Trump World: On the Way from the Surreal to the Absurd

Donald Trump’s tweet that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower is looking more and more like a case of the boy who cried wolf.  In other words, his credibility is looking shakier than an alcoholic in detox.

Perhaps he said it to distract attention from FBI probes about Russian involvement in the election.  Or maybe he was angry with Obama for one reason or another.   Who knows with him.  In any case the issue isn’t being left behind like so many of his other outrageous statements that helped propel him to – egads – the presidency.   The story has legs and he and his team would like to undercut them.

However, while his spin-miesters, like spokesman Sean (Bagdad Bob) Spicer and Kellyanne (disinfomainiac) Conway, author of the “alternative facts” line of argument, have continually tried to make the twaddle their master  wrote sound sensible, most observers who aren’t married to conspiracy theories laugh at these evasions.

In short, this fabrication may and hopefully will prove to be a “bridge too far”   for Trump.  That it will produce a “credibility gap” to a degree not quite seen since  President Johnson’s actions fathered the notion during the Vietnam War.

As is usually part of their evasive tactics, Trump and his Trumpeters deny the literal meaning of his own blather, acting as if the president is an inscrutable poet.  They all emphasize that Trump put “wiretapping” in quotes, meaning as everyone should know, not necessarily literal wire tapping but a broad term indicating any kind of surveillance, direct or indirect.  He was speaking figuratively as you many English majors out there should grasp.  Or for you Buddhists, think of Trump as a master of the Zen koen.  Think about it.

And when it comes to surveillance, well that can amount to anything, even a microwave capable of taking your picture, as  Kellyanne suggested in one interview.  These days there are all sorts of instruments that can help surveil, she more or less said.

Her source?  “I read it somewhere.”  Working in the White House, couldn’t she find a better source than “somewhere”?   Say, the huge intelligence agencies we have?

“I read it somewhere” is the standard of proof for any White House inquiry these days, which is why I feel we have moved from the surreal to the absurd.   Trump often backs his wild charges by saying he read or saw something, as if anything out there that can be read or seen can be viewed as a reliable source.

How about something written in a public bathroom stall?   Does that count?   Yes, I would say as long as it supports something our president either already believes or wants us to believe or both.  I feel weak kneed imagining  we elected  a virtual 5th grader on speed to be president, who has brought along a team of playmates to continue the party.

What may be most disturbing is I believe when President Johnson lied, he knew he was not telling the truth.  I’m not sure that this president is always aware of the difference.

Obama Wire Tapping: Trump’s Lies Reach a New Low

So much has happened with the Trump presidency since he gave his address to Congress back on March 28, but I think one event is most important to remember:  Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

It is such a typical Trump move.  As James Homann of the Washington Post puts it:  “Whenever he is under fire for something in a sustained way, he makes a shocking claim or provocative declaration about something else to change the subject. He is a master practitioner at the politics of distraction.”  It has worked wonderfully for him, so he’s at it again.

Trump was angered by the bad press he was getting because Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to tell the truth in a confirmation hearing, thus stealing the joy Trump was feeling from generally positive reviews for his acting like a “normal” president (yes, that was basically the high light) in that address to Congress.  So early Friday morning he tweeted out that charge against Obama.  Later he went off to play golf while the press corps went into a frenzy.  Now that is power.

There are now several more subjects to attract press attention, but I hope they don’t let this baseless accusation by Trump get lost in the shuffle of the never ending, outrageous statements by the president, as has been the case throughout his campaign and the presidency.  The word is Trump was in a good mood Sunday because the talk shows dissected the wire tapping charge and not Jeff Session’s actions.

This fits into a broader battle of narratives.  The Democrats, and some Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have focused on Russian involvement in the election including ties to some of Trump’s people.  In response Fox News and the (even?) more reactionary media have been concocting a theory of a “deep state” of Obama people still in the administration looking to undermine the Trump presidency .  The sudden dismissal of 46 Obama appointed federal prosecutors yesterday fits that line of thought.

On the night before his momentous tweet, Trump was on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox and Hannity was espousing this “deep state” theory of Obama’s tentacles.  Perhaps Trump got his idea from that or from a piece or segment in the Alt-right Media or adviser Steve Bannon.  In any case that’s all it took for him to go with it.  The wire tap charge is a useful distraction while also well aligned with the right wing narrative.

The problem for Trump is that he has no evidence.   While he has overcome that deficit often, the stakes are higher here and there is more information to refute him.  As president, Trump has access to any information he wants, but he avoids asking for it because it doesn’t back up his lie.  He won’t even call FBI Director Comey, and a couple other intelligence chiefs, who could tell him if there were any wire taps because they require a court order.  He won’t call because they would tell him he was wrong.

You can tell this is all one big lie because his surrogates have trouble defending his claim of evidence and even a few in Congress imply that the emperor has no clothes.

To skirt further scrutiny the Trump bunch has tossed this hot potato to Congress to investigate, hoping it will just disappear.  A few Republican senators, like John McCain, have failed to play along.  McCain’s response:  “If there is no basis for it, there’s no reason to hold an investigation.” And the Trump team hasn’t provided a basis.

Unfortunately, most Republican lawmakers lack McCain’s character.  While few actually support Trump’s contention to any degree, they don’t bash it, either, as they want a united front to pass legislation, so they can live with Trump’s wild tweets, as if he was that tedious, drunken uncle that all abide at Thanksgiving.

This is the devil’s pact the Republicans in Congress have made with the president, hoping he can help them get legislation they want passed without totally shredding their own credibility and sense of integrity in the process.  Ethically speaking, I imagine for some of them the hoped for ends justify the means.  I think that some will be sorry.

They don’t seem to realize that Trump is now undermining the credibility of the presidency as he has worked at delegitimizing most other institutions that frame our democracy.   So far, the present Republican controlled Congress has been spared, but I doubt that romance will last.

I will keep tracking this particular issue, hoping to heaven it stays alive…………………


P.S. – The issue I’ve discussed above can be looked at in much greater depth by reading this piece in the Washington Post (Daily 202) by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch.  They break down the period around the tweet and fit this latest and greatest lie in a pattern of distractions that have served him so well.  The writers raise hopes, though, concluding with ways in which this act might come back to bite Trump.

The article is long but you can skim parts and I think the overall picture it portrays is worth the journey.

President Trump’s Address to Congress: Free Lunch for All.

President Trump got generally good reviews for his address to congress Tuesday night.

According to various surveys, Trump’s supporters loved the speech, not surprisingly, but even a majority of Americans polled who watched said they felt more optimistic having heard it.  His tone was surprisingly upbeat and uniting, except for those who don’t believe a word he says.  One Democrat described it as “same lies, different tone.”  I’d say the same B. S, but different tone, but let’s not quibble.

Still, the difference in tone was significant, presidential even, and the positive response to the speech of many confirms that.  But can this tone be kept given his temperament amidst a hostile political environment?  Furthermore Trump keeps making sweeping promises that seem impossible to keep because congress will have to get behind them and congress is divided, not just between the two parties but within each.

First:  Trump’s agenda is budget breaking – no, budget exploding – and many in the Republican party have built their careers on criticizing government for over spending and accumulation of debt.  Second:  The senate barely has a Republican majority, so only three Republican “mavericks” are needed to block any of Trump’s agenda, and Lindsay Graham and John McCain  have indicated opposition to several of Trump’s proposals, so that’s two right there.  Third:   There are all those Democrats to deal with.

However, while the Democrats figure to offer opposition often, they may be easier to deal with at times then the Republicans.  The Democrats seem split as to whether to resist all that Trump proposes, as the Republicans did with President Obama, or to just resist some things and work with him on others, like tax reform and/or building infra-structure.

Even though Trump’s selection of a generally conservative cabinet and a supreme court nominee has pleased the right, I think in typical Trump fashion he is only committed to himself and his need to appear successful.   If Republicans resist and deals can be made with Democrats I can see him making them.

And I might even like one here or there.  I’m not one of those resist-everything liberals.  I disliked the Republican party identity being reduced to being the Un-Obama party and I don’t want to see the Democratic party follow suit with Trump.

But no matter how it shakes out, Trump’s fantasied future faces a number of reality checks down the line.   And I will be curious to see what his free lunch is going to cost and who will be willing or forced to pay for it.


P. S. – For those who want to read a good analysis of Trump’s speech, I suggest this piece by Cathleen Decker in the Los Angeles Times.    She sums up the essence in one sentence.

“Trump shifts from doom-and-gloom to a more optimistic vision.  But he offers no clarity on how he’ll get there.”

The Coverage of the Congressional Town Hall Meetings is Lousy

As one who is angered by the new president’s deforming reality daily to suit his purposes while also blaming the media for creating “fake news,” I feel even more anger today at the the liberal media for the poor job it is doing covering the raucous Republican congressional town meetings being held this week.  In short, I’m accusing them of creating some fake news.

It seems they have decided on a story line and are sticking to it.    Much of the attention is paid to the anger shown by “constituents” while drawing an analogy to the Tea Party anger expressed in 2009 and after.  And TV pundits rehash these events suggesting the Republican party should take notice of “constituent” discontent as it might impact future elections as it did in Tea Party halcyon days.

What baloney.   I put “constituents” in quotes because it is a cover for not really analyzing the make up of these crowds.   Who are these people at these events, especially the outspoken angry ones?  I would bet most  expressing anger didn’t vote for Trump and the fervent Trump backers who would counter that anger with their own didn’t bother to show up because they won.   Look for them at later town meetings if they come to have buyer’s remorse.

So if this is primarily a crowd of angry democrats yelling at Republican congressmen, where’s the news value?   It is not news.  It is what one might expect given the organizing powers on both left and right these days.

While it might be a first, I agree with much of a Trump tweet, the one on Tuesday saying:   “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”  The anger is not so-called but real but the protests wouldn’t look similar if there were not similar elements of organizing.  Don’t know what Trump’s  “sad” about, but what makes me sad is the shallow level of journalistic coverage, especially of the TV variety.

I suggest that a deep look would reveal there isn’t much here to look at.   Maybe I’m wrong but would like to be proven so by some real research as opposed to the puff impressionistic pieces I’ve seen.

I’ve done quite a bit of surfing of the internet and can’t find a single piece that really tries to analyze the composition of one of these town meetings or exactly who helped organize the collective response.   As to the latter point, at least some organizational agents are occasionally mentioned, like Indivisible, which provides such things as instructions for organizing anti-Trump efforts.   With cell phones and organizational guidance on the net, getting a protest effort together against Trump doesn’t need many if any paid activists.

To repeat, what I see at these protests is an outpouring of anti-Trump anger mostly from those people, like me,  who didn’t vote for him.  So where’s the news?

As to the analogy to the rise and impact of the Tea Party, it doesn’t hold up.   The Tea Party grew through its efforts to push the Republican Party to the right.   While they were angry at Obama, they were also angry at their own representatives, many of whom they managed to “get primaried”, i.e. replaced by their own candidates.

The protesters at these Republican town halls aren’t going to impact the party at large because they aren’t Republicans for the most part.   Whatever influence they’ll have will be on their own party.

Trump disgusts me, but one major reason for that is because he is such a bull shitter, the last thing I want in a president.   I hate B. S., even more so when it comes from sources I respect for the most part.

Journalists:  Do your effing job!

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.