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.

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.

 

Donald Trump, the Phony Fan of Our Intelligence Agencies

The Donald Show continues to keep us guessing, which is the biggest reason the show remains hot.  Unpredictable is interesting, maybe scary or sickening at times, but interesting.  Today’s guessing game centers around a meeting Trump will have  with top intelligence officials to discuss Russian hacking during the election.

The case has been floated in the news often in recent weeks, raising questions as to both the intentions and success of Russia’s actions in interfering with the election.   Trump has not welcomed either angle, especially the part that raises doubts about the legitimacy of his win and, as usual, when he feels diminished in any way, he comes out swinging, or throwing.

He has disparaged those intelligence agencies in tweets and other statements, even going to the extent of citing Julian Assange for support, though he denied that yesterday as I will get to later.  When battling, Trump will grab anything to throw at you (and often later deny that’s what he did or meant).

Despite several previous statements to the contrary Trumped tweeted yesterday he “is a big fan of intelligence”.   The intelligence community doesn’t believe that, as James Clapper, Director of Intelligence made clear at an open hearing in the Senate yesterday.   He said that while skepticism of intelligence results is warranted, “I think there’s a difference between skepticism and disparagement.”  And there was no question who he thought was disparaging them, the same guy they are meeting with in Trump Tower today.

This intelligence team is not likely to pull any punches, especially since they are all about to leave office, so the media buzz revolves around how contentious the meeting might become:   Will Donald Trump deny their findings or accept them?

I think he will likely accept them for the most part and even praise those agencies in the process because to dismiss those findings, once seeing secret information, would be to put him at odds with Republicans he needs help from.

First of all the meeting won’t be all that contentious because Trump has a history of vile attacks at a distance in public, while congenial with the same people in private.  At meeting’s end Trump will announce he has been convinced that Russia did try to interfere with the election, but did not succeed in tipping it (since Clapper has already stated the intelligence agencies have made no conclusion on that, so there is no knowing, just lots of opinions).   Trump will then make a show of the respect he has long held for the intelligence agencies and what a serious matter the hacking is, and might even talk tough, but he won’t do much about it right now

He has boxed himself in here.  The Russian hacking evidence interferes with his apparent desire to be more cozy with Russia by riling up the likes of Republican senators McCain and Graham, the latter having talked about Obama’s response as “throwing pebbles” while Graham wants to throw “rocks” at the Russians.  Those senators likely will push for a stronger reaction, something Trump will have to deal with later.

Right now his biggest consideration is getting  Rex Tillerson, the Exon Mobil chief, confirmed for Secretary of State.  Both a pro and con with Tillerson is that he has worked out various energy deals with Putin over the years, so he knows him well, but maybe too well, too close, too friendly to many who think of Putin as a thug and a virtual dictator.

It would only take a few Republican senators to stop Tillerson’s nomination, so I predict we will see less of the tweeting teen-ager on the attack, and more the conciliator for a few days at least.

By the way, what gives me some confidence in my predictions is this tweet from Trump yesterday, in which he clearly has begun to reverse his story about the dubious intelligence services.  Of course he never thought that way.  It was the dishonest media that made it seem so.

“The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange – wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people…. to make up their own minds as to the truth. The media lies to make it look like I am against “Intelligence” when in fact I am a big fan!”

Thank you for clarifying that misunderstanding Mr. Trump.  Now excuse me as I need to refrain from upchucking all over my computer.

Donald Trump: Conducting Foreign Policy via Twitter. Sort of.

(This is another long one folks, so you might want to grab a drink or postpone it until you’ve whipped through your other emails.  I will try to get back to shorter posts, but the omnipresent Trump is tough to nail in a few words.)

The Trump show has basically remained the same as when he was a candidate, but now his tweets go beyond a campaign tactic.  Now they impact our foreign policy, but who knows just how much, as those tweets raise many questions but provide few answers.  This point was made in a Chinese newspaper earlier this month.  It indicated Trump’s tweets about serious matters are “impossible to fathom”, so it is better to pay close attention to his actions, not his words.

I’m happy that the Chinese government seems to understand that, figure Vladimir Putin understands it even better and hope the rest of the world follows suit.   It is bizarre to say to the world that they shouldn’t take many of our president’s tweets seriously, but that is where we are.

Tweets, by nature, are very short and not usually well thought out, which often leaves more room for ambiguity than most forms of communication.  That’s perfect for Trump, as the ambiguity in controversial tweets provide tons of speculative fodder for the press.

Part of the ambiguity lies in the limitation to 140 characters, but with Trump, maybe a good share of that lack of clarity is intentional.  The more provocative and ambiguous a tweet seems the more it prods the TV chattering class to dissect and speculate it ad nauseam, which then prompts his word handlers to walk the statements back which then gives the pundits further fodder to digest, until some new provocative statement over shadows the last one.

The effect is to make Trump the center of our attention most of the time.   What more could a supreme narcissist want?

A typical example is the kerfuffle spawned by Trump’s tweeting last Friday about the need to “expand our nuclear capability.”  That seemed to come out of the blue unless you realized Vladimir Putin spoke about strengthening the Russian nuclear capability last Thursday.   The important nuance here (for those who still care about such things) is that Putin seemed to be talking about modernizing his force, not actually expanding it in terms of war heads.

Trump either saw that as a challenge, or just an opportunity to reinforce his tough guy image by shadow boxing with this buddy Vlad, knowing that Putin wouldn’t get up in arms, so to speak.   Hey, as many have noted, they have a bromance going

The press interpreted Trump’s words as a call to grow our nuclear arsenal, just the opposite of American policy for decades, but his word whizzards denied that.  What he meant, they said, was to strengthen and update our nuclear capability, not expand it in size.  Actually Obama has had a plan in place since last January to do just that, but of course Trump always ignores whatever facts fail to support the point of his story.

The next morning, to keep us all on pins and needles and remind us of his boldness, Trump ignores his spinners and doubles down on the possibility of nuclear expansion, not just modernization, in a phone conversation with a morning talk show host:  “Let it be an arms race, we will outmatch them at every pass.”

Who knows what he meant by that, even him?  I’m not even sure who the “them” is.  Surely, not his bro-buddy, Vlad, who later that day asserted he certainly didn’t want a renewed arms race.   And today I hear that Putin has invited the children of American diplomats to a big Christmas/New Year’s party normally reserved for Russians.

Certainly Uncle Vlad wouldn’t be rattling the nukes.

But of course the TV press goes into a frenzy about reversing decades of nuclear policy, just as Trump wants.  Once getting the issue to a boiling point, our president-elect decided to turn it down to simmer later Friday.  He unveiled a letter received a week ago from Vlad congratulating him on his election victory (a hug to you buddy).

Then later still on Friday Trump pointed to a tweet from Putin criticizing Hillary for bad sportsmanship.  Wrote Putin:  “In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.”…….(this from a world class thug)

“So true!” responded Trump, making that earlier talk of an arms race seem what it was, a playful tug on the marionette strings of the press.

I have bothered to break down a Trump induced frenzy of non-news because I think we will get a lot of this sort of nonsense over the next few years and we’ll all have to handle it the best we can.   It is of little use to parse his words unless those words tie to actions, which at the moment are largely a matter of the selection of his governing team.

Foreign policy feints through off hand tweets?  That is the way Trump has set up his show and our media keep distributing tickets while many of the rest of us watch the performances.   Even if we don’t watch them, we hear about them.  Those damn little tweets remind me of the West Nile Virus.


P. S. – The “arms race” incident I referred to includes several interesting aspects succinctly described in an article in the  The Week written by Peter Weber, including a short video of foreign policy expert David Ignatius.  Ignatius suggests there may be some value in Trump’s disruptive moves, but adds that value would depend on a vision and discipline that Trump has yet to display.

Can Donald Trump Finally Privot to Being Presidential?

“I’m just now slowly emerging from what feels like a horrible hangover, “wrote a friend  a couple of days following the Donald Trump presidential victory a week ago.  I have felt a little nauseous myself, though alcohol over indulgence quite likely contributed to that.  Now my condition is best described as one of cognitive dissonance.  I’m having trouble stringing together the words “President” and “Donald Trump.”  They don’t fit.

The problem is he will be President soon, so I’ll have to get used to it.

I do not assume the worst of Trump as many other never-Trumpers seem to.  While he has obvious prejudices, I have thought emphasizing them missed the mark.  The key aspects of his personality are his drive for self-aggrandizement which includes a need to always be perceived as a winner.  Both of those needs has produced a man with a genius to manipulate others.   And he did it brilliantly in working his way from being an initial laughing stock, except to his immediate followers, to becoming, sigh, President Trump.

Trump’s manipulative ways disgust me, and I think his narcissism produces a total unconcern for those harmed by his ways of winning.  But I do not think of him as someone evil, like Hitler.   I think of him as shallow and, except for treasuring loyalty, largely amoral, which certainly can do much harm, but I fear those qualities less than I would a fervent ideologue.   Again he will often sound like one, but the way he keeps reshaping his positions suggests otherwise.

He’s a guy who wants to make deals that make him look smart.  He employs hyperbole as a way of firing up his base and to give himself a lot of room to negotiate later.   How many things has he said, such as his policy towards illegal immigrants, that he has “walked back” over time?

The puzzle here is while winning the presidency is a clear cut matter, winning as the president is far from it.   To begin with there are no exact standards of measurement, an arbitrariness that leaves room for historians to reevaluate greatness over time.  I would think that ambiguity would bother Trump.   But I also think he will come up with some kind of definition for himself.

It would seem a good part of that definition would likely depend on getting laws passed through Congress.  Because he is not rooted in an ideology and cares little about the future of the Republican Party (unless it continues to bow down to him), he might be in a unique position to break through the gridlock and get some useful legislation passed.

I’m not counting on it, but I have some hope.

On the night of Trump’s election win Chris Mathews of MSNBC, no great fan of Trump, captured my sense of wanting to wait for awhile to see what plays out rather than vilifying our new president right off the bat.   He put it this way:

“I am just determined to find an optimistic notion here which is there must be some talent here to be president because he is going to be our president.  Is he going to recoil everything he said because it was all just a game?

Is it ‘that got me what I wanted to get but I don’t need that anymore.  What I need now is calm confidence building measures that I can actually build this economy back up again.’

Do the brains that got this guy elected president tonight apply to being a good president.  I leave it as an open question.”

Though recent talk of Trump’s White House team, including his children, and prospective cabinet members do not ease my mind, hey, President Obama shook Trump’s hand and wished him success because America’s success depended on his own.

In honor of our president, I can wait for awhile to rush to judgement on the next in line.