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This Week In Garbageville

What to pay attention to when everything seems bad

In the two weeks since Donald Trump's inauguration, there's been good news and bad news. The good news: we've evaded nuclear war (so far). The bad news: everything else.

Here's what happened this week in Trump's America.

The Immigration Ban That's Not a Ban, Because That's the "Media's Word," But Actually, Yes, It Is a Ban

Last Friday, Trump signed an executive order effectively banning people from seven majority Muslim countries — Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Iran — from entering the United States. In addition, the order stops refugee resettlement from any country for four months, and bans Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.

This is ... not great. Also not great was the way the order was executed.

Not only were dual nationals — people with citizenship in two countries, like an Iraqi-British citizen — mistakenly included under the original order, but so were legal permanent residents (green-card holders). Gaining legal permanent residency already requires people to undergo lengthy processing, including background checks by Homeland Security and the FBI — and yet some green-card holders were sent back to their home countries over the weekend, often the same countries they had fled because of violence. Some were crucial interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan who had received visas and yet were sent back upon landing in the United States. (And no, Donald Trump, despite your administration's statements to the contrary, Obama did not do the same thing.)

Americans reacted quickly, as lawyers rushed to help detained immigrants and refugees and protests spread from airports like JFK and O'Hare to the streets of cities like Washington, D.C., and Omaha, Nebraska.

On Saturday night, the ACLU joined other civil rights organizations in filing a lawsuit aimed at the executive order on behalf of two Iraqi men, both with visas, who had been detained because of the ban. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction stopping the ban from taking effect — though lawyers have reported that multiple Border Patrol agents at airports around the country are choosing to ignore the judge's ruling.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Uh, yeah. The ban is likely to widen beyond those seven countries, and could likely target American citizens as well. It wouldn't be the first time Muslims have been under a government microscope. During the Bush administration, Muslims and Arab people were tracked by a government database called NSEERS, which required more than 80,000 people to be fingerprinted and periodically endure in-person interviews with the Department of Homeland Security. The result? Zero terrorists caught. But the Trump administration has shown signs of wanting to bring it back. Like low-rise jeans, but awful and discriminatory.

Interim Attorney General Speaks Out, Then Gets Fired

Three days after Trump released his executive order on immigration, then-interim Attorney General Sally Yates (who was serving until Jeff Sessions's confirmation) sent a letter to Justice Department attorneys saying that she was "not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent" with the Constitution, nor that it was legal. She then told DOJ attorneys to not defend the executive order. By Monday night, she was out of a job.

It's within the right of the president to replace an attorney general who won't follow his (or her) orders. Technically, Yates could have resigned, but she chose to speak out. This gives evidence of a federal government divided between those who believe in civil law, and those who believe in Trump.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Keep an eye on it. The story of how long-term civil employees handle dealing with Trump isn't going to be a short-term one.

Cabinet Confirmations

An oil company chief executive with no government or military experience got Hillary Clinton’s old job this week. Rex Tillerson, a lifetime Exxon employee, was confirmed as secretary of state in a 56 to 43 Senate vote on Wednesday — which seems like a good margin until you consider that all but three Democrats voted against him. Those three? Mark Warner, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Manchin.

We can focus on Tillerson’s close ties to Vladimir Putin later. With Trump cussing out foreign leaders left and right, he has his work cut out for him. (Also, it bears repeating that he has no experience doing anything like this. Feel safer, America?) But the real drama this week is with the other potential Cabinet members being considered. Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin and Health and Human Services pick Tom Price, both under fire for lying during their confirmation hearings, were pushed through by the Senate Finance Committee after the rules were suspended to work around the Democrats’ boycott of the vote. Jeff Sessions, the “career racist” up for attorney general, was also approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, albeit barely. The one who is really in trouble is public-school opponent Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice to run the Department of Education. After a stupefying performance at her recent confirmation hearing, DeVos is one vote away from being rejected after two Republicans announced that they won’t support her nomination.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Definitely, because regular folks calling those Republican senators helped sway their votes. “I have heard from thousands, truly thousands, of Alaskans who shared their concerns” about DeVos, said Lisa Murkowski on the Senate floor this week. Susan Collins of Maine, who also refused to vote for DeVos, was also targeted by citizen calls. That’s good, since DeVos has some very disturbing views about education. Very. All that chatter about "call your member of Congress" actually makes a difference.

The Next Supreme Court Nominee Who Isn't Named Merrick Garland

Trump is a lot to put up with, even for Republicans who enable and defend his every authoritarian whim. Democratic senator Sherrod Brown told The Huffington Post that several of his conservative colleagues in the U.S. Senate are already complaining about the president’s ethics, style, incompetence, performance … they’re complaining about a lot. But as Brown noted, they aren’t doing anything about it yet. It makes sense, since Trump has a lot of tasks that they need him to perform.

Perhaps the biggest, most lasting item on the list was checked off Tuesday night, live on television, in a prime-time event that only a former reality star could orchestrate. Teasing out his announcement of a Supreme Court pick like it was the final rose on The Bachelor, Trump tried to put the country in suspense when all along there was a pretty good chance he’d pick someone who was most like the late Antonin Scalia. (The justice died last February. That’s how long Republicans have been holding that open spot hostage, ignoring Obama nominee Merrick Garland as if he were one of the shunned pledges at the Omega House.)

The pick was Scalia admirer and ideological clone Neil Gorsuch, who comes from elite Republican stock: His mom tried and failed to kill the Environmental Protection Agency under Ronald Reagan. The 49-year-old federal appeals court judge from Colorado spoke in a lecture last year of the moment he learned of Scalia’s death in the middle of a ski run. Gorsuch claimed that he was “not embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the rest of the way down the mountain for the tears.” That’s the kind of grief John Q. Public can relate to.

Should I be paying attention to this?

It’s a lifetime appointment, so yes. By losing the Garland fight and the election, the Democrats missed out on a chance to make the Supreme Court majority liberal. As such, Gorsuch’s nomination may be the most permanent consequence of Trump’s election. He was the judge who decided the Hobby Lobby case that was later upheld by the Supreme Court, allowing the religious views of an employer to dictate whether employees could have birth control coverage. So he’s no friend to women who want to control when they get pregnant. There are concerns he won’t be receptive to lawsuits brought against voter restriction laws. And ever hear Republicans complain that the government gets in the way of the free market? Well, Trump’s nominee has made important rulings in favor of big business. Gorsuch’s decisions line up with Scalia’s in nearly every way. But politically speaking, all of that is secondary to the fact that this was Barack Obama’s decision to make. A Supreme Court nomination was stolen from him, and given to Donald Trump. And like the Senate Republicans, we’re just supposed to pretend like that's normal.

And About That Black History Month Thing

Speaking of abnormal, we didn't even touch on Trump's awkward book report of a speech for Black History Month, which began on Wednesday. Take a look for yourselves, as it is almost beyond description. Beware, though: you'll hear more about him and Fox News than about Martin Luther King Jr. or that guy Frederick Douglass, whom Trump talked about as if he were still alive. Douglass "has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people," he said. There was no word as to whether Douglass, who has been dead for nearly 122 years, is up for a promotion from the Trump Organization mail room.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes. This was a laugh-to-keep-from-crying moment. It's been quite some time since black people and other marginalized groups have been this invisible to a president of the United States. This episode was just a reminder.


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