In these early, rugged days of the Trump administration, bullet points are coming furious and fast; the question isn’t what battles to fight or which moments to notice, since everything in the early days of an administration—especially this administration—is worth a glance, or a creepy lingering stare. Like the Star Wars prequels, there is more than enough to notice, and all of it is hilarious bungling. Where should the constant reader train their sights? What topic is worth their attention? Here are five items worth your while:
Trump reinstated the pipeline today. The environmentally-shady project was canned during the Obama administration, but it’s back on now. Native Americans and environmental groups spent last fall contesting the construction. Keystone XL, a channel for northern petroleum, runs about 1,179 miles from the frozen wilds of Canada. Its economic promises ring hollow to the ears of progressives. But the Donald thought otherwise, and it’s hardly surprising. Reconsideration is the name of the day; Trump has also signed an order to further the Dakota Access pipeline, which, if completed, would run to the state of Illinois.
Per Baker and Davenport in the Times:
As proposed by TransCanada, a Canadian firm, the Keystone pipeline would carry 800,000 barrels a day from the Canadian oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats argued that the project would create jobs and expand energy resources, while environmentalists said it would encourage a form of oil extraction that produces more gases that warm the planet than normal petroleum.
The Keystone pipeline fight is about power. Its building will not be the end of the world or the beginning of a new one; Baker and Davenport state that “Studies showed that the pipeline would not have a momentous impact on jobs or the environment,” which means the battle is about whose priorities will come first in the Brave New Orange World that’s a ‘birthing. The pipeline is objectionable because it is a petty, ugly reminder of what comes first in the Republic. On these considerations alone, it ought to be stopped.
A built Keystone pipeline would send the message that Native American rights are disposable, and still take a second-hand interest to the demands and desires of large corporations; it would demonstrate that the United States is not that serious about clean energy production; it would reaffirm to the public just who moves the wheels in Washington. The Keystone is small, but as a political piece of football, its shadow is huge. To both sides, the Keystone pipeline is extremely useful. Hence why it must be stopped.
Speaking of another symbolic moment in the first days of the administration:
Time was, the White House site had its own Spanish page. That’s gone now, since 5 P.M. last Friday. It disappeared along with a bunch of other pages, covering LGBT, health care, and climate changes issues.
Honestly, nobody’s sure whether the departure is permanent or temporary. Given the Orangeman’s proclivities, it seems likely that the page has met an untimely demise. Franco Ordoñez, at the Miami Herald, reported that:
Donald Trump, whose relationship with Latinos already is frosty, has taken down the White House’s Spanish-language website, and in the process may have kicked off another fiery English-only debate. It was unclear Monday whether the elimination of Spanish was permanent; White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not directly address the use of Spanish during his briefing for reporters.
Leave it to Trump to sound the trumpet of the English-only cause in a really half-assed way. Not that there’s been any doubt about his feelings on the matter, but the Caper of the Disappearing Spanish Option suggests that the ongoing fight against Latinos and Mexico will continue in a gauche, passive-aggressive fashion. Think about it: say you’re a man who began the newest chapter in his political career by muttering dark oaths about our neighbor to the south, and spitting out wild skepticism about their humanity.
And then you attain the White House, in defiance of everyone’s expectation, including yours. You have the chance to put your reviled claims into play, and then …. and then …. this sad little stab! After all those scary words and “oratory,” is this best you can do? To build a wall around an English-only government web site? This is your grisly revenge? Really? How far the mighty have fallen! It fits with the Trump brand, it must be said: the appearance of strength and decisiveness, but nothing which takes actual sacrifice or grit.
From building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, to making Americans pay for it, to eliminating the Spanish version of the site you now own. People have been saying this is the next four years. I agree—it is, but not in the way you think. If the early days of the Orange Reign are any indicator, the next four years will be vapid, lukewarm carping after symbolic targets instead of the disciplined, organized, fearsome assault that progressives fear. This doesn’t mean taking Trump’s threats any less seriously; rather, we ought to change our expectation of how Trump operates.
Who knows? Maybe this is the run-up to a more hellacious set of plans, but it seems so uniquely Trumpian—to overpromise and the underdeliver—that it’s hard to escape the suspicion that Trump will mostly be following the trolling man’s handbook throughout his kingship.
The Congress and the Executive are hard at work shearing away major portions of Obamacare, bit by bit. To actually demolish the structure is a right difficult project, because the law is entangled in our national legal codex, and undoing it will be the work of many sessions.
Equally interesting is Trump’s part in the whole setup, mostly because his motivations are so obvious, but his impulsivity makes guessing what he will do—and how effective he will be at it—a knotty rope to untangle. Himmelstein and Woolhandler, in a Washington Post article titled “Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually,” note that
The first problem is that Republicans don’t have a clear replacement plan. Kessler, for instance, chides Sanders for assuming that repeal would leave many millions uninsured, because Kessler presumes that the Republicans would replace the ACA with reforms that preserve coverage. But while repeal seems highly likely (indeed, it’s already underway using a legislative vehicle that requires only 50 Senate votes), replacement (which would require 60 votes) is much less certain. Moreover, even if a Republican replacement plan comes together, it’s likely to take a big backward step from the gains made by the ACA, covering fewer people with much skimpier plans.
Behind the question of “What will he give us, to replace Obamacare?” is the weightier, more relevant question of “What will he do?” Unriddling that puzzler is the order of the day.
Where will his piety for “American greatness” lead him next? Trump’s ego is its own church militant, and recognizes no border to block its concern. It’s a proposition worth of the shrewdest philosopher: does Trump has free will, or is he the constant puppet of an eternal, insatiable insecurity?
Behind all of the “Time for some game theory” strategic speculation about the Trump White House, lies the implicit faith that Trump knows what he’s doing, that there’s some deep, subtle reasoning behind it all. There is not. The structure this Presidency is interested in building is the Tower of Babel: a mass of irreconcilable gabble with no unified wisdom behind it. As the podcast Chapo Trap House has said, this will be an extremely literal administration. Ascribing strategy or long-term planning to the whimsies of the Executive branch is to play promiscuous with speculation, and to live in an opium fog. In other words, there is no plan; it’s goofy, it has been goofy, it will continue to be goofy.
Anybody surprised that the Orangeman continues his usual practices either has a dim and cloistered view of the man’s character or too high a respect for the ennobling power of the Presidency. If power sweetened a nature, or made stone-headed men into savants, then Putin would be the greatest poet and lover across all seven continents. As it turns out, he is merely the most shirtless of world leaders, which is its own form of excellence, I guess. Nonetheless, Trump continued down the path of make-believe a good four days into his term.
The Times finally decided to call out the President, and has been publishing titles like “With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift” and other on-the-nose critiques such as “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers.” You have to understand what a doozy it is for The World’s Paper of Record to call out the President like that. “Lie” is not often used in the old-school, official-gentleman press. The Times traditionally enjoys a relationship of mutual respect with institutions of global power. That’s changing. Per Shear and Huetteman, in the 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 Grey Lady using such language in a headline, much less the text of an article, is equivalent to a drunk man shouting in the middle of a yacht show about the power of Wham’s lyrics: it just isn’t done. Usually. But in this era, the Times is entirely correct to proceed this way. The media must change its game when going eyeball-to-eyeball with the Trump administration: this presidency is designed to Iago around the usual strictures of accountability which have historically hemmed in the White House.
Writing in The Post, Parker, Rucker, and Gold used the following language:
Spicer’s resulting statement — delivered in an extended shout and brimming with falsehoods — underscores the extent to which the turbulence and competing factions that were a hallmark of Trump’s campaign have been transported to the White House.
Which leads us to
The media has been slow to change tack, since knock-for-knock is a relationship with the Presidency they usually don’t have. Even when Bush invaded Iraq on false evidence, he did so in a manner which was adequately fulsome and courting to the press. Why, the New Republic itself was dazzled by the conquest of the Middle East.
The same woke media sources which decried alt-right Richard Spencer getting punched in the face were decidedly less woke about Obama’s drone strikes. There is a great reward to be reaped from endearing yourself to the talking heads. Colbert said as much, in his 2006 speech to the Correspondent’s Dinner:
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know—fiction!
Trump is simply repeating what has always worked for him since he buddied up with Joe McCarthy’s pal Roy Cohn: attack, attack, and never back down on the claims, no matter how crazy they seem. Trump can do this in part because the media has less power than they used to, and they are widely disliked, especially by Trump’s base. The cost of displaying falsehood in public is much less than it used to be: you will not be prosecuted on one of three news channels if you utter mistruth. There are so many studios and so many cameras now. If you throw away one relationship, you can pick up another.
So: five stories from a changing time. Keep in mind these are five shining stars from a vast constellation of appalling and bewildering moments. Why, our politics is such a dizzying display of flashing lights, you could be excused for thinking you’d just suffered an intense blow to the head, which, perhaps, we all have. Not bad for four days into the new regime. What will tomorrow bring?