Political Animal

A Terrifying View From the President of the United States

Last month Donald Trump took the initiative to call Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. The reporting at the time was that it was a friendly conversation that ended with the US President extending an invitation for an Oval Office meeting.

But now the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has released a transcript of the call, which has been confirmed as accurate by the White House. It reveals a truly terrifying view from Trump. Here is how the president opened the conversation.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” he said. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Mr. Duterte responded that drugs were “the scourge of my nation now, and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.” Mr. Trump responded that “we had a previous president who did not understand that,” an apparent reference to President Barack Obama, “but I understand that.”

You might remember that when Obama criticized Duterte for his murderous approach, the Philippine President called him the “son of a whore” and an “idiot” who “can go to hell.” Obviously Trump was totally copacetic with that.

Reporters at the Intercept have provided some background on what the president was congratulating Duterte for doing.

Since Duterte took office in June, Philippine national police and vigilante death squads have embarked on a campaign to slaughter drug users as well as drug dealers. “Hitler massacred three million Jews [sic], now, there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said in September. Last month, he told a group of jobless Filipinos that they should “kill all the drug addicts.” Police have killed over 7,000 people, devastated poor areas of Manila and other cities, and used the drug war as a pretext to murder government officials and community leaders…

Duterte’s police killings are widely recognized by the international community as an ongoing atrocity. The “war on drugs” has drawn condemnation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and last month a Philippine lawyer filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Duterte of mass murder and crimes against humanity. The State Department’s annual human rights report acknowledges thousands of “extrajudicial killings” with impunity and calls them the country’s “chief human rights concern.”

It is truly breathtaking to consider the fact that the current President of the United States would congratulate a foreign leader for that. Of course, we’ve heard him praise authoritarian dictators before, but those have mostly been general comments rather than affirmations of their specific behavior. Perhaps no strongman on the planet right now is as murderous as Duterte, who—as we see above—has proudly compared himself to Hitler. That is the kind of leader our current president admires.

That is especially alarming given that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is reigniting the war on drugs in this country at the same time that they are basically ending oversight for police brutality and abuse. I keep wanting to tell myself that this administration couldn’t replicate Duterte’s approach here. But Trump is certainly signaling where he would go if given the opportunity, and we can count on the Justice Department to look the other way if local jurisdictions cross the line.

Beyond all that, back when Duterte was mouthing off about Obama, he did so in Beijing, where he added this:

America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow. And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.

Duterte followed through on that idea and has been in Moscow this week. I suspect that he now thinks that there are four of them “against the world,” with Trump added to his list. And we can imagine the smile that brings to Putin’s face.

Byron York Prepares Republicans For Trump’s Impeachment

While I rarely agree with Byron York on issues of policy, there have been times I’ve noted that he is one of the few conservatives who seems capable of getting outside the right’s epistemically enclosed bubble to catch a view of reality. He seems to have done just that with an article titled, “At this rate, it won’t matter if Trump colluded with Russia.”

York toes the Republican line in the beginning by expressing skepticism over claims that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians.

The problem, for the confederation of Democrats, pundits, Obama holdovers, and NeverTrumpers who hoped to see that result, has been that so far, after a lot of investigating, no evidence has emerged that collusion actually occurred.

I’d suggest that he hold on to his hat on that one…things are just getting started.

But then York zeroes in on the events following Trump’s decision to fire Comey. He provides a useful reminder of things that happened in such quick succession.

First, the White House portrayed the firing as 1) not Trump’s doing, and 2) not related to the Russia investigation.

Then Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he had in fact decided to fire Comey because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.”

Then, with accusations of obstruction in the air, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate the Russia affair…

Then the New York Times reported that Comey wrote contemporaneous memos of his interactions with the president and that during one of those interactions Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Then the Times reported that Trump, in an Oval Office meeting, bragged to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador that firing Comey relieved Trump of “great pressure” in the Russia investigation.

Now, whether there was collusion or not, we have a case for obstruction of justice.

In conclusion, I’m not sure York is completely wrong about what might have happened if the president hadn’t brought this all down on himself.

Before Trump fired Comey, a likely conclusion of the Russia affair was coming into view. Flynn would be in trouble for his connections to Turkey and possible violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Former Trump campaign head Paul Manafort would be in trouble for some sort of shady business dealings in Ukraine. Maybe another figure or two from TrumpWorld would get into trouble, as well, but in ways tangential to the investigation. There would be scalps for Democrats to celebrate, but the most consequential issue — collusion — would end in nothing.

I suspect that York is trying to prepare Republicans for the inevitable results that are about to unfold with respect to Trump’s obstruction of justice. He’s also correct in suggesting that when/if the president is impeached, he will deserve it.

Quick Takes: Republicans Are Still Intent on Protecting Trump

* Former CIA Director John Brennan didn’t drop any bombshells during his testimony today in front of the House Intelligence Committee. Instead, as David Corn documents, it was Republicans on the committee who made the news.

The Republicans still are not serious about investigating the Trump-Russia scandal. That message came through resoundingly when the House Intelligence Committee held a public hearing on Tuesday morning with former CIA chief John Brennan…

The Republicans zeroed in on the issue of whether Trump and his associates colluded with any Russians involved in the attack on US democracy—to push Brennan to say he had not seen concrete evidence of such conspiring. Reps. Tom Rooney (R-Fla) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) grilled Brennan repeatedly on this point. They posed the same basic query: Did you see any evidence that Trump or his associates plotted with Russians? “I don’t do evidence. I do intelligence,” Brennan replied. Still, they kept pressing him. They were obviously hoping he would state that he had not come across any such evidence so Trump and his champions could cite Brennan as a witness for their claim no collusion occurred.

In the face of this questioning, Brennan repeatedly stated that the intelligence he saw regarding contacts between Trump associates and Russia was worrisome and deserved full FBI scrutiny. So the Republicans failed in their mission to provide cover for Trump—and they ended up highlighting the legitimacy of the FBI inquiry begun under Comey.

* While we’ve all been tracking the bombshells dropping daily about the Trump administration, the right wing has been addicted to the story about the murder of Seth Rich. In case you haven’t heard all of the fake news and conspiracy theories on that one, Dave Weigel has a great summary. Much of this was related to false stories promoted on Fox News and spread by Sean Hannity, who seems to be obsessed with the story. In a truly remarkable move, today Fox News recanted the story and removed it from their web site. Needless to say, Sean Hannity is getting some intense heat.

* There are a lot of deplorable people in the Trump administration. But lately, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney seems to be vying for placement at the top of the list. Here is what he wrote about the administration’s budget that destroys this country’s safety net:

For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first.

Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny.

In other words, public assistance is “theft” and “larceny.”

* After a federal judge temporarily blocked implementation of Trump’s executive order to deny funding to sanctuary cities, AG Sessions sent out a memo that seems to have neutered the whole issue.

“Sanctuary city” is a broad term, but is most often applied to jurisdictions that don’t comply with all of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “detainer” requests to hold individuals who would otherwise be released. Yet instead of going after any city or county that doesn’t comply with ICE’s requests, the executive order will target jurisdictions that specifically don’t comply with a law to share information with the federal government for immigration purposes.

It’s an important distinction ― nearly all jurisdictions, even those labeled sanctuary cities, say they do comply with the law to provide information. If that’s the case, Trump’s anti-sanctuary cities order is largely toothless.

* Today Trump visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s principal Holocaust memorial and museum. Here’s what he wrote in the guestbook:

It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends – so amazing + will never forget!

For comparison, here is what Obama wrote when he visited as president:

I am grateful to Yad Vashem and all of those responsible for this remarkable institution. At a time of great peril and promise, war and strife, we are blessed to have such a powerful reminder of man’s potential for great evil, but also our capacity to rise up from tragedy and remake our world.

* Ryan Lizza has written a great profile of Sally Yates. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing, especially if you need some inspiration on what public service can look like.

* Finally, it is “World Turtle Day.” As someone who has learned to both cope with and revel in the fact that I have always been “slow and steady,” I’ll celebrate with one of my favorite pictures. This is a 140 year-old mother giving a lift to her 5 day-old son.

The White Nationalist Appeal of Trump’s Budget

As I was writing earlier about the lies OMB Director Mick Mulvaney is telling about Trump’s budget, I was wondering how all of this would fly with his white working class supporters. We are sure to see the requisite number of articles about how they would be hurt by it. But that is not necessarily representative of how his supporters see things.

Then I ran across this from an article about the budget by Damian Paletta and Robert Costa:

The budget, in its deeply conservative framework, risks alarming some of the president’s supporters…

But a White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Trump saw the shrinking of the “welfare state” as a necessary component of his nationalist, working-class appeal and part of his pledge to “drain the swamp.”

I’d be willing to bet some money that the White House official is Steve Bannon (or someone on his team). He is the one who sees himself as the champion of the “forgotten man,” which is his way of talking about people in the white working class. So it’s worth looking at how the shrinking of the “welfare state” would appeal to nationalist working class voters and how it fulfills Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp.”

First of all, I am reminded that Bannon once told Kimberly Strassel that the Trump administration would “bring capitalism to the inner cities.” Before watching the documentary Bannon made with David Bossie titled “Generation Zero,” I wasn’t sure what that meant. Here’s what I figured out afterwards:

The problem Bannon and Bossie zero in on is the idea that government should intervene in capitalism to level the playing field for those who would otherwise be subjected to exclusion and marginalization. What they are suggesting is that true capitalism that leads to the survival of the fittest is best. In their view, our form of self-government has no obligation to the commonwealth.

It is important to note that for Bannon, this applies primarily to inner cities, which is code for people of color.

That kind of argument works once you have identified the recipients of government programs as the undeserving “them” who are separate from the deserving “us.” That is the divisive lie that Paul Waldman zeroed in on today.

The whole point here is to set “taxpayers” against the supposedly undeserving whose scams and schemes can be stopped with only indiscriminate cuts to social programs. Watching Mulvaney answer questions from the press this morning, that idea came through again and again. Every time he’d get a question about a specific cut the administration proposes — to Social Security disability, to food stamps, to Medicaid — Mulvaney would say that the only people who would suffer would be those who don’t deserve to get the benefit in the first place. “We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it,” he said.

By now, most sentient beings should recognize that as the kind of code Lee Atwater explained when talking about the Southern Strategy.

You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it…You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N****r, n****r.”

In that context, “draining the swamp” takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

Then, of course, there is the more blatantly nationalist part of this budget, as explained by Gabe Ortiz.

Sure, the new 2018 budget slashes billions from food assistance, cancer research, and disability benefits, but the Trump regime has still miraculously found plenty of taxpayer money for two of his favorite, racist pet projects. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney unveiled a budget proposal asking for billions to terrorize immigrant families, expand Trump’s mass deportation force that has been targeting moms and dads with no criminal record, and to build some of that f*cking wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for.

Finally, I’d simply note that with all of Mulvaney’s lies about protecting tax payers from programs that supposedly don’t work, we are hearing nothing about the most ineffective government intervention of the last 30 years: the failed war on drugs and it’s contribution to the problem of mass incarceration. As I have noted previously, AG Sessions is reinvigorating all of that. But it won’t be Bannon’s “forgotten man” who will be targeted—you can count on that.

By now perhaps you will have noticed that none of this is new. It is all Republican rhetoric from the past that is being warmed up and repackaged for the present. These are the tactics they have been using for decades now to win over the support of white working class voters and, for the most part, they’ve worked. Why change course now?