Inauguration Day

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, I was doing my best to ignore the proceedings in Washington when my friend called to joke about it all. While Kash is a Canadian citizen, his family is from Pakistan and he's a Muslim. We hadn't had a chance to talk much during the election, but I'd assumed his feelings to be similar to my own. I was shocked to hear him talk about Clinton as "just as bad" as Trump, and to hear him opine that this isn't so bad. My reaction was one of anger and disbelief, and while we ended the call cordially enough, I felt I had to write him something longer to express what I've been observing. This email took quite a lot of time to write and annotate with links, so I thought it'd be worth sharing here.

Hey Kash,
The last several months have been terribly troubling and painful for me, and I think some of that bled out in our phone call today, and seems to have taken you aback. Maybe I haven't struck you as an alarmist; in general I tend to be more measured in my reactions to elections, both here in Canada and in the US. I remember when Bush Jr was elected, both times, and laughing at those dumb Americans. I knew he was going to be a terrible president, but I knew he wouldn't be there forever. Turns out, he really was a terrible president, maybe the worst in living memory.

But we're at a point where we can see pretty clearly that Donald Trump may be the worst president ever, maybe even the last president. And thinking about it, I can understand how many people, including you, are having trouble seeing through the fog of conflicting opinions, claims of "fake news", opposing viewpoints and general flailing on all sides. That's why I'm writing this. I want to back up what I told you on the phone earlier: that if you look at the primary sources, and separate fact from bullshit, you'll see what I see, and be as scared as I am.

That's right, I want my gift to you to be fear. You're welcome, my homeslice.

The task of enumerating Trump's failings feels pretty overwhelming, to be honest. He is just so incredibly wrong, on so many different fronts, that listing them out is just a huge task. So let's see how I do.

A Word About Primary Sources

Before I do that, though, it's important to understand what constitutes a source worth paying attention to, from one that isn't. One of the chief props in this election was the propagation of "fake news", where people invented web sites, wrote made-up stories and posted them to Facebook and Twitter, where they were breathlessly believed and exponentially shared. The old saying, "A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on," applies here. People who are already ideologically aligned against someone will give a story less scrutiny (or none, let's face it) when it lines up with their beliefs.

The most damning epithet used in this election was the phrase "liberal media", or "lying press". As individuals, we have to evaluate the news we read. In the normal course of our lives, we have been able to trust to journalistic integrity: this is the notion that the people writing the stuff that appears in newspapers are following the best practices of the trade. This means something. It means representing the events in a way that both explains issues and hews to the truth of matters.

What I've described above is called news, as distinct from opinion, where individual voices can marshal their own arguments to explain events, but can do so by ignoring facts, or interpreting them based on an ideological viewpoint. You find both of them in the newspaper, and you have to keep that distinction in your mind when you're reading.

So it's with that mindset that you can, in my estimation, read The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Toronto Star, and know that what's in their News sections represents the truth, because the journalists writing it are the best in the business: they have interviewed the people, dug up the records, and are presenting the facts as they are known.

However, there are plenty of outlets that you cannot trust. They aren't "news" in the journalistic sense. They are opinion. They're largely on TV, and the worst of them masquerade as news. I'm thinking here of Fox News in particular, though they're not the only ones. They're just the worst. Here's an article about how one organization tested claims made on three major news networks and scored them for how truthful they are:

http://www.politicususa.com/2015/02/06/fact-checker-finds-60-fox-news-statements-false-lie.html

You should read that whole article, as it really lays out how the consequences of telling lies leads to a misinformed public. This is the very foundation for how someone like Trump gets into power. Because if a segment of the population can be reliably lied to, then all bets are off. During this election, we saw the proliferation of tons of neo-nazi, "alt-right" opinion/lie sites pretending to be news. And those groomed on watching the half/untruths from Fox News gobbled it right up. Today your average Trump voter will simply not seem from the same planet if you cite a fact printed in the Times.

Here's another great graphic that outlines what sources you can trust versus those you can't, on both sides of the political spectrum.

News sources

Trump's Truthfulness

You can't really go anywhere without understanding how absolutely, unrepentantly mendacious this man is. When he talks, the amount of it that's technical bullshit (provably false) is damn near 100%. Whether on Twitter, in his stump speeches during the campaign, in interviews... his record of telling the truth is vanishingly low.

The best primary source I can cite for this is from Politifact. They exhaustively collect his statements and rank their truthfulness, keeping a total tally on a five-point scale. As of this writing, a solid 70% of his statements are some form of false. http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/

If you want to narrow down on just one event, there's this article published in the New York Times after one of the presidential debates. Note that this article is an opinion piece. You might not wish to consider it. However, you can see that every sentence of the piece is a link to a primary source to refute the statement. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/opinion/campaign-stops/the-lies-trump-told.html?_r=0

Politics isn't a gameshow. It's a life-and-death practice that affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Those who want into the profession must be truth-tellers, because trust is the foundation they work upon. When the electorate can't trust its leaders, government becomes dysfunctional. I believe this dearly, which is why Trump's record as a liar is the scariest thing about him. Because who even knows what he actually believes?

This isn't a primary source, per se, but an important consideration is Trump's mental health. A group of psychologists have been watching him for years, and believe him to be suffering from a condition called narcissistic personality disorder. It's an incredibly dangerous condition to have, because the patient is the last to admit it exists. And Trump's ultimate confidence in himself could readily lead the US (along with us) into disaster. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/

Trump's Money and Company Holdings

One of my go-to methods for determining peoples' motivations is to look at how they benefit in a given set of circumstances. He makes all kinds of claims about how rich he is, but Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which would show how much money he has, and most importantly, where it comes from. This is important because where the money comes from explains how people behave.

This article in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/how-trumps-murky-foreign-business-interests-harm-america/510407/) illustrates the problem very clearly. Because his company operates in many countries around the world, and because he will be making far-reaching policy decisions, we cannot be certain that those decisions will be for the benefit of the US, or his company.

This is a huge problem. Every president up to Trump has had to take their businesses and other assets and place them in a "blind trust". Practically, it means they sell their assets and hand the cash over to a money manager where it earns a modest interest rate, and they can't know anything about it till they leave office. Yes, this is, in Trump's case, a titanic sacrifice. It means mothballing a global business empire (from what he tells us, anyway). But every president before him has done this and it's the only way to know there are no conflicting interests.

Trump has refused to do this, and he doesn't care. Instead, he's giving control of the company to his sons, and promises not to talk to them about business. Here's an article about that, which came from Trump's press conference on January 12 2017: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/01/12/whats-a-blind-trust-anyway-and-why-wont-it-work-for-president-elect-trump/#310dcf3b66c7

This is clearly not sufficient; his sons have been an ongoing part of his transition team, and it's easy to imagine them talking about business every day. That knowledge can't help but influence him when he's executing policy as President.

In fact, that risk is specifically outlawed by the US Constitution. The Emoluments Clause forbids the president from receiving any benefit from a foreign official, and the majority of interpretations of that clause suggest Trump is currently in violation of that right now. Here's a summary of that issue here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/trumps-ethics-train-wreck/513446/

In sum, Trump's deeply entangled business holdings around the world mean he can't be trusted to work on behalf of the country.

Trump's Complicity with Russia

Maybe you're okay with Trump profiting from the presidency. In many ways, it's not that interesting to me: corruption and government go hand-in-hand, and if Trump manages to enrich himself beyond even the wildest shame of his most corrupt forebears, that's really just one more tick on the board, and one that won't particularly affect us. But in the realm of international dealings, I think the biggest strike against him is the involvement of Russia.

Vladimir Putin rose from being a leader in the KGB, to running Russia. The country is a democracy in name only: he in fact rules as a dictator, and uses classical autocratic methods to violently crush his opponents. Here's a first-person account of a journalist who fled the country in 2015 (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2014-12-29/2015-the-year-of-the-putin-dictatorship), and another first-person account from the author of a book about Putin (https://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/putin-really-is-a-dictator/). The government of Canada and the outgoing US government certainly frames Russia as their largest geopolitical adversary; the West is currently imposing economic sanctions on Russia; remember how they expanded into Ukraine? How about Russia helping slaughter civilians in Syria? They are evil-ass bastards.

Make no mistake, the US and its NATO allies consider Russia to be bad news. There's not a lot of noise about this story, but NATO has just moved a shitload of troops and equipment throughout eastern Europe, as a line against Russia (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/10/27/nato-moves-closer-to-deploying-troops-in-east-europe-as-russia-increasingly-belligerent.html). NATO military planners know more about goings-on in Russia than we do; it's safe to assume they take the threat of the Putin regime quite seriously.

In direct contradiction to all this evidence, Trump has said nothing but nice things about Putin. Here's a CNN timeline of Trump's on-the-record words about Putin: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/28/politics/donald-trump-vladimir-putin-quotes/. Trump has also criticized NATO (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/15/world/europe/donald-trump-nato.html), and threatens to destabilize the decades of peace that we've had since the end of World War II. This is a big deal.

And why? Mounting evidence suggests that Trump is in Putin's pocket. The evidence that we have suggests close ties between Trump's top advisors and the Putin regime. Trump's first pick for Secretary of State, Paul Manafort, had to be cut when his close ties to Russian oligarchs was uncovered (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/us/politics/trump-russia-associates-investigation.html). Trump's chief advisor, Steve Bannon, heads the vile Breitbart "news" site and has proclaimed his admiration for anti-establishment politics (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/steve-bannon-will-lead-trumps-white-house). And let's not forget Rex Tillerman, Trump's pick to be Secretary of State (after Manafort), who, as CEO of Exxon Mobil, failed to win a lucrative contract for oil exploration in Russia because of the US government... and who will now be in the best position to make that deal happen, opening the taps to a $500 Billion deal, which you can't help but imagine would be ending up in many peoples' pockets (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/20/world/europe/russia-rex-tillerson-donald-trump-secretary-of-state.html).

That's the follow-the-money evidence. You've probably also heard something about the US intelligence community's findings in recent days. That report explains how US intelligence agencies believe, with a high degree of confidence, that Russia directly intervened in the election by spreading fake news with the specific intention of getting Trump elected. They did this by spreading lies about Hillary Clinton.

The Russians spread lies about Hillary Clinton. Which means, the things you might think you believe about Clinton are, in fact, untrue. I'll get to this again later.

The intelligence agencies stopped short of saying that Russia's actions influenced the election. But we can draw our own conclusions about that. Look at the election results: Clinton won the majority of the vote by 2.8 million. Trump won because he earned majority votes in three swing states. You can look at the raw data here. Trump won Michigan by some 10,000 votes, a rounding error in a state where 4.8 million votes were cast. In Pennsylvania, another big upset state, victory was decided by 50,000 out of 6.1 million votes cast. If you recall the stories about Clinton going into the final days of the campaign, I don't think it's a stretch to imagine people who might have voted for Clinton just staying home, or those on the edge choosing Trump. I believe Russia was spectacularly successful in influencing the election, and I don't think it's a stretch to believe that.

Russia had help. There were domestic assholes spreading Clinton lies too — Republicans, of course (https://theintercept.com/2017/01/19/major-fake-news-operation-tracked-back-republican-operative/). And there was James Comey, the FBI director who put Clinton's fake email scandal back on the front page just days before the election (http://www.salon.com/2016/12/30/james-comey-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-2016/). Meanwhile we have evidence he knew about the much more serious Russian interference charges at the same time, about which he felt no need to inform the public (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/10/fbi-russia-trump-election-harry-reid-james-comey-wikileaks). Makes you think.

The final link hasn't yet been proven: that Trump's campaign worked behind-the-scenes with Putin. The evidence to support that hasn't been found yet, but given everything above, I feel like there's a pretty high probability Trump knew exactly what he was doing, who he was supporting. That makes Donald Trump guilty of treason, a capital offense. That should really worry you.

Here's some more reading for you, first about the money connection to Russia (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/follow-the-money-to-see-why-putin-is-rooting-for-a-trump-victory/article32690746/) and for some commentary about how a Trump presidency spells massive changes to the US-Russia relationship (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/10/heres-how-trumps-election-will-affect-u-s-russian-relations/?utm_term=.7d54bba7f383).

Trump is an Odious Man and He Is Surrounded By Odious People

Do we have to like the President of the United States? It should help him/her get elected if they're likeable. But being likeable is deeper than it appears. A person we like, we like because they share our values and social mores. Donald Trump clearly doesn't share our values or mores. And if there's someone out there that does share them, well, they're no friend of mine.

Trump is a misogynist. I dare you to read this and not feel a bit ill afterwards: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/politics/donald-trump-sexism-tracker-every-offensive-comment-in-one-place/

Trump is a racist. This article summarizes Trump's history of disgusting racist behaviour: http://fortune.com/2016/06/07/donald-trump-racism-quotes/

We've also seen him make comments during the campaign referring to Mexicans as rapists, and every Muslim a terrorist. These dog whistles were just the trick to convince his low-brow supporters that he's their man.

You know the KKK. David Duke loves Trump, and has been an outspoken supporter. Any other politician with KKK support would be disqualified from political life, but not Trump for some reason. Here's a log of everything Trump has said relating to Duke (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/03/01/donald-trump-and-david-duke-for-the-record/?utm_term=.3602b4651264). Just gross!

I've already mentioned Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist during the transition period. The Globe and Mail did a good profile of him (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/alt-right-media-outlet-breitbart-moves-into-the-donald-trump-administration-with-stephenbannon/article32929482/). His principal sin here is his running of breitbart.com, the so-called "alt-right" news blog that has become enormously popular among Trump supporters. If you're looking for the racist, Islamophobic, woman-hating underbelly of the Internet, look no further. There's no "news" there, just hateful rhetoric disguised as same. This is the sort of news that Trump can love, so Bannon is by his side, helping him plot policy in the new government. Just to clue you in here: the term "alt-right" is really just a way of saying "far, far right." You know who else was far, far right? Yeah: Hitler. These assholes are basically Nazis. Here, read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-right, with attributions.

And then there's Trump's cabinet. His picks to run the critical policy portfolios of the US government have to be vetted by Congress and the Senate, and it's going pretty slow. They're so dicey that even the Republican-dominated branches of government are having a hard time swallowing them. Here's an overview: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/trump-cabinet-tracker/510527/, but some highlights:

  • Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State, the Exxon Mobil CEO, has zero government experience and those ties to Putin.
  • Steve Mnuchin, as Secretary of Treasury, was a senior exec at Goldman Sachs, and who raped the country during the financial crisis in 2009.
  • Jeff Sessions, as Secretary of Justice, hates immigrants, and is a flaming racist who wants to take the vote away from black people.
  • Rick Perry, as Secretary of Energy, who campaigned to shut down this very department, though it turned out he didn't actually know what it was responsible for (largely, turns out, the management of the US nuclear arsenal).

I could go on, but you can read that link too. The things these dim bulbs have in common is they're incredibly rich (get this: the combined wealth of the 17 picks is greater than one-third of the poorest Americans: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/310566-trumps-cabinet-picks-have-more-money-than-third-of-american), and they contributed to his campaign. This is straight-up cronyism, the hallmark of any corrupt government. "Drain the swamp," indeed.

Trump on the Environment

Rounding out the top things I hate about Trump is what he's planning to do with the environment, Trump believes that global warming is a plot invented by the Chinese. (https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/265895292191248385?lang=en) The timing of this policy shift is alarming, to say the least. NASA just reported that 2016 was the warmest years on record (https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-data-show-2016-warmest-year-on-record-globally), and the preponderance of evidence suggests that even the best case scenarios will lead to irreversible consequences. We're talking about sea level rise, coastal cities disappearing. But Trump is putting his foot on the gas and moving forward. The day he took office, every mention of global warming was scrubbed from the White House web site (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/donald-trump-president-white-house-global-warming-climate-change-environment-a7538381.html).

But... what about Hillary?

I personally didn't consider Clinton the finest person to run the country. But I would literally take Mike Pence — a racist, misogynist scumbag — over Trump at this point. Pence is at least a politician, and would operate under the rules, which Trump is all too happy to flout. So to me, the debate isn't about Hillary at all.

But it needs to be clarified that she was utterly sandbagged by lies and false provocation, and the things you hate about her stem from misinformation at best, and your own potential misogyny at worst (when it comes to prejudice, it's all of our duties to be brutally honest with ourselves and identify those pernicious thoughts that unfairly colour our own opinions). There are tons of sources all over the place showing why Clinton was being unjustly blamed for Benghazi, for her handling of confidential emails, and for "pay-to-play" schemes within the Clinton Foundation. Here's an article lining them up and shooting them down (for the most part): http://www.vox.com/2016/9/13/12770636/hillary-clinton-email-scandals-explained.

But here's the thing I can't even come close to understanding. Let's say that the worst of these accusations were true. For the sake of her own staff's convenience Clinton used Blackberries to communicate rather than State Department servers. Let's also say that she evaluated the risk of terrorist attacks at Benghazi and decided that embassy didn't need more military support. That once or twice, some diplomat who made a big donation to the Clinton Foundation got a personal meeting with the Secretary of State. Does any of that compare to the horrors I've played out above with regards to Trump?

I see it sort of like this: there's a politcal realm, where there are specific rules of engagement. The players are not always perfectly above board, and sometimes they make decisions out of self-interest, or their careers, or the whims of the large companies who funnel money into their re-election campaigns. But the motivations of those politicians is often well-understood, and they are always subject to the laws of the constitution, the three branches of government, and ultimately their constituents, who can vote them out the next time.

With Trump, every standard of discourse has been systematically shat upon. He can't be relied upon to tell the truth, he has no respect for the rule of law, and he makes no effort to disguise his own efforts to enrich himself from his presidency. The result will be a global weakening of the American influence, which will have a catastrophic effect on everyone. Everyone. All because a shitload of white, racist, homophobic half-wits in middle America have far too much influence in the Electoral College.

So when you say there's no difference between Clinton and Trump, I tend to lose my shit a little.

One Week Later

I started writing this post on Inauguration Day, and then went on vacation for a week. I came back to find all my worst fears confirmed. Trump is pushing ahead with his plans to build the wall on the Mexican border (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/25/donald-trump-sign-mexico-border-executive-order). And he's enacted an Executive Order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/politics/annotating-trump-immigration-refugee-order.html). You've probably heard about that one, but dig a bit deeper because the true crazy is showing through. While a federal court order was issued this weekend to stay the order, the Department of Homeland Security has decided to ignore the court (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-travel-bans-department-of-homeland-security-vows-enforce-court-order-a7551601.html). This is huge. It implies a breakdown in the fundamental workings of a branch of the government. If the Executive branch cannot be curtailed by the Judicial branch, then America doesn't work anymore. That's literally the ballgame. This story is still developing as I write this, but now you know what to pay attention to.

So I hope this letter explains my reaction during that week-ago phone call, and I hope it gives you the motivation to pay attention to the right sources when you're formulating your own thoughts about what's happening in the US now.