Alex Wong/Getty Images

This Week In Garbageville

Figuring out what to pay attention to in a world where everything seems bad

It’s been a week since Donald Trump became president of the United States. The good news is we’re still here. The bad news is that our hearing is starting to go from the endless backlash his actions have provoked. Everything might seem terrible, but since getting outraged 58 times a day is exhausting, here is a new weekly column in which we try to assess what’s really important to keep an eye on — and how much it should make you want to scream until America plunges into the sea.

Here we go.

“Voter Fraud”

Let’s get this out of the way first: There is absolutely no proof whatsoever that 2016 was marred by widespread voter fraud. OK, now let’s see what Trump is saying ...

Trump later told ABC News that despite the fact that he believes that millions of illegal votes were cast in 2016, all in states that he lost, “none of them come to me. They would all be for the other side.” There’s not much that Trump can do when it comes to voting besides call for an investigation, since elections are run by the states. What he can do, however, is give the elected officials who have already been restricting the vote for the past seven years license to do even more. Right now, the GOP has historically large control over state legislatures, and near-complete control over the federal government. It has the power to legislate massive, sweeping changes to policy — especially now that the Voting Rights Act is basically kaput.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Maybe this is all about Trump’s obsession with losing the popular vote. If that’s what’s happening here, he's only calling for an investigation because everyone mocked the idea that he thought there was massive fraud and also didn’t want to look into it any further.

Or maybe he’s laying down rhetorical cover for a massive war on voting rights.

It would be a war premised on a complete fiction, but that hasn’t stopped America before. Fourteen states had new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 election, per the Brennan Center for Justice. Iowa and Arkansas have already seen new voter ID proposals this year. Both parties inevitably end up doing things to protect their electoral gains once in power (gerrymandering has been happening forever for a reason) and there are plenty of blue states that are woefully lacking in the voting rights department (we’re looking at you, New York). But having the president of the United States try to undermine confidence in the most powerful political tool at Americans’ disposal is not good, especially when Trump may only be complaining about this because a German golfer who isn’t an American citizen might have told a friend that he heard from a friend who couldn’t vote while Latinos standing in line next to him IN SOUTH FLORIDA did.

Endless scream ranking

The scream that happens after you realize our president’s definition of voter fraud would incriminate nearly everyone he is related to or works with.

Sanctuary Cities

A sanctuary city is one that limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in order to protect residents. Some of these cities, like Los Angeles, do not allow their officers to investigate people solely to find out their immigration status; others, like Chicago, do not allow immigration enforcement to use their jails and prisons.

Now Trump, who loves saying he wants to leave issues to the states, has signed an executive order stripping sanctuary cities of federal funds, despite the fact that he has little power to do so. Many of the country’s biggest urban areas, like Los Angeles and New York, had announced their intention to continue and even extend their policies under the new administration. San Francisco is establishing a fund to cover the legal bills of both documented and undocumented immigrants. But the Trump administration plans to wage a PR war against these cities, publishing lists of crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities. The mayors, in turn, have been given a political layup and are all busy giving Independence Day–style speeches about how they can hide immigrants in City Hall if need be.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Part of this is pure gamesmanship, but the demonization of immigrants doesn’t usually end well. And some places — especially, but not exclusively, those with Republican mayors — may see Trump’s executive order as an opportunity to change policies without taking as much political heat. If they can sell it as a pure budgetary issue, it might play better. In fact, that’s basically already happening in Miami-Dade.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that comes when you realize even local officials are going to have to talk about Trump constantly now.

Torture

It’s back. Or, more accurately: There’s a memo that indicates that the Trump administration is preparing for its return, and Trump himself says he thinks it “absolutely” works, though he says he’ll defer to the judgment of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who says it does not work.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

The United States should not torture people, and torturers should be punished. For whatever it’s worth, legislators in both parties have denounced the memo, the Trump administration has disavowed it, and the two people who would actually have to approve for torture to return, Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo, have said that they were stunned by the idea. It’s already against the law, but enforcement is what gives the law teeth, and nobody was prosecuted for torturing people last time in the early aughts.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream from James Mattis, who has spent years saying that torture doesn’t work.

The Global Gag Rule

Ever since Reagan, Republican presidents have signed actions making sure that NGOs couldn’t get money from the U.S. if their family-planning services included abortion. Democratic administrations, in turn, erase it whenever they get to the White House. It was inevitable that Trump was going to bring it back, but, in true Trumpian fashion, he found a way to make the policy even more expansive. Now organizations that treat and prevent HIV/AIDS could lose funding if they talk about abortion.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

The Global Gag Rule has been expanded every time a new Republican walks into the White House. First, it only covered USAID. After George W. Bush, it covered the State Department, too. It was perhaps inevitable that Trump was going to make its reach even larger, ensuring that his action felt familiar and yet completely Trumpian at the same time. Like many of Trump’s other actions so far, this rule is expansive enough that no one is quite sure what it will mean when put into action. Billions of dollars’ worth of aid might be at risk, which may not be a big deal to those attracted by Trump’s promise to cut off America from the rest of the world.

Endless screaming ranking

The Muslim Ban

Shortly before the inauguration, a refugee from Bosnia told Vermont Public Radio that she could understand what some of the 12,000 Syrian refugees who recently came to the U.S. felt. “That moment of arrival,” she said, “when you plant your feet on the U.S. soil is one of the most memorable events in a refugee life and in this journey.” A week later, Trump signed an executive action to block Syrian refugees indefinitely. Nearly half of the refugees coming to the U.S. from Syria are children. The vetting process takes up to two years. Around the world, there are an estimated 65 million displaced people, making this the largest refugee crisis ever.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes. Many other Republican presidential contenders said that the U.S. should stop accepting Syrian refugees, at least for now, so this probably would have happened with any new GOP president. Trump, however, also signed an executive action suspending all visas from countries of “particular concern,” among several other changes that will primarily affect potential Muslim immigration to the U.S. Fewer refugees from other countries will be admitted this year, with a priority on those fleeing religious persecution “provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” Guess who that leaves out?

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that comes from realizing that banning refugees from the U.S. could make terrorism worse — and that many refugees will die if turned away.

Trump Is Probably Watching TV Right Now

At the same time that Trump was tweeting about crime in Chicago, Bill O’Reilly aired a segment using the exact same statistics that Trump was about to share with his loyal followers. Yes, our president was live-tweeting. He also told ABC News that he watched the news several times since becoming one of the most powerful people in the world just to find out if they properly conveyed that his speeches are some of the greatest speeches in history.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

No, but it is perhaps useful to keep in mind that Donald Trump is going to spend most of his waking moments thinking about himself and his electoral victory. The only way to save democracy might be convincing TV networks to rearrange their schedules to make the hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. completely Trump-free and instead filled with Animal Planet shows or reruns of Ken Burns’s The Civil War.

Endless scream ranking

The scream that happens when you realize our president called up the head of the National Park Service to see if he could find photos proving that he had the greatest inauguration of all time.

I Will Send in the Feds!

And about those tweets Trump sent … he said that if the murder rate in Chicago doesn’t change, then he plans to “send in the feds.” What that actually entails is unclear. Is he sending FBI agents? Is he sending the national guard? What will they do when they get there? There’s a whole spectrum between “some advisers are giving some technical assistance” and “declaring martial law,” and there’s no real way of knowing what he means.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

This is in line with Trump’s demagoguery about urban crime, and he has said on more than one occasion that he thinks the solution is draconian law enforcement. So he might be signaling for extreme measures … or he could just be Doing Takes Online while watching Fox.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that happens when you realize our president invented two murders to prove a point.

I Will Mute the Feds!

The Trump administration has asked several federal departments to stop communicating with the public via social media.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Mostly no. It makes sense that a new presidential administration might want to change their method of interacting with the public, and would want a short, temporary moratorium while they do so. It also makes sense that the Trump administration would not want the social media accounts of departments of the executive branch to be taking potshots at Trump, or, more broadly, undermining policy. If anything, the clumsiness with which this was handled speaks to the bumpiness of the presidential transition. Ideally, guidelines and policies would already have been in place before inauguration.

The fact that the Trump administration has also ordered that the studies and data from the EPA undergo review by political staff is potentially more troubling. It could be that the administration just wants to be informed so that they aren’t caught off-guard, which is reasonable. It could also be that they are seeking to censor information that is politically inconvenient, which is … bad. No way to tell now, and even if information is censored, we won’t know unless a brave scientist decides to leak that information to the press.

Endless screaming ranking

The shriek you emit when you learn that National Park Service employees tweeting climate facts might be the last thing our government ever says about the environment.

Government Shrink Ray 101

Trump, who thinks that climate change is a hoax, vaccines are scary, and wind farms are ugly and bad for you, isn’t just watching how said agencies interact with the public. His administration has also put a freeze on contracts and grants at the EPA, and is reportedly planning to cut the agency’s budget and workforce. He also instituted a hiring freeze across federal government.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Ronald Reagan imposed a hiring freeze in his first week in office, so this wasn’t the most imaginative move, and Trump doesn’t have much power to affect hiring anyway. Politico reports that many agencies might just broadly interpret the exemption for jobs “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” There are fewer government workers than there have been in half a century, which makes the logic of the freeze suspect, and many of those frozen jobs would have helped Veterans Affairs, the agency Trump promised to fix. The National Park Service, which relies on seasonal workers, is also worried. If the hiring freeze lasts for a while, agencies might start finding ways to hire contractors, who cost way more than your average civil servant.

The EPA has resumed giving out most of its grants, so worries about that specific action were mostly premature, although it seems likely that Trump will follow in other recent GOP administrations’ footsteps and disregard some of the agency’s future work.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that you let out when you realize Trump signed these orders seemingly without consulting anyone, leaving everyone confused and likely to panic.

The Feds Are Leaving!

The Washington Post reports that a bunch of high-ranking State Department officials — and veterans of Republican and Democratic administrations — just resigned, in what might be “the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember.” They do not seem to have left voluntarily. Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan, who inspired the Breitbart headline “Border Patrol Agents: The Chief Obama Gave Us Is a Disgrace,” also left his post this week.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

This is mostly normal — appointed officials leave during every presidential turnover, although Trump is getting rid of people even before the new people can get a feel for the place. Given Trump’s opinion of D.C., however, this is probably the look he’s going for.

Endless screaming ranking

The yelp that you unconsciously let out when you realize that an administration notable for its lack of expertise will end the week with an even bigger institutional memory hole.

The Wall

He says we’re building it. Meanwhile, illegal immigration continues to drop, the Homeland Security secretary says that building a border wall is not useful, and Mexico still won’t pay for it — and no longer even wants to meet with Trump. Paul Ryan said that Congress will pony up the $12 to $15 billion it takes to build the wall, and Sean Spicer said that a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports will pay for it in the end — and then said maybe it wouldn’t.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Lots of countries have import taxes, but they aren’t usually directed at one country. Trump is also betting most people won’t get that a tax on imports will partially fall on Americans — how much of the tax will be borne by American consumers and how much will be borne by Mexican producers depends on which of them can best avoid it. Also, press secretaries don’t generally workshop policy.

The wall is also a good reminder of all the ways Republicans now seem happy to support things that once sent them looking for smelling salts, like spending lots of government money or signing executive orders.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that comes out when you realize we were supposed to take the wall seriously and literally — and you may never eat an avocado again.

Trump vs. Facts

Six journalists were arrested and charged with felonies while reporting on inauguration protests. Press freedom groups called the charges “bizarre.” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that the White House was doling out “alternative facts.”

Should I bother paying attention to this?

All presidents mostly hate journalists, and they all take advantage of technological advancements to make it easier to talk to citizens without going through a mediator, making it harder and harder for journalists to cover the White House. As one New York Times headline put it in December, “If Donald Trump Targets Journalists, Thank Obama.” But … it didn’t take a week for Trump’s administration to charge reporters with felony rioting, and for him and his press team to tell more lies than you can count on your fingers and toes. On the other hand, leaks are already coming out of the Trump administration like crazy, so it may not be too hard to find out what’s happening inside the administration — as long as everyone stops covering his every move as breaking news.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that comes out when you hear Trump adviser Steve Bannon say the media should “keep its mouth shut.”

EMAILS

Members of Trump’s staff are reportedly using private email accounts. If there’s one thing we’ve learned this past year, it’s that those in government love their electronic messages.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Judging from the past year, you wouldn’t listen to us even if we told you there were better things to worry about. Trump is also using an unsecured Android phone, and his official Twitter account was hooked up to a Gmail account without two-factor verification.

The jokes write themselves, and will be very funny right up until the moment they aren’t.

Endless screaming ranking

The scream that jumps out when you see a poll that says 42 percent of Trump voters think he should be allowed to have his very own private email server.


VMAs 2017