Tens of thousands of scientists marched on Saturday in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and around the world. The purpose of the event, which was billed as "political but non-partisan," was to draw attention to the importance of scientific research, and to the potentially harmful decisions that the Trump administration has made in regards to the environment, climate change, and research funding. Marchers carried all manner of clever signs, with messages like, "Got the plague? Me neither—Thanks science!" and "Rising Seas? Adios Mar-a-Lago," and "Einstein was a refugee."
Donald Trump got firsthand exposure to the protesters while he was traveling to Walter Reed hospital to visit with wounded veterans. He was clearly affected by what he saw, because later in the day the White House issued a statement in which Trump declared, "My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks." That would seem to be a change from one month ago, when Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was asked about proposed cuts to the EPA and to research into global warming and said, "We're not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that."
Trump also used Twitter late in the day to announce:
I am committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection. Jobs matter!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2017
This is a rather novel theory; perhaps the President should examine exactly how much economic growth has "enhanced" environmental protection in China. Needless to say, the scientists who marched on Saturday—educated people as they are—are not likely to be assuaged with a press release and a tweet, particularly when those things don't stand up to the barest of scrutiny. (Z)
It's hard to know what the White House pays attention to (well, outside of Fox News). However, they should be paying very close attention to a pair of reports that have come out in the last week or so about developments in the retail sector. The first, from the Department of Commerce, reveals that in the first two months of Donald Trump's presidency, Americans significantly curtailed their shopping—giving retailers their worst months since early 2015. The second, which follows on the heels of announcements from Bebe, Staples, JCPenney and other retailers that they are closing some (or, in Bebe's case, all) of their stores, comes from Credit Suisse. It projects that more than 8,600 brick and mortar retail stores will close their doors in 2017. By way of comparison, 2,056 stores closed down in 2016, and 6,163 closed in 2008, the worst year on record.
There are two ways to interpret this information, it would seem, and they are not mutually exclusive. The first possibility is that the United States is headed for a recession. The country is already in the midst of one of the longest periods of economic growth in its history, is 16 months away from equaling the longest non-dot-com period of growth (1961-69), and is 30 months away from equaling the dot-com boom (1991-2001). The odds are very good that a downturn is coming, and depending on when it happens, it could affect the 2018 midterms, the 2020 presidential election, or both. Trump is a man elected by the barest of victory margins, and by many people who are barely hanging on, financially. A recession is never a good thing for a president (see Bush, George H.W.), and for Trump it would be disastrous.
The second possibility is that the U.S. economy is in a period of transition, from brick and mortar sales to online sales. Such transitions always come with a fair amount of economic stress, as was the case when the U.S. shifted from an agricultural to an industrial economy, or from an industrial to a service economy. In those cases, the president can do little but shepherd the change as best as is possible. The problem for Trump is that he has never given the slightest indication that he grasps this kind of transition, or knows what he can do to facilitate it. All of his rhetoric on these issues—whether it's about coal mining or manufacturing jobs or trade or whatever—looks toward the re-creation of the American economy of the 1950s, and not the innovation of the American economy of the 2020s.
In many ways, the situation that Trump seems headed for parallels that of another businessman-turned-president, namely Herbert Hoover. There were times in American history where all that was needed was a "caretaker" president, and Hoover (along with, perhaps, Trump) would have been well suited to those times. However, Hoover was a terrible match for the needs of late 1920s America, and so was a disaster—often ranked as one of the four or five worst presidents. That's not to say that the U.S. is headed for another Great Depression, merely that Trump may well prove to be another president who is not a good match for the economy of his era. (Z)
Trying to figure out how Donald Trump won the 2016 election has become something of a cottage industry in academia, and presumably will continue to be so for many moons. One of the very best projects is the American National Election Study (ANES), which has been conducted for every election since 1948 by the University of Michigan (with Stanford joining the team in 2005). The ANES for 2016 was released last week, and their data suggest that the key to Trump's victory was racism (followed by poverty).
The ANES is, first and foremost, a data archive—not unlike the census. Ergo, the average reader would have to spend much time poring through their site to reach any useful conclusions. Fortunately, the Washington Post's Thomas Wood has already done the data crunching. He looked at three narratives that have been put forward to explain Trump's victory: that he was powered by poor voters, that he was authoritarian, and that he attracted the support of racists.
Authoritarianism, in political science parlance, means something like "resistance to change." Trump, of course, promised to "Make America Great Again," and suggested—sometimes implicitly, sometimes directly—that his goal was to return to the 1950s or the 1920s. The thing is, this basic promise has been a fundamental part of Republican politics for a very long time. That, after all, is why they are called "conservatives." And the data suggest that Trump voters were actually a bit less authoritarian than those who supported other recent Republican candidates, namely Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and George W. Bush.
The data are considerably more supportive, however, when it comes to the economic argument. Wood charted the vote by economic stratum for each year since 1948, limiting himself to white voters. Trump joins Richard Nixon in 1960 as the only GOP presidential candidate to outperform his overall numbers with the poorest 20% of voters. And Trump stands alone in terms of his poor performance with voters in the 60th-80th percentiles and, particularly, the 80th-100th percentiles. It is very clear that he rallied the poor voters at the expense of the wealthy voters.
When it comes to the racism thesis, however, the data are truly striking. Again looking solely at white voters, Wood charted the responses to "symbolic racism" questions (essentially, questions that indirectly reveal racist attitudes). Since the 1980s, which is as far back as Wood went, there has never been a wider gap between white Democratic voters who embraced symbolic racism and white Republicans who did so. Interestingly, the number of Republicans who expressed racist attitudes has stayed fairly steady; the large gap was created by a significant decline in the number of Democrats who did so in 2016. Since some number of older (and, on average, more racist) GOP voters died off in the past 4 years, someone must have stepped in to fill the void and to keep the numbers steady. This implies that Trump peeled off some significant number of Democratic voters who responded to his racially-tinged messaging.
Presumably, someone in the White House is keeping track of these sorts of studies, and reporting to the administration. Exactly what useful lessons they can glean from the ANES is unclear, though we might expect to see a renewed emphasis on Muslim travel bans and border walls. (Z)
On Friday morning, Vivek Murthy was Surgeon General of the United States, having served in that capacity for over two years. By Friday evening, he was not, having been ordered to resign by the Trump administration. This was not unexpected, given Trump's desire to get rid of as many Obama appointees as he can. The only odd part is that a new surgeon general has not been appointed yet, and none appears to be in the pipeline.
So, why was Murthy cashiered so quickly and unexpectedly? The White House declined to comment, but he is another official (like Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who was reassigned on Thursday) who is very unpopular with right-wing media. The opposition fromt he right is due, in particular, to his support for Obamacare, and his view that gun control is a public health issues. He will be replaced, on an acting basis, by Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams until a permanent replacement is chosen (or until she is fired too). (Z)
From the Republican convention in July through Thursday of this week, Donald Trump was very enamored of the notion that the first 100 days of a presidency was a special and distinctive time. Then, on Friday, he wasn't, blasting the 100 days as a "ridiculous standard." On Saturday, though, the love for the 100 days was back on, as Trump announced he is holding a special rally in Pennsylvania to commemorate the occasion of his 100th day in office.
If ever one needed proof of The Donald's mercurial nature, here it is. Meanwhile, like so much about his administration, the rallies are raising eyebrows. The fact that he's already running for reelection is certainly unusual, but the real concern is that the rallies are organized by his campaign committee and not by government officials. This leads to the blurring of all sorts of rules about who can appear the events, who can pay for them, and whether or not merchandise can be sold. Regardless of how questionable the practice may be, however, we probably should not be expecting a DoJ investigation anytime soon. (Z)
Anti-Trump Democrats hoped to deliver a clean rebuke of Donald Trump with the congressional election in KS-04, and they didn't get it. Then they hoped to do the same in GA-06, and they didn't get it (at least, not yet). Now, the blue team's eyes are turning to MT-01, where Democrat Rob Quist and Republican Greg Gianforte are battling to succeed now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Working in Quist's favor are that he's a native Montanan who is very folksy—he plays banjo, writes and performs country songs, and always wears a cowboy hat and blue jeans. He's also managed to raise $2 million in the last six weeks, which is quite a fortune in Big Sky country. His biggest weakness is that he has a long history of financial troubles—defaults on credit cards, unpaid taxes, etc., though he blames those on excessive medical bills.
Working in Gianforte's favor is the fact that Montana, while it does sometimes elect Democrats to office (including Sen. Jon Tester), is quite red. Also, the GOP does not want him to lose, so various party committees have ponied up about $1.6 million. Gianforte is himself quite wealthy, and can supplement that as needed. His biggest weakness is that, while he moved to Montana 20 years age, he is from New Jersey, and is seen by many Montanans as a city slicker or a carpetbagger or both.
Some heavy-hitter Democrats will head to Montana to campaign on behalf of Quist, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Thus far, Donald Trump—who won the state by 20 points—has not committed to getting involved; if precedent holds, he will weigh in with some robocalls and some tweets as the election draws near. The polls will open on May 25; we haven't had much polling of the race so far, but presumably we'll get some before then. (Z)
Donald Trump is only the second president to be divorced (after Ronald Reagan), and if a new profile from Vanity Fair is to be believed, he could also become the first to get a divorce while in office. The lengthy profile focuses on Melania Trump, and how unhappy she seems to be with her current situation.
Now, it should be noted that the Trumps were not interviewed for the story, nor were any members of their inner circle. So, the article relies on people at the edges of the Trumps' orbits, coupled with outsider observations and a bit of speculation. The author, Evgenia Peretz, attempts to make two central points. The first is that Melania is essentially a trophy wife, and has been distant from her husband for a while, a divide that widened after pu**ygate. The second is that she has absolutely no interest in being First Lady: She doesn't like scrutiny, doesn't like public speaking, isn't passionate about any causes, and doesn't like Washington.
Taking these two points together, Peretz suggests the Trumps' marriage could end, and sooner rather than later. That's possible, but very, very unlikely. Even if the Trumps have a terrible marriage—which, again, is far from proven—it would hardly be a first for the White House. The Hardings, Kennedys, Franklin D. Roosevelts, and Lyndon B. Johnsons all had marriages that were, to varying degrees, dysfunctional, but in all cases they put on a good public face (and, not coincidentally, in all cases the president carried on one or more adulterous affairs). Regardless of what happens, a sense of duty will presumably keep the Trumps' marriage intact, at least publicly, though it will be interesting to see when (or if) Melania decamps to Washington. Or if Donald gets caught up in his own version of Lewinskygate (someone should really trademark "Viagragate," just in case). (Z)