In case you were previously unaware, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller is soulless human garbage in a suit and shouldn’t have a role anywhere near the President of the United States. But Donald Trump is our president, Miller has been one of the longest-tenured members of his administration, and here we are.
You may not know much about Miller other than that he has a receding hairline and pretty much every photo of him makes him look like an insufferable dick. He also can claim the dubious honor of having his own uncle call out his hypocritical douchebaggery in an essay that made the rounds online. His own uncle. Let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, resting bitch face and do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do behavior do not a monster necessarily make. Promoting white nationalist propaganda and conspiracy theories, obsessing over conceptions of “racial identity,” and invoking Hitlerian attitudes on immigration, though, are more conclusive signs.
In a series of E-mails between Miller and Breitbart News editors first leaked to the Southern Law Poverty Center by Katie McHugh, a former editor at Breitbart, the depth of Miller’s affinity for white nationalism is laid bare. SLPC’s Hatewatch blog, in reviewing more than 900 E-mails which span from March 2015 to June 2016, characterizes the subject matter of these messages as “strikingly narrow,” unsympathetic, and biased. Regarding immigration, Miller focused only on limiting if not ending nonwhite immigration to the United States. That’s it.
To this effect, Miller’s correspondence included but was not limited to these delightful exchanges and messages:
Sending McHugh stories from white nationalist websites known for promulgating the “white genocide” theory as well as those emphasizing crimes committed by nonwhites and espousing anti-Muslim views
Recommending Camp of the Saints, a 1973 novel depicting the destruction of Western civilization through mass immigration of nonwhites, as a point of comparison to real-world immigration and refugeeism trends
Pushing stories lamenting the loss of cultural markers like the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments
Embracing restrictive American immigration policies of yesteryear, the likes of which were based on eugenics theory and were referenced favorably in Mein Kampf
Offering original conspiracy theories as to why the “ruinous” history of the Hart-Celler Act wasn’t covered in “elitist” publications
Hatewatch also revisited Miller’s history with prominent white nationalist figures to provide context for these E-mails. Specifically, Miller has connections to Peter Brimelow, founder of VDARE, a white supremacist website, and Richard Spencer, like, the poster child for white nationalism and the alt-right, from his time at Duke. He and Spencer worked together to organize a debate between Brimelow and journalist/professor Peter Laufer on immigration across our southern border. Miller has sought to refute this relationship, but Spencer has acknowledged their familiarity with one another in passing. Miller’s denial is, as far as the SPLC is concerned, implausible.
As noted, these E-mails are several years old and his time at Duke yet further back. Still, not only are these messages not that far behind us, but Miller’s fingerprints are all over Trump’s immigration policy directives. As Hatewatch has also documented, Miller was one of the strongest advocates for the “zero tolerance” policy which saw a spike in family separations at the border with Mexico, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there. In addition, alongside Steve Bannon, he was a chief architect of the so-called “travel ban,” which is a Muslim ban in everything but the name.
Again, as the leaked E-mails and SPLC’s additional context hint at, there is a path to these policies in Miller’s past associations. As recently as 2014, he attended an event for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative foundation which traffics in Islamophobia, introducing his then-boss Jeff Sessions as a speaker.
There’s his involvement with the Center for Immigration Studies, too, a anti-immigrant think tank (if you can call it that; the inclusion of the word “think” seems like a stretch) whose very founders subscribed to white nationalist and eugenicist world views and of which misleading/false claims about immigrant crime are a mainstay. Miller was a keynote speaker at a CIS conference in 2015 and has repeatedly cited CIS reports in publicly defending Trump administration policy directives.
As always, one can’t know for sure how many of Miller’s professed beliefs are true to what he believes deep down. After all, he, like any number of modern conservative grifters, may simply be leveraging the prejudices of everyday Americans as a means of bolstering his own profile.
Ultimately, however, as with his current employer, it is immaterial what he truly believes. His words and (mis)deeds shared with the outside world are what matter, and the zeal with which he has pursued bigoted, racist, and xenophobic policies and rhetoric conveys the sense he really means it. Like the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Stephen Miller walks like a racist and quacks like a racist. I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.
At this writing, 107 Democratic members of the House of Representatives and Mike Coffman, a House Republican, have called for Stephen Miller’s resignation or firing. It’s not just members of Congress either. Over 50 civil rights groups, including Jewish organizations (Miller is Jewish), have likewise condemned Miller’s bigotry. Predictably, the White House has used these calls for the senior adviser’s head as fodder for charges of anti-Semitism, much as the man himself has tried to use his faith as a shield from criticism in the past.
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, though. You can be a Jew and still suffer from prejudice. None of us are immune herein regardless of our religious or political beliefs. Besides, the nature of the White House’s defense obscures the intent of the growing resignation demand. This isn’t a bunch of totalitarian leftists trying to exploit the E-mail leak as political weaponry. Miller has given his critics across the political spectrum plenty of ammunition throughout his tenure in the Trump administration. The leak is just the racist, Islamophobic straw that broke the camel’s back.
Does all of this outrage matter, though? Will President Donald Trump turn a deaf ear to the controversy surrounding Miller, more concerned with his own concerns over his ongoing impeachment inquiry? Would he consider keeping Miller in his present role just to signify his stubborn will and/or to “own the libs?”
It’s hard to say. On one hand, some of the worst crooks and liars have seemed to do the best (that is, last the longest) in the Trump administration. Betsy DeVos is still carrying water for Trump as Secretary of Education despite a history of evidenced incompetence and notions she, like Trump, is using her position to enrich herself. Kellyanne Conway continues to be employed despite being a professional author of “alternative facts.” And don’t even get me started about Jared Kushner. If that guy has any personality or foreign policy know-how worth sharing, it is unknown to the rest of Planet Earth.
So, yeah, Stephen Miller is a natural fit for the Trump White House and this bit of public outrage may just be a blip on the radar of his career as a political influencer. Then again, it may not. While several Trump administration officials have resigned, Trump has let the ax fall on occasion. Among the figures identified by CNN as either “fired” or “pushed out” are high-profile names like Jeff Sessions (Attorney General and Miller’s one-time employer), John Bolton (National Security Adviser), John Kelly (White House Chief of Staff), Michael Flynn (also National Security Adviser), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steve Bannon (White House Chief Strategist), not to mention holdovers from the Obama administration like Andrew McCabe (FBI Deputy Director), James Comey (FBI Director), and Sally Yates (Deputy Attorney General). Heck, Anthony Scaramucci only lasted 10 days as White House Communications Director.
When not striking a defiant tone, Trump and Co. have also exhibited a sensitivity to low public support. That zero-tolerance immigration policy championed by Miller which will forever serve as a black mark on an already-checkered American legacy? It has been formally ended, though it has been reported that children continue to be separated by their parents and logistical problems facing the reunification of families remain. Alas, nothing goes smoothly with this administration, especially not when cruelty is on the agenda.
The president has additionally and vocally wavered on Syria, not only with respect to withdrawal of troops but whether to support the Kurds fighting there or to roll out the proverbial red carpet for Erdogan and Turkey after widespread bipartisan condemnation of abandoning our allies there. Trump’s not a smart man, but he can tell when the prevailing sentiment is against him. (Hint: If the chowderheads at Fox & Friends and 2019’s version of Lindsey Graham are disagreeing with you, you know you screwed up.)
All this adds up to the idea Stephen Miller’s job may not be as safe as we might imagine. Whatever the outcome, the pressure for him to be fired or resign should continue as long as he is one of the worst examples of what the Trump White House has to offer and one of the ugliest Americans in recent memory given his personally- and professionally-stated beliefs. As his leaked correspondence with Katie McHugh shows, Miller is even worse than we thought. It’s time to get him out before he does any more damage to the country than he already has.
How many times have you heard the phrase “live each day like it’s your last?” It’s good advice, in theory. Certainly, you should be active in shaping your destiny and not waiting for things to happen to your benefit. Then again, taken to absurd extremes, this could be a dangerous mantra by which to live. At no point is it recommended that your drain your savings, spend it on alcohol, drugs, and other diversions, and throw the party to end all parties. Swimming pools full of liquor à la Kendrick Lamar. Sex with many anonymous partners. Fun, perhaps, yes, but not terribly prudent. If it seems like I’m a bit of a wet blanket in this regard, it’s only because, by all accounts, I am.
President Donald J. Trump, for his part, seems to subscribe to this way of thinking, or at least approaches running the country in this way. Risk the position of the Republican Party by insisting on a replacement to ObamaCare, an unpopular travel ban, a militaristic immigration policy and overall approach to criminal justice, and an expensive wall at the Mexican border, among other things? No big deal—Trump hasn’t been a very faithful member of the GOP, and basically ran his campaign without the full backing of the party’s leaders (in fact, that probably only helped him). Fire off crazy, unfounded remarks regularly on Twitter? Fine—the news media is happy with all the clicks and TV ratings it receives every time he makes his feelings known. Appeal to corporations and workers alike with a pro-business, anti-environment agenda? That’s OK—he’ll probably be dead by the time the worst effects of deleterious climate change hit (though at the rate he’s going, who knows).
More recently, however, it is the firing of FBI director James Comey that has people up in arms, particularly incensed about the decision of a man known for acting suddenly and capriciously. Now, was Mr. Comey a saint? Far from it, as evidenced by his rather brazen actions which directly influenced voters’ perceptions of the 2016 presidential race—which he testified as being absolutely sick about, because he had no intention of doing anything to sway the outcome. Sure, Jim, you’re really helping your credibility there. In fact, after Comey effectively threw hurdles in Hillary Clinton’s lane in the race for the presidency, many were calling for his head. You know, figuratively speaking. At least I think it was figuratively speaking. This past election sure dredged up some powerful feelings—and still continues to, if I might add.
Based on his guilt, then, James Comey doesn’t inspire a great deal of sympathy merely for losing his job. Where the outrage lies, meanwhile, is what the presumed motivations are for Trump deciding to fire Comey at this point in time. The White House has indicated it was because of Comey’s apparent bias and his lack of fairness in dealing with Hillary Clinton, among other things, but come on—nobody believes that. After all, why wait until May 2017 to make the determination to ax Comey if that were the case? Such reasoning is not only illogical, but it’s pretty damn insulting to our intelligence as readers, Tweeters, and viewers of the news.
No, the consensus opinion is that James Comey was fired because he was getting too close for comfort in his investigation of Donald Trump himself and other close associates. It is all but known that Trump and prominent members of his administration/campaign have direct financial ties to Russian oligarchs or had contact with Russian ambassadors prior to the election, and hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s and John Podesta’s E-mails raise serious concerns about whether or not Trump and his team were involved in an apparent plot to screw with American democratic proceedings and sway the election in his favor. In addition, viewed in the context of other firings within the Justice Department, namely those of Sally Yates and Preet Bharara, Comey’s removal is suspicious in that those individuals who have been involved with investigating Trump’s affairs have all been sent packing by the President. Sure, there’s no definitive proof these firings were all politically motivated—well, not yet, at least—but this trend raises one’s eyebrows. Heck, John McCain broke ranks with his fellow Republicans to express his disappointment in Comey proving to be a casualty of the Trump White House. When members of the GOP are publicly casting doubts about Trump’s motives, you know it’s a big deal.
Predictably, a number of his Cabinet members came to Pres. Trump’s defense, as I’m sure his fans on blogs, on Breitbart, and on talk radio did as well. The rationalization that stuck with me the most, though, was that of Nikki Haley, ambassador to the United Nations and, more recently, Donald Trump apologist. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on his show This Week, Haley said that “[Trump] is the CEO of the country. He can hire and fire anyone he wants.” This is a striking assertion to me, not merely because Trump, as President of the United States, can’t just fire anyone he wants. A significant portion of Trump’s lasting appeal is his identity as a political outsider and a successful businessman (only one of the two is accurate), and in this regard, his presidency is almost an experiment of sorts in applying a business leadership model to a publicly-elected office. In talking with my close circle of friends about Donald Trump (spoiler alert: we’re generally not fond of him), we discussed how Americans who voted for the orange one may have been swayed by vague notions of wanting to see how the country could or would be run if it were handled like a corporation or other business. Given this frame of mind, Trump’s perceived success or failure and the future political prospects of other prominent Republicans could therefore be seen as a referendum on such an industry-focused approach.
Now well past the 100-day mark of Trump’s tenure, it’s worth considering whether or not more and more Americans who voted him into office might be suffering from a case of buyer’s remorse, not to mention contemplating just how well the Trump-as-CEO-President analogy fits. As John Cassidy, writing for The New Yorker, insists, if Donald Trump were a CEO, he’d probably be fired. To this end, and in his assessment of Trump’s tenure heretofore, Cassidy is pretty much unequivocal:
Donald Trump has built his political career on his reputation as a successful businessman, so it seems fair to assess his recent performance as President as if he were a C.E.O. running U.S.A., Inc. The report card isn’t pretty. Indeed, if Trump were the chief executive of a public company, the firm’s non-executive directors probably would have been huddled in a crisis meeting on Tuesday morning, deciding whether to issue him a pink slip.
In such a corporate scenario, the board members would likely decide they had no choice but to oust Trump to protect the reputation of the company and prevent further damage. During the past week, he has twice messed up monumentally, doing grave harm to his own credibility and undermining the country’s reputation around the world. And these were just his latest mistakes. During his four months in the corner office, Trump has repeatedly shown that he is patently unsuited for the position he holds, and he has also demonstrated a chronic inability to change the way he operates.
I would think more moderate Trump supporters and voters would be apt to concede that “the Donald” lacks the qualifications you might desire of a Commander-in-Chief, much in the way reluctant Hillary Clinton voters would likely concede their choice was—how can I put this delicately?—somewhat out of touch with working-class Americans. Those same people would also probably agree that flexibility and Donald Trump do not necessarily come part and parcel, though they might disagree to the extent this is a virtue or vice. For all those individuals who profess to want a negotiator who will work with members of both major political parties and knows how to compromise, there seems to be, if not an equivalent number of people, then a sufficiently vocal minority which believes the opposite: that refusal to compromise is an element of strong leadership, and that sticking to one’s proverbial guns is to be lauded, not decried.
In other words, John Cassidy would be remiss if he did not cite specific examples of how Donald Trump as POTUS and chief executive has failed. Thankfully, at least for his sake, he does not disappoint. Though I’m sure you can imagine which recent events top his list, here are the two big blockbusters that he cites to prove his point:
1. The firing of James Comey
We’ve addressed this in part, but Cassidy points out the incongruity in the public statements about why Comey was fired is a public relations disaster, and, though it almost certainly means nothing to Trump, he really hung Vice President Mike Pence out to dry by contradicting his account of why a vacancy at the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation now exists. Trump’s ensuing Tweets that appear to be warning James Comey that he had better hope there were no tapes of their conversations only further the notion that he (Trump) is the kind of unstable person who you wouldn’t want caring for your pet goldfish, let alone a company or the United States of freaking America. I mean, to put it another way, um, blackmail tends to be frowned upon in our society.
2. The disclosure of classified information to Russian officials
At a bare minimum, this is a case of bad optics, but in a different country or perhaps even in a different era, Donald Trump would stand to be harangued or tarred-and-feathered—or worse—for what some might argue is tantamount to treason. We all know of Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin and other world leaders suspected of crimes against humanity. But seriously, bruh, this is Russia we’re talking about here. You know, the country responsible for hacking our election? As Cassidy puts it, running with the metaphor of America as a corporate entity (realistically speaking, it’s not much of a stretch), “Just how much damage Trump’s indiscretions have inflicted on the company isn’t yet known. But it’s clear that he was guilty of a serious breach of trust, and another stunning error of judgment.”
For most of Trump’s tenure as “CEO,” other executives within the company (high-ranking Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell) and its most bullish shareholders (Trump supporters) have been willing to roll with the punches, but as of late, #45’s antics have made even them skittish. Thinking in terms of the big picture, there is a clear element of risk here, and in terms of economic hazards, not just political danger. With the unpredictability of Donald Trump’s actions and the civil unrest that has accompanied his rise to power, both domestically-based and foreign-owned companies are less liable to seek to invest in our nation. The same goes for those individuals who would study or travel or work here. If not worried about their physical safety, the fear may well be for what is called, in business parlance, the going concern of the company, or its ability to remain in business for the foreseeable future. In the case of the United States of America, not only are concerns about our debt and our infrastructure more than justified, but the prospects of a climate catastrophe or world war don’t seem all that remote either. The ticking of the Doomsday Clock grows ever louder.
Donald Trump’s behavior of late has intensified talks of impeachment. In terms of potential impeachable offenses, the reported request made by Trump of James Comey to effectively look the other way on Michael Flynn looms especially large, as it points to a deliberate attempt to obstruct justice. Then again, for months, critics have been circling, highlighting, and putting a bright neon sticky note on Trump’s and his family’s refusal to divest or put Trump Organization assets in a blind trust, saying this alone is sufficient grounds for removal based on violation of the now-famous Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Let it be stressed, though, that these calls for the deposition of Pres. Trump come with their own caveat. For one, cries for impeachment proceedings from the general public will likely need to be amplified by Congress, and the Republicans in the House and Senate don’t seem to give a serious enough shit to act to curb Trump’s wanton disregard for ethics, human decency, and said Constitution. Besides this, getting rid of Trump doesn’t mean that the leadership gets profoundly better based on who’s next in the line of succession. After Donald Trump—just to name a few—it’s Mike Pence (Vice President), followed by Paul Ryan (Speaker of the House), Orrin Hatch (President pro tem of the Senate), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), and Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury). What a bunch of winners, eh? Hard to know which is slimier or more slippery than the next, and, yes, better than Trump, but as has been well established, that’s a low bar to clear.
President Trump’s reckless behavior, though, while it should be rightly admonished and while it forms the basis of much of John Cassidy’s analysis, doesn’t speak to the full scope of his ineffectiveness as CEO of the company-country. John Micklethwait, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief, views things somewhat more holistically in terms of how well managed the White House is. As with Cassidy’s findings, meanwhile, the results are similarly unenthusiastic. Micklethwait’s piece is entitled “Would You Let Trump Run Your Company?” and hits on a number of the same themes that thus have been presented. The same antics that Cassidy enumerates are referenced herein, but the author quickly pivots to assessing the Trump presidency purely on its merits as a cohesive unit and the boss’s merits as a facilitator:
Behind this list of individual transgressions sit four larger failings: This CEO-in-chief has failed to get things done; he has failed to build a strong team, especially in domestic policy; he hasn’t dealt with conflicts of interest; and his communications is in shambles.
On the first count, you can basically spin the domestic policy wheel of fortune and pick an area where Trump and Co. have been unable to get substantive policy authored and enacted. The American Health Care Act, the GOP’s putative replacement for the Affordable Care Act, still has yet to be passed by both halves of Congress, and faces stern opposition not only from minority-party Democrats, but concerned constituents regardless of political affiliation. His proposed tax reform has yet to be even fully visualized. Ditto for his infrastructure plan, and to boot, several of his executive orders have (thankfully) been challenged in and stayed by the nation’s judiciary. So there’s that.
On the second count, Donald Trump is much further behind in filling needed posts than Barack Obama was at this point in his presidency. Even putting the drama with the quick-to-resign Michael Flynn aside, John Micklethwait points to a “whiff of cronyism” in the Trump administration ranks, capped off by positions of influence for Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner despite their apparent lack of qualifications for their associated stature. As Micklethwait puts it: “There appears to be little structure in the White House. It’s more like a court than a company, with the king retiring to bed with a cheeseburger and spontaneously tweeting orders.”
On the third count, there’s Trump’s conflicts of interests, to which I’ve already alluded. Micklethwait highlights the contrast between how most—for lack of a better term—normal executives manage their personal investments next to those of their business, and how Trump, ever cavalier, has approached his affairs. In the author’s words once more:
In most businesses, this is something most incoming bosses deal with quickly and automatically. There’s an ethics policy, and you follow it. That policy usually has two levels: first, obeying the law; second, setting standards and following processes that avoid even the impression of any conflict. This second prohibitive level is crucial.
Again, and to make a long story short, the Trump family has failed this test, if you can even say that, because calling them failures implies they have at least nominally tried to comply with ethical and legal guidelines. They haven’t.
On the fourth and final count, there’s the communications aspect. Donald Trump is characteristically unpredictable, a quality he likely sees as a virtue because it keeps his would-be competitors guessing. Unfortunately, in terms of working with his so-called team, when figures like Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson aren’t contradicting one another, Trump himself is Tweeting something that flies in the face of what Mike Pence or Sean Spicer or some other mouthpiece for the President says. Or he’s just flat-out lying, and unlike other CEOs who ultimately cop to their falsehoods and express some degree of contrition, Trump only doubles down on his assertions, and tries to bully or goad dissenters into silence. He’s not just merely falling short on this dimension—he’s helping create a dangerous world where facts are ignored or marginalized in favor of who has the loudest or sexiest argument.
In all respects, therefore, Pres. Trump is not proving an effective leader, and America is not “winning” nearly as much as he boasted we would because of it. In fact, we may be starting to lose outright. Stocks rebounded this past Thursday across major indexes, buoyed by strong economic data, but they had to rebound because uncertainty surrounding Donald Trump and whispers of impeachment sent the Dow Jones, for one, tumbling by more than 350 points. On one hand, two or three or four days does not a definitive economic trend make. Still, with a man in the White House whose penchant is unpredictability, that we might continue to see these individual “shocks” is reasonable, if not probable. When the fate of the markets is largely in the hands of reactionary investors, the question becomes how bumpy is too bumpy a ride before these shareholders want to get off.
In closing his op-ed, John Micklethwait offers these sentiments, essentially telling us it’s up to Republican Party leaders to decide whether or not it’s time to come get their boy Trump. You know, assuming he doesn’t suddenly become more presidential—and one is advised not to hold his or her breath to that end:
There is a semi-charitable explanation for much of this chaos. Trump does not have any experience as a CEO—at least in the sense that most of corporate America would recognize. One telling irony: Many of the banking executives now trying to curry favor with him would never have lent him money in the past. His skills were in dealmaking, rather than running a large organization. The core Trump company had barely 100 people. It’s possible that if he takes on some of the basic management lessons to do with structure, process, and delegation, then he may be able to run America. The question now is whether he has already made enough mistakes for the board to get rid of him. The closest thing America has to a board is the group of Republican senators who must decide what to investigate. Trump will hate the analogy, but at this moment, their leader, Senator McConnell, is his chairman—and the CEO has a lot of explaining to do.
In the lead-in to this post, I referred to Donald Trump leading the country like there’s no tomorrow. The GOP, too, has been playing a short-term game, doing what they can to approve the legislation and nominees they wish to have confirmed, even going as far as to use the “nuclear option”—changing Senate rules to overcome the power of filibuster. Otherwise, they have been performing a balancing act with their policy stances, eager not to alienate Trump supporters in possible bids for re-election. As the rocky road of Donald J. Trump as CEO of the US of A continues, however, how long will it be before they start to panic in their own right? For those who wanted a pro-business outsider from the private sector in the Oval Office, or simply someone who would advance a conservative Republican agenda, be careful what you wish for. You may not get the returns you’ve been seeking, and even worse, you may find your support for the CEO-President only serves to work against you after all.
Last August, before we had to truly entertain the notion of calling him “President Trump,” I wrote about a story that surfaced during the presidential campaign that I felt told me all I needed to know about Donald Trump. I’ll try to summarize it as briefly as I can. It came to the attention of various local historians that Trump had erected (why does that feel so awful to say?) a plaque at his golf course in Virginia commemorating the “River of Blood,” a site of numerous river crossings and skirmishes during the Civil War. Except none of it was true. The historians sought out by reporters had never heard of such a thing, and if it existed at all, it certainly wasn’t where Mr. Trump said it was. When confronted with the fabrication, however, Trump, as one might expect, gave no credence to it. Rather than owning up to an obvious lie, he cited his own historians who corroborated the description on the commemorative plaque (whose names he mysteriously could no longer remember), and he challenged the very integrity of the historians who disputed his account with this doozy: “How would they know that? Were they there?” In addition, he tried to reason his way out of being caught in a fabrication with some of what would now appear to be his trademark gibberish: “That was a prime site for river crossings. So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot — a lot of them.”
This excerpt from the presidential race, as minor as it may be, struck me as emblematic of the kind of campaign Donald Trump ran and what kind of man he is. That is, if he were willing to lie about something so inconsequential—with a straight face, no less—he obviously would have no problem lying about other more grave matters. Fast forward to the present day and we’ve already had 100+ days of President Donald J. Trump. In that time, he’s done a lot of shit that has either made people scratch their heads or has reinforced their lack of optimism about him or quantifiable embarrassment of his antics. Again, though, I am struck by two events that were of relatively small significance, but nonetheless speak volumes about what kind of man Trump is. Both happen to be sports-related. The first was his refusal to fill out a bracket for ESPN’s Bracket Challenge competition in advance of the NCAA Tournament. The second was his declining the offer to throw out the first pitch of the Washington Nationals game on Opening Day. In both cases, agreeing to play along would put #45 at risk for public criticism and ridicule, and seeing as if his skin were any thinner his vital organs would be showing, he might never be able to live down the shame of spiking the baseball twenty feet from the mound or the boos that would ensue—whether or not he actually threw the ball capably.
Finally, at the 100-day mark, there was the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, an event which has been known of late for its more casual, jocular spirit. And guess who wasn’t in attendance? Yup, Mr. Thin Skin himself. Trump announced back in February he wouldn’t be attending, and noting the contentious relationship between the President/his administration and the press, it was surmised that the cold shoulder might be reciprocated come time for the Dinner and that numerous media outlets would pass as well. Indeed, a rather different tone was anticipated for this event. So, where was our fearless leader instead? Rather than potentially needing to endure the playful barbs of comedians and an unbiased news media, Pres. Trump held a rally. Just for his supporters. More than three years away from the next presidential election. If you’re a strongman, you can’t look weak, can you? Especially when, up to now, your presidential tenure—like your business ventures over much of your adult life—has been marked by a questionable level of success.
So, what has the first 100 days entailed for President Cheeto Voldemort? Michael Grunwald, writing for Politico, breaks down this storied measuring stick used for each incoming President. My synopsis owes much to, well, his synopsis. OK—without further ado, let’s consider what exactly Donald Trump has accomplished up to this point.
100 DAYS OF TRUMP—SO WHAT, EXACTLY, HAS HE ACCOMPLISHED?
What I like in particular about Grunwald’s analysis is that he arranged it by topic, not merely chronologically; the headings and organizational structure I will use directly references his format. Also of note is his assignment of values on a scale of 1 to 10 for the Immediate Impact and Potential Significance of the events within each category. These ratings, of course, are subjective, but they likely give a good indication about how people who have followed and reported on the Trump presidency would assess its success as a whole.
With that said, let’s get to it. As Michael Grunwald et al. would have it, where are we after 100 days of Donald Trump in the White House?
1. The Short List
OK, let’s talk turkey from the get-go. Broadly speaking, what has President Trump meaningfully accomplished after 100 days in the Oval Office. Would it surprise you if I told you, “Not much?” Trump has been under the impression that he would be able to enact sweeping changes to U.S. domestic and foreign policy, aided and abetted by a Republican majority in both the House and Senate. Speaking of aided and abetted, Trump did get his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch confirmed—you know, after the GOP stubbornly refused to entertain a legitimate pick in Merrick Garland and after changing the very Senate rules to allow a 51-vote majority to end a filibuster and bring about the final confirmation vote. Save for Andrew Puzder, whose employ of an undocumented immigrant made him political poison and necessitated the withdrawal of his name from consideration for Secretary of Labor, Trump has also managed to get his awful lot of picks for top Cabinet positions filled—once again, owing to a majority in the Senate and not without serious debate and close votes. In addition, Pres. Trump formally pulled us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deeply flawed trade agreement, as part of his “tough-on-trade” rhetoric—even though all indications were that its prospects were all but dead in the water anyhow.
Other than that, though—get ready to be surprised—Donald Trump has not lived up to a number of his campaign promises or has been unable to achieve much of what he has set out to accomplish. His “travel ban” that really is a Muslim ban? Both iterations heretofore have been ruled unconstitutional. His executive order targeting sanctuary cities? Also blocked by the courts. His notion that ObamaCare would be quick to repeal and replace? Um, yeah, not so much. We can really just go down the line on things Trump, who has assailed other politicians as being “all talk, no action,” has not lived up to—at least not yet. He still doesn’t have a plan to pay for “the wall.” His proposed budget has been criticized by people on both sides of the political aisle. He hasn’t outlined an infrastructure rebuilding plan. He hasn’t reversed course on deals with Cuba and Iran. He has yet to pull us out of the Paris climate agreement. He hasn’t moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Sure, Trump has rolled back a few Obama-era pieces of legislation and filled a few Cabinet-level positions, but the vast majority of existing regulations and open positions have been left untouched. On the latter count, this is significant. Trump hasn’t even nominated candidates for hundreds of positions which require Senate confirmation, and without them being filled, their departments will run even less effectively and efficiently. To quote Grunwald, “So far he’s been a showhorse, not a workhorse, and in Washington, showhorses often struggle to produce lasting change.” Indeed, sir. Indeed.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 8
2. A Change in the Climate
No, literally—we’re talking about what Trump is doing for the Earth’s atmosphere. Sorry, that’s to the Earth’s atmosphere. In fairness, President Trump has vowed to do a lot of things that would at least stunt progress toward a greener approach to climate change—dismantle the Clean Power Plan, ease fuel efficiency mandates for car manufacturers, revive the coal industry, take us out of the Paris climate accord—but he hasn’t actually done any of that. But he very well could. After all, Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, is his Secretary of State, and Scott Pruitt, someone who repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency, is his head of the freaking EPA. In his proposed budget, he also approved massive cuts to NOAA and the EPA itself, and has generally taken on an adversarial attitude toward any agencies which would promote a consciousness and conscience about climate change.
Donald Trump, in short, has made science and verifiable facts his enemy, and has even tried to unite the American people—or at least his staunch supporters—against the mainstream media, a trend that hasn’t required much of a push given declining support in traditional news media and various other American institutions (like, say, Congress). In taking these stances, especially those specific to matters of the environment, Trump is fighting a losing battle when it comes to the rise of clean energy and the phasing out of resources like coal. However, he can move us backward when we should be making advances in new energy technologies—and that is dangerous given models of the progression of climate change that would lead to rising seas, diminished habitable land, and other fun stuff. Quoting Michael Grunwald once more: “Trump can’t stop climate change progress. But he can slow it down, when the fate of the planet may depend on full-speed-ahead.”
Immediate Impact: 2 Potential Significance: 9
3. You’re Not Welcome
Mexicans, Muslims, federal officers who won’t do Donald Trump’s bidding—take your pick, because this administration has an ax to grind with all of them. The laws that Trump is enforcing are the same ones that President Barack Obama enforced with his scores of deportations. Certainly, though, the mindset is different, especially that of targeting undocumented immigrants who have committed no crimes other than illegally crossing the border. According to statistics cited by Grunwald, arrests at the southern border were down 67% in the month of March, presumably as a result of tougher enforcement at the border to begin with, and arrests of noncriminal immigrants have more than doubled since Trump has been in office.
So, while construction of the wall is still pending and while funding for this monstrosity is likewise up in the air, the winds of change have shifted regarding our nation’s identity as a welcoming melting pot—and foreign nationals have taken notice. As Grunwald also tells, tourism officials have reported a 6.8% decline in bookings to trips to the United States since Trump has been sworn into office. This is alongside reported harassment that immigrants have experienced in the wake of rise of Trump, both young and old, as well as a surge in warranted fear that they might be deported at any time. Thus, while President Trump’s executive order targeting funding of sanctuary cities has been at least temporarily halted, he has certainly (and unfortunately) put his stamp on domestic policy in this regard.
Immediate Impact: 5 Potential Significance: 8
4. From Russia with Love
The obvious parallel with the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia is to the Watergate scandal. As Michael Grunwald distinguishes, though, whereas Watergate required investigative work to connect the requisite dots, “Russiagate,” if you will, requires far less. Michael Flynn, disgraced former national security adviser who failed to last a month on the job, and Paul Manafort, whose ties to Russia and the Ukraine were so extensive he had to be removed as Trump’s campaign manager, were prominent figures in Trump’s world. Jeff Sessions, attorney general, had to recuse himself from any investigations into Russia because of his own undisclosed ties to a Russian ambassador. Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, had to recuse himself from his own committee’s investigation into the whole Russian affair.
Perhaps most telling of all, Donald Trump himself has continually heaped praise on Vladimir Putin (recall from the campaign season how Trump made reference to the Russian hacking scandal by suggesting the Russians hack Hillary Clinton, his political rival at the time), and tried (unsuccessfully) to deflect from all the suspicions about his possible ties with claims that Barack Obama, as President, had Trump Tower wiretapped for his sake—claims that have yet to be substantiated. Grunwald refers to the “drip, drip, drip” of revelations coming from investigations into the tangled web of connections between our government and Vladimir Putin’s country, and in due time, those dots stand to be connected. Whether it will prove truly damaging to President Trump and his political future, however, remains to be seen.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
5. Team Players
This section is less about Donald Trump and more about the refusal of establishment Republican leaders to, well, do anything about him. Without meaningful challenges from the likes of Devin Nunes, Jason Chaffetz, and others within the GOP power structure, Trump has been allowed to take trip after trip to Trump Organization-owned properties, chief among them Mar-a-Lago, at great expense to taxpayers and at personal benefit to the Trump family, owing to the patriarch’s refusal to divest or put his holdings in a blind trust. He similarly has not had to reveal the contents of his taxes, which may reveal his suspected financial dealings with Russia, or they may simply prove that he’s not worth as much as he says he is. Maybe both. The point is this: elected Republican officials are not taking a more hardline stance on President Trump, and this is because they do not wish to alienate his supporters in their own bids for re-election. It’s pretty simple, really, though no less disappointing.
Besides this, Republicans have gotten pretty much what they’d hoped for with Trump in the White House: a conservative agenda that favors corporations and military intervention abroad as opposed to populism and isolationism. So, right now, despite all his conflicts of interest and reprehensible behavior, GOP lawmakers are giving “the Donald” a free pass. Should Trump’s popularity becoming toxic, meanwhile, then the equation might change. In the meantime, those who oppose #45 are left to be frustrated by these politicians’ inaction and disgusted by their cowardice.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
6. Who Is Trump? Why Is He Here?
Promises, promises. For all of his promises made on the campaign trail, chief among them the stated desire to “drain the swamp,” and despite his history as someone who doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional conservative, Donald J. Trump, to the likely relief of the GOP, has governed like a rank-and-file Republican so far. His administration is full of former Goldman Sachs officers and K Street lobbyists, and he regularly consults with CEOs of major corporations. Speaking about those promises, Trump has just in the first 100 days broken a number of them. Fight cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Not when you were actively trying to promote the AHCA, you weren’t. Let Syria be someone else’s problem? Not when you’re shooting Tomahawk missiles off there and dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. China is a currency manipulator? Not when we’re picking fights with North Korea and when Trump personally stands to benefit personally from Chinese approval of Trump trademarks. For all of the boasts about not being a traditional politician, and for all the unprecedented ethical issues facing the Trump family and others within the administration, President Trump has had a familiar Republican ring to him.
To be clear, however, let’s not treat Donald Trump and his cronies like they’re normal. There’s the Skeleton King a.k.a. Stephen Bannon, who only recently was deposed from the National Security Council and who, before this gig, was instrumental in spewing hate from his lofty position within Breitbart Media. Jared Kushner has a ton of important individual responsibilities without the apparent expertise or know-how to be able to deal with them. Kellyanne Conway suggested microwaves could be used for surveillance. Sean Spicer tried to claim Adolf Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on the Jews. Senior adviser Stephen Miller is a bigot who regularly clashed with members of minority groups at Duke University. Deputy adviser Sebastian Gorka has ties to far-right groups and Nazi-aligned organizations. Anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and a disturbing lack of transparency and a desire to diminish facts and science—these are the hallmarks of this administration. Accordingly, whether we’re talking about a standard GOP agenda or an abnormally pro-white, anti-globalist leadership team, if you’re a Democrat, independent, or liberal progressive, there’s a lot about which to worry with who’s at the top.
Immediate Impact: 6 Potential Significance: 8
7. The Community Organizer
Seemingly every weekend, there’s another march or rally in protest of President Trump and his and the GOP’s agenda. The Women’s March on Washington was just the kickoff event. Protests in solidarity with our immigrant populations and with our Muslim brethren. Demonstrations of resistance against policies that eschew concerns for the environment and scientific principles. Rallies in favor of protecting our health care, and women’s reproductive rights. All this alongside continuing struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for a $15 minimum wage from America’s working class. Certainly, there is unrest in this country among self-identifying members of the Resistance, and even a few of those individuals who supported Trump are now feeling a sense of buyer’s remorse. Plus, more and more Americans are staying engaged with political happenings and are even looking to get involved with local, county, state, and national politics as candidates. In short, the enthusiasm for change seems to be there within “the people.”
These feelings of resentment toward a Trump presidency and the ongoing efforts by Republican leaders to dismantle the Affordable Care Act have potentially given the Democratic Party valuable political capital. The question is, though: will they be able to capitalize on this surging excitement within grassroots circles in 2018, in 2020, and beyond? Recent performance in elections big and small would suggest no, as would the refusal of party leadership to embrace its more progressive elements and the kind of fighting spirit that someone like Bernie Sanders engenders. A seemingly growing segment of the populace is even calling for the formation of a new party such as the People’s Party which would more authentically represent working-class Americans and would strive to halt and eventually reverse the widening income and wealth inequality in the United States, among other things. This too, however, seems only remotely possible in the short term. It’s quite a conundrum for independents and liberals, and one that only serves to illustrate the tension produced by the entrenchment of money in politics and both major parties’ reliance on big-ticket donations.
Immediate Impact: 4 Potential Significance: 9
8. Tough Town
Donald Trump, presumably because he paid someone to write a book about him called The Art of the Deal, is synonymous with deal-making. For better or for worse, though, he hasn’t really done much deal-making. Essentially, he’s tried to bully the other party into agreeing to what he wants to accomplish—without much success. He couldn’t force the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives to help jam an awful health care plan through Congress. He hasn’t been able to badger the Democrats into submission on matters of budget and infrastructure. And to top it all off, Mexico still hasn’t agreed to pay for the wall. Thus, if Trump is master of the art of the deal, um, we’re waiting, Mr. Master, sir.
To perhaps his credit, Pres. Trump has indicated on multiple occasions that he didn’t realize being President of the United States and different facets associated with being POTUS would be so hard. Then again, even for an impulsive idiot without any experience in a public office and generally lacking in knowledge about economic and foreign policy, he really should have thought about that first. Especially with the kind of dirt he has slung around during the campaign and into his presidency, he deserves and should get no sympathy for the constraints of being the putative leader of the free world. Trump supporters and those otherwise in denial may still be optimistic about what he can accomplish for the sake of the United States of America. The rest of us, on the other hand, must painfully endure a President who, realistically speaking, doesn’t know shit about shit.
Immediate Impact: 5 Potential Significance: 8
9. Freak Show
This final section of Michael Grunwald’s analysis of Donald Trump’s first 100 days feels like a reiteration of its core themes more than anything, but perhaps there is value in the deliberation on the observations made within the article. A lot of the President Trump Experience has been strange. For Christ’s sake, he had Kid Rock, Sarah Palin, and Ted Nugent over at the White House for dinner and a photo-op. Grunwald stresses, though, that very little of it has been normal, and I would argue that it is a mistake to behave as if it is. He also underscores the idea that Trump got elected on a platform that paints a “dystopian” vision of the United States which doesn’t exist, but nonetheless, he is bound to this narrative. Now that he actually has to govern, however, the reality of being President and the reality of the difficult situations he faces both here and abroad have complicated matters. This is why President Donald Trump has gotten very little done aside from getting a few nominees confirmed—and this bodes poorly for future accomplishments for the rest of his tenure. Which could end in 2021. Or later. Or even sooner.
Immediate Impact: 3 Potential Significance: 9
Michael Grunwald closes his piece with these thoughts. To me, they seem ominous as much as they are true:
For now…only 2 percent of Trump’s voters say they regret their vote. They still trust Trump’s alternative facts more than reported facts. And they still prefer Trump’s norm-breaking to Washington norms. It’s a good bet that he’ll keep breaking them. It’s anyone’s bet how that will turn out.
As a number of us must realize, there are those ardent Trump backers who are, for lack of a better turn of phrase, “beyond help.” Even among those who voted for Donald Trump as the perceived best option between him and Hillary, though, or even when considering candidates from additional parties and independents, the move to reject and resist President Trump is going to be a slow build, if it ever gets pronounced enough to sway an entire election. For some people, his destructive actions and rhetoric simply don’t hit home. If you are an immigrant, or a Muslim, or an environmentalist, or just someone who values adherence to precepts of ethics and constitutional law, you are likely appalled, disgusted, and downright scared of what the rise of Trump and the emboldening of his supporters and members of the alt-right means for this country. Then again, maybe you view matters through the lens of economics and/or your personal finances. In this event, things may actually be looking up for you, or perhaps have yet to sour. Even if they do go south, meanwhile—and this is not something most of us are actively rooting for, either—as noted, there’s no guarantee Democrats will be able to make hay with what they’ve been given in terms of political ammunition. Both major parties are fundamentally flawed right now, and the Democratic Party arguably is that much more unappealing because it continues to capitulate toward the center in a bid to minimize losses rather than to engender genuine grassroots enthusiasm.
Indeed, Donald Trump has failed to accomplish much. Going back to Grunwald’s Immediate Impact and Potential Significance scores, while the Potential Significance of the various topics he covers related to Trump’s first 100 days average to a fairly high mark of 8.6, their Immediate Impact averages to a mark of but 4.1, with no one dimension getting above even a 6. This gap, it must be stressed, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, Pres. Trump hasn’t done that much to ruin the country and the planet. On the other hand, he hasn’t done much to help it either, and particularly on the dimension of slowing deleterious climate change, our standing still is as good as propelling us backward.
Even though we are now past the 100-day threshold, for those of committed to political resistance and/or genuinely worried about the fate of the free world, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels or to stop turning a critical eye on Donald Trump’s presidency. After all, it is still not normal, and even if Republicans won’t do a damn thing to curb his ethically-challenged agenda, the fight to rein Trump’s excess at our expense is a worthy one.
You may like or dislike Donald Trump. You may be disturbed to a greater or lesser extent about his womanizing and his general treatment of women. You may choose to believe or not believe in his purported business acumen and entrepreneurial know-how. You may agree or disagree with his views on Muslims and Mexican groups. You may be concerned or unconcerned with the roles of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner in the White House. You may give a shit or not give a shit about Trump’s tax returns. You may approve or disapprove of his Twitter and Fox News obsessions. You may or may not ascribe value to his statements on his supposed Russian business ties or his wiretapping claims. You may even have or not have a fascination with the length of the man’s neckties. Simply put, you may possess a range of opinions when it comes to President Trump, his policies, and the job he is doing as putative leader of the free world. If there’s one thing, however, that should aggravate members of the general public regardless of political affiliation, one thing that should frustrate Americans across the board as taxpayers and residents of the United States of America, it’s that the Trump family is costing us a shit-ton of money—with no apparent regard for that notion. I mean, I’m pissed. Aren’t you?
How bad could it be, you ask? A certain amount of expenditure is to be expected in having to safeguard the President, the First Lady, and their family, right? Right, but when elements of the cost are not only inflated by their caprice, but benefit the same people helping to drive up the cost, it’s an issue. Tierney McAfee, staff editor at People Magazine, outlines the depth of the problem in a March article. First, there is the matter of safeguarding Melania Trump in Trump Tower. Citing a February letter from NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to New York City Congress members, it costs over $100,000 a day. A day. This is in addition to expenses incurred in the interim between Election Day and Inauguration Day, which totaled upwards of $25 million, a figure underscored in O’Neill’s letter amid a request for federal funding. Moreover, the Secret Service is already requesting $60 million in funding for next year, over $25 million of which would be dedicated for the explicit purpose of protecting the Trump family and Trump Tower. That’s a lot of money to devote to watching over the First Lady and 11-year-old Barron Trump while he goes to school—and there’s no guarantee they will relocate after the school year is done.
Then there’s the matter of Donald Trump’s trips to his estate, Mar-a-Lago, in Florida. It’s one thing that Melania and Barron stay in a New York penthouse; after all, while it would be appreciated if Mom and Son would call the District of Columbia home in light of the daily price tag, there’s nothing to say that FLOTUS has to have anything to do with the comings and goings of POTUS. President Trump, meanwhile, it might be argued, should be spending more time in the White House, and less time entertaining world leaders at one of his resorts and playing golf. At the time of the publication of McAfee’s piece, Trump had been to Mar-a-Lago five times, with the first three trips alone costing taxpayers $10 million dollars. The weekend of March 25 – 26, the last weekend before the publication date, marked the eighth weekend in a row of Trump’s tenure that he went to a Trump-owned property; even when he stayed in the D.C.-Virginia area, Pres. Trump visited Trump International Hotel and his golf course in VA. And speaking of golf or at least going to courses for meetings, Trump had made 13 such trips since he took office as of when Tierney McAfee finished her article. I’m not sure which of these types of visits is better or worse. On one hand, a round of golf means he’s not really working. On the other hand, we know what he’s doing when he plays a round of golf. That is, he’s probably not meeting Russian diplomats or actively plotting ways to screw over the 99% when he does it. Or maybe he is. By now, I’m all but conditioned to thinking the worst when it comes to Donald Trump.
And yet, even herein, there are likely to be actual matters of state discussed. When sons Eric and Donald Jr. go on business trips for the primary purpose of negotiating deals for the Trump Organization, that has cost us money as well, and as a result, strikes one as wholly egregious. In January, Eric Trump, his entourage, Secret Service members, and embassy staff stayed two nights in Uruguay for a Trump Organization promotional trip. The result? Nearly $100,000 in taxpayer bills. Amy Brittain and Drew Harwell, reporting for The Washington Post, illuminated the crux of the matter in their article on the trip. And I quote:
The Uruguayan trip shows how the government is unavoidably entangled with the Trump company as a result of the president’s refusal to divest his ownership stake. In this case, government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself. Though the Trumps have pledged a division of business and government, they will nevertheless depend on the publicly funded protection granted to the first family as they travel the globe promoting their brand.
“Government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself.” In other words, we, the taxpayers, are helping the Trump family’s bottom line. It’s even better than a business loan for “the Donald”—of which he has had several in his career as a real estate magnate and which helped bring Trump’s companies to file for bankruptcy four times, mind you. This way, the rest of are picking up the tab on security, any debt incurred now shared debt—like, ahem, we really need any more.
In addition, the implications of this arrangement, particularly the refusal of Donald Trump to divest or put his assets in a blind trust, should be clear to those of us concerned with what informs the President’s agenda and foreign policy. If he would enrich himself with trips to his D.C. hotel and his Mar-a-Lago estate and his Trump Tower Punta del Este resort in Uruguay, why wouldn’t he direct other elements of his policies to that function? The so-called “Muslim ban,” in its various iterations, is notable not only for being a horribly discriminatory piece of garbage, but singles out nations that have not been responsible for any attacks on American soil for at least the past 30 or 40 years. Originally, the ban prevented nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen from traveling to the United States. Muslim Ban 2.0—which, like its predecessor, is still being litigated in court as to its constitutionality—has since removed Iraq from the equation. Still, why not, say, Saudi Arabia, a country from which a majority of the 9/11 hijackers hailed? Oh, right: Trump has business interests there, as well as in Egypt, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. These countries, as noted by Chris Sommerfeldt, writing for the New York Daily News, have “deep-seated ties” to terrorism. Ah, suddenly, the President’s directives seem decidedly less “arbitrary,” and more specifically designed with his personal business interests in mind. But, right—it’s totally because he wants to keep America safe. Right.
If you voted for Donald Trump, well, you probably aren’t reading this, but I’ll direct this line of discourse at you nonetheless. If you voted for Trump, you have two reasons to be upset with your chosen candidate before we even get to matters of exorbitant Secret Service detail price tags. The first is that he’s—and I mean this with all due respect—a dirty, dirty liar. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump painted the picture of himself as the hard-working would-be President. He would have so much to do, he wouldn’t dream of playing so much golf. America First and what-not. Now that he’s done campaigning—well, done campaigning for the 2016 election, that is; he’s already got his sights set on 2020, I’m sure—he’s free to turn around and do the exact opposite. I get it—politicians lie. But wait—didn’t Trump say he’s not a politician? So, which one is it? Do we disregard President Trump’s statements as the boasts of a showman and prospective political leader? Or do we not give him the benefit of the doubt that professional liars in the political sphere get and hold him to a greater standard of accountability congruent with his identity as a competent businessman? You know, like we do with all business executives. Er, OK—bad example. Still, he shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.
The other reason you may be duly frustrated with Donald Trump as a supporter is that he’s—and again, I mean this with all due respect—a stinking hypocrite. While he was President, Trump and various Republicans lambasted Barack Obama for the frequency of his vacations, for their length, and for his numerous golf outings, as they saw it. Now that the golf shoe is on the other foot? As we’ve already determined, Pres. Trump has spent a lot of time between his resorts and golfing. In fact, he has spent so much time during weekends at Mar-a-Lago and provided so few details about who stays and when that Democratic lawmakers have requested that the Government Accountability Office look into just how our money is spent—and the GAO has evidently acquiesced.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Tom Udall, alongside Rep. Elijah Cummings, made the request, wanting to know, among other things: 1) Does the $200,000 price tag for a membership at the club include access to the President? 2) For security purposes, why aren’t visitor logs being kept at Trump resorts? 3) How are communications and sensitive information being safeguarded at Mar-a-Lago? 4) Um, how much is it costing us? As the linked NPR article notes, that last question, in particular, has been asked of the GAO before about President Obama by Republicans. It’s only fair, right? While we mull over whether or not Republican lawmakers are guilty of their own brand of hypocrisy, if the current pace of expenditure is any indication, #45 is set to blow his predecessor out of the water. Barack Obama’s cost of travel over his eight-year tenure has been estimated at $85 million to $96 million. In just his visits to Mar-a-Lago alone, Trump has racked up $15 million in taxpayer bills—and it’s only been three months. There are those of us who shudder at the prospect of eight years of Donald Trump in the White House, but it’s our wallets which may be feeling the greatest weight of all if that comes to fruition.
At the bare minimum, therefore, we should all be—shall we say—disappointed in our President for reneging on campaign promises and failing to practice what he preaches. Now, let’s return to the notion of the legitimacy of what he’s doing from a constitutional standpoint. Don’t worry—I don’t truly understand a lot of it either, so we’re going through this analysis together. A key issue which a number of legal scholars and amateur constitutional analysts have raised is whether or not Trump, by virtue of hosting foreign heads of state at his resorts and by refusing to divest or put his assets in a blind trust, is in violation of the Emoluments Clause. Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution reads as such:
No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, 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.
In terns of the spirit of the passage, the Emoluments Clause is designed to prevent POTUS from being 1) an all-powerful king or tyrant, and 2) from accepting bribes or being corrupted by foreign influences and interests. On the first count, Donald Trump is no king—even if he may think otherwise. The courts’ resistance to the Muslim ban, for instance, have kept him, in part, in check. On the second count, however, whether we’re talking his believed financial relationship with Russia or other dealings that even indirectly benefit the Trump Organization (Google “Trump China property rights” and witness the ensuing questions about ethics), there definitely would seem to be something to complaints against President Agent Orange.
Whether or not this is an open-and-shut case is another story. In fact, in all likelihood, in terms of actual and potential litigation, the answer is “far from it.” Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Ethics, addresses this point in relation to a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Concerning the lawsuit, according to Olson, its chance of success isn’t all that favorable, purely on the basis that the organization itself is not an aggrieved party, and thus not entitled to any remedy under the law. Concerning specific applicability of the Emoluments Clause, meanwhile, there is simply not a whole lot of legal precedent by which relevant concepts and terms have been defined by the courts. Olson explains:
In its relevant bits, the Emoluments Clause holds that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the US], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present [or] Emolument [from any] foreign State.” Few cases have reached the courts clarifying the scope of these terms, and although some light is shed by advisory opinions written by past White House lawyers, much remains uncertain. Does only a stipend or salary, or a payment in compensation for the official’s direct time or attention, count as an emolument? Or does the term extend even to, say, an arms’-length hotel room rental at fair price? What if the payment is going not to an officeholder personally, but to a business he owns in part, or to a relative? And who exactly counts as a foreign state actor?
As with trying to define the “natural-born citizen” clause for purposes of determining eligibility for the office of President—recall doubts raised by Trump himself about Ted Cruz’s candidacy, being born in Canada—the dearth of established tests in courts with regard to the Emoluments Clause makes any legal “knockout blows” against Donald Trump, as Walter Olson terms them, improbable. What’s more, even if Pres. Trump is somehow found to be in violation of the Clause, as Olson also indicates, the courts “aren’t obliged to provide a broad remedy,” as the people behind the CREW lawsuit would have it, and could very well require another branch of government or other voters to decide such matters.
Additionally, as regards whether or not violation constitutes an impeachable offense, not only do the courts tend to defer to Congress on this front, but the Emoluments Clause explicitly states that payments or other contributions of material value from foreign sources must occur without its (Congress’s) consent. By and large, the Republican-majority U.S. Congress has given Trump’s agenda the green light, even changing Senate rules to usher in Neil Gorsuch as Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court, so if we are holding our collective breath for impeachment proceedings to begin, we had best have someone on hand to revive us. Besides, enthusiasm for such a move is admittedly dulled with someone like Mike Pence, a man who has apparently made stripping women of their reproductive rights his mission, waiting in the wings.
So, forget about the Emoluments Clause—or at least keep it in the back of your mind for the time being. You may even want to drop the whole caring about whether or not Donald Trump is a dirty, dirty liar and a stinking hypocrite—because he sure doesn’t care, and the same goes for other key figures in the White House. But the ethical concerns surrounding Trump’s travel expenses? They matter, if for no other reason than they affect our bottom line and those of the Trump family at the same time. Jeremy Venook, editorial fellow at The Atlantic, explains why apparent conflicts of interest make it so that we can’t begin to parse what is done for possibly legitimate reasons—and realistically, these seem few to none when considering why Mr. Trump would, for instance, opt for Mar-a-Lago over Camp David, other than sheer comfort—and what is done for mere self-aggrandizing. The key thoughts, as I find them, from Venook’s piece:
The focus on hypocrisy is understandable; historically, calling out politicians on lies and inconsistencies has been seen as a potent political tool, whether because the politicians themselves change their behavior or because voters turn against leaders they consider dishonest. But this may no longer be the case: The new administration seems singularly unresponsive to shame over their own lies and hypocrisy, and, with inflexible partisanship an increasingly powerful force in American politics, calling them out on their dissembling may no longer convince either the administration or its base to change their behavior. Besides, when it comes to vacations, doing so is arguably hypocritical in and of itself, a partisan ouroboros in which each changeover of the executive branch reawakens one half of the country to righteous indignation over the president’s personal expenses (which, it should be noted, comprise only a fraction of a percent of the executive branch’s budget).
What is new, though, is the Trump family’s continued commingling of their business with the presidency, and their continued refusal to even entertain the idea of divestment: President Trump did not file promised paperwork to resign from his titular organization until after ProPublica reported that he had not done so; Ivanka apparently has still not resigned from her own companies; the trust set up to prevent the president from overseeing his finances is not only not “blind” but is also revocable, meaning he can alter the arrangement whenever he wants. In light of this malfeasance, a decades-old criticism has taken on additional meaning. Partisan ire over presidential leisure time has been a mainstay of political discourse since at least the 1950s, when President Eisenhower was roundly castigated for spending too much time on the golf course. But only the Trump family has provided a genuine reason for the American public to be concerned that their vacations represent a true willingness to prioritize their own fortunes over that of the country.
As Venook and others see it, it’s not even the dollar amount or that it’s a Republican as opposed to a Democrat who is prone to excess in this instance that’s the bugaboo. It’s that the Trumps are not only cavalier with regard to their ethics as political figures, but that they are so unwilling to be transparent and straightforward in their dealings, such that those of us outside the vanguard have almost no choice but to suspect they are acting in a way that serves their interests over ours. After all, if they have nothing to hide, why wouldn’t they be more forthcoming about the who, what, and why of the various trips outside the purview of Washington, D.C.? You can call this liberal spin if you so choose, but I think this is more logical than anything. The obscurity, the declining of requests for information, the confrontational relationship with the press—if this were Barack Obama, you’d be wagging at a finger at him and his 3-wood up and down the blogosphere. And yes, there’s a deeper subtext there, but we would need at least another 3,000 words to explore that theme.
In short, yes, it matters that Donald Trump has spent half his weekends at Mar-a-Lago. On some level, it matters that he lied about the devotion he would show to the presidency and that he has been even worse than Obama in terms of those same qualities for which he roasted his predecessor. Even if the power of the courts is sparing to censure Trump on his possible violations of the Emoluments Clause, and Congress won’t entertain a reprimand, this, too, matters, if for no other reason than the White House has to waste time, money, and energy defending the President from the inevitable legal challenges. But above all else, it matters that untold sums are being spent to safeguard Donald, Melania, and the other Trumps, that we are on the hook for these sums, and that the First Family is benefitting financially from this arrangement. The Trump family is costing us a shit-ton of money, and if you’re still not pissed about this idea, then I feel we can’t even begin to have a real conversation about what this presidency means for everyday Americans.