Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Reading

Performance Anxiety — McKay Coppins in The Atlantic on Trump’s obsession with this electial dysfunction.

As he approaches his hundredth day in office, Donald Trump appears to be suffering—once again—from an acute case of presidential status anxiety.In public, of course, he has labored to play it cool, strenuously insisting (and insisting, and insisting) that he does not care about the “first hundred days” metric that historians and pundits have used to evaluate the success of new administrations since FDR. Trump has called this milestone “ridiculous” and “artificial”—a meaningless media fixation. And yet, the less-than-laudatory press reviews seem to have left him seething. For evidence, look no further than the president’s pathos-drenched Twitter feed, where he recently took to vent, “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!”

This explains why we are now witnessing the White House in mad-scramble mode—frantically reaching for last-minute “accomplishments” to placate the president, and pad his record. The closer Trump gets to the hundred-day marker, it seems, the more erratically he flings major legislative initiatives at the wall in hopes that something will stick.

Last week, Trump abruptly pledged to unveil a “massive” tax-cut plan in the coming days—an announcement that reportedly surprised even his own staff. To meet their boss’s deadline, they rushed out a single-page document—bullet-pointed, double-spaced, 229 words long—that resembled a homework assignment hastily completed in the stall during a bathroom break. Skeptics scoffed, Democrats balked, and even White House officials have struggled to articulate their “plan.”Meanwhile, with a government shutdown fast approaching, Trump threatened to blow up budget negotiations with an outlandish—and politically unviable—demand that the funding bill include money for a border wall. (He eventually had to back down.) And with just 48 hours left in his first hundred days, Trump embarked on a quixotic last-ditch bid to jam an Obamacare replacement bill through the House before the weekend—whip counts be damned. (Speaker Paul Ryan refused to bring it to a vote Thursday night.)

This flurry of ill-considered activity might seem needlessly volatile and self-defeating—but it’s part of a larger pattern of behavior. This is, after all, not the first time a major milestone in Trump’s career has sent him spiraling into resentment and recklessness.

As I’ve written before, Trump’s angriest outbursts often accompany his greatest moments of recognition or triumph. He won the Republican nomination, and spent the next week feuding with Gold Star parents and complaining that Hillary Clinton didn’t adequately congratulate him. He won the election, and spent the transition fighting with celebrities and championing a voter-fraud conspiracy theory. He was sworn in as the 45th  president of the United States, and spent the weekend fuming over the size of his inauguration crowd.

Trump is a Queens-born billionaire who has spent his life chasing validation from elites who hold him in disdain. With each new benchmark he reaches, he holds out hope that it will finally quiet his chorus of haters. And when he realizes they’re still laughing at him, he acts out. Consider, now, what Trump is likely seeing these days when he turns on his TV: presidential historians discussing the unparalleled failures of his first hundred days; polls showing an historically low approval rating; pundits depicting a presidency gripped by impotence. Given his recent history, an eruption was inevitable.Earlier this week, the White House made a foray into the presidential legacy-measuring contest with a press release titled, “President Trump’s 100 Days of Historic Accomplishments.” Trump, we learned, had accomplished more than any president since FDR, passed more legislation than anyone since Truman, and done more to “stop the government from interfering in the lives of Americans” than any other president in history. As my colleague Elaine Godfrey noted, some of the figures supporting these claims were (perhaps unsurprisingly) wrong, and the press release was widely mocked on the internet for its predictable bombast. But maybe for Trump, the comparisons are about more than chest-thumping and ego-pumping.

With a hundred days behind him, Trump seems increasingly like a man disillusioned with his job, and disoriented by his place in history. “I loved my previous life. I had so many thing going,” Trump told Reuters this week. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

Go Canada — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker on the boom in Canadian immigration.

Canada by Choice is a small, family-run immigration consultancy in Windsor, Ontario. It gives legal advice to people who are interested in moving to Canada and helps them fill out the necessary paperwork to enter the country. Hussein Zarif has worked on marketing and outreach at the company for the past four years—it’s his job to find clients and connect them with the firm’s staff. The clientele come mostly from the Middle East, China, and India, and that’s where Zarif has always focussed his outreach budget, placing online ads that appear on Facebook and Google. That was before Donald Trump. Since November 8th, the firm has been flooded with calls from the U.S., and the Web site has crashed a few times because of heavy traffic. Zarif knew that Americans often threatened to move to Canada after a contentious election, but he hadn’t ever taken them seriously. “Maybe there is something behind all this,” he remembers thinking. “I’ll put some ads out and see what happens.” He used recent quotes from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a tagline for ads on Facebook and Google which ran in the U.S.: “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

Zarif, who is twenty-four, and whose father runs the business, has become an unlikely expert in the anxiety currently plaguing immigrants in America. “I’m not a political person, and I don’t know the U.S. very well,” he said. He wasn’t looking to entice American citizens—in his experience, they tended to stay put. The idea, instead, was to find promising immigrants living in America who were anxious to leave. From his desk at the firm’s office, in a strip mall just across a bridge from Detroit, he started tinkering with the filters for his targeted digital ads—the ones that pop up when someone is using Facebook or Google—trying to insure that they reached the right people. His first attempts to target people based on age, language, and location brought uneven results—Americans looking to retire to Canada, immigrants with poor English-language skills. (Canada awards work visas using specific criteria, such as language skills, education, and professional experience.) Then he refined the terms further, to include anyone who had ever typed “how to immigrate to the U.S.” into Google. A few days later, he received a call from an Egyptian client in his mid-thirties, with a master’s degree, a long employment history, and a well-paying job in Detroit. He and his wife, who were raising a child, were ready to emigrate. “These weren’t the people I thought would be interested in coming to Canada,” he said. “They had status in the place where they lived. They made a hundred thousand dollars, had good jobs. These are the people who want to leave?” The man had an H-1B visa, a temporary U.S. work visa for specialty occupations in engineering, medicine, and tech. At the time, Zarif—who entrusts the legal side of the business to the firm’s experts—didn’t know what an H-1B visa was.

On the campaign trail, Trump had attacked the H-1B program, which admits eighty-five thousand people a year, claiming that companies were using it to undercut American workers. When Trump won, many expected him to take steps to curb the program. The Egyptian and his wife had decided that the uncertainty was too much. Zarif heard a similar story, a few days later, from a Pakistani living in the U.S., then from another man, who was Indian. “I started noticing a pattern,” Zarif said. “Each time, they had just the qualifications I was looking for. I thought, Wow, I can actually help them! And, each time, they told me they had this special visa called H-1B.” He went back to his ad filters and added “H-1B” to the search terms. As of this month, H-1B visa holders who live in the U.S. account for half of Canada by Choice’s clients seeking permanent residency and eighty per cent of the firm’s clients seeking a work visa—about seventy people altogether.

Foreign-exchange students, who also figure among Canada by Choice’s clients, have been reacting to Trump’s ascendancy, too. In a recent survey of two hundred and fifty American colleges and universities, forty per cent of the institutions reported a decline in applications from international students for the fall of 2017. Zarif has been fielding calls from Mexican and other Central American students who have told him they’d prefer to study in Canada because of the political climate in the U.S. Others are already in the U.S., finishing master’s-degree programs, and are newly concerned about their ability to secure jobs after graduation. The calls can get difficult. “I’m trying to be professional,” he said. “The person on the other end of the line is swearing at Donald Trump. I’m trying to keep politics out of the workplace. I try to calm them down. But I understand where they’re coming from.”

Canada by Choice is just one small shop, and it’s still too early to tell whether Trump’s Presidency will have a measurable effect on the population of legal immigrants living and working in the U.S. But the number of H-1B applications has already begun to dip. Canada, meanwhile, is becoming more attractive to high-skilled job seekers. The country is projected to create more than two hundred thousand new jobs in the tech sector by 2020, and Canadian firms have been aggressively recruiting foreigners. In the past, Canadian companies have struggled to match the salaries offered by their American counterparts, but now Canadian tech C.E.O.s are reporting an uptick in interest from immigrants who are uncomfortable staying in the U.S.

Marwan Zarif, Hussein’s father, has begun to hire more staff. Marwan, who was born in Lebanon and educated in the U.S., told me, “When I came in, the morning after the Inauguration, I couldn’t get my Web site to work. I went to the government of Canada’s Web site as well. It wasn’t working, either.” In late January, when Trump took office and was signing his first executive orders, traffic to Canada by Choice’s Web site increased from a few dozen daily visits to hundreds; it saw another spike in February. “I thought this was a temporary situation, that it would calm down in two or three weeks. But it’s constantly increasing,” Marwan said.

Last week, the Administration announced a new executive order, called “Buy American, Hire American,” which calls on government agencies to crack down on “fraud and abuse” in the H-1B visa program. On the day of the announcement, I texted Hussein Zarif, who’d seen the news earlier that morning. “It’s pretty vague,” he replied. “But it will play into the fears of the visa holders right now.” Already there’d been a fresh wave of calls, and the traffic to the Web site was spiking once again.

What You Missed By Missing the Not the White House Correspondents Dinner — Jesse Davis Fox reports on Samantha Bee’s counter-programming.

As anyone who watches Full Frontal would’ve expected, at Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, she and her writing staff brought it. Thanks to her rapid-fire style, the special was packed with good jokes, from jokes about CNN to jokes about past presidents to jokes about future presidents to jokes about the current president’s golden habits. Here are some of the best ones, delivered by Bee unless otherwise noted.

• “You are all gonna wanna make friends with our honored guests here at the front table. They are the Committee to Protect Journalists. These are the guys you call if you leave the hall tonight and discover your car has been keyed by Sean Spicer. [Shows image of keyed car.] Aww, buddy. Why’d you sign it with your own name?”

• “Your job has never been harder. The president is trying to undermine your legitimacy. He tells his fans not to trust you. You basically get paid to stand in a cage while a geriatric orangutan and his pet mob scream at you. It’s like a reverse zoo, but you carry on.”

• “Donald Trump is, of course, celebrating his 100th day in office by trying to win Pennsylvania with a swell rally that no one in this room was forced to cover. That assignment went to the reporter that must’ve fucked his boss’s wife.”

• “We are living in a Golden Age of journalism. Unfortunately, that’s partly due to a golden president who’s rumored to enjoy golden showers.”

• Clip of CNN chief Jeff Zucker: “You can call it entertainment. You can call it a reality show. But there was news in it almost every time.”

Samantha Bee: “Almost every time? CNN gives you news like your shitty boyfriend gives your orgasms. Either way, you wind up lying in the wet spot and he’s snoring.”

Clip of Zucker: I don’t think it’s our role or my role to have regrets.

Samantha Bee: “Says the guy who put Joey on the air.”

• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during Ronald Reagan’s administration.] “The president says the most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ That’s funny. I thought they were: ‘You have AIDs and the government doesn’t care.’”

Kumail Nanjiani: “Trump is like that weird high school friend of yours that shows up at the party but doesn’t bring any beer, drinks everyone’s liquor, is weird to all the girls, and on the way out doesn’t condemn hate crimes.”

Carl Reiner: “I was in Ocean’s 11, a movie about a casino heist. Trump didn’t find the movie believable because it revolved around a casino that was actually making a profit.”

Billy Eichner: “You ever notice Betsy DeVos and a duffel bag of orphans’ bones are never seen in the same room together? Makes you think.”

• On Bill O’Reilly: “Turns out it’s bad business to have your flagship show hosted by 400 pounds of sexual-harassment allegations in a 200-pound bag.”

• On Fox News: “What a triumph for women that career sexual predators are finally getting what they deserve: $65 million and age-appropriate retirement.”

• On Rupert Murdoch: “After 20 years setting the table for Trump, the Tasmanian Titan finally has what he’s always wanted: A BFF-slash-program-director in the White House, gumming his soggy cornflakes while enjoying a long-distance circle jerk.”

• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during Bill Clinton’s administration.] “Bill’s been called America’s first black president! Don’t lean into that label too hard, Bill. You might throw yourself in prison.”

• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner during Mike Pence’s future administration.] “I think we all owe President Pence a debt of gratitude for bravely stepping into the role after Trump got his head stuck in that jar of honey. What a tragedy.”

“I didn’t think you’d make a good president at all, Mike Pence, but I’m coming around, so, in at least this case, the conversion therapy is working.”

“It’s nice that after a disastrous year of Trump, we can finally stop demonizing immigrants and minorities and focus on the real enemy: gay children.”

• [During a segment in which Samantha Bee imagines herself at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in an alternate reality where Hillary Clinton won.] “For a week after President Clinton won, we all heard this loud buzzing noise. I think it was the sound of the whizzing bullet we just dodged. Or it was Bill O’Reilly’s vibrator. No, Reddit, Bill O’Reilly wasn’t fired from Fox; he was murdered by Hillary Clinton for telling the truth about her presidency. You guys, I can verify that Bill O’Reilly is alive. He left me a long voice-mail last night. It sounded like he was mixing custard while walking up stairs or something. Anyway, he sounded very relaxed by the end of the call.”

“A hundred days. We’re just three menstrual cycles into this presidency, but Washington feels different. Over half the president’s cabinet are women. While testifying so often to the House Ethics committee, they gave her a parking spot that launched an investigation into how she got her own parking spot. [Clinton’s] under so many investigations, I’m starting to think that FBI really does stand for female body inspector.”

“I don’t want to say Republicans were hostile during Hillary’s address to Congress, but she’s the first president who had to walk up to the lectern with her keys between her knuckles. Remember the good ol’ days when Communist was the worst c-word people called the president?”

Doonesbury — Inspired.