I write this on the eve of the Senate's "trial" of impeached-for-life President Trump. Some may quibble about how transparent Trump is, but if he has a secret life (other than keeping his own secrets), it’s hard to picture it being opposite of the one he promiscuously reveals to the public. That he really is an anonymous philanthropist, a monkish esthete, a gourmand, a collector of Renaissance art.
Trump is beginning to rival Bill Clinton’s bibliographic record, that is, books written about him by the end of his first term. I still think Clinton is ahead in the count, given that Hillary also had a slew of attack books written about her: Melania, far fewer. Trump shares with his fellow impeached colleague, Bill Clinton, a large cohort of detractors. At this point in history, it is hard for younger citizens to grasp the enmity Bubba inspired among Republicans. His service as governor of Arkansas did give him a head start in enemy book writers. Other than losing his lawyer legal status, being impeached didn’t seem to slow Clinton down. And since Hillary ran for president herself, more books continued to appear. Can’t see that happening with Trump, even considering the remote possibility of one of his brood running for office.
The Starr Report lifted the veil on some of what went on with Clinton in his “private” life; but his public life was conducted in a more or less traditional way. He said what was expected. One of his most famous, quotable lines, though, came about where the public and private crossed: “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”
But, my point is that Trump’s public life is rife with transparency, even more so than his private life. Trump’s public pronouncements are often quotable, more for their shock value, rather than for their rhetoric. Take the subject of oil. Trump likes oil. Trump orated, “We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil,” when discussing pulling out our troops from Syria, leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves. It’s not likely Trump has read much history on the subject, but he was giving new meaning to Clemenceau’s remark, “A drop of oil is worth a drop of blood.” Meaning, in Trump world, he’s all for it. More drops the better! Most presidents, especially in the modern era, spend a lot of time denying that’s why we're so ready to shed blood in the Middle East, especially the Bushes, oil men at heart. But not Trump. He’ll call a spade a spade. And he does that often in his reckless confessional tweets and pre-helicopter-boarding press availability rants.
That’s one reason, if not the primary reason, why he won the 2016 election. His lies and hypocrisies are veined with unpleasant truths now and then. It seems like a type of Tourettes, Trump blurting out the truth uncontrollably. Supporters are often forced to raise the ignorance defense on Trump’s behalf. In that regard there is no bottom.
Take what he is impeached for. That call to the Ukraine president. As Trump himself points out, many people were listening in on the call. Nonetheless, he barges ahead, asking President Zelensky to do him a favor, to investigate the Bidens, in order to get the money, weapons, etc. In many ways it was a surreal event, one television star talking to another television star. I was against impeaching Trump, seeing it as a distraction Trump could mine before the upcoming election. But, as it’s said, Trump forced the House’s hand. It couldn’t let the Zelensky matter slide by, as so much already had.
Ukraine, in many ways, is both a comic and tragic nation. After it declared its independence in the early 90s and the Soviet Union fell apart, attempts were made to erase Russian as the dominant language of the cities (most Ukrainians were bilingual) and replace it with Ukranian. That played havoc with various government documents, manuals, etc. Kiev was a hotspot of real estate speculation and many American corporations, including unions, rushed there to buy up lavish apartments in historic buildings. A new currency was introduced, though none of its coins fit the reliable public transportation system, so the trolley rides were declared free. Many grim ups and downs followed. So much so they needed a television star to become president.
A lot like home, I suppose, though coins and language weren’t our big problems. What happened here was the opacity and fecklessness of our government, but in a different way. Obama’s eight years showed little overall improvement, except for the naming and rule of the 1%. Nothing much changed, except for preexisting conditions. Our last two Democratic presidents who served eight years got stuck on the shoals of health care immediately out of the gate (or dock, or harbor). Given Medicare for All, they seem to want to do that again. Start off with a terrible fight, one that Obama himself only partly won (the quickly jettisoned Public Option), even though early on he was battling with a Democratic Congress. After the first mid-term elections he no longer had that and the rest, as they say, is history.
Trump voters, other than die-hard Republicans, were, say, charmed by his bull in the china shop approach. They wanted the cardboard facades of propriety torn down, looked for the ugly truth exposed, and it was. What they didn’t count on was that the destruction wouldn’t stop and would only get worse. That wan hope that Trump would become more presidential disappeared quickly, though this week’s pious Senators’ swearing to impartiality by Chief Justice Roberts for the impeachment special shows the cardboard facade is still intact.
The drone killing of Soleimani was the latest example. First, what passes for the new Washington establishment, the Tea Partiers Mick Mulvaney and Mike Pompeo, try to give it a bogus legal foundation, the odor of propriety: the imminent danger, etc. When that doesn’t hold up, Trump says it doesn’t matter. Most of his voters think killing bad guys is the way to go. And no one I heard, when Trump was threatening Iran if they retaliated, saying the response would be very fast and any war would be quickly over, he was actually implying the use of nuclear weapons, something Trump continues to flirt with. He would like to add that as a first to his many firsts, the first to use such a weapon since WWII. Cultural sites? Who cares about them? Many of his voters agree. It’s refreshing for them to have someone in power who shares their dark desires. Kill whomever. Bomb whatever.
The long simmering scheme to tar the Bidens with Ukraine’s help has succeeded beyond Trump’s own half-assed dreams. If his plan had worked, with the 3 Stooges, or Marx brothers, help of Giuliani, Lev Parnas, the Fox lawyers team, we would have held the momentary spectacle of television star Zelensky announcing the “investigation” in Kyiv (it took nearly 15 years for them to change the transliteration spelling in the US to a Ukrainian version), then silence would have descended until and unless Biden became the Democratic nominee. The effect would have been minimal. Instead, there has been months of coverage, daily hammering away, the Biden mess spread everywhere and to everybody. Hunter the hunted, now haunted.
Trump does not have the innocent naivete of Jerzy Kosinski’s Chance character in Being There, the book and movie. Of all Trump’s lacks, naivete is not one of them. He, too, is a television era creation; he and the medium grew up simultaneously. As he loses his mind growing older, television/cable is more equipped to fill it with endless follies. His knowledge and conversation is spiked with scrambled information he gathers from his television and his “confidants”. He makes little effort to be independently informed.
Hillary Clinton lost in the states she needed largely because of the-not-bothering-to-vote crowd, Bernie Bros and others soured on Hillary, who might have cast a ballot, but left the choice for president blank, Obama supporters who couldn’t drag themselves to the polls for the old white lady who called them predators, along with the happy nihilists who decided to throw the dice and vote for the china-shop destroyer.
It’s always hard to imagine Trump as a fellow who came of age in the 1960s, as so many of us have. He was a premature suit, his father’s protégée, not a fringe wearing hippie, or beatnik, or any sort of counterculture product. He trusted people over thirty, especially Roy Cohn. Alas, our generation, those of us who were such products, have received their fatal comeuppance. Imagine, now that we’re in the Raging ’20s, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, any number of ’60s figures in the White House now – Donald Trump, the twisted hybrid of Yippie and Yuppie, has outdone them all.