ON THE RECORD. . .
“Trump had been a celebrity since the eighties, his persona shaped by the best-selling book The Art of the Deal. But his business had foundered, and by 2003 he had become a garish figure of local interest—a punch line on Page Six. The Apprentice mythologized him anew, and on a much bigger scale, turning him into an icon of American success.” — The New Yorker
“I want to be clear and explicit that I am not likening Trump to Hitler, but the forces at play could lead to a future Hitler-like character if we don’t watch out. It must be remembered that another thing that Benjamin Franklin said was that he who trades his freedom for security, deserves neither. Indeed, how true.” — Outgoing Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), in a farewell statement.
“Trump's supporters say 'collusion' can't be prosecuted. They’re wrong.“ — Legal expert Randall D. Eliason explains (VIDEO)
“So we’re very glad that 2018 is finally over. Once again we’re on the cusp of a new year, another chance for change. And once again, we find ourselves feeling stirrings of hope — hope that the coming year really will be better. Why do we feel this way? Why, despite all our past disappointments, do we believe things really can improve? Because we are morons, apparently.” — From Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2018
“But we are not willing to pay $2.5 billion or $5 billion and wasting taxpayer dollars on a ransom note because Donald Trump decided that he was going to shut down the government and hold the American people hostage.That’s unreasonable.” — Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)
“If Mexico isn’t going to be made to pay for a wall, that means funds must be found internally. As a wealthy man, the president might consider pledging some of his own funds as well. Whatever it takes, just so long as we don’t add to the debt that is bankrupting our great country.” — Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), quoted by Roll Call.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I think that’s overkill to put a barrier from one side of the border to the other. In fact, the problem with illegal immigration across the border is really confined to major metropolitan areas. Illegal immigrants do not cross in the middle of the desert and walk hundreds of miles,” instead choosing more ‘certain specified routes.’” — William Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general in 1992, questioning the value of a wall along the Mexican border.
“In 2018 people stepped up and showed up like never before. Keep it up in 2019. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’ll be right there with you. Happy New Year, everybody!” — Barack Obama, on Twitter
“When Jesus said we’re all sinners, he really meant all of us, everybody. I don’t think you can choose a president based on their personal behavior.” — Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr., in an interview with the Washington Post.
IN THIS ISSUE
1. How the shutdown is reaching a breaking point
Many of the departments and agencies hit by the partial shutdown, which began Dec. 22, have reached a breaking point in their ability to go on with minimal disruption. They are running out of carryover cash and time to prep checks for the midmonth pay period. In a very visible sign of the growing impact of the shutdown showdown, 19 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will close to the public on Wednesday, their temporary funds exhausted.
While paychecks for federal employees went out Friday after a pay period ended on Dec. 22, workers are left wondering whether they will get their next check on Jan. 11. The pay period for that next check ends on Jan. 5. Pay processing varies from agency to agency. https://www.politico.com/story/2019/01/01/how-the-shutdown-is-reaching-a-breaking-point-1053885
2. A year of unprecedented deception: Trump averaged 15 false claims a day in 2018
When 2018 began, the president had made 1,989 false and misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database, which tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. By the end of the year, Trump had accumulated more than 7,600 untruths during his presidency — averaging more than 15 erroneous claims a day during 2018, almost triple the rate from the year before.
Even as Trump’s fact-free statements proliferate, there is growing evidence that his approach is failing.
Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans believe many of his most-common false statements, according to a Fact Checker poll conducted this month. Only among a pool of strong Trump approvers — about 1 in 6 adults in the survey — did large majorities accept several, though not all, of his falsehoods as true. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2018/12/30/year-unprecedented-deception-trump-averaged-false-claims-day/
3. Is Mueller’s investigation nearing the ‘worst-case scenario’?
“We have rapidly entered a territory of the worst-case scenario for the United States here, where the thing that you most try to avoid in politics is a situation where the head of state of your country can be blackmailed by a foreign power or foreign adversary.”
"We now know that [the Russians] actually did have, for the last two years, compromising material and potential leverage on Donald Trump, which is that Russia knew that Donald Trump and his campaign and his associates had been lying about the extent of their business dealings with Russia, and that the Trump Tower Moscow project was both more serious and continued longer than they had said publicly." — Garrett Graff. part of a small but potent crew of journalists who intimately knows the ins-and-outs of Mueller’s investigation. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2018/12/18/is-muellers-investigation-nearing-worst-case-scenario-garrett-graff-thinks-so/
4. Poll shows Trump appears to be losing core voters with nonstop tweets, rhetoric, antics
A new AP/NORC poll finds that 16% of those who “somewhat” supported President Trump’s job performance decided to vote for Democratic House candidates in the November midterms. That’s compared with 6% of those who self-identified as Trump’s “strong” supporters.
That difference helped Democrats capture the House majority, picking up 21 of their 40 new seats in districts Trump carried only two years earlier. https://www.businessinsider.com/poll-shows-trump-appears-to-be-losing-somewhat-supporters-with-antics-2018-12
5. Beto O'Rourke Slams Trump's Border Wall In Tweeted Video
6. The Trump Administration’s War on Wildlife Should Be a Scandal
The Trump administration’s policies are leading to wholesale destruction of certain birds and other wildlife. This fact has escaped most public notice amid the broader damage the Cabinet is causing to the environment. Among other measures, the regulatory agencies have been working to lift protections on endangered animals, open up vast animal habitats for drilling, encourage more trophy-hunting, and repress treatment standards for farm animals. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/12/trumps-war-on-wildlife-should-be-a-scandal.html
7. Trump issues executive order freezing federal workers' pay in 2019
Trump issued an executive order on Friday freezing pay for federal civilian workers in 2019, even as about 800,000 of them were either furloughed or working without pay because of a partial government shutdown.
The executive order follows a proposed pay freeze that the president outlined in the budget he sent to Congress last February, and in a letter he sent to Congress in August stating that he would cancel pay increases. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/29/business/trump-federal-pay-freeze.html
8. Trump’s focus on pleasing his most ardent supporters raises questions about reelection strategy
Trump’s headstrong refusal to reopen the federal government without new border wall funding has set him on a risky and defiant path for 2019, relying on brazen brinkmanship to shore up his base support and protect him ahead of a challenging year for his administration.
The latest overtures in the wake of the midterm elections, which brought about sweeping Democratic gains and the end of GOP control of Congress, stand in stark contrast to the historical behavior of modern presidents, who have moved at least briefly toward the political center after being humbled at the ballot box.
But Trump — counseled by a cadre of hard-line lawmakers and sensitive to criticism from his allies in the conservative media — has instead focused on reassuring his most ardent supporters of his commitment to the signature border pledge that electrified his followers during his 2016 presidential run even though it is opposed by a majority of voters.
The president has rejected the advice of Republican pollsters and strategists to declare that he holds a winning hand, predicting in a series of tweets that even losing the clash over border construction will lead him to reelection, all while threatening to “close” the border if Democrats do not blink on his $5 billion request for a new wall. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-focus-on-pleasing-his-most-ardent-supporters-raises-questions-about-reelection-strategy/2018/12/28/b37d796a-09f1-11e9-85b6-41c0fe0c5b8f_story.html
9. Trump’s Popularity Revisits Low as Government Agencies Shut Down
A new Morning Consult survey finds President Trump’s approval hit a new low mark for the poll amid the partial government shutdown.
Just 39% of registered voters — including 80% of Republicans — approve of the president’s job performance, while 56% — including 90% of Democrats and 57% of independents — disapprove. https://morningconsult.com/2018/12/26/trumps-popularity-revisits-low-as-government-agencies-shut-down/
10. Deciphering the Patterns in Trump’s Falsehoods
President Trump has a well-documented problem telling the truth.
Fact checkers have compiled lists of all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods since he took office (The Washington Post counts over 7,500, and The Toronto Star over 3,900), rounded up his most egregious whoppers in year-end lists and scrutinized his claims in real time with television chyrons.
The New York Times fact-checked countless campaign rallies, news conferences, interviews and Twitter posts. After nearly two years of assessing the accuracy of Mr. Trump’s statements, we can draw some conclusions not just about the scale of the president’s mendacity, but also about how he uses inaccurate claims to advance his agenda, criticize the news media and celebrate his achievements.
Mr. Trump refuses to correct most of his inaccurate claims, instead asserting them over and over again. They become, by sheer force of repetition, “alternative facts” and staples of his campaign rallies and speeches. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/29/us/politics/trump-fact-check.html
11. The DAILY GRILL
"If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn't do a business deal with because their — their background is so shady, if we're willing to do that, then that's in conflict with who I think we are. And so I think it's necessary at those times to take a stand."— Retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Trump’s behavior and handling of the presidency. Watch the VIDEO
““General” McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!” — Trump, on the heels of the General’s criticism.
“You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years — more than 10 year. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one. They said: ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent.’ I said: ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’ ” —Trump speaking to members of the military in Iraq about the coming military pay raise..
“The problem with those statements? They’re not true.” — Eli Rosenberg in the Washington Post
Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t. If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try! —Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
“We have a president who is willing to politicize the deaths of two young children to score points against the opposition party. And the most shocking thing about seeing him scrape along a new moral bottom is this: It is no longer shocking at all.” — Karen Tumulty in the Washington Post
The Mueller Angry Democrats recently deleted approximately 19,000 Text messages between FBI Agent Lisa Page and her lover, Agent Peter S. These Texts were asked for and INVALUABLE to the truth of the Witch Hunt Hoax. This is a total Obstruction of Justice. All Texts Demanded! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
More than 20,000 FBI agent texts lost in a technological glitch were recovered, which was clearly stated in a report early this month by the Office of the Inspector General in Trump’s own Justice Department. — Mary Papenfuss in the Huffington Post
“President and Mrs. Obama built/has a ten foot Wall around their D.C. mansion/compound. I agree, totally necessary for their safety and security. The U.S. needs the same thing, slightly larger version!” — Donald J. Trump tweet
Trump’s assertion came as a surprise to two of the Obamas' neighbors Monday, who told The Washington Post that there is no such wall. The 8,200-square-foot structure, despite several security features, is completely visible from the street. -- Michael Brice-Saddler in the Washington Post
12. From MEDIA MATTERS (They watch Fox News so you don't have to)
30 times Trump directly echoed Fox & Friends in 2018. Anyone who pays attention to President Donald Trump’s Twitter account knows that he is an enthusiastic fan of Fox & Friends and watches it as part of his morning routine. As Media Matters’ Matt Gertz has documented, the Trump-Fox feedback loop is even more extreme than you think. https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2018/12/28/30-times-trump-directly-echoed-fox-friends-2018/222384
The Fox News shutdown is here, and Trump is tweeting through it. After shutting down the government to placate his allies at Fox News, President Donald Trump spent the holidays stuck in the White House, tweeting in response to the network’s programming. https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2019/01/02/fox-news-shutdown-here-and-trump-tweeting-through-it/222395
Fox News panel attacks Elizabeth Warren for drinking a beer on Instagram Live: "She's playing the gender card.” Harris Faulkner: "Why beer? Why that beverage? Is that to appeal to, like, male voters?” https://www.mediamatters.org/video/2019/01/02/fox-news-panel-attacks-elizabeth-warren-drinking-beer-instagram-live-shes-playing-gender-card/222393
13. The Trump team just gave weird, insulting advice to furloughed federal workers who can’t make rent payments
The Trump Administration just offered up bizarre and insulting advice for furloughed federal workers, proposing that they beg their landlords to exchange manual labor instead of rent while they go without pay during the GOP’s Trump shutdown.
Federal workers have been without paychecks for a week as the government shutdown left 800,000 workers struggling to pay their bills during the holidays while the president obsessed over placating right-wing talk radio hosts and playing hardball to get his monument to racism built in the desert. https://washingtonpress.com/2018/12/28/the-trump-team-just-gave-weird-insulting-advice-to-furloughed-federal-workers-who-cant-make-rent/
14. Team Trump Gleeful That Shutdown Will Hijack Pelosi’s Big Moment
Days into a partial government shutdown that has left tens of thousands of federal workers furloughed, President Donald Trump and his close allies have begun feeling more confident about the political perch they occupy.
In their eyes, a prolonged stalemate will likely fracture voters along traditional partisan lines, and the ultimate outcome will be a debate waged largely on the president’s terms. Increasingly, they see an upside in forcing likely incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi to have to spend the first days, if not weeks, of the next Congress engaged in an argument over border wall funding rather than her preferred agenda: a mix of sweeping ethics and election reforms and congressional oversight. And they continue to believe that a conversation around immigration and border security is in the president’s best political interests. https://www.thedailybeast.com/team-trump-gleeful-that-shutdown-will-hijack-pelosis-big-moment
15. From the Late Shows
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: The TV Is Telling The President What To Do: https://youtu.be/GF0CHEdvQCc
Late Night with Seth Meyers: Trump Threatens a Government Shutdown over His Wall: A Closer Look: https://youtu.be/qEO2z7ds0aE
The Daily Show w/Trevor Noah: The Year In President Trump Being Weird: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/7jp6dn/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-the-year-in-president-trump-being-weird
16. The Government May Be Shut Down, But Taxpayers Are Footing The Bill For Mar-a-Lago Party Tents
800,000 federal employees are affected, many of whom will remain on furlough without pay if the shutdown continues.
But even as much of the federal government grinds to a halt, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort still needs tents for the winter party season—and taxpayers are footing at least $54,000 of the bill.
According to government spending data, Grimes Events & Party Tents Inc. of Delray Beach, Florida was paid $54,020 by the U.S. Secret Service on December 19 for “TENT RENTAL FOR MAL.” https://m.govexec.com/contracting/2018/12/government-may-be-shut-down-taxpayers-are-footing-bill-mar-lago-party-tents/153789/
17. New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump's golf club — and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe
“New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump’s Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes — and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry,” the New York Daily News reports. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/us-politics/sd-new-jersey-ag-has-obtained-evidence-of-possible-crimes-at-trump-s-golf-club-and-mueller-fbi-are-invo-20181229-story.html
18. Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch
When the U.S. government put out its latest sanctions list on Dec. 19, the man named at the top did not seem especially important. Described in the document as a former Russian intelligence officer, he was accused of handling money and negotiations on behalf of a powerful Russian oligarch. The document did not mention that the man, Victor Boyarkin, had links to the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump.
A months-long investigation by TIme, however, found that Boyarkin… was a key link between a senior member of the Trump campaign and a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Boyarkin told Time this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch.
Said Boyarkin: “He owed us a lot of money. And he was offering ways to pay it back.” http://time.com/5490169/paul-manafort-victor-boyarkin-debts/
1. Bess Levin: Trump: Unpaid Shutdown Workers Are Mostly Dems, So Screw ’Em
Last week, from the presidential mind that brought you telling kids Santa isn’t real on Christmas Eve and tweeting “I am all alone (poor me)” the same day an eight-year-old migrant boy died in U.S. custody, Donald Trump decided the best thing he could do for the country was shut down the federal government over his useless border wall. The news roiled an already freaked-out market, and investors weren’t the only ones unhappy about the turn of events. Trump, too, was clearly cranky about the fact that the shutdown was eating into his previously planned 16-day vacation at Mar-a-Lago, rage tweeting about everything from the wall to the Federal Reserve to Jim Mattis in between exposing the location and identities of Navy SEAL Team 5 and demanding Democrats end the shutdown he once said—just about two weeks ago—that he wouldn’t blame them for. On Thursday, though, he seemed to have found a silver lining to keeping the federal government partially closed:
Don’t adjust your TVs folks, that is the president of the United States seemingly suggesting that the issue of federal workers not getting paid during the shutdown he engineered doesn’t matter because they’re playing for the other team. (Incidentally, two days prior, Trump insisted that “many” federal employees “want the wall” and have said to him or otherwise communicated that he should hold out until he gets the funding.)
As the shutdown hit its fifth day on Wednesday, federal workers have been sharing worries about not receiving a paycheck on Twitter using the hashtag #ShutdownStories. Julie Burr, an administrative assistant at the Department of Transportation, wrote that she is “a single mom in panic mode” and is “picking up extra shifts at [her] 2nd job but it won't pay the rent.” Incredibly, the government has reportedly created sample letters for employees to send to creditors explaining their situation. “I am a federal employee who has recently been furloughed due to a lack of funding of my agency,” one meant to be sent to landlords reads. “Because of this, my income has been severely cut, and I am unable to pay the entire cost of my rent, along with my other expenses.” https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/12/trump-shutdown-mostly-democrats
2. Eugene Robinson: Who’s afraid of the MAGA mob? Only Trump.
Anyone who thinks Trump is a master politician is wrong. He’s a master illusionist, which isn’t the same thing. Politicians can’t keep pulling rabbits out of empty hats forever. At some point, they face a reckoning, and Trump’s is well underway.
Trump is talented at making it appear that he has more than he really does — more money, more respect, more support. All those campaign rallies before the midterm elections were not just an attempt to save the Republican majorities in Congress or feed Trump’s insatiable ego. They were also demonstrations of the fervor of his core supporters — and implied warnings to Republicans who might cross him.
Trump tries to project an image of immense strength. But it turns out that the man who made “You’re fired!” a television catchphrase can’t summon the nerve to actually dismiss anyone in person. Trump’s bluster camouflages great weakness. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/whos-afraid-of-the-maga-mob-only-trump/2018/12/27/0faa2f1e-0a0e-11e9-a3f0-71c95106d96a_story.html
3. Patrick Radden Keefe: How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success
“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. During the making of “The Apprentice,” Burnett conceded that the stories were constructed in this way, saying, “We know each week who has been fired, and, therefore, you’re editing in reverse.” Braun noted that President Trump’s staff seems to have been similarly forced to learn the art of retroactive narrative construction, adding, “I find it strangely validating to hear that they’re doing the same thing in the White House.”
Such sleight of hand is the industry standard in reality television. But the entire premise of “The Apprentice” was also something of a con. When Trump and Burnett told the story of their partnership, both suggested that Trump was initially wary of committing to a TV show, because he was so busy running his flourishing real-estate empire. During a 2004 panel at the Museum of Television and Radio, in Los Angeles, Trump claimed that “every network” had tried to get him to do a reality show, but he wasn’t interested: “I don’t want to have cameras all over my office, dealing with contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business. You know, mobsters don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room. It would play well on television, but it doesn’t play well with them.”
“The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a sleezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” Braun told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/01/07/how-mark-burnett-resurrected-donald-trump-as-an-icon-of-american-success
4. David Rothkopf: Trump’s lies and corruption disgrace presidential legacies of Lincoln and Washington
- A corrupt and fraudulent family foundation.
- Hush money to mistresses to help swing an election — felony violations of campaign finance laws.
- Seeking and embracing the help of an enemy to win an election.
- Repeatedly obstructing justice to cover up crimes.
- Selling out American interests to patrons overseas.
- Profiting from the presidency.
- Helping foreign murderers cover up the murder of an American permanent resident.
- Attacking our allies.
- Destroying the international architecture that has been the foundation of our strength.
- Lying to or misleading the American people on average 10 times a day.
- Celebrating Nazis as very fine people.
- Building detention camps for children on our borders.
- Racist policies that turn away good people from our shores.
- Serial misogyny.
- Upwards of 20 allegations of sexual harassment.
- At least one accusation of rape from an underage minor.
- A massive, decades-long record of income tax fraud.
- Seventeen investigations into his activities.
- Virtually every major organization he has run for two decades under investigation.
- An international record of celebrating despots and autocrats and kleptocrats and brutal totalitarians and enemies.
- Unprecedented isolation from America's friends and a repeated record of insults of them and international rejection of him as a trusted leader.
- Attacking America's law enforcement institutions.
- Attacking America's intelligence institutions.
- Collaborating with fellow travelers in Congress to circumvent the laws and to undermine decades and decades of regulation.
- Irreversible damage done to the environment.
- A campaign to take health care away from the neediest Americans.
- A systematic effort to deport productive contributors to our society who have lived and worked here for decades.
- Hypocrisy. Vulgarity. Deceit. Mounting evidence of criminal behavior. Serial violation of his oath of office.
- Serial betrayal of his country.
This is our president. This is the heir to Washington and Lincoln. He stole the office with the aid of our enemies, and he has done grievous damage to this country ever since. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/12/27/trump-corruption-disgraces-presidential-legacy-washington-lincoln-column/2376588002/
5. NY Times Editorial: Trump Imperils the Planet
It’s hard to believe but it was only three years ago this month — just after 7 p.m., Paris time, Dec. 12, to be precise — that delegates from more than 190 nations, clapping and cheering, whooping and weeping, rose to celebrate the Paris Agreement — the first genuinely collective response to the mounting threat of global warming. It was a largely aspirational document, without strong legal teeth and achieved only after contentious and exhausting negotiations. But for the first time in climate talks stretching back to 1992, it set forth specific, numerical pledges from each country to reduce emissions so that together they could keep atmospheric temperatures from barreling past a point of no return.
Two weeks ago, delegates met at a follow-up conference in Katowice, Poland, to address procedural questions left unsettled in Paris, including common accounting mechanisms and greater transparency in how countries report their emissions. In this the delegates largely succeeded, giving rise to the hope, as Brad Plumer put it in The Times, that “new rules would help build a virtuous cycle of trust and cooperation among countries, at a time when global politics seems increasingly fractured.”
But otherwise it was a hugely dispiriting event and a fitting coda to one of the most discouraging years in recent memory for anyone who cares about the health of the planet — a year marked by President Trump’s destructive, retrograde policies, by backsliding among big nations, by fresh data showing that carbon dioxide emissions are still going up, by ever more ominous signs (devastating wildfires and floods, frightening scientific reports) of what a future of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions is likely to bring.
The bottom line, according to the Global Carbon Project, is that after three years in which emissions remained largely flat, global levels of carbon dioxide increased by 1.6 percent in 2017 and are on pace to jump by 2.7 percent this year. Some scientists have likened the increase in emissions to a “speeding freight train.” That has a lot to do with economic growth. It also has a lot to do with not moving much faster to less carbon-intensive ways of powering that growth. Or in Mr. Trump’s case, moving in the opposite direction. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/opinion/editorials/climate-change-environment-trump.html
6. Jonathan Lemire: Trump’s presidency has changed Washington, defied convention
Mr. Trump went to Washington. And he changed it.
In his first two years in office, President Donald Trump has rewritten the rules of the presidency and the norms of the nation’s capital, casting aside codes of conduct and traditions that have held for generations.
In Trump’s Washington, facts are less relevant. Insults and highly personal attacks are increasingly employed by members of both parties. The White House press briefing is all but gone, international summits are optional, the arts are an afterthought and everything — including inherently nonpartisan institutions and investigations — is suddenly political.
Taking a wrecking ball to decorum and institutions, Trump has changed, in ways both subtle and profound, how Washington works and how it is viewed by the rest of the nation and world.
“He’s dynamited the institution of the presidency,” said Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian at Rice University. “He doesn’t see himself as being part of a long litany of presidents who will hand a baton to a successor. Instead, he uses the presidency as an extension of his own personality.”
Is this a one-president aberration? Or has the White House forever changed? Whether the trends will outlast Trump’s presidency is a question that won’t be answered until there is a new occupant in the Oval Office, but Brinkley predicts “no future president will model themselves on him.”
There was a time, many accelerated news cycles ago, when there was speculation, stoked by the candidate himself, that Trump would abandon the bluster of his campaign and become “more presidential” once he took office.
No one says that anymore.
Trump himself believes his unpredictability is what holds Americans’ attention and fuels his success. https://apnews.com/d7239932bb0a42ee91c71bead38c6baa
7. Elizabeth Drew: The Inevitability of Impeachment
An impeachment process against President Trump now seems inescapable. Unless the president resigns, the pressure by the public on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process next year will only increase. Too many people think in terms of stasis: How things are is how they will remain. They don’t take into account that opinion moves with events.
Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill.
The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the president’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous decision to pull American troops out of Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation, the swoon in the stock market, the pointless shutdown of parts of the government — instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/27/opinion/trump-impeachment-resign-drew.html
8. Eric Levitz: Trump: Give Me a Wall or I’ll Engineer a Recession
Donald Trump declared himself qualified for the world’s highest office in 2016, on the grounds that his exceptional deal-making acumen and economic expertise more than compensated for his lack of conventional credentials.
On Friday morning, the president tweeted that if Democrats refuse to fund his wall, he will engineer a massive recession (that would all-but ensure Democratic victory in 2020) – because he is under the impression that the United States would “profit” by closing its southern border to all commerce, since the U.S. runs trade deficit with Mexico:
Trump’s threat to “close the border” appears to be a desperate attempt to secure some kind of leverage over negotiating partners who show no signs of caving. And it is (arguably) true that the president could at least temporarily shutter the U.S.-Mexico border by invoking his national security powers, and that this would inflict some economic pain on Democratic constituencies. It is also true that Trump has unilateral authority to initiate a thermonuclear armageddon, and that Nancy Pelosi would probably prefer to fund a border wall than perish in an atomic holocaust.
But our president is the kind of demented nihilist who threatens to use his national security powers to inflict suffering on the American people, for the sake of narrow legislative gains — not the kind who would actually do so! Or, probably not, anyway!
And that is apparently enough to persuade congressional Republicans that they have no responsibility to remove a demented nihilist from the Oval Office.
9. Bess Levin: Government Tells Furloughed Workers To Unclog Toilets For Rent As Trump Rants And Raves Over Border
One of the most distressing aspects of the ongoing government shutdown, besides the national embarrassment of having a dysfunctional political system, is that for as long as Donald Trump keeps up his tantrum over the wall, some 800,000 federal workers will go unpaid. For many who live paycheck to paycheck, the prospect of not being able to put food on the table or pay their mortgage or rent is a very real concern, with furloughed employees sharing their fears on Twitter using the hashtag #ShutdownStories. While the president is apparently unconcerned about hundreds of thousands of Americans going without a paycheck—many of them are Democrats!—the Office of Personnel Management has tried to help, sharing a series of sample letters it suggests using as “a guide when working with your creditors during this furlough.” Here’s an excerpt from one of them:
I am a Federal employee who has recently been furloughed due to a lack of funding of my agency. Because of this, my income has been severely cut and I am unable to pay the entire cost of my rent, along with my other expenses...I will keep in touch with you to keep you informed about my income status and I would like to discuss with you the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments.
Here the federal government actually telling workers to beg their landlord to let them unclog some toilets or perform other janitorial work to avoid being evicted. (When tweeting the sample letters, the O.P.M. also told people to consult their “personal attorney” over legal matters—advice we’re sure the average government employee currently working without pay much appreciated.)
Presumably even less comforting, though, was the wall rant Trump went on, sandwiched between defending signing MAGA merch while visiting the troops in Iraq and thanking Pravda competitor Fox & Friends for some great press:
If your reaction to reading that is “WTF” or simply slack-jawed astonishment, you’re not alone. Here, the president is somehow conflating the alleged need for an (ineffective!) wall to keep out illegal immigrants with NAFTA—a trade agreement he crowed about renegotiating not long ago. Unsurprisingly, the former beauty pageant owner, for whom everything is transactional, can’t set aside his obsession with supposedly being screwed (“The United States looses [sic] soooo much money on Trade”) and focus on one thing for one minute. Now, somehow, the battle over wall funding also has to do with jobs being sent to Mexico, plus “Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador . . . doing nothing for the United States but taking our money,” and the solution for it all is some tasteful steel slats. Or, barring that, completely shutting down the southern border. For the furloughed workers currently being advised to barter with their landlords to make rent, it can’t be much comfort to know their fate is tied to the whims and logic of a confused child. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/12/government-tells-furloughed-workers-to-unclog-toilets-for-rent
10. Ryan Cooper: The comical incompetence of President Trump
President Trump is spending the last few days of 2018 in signature fashion, with a series of unforced errors and comical pratfalls around the world, any one of which would have been a multi-week scandal for any previous president. The government is shut down over total nonsense, and Trump's attempt to visit the troops for a quick propaganda coup instantly became a head-shaking discussion about his awful operation security and pointless lies.
It's worth remembering every now and then that Trump is horrible at being president. The basic tasks are as far beyond him as it would be for a parakeet attempting to operate the Large Hadron Collider.
Let's review. The United States is on the seventh day of a government shutdown sparked by Trump demanding $5 billion for The Wall. As many, many experts have argued at tedious length, any border wall is all but pointless for achieving its stated objective. Walls are easy to get around, and actually building one would ruin the lives and properties of many law-abiding citizens, in addition to presenting huge logistical and legal barriers. Anyway, since 2007 most people who immigrate illegally overstay their visas instead of crossing the border.
The Wall has always been a shiny bouncing ball, something to whip up the Fox News rubes and get cable news talking about Trump's favorite subject: himself. The reality of the thing is entirely beside the point. Indeed, Congress already allocated $1.7 billion for border barriers in 2017 and 2018, and the administration only spent 6 percent of it. https://theweek.com/articles/814599/comical-incompetence-president-trump
11. George Packer: No Peace for Them and No Honor for Us
Nothing in the presidency of Donald Trump combines tragedy and farce so perfectly as his decision to withdraw the 2,000 American troops in Syria.
“We have defeated isis in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he tweeted on the morning of December 19. The claim was false on its face. The Islamic State has lost most of its territory, but it retains thousands of fighters in the desert where the Euphrates River crosses from Syria to Iraq. Those fighters could be more dangerous as insurgents and terrorists than as the territorial army of a self-proclaimed caliphate.
Trump’s announcement was so ill-considered and rushed that it blindsided his most important advisers, prompting the resignations of Defense Secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, special envoy to the anti-isis coalition. Diplomats and aid workers involved in rebuilding liberated Syrian towns were given 24 hours to evacuate the country. U.S. Special Forces now have to abandon the training of the American-allied, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, a job that General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, recently said was only 20 percent finished. For American troops dedicated to the ethic of leaving no friend behind on the battlefield, Trump’s order has to be particularly bitter. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/us-betraying-its-allies-syria/579133/
12. Ryan Cooper: Trump is losing his Republican security blanket in 2019
Because the Republican Party is morally bankrupt, they categorically abandoned their constitutional obligations from 2017 to 2018 and protected Trump at every turn. Congressional Republicans did not hold a single hearing or open a single investigation into any of Trump's egregious scams or flagrant violations of the constitutional language banning profiteering off the presidency.
That is highly likely to change in 2019. Partly because Republicans have stuck so closely to Trump, Democrats will control the House committees and their subpoena powers. And as Robert Mueller has showed time and time again, the crimes of Trump and his associates are typically extremely easy to figure out. https://theweek.com/articles/814890/trump-losing-republican-security-blanket-2019
13. Dan Balz: For Democrats, the race to 2020 will be unlike any seen in modern times
Anyone who has paid close attention to past Democratic presidential nominating campaigns should strike what they know from their memory bank. Old rules and previous assumptions aren’t likely to be worth much. What’s ahead for the Democrats will be unlike any nomination battle in recent years.
This time it is likely there will be two African American candidates — Sens. Kamala D. Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey — looking to consolidate support from the party’s most loyal constituency. But many other candidates will be seeking a piece of the black vote as well. Biden has ties to black voters dating to the days of the civil rights movement. Warren’s opening video is explicit, highlighting the wealth gap between white and black families and the history of discrimination against African Americans. Sanders struggled in 2016 with African Americans and could face similar challenges this time.
There won’t be just one woman running this time, there could be many. They include Harris, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The success of female candidates running for Congress during the midterm elections, the organizing activity led by women across the country and the #MeToo movement have illustrated the rising power of women in politics, especially in the Democratic Party.
The Democratic race will quickly become a kind of Noah’s Ark of candidates, with at least two of almost everything. There will be multiple senators running, along with multiple governors or ex-governors, along with multiple mayors or ex-mayor (a rarity in presidential politics), along with the possibility of multiple candidates with business backgrounds and even a couple of billionaires. One other clear dividing line will be familiar versus fresh faces — a Biden or a Sanders versus the likes of outgoing-Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas or Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana.
The permutations are endless, given the mix-and-match appeals of the field. The challenge will be finding a way to break out of the pack, whether through celebrity appeal, money or preferably a messenger with a distinctive message that can capture the imaginations of party activists and also prove viable with the electorate in a general election. Having a clear sense of strategy and the discipline to follow it will separate long-distance runners from the others. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/for-democrats-the-race-to-2020-will-be-unlike-any-seen-in-modern-times/2018/12/31/c01a8d8a-0d15-11e9-8938-5898adc28fa2_story.html
14. David Brooks: 2019: The Year of the Wolves
It will be a year of divided government and unprecedented partisan conflict. It will be a year in which Donald Trump is isolated and unrestrained as never before. And it will be in this atmosphere that indictments will fall, provoking not just a political crisis but a constitutional one.
There are now over a dozen investigations into Trump’s various scandals. If we lived in a healthy society, the ensuing indictments would be handled in a serious way — somber congressional hearings, dispassionate court proceedings. Everybody would step back and be sobered by the fact that our very system of law is at stake.
But we don’t live in a healthy society and we don’t have a healthy president.
Trump doesn’t recognize, understand or respect institutional authority. He only understands personal power. He sees every conflict as a personal conflict in which he destroys or gets destroyed.
When the indictments come down, Trump won’t play by the rules. He’ll seek to delegitimize those rules. He’ll seek to delegitimize our legal institutions. He’ll personalize every indictment, slander every prosecutor. He’ll seek to destroy the edifice of law in order to save himself. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/31/opinion/trump-indictment-2019.html
15. Mitt Romney: The president shapes the public character of the nation. Trump’s character falls short.
The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.
It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions this month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.
To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect. As a nation, we have been blessed with presidents who have called on the greatness of the American spirit. With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mitt-romney-the-president-shapes-the-public-character-of-the-nation-trumps-character-falls-short/