June 18, 2020
Today’s political news was chaotic, so you shouldn't worry if you found yourself unable to make sense of what on earth was happening. Still, amidst the chaos, there was a feeling of desperation from the White House as the tide seems to have turned against the president.
The biggest piece of news from today is that the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s policy of ending DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Initiated by President Barack Obama in 2012, this program provides some legal protections and a pathway to obtaining a work permit for undocumented immigrants who were brought into America by their parents when they were children. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the majority decision, which said the administration had not provided a clear rationale for ending the program. DACA remains very popular in the country: 74% of Americans like it.
The administration’s attack on DACA had suffered losses in the lower courts, but rather than fixing the problems with it, officials decided to go to the Supreme Court, where Trump has appointed two justices—Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—during his term. The president has repeatedly said of controversial policies that he would take them to the Supreme Court, where he would win.
But this week, the court decided against the administration on two landmark cases. On Monday, it decided that employers could not discriminate against LGBT workers. Today, it ruled against one of Trump’s signature policies.
Trump was incensed, and Twitter heard about it. “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!” He went on: “[W]e need NEW JUSTICES of the Supreme Court. If the Radical Left Democrats assume power, your Second Amendment, Right to Life, Secure Borders, and… Religious Liberty, among many other things, are OVER and GONE!”
He called the DACA decision “highly political… and seemingly not based on the law,” (which, by the way, seems to answer my question on Monday about his easy acceptance of the LGBT decision. When he said “That’s what it’s all about… we live with the decision of the Supreme Court…. Very powerful, very powerful decision actually, but they have so ruled,” he likely just didn’t know what the decision was and tried to fake it, expecting that the Supreme Court would have decided in his favor.)
Trump also attacked his former National Security Advisor John Bolton, whose forthcoming tell-all book from his 17 months in the White House apparently shows Trump begging Chinese leader Xi Jinping for a trade deal to help his reelection campaign just after endorsing the leader’s policy of forcing a million Chinese Uighurs into concentration camps. On Twitter, Trump called Bolton “wacko” and “incompetent, “a disgruntled boring fool who only wanted to go to war. Never had a clue, was ostracized & happily dumped. What a dope!” (Trump, of course, appointed Bolton, who lasted the longest of any of his four NSAs, so far.)
Trump’s supporters rallied to him. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Bolton claimed had mocked Trump, issued a formal statement saying that while he had not read the book, he had seen excerpts. “Bolton is spreading a number of lies, fully-spun half-truths, and outright falsehoods.” He called Bolton a “traitor,” and concluded “To our friends around the world: you know that President Trump’s America is a force for good in the world.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who took Russian money from indicted political operative Lev Parnas, claims Bolton’s book is a national security risk. McCarthy charged that Bolton is putting America in danger to make money.
But the president is clearly worried that his grip on the country is slipping, especially as a new poll from Fox News shows him badly behind presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Today Trump tried to distance himself from the trade deal at the heart of Bolton’s book. He contradicted the testimony of U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer before the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday, saying that, in fact, the U.S. “certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China.”
More revealing was that in the midst of his torrent of tweeting today were 21 tweets outlining pots of money the Department of Transportation is distributing to various states where Trump’s support is waning for them to spend on transportation infrastructure. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced today $906 million in discretionary spending for transportation under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, passed under Obama in 2015. One observer noted “Trump found out he’s losing to Biden by 12 points in the latest Fox news poll & started Tweeting like Oprah giving away cars at Christmas.”
But something significant happened today on social media: Twitter and Facebook both flagged the president’s publicity. Trump shared an ad that seems to show a black toddler (misspelled “todler” in the fake CNN chyron in the shot) running from a “racist baby” who is “probably a Trump voter,” then reveals “what actually happened,” a backstory showing the two children hugging in a joyous reunion before running off together, as shown in the original cut, which came from a viral video a few months old. The implication is that the recent emphasis on white racism is manufactured outrage by people with a political agenda. “America is not the problem,” the ad reads. “Fake news is.”
Twitter slapped a “Manipulated media” warning on the tweet.
The Trump campaign also published on Facebook an ad with images of a red triangle that mirrored the patches Nazis used to mark political prisoners in concentration camps. The ads apparently ran 88 times—88 is code for Heil Hitler-- and Facebook later removed the ads for promoting “organized hate.”
Parker Molloy, editor at Media Matters, noted that this sort of dog whistle is designed to attract like-minded racists, but also to make opponents seem “paranoid, easily offended, and see Nazis everywhere they look.” She also suggested that this was a deliberate attempt to avoid having to pay for more ads because media would pick up the story and run with it. “It’s expensive to run ads,” she wrote, “but media coverage is free.” She noted that it’s far cheaper to run something offensive, get banned, and then cry “censorship--” which feeds the right-wing’s existing narrative-- than it is to pay for ads.
So it was a chaotic day, and a confusing one, but the fact that the Trump campaign is openly sharing Nazi symbols suggests that the lines of the election are becoming very clear indeed.