Sep. 18

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Trump Voters Want Him to Tell U.N.: America Comes First

President Donald Trump is heading to New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, where he will meet many world leaders in quick succession. One analyst described it as "speed dating from hell." Normally, presidents try to get to know world leaders at the annual meeting and try to figure out the best strategies for dealing with them. But Trump's first visit to the U.N. could be very different, because his voters want him to make it clear to the world that America comes first.

Of course, every leader is there to advance the interests of his or her country, but Trump's base wants Trump to bully the world into carrying out his supporters' wishes. They are against multilateral trade agreements, want other countries to figure out how to restrain North Korea, and are tired of being the world's policeman. Establishment Republican politicians don't see it like that at all. They want America to be engaged in the world, not isolated, and understand the U.S. can't order other countries around. In a week, we should know which group won the battle for Trump's mind. (V)

A New Travel Ban Is Likely Coming

Donald Trump's Muslim Travel Ban v2.0 is ostensibly going to expire on Sunday, as that will be the 90th day since SCOTUS allowed most of it to go into effect. Assuming it does expire, it would render the Supreme Court arguments scheduled for October moot, since there would be nothing left to argue about. It certainly should be allowed to expire, since the whole point was to give the administration 90 days to develop more strict vetting policies, and—due to its clumsy handling of the matter—they've had over 200.

Of course, the Trump administration does not work like most other presidential administrations. After all, the President knows that the base loves travel bans, as they are STRONG and somehow make America more SAFE. Never mind that America's domestic terrorists have largely been home-grown (think: Charlottesville, Oklahoma City, San Bernardino, and Orlando), and that they did not come from the banned countries, anyhow. Adding some more fuel to the travel ban fire, there was a terrorist attack in London last week, which caused the President to go into a tizzy on Twitter:

The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017

Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner.The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017

Naturally, Trump tweeted this before anything was known about the perpetrators, and whether or not they were immigrants, or even Muslims. Indeed, even now the identities of the perpetrators remain uncertain. And the fact that Trump was, once again, using human tragedy as a tool in order to advance his political agenda was so clear that British Prime Minister Theresa May publicly rebuked him.

In any event, the point is that travel bans, and talk of travel bans, benefit the President politically. So, there is little chance that he is going to miss out on his day in court. NSA Herbert McMaster confirmed as much on Sunday, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos that a new ban "is something that we're looking at." It would be a surprise if the administration didn't come up with something. Even if Trump loses before the Supreme Court next month—far from a certainty, with Neil Gorsuch now seated—he's poisoned the minds of his base so thoroughly against the judiciary that it won't matter. Either way, he will be able to claim that he fought valiantly to keep those evil Muslims out of the United States. Or, at least, the Muslims from countries that don't do business with the United States and/or the Trump Organization. (Z)

So Much for Trump's Twitter Discipline

Since he took the job as Donald Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly has done his best to limit the President's tweeting. That includes keeping Trump's phone away from him, and also vetting those tweets that do get sent out. Trump, for his part, hates being treated like...well, a small child. So, he's been pushing back against Kelly. Judging by his Twitter feed in the last week, the President is winning the war.

There have been a few eyebrow-raising tweets in the last week or so, including the ones about London (see above). However, it was yesterday morning that the floodgates really opened, as the President issued forth with five retweets that surely were not Kelly-approved. These two, in particular, attracted much comment:

Donald Trump's amazing golf swing #CrookedHillary

— CNN SUCKS (@Fuctupmind) September 14, 2017

— Trumpism 9.0 (@Team_Trump45) September 17, 2017

Certain issues with these two tweets are immediately evident. Undoubtedly, the first tweet is a response to the fact that Hillary Clinton released a book this week that was, in parts, critical of The Donald. Most presidents are not petulant enough to respond to such things, but Trump is not most presidents. Similarly, most presidents—indeed, most adults—recognize that violence against women is never an ok subject for merriment, but Trump is not most adults. As to the other tweet, any president who dreams of a 50-state sweep in modern American politics might as well just announce to the world that he is delusional. This is doubly true of a president whose approval rating is in the 30s.

Arguably the bigger problem with the tweets, however, only becomes evident when looking closely at their origins. The golf swing tweet comes from the account @fuctupmind, a username that is pretty much a bullseye. This individual has a long history of viciously sexist, racist, and Islamophobic tweets. "Let me sum it up," he once wrote. "Normal people don't like Islam. We don't want it. If you want it, go to the middle east and enjoy it. Or Europe." The second tweet is from @Team_Trump45, who holds similar views. "Obama can take his gay rights agenda and shove it," that user wrote about a year ago. "He's the only confused Muslim for gay rights & our POTUS. He is a legend in his own mind!"

It is not customary for Twitter users to research their retweets, though it seems fair to say that if you're the President of the United States, and you're going to be communicating with tens of millions of citizens, you should probably hold yourself to a higher standard. At very least, Trump is revealing that he is very much on the same page with racists, sexists, and bigots of other stripes. Obviously, though, he doesn't care. What he is clearly pioneering is the Twitter version of a dog whistle (a Twistle?). This technique allows him to embrace the white supremacists, etc., without actually having to own it. Lee Atwater is dead, but if he weren't, he would surely be jealous. (Z)

Trump's Lawyers Aren't Getting Along

Lawyers can be an ornery sort; there are lots of alpha personalities in that profession. We would expect this to be particularly true of the sort of lawyers who would work for Donald Trump, aka the King Alpha. So, it is hardly a shock that his two lead attorneys on the Russiagate matter—Donald F. McGahn II and Ty Cobb—are having trouble getting along, according to reporting from the New York Times.

The primary area of disagreement between the two men is strategy. Cobb wants the President to reveal as much information as is possible, in hopes of ending special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation quickly. McGahn, for a number of reasons, does not think that is a good idea. There is also significant personal animosity between the two attorneys; in particular, Cobb thinks that McGahn is spying on him, and is withholding certain key documents. Given that the tempestuous Trump is the third member of this partnership, this arrangement does not seem like it can last.

So, if someone has to go, who will it be? We might be able to answer that question by noting the source of the Times' report. Was it a leak? An interview with an interested party? Trump himself? Multiple sources within the White House? Nope, none of the above. In fact, the Times got its information because one of its reporters happened to be eating at the same restaurant as Cobb, and overheard the lawyer loudly complaining to his lunch companion. Not only does that reflect a shocking lack of discretion, it's veering dangerously close to the realm of legal malpractice. And this comes just a week after Cobb involved himself in several late-night e-mail flame wars, one of which included his declaration that, "I am on't be here for long but will be I my piece against bulls**t Russian bulls**t." Could it be any clearer where he stands? In any event, if there's going to be a lawyer sent to the showers, which seems probable, it's going to be Ty Cobb. (Z)

The Customer Base of Trump's Businesses Is Changing

Before he became president, potential customers of Donald Trump's golf courses, resorts, and hotels made their decisions to use the properties or those of his competitors based on factors such as the nature of the property, services available, and price. Now, that has all changed. Anyone using a Trump property now is making a political statement. People are choosing a Trump property to support the president, and avoiding it to reject him. The Washington Post has obtained the numbers for the number of events scheduled for Mar-a-Lago. In the 2016-2017 event year, there were 38 events scheduled. For the 2017-2018 event year, it is 6. That's a dramatic falloff. Just as one example, Harlem Lacrosse charity spokesman Mike Levin said: "Given the current political environment. we opted to reschedule for a different course." This is not the only group that has used Trump's properties before but has now decided to go somewhere else. Out of 200 groups that had rented at Trump properties since 2014, 85 are no longer Trump customers. Some said they had left for nonpolitical reasons, but one has to wonder if groups would tell a WaPo reporter they had left for political reasons, since that might irritate their conservative members, customers, or donors.

On the other hand, another part of Trump's business is doing very well. Republican candidates and organizations, such as the Republican Governors Association, are flocking to Trump properties. That is true of both his golf courses and his hotels. Foreign governments that want to curry favor with Trump are also choosing to hold events at Trump properties.

In addition, lobbyists who want to have some law or policy maintained or overturned have also suddenly discovered Trump properties. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which wants more offshore oil drilling, just held an event at Trump's hotel in D.C. An association of candy makers, which wants to import more foreign sugar than is currently allowed, also had an event there.

Does this strategy work? There aren't enough data to say yet, but when a trade group representing e-cigarette makers reserved 150 rooms at $285 each at Trump's hotel, a week later they were pleasantly surprised that an Obama-era regulation restricting e-cigarettes was put on hold.

The Post wasn't able to conclude whether being president is a net gain or a net loss in business terms for Trump. (V)

Trump's Immigration Policies Could Wreak Havoc in Idaho

Jerome, ID, is 1,000 miles from the Mexican border, but if Donald Trump succeeds in stopping (illegal) immigration, the whole area surrounding the town will be in deep doodoo—literally. Jerome is in the center of Magic Valley, an area with 400,000 cows that makes Idaho rank around third or fourth in milk-producing states. The industry generates over $10 billion in milk sales annually, much of it from Chobani, the world's biggest yogurt factory. Chobani is in Twin Falls, ID, just 16 miles south of Jerome.

Thousands of workers, many of them undocumented, work for the dairy farms, doing things like removing the cows' other prime output: manure. The farmers say that they employ these workers because Americans are not wiling to do the dirty work, and if the supply of immigrants dries up, that will be the end of their industry. The result is a conflict in a very red state between people who don't like immigrants and people who see them as necessary to support the area's biggest industry.

The issue of immigration came to a head recently when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency proposed a $1.37 million-a-year deal to rent county jail beds to be used to temporarily house undocumented workers they planned to round up and then deport. Many local people said that not only don't the workers take jobs away from Americans, but they create jobs in trucking, construction, yogurt making, retail, and services. They also say that the dairy farms are the backbone of the county's tax base. Officials began fearing the worst when farms as far away as Minnesota began poaching the farm workers as soon as the ICE proposal became known.

In short, the Magic Valley farms expose the Republican Party's immigration problem very visibly. While many Republican voters would be happy if all the immigrants went home—except maybe Turkish immigrant Hamdi Ulukaya, who employs 1,000 people at his Chobani yogurt factory—businesses that depend on immigrant labor would not be at all pleased. Finding a way to keep both immigrant-hating voters and immigrant-loving businesses happy will not be a simple project. (V)

Rex Tillerson: The Loneliest Ranger

Nobody likes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Jonathan Swan at Axios has detailed who doesn't like Tillerson and why:

Tillerson has been called everything from an unmitigated disaster to the worst secretary of state since 1898. How did he get into this mess? For starters, he has alienated moderate Republicans, who should have been his natural constituency. He also has run the department in an extremely high-handed way, not hiring top managers to run the various desks and rarely consulting long-time experts within the department on trouble spots. Finally, he has alienated those Republicans who want to take a tough stance on Russia. Is it too late for him to fix things? We'll probably know by the end of the year. (V)

Emmys Have a Strong Anti-Trump Flavor

The people who make television are mostly from California, and mostly liberal. A lot of them are women, a fair number are people of color, and a sizable number are Jewish. Add it all up, and it's no surprise that Sunday evening's Emmy Awards took on a sharp anti-Trump slant.

The tone and tenor of the evening was clear from the outset, as Emmy host Stephen Colbert—whose Trump jokes have helped propel his "Late Show" to #1 in the late-night ratings—delivered a monologue peppered with jabs aimed at the President. The moment that had everyone talking came when Colbert said:

Of course, what really matters to Donald Trump is ratings. You've got to have the big numbers. And I certainly hope we achieved that tonight. Unfortunately, at this point, we have no way of knowing how big our audience is. I mean is there anyone who can say how big the audience is? Sean, do you know?

At that point, Sean Spicer—whose appearance was a closely-guarded secret—came out on a mobile podium (a nod to "Saturday Night Live's" portrayal of him), and declared, "This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period. Both in person and around the world." The crowd chuckled, and later Spicer said that he felt the President would see the humor in the joke. We will see about that, though Spicer undoubtedly doesn't care about Trump's feelings nearly as much as he does about his ongoing "rehabilitate my image" tour.

From that point forward, it was open season on Trump. A number of people won Trump-related awards, most notably Alec Baldwin for his portrayal of The Donald on SNL. "I suppose I should say at long last Mr. President, here is your Emmy," he joked. When Donald Glover took the Emmy for best actor in a comedy (for "Atlanta"), becoming the first black actor to win the award in 30 years, he said, "I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most oppressed list. He's the reason I'm probably up here." After taking the Emmy for best actress in a comedy, for her politically-themed show "Veep," Julia Louis-Dreyfus deadpanned, "We did have a whole story line about an impeachment, but we abandoned it because we were worried that someone else might get to it first." Indeed, over the course of the evening, it seemed that winners who did not take a potshot at Trump were rarer than winners who did.

There is a certain kind of joking—think the White House Correspondents Dinner—that is generally lighthearted, in good fun, and is charming for a president to embrace. The formal term for this kind of humor is Horatian, for those who are interested. However, what happened on Sunday night was not Horatian at all. It was, to again use the formal term, Juvenalian. As the Roman satirist Juvenal did with the leaders of his day, the folks at the Emmys were making Trump a target of scorn and ridicule; there was nothing lighthearted about it. This is going to be the prime subject of conversation around America's water coolers today. If Donald Trump is wise, he will let it go, and let the story die its natural one-news-cycle death. Odds that he will actually do so? Let's just say they are roughly equal to the odds that he releases his tax returns today. (Z)

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