Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (May 26-June 2)

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FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY

Growing distrust and disillusionment among US allies leads foreign officials to decline assistance from the US Intelligence Community and openly mock President Trump.

 

Germany Doesn’t Trust the Trump Administration to Help Safeguard Its Elections

German officials have told the US Intelligence Community that they do not need help with monitoring or safeguarding their elections in the fall, NBC News reported on Tuesday. According to a senior U.S. intelligence official, Germany doesn’t want “any hint of U.S. involvement in any way.” The official told NBC that Germany doesn’t trust the Trump administration — especially in the context of elections.

 

Responsive Norm: Nordic Prime Ministers Mock the Orb Photo from Trump’s Trip

 

Responsive Norm: Obama Challenges Trump’s Withdrawal from Paris Agreement

President Trump has announced that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate agreement struck in 2015. In a rare political intervention, Barack Obama released a statement on the decision, saying he was confident that in the “absence of American leadership” on climate change, states, cities and businesses would “step up” and take the lead. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also putting hope in state governments, expressing disappointment with “the United States federal government” and promising to continue to work with the US “on the state level.

 

Responsive Norm: Merkel Says Germany Can No Longer “Fully Count on Others”

Europe must “really take our fate into our own hands”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared. Speaking at a campaign rally after three days of meetings involving President Donald Trump, Merkel said that “the times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.” Merkel’s comments signal a shift in the transatlantic relations that have persisted since WWII.

 

TRUMP-RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

The Trump team continues to give the impression that it has “less trust in the American government than in a foreign adversary that undermined our election”: Kushner sought to hide communications with Russia from US surveillance, and Trump accuses former intelligence chiefs of making false statements under oath.

 

Kushner Discussed Hiding Trump-Russia Communications from U.S. Government with Secret Communications Channel

Last Friday, the Washington Post reported that Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. “discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.” Over the weekend, the administration argued that such “back-channel” communications are “normal” and “acceptable,” but numerous former government officials and foreign policy experts maintained that such a move would be inappropriate and “extremely dangerous.” Jon Finer, a senior State Department official in the Obama administration, stated that Kushner’s back-channel plan shows “that the Trump team had less trust in the American government than in a foreign adversary that undermined our election.”

 

Trump Accuses Former FBI and CIA Directors of Giving False Testimony to Congress

 

Nunes Intervenes in Russia Probe in “Violation” of His Recusal

On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes issued three subpoenas — without getting permission from House Democrats — in his own probe of the “unmasking” of Trump campaign advisers whose communications were inadvertently collected through foreign surveillance. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee stated that Nunes’s actions were a “violation” of the terms of his recusal from the Trump-Russia investigation.

 

WHITE HOUSE

A series of exaggerations and hard-to-believe statements from the Trump administration prompt comparisons to a dictatorship. The Republican Party describes the “bureaucracy” as “sabotaging” the president and the people, echoing the Trump campaign’s statement that “we are under attack … from within.”

 

Exaggerations by Trump Staffers Invite Comparison to North Korean Propaganda

On Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s overflowing praise for President Trump led many commentators to compare it to “North Korean propaganda promoting the Dear Leader.” “Trump’s aides often exaggerate on his behalf … but Tuesday’s monologue seemed to venture into new territory for even the Trump administration,” wrote the Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson.  A few days prior to Spicers “paean,” a senior administration official “implored” reporters to praise President Trump, in a statement that invited comparisons to a dictatorship.

 

Spicer Denies “Covfefe” was a Typo

At a White House press conference on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued that Trump’s tweet — “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” — contained a hidden meaning known only to the president and a “small group of people.” Spicer’s defense of the tweet, which was almost certainly a typo, was perceived by some as eerily authoritarian, upholding a view of Trump as a leader who is above making even the most trivial mistakes.

 

Responsive Norm: A Growing Number of Municipalities Passed Resolutions Calling for Trump’s Impeachment

On Thursday, Brookline, Massachusetts became the 10th local government to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Trump. The goal behind the resolutions, which have no formal control over impeachment, is to convince Congress to initiate the impeachment process.

 

Elected Republicans Acting as if Pence is President, says New York Times Reporter

 

Trump’s Private Cell Phone Use Raises Security Concerns

According to the Associated Press, Donald Trump has been giving his cell phone number to world leaders and asking them to call him directly. This “notable breach of diplomatic protocol” leaves his calls vulnerable to surveillance from foreign governments, national security experts say.

 

Trump Campaign: We Are “Under Attack from Within”

 

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s campaign website read that “we are under attack from all sides — and even from within.” Earlier that day, the RNC used strikingly similar language in a fundraising email, which described the “bureaucracy” as “sabotaging” the president and the people.

 

 

CORRUPTION AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

President Trump’s sons, who currently run his business, met with top GOP leaders to discuss the party’s “strategy and resources.” Trump has now given as many ethics waivers to White House staff as Obama gave in eight years. Men disappear after investigating working conditions at a factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes.

 

Trump Organization CEOs Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. Strategize with GOP

Trump’s eldest sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. met privately with GOP leaders at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters in Washington on Thursday. The meeting “irked” at least two prominent Republicans, who “wondered whether it was appropriate for the president’s sons, who run the Trump family real estate business, to be highly involved in discussing the party’s strategy and resources.”

 

Kushner Family Courts Chinese Business with Jared’s Name

“Work hand-in-hand with Trump son-in-law Kushner”, said a pitch to Chinese investors for an apartment project being developed by a company owned by Jared Kushner’s uncle Murray. The company has received a cease and desist letter from Kushner Cos., the company Jared formerly ran with his father Charles.

 

Man Investigating Working Conditions at Chinese Factory Which Produces Ivanka Trump Shoes Arrested, While Two Others Missing

US-based nonprofit China Labor Watch says a man investigating working conditions at a factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes has been arrested and another two have gone missing.

 

Fourteen Ethics Waivers Granted to White House Staffers

The White House has published fourteen ethics waivers granted to its staff. Among the exemptions, one allows a former oil and gas lobbyist to work on energy policy and another permits a former employee of a financial company specializing in retirement services to work on retirement policy.

“Trump, in the first four months of his administration, has given as many ethics waivers to White House staff as Obama gave in eight years.”

Some of the waivers are undated, raising questions about whether they are impermissibly retroactive. The undated waivers include one which would allow chief strategist Steve Bannon to communicate with the editors of Breitbart, of which he was an executive.

 

New York Hotelier Joins Emoluments Clause Lawsuit

The group suing President Trump under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause has roped in a new plaintiff, New York entrepreneur and hotel owner Eric Goode. The addition strengthens the group’s claim to have standing to sue, as Goode can argue he has lost revenue to competitors partly owned by Trump, which are attracting the business of foreign dignitaries.

 

THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE

Amid a climate of extreme hostility towards the media, Texas Governor Greg Abbott jokes about shooting journalists. Violent rhetoric in public discourse thrives across the political spectrum as a Texan Republican state representative threatened to “put a bullet” in a colleague on the House floor, and comedian Kathy Griffin conducts a gory photoshoot featuring a prop of Trump’s severed head.

 

Texas Governor Jokes About Shooting Journalists

At an Austin gun range last Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott held up his target filled with bullet holes and joked about shooting journalists. “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters,” he stated. The comments drew sharp criticism from groups including Reporters Without Borders, which linked the statement to a broader trend of extreme hostility to the press.

 

Trump Didn’t Do a Press Conference During his Foreign Trip

According to National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, the reason that Trump did not hold a press conference during his trip abroad is because he “worked non-stop.” ABC News’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl noted that previous presidents held press conferences on foreign trips in the past, despite extremely busy schedules.

 

Texas Republican Reported Immigration Protesters to ICE, Threatened to “Put a Bullet” in Colleague on House Floor

On Monday, Texas state representative Matt Rinaldi “threatened to put a bullet in one of his colleague’s heads,” during a confrontation over a new state law that seeks to increase the role of local police in enforcing immigration law. Later, Rinaldi admitted on Facebook that he called immigration agents “on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said ‘I am illegal and here to stay.’”

 

Trump Blocks a New Yorker Writer on Twitter

According to Bess Kalb, a comedy writer for the New Yorker and Jimmy Kimmel Live, President Trump blocked her on Twitter after she launched a series of jabs at the President. Some attorneys have argued that Trump’s repeated attempts to block his critics on Twitter may run afoul of the First Amendment, since he uses the platform as a government communication tool in his capacity as president.

 

Responsive Norm: Members of the White House Press Corps Boo Sean Spicer

After White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer abruptly ended a briefing on Tuesday, members of the press corps booed loudly in protest.

 

Responsive Norm: Kathy Griffin Does Photoshoot with Bloody Trump Mask

In a move that drew major backlash from conservatives and liberals alike, comedian Kathy Griffin did a photoshoot with a prop of President Trump’s bloody decapitated head. When the gory photos became public on Tuesday, she issued a public apology, but it wasn’t enough for CNN, which terminated its contract with her to appear on the network’s New Year’s Eve broadcast. Trump reacted to the photos by saying that his kids, including his 11-year-old son Barron, are “having a hard time” with it; and Breitbart published 18 stories on the photoshoot.  

About the Author(s)

Jay Shooster

Former Associate Editor and Masiyiwa-Bernstein Fellow at Just Security Follow him on Twitter (@JayShooster).