee hours of the morning. Some of that fear abated, these aides said, when Trump entered the White House. But Monday morning’s series of messages shows Trump will rarely, if ever, break his Twitter habit.
That may be a mistake:
Memo from legal experts to President Donald Trump on resurrecting his stalled travel ban: Put down the Twitter.
Trump’s 140-character musings Monday may have undercut his own efforts to persuade the Supreme Court to reinstate his revised travel ban, which Trump called a “watered-down, politically correct” version of what he’d originally sought. Just as Trump’s Justice Department is arguing the ban doesn’t target Muslims, legal experts said the president seems to be suggesting the opposite.
Those who oppose the travel ban said Trump’s tweetstorm, ironically, helps their case. Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general representing Hawaii in its lawsuit against the ban, said it was as if Trump was his co-counsel.
“We don’t need the help but will take it!” Katyal wrote in his own Twitter post.
Trump hadn’t thought this through:
At the heart of the legal wrangling is whether Trump’s proposed ban violates the Constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion. As a candidate, Trump called for a “Muslim ban,” comments that came back to haunt him as president when the courts determined that even his scaled-down order was “rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country.”
Not so, the Justice Department has argued, insisting the temporary ban is based on credible national security concerns unrelated to religion, and his campaign statements should be ignored. But Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, said Trump was making that argument much less tenable by calling the revised order “politically correct.”
“These tweets are basically winking at his supporters to say, obviously, I’m only doing this so that the courts will uphold it,” Vladeck said. “It makes it harder to argue this is not a Muslim ban, and more importantly, it makes it harder to argue that the president’s statements should be irrelevant.”
Trump’s attorneys winced:
In a series of early-morning tweets, Trump bashed the Justice Department for its decision to ask the Supreme Court to review the second version of the ban – which he signed.
“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.,” Trump said. He urged the Justice Department, which he oversees, to seek a “much tougher version” of the order.
Trump was the outsider, railing, from the outside, at the stupid government, of which he is the chief executive – the CEO so to speak:
Trump has the authority to order the Justice Department to pursue a different strategy. It’s unclear whether the president has conveyed his requests to the department in a forum other than Twitter. The Justice Department declined to comment.
The Justice Department declined to comment because the Justice Department was confused. Their boss was railing against their stupid boss. What?
That led to this:
The inconsistency put White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders in a delicate spot Monday afternoon as questions streamed in about why Trump was contradicting his aides. His Twitter missive notwithstanding, Sanders insisted Trump “isn’t concerned with what you call it,” only with protecting Americans.
Fine, but that one trillion dollar infrastructure plan was forgotten in all the fuss – something about privatizing the air-traffic control system, turning it over to the lowest bidder and walking away. If too many planes crash, the government will find another vendor or something. The other big idea was this – “Now, the government spends the money to build, say, a bridge, and then it’s built and it belongs to the taxpayers. There are maintenance costs, but that’s it. In the new Trump plan, the government gives almost as much money in tax breaks as it would have spent building the bridge, but it belongs to the developer, who charges tolls that everyone who uses the bridge has to keep paying.”
This saves taxpayers a lot of money – but those tax breaks cost big money, and then ordinary Americans keep paying and paying, bit by bit, more and more, forever. Still, it’s a plan.
As for the other tweet, there was this:
Prime Minister Theresa May said she thought Donald Trump was “wrong” to attack London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of Saturday’s terror attack in London.
After avoiding several attempts by reporters to get her to condemn the U.S. president for openly criticizing Khan in a series of tweets hours after the attack at London Bridge that killed seven people and left dozens injured, May was asked what it would take for her to criticize Trump. She reiterated her disappointment over his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, before being eventually forced to defend the capital’s mayor.
“Sadiq Khan is doing a good job,” she told a press conference in central London, when asked if Trump was wrong to attack the mayor’s call for calm in the wake of the attacks. “It’s wrong to say anything else.”
She is now officially offended, but she’s still hedging her bets:
While she used her disapproval of Trump pulling out of the Paris accord to illustrate that she was “not afraid to say when President Trump gets things wrong,” her name was notably absent from a joint statement last week by her European counterparts condemning the withdrawal.
Others did not hedge their bets:
As President Trump strains alliances and relationships around the world, some of the nation’s top career diplomats are breaking publicly with him, in what amounts to a quiet revolt by a cadre of public servants known for their professional discretion.
On Monday, the chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy in Beijing, David H. Rank, announced his resignation after telling his staff he could not defend the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
A day earlier, the acting ambassador to Britain, Lewis A. Lukens, tweeted his support of London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack there. On Sunday morning, President Trump had picked a fight with the mayor on Twitter.
Last month, the ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, reacted to Mr. Trump’s dismissal of FBI director, James B. Comey, by tweeting, “Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions.”
Explaining our democracy and institutions gets harder every day. It’s the tweets. They’re the official word of the head of the government – the real deal – unfiltered – or they’re just impulsive notions, not to be taken seriously. It could be either:
President Donald Trump wants you to take his tweets literally and seriously – even if his aides, lawyers and allies are perpetually forced to clean up the mess after.
The tweets, more than his speeches or official statements issued by the White House press team, seem to represent the real Trump. It’s him speaking directly to the people, without any filters like prepared text, media commentary or even staff input. That’s why Trump likes it, and why it can cause so much trouble for a White House that constantly struggles to drive a consistent message.
They are trouble:
Republican leaders in Congress and even White House aides have long sought to downplay the president’s Twitter musings, but that is becoming more difficult as Trump on Twitter seems to be the most authentic version of the president Americans have access to.
“The words of the president matter whether they’re spoken, written in a press release or sent out in a Tweet,” said Ryan Williams, a political communications consultant and longtime spokesman for Mitt Romney. “Whatever the leader of the free world says and does is important and has meaning to it.”
Trump himself has talked frankly about his Twitter habit, insisting that his tweets represent his true thinking. “I can do messages around the media and get my word out, the way I mean my word,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network at the end of January.
The White House press team doesn’t think so:
White House officials on Monday once again tried to push the idea that Trump’s tweets are not the official word out of the Oval Office as they faced questions about Trump’s various declarations over the past 48 hours.
“They are not policy,” Sebastian Gorka, a senior White House national security official, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo about Trump’s tweets. “It’s not policy. It’s social media, Chris. It’s social media. You know the difference, right?”
White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, meanwhile, slammed the media during an appearance on the “Today” show for “this obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little of what he does as president.”
And principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave conflicting messages at the press briefing, when she was asked at least a dozen questions related to the president’s statements on Twitter.
“They matter in the sense that it gives him a communications tool, again that isn’t filtered through media bias,” Sanders said at one point. “But at the same time I do think that the media obsesses over every period, dot.”
That’s as clear as mud, because this will always be muddy:
Trump’s musings on Twitter are proving to be an unhelpful distraction for his team. His Monday morning blasts came as the White House was attempting to kick off a week focused on infrastructure plans. Any infrastructure headlines were quickly pushed to the back burner as the president’s own comments diverged to topics he found more interesting.
“I sympathize,” Williams said, “with the plight of the White House communications staff.”
Trump, however, has made it clear that pleas for him to end his Twitter usage will fall on deaf ears. “You know who says don’t use Twitter?” Trump asked a campaign rally audience in August. “Your enemies.”
This won’t be resolved anytime soon, and Josh Marshall is surprised at how rapidly things were able to degenerate in just three days:
The terror attack in London is not Donald Trump’s fault of course. But his response to it is hard to fathom even for him.
Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s hard to fathom. It’s not even surprising. We’ve known and seen this withering deficit of shame and grace before when he tweeted out “appreciate the congrats” in response to the Orlando club massacre last year.
Think back on June 12, 2016:
Donald Trump wasted little time seeking political advantage in the massacre at a Florida nightclub, taking credit for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism” in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history.
The suspect in the attack, identified by authorities as a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent named Omar Siddiqui Mateen, killed 49 people and injured another 53 during a rampage through a gay dance club in Orlando. He died in a gunfight with SWAT officers after initially firing shots into the club and later taking hostages…
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” Trump tweeted.
He was the tough guy, but as with London this June, he suddenly remembered that he was supposed to say something else:
Trump followed up that tweet with a statement expressing his “deepest sympathy and support” for “the victims, the wounded, and their families.”
Better late than never, but that was politically correct drudgery, and Marshall is at a loss to describe this:
I’m not even sure what the word is or if there is one. But the one I am struggling to find is the experience of not being remotely surprised by the President’s action and yet marveling that the expected action – or transgression in this case – has managed to find a new depth of awfulness to penetrate and explore.
Marshall didn’t like what he just saw:
This morning Trump is on another Twitter rampage, essentially exploding months of work career DOJ lawyers have put into rebranding Trump’s “Muslim ban” into a non-controversial discretionary immigration executive action. As Trump put it this morning: “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”
This is more than just errant mouthing off. The entire on-going litigation turns heavily on the intent behind the orders. This was obvious in a common sense way – thus explaining much of the administration’s failure before the courts. This is almost a gift to the ACLU and other states and legal groups fighting the different iterations of the ban.
This, however, can be explained:
For all the horror of President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris climate accord, the decision had all but nothing to do with climate policy or anything related to it. The mix of the deepening Russia scandal crisis and European leaders harsh rejection of him at Brussels have pushed the President into a rage and humiliation cycle that is playing out before our eyes.
That rage and humiliation cycle also plays out in tweets, and Marshall sees an underlying problem:
Over the last six months one thing I’ve tried to focus on, to wrestle with, is the fact that Trump is clearly a floundering moron. (Trump reportedly asked two Presbyterian ministers, members of his own notional denomination, whether Presbyterians were Christians.) And yet, he managed to be elected President, an outcome I thought was possible but quite unlikely. This is obviously something important to mull over, for me and others. It is remarkable to remember that Trump was revealed in early October 2016 from his own mouth as a serial harasser and sexual assaulter. His own self-indictment was confirmed by a flood of accusers. Prominent members of his own party were calling on him to step down from the nomination, a totally unprecedented event. And yet he managed to emerge victorious on election night little more than four weeks later.
Turnabouts and seeming impossibilities like these have inspired many to fall back on a 97-dimensional-chess theory of Trump. I think that’s incorrect. Many factors went into Trump’s victory. A big part is what is probably best described as a perfect storm of contingent events: a weakened Democratic candidate, bizarre interventions by the FBI, active assistance by a foreign state, the singularly important role of political polarization which allowed Trump to consolidate softly-anti-Trump GOP support once he’d captured the nomination.
That explains a lot, but not everything:
Perhaps the critical factor is that while Trump is not remotely strategic, he is intuitive. And he had a particular breed of wildness that was remarkably powerful in particular political moment – let’s call it the politics of vengeance and destruction. He is like a thrashing firehose of id ripping this way and that, not by the force of water pressure, but by impulse, hurt and rage. We can see that to a remarkable degree in weekends like these and actually the last week where he is doing immense damage literally to the whole world, and yet much or most of the damage being to himself.
He is, as always, out of control – his own control most of all.
That’s rather obvious, but what is America supposed to do about that? Marshall lays out the difficulties in doing something about that:
Since President Trump was inaugurated in January we’ve heard an on-going discussion about how to interpret and understand Trump in the context of other authoritarian leaders around the world and from the past. That is an important conversation because that is, in most respects, the proper context in which to understand Trump.
But there’s another prism which has become increasingly clear over the last four months – that is the model of monarchy and the incapacitated king. I noted recently that the U.S. president is, largely by design, in key respects something like an elected monarch, albeit one bounded by two theoretically co-equal branches of government. The President isn’t president because he enjoys the support of his party or congressional majorities. He is president because being president means that he has a panoply of rights, prerogatives and powers as a person.
This is an altogether different model from the Westminster parliamentary system and its various permutations and derivations in which the prime minister is a creature of the legislative branch and in theory, and not infrequently in practice, can be removed from office when they lose support. Like a king, the President is president by right – not by divine right but by right of election. Other than impeachment or death, nothing can take those powers away from them.
That’s our system, and that’s our problem:
Monarchies, even absolute ones, have always had to deal with the vagaries of genetics and human frailty. Sometimes the person who is king simply is not capable of doing the job. A child monarch will usually have a regency, a council which does the king things in the King’s name. In other cases, the king or queen has a radical mental deficiency or goes insane. In these cases, in history, the monarch usually doesn’t stop being monarch. Others are simply brought in to act in their name.
Now, my point here is not to start another conversation about whether Trump is crazy or has some psychological condition. My point is that he is clearly incapable, just in the nature of who he is, from doing many of the things expected of presidents. He routinely ignores the advice of his lawyers, he contradicts key administration arguments. He routinely goes on Twitter rage-benders that create endless headaches for staff, disrupt administration policy and may even in some cases constitute or be prima facie evidence of crimes.
That’s also rather obvious:
Most revealingly, in the last week, multiple top advisers and cabinet secretaries have said, in so many words, that President Trump does not speak for the administration in various policy areas. There has been an understandable, if still risible, effort to make the President’s tweets into some kind of meaningless word associations or gibberish that actually don’t mean anything and which shouldn’t be taken seriously for understanding what the administration is doing. Sebastian Gorka, Kellyanne Conway and others have made this argument in just the last 24 hours. Over the weekend, the Secretary of Defense asked allies in Asia to “bear with us” when pressed on just what the President was doing.
What is notable is that we are seeing in real time a White House and an administration trying to force a distinction between what a notional ‘President Trump’ has set as policy (usually meaning the policies key advisers have articulated) and the actual person Donald Trump who we see on Twitter and occasionally in unscripted press settings saying and doing things that often totally contradict his own policies.
Beyond formal policies, he frequently shows himself driven by motives or desires and rages that are entirely the opposite of what his advisers claim. He fired James Comey because of Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation – until Trump himself said he was mad about Russia and would have fired Comey no matter what Rosenstein said. His national security team cheered his renewal of America’s cornerstone alliance, NATO, even as they were apparently aghast when he deepened NATO’s crisis by refusing to pledge his support for the mutual defense commitment which is its central premise.
And then they clean up after him. He’s the president, but he’s not. Trump is the outsider, railing, from the outside, at the stupid government, of which his is the chief executive.
Explaining our democracy and institutions get harder every day. Donald Trump tweets, but that’s not the president, but it is. Theresa May got caught in that fun-house hall of mirrors. She wasn’t happy, and Marshall isn’t happy:
While it is understood that the President sometimes has policies which he may not understand in full depth or fully know about, the US system is based on at least a broad belief that the President is a real person, who has some relationship to the person on whose behalf advisers and cabinet secretaries claim to speak. This last really bad week seems to have gotten us to a new point in which administration leaders are openly saying that the President doesn’t speak for himself or his administration. This does not seem like a sustainable solution to the Trump problem.
Openly saying that the President doesn’t speak for himself or his administration doesn’t solve that problem. The president tweets. That’s the politics of vengeance and destruction – and this president seems to hate the government he leads. He seems to want to destroy it. Marshall doesn’t want to say that Trump is crazy or that he has some psychological condition, but he’s still not capable of doing the job. He doesn’t want to do the job. He wants to be the truth-telling outsider, tweeting ridicule.
Let him. He’ll be happier outside.