The Wizzard of Trump: Peering Behind the Curtain

Two friends of mine were lambasting me last night for appearing to become a fan of Donald Trump.  I tried to defend myself by saying I’m not a fan of the man, but just fascinated by his political success.  But they would have none of that.

“He’s racist. He’s sexist.  That’s what you should be pointing out,” said one.   As if that were news to anybody.  What’s interesting to me is how in  acting like a crass, prejudiced jerk he only gets more popular.

Truth is, I don’t know who Donald Trump is.  He’s praised for speaking his mind, or from his heart, portrayed as being authentic like Bernie Sanders.  I think only some of that is true and it is hard to sort it out because fundamentally Trump is a showman, so what we see is mostly what he wants us to see to keep the show fresh and entertaining.

Do you think he’s not consciously being unpredictable?   That’s not authenticity, that’s an act.

Or some of it is and some isn’t, hard to know.  But this morning I decided to see if I could find some insight as to the man as opposed to the showman and I hit a goldmine in an interview in the Daily Beast with a woman named Barbara Res, who seems likely to know Trump about as well as anyone.

Trump hired her as the top engineer in the construction of Trump Tower in the 80s and she still worked with him in the 90s when “he only escaped financial ruin because the banks decided to leave the super self-promoter with enough to maintain the illusion of an empire.”

Trump asked her to take on the Trump Tower job when she was only 31, a position that probably no other woman in the world had.  And, though she had seen Trump be abusive to others who worked for him, he had always treated her with respect .

He “was the least sexist boss I ever had as far as trusting me and viewing me equally with all the men we encountered in our mutual dealings,” she reports. “He wanted me to be him on the job. He said I would be like a ‘Donna Trump.”

That’s the good part, though not surprisingly she won the respect by standing up to the many men she worked with.   “He told me I was a killer,” she recalls. “That’s important to him. Apparently, he thought that was a compliment.”

While Trump values the killer instinct, Res reveals when it came to firing people, he had trouble doing it himself.  “When somebody had to be fired, Donald laid the job off to an underling,” ironic given his “Your fired.” line being his tough guy trademark phrase in his show The Apprentice.

Res sheds light on a number of Trump traits, such as the anger shown is real, while the charm is a put on, and of course he seldom blames himself for any work that fails or falls short.  And he has no shame.  He showed that in the way he handled a scandal with a mistress and in his outrageous comments about anyone or group he feels anger towards.  “The more he gets away with, the more he does,” she says.

Not surprisingly, she says his biggest skill is self-promotion and that were it not for the image he promoted of having “the Midas touch,” prompting a number of banks to keep him afloat while he was hundreds of million in debt his financial empire would have collapsed years ago.

But the empire did not collapse and he became very rich and even more famous, but something changed him in the process.   “The humanity unfortunately faded as Donald’s star brightened,” Res says.   And while clearly a progressive before Obama’s second term, he trademarked  Make America Great Again a few days after the inauguration and became a conservative demagogue.

According to the interviewer:  “For all her experience with the old Trump, she had trouble discerning what was actual in the new one.” 

A Hillary supporter, Res follows the new Donald’s campaign from afar.  She saw the coverage of him saying that he wanted to punch a protester in the face.

“I would be laughing, but I’m crying,” she says. “He’s just such a bully. A typical bully.”

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P. S. – Res published a book in 2013 about her life in the construction industry available on Amazon, while the Daily Beast article can be reached by cutting and pasting:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/25/donald-trump-s-tower-boss.html

In the article Res provides a much fuller portrait of Trump than I have alluded to here.

 

Our Trump Infatuation: Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

“I’m digging Trump. …his campaign has been entertaining as sh_t.”

Trump supporter Kid Rock in a Rolling Stone interview.

After initially laughing at his candidacy last summer I have become in awe of Donald Trump’s success in this race prompting a couple of Trump non-fan friends to question whether I have gone over to the dark side.  I have to admit its tempting as thus far he has been the perfect demagogue for our age. He plays our fears, resentments and hopes like a virtuoso a Stradivarius.  I sometimes think of him as Hitler-lite.

True, to many he plays off key, creating shrill sounds.  Sure he stretches the truth or generalizes it out of existence, is crass in speech and action but he is supremely confident that he can  make America  great again and that confidence is contagious.  Being entertaining and projecting strength seem to trump all other virtues in the contest.

The best the others can promise is to just make America better.  Kind of lukewarm in comparison.

In that interview Kid Rock also emphasized that nothing good seems to change in government no matter which party is in power and he’s tired of the same ‘ol same ‘ol.  Why not give the business guy a chance to shake things up?

So, besides being a good entertainer Trump prompts excitement about the possibility of seeing new things happen in Washington with him as chief.  His lack of any real plans, his occasional brutish ways and his penchant for unpredictability only adds to that excitement, even the scary parts.  After all horror movies sell, too.

Since the Trump show seems likely to be playing well for months to come, we’ll have plenty of time to think about his curious achievement in turning politics into show business and cash in on what I would argue has become, if not our foremost value, in contention at least:  Being entertained.

We have become addicted to being entertained and technology offers us more and more entertainment each day, hundreds of TV channels, big movie special effects, video games and all of the social media one could ever want.   In America, there is no excuse for being bored anymore.

We want to be entertained in every which way and Trump has made politics entertaining.  Sure, he pushes a lot of our emotional buttons but most importantly, he does it in an entertaining way.

Trump is cashing in on our collective addiction to entertainment.  He rides this wave like no one else, well enough to appear a shoe in for the Republican nomination for the presidency and making me wonder if his entertainment value will carry him to the presidency.

Putting aside for the moment the fears he may inspire along with whatever personal distaste you have for the man, wouldn’t a Trump presidency be the most interesting to watch unfold?  Just like in his campaign we’d never know what he might say or do next.

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P. S. – Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is a book by Neil Postman published in 1986.  While we tend to think of political oppression coming from an outside source, such as big government – hence the emphasis of the right on the right to bear arms – Postman postured a bigger danger coming from our wanting to be entertained to the point that what we desire will ruin us.

Postman’s warning seems to be prophecy coming to fruition in the form of Donald Trump.  I will return to the book at various times as the race for the White House continues, as I think entertainment value will remain a crucial factor.

Here’s a taste of the book:

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”  

The Syrian Calamity: Small Progress, Huge Obstacles

It has been a week since I mentioned the international talks on Syria in Munich noting “there is a ray of hope now regarding a cease fire in Aleppo, the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands and a continuation of talks aimed at an eventual peace deal.”

As for a cease fire in Aleppo, there has been none.   Syrian governmental troops and Russian planes are still pounding that city and there seems no reason to believe that will halt.  Syrian president Assad and the Russians call any forces that fight the regime terrorists, including rebels we support, so any peace deal is hard to imagine working.  Also, Assad recently said he planned to fight on until all of Syria is brought under government control again, another nail in the coffin of peace prospects.

The most positive outcome of the Munich talks is that humanitarian relief has begun to reach thousands of people trapped and starving in various pockets of Syria.  Though those reached will be a fraction of hundreds of thousands in such situations, it is one positive outcome from the talks.

I could add that there are plans for further talks in Geneva by the various nations represented in Munich, most notably ourselves and the Russians, but ones scheduled today in Geneva have fallen through, for no clear reason and even with differing reports as to whether they have been cancelled or just postponed.

Check out this article in the Washington Post for more on that curious front.

It should be noted, however, that a number of knowledgeable observers are sharply critical of the talks, seeing them as just an ongoing excuse for the U. S. doing little while the Syrian government continues to strengthen its position aided by Russia and Iran.

A more aggressive policy by the U. S. raises the possibility of our conflicting militarily with Russia and the potential for unforeseen, world shattering consequences.  Our present course of muddling along is hard to embrace as well.

For myself, the presidential candidate I think might best serve to guide us though these troubled waters is the one I’ll likely vote for.

For casual observers as most of us are, it is difficult just to sort out the various fighting factions and where they are in Syria.  An article in the The Guardian from the UK describes the initial humanitarian efforts while showing a map of Syria useful in trying to get a grasp of this nearly incomprehensible situation fraught with international consequences.

I tried to link you to it, but cannot, so you will need to apply the cut-and-paste method.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/syria-humanitarian-aid-convoys-madaya-zabadani

 

 

Captivated by the Trumpeter

It is around noon on a beautiful day in  San Diego, temperature near 80 degrees and perfect to go out and  play beach volleyball.   I’m 70, but I still can play with “kids” half my age, at least for about an hour.  Then my feet grow roots, I have the mobility of a stone and I recall Cinderella’s coach becoming a pumpkin again at midnight.

However, instead of doing what I love I’m sitting here typing because I was captivated by a press conference with Donald Trump around noon, shown on MSNBC, FOX, CNN and perhaps other stations.  I hesitate to admit it but Trump was great.   I haven’t felt that watching him at other times, but this time he just seemed in such command of the situation, handling every question with ease.  In short, he seemed presidential.  At least some of the time.

That does not mean I don’t have a slew of questions about what a Trump presidency would look like, nor that I don’t fear him becoming president, but I was impressed by his performance in a way I haven’t been before.  I was also impressed by his boldness in the recent Republican debate when he took dead aim at the Bush legacy, 9/11 and Iraq.

This in South Carolina, where the Bushes have been popular.  That’s why G. W. Bush has finally joined the campaign trail with his brother.  Not so popular in many places, G. W. is popular here.

So, what did Trump do?   He slammed G. W.’s involving us in Iraq which has destabilized the Mid-East, and went so far as to accuse G. W. of “lying” about Saddam having  weapons of mass destruction.   OMG!  Surely the Donald had gone too far.  And – Republican sin of sins – he ignored the platitude that  G. W. had kept us safe, pointing out that it was under G. W.’s reign that the twin towers were destroyed.

Today in the press conference, he returned to that theme using the analogy of a baseball team being outscored by 19 runs in the first inning and then holding the score down for the rest of the game.   The message being:  Don’t tell me how you’ve kept us safe for years after the biggest terrorist attack in our history took place early on your watch.

This dismisses a segment of the ongoing Republican narrative that G. W. Bush kept us safe and Obama less so. Surely Trump had gone too far.  But with him, is there really a too far?

My sense is that there is so much anger in the Republican party at its leadership while questioning the narrative they have woven, that traditional “truths” are being dismissed along with the establishment.  Donald Trump is viewed as the truth teller, and many trust his narrative of events more than that of the Republican establishment.

It is a bold move by Trump going straight at the heart of Jeb Bush’s strategy employing G. W. Bush’s popularity in South Carolina to turn his campaign around.  But throughout his campaign Trump’s outrageous talk has just made him a stronger and stronger candidate and my guess is he will prevail here as well.

We will soon see if Trump’s tactic will work as the South Carolina primary is only five days away.

ALEPPO A DAY LATER: Catastrophe Avoided for Now

Channel surfing around cable news this morning, I saw tucked in amidst the incessant analyses of the campaigns, a report indicating a cease fire agreement had been reached in Munich,  aimed at starting within a week.  Since my post yesterday was grim I want to point out there is a ray of hope now regarding a cease fire in Aleppo, the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands and a continuation of talks aimed at an eventual peace deal

A report in First Post (apparently an Indian/British news site) offers a number of details as well as words of caution about the agreement.   As John Kerry is quoted as saying:  “what we have here are words on paper — what we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground.” (1)

It remains hard to be optimistic, given Russia’s pattern of making and then breaking peace deals in Ukraine as well as the complicated nature of relations among the various stake holders in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  But as Kerry said, within a few days we should have a better sense, so why not be optimistic for now and at least enjoy this weekend.

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(1)   I have noticed lately that a number of sites won’t allow me to link to them, so cut and paste this:

http://www.firstpost.com/world/world-powers-agree-on-cessation-of-hostilities-in-syria-at-munich-talks-2622854.html

The Siege of Aleppo: From Chronic Crisis to Catastrophe?

The presidential primary results in New Hampshire Tuesday did nothing to diminish interest in the ongoing races in both parties.  This would seem a positive sign about our democracy were it not for the fact most of us are more TV consumers intrigued by a new version of “the great race” than active citizens.  Trump and Sanders being big winners in New Hampshire, unthinkable last June, give legs to this “reality” TV series.  It should entertain us for months to come.

Oh, by the way, while the cable TV stations spend most of their time examining what has happened so far in the great race and speculating on what is to come, a catastrophe seems imminent in Syria.  The word “crisis” is so overused these days I needed to search for a more powerful word, especially as Syria has been in a state of chronic crisis for years.  When crisis is the norm it ceases to feel like a crisis, unless you are living in its hellish circumstances rather than watching it on TV as we so often are.

Here’s a rough approximation of what is going on and why it is so bad and why it could get much worse.

Since the Russians began to directly intervene in Syria in September, under the guise of joining the fight against ISIS, they have spent most of their efforts attacking the conglomeration of more moderate rebels that we have more or less backed.   They hide that fact in their propaganda accusing all rebels fighting the government of being terrorists, including the ones we tend to like.  With the help of largely state controlled media, they hide it well enough most Russians seem to believe they are primarily fighting ISIS, and it receives support because it is sold as a religious war.

Our response to Russian forays has been to avoid clashing with them in joint fly zones and to put our hopes in peace talks among various concerned countries to reach an agreement, but these talks have produced nothing, while allowing Bashar al-Assad’s Russian and Iranian backed forces to regain ground lost earlier.  Russian intervention came when it appeared Assad was losing the fight.

Recently Assad’s forces and Russia planes have launched an attack on Aleppo, a rebel stronghold in northern Syria forcing 40,000 or so refugees to flee towards Turkey, but Turkey won’t accept them.   In recent bombings in the city some 500 people have been killed and many others are dying of starvation both in Aleppo and in other areas attacked by Assad.

Because of these events talks have reconvened in Munich today in search of a cease fire, but chances don’t look good.  For one thing Russia denies recent bombings of hospitals in Aleppo, accusing us of doing so.  And while we want an immediate cease fire they talk of a cease fire beginning March 1, which would give them more time to slaughter the opposition and strengthen their bargaining position.

In short, if the talks fail (and that seems likely), the situation borders on the uncontrollable and we are caught in a position of either confronting Russia in the form of a no fly protection zone, or losing further credibility in the area.   The Turks, the Saudi’s, France and various other nations are pushing us to do more, and that “more” seems to be a no fly zone.  A pair of scholars have written a piece calling our failure to set up that no fly zone “moral bankruptcy.”

Of course, Russia has indicated it opposes that.  After all its planes are using that area to bomb “our” rebels.   The situation seems to be heading towards either a military confrontation of some sort between ourselves and Russia or a further loss of our credibility as a military power if we essentially do little or nothing.

This is the big story of today, but it only is receiving slight mention on the cable TV stations, focused as they are on the great race.

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P. S. –     If you want the latest news on Aleppo and the peace talks, google Syrian Peace Meeting In Munich Thursday or simply Aleppo, or both.  They offer somewhat different sources.

 

 

In this Corner the Primarys. And in this Corner Reality.

I have been slower than usual to post because I have been stuck, torn between two senses of reality.   One is our presidential race as brought to us via our media, which covers it like a political version of The Hunger Games.  In other words, it is a TV version of reality, not so much concerned with issues, but with entertainment and ratings.

The other is my sense of real reality, what is happening here and around the world that gets little attention because our media is transfixed on this presidential game show.  Given the various story lines that have developed with the rise of the Donald the foremost, I have to say this is the most interesting election I’ve witnessed since that of JFK.

However, the interest is not due to the candidates showing an exceptional handle on a world becoming less and less predictable.  The interest has come from the unpredictability that Trump has infused into the Republican primary and Bernie as well, to a less wide spread extent with the Democrats.

Such a far cry from months ago when it seemed a near certainty that the race would boil down to Hillary vs. Jeb.

All this excitement about who is going to win a job that I think is more impossible than ever.  Why so impossible?  Because the international order is changing rapidly and, in the case of the Middle East, unraveling.  And it all has become so intertwined.  Major shocks in one part of world send tremors throughout the globe.

Dealing with this kaleidoscopic complexity coherently is tough to do and not easily explicable, so presidential candidates come up with unreal bromides, slogans and tough talk.  A candidate like Trump acts like the answer to our trade issues with China is that we stop making bad trade deals with them.  Maybe we could make better deals. I don’t know.  But the biggest problem with China is that its economy is slowing down, and without its rapid growth rate as an economic engine, the world economy will slow down.   One major reason oil is so cheap is that China doesn’t need so much of these days.

And when Trump says he will get those good jobs back that we have lost to China and other low wage countries, he ignores the number of jobs that will never come back because technology has replaced them with computer systems and robots. Both here and abroad.  We can’t control that any more than we can “control” the destruction of ISIS.  In the latter case, we depend on other countries with different agendas than ours.

Even if many of our presidential candidates act like destroying ISIS only requires greater American force, decisiveness and “leadership”, our military sees this as a campaign that could take decades.  Yes, decades.  Read this report by David Ignatius.

While I have singled out Trump, Ted Cruz also acts as if solving the ISIS problem is as simple as turning much of Syria into one vast parking lot, ignoring that most of the Syrians we would be burying under the rubble are Sunni, just as are the dominant sects of most Middle East countries that we are more or less allied with.  They could hardly be expected to welcome these “solutions”.

By the way, Bernie Sanders also seems to misunderstand the situation in Syria, as he along with Ted Cruz has said that we should concentrate on ISIS and not on removing Assad.   The problem is our Sunni partners are more concerned with removing the Iran-backed Assad than in battling ISIS, so we can’t get their help in Syria if Assad stays.  This is a point that Marco Rubio understands, even if the other Republican candidates do not.

In tonight’s debate between Hillary and Bernie I would like Secretary Clinton to push Senator Sanders on this issue, but I won’t be surprised if she doesn’t.  She owes him for not pushing her lack of discretion in handling her emails.

I’ll get back to this after the Tuesday primary in New Hampshire, which should cull a few of the Republican candidates and give us a better sense of the relative strengths of the survivors.

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P. S. – I hear that Jeb Bush’s mother, Barbara, will be campaigning with her son tonight in New Hampshire.  While a well respected lady, I have to question if this is a good idea.  My Donald Trump frame of mind envisions this:  “Poor. Poor. Jeb.  He’s doing so badly and is so depressed he’s having his mommy come and hold his hand.”