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If Legal Marijuana Leads to Murder, What’s Up in the Netherlands?

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 05:00 AM PST

In 1971's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a mescaline-infused Hunter S. Thompson and his benzedrine-addicted attorney infiltrate a police conference, where they are amused and appalled by the naiveté of the people charged with enforcing drug laws.

Thompson captures the tone with a fictionalized bulletin, "Know Your Dope Fiend," that warns officers:

The Dope Fiend fears nothing. He will attack, for no reason, with every weapon at his command—including yours. Beware. Any officer apprehending a suspected marijuana addict should use all necessary force immediately. One stitch in time (on him) will usually save nine on you. Good luck.

At one point, Thompson convinces an oblivious district attorney from Georgia that when Dope Fiends attack, the only recourse is to chop off their heads. "Nobody's safe. And sure as hell not in the South. They like the warm weather."

"Jesus God almighty," the officer responds. "What the hell's goin' on in this country?"

Today, the idea of marijuana causing a murderous rampage still sounds absurd to many users of small amounts of the drug. Drug abuse and addiction has slowly moved from being treated with disdain and punishment, and toward rehabilitation, harm reduction, and prevention. The medical establishment has moved, if glacially, toward embracing potential therapeutic properties of cannabis. There is less fear, less loathing—though still most doctors do not prescribe the drug, and most researchers are prohibited from studying it.

Which is why it was jolting to read echoes of these old tropes this week in The New Yorker, where the journalist Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that marijuana is not as safe as "we think." The primary source of his criticism is a new book by the novelist and former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, Tell Your Children: The truth about marijuana, mental illness, and violence.

The book is, by Berenson's account in the prologue, "not balanced." It is an argument—an accumulation of evidence to support a thesis and convince a reader of something. "Marijuana causes paranoia and psychosis. That fact is now beyond dispute," Berenson writes. "Paranoia and psychosis cause violence. Overwhelming evidence links psychotic disorders and violence, especially murder."

Berenson is forthcoming about his bias at the outset: "If you want to read about the way marijuana legalization will provide jobs, or anecdotes from people who believe that smoking cured their celiac disease, or discussions of the relative merits of indica and sativa strains, this book will disappoint you. Maybe I'm too cynical, but I believe most people smoke marijuana for the same reason they drink alcohol or use any other drug: because they like to get high."

Gladwell distills the argument still further, and the end result is paragraphs like this:

Berenson looks, too, at the early results from the state of Washington, which, in 2014, became the first U.S. jurisdiction to legalize recreational marijuana. Between 2013 and 2017, the state's murder and aggravated-assault rates rose forty per cent—twice the national homicide increase and four times the national aggravated-assault increase. We don't know that an increase in cannabis use was responsible for that surge in violence. Berenson, though, finds it strange that, at a time when Washington may have exposed its population to higher levels of what is widely assumed to be a calming substance, its citizens began turning on one another with increased aggression.

We don't know—that's true. Science can't prove a negative. But this is innuendo, the public-intellectual equivalent of just sayin'. Innumerable factors go into homicide rates. One of the strongest predictors is income inequality, for example, which was increasing in Washington during that period; the state now has the 10th biggest gap in the country. If marijuana legalization accounted for increased murder rates, Amsterdam wouldn't be among the be a much deadlier place to live. As it is, the homicide rate in the Netherlands is one fifth as high as it is in the U.S.

The article sparked backlash against Gladwell for, among other issues, the implication of causation from correlation and the apparent inconsideration of the political context into which the argument is introduced—one of mass incarceration, where millions of American lives have been upended not by consuming marijuana but by having some in their pocket.

Berenson does acknowledge the role of racism in drug legislation and enforcement. He covered the pharmaceutical industry while at the Times, then left a decade ago to write fantasy novels. But he threw his hat back into the ring with this book, which he says is the result of crawling down a rabbit hole of evidence after a conversation with his wife, a psychiatrist, who told him accurately that it's well known that marijuana can cause psychosis.

I read the book this week. It argues that we are in the midst of a dangerous cannabis-driven psychosis epidemic: "The epidemic isn't coming. It's here." Berenson describes murders, in detail, committed by people with schizophrenia or acute psychosis. He went to Colorado and combed through homicide records looking for evidence of marijuana involvement. In one case, he visited Bent County Correctional Facility and spoke to a teary inmate named Richard Kirk, who murdered his wife and claims that it was because he'd just eaten "a nibble" of an edible called Karma Kandy Orange Ginger. After the nibble, Kirk drove home, opened his safe, took out his pistol, and shot her.

Berenson takes Kirk's account pretty much at face value, concluding that the man "existed at the center of the Venn diagram of three great American maladies—opiate abuse, financial stress, and easy access to firearms. But he'd lived there for years and never been violent, not until he ate a bite of Kandy Karma Orange Ginger."

Vivid as the anecdotes are, the strongest part of Berenson's  argument is a 2017 review by the National Academy of Medicine, "The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids," which Gladwell also references. These reviews tend to be the "gold standard" for getting everyone in the medical field on the same page about how research should translate into practice. They bring together groups of experts and go through all the evidence they can, and distill it for doctors who can't possibly keep up. In this case thousands of studies that became a nearly 500-page report.

In the good-news category, Berenson notes, there was no clear association between marijuana and lung cancer. (He does not mention  the "conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for the treatment of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms" or the "moderate evidence" that the they are effective for improving sleep in people with sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.)

Berenson focuses on the report's finding that there is "substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses." Though, again, it also found "a statistical association between cannabis use and better cognitive performance among individuals with psychotic disorders," and "moderate evidence of no statistical association between cannabis use and worsening of negative symptoms of schizophrenia."

The report does not discuss violent behavior specifically, which requires another leap. Berenson argues that if marijuana can cause psychotic breaks from reality, and psychotic people are more inclined to violence, marijuana is a cause of violence.

This is where he and Gladwell lose and upset some experts. Berenson specifically takes issue with the National Alliance on Mental Illness's famous assertion that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of violence. "Those statements are deeply misleading," he writes, claiming that the subset of mentally ill people with schizophrenia are much more likely than average to be violent.

Yasmin Hurd, the director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, works on figuring out who is prone to addiction and why. She is among the small number of U.S. scientists who have authorization to study marijuana. "There is nothing to support that marijuana legalization has increased murder rates," she told me. "The association between schizophrenia and marijuana use is nothing new. Early use of THC, especially in high concentrations, is associated with psychosis and schizophrenia. That has been studied a lot. But schizophrenic people are not the ones committing murders. Trying to put a mental-health disorder as the explanation for murder rates—that is incorrect and should not have a platform."

Hurd also emphasizes, contrary to Berenson, that marijuana remains a promising alternative to minimize opioid use and dependence. "I've studied cannabidiol and found that it does have beneficial effects in reducing opioid use," she says.

The consensus is that, yes, for most people, there is such thing as too much marijuana. In some cases, using too much can have severe consequences that many people could benefit from taking more seriously. There are documented instances in which people have been driven to violence by marijuana, though what Berenson describes mostly seem to be cases where marijuana use is heavy over the course of many years—which could itself be a result rather than a cause of a psychosocial problem.

In these and the other cases in which an occasional user ended up in a psychotic episode or violent fit, it seems mostly that the marijuana does the final unleashing. As with any drug that lowers inhibitions, marijuana is much less likely to bring forth an entirely new person than it is to expose the nature of a person formed over a lifetime of input and environmental exposures and genetic proclivities. Violence is always a multifactorial end-point.

Gladwell makes the same basic point: "The experience of most users is relatively benign and predictable; the experience of a few, at the margins, is not. Products or behaviors that have that kind of muddled risk profile are confusing, because it is very difficult for those in the benign middle to appreciate the experiences of those at the statistical tails." Those outliers, if you will, are where the headlines are made. They are the focus of both writers' arguments. But they're also the heart of the problem these arguments face in the first place: The question of exactly how muddled that risk profile actually is makes it impossible to say whether marijuana is "more dangerous than we believe."

That's also the straw man in the room: the assumption that most people believe marijuana just makes you laugh and gives you munchies. Berenson goes as far as writing, "no one disputes that occasional use of marijuana by people over 25 is generally safe." In fact, the U.S. government still treats cannabis as extremely dangerous, among the most dangerous drugs. It is one of only a few schedule one substances—the most forbidden category, along with heroin and LSD, "for which there is no accepted medical use." Meanwhile cocaine, Dilaudid, and methamphetamine are down in schedule two.

The punishment for possession has long reflected this idea of danger, in which the criminal justice system has treated marijuana similarly to carrying a bomb. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are still arrested every year for marijuana possession, and the penalty can mean a loss of livelihood, housing, and basic freedom. This is not yet a substance that society takes lightly, despite state-level moves toward decriminalization and legalization.

The feeling of being lashed back and forth by this book and the outcry over the Gladwell piece reminds me that science and medicine are rarely well served by writing in argument form. To do so well is compelling, and reading contrarianism is addictive. But an arguments' job is to undermine, downplay, or ignore contradicting evidence. Gladwell and Berenson offer no stories of anyone who has a positive relationship to the drug. By the end, I found myself questioning even my own experiences, in which I've mostly just laughed with friends about nothing. Though there was one night in Colorado when I ate a brownie and went back to my hotel room and became convinced that someone had followed me and was hovering just outside my door. I kept the lights out, and I sat on the floor next to the bed, and I ate an entire jar of almond butter.

I wasn't deeply scared; some part of me knew it wasn't real. If I had been another person, though—one more given to paranoia, who hadn't been raised in a safe home by loving parents, and who was in possession of many firearms and had many sworn enemies, would I have opened fire through the door? I suppose it's possible.

If there is anything on which there is unanimous agreement about marijuana, it is that we need to study it more. This did not happen for decades because it was regarded by regulatory agencies as an irrefutable evil, a dangerous vice that, if you were found possessing it, should ruin your career and rob you of your freedom. One stitch in time (on him) will usually save nine on you. This is the narrative that such articles and books feed.

The pendulum has been swinging away from that, and even Berenson believes decriminalization is the way to go. But whether it is legalized or decriminalized, if it's going to be used medically, as a drug, it should go through the same process of clinical trials as other drugs: looking for side effects and attempting to discern proper dosages and delivery mechanisms, populations in which it is most likely to be effective and most likely to have drawbacks, and so forth. All of this information is severely limited by the fact that studying marijuana has been illegal for most researchers and remains heavily restricted.

The fear-and-loathing narrative conflating marijuana and murder, Hurd worries, does nothing to stem abuse. Nor is it good for promoting further research: "It makes a huge difference. Many people who are making the decisions about funding going to NIH and other organization will now say we should have a moratorium on a drug that increases murder. Why would we want to do that and put people's lives at risk? That's why it's dangerous to make these broad, unsubstantiated, and factually incorrect statements."

The Dueling Narratives on Trump and Russia

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 04:52 AM PST

It's nearly two years into President Donald Trump's first term in office, and almost as long for federal investigations into his campaign's connections to Russia. After two bombshell news reports Friday and Saturday, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle took to the airwaves Sunday morning and talked at length about those probes. Their reactions highlight the divergent—and perhaps irreconcilable—narratives that America's left and right believe about the Trump-Russia saga.

On Friday evening, The New York Times reported that after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, the FBI began to investigate whether Trump was working for Russia. On Saturday, The Washington Post revealed that Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin even from his own administration, going so far as to take his interpreter's notes. Democrats saw the stories as more cause for concern about Trump's relationship with Russia, while Republicans largely defended the president and derided the left's interest in the issue as a partisan obsession that has seeped into law-enforcement institutions.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a leader of its bipartisan investigation that runs parallel to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, condemned Trump for the secrecy surrounding his conversations with Putin, saying that he "broke all protocol" in limiting aides and confiscating notes.

"The American government does not know what was discussed between Trump and Vladimir Putin in that, frankly, pathetic, embarrassing encounter where Trump was kowtowing on the world stage to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki," the Virginian said on CNN's State of the Union. When host Jake Tapper asked whether he thought Trump had worked for Russia against American interests, Warner replied, "That's the defining question of our investigation and the Mueller investigation."

The number-two Senate Democrat highlighted the allegations from The Post's report on Trump's private conversations.

"Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin?" Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said on ABC's This Week. "This man who is a former KGB agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world, and tries his damndest to undermine our elections, why is this President Trump's best buddy? I don't get it. And when he takes the interpreter's notes and wants to destroy them so no one can see what was said (in a) written transcript, it raises serious questions about the relationship between this president and Putin."

Read: [What Putin Really Wants]

Senator Chris Coons, a centrist Democrat from Delaware who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called The Times's story "a concerning, even alarming report" that underlined the importance of letting Special Counsel Robert Mueller complete his investigation.

"There's been a confusing and at times even alarming tendency on the part of President Trump to compliment President Putin and to do things like his abrupt announcement of a withdrawal from Syria that led his own secretary of defense to resign, that has led many of us to question his closeness to and his affinity for President Putin," Coons added in his Fox News Sunday interview.

The Democrats' 2016 vice-presidential nominee, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, repeated the standard line for establishment Democrats by downplaying talk of impeachment and emphasizing the need to protect the special counsel's probe. Kaine portrayed the reported FBI counterintelligence investigation of Trump as evidence of the president's questionable conduct.

"They had to have a very deep level of concern about this president to take this step," Kaine said of FBI leaders in the wake of Comey's firing.

But to congressional Republicans, the reported counterintelligence probe didn't show evidence of concern about Trump, but rather a conspiracy against him.

"It tells me a lot about the people running the FBI, McCabe and that crowd. I don't trust them as far as I throw them," said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who's shifted from bitter critic to close ally. He was referring to Andrew McCabe, the bureau's former acting director, whom then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired last year after McCabe's misleading statements about a leak to reporters.

"If this really did happen, Congress needs to know about it," Graham added in his Fox interview. "How could the FBI do that? What kind of checks and balances are there?" Graham also questioned the motives of the unnamed "former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation" who were sources for the Times report. And, he added, "I, for one, don't trust what I read in The New York Times."

"We have seen all kinds of corruption within the FBI," said Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who also named McCabe. Despite "an awful lot of innuendo from Senator Warner," Johnson said, "I have not seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. I have seen evidence of collusion between Democrats and Russia, with the Steele dossier." However, while Democrats did pay for the opposition research dossier to which Johnson referred, there is no evidence that they got Russia's help on the document. The Post's fact-checker has debunked the claim that Hillary Clinton or other Democrats colluded with Russians.

Johnson gave a possible rationale for Trump's decision to keep his conversations with Putin secret: "I do know that President Trump was burned earlier by leaks of other private conversations, so I can certainly understand his frustration from that standpoint." The senator may have been referring to disclosures about Trump's May 2017 Oval Office meeting with the Russian ambassador, during which he reportedly called Comey a "nut job"  and revealed highly classified details about a terrorist plot, possibly compromising the intelligence-gathering methods of Israel, a close ally. (Russia has a close relationship with Iran, whose Islamist regime calls for Israel's destruction.) The details were so sensitive that they were flagged in notes about the discussion, notes which likely contributed to the embarrassing leak about Trump's indiscretion.

The House Republican leader suggested another potential explanation for the president's secrecy.

"I know what the President likes to do," Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on CBS's Face the Nation. "He likes to create a personal relationship, build that relationship, even rebuild that relationship, like he does with other world leaders," perhaps referring to the surprising diplomacy with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. McCarthy suggested that Trump wasn't really being secretive, since in a Fox News interview Saturday night the president said, "I'm not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn't care less." (There was no follow-up question from Fox personality Jeanine Pirro, who listened to the president brag about his 2016 Electoral College victory before telling him, "You've got such fight in you, it is unbelievable.")

McCarthy, Johnson and other Republicans also argued that voters should consider the Trump administration's actions on Russia, from sanctions over election-meddling to Russia's transnational natural gas pipeline to lethal weapons for Ukrainians fighting Russian-backed forces. Johnson also said Trump's slowdown of his own abrupt Syria withdrawal showed his toughness toward Russia. Texas Senator Ted Cruz echoed Trump's assertion that his administration has shown more toughness than former President Barack Obama's, pointing to Obama's infamous 2012 hot-mic mishap when he was recorded telling then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" after his re-election. The Post last year described Trump as a "reluctant hawk" on Russia, pushed by his advisers and Cabinet members. While experts and fact-checkers have concurred that the Trump administration has some tough policies, Warner argued that "almost all of these sanctions did not arise from the White House—they arose because of huge, bipartisan concern from Congress."

Read: [Ukraine's Successful Courtship of Trump]

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed The Times report without refuting its substance. "The notion that President Trump is a threat to American national security is absolutely ludicrous," he said on CBS. "The idea that's contained in The New York Times story, that President Trump was a threat to American national security, is silly on its face and not worthy of a response."

Cruz, another former Trump critic who called in the president for a boost during his surprisingly tight 2018 re-election campaign, was the only Republican who said he was interested in the details of Trump's secrecy in discussions with Putin.

"I've seen the allegations," he said on NBC's Meet the Press. "I want to find out more about what happened there." But the Texan went on to downplay the Trump-Russia saga.

"There is an incredible divide between Washington and the rest of the country, when it comes to Bob Mueller and the Russia investigation," Cruz said. "The mainstream media, Washington is obsessed with it. And when you get outside the Beltway, I don't find anybody concerned with this at all."

Dear Therapist: My Sister’s Anxiety Is Getting Out of Hand

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 04:00 AM PST

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Lori Gottlieb answers questions from readers about their problems, big and small. Have a question? Email her at dear.therapist@theatlantic.com.

Dear Therapist,

My younger sister and I are very close. We had a rough childhood, we're only 13 months apart, and she's always been my favorite person to be around—when things are going well. But she also has some anxiety issues that drive me crazy. She just left after visiting my city, and I'm still trying to unclench. "Lost" earphones (that are always in her bag) mean being drawn into a frantic search that involves me calling my husband at work to make sure he didn't "do something" with them. A change in plans while she's out doing tourist things means a phone call to me while I'm working so I can plot a new subway course for her. A hotel hold fee on her credit card means another phone call to help figure it out, even after the hotel has reassured her it will be refunded. And she never seems to be having a good time, which breaks my heart.

So, two questions. First, how can I help her? I've casually talked to her about therapy and how much it helped me process some childhood stuff, but she thinks therapy is just about assigning blame and "stirring things up" (I've told her that hasn't been my experience) and believes people should just "power through" their problems.

Second, how do I protect myself from the craziness this causes? When we were younger it was fine, but now that I have a family, I'm more aware of how exhausted and irritable it makes me and how focused I am on her to the exclusion of everybody else.

I love my sister and I really want to enjoy our relationship again, but it's very painful to watch her like this, and hard to deal with.

Anonymous
New York


Dear Anonymous,

I'll start with your second question about how you can help yourself, because helping yourself will help both of you. I know it seems as if your sister is creating all of this chaos, but you may not realize that you're both participating in this dance together.

Of course, it's painful to love somebody deeply and watch her suffer, so it's natural that you want to alleviate your sister's suffering—whether that suffering is her generalized anxiety or a specific incident that incites it. The only problem is, the way you've been trying to calm her down doesn't help your sister learn to deal with her anxiety in a productive way. Instead, it reinforces her belief that she can't manage basic life situations without your intervention. Every time you "rescue" her, your action sends the message that she needs to be rescued, much in the way that parents who rescue their children without letting them struggle through something they're capable of doing inadvertently raise people who grow up to believe that they're helpless.

Which brings me back to the dance. I imagine that when you drop everything to help your sister, you believe that you're doing so for her benefit. But despite how frustrated you get, you may also be doing it for yours. You can't be "drawn in" to something unless you agree—consciously or not—to be drawn in to it. I'd encourage you to try to understand more about why you feel compelled to get involved in her momentary crises instead of saying, "Sorry, I don't know where your earphones are. See you at dinner," or, "I'm in the middle of work right now, but I'm sure the hotel can help you figure this out."

Close your eyes for a second and imagine saying something like that to your sister. Now notice what happens in your body. Maybe you feel lighter, relieved—at least at first. And then maybe you feel anxious, guilty, and worried about your sister and how abandoned she'll feel. Does that remind you of how you felt as a child when your sister needed you? With siblings growing up in difficult households, one often takes on the role of the strong one who seems to manage the turmoil more easily than the other. But both suffer in their own ways. As the older sibling, you may have distracted yourself from your own pain by focusing on protecting your sister from hers. And now, as an adult, you might continue to feel responsible for her well-being. Sometimes we carry our childhood roles into adulthood without realizing it, even though those roles have become outdated. Your sister may have needed protection growing up, but so did you. The difference now is that you're starting to see this second part—that you, too, need to protect yourself. On some level you know—because you suggested that she seek therapy—that your sister's suffering is hers to fix. And so is yours.

You can start by responding differently to your sister's anxiety. Instead of meeting her where her anxiety is—with the earphones or subway map or hotel charge—you can kindly answer her question and then get back to whatever you were doing. If you find that she continues to demand more from you if you don't call your husband or speak with the hotel staff, you can choose not to answer the phone or reply to the text the next time she's out while you're working. It will help if before her next trip, you let her know that you believe she's fully capable of handling these kinds of issues and that in order to enjoy your visits together, which you very much look forward to, you're going to be leaving these types of things to her.

You can also revisit the therapy suggestion by pointing out that she's not, in fact, "powering through" her problems; instead, she's trapped by them. Her anxiety is holding her hostage, making it hard for her to function. You can explain that while therapy will "stir things up" at times, it will also release her pain, so that her anxiety doesn't have to function as a way to shove it down. And you can let her know that therapy isn't about blaming, judging, or criticizing people's parents because it's not about their parents at all—it's about the patient, and understanding how people's early experiences inform who they are as adults, enabling them to separate the past from the present. That's where therapy, rather than melting down over the missing earphones, can help.

How your sister lives her life is up to her (in the same way that we can suggest options to our adult children but can't live their lives for them), but the most loving thing you can do is treat her as the capable person she is by letting her manage her crises, sharing your thoughts about therapy, and then focusing on your own life. In this way, you'll bring your relationship up to date, to 2019, when you're both fully capable adults who survived difficult childhoods—adults who now have choices that they didn't used to have about how the rest of their lives will go.


Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.

Lindsey Graham’s Shifting Sands on the Shutdown

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 04:40 AM PST

Senator Lindsey Graham, a former critic of President Donald Trump who famously called him a "jackass," has grown close with the president, becoming a golfing buddy and a lunch guest as well as a top defender in Trump's favorite forum, cable news. Last week he became a vocal supporter of the president's threat to declare a national emergency and use special powers to divert funding to build more miles of wall along the southern border. Over the weekend he seemed to temper his enthusiasm for that option, which other Republicans have not embraced. He instead endorsed a short-term agreement to reopen the government while negotiations continue. Democrats might welcome that proposal, but it's not clear it has GOP backing.

On Wednesday the South Carolina Republican, who has helped broker deals in the past, said he had spoken with Democrats about a deal to end the partial government shutdown, which has since entered its third week and broken the previous record, from the 1990s.

"There is a deal to be had," he said late that morning. He gathered fellow Republican senators to discuss a possible compromise, but no proposal emerged. A few blocks away the same afternoon, Trump met with congressional leaders at the White House. He walked out of his own meeting, calling it "a total waste of time" because Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not fund his border wall.

[Read: Lindsey Graham doesn't want a primary]

The next day, Graham took to the president's other favored medium, Twitter, and despaired of a "complete stalemate right now in Congress." He said Trump "strongly believes he has power to declare a national emergency to build a wall. Will that approach work? I don't know." Within two hours, he had moved from posing the question to endorsing the nuclear option: "Time for President @realDonaldTrump to use emergency powers to build Wall/Barrier. I hope it works." On Friday, he reported a meeting with the president and escalated his encouragement. "Declare a national emergency NOW," he tweeted. "Build a wall NOW."

On Sunday, Graham seemed to back away from his own rhetoric, calling for Trump to accept a short-term budget bill to reopen the government for several weeks while negotiations continue. He labeled an emergency declaration "the last option."

"Before he pulls the plug on the legislative option—and I think we are almost there—I would urge them to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug," Graham said on Fox News Sunday. "See if we can get a deal. If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers. That's my recommendation."

[Read: Why hasn't Trump folded?]

Graham suggested such a deal would conform to the broad outlines that have been bandied about for months, if not years: wall funding in exchange for permanent legal status for Dreamers, the young adults brought to the country illegally as children and protected by Obama-era rules known as DACA. He added that Temporary Protected Status recipients, foreigners allowed to move here after disasters in their home countries, could also be protected; the Trump administration has been discontinuing the program for several countries, ending the legal status of tens of thousands of immigrants who in many cases have lived here for decades.

"I don't want to speak for the president," Graham said. "I don't want to lock him in, but I'm confident what I just described with a few other things would be a deal acceptable to the White House." However, that faith runs counter to history—Trump has refused various DACA deals before, as CNN has documented. It's also not clear that House Democrats would accept such a deal, which Pelosi flatly rejected before the shutdown began in December; shortly after she reclaimed the speaker's gavel earlier this month, she opposed any funding for a border wall that she called "an immorality" and "a waste of money."

[Read: Congresswoman, interrupted]

Other congressional Republicans appearing on the Sunday-morning talk shows did not race to endorse Graham's push for a short-term budget bill. The No. 2 House Republican, Representative Steve Scalise, questioned the logic behind the so-called bridge deal.

"The president said, 'If we go another 30 days, keep everything funded, even the things we disagree on … at the end of that 30 days, will you be willing to negotiate on these areas where we disagree, like the wall? And Nancy Pelosi said no, emphatically," the Louisianan said on ABC's This Week.

NBC's Chuck Todd asked Republican Senator Ted Cruz on Meet the Press about reopening the government and continuing the debate, as Graham discussed. The Texan didn't directly answer, instead pivoting to blame the other party: "There is a difference between one side, the Democrats, who are saying, 'We will not move. We will not compromise. We will not negotiate,' and the other side, the president, who is saying, 'I'm happy to negotiate.' And what he's proposing, the Democrats have already voted for. They're playing politics, because they hate Trump."

Democrats, on the other hand, embraced Graham's change of heart. Senator Tim Kaine, the Virginian who was Hillary Clinton's vice-presidential running mate in 2016, said on NBC that "we should first reopen the government."

Senator Chris Coons, a centrist from Delaware, followed Graham on Fox and explicitly endorsed his approach.

"I agree with the advice that Lindsey Graham just gave to President Trump, which is that he should reopen the government and we should spend several weeks negotiating over what we can all agree on," Coons said, adding an implicit rejection of Pelosi's rhetoric. "I personally don't think that a border wall is, in and of itself, immoral."

What most clearly united Republicans and Democrats was wariness about Trump using emergency powers to build his wall, though some GOP lawmakers defended his prerogative.

"I would hate to see it," Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on CNN's State of the Union about declaring a national emergency. "Using that act, it would be a far larger act than has ever occurred in the past. So I would prefer not, primarily because if we do that, it's going to go to court, and the wall won't get built."

"We don't want it to come down to a national-emergency declaration," Scalise said. "Clearly the president's got authority under law, but he's said he doesn't want it to come to that. He wants Congress to solve this problem. Congress needs to solve this problem."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also defended the president's power, even though an emergency declaration could divert disaster-relief funding from his home state of California, which has suffered deadly and devastating wildfires in recent years. He said the law granting such a diversion "exists for these types of circumstances," referring to the border crisis. However, he said repeatedly on CBS, "We should solve this legislatively."

Democratic opposition was more predictable and less deferential.

"If this president is going to turn to national emergencies every time he disagrees with Congress, I'm against it," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin said on ABC. "Let's make sure the branches of government are bound by the same Constitution."

Bill de Blasio and Gavin Newsom May Give Restrictionism New Life

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

To President Donald Trump, unauthorized immigration is a grave threat, which must be deterred and repelled, with force if need be. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, the most populous state in the union, and Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, its most populous city, see things rather differently. Both have announced new initiatives to provide unauthorized immigrants residing in their jurisdictions with a more comprehensive suite of medical benefits, with an eye towards eventually going further.

The contrast between the promise of a border wall, Trump's chief priority at the moment, and of reliable, subsidized access to what might otherwise be exorbitantly expensive medical treatment is unmistakable. The first says, in no uncertain terms, "Keep out." The second: "Whether you've settled here lawfully or otherwise, you are very welcome to stay." But the promises that DeBlasio and Newsom are making also reveal a key political vulnerability for their political coalition, one that stems from the gap between the rhetoric of those who champion immigration, and the messier realities that exist on the ground.

Newsom and De Blasio's latest interventions can only be understood in the context of the accelerating nationalization of U.S. politics, as documented by Daniel Hopkins, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. Policy domains that were once understood as almost exclusively local, such as public education, have long since become matters of national concern. Conversely, national issues increasingly resonate at the state and local level. Ambitious state and local politicians hoping to make a mark can't just stick to, say, the intricacies of traffic management, not least because doing so would risk boring their constituents to death. Far better to weigh in on issues that are at the front of voters' minds, and in the Trump era, few issues are more salient than immigration.

Though the regulation of immigration has been deemed a federal responsibility since at least the 1880s, state and local governments do have some scope to affect immigration policy at the margins, and a number of jurisdictions have sought to broaden it. Whereas Congress has been deadlocked on immigration for years, partisan sorting is such that some states and localities have sizable majorities that favor either restrictionist or admissionist policies, and state and local political entrepreneurs have sought to capitalize on that fact.

[Read: Why hasn't Trump folded?]

They are, in the words of Heather Gerken, the dean of Yale Law School, "dissenting by deciding." Instead of simply denouncing federal immigration policies they reject, they are exercising power in ways that reflect majority opinion in their own backyards, even when it is at odds with the national political settlement. Just as Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County made his name by championing restrictionist policies at the local level, in keeping with the sensibilities of his core constituency, Newsom and De Blasio have moved decisively in the opposite direction, embracing an admissionism that takes pride in defying, or rather resisting, federal immigration-enforcement efforts.   

With their health-care initiatives, Newsom and De Blasio are staking out new ground. Since the 1980s, self-described sanctuary jurisdictions, which now include California and New York City, have pledged not to cooperate with federal immigration-enforcement efforts, or at least to do so only selectively. Though the sanctuary movement started out as a self-consciously radical Reagan-era protest, it entered the mainstream as a pragmatic public-safety measure that could appeal to centrist sensibilities. Later on, a number of states moved to grant unauthorized immigrants driver's licenses. The Democratic Party consensus has moved considerably from 2007, when then-Senator Hillary Clinton felt obliged to oppose the idea, to 2015, when she expressed unqualified support for it. Sold to some as a public-safety measure and to others as a means to help the unauthorized achieve full economic participation in U.S. society, driver's licenses have proven a crucial pathway to quasi-legalization. In the meritocratic spirit of rewarding "good" unauthorized immigrants—younger people who've thrived in formal education and are on the path to remunerative employment, who could be framed as future pillars of the bourgeoisie—admissionist political entrepreneurs pressed for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Notably, this too was a policy that cost taxpayers very little.

But now, having already endorsed the principle of noncooperation with immigration laws they consider unjust, left-of-center admissionists are going well beyond making arguments rooted in concerns about public safety, or that separate out supposedly more virtuous unauthorized immigrants, such as those President Barack Obama once praised for working "two or three jobs without taking a dime from the government," from their less-virtuous counterparts. Newsom and De Blasio are implicitly acknowledging the low average incomes of the unauthorized-immigrant population and their intention to subsidize them.

[Read: How the Democrats lost their way on immigration]

For now, the subsidies are likely to prove modest in size. Newsom, for example, proposes expanding Medi-Cal coverage to unauthorized immigrants between the ages of 19 and 26, building on the recent expansion of coverage to include those aged 18 and under. This age limit will exclude many of the poorest and certainly most of the sickest unauthorized-immigrant adults in California, thus holding down costs. Nevertheless, the direction of travel is clear: Newsom and De Blasio intend to treat poor unauthorized immigrants as generously as they treat all those who are lawfully present in the U.S. And according to the Migration Policy Institute, an admissionist think tank, 60 percent of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. live in households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and 53 percent are uninsured.

Moreover, these numbers don't take into account the high cost of housing in many regions with large numbers of unauthorized immigrants, including California and New York City, which can further reduce disposable income. As Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui of The New York Times report, drawing on the work of MIT economist David Autor, "cities no longer offer low-skilled workers the economic advantages they once did," a fact that has profound implications for the 72 percent of unauthorized-immigrant adults who have no more than a high school education. In short, California, New York City, and other similar jurisdictions are facing a crisis of unauthorized-immigrant poverty that is likely to grow more pronounced in the years to come, not least because of the aging of the unauthorized-immigrant population.

One might hope that a more progressive immigration policy, including a sweeping amnesty, would in itself address this looming challenge. In part, the poverty of the unauthorized-immigrant population can be attributed to the burdens of living in the U.S. without authorization. When Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legal status to a large number of unauthorized immigrants in the 1980s, the average hourly wage of the newly-legalized individuals increased by 15.1 percent after five years, a gain that could be attributed at least in part to acquiring legal status.

[Read: A functional immigration system would look nothing like America's]

It is also true, however, that in the years since, U.S. workers without a postsecondary education have faced sustained wage pressure. Further, the IRCA amnesty preceded the wave of states granting unauthorized workers driver's licenses and providing other resources to facilitate their economic participation. The gap between those with legal status and those without it has, in many admissionist jurisdictions, grown smaller in recent years, which implies that the wage gains from legalization might be smaller as well.

Newsom and De Blasio are not wrong to underscore that large numbers of unauthorized immigrants are poor enough to be in desperate need to subsidized medical care. The tricky thing is that this is a different immigration message than the one that has historically appealed most to centrists, namely that immigration is a free lunch, and that all immigrants want is the opportunity to do back-breaking jobs for wages most native-born U.S. workers would find insultingly meager. They are reminding us that leading a dignified life in the U.S., let alone in California or New York City, is expensive, and that workers with little in the way of formal education often struggle to get by without a helping hand from more affluent taxpayers.

By embracing the further inclusion of unauthorized immigrants in the safety net, Newsom and De Blasio are rejecting the libertarian mantra of "building a wall around the welfare state," not to mention the Gang of Eight bill's stringent limits on the ability of newly-legalized immigrants to access benefits. But the conceit that poor unauthorized immigrants aren't in need of "a dime from the government" has long been considered central to keeping tax-averse voters in the admissionist coalition. As recently as April 2018, a survey sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that U.S. voters are far more concerned about immigrants who, in the language of one recent survey, "take benefits that should go to Americans first" than they are about those who "compete for jobs with hardworking Americans."

Backing benefits for unauthorized immigrants undoubtedly plays well with Democratic primary votes in California and New York City. But swing voters might see things rather differently. Once the polarizing Donald Trump leaves the scene, the bracing honesty of Newsom and De Blasio could give restrictionism new life.

The Truth About the Gig Economy

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

The workforce is getting Uberized. The gig economy is taking over the world. Independent contractor jobs are the new normal. In the post-recession years, this became conventional wisdom, as more and more Americans took jobs—well, "jobs"—with companies like Postmates, Fiverr, TaskRabbit, and Lyft. But the gig economy was then and is now a more marginal phenomenon than it might have seemed.

Last week, two influential labor economists revised down their much-cited estimate of the size of the alternative workforce, meaning workers in temporary, on-call, contract, or freelance positions. Lawrence Katz of Harvard and Alan Krueger of Princeton had initially found that this workforce grew 5 percentage points in the decade up to 2015, accounting for nearly all job creation over that time period. Now they think it is more like one or two points. Their correction comes shortly after a major government survey—one that surprised a lot of labor and workforce experts—found 3.8 percent of workers held "contingent" jobs as of 2017, roughly the same share as did in 2005.

[Read: The online gig economy's "race to the bottom"]

The gig economy might be new and big and radical and transformative. It might represent a powerful business model for venture investors and tech companies. But Uber and similar companies were not and are not driving tidal changes in the way that Americans make a living.

Wild predictions aside, it was always clear that many gig workers were taking on these kinds of jobs as a temporary stopgap or a way to supplement their income, rather than as a substitute for a full-time position. A comprehensive look at the Uber workforce by Krueger and Jonathan Hall, the company's internal head of economic research, found that, "Most of Uber's driver-partners had full- or part-time employment prior to joining Uber, and many continued in those positions after starting to drive with the Uber platform." Other surveys showed that most gig-economy workers were on the job only intermittently. The gig economy was providing a lot of work, but not a lot of jobs, in other words.  

Figuring out how many jobs the gig economy was creating turned out to be hard to do, too. In 2015, Krueger and Katz were trying to fill a "void" in the public understanding of how many Americans were in contingent or alternative work arrangements, since the government had stopped conducting its own survey on the question. They were comparing different points in the business cycle and using inconsistent surveys to do that, they note in their newer paper. Moreover, the surveys they were using had shortcomings: Respondents were just not great at accurately identifying what kind of work they were doing, for instance.

[Read: The unequal geography of the gig economy]

There's another reason why a false narrative might have hold: Gig work is vastly more prevalent in the big coastal cities where many investors and journalists live, leading to a kind of media myopia about the scale of the phenomenon. And gig work seemed like the future. It suddenly appeared during the brutal years following the financial crisis, at the same time that declining unionization rates, widening inequality, and the spiraling cost-of-living crisis, among other trends, were battering working families. Given widespread fears about the ways that automation and technology might further shock the American workplace, it just stood to reason that, in the coming dystopia, everyone would have to settle for "jobs" with little security, low pay, and no benefits.

The gig economy isn't taking over, but it has become a useful emblem of what it is like to work for a living in late-stage capitalism. No wonder it seemed to be everywhere.

‘God Is Not Done With Us Yet’: The Move Toward Local Renewal

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:11 PM PST

The prospect for governance at the national level is dark. If you were in doubt, here is some recent grist.

This makes it all the more important to notice, to connect, and to learn from the dispersed examples of local-level renewal, progress, and reinvention around the country. That is the intended theme of this ongoing thread.

With minimal elaboration, here are a few recent installments and bits of evidence toward this end:

1. Progressive federalism: My friends Lenny Mendonca and Laura Tyson have written extensively on this phenomenon, and how exactly cities, states, and regions and work most effectively in a time of national dysfunction. (Lenny Mendonca is the former head of CalForward and recently announced chief economic advisor to new California governor Gavin Newsom. Laura Tyson was head of Bill Clinton's National Economic Council and a professor at UC Berkeley.)

In an article "America's New Democracy Movement," they detail a theme discussed here over the months, and evident in the 2018 mid-term results: moves toward structural improvements in the machinery of governance, at the local and state level. The state-level moves in the opposite direction, notably in North Carolina and Wisconsin, are well known. Mendonca and Tyson say there is an opposing and more positive trend:

But the story of the 2018 midterms is about more than Trump and the future of his presidency. It is about an American electorate yearning for democratic reforms. Like in the Progressive era of the early twentieth century, when citizens and states spearheaded a wave of measures to improve democratic governance, voters from both parties used the election to signal their support for democracy….

With the federal government mired in dysfunction and now in its third shutdown since January 2018, voters are taking charge. Come 2020, there is every reason to expect that "progressive federalism" will usher in democratic reforms on a scale not seen since the heyday of the original Progressive movement.


2. Also in California, the governor-once-removed Arnold Schwarzenegger is continuing his drive for progressive democratic reform, notably through anti-gerrymandering measures. On January 10 his institute at USC had a big "Fair Maps Incubator" conference about a new approach to districting. I look forward to seeing the results.


3. Also in California, our friend Joe Mathews reports in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Salinas Valley town of Gonzales, many of whose residents are farm workers and where the median income is only $17,000 a year, that has found an ambitious way to give its young people a much better chance. As he writes:

Against the odds, Gonzales has assembled such a rich suite of services for children—27 programs—that it spends more on youth than on its Fire Department. Gonzales residents are poor, but they still voted for a half-cent sales tax that helps fund youth services. And while leaders in this Monterey County town don't have much power, that didn't stop them from sharing power with their own children, who help make decisions on spending and policy.

Gonzales, for all its challenges, has real strengths. It has developed an industrial park and agriculture-related businesses that produce steady tax revenue. And it has stable and thoughtful local leadership….

As much as possible, Gonzales employs the city's own children as part-time workers or interns in its programs. Students as young as ninth-graders are asked to interview and fill out applications — giving them experience. The city also gives part-time work to college students from Gonzales to keep them connected to the town.

The whole story is worth reading.


4. Not in California, but from a state resident (and former San Jose Mercury reporter): Dan Gillmor writes about experiments in re-connecting local journalism with its civic audience, and with a potential economic base. This one is in Kansas City, to give local residents a view inside the news room.

Our work with newsrooms, including Kansas City, has been about collaboration in every respect. At The Star, for example, the collaboration with the public library has been astoundingly productive. The organizations teamed up on "Java with Journalists" meetings at branch libraries — a project soon to be expanded to other public library systems in the Kansas City metro area — and, of course, the "What's Your KCQ" project. The latter has another partner: Hearken, a Chicago-based specialist in what it calls "public powered journalism" in which the public is integral to the reporting….

Speaking personally, some lessons are already clear. Among them: Each newsroom and community is different, so the engagement/transparency projects need to be tailored to fit the people and place; the principles don't change but the specific tactics may.

Samantha Max, of the Telegraph in Macon, Georgia, has a related report, which like Gillmor's is carried at Arizona State University's NewsCo/Lab site.


5. From a very different perspective, drawing from the works of Friedrich Hayek and the doctrine of "subsidiarity" with a heavily Catholic emphasis, Andy Smarick of the libertarian R Street Institute talks about conservatives' obligation to work out the practicalities of a local-centric approach. His essay in National Affairs is called "Toward a Real Decentralization," and it says:

Conservative leaders who embrace [the localist] view should be comfortable even with formations that adopt initiatives they may not like. By recognizing our own limitations and the authority of others, we can see that the American unum requires a pluribus.

There are many instances in which leaders on the right seem to miss this point. For example, after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance in 2016 permitting transgender people to use the bathrooms they prefer, state lawmakers in North Carolina hastily passed a bill overriding this policy….

Similarly, as political-science professor Jay Aiyer pointed out in a paper on localism in Texas, "Texas is a conservative state with growing liberal urban centers. However … the leadership in Texas has chosen to centralize authority through the legislative process, undermining local control on a myriad of issues." In other words, to prevent liberal policies from taking effect, or what Texas governor Greg Abbott often refers to as "the Californization of Texas," conservative leaders at times proudly subvert local authorities.

The essay is a useful complement to the progressive-minded examinations of the likes of Tyson and Mendonca.


6. Finally for now, former senator and presidential front-runner Gary Hart, subject of this recent story in The Atlantic, from his site Matters of Principle. In "The Darkness Before the Dawn" he writes:

Despite the chaos in and around the White House and the fog of stagnation it creates, emanating from a man who could care less for this country, and despite the cultural changes shrewdly observed by my friend, there must and will be a return to sanity and to a brighter day for the country we love.  We are optimists because we are Americans.

As Reverend Jesse Jackson used to say about himself, God is not done with us yet.

Details on what God may have in mind for the people of the United States, and what Earthlings may do about it, ahead.

The Moral Failure of Family Separation

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:12 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

The fact of what was happening dawned before the scope of it did: In the summer of 2017, immigration lawyers and judges began reporting that parents were arriving at immigrant detention centers without their children, who had been placed in custody elsewhere, sometimes thousands of miles away. Not until April of last year, when a New York Times investigation found that some 700 children—many under the age of 4—had been separated from their parents after crossing the southern border illegally with them in the preceding six months, did the extent of the program become clear.

Though Donald Trump's administration has intermittently denied that family separation was ever its policy, the litany of horrors associated with the policy lengthens. Toddlers screaming as they're wrested from their parents' arms. Children sleeping on the bare floor of cages. Parents getting deported to their home countries while their children remain in custody here. Children falling ill in custody. Border Patrol losing track of where certain children have gone. (When a federal judge ordered that children be reunited with their families immediately, it quickly became evident that border agencies had little idea how to do so.)

[Read: Trump's immigration policy gets its moral reckoning]

Separating families was not a rare and unintended consequence of a policy but part of the point of it. Not long after Trump took office, senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security began saying that the administration was considering separating children from their parents as a deterrent to illegal immigration. Is that true? John Kelly, then serving as the head of DHS, was asked in early 2017. "Yes I'm considering" that, Kelly said. "I am considering exactly that." (Kelly would later blame the policy on departed Attorney General Jeff Sessions's "zero tolerance" policy toward illegal immigration.)

It is an axiom of moral life among civilized humans that to separate young children from their parents is an offense against not just nature but society, one of the building blocks of which—as the Republican Party, in particular, has long been at pains to emphasize—is the family. Forcibly yanking children from their parents is of a piece with some of the darkest moments of American history: the internment of Japanese Americans; the forcible separation of American Indian children into special boarding schools; slavery.

Wanting to clamp down on illegal immigration is a reasonable policy position; the relative expansiveness with which this country grants asylum is a subject of legitimate debate. What is new is the callousness of the Trump administration's approach, which is in keeping with what seems like an odd deficiency of human sympathy on the part of the president himself. In December, when two children who had not been separated from their parents—Jakelin Caal Maquin, age 7, and Felipe Gómez Alonzo, age 8—died in U.S. custody, the president's first response was not an expression of condolence or concern but rather a statement blaming others and calling for a border wall: "Any deaths of children or others at the border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies," he tweeted.  

Even for those children who survive the border-crossing ordeal, the damage will be lasting: Research on the toxic and enduring effects of early-childhood separation from primary caregivers is abundant. What the effect of this progressive coarsening of our moral sensibilities will be is yet to determined.

The President’s Pursuit of White Power

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:44 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Armed white terrorists, many of them Confederate veterans, stormed the July 1866 constitutional convention in New Orleans and slaughtered nearly 50 people, many of them black Union veterans. The attendees at the convention had committed a crime of dire proportions: They had sought to enfranchise the black population of Louisiana following the imposition of the Black Codes, laws that had reduced the black population of the state to a position of near-slavery. The white men of the South had no choice but to engage in mass murder.  

Or at least that's how the president of the United States saw it. "When they had established their government and extended universal or impartial franchise, as they called it, to this colored population, then this radical Congress was to determine that a government established on Negro votes was to be the government of Louisiana," President Andrew Johnson told a supportive crowd in St. Louis in September 1866. "So much for the New Orleans riot—and there was the cause of the origin of the blood that was shed. And every drop of blood that was shed is upon their skirts, and they are responsible for it."

[Adam Serwer: The white nationalists are winning]

Until the 20th century, most American presidents supported white supremacy, a ruling doctrine of the United States for most of its existence. Still, few endorsed mob violence or defended those who engaged in it. Until Donald Trump, who, in the aftermath of a white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of the counterprotester Heather Heyer, defended the racist marchers, saying that there were "very fine people on both sides." Although it was a logical extension of Trump's governing philosophy, the core of which is the preservation of America's traditional hierarchies of race and gender, the statement nevertheless shocked a polity that has grown used to presidents who embrace pluralism, at least rhetorically.

In a now-typical Trump-era ritual, administration officials who recognized the president's defense of white nationalists as immoral anonymously leaked their disgust to reporters without taking any concrete action against him. Republican legislators expressed concern and furrowed their brows, while continuing to aid Trump in pursuit of his agenda. And the white nationalists who had grown to see the president as their champion were reaffirmed in their suspicions. One of the organizers of the Charlottesville riot, Richard Spencer, said that he was "really proud" of Trump.

The most devastating consequences of the Trump presidency have been policy decisions: his attempts to expel undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to public safety, and their American family members; his elevation of an ostentatious partisan to the Supreme Court; his implementation of a policy of child abuse as a deterrent to illegal immigration; his abandonment of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria; his Justice Department's green-lighting of police abuses; his attempts to weaken the political power of minorities targeted by his policies; and other acts of state violence and disapproval against religious and ethnic minorities too numerous to name. But all of them follow the underlying logic of Trump's response to Charlottesville, and Johnson's response to New Orleans: that extremism in pursuit of white power is no vice, and defending the rights of those who threaten that power is no virtue.

It’s Been Two Years. The President Still Hasn’t Released His Tax Returns

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:42 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

The president owns a business.

The president owns a business entity composed of roughly 500 other business entities.

The president owns a business entity that he no longer controls, but his sons do.

The president owns a business entity set up to allow him to withdraw funds "at his request."

The president owns a business entity designed to reduce his tax burden, shift risk, and maximize profits. There is no independent public accounting of the machinations of this business entity, nor do his sons and other company managers answer to a White House ethics board. The company remains a company, meant to make money for the president.

The president is still heavily invested in any number of industries his government regulates, including real estate, tourism, and hospitality. The president passed tax cuts with specific carve-outs for real-estate developers.

[Read more: All of the president-elect's conflicts of interest]

The president's company operates a hotel just a few blocks from the White House. Foreign dignitaries have spent thousands of dollars there, as has his inaugural committee, as have Republican politicians and lobbyists, though there is no complete and transparent accounting available. This translates into additional profits for the president.

The president's company manages, owns, or operates numerous other hotels. Government agencies have spent thousands of dollars staying at them during his presidency, enriching the president with revenue collected from taxpayers.

The president's organization has said it donates the profits from "foreign government patronage" at those hotels. It has not identified its customers or provided a detailed accounting of how and how much money it has made from foreign patrons.

Throughout his time in the White House, the president has continued to own shares in a number of individual companies, including Halliburton and Apple. His government taxes and regulates those firms.

The president has business interests in countries around the globe, countries with which he sets trade, security, economic, and diplomatic relations. These include the United Arab Emirates, Canada, India, and Turkey.

The president owns a Florida resort and social club that has become his Camp David. The social club has raised membership prices and sold tickets to events with the promise of access to the president.

The president runs a personal charity. The New York attorney general said she found a "shocking pattern of illegality" there, "including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more." The charity is now dissolving.

[Read: How Trump's murky foreign business interests harm America]

The president runs a now-dissolving personal charity that for years donated to other charities, many of them seemingly linked to the president or his businesses. Its largest gift went to restore a fountain outside one of the president's hotels, and its smallest appears to have paid for one of his sons' Boy Scouts dues.

The president seeded his investments with inheritances from his father. The president committed tax fraud when inheriting his father's fortune, an exhaustive New York Times investigation found.

The president's real-estate projects are alleged or have been found to have misled investors and potential investors. That includes projects in the Dominican Republic, Canada, Panama, and the United States.

The president and his staff members have promoted the president's personal brand dozens of times.

The president has not sold off controversial investments, foreign investments, investments in industries he now regulates, or investments in businesses that receive payments from the United States government or foreign governments. He is the first modern president to decline to do so.

The president has not put his investments in a blind trust. He is the first modern president with substantial financial interests to decline to do so.

The president has never released his tax returns. He is the first modern president to decline to do so.

The Collusion With Russia Is in Plain Sight

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:16 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Perhaps even President Donald Trump is susceptible to the emotionalism of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He listened to the piece surrounded by his fellow G20 summiteers, the leaders of the world who had gathered in Germany in the summer of 2017. Sitting in a balcony, he leaned forward and seemed to listen intently to jocular chitchat from the Macrons. A good rendition of the Ninth—and it's hard to top the Hamburg Philharmonic—is the musical equivalent of a venti Red Eye, a thunderous jolt to the circulatory system. When Trump joined his colleagues for a post-concert dinner, he seemed unable to stay put in his chair.

More specifically, he roamed the banquet hall and gravitated to an empty chair next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was likely not a maneuver that Trump had discussed with his aides in advance. Protocol permitted him to bring one translator to dinner—and his interpreter of choice spoke Japanese. Part of the peril of the improvised conversation was Putin's cunning, his skill at rewriting reality by cleverly insisting on his own pattern of facts. There was also Trump's strange tendency to genuflect in the direction of the Russian leader.

Because there was no U.S. official eavesdropping on the conversation, we have no record of what was said during this hour of kibitzing. And for several days, there was not even an official acknowledgement of it. Despite the many witnesses who saw him saddle up to Putin, Trump dismissed various reports about it as "fake news."

Even at this earlier moment in his presidential biography, the cloud parked over the Trump presidency was the Russia scandal. All political logic suggested that he should avoid furtive meetings with the Russian leader, since the official line in Democratic talking points, buttressed by the Steele dossier, described him as "Putin's puppet." Trump's willingness to ignore this political logic can be read as willful defiance, incompetent optics, or confirmation of a nefarious alliance. But the consistent fact is that Trump places himself in situations where he manages to bolster both the prestige and the tactical advantages of a man who hopes to weaken the country Trump governs and the alliance of democracies that he theoretically leads.

The dinner scene in Hamburg was followed by Trump's mad soliloquy in Helsinki the next summer. Trump stood next to Putin at a pair of podiums. The American president implied that he trusted the Russian president's denials of interference in the U.S. election more than he believed the conclusive findings of his own intelligence community. It doesn't take terribly sophisticated psychology to see how he could arrive at such a profoundly patriotic conclusion. To concede Russian meddling in American elections would call into question the legitimacy of his own victory.

To deny Russian meddling, however, is to grant Putin his wish. Putin has repeatedly used social media to try to sow discord in the United States and western Europe. He believes that he can tip elections and stoke resentments, weakening his rivals without paying any real geostrategic price. Indeed, Trump's denial of the nefarious Russian role in the election furthers the suspicions that Putin hopes to encourage. It creates the impression of a biased, conspiratorial "deep state"; it makes the obsession with Russian influence seem like a partisan delusion.

One of the great discoveries of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is that the Russians and the Trump campaign allegedly began talking about "political synergy" back in November 2015, long before anybody expected the reality-television star to win the Republican nomination. Even before Mueller launched his probe, the FBI reportedly believed that the president was worthy of a counterintelligence investigation, because the evidence it possessed suggested there was a reasonable possibility that Trump was an agent working on behalf of Russia. Very little in his presidential record makes this incredible assumption any less plausible.

Whatever the ultimate truth about Trump's relationship with Russia, it has been a supremely rewarding one for the Kremlin. Trump has downplayed the assassinations of Kremlin critics. He has seemed ready to accept the Russian occupations of Crimea and Western Ukraine as either established facts or nuisances not worth American bother. Syria is a theater of influence that he has conceded to the Russians by withdrawing troops. Even sanctions against Putin's cronies are now being rolled back. We may never find evidence of covert collusion; but the collusion that is sitting in plain view is one of the worst scandals in American political history.

The Chain Reaction That Began When Trump Fired James Comey Is Speeding Up

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:16 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

The firing of FBI Director James Comey, widely thought to be the result of Comey's handling of L'Affaire Russe, would have been scandalous on its own. What we now know is that it was more than an isolated abuse; it was a window into how President Donald Trump understands the role of federal law enforcement—and a template for how he would wage war on the apolitical application of the law.

The firing seems to have proceeded from a genuine befuddlement on Trump's part at the expectation that anyone in power might not use his position—as Polemarchus says to Socrates about the nature of justice—to reward friends and punish enemies. Within the FBI, the action was considered so extreme that it triggered a counterintelligence investigation of whether the president himself was working on behalf of Russian interests. But Trump, for his part, appears to find it downright odd that he is not supposed to use the Justice Department and the FBI to go after his political foes and protect himself from scrutiny. When he's not actively chafing at the restrictions, he's made almost wistful by the powerful instrument he has but cannot use. In one 2017 interview, when asked "what's stopping the Justice Department" from investigating Hillary Clinton, Trump told a radio talk show: "You know, the saddest thing is, because I am the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing, and I am very frustrated by it." Trump asked of the department, "Why aren't they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her dossier, and the kind of money? … It's very discouraging to me. I'll be honest, I'm very unhappy with it."

[Read: Four things the Comey memos reveal]

It was a statement of remarkable candor: Trump declared it "the saddest thing" that he could not call up an investigation of his political opponent. He said he would "love to be doing" things with the Justice Department that defy political norms, and he declared himself "very frustrated" and "very unhappy" that he can't manage to do them. He said with bold frankness that he would like to be able to interfere with ongoing investigations. He declared himself a corrupt actor who believes that the FBI and the Justice Department should be at his beck and call for political purposes.

Whether Trump's conduct in firing Comey was legally an obstruction of justice or constituted a national-security threat, as the FBI worried, the attitude that found its initial vivid expression in the Comey firing is the true danger of the episode. It is the attitude that persisted in the threats against Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein, the bullying of Andrew McCabe and Jeff Sessions, the dangling of pardons before potential witnesses against the president, and the installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. It is this unapologetically authoritarian stance toward law enforcement, which merges the enforcement interests of the country with the personal interests of its leader, and not the firing itself, that represents the true, scandalous breach of conduct. The Comey firing was just Trump's coming-out party.

The War on Black Athletes

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:39 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

The exact date I knew that Colin Kaepernick would never play in the NFL again was March 20, 2017. That day, Donald Trump held a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, and publicly eviscerated Kaepernick—who had been taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the treatment of people of color by police and the criminal-justice system—for the first time as president. He had gone after the athlete many times on the campaign trail, but with the power of the Oval Office behind him, this became an even more potent takedown.

Trump referred to Kaepernick as "your San Francisco quarterback—I'm sure nobody's ever heard of him." He also bragged about the fact that he was responsible for NFL owners' not signing Kaepernick, a free agent at the time, because they feared a public rebuke from Trump. Although the president has lashed out at Kaepernick since Louisville (including criticizing Nike for making Kaepernick the face of an ad campaign in September), it was Trump's Louisville comments that were especially significant.

Trump's remarks were essentially a smoking gun for Kaepernick's collusion case against the NFL, which an arbitrator ruled in August could proceed to a full hearing. A few months before the ruling, The Wall Street Journal obtained depositions in the case showing that Trump successfully scared the bejesus out of NFL owners. That isn't easy to do. The Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, stated in his deposition that Trump told him the NFL protests were "a very winning, strong issue for me. Tell everybody, you can't win this one. This one lifts me." Jones reportedly relayed that message to his fellow owners, and suddenly the Miami Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, who had created a grant program for social-justice organizations, was having an epiphany. Ross admitted under oath that he was initially supportive of the protests, but that Trump's comments changed his mind.

The real irony is that as Trump has gleefully claimed victory for forcing Kaepernick's unemployment, the president also may have gift-wrapped a winning case for the athlete at the NFL's expense. Considering how much Trump loathes the NFL for blocking his ownership attempts in the past, that's karma to an infinite power.

Trump possesses a unique ability to change narratives, and he has been able to use black athletes as a perfect foil. In September 2017, at a rally in Alabama, he said NFL owners should react to protesting players by saying, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He's fired. He's fired!" That same year, he disinvited the Golden State Warriors to the White House after they won the NBA championship, because Steph Curry had admitted that he didn't want to be near Trump, which led to LeBron James calling the president a "bum" in the seventh-most-retweeted tweet of 2017. In those instances, Trump painted African American athletes as ungrateful, all to the thunderous applause of his base.

Trump isn't the first president to show such overt interest in sports, but he's the only president in recent memory to weaponize sports as a divisive political tool. It cost Colin Kaepernick his career, and NFL owners their self-respect.

The Faulty Logic in Trump’s Travel Ban

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:36 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Exactly one week after he was inaugurated, President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations—Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—from entering the United States for at least 90 days. Mass protests, wall-to-wall news coverage, and a series of legal challenges quickly followed.

Immigration lawyers and journalists camped out in the international terminals of airports around the country, seeking passengers from the affected countries as they arrived in a nation that appeared to have decided overnight that they were unwelcome. Judges in New York, Massachusetts, and Hawaii, among other states, temporarily blocked key provisions of the order; residents in these locales and elsewhere contested its constitutionality.

The president's stated purpose was "to protect the Nation from terrorist activities," and his focus was clearly on the Muslim world. Trump has a long-standing pattern of broadly equating Muslim people and Muslim terrorists—while at the same time seeming unable to see non-Muslim radical extremists for what they are. With the order that came to be known as the "Muslim ban," Trump swore that he was focused on terrorism. But even by the president's own logic, the ban was curious in its scope: He ignored the country that produced the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001, were Saudi Arabians, yet Saudi Arabia was not on Trump's list.

The Islamic State has territory in Iraq, Libya, and Syria; al-Qaeda operates largely from Yemen; and al-Shabaab is based in Somalia. But as my colleague Uri Friedman has reported, nationals of the seven countries that Trump banned killed exactly zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015. The people around the world most likely to be affected by extremist violence are Muslims in the Middle East and Africa, among them the very nationals Trump banned with his order.

The president's apparent yearning for a clash of civilizations—he would have made "a good general," he recently mused—is inculcating a deep fear within his own people. The days following the introduction of the travel ban carried with them a kind of hysteria-inducing alarm. Especially for people whose countries and religious communities were targeted, the ban sowed dread: It kept families separated, halted reunions, and interrupted journeys spurred by the most essential human needs.

The travel ban was eventually green-lit, if watered down. The language is gentler, the provisions presumably more tightly restrained. But there is no remedy for the knowledge that a sitting president delights in the trembling of his fellow citizens. And there's no escaping the knowledge that even when Trump modulates the volume of his cruelty, his targets remain the same.  

Imagine the Stormy Daniels Scandal in Any Other Presidency

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:51 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Certain phrases, uttered in a moment, become part and parcel of a presidency, particularly when they reveal glimpses of the person occupying the office. "The better angels of our nature," for instance, helped shape Abraham Lincoln's legacy as much as "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" did Bill Clinton's.

Which phrases will history associate with Donald Trump? No president before him has offered such direct, unfiltered access to his psyche, or sparked such willful chaos in doing so. Faced with Trump's enthusiasm for scorched-earth tweets and sound bites, few adversaries can measure up. Stormy Daniels is one of them, and the words Trump has used for her characterize aspects of his presidency better than any others.

The adult-film actor and dancer has plagued the president ever since The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2018 that Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, had paid Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 campaign to not talk publicly about a sexual relationship she claimed to have had with Trump a decade earlier. Various lawsuits, talk-show appearances, and cable interviews featuring Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, ensued. In October 2018, as news broke that Daniels had had her defamation case against Trump thrown out by a judge in California, Trump responded to the news on Twitter, referring directly to Daniels for the first time. "Great," he wrote, "now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas."

Such a public pronouncement about a woman by a sitting president was unprecedented, beyond even all the other news-cycle-disrupting, norm-obliterating, protocol-decimating ways in which Trump had delineated his tenure as commander in chief. (Not to mention the historic nature of the scandal itself: It's mind-boggling to imagine the scandal that would have erupted had Barack Obama, or George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton paid off a porn actress to cover up an affair that allegedly occurred while his wife was home with their newborn.)

To be clear: Insulting women wasn't new for Trump. His nicknames for Hillary Clinton alone ("Crooked," "Lying," "Heartless") could title a particularly bitter country song. Elizabeth "Pocahontas" Warren, "MS-13 Lover" Nancy Pelosi, and "Low IQ" Maxine Waters have each earned epithets at one point or another. Omarosa Manigault Newman, the reality-show villain whom Trump hired to work for the White House Office of Public Liaison, scored two nicknames after she published a tell-all book about her abbreviated tenure in the West Wing: "Wacky and Deranged Omarosa," and "that dog."

"Horseface," attached to a woman who'd described having sex with the president shortly after his third wife had given birth to their son, came with its own baggage. Misogynistic in a casual, high-school-yearbook kind of way, it spoke volumes about Trump's id. The nickname crystallized the president's inability to perceive women as anything other than physical objects to be displayed or discarded. It revealed, again, Trump's uncontrollable impulse to attack anyone who threatens him, however self-defeating such an attack might be. And it made plain how vulnerable the president is when it comes to his ego—as easily bruised as a petal, or a peach.

Even in the Charybdis-like vortex of the Trump news cycle, l'affaire Stormy Daniels was the scandal that couldn't quit. That was partly because the president himself stoked it, although whether out of simple fury or the urge to have his sexual exploits be known is anyone's guess. Hence an odd truth: "Horseface" is an epithet that says more about Trump than anyone he might attach it to.

Six Hours and Three Minutes of Internet Chaos

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:20 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

It is possible to view the history of presidential politics in McLuhanian terms, via the changing technologies that leaders have used to communicate. William Jennings Bryan stood at the edge of a train car and bellowed orations to his devoted followers as he traveled across the country. Franklin D. Roosevelt used the intimacy of radio and his flair for the dramatic to transmit "real news," as he once put it, directly to the people. And Donald Trump watches TV while thumbing out tweets to the "haters" and "losers."

Trump has tweeted 6,152 times since he was inaugurated, each message a fragment of presidential id. His timeline, which swerves predictably from seething to gloating, is not just an end run around the press but a splintered stream of consciousness unmatched in presidential history, an unfiltered look at the forces that animate a president obsessed with how he is viewed by others.

His tweets are messy, reactive, often petty, and occasionally cruel. The world has grown accustomed to this aspect of the Trump presidency, and the regularity with which he self-publishes flapdoodle conspiracies, casual sexism, schoolyard insults, tin-can patriotism, and outright lies. When a steady stream of exclamation points is not enough, the president opts for all caps instead, as when he tweeted at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last summer: "NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE."

His tweets contain hundreds of references to "fake news" and more than 150 instances of "witch hunt." The emoji he has used most as president is 🇺🇸. It remains an open question, as of this writing, whether a tweet can start a war.

But in the annals of Trumpian tweeting, nothing compares to what appeared on his feed at 12:06 a.m. on May 31, 2017: "Despite the constant negative press covfefe"

Seconds passed, then minutes, then an hour, then six hours, with no word from the White House on whether Trump was okay, or even alive. Surely it was a typo, or a tweet published errantly—but what if it was the sign of something more sinister?  The speculation was furious, and so was the snark. (No meme was left unsummoned, from "Stop trying to make covfefe happen" to "Hold my covfefe" to "Ask your doctor if covfefe is right for you" to "#covfefe: when you get tricked into emailing the nuclear password to that Nigerian prince.") When the president tweeted again, at 6:09 a.m. on May 31, 2017, it was to say this: "Who can figure out the true meaning of 'covfefe' ??? Enjoy!"

At a White House briefing that afternoon, Sean Spicer, the press secretary at the time, had this exchange with reporters:

Reporter: Do you think people should be concerned that the president posted somewhat of an incoherent tweet last night, and that it then stayed up for hours?

Spicer: Uh, no.

Reporter: Why did it stay up so long? Is no one watching this?

Spicer: No, I think the president and a small group of people knew exactly what he meant.

[Reporters speaking all at once]

Reporter: What does covfefe mean?

Reporter: What does it mean?

Reporter: What does the president mean?

Reporter: What is covfefe?

There have been more consequential presidential tweets, and someday there may even be a weirder one. But Covfefe remains the tweet that best illustrates Trump's most preternatural gift: He knows how to captivate people, how to command and divert the attention of the masses. And long after the president's tweets are stripped of meaning by the passage of time and the rotting of the internet, his severest critics will still have to grapple with the short distance between politics and entertainment in America, and the man who for years toyed so masterfully with a nation's attention.

The Self-Pardoning President

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:51 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Andrew Johnson solemnly assured a campaign rally that he was not Judas Iscariot. Lyndon B. Johnson lifted his shirt to show reporters his gallbladder-surgery scar. Jimmy Carter told Playboy that he had lusted in his heart. Bill Clinton shared with federal prosecutors his unusual definition of sexual relations.

But until recently, the gold standard for inappropriate presidential self-revelation was Richard Nixon's statement, on November 17, 1973, that "I'm not a crook."

Then, on June 4, 2018, President Donald Trump tweeted, "As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?"

A new record had been set.

[Read: Trump asserts "complete power to pardon" in Saturday tweetstorm]

Does the president really have the power of self-pardon? Is that power really "absolute"? The first question divides legal scholars; leaving aside the definition of numerous, the self-pardon position certainly has its partisans. The historical record shows that days before resigning, Nixon's aide Alexander Haig quietly floated the idea of self-pardon; no other president apparently has discussed the idea. But even assuming that self-pardon is constitutional, absolute is a bridge too far.

The Constitution doesn't lodge many absolute powers in anyone.

Trump's lawyers have certainly argued that his authority is broad. In a January 29, 2018, letter to the special counsel, they claimed that Trump's apparent attempts to stop an FBI investigation of his former national-security adviser Michael Flynn "could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself, and that he could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired."

The letter claims that the president has "power to pardon," but it doesn't say "to pardon himself"—much less claim "absolute" authority to do so.

[Read: Trump is weaponizing pardons]

In order to understand why it doesn't, imagine the following scenario. During a session in the Oval Office, Trump shoots a visitor dead. Then, with his trusty Sharpie, he signs a predrafted self-pardon for the murder—while holding in the other hand what he might call the "smocking gun."

No court would honor such a pardon, and no sane lawyer would argue that it should. In fact, beyond the murder, the attempted pardon itself would likely be a crime.

But if lawyers and judges don't embrace "absolute" power, the president's imagination evidently does. Trump's statements are thus alarming not for their legal pretension but for their dark psychology. During the campaign, he publicly fantasized that "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."

Benevolent leaders seldom muse about murdering with impunity. Genuinely innocent people do not obsess about pardoning themselves. Trump's scenarios evoke a chilling psychic Gehenna—a tenebrous plane of utter solipsism, where Trump himself is the only thing. He himself is "justice"; he himself is "law." His will be done.

That Time Trump Threw Paper Towels at Puerto Ricans

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:21 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

It is impossible to blame a single individual for the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which brought thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in destruction to Puerto Rico. To attempt to do so would be not only faulty, but hubristic. Nature will do as it wishes. But in the history of Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump's name will be tied closely to the story of Maria. In his cocoon of conspiracies, Trump has constructed a narrative in which the deaths and destruction are mere fabrications of a plot to tarnish his legacy. But the deaths and destruction happened on his watch, as his government flailed, and as his strongman bluster failed in the face of a tempest.

That failure was crystalized in an image that has haunted the Trump administration. During a visit to Puerto Rico, the president attended a relief event at a church in Guaynabo. The image is indelible: Trump, facing a throng of Puerto Ricans with outstretched arms, launching rolls of paper towels. The symbolism is thick enough to cut. A president whose job it is to serve Americans, to do the impossible to keep them safe and come to their aid in moments of crisis, reduced that role to cheerful charity for a crowd of brown faces, doing his "best Stephen Curry impersonation," as a pool report would later describe it.

Perhaps that image is unfair to Trump without context. After all, the relief event was only a sliver of the administration's involvement in the disaster response, and the people in the room cheered the president in the moment. But given the background of that response—and how it compares with the response to Hurricane Harvey, which struck the mainland Gulf Coast just a few weeks before Maria—the blunder is a useful distillation. The federal response was belated and haphazard; securing crucial supplies and reestablishing lines of communication on the island took weeks, amid a cloud of ambivalence and ineptitude emanating from the White House. "This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water," Trump said during a speech that attempted to excuse the lack of federal action. Puerto Rico is indeed an island, but it's only about 1,000 miles from the U.S. mainland. The president flies about the same distance on his frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago.

We now know that hundreds or perhaps thousands of lives were lost as a direct result of the federal government's chaotic and ineffectual response. Trump's own reaction to those deaths bespeaks an underlying ill will that goes beyond nonchalance: He has denied that the deaths of up to 3,000 Puerto Ricans even happened. For grieving families in a diaspora marked by colonialist malevolence, it must be reiterated that this is an official denial from the United States government that their pain even exists.

Presidents are judged, and their legacies forged, on the moments that their ambitions truly reflected the awesome power and responsibility of the office—or failed to meet the occasion. John F. Kennedy peered into the void of space and willed Americans to do the hard work of getting there. Abraham Lincoln defied the very founders of the country in proclaiming emancipation for the enslaved. Franklin D. Roosevelt wrestled with fear itself as he sought to transform the country and the government to fight the Great Depression. And, in 2017, Donald Trump stared into the eye of the most lethal hurricane in a century, and threw paper towels.

The Day ‘Shithole’ Entered the Presidential Lexicon

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:21 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

On January 11, 2018, during an Oval Office talk with several U.S. senators about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries in a new immigration package, President Donald Trump unleashed a word that Americans aren't accustomed to hearing from their president.

"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump reportedly asked. (He later denied having said this.)

Months earlier, Trump had reportedly complained that Nigerian immigrants would never "go back to their huts" and Haitians "all have AIDS." He doubled down at the Oval Office meeting. "Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump said. "Take them out."

In their stead, Trump spoke of taking in immigrants from great European countries like Norway, and also from Asian countries, since they could help America economically.

The private conversation leaked. Shithole snatched the headlines. But what made this moment historic, what made this moment unprecedented, was not merely the misuse of a vile word. It was the racial hierarchy Trump constructed with that language. He placed whites over Asians, and both over Latinos and blacks from "shithole" countries.

[Read: Trump puts the purpose of his presidency into words]

White House staffers immediately predicted that the leaked conversation would resonate with his base. Perhaps it did. Perhaps it still does. Perhaps racist Americans see the browning of America as the shitholing of America. Perhaps, as former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond responded, they hear "Make America Great Again" as "Make America White Again."

On the other hand, Americans should take from that moment its bracing clarity. Trump's administration is not pursuing a "hardline immigration policy." That phrase obscures Trump's soft immigration policy for white people from countries like Slovenia, the homeland of Trump's recently naturalized in-laws. It obscures history.

Before the 1924 Immigration Act, before the Civil War, the exclusionary lines drawn by Know Nothings, Anglo-Saxons, and eugenicists were much more restrictive than Trump's MAWA. In much the same way that Trump demeans and blocks Latino, black, and Muslim immigrants, the old immigration hard-liners demeaned and banned nearly everyone, including the very same eastern Europeans and Asians whom Trump now welcomes.

Trump's predecessors were more anti-immigrant than pro-white. Trump's "shithole countries" remark is evidence that he is more pro-white than anti-immigrant.

Trump Cares About Only One Audience

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:22 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

President Donald Trump took the stage in Southaven, Mississippi, for a campaign rally on October 2, 2018, at a fraught moment in American politics. Brett Kavanaugh, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, had been accused of committing sexual assault as a teenager, and his nomination now appeared to be in peril. The confirmation battle had consumed the country, the national temperature was running hot—and everyone was waiting to hear what the president would say.

Republicans on Capitol Hill had been trying to tread lightly with Kavanaugh's most prominent accuser, Christine Blasey Ford—inviting her to testify in the Senate and mostly refraining from personal attacks on her character. Trump had grudgingly gone along with this strategy of restraint. But gazing out at a roaring crowd of red-capped superfans that October evening, he just couldn't help himself.

His voice dripping with contempt, Trump began ridiculing Ford's memory of the alleged assault—even going so far as to imitate her testimony: "How did you get home? I don't remember. How'd you get there? I don't remember. Where is the place? I don't remember. How many years ago was it? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. What neighborhood was it in? I don't know. Where's the house? I don't know. Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? I don't know. But I had one beer. That's the only thing I remember."

The crowd erupted in delight.

"A man's life is shattered," Trump went on, lamenting the damage to Kavanaugh's reputation. "His wife is shattered." The people championing Ford, he declared, were "really evil people."

From the very beginning of his presidential bid, Trump's campaign events have had a certain carnival-like quality, with stump speeches that are part talk-radio tirade, part insult-comedy routine. The shtick was outlandish even for an upstart candidate. But whereas most presidents tend to mute their rhetoric once they reach the Oval Office, Trump has only turned up the volume as president. To watch his rallies throughout the 2018 midterm campaign was to feel as though anything might happen. Maybe he would tee off on supposedly unpatriotic football players. Maybe he would debut a new taunting nickname for a Democratic politician. Maybe he would pull Sean Hannity onto the stage.

Still, even by these standards, Trump's Southaven performance was astonishing: During the efflorescence of the #MeToo movement, here was the president of the United States derisively mocking a reluctantly testifying private citizen who said that she'd been sexually assaulted, a woman whose testimony even many Kavanaugh defenders conceded seemed credible (even if, they said, she was misremembering who her assaulter had been). As the audience roared its support, Trump once again demonstrated his preternatural ability to read a room and rile a crowd—and his willingness to say things that most other people, to say nothing of most other presidents, would be chary to express in polite company.

You Know You're in a Constitutional Crisis When ...

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:22 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

Unlike pornography, a constitutional crisis is not always obvious when you see it. The question of whether the nation is in the grip of such a crisis first surfaced within weeks of President Donald Trump's inauguration, and it has never really gone away.

After the first travel ban was issued, in January 2017, stories emerged of Customs and Border Protection agents disobeying court orders to halt implementation of Trump's executive order. Although the disobedience in question turned out to be more the product of confusion than systematic overthrow of the rule of law, the term constitutional crisis was thrown around quite a bit. Those two little words again took over headlines after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, and when he seemed poised to dismiss Special Counsel Robert Mueller or even pardon himself. Former Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that a crisis had arrived in response to the anonymous New York Times op-ed by an administration official supposedly working to stymie the president's wilder impulses. A recent Supreme Court filing challenging Matthew Whitaker's replacement of Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department referred to Whitaker's appointment as a "constitutional crisis."

There is no standard definition of what makes a constitutional crisis as a matter of law or history. Under the Trump administration, suggesting the arrival of such a crisis evokes a mood more than anything else—a sense of ineffable, fractured dread.

Keith Whittington writes that constitutional crises entail "circumstances in which the constitutional order itself is failing"; Sanford Levinson and Jack M. Balkin similarly define such a crisis as "a potentially decisive turning point in the direction of the constitutional order, a moment at which the order threatens to break down." Most people seem to agree that if Trump were to fire the special counsel in an effort to shut down the investigation into his conduct, the term constitutional crisis could fairly be applied. Despite the dire predictions, however, that may never come to pass. As Jack Goldsmith has argued, the Justice Department has proved resilient to the president's most egregious assaults. The president has not succeeded in removing Mueller; the Russia investigation appears to have continued on course even under Whitaker's uncertain supervision. Meanwhile, an independent investigation into campaign-finance violations committed by Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen appears to be circling closer and closer to the president.

And yet, a sense of dread remains. To be overly sanguine about the health of the republic because the one obviously crisis-triggering event has not occurred risks following the circular logic of Republicans who have refused to act to protect the Mueller investigation because the president has not yet shut it down. "If there were an occasion, I would be rising to it," the humor columnist Alexandra Petri wrote in a devastating description of this reasoning.

It may be wiser to focus less on crisis than on constitutional rot, what the constitutional scholar John Finn describes as the slow erosion of faith in the underlying ideals of the republic, even as legal structures seem to remain in place. Rot is not grand. It is the patient assault of base creatures like fungus and bacteria. But at some point, the floorboards fall apart.

How Not to Smooth Things Over With the CIA

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:25 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

On President Donald Trump's first full day in office, he crossed the Potomac to visit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where he attempted to assure the intelligence professionals gathered there that nobody—nobody—cared about the agency more than he did. Of course, the people who work at the CIA are paid to see through such deception—which, in this case, may not have been terribly hard, given that Trump had just days earlier compared them to Nazis.  

Trump compounded the awkwardness of this moment by choosing as his backdrop the hallowed Memorial Wall, which commemorates men and women of the CIA killed in the line of duty—and then compounded this compounding by saying casually, "Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did."

This encounter aptly foretold the tenor of the relationship between the CIA and this White House—uncomfortable, mutually suspicious, at times hostile.

It is said that the CIA has only one customer—the president. For that reason, early on, the agency's cadre of morning briefers readily dumbed down the President's Daily Brief to bullet points and charts and graphs to suit Trump's preferences. But whatever mistakes the CIA has made over the years—and there have been some big ones—the professionals who work there are avowedly apolitical, and pride themselves on a devotion to intellectual rigor and the truth. So when it became clear that Trump often didn't care about the truth, especially when the CIA's findings conflicted with his desired outcomes, their distrust of the president mounted.

The most shocking episode for the CIA came last July in Helsinki, when Trump publicly accepted President Vladimir Putin's smug assurances that Russia had not meddled in the 2016 presidential election—even though the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that Russia had. For an agency that has spent the better part of its history squaring off against Moscow, this was galling. Former CIA Director John Brennan said that Trump's Helsinki performance "was nothing short of treasonous." Soon after, Trump said he was revoking Brennan's security clearance, triggering acrimonious sniping between the president and the intelligence establishment.

The president has tended to find the CIA's assessments inconvenient or worse, and he has described his intelligence agencies as part of a "deep state" rife with Democrats and other careerists out to destroy him.  

The president and the agency have differed on issue after issue. Trump has said that, as a result of his own dealmaking prowess, North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat; the CIA believes the threat remains. Trump claims that Iran is in violation of the 2015 deal negotiated by Barack Obama's administration, limiting the nation's nuclear ambitions; the CIA says that Iran remains in compliance. After the CIA concluded, late in 2018, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Trump said: "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't."

Ironically, the president's fraught relationship with the intelligence community has produced at least one result that could benefit the CIA: Trump's behavior has led Democrats, many of whom have for years viewed the CIA warily, to staunchly defend the agency.

Mattis’s Departure Was a Turning Point

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:16 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

The operating thesis regarding democracy in the age of Trump is that America continues to operate because sane people still work in the government. General James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, was a prime example of this civic commitment: an institutionalist discipline amid executive malfeasance. Whether the Muslim travel ban, relations with North Korea, alliances with NATO countries, an announced ban on transgender troops, or simply putting a stop to costly public displays of presidential self-aggrandizement, the general (in addition to his duties as the head of the U.S. Armed Forces) was a reliable mediator.

His role as such came to an end on December 20, 2018, when President Donald Trump announced that the secretary had submitted his resignation. The day before, Trump had abruptly announced the withdrawal of American forces in Syria, abandoning Kurdish allies and effectively giving the strongmen Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin a particularly and inexplicably large Christmas gift. According to reports, Mattis went to the Oval Office on Thursday to urge Trump to reconsider his decision, prepared for ill-informed obstinance (this was Trump, after all): In Mattis's pocket was a resignation letter informing the president of his planned departure on February 28, 2019.

That might have been the end of it. After all, the Departure Lounge of this administration has come to be a crowded and cacophonous place, animated by Apprentice-style employee shuttlecocking (Comey, Bannon, Spicer, Lewandowski, Sessions … Scaramucci), tail-between-legs exoduses (Price, Zinke, Porter, Pruitt), and the periodic flight of self-preservationists (Cohn, Hicks, Haley, McGahn, Ayers). Recently and worryingly, the departures area has also seen a steady stream of exiting agents of stability—notably, former National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Mattis's departure might have been an unfortunate inevitability in this vein (initially, the president tweet-thanked Mattis for his service), but the ensuing eruption turned the secretary's departure into something specifically degrading, a noxious turning point in what has already been a spectacle of administrative humiliation.

Amid rising consternation over Mattis's departure—Trump resents nothing as much as public doubt—the president two days after the announcement tweeted that he had been the one to offer the general "a second chance" after Mattis had been "ingloriously fired" by President Barack Obama. Of this decision, Trump mused beneficently, "Some thought I shouldn't, I thought I should."

The presidential psychology was familiar but still ugly: Shame the ones who bring you shame, no matter what they've done for you (or the country). And it was not over yet.

A day later, on Sunday, the president announced that the defense secretary would be leaving on January 1 of the new year, rather than Mattis's announced (and preferred) date two months later. Kicking a four-star general off his job was apparently the 45th president's way of saying "Thank you for your service."

By start of the new year, the president was bristling to the cameras during a Cabinet meeting and saying of the now-departed Mattis, "What's he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good ... I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan, and I shouldn't be happy. As you know, President Obama fired him, and essentially so did I."

The spite was stunning; the lies were obvious. But it was the outlandishness of the question—"What's he done for me?"—that truly shocked. Mattis risked his life in three wars and spent his career in the military. His highest loyalties have been to his country. The decorated general known as the Warrior Monk was demeaned on live television by a president who never served a day in his life.

This president will attempt to destroy the reputation of literally anyone who crosses his path—including the many men and women who have sought to serve him, and especially the country, with honor. Good government rests on civil servants. And no president has yet disgraced those servants more explicitly than Donald Trump

Donald Trump Stars in a North Korean Reality Show

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:16 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

When historians in the 22nd century search for the moment when reality television was at its most influential, they may well pinpoint June 12, 2018.

That was the day entertainment converged with existential danger, low-budget cinematography with high-stakes diplomacy. Less than a year after threatening to unleash "fire and fury" on the leader he called "Little Rocket Man" (and also "short and fat")—and just a few months after trading threats with him about the size and potency of their respective "Nuclear Buttons"— Donald Trump became the first American leader to meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, as 3,000 journalists from around the world gathered in Singapore to transmit the spectacle. But perhaps the height of unreality was this: The former Apprentice star revealed that he had sought to persuade North Korea's dictator to abandon his nuclear weapons by showing him a faux movie trailer produced by "Destiny Pictures," more commonly known as the National Security Council.

Since the Singapore summit—where he insisted on meeting alone with Kim and summarily suspended U.S.–South Korean military exercises—Trump has kept the show going, preparing for another summit with the North Korean leader and professing his "love" for the tyrant in Pyongyang.

[Read: Here's what Trump actually achieved with North Korea]

The decision to pitch denuclearization as if it were a buddy action film is more significant than it first appears; it's a distillation of what distinguishes the president from his predecessors on international affairs. And there's a chance, however slight, that the gambit will actually succeed where decades of more conventional methods to prevent North Korea from going nuclear have failed.

Approaching foreign policy with a real-estate mogul's yen for dealmaking and a reality-TV maven's hankering for high drama, Trump has shown himself willing to put everything—the United States' alliances, American values such as democracy and human rights—up for negotiation.

The movie trailer, and the summit's other theatrics, accordingly presented Kim with a vivid choice between continuing to live under threat of U.S. attack or relinquishing his nuclear arsenal in exchange for a prosperous future of beachfront condos and glittering cityscapes. Ignoring the North Korean government's human-rights abuses, the trailer placed the leader of the free world and the leader of one of the world's most repressive countries on equal footing, with the narrator declaring that the two men are among the "very few" people on Earth in a position to "renew their homeland" and "change the course of history."

[Read: The man behind the North Korea negotiations]

Thus far, Kim is not acting like a man prepared to renounce nuclear weapons; in a New Year's address, he hinted at limiting his arsenal but threatened to go "a new way" if the United States keeps sanctioning and pressuring his country. He's probably more alarmed than attracted by the capitalist economy conjured in the trailer, because opening North Korea to outside influences risks obliterating his totalitarian rule. If anything, Pyongyang seems to be seizing on the characterization of nuclear talks as a leader-to-leader affair in order to bypass harder-line U.S. officials and strike a deal solely with the more malleable American president.

Nor, however, is the 35-year-old Kim particularly thrilled about ruling over a sclerotic economy at the barrel of an American gun for decades to come. The seemingly impossible mission of U.S. negotiators is to convince North Korea's leader that in the long term he will be more secure if he reaps the benefits of denuclearization than if he clings to nuclear weapons at all costs.

In transforming this task into reality TV, Trump has brought the Korean peninsula to the brink of war, cast doubt on the future of the U.S.–South Korea alliance, and, for the moment anyway, merely papered over the problem of North Korean nukes rather than solving it. But even non-fans of the Trump Show must reckon with the fact that nothing else has succeeded in weaning North Korea's leaders off nuclear weapons either.  

Why Trump Is the Most Fact-Checked President

Posted: 13 Jan 2019 07:26 PM PST

Editor’s Note: This article is one of 50 in a series about Trump's first two years as president.

It's astounding even now, two years into Donald Trump's presidency, how many things he says on a daily basis that just aren't true.

Here are some of the president's most frequent falsehoods: U.S. Steel is opening six plants (it's not); Barack Obama's administration had the same policy as Trump's of separating children from adults at the border (it didn't); Trump signed the largest tax cut in history (Ronald Reagan, among others, has him beat); a caravan of migrants was stirred up by Democrats offering health care and food benefits paid for by taxpayers (not quite); other countries owe the U.S. a lot of money for NATO (this is false); the building of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border is well under way (nope). None of this is true.  

Other presidents have spun whoppers to the American people for political advantage before Trump, and some of those untruths—regarding the realities of the Vietnam War, for example—were hugely consequential.

[Derek Thompson: Trump's lies are a virus, and news organizations are the host]

Trump's falsehoods haven't caused the deaths of thousands or any immediate calamity. Instead, it's the drip-drip-drip of Trump's exaggerations—and the reinforcement they get on social media—that makes his rhetoric unprecedented. That, plus his unabashed willingness to repeat falsehoods in the face of direct contradiction.

Take, for example, Trump's justification for one of the most controversial policies of his presidency, the separation of children and adults at the southern border. Previous administrations had occasionally split up families, but Trump and his then–attorney general, Jeff Sessions, pursued a zero-tolerance policy on prosecuting all illegal crossings that made the separations common. Trump's response to public outcry? He said the Obama administration had done the same thing. That was not true.

In October 2018, Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes grilled Trump on the separation policy. His response: "Yeah, well, that was the same as the Obama law. You know, Obama had the same thing."

Stahl challenged him: "It was on the books, but he didn't enforce it. You enforced it. You launched the zero-tolerance policy to deter families with children [from] coming."

Stahl and Trump then parried back and forth, with Trump persisting until he got the last word: "It's the same as Obama."

Weeks later, Trump was again asked about the policy, and he said it again: "Obama had a separation policy; we all had the same policy." This time he was challenged by the CBS reporter Paula Reid: "Sir, it was different. You decided to prosecute everyone at the border." Trump simply moved on to another reporter's question about the European Union and Brexit.

[Read: Inside the alternative universe of the Trump rallies]

Those interactions are pretty typical for Trump on any topic. He seems to repeat the same talking points over and over, going for whatever sounds best to his ear in the moment. It's hard to tell whether Trump even believes what he's saying himself. Sometimes he seems completely sincere; other times, it sounds as if he's making a joke for his own amusement. Accuracy seems irrelevant.

Why does Trump lie so much? Only he can answer that question, but it's certainly a long-standing behavior that dates back to his time in luxury real estate and reality television. In his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, Trump said truth-bending was strategic: "People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion."

As president, Trump has perfected rolling out one outrageous falsehood after another, then riding the wave of media attention to the next controversy. He almost never apologizes or backtracks.

Fact-checkers have had the opportunity to both debunk important falsehoods and spend hours correcting small ones. As the editor of PolitiFact, I know firsthand what this is like.

At the end of 2018, PolitiFact curated Trump's most politically significant falsehoods and came up with a list of 10 substantive statements, from disputing Puerto Rico's death toll after a devastating hurricane hit the island to saying how much Saudi Arabia was spending on American-made weapons. The Washington Post has a project to document every false or merely misleading thing Trump has said; it is at more than 7,000 misstatements and counting. Factcheck.org has dubbed Trump the "King of Whoppers" for his repeated falsehoods.

[Read: The needless lies of the Trump administration]

This coverage infuriates Trump's fans. They are right to say that no president has been fact-checked more than Trump. So many Trump falsehoods have been analyzed, debunked, and explained by fact-checkers and journalists. And that's the double-edged sword of our time. In the internet age, whatever a president says is sure to find a home full of believers with startling speed. But also: Those who do the checking can use the same technology to pull the curtain back on a president's words. The public that wants the truth has access to entire databases of facts and analysis documenting the veracity (or lack thereof) of so much of what Trump has said, all just a few clicks away. Whether facts and evidence hold sway in our current political debates is a serious question. But for voters who want to make decisions based on facts, there's an ample supply.