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.