Quick Takes: “The Bully Has His Pulpit”

* Jonathan Chait summarized some disturbing signals Donald Trump sent today at his press conference.

It is impossible to know what course American democracy will take under Trump’s presidency. The fears of authoritarianism may prove overblown, and Trump may govern like a normal Republican. But the initial signs are quite concerning. Trump believes he can demolish normal standards of behavior, like the expectation of disclosing tax returns, and placing assets in a blind trust. He has received the full cooperation of his party, which controls Congress and has blocked any investigation or other mechanism for exerting pressure. His dismissal of the news media might simply be a slightly amped-up version of the conservative tradition of media abuse, but it seems to augur something worse. Rather than making snide cracks about liberal bias, Trump escalated into abuse and total delegitimization. Will the abuse of the media be seen as an idiosyncratic episode, or the beginning of something worse to come? We don’t know. His early behavior is consistent with (though far from proof of) the thesis that he is an emerging autocrat. The people have granted him license to steal and hide as he wishes. The bully has his pulpit.

* Here is how Carrie Dann described the portion of Trump’s press conference devoted to his plans to resolve his conflicts of interest:

Trump’s team formally announced at the press conference that he is relinquishing his management of the Trump Organization to his sons and that an ethics adviser will be appointed to its management team to review all new transactions.

But he also will not divest or create a completely blind trust — the solutions overwhelmingly endorsed by ethics experts to eliminate the risk that the president’s assets could become ripe for corruption and influence-peddling…

Ethics experts are already deriding the arrangement as untenable.

“This does not address the emoluments clause concerns, this does not address the conflict concerns. This is using the language of ethics without addressing the actual ethics concerns,” said Kathleen Clark, an ethics specialist at University of Washington law school.

* Today Cory Booker became the first sitting senator to testify against the confirmation of one of his Senate colleagues.

* The jam-packed days of confirmation hearings are underway. Dara Lind has noticed a disturbing pattern.

It’s not surprising that Donald Trump’s key Cabinet nominees are being asked to defend his most controversial statements at their confirmation hearings. What’s surprising is the way some of them are responding: by telling skeptical lawmakers that they hadn’t actually discussed the issues with the president-elect.

John Kelly, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, says he hasn’t talked to Trump about immigration. Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state, says he hasn’t talked to Trump about Russia.

Given that President-elect Trump has an unconventional managing style (or, to put it less charitably, often appears uninterested in the basic business of running the federal government), the surprising thing would in some ways be if Trump had had substantive policy chats with them.

That’s the real takeaway from the first wave of Trump confirmation hearings: Even with Inauguration Day looming, nominees to top posts don’t seem capable of saying what the Trump administration will actually do once in office. And that means the public can’t either.

* Finally, this was a very touching moment in President Obama’s farewell speech last night.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly and frequently blogs at Political Animal.