Thursday Reads: Trump’s Ugly American Tour and Kavanaugh’s #MeToo ProblemPosted: July 12, 2018
As expected, Trump made a complete fool of himself at the NATO meeting, embarrassing his aides, attacking our allies, lying repeatedly, and generally throwing his weight around in a sustained tantrum. Then at a ridiculous impromptu press conference he once again referred to himself as “a very stable genius.”
BRUSSELS — President Trump reaffirmed U.S. support for NATO on Thursday, after he upended a summit here to admonish leaders and demand that they quickly increase their defense spending.
Trump’s ambush jolted the transatlantic alliance, and some diplomats perceived his comments as threatening a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. But Trump later declared in a news conference, “I believe in NATO,” and, as he prepared to depart Brussels, he reiterated that the United States is committed to its Western allies.
“I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they did not up their commitments very substantially,” Trump told reporters after the meeting. “Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment. They are going to up it at levels never thought of before.”
NATO member nations committed in 2014 to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024. It was not immediately clear what specific new commitments had been made. Trump said that leaders responded to his demands by agreeing to reach that goal soon.
“It was not immediately clear” because Trump was lying as usual.
Trump’s focus on defense spending rocked the NATO summit on its final day. He used a morning meeting to discuss Georgia and Ukraine, two countries with tense relations with Russia to trumpet his spending concerns and rail against European countries, including Germany and Spain, for failing to contribute more to their defenses and for relying too heavily on the largesse of the United States. The moment sent “everyone into a tailspin,” according to one diplomat briefed on the morning’s events. Trump came armed with facts and figures, and it appeared to be a well-planned attack.
In the closed-door session, Trump told his counterparts that if they did not meet their defense spending targets of 2 percent of gross domestic product by January, the United States would go it alone, according to two officials briefed on the meeting. The officials said Trump threatened to “do his own thing.” [….]
Another official who was in the room said that Trump read out the spending figures for every single NATO nation, sometimes telling leaders: “My friend, you’re so nice to me. I’m sorry you’re spending so little.”
Trump then held an impromptu news conference, where he was asked whether he could withdraw the United States from NATO without congressional approval. The president replied, “I think I probably can, but that’s unnecessary.” He added: “The people have stepped up today” as they never have before. “Everyone in the room thanked me. There was a great collegial spirit in that room. . . . Very unified, very strong. No problem.”
At a breakfast meeting yesterday, Trump embarrassed his aides with a diatribe against Germany. USA Today: Power breakfast: How Trump lambasted Germany over eggs and fruit salad.
BRUSSELS – President Donald Trump aired his grievances against one of America’s closest and most powerful allies on Wednesday, deepening the growing rifts on the North Atlantic alliance and setting a contentious tone for a summit of NATO leaders who have pledged to defend each other in the event of an attack from Russia….
“Good morning to the media – the legitimate media and the fake-news media,” Trump began. With cameras whirring in unison, a reporter asked Trump which countries he thought should be paying more for the collective defense of NATO.
“Just look at the chart. Take a look at the chart. It’s public. And many countries are not paying what they should,” Trump said. “So something has to be done, and the Secretary General has been working on it very hard.” [….]
Soon, Trump was no longer addressing the media but looking directly at Stoltenberg, using him as a stand-in for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He complained about a gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany that the German government approved.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline,” Trump complained.
You’ve probably seen the video of the breakfast tantrum by now. If not, you can watch it at the Washington Post: When Trump attacked Germany in Brussels, his aides pursed their lips and glanced away.
Trump begins by citing German imports of Russian gas as evidence that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg remains stoic as Trump lays out his complaint, but U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly look uncomfortable. Hutchison appears to avert her gaze from her NATO colleagues sitting across from her, while Kelly looks down, then shifts his body and glances away, lips pursed tightly.
Of course, it’s impossible to say exactly what was going through the minds of Trump’s aides.
In a statement to The Post, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “[Kelly] was displeased because he was expecting a full breakfast and there were only pastries and cheese.”
Except, according to the USA Today article, they had eggs and fruit salad for breakfast. Good old Sarah Sanders, pathologically lying again.
Patrick Stewart, an associate professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, said Kelly’s facial reaction at that moment can be described as a combination of a “chin-raiser” and a “lip-corner dimpler,” both of which are associated with annoyance. “He’s expressing with his lower face that he’s displeased, maybe irritated,” said Stewart, who is certified in the Facial Action Coding System used by experts to break down human facial movement. “It’s not really hardcore anger.”
Mary Civiello, an executive communications coach with 15 years of experience studying body language, agreed. She noted that Kelly rarely looked directly at Trump, suggesting that he is “not completely synced up” with what the president is saying.
Typically, when people are “involved in a persuasive effort together,” those in nonspeaking roles will gaze at the person who is talking, occasionally nod to reinforce what they are saying and then look at those on the opposite side of the table to convey a sense of unity, Civiello said. In contrast, she said, Kelly looks away from the table and at the ceiling but rarely at Trump or at the NATO representatives across from him.
“Kelly looks like he wants to be anywhere but where he is,” Civiello said.
Read more body language analysis at the the WaPo. In summary, the entire Trump performance was a complete clusterfuck.
Now Trump is off to the UK to embarrass us further. I hope he’ll see at least some of the demonstrations against his visit. There is currently an effort to fly the Trump baby balloon over one of his golf courses in Scotland while he’s there.
A petition has been started calling for a giant inflatable of Donald Trump as an angry baby to be flown over the Scottish golf course where the U.S president is expected to play Saturday.
The inflatable — which portrays Trump as a baby with a diaper, combover and smartphone — has already been given permission to fly near the parliament in London during Trump’s visit on Friday, after a petition called “Let Trump Baby Fly” garnered over 10,000 signatures….
More than 6,100 people had signed the petition for the balloon to be flown in Scotland as of Thursday lunchtime. It calls on the acting head of Police Scotland, Iain Livingstone, to authorise the flying of the six-metre high balloon near the Turnberry golfing resort on the west coast of Scotland, which is owned by Trump and where he is anticipated to spend the private leg of his British trip.
The other big story is Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. I want to highlight a story about his that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention so far.
Karoli Kuns at Crooks and Liars: Brett Kavanaugh May Have A Jim Jordan Problem.
Reach back into your memory to December, 2017, when 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski abruptly “retired” amid a cascade of accusations about how he harassed his clerks and others.
Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski, and then served alongside him to screen clerks for Anthony Kennedy.
Heidi Bond, a former clerk of Kozinski’s and now a romance novelist writing as Courtney Milan, wrote a wrenching first-person account of what it was like to work with him. In her account, she describes Kozinski pulling up pornographic photos and asking her opinion of them. But worse — far worse — than that was his constant abuse of power and bullying.
As an example, one day, my judge found out I had been reading romance novels over my dinner break. He called me (he was in San Francisco for hearings; I had stayed in the office in Pasadena) when one of my co-clerks idly mentioned it to him as an amusing aside. Romance novels, he said, were a terrible addiction, like drugs, and something like porn for women, and he didn’t want me to read them any more. He told me he wanted me to promise to never read them again.
“But it’s on my dinner break,” I protested.
He laid down the law—I was not to read them anymore. “I control what you read,” he said, “what you write, when you eat. You don’t sleep if I say so. You don’t shit unless I say so. Do you understand?”
There was nothing to say but this: “Yes, Judge.”
This sort of diatribe was a regular occurrence. The judge had incredibly high standards, and when we failed to meet them, we were raked over the coals. I do not think a week passed without at least one such outburst; during bad times, they were a daily occurrence.
Kozinski’s despicable treatment of women was an open secret according to Alexandra Brodsky. “In law school, everyone knew, and women didn’t apply to clerk for Judge Kosinski despite his prestige and connections to the Supreme Court,” she wrote on Twitter. That meant more openings for men — openings that would lead to a clerkship on the Supreme Court for the rest of them.
Kavanaugh had to know about Kosinki’s behavior. So far the story has only appeared in one major outlet, McClatchy: Opponents of Brett Kavanaugh hope a MeToo link will derail Trump’s high court pick. There’s also a piece at Above the Law: Did Brett Kavanaugh Know About Alex Kozinski? Will anybody ASK him?
Another good read on Kavanaugh by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: Brett Kavanaugh Was a Mistake.
Over what I believe to be a surprisingly authentic warning from Mitch McConnell not to select Kavanaugh or Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat left by Anthony Kennedy, the president chose the guy who had the most to say about imperial presidents. This is not a surprise. Beyond the fact that Kennedy doubtless approved of Trump’s selection—Kavanaugh, like Gorsuch, clerked for Kennedy—the single greatest selling point for Kavanaugh had to have been the much-reported line from his 2009 Minnesota Law Review article, in which he wrote, “Even in the absence of congressionally conferred immunity, a serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a President can be criminally indicted and tried while in office.” A President Trump seeking justification to immunize himself from prosecution needed to look no farther than Kavanaugh’s caution in that same article that the indictment and trial of a president “would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arenas.” [….]
But the problem for Trump is that Kavanaugh has been extraordinarily transparent—perhaps too transparent—about his affinity for broad constructions of executive power. Nevertheless, the president—whose administration is currently the subject of a wide-ranging criminal investigation—somehow chose the judge who’s most likely to endorse the Trumpian view that this is all a massive witch hunt, this despite the gamble that Kavanaugh’s selection makes him look guilty. Pro tip: It makes him look guilty.
To be sure, as Jed Shugerman notes, Kavanaugh’s law-review article doesn’t promise presidential immunity so much as suggest that Congress can and should confer such immunity. Nevertheless, Kavanaugh’s lengthy and complicated record with respect to presidential investigations (ranging from his work on Vince Foster’s suicide to his zealous pursuit of Bill Clinton in the Whitewater probe) will require the review of a massive trove of documents from his time at the White House and working for Ken Starr, an endeavor that will consume huge amounts of time. And Kavanaugh’s record will include emails on so many questions connected to the Mueller probe—including issues that Trump himself has raised such as the nature of presidential obstruction and presidential immunity—that a deep dive into that record will ensure (as if it needed ensuring) that the Mueller probe stays in the headlines in the runup to the midterm elections.
Read the rest at Slate. It’s very interesting.
So . . . What stories are you following today?