Donald J. Trump: King or Criminal?

Since my last post President Trump has been treated like royalty in Saudi Arabia and  like a criminal at home.  Even more than usual the news makes my head spin in circles like that girl possessed by the devil in The Exorcist.

First, the Comey vs. Trump battle over truth which I wrote about in my last post promises to get real lively as Comey has agreed to speak in an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing after Memorial day.  He seems to have picked that committee because it appears to be the most bi-partisan in congress when it comes to the Trump/Russia investigation.

However, there might be a complication.   Since my post a “new sheriff” is in town.   Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General handling the Trump campaign Russia connection, has surprised many by appointing a special counsel to investigate this whole matter of the Trump team and Russia, not only as a matter of foreign interference in our election but for possible criminal activities.

He appointed Robert Mueller, former FBI director in both Democratic and Republican administrations, whose apolitical competence is one of the few things agreed upon on both sides of the aisle.  In his new role “sheriff” Mueller might play some kind of role in Comey’s testimony.

Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel seems tied to how Trump fired Comey.  Trump made the decision impetuously and then asked Rosenstein to write up a rationale (which few bought) which then Trump used as the cause for the firing (1).  Eventually, Trump came clean, but he tarnished Rosenstein’s stellar reputation by first making the firing seem like Rosenstein’s idea.  It is rumored that Rosenstein threatened to resign if Trump didn’t straighten the record.

Trump did admit the truth but apparently that wasn’t enough to satisfy Rosenstein.   Appointing a special counsel seems like Rosenstein’s way of fully grabbing his integrity back.   Take that Mr. President.

So, with his unique ability to make matters worse for himself, Trump now has the immediate threat of Comey to deal with and the threat of Mueller’s investigations down the line.

At least this gives many Republican legislators in swing districts some cover from constituents who want to see this Russian connection fully investigated.  Now the congressmen and women can say Mueller is on the case and we don’t want to interfere.

With all of this turmoil at home Trump must have loved Saudi Arabia where he was welcomed as a king.   Yesterday he gave a speech that seems to have tread tricky territory  quite well.   Sticking with the teleprompter of course.  There are many angles to explore, but I’ll save that for later.  For now let’s just go with TV commentator emeritus Bob Schieffer saying at least the address was “presidential” and not “the rant of some angry guy at the end of the bar.”

I know, I know…….   There is something very odd when our president acting presidential merits praise, but we have fallen down the rabbit hole into Trump world.  His acting presidential may be the most we can ask for while he and we are sorting out what his foreign policy actually is.

For a start I’ll dissect that Saudi Arabia speech in a future post.


(1).  This article shows that Rosenstein stands by that memo.  He thinks Comey should have been fired for abusing his position, but he resented being made the fall guy in Trump’s story (you have noticed, haven’t you, that Trump always has a fall guy, so he can’t be blamed for anything).

As for few people buying the memo, much of it chided Comey for his public treatment of Clinton.  That would be fine were it not for Trump cheering every step Comey took that cast doubt on Clinton, hardly a true reason to now fire him.

Trump Profits from his Healthcare Failure

The general press coverage of Trump’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare portrays it as a crushing defeat.   I call it a win.

I don’t know if it is because of incompetence or caginess, but this result was best for the “president” all things considered.  I have read nothing that supports the notion that Trump actually knows anything, or really cares, about healthcare.  In fact he has said:  “Who knew healthcare could be so complicated?”   Well, Mr. “President” I would say anyone with the sophistication to distinguish between a campaign slogan and an actual plan knew.   The fact that the Obamacare plan took over 2,000 pages to describe is one clue of how complicated.

Trump just cares about looking like a winner who cares.  He promised to replace the flawed Obama plan with something really great and he wants to appear to keep his campaign promise.  It is like the temporary travel ban that appeared to add to our security.   But he singled out seven predominantly Muslim nations, none of which has produced a terrorist action in this country, while ignoring the other Muslim nations in the Mid-East that have.

Even if you like the idea of some kind of ban, this one makes no sense.   But it appears to make sense which is good enough for our “president”.

Yes, he’s that shallow and that narcissistic.   A former business associate once described him as being “the most self-absorbed and least reflective” man he had ever met.  Trump has a depth of being about as thin as his skin.  That to me is the most frightening thing about him.  Even when he loses he wins because it is attention that he craves.  Cable news seems al least 80% about him.  No matter what he does he is the star of the show.

Of course,  to he truly happy he must have adulation, not available in his every day life, which is why he continually stages “campaign” rallies around the country as if he were still running.   He needs to see adoring fans like a vampire needs blood.   Yes, despite the bluster, he is that insecure.

The final plan that he and Speaker Ryan were trying to push through the house made so many concessions for conservative buy in that “some of the biggest losers in the Republican plan are in counties that supported him,” according to this article in the L. A. Times.  Also, according to a number of others sources, the biggest winners would have been the very rich  (through tax cuts), just the opposite of Trump’s B. S. about fighting for the little guy.

No bill would have had a chance because there are too many fissures within the Republican controlled congress that are irreconcilable on this issue, at least for now.   With that in mind pushing for any kind of a bargain immediately seems incompetent, but perhaps at some point it occurred to Trump that, what with 17% approval of the jerry-rigged health replacement bill, that it was best to put it out of its misery and demand a vote that they surely were going to lose.

Why is that loss a win for Trump?

Had this bill actually passed many of his fanatics who hate Obamacare would have eventually found Trumpcare to be worse and what a fake he is, which is what Trump fears most of all.   The onus for healthcare would switch from Obama to Trump.  The last thing he wants is to be blamed for anything, which is why he is so good at blaming others.  Can anyone recount any failure that he has ever taken responsibility for?  Name one.

This way he can continue to talk about Obamacare being so terrible it will fall by its own weight (with Tom Price, the Secretary of HEW likely to help by adding to that weight by doing what he can to dismantle parts).

Trump can continue to say that he tried to live up to his repeal and replace, but everybody else made it impossible.  First, Paul Ryan pushed it too hard as if it could easily pass.  Second, the Democrats didn’t help at all (not that he asked for their help).  Third, the conservatives in Congress, and outside groups like the Club for Growth, scuttled it.   He accused them of being disloyal Republicans (i. e. not loyal to Trump) who blew the deal.

So, to his fans at least, Trump ends up looking like a heroic battler for great health care against foes of all stripes (a complete fabrication) and with the defeat his bluff won’t be uncovered  any time soon.  Despite not winning, Trump looks decisive and saves his party from breaking apart like Humpty Dumpty, for the moment.  Perhaps it was through incompetence in both the White House and in the House.  Perhaps there is something cagey about it.  With this “president” I never quite know.

Bottom line, the longer Trump can appear to keep his election promises the better for him.   My hope is that eventually it will be clear to most Americans that this has all been a show, that like the Wizzard of Oz, the real Trump is a little man hidden behind a curtain while projecting an image of great strength.

I can’t wait to see more and more people peek beneath that curtain and see how little is there.

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.