The Trump Watch: Mid-December

The Season of Thanks

Most people, including most elected officials, treat holidays as a time to make nice with others. Donald Trump, though, is not “most people” and chose Thanksgiving as a time to vent his spleen over slights and oversights real and, mostly, imagined.

He cast doubt on the women who accused Roy Moore of inappropriate behavior.

Trump, of course, is the ultimate authority on all things inappropriate.

Quick: which one’s the turkey?

By now we’ve grown accustomed to his predilection for self-congratulation, but he took that further than usual even for him when, upon participating in the traditional Thanksgiving pardoning of a turkey, he declared that

I feel so good about myself doing this.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

On the campaign trail Trump repeatedly belittled references to the unemployment rate, saying it was inaccurate and insisting that many, many more people were unemployed and the rate was much higher than advertised.

Now that he’s president?

Under President Trump unemployment rate will drop below 4%.

So Much for Getting Tough on the Pharmaceutical Industry

First on the campaign trail and then throughout his first year as president, Trump has repeatedly criticized the pharmaceutical industry for the high and ever-climbing cost of prescription drugs.

If he’s so unhappy with that industry, though why does he keep appointing its executives and lobbyists to high-ranking positions in his administration?

The web site Statnews explains:

His Food and Drug Administration chief, Scott Gottlieb, was a longtime industry investor and adviser to major players like GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb. A senior adviser at the Health and Human Services Department, Keagan Lenihan, joined the administration after running the lobby shop for the drug and distribution giant McKesson. And Trump has a former Gilead lobbyist, Joe Grogan, reviewing health care regulations at the Office of Management and Budget. The chief of staff at HHS, Lance Leggitt, lobbied for a whole host of drug clients, even last year.

And to top it off, his nominee to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services spent more than a decade at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly – exactly what we need to lead the charge against high prescription drug prices.

“Pocahontas” Returns

Most people would never talk that way right in front of them. But then Trump’s not “most people”

Yes, that really was Agent Orange speaking at an event honoring Native American Code Talkers who served in World War II and turning to the men he was honoring and explaining that

You were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.

No, THEY don’t call her Pocahontas. Only Trump does – and only Trump would have the audacity to do so directly to Native Americans while pretending to honor them.

Billy Bush Revisited

Surely you’ve heard about this but it bears retelling: Trump is now suggesting that the voice on the Access Hollywood tape in which he declares that he grabs women by the you-know-what may not be his.

Of course it is – and he even apologized for the remarks.

The lying comes so naturally to him that he can’t stop himself.

There Ain’t No Way to Hide Your Lyin’ Eyes

Bella DePaulo is a social scientist who has written extensively on the psychology of lying. Recently she wrote an op-ed piece that was published in the Washington Post. The title of her column:

I study liars. I’ve never seen one like President Trump.

Among her observations:

I spent the first two decades of my career as a social scientist studying liars and their lies. I thought I had developed a sense of what to expect from them. Then along came President Trump. His lies are both more frequent and more malicious than ordinary people’s. 

And…

The college students in our research told an average of two lies a day, and the community members told one. A more recent study of the lies 1,000 U. S. adults told in the previous 24 hours found that people told an average of 1.65 lies per day; the authors noted that 60 percent of the participants said they told no lies at all, while the top 5 percent of liars told nearly half of all the falsehoods in the study.

In Trump’s first 298 days in office, however, he made 1,628 false or misleading claims or flip-flops, by The Post’s tally. That’s about six per day, far higher than the average rate in our studies. And of course, reporters have access to only a subset of Trump’s false statements — the ones he makes publicly — so unless he never stretches the truth in private, his actual rate of lying is almost certainly higher.

Also,

Nearly two-thirds of Trump’s lies (65 percent) were self-serving. Examples included: “They’re big tax cuts — the biggest cuts in the history of our country, actually” and, about the people who came to see him on a presidential visit to Vietnam  last month: “They were really lined up in the streets by the tens of thousands.” 

And

Trump told 6.6 times as many self-serving lies as kind ones. That’s a much higher ratio than we found for our study participants, who told about double the number of self-centered lies compared with kind ones. 

And then there’s this:

The most stunning way Trump’s lies differed from our participants’, though, was in their cruelty. An astonishing 50 percent of Trump’s lies were hurtful or disparaging.

What, me lie?

Finally, her conclusion on the impact of all of this lying:

By telling so many lies, and so many that are mean-spirited, Trump is violating some of the most fundamental norms of human social interaction and human decency. Many of the rest of us, in turn, have abandoned a norm of our own — we no longer give Trump the benefit of the doubt that we usually give so readily.

It’s sad when so many people don’t trust – or even believe – their president. It’s even sadder when that disbelief is grounded not in disagreement over the policies he’s pursuing but in his long, strong, and unmistakable track record as an out-and-out liar.

Accomplishments

Trump recently declared that no president has accomplished as much at the start of a term since Harry Truman.

You have to wonder: what exactly does he think he’s accomplished?

(And no, a president getting a nominee onto the Supreme Court when his own party is in the majority in the Senate isn’t an accomplishment: it’s a fait accompli.)

Murder, He Wrote

A murder mystery requires a real detective

Quick, somebody call Jessica Fletcher.

Sixteen years ago a woman who was an intern in the office of then-Congressman (and now annoying and uninteresting MSNBC morning host) Joe Scarborough fell, hit her head, and died. Who said so? The coroner.

But Quincy, M.E., the current occupant of the White House, has a different idea:

And will they terminate low ratings Joe Scarborough based on the ‘unsolved mystery’ that took place in Florida years ago? Investigate!

(sing along – you know the melody) “Are you staring at Scarborough’s hair?…”

Translation: Trump wants us to wonder whether Joe Scarborough was somehow responsible for this woman’s death – despite anything even approaching evidence.

And he also wants to distract Scarborough from his frequent criticisms of the current occupant of the White House.

That doesn’t seem likely. The only thing that would probably distract Scarborough is high winds, considering that his hair rivals only Trump’s for sheer ridiculousness.

Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Country

Ask only what your country can do for you.

A government shutdown is truly a terrible idea; even most Republicans believe that. The last time Republicans inspired a real government shutdown was the 1990s, when Newt Gingrich forced it on the Clinton administration, and it led to a backlash that led to Democrats regaining control of Congress and Gingrich being shown the door.

Even today’s Republicans, not including the lunatic fringe on the far, far, far edges of the far, far, far right, understand this and have made it clear that they do not – do not – do not – want to force a government shutdown.

If only they could convince the man in the White House.

As the Washington Post reported,

President Trump has told confidants that a government shutdown could be good for him politically and is focusing on his hard-line immigration stance as a way to win back supporters unhappy with his outreach to Democrats this fall, according to people who have spoken with him recently.

So on one hand he has what’s good for the country. On the other, what’s good for him.

So of course what he’s talking about is what’s best for him.

Yet again.

Behind the Scenes

Four to eight hours a day

The New York Times recently published an article titled “Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation.” It’s an extensive look at a day in the life of the president. It’s clear that the Times reporters had sources inside the White House, and when they finished their reporting they ran 51 individual facts past White House officials, seeking their agreement or denial. The only one to which the White House appears to have objected was the assertion that Trump watches four to eight hours of television a day.

Which suggests that the White House is on board with everything else the article says.

If you’ve heard only two things from the article, it’s probably that television assertion and the news that Trump drinks a dozen diet Cokes a day.

Which may explain all that odd-hours tweeting: when he can’t sleep and there’s nothing to watch on television he’s picking up his phone for some caffeine-fueled mad tweeting.

Why is Trump so combative – and often, so unnecessarily so? The article explains:

Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.

The eventual fate of pretty much everyone who works for him

Is it any wonder that he almost always refuses to cooperate with Democrats in any way, lashes out so harshly at Republicans who don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, and is even willing, at the blink of an eye, to throw his own aides and cabinet members under the bus?

Then there’s his apparent obsession with seeing his name in the news – and seeing it constantly:

To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.

During the morning, aides monitor “Fox & Friends” live or through a transcription service in much the way commodities traders might keep tabs on market futures to predict the direction of their day.

If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

One of the real challenges of a Trump presidency is a man whose entire and brief political career has focused on becoming president but who never gave any meaningful thought to actually being president, as House majority leader Nancy Pelosi explained.

“At first, there was a thread of being an impostor that may have been in his mind,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, who has tried to forge a working relationship with the president.

“He’s overcome that by now,” she said. “The bigger problem, the thing people need to understand, is that he was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”

 Republicans often share this view. According to Senator Lindsey Graham,

“You can expect every president to change because the job requires you to change,” he said. “He’s learning the rhythm of the town.” But Mr. Graham added that Mr. Trump’s presidency was still “a work in progress.” At this point, he said, “everything’s possible, from complete disaster to a home run.”

That lack of readiness is reflected in his inability (and his unwillingness) to sift through information in search of what is true and useful.

In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.

Monitoring his information consumption — and countering what Mr. Kelly calls “garbage” peddled to him by outsiders — remains a priority for the chief of staff and the team he has made his own. Even after a year of official briefings and access to the best minds of the federal government, Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything that does not come from inside his bubble.

Also,

Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.

And often, he just gets it wrong – sometimes because he’s apparently not looking to get it right.

Mr. Trump is an avid newspaper reader who still marks up a half-dozen papers with comments in black Sharpie pen, but Mr. Bannon has told allies that Mr. Trump only “reads to reinforce.” Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”

Scary stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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