Those positive reviews for Trump University were reportedly coerced.

In the ongoing litigation against Donald Trump’s for-profit school that promised to teach its students the ins and outs of the real estate business (for a hefty price), the university’s 98 percent level of student satisfaction has been brought into question. According to The New York Times, many students were pressured to give good reviews by the teachers whose jobs depended on them. One former student said that his teacher told him, without a positive review, “Mr. Trump might not invite me back to teach again.” Another recalled his teacher standing in front of him, saying, “I won’t leave until you give me all 5s.”

The good reviews were integral to the university’s efforts to bring more students in. And Trump is now using the reviews to defend himself against claims that his school was basically a giant scam. They were “beautiful statements,” he has said. The question is whether he used his big, beautiful hands to squeeze these beautiful statements out of his students. 

June 21, 2018

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Conservatives tweet that heckling Trump advisors is fascism.

The New York Post reports that White House advisor Stephen Miller became the second Trump administration official to be ridiculed at a Mexican restaurant this week when he dined at Espita Mezcaleria on Wednesday. A fellow customer spotted Miller, one of the chief architects of the family separation policy, and shouted “Hey look guys, whoever thought we’d be in a restaurant with a real-life fascist begging [for] money for new cages?” Miller reportedly “scurried” away from the protester, although he stayed in the restaurant.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and a companion were hounded out of the MXDC Cocina Mexicana by jeering protesters, organized by Democratic Socialists of America members, who shouted “shame” and berated her for the policy to tearing migrant children away from parents.

Some conservative pundits have objected to these restaurant tauntings, calling them fascist:

The comparison with fascism is nonsensical. Nielsen and Miller are major agents of the state that are pushing a policy that is traumatizing thousands of children. The protests were a peaceful expression of free speech. It’s noteworthy that the spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that the protesters had legitimate concerns:

The most heartening fact about the family separation saga is that American civil society has revolted against the policy. There has been a massive public outcry, which has included even from corporations like the major airlines (which are refusing to fly migrant kids separated from their parents). The restaurant heckling is very much part of this resistance from civil society:

HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Immigration chaos continues with contradictory reports about “zero tolerance.”

The Washington Post is reporting that the Trump administration will no longer be prosecuting parents who cross the border with children. “We’re suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody,” an official told The Post.

The administration is returning to the Obama-era policy on border crossing families and suspending “zero tolerance.”

The Washington Post report was immediately contradicted by the Department of Justice:

Given the contradiction between the two reports, it is clear that the Trump administration’s immigration policy remains chaotic and in flux. 

If  “zero tolerance” was suspended, it is only as a stop-gap measure. It does nothing to address the problem of family reunification for those already separated by the policy. Further, it is a temporary measure which could be reversed once the administration has more resources in place to enact a renewed “zero tolerance” push. But the larger story is that the White House has no real policy and different factions are making up rules willy-nilly.

PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s Wayfair ruling is big for state budgets, bad for e-commerce companies.

Thursday’s decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair will allow state legislatures to force online retailers to collect sales taxes for purchases made within their jurisdiction. It’s a victory for state tax coffers, as well as brick-and-mortar businesses that had cried foul over what they saw as an unfair advantage for internet competitors.

Many online businesses had benefited from the 1992 ruling in Quill v. North Dakota that said states could only collect sales taxes from online merchants that had a physical presence within their borders. The court overturned that decision on constitutional grounds on Thursday. But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, said the digital-physical distinction no longer made sense.

Between targeted advertising and instant access to most consumers via any internet-enabled device, a business may be present in a state in a meaningful way without that presence being physical in the traditional sense of the term,” he wrote. “A virtual showroom can show far more inventory, in far more detail, and with greater opportunities for consumer and seller interaction than might be possible for local stores.”

Kennedy made clear that Quill was constitutionally flawed in any event. But he also noted that technological advancements since 1992 made the ruling “all the more egregious and harmful.” When the high court decided Quill, Kennedy observed, fewer than 2 percent of Americans had personal internet access and “the Court could not have envisioned a world in which the world’s largest retailer would be a remote seller,” referring to online-sales giant Amazon.

There’s a tendency to speak about the internet as a separate realm of existence: Users of it are either “offline” in the real world or “online” in the digital world. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Wayfair makes clear that there’s only one world and that the Constitution governs it, at least within the United States. Technology, the medium that links these two worlds, must also play by the same rules.

That perspective could bode well for the defendant in another pending Supreme Court ruling. In Carpenter v. United States, the court is weighing whether police need a warrant before they can obtain a suspect’s historical cell phone location data. That data amounts to a digital footprint of sorts, allowing police to reconstruct a person’s movements with a level of precision that would have been impossible without the digital revolution.

Will the justices apply the Fourth Amendment’s protections in the real world to the digital one? Or will they give law enforcement a special degree of latitude there? A ruling could come as early as Friday.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Is civility really the problem in modern political discourse?

America is becoming a cruder place, which is causing a fainting fit at the newspaper of record. “Mr. Trump’s coarse discourse increasingly seems to inspire opponents to respond with vituperative words of their own,” Peter Baker and Katie Rogers write in The New York Times. “Whether it be Robert De Niro’s four-letter condemnation at the Tony Awards or a congressional intern who shouted the same word at Mr. Trump when he visited the Capitol this week, the president has generated so much anger among his foes that some are crossing boundaries that he himself shattered long ago.”

The Times article rests on a strange conflation of civility (which is about obeying conventional rules of decorum) with morality. The article notes that Trump won political success as a candidate through his incendiary rhetoric, adding, “Any expectation that he would put the harsh language aside to become more of a moral leader as president has proved illusory.”

But surely Trump’s failure as a “moral leader” have much more to do with his actual policies (such as family separation) than his crude vocabulary. After all, referring to Senator Bob Corker as a “lightweight” (one of the offences that rankles the Times) is mildly impolite. Tearing babies away from their mothers, on the other hand, is truly obscene.

Civility is a set of conventions. Sometimes those conventions lose their meaning and need to be modified or abandoned. The Times article itself illustrates this truth. Part of the Times’ own version of civility is the pose of distance from the competing sides of partisan politics. Thus the Times article argues “both sides” are to blame for the decline of civility.

But to maintain this stance of pseudo-balance, the Times has to draw strained equivalencies. Statements by Trump are equated with comments and actions by celebrities (De Niro, Peter Fonda, Kathy Griffin) and the swearing of a congressional page. The Times’ own code of civility prevents it from properly noting that to the extent civility is in crisis, it’s an issue with only one major political figure. If the Times really wants to defend civility, they need to realize their own codified rules of blaming both sides are out of date.

(Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

Another nightmare report about the treatment of immigrant children.

An investigative report by the Associated Press reveals widespread abuse at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia, where children as young as 14 claim they were tied to chairs with bags over their heads, “beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.”  

A former child-development specialist told the AP she visited children with broken bones and bruises that they attributed to the guards. One Honduran immigrant, who was 15 years old at the time, recounted in an affidavit: “Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me. Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”

Kelsey Wong, a program director at the center, told the AP that “youth were being screened as gang-involved individuals. And then when they came into our care, and they were assessed by our clinical and case management staff ... they weren’t necessarily identified as gang-involved individuals.” Many had been accused by U.S. immigration authorities of belonging to violent gangs, like MS-13, whom Trump has called “animals.”

Shenandoah received $4.2 million in government funding last year, enough, the AP claims, to cover two-thirds of the operating costs. Still, children were reportedly given cold food and small portions that left them hungry; some claimed they had never been outside, and multiple accounts in the lawsuit claim staff would jeer at Latino children using racist slurs like “onion head” and “wetback.”

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Faux-populism in Duluth.

Friends and foes alike have labelled President Donald Trump a populist, but the moniker has always fitted him uneasily. Populism comes in many forms, but usually a key component is a mass movement that springs up from ordinary people who try to overturn an established hierarchy. This has been as true of right-wing populism (Father Charles Coughlin and George Wallace) as left-wing populism (William Jennings Bryan, Bernie Sanders).

Trumpism, by contrast, seemed more focused on Trump, specifically, being the one to deliver the promised land (“I alone can fix it,” as he famously said in the 2016 Republican convention). While Trump can mouth the classic populist tropes about a globalist elite undermining the common people, there’s very little space in Trumpism for the masses gaining agency through political action.

Speaking at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday night, the president made a statement that shed light on the peculiar qualities of his political philosophy. “They always call the other side, and they do this sometime, ‘the elite.’ The elite!” he mocked. “Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t. And I am representing the greatest, smartest, most loyal people on earth, the deplorables.”

Unpacking Trump’s statement, it turns out he’s not, as populist heroes traditionally have been, the avatar or even the tribune of the common man. Rather, Trump is the true elite, a caste of one, the übermensch who is smart, rich, and able to become president. His followers, meanwhile, are “the deplorables” who are, pointedly, not elite in Trump’s manner but have their own form of greatness and smartness which is displayed in their willingness to subsume themselves (“the most loyal people on earth”) to Trump.

This is not the creed of populism, but of the strong man with an army of loyal followers. It helps explain why the economic populism Trump occasionally voiced (as with his attacks during the campaign on the banks) has mostly not been enacted. Trump was never selling populism per se but rather a faux-populism that masked a defense of aggrieved privilege, with the selling point being that Trump was the tough guy who could protect the social status quo his followers loved.

June 20, 2018

Davis Turner/Getty Images

Donald Trump keeps slaying the slain.

One of the characteristics of President Donald Trump is that he loves kicking those sprawling on the floor. Last Tuesday, South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford, a rare Trump critic among GOP lawmakers, found his political career ignominously ending with a defeat in the party’s primary. Just hours before the voting, Trump had tweeted out insults to persuade Republican voters not to vote for Sanford. 

But the end of Sanford’s political career wasn’t enough for Trump. On Tuesday, meeting with the House Republican caucus, Trump asked if Sanford was there and described him as a “nasty guy” (which reportedly provoked boos from some of the lawmakers).

On Wednesday Trump again returned to the subject of Sanford, tweeting:

In Trump’s revisionist account, his jibe at Sanford earns applause and laughter, not boos.

Sanford seems puzzled that he’s still in the president’s line of fire:

What’s the motive behind this seemingly redundant and pointless pummelling? Perhaps Trump wants to discourage any other Republican lawmaker from taking a swipe at him. Or perhaps Trump just likes to keep going after old foes, even after they are no longer a threat. 

The poet John Dryden once imagined Alexander the Great as a power-drunk, flattery-receptive ruler who loved to wallow in stories of past victories:

   Soothed with the sound, the king grew vain:

         Fought all his battles o’er again;

And thrice he routed all his foes, and thrice he slew the slain.

A seven-year-old Syrian refugee (Josph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

An essential reading list for World Refugee Day.

Some years, June 20 has passed with relatively little fanfare. This year, it comes amid the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and the Trump administration’s policy of separating child migrants from their parents. In honor of this day, here are some of the most thought-provoking articles on refugee issues on our reading lists, from both The New Republic and elsewhere.

How Separation Traumatizes Children

As a psychiatrist and psychologist point out in The Atlantic, part of the danger of Trump’s family separation policy is that this is not the first trauma these children have been exposed to:

A growing scientific literature is identifying the multitude of stressors to which migrant children from Central America are exposed, whether with or without their parents: victimization in their home countries by gangs who have turned the region into one of the most violent in the world; a perilous journey north along migration routes patrolled by the same gangs who have hounded them from their home countries; detention in frequently inhumane conditions upon their arrival in the United States; and an agonizing period of limbo while they await adjudication of their immigration cases. Each successive traumatic experience increases children’s likelihood of experiencing psychological problems.

The Horror of Australia’s Detention Centers

A 2016 article in Foreign Policy explored Australia’s attempt to funnel asylum seekers into “inhumane facilities” in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. “It took Australian immigration officials six months to establish a refugee processing system for Nauru, but it wasn’t until May 2014 that the first 13 asylum seekers were recognized as refugees and granted five-year temporary visas to settle in Nauru,” Mark Isaacs wrote. “The lives that awaited them there were bleak: there were few jobs, little economic activity, rampant discrimination, and numerous allegations of rape and assault.”

On Letting Migrants Work

The Economist has published several pieces on how countries can integrate refugees. In Uganda, refugees have been given plots of land to farm, and welcomed into the labor market. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s furnished some interesting takeaways. Allowing migrants to work might not only be more humane, but also more effective than sending aid to try to stem migrant flows, which could paradoxically increase migration if “potential migrants gain the means to pay smugglers.”

The Man Behind Trump’s Immigration Policy

The New Yorker last year explored the influence of a single White House adviser: “How Stephen Miller Single-Handedly Got the U.S. to Accept Fewer Refugees.” Incidentally, it’s also a terrifying look at how a little bureaucratic understanding can go a long way in some administrations. “The reason Stephen Miller is so dangerous?” a White House official told Jonathan Blitzer. “He’s clearly got a vision. He knows about narrative, about messaging. He’s figuring this out.”

The Climate’s Role in Refugee Crises

Climate refugees are a growing category as extreme weather events increase, possibly displacing 143 million people by 2050, according to the World Bank. NPR’s “Goats and Soda” blog explains why “climate refugees pose a number of unique challenges for international policymakers,” and what can be done about it. “The situation and scope of this problem is entirely new, and of biblical proportions,” Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, told NPR. “It demands an entirely new legal convention. The global compacts are a start, but it’s clear that they’re not enough.”

How Asylum Law Hurts Women

Although gender is the basis for violence and even murder in many places around the world, there’s not much protection for gender-based violence in asylum law. Writing recently in The New Republic, two different lawyer-journalists looked at how this has been playing out. In France, a seemingly gender-neutral refugee policy has had horrifying consequences for women, who often face sexual violence while going through the asylum process. In the U.S., Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ruled that domestic abuse would no longer be considered grounds for asylum. That’s disastrous for women seeking to escape abusers in other countries, but also impacts women in the U.S., Rafia Zarkaria argues: “All American women now live in a country with an Attorney General who doesn’t believe wife-beating has to do with gender.”

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A Homeland Security spokesman ranted at U.S. airlines for criticizing Trump’s child separation policy.

American Airlines, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines each released statements on Wednesday denouncing the president’s policy of separating migrant kids from their parents and asked the Trump administration not to use their flights to transport migrant kids. “We will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families,” Frontier said. “We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it,” American said. And United said it wants “no part” of Trump’s policy.

The Department of Homeland Security’s press secretary responded to the airlines’ statements with a Twitter thread that accused the airlines of “buckling to a false media narrative,” which “only exacerbates the problems at our border and puts more children at risk from traffickers.”

The airlines’ statements came after several flight attendants shared stories about Immigration and Customs Enforcement using commercial planes to transport migrants. “On board these particular flights were ICE agents and migrant children (approximately four to eleven years old) who had been separated from their families and were being flown to a ‘relocation’ site,” Dallas-based flight attendant Hunt Palmquist recalled in The Houston Chronicle.Since working the two flights, the images of those helpless children have burned into my psyche. The little children whose faces were full of fear, confusion, sadness and exhaustion left me somewhat traumatized as it occurred to me a few weeks later that I might as well have been a collaborator in their transport.”

Another flight attendant allegedly told Palmquist that he was lied to by an ICE agent, who said the children accompanying him were part of a soccer team. “When pressed, the agent finally admitted that they were, indeed children who were being relocated to assigned camps,” he wrote.

General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Stanley Cavell was a philosopher with style.

It’s no insult to the late Stanley Cavell, whose death at age 91 was announced on Tuesday, that he was the rare philosopher who was read as much for his prose as for his ideas. Although Cavell had all the right academic credentials -- he taught at Harvard for many years and was a distinguished advocate for the “ordinary language philosophy” of J.L. Austin -- his books were written with an eccentric, sometimes maddening, elan. Cavell’s sentences were alive with allusions in hectic smart-alecky self-mocking prose that seem closer in spirit to a Marx Brothers movie than a philosophic tome.

Cavell, as it happens, loved the Marx Brothers, as he generally did Golden Age Hollywood, particular in its screwball mode. In one of his most accessible books, Pursuit of Happiness (1981), Cavell analyzed the ditzy rom-coms of the 1930s and 1940s as “comedies of remarriage” that showed that love isn’t just a one time starburst moment but a matter of learning to live with other people over time.

Writing in 1994 in the London Review of Books, Cavell made the case for the philosophical resonance of the Marx Brothers:

Intention, or the desperate demand for interpretation, is gaudily acknowledged in such turns as Chico’s selling Groucho a tip on a horse by selling him a code book, then a master code book to explain the code book, then a guide required by the master code, then a sub-guide supplementary to the guide – a scrupulous union, or onion, of semantic and monetary exchanges and deferrals to warm the coldest contemporary theorist of signs; or as acted out in Chico’s chain of guesses when Harpo, with mounting urgency, charades his message that a woman is going to frame Groucho (both turns in A Day at the Races)

The strange echo-y effect of “union, or onion” is a characteristic Cavell touch.

Cavell once defended Ludwig Wittgenstein’s stylistic eccentricity in terms that easily be used for Cavell himself. “So some of Wittgenstein’s readers are made impatient, as though the fluctuating humility and arrogance of his prose were a matter of style, and style were a matter of pose, so these poses repudiate, not to say undermine, each other,” Cavell wrote in The Claim of Reason (1989). “To me this fluctuation reads as a continuous effort at balance, or longing for it, as to leave a tightrope; it seems an expression of that struggle of despair and hope that I can understand as a motivation to philosophical writing.”

Style, in other words, is the very grunting and groaning of the philosopher wrestling with his or her own thoughts and therefore inseparable from the philosophical act: style is the mind.

In a wonderfully lucid 1989 New Republic review of Cavell’s In Quest of the Ordinary, Richard Rorty paid tribute to Cavell’s as an oddball who had the courage of his eccentricty: “Cavell is among professors of philosophy what Harold Bloom is among the professors of English: the least defended, the gutsiest, the most vulnerable. He sticks his neck out farther than any of the rest of us. Who touches this book touches a fleshly, ambitious, anxious, self-involved, self-doubting mortal.”

Cavell’s voice, now stilled, will live on his books, which will continue to be read not just by philosophers but anyone who hungers for a human voice. In time, he might be remembered not just as the heir to Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin, but part of the American tradition of daring misfits, the line of Thoreau, Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, and Wallace Stevens.