Beware the Furies, President Trump

The three sisters, the “infernal goddesses” of ancient mythology born from the blood shed by Uranus when he was castrated by his son, were known for relentlessly hounding men. But the Furies took vengeance on wicked men who hurt women and swore false oaths.

So I took it as a compliment.

The capital has suddenly been infused with the spirit of the Furies. After many false springs and discouraging backlashes, we are finally experiencing a revolutionary assertion of women’s power that is transforming Congress.

“Kill Bill”-style, the fiery Democratic women keep coming, driven by vengeance against the wicked man in the White House with the history of hurting women and swearing false oaths.

.. Swooping toward 2020, the moment of truth for Donald Trump that is also aptly the centennial of women’s suffrage, the women are gathering force at a giddy speed.

This was not a good week to be a dude in politics.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her girl squad — fellow freshmen lawmakers Katie Hill of California, Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Jahana Hayes of Connecticut — tracked Mitch McConnell to petition him to have a vote to reopen the government. The Senate majority leader has been trying to lay doggo as Trump thrashes after pulling the rug out from under McConnell.

It was another jangly A.O.C. media stunt that irritated some of her colleagues but fired up the meme factory. She broadcast the scavenger hunt on Instagram with the hashtag Where’sMitch?

When A.O.C. tweeted that a Getty photo of the women storming the halls of Congress looked like a Spice Girls album cover, Hill tweeted back her own remix of the Britpop girl-power anthem “Wannabe”: “I’ll tell you what I want … What I really really want … 800,000 government employees to be able to pay their bills.”

.. With her taunt that the president could make his State of the Union address in his own office, Pelosi continued the strategy of denying the attention addict attention. With his cancellation of her trip to Afghanistan, Trump simply underscored that Pelosi has been to our war zones many times while Trump has only been to Iraq once after being shamed into it.

Asked if Trump was retaliating after her threat to cancel the State of the Union, Pelosi offered the perfect sly riposte: “I don’t think the president would be that petty, do you?

No, Trump Cannot Declare an ‘Emergency’ to Build His Wall

If he did, and used soldiers to build it, they would all be committing a federal crime.

President Trump on Friday said that he was considering the declaration of a “national emergency” along the border with Mexico, which he apparently believes would allow him to divert funds from the military budget to pay for a wall, and to use military personnel to build it.

While it is hard to know exactly what the president has in mind, or whether he has any conception about what it would entail, one thing is clear: Not only would such an action be illegal, but if members of the armed forces obeyed his command, they would be committing a federal crime.

Begin with the basics. From the founding onward, the American constitutional tradition has profoundly opposed the president’s use of the military to enforce domestic law. A key provision, rooted in an 1878 statute and added to the law in 1956, declares that whoever “willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force” to execute a law domestically “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years” — except when “expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.”

Another provision, grounded in a statute from 1807 and added to the law in 1981, requires the secretary of defense to “ensure that any activity (including the provision of any equipment or facility or the assignment or detail of any personnel)” must “not include or permit direct participation by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such member is otherwise authorized by law.”

In response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, Congress created an express exception to the rules, and authorized the military to play a backup role in “major public emergencies.” But in 2008 Congress and President Bush repealed this sweeping exception. Is President Trump aware of this express repudiation of the power which he is threatening to invoke?

The statute books do contain a series of carefully crafted exceptions to the general rule. Most relevantly, Congress has granted the Coast Guard broad powers to enforce the law within the domestic waters of the United States. But there is no similar provision granting the other military services a comparable power to “search, seize and arrest” along the Mexican border. Given Congress’s decision of 2008, this silence speaks louder than words. Similarly, the current military appropriations bill fails to exempt military professionals from criminal punishment for violating the law in their use of available funds.

It is, I suppose, possible to imagine a situation in which the president might take advantage of the most recent exception, enacted in 2011, which authorized the military detention of suspected terrorists associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. But despite President Trump’s unsupported claims about “terrorists” trying to cross the border, it is an unconscionable stretch to use this proviso to support using the military for operations against the desperate refugees from Central America seeking asylum in our country.

It is even less plausible for the president to suspend these restrictions under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. From the Great Depression through the Cold War, presidents systematically abused emergency powers granted them by Congress in some 470 statutes, culminating in the Watergate fiasco. In response, the first section of the 1976 act terminated all existing emergencies and created a framework of checks and balances on the president’s arbitrary will.

If President Trump declared an emergency, Section Five of the act gives the House of Representatives the right to repudiate it immediately, then pass their resolution to the Senate — which is explicitly required to conduct a floor vote within 15 days. Since President Trump’s “emergency” declaration would be a direct response to his failure to convince Congress that national security requires his wall, it is hard to believe that a majority of the Senate, if forced to vote, would accept his show of contempt for their authority.

The Supreme Court’s 1953 decision in Youngstown v. Sawyer would be critical in Congressional consideration of such a decision. In a canonical opinion by Justice Robert Jackson, the court invalidated President Truman’s attempt in 1952 to use his powers as commander in chief to nationalize steel mills in the face of labor strikes. The decision imposed fundamental constitutional limits on the president’s power to claim that a national emergency — in this case, the Korean War — allowed him to override express provisions preventing him from using those powers domestically.

I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

.. The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
.. To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.
.. But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.
That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.
The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.
.. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives:
  • free minds,
  • free markets and
  • free people.
At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
.. In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture:

  • effective deregulation,
  • historic tax reform, a
  • more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is

  • impetuous,
  • adversarial,
  • petty and
  • ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

.. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

.. On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

.. This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

.. The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

.. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

.. We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

.. There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.

Donald Trump’s Response to John McCain’s Death Reminds Us Just How Petty He Is

the enmity between the two men was long-standing and bitter. After the Helsinki summit, earlier this year, McCain called Trump’s joint press conference with Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory.” If, after all this acrimony, Trump had said something positive about McCain, it would have rung hollow.

But messing with the flag that flies above the White House was different. The flag represents the United States and the office of the Presidency, not Trump personally. After the death of a prominent U.S. politician, such as a former President or prominent senator, it is standard practice for the sitting President to issue a proclamation ordering the flag to be lowered to half-staff until the burial, which, in this case, will be next Sunday.

Whatever one thinks of McCain’s political views, his record—five and a half years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, thirty-one years in the Senate, and two Presidential bids—surely merited such an honor. As Mark Knoller, of CBS News, noted on Monday morning, Trump failed to order the proclamation. Evidently, there is no limit to his smallness.

The outcry was immediate and broad-based, and, in this instance, Trump backed down.

.. Who persuaded Trump to change course? Was there a rebellion in the West Wing? The initial reports about the reversal didn’t say. But it was clear that the last thing the White House needs right now is another public-relations disaster. Although McCain’s death knocked the saga of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea off the front pages, at least temporarily, the past week was a disaster for the White House, and a reminder that Trump’s pettiness is only exceeded by his deceitfulness. Is there anybody in the entire country who now believes anything he says about the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that Cohen helped orchestrate?

.. For habitual liars, telling untruths is “partly practice and partly habit,” William Hazlitt once wrote. “It requires an effort in them to speak truth.” Trump seldom makes the exertion.

.. Some of Trump’s defenders are complaining that the Feds, having failed to nail the President on the charge of conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election, are now “trying to Al Capone the President”—that is, get him on a technicality. Others in the Trump camp are falling back on the legal argument that a sitting President can’t be indicted, or that Hillary Clinton’s campaign also violated campaign laws. But, apart from Trump himself, virtually nobody seems to be claiming that he didn’t direct the payoffs.

.. Here’s a quick reminder of the rap sheet. Turning a blind eye to money laundering at his New Jersey casinos. Operating a bogus university that bilked middle-income seniors out of their retirement savings. Stiffing his suppliers as a matter of course. Selling condos to Russians and other rich foreigners who may well have been looking to launder hot money. Entering franchising deals with Eastern European oligarchs and other shady characters. For decades, Trump has run roughshod over laws and regulations.

To protect himself from whistle-blowers, financial cops, and plaintiffs, Trump relied on nondisclosure agreements, lax enforcement, and his reputation for uncompromising litigiousness.

John Brennan isn’t the real victim

Mr. Trump, in fact, made no secret of his illegitimate motive: In an interview published in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, he blamed Mr. Brennan for the special counsel’s investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. Revoking Mr. Brennan’s clearance is an act of petty vengeance.

.. The real victim here is not Mr. Brennan, who will get along fine without his security clearance, but the national security of the United States and its democratic norms. National security is harmed because administration officials and members of Congress benefit when they can draw upon the wisdom and experience of long-serving public servants such as Mr. Brennan. Mr. Trump has threatened eight other former officials , and even one current official, with similar treatment. Over time, that would make their advice less useful to officials who might otherwise benefit from it.

.. Democratic norms erode as the president, inventing insulting pretexts for his actions, uses his authority over access to classified information to bully and punish critics and would-be critics.

Those who may be more vulnerable than Mr. Brennan, who rely on their security clearances for their employability in the private or public sector, may indeed be intimidated into silence.

.. “I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency,” he writes. “If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken.”

In Mr. Trump’s America, every transition of power would result in the vilification, demotion and humiliation of those who served before, even civil servants who were honorably performing their duty. His conception of government denies the possibility of any motivation beyond partisan — or, in Mr. Trump’s case, personal — loyalty, at the expense of the principle that patriotic Americans can put the national interest above such considerations. It is pettiness distilled and more revealing of the president’s malformed sense of duty than that of his targets. This is the national debasement that Mr. Ryan and the rest of his party have enabled.

Why I’m Still a NeverTrumper

Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high.

And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?

.. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” said the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

.. And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

.. Or maybe you regret the failure to repeal Obamacare. But that had something to do with the grotesque insults Trump lobbed at John McCain, the man whose “nay” vote sank repeal.
.. Look at every other administration embarrassment (Scaramucci) or failure (the wall, and Mexico paying for it) or disgrace (the Charlottesville equivocation). Responsibility invariably lies with the president’s intemperance and dishonesty. That puts Republican control of Congress in play. It also risks permanently alienating a millennial generation for which the G.O.P. will forever be the party of the child-molesting sore loser and the president who endorsed him.
.. Now look at the culture of governance. Trump demands testimonials from his cabinet, servility from Republican politicians and worship from conservative media. To serve in this White House isn’t to be elevated to public service. It’s to be debased into toadyism, which probably explains the record-setting staff turnover of 34 percent
.. In place of presidential addresses, stump speeches or town halls, we have Trump’s demagogic mass rallies. In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.

Trump is normalizing all this; he is, to borrow another Moynihan phrase, “defining deviancy down.” A president who supposedly wants to put a wall between the U.S. and Latin America has imported a style of politics reminiscent of the cults of Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez.

.. Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the Fourth Estate, hostility toward high culture and other types of “elitism,” a penchant for conspiracy theories and, most dangerously, white-identity politics.

Trump vs. the First Amendment

the hallmark elements of the president’s political style:

  • ignorance,
  • stupidity,
  • pettiness, and
  • malice.

.. the FCC does not license networks or cable channels. NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, etc., do not have FCC licenses to review or revoke. The FCC licenses individual stations.

.. Bill Mitchell, the Trump sycophant whose comprehensive lack of self-respect makes Paul Begala look like Cincinnatus, went on to argue that print publications such as Vanity Fair and the Washington Post should have their licenses revoked, too

There is no such thing as a newspaper license in the United States. There is the First Amendment.

.. Gutting the First Amendment is one of the top priorities of the Democratic party, which seeks to revoke its protection of political speech — i.e., the thing it’s really there to protect — so that they can put restrictions on political activism, which restrictions they call “campaign-finance reform.”

.. They abominate the Supreme Court’s solid First Amendment decision in Citizens United, a case that involved not “money in politics” but the basic free-speech question of whether political activists should be allowed to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the days before an election. (Making a film and distributing it costs money, you see, hence “money in politics.”) They lost that one, but every Democrat in Harry Reid’s Senate — every one of them — voted to repeal the First Amendment.

.. Right-wing populists, too, are an illiberal bunch

.. They are repeating the progressives’ mistake: imagining what their guy could do with vast new antidemocratic powers while never bothering to consider that the other side’s guy is probably going to get in there one of these days and enjoy the same powers.

.. Free speech is extraordinarily unpopular on college campuses, and California has just enacted a flatly unconstitutional law that would empower the government to put people in jail for failing to use the preferred pronoun of a transgender person.