Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got news for you: There is no news.
Last week, President Donald J. Trump held a press conference. Everyone’s watched it, commentated on it, annotated it, and shown clips, but for the benefit of those few people with the good sense to change the channel when they saw it coming, here’s a summary: An hour-long angry rant about fake news and illegal leaks.
Which of course made headlines, because every news source hates being called fake. And that’s the whole news cycle all weekend. Point, counterpoint, rebuttal, and counter-rant (from McCain, of course, because he rants so very well). Even the bit about the leaks being illegal has faded from the headlines — obviously, because there’s no argument; these sorts of leaks are always illegal. Otherwise, Edward Snowden would be living in Hawaii right now and Julian Assange wouldn’t be hiding out in an embassy somewhere. Of course the leaks were illegal; that’s not news.
What is news, though, is that Blind Sheikh Omar, architect of the 1994 World Trade Center bombing and some say the man who helped orchestrate 9/11 from prison via his crooked lawyer finally died. In prison. After a long and lingering illness.
In some countries, there would be parades and bonfires and all-night drinking binges to celebrate the death of this evil man. But on CNN, it’s barely a footnote. Even less screen time was given to the death of Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe vs. Wade. And Russia’s announcement of a ceasefire in the Ukraine? No coverage worth mentioning. Nothing.
And lest we think that’s just CNN, let’s look at the front pages of the major Saturday papers: Well, the Post has McCorvey below the fold, the Times has… no, it’s Trump, Trump, Trump, and Mar-A-Lago (Trump). No mention of the Ukraine on either one. And the L.A. Times… well, that’s all about the local flooding, which is understandable. California doesn’t flood all that often. Bottom line is, it’s taking me a ton of work to get any details at all on these three stories, all of which are pretty damn major. Instead, we’re watching Trump melt down over and over… and over… and [commercial break] and we’re back, and over.
Which is precisely what Donald J. Trump the candidate used to make happen. It’s how he got so much free airtime in 2015 and ’16 that no other Republican candidate had name recognition in the New Hampshire primaries. It’s how he took the nomination. And now, it’s how he’s running his presidency — and we’re going right along with it.
I’ve got a novel idea here: Let’s stop covering Donald J. Trump the man and instead start looking at what the Trump Administration is accomplishing. Let’s examine all the acts of Congress that he’s signed into law, and how his Executive Orders are doing. Let’s take a good look at all the new things that are going to happen and find out if we really ought to be outraged or impressed or what.
Well, let’s see: Looks like five new pieces of legislation have gone to the White House to get signed. We’ve got this one that repeals a tax reporting rule… not very exciting on the face of it. (Appearances can be deceiving, though.) We’ve got one that changes some obscure wording on a commission to encourage women in science and engineering — we can encourage females to work for business as well as pure research. Well, that’s probably good, but I’m not sure how newsworthy it is. There’s this one that lets the OMB sue other branches of the government to get information if they have to; I confess, I really don’t understand that, but it makes a sort of sense. And this one on gun control and SSI is a privacy thing — a good story there, but apparently it hasn’t been signed.
Well, that leaves this one repealing the rule protecting — what’s this? Protecting streams from coal mine discharge! Well, what the hell? Why aren’t we covering this! Why, this law protects… let me see… 22 miles of streams and rivulets from… Wait. 22 miles? That can’t be right.
“The final regulatory impact analysis indicates that, between 2020 and 2040, the rule will result in the protection or restoration of 22 miles of intermittent and perennial streams per year…”
Hm. Not even real full-time waterways here, though no doubt they flow into some. Seasonal stuff, and 22 miles; culverts and dry riverbeds time. I mean, if I lived downstream I’d probably be annoyed for two weeks every spring and if I were a fish I’d be seriously pissed (or dead), but otherwise, this isn’t really news. Actually, I think the real story here might be why it took almost eight years under Obama to pass a major law that only protects 22 miles of seasonal waterways. Why is this just hitting the eastern states and not the massive amount of coal mining in Montana, where the aquifer is so much more vulnerable? But that’s for a later article; there’s too much. Let it pass for now.
So let’s move on to the executive actions. I mean, there’s been so much in the news about them; there must be something worth talking about.
OK… discarding proclamations like “American Heart Month”, vital though our hearts are. That’s two of the 26. And we’ve got a bunch that are procedural, things every president has done almost automatically for a century. A few are announcing the intent to do thus-and-such, but they don’t accomplish anything. I think we can probably ignore all but a couple of these as either powerless, meaningless, or just keeping the trains running.
There are a few left, and it’s worthy of note that of those, exactly one was issued in February. Everything else with any teeth was written within the first two weeks after the Inauguration. Of those, one, the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’, has been largely stopped by the courts and is scheduled for replacement. It’s worthy of note, but it’s not in effect right now, so we’ll skip it and deal with it once the new rule takes effect.
Here’s a summary:
- Hiring Freeze (Jan. 23): One of the first things done was to freeze all government hiring. It was a campaign promise, but it’s not really controversial — especially since exceptions are permitted. Down the road this may matter, but not now.
- Mexico City Policy (Jan. 23): The operative text appears to be that we now “do not fund… coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” This needs further exploration, but mainly I’m left asking, “We did that?”
- Withdrawal From TPP (Jan. 23): Straightforward. It’s a controversial treaty, and we pulled out. This is important, but for our purposes here it’s over and done with. Newsworthy a month ago or six months or a year, but not so much now.
- Expediting Environmental Reviews (Jan. 24): There are five different orders here, all designed to push pipeline construction. The principle is that this administration believes restrictive regulation hurts industry without any real benefit. All else aside, there’s been quite a few local residents that have disagreed rather violently with at least some projects, so we can at least say that there is some dispute over this.
- Border Security (Jan. 25): There are three Orders about immigration, one of which is in abeyance. The other two merely mandate the enforcement of some (but not all) existing laws. Again, this isn’t nothing, but it’s not huge except for individuals; enforcement is going to increase.
- Reducing Regulation (Jan. 30): Based on the principle that less government is better, it’s been determined that for every new regulation, two old ones must be eliminated. This will get messy over time, but right now it’s not really newsworthy.
- Fighting International Crime (Feb. 9): This is the only recent executive order of note, and yet the instruction is merely that existing law should be enforced. There is a direction that interagency cooperation is now high priority, but that’s about it — and every president since Truman has tried for that. (Usually unsuccessfully.)
For the most part, then, existing laws are going to be enforced and streamlined. There’s not a lot there to talk about. More to the point, nothing at all has been accomplished in the past week, and before that nothing of great importance has happened since the end of January. And when we look at new laws, once again, nothing much has happened. Oh, some of them may have some impact eventually, but right now they don’t demand headlines.
To recap: The news is full of stories about Trump and his administration, and yet that administration isn’t actually doing much of anything.
Now, there is actually a lot that’s noteworthy going on here. There are items of international importance (as I’ve mentioned) that aren’t getting much play in the media, but if you mostly care what’s going on in D.C., there’s several things that could be explored but that are not. Here’s some examples:
- Apparently, nothing much is getting accomplished by this new administration. How much of this is due to obstruction in the Senate? For that matter, is this even unusual?
- Do any of these laws or orders have repercussions we aren’t seeing yet? Human interest aside, is there anything we ought to be exploring?
- Is there anything of interest happening outside the orders, the protests, and the laws? I keep seeing where Trump talked to this or that world leader; is anything being discussed that we should care about?
Substance, however, is decidedly lacking from reporting from the capitol. I’m intrigued by this bridge that Trudeau brought up, and yet no major media source has covered it. Apparently, bribery is now legal again — and once more, it’s not getting reported. Instead, we are supposed to care about the First Lady leading a prayer service in Australia, or which stores are no longer carrying Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, or just how much it’s costing us to have Secret Service protection for so many adult children, or who said what on Twitter. I’m looking for news and I’m getting Entertainment Tonight.
It’s not ‘Fake News’; not exactly — but it’s not what I think of as important. It’s not fake, but it’s surely not news.
And I propose we change this.
The common objection to President Trump is that he’s going to do horrendous things to this country, that he’s going to become a tyrant or outlaw the free press or something. So let’s focus on what he’s actually doing, examine every meeting and law and memorandum, and we’ll judge him by that.
Or they won’t, and you can keep coming back here. I’ll be watching.
ERRATA: To underline that last sentence, I’ve already found some mistakes in the body of this and corrected them. The hiring freeze, for example, is likely to cause problems as time goes by unless the OMB waiver process gets streamlined — which is long overdue. And the stream protection law — well, there’s actually quite a bit going on there, and some of the changes will have to wait for my followup article on the topic. It’ll be a corker, I think.
ERRATUM: Pretty big mistake — the stream law? Not 22 miles, but 22 miles per year for twenty years. It’s still a pissant little law, but it’s twenty times more important than I thought it was. Again, though: stay tuned for the followup.