Yes, Trump Is Weak. So Is Congress.

Mr. Trump is a uniquely dysfunctional chief executive. He contributed to this latest failure of governance with some characteristic misbehavior: erratic, contradictory commitments; confusing tweets; even blowing up a negotiating session by crudely insulting vast swaths of humanity.

As Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said last week, “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.”

.. The problem Mr. Trump poses for the rest of the constitutional system is not that he is too strong and overbearing, but that he is too weak and fitful.

For Congress, such a problem might easily present an opportunity. A president unsure of what he wants could be a chance for the legislative branch to put itself in the driver’s seat.

That nothing of the sort has happened suggests that Mr. Trump is far from the whole story of contemporary Washington’s debilitation. His weakness has shed light on Congress’s weakness, and should force legislators to face some tough questions about the state of their own institution.

.. Conservatives are accustomed to blaming that on aggression by the other two branches — an overweening executive and administrative state and a hyperactive judiciary. There is surely truth to that indictment. But we should acknowledge, too, that the aggression of the other two branches has often been invited by the willful weakness of the Congress.

.. Not wishing to take responsibility for making hard choices, members of Congress (particularly when the president is of their party) have long been happy to enact vague legislation at best and to leave big decisions to the executive and judicial branches.

.. Is Congress’s purpose to

  • implement the agenda of the majority party most effectively, or is its purpose to
  • compel and enable accommodations in a divided country?

Today’s Congress does neither very well. But which failure is a bug and which is a feature?

.. Those two visions of Congress’s purpose (which the political scientist Daniel Stid labels “Wilsonian” and “Madisonian,” respectively) generally point in opposite directions when it comes to strengthening Congress,

.. The Wilsonian vision would have Congress function more like a European parliament, with stronger centralized leadership and fewer choke points and protections of minority prerogatives. It would enable the party that won a majority of seats to enact its agenda and see what voters make of it in the next election.

.. The Madisonian vision would recover the purpose of Congress in our larger constitutional system but would mean slow going, greater cacophony, less centralization and more opportunities for coalitions of strange bedfellows to form. It would have Congress serve as an arena for continuing bargaining and compromise, on the premise that greater social peace is better for the country than either party’s bright ideas.

A more parliamentary Congress has been the dream of progressive reformers for more than a century, but it is a poor fit not only for a system of divided powers but also for a polarized society. We need Congress to pursue and drive accommodations — in fact, as the political scientist Philip Wallach has recently argued, Congress is really the only institution in our system of government that could do that.

.. Too often, members in both parties seem to conceive of their work as performative rather than deliberative and use Congress as a platform to raise their profiles or build their personal brands before a larger audience, rather than letting Congress’s constitutional contours contain, reshape and channel their ambitions.

.. This is also how President Trump conceives of the presidency — and in some key respects how his predecessor did, too. It is how too many judges think of their work, and how too many journalists, professors and other professionals think of theirs. They think of institutions not as formative but as performative, not as molds that shape their character and actions but as platforms for displaying themselves and signaling their virtue.

Trump’s Hard-Line Israel Position Exports U.S. Culture War Abroad

Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, visits Israel this week, the culmination of his years of support for the country on religious grounds. But the Trump administration’s policies, while lauded by American evangelical groups, are opposed by Palestinian Christians and have been questioned by Pope Francis.

Those policies, in other words, align poorly with either the religious solidarity or foreign policy realism that supposedly animated them, but align perfectly with American identity politics.

Mr. Trump, with his penchant for indulging his nationalist impulses and disregarding foreign policy doctrine, is a perfect vessel for carrying that culture war abroad, with potentially far-reaching consequences.

.. “Israel isn’t an ‘issue’ for evangelicals in the same way that deregulation and a better tax policy are issues,” Robert Nicholson, who leads a Christian advocacy group, said in an email. “It is a matter of identity.”

.. Research by Amnon Cavari, an Israeli political scientist, found that hard-line views on Israel had spread among conservatives only recently, and largely because of partisan polarization over domestic issues. Though conventional wisdom often suggests that evangelical and Jewish groups energized conservative views on Israel, in fact it was the other way around.

.. Being tough on terrorism became a core conservative value that was expressed, in part, as support for Israel — specifically, as support for harsh Israeli policies toward the conflict. This also aligned with increasingly negative attitudes toward Muslims. And an atmosphere of us-versus-them politics equated supporting Israelis with opposing Palestinians.Though George W. Bush, then the president, encouraged both inclusion of Muslims and neutrality on Israel, polarization pulled some conservatives toward a zero-sum view of the conflict, in which maximally opposing Palestinians became a matter of identity.

.. This opened a gap between the identity politics of the Republican base and the policies of its leaders — precisely the sort of gap that Mr. Trump would exploit in his presidential primary bid. As he rose by saying what others would not, he supercharged the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s salience to identity issues among what would become his base.

Mr. Trump advocated severe restrictions on legal and illegal immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he said posed a threat. In doing so, the president aligned fear of demographic change with fear of terrorism.

There is no reason that those positions must necessarily line up with support for Israel, but Mr. Trump leveraged culture war passions to try to bring them together.

.. Mr. Trump represents the culmination of a trend that pro-Israel groups resisted for years: the loss of Jewish support. Even as Jews grew more liberal, many supported strongly pro-Israel policies. But as “pro-Israel” becomes synonymous with “conservative Republican,” Jews are drifting away. They oppose moving the embassy by almost 3-to-1.

.. Party politics started this process. In 2015, Republicans invited Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s right-wing prime minister, to address Congress in opposition to Mr. Obama’s policies on Iran. Though intended to turn American Jews and others against Mr. Obama, it had the opposite effect, polarizing them against Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Trump has taken it drastically further. He has indulged hard-core conservative instincts to a degree that, deliberately or not, attracted support from a white nationalist fringe that also tends to be hostile to Jews.

He is moving the idea of being “pro-Israel” even further right, separating it even from the Jewish support that is ostensibly critical to Israel’s long-term survival.

Revoking aid from refugees to punish Palestinian leaders, for instance, aligns with Mr. Trump’s nationalist tendencies to treat foreign populations as monolithic blocs. This, too, has its roots in American culture wars over immigration.

Facebook to Rank News Sources by Quality to Battle Misinformation

Tech giant will rely on user surveys of trustworthiness to try to preserve objectivity

Facebook Inc. plans to start ranking news sources in its feed based on user evaluations of credibility, a major step in its effort to fight false and sensationalist information that will also push the company further into a role it has long sought to avoid—content referee.
The social-media giant will begin testing the effort next week by prioritizing news reports in its news feed from publications that users have rated in Facebook surveys as trustworthy, executives said Friday. The most “broadly trusted” publications—those trusted and recognized by a large cross-section of Facebook users—would get a boost in the news feed, while those that users rate low on trust would be penalized.

.. This shift will result in news accounting for about 4% of the posts that appears in users’ feeds world-wide, down from the current 5%
.. About 45% of U.S. adults get news from Facebook
.. Mr. Zuckerberg said the change—which will be tested leading up to the 2018 U.S. midterm elections—is necessary to address the role of social media in amplifying sensationalism, misinformation and polarization. “That’s why it’s important that News Feed promotes high quality news that helps build a sense of common ground,” he wrote in his post... He compared the approach with Facebook’s reliance on third-party fact-checkers to determine whether or not an article is completely fabricated.

.. On Friday, some publishers and media observers expressed concern about the ranking change, which, like other Facebook news-feed changes may have a significant and unpredictable impact on news publishers that rely on the site for traffic, including the Journal.

.. Facebook’s trust score would boost the news-feed presence of well-known and widely trusted publications even if users disagree with the content or aren’t avid readers.

Trump’s ‘Sh**hole’ Comments Double Down on Identity Politics

Once again expressing hostility toward entire groups of immigrants, he further damages American political culture.

.. The president of the United States should not, by word or deed, communicate that he is hostile to or disdainful of entire classes of the American population. It doesn’t matter if such divisive rhetoric helps him win elections, nor if the reaction of his opponents is often overblown. As president, his obligation remains the same: Make your case without demonizing whole groups of people.

This shouldn’t be difficult for conservatives to understand. It’s an argument they’ve been making against Democrats for the better part of a decade. It’s the argument against identity politics. 

Virtually every engaged conservative knows the term “bitter clinger.” When Barack Obama spoke at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 and offered his amateur sociological assessment that some Americans become “bitter” about social change and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” conservatives didn’t hear dispassionate analysis. They heard contempt.

.. Among the terrible effects of negative polarization is the widespread perception — often created by presidents and presidential candidates themselves — that a president governs for the benefit of his constituents alone.

.. Indeed, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment and her declaration that Republicans were her “enemies,” millions of conservatives were motivated to go to the polls. (Remember “charge the cockpit or die”?)

.. First, if you’re spending your time defending the notion that some countries are truly bad places to live, you’re missing the point entirely. Of course some countries are worse places to live than others. But Trump wasn’t talking about which countries he’d most like to visit or retire to. He was talking about which countries’ immigrants should be most and least welcomed by the United States.

.. Second, these comments must be understood in the context of Trump’s relatively short history as the country’s most visible political figure. From the opening moments of his presidential campaign, Trump has made sweeping, negative remarks about immigrants from third-world nations.

.. Even when he qualifies those remarks (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”) the qualification is weak.

.. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out this morning, the president’s businesses have been credibly accused of racial discrimination, he claimed that an American judge couldn’t do his job fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, he delayed condemning David Duke as long as he possibly could, and after the dreadful alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, he went out of his way to declare that there were “very fine people” on both sides. One doesn’t even have to delve too deeply into Trump’s alleged comparison of Norway with the “sh**holes” of Africa to understand why a reasonable observer would believe that he has problems with entire classes of Americans, immigrants, and citizens of other nations.

.. But it’s just as ridiculous for conservatives to pretend that the outrage over Trump’s comments truly centers around his assessment of Haiti and Africa when it clearly centers around his assessment of Haitians and Africans.

At this point I simply can’t see how a conservative could look a concerned third-world immigrant (or descendent of a third-world immigrant) in the eye and assert that this president judges them fairly and without bias. The intellectual and rhetorical gymnastics necessary to justify not just Trump’s alleged comments yesterday but his entire history and record of transparent hostility to certain immigrants are getting embarrassing to watch. Some of his comments may “work” politically — divisive comments often do — but that doesn’t make them any less damaging to American political culture as a whole.