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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.