I’ve been trying to write something about the events of the past few days for the last week and a half, and every time I set out to achieve editorial brilliance, or at least try to keep typos and the splitting of infinitives to a minimum, something else wacky happens and it’s back to square one. I’d say it’s Sisyphean if only I knew what that meant.
Sometimes, mere minutes pass before the next incredible piece of Trump-induced folly strikes. It’s as if the country’s being run by Beetlejuice.
As I make this latest attempt, in just the last 24 hours—and not even counting the continuing disaster of the government shutdown—these things happened: The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services reported that thousands more undocumented kids were torn from their parents by HHS than previously reported—“starting early in the Trump administration,” according to The Washington Post, “months before the government announced it would separate children in order to criminally prosecute their parents, through late last spring.”
What’s more, a 2017 draft memo gotten hold of by NBC News, revealed that “Trump administration officials weighed speeding up the deportation of migrant children by denying them their legal right to asylum hearings after separating them from their parents.”
The Post also reported that Pam Patenaude, second-in-command at Ben Carson’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, “widely regarded as HUD’s most capable political leader,” is stepping down out of frustration with Carson and Trump:
“Patenaude disagreed with the agency’s handling of an Obama-era fair-housing rule requiring communities receiving federal funds to address long-standing patterns of racial segregation, according to three people with direct knowledge of internal HUD debates. Carson had suspended the 2015 rule, calling it ‘burdensome.’”
She also had to defend emergency disaster funds for Puerto Rican hurricane relief against an infuriated Trump who erroneously—surprise!—believed the island’s government was using the money to pay down its debt. He wanted the cash cut off and sent instead to Texas and Florida.
In what may be a main contender for understatement of the week, a source reported, “POTUS was not consolable about this.” Luckily, Patenaude was able to persuade White House officials that the funds, appropriated by Congress and not the president, were under proper HUD supervision.
Meanwhile, in news of the undrained swamp, we learn that nine top machers with T-Mobile, after announcing a $26 billion merger deal with Sprint that needs approval from the Trump administration, promptly checked into DC’s Trump International Hotel and have subsequently paid several other visits. You can tell them by the magenta T-Mobile gear they wear. It’s sort of like color war at Camp Runamuck.
In another contender for understatement of the week, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted of T-Mobile’s hotel preference, “This does not look good,” and Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, declared, “It’s disturbing, because it’s another secret avenue for currying favor with the government.”
The T-Mobile hotel stays are just the latest in a continuing series of bookings by nations—especially Saudi Arabia, which rented 500 rooms there during a four-month period—as well as corporations and lobbyists that have found the Trump International just the spot to relieve themselves of overstuffed wallets and rub elbows with GOP cognoscenti—wow, there’s Corey Lewandowski! Careful, the sign says not to make any sudden moves around him.
All these stays come on the heels of an internal report blasting the General Services Administration for allowing Trump to lease the hotel’s space from the government without checking out whether it violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution—you know, that tricky little catch in the sacred document about presidents not taking bribes from foreign governments. It’s the one that his supporters were naysaying at the beginning of Trump’s term but which increasingly shapes up as a possible article of impeachment or successful lawsuit.
There’s much, much more, of course. The GOP-majority Senate’s approval of lifting sanctions against companies owned by Russian oligarch and former Paul Manafort employer Oleg Deripaska. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, the clown prince of jurisprudence, digging yet another hole for himself and his boss by declaring on CNN, “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign [and Russia] or between people in the campaign.” Yeah, that’s the ticket . . .
Then there’s The Wall Street Journal revealing—and Michael Cohen confirming—that with Trump’s knowledge, “In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped [Cohen] . . . try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.” And BuzzFeed reporting Thursday night that Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow, that he encouraged Cohen to try to set up a meeting about the deal with Putin during the presidential campaign and that despite Trump’s denials, Cohen gave him and the Trump kids regular updates about how the transaction was proceeding. Special counsel Mueller has “multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
(N.B. On Friday evening, the special counsel’s spokesperson Peter Carr challenged the report: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.” Buzzfeed says that it stands by the reporting.)
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, on a seeming hourly basis, there are more twists and turns than the Coney Island Cyclone. Not to mention Thursday’s piece de resistance: Trump attempting to one-up Speaker Nancy Pelosi after she dissed him on delivering the State of the Union address by canceling within minutes of departure the Air Force transport for a congressional delegation trip that included a top secret visit by Pelosi and her colleagues to our troops in Afghanistan.
He claimed the need to curtail such travel while the shutdown continued. But almost immediately it was pointed out that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and a government gaggle were about to similarly jet off to the frosty delights of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. An embarrassed Trump was forced to cancel that trip, too, although shame didn’t seem to prevent Melania Trump from using taxpayer-funded Air Force One to head for Mar-a-Lago and a no doubt much deserved vacation. After all, snow is predicted for Washington this weekend.
I know I’m overlooking many other things that happened today but life’s too short. To steal a catchphrase, the point—and I do have one—is that as we mark the second anniversary of his administration, Donald Trump has imposed on the nation a regime of such venality, ignorance and pettiness as to call into question every principle of decency and justice.
An impious crook is in charge. When challenged, he shouts, just like the malevolent Beetlejuice, “These aren’t my rules. Come to think of it, I don’t have any rules!” Yet thankfully, rules there be, though they’re held right now by the slenderest of threads.
By relying on them, only the courts, that new House of Representatives led by Speaker Pelosi and the brave, committed souls of the resistance—aided, admittedly, by the Trump crowd’s monumental ineptitude—are keeping us from falling into the deepest, darkest pit of chaos.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.