Monday, April 17, 2017

Trump Rising

It’s hard to keep up with The Donald’s buffoonery, so I haven’t been trying, but it was hard to miss that he finally got a chance to play Zeus hurling thunderbolts, in Trump’s case 59 Tomahawks, getting rid of inventory, lobbing them at the Syrian airfield. Not Iraq, as he told Maria Bartiromo on Fox. Thankfully, he lets his generals decide where to drop the bombs, like the MOAB, supposedly never used since created in 2003, that they let loose over Afghanistan. More inventory reduction.

Trump’s popularity went up, though only a point or two, not a surprise, though there does appear to be a gold-plated ceiling where The Donald is concerned. The Trump method, doctrine, if you will, is distraction, and it is quite successful. Trump himself is the chief distraction, while the House and Senate Republicans knit away, Madame Defarge like, only backwards, undoing the fabric of the Obama state, canceling protections right and right.

Neil Gorsuch sits on the High Court, Gorsuch, like Mike Pense, was raised Catholic, but now seems to be a fashionable Episcopalian, thereby finally adding a Protestant to the Court. Paul Ryan, the Speaker, remains busy dreaming his apocalyptic dreams – no taxes! No entitlements! – Mitch McConnell continues his haughty hypocrisies, do not as I have done, but do as I say.

Democrats are resisting, though it would have been better if they had been voting in 2016.Those shouting “You lie!” to Joe Wilson at his South Carolina Town Hall should have been yelling it back in 2009 when he shouted out in Congress to President Obama.

I have written quite a bit on elections since 1996 and it still seems credible that outcomes rely on the so-called low information, late deciding, undecideds. In Trump’s case, he had direct access to the same crowd that George W. Bush profited from, those voters who most identified with him.

Not the self-identification of bogus billionaires, but which person they wanted to be next to, have a beer with, etc. W had more than a leg up on that constituency, compared with Al Gore. Even though Gore won the popular vote – England has its Royals and we have the Electoral College – Gore would have won even that, had the whole state of Florida been counted correctly, yet not many voters wanted to have a beer with him. Trump, of course, doesn’t drink alcohol, but his coarse bonhomie, similar to the younger Bush’s, struck a chord with the common voter.

Hillary, poor Hillary, had more in common with Al Gore than her titular husband. And, though the usual suspects – email server, Ruskies, Wikileaks, Comey, etc. – did their dark work, Hillary’s losing ground was well prepared by Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ largest success in public office likely will turn out to be his assistance in helping Donald Trump become the 45th president of the United States.

Nonetheless, Trump is rising, given the begrudged acknowledgment by most of the media that he is the president. No one with a sense of self importance wants to believe a clown is presiding over the Oval Office. Oh, no, it flies in the face of self regard. So, Trump may not be presidential himself, but he is being treated as the president. With respect, of a sort.

And, if the presumed shake-up in Trump’s administration is coming and The Donald is throwing the more picturesque clown car occupants under the bigger bus, more of this incipient fawning will continue. Trump may not be acting more presidential, but the people around him are, and that will likely be enough for the permanent establishment, in both the media and in Washington.

Steve Bannon does stick out as a sore thumb. Even when he wears a suit and tie he just doesn’t look the part. He looks like the alt-right zealot he is, disheveled, unhealthy, and though he might have millions he doesn’t look well cared for. Compare him to the typical Senator. Those folks know how to look the part. They all look like a million dollars.

And poor Sean Spicer. How can he stay? His latest pratfall about Hitler doesn’t gas his people (other Austrians?) contained the priceless coinage “Holocaust centers,” a phrase that can only be the product of a Cuisinart brain, chopping into tiny bits vocabulary and ideas that are swirling around the plastic bowl of his mind.

If Ivanka and Jared are really running things Sean will be gone soon. It is alarming to look at the people Trump has been discarding: Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Gen. Flynn, and, possibly Bannon and Spicer, all true believers, each helping in their own twisted way Trump become leader of the free world.

The Huffington Post version, which ran on April 14, 2017, can be found here.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Trump Monkeys

The Trump administration puts to the test the “infinite monkey theorem,” since so many journalists are typing away chronicling the daily saga of the new president. Very little Shakespearean prose has yet resulted, but we have to consider the source. Trump’s address to the “joint session” of Congress produced amazement at the new Trumpian focus, his ability to read – and stick to – the Teleprompter for an hour or so. Two times, though, he did deviate, letting the inner Trump ooze out: claiming some sort of record for applause had been reached and the soul-churning idea that the deceased Seal, William “Ryan” Owens, was looking down at the assembly and smiling. Perhaps Trump was channeling the apostate Mike Pence sitting smiling behind him.

This brings me to the chief spectacle of that night, the sight of the Seal’s widow, sitting, standing, crying, mumbling, suffering. It is cheering that the earliest critics of that display were other military people calling this for what it was: exploitation. Trump, understanding television if nothing else, along with his obsession with ratings, knew he had a winner: Who can not be riveted by the sight of a good-looking woman in extremis?

I tried to imagine which American actress (or British, French, etc.) could have done what the widow was doing so convincingly. What the viewer got to witness was, seemingly, minutes of high-quality grief porn. Always a big draw, though only if the woman involved is attractive. In this case, a willowy blonde in a black dress.

Why did she consent to be used this way? Evidently, she has a military background herself and when the commander in chief asks, she responds. But, she was obviously still traumatized by the recent death of her husband, but Trump knew she would be a good show.

Trump’s treatment of women was already well broadcast during his campaign, but since he assumed the presidency he still is treating women badly. On his inauguration day, pictures showed him neglecting his wife repeatedly, and the largely absent first lady was hauled out finally in Florida on Feb. 18th , ten days post the news of her libel lawsuit against the British tabloid The Daily Mail broke, detailing how it would cut into her future income, to give her brief I-am-not-a-hooker speech. Her remarks began with a recitation of the Lord’s prayer (aka, the Our Father), the protestant version, which no one could accuse her of plagiarizing. Yet another weird spectacle.

(Though it needs to be said that Michelle Obama took a while to get her footing. Back during her first year as FLOTUS, she was stuck hoeing that godforsaken garden built at great cost on the White House lawn. Even I wrote a column back then claiming I would lose my mind if I saw another picture of her holding a yam in her fist.)

But the prize this past week goes to Trump’s tweets on Saturday morning, calling President Obama “sick”, a bad guy, for ”tapp”-ing his phone in Trump Tower. As they say, these tweets dominated the news over the weekend and into this week (below is the last):

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy! 7:02 AM - 4 Mar 2017.”

How low can he go? Good question. We’re now back to Trump the unhinged, rather than Trump the presidential, according to the rounded-up usual suspects among commentators. I did like the continuation of Trump’s new evangelical rhetorical streak, given his “very sacred election process” characterization. In the same vein as the dead Seal smiling down at us. See, Mike Pence is exerting influence.

Speaking, as did Trump, of the former president, contrary to the gushing coverage, Obama’s “last” speech as president in Chicago was completely delusional – it can be summed up in this paraphrase: We’re doing swell and the rest of you are screwed. And given his vacation photos and the family’s alleged $65 million book deal, it appears that he is. Obama, ironically, is enjoying the traditional honeymoon period, not Trump the nut.

One reason Trump was apparently comfortable during his speech to Congress was that he was speaking largely to an audience of millionaires. Consult the statistics of the average wealth of the typical Senator or Congress person. It’s somewhat like the crowd at Mar-a-Lago.

But as the news cycle speeds up, the attention span of the audience slows down. Trump monkeys have to keep feeding the beast and can barely stick to a story beyond twenty-four hours. (On to The American Health Care Act! – Trump, I expect, will want to tweet that Obamacare should be renamed The Kenyan Health Care Act.)

We have all lived with “false equivalency” for a few years now and Trump’s “Obama bad” tweets seem to have worked their dark magic and Republicans are already to drag Trump’s wiretapping accusations into their investigations into the Russian campaign hacks. False equivalency rises in committee hearings, costing money, time, and attention. The Swamp needs more muddy waters. It wasn’t enough for Trump’s drained swamp to end up in his cabinet.


The Huffington Post version appeared on March 8, 2017, and can be found here.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump, Trumped, Trumpery



Trump’s executive orders are most assuredly public relations stunts first and foremost. Secondarily, they echo his campaign promises and that is the point, wanting to claim at a later date he fulfilled all his promises pronto. How else to explain the haste, shoddiness, and their language, a mixture of simplemindedness and obscurity?

I can’t recall previous presidents holding up such signed documents to the assembled cameras, as if they were large glossies of Miss Universe candidates. All that was visible was Trump’s EKG-inspired signature, an alarming sight. The executive orders haven’t been coordinated with the applicable agencies and one reason floated for that is Trump’s fear that bad guys in the bureaucracy would bollix up his good intentions. The travel ban has become the most notorious, but the others are future poison pills.

It’s government by spectacle, not a surprise, given the previous campaign. Trump continues to tweet his semi-literate bon mots, contradicting himself anytime he feels like it, subletting his responsibilities as quickly as possible to his underlings, such as giving over the decision on “torture” to his Defense Secretary.

Trump continues to say he believes in the efficacy of torture and that doubtless comes from his self-knowledge that if he was pinched on the arm he would give up all his secrets. It’s been clear for decades that those who are deterred from wrongdoing by the thought of going to prison are only those who never imagined themselves in one.

It appears Trump himself finds it hard to believe he’s actually president. Why else go on so long about the size of the crowd at his inauguration? And claiming he would have won the popular vote except for the 3 - 5 million illegals who voted, thereby showing more civic engagement than regular Americans who couldn’t be bothered. Unfortunately, such complaints are catnip to television news, which loves to compare pictures. No visuals, no story, in our age of looking, caught in a culture of seeing. This was especially true during the campaign, so many fixated on the size of his fingers, the size of his whatever.

Worse, of course, is to come. The Gorsuch selection for the high court is a Trojan horse for the second pick Trump expects to get. The Republican-controlled Congress won’t be a rubber stamp for Trump, Trump will be a rubber stamp for Congress. Former Indiana governor Mike Pence, who thought he would lose his reelection and hitched his wagon to the Trump campaign, is all over the early policy changes, and the Breitbart creature, Steve Bannon, who seems as aggrieved by the so-called elites – actually people who are culture celebrities – as his master Trump. Regardless of both Bannon’s and Trump’s own Ivy League credentials, they look at the world as an internal, eternal, high school Darwinian experiment, jousting with the in-crowd and the out.

They want to beat what they can’t join and they have. Thanks to the disgruntled blue-state voters who put Trump over the top, individuals Trump and Bannon would be appalled to spend any real time with, they now have the power to beat and pulverize all the adherents of the former in-crowd, especially the arugula-loving Obama followers.

Where will it end? I have no faith Democrats will rise up in less than two years and capture either the Senate or the House. The Republicans have gerrymandered their way to semi-permanence in state-houses and in Congress. Trump’s America will be gaudy and crazy on the outside, but mean and punishing on the inside, thanks to the Pence/Bannon/McConnell/McCarthy/Ryan view of America.

The Huffington Post version appeared on Feb. 1, 2017. It can be found here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Similarities

A small number of commentators have pointed out some similarities between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. The actor, Chuck Norris, provided “Top 8 Similarities between Trump and Reagan,” and, at the other end of the pundit perspective, Josh Zeitz, attempted to answer the question, “Is Donald Trump Like Ronald Reagan?” Zeitz has taught at Cambridge University and Princeton and Chuck Norris is, well, Chuck Norris. Both published their pieces during the past campaign, Zeitz in March and Norris in July.

One similarity that Norris leaves out is all the race baiting, dog-whistle tactics, that both successful candidates employed, the fact that Reagan held one of his first large campaign events at the Neshoba County Fair, some seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town notorious for the killing of three civil rights workers. But race-baiting long has been a staple in American elections and both Trump and Reagan weren’t pioneers in that muddy field.

But what interests me is the flip-side similarities between Reagan and Trump, the 180 degree comparisons. Similar but different. Reagan the optimist, Trump the pessimist, Reagan the civilized, Trump the barbarian, that sort of thing. Ronald Reagan strove to be a picture of decorum, the modest superstar, humble with his successes as well as his failures. His televised apology for lying to Americans during the Iran-Contra scandal is a model of the latter.

Indeed, when Reagan began his campaign in 1980, as I have written before, most of the coverage treated him, if not as a clown, as an amusement. It was only during the summer of that year that reporters realized that he might actually win, given all of Jimmy Carter’s accumulating troubles. Ditto Trump. It wasn’t necessarily Obama’s troubles, but Hillary Clinton’s, that were piling up, thanks to the usual suspects, the Russians, the head of the FBI, etc. But, earlier on, it was the fecklessness of Trump’s primary competitors that let him emerge, and then Hillary became the likely villain and victim. Crooked Hillary.

I had heard from a reliable source in early 2016 that the CIA would not let Trump become president. I wasn’t necessarily picturing drones over the Trump Tower (which, ironically, may now happen, military drones that is), and didn’t take the prediction seriously till the former head of the KGB entered the fray. Putin must have heard the same thing and it became a stimulus, a challenge, to his institutional pride. Hence, all the email hacks.

Some observers wonder why the emails interested journalists so much, whereas all of the Trump scandals - Trump University, charities, foreign entanglements, etc. - didn’t seem to hold the same allure, or promote the same daily coverage. Well, unfortunately, journalists read and send emails all the time, whereas very few, almost none, attend bogus universities, or fly around the world to luxurious hotels and golf resorts. They write what they know.

But, as the old Ted Kennedy joke goes, they’ll drive off that bridge when they come to it.

Two other presidents have the same, numerically, assortment of similarities: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I still can’t get over the fact that the last two Democratic presidents who served two terms didn’t have their biological fathers in their lives. That grandparents played a role in their early upbringing. That both are left handed and both made very strategic marriage choices, breaking their earlier - and in Bill Clinton’s case, continuous - dating patterns and history.

And, of course, both saw their two terms as president almost go for naught. Clinton being replaced by his opposite, George W. Bush, the scion of an entitled family, a man reckless and oblivious to the responsibilities of the job. And now Obama, leaving everything at risk to another heir, a ludicrous choice foisted on the American public by less than a hundred thousand disgruntled voters distributed in three states, a man who seems more devoted to his twitter account than the presidency.

Both Clinton and Obama were children of the meritocracy. Bush and Trump not so much. But both Democrats failed, leaving office with their annulled presidencies, insofar as they had eight years to encourage successors and neither seemed to find that important, crucial, to everything they stood for. And it’s small comfort that in both elections that followed their terms the popular vote went to the losers. Another bothersome similarity that could have been predicted.

The Huffington Post version, which ran on December 31, 2016 (uncorrected version), can be found here: Huffington Post version