January 24, 2017

The Trump administration’s war on truth continues with that old voter-fraud lie.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday reiterated President Donald Trump’s baseless belief that millions of people voted illegally in last November’s presidential election—a stunning and deeply dangerous claim that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of American democracy itself:

“I think he stated his concerns—voter fraud and people voting illegally—during the campaign, and he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him,” Spicer said. He provided no specific evidence to support the assertion. When asked whether the government would investigate such a dramatic claim, he replied, “Maybe we will.”

Leading Republicans rebuked Trump over this madness on Tuesday, with House Speaker Paul Ryan reiterating that he’s seen “no evidence” for millions of fraudulent votes. “I am begging the president,” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said. “Share with us the information you have about this or please stop saying it.”

The petty intent of Trump’s claim is to undermine Hillary Clinton’s national popular vote victory of more than two million votes, but the consequences could be severe: Many Americans might refuse to accept the outcome of U.S. elections and begin to question the legitimacy of all elected officials. Or maybe it will backfire, and Americans will question the legitimacy of just one elected official in particular.

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Donald Trump is doing a very strange pro-Israel, anti-Semitic dance.

On Tuesday Israel, emboldened by the inauguration of President Trump, approved the construction of 2,500 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank. The move comes in defiance of widespread international opposition, which was underscored less than ten days ago at a conference of world leaders in Paris arguing for a two-state solution and in a December U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement building, which the U.S.—in a pointed departure from precedent—refused to veto. Trump had criticized the U.N. resolution, pledged greater support for Israel, and chose an ambassador to Israel who is not only virulently pro-settlement, but also ran the fundraising branch of an organization that financially backs settlements.

This creates a curious duality. Trump has made much of his support for Israel, a position that allows him to paint himself as a friend to Jews. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even said that Trump feels “very warmly” about the Jewish people. And yet Trump entertains a degree of anti-Semitism unparalleled in recent American administrations. At home, Trump is responsible for stoking a resurgent white nationalist movement that’s still divided over the “Jewish Question”—whether or not Jews are tolerable in a nationalist America—as the New Republic reported yesterday. He galvanized these anti-Semites when he suggested the existence of a globalist Jewish conspiracy during his campaign, and his election may offer them unprecedented access to the political establishment. During the campaign, Jewish journalists reported facing a wave of anti-Semitic harassment, and since his election hate crimes against Jews have spiked. He also chose to elevate Steve Bannon, head of white nationalist favorite Breitbart News, to chief strategist.

Despite giving a platform to anti-Semitic rhetoric, Bannon, like Trump, is also a staunch Israel supporter. That position is not as contradictory as it might seem. Their support for Israel is not about Jews—it’s about signaling hawkishness and, perhaps most importantly, pursuing anti-Islamic policy in the Middle East. Support for Israel isn’t even necessarily contradictory with the new white nationalism, which advocates for separate ethnic nations—a Jewish state in a separate, strategic position as an ally against a perceived Arab enemy is one thing, the safety of Jews from persecution at home is another.

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CBO confirms Republicans own the health care system and if Obamacare collapses, it will be their fault.

For years now, but with more urgency since winning the election, Republicans have claimed that the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are collapsing. House Speaker Paul Ryan recently told a cancer patient who credits Obamacare with saving his life that Obamacare is in the midst of a “death spiral. “

Separately, the Trump administration has taken steps to sow uncertainty within these same marketplaces—quite possibly with the intent of turning their fictive death spiral into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then blaming it on Barack Obama and Democrats.

The professional analysts at the Congressional Budget Office offer a corrective today in their annual budgetary and economic forecast. In projections completed “before the new Administration took office on January 20, 2017,” that, “do not incorporate any effects of executive orders or other actions taken by that Administration,” they concluded

10 million people per month, on average, will have insurance purchased through the marketplaces in 2017; that number is projected to grow to 13 million by 2027. Not all nongroup coverage is purchased through the marketplaces. In total, CBO and JCT estimate that 18 million people will have nongroup coverage in 2017 and that 20 million people would have such coverage in 2027.

In other words, were the Trump GOP to just leave Obamacare as they inherited it, and run it in the same spirit of good faith as the outgoing Democratic administration did, it wouldn’t collapse; indeed its risk pools would remain basically stable for the next decade. If the marketplaces do start to backslide later this year, keep in mind that intentional mismanagement—i.e. “executive orders or other actions taken by [Trump’s] administration”—will be the culprit, no matter how much Republicans try to deny it.

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David Brooks thinks Hamilton was better than the Women’s March.

In his column in the Times today, Brooks argues that the Women’s March was bad, actually, because it didn’t work towards the goal of “building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.” It’s hard to imagine a more out-of-touch prescription for the ails of 2017.

More than three million people showed up at women’s marches around the world. While the impact of such demonstrations can be debated, Brooks seems more intent on depicting these protests as a primal scream of identity politics. His first criticism is that, “All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.” As anyone who attended the marches knows, protesters were protesting Donald Trump in toto: the threat he represents to women, yes, but also to rule of law, global stability, civil rights, the works.

He argues that the protests were devoted to issues of importance to “university towns and coastal cities,” despite the fact that more than 500 cities throughout the country held marches. Lost in the cloud of his frowny moralizing , Brooks can’t see that he may be the one falling outside of the “main arena of national life.”

Brooks himself leans on elite works, like Hamilton and Columbia professor Mark Lilla’s essay in the Times excoriating “identity liberalism,” a piece that has been criticized for its revisionist history. Brooks states that “Times readers loved that piece and it vaulted to the top of the most-read charts,” a measure of elite accomplishment if there ever was one. But having a most-read piece does not mean that it was a well-loved piece or even a coherent piece. David Brooks should know that better than anyone.

Ben Carson finally has something to do with his hands again.

On Tuesday Carson woke up from a nap and was notified that he had been officially appointed to lead HUD. Carson’s entry into the Trump cabinet was particularly surprising given their tumultuous history together. When Carson briefly caught up to Trump in the polls in November of 2015, Trump compared him to a pedophile. Referring to Carson’s (possibly fabricated) history of violent outbursts as a young teen, which he recounts in his memoir Gifted Hands, Trump said, “It’s in the book that he’s got a pathological temper. That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that … as an example: child molesting. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological: there’s no cure for that.” Carson repaid the favor by being Trump’s worst surrogate.

In his book One Nation, Carson—who was a pediatric neurosurgeon—wrote: “A job as a school bus driver taught me to be extremely cautious around small schoolchildren.” Just think how much he’ll learn as secretary of HUD!


Keep delegitimizing Donald Trump, it’s working.

Trump has been president for five days now, but he’s still stuck in an election that ended three months ago. On Monday night, he met with members of Congress and once again thought it fit to re-litigate an election he lost by nearly three million votes. Here’s The Washington Post on the meeting:

Days after being sworn in, President Trump insisted to congressional leaders invited to a reception at the White House that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for millions of illegal votes, according to people familiar with the meeting...

Two people familiar with the meeting said Trump spent about 10 minutes at the start of the bipartisan gathering rehashing the campaign. He also told them that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that millions voted illegally—there isn’t even evidence to support a claim that hundreds voted illegally. Recounts in key states have shown no statistically significant evidence of voter fraud.

Trump is fixated on the result of the election because he seems to be obsessed with his own legitimacy as president. This fixation not only further damages his presidency by showcasing Trump’s pettiness and narcissism, it also ties him up—it damages his political capital and distracts him from pushing his destructive policies. Obviously this won’t stop Trump from doing a lot of damage, but reminding the country—and Trump himself—of his historic unpopularity is still a winning political tactic. Let’s keep it up.

Trump calls himself an “environmentalist,” while pledging to cut auto regulations and approving oil pipelines.

In a meeting with the CEOs of GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler this morning, Trump claimed, “I am to a very large extent an environmentalist, I believe in it.” This came almost immediately after he asserted that his administration would reduce “unnecessary regulations” for the auto industry.

Trump is also planning to sign executive orders this morning approving construction of both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, fulfilling promises he made during his campaign.

Both the pipeline approval and Trump’s anti-regulation stance are boons for big business. For a self-proclaimed environmentalist, it’s hard to imagine Trump doing more to damage the environment, in a single day no less. But hey, it’s still early.

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The Academy Awards announce which films will lose to La La Land.

Oscar nominations were released on Tuesday morning in a strange and often confusing pre-taped video that included a commercial for the Oscars, as if people watching Oscar nominations being read out were somehow on the fence about tuning in to the live broadcast. (That said, I did learn that Jimmy Kimmel is apparently hosting this year’s show.)

For the most part, the 2017 nominations are in stark contrast to the 2016 nominations, which were blindingly white. Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight were each nominated for a host of awards, including Best Picture. Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins was nominated for Best Director; Fences’ Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor while Viola Davis was nominated for Supporting Actress, alongside Hidden Figures’s Octavia Spencer; and all three were nominated for Adapted Screenplay. Dev Patel, meanwhile, became only the third actor of Indian descent to be nominated for Best Actor for his performance in Lion.

There were some surprises, as there always are. Annette Bening was inexplicably not nominated for Best Actress for her performance in 20th Century Woman and Weiner was not nominated for Best Documentary. But the biggest surprise was that Mel Gibson, who has a long, long history of saying incredibly vile and racist things, was nominated for Best Director for Hacksaw Ridge. That film has been pushed as a comeback vehicle for some time and the Oscars love a comeback, but Gibson’s nomination threatens to overshadow the Awards themselves. Gibson has largely stayed quiet about his past—his apologies have not been very good—but he won’t be able to hide from the spotlight this time, especially given the wider political climate.

Of course, Gibson won’t win. The award for Best Director will almost certainly go to Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins—but only as a consolation prize. That’s because La La Land was nominated for 14 awards, tying Titanic and All About Eve for most ever, and it will most likely win a bunch of them, including Best Picture. The full list of nominees is here.

This post has been updated.

January 23, 2017

Donald Trump’s White House doesn’t get the concept of facts.

Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s new press secretary, was mocked by pretty much everyone over the weekend for insisting that Trump’s inauguration boasted the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person and around the globe.” While exact numbers are impossible to acquire, Trump’s inauguration was not the most viewed in person—it was dwarfed by Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, which is obvious when you look at at side-by-side pictures. D.C. public transit data also back up the claim that Obama’s inauguration was better attended: While 570,000 riders used the Metro system on Friday, Obama’s two inaugurations had 1.1 million and 782,000 trips, respectively. The Nielsen ratings for Trump’s inauguration were much smaller than those of Obama’s 2009 inauguration and Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration. In other words, the claim simply isn’t credible.

On Monday, Spicer had his first official press briefing with the White House press corps. It was more cordial—Spicer shifted his tone from “barely restrained frothing” to “normal White House press secretary BS”—but he doubled down on his false claim, falling back on the Trump administration’s new endorsement of “alternative facts.”

Spicer asserted that “we have to be honest with the American people” but “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” That is not, of course, how facts work.

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Trump’s era of “monstrous and special” capitalism is upon us, just as the white working class wanted.

In a photo-op with business leaders at the White House Monday morning, President Donald Trump arbitrarily suggested his administration would “cut regulations by 75 percent, maybe more,” so that big companies can do whatever they want without considering externalities like environmental and employee safety.

“When you want to expand your plant, or when Mark wants to come in and build a big massive plant, or when Dell wants to come in and do something monstrous and special – you’re going to have your approvals really fast,” Trump said, referring to Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, who sat around the boardroom-style table in the Roosevelt Room.

Trump has a pretty limited vocabulary, which means now and again we’re treated to moments of accidental honesty.