August 19, 2017
This might have been the most depressing and demoralizing week of the Trump presidency yet, and that’s saying something. It began with actual literal Nazis killing someone in Charlottesville, which is not a sentence anyone should have to type in 2017. It ended with yet another Trump administration exit—chief strategist and head nationalist ghoul Steve Bannon is out. Couldn't happen to a less nice guy. In between those two things, there was, of course, a whole lot of dreadful.
It's almost impossible to overstate how awful the incident in Charlottesville was. It feels like it plunges America into something much darker than we expected right now, even though all the signs that it was about to happen were right there. Rest in power, Heather Heyer.
Trump, of course, responded as poorly as possible. He first issued an utterly banal statement on Twitter, mentioning nothing about the attack itself. He needed to be urged to say anything substantial at all, waiting days later before giving a tepid speech that only mentioned Heyer in passing, and even then only after he bragged about how many jobs he’d created. After being called out for the delay in responding, he explained that he likes to wait for all the facts before weighing in.
Anyone that reads Trump’s Twitter feed knows that this is not true. Every terror attack—or false rumors of immigrant-fueled crime gripping, say, Sweden—spurs Trump to run his mouth about ISIS and Muslims. Witness how he condemned the attack in Barcelona—a terror attack conducted in exactly the same way as Charlottesville—almost immediately, because that plays to his vicious immigrant- and Muslim-hating base.
Trump returned to form by Tuesday, telling reporters they were fake news for daring to ask him to say more about Charlottesville, blaming both sides, and clearly siding with the alt-right:
"What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right,' do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump asked. "What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs, do they have any problem? I think they do."
Just in case this isn’t clear, that’s the president of the United States of America siding explicitly with neo-Nazis. We are truly living in the worst timeline.
The only tolerable thing that came out of Charlottesville was that it sparked a wave of activity across the country to get rid of Confederate monuments. In Durham, protesters toppled a statue and then lined up ala “I am Spartacus” to turn themselves in en masse to shield those who are going to be charged with felonies. Baltimore took down a bunch of Confederate statues overnight so that the alt-right couldn’t organize and disrupt the removal. Close to two dozen monuments, plaques, or statues have also been taken down in New York, Florida, Kentucky, and more. Trump, of course, weighed in on Twitter to call Confederate monuments “beautiful” and complain that they will never be replaced. They shouldn’t be.
There really wasn’t anything as terrible as Charlottesville this week, because nothing could have matched that, but there was plenty of awful to go around.
In its continuing quest to wipe out every advance of the Obama era, Trump’s DOJ, headed by a deeply anti-LGBTQ Jeff Sessions, has subtly indicated that it will reevaluate the rules on transgender prisoners that were enacted under Obama. Those rules currently let transgender inmates be housed in facilities that match their gender identity. While a DOJ filing in a recent lawsuit didn’t come right out and say the Department was going to overturn those rules, they also didn’t defend the rules when the chance arose, which doesn’t look good.
The DOJ has also issued a deeply chilling search warrant for the IP addresses of 1.3 million users who visited disruptj20.org, a website people visited to organize protests of the Trump inauguration. The warrant also seeks additional contact information—and even photographs—of thousands of those 1.3 million people. Dreamhost, the company that hosted the website, is fighting the request, thankfully, but even the demand is terrifying: Trump wants personal information about literally everyone that visited a website set up to organize protests against him. It’s tempting to say it is unbelievable, but it's 2017 and nothing is unbelievable anymore.
There was definitely enough depressing news this week that you might have missed this nugget: the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Arkansas can block all Medicaid payments from going to Planned Parenthood, even though those Medicaid payments don’t go towards funding abortions. It’s yet another successful attack on reproductive rights, and we’re sure to see more and more of them as this administration wears on.
Trump and Trump-affiliated types continue to relentlessly allege that voter fraud is widespread, even though literally every study possible shows that is not the case. Some of Trump’s former campaign aides have started a group called Look Ahead America that is going to engage in get-out-the-vote efforts to bolster Trump’s base of disaffected white rural people while simultaneously deploying aggressive poll-watching techniques to suppress the entirely nonexistent illegal voter problem. We’re all holding out hopes for the 2018 midterm elections to reverse the GOP/Trump tide, but that won’t be the case when votes are suppressed.
Although Trump ran on a platform of how he was going to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs, unsurprisingly, he’s done nothing. In fact, 34,000 jobs remain vacant (and the administration has only posted hiring requests for 4,400 of those) and he hasn’t nominated undersecretaries to be in charge of things like health, benefits, and memorial affairs. This means huge delays in veterans getting necessary health care, being able to appeal denials of benefits, and more.
The Trump administration also continues to work hard at ensuring that the Earth will be an environmental wasteland as soon as possible. This week, they reversed a ban on the sale of bottled water in national state parks. The voluntary ban had been in effect for about 6 years, and although not all parks opted in, the ones that did saw significant reductions in their waste streams. Why get rid of the ban? Well, because we have a newly-confirmed deputy interior secretary, David Bernhardt, a lawyer who recently represented...you guessed it, a bottled-water producer.
A couple weeks ago, racist nightmare Sheriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court. You will not be surprised to learn that, since then, Trump has praised him as “great American patriot” and is considering a pardon for him. Well, Trump should probably get in the habit of learning how to issue pardons, as he’s probably going to need to pardon several of his merry band of hateful grifters down the line.
A tiny bit of good news this week came out of a federal court in Texas, which ruled that when the Texas GOP drew new congressional districts in 2013, they did so with the intent to discriminate against minority voters and dilute their voting power. The downside, however, is that this is sure to end up at a Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the man who worked his whole life to gut the Voting Rights Act and succeeded, in large part, back in 2013.
Steve Bannon’s departure might seem like it was good news, but it really doesn’t move the needle at all. Racists like Seb Gorka and Stephen Miller still run the White House and set policy, Jeff Sessions still has the power to prosecute anyone he wants, Betsy DeVos still has the ability to dismantle public schools, and Scott Pruitt is waging a war on the environment. All Bannon’s departure gives us was a few moments of levity, including him explaining that he intended to leave all along. He’s returned to Breitbart to “wage war” from there. It isn’t really clear if he’ll wage war on Trump, Trump’s so-called enemies, or both. If it’s the former, at least we have the joy of watching two bloodthirsty snakes turn their attention towards fighting each other for a while rather than destroying the country. Let’s cling to that feeble hope until next week.