Friday links! All in how you frame it edition

A fact is objective and unchanging, but what makes it meaningful? It is a true fact, for example, that Donald Trump is the first president in US history to have never before held public office or served in the military. But what does that mean? I might be saying he’s unqualified, or I might be saying that he brings to office fresh blood, untainted by the degeneracy of the political class. Facts are inert. It’s their contexts, that allow them to come to life and create meaning for us. Today is Friday, and it’s all in how you frame it. Won’t you pick out something tasteful with me?

Continue reading

When is leaking patriotic?

Michael Flynn gives the international symbol for imminent resignation.

President Trump took to Twitter this morning to condemn the leaks that have embarrassed his administration for the last month. After The New York Times reported that his campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents last year, citing “four current and former American officials,” the president tweeted that “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” Compare this to the less real scandal of accepting the help of a hostile foreign power to become president, which is only mildly un-American. But Trump raises a valid question. When is it a betrayal of the United States to leak classified information to the public, either directly or indirectly through the press, and when is it a service?

Continue reading

Who does President Trump follow on Twitter?

Donald Trump has over 24 million Twitter followers, but he only follows 41 accounts. Who are these people? When the president takes up his phone after a long day of re-greatening America, whose tweets does he see? The people Trump follows on Twitter fall into five categories:

Other Trumps

Like many 70-year-old users of social media, Trump organizes his Twitter experience around members of his own family. Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Melania Trump, Vanessa Trump—whose profile specifies that “my children are my life” and who does, indeed, seem to only tweet photos of them—Lara Trump (wife of Eric), and Tiffany Ariana Trump. All told, members of Trump’s immediately family and their spouses make up 18% of the people he follows.

Trump brands

Trump is not just a person; he’s a brand. The Trump names means luxury, hospitality, and entertainment, along with barely-coded racism and the increasing likelihood of nuclear war. But mostly it means golf. Trump follows the Twitter accounts of three of his own golf courses, including @TrumpGolfLA, @TrumpGolfDC, and the Trump National Doral course in Miami, as well as the Trump Golf umbrella brand. He also follows Trump hotels in Chicago, Waikiki and Las Vegas. Eighteen percent of the Twitter accounts Trump follows are his own brands—the exact same portion as members of his family, although that’s probably a coincidence. Still, more than a third of the content Trump sees on Twitter comes with “Trump” right in the name.

Coworkers

No man is an island—even a man as expansive as Trump. Besides his family and his brands, Trump also follows a number of people he works with: his assistant and White House director of social media Dan Scavino Jr., his chief of staff Reince Priebus, his former national campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson, his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and Vice President Mike Pence. Trump also follows a few people he has worked with in a non-political capacity, if anything he does can be said to fit that rubric. He follows Mark Burnett, Celebrity Apprentice producer and president of MGM Television and Digital Group. He follows Katrina Campins, from the first season of The Apprentice. He follows WWE CEO Vince McMahon, whom he defeated in a hair match at Wrestlemania XXIII. He also follows his personal attorney Michael Cohen, whom he has not publicly wrestled. Employees, coworkers, and people with whom Trump has had business dealings compose 24% of the people he follows.

Media figures

Trump is a famously steady consumer of television, and he follows several Fox News personalities: Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Geraldo Rivera, Eric Bolling, Laura Ingraham. He follows the accounts of Fox Nationwhose bio reads “join the community that believes in the American dream”—and Fox & Friends. He also follows some non-Fox personalities, including Greta Van Susteren, Mika Brzezinksi and Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe, Ann Coulter of Satan’s twitching anus, and Drudge Report. Together, this assembly of people who provide news to your divorced uncle make up 32% of Trump’s Twitter feed.

People who are not media figures, other Trumps, Trump brands, or coworkers

This may be the most interesting subcategory of accounts Trump follows, because they give us a tantalizing glimpse of his inner life. Unfortunately, that glimpse is like when you think you see a person in a dark room but it turns out someone hung up a suit. Trump follows the pro golfer Gary Player, who is probably real but sounds made up. He follows Diamond and Silk, who describe themselves in their bio as “President Trump’s biggest supporters,” “biological sisters” and “public figures.” He also follows Roma Downey, executive producer of The Bible and other Christian-themed entertainments. She seems like an interesting lead at first, being neither a Trump nor a Trump employee nor a conservative news personality. It almost suggests he has some interest beyond TV and himself, but further investigation reveals she is married to Apprentice producer Mark Burnett. Still, she is not technically Trump’s coworker, family member, or property. This group of people whom Trump sees neither on television nor at Thanksgiving dinner constitutes 8% of the accounts he follows.

That’s it—Trump’s Twitter feed in a nutshell. You can visualize it with this handy pie chart:

Spencer Griffin gave me the idea for this post. Do you have an idea you’d like to pitch to Combat! blog? First be friends with me for 15 years, and then email me. Don’t call.

The president does not read books

Donald Trump takes a moment to savor his rich inner life.

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.

Continue reading

Backing “Republican/Trump agenda,” Gianforte takes un-Christian turn

Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte and a rhetorical question

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved Rep. Ryan Zinke (R–Mont.) as nominee for Secretary of the Interior, bringing him one step closer to vacating his seat in the House. That means Montanans are likely to be treated to another election. In preparation, Bozeman multi-millionaire Greg Gianforte—who took second in last year’s race for governor—has announced his bid for the Republican nomination. Here’s a quote from the email he sent out last Thursday:

This race will be ground zero and the first official battle waged by the Democrats to stop the Republican/Trump agenda. I simply will not stand on the sidelines and allow that to happen. I’m ready to fight for our shared Montana values.

That’s an explicit declaration of support for the national GOP and President Trump. It came at an inauspicious moment, though, because the very next day the Republican/Trump agenda took an ugly turn. In a move that surprised the Department of Homeland Security and garnered injunctions from multiple courts, Trump banned refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, prohibited travelers from seven Muslim nations, and blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely. He did it to keep us safe from terrorism.

Never mind that no refugee has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil. The important thing is that we’re finally doing something for ourselves, by specifically barring the people who are suffering most. This move puts Gianforte in a tough position. As a Christian, he probably remembers that Jesus said not to let any poor, suffering people into your house, in case one of them tries to hurt you. But as a Biblical literalist who rejects the theory of evolution and once cited Noah to argue against the concept of retirement, he probably also read James 2:14-17:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

That’s just one of several Bible passages that suggest specifically barring people without clothes and daily food from the United States might not be the Christian thing to do. Gianforte is on the horns of a dilemma, here. He’s already paid the political price for the prominent role his faith plays in his public life. Will he now throw over that faith to get behind President Trump, a man who is Christian in roughly the same way as marshmallow Peeps? You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I invite Gianforte to choose his millennia-old belief system over the political fad that started last year. He’s a reasonable man, and I hope he listens. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!