Anatomy of Craziness–Monday Night Massacre Edition


Today, Monday, January 30, 2017, has seen yet more insanity perpetrated on the country by the Trump administration, which continues to be determined to prove itself the worst thing to have ever happened to American politics.

First off, let it be noted that the Trump travel ban/Muslim ban was both stupid and evil:

Let’s start with the malevolence of the document, which Amira Mikhail summarizedand Adham Sahloul analyzed earlier today. I don’t use the word “malevolence” here lightly. As readers of my work know, I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11. I have defended military commissions.

Some of these policies were effective; some were not. Some worked out better than others. And I don’t mean to relitigate any of those questions here. My sole point is that all of these policies were conceptualized and designed and implemented by people who were earnestly trying to protect the country from very real threats. And the policies were, to a one, proximately related to important goals in the effort. While some of these policies proved tragically misguided and caused great harm to innocent people, none of them was designed or intended to be cruel to vulnerable, concededly innocent people. Even the CIA’s interrogation program, after all, was deployed against people the agency believed (mostly correctly) to be senior terrorists of the most dangerous sort and to garner information from them that would prevent attacks.

I actually cannot say that about Trump’s new executive order—and neither can anyone else.

[. . .]

. . . There is, in fact, simply no rational relationship between cutting off visits from the particular countries that Trump targets (Muslim countries that don’t happen to be close U.S. allies) and any expected counterterrorism goods. The 9/11 hijackers, after all, didn’t come from Somalia or Syria or Iran; they came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a few other countries not affected by the order. Of the San Bernardino attackers (both of Pakistani origin, one a U.S. citizen and the other a lawful permanent resident), the Orlando shooter (a U.S. citizen whose parents were born in Afghanistan), and the Boston marathon bombers (one a naturalized U.S. citizen, one a green card holder who arrived in Massachusetts from Kyrgyzstan), none came from countries listed in the order. One might argue, I suppose, that the document is tied to current threats. But come now, how could Pakistan not be on a list guided by current threat perception?

What’s more, the document also takes steps that strike me as utterly orthogonal to any relevant security interest. If the purpose of the order is the one it describes, for example, I can think of no good reason to burden the lives of students individually suspected of nothing who are here lawfully and just happen to be temporarily overseas, or to detain tourists and refugees who were mid-flight when the order came down. I have trouble imagining any reason to raise questions about whether green card holders who have lived here for years can leave the country and then return. Yes, it’s temporary, and that may lessen the costs (or it may not, depending on the outcome of the policy review the order mandates), but temporarily irrational is still irrational.

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

To be sure, the executive order does not say anything as crass as: “Sec. 14. Burdening Muslim Lives to Make Political Point.” It doesn’t need to. There’s simply no reason in reading it to ignore everything Trump said during the campaign, during which he repeatedly called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

These are strong words, to be sure, but they are entirely justified, and it is no longer acceptable to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt on anything whatsoever. Eliot Cohen is highly eloquent on this issue, as is his wont. The following is especially appropriate to highlight:

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

Jonathan Adler:

. . . An EO that is ostensibly issued for the purpose of protecting national security was not properly vetted, nor did anyone make any meaningful effort to ensure that those government officials tasked with executing the administration’s policy understood what it was they were doing. Indeed, as drafted, the EO didn’t even cite the right provisions in federal law.  In the words of Charles L. Black Jr., in these actions “the curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.” (Hat tip: Walter Dellinger)

Under normal circumstances, I believe that the policy embodied in the Trump EO is lawful under existing precedent and would survive judicial review. That is, I believe the executive branch may decide to identify specific countries from which immigrants and others seeking entry into the country must receive “extreme vetting” and that the President may order a suspension of refugees from particular places (as Obama did with Iraq in 2011). Despite some of the President’s comments during the campaign about wanting a “Muslim ban,” this EO does not come anywhere close to effectuating such a ban, as it largely focuses on countries that were previously identified as sources of potential terror threats.

I stress  “under normal circumstances” because these are not normal circumstances. The cavalier and reckless manner in which this specific EO was developed and implemented will likely give judges pause — and with good reason. Courts typically give a degree of deference to executive branch actions under the assumption that polices are implemented after serious consideration of relevant legal and policy questions. Indeed, the more serious the government interest allegedly being served, the more serious one expects the government’s internal review to be (unless, of course, there are exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action, but that was not the case here).

When Justice Department attorneys go into court to defend the policy, they will not be able to maintain that this policy reflects careful review of the relevant security concerns or that administration lawyers gave due consideration to potential objections and relevant legal or constitutional constraints on the executive branch’s conduct. They won’t be able to say those things because they are not true — and judges will notice. Issuing orders that can upend people’s lives without conducting the most basic review is practically the definition of “arbitrary and capricious” government action. To quote Wittes again:”it is most emphatically not good news to have a White House that just makes decisions with no serious thought or interagency input into what those decisions might mean. In fact, it’s really dangerous.”  This is not how you “make America great again.”

Career diplomats have passed that test, writing a powerful dissent against the Muslim ban that bespoke cogency, erudition, intelligence, wisdom and honor on the part of the foreign service. In response, the Trump administration–naturellementsought to silence dissent. This, by the way, is entirely improper:

Spicer’s comments stunned some in the national security establishment who noted that the dissent channel had been set up decades ago precisely to give State Department employees a protected way to express differences on U.S. policy.

David Wade, who previously served as a chief of staff to former Secretary of State John Kerry, called Spicer’s comments “ugly” and “unacceptable.”

“If the message from the White House is that 70,000 people who took an oath not to a party or a single president but to America is that they need to just follow orders or leave, you’re knee-capping the Foreign Service before you even walk into the State Department.”

The American Foreign Service Association, the union of diplomats, has a description of the dissent channel on its website that notes U.S. regulations stipulate that dissent channel users “shall not be subjected to reprisal.” The union’s officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a Middle East expert with the Brookings Institution, pointed to the legal language on Twitter, and wrote: “Sorry, @PressSec Spicer: the Dissent Channel *IS* part of the program.”


The FAM [Foreign Affairs Manual–ed.] clearly mandates that those utilizing the Dissent Channel will not be subjected to reprisal, discipline action or unauthorized disclosure of its use. Any statement in an employee’s evaluation that alludes to or directly references use of the Dissent Channel is strictly prohibited. Anyone engaging in retaliation or divulging the source or content of dissent channel correspondence will be subject to discipline action.

There is no way that any retaliation against these foreign service officers is justified. The fact that these threats are being made means that either the Trump administration has absolutely no idea whatsoever how the Dissent Channel works, or they don’t care and want to crush any and all voices and people who take issue with the Trump administration. If you are not alarmed, you are not paying attention.

The Trump administration has been making an interesting (I am being sarcastic here) two-pronged argument regarding the travel/Muslim ban: (1) The administration’s actions are necessary in order to augment American security to counteract shameful neglect on the part of the Obama administration; and (2) People should not get upset about this, because the Trump administration is not doing anything more than the Obama administration did. Obviously, the Trump administration cannot have it both ways–though under the rubric of “alternative facts,” it will try to–but it is important to note that the attempt to analogize the Trump administration’s actions to those of the Obama administration is laughable.

Naturally, American allies feel betrayed by the travel/Muslim ban:

The day he took office, Mr. Trump became the fifth president in a row to bomb Iraq. He has also suggested that he would put more military resources into Iraq, where American forces are working closely with Iraqi troops in the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants, to make good on his promise to eradicate the group “from the face of the earth.”

But in his first days, he also insulted Iraqis, saying that the United States should have taken their oil, and may do so yet. And, perhaps most painfully, he announced a new set of restrictions that would bar Iraqis from resettling in the United States, and even visiting, at least for a time.

“At bottom, it sends the message that America sees Iraqis as untrustworthy,” Kenneth M. Pollack, a longtime Iraq analyst at the Brookings Institution, wrote in an email. “That they are not our partners. It reinforces Trump’s idea of taking their oil; that we don’t view them as allies but something much less than that.”

Mr. Trump has explained his executive order as a way to keep America safe from terrorism, but officials and analysts say that it is likely to hinder his efforts to wipe out the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, given that the United States is leaning on the Iraqis to do most of the fighting.

“It is going to alienate the whole of Iraq against the man, to say to all Iraqis, ‘You are not welcome in our country,’” said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a member of Parliament and a former national security adviser in Iraq.

The issue could also become a political liability for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has spoken optimistically about expanding cooperation between Iraq and the United States under Mr. Trump in the fight against ISIS. It will be difficult, Mr. Rubaie said, for Mr. Abadi to justify to the Iraqi public a close relationship with the United States when the country is closing the door on Iraqis.

“This is going to be a huge embarrassment for the prime minister,” Mr. Rubaie said.

It is a huge embarrassment for decent Americans as well.

I guess that it should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that a mere ten days after Trump’s inauguration–which, mind you, attracted very small crowds–former President Barack Obama has decided to speak out against his successor and to encourage the protests that have been occurring against the Trump travel/Muslim ban. This is, of course, a stunning rebuke against Trump, and yet another consequence of Trump’s eagerness to shoot himself and his own administration in every foot that they have.

More on the travel/Muslim ban: Sean Spicer seems to think that five-year olds pose a threat to the United States of America. Spicer also seems to think that the travel/Muslim ban is a mere inconvenience. Um . . . no:

To understand just how cruel and counterproductive Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration is, consider the story of Soheil Kolouri.

At age 22, he came to the United States from Iran to work on a graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

While there, he met Jessi Day, an American from Colorado. The two fell in love, were married in 2012, and are now expecting their first child in May.

In 2015, after Kolouri finished his doctorate in biomedical engineering, the couple relocated to the Los Angeles area, where he is now working as a research scientist, helping to develop cutting edge artificial intelligence technology.

Kolouri’s story is the quintessential tale of successful immigration to the United States. Yes, the jobs have changed—good luck explaining artificial intelligence research to a 19th century Irish immigrant—as have the countries of origin. But the essential story remains the same: for centuries, immigrants have come to the United States seeking to improve their lives by learning here, working here, and raising families here, and in the process improving the country for everyone.

President Donald Trump is altering that story—for the worse.

Read the whole thing, and then let me know whether the Trump administration’s actions make you feel safer.

Now that the travel/Muslim ban has come under fire in the courts, attention has turned to the response of the Justice Department. Former acting attorney general Sally Yates stated that she would not defend the law in the courts. In response, Donald Trump fired Yates, which naturally caused the phrase “Monday Night Massacre” to trend on social media. Lots of people have pointed out that this ought to come as no surprise, and I suppose that is the case, but while Donald Trump certainly has the right to fire his cabinet members, his act only served to augment the nature of the constitutional crisis that occurred as a consequence of his travel/Muslim ban, the issuance of multiple court stays in response to legal action against the ban, and the decision of customs and immigration officials to defy the stays in multiple cases, with efforts to get travelers from foreign countries to sign away visa rights, and efforts to prevent pro bono lawyers from seeing clients detained by immigration officials. Jack Goldsmith finds Yates’s statement “unpersuasive,” and I take Jack Goldsmith’s words seriously, but it is worth pointing out that Yates actually did speak to the legality of the travel/Muslim ban when she said “I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.”

I suppose this qualifies as small news on a day like this one, but I’ll state for the record that I’m all for reducing the reach of the regulatory state, but as usual, Trump finds ways to screw up the effort. There is no logic, rhyme or reason to a policy that says that for every regulation enacted into law, two have to be eliminated, but leave it to the Trump administration to throw logic, rhyme and reason out the window on a regular basis.

Boy, wouldn’t it be interesting to get more clarification on this? Too bad the president of the United States is too much of a coward to release his tax returns so that we can be confident that his dealings are all on the up-and-up and that we don’t have yet another Emoluments Clause violation.

This is just nothing short of hilarious:

A man who President Donald Trump has promoted as an authority on voter fraud was registered to vote in multiple states during the 2016 presidential election, the Associated Press has learned.

Gregg Phillips, whose unsubstantiated claim that the election was marred by 3 million illegal votes was tweeted by the president, was listed on the rolls in Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, according to voting records and election officials in those states. He voted only in Alabama in November, records show.

In a post earlier this month, Phillips described “an amazing effort” by volunteers tied to True the Vote, an organization whose board he sits on, who he said found “thousands of duplicate records and registrations of dead people.”

Trump has made an issue of people who are registered to vote in more than one state, using it as one of the bedrocks of his overall contention that voter fraud is rampant in the U.S. and that voting by 3 to 5 million immigrants illegally in the country cost him the popular vote in November.

The AP found that Phillips was registered in Alabama and Texas under the name Gregg Allen Phillips, with the identical Social Security number. Mississippi records list him under the name Gregg A. Phillips, and that record includes the final four digits of Phillips’ Social Security number, his correct date of birth and a prior address matching one once attached to Gregg Allen Phillips. He has lived in all three states.

At the time of November’s presidential election, Phillips’ status was “inactive” in Mississippi and suspended in Texas. Officials in both states told the AP that Phillips could have voted, however, by producing identification and updating his address at the polls.

You almost feel sorry for Trumpkins, and for their tendency to make themselves look utterly ridiculous in public.

Still more: The Trump administration continues its inexplicable and disgusting war on Jewish people. The aforementioned Sean Spicer–who lost credibility with the press and the American people in the matter of a day–had the actual nerve to tell the White House press corps that the Trump administration has been “by and large praised” for omitting any mention of Jews from the White House commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Criticism of the decision to omit Jews from the commemoration is hereby deemed “pathetic” by the White House press secretary, and presumably, by the president of the United States. As pointed out here, the decision to try to rewrite history and offend Jews “is policy now, not an oversight.” This, of course, is all one needs to determine just how moral and decent this administration is–or is not. Of course, all of this is of a piece with the tendency on the part of members of the Trump administration to engage in rank and appalling bigotry. This smackdown of the Trump administration is completely justified. Note Elie Wiesel’s words, which have more historical and moral weight that anything the Trump administration can come up with to justify its shameful and historically illiterate behavior. Oh, and this smackdown is justified as well.

Speaking of morally questionable (I am trying to be kind here) behavior, Jeff Sessions, everyone:

Senator Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Justice Department, once praised a 1924 immigration law whose chief author in the House once declared was intended to end “indiscriminate acceptance of all races.”

Sessions has long been a proponent of immigration restriction, and was one of the first to back Trump’s call on a ban on Muslims entering the United States during the primary.

During an October 2015 radio interview with Stephen Bannon of Breitbart, now a top adviser to the president-elect, Sessions praised the 1924 law saying that:

In seven years we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans, non-native born, since the founding of the Republic. Some people think we’ve always had these numbers, and it’s not so, it’s very unusual, it’s a radical change. When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, we then assimilated through the 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. We passed a law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.

The 1924 immigration law, known as the Johnson-Reed Act, drastically limited immigration and made permanent restrictions designed to keep out Southern and Eastern Europeans, particularly Italians and Jews, Africans, and Middle Easterners, barring Asian immigration entirely.

Asked about the interview, Sessions’s spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores wrote in an email, “As Attorney General, Sessions will prioritize curtailing the threats that rising crime and addiction rates pose to the health and safety of our country and that includes enforcing our existing immigration laws.”

Representative Albert Johnson, a Washington Republican described by the historian Edwin Black as a “fanatic raceologist and eugenicist,” used his stewardship of the immigration committee to ensure that racist pseudoscience provided an “empirical” basis for immigration restriction. Immigration historian Roger Daniels put it even more bluntly, writing in Guarding the Golden Door that Johnson’s “racial theories” would “in slightly different form” become “the official ideology of Nazi Germany.”

Charming. Speaking of charming, behold the damage that (President?) Steve Bannon is doing to the policy process:

This is looking very much like the Bannon Regency. It was Bannon and his sidekick Stephen Miller, a young former aide to senator-turned-attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, who, according to the Wall Street Journalwrote Trump’s kick-them-in-the-teeth inaugural address. And it was the two Steves who, according to CNN, ran the rollout of the immigration executive order on Friday afternoon, doing an end run around the normal interagency process and overruling the Department of Homeland Security to insist that the entry ban apply to hundreds of thousands of permanent residents who happened to hail from one of the seven banned Muslim countries.

Bannon’s ascendancy was ratified with the release of an unprecedented presidential order appointing him to the National Security Council’s principals committee while kicking off the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence. Who needs to hear from intelligence or military professionals when you can hear from the publisher of Breitbart?

Imagine George W. Bush appointing Karl Rove to the principals committee. Or Barack Obama appointing David Axelrod. It would never have happened. And even if it had happened, it would have been far less disquieting than appointing Bannon, because Rove and Axelrod are far more mainstream figures than he is.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s lame justification for this shift was to say that Bannon deserves to be on the NSC because he’s a “former naval officer.” Yes, it’s true, Bannon was a junior naval officer more than 30 years ago, without ever seeing combat. If that’s the standard to qualify for the nation’s most important security committee, then there are literally millions of veterans who are better qualified, having served more recently, seen more action, or attained higher rank.

One wonders how Secretary of Defense James Mattis and soon-to-be Secretary of State Rex Tillerson feel about having a political hack with extremist views elevated to be their equals. Just as one wonders how Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly feels about having a hugely important immigration order issued without, apparently, any consultation with him. If they don’t push back now — and strongly — threatening to quit if necessary, they are tacitly accepting that they will be taking orders from Bannon for the rest of the administration.

More on (President?) Bannon:

Even before he was given a formal seat on the National Security Council’s “principals committee” this weekend by President Donald Trump, Bannon was calling the shots and doing so with little to no input from the National Security Council staff, according to an intelligence official who asked not to be named out of fear of retribution.

“He is running a cabal, almost like a shadow NSC,” the official said. He described a work environment where there is little appetite for dissenting opinions, shockingly no paper trail of what’s being discussed and agreed upon at meetings, and no guidance or encouragement so far from above about how the National Security Council staff should be organized.

The intelligence official, who said he was willing to give the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt when it took office, is now deeply troubled by how things are being run.

“They ran all of these executive orders outside of the normal construct,” he said, referring to last week’s flurry of draft executive orders on everything from immigration to the return of CIA “black sites.”

After the controversial draft orders were written, the Trump team was very selective in how they routed them through the internal White House review process, the official said.

Under previous administrations, if someone thought another person or directorate had a stake in the issue at hand or expertise in a subject area, he or she was free to share the papers as long as the recipient had proper clearance.

With that standard in mind, when some officials saw Trump’s draft executive orders, they felt they had broad impact and shared them more widely for staffing and comments.

That did not sit well with Bannon or his staff, according to the official. More stringent guidelines for handling and routing were then instituted, and the National Security Council staff was largely cut out of the process.

By the end of the week, they weren’t the only ones left in the dark. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, was being briefed on the executive order, which called for immediately shutting the borders to nationals from seven largely Muslim countries and all refugees, while Trump was in the midst of signing the measure, the New York Times reported.

People are going to get killed as a consequence of this incomprehensible and dangerous behavior. I wish that weren’t true, but if that behavior goes unchecked, there will be blood on the hands of people like Steve Bannon, and the president who gave those people jobs.

So, there we have it. Complete, total, utter chaos and a constitutional crisis thrown in.

This post is dedicated to everyone who has told me that I am overreacting to Trump’s election, and that I ought to give our new president a chance.

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