The early days of the Trump administration have been awash with, to put it mildly, unscrupulous behavior. New reports of disheartening, alarming or, in some cases, borderline-criminal actions by our President and his staff seem to emerge by the day, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight.
Any one of Trump’s numerous misdeeds would certainly dominate the news cycle for months if a “traditional” President were to behave in the manner of Trump and his administration. And yet, in defiance of all logic and conventional wisdom, Trump remains relatively unscathed. The question is: how is this happening?
It could be that Trump has built up a base whose support shows no signs of faltering, no matter what he does. Emboldened by the steadfast loyalty of his diehard supporters, Trump will continue to flout political norms, even at the risk of losing his own party’s support. More likely, however, is the fact that conventional journalism is simply ill-equipped to deal with the sheer volume of unforced errors made by the Trump administration on a regular basis.
Conventional journalism works best when it can present its reporting to an impartial — or, at the very least, open-minded — audience. With his unceasing attacks on media outlets, Trump has undermined the foundation upon which traditional journalism rests. Making matters worse, Trump appears to lack any compunction about lying whenever it suits his interests.
This approach to governance has been described by the RAND Corporation as the “Firehose of Falsehood” propaganda model. Based on the tactics employed by the Russian government, its four major criteria are that the lies told are:
- High-volume and multichannel
- Rapid, continuous and repetitive
- Lacking commitment to objective reality
- Lacking commitment to consistency
Take, for example, Trump’s approval ratings which, as of this writing, are hovering in the mid-thirties. Any other President would surely be forced to address such an abysmal approval rating, but does anybody really expect Trump to do anything other than dismiss these numbers outright?
If Trump were to respond to these poll numbers, the safe bet would be on his response containing multiple tweets and references in speeches (i.e., high-volume and multichannel; rapid, continuous and repetitive) to the “wrong” or “fake” polls (i.e., lacking commitment to objective reality), then some reference to the 2016 election and how the polls were “wrong” then, too (i.e., lacking commitment to consistency).
Fortunately, since Trump is taking a much-needed vacation, now is our opportunity to take a closer look at some of the President’s misdeeds that flew — or continue to fly — under the radar.
Trump Asked James Comey About Imprisoning Journalists
Before he fired now-former FBI Director James Comey, it was widely reported that Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Lost in the uproar over Comey’s firing and subsequent testimony was another, more alarming detail: Trump asked Comey to direct the FBI to “investigate” those who leaked non-classified information. Not only that, but Trump also mused to Comey about whether or not reporters who published leaked and classified information could be charged under the Espionage Act.
To be sure, the national security risks involved with the publication of classified information must be taken into consideration, and there certainly is a debate to be had on the merits of such a practice. But there is no defending Trump’s attempts to use the FBI as his own personal palace guard to root out leakers of non-classified information, especially considering the opacity with which the Trump administration conducts its business. Moreover, there is no more dictatorial maneuver in governance than an attempt to use law enforcement agencies to curb or otherwise suppress unflattering news stories.
Trump Is Still Collecting Payments From Foreign Governments
The Emoluments Clause in the United States Constitution states that “…no Person holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States] shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state.”
This clause — of which Trump has been in violation from the moment he took office — was written as a safeguard against the undue influence, either through gifts, bribes or other means, of foreign governments on United States presidents. And yet, as the owner and operator of a variety of properties (including the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., a favored hotel of foreign dignitaries), Trump continues to derive personal income from foreign governments.
Trump has argued that the President cannot have a conflict of interest. From a legal standpoint, this is technically true: according to the Washington Post, “Congress […] did exempt the president and vice president from conflict-of-interest laws on the theory that the presidency has so much power that any possible executive action might pose a potential conflict.”
That said, when the President in question is so singularly obsessed with his own personal wealth, an argument could very easily be made that Trump is even more susceptible to foreign influence through his businesses than the average Commander-in-Chief.
Trump Enriches Himself With Federal Funds
It’s not just money from foreign states that is cause for concern; we also have to consider Trump’s habit of collecting money from our own government.
In the 201 days since his inauguration, Trump has taken 45 separate golf outings, despite his constant hectoring of President Obama for golfing (Obama golfed 333 times during his eight-year presidency; if Trump serves for eight years and maintains his current pace, he will have golfed more than 650 times).
Trump’s hypocrisy aside, there’s another key aspect that is relatively under-reported: on his outings, Trump only goes to Trump-branded golf clubs. Trump: Business Owner is charging the federal government for all the costs associated with Trump: President playing golf, and Trump: Business Owner is profiting. Put more simply, on top of his government salary, Donald Trump is paying himself to play golf.
By the same token, it was recently reported that the Secret Service had vacated their command post within Trump Tower, the President’s Manhattan residence, following a breakdown in negotiations about the Secret Service’s lease (specifically, the price). In other words, the Trump Organization (of which Trump is a part, by dint of his refusal to divest himself of his business holdings) wanted to hold up the United States federal government for more money to allow the Secret Service to stay in Trump Tower and protect the President.
Trump Lies Constantly
Finally, there’s the lying. According to the New York Times, Trump lied every day for the first 40 days of his presidency. Through July 19th, Trump has told a staggering 116 lies or falsehoods on a range of topics, both important and insignificant.
This is perhaps the largest scandal of all: our President cannot be trusted. On any given issue, he’s as likely to take one position as he is to take another, and depending on which way the wind is blowing, he will change course. That alone isn’t particularly damning; it’s what makes him a politician. What is alarming is his reaction when confronted with his lies: a straight-faced insistence that he never told the lie in the first place.
As a result, predicting Trump’s next move is nearly impossible. Trump and his base might say that unpredictability is a positive quality, and perhaps it was in his life as a private businessman. On the global political stage, however, it is not a strength; it is a liability.
When Trump’s vacation draws to a close, the tallying of Trump’s daily follies will assuredly resume. But while there is a moment’s peace, it’s worth taking another look at the growing mountain of evidence that Trump is hapless at best or, at worst, cynically and maliciously mining his presidency for his own personal gain.