The most pernicious form of normalizing Donald Trump is acting as if the presidency doesn't really matter
U.S. President Donald Trump displays the "Space Policy Directive 4" after signing the directive establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the Armed Forces in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

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.


Perhaps the most insidious way that both Donald Trump's Republican loyalists and too many neutral journalists normalize this president* is by acting as if the Commander-in-Chief is a figurehead and the fact that our current one is venal, erratic and incompetent doesn’t represent a grave threat to the stability and prosperity of the republic.

After Trump fired Warmongering Freak National Security Advisor John Bolton this week—or maybe after Bolton quitThe Washington Post ran a piece about how Trump manages his closest advisors. It’s worth excerpting at length.

In President Trump’s renegade orbit, there are unspoken rules he expects his advisers to follow. He tolerates a modicum of dissent, so long as it remains private; expects advisers to fall in line and defend his decisions; and demands absolute fealty at all times…

“You’re there more as an annoyance to him because he has to fill some of these jobs, but you’re not there to do anything other than be backlighting,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a former White House communications director who is now critical of Trump. “He wants, like, a catatonic loyalty, and he wants you to be behind the backlights. There’s one spotlight on the stage, it’s shining on Trump, and you’re a prop in the back with dim lights.”

Trump’s desires for his advisers range from the trivial — someone who looks the part — to the traditional — someone willing to vigorously support him and defend his policies in media appearances…

“There is no person that is part of the daily Trump decision-making process that can survive long term,” said a former senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “The president doesn’t like people to get good press. He doesn’t like people to get bad press. Yet he expects everyone to be relevant and important and supportive at all times. Even if a person could do all those things, the president would grow tired of anyone in his immediate orbit.”

Current and former White House officials stress that Trump brokers and even encourages disagreement, but only to a point and only on his terms. The president enjoys gladiator fights — pitting his aides against one another like so many ancient Romans — but only if he can play emperor, presiding over the melee and crowning the victor.

“He has become more convinced than ever that he is the ‘chosen one,’ ” said Tony Schwartz, who co-wrote Trump’s 1987 bestseller, “The Art of the Deal,” but has since become critical of the president. “The blend of the megalomania and the insecurity make him ultimately dismissive of anybody’s opinion that doesn’t match his own.”

During the 2016 election, there was a popular delusion that if Trump should somehow win the White House, he would be humbled by the office and constrained by experienced advisors-- the kind of people who could at least find Afghanistan on a map. Every day, Trump's proven not only that he’s in way over his head but also that he’s content to follow his Big Mac-filled gut on matters of national and global importance. It’s led to nothing but a series of failures, some of them disastrous, but there’s a widespread view that competence in the White House isn’t that important so we can just laugh at Marshal Tweeto’s latest tantrum or shake our heads over the fact that he’s a brittle, compulsive liar. In the real world, it doesn't work that way.

And with that, let’s move on to this week's roundup…

******

A good example from CNBC of the impact of a president* who’s obsessed with twitter and has no filter…

Donald Trump is tweeting more and it’s affecting the bond market.

In fact, the president’s market-moving tweets ballooned in August as he hammered China on trade and went after the Federal Reserve on interest rates.

In an attempt to quantify the impact of Trump’s tweets on the bond market, J.P. Morgan devised a “Volfefe Index” to analyze how the president’s tweets are influencing volatility in U.S. interest rates.

J.P. Morgan found that the index, named after Trump’s infamous and still mysterious “covfefe” tweet, explains a measurable fraction of the moves in implied rate volatility for 2-year and 5-year Treasurys.

According to the bankers, 146 Trump tweets “during market hours from 2018 to the present” have demonstrably moved the market.

******

There was a time when it was widely believed that conservatives held some sort of principled view of states’ rights.

“The Trump administration is moving forward with a plan to revoke California’s authority to set its own vehicle greenhouse gas standards and declare that states are pre-empted from setting their own vehicle rules,” according to Reuters. The move is a reprisal for California cutting a deal with four leading auto-makers that undercut the regime’s relentless efforts to roll back Obama’s clean energy rules.

******

Dan Friedman reports for Mother Jones that, “with Congress mulling legislation to slap new sanctions on Russia for its attack on the 2016 American election, an important Russian bank connected to Vladimir Putin’s government has turned for help to a well-positioned lobbyist in Washington: a Trump insider and former Republican House member named John Sweeney.”

******

Tangentially related: Last week, we talked about how Trump’s plan to shift money from military families to his moronic wall had sparked some outrage on Capitol Hill.

The Daily Beast reports that “what went relatively unnoticed was the equally large pot of Pentagon cash that will be diverted away from construction projects at U.S. military facilities overseas.”

And while that shift might carry less of a political risk, national security experts believe it could be a gut punch to U.S. diplomatic and security interests in a part of the world that has been a particular sore spot for the president: Europe.

The Trump administration is set to move $771 million of funding away from projects earmarked to the European Deterrence Initiative, a program created by the Obama administration that was designed to reassure anxious European allies that the U.S. would back them up in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

******

“The nation's top intelligence official is illegally withholding a whistleblower complaint, possibly to protect President Donald Trump or senior White House officials, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff alleged Friday.” According to Politico, “Schiff issued a subpoena for the complaint, accusing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire of taking extraordinary steps to withhold the complaint from Congress, even after the intel community's inspector general characterized the complaint as credible and of ‘urgent concern.’"

******

Someone in the Department of Homeland Security drew a swastika inside one of the agency’s buildings.

******

In 2016, “Judge V. Stuart Couch—a former Marine known to have a temper—was growing frustrated” by a young immigrant’s inability to stay still during his hearing, according to Mother Jones. “He pointed his finger at the Guatemalan child and demanded that he be quiet.”

When the boy failed to obey his command, the threats began. “I have a very big dog in my office, and if you don’t be quiet, he will come out and bite you!” Couch yelled.

Couch continued, as a Spanish-language interpreter translated for the child, “Want me to go get the dog? If you don’t stop talking, I will bring the dog out. Do you want him to bite you?” Couch continued to yell at the boy throughout the hearing when he moved or made noise.

Two things worth noting here: The child was two years-old, and Trump later “promoted Couch and five other judges to the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, which often has the final say over whether immigrants are deported.”

******

The Washington Post reports that regime “officials have discussed using the federal government to get homeless people off the streets of Los Angeles and other cities and into new government-backed facilities, according to two officials briefed on the planning.”

First, they stuck migrants and asylum seekers into concentration camps and now they appear to be turning to other “undesirables.”

******

Speaking of homes…

“The Trump administration’s plan to overhaul the country’s housing finance system would make mortgages more expensive for minority borrowers and aspiring homeowners in the South, the Midwest and rural communities,” according to The Washington Post.

The plans, unveiled last week by the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments, would end government control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which purchase mortgage loans and package them into securities that they guarantee. The proposal also recommends eliminating the mortgage backers’ affordable housing goals and introducing competition that experts say could further reduce access to credit for low-income communities.

******

Trump has long dodged responsibility for the regime’s disastrous response to Hurricane Maria by claiming that Puerto Rican officials were hopelessly corrupt.

As usual, it turns out that this was some serious projection.

A former top administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was arrested on Tuesday in a major federal corruption investigation that found that the official took bribes from the president of a company that secured $1.8 billion in federal contracts to repair Puerto Rico’s shredded electrical grid after Hurricane Maria.

******

There was some good news this week.

“A San Francisco-based federal judge on Monday restored a nationwide injunction against President Donald Trump’s move to ban asylum seekers who pass through another country en route to the United States.” More at Politico. 

And California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to signa  bill into law that will ban private prisons from operating in California. The bill was originally written to impact only the Golden State’s own prison population, but it was amended to include ICE facilities as well. According to The Guardian, the amendment “appears to have caught Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and the private prison companies at a moment when their current contracts are expiring. The result is that instead of slowly phasing out immigration detention centers as their existing contracts expire years down the road, most will face closure next year – unless Ice and its private prison contractors find a workaround.”