How sure are we that the president knows what DACA is?

One problem with contemporary media is that news outlets are always trying to expand their audiences, but they also present the news as though people had been following it every day. Recent coverage of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that President Obama adopted in 2012, is a prime example. DACA is not a law, exactly. It’s a policy of the executive branch, which is in charge of immigration enforcement. Under DACA, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors can apply for work permits and a two-year, renewable period in which they will not be deported. It basically means that illegal immigrants who were brought here as children won’t get kicked out.

In its coverage of President Trump’s recent statements on the policy, CNN describes DACA as “a program that gave almost 800,000 young undocumented immigrants protections from deportation.” That’s it. The rest of the story is about Trump’s statements on DACA, different people’s reactions to those statements, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s position, et cetera. Readers learning about this issue for the first time know DACA is a “program,” whatever that means. They know it “gave…young undocumented immigrants protections from deportation” They know how many people it affects. But the details an informed citizen might use to evaluate this program are absent. DACA becomes the big, vague idea at the center of a report on what everyone else thinks about it. Readers can gather whether they’re supposed to be for or against it based on party affiliation, but they are given very little sense of what DACA actually is.

One victim of this problem appears to be the president. Yesterday, a few hours after he announced that he had instructed the Department of Justice to end the program, Trump tweeted this:

The phrasing of this tweet makes it sound like he believes DACA has been outlawed. Hopefully he is just using “legalize” as shorthand for “make into a law,” but then the parenthetical implies the Obama administration should have done that. Yet the president is against DACA. He doesn’t want it to be the law, unless his objection is that the president does not have the authority to shape immigration policy through selective enforcement. If that’s the case, it’s a radical departure from Trump’s broader views on the power of the executive branch. One wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, here, but the simplest explanation for this tweet is that he, like the CNN reader, has only a vague sense of what DACA is.

Maybe, though, he is playing more of that three-dimensional chess. It’s possible Trump knows that expelling undocumented immigrants is very important to his base but unpopular with a majority of voters. By calling on Congress to address the issue, he can show his core supporters that he is committed to ending DACA without incurring the blowback of it actually happening. It’s a way to blame the legislative branch for his failure to fulfill his campaign promises, as he did with Obamacare.

There’s an easy way to figure out which of those two scenarios we’re dealing with, and that’s for someone to ask President Trump to explain, in his own words, what DACA is. Presumably, any member of the Washington press corps who did that would be banned from the briefing room for life. It’s hard to ask anyone to prove he has basic knowledge of an issue without insulting him—the president much more so. But the same insularity that makes reporters assume their readers already know the details of DACA might blind them to the possibility that Trump isn’t really sure, either. That would be a story, right there.

Close Reading: Trump’s “not” joke

Remember a few months ago when we said Combat! blog wasn’t going to be about politics anymore? That was before a cartoon character got elected president. Not the good kind of cartoon character, either—Donald Trump is like a character in one of those nineties cartoons where everyone is bored and sarcastic. He’s the guy who doesn’t move the plot forward but says what we’re all thinking, i.e. what a marketing team thinks children are thinking. In that vein, the President of the United States executed a “not” joke on Twitter yesterday:


Although he does not play the “not” joke strictly according to Hoyle, this tweet is a significant achievement. He manages to make “not!” into a Trumpian exclamation. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on, too, and that’s why this tweet is the subject of today’s Close Reading.

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“The president is signing the order we’re discussing”

President Donald Trump signs an executive order, being somehow president.

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.

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Slate’s Timothy Noah on income inequality

Slate is midway through what is threatened to be a two-week series on income inequality in America, just in time for the controversial announcement that the President will not try to solve the economy by giving more money to rich people. Timothy Noah looks at several putative dangers to America’s middle class, including immigration, racism/sexism, and computers, none of which accounts for the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States. That gap is enormous. Currently, the wealthiest 1% of Americans take home 24% of the national income. Between 1980 and 2005, more than 80% of the nation’s considerable increase in earnings went to that 1%. To put that in perspective, back in 1915—the era of the Carnegies, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, as well as a generation of non name-brand robber barons—the top 1% only got 18%. Economically, ours is a less equal America than that of our great grandparents.

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Close Readings: Judson Phillips’s immigration proposal

If you haven’t heard of Judson Phillips, it’s probably because you haven’t yet signed up for Tea Party Nation, the national-level organizer of Tea Party organizations that sends you a ton of emails, many of which are titled “Draft” or, once, “Do Not Send.” Judson Phillips may be an idiot. As the organizer of the first national Tea Party Unity Convention, he may also be one of the few identifiable leaders in the still-amorphous movement. The Tea Party Nation website is either the canary in the mine or one arbitrarily drawn constellation in the exploded galaxy that is the Tea Party, depending on whose side you took in the series of schisms that immediately followed its formation. I prefer the first interpretation, since A) the alternative is to have no concrete information about the Tea Party at all and B) Phillips is hilarious. Case in point: his recent screed/policy proposal regarding illegal immigration, which is the subject of today’s Close Reading. Text after the jump.

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