China

Trump Brazenly Suggests Ukraine, China Should Do Opposition Research for His 2020 Campaign

Plus: Why you think all your friends get their news on Facebook, the trade-offs that come with higher minimum wages, a modest proposal for AOC, and more...

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L'état, c'est moi. A recurring theme throughout Donald Trump's presidency has been his inability to distinguish between the interests of the country and the interests of Donald Trump. This has manifested itself in myriad ways, from the use of Trump hotels for official state business to Trump's insistence that negative news coverage violates libel laws. A different strain of the same logic has consumed the Republican Party and conservative media, which increasingly are organized not around principles or interest groups but around the interests of Trump above all else.

Now, as the president braces against a possible impeachment, he seems ready to deploy this same untruth as an explanation for possible misdeeds. The state is me. I am the state. Therefore, my interests are those of the United States.

Consider what Trump tweeted late on Thursday night:

That tweet capped a crazy day that began with Trump, during an impromptu press conference in the White House driveway, raising the prospect of Ukraine (and China) opening investigations into former vice president (and possible Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden. You know, the exact same request Trump made during a phone call in July with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy—a request that has caused a flurry of renewed speculation about impeachment. And here was Trump, standing in front of TV cameras, suggesting once again that foreign governments should help his re-election bid by digging up dirt on the Democratic primary front-runner.

Then came the news that Trump had dismissed Marie Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal reported that this was because "she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter," citing none other than Rudy Guiliani, Trump's personal lawyer, as the source of that info.

Before the day was out, CNN had reported that Trump raised the prospect of China investigating Biden during a phone call with Chinese trade officials in July. In the same call, Trump reportedly promised not to condemn China's crackdown on Hong Kong.

The request reportedly befuddled Chinese officials, who mistakenly believed they were on the phone with the president in order to hammer out a trade deal between the two countries, not to engage in American domestic politicking. "One Trump ally outside the White House described receiving a message from Chinese government officials asking if Trump was serious when he suggested China open an investigation into Biden," CNN reported. "The response: investigating corruption is an easy way to earn goodwill with Trump."

The theme repeated later Thursday night, when the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight committees released the first trove of documents lawmakers have been reviewing related to l'affaire Ukraine. A series of text messages between William Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, seems particularly damning.

The pattern that's now emerging suggests Trump routinely intertwined his reelection effort with official state business—either implicitly ("an easy way to earn goodwill") or explicitly ("WH meetings are conditioned on investigations").

Which brings us back to Trump's late-night tweet. Now that Trump is openly admitting he solicited foreign assistance to investigate Biden, he's pivoted to claim that all this was in the best interest of the country. He's just trying to uphold the law! If you buy that argument, ask yourself how you'd respond to President Barack Obama openly declaring that China should investigate Mitt Romney.

Clearly, the United States has an interest in tamping down corruption abroad—particularly when it may involve Americans currying favor, as Joe or Hunter Biden may have done. That does bear investigating. But Trump hardly seems interested in investigating corruption, broadly speaking. He has a singular focus on implicating a domestic political opponent in corruption. And he's clearly willing to leverage his office to convince foreign governments to do opposition research for his campaign, and to do it all via diplomatic backchannels.

And he is unwilling or unable to grasp that distinction.

Is all of this impeachable conduct? That's for Congress to decide. But it's obviously inappropriate, completely at odds with a constitutional system that makes the president the head of state but not the state itself, and probably illegal. Oh, and Republican senators are already normalizing it.


FREE MINDS

Facebook feeds your friends fake news, but you're too smart for that. An expansive new survey from the Pew Research Center examines Americans' attitudes towards social media. It finds that only 28 percent of Americans say they "often" get their news from social media. Despite that, most Americans believe social media have too much influence over what everyone else is seeing.

Pew's survey found that 62 percent of Americans say social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit have "too much control" over the mix of news people see, and that 82 percent believe those social media sites "treat some news organizations differently than others." Self-identified Republicans are far more likely to believe social media have too much control over news content than self-identified Democrats.

This is what a fertile ground for government intervention looks like.


FREE MARKETS

I was told there would be no trade-offs. When the minimum wage increases, employers often cut non-wage benefits such as flexible leave, health insurance coverage, tips, and employee discounts, according to a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank.

"The negative economic tradeoffs for minimum wage workers, unfortunately, cancel out most of the paycheck gains," says Ryan Young, a senior fellow at the institute and the author of the report.


QUICK HITS

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