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.

The Impending Reign of King Don

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Why I Want Cabinet Nominees Rex Tillerson and James Mattis Confirmed

Tillerson for Secretary of State and Mattis for Secretary of Defense.  It is unlikely they will be stopped in a Republican dominated congress, but I think both outstanding picks in any event.   General Mattis is highly respected on both sides of the aisle, while Mr. Tillerson brings much experience in international affairs as the head of ExxonMobil.  His prominence in that company make some question whether he will be able to place serving our country above serving ExxonMobil.   I think he will and, if it seems useful, will argue that in another post.

While there are a multitude of things to judge a president on, I value most a presidential team who can best handle a “world in disarray”, in the words of foreign policy expert Richard Haass.   The potential for a more chaotic international situation abounds and that makes me more anxious than anything else.

That’s why I backed Hillary Clinton, not because I’m a flaming liberal as my more conservative friends think, but because she had the best credentials to deal with this chaos.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, may be more likely to add to it, if judged by his statements.   Fortunately, I do not take his statements seriously, unless he keeps repeating them, like building a wall on the Mexican border.

A contrary example is his proclaiming if elected he would launch an investigation of Hillary Clinton.  Once he won he didn’t care about that and chided his fans for dwelling on the idea, as if he needed to teach them the difference between what one says to win (which can be anything) and what one really cares about.

Beyond wanting full attention all the time, I’m still trying to figure out what Trump cares about.  I guess endless adulation might be a new goal.  Or being the second coming?

Whatever Donald Trump says is what he feels is useful to him at the moment.  He will change it later if some other words seem more useful.   He thinks he has great political instincts and he must have some or he wouldn’t be president.

Back to Mattis and Tillerson.    And I would add Michael Flynn.   General Flynn makes Mattis and Tillerson all the more important.  Flynn is Trump’s national security advisor, the guy tasked with basically synthesizing the foreign security information for the president each day.  He may often be the last guy in the room.

The three men make up the most significant advisers to President Trump when it comes to foreign affairs (1).  And, unlike the other two, Flynn seems a loose canon.   He has called Islam a “cancer,” not radical Islam, but Islam itself.   He also retweeted false and/or scurrilous information during the campaign (2).

While both Mattis and Tillerson seem more inclined to push back harder on aggressive efforts by Russia and other adversaries than has been true with President Obama , both seem likely to offer more measured responses than General Flynn might advise.

Consider this analogy.   Think of President Trump as a guy who drives around with the other three and often gets too drunk to drive, but at times can be persuaded to give up the keys.    I’m hoping that Mattis or Tillerson will be the one to grab them (3).


(1)  A caveat about those three being Trump’s primary advisers on foreign affairs.  It is impossible to know a this point how much Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, might influence any decisions he will make.  Kushner is hard to peg, but Bannon’s being the former head of Britebart News, which thrives on conspiracy theories, might give you a clue.

(2)   This article at CNN gives details on Flynn’s provocative tweets.

(3)  Yes, I know Trump doesn’t even drink.  But he often says things that remind me of a nasty drunk.   I do not feel much compunction to be fair to a man who was patently unfair to so many in his clamber to the top.  I will point out, however, things he does do that make sense to me, like nominating Mattis and Tillerson.

The Rex Tillerson Senate Hearing and Donald Trump

Too much news coming too fast to deal with in a post other than to do so impressionistically, which means I might regret something I say.   So be it.  The alternative is for me to not post at all.  I see an avalanche of Trump news forming this week, so I have to act fast.

Today two big events, Donald Trump’s first press conference since elected and, simultaneously, a senate hearing for Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, who is nominated for Secretary of State.   The Tillerson hearing seems more significant and more interesting.   The guy is impressive, so much so I thought at times:  Too bad we can’t make him president.

The hearing was impressive, too, with better questions asked than I usually see at such events.  In other words, questions from both sides of the aisle were tough and seemed fair, with not much pressing of either party agenda.   Though the general tenor was that our foreign policy under Obama has made us weaker on the world stage.

Tillerson’s diplomatic skill showed when he talked about a lessoning of American prestige world wide over the last couple of decades (meaning he was not only blaming Obama but G. W. Bush, too).

Also, when pressed by Marco Rubio to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal, Tillerson asserted he could not say without access to secret intelligence.  Rubio cited a number of public instances indicating that in fact Putin is a war criminal, but Tillerson held his position.

Many would think that a bad thing, but if we want a working relationship with Vladimir Putin, we can’t begin by publicly labelling him a war criminal, even if we believe he is.  Need I remind anyone that we did not trash Joe Stallin when he was a key alley during World War II, and he was responsible for mass murders in Russia.

A common theme during the hearing was the tricky issue of responding to Russian aggression while also recognizing that there are areas that are  in our interest to cooperate.   Even if we might have a Jekyl and Hyde relationship with Putin, that’s the way it is and both nations have enough nuclear arms to destroy the world several times over.

A new year’s resolution is to get back to shorter posts, so I’ll only say this about the Trump press conference.   One point in Trump’s favor was his denouncing a dubious two page memo that asserts Russia has information on Trump that could be black mail material.    I saw reports on CNN and MSNBC which I hope they regret, as the information is unverified by any substantial source.   In fact, those cable stations kept reminding us the report was unverified, so I would ask:  If it is unverified then why do you keep talking about it?

Ah, what’s sensational grabs attention?

On the other hand, Trump overplayed his hand (as usual) by angrily denouncing the fact that  “information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.”

Oh my, how terrible!   This from the guy who for years kept spreading false information about Barack Obama’s birth place.   Citing his investigators who had raised serious questions about Obama’s birth, while never revealing who they were or what evidence they found.

And this guy is going to talk about “false and fake”?

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.