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While He Was Tweeting: Authoritarian Red Alert Edition, Week 42

With more looming indictments and a legistlation-free presidency, 45 is dialing up his unconstitutional rhetoric while the GOP continues it’s mission stealing from the poor. Here’s what you missed this week.
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Let’s get this out of the way: we live in the very worst timeline and we will be relitigating the 2016 Democratic primary election until we die. If we ever had a glimmer of hope that would stop, Donna Brazile crushed our spirits with an article in Politico that seemed to have explosive allegations about Hillary’s “takeover” of the DNC. Except then some even fairly cursory digging showed that Hillary hadn’t really taken over much of anything and Brazile’s shocking expose was about some fairly bog-standard (and already public) agreements between Clinton and the DNC. Then Elizabeth Warren got in on the act and clunkily declared that meant the 2016 primary was “rigged” and of course this is all that Trump needed to be able to say that “Pocahontas” agrees with him that Hillary rigged and stole the primaries.

Trump, of course, didn’t stop there. He called on the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate Hillary for, well, pretty much everything he and his cronies are already under investigation for, like money laundering. He even made clear that he may fire his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, if Sessions won’t go after Clinton and the Democrats more aggressively. 

Given that this week saw Paul Manafort get indicted for laundering piles of pro-Russia cash and former Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, it isn’t surprising that Trump is scrambling to deflect. That doesn’t mean the Democrats in general and Brazile in particular need to be stupid enough to give him assistance in that.

And make no mistake—Trump is going to need all the help he can get to shift attention away from him and his shady campaign. News broke just a couple hours ago that special prosecutor Robert Mueller has enough evidence to bring charges against Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Sounds like Flynn’s kid might be on the hook too. Oh, and Jared Kushner has turned over documents to Muelle while former Trump advisor Carter Page went in front of the House Intelligence Committee and said he told Sessions that he was traveling to Russia during the campaign.

At least we have the possibility of another Indictment Monday to look forward to, because there isn’t much else. It was another grueling week.

The House version of the proposed Republican tax cuts just passed the house, and it is exactly as awful as you think it would be. It has many of the awful things proposed in Trump’s tax plan, all of which are about giving to the rich and kicking the poor in the teeth, but as more details emerge you can get a sense of just how bad it is. For example: it proposes to roll back tuition waivers for graduate students. That might sound arcane, or even kind of minor, but it isn’t. Right now, when you go to do a Ph.D., you typically get a smallish stipend for teaching - maybe around $30,000. You also get your tuition waived. The former, currently, is considered income, but the latter is not. Under the proposed plan, tuition waivers would be income for purposes of your taxes. What does this mean? It means you would make $30,000, but you’d be taxed on an income of, say, $70,000—your stipend plus the cost of the waived tuition. This move will put graduate school out of the reach for so many students, especially those from non-traditional, minority, or impoverished backgrounds. The plan also kills the student loan deduction. It’s just another small reminder of how much the GOP deeply hates anyone who isn’t rich.

Trump continues to name only the worst people to his administration. The top job at DOJ’s civil rights division is still empty, but Trump tapped attorney Eric Dreiband to take the job. Dreiband’s civil rights work consists of defending companies when they are accused of discriminating against their employees and trying to decrease the authority of the EEOC. He’ll fit right in with this bunch.

To give Dreiband some credit, at least he’s actually worked in government before, having been at the EEOC during George W. Bush’s administration. That makes him a better fit for the job, theoretically, than the random Trump golf club members that are getting nods for other posts by virtue of the fact that they are rich people that know Trump.

Even the random golf club members are probably better than Trump’s pick for the chief scientist slot at the USDA, Sam Clovis. Sam Clovis is most definitely not a scientist. What he is is a former talk radio host who thinks teaching children about pacifism and environmentalism is wrong and that textbooks shouldn’t talk about same-sex marriage or evolution. See? Perfectly qualified! Clovis had to step down from the nomination this week, not because he is an anti-science layperson who has no business running the science wing of an agency, but because it became clear from the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos that Clovis had encouraged Papadopoulos to work on setting up off-the-books meetings with the Russians.

The private sector giveaway continues in full force over at the EPA. This week, Scott Pruitt announced that he’s going to replace everyone on the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council when their term expires, rather than having some members hold over for a second term. Wouldn’t want any continuity of scientific knowledge, apparently. Oh, and he’s only replacing them with people who have not received EPA research grants. Yes, he thinks the real conflict of interest is that scientists do occasionally need government grant money for their research. Pruitt is instead going to put in people that help run fossil fuel companies, chemical industry trade groups, and more. One guy thinks that the air is currently “too clean” because children need irritants in the air to help their lungs learn how to fight them. Another guy doesn’t think air pollution is all that big of a deal because we spend most of our time indoors.

A couple of weeks ago Jane Doe, an undocumented and unaccompanied minor in Texas, was finally able to get an abortion after weeks of court battles? Losing in court apparently so infuriates Trump’s DOJ that they are seeking to vacate the decision granting the abortion (which is, of course, moot since the abortion already occurred) and punish the ACLU attorneys who worked on behalf of Doe. The government filed a motion that essentially explains that even though Doe had already undergone the mandatory “counseling” required in Texas to obtain an abortion prior to winning her court battle, she should have been forced to have a second round of counseling (and another 24-hour delay) so the government could have another opportunity to file another motion to block her from exercising her right to choose. She didn’t have to undergo that second round because the doctor that counseled her the first time decided that sufficed and performed the procedure after the court granted Doe an unfettered right to get an abortion.

Of course, the theocrats that run the government now didn’t like that this matter was left up to a young woman and her doctor, and they really didn’t like that the court system didn’t rule in their favor. So now, even though the whole episode should be closed, the DOJ is flexing its muscles to make sure that public interest attorneys understand that if you prevail against the worst excesses of the Trump administration, the administration will actively come after you.

Remember how Chief of Staff John Kelly was going to be the grownup in the room, the moderating influence? This week, he moderatingly and influencingly explained that the Civil War happened because there was a lack of compromise on both sides. So rude of black people not to compromise with the white people who wanted to actually own them. Were they supposed to try for some sort of partial slavery? Slavery only on even days of the month? Come on. American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if, in light of this, the administration thought slavery was wrong, but Sanders left without answering.

Trump is overseas in Asia for the week, so his tweeting might be a little light, but it also means we have to all live in terror of what extremely dumb and catastrophic thing he might say. Just before Trump got to Japan, news broke that Trump has been speaking with Southeast Asian leaders and saying he thought Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over Japan earlier this year. Why? Because he can’t understand why a country of samurai warriors wouldn’t do so. Yes, actually that.

Just remember that this was the week we were almost free of Trump’s Twitter feed when a brave employee deactivated Trump’s account on their way out the door and it was down for 11 minutes. Not all heroes wear capes.

Lisa Needham is an attorney who has worked in the areas of First Amendment, education, and labor law. She is the deputy editor of Lawyerist, where she writes about access to justice and diversity in the law, and a contributor to Rewire, where she writes about LGBTQ and reproductive-health legal issues. She is ride or die for Dionne Warwick, Doris Day, and the Oxford comma. Follow her: @snipy
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