What Fresh Hell?: Trump's wagging the dog edition
Donald Trump during CNN debate (Photo: Screen capture via video)

Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.


We were hoping that Donald Trump would be get distracted by some petty grievance and forget to bomb Syria, but those hopes were dashed late Friday night when the US, backed by France and the UK, launched Operation Desert Stormy*, and attacked several targets in Syria.

CNN reports that “ there is a view among Trump's national security team that the President's tweets earlier this week -- including one threatening US missiles ‘will be coming, nice and new and 'smart'’ -- forced their hand and made some type of strikes inevitable… ‘Once the President tweeted what he tweeted we have to go forward,’ one senior administration official said.”

The one silver lining is that the attack followed a week when Trump was so unhinged, and it is such an obvious case of wag the dog – this was the eighth suspected Chemical weapons attack in Syria since Trump took office – that at least so far we’ve been spared the punditry about how Trump is finally acting presidential by blowing up brown people in some far-flung shithole country. Another potential comfort is that since Trump doesn’t give a damn about Syrian deaths or war crimes, perhaps we won’t see the usual escalation and mission creep. Let him declare mission accomplished and be lauded as a great hero by the conservative press. If he follows through on his desire to withdrawal US troops, it might all end with a really bad but not catastrophic outcome.

“Within 90 minutes” of the attacks, reports The New York Times, “the Russian ambassador to the United States warned of ‘consequences’ for the allied attacks.”

The incident, capping a week that was unusually chaotic even for this regime, highlights something that we’d always taken for granted with other presidents – even bad ones: the ability to tune out what the president is doing. The White House has traditionally hummed along in the background, occasionally making news that normal people going about their business took notice of. This president, with his bizarre twitter rants, narcissistic rages and the sleazy characters with which he’s surrounded himself, is different. He is a constant presence in our lives, omnipresent on our TVs and in our newspapers. He is unpredictable to the extreme, leaving us all to wonder what the fuck he’s going to pull next. For half of the population – and much of the world – he’s a key source of stress.

A couple of years ago, I spoke with Stephen Bezruchka, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health. He said that the medical community is only starting to understand how stress effects our health. “Stress is our twenty-first century tobacco,” he told me. “As we understand more about stress biology and the impact it has on our lives, we are going to have to wage a campaign to reduce the amount of stress in our lives.” In one survey, people in the US reported the fourth highest levels of stress in the world, and that survey was conducted long before Trump came down that gilded escalator and started blathering on about Mexico sending us their rapists.

It would be difficult to quantify the potential public health effect caused by Trump-related stress, but it must be significant.

And consider this: Fox News viewers must have felt the same way – felt the same sense of dread – about Barack Obama, a thoughtful and cautious center-left president who served for eight years without (real) scandal. For them, the guy who was known as “No Drama Obama” was a foreign interloper – a crypto-Muslim, or perhaps a Satanist – who was bent on destroying America as we know it.

I’ll confess that I’ve experienced a kind of low-level background hum of anxiety since the 2016 election. But I am privileged. I’m white, and I’m in the middle class. I can only imagine the stress Trump, and Trumpism, is generating among immigrant communities and communities of color. We may well see an entire generation of marginalized people suffering from PTSD.

Trump may break from Republican orthodoxy on trade, and he prefers air-raid sirens to dog-whistles, but in his treatment of the poor and people of color, he’s simply turned it up to 11. Here at What Fresh Hell?, we’ve noted that Trump’s Department of Education, Housing and Human Services and DOJ have all scaled back or simply stopped enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

Let’s look at some of the Hell he’s unleashed – or attempted to unleash – on the powerless just this week.

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Paul Waldman reports for The Washington Post that Congressional Republicans are expanding work requirements for food stamps, which offer food-insecure households and average benefit of about $33 per week (and is already limited to a three-month period for most non-disabled working-age adults without children).

Waldman says that while “there’s an intuitive appeal to the idea” of imposing work requirements for public benefits, “once you take a close look at this idea, you quickly realize just how incredibly cruel it is, and how it is specifically designed to get as many people as possible kicked off food stamps, which means more Americans going hungry.”

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On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order “that will force recipients of federal assistance—benefits for housing, food, and healthcare—to demonstrate their employment to be eligible for aid. The move, widely anticipated by welfare agencies and eagerly awaited by conservatives, represents a significant change to the social safety net,” reports Kriston Capps for Citylab.

“The Executive Order’s main policy prescription is to take basic assistance such as Medicaid, food assistance, and housing away from people who are not working or in job training or other employment programs,” said Sharon Parrot, senior fellow for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in an email. “But the evidence shows that such requirements have few long-term positive effects on employment and often result in families losing help they need to afford the basics.”

The Center just released a paper showing how work requirements could cause Medicaid enrollees to lose their healthcare entirely—even among enrollees who are employed.

The regime is also considering drug-testing food stamp recipients, a stupid and punitive policy that has been demonstrated again and again to cost far more than it saves by denying benefits to people who use drugs.

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All of this is happening against a backdrop of Trump toying with the idea of trying to undo the spending bill he just recently signed to claw back billions of dollars from “foreign aid and nondiscretionary domestic programs targeted in the president’s recent budget” – read “programs that help the poor” – according to Politico.

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Meanwhile, right-wing provocateur and former member of Trump’s disbanded Voter Suppression Voter Fraud Commission is “facing a federal lawsuit… over dubious allegations of massive voter fraud in Virginia,” according to Pema Levy at Mother Jones.

Adams...is the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which in 2016 and 2017 published two reports alleging that thousands of “aliens” had committed felony voter fraud in Virginia and, in indexes to the reports, published personally identifiable information about those people. But many of Adams’ would-be criminals are in fact eligible voters, including all of the plaintiffs.

In the lawsuit, a local Virginia chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and four individuals allege that Adams and his legal firm violated state defamation laws, as well as federal civil rights laws that protect against voter intimidation. The lawsuit alleges that the reports Adams published are a form of voter intimidation against the people named in the report, and put them at risk by publishing their personal information alongside the allegation that they are felons.

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Akilah Johnson reports for The Boston Globe that “the ACLU of Massachusetts announced Wednesday that it had sued the Trump administration, alleging the federal government is pulling a ‘bait and switch’ by detaining and threatening to detain undocumented immigrants who are following a legal path to seek permanent residency through their American spouses.”

Yes, we are throwing people who are going through the legal immigration process into detention.

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But why? Who could be in favor of such a brutal policy?

Oh.

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What will these people experience? The Intercept reported this week that it had obtained over 1,200 complaints of abuses by immigrants in detention. Alice Speri writes, “The sheer number of complaints — despite serious obstacles in the path of those filing them, as well as the patterns they reveal about mistreatment in facilities nationwide — suggest that sexual assault and harassment in immigration detention are not only widespread but systemic, and enabled by an agency that regularly fails to hold itself accountable.”

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Before Trump took office, a study found that only 14 percent of detained immigrants have access to legal counsel. According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, “detained immigrants are 11 times more likely to pursue relief when they have legal counsel and are twice as likely to obtain relief than detained immigrants without counsel.”

This week, Maria Sacchetti reported for WaPo that the DOJ, under Jeff Sessions, is “temprorarily” halting “a program that offers legal assistance to detained foreign nationals facing deportation while it audits the program’s cost-effectiveness, a federal official said Tuesday.”

This is a program run by non-profits that doesn’t actually offer legal representation, but simply informs detained immigrants of their rights and refers them to free or low-cost counsel.

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Meanwhile, since the regime seized control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a kind of coup and handed the reins to Wall Street’s boy, Mick Mulvaney, “it has not recorded a single enforcement action against banks, credit card companies, debt collectors or any finance companies whatsoever,” according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Predatory lenders basically have a green light to rip off the poor under Trump.

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That’s just one week of stories about Trumpublicans’ war on the poor and foreign-born. And stories like these have come along virtually every week of Trump’s presidency.

* Credit to Bill Maher for “Operation Desert Storm.