Friday, January 27, 2017

"This is a broken promise. It ain't immediate anymore."

Well, we're officially one very long week into the 45th presidency of the United States. Civil society remains riled, international institutions remain stoic but preparing to adapt, and economists remain, as usual, cautiously confident in their models and ultimately rather confused.

Anyone living above-ground knows that way more has gone down in the Oval Office this week than what's mentioned here. However, to avoid making my 50 loyal readers burn their eyeballs out from too much screening, we're going to stay focused on the concrete "kepts" and "brokens," rather than track the weekly progress of every item on the president's list of campaign promises.

For those of you interested in taking action on the pending promises -- e.g. DAPL, reproductive rights, public education -- scroll to the bottom for ways to pitch in right now!

33. On the first day in office, pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama’s signature trade deal linking countries around the Pacific Rim.
Kept. One of the least surprising of this week's rash of executive actions was President Trump's decision not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One of the pillars of Bernie Sanders' campaign was the "disastrous" potential impact of this new free trade agreement on both American and foreign workers, and by the end of the campaign, Hillary was on board as well.
43. Immediately institute a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the workforce through attrition. There would be exceptions for those in the military, public safety and public health.
Kept. On Monday, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum to implement a 90-day hiring freeze in the federal government. However, its impact will be neither immediate nor comprehensive. It exempts military personnel, as well as all jobs rather vaguely deemed "necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities." To put that in perspective, as of 2014, 68.4% of the 2.1 million people employed by the government work for defense- and security-related agencies. Nearly 1.5 million of them are uniformed military personnel.
71. On the first day in office, terminate President Obama’s executive orders related to immigration.
Broken, much to the dismay of Mark Krikorian, strict border control advocate and head of the Center for Immigration Studies. President Trump has already taken a number of executive actions during his first week in office -- including two designed to facilitate the construction of his famous border wall -- but none of them addressed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA, better-known as the Dream Act). 
“This is a broken promise,” Krikorian said. “It ain’t immediate anymore.”
Note: While the issuance of President Trump's orders to build the wall (Promise #65) and plans to make Mexico pay for it (Promise #66) make it a tempting topic for this week's installment, technically these promises fall into the On a (Long-Term) Deadline category. That is to say, it ain't over til the 2020 inaugural celebrity guest sings.
75. Immediately deport undocumented immigrants who have committed a crime, are a member of a gang or pose a security threat. Trump estimates this is 2 million to 3 million people, although experts say the number is much lower.
Broken, at least for the moment, but likely going forward as well. This is more a about feasibility than the president's innate ability to put such measures in place. As Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, laid out for Rachel Maddow:
"How is he going to find them? The criminals are not just lined up in some database. He's going to have to comb through immigrant communities. How is he going to do that? Through dragnet searches, through unlawful searches and seizures." 
(Great interview. Tremendous. Highly recommended by very smart people.)
209. “Lock her up.” Instruct the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s “situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.” Trump had said the investigation would include Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and the ways in which the Clinton Foundation raised money.
Broken. In his first major interview after the election, then-President-Elect Trump said to the New York Times about prosecuting Hillary Clinton, "Well, there was a report that somebody said that I'm not enthused about it. Look, I want to move forward, I don’t want to move back. And I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t." Predictably enough, many of Trump's most fervent supporters during the campaign are less than thrilled.
234.  Stop the surge of violent crime and homicides in Chicago within “one week.”
What can we do this week?
  • Follow and share the findings of blogs like this one -- and its much better-funded counterparts at the Washington Post and Politifact.
  • Get involved with the Natural Resources Defense Council. It's a wide-ranging organization, so use their "filter by..." tool to focus on the environmental issues that matter to you.
  • Continue to support women's health via organizations like Planned Parenthood and the International Women's Health Coalition, which provide access to cancer screenings, family planning, mental health resources, relationship counseling, and more for men and women alike.
  • Remember: the only thing that's the end of the world is the end of the world.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"So help me God."

Unsurprisingly, watching the inauguration from a friend's mercifully-heated flat in Paris does little to dull my apprehension of the incoming administration. Let me be clear: I hope that Donald J. Trump is a good president, because it is in my (and all of our) interest to have a competent and fair-minded leader of the free world.

Given my desire to one day work in public service, maybe I should stop there. Today, I tie up the loose ends of those Trump campaign promises that came due even before his swearing in, and that is all.

16. “I’m going to be so presidential, you’re going to be so bored.” He might also quit tweeting.

Broken. I'm just going to leave these here... a small sampling from the past week.

203. “Drain the swamp” in Washington and “cut our ties with the failed politicians of the past.”
263. “It’s time to reject the political and media elite that’s bled our country dry.”
Broken. This theme has followed us from the Republican primaries all the way through Trump's 9.5-minute inaugural speech. Much of it was effectively target practice directed at the swamp inhabitants with whom he must now work. Given such fiery anti-Washington rhetoric, I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that we have yet to see the other end of such career politicians as Mitch McConnell (Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky's longest-serving senator, who was elected to Congress in 1984 and began his political career as a Hill intern in 1964), Paul Ryan (Speaker of the House, currently serving his ninth term as a member of Congress, and the Vice Presidential running mate of Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Election), and Elaine Chao (Trump's nominee for Transportation Secretary... and Mitch McConnell's second wife).
271. “I will take care of women, and I have great respect for women. I do cherish women, and I will take care of women.”
Broken. Claire Cohen at The Telegraph has done a remarkable job compiling the comprehensive Donald Trump Sexism Tracker, which includes such inspiring, feminism-positive gems as: 
"You know, it doesn't really matter what [they] write as long as you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass." 
"You have to treat 'em like s----." (timeless advice on managing one's relationships with women) 
"I have days where, if I come home -- and I don't want to sound too much like a chauvinist -- but when I come home and dinner's not ready, I go through the roof."
275. “The whole psyche [of the United States] will change” on Election Day.
Kept. Conversations following the election often converged on the Five Stages of Grief. I even spoke with one clinical psychiatrist who said the discussion extended far past my group of progressively-minded (i.e. grieving) friends into the world of academic psychology. From a fascinating piece in the Boston Globe:
"In the wake of a historically volatile election campaign, there is ample evidence that the mental health of Americans of all political persuasions has been seriously challenged. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other hot line services have reported huge surges in calls for help. Surveys have shown disproportionate numbers of people reporting emotional distress over the election, with one poll indicating that 90 percent of those saying they’ve been stressed believe this election was more demoralizing than any other they’d experienced."
276. “Whether you vote for me or not, I’m with you. I will never ever let you down.”
Broken, unless his Twitter-labeling of Meryl Streep as a "Hilary flunky who lost big" and "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood" was an ironic form of solidarity. Now, I don't consider one celebrity insulting another a valid argument in itself, so let's talk facts. Trump has already let down the retirement-age voters (Democrat and Republican alike) whose Medicare is now at risk; he has let down internationalists and European allies who see NATO as the primary reason for 70 years of peace in continental Europe; he has let down climate scientists (and human beings whose quality of life depends on climate stability) by removing all traces of climate change from the White House website, instead putting up a promise to drill lots of oil. Also, LEAVE MERYL ALONE.
277. “I will give you everything.”
Broken. "Everything" is, by its nature, a rival good. If Rex from Texas has everything, including certain non-transferable powers, exclusive relationships, and financial resources, then I cannot possibly have those things. Over-promise and under-deliver, am I right?
Donald J. Trump is now President of the United States, and this blog is going nowhere. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

"I refuse to be politically correct."

It's been a big couple of weeks.

Jared Kushner was revealed to be a deeply-ensnared friend of Chinese tycoons... and then offered a high-ranking White House staff position by his father-in-law, the PEOTUS. Tracee Ellis Ross was the first black woman since 1983 to win the Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Corey Booker became the first ever sitting U.S. senator to testify against one of his colleagues (Senator Jeff Sessions, the President-elect's nominee for Attorney General). I pared down my life to two suitcases and a computer bag, moved back to Paris, and am writing in the hours before work from my friend's pull-out couch in the Marais.

Obviously, it is Kushner, Ross, and Booker's fault that I'm a week late on posting.

This is going to be a long one. Inauguration is but a week away, and so many of Trump's promises have already been broken, kept, or simply turned against themselves by his tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear leadership style.

17. "I refuse to be politically correct."
Kept. But it's not simply political correctness that the PEOTUS rejects. It's decency. It's sympathy, civility, and so many other of the nuanced human behaviors that make possible things like problem-solving and win-win negotiation. (And here I thought Trump liked winning.)
19. “Be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Broken. Despite a letter from Dr. Harold Bornstein extolling the incoming president's health in undeniably Trump-esque language -- laboratory results that were "astonishingly excellent," "extraordinary" physical strength and stamina, "excellent" cardiovascular status -- his ability to keep up with outdoorsmen like John Quincy Adams and Teddy Roosevelt, or with known "exercisers-in-chief" like Gerald Ford, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, is highly questionable.
25. “I don’t settle cases. I don’t do it.”
267. Reopen Trump University.
Broken. In November, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle a series of fraud suits by former students of the now-defunct Trump University. "I settled the Trump University lawsuit for a small fraction of the potential award because as President I have to focus on our country," Trump tweeted shortly thereafter. Right.
87. Expand the number of H-1B visas for highly skilled workers so that more of the “talented people” who graduate from Ivy League institutions can stay in the United States and work in Silicon Valley.
88. Get rid of the H-1B visa program because it’s “very, very bad” for American workers.
Self-contradicting. Setting aside the gross implication that the only highly skilled foreign national worth keeping around is one who knows Python, these pledges remain impossibly opposed, which will lead to a major public opinion blow from the constituency he eventually lets down. These promises also play into Trump's argument that an "influx of foreign workers" is to blame for wage stagnation in low skill jobs and the disintegration of the American middle class. As discussed two weeks ago, there are far more long-standing technological reasons for these shifts, and they won't be reversed by simple economic nationalism.
178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183. See below.
194. Ensure the country has “absolutely crystal clear and clean water” and “beautiful, immaculate air.”
Self-contradicting, given Trump's promises to:
178. Gut, if not eliminate, the "disgrace" that is the EPA.
179. Rescind all environmental executive actions signed by Obama.
180. Eliminate “intrusive” regulations, along with “any regulation that is outdated, unnecessary, bad for workers, or contrary to the national interest.” Eliminate duplication in regulations, deferring to local officials and residents. Remove the “draconian barriers” to allow energy infrastructure projects and development to proceed.
181. Eliminate the Clean Water Rule that defines the "waters of the United States" and gives added protection to tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters.
182. Scrap the Clean Power Plan, which reduces the amount of carbon pollution from power plants. Trump says this could save the country $7.2 billion per year.
183. Oppose a carbon tax on fossil fuels use that could be used to reverse damage to the environment caused by the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
265. Sue the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct or assault. “All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”
266. Sue the New York Times for publishing accusations from women who say Trump groped them.
Broken. Granted, perhaps the President-elect will deign to focus on such matters of international importance as suing a respected newspaper for publishing a story verified by multiple sources once he's through the stress of lining up Inauguration Day musical acts. However, it doesn't look like these promises will make it past the podium; in an hours-long interview at the New York Times following the election, Trump even said of his evolving attitude towards libel laws, "I think you'll be happy. I think you'll be happy. Actually, somebody said to me on that, they said, 'You know, it's a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.' I said, 'You know, you're right, I never thought about that.' So, I, I think you'll be okay. I think you're going to be fine."
That's all for now, folks. The next time you hear from me, Donald John Trump will be President of the United States.

Good night, and good luck.

I still remember waking up on November 9th. I remember cleaning up the bottle of wine and bag of popcorn left in the living room from the ...