Hello From the Other Side (of the bathroom stall)

gender-neutral-signGoing to the bathroom used to be a private thing. Even public bathrooms used to be private in that no one cared or bothered you while you did your thing. You went in, you did your business, and you went back to class. Taking a leak didn’t used to be a political statement. But at some point, Republicans decided that the small government they wanted should still big enough to determine which bathrooms people should be allowed to use.

Oh sure, they don’t want to tell coal miners how to dispose of their toxic waste, but if there happens to be a transgendered kid at your high school, they have a hot take for you.

When President Obama issued guidance to public schools saying they should let transgendered students use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using, the right lost their collective mind. They built up their strawmen arguments and went to town, saying we have to protect our women and children from perverts who hang out in bathrooms hoping to see a little girl pee. The way to do that, you understand, is to enact laws that prevent transgendered women from going to the women’s bathroom.

I had this argument dozens of times:

“We have to protect the women from perverts.”

“Transgendered women aren’t perverts. They don’t tend to molest children or even care about who’s peeing in the next stall.”

“But a pervert might take advantage by putting on a dress and going in the women’s bathroom.”

“Then why not enact legislation increasing the sanctions for molesting women in public bathrooms? Why enact new legislation aimed at a completely different group of people than the ones committing the crimes?”

Many of these people assured me that they didn’t have anything against trans people, they just didn’t want some man to put on a dress and get his jollies in the ladies room. Their logic seems to work like this: If I see a man in a dress go into a ladies room, I might not report it because I don’t want to be called transphobic. That’s dumb.

Naturally, whenever some weirdo was caught in a bathroom trying to see women pee, I got all the clips in my email and was tagged in social media posts.

“See!?! This pervert put on a dress and tried to videotape women peeing!”

“But he isn’t transgendered. What he’s doing is already illegal.”

That’s when I get accused of being a “libtard” who doesn’t “get it.” But I do get it. Trans people need to pee like everyone else. They need protection from perverts who want to peek into their underwear before letting them go to the bathroom to make sure they use the “right” door.

This brings us to President Trump — a man who bragged about how owning a beauty pageant meant no one would stop him when he took a stroll through the dressing rooms at Miss Teen USA. That is literally true. He bragged about it to Howard Stern. He didn’t even have the courtesy to put on a dress while he did it.

But back in June, he claimed to be a champion of the LGBT community.

It turns out, Trump was the one to bring in people who threaten the freedoms and beliefs of the trans community — Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Pence has a long history of trying to enact legislation to legalize discrimination against LGBT people. And in the senate, Sessions was one of the most hostile senators in terms of LGBT rights.

It started with a leaked draft executive order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” This nearly mirrors Pence’s RFRA bill in Indiana that caused him so much trouble a few years ago. It allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of “deeply held religious beliefs.” The memo got out, was roundly criticized and died, according to reporting, when Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, White House senior advisor, pushed to kill it.

One wonders why they haven’t wielded this influence with respect to the trans community.

Yesterday, the Trump administration lifted the protections for trans students in public schools enacted by Obama in 2014. Out of curiosity, I searched for what I was certain would be waves and waves of stories about trans students molesting girls in locker rooms over the last three years, but I came up empty.

So why is this a priority for the Trump administration? Reporting suggests that Sessions pushed for this. That old unreconstructed racist hasn’t wasted any time being a terrible person. Several reports say newly minted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos offered some pushback on the order but was told by the president to sign off or quit. I can understand why she didn’t quit. She paid a lot of money for that cabinet position and it’s not like trans students are people or anything. But DeVos added insult to injury on Twitter.

That brings us to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The Obama administration guidance said trans students are covered under Title IX, saying that the law’s injunction against discrimination based on “sex” should cover gender identity. A federal district court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction in 2016 until the guidance could be adjudicated. Sessions withdrew the guidance, ending that court action.

Case law, as it turns out, was not in Session’s favor. Transgender plaintiffs had successfully won court cases involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title IV rules barring sexual discrimination in the workplace. Other successful cases involved the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Credit Act, and Title VII. Had Sessions not pulled the guidance, it is likely the courts would have found in favor of trans rights. That’s why he had to pull the guidance now. Waiting would have codified these protections.

So now the Trump administration falls back on the old “states rights” chestnut. Surely, they argue, local officials have a better understanding of the needs of the community and can provide local solutions without those horrible federal mandates.

I disagree. I believe one of the problems with our public education system is that we give too much deference to local school boards. Either trans students have rights or they don’t and the equal protection clause in the Constitution suggests that those rights shouldn’t depend on which county or state the trans person lives.

In my home state, Sen. Mae Beavers has introduced a trans bathroom bill. She paid no heed to the problems North Carolina had with HB2. She paid no heed to similar problems in Texas. She paid no heed to constituents or Tennessee-based businesses that understand these draconian and puritan legislative efforts only serve to hurt the state’s economy. Businesses don’t want to relocate to a state where their employees face discrimination.

But beyond the economic arguments, it is just bad policy to single out a vulnerable community for punitive and discriminatory legislative action. It hurts the people she was elected to serve.

During the election, people tried to tell me that Trump wouldn’t be horrible on LGBT issues. He’s a Manhattanite, they said. He doesn’t have the bigotry for the LGBT community that other Republicans have. Besides, Ivanka would keep him in line.

Like much of what I was told about Trump during the campaign, this is poppycock. He may say that Caitlin Jenner is welcome to use whatever bathroom she wants in Trump Tower, but if you’re not a famous trans person, I guess you can go pound sand. His actions indicate that he feels fine with your rights being determined by the sensitivity of some locally elected school board that’s probably still mad they can’t start their meetings with a prayer anymore.

Sessions may have won a battle, but the courts will eventually determine that Title IX covers all of us. Not just the people of whom he approves.

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Russian to Judgement or From Russia with Love?

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By now the entire world knows that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has resigned his White House post. That makes him a record holder! He is the shortest-serving national security advisor in our nation’s history. Congratulations, general!

If we were to take the advice of Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, we’d get all our news “directly from the president” and Flynn would still have a job. That’s because President Trump wouldn’t tell us anything about Flynn’s contacts with the Russians. Assuming of course that Trump knew himself. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

On Dec. 29 2016, President Obama issued sanctions against Russia for meddling in our elections. He expelled some diplomats and took over a compound used by Russia here in the states. That same day, Flynn texts the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the two spoke on the phone multiple times.

The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that he wouldn’t retaliate, instead offering US diplomats in Russia an invitation to the Kremlin for a Christmas party. President-elect Trump fires off a tweet:

Senior Obama officials tell reporters that they are aware of Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador.

On Jan. 15, 2017, Vice President-elect Mike Pence says in an interview that he’d spoken with Flynn about the calls and was assured that they did not discuss the sanctions. It was just a looking-forward-to-working-with-you call. He “did not discuss anything having to do with expelling Russian diplomats.

On Jan. 23, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the press corps that Flynn didn’t discuss sanctions with the ambassador.

Three days later on Jan. 26, Sally Yates, acting attorney general (remember her?), informs the White House Counsel’s office that the Department of Justice knows that Flynn talked about the sanctions with the ambassador and his denials could mean he’s susceptible to blackmail by the Russian government. Flynn “misled” Pence who in turn misled the American public. Trump asks the White House Counsel to look at the legal issues involved.

On Jan. 28, President Trump had his official call with Putin. Flynn is among those in the Oval Office listening to the call.

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On Feb. 1, Flynn makes a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing to make a statement about Iran launching a missile in the vicinity of a Saudi ship. Flynn said, “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” demonstrating that he continues in his job as national security advisor.

A week later on Feb. 8, Flynn again denies he spoke about sanctions with the ambassador. But the next day, Flynn’s spokesperson said Flynn “couldn’t be certain the topic didn’t come up.”

On Feb. 9, someone finally got around to telling Pence that Flynn lied to him. Also, the Washington Post broke the story about the DoJ telling the White House about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions.

Feb. 10, Trump says he doesn’t know anything about the reports about Flynn. Spicer later clarifies that, while Trump was talking about a specific report in the Washington Post, not about the Flynn scandal in general.

Feb. 13, Flynn is still working, sitting in on calls with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Kelly Ann Conway goes on TV and says the president has “full confidence” in Flynn. Sean Spicer says the president is “evaluating the situation.” Flynn submits his resignation, still insisting he “crossed no lines.” Flynn apologizes to Pence and says in an interview that the leakers should be prosecuted. Trump echoed that sentiment:

The Nazis take Flynn’s resignation pretty hard, but they know who to blame. 

So where does that leave us? Well, with more questions than answers, really.

Why did Trump wait until the story broke publically before he fired Flynn? Had the story not broken, would Flynn still have a job? Was Flynn freelancing or did Trump tell him to contact the Russian ambassador? Flynn is the third Trump advisor to resign because of inappropriate contact with Russian officials. Was he talking with the Russians during the campaign too? Were others? Apparently yes. Several Trump campaign officials were talking with members of Russian intelligence during the campaign. Now, to be fair, there is no evidence at the moment of any sort of collusion or cooperation between the Trump camp and the Russians. But given the interference in our campaign by Russian intelligence, it would seem that an independent investigation is in order.

President Trump said Flynn was “treated very very unfairly by the media.” Trump wants to investigate where the leaks came from (he suspects the CIA and the FBI) and accused the leakers of trying to “cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.” I’m at a loss as to what kind of bubble the president must be in to believe Hillary made Flynn reach out to the Russians or what evidence he has to make such a specious claim. Were I in a position to ask the president a question, I’d like to know when he decided that leaks were a bad thing.

You may recall that during the campaign Trump was a big fan of leaks, mentioning the Wikileaks information about the internal communications of the DNC (also illegal, btw) about 150 times during the last month of the campaign. He praised Wikileaks. He praised (and repeated) erroneous FBI leaks about an imminent indictment of Hillary Clinton. But now, he’s worried about the criminality of it, the un-Americaness of it. Like CNN Anchor Jake Tapper said, “It’s not a moral position if you only hold it when it applies to you.”

The FBI says they will not prosecute Flynn over this because no one gets prosecuted for the Logan Act. The House Oversight Committee will not investigate. The House Intelligence Committee will not investigate Flynn but will investigate the leaks. Sen. John McCain wants to investigate Flynn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said such an investigation in the Senate is “highly likely.”

Meanwhile, the Russians have a spy ship off the coast of Connecticut and seem to be testing the new president by violating a cold-war era treaty by launching a cruise missile. Oh, and they’re working with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Let’s also recall that Flynn was forced out of his last government job in 2014 (President Obama and President Trump have one thing in common, they both fired Michael Flynn).

“Former subordinates at the DIA said Flynn was so prone to dubious pronouncements that senior aides coined a term — ‘Flynn facts’ — for assertions that seemed questionable or inaccurate.”

He had a real hard on for “radical Islamic terrorism” that bordered on the fanatical, if not unhinged. He claimed his firing (along with his deputy) was a political purge by Obama because of his stance on Muslims. Retired Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chair of the joint chiefs said of Flynn’s departure from DIA, “This is not about the right to speak out, it is about the disappointing lack of judgment in doing so for crass partisan purposes. This is made worse by using hyperbolic language all the while leveraging the respected title of ‘general.’”

Flynn literally went from being one of the most respected members of the intelligence community to leading chants of “Lock her up!” at the RNC convention. That’s not something you normally see a retired general do. Neither is politicizing the intelligence services, which are traditionally (and by necessity) non-partisan.

It will be interesting to see what Flynn has to say should he be called to testify before some senate investigation. The DoJ has transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls because they routinely intercept calls to the Russian ambassador. One would think Flynn would know that and couch his language. Perhaps he did. But you’d think he’d know to avoid the subject of sanctions in the call itself, rather than just in the public statements and private conversations with the vice president.

Flynn is out and that’s a good thing. And while we won’t get an indepent investigation of the events leading to his ouster, the entire affair has a frayed edge to it. It feels like the first pulls on a thread that unravels the whole sweater. We’ll see.

Viva El Presidente

tumblr_loi4tyf9nh1qf5do9o1_400Our president has what can most generously be described as an authoritarian streak. It is becoming clear that he had little knowledge of the scope of the job or the limits of presidential power. This wouldn’t be so much of a worry, except that so many of his inner circle have bought into this idea and are running with it.

But let’s back up for a second. During the Bush 43 administration, President GWB governed under what’s called the “Unitary Executive Theory” of government. Basically, the idea is that the president’s power should be universal and unchecked (at least with respect to the executive branch of government). This manifested itself in several ways, but most obvious being the series of “signing statements” that President Bush wrote when he signed legislation. The statements would lay out rights he reserved for himself as president to bypass the very law he was enacting. For example, in 2006 President Bush signed a law restricting the use of torture. He also issued a signing statement saying as president, he could order the use of torture if he felt it was in the interest of national security. As a Republican, he bought into the Jack Bauer scenario: “What if there’s a bomb and you’ve got a guy who knows where it is? You *have* to torture him to get the information or Americans will die.”

President Trump’s authoritarian streak goes well beyond the unitary executive theory of governance. I first noticed something weird during the campaign. Back in September before the election, Omarosa Manigault joined the campaign as director of African-American Outreach. One of her first public statements sent a chill down my spine.

“Donald Trump is running for president because he really, truly believes he can turn the country around,” she said. “More importantly, every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump.”

We don’t bend the knee in America. Our leaders work for us, we’re not ruled by them, we’re governed by them. Later, she spoke of enemies lists and making critics pay for their anti-Trump views. That’s really not how it is supposed to work in this country.

Trump himself displayed his authoritarianism when Judge Robart issued a temporary stay on his Muslim travel ban, angrily tweeting:

Robart is a President Bush appointee who was approved by the senate on a 99-0 vote. He is most definitely a judge. Now, presidents have criticized judicial decisions in the past. Franklin Roosevelt was so mad at Oliver Wendell Holmes, his first appointee to the Supreme Court, after a decision that didn’t go the president’s way that he famously complained, “I could carve out of a banana a judge with more backbone than that.” But at no point did FDR suggest the judge himself was illegitimate or that the judicial branch of government wasn’t within it’s power to review his decisions.

That’s a big red flag for Trump’s authoritarianism. His critics aren’t only bad people, but they have no right to criticize.

Recently, Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s product lines from their stores, citing flagging sales figures. They weren’t the only ones: Home Shopping Network, Target, Marshall’s, and Nieman Marcus also dropped the line. So have Sears and Walmart. But Nordstrom hurt, I guess because Trump lashed out in his favorite manner.

Forget for a second that the president wrote that he has to be pushed to do the right thing. Trump attacked an American company because they made a business decision that affected his daughter negatively. He also used the official POTUS twitter to retweet his anger at Nordstrom.

Now, you can make the argument that the lagging sales could have been due to a boycott of her products by critics of President Trump and Ivanka’s complicity in her father’s administration. That’s valid. But it also reinforces the idea that Nordstrom is acting in its own financial interests, rather than attacking Ivanka as a proxy for her father.

That was the official White House line on the incident: Nordstrom was trying to attack Trump personally by dropping his daughter’s product line. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans were skeptical about the government picking individual companies for favor or rebuke, calling it “picking winners and losers.” One wonders how long Nordstrom is required to keep an underperforming product line belonging to the president’s daughter on their shelves? Are they ever allowed to make their own business decisions, or should everything get run across Trump’s desk first? Or how can any company disengage with the Trump clan without being called out nationally for a “direct attack” on the president?

The authoritarian streak affects policy as well as ego at the White House. When Robart issued the stay on Trump’s Muslim travel ban, the administration appealed to a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court. The government’s lawyers argued that Trump has “unreviewable authority” to make decisions about who can enter the country. The 9th didn’t see it that way and he lost the appeal in a 3-0 decision. Word is, he’s going to punt and try again with a different EO.

It was this decision by the 9th Circuit that brought out the president’s chief policy advisor to the Sunday shows for a series of bizarre interviews. Stephen Miller, a Jeff Sessions acolyte, appeared to read from a teleprompter as he repeated the administration’s false claims about voter fraud. Then he said something chilling.

“We have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government. Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

First of all, he’s everyone’s president. So using language like “our opponents” is problematic. Secondly, we do not bow down to presidents. We question the power of our leaders. We have a system of checks and balances to ensure no branch of government is “supreme.” Every indication I’ve seen leads me to believe that President Trump has no idea how our government is supposed to work. He doesn’t understand the limits of his power. That’s why we get such nonsense as presidential executive orders telling law enforcement to enforce federal laws.

Meanwhile, three weeks into his presidency and Trump has taken two golf vacations to Mar-a-Lago. Each one costs us money. Each one is a potential conflict-of-interest. Each one is a potential national security risk. This last weekend, for example, Trump hosted the Japanese Prime Minister and his wife for the weekend. Trump’s table in the dining room at Mar-a-Lago is in the center of the floor so everyone can see him.

He was there when he got the call that North Korea had launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile. No one had expected this test and it was the first time North Korea had violated its agreements since Trump took office. He took the call at his table, which included Prime Minister Abe, his wife, Trump, Melania, and the owner of the New England Patriots. He conducted an international security strategy session over a cell phone from his table at Mar-a-Lago in front of a room full of people with no security clearance. Many of these people were very excited to tell CNN all about it. Frightening. No wonder the initiation fees for Mar-a-Lago have doubled since President Trump took office. You get dinner and a show. By the way, one of the reasons Camp David exists is so the president can entertain foreign dignitaries and conduct work securely.

As Americans, we’re not usually big fans of authoritarian strong men. We tend to resist. Last night, I attended my first meeting of a local group planning that resistance. In a red county in a red state, it becomes all the more important to find those blue dots and connect them. Because we’re not going to bow down to any president.

Where’s my check from Soros?

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Ever since the Age of Orange we’ve seen an uptick in protests. Some are big and organized, some are big and spontaneous, some are violent, and some are making history. And while you may not understand why someone might be protesting, it isn’t cool to just assume their reason doesn’t matter. But worse than that is to assume the only reason so many people would get together to voice their outrage at this administration is because they’re being paid.

The president himself tweeted about “professional anarchists” agitating against his administration. I don’t think he knows the meanings of both those words. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said protesting was a profession now. “You know the Tea Party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid astroturf-type movement.”

Sen. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) said the flood of calls to his office were from paid protesters.

Pat Robertson said the people protesting the Muslim ban are paid by George Soros.

In my home state of Tennessee, Senator Paul Baily said the protesters at the Capitol admitted to being paid.

Just the other day someone on Facebook made the claim to me that the people at the Nashville airport protesting the Muslim ban were paid by George Soros. I swear, every time three liberals get together, a conservative thinks Soros wrote a check.

So let’s take these claims with a grain of salt. One of the earliest sources of the “paid protester” story was a “satirical” news site called “abc News” (as opposed to ABC News). This story dates from November 2016 and purports to interview a protester who answered a CraigsList ad and received $3,500 to protest Trump. It was garbage. The actual definition of fake news. It was also tweeted by Trump’s campaign manager to millions of people.

Lots of people make these claims, but none of them offer proof. Gardner’s evidence of paid protesters was the fact that people calling into his office were reading similar scripts. That’s evidence of organized protests against you, sure. But that’s not an indication that anyone was getting paid to call.

In Tennessee, Senator Baily’s evidence of paid protesters were the city shuttle buses parked near the Capitol. But it turns out they were there to shuttle lawmakers like himself to the Ryman for a fundraiser meet-and-greet with the cast of “Nashville.” He has since withdrawn his “evidence.”

Pat Robertson just made the claim without any evidence because I guess his viewers are used to that sort of thing.

Spicer says these protesters aren’t like the Tea Party which sprang up organically. The Tea Party sprang from Dick Armey’s “FreedomWorks” (which bussed in protesters to congressional town hall events and distributed “action plans” and talking points for people to disrupt meetings) and the Koch Brothers’ “Americans For Prosperity” (which bankrolled Tea Party events). The Tea Party was astroturf. If it was organic, there’d still be one.

I can understand why Trump might think the protesters were paid. His own campaign hired people to cheer for him when he announced his candidacy. That’s right out of his FEC filings. Trump hired a firm that specialized in extras for movie and TV scenes. He offered them $50 apiece to stand and cheer as he rode his escalator down to a podium where he bragged about the size of the crowd. In true Trump fashion, the company didn’t get paid for months.

We also know that James O’Keefe of Project Veritas (and various criminal acts) attempted to pay some liberal groups to act out at the Trump Inauguration. This is the sort of unethical claptrap we’ve come to expect from the right’s favorite fake pimp. He had someone try to infiltrate a progressive group planning to protest and offered them money to disrupt the news cycle and take attention from Trump. No doubt both sides were secretly recording each other the whole time.

We know a website called Demand Protest claimed to hire and pay professional protesters to agitate for the left. That one got picked up by Drudge, Breitbart, GatewayPundit, InfoWars, and the Federalist Papers. It turns out Demand Protest was a hoax.

I have yet to see any legitimate evidence that a single protester got a dime from Soros or any other liberal boogeyman the right likes to use to scare their children. Evidence, as we’re learning from this administration, doesn’t count for much. What’s important is media strategy and spin. If you can get the slavering hordes to retweet a message threatening a sitting judge, the facts become secondary. Suddenly, the story becomes the judge instead of his legal opinion. That’s called an ad hominem and it’s a logical fallacy.

George Soros is a billionaire hedge fund manager. He’s got way more important things to spend his money on than paying protesters — especially since so many are willing to do it for free.

 

The President Bannon Administration

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The New York Times came out with a behind-the-scenes report about the goings on in the West Wing. Scattered among the anonymously sourced tidbits were the usual funny stuff: the staff can’t figure out how to turn on the lights in the cabinet room. Guests aren’t escorted out after meetings so they end up wandering around the White House looking for an exit. President Trump spends much of his time in the residence fuming over cable TV news and tweeting angrily.

Among the detritus is a morsel reporting that “chief strategist” and in-house Nazi Sympathizer Steve Bannon and policy wonk Steve Miller are running things with Trump as a puppet president.

Mr. Priebus bristles at the perception that he occupies a diminished perch in the West Wing pecking order compared with previous chiefs. But for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.

What does this imply? The actual presidential memorandum isn’t that long. It’s about 2,100 words over six pages. We can infer a few scenarios: 1) Trump doesn’t read the memos he signs, 2) Trump reads but doesn’t understand the memos he signs, or 3) Trump read and understood the memo, but didn’t know what the National Security Council does. None of these are particularly good conclusions. They add to the growing speculation that Trump isn’t in charge at 1600. Rather, we are living in the President Bannon administration.

When MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” did a segment about this, Trump responded on Twitter.

Those are not the words of someone confident in his position. President Trump is overwhelmed by the job, isolated from his family, and finding no solace in the public, which he assumed would respect him once he became president. That’s the trouble with electing CEOs. They’re used to their word being the last on the subject — the end of the conversation instead of the beginning. That’s just not the case with being president.

Federal Judge James Robart of the 9th Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the president’s travel ban. What we discovered is that, while the president and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed fewer than 200 people were affected by the ban (which isn’t a ban), the Justice Department canceled 100,000 visas (though the State Department says it was fewer than 60,000). Robart said the ban harms people and stopping the ban won’t harm America. He issued a stay until the EO can be properly adjudicated. If you’ve sat through sixth-grade civics, you’ll no doubt recognize the system of checks and balances those of us with a public school education were taught. The president didn’t take the news well:

Trump is either calling into question the legitimacy of Judge Robarts (a GWB appointee who received unanimous consent from the Senate) or demonstrating his lack of understanding of the role of the judiciary branch of government. And while neither are particularly good conclusions, there is some evidence to suggest it’s the latter.

After Judge Robart’s stay, Team Trump filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit arguing that Trump has “unreviewable authority” to stop any class of foreigners from entering the country. They called Robart’s stay “vague” and “untethered.” I’ve read the stay. It’s actually pretty concise. The 9th Circuit refused to reverse the stay and Trump’s Muslim ban will be headed to SCOTUS eventually.

But how did we get here? Reporting suggests Bannon and Miller crafted the EO without consulting relevant agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security (which is charged with enforcing the order), the Department of Justice (which normally provides legal opinions and might have been able to craft better language), or congressional leaders. Though some reporting says Bannon and Miller consulted with congressional staffers telling them not to tell their bosses.

This all suggests that Trump wasn’t behind the order, that perhaps he didn’t quite understand what he was signing. For example, the White House insists this isn’t a “ban” of any sort. But Trump routinely refers to it as a “ban” on Twitter.

Trump’s anger is apparent, as is his attempt to delegitimize a federal judge and the entire Judicial Branch.

First off, people aren’t “pouring in.” The people with Visas have already been thoroughly vetted — a process which can take two years if you’re a refugee. But from this tweet, you can bet that Trump will lay any terrorist attack that happens on the marble steps of the judiciary — regardless of the facts of the case.

This internal conflict also suggests Trump isn’t the one in charge in the Oval Office. While the ban was in effect, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued an order saying legal permanent residents from the seven banned countries would be allowed to enter the US. He reasoned that these “green card” holders have already jumped through the exhaustive hoops required to be a legal resident. But Steve Bannon countermanded the order. Can he do that? It’s not clear, really. Trump named Bannon “chief strategist” a position he made up (and that doesn’t require Senate approval). That means Bannon isn’t on any of the organizational charts showing his position the command structure.

Respectfully but firmly, the retired general told Bannon that despite his high position in the White House and close relationship with President Trump, the former Breitbart chief was not in Kelly’s chain of command. If the president wanted Kelly to back off from issuing the waiver, Kelly would have to hear it from the president directly, he told Bannon.

Kelly refused to follow Bannon’s order, so the White House started negotiating with Homeland Security — a process that should have happened *before* the order was signed. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has now issued new guidelines for executing executive actions, including a 10-point checklist containing which departments should sign off before it reaches Trump’s desk. This sprang from a conference call to hash out the cabinet’s concerns over the rollout of the ban and how many of them were cut out of the process.

Bannon and Miller pushed back, defending the White House’s actions and explaining that the process and substance of the order had been kept to a close circle because the Trump administration had not yet installed its own officials in key government roles and other officials were still getting settled into place.

This would suggest that President Bannon doesn’t trust the cabinet to do its job unless Trump’s picks are in place. Bannon makes no distinction between political appointees and career public servants. So what we see is a flailing White House that’s valuing speed over direction. “Look how fast we’re cranking out the memos! We’re making America great again! Wait a minute, can a judge do that?”

Eventually, Team Trump will figure out how to work the lights. They’ll fully staff the West Wing and have things approaching a semblance of normal. Eventually, Trump will learn to read the stuff he signs, to vet executive actions to avoid spending political capital attacking federal judges, communicate with his lawyers without using Twitter, and to take control of his fledgling administration. In the meantime, these turmoils offer a chance to glance behind the curtain on the “great and powerful OZ” to see who’s really in charge. Who will we find at the controls?

What’s also interesting about this administration is what doesn’t get signed. Twice, we’ve seen reports of forthcoming executive actions that have not materialized. First was Trump’s “major investigation” of voter fraud. He was really hot for this, pointing out the problems with voter registration (not voter fraud), only to be embarrassed to discover that many of his advisors (and family) are registered to vote in more than one state. In fact, the guy Trump pointed to as an expert is himself registered in three states. Still, no executive action, just mouthing off during interviews. I guess until the investigation proves him wrong, Trump can continue to claim it was illegal votes that cost him the popular vote.

Secondly, there was a draft of an executive order floating out there which would remove many of the protections for LGBTQ people put in place by President Obama. This has also seemingly disappeared with no plans for it to be signed anytime soon. This suggests the trial balloon didn’t go over well. Trump, a Manhattanite, has never shown much interest in putting his foot on the neck of the gay community. That’s Pence’s wet dream. And while I’ve seen nothing to suggest Pence was behind the text of the order, his support for it is unquestioned. Stories suggest that it was Ivanka Trump and her husband and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner who stopped that executive action from hitting Trump’s desk. So who is in charge around here?

The Time For Nuance Is over

88160170_trump-promoWhen you ask a Trump supporter about Benghazi, they say “a disaster.” When you ask about Hillary they say “crooked.”  They aren’t worried about policy, nuanced analysis or details about what works and what doesn’t. They don’t respond to it.

They speak in code. They like short, pithy, branding-type language that cuts right to the quick. I’ve been called “snowflake” so often in the last three weeks that I thought I was the black guy in a Stanley Kubrick film about Vietnam.

You want to turn the discussion around? You have to talk like Trump. You have to put everything in terms of extremes. Hyperbole is your friend. There is no middle ground. Details are for small-picture guys.

Here’s an example. President Obama delayed action on a plan to land a SEAL team near an al Queda base in Yemen to capture intelligence useful for our counter-terrorism efforts. The Trump administration looked over the plans, declared they were good to go and sent in the team. But the lack of planning, intelligence, and support, meant the SEALs were dropped into a heavily fortified area with snipers and much more resistance than was anticipated. We lost a SEAL (Chief Petty Officer William Owens), an MV-22 transport ($75 million), and the lives of 20 civilians including an 8-year-old girl. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, said he wants to speed up the decision-making process for raids like this. You know how you do that? By not worrying about civilian casualties.

The mission was compromised early on when a communications intercept showed that al Queda had been tipped off, probably by low-flying drones. But the Americans and UAE forces pushed on. Remember all those photos of President Obama in the situation room overseeing operations like this? President Trump hosted a dinner instead. Of course Team Trump wants to blame the Obama administation for planning this raid. But if you’ll recall, Trump believes Obama is a weak leader who has presided over the decimation of the military, so why would Trump not review the plans thoroughly and decide whether such a mission was even necessary?

Now you can argue about all the little things that went wrong, about whether it should have been undertaken, about the tweet from the leader of Yemen calling it “extrajudicial killings.” But none of that will cut any ice with someone in a red MAGA hat. Think about how Trump would have described the raid had it happened on Obama’s watch.

“Yemen was a disaster. Total failure. Al Queda is laughing at us. Lots of people are telling me it could have been avoided. Shame.” 

Just start with Yemen raid = “disaster” and go from there.

Yesterday, President Trump offered remarks at a breakfast held for his black friends for African-American History Month in which he, once again, brought up the MLK statue in the Oval Office.

“Last month, we celebrated the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose incredible example is unique in American history. You read all about Dr. Martin Luther King a week ago when somebody said I took the statue out of my office, and it turned out that that was fake news. It was fake news. The statue is cherished. It’s one of the favorite things in the — and we have some good ones. We have Lincoln and we have Jefferson and we have Dr. Martin Luther King, and we have — but they said the statue, the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King was taken out of the office. And it was never even touched. So I think it was a disgrace, but that’s the way the press is. Very unfortunate.”

Rather than give any details that suggest he knows what he’s talking about in terms of the contributions African-Americans have made to this country and our culture, he aired his grievances with the press and name-dropped black history icons like he was in third grade.

Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice — Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today. Big impact.

What? No mention of George Washington Carver? I’m willing to bet you could hold up a photo of Waka Flocka Flame and tell the president it was Frederick Douglass and he wouldn’t even blink. So Trump took the opportunity to speak at “our little breakfast” for black history month to talk about his favorite subject, himself. He talked about his black friends (Ben Carson and Omarosa). He talked about how well he did in the election and how many African-Americans voted for him. He used an event to celebrate the cultural contribution of blacks to say black communities are “terrible.”

Forget pointing out how Trump may not be aware that Frederick Douglass died 125 years ago. Forget pointing out how Trump has a grade-school knowledge of African-American culture. Forget pointing out how Trump equates blacks with inner city turmoil at every opportunity.

“Trump’s Black History Month breakfast was a disaster. He’s so embarrassing. Sad.” And repeat it until it’s as natural as breathing.

This morning, the president spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. In previous years, Obama was raked over the coals for pointing out an historical fact about the Crusades as a means of demonstrating that even his own religion had a violent past that should be addressed. It was seen as an attack on Christians. He was accused of not taking the event seriously.

President Trump took the opportunity to talk about his favorite subject again, then asked the audience to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

I also want to thank my great friends the Roma. Where’s Roma, beautiful Roma Downey, the voice of an angel. She’s got the voice — every time I hear that voice; it’s so beautiful. That — everything is so beautiful about Roma, including her husband because he’s a special, special friend. Mark Burnett for the wonderful introduction.

So true, so true. I said to the agent, I’m sorry, the only thing wrong — I actually got on the phone and fired him myself because he said, you don’t want to do it, it’ll never work, it’ll never, ever work, you don’t want to do it. I said, listen. When I really fired him after it became the number one show, it became so successful and he wanted a commission and he didn’t want to this.

That’s when I really said — but we had tremendous success on The Apprentice. And when I ran for president, I had to leave the show. That’s when I knew for sure that I was doing it. And they hired a big, big movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to take my place. And we know how that turned out.

The ratings went down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster and Mark will never, ever bet against Trump again. And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can, for those ratings, OK?

Are those the words of someone who takes the event seriously? He’s a narcissist. But calling him a narcissist doesn’t help your cause. It makes you sound like an suede elbow-patch-wearing elite intellectual. That isn’t the way to join in an argument with Trump supporters, much less win it.

“Trump is an embarrassment. Always talking about himself. No real ideas. No leadership. Can’t focus on the job.”

We have to simplify our rhetoric if we want it to stick. Use the words that moved the needle for Trump against Trump. “Trump is a disaster.” “He’s the worst president in our history.” “Trump isn’t a smart leader.” “Lots of people tell me Trump doesn’t believe America is great.” “Trump is unstable and dangerous and everybody says so.” “Trump doesn’t know anything.” “People are telling me Trump isn’t really in charge.” “Trump lets his aides run the country.” “Trump is a puppet president.” “Trump doesn’t read what he signs.” “Trump is afraid of Muslims.”

Keep your messages short, to the point, and as mean as you can make them. Avoid profanity, avoid attacking the supporters directly, and embrace the boring repetition they seem to favor over nuance. No talk about small hands, orange skin, or his dumb hair. Don’t rag on his looks. Attack his actions. Repeat his words. Show them who they put in charge.

The time for nuance is over. You win no points for knowing what you’re talking about because this isn’t high school forensics. It’s the future of our country. They’re willing to believe whatever is told to them provided it is served up in bite-size morsels they can chant at brown people. It’s time to speak their language. “Trump is unstable — a weak leader who will get us all killed. Impeach now!”