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It’s the great Plastic Straw Man of 2019.
Last week, we talked about how President Trump wants to run his re-election campaign on cultural issues rather than on the booming economy. Maybe you thought we meant socialism, or abortion, or race relations.
Nope. The subject of the latest fight Mr. Trump and his team want to stir up? Plastic straws.
Over the weekend, the Trump campaign launched a new fund-raising effort: “Make Straws Great Again.”
“Liberal paper straws don’t work,” wrote the campaign. “STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today.”
A pack of 10 BPA-free, recyclable red straws, laser-engraved with “TRUMP,” sells for $15.
Despite the straws being way over market price (a pack of 250 sells for $4.99 on Amazon), Trump supporters slurped them up. Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted today that more than 140,000 straws had been sold, raising $200,000 for the campaign.
Remember the War on Christmas? With Mr. Trump comes the War on Straws. It’s just another reminder of how, in the Trump era, everything becomes part of the new American culture war.
This is exactly the kind of fight Mr. Trump loves to stir up: mocking liberals, questioning climate change and turning relatively minor issues into partisan battles. A bonus benefit? Drawing attention away from a really bad week in his presidency.
A quick reality check: Single-use plastic straws, like the kind ubiquitous at fast food joints and restaurants, pose a real environmental danger. They’re hard to recycle. Their thin plastic breaks down into smaller plastic particles known as microplastics, which pollute the oceans and are ingested by animals and, later down the food chain, by humans. Are they as big an environmental problem as, say, climate change? No. But there’s a reason they’re called “the world’s most wasteful commodity.”
A viral 2015 video (warning: it’s very hard to watch) of a marine biologist pulling a nearly unrecognizable straw out of a sea turtle’s nose prompted a campaign to get cities, companies and countries to consider bans.
Last year, Starbucks said it would eliminate plastic straws by 2020. England will ban plastic straws and drink stirrers next April. Some national parks and major hotel chains, including Disney, have adopted similar bans in their properties.
Conservatives, too, have seized on the ban, which they’ve adopted as a way to spite liberals — or “own the libs,” as the kids say. The Fox News host Tucker Carlson warned of a “moral panic” over the straws, blaming “our rulers” who want to make “life a little bit worse for ordinary people.” In Florida, a bill to ban straws was altered in committee to ban the bans, before being vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Even Donald Trump Jr. discovered his straw pride, tweeting “Paper Straws Suck #Trump2020” in June.
The handful of places in the United States that have enacted bans — including San Francisco, Washington, New York City, Miami Beach and Seattle — are not exactly swing districts. In fact, they’re some of the most liberal places in the country.
So the Trump straws are … wait for it … a straw man. It’s yet another effort by Mr. Trump and his campaign to mobilize conservatives around issues that are far more about cultural identification than the actual topics — like the economy, immigration and health care — topping the minds of voters.
But even Mr. Trump seemed to find this one just a little bit soggy.
“I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws,” he told reporters on Friday. “What about the plates, the wrappers, and everything else that are much bigger and they’re made of the same material?”
“Everybody focuses on the straws,” he added. “There’s a lot of other things to focus on.”
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What to expect from Mueller’s testimony
Wednesday is a big day in Congress: The man behind the Mueller Report is finally set to speak publicly, at two separate hearings. We asked our colleague Noah Weiland what we should expect:
When Robert S. Mueller III testifies on Wednesday, it’ll be his 89th time — 89th time! — as a congressional witness, which is among the most of any official ever. He despises the routine: the pontificating non-questions, the attempts to draw him into conflict and the length of the hearings. He’ll be in the witness chair for five excruciating (to him, at least) hours.
For an article about his history as a witness, I picked through hours and hours of dry back-and-forths over often mundane oversight questions (thank you, C-Span). It turns out that 12 years of leading the F.B.I. through a post-9/11 world yielded plenty of insight into the kind of witness Mr. Mueller is.
Here are three takeaways from my reporting on what we can expect Wednesday:
1. Mr. Mueller mostly testified in the courtly Senate, and in a deferential environment, which is not what the current House Judiciary Committee is known for. Mr. Mueller happens to know a lot of the faces he’ll encounter on Wednesday — he won’t be happy to see Representatives Jim Jordan and Louie Gohmert again — but he simply doesn’t have experience weathering the political tinderbox of Trump’s Washington. Wednesday will be completely unlike any of his other 88 appearances.
2. It’s a timeworn cliché that Mr. Mueller is “by-the-book.” Watching the footage, I saw a more revealing character trait, which was his conflict aversion in public. He’d rather go quiet than argue in the way two humans might when they disagree. In private, he could be different. John Pistole, the former deputy F.B.I. director, told me he once saw Mr. Mueller light into a member in an impromptu meeting on Capitol Hill. “I wish I had a video of it,” Mr. Pistole told me.
3. Keep sober expectations. Mr. Mueller’s final act in public life might be the anticlimax. He’s already a retiree, and he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to testify. On Wednesday, he’ll try to avoid making news. Matthew G. Olsen, Mr. Mueller’s special counsel at the F.B.I., put it this way to me: “As he might have advised a witness when he was a criminal prosecutor: Don’t go beyond the answer.”
For a deeper look, read Noah’s full story: In 88 Trips to Capitol Hill, Mueller Grew Weary of Partisanship
What to read
• Politicians in Congress and statehouses are pushing to end “surprise” bills, unexpected medical bills charged to people covered by insurance. But they have left out the biggest culprit: the ambulance industry.
• The Times’s Styles Desk rounded up their hottest summer takes. Then, they let readers vote up their favorites (and vote down the worst). Is celery juice a scam? Are swimming holes better than beaches? Cast your vote here.
• Al Franken regrets his decision to resign. So do some of his former colleagues in the Senate. The New Yorker explores the aftermath of Mr. Franken’s fall.
Beto O’Rourke challenged his staff to a push-up competition during a layover in Sioux City. To the women doing the kneeling version: I feel you.
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