Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Listen: the Trump cabinet is a parade of misdeeds.

One of the most peculiar aspects of the Trump administration is that it's just too obvious.  It wouldn't be believable if it was fiction, since all of the main players seem like caricatures.  We focus a lot on the president because he's an irrational and bombastic sexual predator, but all of the secondary characters are just as offensively broad.  They each seem to be dominated by a single vice -- as though we were living in a modern-day political Piers Plowman. Witness:

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to represent the political vice of Fanaticism, shunning the cold lessons of reality in favor of the warm embrace of unreasoning ideology.  For years, she and her husband spent millions and millions of dollars to lobby the Michigan legislator to permit more and more charter schools, and to eliminate as much regulation as possible.  The theory was that the free market would force public schools and charter schools to compete to improve as much as possible, driving standards up while lowering costs.  But this hasn't happened, as this New York Times article details.  The Education Trust Midwest reported last year:
Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states.
Now, it's good that Michigan was willing to try something new, and it's even good that private advocates were able to affect the trajectory of a cause that's important to them.  But when an experiment fails, it's important to recognize that and move on.  If you try to ignore reality, and try to use the weight of your money to force everyone else to ignore reality, too, then you are no longer an advocate.  You're a fanatic.

Betsy DeVos has used her money like a club, and she has left Michigan's children badly bloodied in the process.  But she will never recognize that, for she prefers her ignorance to the uncomfortable real world.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is an odd person to represent the political vice of Pride, I'll admit.  He has been a pioneering surgeon and he is a brilliant man -- he has every right to be proud of his accomplishments.  But it is folly to conclude that, because you're great at one thing, you must be great at everything.  Just like his boss, Carson has fallen victim to hubris.

It's interesting to see how it played out.  See, Carson reportedly didn't feel he would have been qualified to run Health and Human Services, the position for which others might think he was naturally suited.  It turns out that although he had been a neurosurgeon for many years and manager of the department at his hospital, he didn't think he'd do a good job at HHS.  He knew enough to know that he didn't know enough, according to Jim Kemp (a Trump appointee to HUD): "Being surgeon general or secretary of [Health and Human Services], I don’t think he was fully equipped to do that, having been a neurosurgeon."

But public housing and urban development?  Well, he didn't know much about that, but he thought he saw some obvious problems that he could fix.  You couldn't ask for a better example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon by which someone's ignorance of a topic obscures their ability to recognize that ignorance.  Carson knew enough about medicine to realize he'd be a bad steward of American healthcare, but he knew so little about public housing that he couldn't see why any experience might even be necessary.  It was utter hubris, and the country is paying the price.

It is far easier to see how Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is the very soul of Graft, on the other hand.  He's not even being subtle about it.

For example, six days after Hurricane Maria brutalized Puerto Rico, the tiny mainland utility company Whitefish got the contract to rebuild their electrical grid.  This is unusual, because Whitefish had only two employees at the time they got the contract, because Whitefish had never handled a contract bigger than $1.3 million, because Whitefish had no connection with Puerto Rico, and because PREPA could have much more cheaply turned to other public utility firms under a pre-existing arrangement.  On the face of it, it doesn't make much sense.

It might make more sense once you know that Whitefish is based out of Zinke's tiny hometown in Montana, that one of Zinke's sons used to work for Whitefish's chief executive, and that there was no bidding process.

Similarly, today it was revealed that Zinke has been funneling millions of dollars to "scam PACs" that raise tons of money from small-dollar donors and then just plow it back into more fundraising and consulting.  In one instance, Zinke's associates raised huge sums to support Virginia Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli, but only 0.5% of the money actually went to help him.  99.5% was spent on more fundraising, consultants, and salaries, instead.

Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin is also an easy example of political Elitism. It's not even his background at Goldman Sachs, the huge finance firm that the country had to bail out during a Great Recession that Goldman helped cause, or even his specific role in profiting from the housing crisis by foreclosing on thousands of people.

No, it's his tendency to use the people's money as his own that's really frustrating, for at its heart elitism is an assumption that everyone else shares your own rarefied taste and habits.  When Mnuchin took a government plane to go on a trip to watch the total eclipse with his wife from Fort Knox (at the center of the eclipse) with only the flimsiest fig leaf of an excuse, it was because he couldn't imagine anyone being bothered by the practice.  Similarly, he seems to have requested a government plane for his honeymoon trip to Europe for the same reason: using public money was one of the perks, and everyone should agree with it, right?

We could speak of former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price as an example of the political vice of Waste, but he was already fired for his absurd expenditures.  The judgment of history will be interesting.  It might be a black mark to serve in the Trump Cabinet, but to be fired from it for being too corrupt -- where does that put you?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a more curious personification of Fecklessness.  He was once the CEO of Exxon, one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.  But by accepting the position of Secretary of State for Donald Trump, he has found himself -- for the first time -- utterly inadequate for the task.  Tillerson seems ill-suited for government work, since he's having a hard time adjusting to the differences from the private sector, and he has found himself continuously and embarrassingly undercut by his ignorant and impulsive boss.  He's already been the subject of three long analyses on how he's letting the State Department fail, although these analyses have variously described that failure as a "destruction," "breaking point," and "unraveling."

It's apparently an open secret in Washington that Tillerson's days are numbered, and a shadow campaign is happening as candidates compete to replace him.  It's hard to blame him for wanting to leave the job, since he thinks the president is a "moron" who is undermining every constructive effort.  In the meantime, though, he's left as the most powerful powerless man in the world.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney might be one of the most passion-play-like examples of Hypocrisy around.  As a Congressman, Mulvaney was a prophet of doom.  He warned loudly and continuously that the budget deficit would destroy the country, saying in 2012, "It’s hard to explain how detached from reality this is, to think that the country can spend another $1.6 trillion when it doesn’t have the means."  He threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling, potentially defaulting on American debts.  He even tried to hold up relief for Hurricane Sandy unless every dollar in disaster recovery was offset by a dollar of spending cuts elsewhere.

Now, needless to say, Mulvaney is fine with deficits.  He thinks it would be irresponsible not to raise the debt ceiling.  He doesn't want to offset disaster recovery after hurricanes hit.  He has dramatically flipped his position on several key issues that he once championed.  Whether this is because his new job has made his values inconvenient, or because he never actually believed in them... well, who's to say?

I could go on -- goodness knows that there's material enough in such figures as Attorney-General Jeff Sessions (who might play Cruelty in our little drama) or Secretary of Energy Rick Perry (Ignorance, to be sure).  But I think the point is made.  The whole thing is just too broad and obvious to be believed, and someday our children will say we are making it all up.  But we're not.  It's really happening, and we have to keep paying attention.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Listen: A path forward for gun control activism (and request for assistance).

This post presents my proposal for gun control activism.  At the end, I ask for help in furthering it.  Please comment here, on Facebook, or directly to me if you have suggestions.

Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals was raised to fame by Glenn Beck -- it was neither the best nor the most famous manual for activism before then, but a foam-mouthed Beck inadvertently made it a household name on the right during Obama's first term. All of that being said, it's still useful for its concision and the way in which it addresses asymmetric conflict.  And there is no more asymmetric conflict in the country today than the gun control debate.  A small percentage of the American public has decided that gun ownership is deeply symbolic of numerous tribal beliefs, and their passion and their smart strategic decisions have dominated the discussion and decided the outcome, every time.

For many people, the conversation ended with the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.  As Dan Hodges puts it in an oft-quoted tweet, "In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over."  In this view, the fight is over and the victors were the gun lobby and that invincible and vicious bogeyman of the American left, the NRA.  They turned a debate about appropriate regulations for a popular American hobby into a culture war, deployed their troops with passable tactics and expert strategy, and won.  And now nothing remains but for us to endure regular mass shootings, a higher suicide rate, and an astronomical accident rate.  We have lain these sacrifices at the feet of our Moloch and he will punish any defiance.

I do not accept that.

My goal is to enact reasonable and common-sense gun regulations, starting with universal background checks which prohibit anyone with a recorded felony, a history of domestic abuse, or a place on the no-fly list from getting a gun.  Past that, I also want to impose federal minimum standards for gun ownership (including a safety course, already required in many states) and to prohibit the sale of semi-automatic weapons.

How to do it?

Alinsky: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.  In a complex, interrelated, urban society, it becomes increasingly difficult to single out who is to blame for any particular evil. ... One big problem is a constant shifting of responsibility from one jurisdiction to another — individuals and bureaus one after another disclaim responsibility for particular conditions, attributing the authority for any change to some other force.

One longstanding problem with the debate is that the target is amorphous.  There's no single regulation that would have prevented all of the big-profile mass shootings, and even if there's a law that might have helped, it becomes a faceless question of degree.  The gun rights proponent can reasonably argue that banning high-capacity magazines might have saved a few victims at Sandy Hook, but it's impossible to stop someone who's willing to throw away their own life in a spree killing.  We need good guys with guns to stop these attacks, they argue... then the argument becomes a debate over statistics and studies.  And when you try to match faceless statistics against someone's very immediate personal desires, you will always lose (c.f. climate change).

We need to pick a target and make it the face of the gun rights movement.  Personalize it in a way that can be easily understood, and polarize the issue so that companies, politicians, and voters need to decide whether or not to take the side of the target.

Alinsky: Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. .. Once a specific tactic is used, it ceases to be outside the experience of the enemy. Before long he devises countermeasures that void the previous effective tactic. Recently the head of a corporation showed me the blueprint of a new plant and pointed to a large ground-floor area: "Boy, have we got an architect who is with it!" he chuckled. "See that big hall? That's our sit-in room! When the sit-inners come they'll be shown in and
there will be coffee, T.V., and good toilet facilities — they can sit here until hell freezes over."

The NRA seems like the obvious target, but that's their whole purpose.  It's why they've abandoned any pretense of a gun rights advocacy group.  Now they're all about the culture war.  Just check out their latest ads, which barely even mention guns.  They've gotten really good at this stuff, too, and are constantly innovating to find new ways to fight the culture war and maintain the intensity of their following.

Instead, we pick a gun company -- a company interested in maintaining its value for shareholders and which just wants to manufacture and market their firearms or accessories.  They will not be inclined to resist action, nor will they be able to handle it as expertly as an organization like the NRA.  Moreover, it should be a company which has sold a specific product which was used to kill a specific victim.  The product should be absurd.  The victim should be sympathetic.

Alinsky: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.  You cannot risk being trapped by the enemy in his sudden agreement with your demand and saying "You're right — we don't know what to do about this issue. Now you tell us."

In addition to those constraints, we also want to ensure that our preferred policy outcome -- universal background checks -- would have stopped the specific crime if it had been in place.  Our constructive alternative should ideally be the obvious solution in fact.

So there we have it: we need a sympathetic victim of a crime that could have been prevented if universal background checks existed, and which can be laid at the feet of a specific company.  And if all of this appears a little cold-blooded, please remember that the Scopes trial that brought evolution into the classroom began with the ACLU arranging out the perfect test case, and that the NAACP took the Rosa Parks case and turned it into a movement because she was seen as "responsible, mature woman with a good reputation" who was married and employed.  Progress doesn't happen by accident.

Once we have chosen our own case, then we'll devise tactics.  Alinsky advises that ridicule is usually the most "potent weapon," for "[t]here is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions."  And he also says that "[a] good tactic is one your people enjoy. ... They'll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They're doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones."

We have many things on our side as we start this fight.  We have many allies all over the country.  And I don't even mean high-profile ones like Michael Bloomberg and his Everytown initiative; the American public overwhelmingly supports numerous gun control initiatives.  This New York Times' Upshot column (hat tip: Ali Benjamin) illustrates the extent of this support.

We can do this... if we work together.

And that now brings me to the request for help that I mentioned earlier.  Here it is: I haven't yet found our target.  I am not sure any of the high-profile killings fit, or any of the many mass shootings in recent years.  What would be the perfect case for us?

Wrack your brains and hearts, and comment here, on Facebook, or in person if you have suggestions.  Then we can move forward.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Twelve Stages of Trump Rejection

It's hard to be surprised by the president these days.  There's no rumor that's so crazy that it seems impossible, since the man does and says crazy things all the time.  This is the Tyson Zone -- a state of infamy where the subject seems so erratic that no rumor is implausible.  Trump just says offensive or lunatic things on a daily basis, and we've all accepted that he has no shame.

Other Republicans do have shame, however -- as well as constituencies and some sense of history.  But tribalism is really strong.  If you're a Republican official, it's really hard to publicly oppose your own leader.  You don't want to damage our own access or your own Republican credentials, even if you are ashamed or alarmed by something Trump says or does.

Thus, the Twelve Stages of Trump Rejection.  Many Republican leaders have been gradually evolving through these stages, pushed forward by successive scandals.  Some people of conscience began their journey very near the end, unwilling to cut a demagogue any slack just because he was "one of us."  Those leaders should be commended.  The others... well, watch them evolve.

Imagine the president said that he likes when fire burns down buildings, and thinks arsonists are fine people.  He didn't, but it's completely plausible.  If you read that in a headline tomorrow, you'd sigh and roll your eyes, but it wouldn't change your judgment of the man himself.  How do Republican leaders make that journey, as reporters ask them for comment?

They start out by saying that It's Fine.
You're exaggerating, taking it out of context.  He didn't mean to say that.  The fake news media is probably misquoting him.  This will all be cleared up soon, no comment, sorry.
Oh, he really said that and meant it?  Well, it's Not What I Would Have Said.
But the president isn't a politician, so he's just not used to this world.  The media leaps on every little thing he says, so he gets to mis-speak every now and then.
He repeated his statement the next day, doubling down?  Well, then leaders might start Articulating Facts.  Marco Rubio does this a lot, saying absurd things like, "That is a statement that he has made."  The key here is that they're not wrong when they state these facts, but they're trying to avoid actually offering any opinion.
He is the President of the United States and he has the right to make statements on all sorts of matters.  There's no law against him saying things or making appointments.
Eventually, there's no avoiding the reality that not only did Trump say the thing, he really meant it.  Well, then, it's time for your Republican politician to ask What About the Other Guy?
Do you remember when Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or just some random person I heard about did the same thing?  Where was your outcry then?  Clearly this isn't important, it's just a partisan attack.
That one isn't usually very effective, so it's best when paired with More Important Things.
I don't have time to focus on the president's remarks, I'm busy focusing on jobs for the American middle class.  Or our troops.  Or something else important.  I can only think about one thing a day, sorry.
And now we reach a serious and important point in the journey.  Halfway through, we finally get away from excuses and distractions.  That's right, our Republican leader is Troubled.
I do have to say that I was troubled by the president's remarks.  Fire is actually a bad thing when it burns down people's homes.  I think whichever advisers are telling him these things are giving him bad information.
If that doesn't work, then it's time for some spin.  The Republican leaks how he has been busy with some Impotent Imploring, appealing to the president to stop saying such insane things about fire.  This is not confrontation of any kind... this is just quietly signaling your own separation.
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Sources close to President Trump have said that several prominent Republicans have been in touch with the president, urging him to back off his approval of arson and asking him to return focus to tax cuts for the rich.
The next step, Indirect Address is a step further.  That's where the politician releases a statement that clearly, obviously contradicts the president.  But to keep the heat down, they do it without actually speaking to the president or mentioning him.  You're advocating for your values, but trying to do it without getting into a fight.  Not exactly a profile in courage, but it's something.
It is not good when a fire burns down someone's home.  It is unworthy of any leader to suggest otherwise.  Arson is also bad, and we should never encourage it.
Sometimes, though, a politician leaps through visceral reaction all the way to this point.  Maybe they're ambushed with a question from a journalist before they could prepare, or maybe it's something that just hits close to him.  Maybe even accidentally, they blurt out, Okay Seriously That Is Messed Up.
He said what?  That's nuts.  Arson is wrong, and so is the president.  Anyone who is in favor of burning down people's homes is betraying central American values.
From then on, we're getting real.  With Direct Address, the Republican leader calls out the president, naming him and contradicting him.
I think the president is fundamentally wrong about this issue.  I strongly disagree, and I will continue to support firefighters and oppose arson.
If the Republican uses Adjectives or other colorful language, they can impart their statement with emotional verve and real meaning.
Arson is evil, and our divisive president is completely wrong.  He better change his mind on this, or he will find that his agenda goes nowhere.
And lastly, the Republican might arrive at the inevitable conclusion about the birther-in-chief: He's Gotta Go.
I think the president has lost the moral authority to lead, and his open encouragement of arson is unbecoming an American leader.
Why is this the end?  Because it's almost impossible to back away from.  Every previous step can be temporary.  In fact, many Republican leaders have gone all the way to Direct Address at one point or another.  But once you call for a change at the top, then that's it.  If you move back to supporting the president in other things, you are consciously and openly supporting someone you have publicly declared unfit for duty.

So far, precious few leaders have made the full journey.  Self-interest and tribalism are strong masters, as well as the finality of that last step.  But so many have gone so far down the Twelve Steps already, and we're only in the first year.  I believe that many Republican leaders will make it all the way, and join us.  I have faith in them.

Until then, we'll wait and listen, and watch them evolve.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Listen: Trump is a poor strategist, example #23442

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the budget fight is going to be ugly.  One key consideration is funding for a border wall.  Trump wants it so that he doesn't appear weak, but few other people do.  Democrats are united against it and it's uncertain all Republicans in the Senate are behind it.  That's a problem for Trump, since a budget needs at least eight Democrats to pass.

As the underlying realities grow increasingly clear, and after being humiliated by the drubbing he took over the May budget, Trump has vowed he will get that wall... even if he has to shut down the government to do it.
The fight over the wall is likely to explode in September as the administration wrangles over a new budget, an increase in the debt ceiling, the beginning of a tax reform package and a possible resuscitation of health care legislation.
Trump has told his advisers he will not accept a deal on other issues without money for the wall “and it has to be real money,” said one senior White House official.
Trump has told senior White House officials and advisers he would be willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to get money for the wall, a contentious claim even among his advisers.
At a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, the president reiterated to his loyalists that he is committed to his vision for securing the border. “If we have to close down our government," Trump said, "we're building that wall.”
It's hard to imagine how this goes well for Trump.  Here are some possibilities.

Scenario A (not likely): Democrats buckle and eight of them cross the aisle to vote for a budget with funding for a wall.  I cannot imagine a list of eight Democrats who would do this -- five is about as high as I can get -- but it's possible, assuming that they extract a lot of concessions.  Those Democrats would be knowingly taking a huge risk, though.

Scenario B (somewhat likely): Congress approves a compromise budget without the wall, but probably with significant amounts of other things that Trump wants.  Trump signs it but blasts Congress as the enemy.  This is very possible, since the president often folds under pressure.

Scenario C (somewhat likely): Congress cannot agree to a budget, and passes a continuing resolution for the year.  This would forgo passing any legislation by reconciliation, however, so even though reaching some sort of real deal will be difficult, Republicans in Congress have enormous incentive to make it work.  Without reconciliation, after all, they have no hope of repealing Obamacare or passing tax cuts for the rich.

Scenario D (most likely): Congress passes a budget that has either zero or some small amount of funding for the wall, perhaps under a fig leaf for more "border security fencing."  Trump rejects the bill, shutting down the government.  Then... it becomes a game about who will blink first.

If you consider these possibilities -- thinking through it just a bit! -- it's clear that the White House should hope for A and plan for B.  But Trump is working hard to actually remove Scenario B from the realm of possibility.

To be clear, this is a viable option in many cases.  Game theory suggests that winning many negotiations can come down to eliminating your own option to retreat.  If you can credibly assert that you cannot possibly surrender on some point of a deal, then your opponent cannot credibly demand that you yield.  You can arrange such a situation by publicly and repeatedly vowing never to surrender ahead of time.  When Trump repeatedly states that he won't accept a budget without a wall, he is eliminating the option to do so, since Democrats will know that surrendering will be incredibly embarrassing.

So this approach can make sense.  But it doesn't work if your opponent would love for negotiations to fail!  You can't eliminate options and put pressure on a negotiating partner if they would be perfectly happy for negotiations to end!

To put it another way: imagine you want to buy a car.  The dealer says he will sell you a junker for $10,000.  You say that this price is not reasonable, and you'd be willing to pay $500 for it.  The dealer says that he can't change the price, since he's been advertising it for ten grand ("It would be too embarrassing!")

Well, do you buy the car?  Nope!  You walk away.

Perhaps Trump imagines it will be powerful and dominant to veto a budget and issue demands, and that he will be able to blame a government shutdown on unreasonable Democrats.  But Democrats would love to be able to take a principled stand over something as unpopular and absurd as billions for a border wall.  There must be hours and hours of footage of Trump vowing that "Mexico is going to pay for it," and the idea of the wall polls poorly among the public.  And because of the way this fight is progressing, people will blame a president who's already caught in a narrative of incompetence.

From a pessimist's perspective, it's possible that Trump will successfully gin up outrage against "obstructionism," but that seems far-fetched.

I don't know how all this will end, but I'd guess that the budget will be sent back to the president with some sort of minor changes, and he will sign it and declare that he had just been taking a "negotiating position" or some other silliness.

Trump needs to read some Thomas Schelling, stat.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Read: what the right is saying about Charlottesville.

The breach between the right and the alt-right is widening.  For months now, most conservative publications have spent their time being anti-anti-Trump: not actually defending the president and not really defending the principles they claim to hold, but attacking the unhinged outliers among Trump's critics.  It's hard to defend Trump's Charlottesville behavior, and it's hard to attack him, so they have often taken the easy path of just attacking any kooks they can find on the left.  Not now.

The editor of RedState, Caleb Howe, posted a beautiful and passionate appeal to conservatives.
It’s a given on social media and among bloggers that those who to this day remain critics of Trump will be called stupid names and have base motives attributed to them by a certain sort of person. ...  The "join or die" zealotry of that aforementioned disastrous column, carried on past the titular election and into the term of the roulette pistol.
That dynamic, however toxic and stupid, has held in place these past six months. The Republican rift turned into a 38th parallel, a North and South Korea staring across barbed wire and quietly building nukes. But that time is over, thanks to a different and American North and South. Now the reality of the bullets is upon us. They’ve been fired and we’re bleeding from the head. The plane is about to explode, the company to go bankrupt. The dying is at its peak. All the metaphors have realized their full selves.
You can see it in the tone and tenor of social media as well as on the news. We’ve had our share of Trump crises. But this is by far the most serious, and he has faced not only his fiercest backlash, but the most widespread within his own party. This is a moment.
Real conservatives know the phrase for such a moment. It’s a time for choosing.
A writer at The Federalist, Robert Tracinski, breaks from his publications relentless anti-anti-Trumpism to argue the same.
Right now there are otherwise good people who, out of partisan habits or long-borne outrage at biased media, are trying to concoct excuses for why Trump’s Q&A wasn’t so bad and all the criticisms of it are just fake news.
It’s time for that to stop. It’s time to stop looking at the latest Trump statement in relation to how bad you think the alternative is on the Left, or how biased the media is, and instead to compare it to what we should actually expect from a president. In a country where 99 percent of the population is opposed to Nazis, it should be the easiest thing in the world for an American president to unite the country by appealing to our shared values. Only Trump could take one of the most uncontroversial ideas in American politics, the Indiana Jones Rule, and turn it into a wrenching national argument.
I don’t believe in the supernatural, but if there were a devil, he would be laughing his head off right now as we all whip ourselves into a murderous frenzy against each other.
No, I don’t think Trump is going to resign any time soon. If he were capable of setting aside his personal vanity to do the right thing, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But he needs to be left hanging out there all on his own without support from anyone in his party (or from anyone in the right-leaning media). He is a vortex of destruction, and the only way to survive is to get everything we love as far away from him as possible.
Even Julius Krein, who founded a pro-Trump newsmagazine, now says he can no longer stand by this president due to the man's character.
I supported the Republican in dozens of articles, radio and TV appearances, even as conservative friends and colleagues said I had to be kidding. As early as September 2015, I wrote that Mr. Trump was “the most serious candidate in the race.” Critics of the pro-Trump blog and then the nonprofit journal that I founded accused us of attempting to “understand Trump better than he understands
himself.” I hoped that was the case. I saw the decline in this country — its weak economy and frayed social fabric — and I thought Mr. Trump’s willingness to move past partisan stalemates could begin a process of renewal.
It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can’t stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president.
Far from making America great again, Mr. Trump has betrayed the foundations of our common citizenship. And his actions are jeopardizing any prospect of enacting an agenda that might restore the promise of American life.
Meanwhile, alt-right Breitbart has a cavalcade of articles about how the "Unite the Right" rally wasn't all white supremacists, how you'd have to take down statues of FDR if you take down statues of Robert E. Lee, and about how the violent "alt-left" is the real problem.  They loved this, and so did a lot of Trump's ardent base of support.  But since Trump needs more than just his base, that's a problem for him.

Now, these sorts of criticisms didn't stop Trump from winning.  Remember the National Review issue -- the whole issue! -- devoted to attacking Trump's candidacy?  A lot of voters just don't listen to elite opinion, even if it's their "own" elites.  But they badly damaged him, and the breach between the conservative movement and the alt-right will damage him now, too.

The president is finding out that a burning bridge casts a bright but brief light... and there aren't that many bridges left to burn.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Do: protect yourself from values drift.

You're a human being, which means you're adrift in a wash of information, trying to discern the truth and make good decisions in an incredibly complex world using -- essentially -- a sack of gelatinous meat.  Like every other human being, you find it impossible to devote your full mental energy to confronting every dilemma that comes your way, so you use a lot of shortcuts.

For example, let's say you're on the beach, thinking about going swimming. Should you be afraid of sharks?  Well, that's an incredibly hard question, so most people default to the availability heuristic, asking themselves, "How many shark attacks come to mind?"  If it's a lot, then sharks must be very dangerous and common, so you should be afraid of them.  If it's very few, then sharks must not be very dangerous or very common, so you can go swimming.

Shortcuts like that make a lot of sense, since they save you a lot of time and energy and are usually pretty good about getting the right answer.  I cannot think of many available examples of people being bitten by sharks, and no one I know has ever been bitten, and so I probably don't need to worry.  Absent other information (like a sign saying BEWARE, SHARK-INFESTED WATERS), I'm probably right.

Sometimes these shortcuts go badly wrong, however.  Take our tendency towards tribalism.  Our judgment can be easily influenced, even by strangers.  It's even worse when it's people with whom we easily identify -- our "tribe."  This might be a regional tribe, ethnic tribe, political tribe, class tribe, or even something as frivolous as a sports fan tribe.  We associate ourselves with our tribes.  If they are successful, we feel a little successful.  If they are evil, we feel a little evil.

Once upon a time, this might have made a lot of sense.  In a primitive world, where small groups competed for resources and warred on each other, group cohesion must have been vitally important.  The groups with genes that favored hard-wired tribalism in our brains must have had an edge over those that did not -- a tribal group would more easily forgive their leaders, support their allies, and work together.  It's always dangerous for a layman to speculate about evolutionary biology, so we won't further into the roots of tribalism, but suffice to say that it exists and it probably helped us in the ancestral environment.

Today, it causes a lot of problems.  Today, it causes a lot of values drift.

Let's say that you love football.  You used to watch the games with your whole family, and you all rooted for the same team, and you'd get a pizza and all put on your jerseys, and your uncle would shout at the television whenever he disagreed with the coach's decisions.  Your email address might be packers4evah or giantsnation.  You're into it.  You could pretty easily answer a lot of hypothetical questions about the ethics of the game.  If I asked you whether it would be ethical for a football team to release a skunk into their opponents' locker room, you could give me an opinion.  If I asked if it was okay for a team to salt the field of an opposing team, to make it harder for them to practice, you could tell me your general stance.  You can do it.

But here's the thing: your answer might change... depending on your favorite team's actions.  And that's a problem.  If your team -- your tribe -- was caught releasing a skunk into an opposing locker room, you might call it a harmless prank.  But if your team was the victim of that prank... well, you might call it a chemical attack.

It's not always decisive and seldom overt.  Tribalism is insidious: it corrupts our independent judgment and we may never even know.

In politics, it can be terrible.  It's very hard to look at your own tribe and say, "No, what you're doing - what we're doing -- is wrong."  And so we get values drift.  If someone on our side does something wrong -- something we may even have said explicitly was wrong in the past -- we find an excuse.  We say that they didn't have any choice, that they didn't mean to do it, that it's not such a big deal after all, that the context is different, that it's all a frame-up.

You see, if your tribe does something evil, you feel a little evil.  And that sucks.

Tribalism and the resulting values drift explains a great deal of current politics.

The Republicans once considered themselves the party of family values and honesty, running George W. Bush to "restore honor and dignity to the White House."  Now they support President Donald J. Trump, a man who has admitted to sexual assault and who is willing to lie about anything and everything.  But either character is central to the job, or it's not.  It shouldn't matter if it helps your tribe.

Many Democrats have drastically flipped back and forth in their opinion of Senator John McCain's courage -- a hero when he stood up to Bush, a villain when he picked Palin as a running mate, a hero when he joined Sens. Murkowski and Collins to save Obamacare.  But either he's a good man, or he isn't.  It shouldn't matter if it helps your tribe.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has spent literally hours defending a far-reaching investigation of a Democratic president by Ken Starr, only to turn around and call the expanding investigation of a Republican president by Robert Mueller a "witch hunt."  But either special counsels should seek out all potential wrongdoing, or they shouldn't.  It shouldn't matter if it helps your tribe.

Most people never even realize their values are drifting.  And that makes it even harder to fix it, later.  If you hear that someone is doing evil, justify it to yourself, and continue to support them... well, changing your mind means not only defying your tribe, but also facing up to your own complicity.  You feel stupid and a little evil.  And that sucks.

So here is my advice to you: protect yourself from values drift in politics.  Write down some rules for yourself.  And if you have the courage, make them public.

If you think you're immune to the dangers of tribalism and values drift... well, think about the Patriots and their deflated footballs.  Was it really a coincidence that Patriots fans were mostly okay with it, and a lot of other people thought it was an outrage?  I'm not taking sides, but if the fable of the Republicans and Trump doesn't sway you on the danger and neither does Deflategate, then you're not sufficiently pessimistic.

Here are a few of mine.

1.  Violence is wrong.  It is wrong to strike someone, attack them with chemicals, or damage their property because you disagree with their political beliefs.  Even if you passionately despise their politics and their character, or if you think their decisions have hurt the country, it's still wrong.

2.  Using government institutions to adversely affect the ability of any group to vote is wrong.  No part of the government should be used to affect the franchise of any group of voters, no matter their affiliation or beliefs.

3.  Everyone has a right to book publicly-available facilities and hold their events, no matter their views or speech (barring outright violations of the rights of others, such as threats or incitement to violence).  You can protest them or you can boycott those who assist them, but you cannot restrict their right to be heard.  Other people need to be able to hear them.  The marketplace of ideas must be as free as safely possible.

4.  The truthfulness of public officials is important.  Their private conduct and moral character are also important, albeit less so.  These factors may even be more important than their policy positions, in some rare instances, because the long-term damage to the state may be greater than the short-term loss of preferred policy outcomes.

5.  Prosecutorial discretion and its analogs are dangerous tools that can be easily abused.  Valid laws should generally be enforced by those sworn to uphold them.  They should not be nullified by any public servants unless they are immediately and clearly unethical, and that should be a high bar.  Nor should prioritization should not be used as a fig leaf to hide such a process: finite resources must be assigned to priorities, but that should not be used as a form of lawmaking by fiat, either.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Listen: the budget fight is going to be ugly.

The schedule for Congress when they return in September is absurd.  According the the Senate and House calendars, during September they will be in session in the House for 12 days, and in the Senate for 17.  In that time, they will need to tackle the government debt limit, the budget, and the expiration of S-CHIP (a huge children's healthcare bill).  Two of these goals are big, but probably will get done:

S-CHIP:  This will almost certainly be repealed with a big bipartisan vote.  It will take a bit of time, but they can do this.  There's been some talk of trying to package an Obamacare repeal with this bill, but GOP leadership will probably kill that (because it's an insane and dumb idea).  So far, so good.

Government Debt Limit: The government already spent this money, and now the bill has come due.  Most of the adults in the room know this already, but it's served as a convenient way for raucous back-benchers in the both parties to make noise.  GOP leadership wants a clean bill (just raising the debt limit, nothing else), but hyper-conservatives in the House are insisting on cuts to major programs before they'll agree.  Democrats have often helped out Republican leaders to get this passed, but first they want assurances that it won't just pave the way for a tax-cut bill.  No agreement on this yet, not even in principle, but a clean bill will probably get done.  It's just a question of how much time it consumes.

The third goal, the budget... that's a different story.

A budget was already passed at the beginning of May, and the Republicans got rolled at the negotiating table.  There was no money for a wall, no draconian cuts to domestic programs or the EPA, and no defunding of Planned Parenthood or arts programs.  There was money for opioids, the Biden cancer research "moonshot," Puerto Rico, and coal miner pensions.

The May budget barely winked at Trump's priorities.  I could hardly believe it, and wondered if he would even sign it.  I wrote then, though, that "[t]he most likely thing is that they pass the bill and then engage in some frenzied spin, proclaiming it a victory, and then push for a more Trumpy budget" later.

Sure enough:
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney made the White House’s most forceful case yet that the bipartisan budget deal amounted to a major win for the White House and a loss for Democrats.
One senior administration official said Trump was “not happy” as he watched Democrats claim victory in the budget negotiations, and a second senior administration official said Trump was baffled that Democrats felt they could claim victory.
Trump was so unhappy at getting rolled, in fact, that he tweeted:
The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We ... either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good "shutdown" in September to fix mess!
We're almost to September, and the White House is trying to make sure it doesn't get cleaned out at the negotiating table a second time.
The White House is pushing a deal on Capitol Hill to head off a government shutdown that would lift strict spending caps long opposed by Democrats in exchange for money for President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, multiple sources said. ... [T]he White House is insisting on a down payment for construction this fall. ... The White House is offering Democrats more funding for their own pet projects in return for allowing construction to move ahead on a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border — though perhaps not the "big, beautiful wall" with solar panels that Trump has long promised.
Because Republicans want to raise military spending, they need 60 votes to do it (for complicated reasons involving the "sequester" of yesteryear... remember that?)  And in exchange, they're offering Democrats more money for domestic programs.  I haven't been able to find details about the offerings, but we can suspect they will include more money for the opioid crisis, some amelioration of planned cuts to the EPA and arts, and so on.  In exchange, they want 8 Democrats (or more, if there are any GOP defections -- looking at you, Rand Paul!) to agree to jack up defense spending and fund a border wall.

In January, Democrats would have begged for this deal.  Even in February or March, after the Muslim ban and a host of other outrages had enraged the Democratic base into near-apoplexy, Democrats would have agreed to this deal.  I'm surprising this wasn't the substance of the May budget, in fact.  Everyone was freaking out and Democratic leaders were looking into an abyss -- I thought they would cave.  They didn't (thanks, Chuck and Nancy!).

But in September?  The president has a 37% approval rating in the country -- that's bad enough! -- but something like an 8% approval rating among Democrats.  He's toxic, and so is his border wall proposal.

I can count maybe five Democrats who might vote for a budget that funds a border wall.  Tester, Heitkamp, Manchin, Donnelly, and McCaskill are all up for re-election in red states.  That's pretty close, so this isn't impossible.  But there are just so many problems with getting this deal done.

  • Democrats have mostly hung tough.  In the Senate, they have stayed united -- unbelievably and amazingly so.  There's not much reason for them to cave here, when they didn't cave on Obamacare repeal.
  • A shutdown helps Democrats and hurts Republicans.  As Mitch McConnell taught us all, voters blame the president's party for everything.  A shutdown will just perpetuate the current narrative -- a feckless GOP, ineffective leadership, and chaotic president.  It will look weak and chaotic, and it will provide endless opportunities for the press to report on the collateral damage.
  • Republicans are desperate.  And everyone knows it.  It's really, really hard to negotiate when you desperately and obviously want something -- and when you don't have much to offer in the way of payment or threats.
  • Stalemate or failure will badly hurt the GOP.  They don't want to kick the can down the road.  They can pass a short continuing resolution, so they can keep negotiating in October, but not much further.  Why not?  They need to get this done if they want to have a chance to pass tax cuts for the rich.  And that is their raison d'ĂȘtre.
  • Trump doesn't care about any of the above.  And he'll probably veto a budget that he doesn't like, especially if it doesn't have money for a wall.

I'm not a master of the "art of the deal."  But it seems like this isn't going to get done, unless there are some big surprises in the wings.

Prediction (with low confidence due to insufficient data at this time): I would guess that our end result will be a pretty bad budget with no funding for a border wall (but even more funding that's tangentially related to border security).  And I would further guess that the odds are even, whatever the outcome, that a shutdown will happen along the way.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Listen: we have been so lucky, because we found each other.

We have been lucky.  You have no idea just how lucky we have been.  We have been lost at sea with no stars.

Here's how things stood at the inauguration.  It was a moment of shock and horror and awe.  For many people, all the old rules and the old world seemed to be overthrown.  It seemed impossible that such a villain -- and let's be frank, anyone who brags about sexual assault, bullies the weak, and lies as easily as he breathes is a villain -- it seemed impossible that he could ever conquer a major political party.  But when he did, and then went on to win the election by openly embracing the assistance of a foreign power... well, if that was possible, what else was possible?

Most Republican leaders continued the course they'd adopted in 2008, sacrificing everything on the altar of power.  We will maximize damage to our enemies and devoutly defend our friends no matter what happens, no matter what falls by the wayside, they said to themselves, because these are sacrifices that must be made to achieve our goals.  Our goals will save the country, and that long-term good cancels out the short-term loss of lives and honor.  And it seemed that this Hell's gamble had paid off!  A Republican president would preside over a Republican Congress and appoint a partisan justice.  They had won, and now they would profit from the expenditure of so much American pain.

Trump bestrode the world like a colossus.  A single tweet from him could crush a company's stock, and so they paid him homage.  He brokered "deals" for investments and jobs from major corporations.  Many of the announcements were fake, re-announcing old decisions, but few people noticed or cared.  Trump seemed to remake reality, gaslighting the country by telling his supporters his preferred facts, over and over.

He began prepare to appoint people -- folks like Stephen Miller and Stephen Bannon, or his own family members, or crazed fringe activists.  And there didn't seem to be anything to stop him.  He could appoint any nut he wanted, and we looked to the adults in the room, and they just didn't seem to care.

How was this possible?  Wasn't there something that someone could do?  Can this really be the world?

Democratic leaders were afraid.  They were ready to work with him, to try to prove they had ideas and could be useful.  The plan was to try to drive Trump away from the GOP -- monumentally foolish, since they'd only deliver him victories and get nothing in return.

His supporters didn't seem to care.  They were a minority of Americans, but a rabid and fierce minority -- and they'd already carried Trump this far.  Who was to say they could not carry him forever, as long as he made his own sacrifices on the altar of power?  A monstrous Muslim ban, a wall... worse?

Did... did they run the country, now?  Was this how it would be?

It was unknown.  None of the rules or norms seemed to apply.  As always, that was our great fear: the thing we did not understand.

It was the day that Trump was inaugurated, and we were lost at sea and there were no stars.  It was just black, above and around, and we were left on the dark waters with no way home.

Lost at sea with no stars.

What was there to do?

The day after the inauguration, the largest protest movement in American history flooded every major city.  Millions of Americans rose up and got on buses and trains and planes.  They filled every car and every corner.  There was no violence.  There was laughter.

I know people worked and supported each other ceaselessly throughout the campaign and before the inauguration.  But for me, that day was when the Resistance was born.  That was when it was darkest, when the president-elect who'd run roughshod over our values and traditions was installed into power.  That was when it seemed like there was nothing to do but join hands and march, throwing our resistance out into the world.

That was when we saw that we were the ones we had been waiting for.

It could have gone so badly.  The president could have cemented his victory by cleaving between Democratic leaders and their base, using his power and leadership to force Republicans to moderate their policies.  He spent his first week arguing about crowd sizes.  If he'd spent it insisting on a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill -- well, would Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell really have refused him?  If he'd reached out and gotten Democrats like Jim Manchin to co-sponsor it -- Manchin, from West Virginia where Trump won by forty points -- then would the situation be so morally clear?

He could have broken apart those who voted Democrat for economic reasons and those who voted Democrat for cultural reasons, fracturing the coalition.  I don't know if it would have worked, but it would have worked better for him than this.  A big, bipartisan deal that delivered something the country desperately needed -- and it would be cover for when he tried to ban Muslims and refugees from the country!  How strongly could they denounce him, how energetically would they oppose him, if he had tried to reach out?

Those bridges are burned.  Trump's approval rating is in the single digits among Democrats, and his credibility is gone.  There is good evidence that even his supporters are beginning to sour on him, as six months have gone by without any major accomplishments (except for one hand-delivered by Mitch McConnell) but multiple hideous embarrassments and scandals.

The courts have rebuked his foolish outrages.  His own party has joined forces almost unanimously with Democrats to rebuke his foreign policy.  The justice system has begun years-long investigations into his malfeasance.  And a thousand activist groups have sprung up to oppose him on every front.

Once upon a time... it was dark.  We were lost at sea with no stars.

So we turned to each other.

And we discovered that we could shine.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Listen: six months deep.

President Donald J. Trump has been in office for six months.  And he has accomplished nothing.

That's barely even hyperbole.  While the Trump presidency has had a lot of impact on America and the world -- the withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, a freeze on regulation, and so on -- this impact has been almost entirely negative.

There are some positives, of course.  Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Garland seat of the Supreme Court, for example.  But that feat can only be truly credited to Mitch McConnell, who blocked Garland's nomination and got Gorsuch confirmed.  Similarly, it's true that the stock market remains on the same bull run it's enjoyed for the past seven years and that the job market remains steady, but Trump hasn't appointed anyone to the Fed, gotten any of his priorities passed in a budget, or otherwise affected relevant policy in the past half-year.  The Obama economy has continued: steady, incremental, and mildly disappointing.

And that's pretty much it.  The rest of the changes that Trump has had on our nation and the world have been changes of destruction.  For a man who has prided himself on building things, thus far he has built nothing.

Consider his legislative accomplishments (or lack thereof).

Trump promised he would introduce ten pieces of legislation within his first hundred days.  After six months, he has not only failed to pass any of them, he still has not introduced any of them.  This is remarkable.  Every other modern president has thrown their weight behind a few pieces of policy in their early months, drawing on think tanks or a past congress for the bills.  Obama, for example, pushed for the passage of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signing it within his first hundred days. Trump doesn't appear to have even attempted to get his own ideas into a bill, and the laws he promised to introduce... well, it seems like they never actually existed.  They're wishful ideas, not laws.

Other Republicans had plans, of course, and Trump may have been willing to just let them take the lead.  But the optimistic plans of January, when Obamacare repeal would be done by "late February or early March," and tax reform would be finishing up right about now... well, things have gone rather differently.  Obamacare repeal is inching along, badly wounded (though alive!), and tax reform is a distant dream.

President Trump is the first president in generations to have signed zero major bills into law in his first six months.

Diplomatically, Trump has gone on a variety of foreign trips and engaged in some hullabaloo about trade.  The trade noise has come to nothing, beyond some bold commitments to questionable plans, and the trips... well, they have not gone well.  At the G20, he was isolated and unhappy.  It was always clear that his attitude and policies would set him apart from the rest of the developed world, but it was surprising just how completely they united in the absence of American leadership.  Nor was the Middle East trip much of a success; only days after Trump departed, the region broke out in a local crisis over Qatar's support for terrorist causes.

In a similar vein, international opinion of America has plummeted.  With the exceptions of Russia and Israel, almost every country surveyed by Pew has found a catastrophic drop in confidence in the president's ability to handle problems.  In Europe, the drop is especially enormous (ranging from thirty to eighty points!)

The president was able to destroy deals like the TPP and the Paris accords, but building new ones?  At least so far, it's beyond him.

To add to this lack of accomplishments both foreign and domestic, the president is historically unpopular.  No president at this point in his term has had such a low approval rating -- Trump started with an abnormally low level of approval, but immediately squandered any goodwill he might have gained by success with his first divisive actions and his refusal to reach out to one entire half of the country.  For the past two months, he has plateaued at about 38%, but there is no reason to think that more Americans will be won over by repeated failure and constant revelations about collusion with a foreign power.

We're six months deep.  A lot of people have been hurt.  A lot of opportunities have been lost.  And a lot of damage has been done.  No doubt about it, Trump can destroy.

But he has built nothing.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Do: take a minute and read a founding document.

We're fighting for a lot of things in this resistance.  Real and solid things.

We're fighting for the refugees, who seek out in America their dream of a better life, and who struggle to our shores, tempest-tost and yearning to breathe free.  We're fighting for women, who want only for men to have their rights and nothing more, and for women to have their rights and nothing less.  We're fighting for the planet, which swelters and sweats under generations of carbon, and which can offer nothing as defense against billions of lobbying dollars but an inconvenient truth.  And we're fighting for so much more: a thousand causes and billions of people.

But that's not all.  We're also fighting for ideas.  These ideas are important: they're a sword for our purposes, a shield for our protection, and a salve to our pains.

So take the time this week to read one of our country's founding documents.  For some of you, it will be enough to just sit down and read carefully through the Declaration of Independence in its entirety.  Maybe this will be the first time you've done that since high school.  Maybe this will be the first time ever.

You can find America's Declaration of Independence here.

But maybe you feel you're already familiar with the Declaration.  You read it, you know about the quartering of troops and imposing taxes without consent, you're good to go.  Well then, you should turn to the Constitution.  Maybe you've read Article II recently, but when was the last time you read through the enumerated powers of Congress?

You can find the Constitution of the United States here.

And since I know there will be people who have read both of these, perhaps even recently, and smile at my suggestions: the last document to which I will direct you is an out-and-out book: the collected Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to defend a proposed new Constitution.

You can find the Federalist Papers here.

Whatever you read, you will come away stronger, more powerful, and ready to fight.  That's what We the People are here to do, after all.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Listen: they won't make it up in volume.

There's an old story about a guy in retail.

He's having a great day in his store, moving a lot of product, feeling very successful -- when his accountant comes up to him.  The accountant is sweaty and panicked, and he grabs the guy's arm and says, "Listen, we're in real trouble!  I just ran the numbers and you're going broke!  Something's gotta change!"

The guy looks around the room and sees a ton of salesmen and a ton of customers.  His merchandise is flying off of the shelves.  He turns back to his accountant and laughs, saying, "Are you kidding?  Look at this place!"

"See," says the accountant, "that's just the problem!  I looked at the purchase orders, and you're selling product for less than you paid for it... everything you sell is actually costing you money.  It would be better for your bottom line if you kicked everyone out and didn't sell a thing!"

The guy just chuckles, shaking his head wisely.  He claps the accountant on the back and winks.  "Don't worry," he says.  "We'll make it up in volume."

This is the Trump approach to the presidency.  Or rather, the Bannon approach, because he has articulated it the most clearly.  Discussing the struggle to get things done under the darkening pall of the Russia investigation. Bannon recently told the Washington Post that their strategy was simple:  “This is not astrophysics.  You solidify your base and you grow your base by getting things done. That’s what people want to see.”

In other words, Trump's team believes that he can win success in the White House the same way he won the office itself: by doubling down on their core supporters, over and over.  They are applying this tactic across the board when it comes to both optics and legislation.  Trump and his core team crafts messages meant for their base and delivers policies designed to please their base.  As long as that core of ~35% of voters remains energetic and pleased, they're betting that they can be used to scare businesses and politicians into doing as the White House wishes, which will in turn allow Trump to scratch out even more policy victories.

Unfortunately for him, they've had to rely a lot on optics.  As it turns out, divisive and fact-free bloviating is not conducive to real statesmanship.  Trump hasn't had any problems when it comes to leaving deals -- Paris accords, TPP, etc -- but actually crafting new ones... well, this stuff is hard.  Trump has been president for 158 days and hasn't had any significant legislative or diplomatic achievements, for example.  That will probably change, eventually -- there are 496 days left before midterm elections, after all, and that's a lot of time to get something significant passed -- but he is performing poorly by most measures.  When asked about his accomplishments, it's hard to find anything significant beyond his nomination of Neil Gorsuch... and that should rightly be called the work of Mitch McConnell, not Donald J. Trump.  There's no wall, there's a crippled Muslim ban, there's no infrastructure or jobs bill, and so on.

But if you're wondering how to explain White House behavior, this is often the explanation.  Why do they do so many things that seem broadly unpopular, foolish, or otherwise contrary to their own best interests?  Well, they're trying to appeal to their base.

Most presidents try to do this, of course, but they don't take this approach exclusively.  In recent memory, every president has taken seriously the idea that they are the president of the entire country, and worked to unite the nation.  This has always been mitigated by their desire to achieve their own agendas, but at a bare minimum each previous president has always given lip service to an ideal of bipartisan unity.

Donald Trump is engaged in a bold and unusual experiment, devoting himself to policies, ideas, and rhetoric that are broadly unpopular in an attempt to govern with an impassioned minority.  In many countries, this would be reason to fear, since a minority can only solidify its hold on power by attacking the institutions that express the will of the majority.  But Trump has tried that, and they have been found unyielding.

So he's trying to do other things.  Antagonizing the press.  Flouting conventions of civility and ethics.  Brazenly discarding inconvenient realities.  Attacking allies and encouraging autocrats.  All brash and all dangerous, and all accompanied by a stream of state media that attempt to gaslight the public and redefine norms.

And if it's all unpopular among the public, and if even his base is shrinking at the reality of what they've wrought?  If every reckless action and feckless word sinks him deeper into the fever-heat embrace of his most fervent supporters?

It's okay.  They'll make it up in volume.


Sure you will, Mr. President.

Sure you will.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Listen: be proud of America -- it's passing the test.

(An expansion and confirmation of my thoughts from February along these lines.)

The institutions of America are holding strong.  We should be very proud.

The founders of America spent a lot of time thinking about despotism.  This makes sense, since they'd just spent years fighting a war to resist taxation without representation and foreign rule.  They were so worried about the prospect of a future despot, in fact, that the first government they devised was a failure because it was too weak.  The Articles of Confederation provided only for a Congress with strictly limited powers, and had no mechanism for allowing any individual to significantly accumulate influence.  The states were treated as sovereign and independent countries joined together only for what seemed to be expediency's sake, despite the fact that everyone -- foreign and domestic -- now thought of America as a single country united by their shared conflict and common interests.

But even with the difficulties such a weak constitution was causing, such as the impossibility of making binding treaties (since such treaties needed to individually ratified by the states), there was still great trepidation in forming a more powerful central government.  After the drafting of the Constitution, for example, when the states were considering whether to ratify it, one Anti-Federalist complained in The Independent Gazetteer:
Is it probable, that the President of the United States, limited as he is in power, and dependent on the will of the senate, in appointments to office, will either have the firmness or inclination to exercise his prerogative of a conditional control upon the proceedings of that body, however injurious they may be to the public welfare? It will be his interest to coincide with the views of the senate, and thus become the head of the aristocratic junto.
Accordingly, the designers of the finer points of the new Constitution took many steps to provide for checks on the power of the executive, and to further balance that power against the power of other branches of government.  There was little risk of this new office of the presidency being seized by a despot and turning into another monarch like the oppressive King George III, advocates argued.  Hamilton made the argument in Federalist 69:
The President of the United States would be an officer elected by the people for four years; the king of Great Britain is a perpetual and hereditary prince. The one would be amenable to personal punishment and disgrace; the person of the other is sacred and inviolable. The one would have a qualified negative upon the acts of the legislative body; the other has an absolute negative. The one would have a right to command the military and naval forces of the nation; the other, in addition to this right, possesses that of declaring war, and of raising and regulating fleets and armies by his own authority. The one would have a concurrent power with a branch of the legislature in the formation of treaties; the other is the sole possessor of the power of making treaties.
The Federalist Papers spend some time on these sorts of matters because they were all keenly aware of the novelty of the great American experiment in democracy, as well as its vulnerability.  The Revolution had been fought first in the name of American rights as British citizens, and then in the name of their natural rights as human beings.  Even with the acknowledged problems with the Articles of Confederation, Americans feared a tyrant.

Today, we have good reason to be grateful to the founders of our country for their foresight.  Our country has come under grave threat, but it is holding fast.  Our institutions are winning.

There was the potential for real danger.  Indeed, if we looked at the situation with our new president with naive eyes, we might have seen a despot in the making.  A man with a known reputation for dishonesty and cruelty, flush with the support of unquestioning millions, bolstered by a craven and acquiescent Congress, hungry for power and prestige, untroubled by norms of decency, and ignorant of history?  Who couldn't concoct visions of a grim future where he began to restrict press freedom, pushed through laws to punish dissent, and declared federally-administer martial law in the "disaster areas" of liberal cities?  It was a crazy and far-fetched scenario, but was it any more crazy than the fact that this man had won the presidency in the first place?

I never thought anything like that was going to happen -- hence the name of this blog -- but I always understood it.  When it seems like there aren't any rules anymore, then even our darkest fears seem possible.

But our country has stood strong, and we should be so proud of it.

Much of our legislative branch, under the control of the Republicans, has used every tool and genius it could find to try to jam through as many clawbacks of progressive success as possible, as quickly as possible -- and has found poor success.  Beyond several dozen deregulations from the last year of Obama's term, they have accomplished little.  The signature policy item they have pushed for seven years, repeal of Obamacare, is now so incredibly unpopular in every single state that they're trying to sneak it through the Senate before anyone can read it -- and should they actually manage to pass it, they will be surprised to find that the dismal cannons of that single battlefield victory sound particularly desultory in the grim aftermath of a war they permanently lost seven years ago.  And even though we're only in the fifth month of single-party rule, the president is under serious investigation in both houses of Congress for misdeeds.  It can't be overstated how remarkable this is.  Republicans will do a lot in the name of tax cuts, but not anything.

The judicial branch has repeatedly slapped down offensively unconstitutional executive orders, writing opinions at times with visible contempt.  Indeed, so far the Trump administration has barely won a single round in the long process of litigating the Muslim ban, losing in three districts at then three appeals courts.  It's already heading to the Supreme Court, which will be deciding relatively soon whether or not to reverse the injunctions blocking the ban.  But even if the Muslim ban is put in place in full, or the mere power to enact it is affirmed -- and that's completely unknown and probably less likely than a partial upholding of lower court findings -- the precedent has been firmly and concretely established that the executive branch's exercise of its powers is still subject to judicial review.  Everyone still agrees on that.

Even the executive branch, of which the president is the head, has pushed back on their own leader.  There are numerous individuals serving in the Trump administration who are honorable and want to serve their country.  I'd even say that describes the vast majority of them, actually.  They will only go so far.  Famously, former FBI Director James Comey resisted pressure from the president to shut down the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, of course.  But many people might have missed, amidst the flood of news, the fact that Trump also asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to intervene with Comey in March.  Both men refused the president, and also refused to publicly state that he wasn't under investigation.  These sorts of people will overlook a lot, but there's a limit.

And adding to our government institutions, we have the private ones.  Enough cannot be said about the press, which has proven itself vital.  While their natural incentives of viewership and false equity led them to some dark places during the 2016 race, the press has been doing amazing work in its aftermath.  There are almost daily revelations in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, thanks to a relentless set of reporters that smell blood and Pulitzers in the water (plus an executive branch more focused on infighting than effectiveness).

And last of all, we have:


If Republican members of Congress weren't acutely aware that their constituents were paying close attention and were passionately interested in how they handled a rampaging and impulsive president, then they would not bother to do more than mouth a few empty platitudes of concern before returning to their agenda (although to be fair, that does describe a certain fraction).  They'd spend no time at all on oversight or investigation.  And if Democrats were acutely aware of their constituencies' feelings about the president or his plans, they wouldn't resist with quite so much diligence or doggedness.

If the judicial branch didn't have the protection of the people on which to rely -- the knowledge that Americans ultimately simply would not stand for a president who tried to defy the law -- they could not handle the legal issues with a free hand.  The courts don't need to fear men with guns because they know that for every soldier at the president's command, there are ten more who will stand up in defense of the rule of the principle that we are a nation of laws, not of men.

If the executive branch was not aware that they are acting for posterity, both for their own in later years and that of future generations, they might not be so able to stand up to their own boss when they've needed to do so.  These are men and women who want to be respected, admired, and honored for their contributions... and for most of them, that means far more than a bit more money or power.  In the White House, there's one Steve Bannon, one Donald Trump, one Mike Pence.  But there are a thousand Rod Rosensteins.  A thousand Robert Muellers.  A thousand James Comeys.

Millions marched throughout America on the day after Inauguration Day.  The Women's March was the largest protest in American history -- in fact, estimates have it as at least three times larger than the largest previous protest movements!  More than one out of every hundred people in the country marched for a single cause on a single day!  And millions more supported them, cheered them, drove them, or watched children for them.

I don't know how you felt on November 12th: sad, shocked, hurt, scared?

But I know how you should feel today: proud.  Because our institutions have been put to the test, and so far they are passing.

I am so proud to be an American in 2017, and you should be, too.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Listen: the stories Trump supporters tell.

The music from the telescreen stopped and a voice took over. Winston raised his head to listen. No bulletins from the front, however. It was merely a brief announcement from the Ministry of Plenty. In the preceding quarter, it appeared, the Tenth Three-Year Plan's quota for bootlaces had been over-fulfilled by 98 per cent.
He examined the chess problem and set out the pieces. It was a tricky ending, involving a couple of knights. 'White to play and mate in two moves.' Winston looked up at the portrait of Big Brother. White always mates, he thought with a sort of cloudy mysticism. Always, without exception, it is so arranged. In no chess problem since the beginning of the world has black ever won. Did it not symbolize the eternal, unvarying triumph of Good over Evil? The huge face gazed back at him, full of calm power. White always mates.
The following is a post by user SkillUpYTfrom The Donald, the forum for Trump supporters.  I have not edited it.  It had many thousands of votes of approval from supporters and had been pinned to the top of the forum -- this isn't something I cherrypicked.  As a longtime reader of that forum, I can also offer my own assurances that these sorts of fever dreams are posted constantly.  They rely on an absolute and unwavering faith in the brilliance of Donald Trump, as well as fairly impressive research skills -- but an utter lack of all serious in-depth knowledge about finance, government, or law enforcement.  In this telling, there are enemies everywhere, and only the brilliant maneuvers and tweets of the president are going to save everyone.

You want to know how people can support him or think he knows what he is doing?  Here's how one person explains the Comey firing, the tweets, and everything.

Post begins:

I thought this was a pretty good write up and summary of Comey and his history + some interesting perdictions so I decided to source it and repost. This was originally linked here by /u/shortadamlewis  and sourced to Anon. I found another (much earlier) post about this here on a blog that credits a Facebook post.
All I did was dig up some sources and sprinkled on some formatting. Comey is a snake.


There are very few crime/mystery novels that approach this true story for compelling drama, intrigue and brinkmanship (with the nation in the balance).
Don’t believe the fake-media story that Trump made a mistake or huge gaffe by firing Comey.
Don’t believe the media narrative from the left that it was an attempt to silence Comey from some investigation into Trump.
Don’t believe the lie that Trump’s “tweets” are not professional and have no strategic purpose. His tweets are 'weaponized' and deadly.
James Comey is a poisonous snake of the highest order… a deep-water Swamp Denizen who has been highly paid to deliberately provide cover for high-level corruption by the Clintons and Obama. He is has been central to trying to destroy the Trump campaign and then the Trump administration from the start. He is as dirty as they come in DC. He had highest-level cover (the FBI no less) and was deep into an effort to eliminate Trump. Trump had to move hard, fast, and at exactly the right time to cut the head off the snake without getting bitten by the snake or being finished by the other swamp denizens.
Begin by noticing how the President fired Comey when Comey was 3,000 miles away from his office, that Comey had no inkling he was being cut, that all his files, computers, and everything in his office were seized by his boss Sessions and the justice department.
This was not a violation of protocol, it was tactical. Notice how Prez Trump compartmentalized the strike and did not inform any of his White House “staff” to prevent leaks. Notice how he emasculated Comey and the swamp denizens by letting them know in a tweet that the Attorney General got information (surveillance “tapes” from the seizure of Comey’s office) to let Comey and his handlers know that Trump’s DOJ has the goods on them. This was a brilliant, strategic and totally imperative move at exactly the right time against horrible, evil and corrupt powers infesting our government. The swamp is on notice that the President is on to them, they are sweating bullets because their criminal games of corruption are being pursued and they know it. They are screaming and ranting because they are desperate denizens of the swamp who are beginning to realize they are roadkill.

THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE COMEY SCAM. Taken from credible public sources (readily available if you want to look or want me to sent them to you), with a few reasonable “fill in the blank” conclusions of my own.

The Highlights:
Comey was a minor assistant US attorney in the late 90’s. He only gained power and money by being the DOJ official who “investigated” and cleared Bill Clinton of any wrong-doing in Clinton’s totally corrupt pardon (for huge payoffs) of criminal financier Marc Rich as Clinton was leaving the Presidency. This is how Comey began his career as a creature of the “swamp” years ago, as a servant of the Clintons.
Comey provided “cover” for the Clintons in their gaining incredible power and wealth after leaving office through pardoning a billionaire money-launderer, arms dealer and criminal. Comey was a key piece in how the Clintons upped their corruption game and gained incredible wealth through their foundation after leaving the White House.
A huge part of the scheme was giving Marc Rich a free pass when he should have spent life in prison, and that is what Comey covered-up for the Clintons. This set up Comey to be part of the corruption machine, making him powerful and wealthy.
Immediately after doing the Clinton’s dirty work as a DOJ official, Comey resigned from the DOJ and took a position as the head attorney (Counsel) of the Lockheed Martin company, a huge military contractor. While he was in that position Lockheed became a major contributor (millions) to the Clinton Foundation and its fake charity spin-offs. In return for these payment to Clinton Inc., Lockheed received huge contracts with Hillary’s state department. Comey was the chief legal officer of Lockheed throughout this period of contributions to Clinton Inc. in return for State Dept. contracts.
In late 2012, after overseeing Lockheed’s successful relationship with the Hillary State Department and the resulting profits, Comey stepped down from Lockheed and received a $6 million dollar payout for his services.
HSBC’s criminality was pervasive and deliberate by the Bank and its officials. HSBC was a huge Clinton Foundation contributor (many millions) throughout the “investigation” and Bill Clinton was being paid large personal fees for speaking at HSBC events (while Hillary was Sec of State). Eric Holder and the Obama Justice Department did what they were paid to do, and let HSBC off of the hook for a paltry 1.2 Billion dollar fine (paid by its stockholders), and not one Director, officer or management member at HSBC was fired or charged with any criminal.
Exactly when everyone involved with HSBC Bank (including the Clintons and all of their “donors”) were being let off without penalty, and cover had to be provided to HSBC, Comey was appointed as a Director and Member of the Board of HSBC (in the middle of the fallout from the scandal). He was part of the effort to cover up the scandal and make HSBC “respectable” again.
After about a year as HSBC director, despite his lack of any law enforcement experience, no DOJ leadership experience, and no qualifications for the job, Comey was appointed FBI director by Obama.
The only qualification Comey had was that the Clinton’s and their cronies knew Comey was in bed with them, was compromised and was willing to do their dirty work. Comey was appointed to the FBI right when Hillary was leaving the State Department, and was vulnerable to the FBI because she had been using a private-server, mis-handling classified information, selling access to favors/contracts from the State Department to Clinton Foundation Donors (including Comey’s Lockheed Martin), and much more.
Remember that this was about the time the Inspector General of the State Department found over 2 billion “missing” from the State Department finances during Hillary’s tenure.
The obvious conclusion is that Comey was appointed to the FBI (along with other reliable Clinton-Obama cronies) to run interference for the Clinton’s and Obama’s at the nation’s federal law enforcement agency (in conjunction with a corrupt Department of Justice). Comey was and is owned by the Clintons. He owed all of his power and wealth to being part of their machine and providing them with cover.
In late 2015 and early 2016, information began to come out about the Clinton Foundation and its use by the Clinton’s as a multi-billion dollar slush fund for corruption and political favors (even Chelsea’s wedding had been paid for by the “charity.)
This was right as Hillary was beginning her campaign for President. It was revealed that the Foundation had never completed required reports or had an audit. Supposedly the FBI, under Comey, began an “investigation” of the Clinton Funds. A “professional” accounting firm was brought in by the Clintons to do a review, file some reports, make recommendations to the Clinton Foundation Board, and provide a veneer of legitimacy to the Clinton Fund operations. Predictably, one of the partners in the firm that was chosen (and paid lots of money) is the brother of James Comey (FBI Director).
This brother owes James Comey $700,000 for a loan James gave him to buy a house, and presumably some of the money from the Clinton Fund was used to make payments to James on the loan. Over 2 years later and nothing has happened as a result of the FBI “investigating” the Clinton Funds under Comey.
No one in congress or federal law enforcement was intending to actually pursue the Clintons, but Judicial Watch and other independent sources obtained information proving that Hillary had been running her own server, sending out classified information, etc. This information began to come out right in the middle of her campaign to be coronated as President. A “show” investigation had to be performed to appear to look into it and clear her. Who to use?…the reliable shill James Comey.
As head of the FBI, Comey (and his lackeys in key positions) deliberately screwed up the investigation into Hillary’s use of a private server and her plain violation of national security law on classified information. The investigation was deliberately mis-handled in every aspect.
(My note: around the time / after this OP was made - it was revealed a Grand Jury and subpoenas were used but I have no idea in what manner as I haven't researched fully - we've know some people were issued subpoenas but I don't know the extent and who was and wasn't served. Grand jury info just came out April/May 2017. )
Everything that could be done to ruin the FBI investigation and to cover for Hillary was done. A “slam-dunk” case became a mess. Immunity was given every witness even though they provided no help.
Maybe more importantly, by focusing the FBI on the email scandal, attention was drawn away from the much bigger scandal of the Clinton Foundation that could bring down a huge number of corrupt politicians, lobbyists, and even governments.
Originally, Comey’s job was simply to totally botch the Hillary investigation and ruin the case against her and her minions within the FBI regarding he emails. At the same time Comey also started work on a parallel assignment to illegally “wiretap” and surveil Donald Trump and every other person involved in the Republican campaign. He was tasked with digging up any dirt or fact that could be used to hurt the Trump campaign later.
This included using a fake “dossier” paid for by the Clinton campaign to obtain authorization for the surveillance and to try to associate Trump’s campaign with the Russians. Under Comey’s direction the Trump/republican campaign was monitored and surveilled and all information was provided to the Obama Whitehouse and the Clinton camp all during the campaign.
Lorretta Lynch was supposed to complete the cover-up for Hillary as Attorney General by issuing a finding that the deliberately botched FBI “investigation” did not justify prosecution of Hillary. But someone screwed up and Bill Clinton was video’d meeting with Loretta Lynch in Arizona shortly before she was supposed to make her decision on Hillary (interference with a federal investigation), and Lynch could no longer credibly squash the Hillary scandal.
The solution, give the job to James. The Clinton’s owned him and he would have to do whatever is necessary to provide cover. Comey goes on national TV and violates every rule of the FBI, the Justice Department and American law enforcement by revealing some of the FBI’s “evidence” of what Hillary did (enough to make it look like the FBI and Comey did some investigation), then declaring that there was no “intent” and clearing Hillary. He did what he was ordered to do. The Justice Department and Obama backed Comey’s coverup and it looked like Hillary had survived the scandal.
Then, right before the election, the NYPD obtained pervert Anthony Wiener’s laptop and found classified emails from Hillary on the laptop. The NYPD began leaking details to new-media outlets, and the story was about to explode. Comey once again stepped in to cover Hillary. He short-circuited the NYPD leaks by publicly acknowledging the laptop and the emails, but then claimed just days later that hundreds of thousands of emails had all been reviewed and “nothing new” was on the laptop. Once again, he had done his job. Providing cover and FBI “protection” for Hillary on the newest scandal when it broke.
The surveillance of the Trump campaign is continued after he is elected, all participants are “unmasked” illegally, and the transcripts are leaked throughout the government and to the media.
When General Flynn appropriately calls Russian officials on behalf of Trump, they brush off the old fake “dossier” and all of the surveillance of the campaign, and Comey creates the “Russian Conspiracy” investigation.
With help by RINO swamp kingpin and warmonger sell-out McCain, the fake “Russian pee dossier” is leaked to the press. There is no actual evidence of any collusion or connection between Trump or his campaign with Russia, but that does not prevent Comey from initiating an “investigation” at the FBI. This provides Comey with protection from Trump firing him immediately.
Comey (or his minions) constantly leak news of the “Russia Investigation” to the media, and the media does its scripted part by screaming constantly about “Russia.” The Democrats fill their role and constantly scream about “Russia.” McCain and the RINO establishment do their part by promising to “investigate” how the Russians influenced the campaign.
Immediately after Trump is sworn in, the DOJ Hillary/Obama operatives and Comey start the direct attack. This is before Sessions has been appointed to the Department of Justice and the DOJ is still controlled by Obama operatives.
DOJ Obama appointee Sally Yates approaches the Whitehouse with news that General Flynn had been in contact with Russia and alleges that he might be compromised. She reveals that there is an FBI “investigation” into the Russia ties (which they are constantly leaking to the media themselves). The White House Counsel (who Yates talks to, not Trump) asks for some more information.
This is a two-pronged attack. It protects Comey and DOJ democrat holdovers from being terminated by the new administration because they are involved in an “ongoing investigation” that they control the timetable on (albeit one with absolutely no evidence).
If Trump fires Comey then he is “interfering with the investigation” which is itself a federal crime that the FBI could then “investigate.” Alternatively, if they can get Trump to question Comey about Flynn or try to get him to back off of Flynn or the “Russia” investigation, then they again have him “interfering.”
Trump knows it is a set up by Comey and that he is probably being recorded (tips from FBI or DOJ who are not part of the corruption?) Maybe because his phone calls in the Whitehouse as President have already been bugged and released to the media. (FBI is in the best position to do this.) Maybe because he was used to the Mafia in NY trying to shake him down every time he built a hotel.
Comey tells Trump that Trump is not under investigation regarding Russia, but that others involved with the campaign are being investigated. Trump does not take the bait and attempt to intervene about Flynn or the Russia scam. Later, Flynn is cut loose because he is being used by Comey and the Obama-holdover Justice to try to damage Trump. He did nothing wrong, but if he stayed the charge of “interfering with an investigation” might seem to have teeth. Comey verbally tells Trump on two more occasions that he is not being investigated, but refuses to state this fact publicly or when testifying in Congress.
Trump knows everything I have gone through above about Comey. But he has to move carefully. He has to get his Attorney General and Deputy AG in place, get enough leverage on the Russia narrative, and ideally get rid of Comey in a way that allows him to obtain all the information that Comey has been accumulating (if he is taping Trump he is taping others.)
Comey, and others testify in Congress. Under oath, both Sally Yates and Intelligence officials from the Obama administration state that there has been no actual evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. More importantly, Comey, while refusing to say that Trump is not under investigation, testifies that he has informed the Senate Intelligence Committee heads who exactly is under investigation regarding Russia.
Trump tells almost no one at the White House that he is moving against Comey (so no leaks… no listening in on his conversations.) Trump somehow contacts Sen. Grassley (the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee) and confirms that Comey told the Senator that Trump was not under investigation personally. Trump gets both the Attorney General and the new Deputy Attorney General to legitimately review Comey’s unprofessional actions at the FBI and to recommend in writing that Trump terminate Comey. Somehow Comey goes to California (at the request of AG Sessions or already scheduled and someone at FBI telling Trump?)
Trump seizes the moment and acts. While Comey is in California, 3000 miles away and 7 hours from his office, Trump prepares a letter firing him (with Sessions and the Deputy AG recommendations attached). In the letter Trump states that he had been told 3 times by Comey that he (Trump) was not under investigation.
The letter is hand-delivered to the FBI headquarters by DOJ officials to lock-down and seize everything in Comey’s office, including all surveillance files (“tapes”) of Trump and others. All of Comey’s files, docs, computers and “tapes” are taken to Sessions at DOJ. They are not taken to the Whitehouse or Trump, but to Sessions, who has every right to have them. Sessions can tell Trump that Comey had surveillance tapes of Trump that contradict what Comey has been telling Trump, and perhaps tapes of conversations with other swamp “conspirators.” But Trump does not have them personally or at the Whitehouse.
Comey learns he has been fired when the media broadcasts it in California. He had no idea it was coming and he is ticked. On cue, the Democrat politicians and media begin screaming about Trump’s “interference with the Russia investigation” in accordance with the plan to set up Trump for that charge.
The Swamp wants to blow up the Russia narrative using Comey, and Comey is set to testify before Congress to try to hurt Trump by saying he was interfering with the FBI investigation. Comey intends to follow through with the plan to take down Trump. But because of his brilliant timing on this, Trump has Comey’s files, documents and information safely with Sessions at DOJ. Trump sends out a “crazy” tweet that says: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”
The media and the politicians go crazy about the “inappropriateness” of this tweet. They accuse Trump of “taping” everyone at the White House (forgetting that the Presidents phone calls with foreign leaders have been “taped” without his knowledge.)
Notice that Trump did not say he taped anyone, or that he has any tapes at the White House. It seem apparent that Trump is telling Comey that the DOJ (who has every legal right to possess it) has the surveillance information and files from Comey’s office, the “tapes” obtained and kept by Comey.
Comey and all the Swamp Creatures understand the clear message… their plan has failed and Trump’s DOJ is now holding all the cards.
The whole Russia interference scheme crashes and burns. While the mouthpiece media, Hollywood and the insane fringe continue to scream about Russia and Comey being fired, the politicians who will soon be in the crosshairs of a legitimate (and ticked) FBI and DOJ are starting to fall strangely silent. Comey realizes all the leverage is with Trump and that he will be lucky if he is not added to the Clinton Death List because of his knowledge (better not take any baths near an electrical outlet or get on any airplanes).
AG Sessions and his Deputy AG use the Comey trove of information to determine who has been part of the Comey Syndicate at the FBI. They will be appointing an “interim” Director of the FBI shortly who has not been compromised by Comey, Clinton or Obama.
That “interim” Director does not have to be approved by Congress or anyone, and can immediately begin cleaning house at the FBI of all Comey/Clinton/Obama minions, initiating investigations of the Clintons, Clinton Fund, violations of intelligence confidentiality laws by Susan Rice and Obama, human trafficking in DC, political corruption… draining the Swamp.
Using the Comey files they can be fairly certain they are not getting another Comey as an “interim”, and they do not have to wait for the circus of appointing a new permanent “Director” through Congressional approval. Most of the heavy lifting on rooting out FBI corruption and starting investigations into the swamp will be done by the “interim” before a new director is appointed. I suspect the Trump administration hopes the approval FBI Director process will be slow and tedious, so there is no political interference with the housecleaning that is starting.
In one masterstroke, Trump has eliminated a truly toxic and dangerous enemy to his administration and our country, dealt a horrendous blow to the Clinton/Obama and deep state machines, begun the restoration of the integrity of the FBI and the DOJ, and gained incredible ammunition to begin hunting the foul creatures in the swamp.

GIVE /u/jeremybryce  SOME LOVE (he helped compile all of this data and he is an ULTRA BASED PEDE).