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.
It violates a whole bunch of norms to suggest that the president of the United States may be suffering from serious mental illness. It’s long been considered inappropriate for professionals to diagnose someone from afar. It’s also harmful to stigmatize people with mental illnesses, who are, statistically speaking, no more likely to become a corrupt white nationalist buffoons than anyone else.
But a problematic result of those sensible prohibitions is that, as a society, we’re underestimating the possibility that a guy who has access to the nuclear football is off his rocker.
We bring this up in the context of Trump’s latest eye-raising nonsense: His tweet suggesting that his infamous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt was somehow manipulated to make it appear that he had stupidly blurted out a confession that he'd fired former FBI Director James Comey to put an end to the Russia investigation.
This followed an earlier tweet in which Trump claimed that Google had a team of Antifa elves, maybe, sifting through news stories and demoting those that said nice things about Trump.
Most observers see this stuff as an example of the Big Lie technique, and that may be correct. Virtually every word out of Trump’s mouth is a lie, and always has been, yet his base continues to believe that he’s the sole arbiter of truth. It hasn’t hurt him with Congressional Republicans, in part because they know their constituents like Trump more than them, or their party. So he just offers up an endless stream of happy bullshit, and this claim about the Holt interview is just one more example.
But the Big Lie is for public consumption, and Trump makes similar claims in private. Recall a report from The New York Times last year that, “despite his public acknowledgment” that the Access Hollywood tape that captured Trump bragging that he could grab ‘em by the pussy was real, “and his hasty videotaped apology under pressure from his advisers,” Trump began “raising the prospect with allies that it may not have been him on the tape after all.” According to the report, shortly before the inauguration, “Trump told a Republican senator that he wanted to investigate the recording that had him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.”
Which brings us to a serious question: Does he actually believe this stuff? It’s one thing to peddle it to his gullible, perpetually pissed-off supporters for political gain, but what if the pressures of the office – and the myriad investigations closing in on him -- have caused a legitimate break from reality? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, psychosis is best understood “as disruptions to a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to recognize what is real and what isn’t.”
While we at What Fresh Hell aren’t psychologists, you don’t need a degree to see that trump displays all of the classic symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. In addition to having trouble empathizing with others and displaying “a sense of entitlement” and the need for “constant, excessive admiration,” per the Mayo Clinic, people who suffer from this disorder “have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism,” and can “experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change.”
Trump’s 71, and it’s hard to imagine a more stressful change than shifting from the lifestyle of a sleazy business man and game show host who’s always surrounded himself with sycophantic yes men to that of a POTUS dogged by scandals and hemmed in by investigators.
We can’t know what he believes is real and what’s just spin, but we should probably take the possibility that he’s gone nuts more seriously than we tend to. He's no longer just a reality TV star.
One story that certainly didn't fly under the radar this week was Friday's indictment of Sam Patten, an associate of Paul Manafort with ties to Cambridge Analytica, for illegally funneling cash from a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch to Trump's inauguration fund.
But we wanted to take the opportunity to remind you that Trump had a cheap, bare-bones inauguration that raised and supposedly spent almost twice as much as Barack Obama's, and nobody knows what happened with the cash -- $107 million of it. In March, George Jenkins, who oversaw George W. Bush's 2005 inaugural (for $42 million) told ProPublica, “It’s inexplicable to me. I literally don’t know. They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins said. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”
We have known since May, when ABC broke the story, that Robert Mueller's team was trying to get to the bottom of it, asking "questions about donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar."
Speaking of Qatar, The WSJ reported this week that the embattled Gulf state targeted 250 "Trump influencers" in a sprawling lobbying campaign designed to change US policy in the region. Among others, the Qataris feted Allan Dershowitz and Mike Huckabee (who got $50,000 to visit the country). Steve Bannon was paid $100,000 to speak at a conference.
Julie Bycowicz wrote that, "because Mr. Trump often shuns traditional policy-making processes, relying on advice of friends and associates, interest groups have spent the past 19 months reorienting their lobbying. New approaches include advertising during the president’s favorite television shows and forming ties with people who speak to him."
This is not normal.
There's an old saying that "personnel is policy," and with that in mind, we'd like to connect a couple of dots.
In June, we mentioned that the regime had placed a number of people connected to anti-immigrant hate groups in senior positions in DHS and in the relevant agencies that deal with refugees.
Now we get this fresh Hell…
Welp. (Smith resigned after emails he'd exchanged with acknowledged white supremacists were obtained by reporters.)
Which brings us to this genuinely fascistic move by the regime: According to the WaPo's Kevin Sieff, the Trumpers are denying the citizenship of (brown) Americans in the Southern border region. "In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings," wrote Sieff. "In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies."
(Your wingnut uncle may tell you that the Obama administration did the same, but that's not true.)
Meanwhile, Laura Morel and Aura Bogado reported for Reveal that the regime "is seeking to end court oversight of how it treats immigrant children, more than 20 years after a landmark lawsuit over mistreatment of children in the nation’s immigration system." The Flores settlement assures some minimum standards for how the government cares for immigrant children, and provided the legal basis for a court to order the reunification of families. This move comes as "federal officials report that more than 500 immigrant children remain separated from their parents in the wake of President Donald Trump’s 'zero-tolerance' policy."
The Los Angeles Times reported this week that "three children from El Salvador who were separated from their families after immigrating to the U.S. were sexually abused in detention centers in Arizona," the latest in a series of similar stories.
With "literal Nazis" and lesser nativists embedded in relevant government agencies, all of this should be unsurprising --shocking but unsurprising.
"For much of last year," wrote WaPo's Juliet Eilperin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s deputy chief of staff, Downey Magallanes, "pursued his agenda with vigor," leading "an effort to cut the size of two vast protected areas in southern Utah, opening public lands to possible development and energy exploration. She participated in deliberations over how to scale back safety monitoring rules for offshore oil and gas operations. And she helped develop a leasing plan that would permit drilling in most U.S. continental shelf waters."
You can see where this is heading, right?
"As of next week, Magallanes will have a new job: working for the energy giant BP, on its government affairs team."
This week, one career public servant had enough. In a "scathing resignation letter," Seth Frotman, "the federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices," blasted CFPB head Mick Mulvaney, according to NPR. In it, he said that the "current leadership 'has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.
"Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting," it read. "Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America."
We have to give it to Republicans: They are pretty creative when it comes to shrinking the voting pool.
"The state of Georgia has blocked all foreign internet traffic to its online voter registration site, BuzzFeed News has learned, a move that would do little to deter hackers but blocks absentee voters."
Over the past 18 months, Donald Trump has signed a series of bills passed by the Republican Congress that are projected to add $2.7 trillion to federal deficits over the next ten years. Deficits are only "generational warfare" when Democrats are in office.
It was always clear that they would turn around and cite those very deficits to push for cuts to programs that help ordinary people, and they've followed through with gusto.
"House Republicans are holding the farm bill hostage by insisting on stricter work requirements for millions of people who depend on food stamps to supplement their meager incomes," wrote Merrill Goozner for Modern Healthcare this week. "Never mind that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program already has the strictest work requirements of any federal program for low-income Americans. Never mind that the food stamp rolls have fallen by 2 million people in the past year or that average payment to households still receiving aid fell $20 a month over the past five years. The average individual benefit is down to $1.40 a meal." Goozner doesn't mention it, but a number of Republican lawmakers have said that this is being driven by the need to reduce the massive deficits they created.
"Donald Trump is canceling pay raises due in January for most civilian federal employees, he informed Congress on Thursday, citing budget constraints," reported The Associated Press. The move may ultimately cost more than the pay raises by forcing some federal workers into the private sector and forcing the government to rely on more contractors to keep things functioning.
We try to leave you with something positive, and it wasn't easy this week. But we'll go with NAACP president Derrick Johnson writing about some potentially important new research…
This poll… analyzed the views of African-American, white, Latino, Asian-American and Native American voters in 61 of the nation’s most competitive midterm races. We found that African-Americans stand to play a key role in 21 of these races, making up from 7 to 24 percent of the voting-age population. In 31 of the key races, voters of color represent 20 to 78 percent of the voting-age population and are positioned to have a significant impact.
Based on this, we expect their perceptions of Mr. Trump’s racism and his party’s acceptance of it will motivate them to cast votes for Democratic candidates.
Perhaps we're seeing the makings of a backlash against the backlash against the first black president.