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.

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.”

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.

 

Trump and Our Intelligence Services: Two Separate Realities

We have a president elect who has been able throughout the campaign to by and large getaway with creating a reality in a shape that was useful to him at the moment.  And now we have an intelligence community that doesn’t do that.  It creates a reality based on their best understanding of the facts at the moment.    And those two mind sets are now clashing right in front of us as we run up to the inauguration.

General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director, on Smerconish show January 7

Those two mind sets clashed yesterday, not with all sorts of fireworks but with a clear display of separate realities as to the main points of the report those intel chiefs delivered to Trump.   I made some predictions in a post yesterday as to what might transpire.  While I think I was in the ballpark, I missed the chance to hit a  home run, not foreseeing the big fat possibility that Trump would cherry pick a bit here and there from the report while misrepresenting its main substance.  In other words he would publicly interpret the report in a way that fit his separate reality.

The reality of the report was that Russian hacking is a big problem and that it interfered with our election in various ways with a few aims in mind, one of them to reduce the chances of Hillary Clinton winning.   That is an unwelcome reality for Trump because he will not accept any news that might de-legitimize his victory to any degree nor any information that detracts from his desire to develop a closer relationship with Russia.

I should have realized that Trump might just ignore, or misrepresent the findings of the report as he has done so many times in the past with information that doesn’t suit him.  In other words, work it into his separate reality.  I thought he would back off a bit as long as the report did not conclude that the Russians actions helped him win, as he knew it did not, because the intelligence chiefs don’t believe that’s their call.

But in simply discussing Russian efforts to make an impact it raises the possibility that some of those attempts did influence a number of voters who didn’t care for either candidate much, but felt the duty to vote anyway.   Though impossible to know how much of an impact, it seems unlikely to have had no impact at all, which is what Trump insists on claiming.  Even worse, he acts as if the report backs him up.

Here is the beginning of the official response of Trump to the findings of the intel services:   “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

That is a textbook case of disinformation as defined in Wikipedia:   “Disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.”  For one, as Michael Hayden pointed out, the initial part focusses on a cyber problem we have with several nations, which is true, but it wasn’t the focus of the report.   The problem with Russia was the focus of the report and that is obscured here.

After beginning with that misleading statement, the Trump team jumps to “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election”……as if that has anything to do with the initial comments on the general cyber problem or that the intel report concluded that.   Neither is true.   The intel report concluded nothing as to the impact.  Instead it leaves it to us to form our own opinion from their information.

The “no impact” comment is just made up, a fact hidden by connecting the words to the statement about no tampering with the voting machines, which is actually in the report.

Perhaps this break down is tedious to you, but the Trump team is so good at spreading disinformation that a light needs to be continually cast on instances of them doing just that.   Especially on a topic as important as our relationship to Putin’s Russia.

Over these next two or three weeks this war between separate  realities could heat up, as there are several Republican senators who I believe will resist Trump’s continuous attempts to trivialize Russian actions of interference in our political process.

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.

Hillary’s Character is Questionable, but Trump is Worse. Much Worse.

(NOTE:  This is a particularly long post.  You might want to grab a drink before reading it, or put it off to when you have a few extra minutes.)

I’m not all that religious but at this point I have to wonder whether God is going to punish us with a Trump presidency.  While I have thought the election would be tighter than the polls had been showing, I felt that Hillary would win.  In a battle of two questionable characters – or as Michael Gerson puts it “one candidate stale and tainted, the other “vapid and vile” – I, like Gerson, see Trump as worse.   Much worse.

Since he announced his bid for the presidency, Trump has always had the advantage of offering something new and different to a people who are tired of the same ‘ol same ‘ol and who give no weight to how complex things are these days, i. e. there are no easy answers to any major problem because the interconnectivity of the world has grown so great.

Even I who can’t stand this childish, vindictive man am attracted to his being something  interesting and really different.  Even if awful, a Trump presidency would be really different.  And no doubt interesting, unless it reaches the point of scaring us to death.

We must understand that our political values have been infiltrated and made subservient to those of entertainment.  That is the undercurrent that has propelled Donald the reality TV star into his present position.  Potentially the first TV reality president.  In the world of entertainment sensational is very good and boring is very bad.   And Donald J. Trump regularly makes news saying something sensational (often outrageous), while he is seldom boring except when momentarily following a script devised by others to make him seem less dangerous.

Given the wide spread hunger for change the big question is how many voters out there have been waiting for a sufficient excuse to go with the “vapid and vile” danger man Trump over the “stale and tainted”  and boring Hillary (the degree of the taint is debatable, but she is no Bernie Sanders).  Now that FBI director Comey has decided to reopen an investigation on Hillary, those hidden Trumpsters might have the excuse they’ve been longing for.

With the election only a week away the Comey probe, no matter how unsubstantial  it may prove to be later, may turn out the straw that breaks Hillary’s back.  I can imagine some in those private voting booths thinking:  What the hell.  Let’s take a chance on the business man who is a proven winner.  Let’s shake things up in Washington.

The thought of having a hand in big changes gets the blood going, doesn’t it?  In such a situation one’s vote really feels like it counts.  Voting for the possibility of incremental improvement can’t hold a candle to that when it comes to enthusiasm.

Someone summed up Trump’s followers as wanting to punch Washington in the face.  And no one represents Washington more than Hillary, the ultimate insider.  I share the sentiment at times but for President Trump it would be his golden rule.

He would get involved in a number of fights with just about everyone, but besides making many of his followers feel good about his taking down those big wigs a peg or two, what’s that going to solve?   Who’s that going to help?   Who will be willing to work with him?  He will be an elected president, not an elected dictator or monarch, unless things really go awry.

Sure Washington is a classic example of SNAFU (a military acronym for  “situation normal all …..”    you know the rest.)  But the idea that Donald Trump will be able to fix anything is sheer fantasy.  It is clear from studying his past that his primary drive has been to get attention, or aiming higher “adoration” as the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has put it.   Trump has been amazingly successful at that, but tell me the last president who has been adored by a majority of Americans for more than a few days here and there, if ever.  At various times they were all vilified by the press and much of the public.

Does anyone believe Trump will handle vilification well?

Along with Trump’s genius for getting attention goes a blister-thin skin which prompts him to strike back at anyone who criticizes him.  He views every caustic comment as life threatening.  Since he has a complete disregard for the truth, he doesn’t mind lying in his defense and then telling bigger lies to defend his previous ones or to distract us from the original issues.

After a number of women came forth (11 at my last count) to say Trump did to them what Trump bragged he did to women on those Access Hollywood tapes, he first said he didn’t know any of them, and when it was proven he had known at least two, he called them all liars.  To take attention away from their accusations he dismissed them as agents of a media conspiracy against him, which grew to international proportions including bankers and anyone else profiting from the present rigged system that Trump promises to do away with.

I am the Donald hear me roar.  Drowning out all efforts to hold him accountable for anything.

We don’t have enough press to disprove all the B. S.  that he and his surrogates, which I like to think of as minions, churn out and perpetuate daily.   A special shout out to you Kellyanne Conway, Trump handler in chief, to the extent you can, and the whirling dervish of political spin.

Trump as president would spend much of his time counter attacking all those who would criticize or challenge him while contriving all sorts of falsehoods about them.   Worst of all to me are those falsehoods pumped up to full blown conspiracies.  Since he has absolutely no regard for the truth, he would not hesitate to make up conspiracies or develop baseless attacks as he did with such success to his primary opponents, e. g. “lying” Ted the Canadian with a father who might have been involved in the Jack Kennedy assassination.

Trump saw that last implication in The National Enquirer, obviously a source as trusted as the slab with the 10 commandments.

In short, while all politicians pollute our national discourse (such as it is) with the way they spin events to make themselves look good and their opponents bad, Trump is the biggest polluter of all, the coal industry of political pollution.

Years from now many  of our descendants will still believe President Obama was born in Kenya because Trump created his political career spewing that lie often for about five years.  The Republicans welcomed any attack on Obama, and the press never forced the issue, allowing much of the public to believe it and teaching Trump how easy it can be to create a false reality and convince others of its validity.

How many other grand lies would the presidency give Trump the opportunity to foment and infest us like a virus?   Until the notion of truth itself loses the little meaning it has left in politics.

 


P. S. – I can imagine a Trump supporter pointing out that several weeks ago Trump indeed did state that Obama was born in the United States, a one sentence statement tucked into a Trump rally late that he conned the press into covering like a major announcement.

To continue the coal analogy, five years of spewing coal dust all about and then in one sentence he tells the truth and acts as if all the damage done had been rectified, as if he were a pope announcing an encyclical.   That was the truth then.  This is the truth now.

Or to try another analogy, there is Trump on the front page accusing  Obama of lying about his birthplace for five years and then one day, on page 55, he inserts one sentence of truth as if the two balance out.   As if one sentence of truth equates to five years of lying.