I want to follow up on David Gordon’s post, The Mad King Has a Melt Down at Today’s White House Briefing, claiming he has Total Authority to Reopen the Economy.
Mad King Donald began his “Daily Trump Show” with a propaganda video put together by a White House employee and paid for with taxpayer money to selectively edit news video to praise Trump’s performance in handling the coronavirus crisis and to attack the White House press corps as “fake news.” The purpose of the video was to rewrite the history of the past few months with an alternative facts in the alternate reality world in which Donald Trump lives.
You may recall that the George W. Bush administration had an ongoing scandal over its use of unlawful government propaganda. Ruling Says White House’s Medicare Videos Were Illegal. Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for ”publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. The administration’s misuse of federal money ”also constitutes a violation of the Antideficiency Act,” which prohibits spending in excess of appropriations. “We have applied the publicity or propaganda prohibition to forbid the use of appropriations for (1) covert propaganda, (2) purely partisan activities, or (3) self-aggrandizing activities. B-302504, Mar. 10, 2004.” B-304228, Department of Education–No Child Left Behind Act Video News Release and Media Analysis, September 30, 2005. “These activities violated the governmentwide prohibition against using appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda not authorized by Congress… because the prepackaged news story constitutes covert propaganda.”
Trump’s propaganda video unquestionably violated “the publicity or propaganda prohibition [which] forbids the use of appropriations for (1) covert propaganda, (2) purely partisan activities, or (3) self-aggrandizing activities.”
The Daily Beast reports, Trump Uses Coronavirus Briefing to Play Batshit Campaign Ad Attacking Press (paragraphs have been reordered):
President Donald Trump
took over hijacked Monday’s White House task force briefing to lash out at critics and the press with a bizarre video that amounted to a campaign ad, before later declaring his authority is “total” if governors disagree with him during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to a campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite pastime of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.
“It’s very sad when people write false stories,” Trump said after the clip ended, before lambasting The New York Times.
“If you had libel laws they would have been out of business even before they’ll end up going out of business,” Trump said of one of the most credible news sources in America.
An agitated and indignant president pointed at the seated press corps, telling them that while he’d answer some questions after airing his montage of coronavirus praise that maybe “I’ll ask you some questions because you’re so guilty.”
The briefing almost immediately devolved into the president airing widespread grievances against his critics, from his likely 2020 general election opponent Joe Biden to governors and reporters who have dared to call his virus response into question over the last few weeks as American life has ground to a halt during the pandemic.
When a reporter pressed him about the video resembling a campaign ad, Trump said it was done in the office. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” he said.
The president also claimed that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino created the video, prompting reporters to question the fact that he had government employees put together what was essentially a campaign advertisement.
Media Matters noted on Twitter that press clips featured in the first part of the video also appeared in the same sequence during a March 26 episode of the Fox News show Hannity.
Trump, visibly angry, continued to defend his response to the pandemic during the presser, insisting, “everything we did was right.”
The other batshit crazy part of Mad King Donald’s Monday meltdown during the “Daily Trump Show” was his angry assertion that he has absolute power when it comes to governors’ stay-at-home orders during the crisis:
Asked on Monday how he would respond if a governor issued a stay-at-home order in conflict of his national wishes, Trump insisted his power as president is “total.”
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total and that is the way it’s gonna be,” Trump bellowed. “It’s total. It’s total. And the governors know that.”
The president reiterated that assertion throughout the rest of the marathon briefing. After CNN’s Kaitlan Collins pushed back, saying it wasn’t true that Trump’s authority is total, the president said they were “going to write papers on this” but that it won’t be necessary because the governors “need us one way or the other because ultimately it comes with the federal government.”
When further asked if any governors had agreed that he has the authority to force them to reopen, Trump said that he didn’t ask anybody because, “I don’t need to.”
Trump’s eyebrow-raising assertions about the reach of his office during national emergencies, which were also echoed by his sycophant ass-kissing Vice President Pence at the briefing, astounded Constitutional experts who have ‘no idea’ where he got that.
While the president appears convinced he is the only one empowered to make the critical determination, his extraordinary assertions of authority over the states astounded legal scholars, leaving them wondering, as they have before about Trump’s broad claims, where on earth he got them.
“You won’t find that written in the Federalist Papers anywhere,” Robert Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Washington Post.
Not only does the power Trump asserted have no basis in reality, experts said, but it’s also completely antithetical to the Constitution, the concept of federalism and separation of powers — whether during a time of emergency or not.
Not even Trump’s favorite TV lawyer, Jonathan Turley, agrees with his totalitarian wet dream. Trump says it’s his call to reopen the country. The Constitution says otherwise.
After leaving it to governors to implement various stay-at-home orders, Trump is now asserting the unilateral authority to lift such state orders.
He’s wrong. Our Constitution was written precisely to the deny that particular claim.
It was also designed to limit federal authority, generally. Under our federalist system, the default authority remains with the states. As James Madison explained in the Federalist No. 45, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” In other words, faced with a conflict with the states, the federal government must rely on express, not presumed, authority, particularly in areas like public health and police powers. In such conflicts, courts return home to the 10th Amendment, which says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In other words, when federal push comes to state shove, the states are supposed to win.
If we reach a point in this crisis where a national vaccination program is on the table, an important authority is the Supreme Court’s decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), which upheld a state’s right to enforce such a program. The court held: “The safety and the health of the people of Massachusetts are, in the first instance, for that Commonwealth to guard and protect. They are matters that do not ordinarily concern the National Government. So far as they can be reached by any government, they depend, primarily, upon such action as the State in its wisdom may take, and we do not perceive that this legislation has invaded any right secured by the Federal Constitution.”
GOP strategist Rick Wilson sums up Mad Kind Donald’s Monday meltdown at the “Daily Trump Show” perfectly. Trump the Narcissistic Authoritarian Statist Declares He Has ‘Total’ Authority (excerpts):
If you watched President Donald Trump’s daily press briefing Monday, you know that even by his abysmal standards this was the loudest siren yet, a warning that the man occupying the Oval Office is more suited to a very long, involuntary stay in an inpatient mental-health facility than the presidency of the United States.
It wasn’t presidential leadership. It wasn’t executive power made manifest. It wasn’t a grown-ass adult facing a serious crisis. It was an angry, needy man not looking outward to the needs of a nation in crisis but inward, and downward.
Anyone – and I mean anyone – who tells you Monday’s presser was anything other than a complete meltdown shitshow on the top of the dumpster fire at the peak of Burning Tire Mountain is a liar.
It was a manic, gibbering, squint-eyed ragefest by America’s Worst President, a petty display by a failed man who long ago passed the limits of his competence and knowledge. It left little to cling to for even his most fervent lackeys but the grunting media animus that replaced conservatism as the motivating force of the Republican Party.
Trump just gave the nation a performance that was so manic, so furious, and so utterly unhinged that anyone watching it walked away thinking the 25th Amendment has been too long unexercised and the proof is behind the podium every damn day.
What you saw was the real Trump, unbound by facts, reason, logic, the law, or the Constitution, a petty bitch picking petty fights with reporters, a bard of his own songs of grievance and anger.
This is of course par for the course of what Trump really is. I’ve said it from the start. He’s not a conservative, he’s a narcissistic authoritarian statist, and Monday was a big fat QED for even the slow children in the class. Nothing about this man was ever conservative.
What Trump described Monday was a lot closer to monarchy than a representative democracy. We know this about the man: He fetishizes royalty, strongmen, dictators, kings, warlords, and others who don’t have to work within the bounds of a representative democracy or a republican form of government bound by a constitution and laws.
Burn this truth into your mind: The best-case scenario from Monday’s press conference is that Trump is out of his damn mind, wrong on the law, wrong on the Constitution, and wrong on the intent of the Founders as to the power of the chief executive. The best case will mean his insistence that he can ‘reopen the economy’ will be smothered by one crisis after the next, a victim of the pace of events and a staff that realizes he’s crazier than a sh*thouse rat.
I have been arguing for some time that the networks need to stop live coverage of the Coronavirus Task Force daily pressers that Trump has hijacked as an alternative outlet for his Nuremberg-style MAGA cult rallies. After Monday’s meltdown, the curtain needs to come down on the “Daily Trump Show.” End it now.
UPDATE: Tom Nichols at The Atlantic gets it exactly right. With Each Briefing, Trump Is Making Us Worse People (excerpts):
[I] do not mean that Trump is the most unstable person ever to occupy the Oval Office, although he is almost certain to win that honor as well. As Peter Wehner has eloquently put it, Trump has an utterly disordered personality. Psychiatrists can’t help but diagnose Trump, even if it’s in defiance of the old Goldwater Rule against such practices. I know mental-health professionals who agree with George Conway and others that Trump is a malignant narcissist.
What I mean instead is that Trump is a spiritual black hole. He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival.
Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this. He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system.
* * *
In his daily coronavirus briefings, Trump lumbers to the podium and pulls us into his world: detached from reality, unable to feel any emotions but anger and paranoia. Each time we watch, Trump’s spiritual poverty increases our own, because for the duration of these performances, we are forced to live in the same agitated, immediate state that envelops him. (This also happens during Trump’s soul-destroying rallies, but at least those are directed toward his fans, not an entire nation in peril.)
* * *
Each of these presidential therapy sessions corrodes us until the moment when the president finally shambles away in a fog of muttered slogans and paranoid sentence fragments. In a time of crisis, we should be finding what is best in ourselves. Trump, instead, invites us to join a daily ritual, to hear lines from a scared and mean little boy’s heroic play-acting about how he bravely defeated the enemies and scapegoats who told him to do things that would hurt us. He insists that he has never been wrong and that he isn’t responsible for anything ever.
Daily, Trump’s opponents are enraged by yet another assault on the truth and basic human decency. His followers are delighted by yet more vulgar attacks on the media and the Democrats. And all of us, angry or pleased, become more like Trump, because just like the president, we end up thinking about only Trump, instead of our families, our fellow citizens, our health-care workers, or the future of our country. We are all forced to take sides every day, and those two sides are always “Trump” and “everyone else.”
* * *
Likewise, Trump’s spiritual poverty is making all of us into worse people. We are all living with him in the moment and neglecting the thing that makes us human beings instead of mindless fish swimming in circles. We must recover this in ourselves, and become more decent, more reflective, and more stoic—before Trump sends us into a hole from which we might never emerge.