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Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump, takes questions from the media at Trump Tower on Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty)

With 'alternative facts,' Trump World swimming in a sea of dishonesty

01/23/17 10:00AM

When George Orwell wrote "1984," he meant it as a warning, not an instruction guide.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, said the White House press secretary gave "alternative facts" when he inaccurately described the inauguration crowd as "the largest ever" during his first appearance before the press this weekend.
It fell to "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd to explain to the White House aide, "Alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods."

To be sure, the new president and his team have already adopted some amazing new words and phrases that are quickly defining the Trump era -- "unpresidented," "American carnage," "bigly" -- but "alternative facts" is truly special. As the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan noted yesterday, its use makes it clear "we've gone full Orwell."

In late 2004, Ron Suskind ran a lengthy, much-discussed piece on the Bush/Cheney administration, which featured an exchange between the reporter and an unnamed White House aide, rumored to be Karl Rove. The aide said journalists were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality."

The White House staffer added, "That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

More than 12 years later, a new Republican administration has power, and its approach to creating its own reality is arguably even more twisted.
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

White House press secretary makes an unfortunate first impression

01/23/17 09:30AM

Thousands of times, presidential press secretaries have appeared behind the podium in the White House briefing room. But never before have we witnessed a display comparable to Sean Spicer's tantrum on Saturday.
President Donald Trump's press secretary on Saturday slammed what he called inaccurate tweets and reporting that suggested the size of the crowd at Trump's inauguration was smaller than at past occasions.
Spicer, on his first full day as the president's chief spokesperson, told reporters that the inaugural crowd only appeared smaller because Friday was "the first time in our nation's history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall." That wasn't true. He said security measures interfered with attendees trying to make it onto the Mall. That wasn't true, either.

Spicer added, "All of this space [from Trump's platform to the Washington Monument] was full when the president took the oath of office." That wasn't true, either.

Finally, the press secretary, with a straight face, declared, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period." And that, of course, is quite literally unbelievable.

But even if we put aside Spicer's unfortunate imitation of Baghdad Bob, there's an important larger context to all of this.
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A man crosses the Central Intelligence A

Trump's speech to the CIA broke new presidential ground

01/23/17 09:01AM

For his first major event on his first full day as president, Donald Trump went to the Central Intelligence Agency, which made a fair amount of sense. The new president repeatedly attacked the CIA and the intelligence community before taking the oath of office -- two weeks ago, he went so far as to compare them to Nazis -- so it stands to reason that Trump would want to invest some energy into undoing the damage he's done.

But on Saturday, the new president spoke in front of a memorial wall at CIA headquarters and delivered one of the strangest presidential speeches in modern history. Slate's report captured the flavor nicely:
[The speech began with Trump expressing support for the CIA's work], but before long, he turned to what remain his favorite topics: himself and the "dishonest media." He complained that while, as far as he could tell, 1 million to 1.5 million people filled the National Mall to watch his inaugural address, the media reported that just 200,000 turned out for the event. [...]

Trump then rambled -- as if this were a campaign rally instead of a morale-boosting speech in front of the agency's most sacred spot -- about how smart he is (citing as proof the fact that a brilliant uncle taught at MIT) and about how he's been on the cover of Time magazine more often than anybody. (In fact, the title is held by Richard Nixon, which says something about what gets a president on a lot of Time magazine covers.)
Watching the speech was surreal, as if the lines between the actual president of the United States and a satirical caricature were effectively blurred out of existence.

In remarks that were supposed to be about the CIA and the intelligence community, Trump found it difficult to stop talking about himself. "They say, 'Is Donald Trump an intellectual?'" the president asked, quoting no one in particular. "Trust me. I'm, like, a smart person."

In a relatively brief appearance, he whined incessantly about journalists who told the truth about his inaugural crowd size. Trump pretended he hadn't feuded with the intelligence community for months. He even credited God for preventing rain at his inauguration, despite the fact that it rained at his inauguration.

And then the new president suggested Americans might need to prepare themselves for another war in the Middle East.
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President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan.20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Why the paltry crowd for Trump's inaugural matters

01/23/17 08:30AM

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president in Donald Trump's White House, talked to ABC' News' George Stephanopoulos yesterday and was quick to dismiss the underwhelming crowd that showed up for the new president's inauguration late last week.

"The crowd size is actually not a very animating topic to me," Conway said, adding that inaugural crowd sizes are not how presidents are judged.

It might be a more compelling point if her boss didn't disagree so strenuously.

Throughout his rise to power, Trump has made crowd sizes a key element of his political identity. At his pre-inaugural press conference, the new president, referring to himself in third person, declared, "Nobody has ever had crowds like Trump has had. You know that." Just two days before taking the oath of office, Trump told an audience, "[T]hey've just announced we're going to have record crowds" coming to the inauguration.

It's still not clear who "they" are, but their imaginary "announcement" was obviously mistaken. Trump said he intended to "set the all-time record" for attendance at a presidential inaugural, but it became plainly obvious on Friday that he failed spectacularly. Politico noted:
For someone preoccupied with the size of his audiences, President Donald Trump appeared to draw an anemic one on Friday.

In the run-up to the inauguration, Trump had promised an "unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout," but early evidence suggests the festivities in Washington fell far short of that mark.
By most estimates, roughly 250,000 people attended Trump's inauguration, compared to 1.8 million who showed up for President Obama's first inaugural. The side-by-side pictures and videos drive home the point in striking visuals: the crowd for Friday's event was rather pathetic.

I'd be far more sympathetic to arguments that this is little more than a trivial curiosity if Trump and the new White House team weren't going out of their way to make the opposite argument.
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Demonstrators arrive at Union Station for the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, in Washington, DC.

An unmistakable message: 'Welcome to your first day; we will not go away'

01/23/17 08:00AM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump's election, tens of thousands of Americans in cities nationwide took to the streets to denounce the nation's new president. Last week, there were comparable events in support of the Affordable Care Act. A couple of weeks earlier, much of the public howled when Republicans took aim at congressional ethics rules, forcing GOP lawmakers to quickly retreat.

But while these displays of progressive activism were impressive, it's been many years since Americans have seen events on the scale we saw the day after Trump's inauguration.
In a global exclamation of defiance and solidarity, millions rallied at women's marches in the nation's capital and cities around the world Saturday to send President Donald Trump an emphatic message on his first full day in office that they won't let his agenda go unchallenged.

"Welcome to your first day, we will not go away!" marchers in Washington chanted.
This wasn't just impressive, it was also important. By most measures, roughly 250,000 people attended Trump's inauguration in D.C. on Friday, but an estimated 3 million people participated in the women's march worldwide on Saturday -- including tripling the new president's crowd in the nation's capital alone.

The traditional conservative retort is to dismiss progressive activism as being limited to coastal elites in major urban areas. Not this time. Marchers and protesters made their voices heard in literally every state - including the reddest of red states.

As the events wrapped up, many on the right were quick to dismiss their significance. White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said yesterday the events didn't seem to have a "point."

That's ridiculous.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.20.17

01/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Remember all the times Donald Trump complained that the media never showed enough of his crowds? Given the paltry attendance at his inauguration, he'd probably want the opposite today.

* As for the crowd for Trump's inaugural concert last night, the in-person audience for Obama's inaugural concert was 40 times larger.

* Capitol Hill: "Senate Democrats and Republicans are tussling over how many of President Donald Trump's nominees can be confirmed on his first day in office, with Republicans threatening to work through the weekend to break the logjam."

* Final remarks before taking a break: "Walking out to chants of 'yes, we can!' and leaving to chants of 'yes, we did!' President Barack Obama gave final remarks at a farewell gathering of staff at Joint Base Andrews before boarding his last flight on the military aircraft that ferries presidents on their travels."

* On a related note, Obama.org launched today.

* Gambia's political crisis: "Defeated Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh has agreed to cede power to the country's newly inaugurated leader, a Senegalese government official confirmed late Friday."

* Obama's last counter-terrorism strike: "A U.S. air strike killed an al Qaeda leader in Syria on Tuesday, the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday. Mohammad Habib Boussadoun al-Tunisi, a Tunisian who was involved in 'external operations and has been connected to terrorist plots to attack Western targets,' was killed in the strike near Idlib in Syria, the statement said."

* El Chapo: "The epic quest to bring Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to the United States culminated Friday in a New York courtroom, where the feared former leader of the Sinaloa cartel appeared in a navy jail uniform to face charges that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life."
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President Barack Obama speaks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Monica Herndon/Tampa Bay Times/Pool/AP)

A presidential giant exits the stage

01/20/17 04:30PM

Presidents are often judged by a historical shorthand that highlights their most historic achievements. Abraham Lincoln, for example, won the Civil War and signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Franklin Roosvelet created the New Deal, rescued the country from the Great Depression, created Social Security, and won World War II.

These are the kinds of successes that put a president in the pantheon of American leaders of legendary consequence.

As President Obama becomes former President Obama, the debate can now begin in earnest about his tenure. When that historical shorthand is applied to his terms, what will it include? How will it compare to those who came before him?

I'm reminded of a piece Paul Krugman wrote in the fall of 2014, a month before the GOP took complete control of Congress, when Obama's standing wasn't nearly as strong as it is now.
...Obama faces trash talk left, right and center -- literally -- and doesn't deserve it. Despite bitter opposition, despite having come close to self-inflicted disaster, Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history. [...]

This is what a successful presidency looks like. No president gets to do everything his supporters expected him to. FDR left behind a reformed nation, but one in which the wealthy retained a lot of power and privilege. On the other side, for all his anti-government rhetoric, Reagan left the core institutions of the New Deal and the Great Society in place. I don't care about the fact that Obama hasn't lived up to the golden dreams of 2008, and I care even less about his approval rating. I do care that he has, when all is said and done, achieved a lot. That is, as Joe Biden didn't quite say, a big deal.
My friends at the Washington Monthly recently published a list of Obama's top accomplishments and it's a pretty extraordinary inventory of one of the most successful presidents of modern times. Rachel had a related segment last night, and watching the list of historic breakthroughs, it's hard not to notice that Obama exits the stage as the most accomplished president, of either party, since FDR.
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President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan.20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In his inaugural address, Trump vows to end 'American carnage'

01/20/17 01:42PM

The story of Donald Trump's political trajectory is one of a series of "pivots" that were predicted but never seen.

After Trump's belligerent campaign kickoff in June 2015, many observers said he'd soon pivot towards a more responsible campaign message in order to extend his appeal to more Republican constituencies. That didn't happen.

After he secured the Republican Party's presidential nomination, many assumed Trump would pivot away from his primary persona and become a general-election candidate with a message that resonated nationally. That didn't happen, either.

After Trump won the election, much of the country expected him to pivot from campaign mode to governing mode as he prepared for the awesome responsibilities of the American presidency. That didn't happen, either.

After he actually became president this afternoon, Trump was supposed to pivot, embracing the fact that he now represents the nation and its people, and recognizing that the time for deliberate divisiveness has passed.

But like every other predicted pivot, Trump had other ideas. The new president delivered a bleak, almost angry inaugural address that was effectively indistinguishable from the Republican's campaign rhetoric:
"Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

"This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. [...]

"For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we've defended other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.

"One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world."
As a factual matter, the portrait of America the new president painted is largely unrecognizable, and as a political vision, the dystopian nightmare Trump presented in his infamous convention speech in July 2016 is no different from the one he described today.
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Image: President Elect Trump Continues His "Thank You Tour" In Grand Rapids, Michigan

As power shifts, Trump's team remains unprepared to govern

01/20/17 11:08AM

When one U.S. administration transfers power to another, it's not uncommon for various officials to remain at their posts for a while, which is why this Associated Press report, published yesterday, may not have seemed especially surprising.
President-elect Donald Trump has asked roughly 50 senior Obama administration appointees to remain in their posts after his inauguration to ensure continuity in government, his incoming White House press secretary said Thursday.

The officials include the highest-ranking career officials at key national security agencies like the Pentagon and State Department.
Just on the surface, there is a certain irony to the appeals: much of Trump's campaign platform was predicated on the idea that President Obama's team was an incompetent and disastrous failure, unfit for power, who must be replaced by people hand-picked by the Republican amateur.

Evidently, as of yesterday, Trump decided Obama administration officials aren't so bad after all -- because the people he spent a year bashing are now being asked to keep doing their jobs a while longer.

Note, we're not just talking about random, low-level officials in obscure government offices. Team Trump has pleaded with top members of Obama's team -- professionals who work on highly sensitive tasks related to national security, for example -- to stick around, for an indefinite amount of time, while the incoming administration gets its act together.

And therein lies the broader point. Trump and his team have known for months they needed to prepare a vast executive-branch team to take the reigns of power this afternoon -- and they blew it badly. The Republicans didn't just ask dozens of Obama appointees to keep going to work because of the officials' competence; Trump World is also scrambling because it's desperate.
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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