The Story on Trump’s Speech: He’s a Good Liar

Late last night, I broke down Trump’s address to the joint session of Congress on Twitter. At the time I said that it was the best speech he’s given yet, though I qualified that this was not a compliment to him so much as a warning to all of us: the regime is stepping up its messaging game, and we all have to be ready.

I predicted a lot of people would be taken in by the shiny new packaging and a patriotic wrapper provided by speechwriter Vince Haley, and when I got up this morning and checked the news sites, I found that I was right.

People sometimes ask me what news outlets I read. The answer is: as many of them as I can. And even beyond that, I look at the headlines and preview text for more. The reason I do this is because I’m trying to get a complete picture not just of what’s happening, but how it’s being framed… the meta-story of a story, if you will.

The meta-story on last night’s speech is: Donald Trump is a complete liar who has never looked more presidential than in this speech where he called for unity while saying things that are manifestly and obviously untrue. He passed a major test in what was sure to be a turning point for his presidency, and he was lying to us the whole time.

By some estimates, he told an average of one verifiable lie or inaccuracy nearly every minute.  And the pundits and talk show hosts and talking heads ate it up and begged him to keep serving more of the same.

Understand, individual people aren’t saying all of this together. Instead, we have fact-checking pieces and rebuttal pieces addressing specific claims and pointing out specific falsehoods, and side-by-side with that we have reaction pieces that talk about how it all came off. What I’m not seeing from the conventional media is anything that puts together the whole picture, of what it means that he gave a surprisingly good speech with a new, burnished and polished persona, and told more of the same lies he’s been telling.

We have a word in the English language for when someone stands up for an hour and says things that aren’t true, but which he wishes to be accepted as true, and which he makes palatable by wrapping up in patriotic imagery and inspiring platitudes and bromides about how we like things that are good and dislike things that are bad, until people find themselves nodding along with conclusions that in better circumstances they would have examined more carefully.

That word is propaganda.

The news media is not about to stand up and say that Donald Trump delivered an hour of propaganda, though, because where the line falls between a persuasive speech that is slickly packaged and actual propaganda is too subjective a determination for any one person to make.

I mean, it would be kind of like saying that someone was being presidential.

Realistically, the media has got to get better at handling things like this if they (and the rest of us) are going to survive Trump’s regime. They have got to stop acting like they’re safely up in an announcer’s box providing color commentary on a struggle confined to a playing field that neither includes them nor has any consequences that extend out of bounds.

This is not a game, there are no boundaries or safe zones or rules or timeouts, and they themselves are very much in play as designated enemies in a declared war.

Anyone who thinks that this speech signals the beginning of a whole new era with a whole new Trump is in for a rude awakening. CNN is already reporting that the White House has chosen to delay rolling out the revised Muslim travel ban executive order, so as to extend the honeymoon period for the speech.

Now, if the problem with how his actions have been received to date really were, as he’s suggested recently, a problem of “messaging”, then the smart thing to do would be to push forward with it now, while he has the public’s goodwill and has had his message accepted by the viewing audience.

If they’re in a position where they’re dead sure that releasing the executive order now would not just fail to capitalize on the momentum of the speech but kill it, they must know it’s not good.

Which is no surprise, since Stephen Miller already admitted the goal is to get to the same policy outcome with different wording.

This means that we who resist can look forward to the belated honeymoon period being over before too long, no matter how worrying it is that it’s happening.

As the day has worn on and the obvious takes get shoved out of the way, there are some signs that some in the media are paying attention to the undercurrents. An analysis piece dropped by the Washington Post shows some real savviness. It makes the point that however many hands wrote the speech, Steve Bannon and Team Chaotic Evil are still obviously calling the shots, policy-wise.

And of course, outside the mainstream media, plenty of well-followed Twitter commentators apart from myself have picked up on the rhetorical tricks that the speech employed. So, I don’t think that this speech will be the turning point at which the American people line up behind Trump or the resistance falls apart. It’s no time to get complacent, but it’s only the first step in a new battle over messaging.

The regime fully realizes how effective it was, but they also know the reality of what they’re peddling doesn’t match the sales pitch. How much mileage they wring out of these new gimmicks before the public catches on to that is going to depend in large part on how badly the tweeter-in-chief does at staying “on message” when he’s not reading a script in the august chambers of Congress.

Here’s hoping he stays true to form.

Support the author on Patreon.

I watched the O’Reilly Trump interview so you don’t have to.

Bill O’Reilly opens the interview by buttering Trump up, saying Gorsuch “roll-out” went “very smooth”. Trump talks over him to agree/insist “Yes, it did. Yes, it did.” I think O’Reilly understood he needed to nod to Trump’s dream world in order to start the interview on a good footing. The importance of establishing frame when dealing with Trump cannot be underestimated.

With this goodwill established, O’Reilly pivots to the Muslim travel ban, contrasting it as “less smooth”. Trump responds by repeating the figure of “109 people” out of “hundreds of thousands of travelers”. Now, this was put out by the White House as a preliminary figure early on in the ban’s enforcement. Even if there was a point at which it was ever accurate (and that is not clear), it was very quickly obsolete.

Figuring out exact numbers for who was affected by the ban would be tricky, because you’ve got the people who were detained, you have people who were prevented from boarding flights, and you’ve got people who canceled their plans before they got to the airport or checked in for their flights.

Trump says that “all that happened” to the “109 people” is they were “vetted very carefully”. No part of this is true. People were denied medicine or access to healthcare, forced to surrender their visas (some of which were physically cancelled; we’re told that they’ll be reissued, but the former holders must actually apply for this), deported, turned away at the airport, etc. People who sold everything they owned for a plane ticket wound up stranded in limbo.

The “vetting process”, by all accounts, consisted of “bad cop” intimidation tactics, grilling on social media usage, and questions about their opinions on Donald Trump personally. What value or security this added to the already extreme vetting process that the refugees, travelers, and residents had gone through to get to this point is not clear.

Bill O’Reilly closes this topic by asking Trump if he would do anything different. Trump demures; O’Reilly presses him (at least to a point) by bringing up the apparent fact that some of Trump’s people didn’t know what was going on. Trump rebuts, “That’s not what General Kelly said.” It’s true that General (now Secretary) Kelly of the DHS did come out and do some damage control, pushing back on the reports that there was no coordination or advance warning and DHS was operating in the dark. But it’s also true that this transparently was damage control; it was a case of “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?” Kelly is clearly a very loyal man who prizes the appearance of an orderly implementation over his own integrity. Trump closes his invocation of John Kelly by attributing the figure of only 109 people affected overall to him.

O’Reilly then (somewhat mercifully) closes the segment, turning to Iran.

O’Reilly’s question is if Trump thinks that our country is on a collision course with Iran. Trump’s response, naturally, is an utter non sequitur. He immediately begins talking about how it’s the worst deal he’s ever seen, a terrible deal. There is no specification of what deal this might be, but O’Reilly is clearly used to Trump’s “conversation” style, as he prompts Trump to clarify.

Trump, of course, is talking about what he and other Republicans categorized as a “ransom”: a cash delivery we made to Iran under the Obama administration. As Trump tells it: there was no reason for the deal, and we have nothing to show for it, so it shouldn’t have been made.

Well, here’s the thing, babies: this “deal” was actually a debt the United States owed to Iran. Iran’s government, pre-revolution, paid us $400 million for some fighter jets. When a popular revolution deposed the CIA-installed puppet government that had bought those jets, the U.S. canceled the deal but kept the money. Iran quite understandably felt the money should be returned, and sought a judgment against the United States. We owed them the original $400 million plus interest, which over the course of three and a half decades added up to $1.3 billion dollars. That plus the initial $0.4 billion payment adds up to the $1.7 billion “deal” that Trump is talking about.

So, basically, the situation is this: for better or worse, we walked away from a contract after they gave us their end of the deal, wihtout holding up our end. We were sued and agreed to make good on the debt.

Of course Donald Trump sees this as a “bad deal”. He breaks contracts all the time. If there is nothing for him in keeping his end of a bargain, he won’t keep it. And if he’s sued, he’ll drown the plaintiff in paperwork and ignore the judgment until the other party agrees to take whatever he feels like just to get something back. I threaded on this the other day, on how he’s trying to apply this “principle” (for lack of a better word) to international diplomacy and how it’s not going well for him.

Now, we paid back the principle (the initial $400 million payment, which was actually frozen in a trust this whole time) and agreed to pay the interest, as part of a negotiated settlement that avoids ten billion dollars in punitive damages Iran had sought. Donald Trump is talking about “possibly tearing up” this settlement because he doesn’t see what the benefit of paying $1.7 billion dollars that we owe instead of facing a damaging arbitration process.

You can read more about the specifics of the deal (and holes in the theory that it was a “ransom” paid) on Snopes.

Trump refers to Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and says they’re “sending weapons and money everywhere”. Well, I don’t know much about that. It’s possible he’s caught one or two more daily intelligence briefings than I have. I’ll take his word for it.

“Sanctions,” O’Reilly says. It’s a statement. It has the feel of a lifeline. “You’re going to start with that?”

There’s nothing really substantive about Trump’s plans for Iran, though, because he is holding to the line that it’s “stupid” to tell people what you’re going to do. It’s clear he views the entire conflict as an appendage-measuring contest, and he believes Iran does, too.

Then they come on to the segment that circulated as a teaser: the Putin question. I think many more people saw this on social media or read about it than watched the interview: O’Reilly asks Trump if he respects Putin, Trump affirms that he does. O’Reilly says, with a credible level of exasperation, “WHY?” Trump’s answer, par for course, is rambling and without substance: Putin’s a leader, Trump respects a lot of people, the fight against ISIS is like super hard you guys, etc. O’Reilly interjects, “He’s a killer, though! He’s a killer!”

And Trump’s response, my hand to gosh, is “Lotta killers. Gotta lotta killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”

A lot of people with rosy glasses that are half full on the left-wing side of the aisle saw this as a valid critique of our government’s excesses rather than an attempt to excuse Putin’s brutal and self-serving murderous tendencies, but let’s be honest: O’Reilly is talking about Putin’s habit of assassinating critics, rivals, and even allies who know too much and can do too little, and Donald Trump is shrugging and saying that he’s pretty sure everybody does that kind of thing. Everyone makes mistakes! He brings up the Iraq War as an example of a mistake that killed a lot of people, and he’s not wrong there, but it’s changing the subject from “you admire a bloodthirsty autocrat, should we be worried?” to “Donald Trump was always totes right about the Iraq War, you guys. Ask Sean Hannity!”

I think that’s the point where Bill O’Reilly, God bless a piece of him, just gives up. He stops making any pretense of trying to hold Donald Trump to answering any questions. He brings up the call to Mexico. He asks point blank if it’s true that Donald Trump said he would send troops across the border to clean up the “bad hombres”. Donald Trump digresses into what was clearly a very well-rehearsed, well-scripted answer that both neatly sidesteps the yes/no and gives an alternate explanation for the reported remark: he was offering help, which President Peña Nieto was receptive to. Does he consider Mexico a corrupt country? He loves the people, he gets along great with their president. What sort of tariff might pay for the wall? It’s an unfair situation, allthe jobs and plants, but Trump has personally turned it all around already.

Sidenote here: it has been reported that Trump, the Great Negotiator, agreed to completely stop talking about who will pay for the wall in public.

When Trump is bragging about all the companies that he has supposedly talked into bringing jobs back, O’Reilly characterizes it as Trump intimidating them. Trump disagrees, saying they’re just doing what’s right. O’Reilly is kind of beside himself at this. The idea of a president strongarming businesses into making decisions that fit his agenda is the sort of thing that should get any so-called conservative’s ire up. Bill O’Reilly makes an attempt here, but his heart’s not in it.

On domestic affairs, O’Reilly mentions that he just got back from California, whose legislature is voting to become a “sanctuary state”. O’Reilly says that this sets California and the United States on a collision course (isn’t that pretty much what the San Andreas fault is?). He really seems to like that phrase.

Trump immediately starts talking about defunding the entire state of California. O’Reilly seems a bit incredulous; perhaps he is aware that the “coastal elite” states like California actually fund the federal government and pay for the federal spending in Trump’s “real America”. California pays the federal government $1 for the privilege of getting 70 cents back. Trump certainly doesn’t seem to know this; to hear him talk about California’s out of control lifestyle, he thinks the rest of the country is paying it welfare. O’Reilly presses: “So defunding is your weapon of choice?” Trump is sticking to not committing to any specific action: “It’s a weapon. Look, I don’t want to defund anybody!”

Buddy, you brought it up.

Again, O’Reilly has no stomach for pressing Trump. He moves on, and with obvious trepidation and more than a bit of hedging, asks if Donald Trump might not have something of a strained relationship with factual things that can be backed up. This segment is basically like someone talking to Donald Trump’s Twitter. O’Reilly says that “some people” are saying it’s irresponsible for Donald Trump to claim that millions of people voted illegally wihtout any data to back them up. Donald’s first response, right out of the gate, is, “Well, you know, many people have come out and said that I’m right.”

He’s not wrong there. Many people who heard it from him or read on their uncle’s Facebook page (who heard it from him) have said he’s right, because the thing he’s saying backs up their worldview. Donald Trump’s alternate reality take on this sort of thing exists in a feedback loop with his audience, where they say a thing and he picks it up which proves it’s true to them, and he says a thing and they pick it up, which proves it’s right to him. It’s like Beavis and Butthead copying off each other on a test neither of them studied for.

Now, there’s a new wrinkle to Donald’s discourse here. He says, “It doesn’t have to do with the vote, though that is the end result. It has to do with the registration.” He talks about how the voter registration rolls have dead people, people who’ve moved, etc. Which, they do. Clearly someone close to Trump has tried to explain this to him, and made a lot of headway. But he’s still convinced that this backs him up, somehow, in his contention that there are millions of illegal votes.

O’Reilly lets Donald go through his spiel, and then says, “So, you think you’re going to be proven correct in that statement.”

And Donald says, and I kid you not, he says: “Well, I think I already have. A lot of people have come out and said that I am correct.”

Now, O’Reilly does the bravest thing of his career here, in that he contradicts Donald Trump and tries to explain the concept of “proof” to him: “The data has to show that three million ‘illegals’ voted.”

And Trump says, “Look, forget that! Forget all of that!” How many times did his advisors tell him that, I wonder? “Just take a look at the registration!” He then explains he’s setting up a commission headed by Mike Pence.

O’Reilly says, “Good, let’s get to the bottom of this.” and moves on to a real softball: can we expect a tax cut this year? Yes, Trump says, and probably before the end of the year.

Can we expect a new healthcare plan this year? Yes, well, no, Obamacare is a disaster, maybe, but definitely by the end of next year. It’s complicated, Trump says, but “You have to remember: Obamacare doesn’t work.”

Last question is a soft one, though O’Reilly does slip in a reference to one of the worrying factoids of Trump’s life (that he only gets four hours of sleep a night): does Donald ever have a moment, say when his head hits the pillow, where he can’t believe he’s really the president of the United States?

Donald Trump, to his credit, has the good grace to look directly at the camera like a character on The Office for a moment when Bill O’Reilly asks that. His answer isn’t that interesting or that convincing. From there the interview turns into a discussion of the then-upcoming game, which is now over.. It’s only interesting because when O’Reilly tells his subject that Fox Sports is demanding he gets a Super Bowl prediction from him, Trump insists that he doesn’t like to make predictions. This is funny since I can remember him crowing on Twitter about a few things he supposedly predicted. When the Pulse shooting happened, wasn’t he talking about how many people had congratulated him for predicting it?

I think what he meant was he doesn’t like saying a hard number for something that will be settled one way or the other within a few hours, as opposed to predictions that amount to “Somewhere in a nation of three hundred million people, something bad will happen, mark my words.”

Anyway. That was the Bill O’Reilly interview of Donald Trump. It’ll probably be a lot more entertaining when Alec Baldwin does it.

If you appreciate this analysis, please feel free to tip the author and share the link on your social medium of choice.

Identity Politics: Most Americans Aren’t “Universal”

Alexandra Erin is an independent author and commentator. If you gain anything from her writing, you can help support it on Patreon ( or PayPal ( 

* * *

In an editorial about “identity liberalism” published in The New York Times, Mark Lilla joined the throng of pundits to lay out his case for eschewing identity politics in favor of focusing on universal issues that affect most Americans. He wasn’t the first to take this tack, even just post-election, and he certainly has not been the last, but he’s still a pretty good representative example.

To back up his premise, he wrote that “America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.” In doing so, he illustrated both his own ignorance of the issue of bathroom laws and the flaw in the premise that we can find a way forward by ignoring differences in favor of assumed commonalities.

He said “liberals,” but the group whose bathroom usage has been made into fodder for public discourse is the transgender community, most particularly trans women such as myself. I suppose it would not do for Mr. Lilla to mention us by name, as suggesting that a conversation affects any group of people more specific than “liberal” runs counter to his message.

Well, let that go.

Liberals should focus on the problems faced by a majority of Americans? He’s not alone in thinking that. America is sick of hearing about our bathrooms, he says? He’s not alone in thinking that, either. His statement was a paraphrase of something said by Bernie Sanders, who, I have been told, was “just saying what everybody is thinking.”

Well, Americans who are transgender are part of America, and we’re certainly part of everybody. I would ask the critics of identity politics if they imagine we in the transgender communities are as sick of hearing about bathroom issues as they are, but the surprising answer is: we are.

Frankly, we’re not just sick of hearing about it. We’re sick of talking about it. We wish the whole topic could just be dropped safely and we could get on with our lives. It’s neither us in particular nor “liberals” more generally who made this an issue, but conservative culture warriors who decided to spark a panic about something that has been going on for as long as gendered public restrooms have existed, and who then used that panic to pass laws that do far more than merely inconvenience us.

It should go without saying, but the need to urinate is the end result of a natural biological process that happens even to the very best of us, often at the very worst of times. “Bathroom Bills” that serve to prevent trans people from having anywhere to urinate safely while in public impedes our ability to exist in public, which in turn constrains our ability to exist.

If you are sick of hearing about our bathrooms, I would invite you to imagine how hard it would be to conduct your daily business if the only safe bathroom available to you were in your own home. Outside of that, you would have to constantly choose between two dangers: the danger of being assaulted with potentially murderous force, or the danger of being arrested and brutalized by police and other inmates (and assaulted with potentially murderous force.)

The danger would be clear, but the choice wouldn’t always be so, as it would be up to the eye of the beholder of any self-appointed bathroom vigilante to decide which category you fit into, whether you were in the right room or the wrong one, and the answer would be more subjective than you imagine it to be.

For my own safety and survival, I avoid public restrooms whenever I can, just so I don’t have to make the choice. A few years back, earlier in my transition, I had to make that call while I was in an airport in a Midwestern state, one of those “real American” places that coastal elites are supposed to show empathy for.

What I thought of as my security theater costume back then was basically androgynous. I didn’t want to stand out, and didn’t want my appearance to contradict my official paperwork. When bad timing meant I had to use the gendered restrooms in the airport rather than a single-occupancy on an airplane, I had to make up my mind. Being less than one hundred percent sure I would be perceived as the woman I am if I used the correct bathroom, I decided to take what I figured to be the lesser risk at that moment of using the men’s room.

I didn’t make it in the doorway before a hand hit my shoulder. It was a woman whose husband had just walked into the bathroom ahead of me. She thought I was going into the wrong bathroom, and she was really determined to stop me. Vocally. Physically. Her tone was not friendly or helpful. I’m not sure why she was so vehement about it, but this just shows how emotionally charged the whole thing is for cis people.

It also shows that trans women can’t really win in a world where cis people want our bathroom use to be a national debate.

If you’re not trans, try to imagine a life where it’s more comfortable and convenient to use an airplane bathroom than an airport one, where if you can’t find a unisex single-occupancy restroom, you’re just out of luck.

How do you hold a job outside the home under those circumstances? How do you plan shopping trips? How do you go see a movie or take your kids to the park?

To put it very bluntly and very simply: the right to pee is the right to be. 

The effect of laws such as North Carolina’s infamous HB 2—their very purpose—is to legislate trans people away, to make our existence unmanageable. It doesn’t just keep us out of bathrooms, it keeps us out of life, and eventually, out of living.

We don’t talk about bathrooms because we enjoy it or because we want the rest of the nation to talk about them with us. We talk about them because if we let those who oppose our very existence have the only say, we’re done for.

Now, this problem, however pressing it may be, does not fit the proposed rubric of one that is “faced by a majority of Americans.”

Most life-and-death problems don’t.

The petty complaints of life might be universal or nearly so. No one who stubs a toe enjoys it very much. No one likes being stuck in line at the grocery store behind someone who won’t get off the phone long enough to pay and move on.

But we don’t all have to worry about some politician deciding to start a national conversation about whether we should be allowed to do our biologically necessary business in a relatively private place and then get on with our lives, the way other Americans do without a second thought.

Similarly, we don’t all have to worry about being targeted disproportionately for “random” searches, “routine” stops, or lethal and arbitrary violence by uniformed authorities. We don’t all have to worry about what changes in immigration policy will mean for our friends and families.

The majority of problems, real problems, faced by the majority of Americans are not universal. A political party or movement that insists on focusing only on “universals” inevitably ignores the real issues that face most Americans.

This not only leaves serious problems to fester unchecked, but it prioritizes the problems of those who have few or no unique problems: the people who don’t face a national debate over being allowed to perform necessary biological functions, the people who don’t face systemic violence or institutional discrimination, the people whose fundamental rights aren’t treated as a matter for debate.

The case being made to American liberals since the election is being made a lot of different ways. Some people phrase it in terms of “not pandering to special interest groups.” Some people talk about “real Americans.” Mr. Lilla uses the term “universal.” Whatever the speaker means to say,it all comes down to the same thing in effect.

The Republican Party achieved great success in the last election in part by choosing to focus on the concerns that are coded in our consciousness as “universal” (the problems of straight, white, Christian Americans) over and above the problems unique to those who are coded as “special interest groups.” Many commentators on the left, right, and middle have suggested that we should be doing the same.

As great as their electoral success was, though, the right-wing still lost the popular vote and had to rely on coordinated campaigns of voter suppression and a last-minute boost from the FBI to put them over the top, because the demographic whose concerns are dubbed “universal” is shrinking in proportion to the general population.

The way forward for the left is not to focus on trying to win by competing for the same shrinking pool of votes which the Republicans have decided should count for the most, but to try to understand and address the specific—not universal—problems of most Americans.

If the anti-“Identitarians” are not persuaded, perhaps they should consider: restrictive voter ID laws tailored against Democrat-leaning demographics, polling place closures that restrict access to the polls in Black communities, and voter intimidation campaigns tailored at Latino communities do not fit the definition of “problems faced by a majority of Americans,” but they are nevertheless problems the nation’s liberals must confront and overcome in order to forestall a permanent conservative victory.

Appeals to a surprisingly narrow “universal” prevent us from naming the worst of the problems that afflict most Americans. What we cannot name, we cannot fight. Refusing to name a problem and refusing to fight it might spare the rest of America the pain of hearing about it, but it won’t fix anything and it won’t win elections.

Donald Trump: On His Honor

Alexandra Erin is an independent author and commentator. If you gain anything from her writing, you can help support it on Patreon ( or PayPal ( 

* * *

Donald Trump has changed his story about how he will handle his conflicts of interest as president so many times that it would be a mistake to try to figure out what his intended message is. Indeed, it would be a mistake to assume that any of his answers on the subject were intended to communicate a particular message at all.

They were not attempts to answer questions so much as they were attempts to answer the questioner, to say something that would end the line of questioning and allow him to change the subject.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump has told us—and shown us—exactly how he intends to handle his conflicts of interest, again and again, to the point that there can be no real surprise at the revelation that he’s staying on as a paid executive producer at The Celebrity Apprentice.

Let’s back up.

There was a moment during the presidential campaign when, while he was being criticized for his fat-shaming comments about Miss Universe Alicia Machado, Donald Trump attempted to set the record straight and clarify that actually, she really had gained weight.

That moment came back to me when I read the presumptive president-elect’s comment that business-wise, the law is on his side, because “the president can’t have conflicts of interest.”

They were both moments where it was spectacularly apparent that Trump does not get it, that he quite literally does not see what the problem is.

He thought that people objected to him calling a woman “Miss Piggy” because they disputed the accuracy of the characterization, and so he defended himself by asserting that his insults were factually correct and grounded in reality.

Similarly, he believes all this talk about “conflicts of interest” is just so much quibbling over rules, that the trouble that so many knowledgeable and experienced people have been warning about consists of nothing but legal penalties he may himself face for running afoul of laws.

He does not—perhaps cannot—understand that those rules and laws have a deeper purpose or that anyone might be concerned with upholding that purpose more so than upholding particular rules.

In editorial after editorial and analysis after analysis, writers parsing Trump’s words have hastened to point out that on a technical level, Trump is correct in saying that the president “can’t have conflicts of interest.”

I have to disagree with this. The letter of the law is on his side, but the idea that the president “can’t have conflicts of interest” is true only in the imperative sense.

I mean, I know what they’re saying and why they are saying it, when they say that he’s right. Despite the Nixonian shades of “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Trump’s view is actually rooted in the rule of law: the conflict-of-interest laws that constrict most of the executive branch don’t apply to the president.

This, like many other forms of immunity the president enjoys, is there to prevent another branch of government from interfering in the office of the president. Because the president’s decisions can affect every aspect of life in the United States and ripple around the world, anything a president might need to do could conceivably be spun to be a conflict of interest.

But this does not mean the concept of a conflict of interest does not apply to the president. It means that no one but presidents themselves may be trusted to judge their own conflicts of interests, and that we more or less trust them to police themselves accordingly.

And therein lies the problem, the very special problem presented by Donald Trump, because in the plainest and simplest terms: he just does not get it.

I think we’ve pretty much all had that one coworker or classmate who has the same problem, while not wielding the powers of the office of the President of the United States. This is the person who doesn’t quite grok the honor system, doesn’t understand things like leeway, discretion, or informal rules, and who invariably ruins things for everyone else.

If your boss tells you that there’s a ten-minute grace period for arriving and leaving around your shift’s scheduled start and end time, this is the person who hears “You can clock in ten minutes late and clock out ten minutes early, every day,” and proceeds to do so, until the policy is changed for everyone in order to stop the one person from doing so.

If the person in charge tells such a person that there’s no rule covering a situation but they are expected to be honest and use their best judgment, they stop listening at “no rule” because the rest is just noise, isn’t it?

This is the kind of person who, once they realize that a sign that says “Take One” over a candy dish has no legal force, will empty the entire thing into their bag and continue blithely on their day.

As I said, I think most of us have known someone like this, in a context where it mattered that they behaved this way.

Throughout his campaign—and likely for long before most of us were paying this level of attention—there was a theme, when Donald Trump was confronted with evidence of wrongdoing for his own enrichment: “that’s just good business,” he’d say, or “that makes me smart.” His surrogates would then make the cable and print news rounds repeating and elaborating on these lines.

In doing so, he’s laid the groundwork for never having any chickens come to roost from any pay-to-play, self-dealing, or those pesky emoluments people keep talking about that might arise during his term of office.

To the extent that enough of us have shrugged, accepted his reasoning, and moved on to deliver him an apparent electoral victory, we’ve sent the message that this is an acceptable way of looking at and dealing with the world, that there is no difference between doing the right thing and getting away with the wrong thing.

When Donald Trump ignores a signed contract specifying a payment he agreed to for work that was already delivered and forces the other party to agree to a much lower price in order to get anything at all, in a purely legal sense he does get away with it.

There is a difference between “conduct that is legal” and “conduct that you can get away with under the law, if you have enough leverage and are nasty enough to bring it all to bear on someone in no position to fight back,” but Donald Trump does not recognize that difference. He doesn’t recognize it to the point that he has failed to realize anyone else sees such a difference, hence his clueless defense that the law is on his side.

By his repeated appeals to this idea, he has taught his followers not to see it, either, and the rest of us are learning that lesson at varying speeds every time we let him change the subject or accept for the sake of argument that it’s just “good business” not to pay what is owed and to take for himself as much as he can get away with taking.

Once he actually occupies the Oval Office, there will be a whole other layer to this. As the heads of the three branches of government are exempted from many ordinary legal checks, the biggest single check on their conduct is the willingness of the American people to hold them accountable. We are the instruments of consequence for our leaders. If we accept that we can’t judge one of those leaders for any actions he got away with, he can get away with anything.

Worse, there are implications for this mindset that go beyond Trump’s financial well-being and the havoc he might wreak “being smart” about his businesses while he’s in office.

He has been very open in interviews and the various books written for him about his philosophy of vengeance, his desire to hit back ten times as hard in response to any perceived slight or insult. We have watched this in action throughout the campaign and his transition. We can expect it to continue, as it only makes sense to him to stop if someone is in a position to stop him.

Similarly, we have no reason to expect him to stop appealing to and empowering hatred and enshrining autocracy. When asked if he would denounce figures such as Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin or KKK leader David Duke, his answers were largely to ask rhetorically why he would denounce someone who flatters and supports him.

He did eventually offer a weak denunciation of Duke, when it appeared that not doing so would cost him more support than Duke could give him.

It was a simple cost/benefit analysis, in other words, the sort that he says “makes him smart”.

His continued alignment with the modern face of white nationalism, the various overlapping movements of the so-called “alt-right”, further reflects this. After what happened on November 8th, it is unlikely anyone will ever be able to convince him it will be worth it on a purely practical level to cut those ties, and that’s the only level he will acknowledge.

He might metaphorically wag his finger and say “stop it” and his proxies might say that of course he deplores racism, because this costs him nothing and (he hopes) allows him to change the subject. But to actually denounce these groups and their actions with the same level of vitriol and specificity that he reserves for Saturday Night Live and Hamilton? It won’t happen.

It’s not “good business”.

For the health of the republic and the well-being of everyone within it, it is important that the president does not have any serious conflicts of interest, to the extent that this is humanly possible.

This requires as a bare minimum a president who recognizes it is possible to have a conflict of interest without a law that spells out what it is, and a president who cares about more than whether or not one can get away with something.

To put it simply: the presidency operates on the honor system. For it to operate it at all, the occupant of the office must have some notion of honor. As a nation, we can differ about how honorable various president have been, what it means to be honorable, or even if the term has any intrinsic value.

But the idea of being a person of honor, of being seen as honorable, has at least held some appeal to each occupant of the Oval Office, and this ideal has been at least a partial brake on the exercise of executive power for petty and personal reasons.

That brake, like so many others, has come flying off in the person of Donald Trump, a man who sees no value in even the concept of honor, a man who could not understand why people would honor the sacrifice of a captured soldier (or even a fallen one), a man for whom there is only winning and losing, and that ignoring the rules to win doesn’t taint your victory, it only makes you smart.

CROWDFUNDITRY: Who Does Trump Think He’s Fooling? Basically Everyone

Donald Trump has recently claimed that very soon after he takes office—“immediately” being the exact word—he will deport between 2 and 3 million undocumented immigrants, focusing on the ones with criminal records.

As he told 60 Minutes:

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally.”

As for the rest?

“After the border is secure and after everything gets normalized, we’re going to make a determination on the people that they’re talking about… who are terrific people. They’re terrific people, but we are gonna make a determination…”

Whatever else this move would be, it would be a remarkable feat, as it would be about equal to the number of deportations that have been processed under outgoing President Barack Obama. And despite what Trump’s stump speeches and years of right-wing talking points may have led you to believe, President Obama has overseen an awful lot of deportations; more, in fact, than any other president in history.

This ongoing crackdown has destroyed lives, shattered families, sown suspicion throughout communities, legitimized discrimination, and damaged the economy. It has also come at great logistical difficulty and expense, being the sort of monumental undertaking that requires concerted political will to pull off over months and years. The deportation apparatus stretches across state lines and multiple branches of the government.

Whatever else it may be, it was not in a practical sense, easy.

And to try to back up what some assumed was just campaign bluster, Donald Trump is purporting he will meet or exceed this dubious feat “immediately”. Doing so would exact a high human cost as well as a massive price tag in dollars, cents, and political capital. There’s just no way to do what the current deportation apparatus has done in eight years “immediately” without utilizing even more brutal, even more indiscriminate tactics, without openly turning immigrant communities into militaristic police states, and without inflicting a lot of collateral damage on people, properties, and public trust.

Now, Mr. Trump has assured us that he knows all the best words, and that one word “immediately”, it is just, to use another of his words, “tremendous”. What does it really mean? I know what it means in the simple, common sense: right away. Right off the bat. Not later, now!

But Trump doesn’t have two million people ready to deport, or even that many people ready to round up for deportation, or the resources and workforce in place to do so.

So we have to read “immediately” to mean “as soon as possible”, and even then, are we talking about immediate action, or immediate results? Does “immediately” mean he’s going to start working towards this end right away? Does it mean he signs an order? Does it mean he just sort of vaguely signals to the relevant agencies that this is his intention on Day 1, and then leaves them to deal with it?

To his fired-up army of Red Hat Regulars, I have a feeling that “immediately” will just mean “immediately”. It means pronto, scoot, git’er done. It means exactly the kind of dystopian, authoritarian scenario I alluded to above will play out, play out immediately, and somehow do no harm to anyone or anything that affects them.

To the Red Hats, it means from the time that Donald Trump grudgingly moves from his golden palace in the sky to that shabby little place in D.C., anyone who looks “illegal” to them is living here on borrowed time. The president says they’ve got to go, and if they stick around, it’s on them what happens. Expect to hear more than a few low-information partisans bragging about it on January 21st as if it has already happened. We might even get a fake news story crowing about the number of day 1 deportations.

To what I suppose we must call his more moderate supporters, “immediately” just means “expect vigorous action soon, it’s a top priority”. They don’t honestly expect him to deport millions of people on day one, no reasonable person would, so it’s silly to think that anyone would take it any other way, and any suggestion that he meant anything so unthinkable is just a bunch of disingenuous liberals trying to scaremonger. Obviously!

Isn’t that marvelous? Two very different groups of people can look at this one word and both will see exactly what they want to see.

And that’s just one word. Trump had a lot more of them. Let’s look again at the most widely-cited part of his statements on immigration, the first chunk I excerpted:

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country. They’re here illegally.

Do you notice the rhetorical pivot he does there? He starts out by saying they’ll be going after criminals, people with criminal records, invoking the heavily racial coded criminal categories of “gang member” and “drug dealer”. These are the people it’s most palatable to go after for immigration enforcement. Who’s going to put up a fight over deporting them? But then he states his reason for deporting them: they’re here illegally. 

And just like that, everybody who nodded along thinking, “sounds reasonable enough,” when he’s talking about gang members and drug dealers has agreed with the foundational premise to mass deportations in general: if they’re here illegally, they have to go. Questions of humanitarianism don’t apply. Questions of economic reality don’t matter. Human empathy, compassion, Christian charity, even the actual points of the law whose spirit is being invoked… all of the things don’t matter once you’ve agreed it’s as simple as “here illegally == gone”.

As for the not-drug-dealers, the “terrific people”? Presumably, these are the same not-rapists and not-murderers he referenced on the campaign trail as “some, I assume, are good people,” about them, he says that we’ll “make a determination” once the real riff-raff has been cleared out and the border is secured.

If you’re not a hard-liner on immigration, you’re thinking that because he said they were terrific people, that determination will be that they should have some path to staying on legitimately. If you are a hard-liner, what you’re hearing is: priorities… get the most dangerous ones out first, then we can deal with the rest.

The really pernicious thing about this statement is that it has been received as both Trump keeping a campaign promise and as him walking back on it. You can see him talking about how he will deport 2 or 3 million people immediately and take that as his ultimate goal (more modest, for want of a better word, than his initial promise) or as a good start towards making good on his promise to deport every undocumented immigrant from our shores.

After all, even if the “immediate” action takes him a year to complete, 2.5-ish million deportations a year would clear out the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States within is first term.

Now, the biggest problem with him actually making good on his claim in any sense is that, according to best estimates, there aren’t 2 or 3 million people living in the country undocumented and with criminal records. There isn’t even 1 million.

If Trump’s number has any relation to reality, he might have been inflating a commonly-cited figure of 1.9 million total non-citizen immigrants who have a criminal record. The term of art bandied about for this group is “removable aliens”, and it is a category that includes people who are here legally on a current visa or holding a green card and who have been convicted of even petty, non-violent crimes and misdemeanors, not just violent or sensational felonies.

The reality of existence for the people in this category is that their continued presence here is in danger, but they’re not the “illegal aliens” Trump has been talking about. So if we take Donald Trump’s claims at face value, then no matter how we parse things like “immediately” or “we’ll make a determination”, we still must conclude that he has either lied about how many people he will deport, or who he will deport.

So, which is it?

If you’re asking this question, you haven’t yet caught on to the way that Trump operates, because the answer is: “Neither. Both. Whatever. You tell me.” You can believe whatever you want to believe out of his statement. If you need to believe that his immigration policy will be in some way fair and judicious, you can believe that the number was an off-the-cuff estimate and of course he’s going to be sticking to the group he said he would. If you’re in favor of indiscriminate mass deportations, you can believe he singled out specific groups of offenders to sell people on the number.

And if you honestly don’t care about anything except the fact that Donald Trump is president and he’s going to kick some behind and make America great again, you’ll believe whatever part of the statement it’s convenient to believe, when it’s convenient to believe it.

Donald Trump said he’ll deport 2 to 3 million people, and that they’ll be bad people, drug dealers and gang members. What will happen is he’ll deport as many people as he can, as he can get away with, and as he thinks he needs to in order to maintain (or better yet, grow) his power.

He’ll do so guided by confidantes who have the explicit goal of making America whiter.

Every obstacle in his path, from simple logistics to the actual rule of law and requirements of due process, will be blamed for his failures and used to generate grassroots support and political capital for removing such obstacles to his rule.

And as doors are kicked in and kids ripped from parents arms and people are shoved in the backs of vans, as civil liberties are curtailed and human rights are abused and due process denied, people will be saying, “like it or not, he did what he said he was going to do, and that’s something” and “well, they’re all drug dealers and gang members and rapists, right?”

And while he does this, he will continue to lie the way that he has: not making the rookie error of trying to shape a single, consistent narrative, but saying things that allow different crowds of listeners to take the message they want, the message they need to hear.

It’s the same tactic, fundamentally, as his choice of appointing a steady establishment Republican like Reince Priebus to be his symbolically important Chief of Staff but picking white supremacist Steve Bannon to be his less official but more influential Chief Strategist. Those who want to shore up the institutions of democracy or the interests of the Republican Party can see the Priebus pick as a solid commitment to continuity and tradition, while those who want to see a real power grab or burn it all down see Bannon as their man in the right place at the right time. And those who are most concerned with the idea that everybody can get along and the nation can heal see the two picks collectively as an attempt at unity.

A sentiment commonly attributed to another American president is that you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Well, in the “post-truth” era he’s helped to usher in, Donald Trump is sure giving it the old college try.

Even if he fails, he’s found his “some of the people” and he’s making considerable hay out of fooling them all of the time.

Author’s Note: Crowdfunditry is crowd-funded punditry. I am an independent voice without a corporate editorial filter, giving you analysis on what’s happening in the country as it’s happening. If you find it insightful or helpful, please help support my work and spread the link. When I get $200 in a week, I’ll keep publishing. If not, I’ll have to turn my energy elsewhere to make a living in Trump’s America.

Please direct media queries to