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 vs. Comey: A Showdown Over the Truth

On May 12 Donald Trump tweeted:  “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”  This in response to fired FBI Director Comey’s indicating that Trump had asked for a pledge of loyalty, two or three times it seems.  Not what a president should request from someone whose position dictates independence, with loyalty only to the constitution and to the truth.

I’m wondering if Trump is simply unraveling…..

This may be the president’s strangest tweet because, unlike those hundreds of others that have garnered attention, it makes no sense.   Of course, he has said plenty of outrageous things, many of which he just made up, but they helped his situation in creating an image of a strong decisive leader, a guy who would shake up Washington, or in providing a distraction from topics he no longer wanted to talk about.   Here it only draws more attention to the lingering sore issue of whether his campaign colluded with the Russians during the election.

It is the same as the firing of Comey, with Trump’s team giving false reasons for doing so and then the president admitting it was largely Comey’s refusal to let go of the “fake Russian story.”   Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Many commentators suggest that email above was a threat to Comey.  That would only be true if Comey is lying.  I think Trump is the one who is lying.   If so, talk of tapes is like you threatening someone with a gun pointed at yourself.

And mentioning the tapes (unless they actually exist and prove his point) has only served to prompt calls from congress to see them and left Trump’s surrogates, like national joke spokesman Sean Spicer, to feebly admit the president doesn’t want to talk about it.  Some threat.

Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Unlike so much else in Washington that just seems to drift a long, this specific conflict over the truth figures to come to a head.  It will be settled somehow.  It comes down to who you think is fundamentally more honest and, unless you are a Trump Fanatic, there is no question.  Comey has spent decades developing a reputation for integrity.  Trump has spent decades developing real estate deals saying and doing whatever it took to succeed.

The Trumpites like to point to the criticism the Democrats have had of Comey’s handling of the Hillary email mess, some even calling for his resignation.  But for the most part, it was his judgement that was criticized not his integrity.  After all this is a guy who wouldn’t even play basketball with President Obama as it might imply too close of a relationship.   And this is a professional who has been keeping detailed memos in FBI files of all of his exchanges with Trump and his team.

Like the gunfight at the OK corral, it will come to a head.  And I think Comey is looking forward to it.

Comey’s host of memos may come out like a series of poison darts, or he might reveal a bunch of them at a public hearing.  The initial one yesterday details Trump asking Comey if he “could see fit” to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House says “this is not a truthful or accurate portrayal” of that conversation.  One side of the other is lying and the truth will out.

The president is probably happy to be leaving town this weekend for visits to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.  You have to give it to Trump.  He knows how to put on a show.   Who knows what will actually be accomplished, but those meetings should provide some great optics (handshakes with three great religions) and of course Trump will tell us of the great meetings he had all around.

But whatever happens abroad the Comey problem will still be here on his return and if anything, it will look bigger not smaller.


P. S. – Of course I’m aware of the meeting of Russian diplomats with Trump in the oval office and the controversy that has ensued.  You want to bury the story line of the Russian connection?   So, right after firing Comey you host key Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, allowing jovial photos to come out?  Really?  I mean really?

Besides national security implications, it just seems like another poorly thought out tactical mistake reinforcing questions as to whether Trump really wants this job.

After all he has admitted it is harder than he thought.

Trump’s First 100: Little done and who knows what’s begun?

When thinking of the Trump presidency I alternate between viewing it through one lens looking for what is being done and another that focuses on the show, aimed mostly at grabbing our attention like a good advertisement.  Through the action lens Trump’s presidency looks willy-nilly, featuring much incompetence in his staff and their relations with congress, including the failure to fill many top vacancies.

Add a titanic sized boat load of conflicts of interest by the Trump family and the tendency to flip flop, including often doing exactly the opposite of the populism he campaigned upon.  Oh, and there is that lingering Russian connection under slow-mo investigation.

But as a show it is one display of fireworks after another and while many of us can only gag and shake our heads his followers, according to polls, are holding strong.   They are willing to cut him loads of slack given “the mess” he inherited in Washington and the frenzy of activity he engineers.   They see him tirelessly working for them, an image Mussolini achieved in Italy prior to WWII, by leaving a light on in his office all night.  Simpler times.

Trump is surely a whirlwind of activity though even that gets exaggerated by the bomb dropping impact of his tweets.   It might take him a few minutes to think through and pop off about Obama being “sick and  bad” for wire tapping him, but it sends reporters scurrying around for weeks.

Recently a TV reporter pressed Trump on the “sick and bad” comment and Trump called the interview over rather than explain himself.  Basically he left with “we all have our opinions.”  “But you are the president”  John Dickerson reminded him to no avail.   Dickerson was indicating the obvious, that we should be able to expect our president to explain what he meant by such an outrageous statement.

Turns out that’s not true in Trump world, a fantasy realm propped up by the Republican party in hopes it will get them what they want.  I doubt Trump ever knew exactly what he meant.  What he knew was it would be an attention grabber, just like all of the other personal attacks that have gotten him this far.  Who knew how wrong Jeb Bush could be when he told Trump at a debate:  “You can’t insult your way to the White House.”

Besides the tweets Trump is always signing something or meeting with someone, but judging what he actually accomplishes is tough.  Most of those executive orders either cut back on something Obama backed or proclaim a review of something that will likely be cut back.

Surely the national government can be trimmed, but the Trump team seems eager to cut before a review, such as the case of the State Department.   The goal  there seems to be to cut the staff by 30%  despite warnings by the likes of Secretary of Defense  Mattis, perhaps the most widely respected member of the administration.

Trump’s domestic successes can mostly be grouped under the heading:  Deconstructing the Obama Legacy.   From the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to his domestic cabinet picks, they share an agenda to reduce government.  Sometimes to the point of absurdity, like the EPA, which now seems to stand for the Environmental Pollution Agency.  How could it be otherwise with a secretary who continuously battled the EPA when a state attorney general?

That reminds me of the novel Fahrenheit 451, a dystopia in which the job of the firemen was not to fight fires but to burn books.   Think of the other cabinet positions and you’ll see reflections of that as well.

You may have noticed I have said almost nothing about the foreign policy aspect of the brief rein of King Don.  That’s because I see no policy, just a lot of showboating.  Bombs dropped here and there to show the world Trump’s willingness to get tough.  But along with this is Trump’s flirtatious ways with strong men rulers, the targets of dire threats one day and praise the next.

Most of us would not say we’d be “honored to meet” with the prominent dictators of our day.   As if oblivious to their collective brutal suppression of others, or more likely, Trump just doesn’t care.

If you are a true blue America Firster, no one else really matters.

That’s a topic for another day.  As far as Trump’s success so far, David Horsey of the L. A. Times  has summed it up well:  “Perhaps Trump’s biggest accomplishment in his first one hundred days has been his ability to capture the constant attention of the country and the world.”

A huge win for our Narcissist-in-Chief.


 

The Armada that is Working It’s Way to Korea

There is much one could say about “President” Trump’s almost first one hundred days, but most of it isn’t worth dwelling upon, which is good news to a one handed typist.

It is not worth dwelling upon because most of it has been empty boasts, unfulfilled promises, fitful threats and ridiculous assertions.  This formula worked well in the TV surreality of the campaign trail, but is falling apart like Cinderella’s coach racing towards midnight now that Trump is expected to actually accomplish things.

Most of this charade most of us can live with while it plays out, but Korea stands out as an exception.  Someone has aptly called it ” a drawn out version of the Cuban missile crisis.”   I was around during that crisis and fear abounded.   If there is less fear around these days, it is because we are more closely wedded to TV’s versions of reality than the real thing.  We have become anesthetized.

As a reality TV show Trump’s tough guy stance is entertaining.  In reality, Trump’s posing is frightening.  He acts like a bloviating bully whose foreign policy comes at the spur of the moment.

Call it gallows humor, but I have to laugh at the fiasco of the fleet that was portrayed as being dispatched to Korea, but actually was going elsewhere on pre-planned maneuvers.   AND THEN IT WAS GOING TO KOREA…..   as spokesman Sean Spicer “explained.”   As always not admitting a screw up.   Blaming the press for misinterpretations.

Leisurely heading towards Korea is not the same as rushing there, implied in Trump’s tough guy talk.  That’s like saying  police are responding to a 9-1-1 call, as soon as they finish their coffee and donuts at Dunkin’s.

Whatever.  I have to hope that charade – which a number of South Koreans running for the presidency there call “a lie” and reason not to trust Trump in the future – does not foreshadow a mishandling of a huge, immensely complex problem that Trump promises to “take care of”, as if he were negotiating just another real estate deal.

REALLY FOLKS.  THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION.

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.