Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Serious Proposal to Inform the President

by Michael Dorf

The events of the last several days suggest that the Trump White House, while not exactly the fine-tuned machine that the Maximum Leader touts, is behaving a bit more professionally than in its first chaotic month. On Monday, President Trump named a well-respected, not-at-all-insane general, H.R. McMaster, as National Security Adviser. Yesterday Trump acknowledged the existence of a spike in antisemitic attacks and unequivocally condemned them, while also condemning bigotry more generally. To give Trump credit for these acts is, of course, to grade on an unbelievably generous curve, but it's still a major improvement.

One hopes that the McMaster appointment means that there will be another voice of reason in the higher echelons of the administration so that policy is not made entirely by people in way over their head (Kushner) or working for the Dark Lord (Bannon). Time will tell, but there is reason to be skeptical. Tuesday also saw the release of two appalling internal guidance memos by the Department of Homeland Security that greatly expand the categories of undocumented immigrants who will now be targeted for deportation.

In addition to their cruelty, these guidance memos are not, shall we say, reality-based. One of them commits DHS to construction of Trump's Great Wall, beginning with this piece of justificatory fiction: "A wall along the southern border is necessary to deter and prevent the illegal entry of aliens . . . ."

The other guidance memo states that "[c]riminal aliens have demonstrated their disregard for the rule of law and pose a threat to persons residing in the United States," even as it prioritizes apprehension and deportation of "removable aliens who: (1) have been convicted of any criminal offense; (2) have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved; (3) have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense." That's right. Any criminal offense. According to Homeland Security Secretary Kelly's construction of the Dear Leader's will, someone who has been charged with possession of marijuana or has not even been charged but is--what?--believed by ICE to have at one point possessed marijuana or to have committed misdemeanor littering poses "a threat to persons residing in the United States."

Kelly's guidance memos should not come as a shock. They implement two executive orders (available here and here) that POTUS Maximus signed on January 25. Trump has justified those orders in turn by pointing to his campaign promises to "build the wall" and to get tough on "bad hombres" bringing crime and drugs from Mexico, but of course, the fact that Trump said something while campaigning hardly makes it true.

I am not so naive to believe that Trump could be induced to abandon his Tremendous Wall or his crackdown on undocumented immigrants by something as impotent as facts. Being a badass towards undocumented immigrants from south of the border and towards anyone suspected of being a "radical Islamic terrorist" were the twin pillars of Trump's campaign. (Wait, you say. What about misogyny? That is no doubt part of Trump's essence and his support, but he didn't expressly campaign on it. But see "nasty woman, such a").

Suppose you could lock Trump in a room for an hour, hold his attention per the eyelid trick of the Ludovico Technique (from the coincidentally appropriately titled film A Clockwork Orange), and expose him to experts explaining how stupid his immigration policy is. Still, Trump is almost certainly too committed to that policy to let it go.

However, there are many topics about which Trump is merely an ignoramus, not an ignoramus with a well-developed, albeit stupid and cruel, policy agenda. With respect to these areas of what we might call non-ideological ignorance, it is in nearly everyone's interest that Trump be better informed. The question is how.

We can begin with the observation that Trump spends MUCH more time watching cable news than even a regular person with a reasonably demanding job ought to. That explains some of his bizarre statements and tweets, including the belief that a terrorist attack had taken place in Sweden the night before Trump spoke at a rally because Trump had watched a FoxNews segment on immigration and crime in Sweden that aired the night before Trump's comments. Whether a riot that subsequently broke out in an immigrant neighborhood of suburban Stockholm vindicates the FoxNews story is beside the point. Even if Trump is only watching reliable reporting, he is getting way too much of his information from tv news aimed at a general audience than from policy experts aiming to inform him on precisely those topics he needs to learn about to make well-informed decisions.

To combat Trump's ignorance while leveraging Trump's status as a cable news junkie, John Oliver has created a series of short commercials featuring a tv cowboy that he has aired on shows Trump watches. Watch below (or, if you're getting this post by email, here).

Funny, no doubt, but even assuming Oliver means this to be taken seriously, it can only scratch the surface of Trump's ignorance. Thus, I want to propose something more drastic, to be implemented by the White House itself. (Pay attention, Reince!)

I propose that Trump be given his presidential daily briefing in the form of a half-hour video that El Jefe can watch each evening in the White House residence (either in his bathrobe or, per Sean Spicer's apparent preference, au naturel). The briefing "show" would be slickly produced and could even be designed to look like CNN or FoxNews, with "guests" who are really policy experts with different views arguing with one another. But it would be based on the professionals' sense of what the president needs to know, rather than whatever happens to be on tv. So, in a sense the tv briefing would be "fake news," i.e., it wouldn't be an actual news show, but it might go some way towards addressing Trump's distractibility.

One obvious downside is that to be fully effective, the tv briefing would have to include some classified information, which Trump might then inadvertently leak to the public. But of course he's already at risk of doing that. And finally, to be clear, this is a serious proposal.


David Ricardo said...

The problem with Mr. Dorf's recommendation is that it is premised on the assumption that Trump is actually interested in learning the reality of things. If the campaign and the Presidency of Trump has taught us anything it is that he does not value facts, data and truth. For most of us when reality confronts our false beliefs we abandon those beliefs for the truth. When Trump and his false beliefs confront reality it is reality that must give way.

So exposing him to reality is pointless, he will simply dismiss it. Just because the crime rate is not at an all time high, just because tens of thousands of terrorists are not pouring into the country, just because his inaugural crowd was not larger than others etc does not mean they are not true.

Shag from Brookline said...

Yesterday I watched a re-run of Charlie Rose's 2/20/17 show which was a rebroadcast of an 11/6/92 interview of The Donald about his "comeback." Very interesting. Here's where:

Can Trump change? More articles are emerging about international trademarking of the Trump brand. In the first month of his presidency he has taken 6 Mulligans on his political ineptness by going golfing. Trump's base thinks he's doing great with the Trump version of the Midal touch. In coal country they are awaiting a return to the mines. Trump claims to be smarter than the Generals so he hires them.

Shag from Brookline said...


"Whether a riot that subsequently broke out in an immigrant neighborhood of suburban Stockholm vindicates the FoxNews story is beside the point."

should not suggest that the subsequent riot might not have been in response to Trump's original baseless charge, as Trump may have inspired those rioting. Such things happened at and following Trump campaign events.

Joe said...

DR's pessimism tends to be useful.

My concern here is the messenger. Trump likes FOX News. I gather even there he blanks out when someone like Shepard Smith talks. The Sweden thing came from Tucker Carlson's show. So, if this is to work at all, need to find someone he could trust. The video needs to include some degree of b.s., figuring that you need to have limited aims here. Trump does seem to be impressed with generals. The most sane people in his Cabinet lean toward generals. That might help.

But, anyway, you are going to have to show him stuff. The t.v. idea has merit there. He can do so when he wears his bathrobe and eats some of his taco bowl.

Bob Hockett said...

Brilliant! I actually think that it just might work.

Later on, when - one hopes! - we can all look back on this era with laughter, we might call this the Cuckoo-Clockwork Orange plan that saved the world.

Joe said...

I'm not sure if he's going to talk about it but Prof. Dorf's column came out a couple days ago (seems out of sequence):

Shag from Brookline said...

Trump may be impressed with generals, but consider General Kelly's recent Homeland guidelines on Trump's immigration policy more in line with Trump's rhetoric than the other generals. Kelly seems to have blood in his whatever in his ICE-ing of illegal aliens in sync with the Trump/Bannon Administration. Can we expect General Mad Dog to soon wag his tail in sync with Trump? Maybe Trump was right about generals, generally speaking.

Joe said...

No matter who it is, going to promote Trump policies.

There was some suggesting it's better to have incompetence there ala Ben Carson. I think in the long run, for those who care about government working, that's a dangerous way to go. I'm somewhat relieved by competent generals in various positions. See, e.g., Just Security blog regarding some reassuring remarks in the past from the new National Security Advisor.

Shag from Brookline said...

Mike's serious proposal requires that it "be implemented by the White House itself." How seriously may we expect the WH staff to act after how many of them have performed in the media? I've watched Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, Stephen Miller on the Sunday political shows supporting President Trump. Stephen Bannon's role has been extensively been described and discussed. They are much of Trump's stall, having served in Trump's campaign. Are they part of the WH staff to implement this serious proposal? Or are there other WH "professionals" who would be permitted and do so? Frankly, I can imagine some of the WH staff using Mike's proposal as a means of keeping Trump in his campaign mode and thus ensuring the influences they brought to the campaign. But whichever direction this serious proposal takes, it doesn't instill confidence in Trump's presidency. I'm afraid it might produce Mulligan Stew.

Michael C. Dorf said...

Lots of good comments here. Just one re Joe's point about the column. I'm waiting for the revised EO ("Muslim Ban 2.0") to drop. Then I'll discuss it along with the column.

Shag from Brookline said...

The Trump Administration is focusing on revoking Trans bathroom regs very shortly. I'm trying to imagine a meaningful half hour video that WH "professionals" might put together to help Trump really, really understand what's involved. I have no idea of the number of Trans in America, but politically this is high on the Trump Administration's list, particularly because of the support provided Trump by the Revengelicals. Betsy DeVos had objected but presumably changed her mind after Trump told her to sign on. Who among WH "professionals" might deign to stick to a principle that is contra to Trump?

Unknown said...

How about cutting-and-pasting the daily briefing onto the front page of the National Enquirer?

We know The Ignoramus reads that rag because (1) he said that it should have won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering John Edwards' love child, (2) he posted a picture of himself last Cinco de Mayo eating a Taco Bowl from the Trump Cafe while glaring at photos of his ex, Marla Maples, and (3) he prefers his briefings to contain as few words as possible and lots of pictures.

With the election of this repulsive vulgarian goon, America's intelligence has hit rock bottom. At least the intelligence of the 62,979,636 morons who placed their trust in this lying con artist.

Shag from Brookline said...

Speaking of Marla Maples, we've been exposed to the tabloid headline quoting her: "Best Sex Ever!." Marla may be subject to a non-disclosure arrangement but I imagine Marla thinking in that National Enquirer Taco Bowl photo: "Best Ex Ever!"

Shag from Brookline said...

On PBS last night I heard that the Trans population in America is about .7%. Revengelicals must be proud of their heritage in the name of Jesus.

Joe said...

The people involved goes beyond individuals though to their family, friends etc. See, e.g., the book "Becoming Nicole." It also concerns an overall principles of sex, gender and other issues. So, we are talking about more than mere numbers. This is also the case regarding the raw numbers of homosexuals etc.

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