Another actual quote from our president:

Mick Mulvaney is here, and Mick is in charge of a thing called budget. I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you are throwing our budget out of whack. We spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine. We saved a lot of lives. If you look at the — every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing. No one has ever seen anything like that. What is your death count?

PUERTO RICO GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLÓ: Sixteen.

TRUMP: Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everyone around this table and everyone watching can be very proud of what’s taking place in Puerto Rico.

–transcript from Vox.

For what it’s worth, the official FEMA death toll from Katrina is 1,833. “Very proud,” indeed.

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Committed to the label

I asked both Barber and Pope of Brigham Young what their thoughts on American politics are now that Trump has been in office eight months.

Pope argued in an email that there has been too much emphasis on polarization and not enough on partisanship.

While elites — elected officials and party activists — are ideologically polarized, the best the general public “can manage is a kind of tribal partisanship that does not really reflect the content of the elite discussion,” Pope wrote:

Citizens pick a team, but they don’t naturally think like the team leadership does. And when Trump tells Republicans to think in a new way, lots of people happily adopt that new position because they were never that committed to the old ideas anyway. They’re just committed to the label.

–Thomas B. Edsall, Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High?

The valence of the bloody heirloom

An analysis of exit polls conducted during the presidential primaries estimated the median household income of Trump supporters to be about $72,000. But even this lower number is almost double the median household income of African Americans, and $15,000 above the American median. Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascardads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant. According to Mother Jones, based on preelection polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown.

Part of Trump’s dominance among whites resulted from his running as a Republican, the party that has long cultivated white voters. Trump’s share of the white vote was similar to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But unlike Romney, Trump secured this support by running against his party’s leadership, against accepted campaign orthodoxy, and against all notions of decency. By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.

 

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Trump bragged in January 2016. This statement should be met with only a modicum of skepticism. Trump has mocked the disabled, withstood multiple accusations of sexual violence (all of which he has denied), fired an FBI director, sent his minions to mislead the public about his motives, personally exposed those lies by boldly stating his aim to scuttle an investigation into his possible collusion with a foreign power, then bragged about that same obstruction to representatives of that same foreign power. It is utterly impossible to conjure a black facsimile of Donald Trump—to imagine Obama, say, implicating an opponent’s father in the assassination of an American president or comparing his physical endowment with that of another candidate and then successfully capturing the presidency. Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom and the great power in not being a nigger.

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, The First White President

Our love affair with dissent

What’s interesting about Trump is that he won, not that his strain of politics is new. It’s always been around. Let’s not go wild trying to figure out what happened: The crazy train of American history happened. The lineage that winds from Andrew Jackson to Tom Watson to Joe McCarthy to George Wallace to Pat Buchanan to Trump is not just “conservative,” nor is it just “working class” in any way an intellectually driven conservative or Marxist or liberal would recognize or celebrate. The conservative/liberal divide is a deeply tenuous construct. Looking for a populist savior, however, is bedrock Americana.

Historians need to reconcile their intellectual frameworks with a “real-world” America that is a messy stew of populist, communitarian, reactionary, progressive, racist, patriarchal, and nativist ingredients. Any historical era has its own mix of these elements, which play in different ways. We should embrace Thompson’s admonition to understand class as a continuing, sometimes volatile happening, and not be blinded by our love affair with dissent as a left-wing movement. Trump voters are dissenters, after all.

–Jefferson Cowie, How Labor Scholars Missed the Trump Revolt

“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?”

TRUMP: Look, Sessions gets the job. Right after he gets the job, he recuses himself.

BAKER: Was that a mistake?

TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

HABERMAN: He gave you no heads up at all, in any sense?

TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself. I then end up with a second man, who’s a deputy.

HABERMAN: Rosenstein.

TRUMP: Who is he? And Jeff hardly knew. He’s from Baltimore.

________

TRUMP: Yeah, what Jeff Sessions did was he recused himself right after, right after he became attorney general. And I said, “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” I would have — then I said, “Who’s your deputy?” So his deputy he hardly knew, and that’s Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any. So, he’s from Baltimore. Now, he, we went through a lot of things. We were interviewing replacements at the F.B.I. Did you know Mueller was one of the people that was being interviewed?

HABERMAN: I did, actually.

Excerpts from the Times’s Interview with Trump

A few thoughts on reading the transcripted excerpts of the most recent NYT interview with 45:

1.) Some theater company ought to do a staging of Glengarry Glen Ross where all the parts are played as Donald Trump impersonations. You heard it here first. I’ll clear space in my schedule for next year’s Tony Awards. (Seriously, though: I can’t be the only one who’s thought of this.)

2.) In interviews with competent executives, it is usually the journalists asking their subject for basic information and clarifications. In this interview, the president asks the reporters a lot of questions about things you would expect him to know. Or, as in the quote above, the president asks a rhetorical question that only makes him look like an uninformed buffoon.

3.) In a post that is very critical of the president’s lack of ethics or good sense, Rod Dreher comments, “I don’t see how Jeff Sessions has any choice now but to resign. He has lost the confidence of the president. And I think Sessions will one day very soon be grateful that he got out of this Dumpster fire of an administration before it all went to hell.” To which I say, “before it goes to hell”?!? But also: Jeff Sessions has a lot of choices. Jeff Sessions played a central role in legitimizing Trump for the Republican base during the long election, and I’m sure that he intends to do a lot more with the power of the A.G.’s office before he’s done.

Dreher, bless him, seems to operate under the impression that the key players in the Republican Party have some semblence of a political conscience. But they fell in line behind Donald J. Trump, a man who has demonstrated a truly incredible capacity to prove his ignorance and lack of moral scruple time and again. In a country where a majority of the Republican base could be outraged/shocked/marginally perturbed by Trump saying, almost in so many words, that he would not have hired Sessions as Attorney General if he’d known that Sessions would do his job in holding the president accountable to the law, perhaps Dreher would be on the mark. In the real world,  as long as Trump’s flagrantly tyrannical effusions don’t upset the core constituencies that keep them in power, people like Jeff Sessions can continue to bathe in the dumpster fire, confident that they won’t get burned. I mean, the whole thing stinks, but voters evidently will continue to hold their noses and pull the lever for these people.

Satisfying moments.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.” Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.[…]

I thought about the moment her producer approached the child’s mother to sign a release so that the woman’s young son could be humiliated on television. Was it a satisfying moment, or was it accompanied by a small glint of recognition that embarrassing children is a crappy way to make a living? I thought about the boy waiting eagerly to see himself on television, feeling a surge of pride that he’d talked about church and Bible study. And I thought about the moment when he realized that it had all been a trick—that the grown-up who had seemed so nice had only wanted to hurt him.

–Caitlin Flanagan, How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump

The guy we need to see ourselves clearly.

For the next shot he pulls on an ill-fitting suit and too-long tie, and he watches as that same wig is placed on his enormous, groomed head, and he mangles his eyes and pushes out his lips, this tired man made beautiful made ugly. It’s an unsettling transformation to watch. It’s almost as though Alec Baldwin, before he can become Donald Trump, must first become the best version of Alec Baldwin, and then ruin him. […]

Maybe it’s not that he has to ruin the best Alec Baldwin to play Donald Trump. Maybe inhabiting Trump reminds him of the ugly man he is capable of being and the man he would prefer to be. Maybe by playing a person who yearns so deeply for a chorus of praise he will never receive, Baldwin has found the resolve to be his best.

“I wonder if this is the guy we need to see ourselves clearly,” he says.

–Chris Jones, Alec Baldwin Gets Under Trump’s Skin

Who knew?

What is key though is to understand that this is not just ignorance. Ignorance is just the first stage of Trump’s fairly advanced problem. He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance. This is compounded by a seeming inability to understand that everyone else isn’t equally ignorant to him. Those of us who are parents know the wonder of discovery experienced by small children. They find out there were things such as dinosaurs or close primate relatives called lemurs. As loving parents we indulge them, sometimes feigning ignorance of things we actually already knew to support a child’s joy in discovery.

But Donald Trump is a 70 year old man. And not a terribly nice man.

His ignorance is not endearing. We don’t need to lie to him to make him feel good about himself. Still it is good to understand his condition. Ignorance is just lack of information. But there’s something wrong with Trump’s brain – maybe cognitive, perhaps simple entitlement or just broad spectrum derp – which appears to make it genuinely impossible not to project his own ignorance onto everybody else.

–Josh Marshall, Trump and the Problem of Militant Ignorance

It’s worth asking the question: aren’t Trump voters just as ignorant as he is or as prone to projecting their own ignorance onto others? When Trump says, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” it’s easy to retort, “Everybody knew that health care was that complicated.” And you might even think that this is true. Who doesn’t know how nightmarishly complicated health care in America is? But I wonder.

When Trump projects his ignorance onto everyone else, it rankles those of us who already knew what he now knows. It’s vaguely offensive, and for many of the reasons Marshall describes. I mean, I know that I’m vastly too ignorant to be president of the United States, and it is a bit disconcerting to be offered daily evidence that I seem to know my history better than the man currently wielding the Tomahawk missiles. But then, I take seriously what William Faulkner once wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The only history Donald Trump cares about is his Twitter timeline.

In my experience, people who aren’t innately curious only educate themselves if they’re externally compelled to do so. A great many of them justify their ignorance by saying that whatever knowledge they don’t possess simply doesn’t matter in their own daily lives.

So I don’t think it’s entirely unfair for him to project ignorance onto others. The people who flocked to his rallies rewarded him for his ignorant expectorations with applause; the people who voted for him didn’t think his ignorance sufficient reason to disqualify him from the job that, thanks to them, he now holds. In other words, the people who made Donald Trump president are either as ignorant as he is or they don’t care terribly much about his militant ignorance. These are the people, I presume, of whom Trump speaks when he says things like, “But it’s not what you think.”

This isn’t “broad spectrum derp.” It actually makes intuitive sense. Why would the duly-elected president of the United States assume that the people who put him in office were more knowledgeable than he was? After all: if they knew better, why on earth would they have voted for him?

It defies logic.

Arthur Herstein, 74, a writer from Bowie, Maryland, said he was frustrated by Obama’s “over-the-top” vacation and travel expenses.

Still, Herstein said he doesn’t believe it’s the case that Trump is on pace to spend more on vacation and travel. He waved away a Washington Post story held up on a reporter’s phone.

“I believe that the story exists,” Herstein said. “But the facts in it can’t possibly be right. That absolutely can’t be right. How did Trump spend $10 million in one month and Obama spent $11 million in a year? It defies logic.”

–Jeff Stein, Conservative activists refuse to believe Trump is spending more on travel than Obama

A monochromatic and male bastion

I debated whether I should leave my job. Since I was not a political appointee, but a direct hire of the NSC, I had the option to stay. The incoming and now departed national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had said things like “fear of Muslims is rational.” Some colleagues and community leaders encouraged me to stay, while others expressed concern for my safety. Cautiously optimistic, and feeling a responsibility to try to help them continue our work and be heard, I decided that Trump’s NSC could benefit from a colored, female, hijab-wearing, American Muslim patriot.

The weeks leading up to the inauguration prepared me and my colleagues for what we thought would come, but not for what actually came. On Monday, January 23, I walked into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with the new staffers there. Rather than the excitement I encountered when I first came to the White House under Obama, the new staff looked at me with a cold surprise. The diverse White House I had worked in became a monochromatic and male bastion.

The days I spent in the Trump White House were strange, appalling and disturbing. As one staffer serving since the Reagan administration said, “This place has been turned upside down. It’s chaos. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.” This was not typical Republican leadership, or even that of a businessman. It was a chaotic attempt at authoritarianism––legally questionable executive orders, accusations of the press being “fake,” peddling countless lies as “alternative facts,” and assertions by White House surrogates that the president’s national security authority would “not be questioned.”

The entire presidential support structure of nonpartisan national security and legal experts within the White House complex and across federal agencies was being undermined. Decision-making authority was now centralized to a few in the West Wing. Frustration and mistrust developed as some staff felt out of the loop on issues within their purview. There was no structure or clear guidance. Hallways were eerily quiet as key positions and offices responsible for national security or engagement with Americans were left unfilled.

–Rumana Ahmed, I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House