Anadolu Agency/Getty

Enrique Peña Nieto screwed up.

The Peña Nieto-Trump meeting on Wednesday was widely interpreted as a Hail Mary for both politicians, who are deeply unpopular in their home countries. We’ll never have an unadulterated sample to judge the effect Trump’s jaunt to Mexico had on his campaign—his alt-right jamboree on Wednesday evening took care of that. In any case, the jury is still out for Trump’s (listless) performance.

The same can not be said for Peña Nieto’s. The Mexican president was given failing grades before he had even finished speaking—once it became clear that the Mexico trip was not some elaborate trap, most reacted with horror. TV anchor Carlos Loret de Mola tweeted that “the humiliation is now complete.” Former president Vincente Fox said that Trump “fooled” Peña Nieto. Jorge Ramos wrote that the Mexican president was “not ready” for Trump. And Slate’s Jim Newell described Peña Nieto as “a not-too-bright president [who] got his bluff called.”

Some have argued that Peña Nieto’s ploy was more clever than it appeared: That he was using Trump to distract the country from his own massive unpopularity and the wave of scandals (the missing students and the killing of protestors by police are the most important, but Peña Nieto is also a gaffe machine). But that would make inviting Trump to Mexico seem like starting a massive forest fire to distract from the several other massive forest fires that are currently engulfing you.

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.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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.

Jim Watson/Getty

Rex Tillerson shows that Democrats need to stop putting faith in the GOP.

To block Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, Democrats need the help of at least three Republicans. This has led Democrats to place their faith in a handful of hawkish Republicans—most notably John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but also Marco Rubio and Rand Paul—who have voiced concern at Trump’s plan to have cozier relations with Russia.

Democrats began sounding the alarm when Trump nominated Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil who was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013, to be secretary of state. By late December, it looked as though McCain and Graham, with the help of one other senator, could submarine Tillerson’s nomination.

But on Sunday, McCain and Graham folded, releasing a joint statement that said, “Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests. The views that Mr. Tillerson has expressed, both privately and publicly during the confirmation process, give us confidence that he will be a champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world.” Rubio folded on Monday, reportedly after being pressured by Texan oil donors. With support from McCain, Graham, and Rubio, Tillerson will be confirmed.

This was always a marriage of convenience for all parties. Democrats could say that they had bipartisan support in opposition to a cabinet appointment, Graham and McCain could push their hawkish foreign policy, and Little Marco could make a show of being independent, which may prove useful when he runs for president again, which he certainly will.

But it should also be a lesson for Democrats and everyone else to stop putting their faith in the GOP. Whatever resistance there is to Trump will come from outside the Republican Party.

Getty

Trump’s EPA is going to be a disaster for science and the environment.

For all the talk about Trump’s populism, his cabinet picks and many of his own proposals, particularly on taxes and regulations, are in line with the ideology of the radical right. Trump’s domestic agenda is one that dramatically favors the ultra-rich at the expense of nearly everyone else, except perhaps coal workers.

Axios Presented by Bank of America has a first look at Trump’s plan to gut the EPA and it is unsurprisingly disturbing if you happen to care about things like scientific research and clean air and water. The Trump administration plans on cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from the EPA’s budget. It plans to stop enforcing Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations for new and existing coal and natural gas power plants, fuel economy standards, sections of the Clean Water Act, and plans to clean the Chesapeake Bay. It will also cease to fund scientific research and challenge federal and state permit decisions.

Given Trump’s plan to blow up the Paris climate accords and a congressional plan to give away millions of acres of public lands, Trump’s administration is on track to be even worse than George W. Bush’s when it comes to the environment. What’s perhaps most notable, given Trump’s populism, is that environmental regulation is still widely popular.

Jim Watson/Getty

Talking about Trump, Philip Roth notes that at least Charles Lindbergh had an ethos.

Many have been curious about Roth’s opinion on Trump because the famed novelist is the author of The Plot Against America, an alternative history published in 2004 imagining what would happen if a racist demagogue won the presidency with the slogan “America First.” Thanks to an interview in The New Yorker, we now know that Roth thinks that the real-world victory of Donald Trump is actually stranger than Roth’s own imaginings. “Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927,” Roth notes. “He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump’s American forebear is Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man, the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called The Art of the Scam. ”

Roth also notes that neither Richard Nixon nor George W. Bush was as “humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Trump’s health care plan would repeat the failures of welfare reform.

Via Kellyanne Conway, the Trump administration has announced that it intends to convert Medicaid to block grants, The New York Times reports.

Ms. Conway, speaking on the NBC program Sunday Today, said that with a block grant, “you really cut out the fraud, waste and abuse, and you get the help directly” to intended beneficiaries.

This is code for cuts to Medicaid. Conway did not clarify if states would be required to cover people with pre-existing conditions, or if they’d be required to cover any specific health care needs at all. Given her concern about “waste,” it seems like the answer is “probably not.” We also know that block grants typically correlate to reduced spending. The Democrats—specifically, Bill Clinton—already provided us an example: welfare reform.

Clinton’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) distributed assistance to states in the form of block grants. States had to adhere to certain programmatic guidelines, but they enjoyed significant freedom to disperse the funds as they pleased. The result? TANF severely cut the number of families receiving federal assistance. As Ryan LaRochelle noted at The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, TANF funding has dropped by 32 percent since it was implemented in 1996. “Or to put it differently, before the federal government converted AFDC into the TANF block grant, 68 out of 100 poor families received cash assistance. By 2014, only 23 out of 100 poor families did,” he wrote.

And it wasn’t because TANF had lifted those families out of poverty. Deep poverty actually increased after TANF. According to a 2015 analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “the number of children in deep poverty rose from 1.5 million to 2.2 million” in the first decade of TANF’s life, and the increase is “directly attributable” to TANF’s erosion of the welfare state. Block grants, in other words, provided the federal government a way to cut spending, and allowed states to further reduce benefits available to low-income families.

The Trump administration is now poised to repeat these mistakes, and poor and sick Americans will bear the cost of their austerity obsession.

Bloomberg/Getty

Trump’s aides are going to have a tough four years.

There’s something almost comforting in reading about them privately griping about Trump’s penchant for making things worse, for his total inability to deal with slights (real or perceived) in an adult fashion, and for his all-consuming and Nixonian resentment. These stories were a hallmark of a simpler time—the 2016 campaign—when two or three would be published a month.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a long and well-sourced piece in which people close to Trump express their displeasure about the first few days of his administration.

The lack of discipline troubled even senior members of Mr. Trump’s circle, some of whom had urged him not to indulge his simmering resentment at what he saw as unfair news coverage. Instead, Mr. Trump chose to listen to other aides who shared his outrage and desire to punch back. By the end of the weekend, he and his team were scrambling to get back on script.

It’s abundantly clear that Trump has no intention of getting out of “campaign mode” anytime soon or of honoring the conventions of the presidency. Trump lying repeatedly in front of the CIA’s vaunted Wall of Stars, and Sean Spicer getting all hot and bothered about accurate media coverage, are both damaging to the institution of the presidency—but damaging institutions is what Trump is all about. Same goes for punching back (remember Khizr Khan?). The 2016 election still hasn’t really ended.

One reason why Trump is still in campaign mode is that he can’t get over the campaign itself. Attacks on his legitimacy affect him profoundly, and seem to result in unforced errors from him and his staff. Every time Trump is reminded of the fact that he did not win the popular vote, is not popular, had a relatively small inaugural crowd, and/or won the election with the help of a foreign power, he flies off the handle. For Democrats, attacking Trump’s legitimacy should be the tip of the spear, causing him to discredit himself while they (hopefully) build a sustainable political infrastructure.

January 22, 2017

Katie King

At least we made Donald Trump mad.

The last time I attended a protest of any kind was in the dreary spring of 2003, when our professor of European history dismissed class early so we could stand out on the great lawn of our small liberal arts college and listen to a series of people speak out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It was the beginning of the 21st century, and yet the style of liberal protest had not evolved much from its predecessors in the 1960s; between speakers, an old hippie played Dylan tunes on an acoustic guitar. We were in the New England boonies, protesting to no one but ourselves and an overcast sky. I left the proceedings early, not with a sense of uplift and solidarity, but a twinge of embarrassment. Protests, I decided, were not for me.

I still am skeptical of the value of protests. The big question that hangs over the massive marches that occurred this weekend in Washington, D.C., and around the world is whether they will translate into something more—whether they will result in political action that impedes and maybe even thwarts the onslaught of the Donald Trump era, or are remembered as a monumental gesture of impotence. But as I marched across the Mall with my wife and our two-year-old daughter, I knew, with absolute certainty, that we were having an impact on one person in particular: that he was watching, that he was counting every body with mounting rage, that it mattered to him that I was there, along with hundreds of thousands of other people. I imagined him like the Grinch in his mountain lair, irritated by all the happy Whos he can hear singing down in Whoville; or, late at night in the White House, his face lit by the blue glow of his phone, like Saturn in his gloom.

During the march, politics was a simple thing, expressed simply, on a hilarious sign or in a conversation with a stranger who was smiling as hard as you were. It was right against wrong, the people against a tyrant. The solidarity was palpable, in the roars that would periodically sweep over the crowd like a wave, which were then disseminated by social media, perhaps even finding a tinny echo in the president’s own Twitter timeline. For a moment, our voices were being heard.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

What Mike Allen doesn’t understand about language.

In Sunday’s Axios Presented by Bank of America newsletter, Mike Allen just asks this question about Saturday’s historic Women’s March in Washington, D.C.

Just asking: Did anyone notice the irony of the crude, discriminating language and signs used by some to lambaste a president they condemn as crude and discriminating?

Let us set aside the notion, entertained by Allen, that he might be the only human being on Earth to have identified a particular irony. We can only wonder what discriminatory language Allen is referring to. Was it anti-male? Anti-white? Anti-Allen’s newsletter sponsor?

I attended the march, and what I saw were a lot clever, angry, funny, and adorable signs. Some were crude by conventional definition—“pussy” and “bitch” and “tits” being the most popular words that likely made Allen squirm. But it’s worth remembering why those words have become so common with the Trump resistance:

I did try and fuck her. She was married. ... And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look....

I’ve gotta use some tic tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

At the risk of explaining the obvious, the context of words matters as much as the words themselves. When Trump used this crude language, he did so to disrespect women. When women use the same language in protesting Trump, they are appropriating it—simultaneously depriving the words of their discriminatory offense and weaponizing them against the discriminator. This has been a familiar tactic of marginalized groups for centuries, if not since the beginning of language itself. I won’t quote other examples here because, as a straight white man, I am not entitled to use such words. Doing so would be discriminatory.

Does Mike Allen understand that? Just asking.

January 21, 2017

Getty Images

This dispatch about Trump’s sad, pathetic CIA visit proves we are entering the golden age of White House pool reports.

America’s brand spanking new President Donald Trump on Saturday visited the CIA headquarters, where he gave a speech that evinced no insecurities whatsoever. Here’s the unedited pool report from S.V. Dáte, a senior political correspondent for The Huffington Post:

The motorcade loaded up and is en route back to the White House at 1540. POTUS visibted with officials at the CIA headquarters and then delivered remarks for about 15 minutes. Transcript to follow, but highlights:

-- POTUS explained why CIA was his first visit: because the dishonest media has made it seem like he was having a feud with the intelligence community

-- He said the IC has not been utilized properly in recent years to help win wars

-- He boasted that “probably everybody in this room voted for me ... because we’re all on the same wavelength.”

-- ISIS is evil and must be eradicated off the face of the earth.

-- He is very smart, and again pointed to his uncle the MIT professor. “Trust me, I’m like a smart person.”

-- Said that after meeting Mike Pompeo, he wasn’t interested in meeting anyone else for the CIA job.

-- He claimed the media are lying about size of the inauguration crowd -- he believes it was about 1-1.5 million people, not 250,000.

-- critized yesterday’s mistaken pool report about the bust of MLK as further proof of the dishonest media.

The speech was attended by about 400 CIA employees in the lobby of its building in Langley, Virginia.