Fareed Zakaria on Trump’s Rocking Chair Presidency

President Trump’s news conference/tirade last Thursday was really something.   Much of the 70 or so minutes was Trump blasting the media for “fake news” that ignored his many achievements thus far as president and cast an unwarranted pall over his White House staff.  In the process Trump told several easily verifiable falsehoods himself and made illogical arguments, but to dwell on them is to dwell on distractions.   He always does that.

The heart of the matter is:  “….. in the midst of it all, what has he actually done?” That question is raised by Fareed Zakaria, one of my favorite political  commentators.  And his answer detailed in a recent column is:  “Hardly anything.”

Zakaria employs an analogy proffered by philosopher Alfred Montapert:  “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.’ We are witnessing a rocking-horse presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.”

Here is a synopsis of Zakaria’s main points.  Trump has claimed “There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”  Zakaria points to several presidents who accomplished much more in their first 100 days than Trump is likely to, including Barack  Obama.

Trump has said his White House “is running like a fine-tuned machine”, but it “has not even begun serious discussions with Congress on major legislation. (also) According to The Washington Post, of the 696 positions that require Senate confirmation, the president has yet to nominate 661 of them.”  

Also, while Trump has “issued a series of executive orders with great fanfare” the only one that affects much is the travel ban that was so badly conceived and written that it got stuck in the courts.  Seems like that machine has a lot of important parts missing.

Zakaria quotes a piece by Zachary Karabell in a recent Politico Magazine that sums up Trump’s presidency.  “So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.”

In short, the fine-tuned machine works best blowing smoke.

Zakaria concludes with two aspects of the Trump presidency.  There is the “freak show” that dominates the headlines but there is also “the savvy businessman” who picked some intelligent heavy weights like Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis to key positions.

It seems to boil down to this:   “For many people, the bargain of the Trump presidency was that they would put up with the freak show in order to get tax reform, infrastructure projects and deregulation. That may still happen, but for now at least, reality TV is in overdrive, and not much is happening in the realm of serious policy.”

Those interested in reading the full editorial can go here.

Twirling Around in the Trump Tornado

Or is it swirling around down the rabbit hole?  Or toilet.  Choose a metaphor for how off balanced, how out of sorts, how discombobulated only three weeks of a Trump presidency has wrought.  Really?  Only three weeks?  OMG!   I don’t know if I can hold on for four years of this.

I feel the need to say something while questioning whether it is useful to say anything?   Since we cannot depend on Trump sticking to anything he says why do we spend so much time talking about all that he says?   The Trump administration brings to mind Macbeth’s reflection on life as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I imagine there is significance here or there, but it is a moving target that might turn around and shoot back.   Today’s biggest news flash is El Presidente finally recognizing a well established foreign policy doctrine that states mainland China is the “China” with Taiwan but a prodigal part, an unquestioned U.S. position for 38 years.  Until Trump indicated that was on the table along with the rest of our foreign policy.

So, today Trump officially recognized China.   Whoopi! 

A TV talking head called this a “sign of rationality”.  This is what qualifies as news in Wacky-land.   But it is news because people around the world have been unsettled by what policy Trump would have towards China, especially the Chinese.   In this one case, we can count on normalcy, at least for now, today.  A raft of international relief in an ocean of uncertainty.

What about all the rest of our foreign policies?  Will we know what they are by the end of Trump’s term? A jerry-rigged foreign policy will keep ’em guessing.  That’s what Trump likes.

Another news story today is that Jerod Kushner, Trump son-in-law and virtual ambassador at large, had chats with the Mexican foreign minister about The Wall, our shared economy and (who knows?) Ivanka’s clothing line?   The last-named is another hot topic today as special counsel Kellyanne Conway raised ethics flags by suggesting from the White House that viewers buy some of Ivanka’s clothes.

Untraditional foreign policy conducted by whomever and conflicts of interest seem likely to be daily reportorial fare.  While that would make sense in a normal presidency,  I think they are largely distractions in this one.  I don’t believe a majority of Americans really care about these things right now.  Even non-Trumpeteers don’t care because there is too much else to care about.

Trump supporters especially do not care and the more carefully argued the attacks on Trump for such things, the less they listen.   They want the story simple as Trump tells it.  To them complication is obfuscation.

The travel ban Trump has rolled out like a car with four flat tires still appears to keep his promise to increase our protection from terrorism, even though the so-called plan is mostly a show as I argued in my last post and, I would add,  heartless.  But it is Trump doing what he said and no matter how this turns out he will portray himself as a winner, or at least a victim of foul play.  A should be winner.

That’s enough babbling on.

It may be best to take the long view as expressed by Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser for President George W. Bush:  “Trump is an insurgent president leading a populist movement. He came in with an agenda that was disruptive and destructive — throw over the money changers’ tables. The next six months will see destruction, some of it creative and some just destructive. The question is what Trump will want to build after that.”

I wonder what will be left when we get to the “after that”.

Outside of Trump World the Immigration Ban Makes No Sense

No doubt those living in Trumpdom (the Kingdom of Trump) feel safer today now that there is a travel ban, albeit temporary, on seven predominantly Muslim  nations in the Greater Mid-East, but below is some information that suggests this step will change almost nothing, at least not for the good.  There could be lots of bad, as indicated by someone who suggested Trump is snuffing the torch on the Statue of Liberty.

First of all, the way this executive order was turned out shows the difference between promising the moon on the campaign trail and actually doing something in real life.   The president executed his order providing no time to develop an actual policy to implement it, so immigration officials were confused.   A number of people already approved to come here were halted in airports around the country, which in turn prompted demonstrations and law suits and a temporary stay of the order.

It’s no way to do business, Mr. Businessman.   But let’s say the administration had handled it much better, it still doesn’t make sense.  First of all, according to statistics tallied by the conservative-leaning Cato Institute, not” a single American was killed on U.S. soil by citizens from any of those countries between 1975 and 2015.”  You might want to read that sentence again.

On the other hand, most of the terrorist killings in this country were committed by natives of Muslim countries not banned, with Saudia Arabia leading that group supplying 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

So, why isn’t it on the list?   The Daily News makes an argument that Trump’s decision might be affected by the fact he has various business interests in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt and no obvious important business interests in the seven nations banned.

I don’t know and our new president isn’t inclined to enlighten us.  Perhaps it is some of that, but it might also be some of this.  Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt are all run by strong men and all of them hate Iran.  I imagine Trump thinks these are guys he can work with, like his buddy Vlad.  Just a thought.

But back to reality.  The Cato Institute estimates we each have about a one in 3.64 billion chance of getting killed by a terrorist with a much, much better chance of just getting shot by any good ol’ American who just doesn’t like us.  About 80% of the terror related deaths after 9/11 have not even been committed by foreigners but by native Americans who have become radicalized.   Travel bans aren’t going to stop that.

This travel ban is largely a show for Trump’s base.  He has gained power by playing to people’s fears and resentments creating a terrorist hysteria.  This executive order shows his supporters he will do what he said.

…..even if it makes no sense to the rest of us.

Trump’s Lies and B. S. and the Press

I believe this to have been a watershed week for the press when it comes to covering Donald Trump.  It finally put its foot  down.   Finally.  After all of these months treating Trump as if he were normal.

President Trump would have had a good first week in terms of optics if he could have just kept silent, and untweeted, but of course like an insecure little boy he can’t resist slapping back at anything that makes him feel diminished.

As for the good week part, he certainly appeared to be making things happen, what with meetings with auto execs, other business leaders, labor leaders, congressional leaders and undoubtedly others I’ve missed.  Also, a slew of executive orders which, whether you like them or not, suggest things will be different just as he said they would in his campaign.  No, same ‘ol, same  ‘ol with him.

But he could not leave well enough alone.   He just can’t get over the fact that his win wasn’t as impressive as he believes it should have been.  The lying press just aren’t giving him enough credit.  “They” just talk  of Russian interference in the election, the relatively small size of his inauguration crowd, the fact that Hillary garnered more votes, and the huge number of women demonstrators decrying his policies the following day.  All stuff that seems to cheapen his victory.

To counter balance that Trump has insisted that his inauguration crowd was bigger than the press reported, and for good measure, later repeated to some congressmen that he would have had the popular vote if it weren’t for some three to five million “illegals” who tipped the scales.

As for the first part, Chuck Todd on Meet the Press did something I have not seen another journalist do, he refused to let Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s whirling dervish of spin, get away with deflecting the question as to why in a statement to the press it was asserted that the crowd there was huge, when it was clearly far less than for Obama in 2009  as can be seen in a photo of each.

Todd never got her to answer the question, but he stuck with it for about 20 minutes prompting her to say that their portrayal came from “alternative facts”, to which Todd responded:  “You mean falsehoods.”  The words “alternative facts” captures much of what the Trump team does, as was clear when Trump made his statement about the illegal immigrants.   He had said it before, but it wasn’t glommed onto then like now.

The New York Times called it a “lie” on its front page, and I’ve never seen them do that before.  You see the main stream press avoids using the word “lie”, as if it were a four letter word, as it implies intentionality which gets tricky to assess.  As Ben Mathis-Lilley argued in a piece in Slate yesterday, it was more B. S. than a lie, and I agree with him (check  out the link), but let’s not quibble.   “Lie” like in whopper, is often what the Trump team has gotten away with.

Of course, this all started years ago with the birther controversy that Trump kept fueling while never producing any facts, just indicating his investigative team was discovering things that made him question.  I never saw anyone demand to see his research, or even who was doing it.  He was good for ratings and kind of joke, nothing to really worry about, so why rock the boat.

Much more recently a TV commentator pressed Kellyanne Conway on the fact that despite Trump’s talking about being audited, no proof of that had been given.  And Ms. Conway, with a look of shock (that would have made the “overrated” Meryl Streep envious) shot back:  “Are you saying he is lying?”  The flummoxed commentator backed off.   You see, the press has not wanted to make that kind of accusation, which is why the Times headline is important.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a more feisty press corp that will actually keep pressing when fed a line of bull by this administration.

A Few Inauguration Impressions

The Day Before:

A “welcome to Washington” event in front of the Capitol Building, begun by actor Jon Voight thanking God for helping Donald Trump overcome “all the lies” told about him in the campaign.  OMG!  Homage to the consummate liar, lying so effectively that Trump has convinced millions he is the lone truth teller among hordes of liars, including the press, our intelligence agencies and Meryl Streep.

Inauguration Day: 

Trump and Mel getting out of the limousine with Obama and Michelle waiting to greet them at the Capitol.   Mel sticks out her hand to shake and Michelle gives her a hug.   Awkward but understandable, both trying hard to get through this with class.

Later Bill and Hillary arrive and jack ass reporters yell out:  “How do you feel today?”  And the press wonder why most of us don’t like them much, though Trump is an outstanding reason to like them more now.

Waiting for Trump to be sworn in and watching Hillary and G. W. Bush chatting a few rows behind the rostrum, wishing I were a lip reader.  Let’s imagine.  Hill:  ” And I used to think you were bad.”  George:  “I’m like fine wine.  I get better with time.”

Senator Roy Blunt introduces the new president by describing great divides in the country in years past, a recognition of where we are now.   A fitting introduction as our new president gives few signs of reaching beyond his base, like the alligator in the group lunch commercial who pretends to be reaching for the check .

Then the new president gives a speech that seemed a crystallization of his entire campaign.   I have to praise him for not being shilly-shally.  After thanking the Obama’s for help in the transition, he talks about a rigged America in which the political elite and their wealthy cronies- well represented by  the people sitting behind him – prosper while the “people’s” needs are ignored and  “carnage” abounds like tombstones around the country.   In short, he gives those behind him, including the Obama’s, the finger.

The rest of the speech was basically “America first” in everything in every way.  If this or that might favor a foreigner over an American, Trump was against it.  A foreign company over an American company, he was against it.  A foreign government over our own, he was against it.

I imagine our allies are  wondering what all that means to them.

But typical Trump, at a luncheon after the ceremony, while demonstrators including some violent idiots were kept far away by security, he joked and glad handed with those same virtually criminal elitists.  Always the chameleon capable of matching his colors with those of the audience.   Always prompting me to question what will he actually do.

Later the Trumps and Penses escort the Obamas to the helicopter which takes them away.

I have no idea what those four said waving good bye to the Obamas, but I’d guess that one of the Obama’s said:  “Thank God that’s over.”

The Impending Reign of King Don

Observing the Donald J. Trump show since election day I am most struck by this:  We have not elected another president.  We have elected a king.  Every other American president has adjusted his life to this uniquely powerful position.   With Trump, our government and we the people are doing most of the adjusting, and at this point who knows how many more adjustments we will have to make.

Take King’s Don’s global business empire.   Because he can’t be forced to, he certainly won’t divest his businesses nor show his tax statements, so we’ll just have to keep guessing what conflicts of interest he has.   An ongoing distraction, but probably just one of many.  Get used to it.

And the rest of the world must as well.   For example, Trump makes an off hand comment or tweet vilifying NAFTA, and the Mexican peso goes down.   Or the Japanese Prime Minister visits his majesty at the tower and is probably surprised to find Princess Ivanka, who has her own business interests in Japan and no security clearance, joining them to chat.   Diplomatic protocols schmotocols.

In addition to protocols, Trump has ignored previous U. S. foreign policy positions, such as the one China policy (which recognizes big China as China, not little island Taiwan, which still thinks it’s the real China).   King Don has stated everything with big China is negotiable, including it being the only China.   This is likely but one foreign policy that the king will likely reconfigure in an offhand manner, while the rest of the world tries to figure out what he just tweeted.

Judging from the reaction of the heads of countries like China and Germany, they already realize the tweets of our boy king don’t mean much, which is a relief, as odd as it may be.

The label “King Don” occurred to me watching our soon to be No 1 Guy interviewing supplicants at Trump Tower seeking positions in the new administration.   I heard this described often as “going by to kiss the ring.”  Meanwhile New York City has been forking out about $750,000 per day in security and traffic control, and still will because King Don’s queen is staying put until their young son, the Barron, finishes out the school year.  Also, the king seems partial to sleeping in Trump Tower, so New Yorkers:  Get used to the detours and budget crunch.  The king is concerned about his comfort, not yours.

I think his royal majesty will largely reshape presidential life in whatever way that suits him.   For example, the White House might become more of a stopover  between Trump Tower and Mira Lago than a final destination.

After all he can make royal proclamations  (and slap back at critics) from anywhere a cell phone can be recharged.  Why get stuck in Washington with its often lousy weather, when VP Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus can take care of most of what Trump wants from congress, whatever that may be.

Also, his majesty’s royal court, his cabinet, are strong and capable (for the most part). Though many have never worked in government, most undoubtedly know more about his or her area of governance than King Don knows or would ever want to know.

Oh, I forgot.  His majesty has said he’d be putting his prodigious energy so fully into his job as president that he wouldn’t have time to go golfing or take vacations like other presidents who obviously were slackers in comparison.   So, maybe I’m completely wrong and he will stick to the national governing body like a tick.

I’m not sure which scenario I’d prefer.


P. S. – Barron’s remaining at his private school in Manhattan might work well for him, and Queen Mel, but others at the school aren’t so happy.  See this piece.

How Will Trump’s Cabinet Work?

One theme of the confirmation hearings was that Trump’s nominees often seemed to disagree with him on at least one important issue, such as whether to honor the Iran nuclear agreement or whether to have full confidence in our intelligence services.  So, I will be curious to see who will influence whom more?

The fact that I still don’t know what Trump really believes about anything, other than his own greatness, adds to the uncertainty.   Columnist Ruth Marcus ponders these questions in a piece titled:  Can Trump’s Cabinet Save him from himself?.  If you want to ponder along with her click the title link.

Also, tonight Ivanka Trump will be interviewed by CNN starting 9:00 pm Eastern Time, 6:00 pm Pacific.   I imagine her father listens to her as much as to anyone, so you might want to tune in to get to know her better.