Tag: Doomsday Clock

The Wheat from the Chaff

Trump has been in office for one week, but it’s an eventful one. Before I get into the heavy stuff, I wanted to take a second to note that, on occasion, we all need to take a deep breath. Yes, some of the things he’s already done are misguided and some of his proposals are poor. He’s showing an alarming egotism and disregard for existing institutions, the law and the Constitution.

But … we’ve got 1460 days of this (at least). It’s important to figure out what to be alarmed by and what not to be alarmed by. Ken White has a great post on this, pointing out that the media and the American people have a tendency to react to stories of government abuse as though they are unprecedented, mainly because they weren’t paying attention while a President they liked was the in the Oval Office.

The urge to indulge in this habit under the thoroughly loathsome Trump Administration is overpowering. Trump and his underlings are scornful of rights and openly fantasize about abusing them. They require dedicated scrutiny. But not every ugly thing that happens now is the result of a Trumpism. Take, for instance, the concern about members of the press being arrested at anti-Trump protests. We should absolutely be vigilant for signs of the criminal justice system being abused to suppress the press and dissent. But cops have always indiscriminately arrested people at protests — including journalists — and falsified masses of improbable riot or assault or obstruction charges afterwards. Reporters have been charged plenty of times before. Sometimes it’s a reflection of law enforcement’s indiscriminate approach to arrests at protests and sometimes it’s a reflection of entrenched law enforcement hostility to press scrutiny. Is the latest incident actually a change — or is the press just noticing because this time they got caught up in it, and they are primed to expect tyranny?

Examples are legion, and not just in the criminal justice arena. Every day you’ll see old policies being cited as new Trump atrocities. Before it happened to Obama, and Bush, and so on ad infinitum.

I’ve decided to impose a 12-hour moratorium on tweeting or blogging any Trump outrage (unless it is something said or done by Trump or his surrogates). Because we’ve developed a huge problem with identifying real Trump outrages from phony ones. Just a few examples

  • Last week, the internet erupted because Trump had “scrubbed” pages from the White House website on climate change and LGBT rights. But it turned out that this was not unusual. When Trump assumed office, all of Obama’s web pages were moved to a new site and the only pages that went up were ones Trump’s team had put together. You could complain that this means LGBT rights and climate change are not priorities with Trump (which we already knew). But saying they’d been “scrubbed” was ignorant.
  • A day later, the internet erupted because Trump had declared his inauguration day a “National Day Of Patriotic Devotion”. This was creepy, but … Obama declared his to be a “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation”. So this was ultimately much ado about nothing.
  • Yesterday, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the “Doomsday Clock” to 2.5 minutes to midnight. This is utterly meaningless.
  • Yesterday, the internet also erupted because several senior State Department staff resigned. This is a bit alarming because Trump has not filled almost all the senior positions at State (and even the most ardent small-government conservative would admit that foreign relations are the Federal Government’s job). But, as Alex noted, the resignations were not unusual or unprecedented. In fact, most senior government officials resign when a new Administration takes office. Some are just held on for continuity.
  • There’s been a bit of hubbub over the Administration telling government scientists not to communicate with the public. It’s not clear how common this is or how extensive. I am very concerned that the Administration may be politicizing science. But this is not unprecedented — the previous Administration was more than happy to indulge in pseudo-scientific trafficking “studies”. For the moment, I am holding back on a full-scale blast until it’s clear what’s going on.

The problem with these pseudo- or semi-controversies is that they obscure really bad stuff the Administration is actually doing that is not in question at all. To wit:

  • Issuing an executive order last week that has HHS grant more waivers to insurance mandates under Obamacare. That may sounds good. But since insurance companies are still forbidden from blocking insurance due to pre-existing conditions, this is only going to enhance the insurance death spiral.
  • Wallowing in conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Trump is obsessed with his popularity and is now proposing a massive investigation into mythical millions of illegal aliens voting. If masses of illegal aliens voted in 2016, they were just as skilled as the mythical Russian hackers who supposedly stole the election for Trump. They somehow disguised themselves as well-established demographic trends, voted Republican down-ballot and concentrated all their power in California, which Clinton was going to win anyway. This fantasy of Trump’s ends in one place: a national ID card and national voter database.
  • Reopening CIA black sites and resuming torture. This was one of my biggest breaks with the Republican Party and remains so. The black sites create a space where torturers can operate outside of the law, outside of the Geneva convention and outside of the rules of war. And the CIA’s record in defense of their program — destroying evidence, lying to Congress, spying on Congress — is a huge black mark against them. Trump has decreed that torture “absolutely” works despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And whether it works or not, it is a violation of the law, our treaty obligations and basic human decency. He’s talking as though to defeat ISIS, we need to become ISIS.
  • Trump, a supposed Culture War moderate, restored the gag order that prevents NGO’s from getting money if they perform abortions or even counsel women about abortions. But he extended it further to all international health organizations, not just those involved with family planning. Organizations fighting HIV/AIDS could see their funding cut if they even mention abortion. (To be fair, this reeks of that Culture War dunderhead Pence. But Trump signed it, probably not knowing what he was signing.) This seemingly innocuous move could kill thousands, even potentially undoing Bush 43’s greatest legacy: the tremendous progress made in fighting AIDS in Africa.
  • Trump, as promised, banned immigration from several Muslim countries, including countries where we created the refugee crisis and applying even to people who helped us and are now at risk of retaliation. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, the ban does not apply to countries where Trump has business interests.
  • He continued to make false claims about surging crime, saying DC and Philadelphia are experiencing huge surges in murder (they aren’t). He also threatened to send in the feds to deal with Chicago, which really is seeing a surge of violence. But as Radley Balko pointed out, the Feds already did look into Chicago and concluded that the policing culture, which includes such “politically correct” things as black sites, beatings, smashed dash cams and cover-ups, is the biggest problem.
  • Trump cancelled TPP, to the delight of China and the despair of the people who would have benefitted. And he’s now supporting a “border adjustment tax” that will spike the cost of consumer goods. Yesterday, it was touted as the way Mexico will pay for his stupid wall although it does not such thing. And his angry tweeting about Mexico caused the Mexican President to cancel a meeting — not a good thing for our third biggest trading partner.

Since I wrote the above, I’ve been trying to think of anything good Trump has done in the first week. He froze regulations, which is sorta good but there are few on things like airline safety that we kind of need. He froze government hiring, which is fine. He removed the ban on the Keystone Pipeline, which is fine, but not nearly the economic stimulus he thinks it will be. That’s pretty much it and all stuff we could have gotten out of a generic Republican sans the bullshit.

Look, there are bunch of you that support Trump. I get that. But you can’t claim that a man who wants political control of science, torture, baseless investigations into supposed voter fraud, hard restraints on immigration, a global gag order on abortion and a thousand other policies that clamp down on us is, in any way, a supporter of freedom or the Constitution. I said before the election that Trump had the makings of a thug. We’re only a week in but I’ve seen nothing to make me reassess that opinion.