The President of the United States does not like to read. Back in July, Donald Trump told the Washington Post he didn’t have time to read books. “I never have,” he said. “I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” According to that story, he mostly reads newspaper and magazine articles about himself. It’s hard to grudge him that, since if I were president I would probably either resolve to read absolutely no such coverage or wind up poring over it all the time. But it also seems like Trump is watching a lot of television. Two weeks ago, Maggie Haberman reported that the president gets up at 6am and watches TV until his first meeting at nine. In an alternately fascinating and terrifying behind-the-scenes story this weekend, she and Glenn Thrush found him retiring to the residence around 6:30 each evening to watch TV, tweet, and talk on the phone. If he goes to sleep at 10pm, that’s another three hours of television every night. I sympathize with his complaint that he is too busy for books, but the president appears to be spending 30 hours a week in front of the TV. Even if he only read ten pages an hour, he could use that time to knock off a novel, or at least something by Malcolm Gladwell.
Now that Donald Trump has issued an executive order banning refugees and visitors from seven Muslim countries, we might take a moment to get to know the man who wrote it, Stephen Miller. Miller is a 31 year-old former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions who spent the last year warming up crowds for Trump on the campaign trail. In that capacity, he posited a vast left-wing conspiracy that centered on his candidate. For example:
That’s what this all comes down to: Everybody who stands against Donald Trump are the people who have been running the country into the ground, who have been controlling the levers of power. They’re the people who are responsible for our open borders, for our shrinking middle class, for our terrible trade deals. Everything that is wrong with this country today, the people who are opposed to Donald Trump are responsible for!
That’s from Julia Ioffe’s fascinating profile of Miller in Politico, which ran in June and advances the notion that he built his career on such accusations. As a student at Santa Monica High School after 9/11, he complained that students were not saying the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis. When administrators failed to accede to his demands, he called into conservative talk radio host Larry Elder to complain that they were anti-American. As a college student, he invited the ultra-conservative David Horowitz to speak at Duke, then claimed Horowitz had been banned by the university even though he hadn’t. In introducing the speaker, Miller read a list of university departments that had declined to contribute funding to the event. He seems to be working toward a pure politics: one animated not by particular issues but by a totalizing sense of conflict with the other side.
On Friday, Donald Trump issued an executive order that blocks refugees from entering the United States for the next 120 days, refuses refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars visitors of any kind from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Department of Homeland Security initially said the travel ban would apply even to legal permanent residents—so-called “green card” holders—from those countries, but it has since announced exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Maybe that had something to do with the lawsuits. The New York Times reports that multiple federal courts have enjoined customs and immigration officials from enforcing the ban, but they seem to be doing it anyway—paving the way for a constitutional crisis between the executive and judicial branches. It’s almost as if Trump and his team didn’t fully grasp the process by which such policies are made. Or maybe they just don’t like it. Another Times report on how the travel ban came about gives us this amazing anecdote:
Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, had dialed in from a Coast Guard plane as he headed back to Washington from Miami. Along with other top officials, he needed guidance from the White House, which had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.
Halfway into the briefing, someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,” the official said, stunned.
The president signed a border security order on TV before he talked it through with the head of the DHS. It’s every barstool pundit’s fantasy of personal power come to life. It also might be a threat to democracy.
President Obama has not yet signed his executive order forbidding government contractors from discriminating against homosexuals, but a group of “major faith organizations” has asked to be exempted from it. Citing Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, representatives of Catholic Charities USA, Saddleback Ministries and the National Association of Evangelicals asked that the president provide a “robust religious exemption” from the federal government’s plan to stop doing business with homophobes. In a letter organized by Michael Wear, the former director of faith outreach during Obama’s 2012 campaign, the groups write, “we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.” That whooshing you hear is the sound of open floodgates.