How could things get worse for Trump?

Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post:

President Trump is flailing like a man who fears he’s about to go under, and he hasn’t even been in office a full month. His instinct is to flee to the warmth and comfort of his political base — but he will learn that while presidents can run, they can’t hide.

Trump’s administration faces two acute, interlocking crises: serious questions about his campaign’s contacts with official and unofficial representatives of the Russian government, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe made concerted efforts to help Trump win the election; and appalling levels of dysfunction in the White House that make self-inflicted wounds the rule rather than the exception.

The president’s response has been to rant on Twitter and schedule a campaign-style rally Saturday in Florida — both of which may boost Trump’s morale but will do nothing to make his problems go away.

It is unclear whether Trump is trying to fool the nation or fool himself. Witness one of the angry tweets he sent out Thursday morning: “The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story — RUSSIA. Fake news!”

Let me take a moment to unpack the misinterpretations, distortions and contradictions jammed into those two sentences.

“The Democrats had to come up with a story” refers to Trump’s claim that the Russia allegations are nothing more than a tantrum by Democrats upset that Hillary Clinton did not win as they had expected. That is ridiculous. The Democratic Party is focused on rebuilding at the grass-roots level and finding new leadership. Democrats I’ve spoken to have as much criticism as praise for Clinton and the campaign she ran.

Trump’s phrase “they lost the election, and so badly” ignores the facts. Clinton did comfortably win the popular vote, after all. And Trump’s electoral margin was historically quite modest.

The part about how Democrats “made up a story — RUSSIA” is absurd. It was U.S. intelligence agencies, not the Democratic Party or the Clinton campaign, that made the finding that Russia meddled in our election with the aim of boosting Trump’s prospects. If anything, the chief Democrat at the time — President Barack Obama — reacted too mildly.

And the tweet ends with what has become Trump’s favorite way to dismiss anything he’d rather not hear: “Fake news!” But why would his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, step down over inauthentic news reports? In other tweets Thursday morning, Trump attacked “low-life leakers” in the intelligence community — thus essentially confirming that leaked information about the Russia connection is genuine, not “fake.” Not even a president can have it both ways.

More here.

President Trump, White House Apprentice

Via New York Times Editorial Board:

It’s with a whiff of desperation that President Trump insists these days that he’s the chief executive Washington needs, the decisive dealmaker who, as he said during the campaign, “alone can fix it.” What America has seen so far is an inept White House led by a celebrity apprentice.

This president did not inherit “a mess” from Barack Obama, as he likes to say, but a nation recovered from recession and with strong alliances abroad. Mr. Trump is well on his way to creating a mess of his own, weakening national security and even risking the delivery of basic government services. Most of the top thousand jobs in the administration remain vacant. Career public servants are clashing with inexperienced “beachhead” teams appointed by the White House to run federal agencies until permanent staff members arrive.

Mr. Trump lost his national security adviser this week in a scandal involving ties to Russian intelligence. Robert Harward, a retired vice admiral, refused the job on Thursday, rattled by a dysfunctional National Security Council and a president who has alienated Mexico, Australia and even the British royal family, while cozying up to Moscow.

When Mr. Trump’s assistants can keep the edge of panic out of their voices, they insist that Mr. Trump has gotten more done in the early going than most presidents. And Mr. Trump is so adept at creating smoke that Americans might be forgiven for thinking that’s true. But at this point in the Obama presidency, which did inherit a mess, Congress had passed laws aimed at dragging the economy back from the brink of depression while committing $800 billion in Recovery Act spending to projects ranging from housing to roads to advanced energy technologies.

* * *

“Everything he rolls out is done so badly,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, marveled recently. “They’re just releasing comments, tweets and policies willy-nilly.”

If there is any upside here, it is that the administration’s ineptitude has so far spared the nation from a wholesale dismantling of major laws, including the Affordable Care Act, though he may yet kill the law through malign neglect. In the meantime, however, as Mr. Harward’s retreat on Thursday suggests, the chaos carries other risks. A Navy SEAL turned corporate executive, Mr. Harward cited family and financial considerations for refusing the national security job, but privately he was reported to be worried about the effect of a mercurial president on national security decision making. As Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, said this week: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon, because we’re a nation at war.”

More here.

What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times:

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

More here.

The Trump brand was built on winning. So what happens when it starts to lose?

Christine Emba, writing in The Washington Post:

The White House is perhaps the best imaginable venue for product placement. But despite the fact that it now commands a presidential seal, the Trump brand seems less attractive than ever.

Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and even discount retailers such as Kmart are dropping daughter Ivanka’s fashion line. Companies such as Uber face backlash for merely giving the impression of being pro-Trump. Professional athletes, those traditional arbiters of cool, are turning their backs: So far, six of the New England Patriots have declined to meet the president, and beloved Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry mockingly described President Trump as an asset — “if you remove the ‘et.’ ”

The “brash business mogul” brand just hasn’t translated well from the campaign trail to leadership of the country. In fact, the move to D.C. seems to have deflated it completely.

Overexposure hasn’t helped. Even under the harsh lights of the campaign, Trump operated under, if not a veil of mystery, at least a level of remove. Watchers certainly saw enough of him to stick in their minds, but the barrage only became unrelenting late in the game.

Today, however, we’re seeing far more of Trump than we would like — and it’s rarely a flattering view. The constant, unnecessary tweets! The manifold White House leaks! The confoundingly public bathrobe discussions! The tweets again!

It’s one thing for a provocateur to make an effort to stay in the public eye: Think of Madonna’s ever-changing looks. But at a certain point — perhaps after the presidency has been achieved, or your 13th studio album — it ceases to impress. Remember when a negative Trump tweet had the power to make a company’s stock drop? His latest swing at Nordstrom did the opposite . Over time consumers have become numb to Trumpisms, or worse, they’ve begun to find them grating.

But there’s another problem more damaging than overexposure: The narrative beneath the Trump brand is crumbling.

A brand is a promise to a customer. On the campaign trail, and throughout his career, Trump built his brand on getting things done that no one else could. Using the element of surprise. Making the best deals. Winning, first and foremost. Improbably, the election bore this story out. But what happens when a brand built on winning starts to lose?

Trump’s first major gambit was his executive order on immigration, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s swift ruling against it was an undeniable, and justified, loss. The bluster and bravado of his all-caps response — “SEE YOU IN COURT” — didn’t make that failure any less apparent (in no small part because, well, we did just see him in court, didn’t we?).

While every new administration experiences setbacks, Trump’s unpreparedness and lack of organization clearly contributed to this early defeat and others that have come with it: a lackluster inauguration whose underattendance was only highlighted by flagrant falsehoods about crowd size, a botched raid in Yemen, the resignation of a national security adviser over improper contacts with Russia. These fast-mounting failures set an ominous tone. It’s hard to trust the brand going forward.

But all is not lost. Marketing experts and corporate strategists would soothingly point out that setbacks aren’t necessarily the end of the story. A moment of crisis is an excellent opportunity to pivot — try a brand refresh, if you will. It worked for Burberry in the late ’90s. Why not Trump today?

More here.

Trump’s two-year presidency

Kathleen Parker, writing in the Washington Post:

Good news: In two years, we’ll have a new president. Bad news: If we make it that long.

My “good” prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people’s rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

Once ensconced, it would take a Democratic majority approximately 30 seconds to begin impeachment proceedings selecting from an accumulating pile of lies, overreach and just plain sloppiness. That is, assuming Trump hasn’t already been shown the exit.

Or that he hasn’t declared martial law (all those anarchists, you know) and effectively silenced dissent. We’re already well on our way to the latter via Trump’s incessant attacks on the media — “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth” — and press secretary Sean Spicer’s rabid-chihuahua, daily press briefings. (Note to Sean: Whatever he’s promised you, it’s not worth becoming Melissa McCarthy’s punching bag. But really, don’t stop.)

With luck, and Cabinet-level courage that is not much in evidence, there’s a chance we won’t have to wait two long years, during which, let’s face it, anything could happen. In anticipation of circumstances warranting a speedier presidential replacement, wiser minds added Section 4 to the 25th Amendment, which removes the president if a majority of the Cabinet and the vice president think it necessary, i.e., if the president is injured or falls too ill to serve. Or, by extension, by being so incompetent — or not-quite-right — that he or she poses a threat to the nation and must be removed immediately and replaced by the vice president.

Aren’t we there, yet?

Thus far, Trump and his henchmen have conducted a full frontal assault on civil liberties, open government and religious freedom, as well as instigating or condoning a cascade of ethics violations ranging from the serious (business conflicts of interest) to the absurd (attacking a department store for dropping his daughter’s fashion line). And, no, it’s not just a father defending his daughter. It’s the president of the United States bullying a particular business and, more generally, making a public case against free enterprise.

To an objective observer, it would seem impossible to defend the perilous absurdities emanating from the White House and from at least one executive agency, the Agriculture Department, which recently scrubbed animal abuse reports from its website, leaving puppies, kittens, horses and others to fend for themselves.

In a hopeful note, a few Republicans are speaking out, but the list is short.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz recently got a taste of what’s ahead for Republican incumbents. Facing an unruly crowd at a town hall meeting in Utah, the House Oversight Committee chairman was booed nearly every time he mentioned Trump. Even if many in the crowd were members of opposition groups, the evening provided a glimpse of the next two years. From 2010’s tea party to 2018’s resistance, the pendulum barely had time to pause before beginning its leftward trek.

Much more here.

White House rattled by McCarthy’s spoof of Spicer

Via Politico:

As the press secretary for a president who’s obsessed with how things play on cable TV, Sean Spicer’s real audience during his daily televised press briefings has always been an audience of one.

And the devastating “Saturday Night Live” caricature of Spicer that aired over the weekend — in which a belligerent Spicer was spoofed by a gum-chomping, super soaker-wielding Melissa McCarthy in drag — did not go over well internally at a White House in which looks matter.

More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer’s portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president’s eyes, according to sources close to him. And the unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job in which he has struggled to strike the right balance between representing an administration that considers the media the “opposition party,” and developing a functional relationship with the press.

“Trump doesn’t like his people to look weak,” added a top Trump donor.

Trump’s uncharacteristic Twitter silence over the weekend about the “Saturday Night Live” sketch was seen internally as a sign of how uncomfortable it made the White House feel. Sources said the caricature of Spicer by McCarthy struck a nerve and was upsetting to the press secretary and to his allies, who immediately saw how damaging it could be in Trump world.

Spicer on Monday was traveling aboard Air Force One from Florida to Washington, D.C., and gamely shrugged off the spoof that was playing in loops on cable news throughout the day.

More here.

The ‘best fortnight in a decade’ for conservatives? Uh-oh.

Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post:

Stepping back, cooling off a bit, displaying some strategic patience, taking the long view: The first two weeks of the Trump administration have been the most abso-friggin-lutely frightening of the modern presidency.

President Trump has managed to taunt and alienate some of our closest allies — Mexico and Australia (!) — while continuing an NC-17-rated love fest with Russia. He has engaged in moral equivalence that places America on the level of Vladimir Putin’s bloody dictatorship. “Well, you think our country’s so innocent?” he said — a statement of such obscenity that it would haunt any liberal to the grave. He has issued an immigration executive order of unparalleled incompetence and cruelty, further victimizing refugees who are already fate’s punching bag. He has lied about things large (election fraud) and small (inaugural crowd size), refused to allow facts to modify his claims, and attempted to create his own reality through the repetition of deception. He has abused his standing as president to attack individuals, from a respected judge to the movie star who took over his God-awful reality-TV show. He has demonstrated a limitless appetite for organizational chaos and selected a staff that leaks like a salad spinner. He has become a massively polarizing figure within the United States and a risible figure on the global stage.

All in a fortnight.

And yet, serious, non-Trumpian figures on the right, such as blogger Ed Morrissey, have found it the “best fortnight in a decade” for conservatives. It is a “continuing feast of promises kept,” most obviously concerning Trump’s Supreme Court pick, but also on personnel choices, regulatory policies, the Keystone XL pipeline and the beginnings of the Obamacare rollback. For conservatives, it is a “solid winning streak,” concludes Morrissey. All the more welcome after a long dry spell.

These developments give conservatives much to chew on. Their best of times is a scary period for much of the country. Liberals would say: Of course, because conservatism itself is frightening. But Trump’s most vivid problems concern his character, his view of executive power, and a set of foreign policy instincts that America has not seen since Pearl Harbor caused the original “America First” to close up shop.

I am grateful to Trump for the wise nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the high court. But the trends of the first two weeks are not good for the Republican Party or for the long-term interests of conservatism. Trump is building deep loyalty among hard-line conservatives as his alarming antics and executive boundary-testing are alienating most Americans. (His disapproval is already more than 50 percent in recent polls.)

Republicans are on the horns of a bull in a china shop. Perceptive leaders can see their party eventually physically reduced and morally diminished to a fanatical ethno-nationalist core. But opposing Trump in public risks Twitter attacks and primary challenges. In Trump’s amoral, counterpunching ethic, even the mildest criticisms can result in massive retaliation. Trump has already succeeded in creating an atmosphere of intimidation in Washington.

Several members of the Senate are willing to take on Trump on a case-by-case basis. But almost the whole of the Republican House is riding the populist wave or waiting quietly until it passes. And Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) seems to have embraced the Faustian bargain with open eyes — a chance to legislate if he occasionally ignores his conscience.

Where is the Republican red line when it comes to Trump? It is too early to determine, but not too early to consider. Trump’s theory of governing, as it develops, could be a direct and serious challenge to American institutions. The president views legislative leaders such as Ryan — if the first part of his inaugural address is to be believed — as corrupt, spineless failures. And he believes that court rulings that go against him always represent bad faith on the part of a judge. Trump does not think he needs the support of political and media elites; the only things that really matter in politics are the people and the leader. And it is the leader who interprets the true interests of the people.

More here.

Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles

Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, writing in the New York Times:

President Trump loves to set the day’s narrative at dawn, but the deeper story of his White House is best told at night.

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

During his first two dizzying weeks in office, Mr. Trump, an outsider president working with a surprisingly small crew of no more than a half-dozen empowered aides with virtually no familiarity with the workings of the White House or federal government, sent shock waves at home and overseas with a succession of executive orders designed to fulfill campaign promises and taunt foreign leaders.

“We are moving big and we are moving fast,” Mr. Bannon said, when asked about the upheaval of the first two weeks. “We didn’t come here to do small things.”

But one thing has become apparent to both his allies and his opponents: When it comes to governing, speed does not always guarantee success.

The bungled rollout of his executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, a flurry of other miscues and embarrassments, and an approval rating lower than that of any comparable first-term president in the history of polling have Mr. Trump and his top staff rethinking an improvisational approach to governing that mirrors his chaotic presidential campaign, administration officials and Trump insiders said.

Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and an old friend of the president’s, said: “I think, in his mind, the success of this is going to be the poll numbers. If they continue to be weak or go lower, then somebody’s going to have to bear some responsibility for that.”

“I personally think that they’re missing the big picture here,” Mr. Ruddy said of Mr. Trump’s staff. “Now he’s so caught up, the administration is so caught up in turmoil, perceived chaos, that the Democrats smell blood, the protesters, the media smell blood.”

One former staff member likened the aggressive approach of the first two weeks to D-Day, but said the president’s team had stormed the beaches without any plan for a longer war.

Clashes among staff are common in the opening days of every administration, but they have seldom been so public and so pronounced this early. “This is a president who came to Washington vowing to shake up the establishment, and this is what it looks like. It’s going to be a little sloppy, there are going to be conflicts,” said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s first press secretary.

All this is happening as Mr. Trump, a man of flexible ideology but fixed habits, adjusts to a new job, life and city.

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Until the past few days, Mr. Trump was telling his friends and advisers that he believed the opening stages of his presidency were going well. “Did you hear that, this guy thinks it’s been terrible!” Mr. Trump said mockingly to other aides when one dissenting view was voiced last week during a West Wing meeting.

But his opinion has begun to change with a relentless parade of bad headlines.

Mr. Trump got away from the White House this weekend for the first time since his inauguration, spending it in Palm Beach, Fla., at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, posting Twitter messages angrily — and in personal terms — about the federal judge who put a nationwide halt on the travel ban. Mr. Bannon and Reince Priebus, the two clashing power centers, traveled with him.

By then, the president, for whom chains of command and policy minutiae rarely meant much, was demanding that Mr. Priebus begin to put in effect a much more conventional White House protocol that had been taken for granted in previous administrations: From now on, Mr. Trump would be looped in on the drafting of executive orders much earlier in the process.

Another change will be a new set of checks on the previously unfettered power enjoyed by Mr. Bannon and the White House policy director, Stephen Miller, who oversees the implementation of the orders and who received the brunt of the internal and public criticism for the rollout of the travel ban.

Mr. Priebus has told Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon that the administration needs to rethink its policy and communications operation in the wake of embarrassing revelations that key details of the orders were withheld from agencies, White House staff and Republican congressional leaders like Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Mr. Priebus has also created a 10-point checklist for the release of any new initiatives that includes signoff from the communications department and the White House staff secretary, Robert Porter, according to several aides familiar with the process.

The entire article is worth a full and careful read.

The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump

Farhad Manjoo, writing in the New York Times:

The presidency of Donald J. Trump has been noteworthy for its speed. In his first week in office, as the president’s aides won’t tire of reminding us, Mr. Trump has already put in motion plans to do much of what he promised to do while campaigning.

But it’s not just the politician who is moving fast. It’s the population, too.

In a matter of hours on Saturday, thousands rushed to the nation’s airports, beckoned by tweets. The flash protests in response to Mr. Trump’s immigration ban, which continued to grow in many cities on Sunday, were as organized as they were instantaneous. Dispatched online, the protesters knew where to go, and they knew what to do once they arrived: to command the story by making a scene.

Mr. Trump feeds off media attention. Throughout the campaign, the bigger a spectacle he created, the larger he loomed in the public consciousness. What has been remarkable during the last two weekends is how thoroughly Mr. Trump’s own media personage was blotted out by scenes of protesters.

In a brief appearance on Saturday, the president assured the nation that his immigrant ban was “working out very nicely — you see it in the airports.” But the pictures and videos flooding across our social streams put the lie to Mr. Trump’s breezy pronouncements. Things at the airports weren’t working out very nicely; you could see it right there on Instagram.

A similar story unfolded the weekend before. In his inaugural address Mr. Trump claimed the mantle of popular will. The next day, a far larger illustration of popular will was on display at marches across the country. The people who gathered for the women’s march hijacked the media narrative.

Even for those who did not assemble on either weekend, the pictures carried special power. Amplified on social media and echoing across every TV network, they suggested something larger afoot, something democracy-defining. “Something’s happening out there,” Ana Navarro, the Republican never-Trumper and television pundit, declared on Twitter.

Something sure is. We’re witnessing the stirrings of a national popular movement aimed at defeating the policies of Mr. Trump. It is a movement without official leaders. In fact, to a noteworthy degree, the formal apparatus of the Democratic Party has been nearly absent from the uprisings. Unlike the Tea Party and the white-supremacist “alt-right,” the new movement has no name. Call it the alt-left, or, if you want to really drive Mr. Trump up the wall, the alt-majority.

Or call it nothing. Though nameless and decentralized, the movement isn’t chaotic. Because it was hatched on social networks and is dispatched by mobile phones, it appears to be organizationally sophisticated and ferociously savvy about conquering the media.

Over two weekends, the protests have accomplished something just about unprecedented in the nearly two years since Mr. Trump first declared his White House run: They have nudged him from the media spotlight he depends on. They are the only force we’ve seen that has been capable of untangling his singular hold on the media ecosystem.

Much more here.

Immigration Ban Is Unlikely to Reduce Terrorist Threat, Experts Say

Scott Shane, writing in The New York Times:

Rarely does an executive order announce a more straightforward and laudable purpose than the one President Trump signed on Friday: “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” But the president’s directive is unlikely to significantly reduce the terrorist threat in the United States, which has been a minuscule part of the overall toll of violence since 2001.

Many experts believe the order’s unintended consequences will make the threat worse.

While the order requires the Department of Homeland Security to issue a report within 180 days providing detailed statistics on foreign nationals who commit acts of violence, terrorism researchers have already produced rich and revealing data. For instance, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, the seven countries targeted in the order’s 120-day visa ban, according to Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina.

Of Muslim Americans involved in violent extremism of any kind — for instance, charged with plotting terrorism or supporting a terrorist group — only 23 percent had family backgrounds in those countries, said Mr. Kurzman, who just published the latest of his annual studies of Muslim Americans and terrorism.

The larger point of experts is that jihadist attacks garner news attention that far outstrips their prevalence in the United States, and the president’s order appears to address not a rational calculation of risks but the visceral fears that terrorists set out to inflame.

There was a random quality to the list of countries: It excluded Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where the founders of Al Qaeda and many other jihadist groups have originated. Also excluded are Pakistan and Afghanistan, where persistent extremism and decades of war have produced militants who have occasionally reached the United States. Notably, perhaps, the list avoided Muslim countries where Mr. Trump has major business ventures.

* * *

By Mr. Kurzman’s count, 123 people have been killed in the United States by Muslim terrorists since the 2001 attacks — out of a total of more than 230,000 killings, by gang members, drug dealers, angry spouses, white supremacists, psychopaths, drunks and people of every description. So the order addresses, at most, one-1,870th of the problem of lethal violence in America. If the toll of Sept. 11 is included, jihadists still account for just over 1 percent of killings.

“My advice to the new administration would be to declare victory,” Mr. Kurzman said. For the average American, he added, “your odds of being victimized by a terrorist attack are infinitesimal.”

* * *

“In my opinion, this is just a huge mistake in terms of counterterrorism cooperation,” said Daniel Benjamin, formerly the State Department’s top counterterrorism official and now a scholar at Dartmouth. “For the life of me, I don’t see why we would want to alienate the Iraqis when they are the ground force against ISIS.”

At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

“It sends an unmistakable message to the American Muslim community that they are facing discrimination and isolation,” Mr. Benjamin said. That, he said, will “feed the jihadist narrative” that the United States is at war with Islam, potentially encouraging a few more Muslims to plot violence.

Much more here.

Donald Trump repeats lie about the popular vote

Via The New York Times:

President Trump used his first official meeting with congressional leaders on Monday to falsely claim that millions of unauthorized immigrants had robbed him of a popular vote majority, a return to his obsession with the election’s results even as he seeks support for his legislative agenda.

The claim, which he has made before on Twitter, has been judged untrue by numerous fact-checkers. The new president’s willingness to bring it up at a White House reception in the State Dining Room is an indication that he continues to dwell on the implications of his popular vote loss even after assuming power.

Mr. Trump appears to remain concerned that the public will view his victory — and his entire presidency — as illegitimate if he does not repeatedly challenge the idea that Americans were deeply divided about sending him to the White House to succeed President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump received 304 electoral votes to capture the White House, but he fell almost three million votes short of Hillary Clinton in the popular vote. That reality appears to have bothered him since Election Day, prompting him to repeatedly complain that adversaries were trying to undermine him.

Moving into the White House appears not to have tempered that anxiety. Several people familiar with the closed-door meeting Monday night, who asked to remain anonymous in discussing a private conversation, said Mr. Trump used the opportunity to brag about his victory.

As part of that conversation, Mr. Trump asserted that between three million and five million unauthorized immigrants voted for Mrs. Clinton. That is similar to a Twitter message he posted in late November that said he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

* * *

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, who attended the meeting, said that Mr. Trump also talked about the size of the crowd for his Inaugural Address.

“It was a huge crowd, a magnificent crowd. I haven’t seen such a crowd as big as this,” Mr. Hoyer told CNN, quoting Mr. Trump. He added that Mr. Trump did not “spend a lot of time on that, but it was clear that it was still on his mind.”

More here.

Donald Trump is obviously incredibly insecure. A president with that kind of insecurity could be dangerous and react in ways that could be very unpredictable. Hold on to your hats.

Political quote of the day

Our job as a national party is to elect Republicans, and it generally means House, Senate, presidential. We’re viewed at in a presidential year as the presidential committee that is responsible for helping elect the president, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to help pay for the ground operation in every targeted U.S. Senate races and the targeted Congressional races as well, so it is our job to do all three.

However, I think that we have become, unfortunately, a midterm party that doesn’t lose and a presidential party that’s had a really hard time winning. We’re seeing more and more that if you don’t hold the White House, it’s very difficult to govern in this country — especially in Washington D.C.

So I think that — I do think that we’re cooked as a party for quite a while as a party if we don’t win in 2016. So I do think that it’s going to be hard to dig out of something like that.I don’t anticipate that. I think … history is on our side.

— Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (via The Washington Examiner)

Schedule for release of Senate torture report

It appears that the executive summary (600 pages out of the full 6,000 pages) of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture will be released around 11 am this morning, when Dianne Feinstein takes to the floor of the Senate.

The Intercept is planning a interactive, live coverage of the summary throughout the day.

The “most transparent administration ever”?

The Obama administration fancies itself the “most transparent ever.” I call bullshit.

Exhibit A: White House chief of staff Denis McDonough met with Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon to discuss the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture. McDonough’s position was that the report (and even the executive summary of the report) cannot possibly be released until the Committee agrees to black out the pseudonyms of those who perpetrated the torture. That is, it is not enough to use pseudonyms to protect the individuals, but even the pseudonyms cannot be revealed.

Of course, if even the pseudonyms are hidden, then it becomes impossible for a reader to follow which unidentified person did what during the torture program. It effectively destroys any ability for a reader to understand what is going on in the report.

The Huffington Post reports the following:

. . . The White House’s briefing to Democrats on immigration Thursday erupted instead into a confrontation over the Senate’s classified torture report, Senate sources told The Huffington Post.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, waited for the immigration discussion to end and then pulled out a prepared speech that she read for five or six minutes, making the case for the release of the damning portrayal of America’s post-9/11 torture program.

“It was a vigorous, vigorous and open debate — one of the best and most thorough discussions I’ve been a part of while here,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who served as intelligence committee chair before Feinstein, was furious after the meeting, and accused the administration of deliberately stalling the report.

“It’s being slow-walked to death. They’re doing everything they can not to release it,” Rockefeller told HuffPost.

“It makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad, which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future,” he continued. “The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it.”

Of course, once the Republicans take over the Senate, they have made clear they will not release the report or its summary, which was undertaken to help insure that the US will never again use torture as a legitimate tool.

Andrew Sullivan succinctly describes Obama as a “phony on torture“:

The Obama administration, it is now beyond dispute, is in thrall to the CIA. The president, through his chief-of-staff, Denis McDonough, has been doing all he can to render the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on torture unintelligible, if he cannot prevent its publication entirely. And he is not giving an inch in his now two-years’ war against the transparency and accountability he once said he favored. Readers know I’ve almost given up on them, and am deeply concerned that next year, a Republican-run Senate will bury the report for ever. That’s clearly John Brennan’s strategy, as it has been from the start. It’s also, clearly, Obama’s.

I once saw Obama as a way out of our torture shame. If he was never going to investigate and prosecute, as is demanded of any signatory to Geneva, I never thought he would actively prevent even some small measure of accountability. How wrong I was.

So much for transparency.