Troubles and Issues

“Troubles” are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. “Issues” is what the political system does to run elections. … When Issues don’t speak to Troubles, and Troubles don’t connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

Jay Rosen

This week’s featured post is “Lies, Damned Lies, and Trump Administration Terrorism Statistics“.

This week everybody was talking about a government shutdown

First, the simple facts: The shutdown became official at midnight Saturday morning. The Friday-night vote that made it final was 50-49 in the Senate. (John McCain, who is battling cancer, was the senator not voting.) The funding proposal fell well short of the 60 votes it needed to pass.

A continuing resolution to fund the government for four weeks had passed the House, but the 50 votes in the Senate were not enough to break a filibuster. The votes in both houses were mostly along party lines. In the House, Republicans voted 224-11 for the CR, and Democrats 186-6 against. In the Senate, Republicans voted for it 45-5 and Democrats against 44-5. The senators crossing party lines were five Democrats (Donnelly, Jones, Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill) and five Republicans (Flake, Graham, Lee, McConnell, Paul — I suspect there’s some procedural reason why McConnell voted against it once he knew it wasn’t going to pass).

The two main sticking points in the negotiations leading up to the shutdown were preventing the deportation of the Dreamers and health insurance for children. (The CHIP program expired at the end of September. The states have kept it going anyway, but some will start running out of money soon.) The CR that failed funded CHIP for six years, but did nothing about the Dreamers, who will lose legal status in March because Trump killed President Obama’s DACA program.

It is bizarre that these are the issues Congress is stuck on, because both are popular with the voters, and would pass if they came to the floor as individual measures. Probably the only reason CHIP wasn’t reauthorized a long time ago was precisely so that Republicans could use it as a bargaining chip now. (In other words: We want to do the right thing, but only if we get something for it.) Paul Ryan is grandstanding about CHIP now, but Dylan Matthews points out all the opportunities he had to handle this problem without making it part of a shutdown vote. (In particular: Why isn’t CHIP an entitlement like Medicare, rather than a program that comes up for a vote every few years?)

For weeks, optimists have expected a DACA-like program to be part of a deal that included tighter immigration rules and  more funding for border security, possibly even allowing Trump to claim that he had succeeded in getting money (from Congress and not from Mexico) to build his wall. The White House meeting that dissolved into the shithole-countries debacle was about precisely such a bipartisan deal that Senators Graham and Durbin had worked out. Since then, the main obstacle to a deal has been that Mitch McConnell didn’t want to get stuck championing something that Trump wouldn’t sign. All week he had been dropping ever-more-pointed hints that Trump should tell McConnell what he wants.

“I’m looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign,” McConnell said. “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.”

Consequently: Nothing about DACA was in the deal voted on Friday night.

So here we are: Nobody really wants a government shutdown. Almost nobody wants children to lose health insurance. Only the most radical anti-immigration minority in Congress (and Stephen Miller in the White House) wants to deport the Dreamers. And yet, these are the things we’re fighting about.

There’s currently a vote scheduled in the Senate later today. This could all resolve quickly, or not.

In general, nobody-wins situations like this happen because each side has its own view of how the disaster will play out. (Labor strikes are similar: Each side thinks the other will have to fold first, so they push to the crisis.) So a large part of how this comes out depends on how the public reacts. Republicans clearly think the public will frame the issue as the Democrats standing up for illegal immigrants over the American people. (Part of that is code, as I’ve explained before: The “American people” are white Christians.) Democrats think that the Republicans in charge of everything will bear the blame, and also have the argument that they’re just trying to get Trump to do something he has often claimed he wants to do anyway. If one side is wrong, that side will eventually have to give in.

and a lie about immigrants and terrorism

That’s the subject of the featured post, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Trump Administration Terrorism Statistics“. To their collective shame, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice assembled a report to back up a lie Trump told to Congress: “The vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” The report is a textbook lesson on how to abuse statistics.


While we’re talking immigration, this meme has been going around:

and the Trump/Russia connection

This still looks speculative to me, but a bombshell story from McClatchy claimed that the FBI is investigating whether money from a Russian oligarch was funneled through the National Rifle Association to help elect Trump.

Investigating, of course, doesn’t always mean that they’ve found anything, or even that there’s anything to find. The purely factual part of the story is that the NRA spent way more money supporting Trump ($30 million) than they have on Romney or previous Republican presidential candidates. The NRA/Russia link is supposed to be “Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA.” It’s illegal to use foreign money to influence a U.S. election, so if this pans out, it’s a crime.

My usual test for stories like this is whether I’d believe them if the parties were flipped. If I had heard that the FBI was investigating whether Chinese money had flowed through the Sierra Club to help Hillary Clinton, would I believe there was fire under that smoke? At this point, probably not. I plan to wait and see.


Another transcript related to the Steele dossier came out this week: Glenn Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump’s relationship with Russia and Russian oligarchs, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November. The committee released that transcript, with a few redactions, Thursday.

I haven’t completed reading either this transcript or the comparable one from the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Simpson seems impressive in what I’ve read of both. His investigation sounds nothing like the conspiracy theories Republicans are spreading about it. And he tells a coherent Trump/Russia narrative that may not be proven yet, but does fit a lot of the known facts: During a period when the Trump Organization wasn’t considered credit-worthy, a lot of suspicious Russian money flowed into Trump projects in a way that looks like money laundering. This was the beginning of a Trump/Russia relationship that blossomed during the campaign, resulting in a significant effort by Russian intelligence to get Trump elected.

Simpson does a good job of stating what he knows and not overstating it. Like this:

“Evidence”, I think, is a strong word. I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering. … You know, fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer.

Fusion GPS couldn’t get “evidence” because they didn’t have subpoena power to get bank records. But congressional committees do. Rep. Adam Schiff asked who they should subpoena, and Simpson laid it out:

I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions, you know. And there’s—again, it’s these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produced by rote. So we’ve done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities. And so, you know, all dollar transactions are generally cleared through New York. So, you know, the main thing you have to do is identify the banks that were used.

Atlantic’s David Graham followed up by asking Schiff whether the committee will follow this course. It’s not happening, Schiff told him “because Republican members are not interested”.

One of the arguments about the Democratic message for 2018 is whether or not they should come out for Trump’s impeachment. I hope they don’t go that far, because the hard evidence isn’t there yet. (Evidence is a strong word.) Instead, I would argue that the public needs Democrats to take over Congress so that we can find out what happened. Republicans are blocking investigations, and Democrats will go wherever the facts lead. Maybe that will be impeachment and maybe it won’t. We need to know the facts before we can say, and we’ll never know them if Republicans stay in control.

and the end of Trump’s first year

I was hoping to do my own wrap-up this week, but the article didn’t come together, so I’ll push it off to next week. One of the things I plan to do is examine whether, going into this administration, I was afraid of the right things. In particular, I’ll look back at “The Trump Administration: What I’m Watching For“, which I wrote two weeks after the election.

In particular, I said was watching to see if Trump would be doing any of these seven things.

  • taking credit for Obama’s accomplishments
  • taking credit for averting dangers that never existed
  • profiteering
  • changing the electorate
  • winking at right-wing paramilitary groups
  • subverting government agencies for political advantage
  • paying Putin back

All in all, I think in hindsight, not a bad list.

and you also might be interested in …

If you don’t care about actual civil rights, you need to make up something else for your civil rights offices to do. HHS is going to task its office to protect healthcare workers who have moral objections typical of conservative Christians — not wanting to participate in abortions or in transgender patient transitions, for example.

The pending rule would establish a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the HHS civil rights office that would conduct compliance reviews, audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that health care providers are allowing workers to opt out of procedures when they have religious or moral objections.

The new office “would be empowered to further shield these workers and punish organizations that don’t allow them to express their religious and moral objections”.

Since it’s impossible to make allowance for everything that someone might claim is part of their religion — what if a Jehovah’s Witness EMT doesn’t want to participate in blood transfusions? what if a pharmacist has a religious objection to insulin manufactured through genetic engineering? or to any drug whose testing process involved killing animals? — there is literally no way to implement such a policy without favoring some religions over others. In practice, the moral objections of Baptists and Catholics will be seen as serious and reasonable, while those of less popular religions will get consideration only to the extent that popular religions share them. The moral objections of atheists will be ignored completely, since they’re not “religious”.

In short, having a religion (especially a popular one) gets you special rights.


In any other administration, it would be a major scandal if the president paid off a porn star not to talk about their affair. For Trump, it barely registers. I look at religious-right Trump supporters like Rev. Robert Jeffress and wonder what they’d be saying if The Wall Street Journal had written the exact same story about Obama.

BTW: I think it’s a low blow to point out the resemblance between Stormy Daniels and Ivanka. Probably they both look like a younger version of Ivanka’s mom, who Trump marrried. There’s a quote in Daniels’ article in In Touch that can be spun in an incestuous way, but it’s not obvious Trump meant it like that, even assuming he actually said it.


Trump got a physical from a well regarded Navy doctor, who pronounced him basically healthy. In particular, he passed a cognitive-function test. Admittedly, that test is not hard. But it would catch a lot of the kinds of dementia people imagine Trump has.

I never put a lot of stock in the Trump-has-dementia narrative, and to the extent I ever did, I’m going to stop talking about it. To me it’s like the Bush-is-stupid narrative that popped up so often during W’s administration. Bush was not stupid, he just had no interest in most of the topics we expect presidents to stay on top of. Probably if you talked to him about baseball, you’d be surprised how much he knows.

I suspect something similar about Trump: He has an unfocused mind, like a lot of people do. It’s hard for him to dig deeply into any subject, and the only topic that really interests him is himself. He indulges in wishful thinking, and refuses to let facts or expert opinions change his mind. These are all serious deficiencies in a president, but there’s no reason to think they point to a medical problem. His faults get more pronounced as he gets older, but that also is not unusual. Your uncle who was cantankerous at 50 is probably even more cantankerous at 70; that’s not a sign of insanity, it’s just how people age.

Earlier this month, Josh Marshall got this issue right: The important thing is what Trump does, not why.

All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior.

There’s no need to argue about hidden causes when the effects are more important and so plain to see.

This interview with psychiatrist Allen Frances is well worth reading. He discusses both Trump (who he describes as bad rather than mad) and the people who support him. He advocates more political action from the public, rather than hoping that some cabal within the administration will use a psychological diagnosis to invoke the 25th amendment.


As a commenter pointed out last week: Most of the Americans who retire to Mexico are undocumented.

One 2015 study from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography reveals that a stunning 91.2 percent of Americans in the country don’t have their papers in order.


Still no one knows what Trump’s inaugural committee did with the $107 million it raised. Obama’s committee put on a bigger show for more people with half as much money, so either somebody made a huge profit or there’s a $50 million dollar slush fund out there somewhere.

but you should listen to Jay Rosen

One my favorite news-media observers is Jay Rosen from NYU. His summary of how the news media has responded to Trump’s first year is the first half of this episode of the Recode podcast. He was interviewed on Recode last year, and made a number of observations that other news people eventually came around to — like that there was really no point in interviewing Kellyanne Conway, since it was impossible either for the journalist or the readers/viewers to pull any trustworthy information out of the mass of disinformation you would get from her.

In this interview, he talks about the press’s loyalty to “rituals” that no longer serve a purpose in the Trump era. The press continues to fight for access to the White House “because that’s what the White House press corps does”. But even scoring the ultimate access — an interview with the President himself — does practically nothing to keep readers/viewers informed.

The whole purpose of interviewing a sitting president is that you can find out about their thinking, you can illuminate their policy choices, you can dig a little deeper into what they plan to do. That assumes that the president has policy ideas.

In an interview situation, [Trump is] just saying what — at the moment — makes him feel like the best, the biggest, the greatest, the brightest, the richest, the most potent. He’s just saying whatever comes to his mind as the most spectacular boast he can think of. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about his policies.

He criticized the press for continuing to project normality onto Trump, for example, by talking about his “foreign policy” as if there were such a thing.

One of the more interesting parts of the interview was when the interviewer (Peter Kafka) brought up Rosen’s previous statements that the press should “listen” to the American people more. Kafka related it to the various articles we have seen in which reporters go interview Trump voters in rural areas they don’t usually cover. Rosen agreed that some good journalism came out of that effort, but said it wasn’t what he had meant. He backed up to talk about a distinction (attributed to sociologist C. Wright Mills) between “troubles” and “issues”.

“Troubles” are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. “Issues” is what the political system does to run elections and win coalitions. And his point is that when Issues don’t speak to Troubles, and Troubles don’t connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

So my point was not that journalists should just go out and listen to the Trump voters because they got the election wrong. It was that if journalists could somehow listen to people’s Troubles in a new and more potent way, then they would be in a position to represent those people better than the political system does when it fashions them into Issues. Now that’s a deeper and more ambitious project than “Let’s check in with Trump voters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to see if they still support Donald Trump.”

I think we saw a lot of that kind of parachuting into Trump Country, which is sort of an anthropological — or some people said “zoological” — exercise. We saw a lot of that. But what I was talking about was trying to kind of recover authority by understanding the Troubles that led to the results that we saw in 2016.

and let’s close with something adorable

The world’s smallest cat lives in Sri Lanka and when fully grown, weighs about a kilogram.

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Comments

  • Dale  On January 22, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    The procedural reason for McConnels vote; it allows him to re-introduce the bill.

  • Larry Benjamin  On January 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    I’m not clear on the legal issue with the NRA getting money from Russia. The NRA isn’t part of the Trump campaign; they effectively act as a PAC under Citizens United. So as long as the NRA didn’t cooperate directly with the Trump campaign, I believe they can accept foreign contributions and campaign on his behalf.

    • weeklysift  On January 24, 2018 at 7:59 am

      Here’s what The Hill claimed about a previous controversy: “It’s illegal for foreign individuals, corporations and governments to either give money directly to U.S. candidates or spend on advertising to influence U.S. elections. And it’s also illegal for candidates to solicit foreign money, regardless of whether the donations ever materialize.”

      So if it’s just a coincidence that a Russian gave the NRA a lot of money and then they spent it for Trump, that sounds legal. If the Russian and the NRA made an agreement to use his money to advertise for Trump, it wouldn’t be legal. But if Trump knew nothing about that agreement, he’d be in the clear.

  • Anonymous  On January 22, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    ” The White House meeting that dissolved into the shithole-countries debacle was about precisely such a bipartisan deal that Senators Graham and Durbin had worked out”

    Everyone seemed focused on the “shithole-countries” comment and whether or not Trump actually said that. But a few days before that meeting, Trump said that he would sign whatever bi-partisan deal that congress put together. But when presented with an actual bi-partisan deal, he rejected it. McConnell’s concern about pushing something that Trump would reject are very reasonable, given Trump’s previous behavior.

  • MAHA  On January 23, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    I am not persuaded that Trump has dementia, but I take exception to the claim that simple cognitive test would catch it if he did. Following the death of my father, I lived with my mother for 6 years. She was in the early stages of dementia during those years (it took her 20 years to reach the place where she didn’t recognize me.) One of the first things I did was get her to give up her driver’s license, which I did because I had noticed the way she zoned out from time to time. The word dementia means “mind away”. But it is not a constant state, it is variable. And every time someone from long term care gave her a mini-mental test, she became alert. She knew she was being tested for her mental status. She knew it was important that she pass. She did not want to go into long term care. And she always passed those tests, to my enormous consternation. Because I was living with her 24/7 and I knew how she functioned, mentally. The idea that simple cognitive tests will catch dementia is not correct.

    But I don’t doubt that Trump is lucid. That said, since he is in the habit of carelessly stating things that aren’t true as though they are… should the day ever come that he is actually confabulating due to gaps in his memory, it will be very difficult to notice a change : /

    Deborah McP

    • weeklysift  On January 24, 2018 at 7:51 am

      I think when people worry about Trump having dementia, they’re not picturing the trending-toward-dementia state you describe. If he could snap into alertness any time he really needed to, that wouldn’t be such a big problem.

  • Kim Cooper  On January 25, 2018 at 4:57 am

    If Trump doesn’t have any kind of dementia, then he is responsible for his outrageous behavior. Perhaps he knows he is acting outrageously and is thrilled at getting away with it — you know, like “If you’re a celebrity you can do anything, they let you get away with it.”
    I am very concerned with the damage he and the Republicans are doing to our country.

    • Anonymous  On January 27, 2018 at 9:28 am

      “I am very concerned with the damage he and the Republicans are doing to our country.”

      If you’re interested in getting Democrats into congress, you might be interested in “Subscribe to a Better Congress.” They are funding Democrats all over the country, not just in the swing districts.

      From their website:
      Why are we doing this?

      For decades, the DNC and other organizations have focused on the handful of swing districts they thought were “winnable.”

      This is important, but it’s not enough — because of this strategy, the Democratic candidate in hundreds of districts is just a name on a ballot, abandoned and unable to spread a message about common-sense policies to the people who need to hear about them most. Activists in those districts are left without a cause to rally around, and voters are left without a real choice.

      We can change that.

      More info at:
      https://contribute.itstarts.today/2018

Trackbacks

  • By Saving Jesus | The Weekly Sift on January 29, 2018 at 11:26 am

    […] has said he would release his tax returns. All this just underlines the Jay Rosen quote I mentioned last week, about the pointlessness of interviewing […]

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