Archive for the ‘ Politics ’ Category

Oh, we’re sunk enough here, God knows!

In 1995 Umberto Eco published in The New York Reivew of Books a piece (later that year reprinted in Utne Reader) entitled “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” The purpose was to list warning signs of the emergence of anti-democratic, authoritarian reactionaries.

Looking back over two decades, 1995 may seem like a relatively benign epoch, hardly worth raising alarms about democracy. But in fact the tributaries that would form the great flood we find ourselves in  could already be spotted by the observant: The “Christian” right had solidified , submerging the doctrinal disputes of numerous sectarians under the umbrella of a right-wing political ideology, perfecting fund raising operations, operating media companies and “universities.” The Christian right increased its cultural dominance, not by preaching the saving grace of Jesus, but by leading a war on life-styles, sexual orientations, “liberals” and lately Islam. The Republican Party, long proud of its “good governance” tradition (in opposition to boss-headed Democratic machines in urban centers) under the patrician George H.W. Bush, decided to take off its white gloves (without abandoning its plutocratic sponsors) and take up the tactics of scorched-earth sliming of opponents innovated Lee Atwater.  And by 1995 the “Gingrich Revolution” was in full swing. Newt himself broke numerous conventions  in Congress and led the party to the impeachment articles. While the right was perfecting its subversion of parliamentary process, it ignored good governance and allowed the likes of  Jack Abramoff to turn the Republican congress into a vast corrupt payola game for lobbyists. And then, of course, Roger Ailes converted a network into a right-wing propaganda-entertainment.

Because one way to verify a theory in any of the historical sciences (paleontology, history, political science, etc.) is to make a prediction of what later evidence will show and wait to see if it is verified or falsified. (This is exactly what Darwin did.) So it is instructive to revisit Eco’s signs to see how two decades have treated them. Below I reprint the article with my own annotations after each sign. (My readers who follow the news obsessively will, I hope, forgive me for stating the obvious. I have put my comments to the right, so you can ignore them if you think them too obvious.)

Eternal Fascism:
Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
By Umberto Eco

In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

*   *   *

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition. Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counterrevolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but is was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages — in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice;” such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge — that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

[Make America Great Again
America First
Session’s recent invocation of the Immigration Act of 1924]

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernismBoth Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

[Trump’s insincere bashing of Goldman Sachs and
hedge funds during the campaign.
Republican voters’ distrust of universities.
Trump’s loathing of “globalism.”]

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sakeAction being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering’s fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play (“When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” and “universities are nests of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

[Trump’s entire life has been a series of impulsive actions.
Trump decides without consultation now:

E.g., Paris accords, DACA, tariffs, talking with North Korea.
“Fake news” and all the other ad hominems in his repertory.]

4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

[Personal loyalty is the only value Trump cherishes.
The examples are legion from James Comey to Steve Bannon.]

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

[The first acton by the administration was the Moslem ban,
the organizing principle of his campaign—the Great Other.]

6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

[Even mainstream Democrats now recognize
the discontent of the white working class as the 
core of Trumpism.]

7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

[America First.]

8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemiesWhen I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

[The fury directed at  “Liberal Elites” can be
traced back 
to Lee Atwater.]

9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such “final solutions” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

[Mexican rapists and killers, subversive refugees, “China,”
“terrorists” all must be fought agazinst.]

10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weakUr-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members or the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.

[This is why, after campaigning against them, Trump’s administration
is filled with Goldman Sachs affliates.]

11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a heroIn every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte (“Long Live Death!”). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

[Trump’s unabashed fawning over military parades.
His own self-portrait as a hero: I would have run in without a weapon!]

12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

[Trump’s sexual behavior needs not comment.]

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view — one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks NewspeakNewspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the official language of what he called Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

[There has been no president in modern times with as
impoverished a vocabulary—and verbal ability in
general— as Trump. But he also invents phrases
that short-circuit thought: “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,”
“Little Marco,” “Fake News,” etc.]

*   *   *

Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

—Umberto Eco

Analogies are just that—analogies, not proof. And history is not driven by simple rules. Trump, some might say, is too buffoonish to wreck American democracy. But all fascists started out as buffoons; the ideology can only be promoted by buffoons.

I believe we are in worse danger than we were a year ago. A year’s experience has shown us that the Republican Party is no bulwark against authoritarianism. In many ways Trump is the logical outcome of their political strategies. And even the temperance that mainstream Republicans might give the administration is becoming almost impossible, as Trump has shed the White House of nearly all “sane” Republicans. The rumors that he is considering replacing H.R. McMaster with John R. Bolton is entirely consistent with the picture of a president gripped by a dangerous, reactionary ideology.  And those who claimed that John Kelly would “tame” Trump now see him as he is: a right wing ideologue who, if anything, is a cheerleader for the slash-and-burn president.

We cling to a faint hope: that Democrats regain at least one house in November. Regaining the Senate would be especially important, because otherwise the Supreme Court will be lost (and probably will render opinions like Citizens United, which will entrench reactionaries in office) for a generation or more. But the prospects for that house are bleak: the vulnerable Democrats (which outnumber the Republicans) seem to believe that by acting “Republican-lite” will save their seats. They should consider Mary Landrieu’s fate. Even if, however, there is a Democratic sweep in November, the fecklessness of the party is no guaranty that they will act as a barrier. But we must try; writing off the Democratic candidate (flawed and compromised as she was) led the the current predicament. When we are hanging by the skin of our teeth, every piece of floating driftwood can be a life raft.

Oh, we’re sunk enough here, God knows!
But not quite so sunk that moments,
Sure though seldom, are denied us,
When the spirit’s true endowments
Stand out plainly from its false ones,
And apprise it if pursuing
Or the way way or the wrong way,
To its triumph or undoing.
Robert Browning
from “Cristina”

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Thug for a Day

When I was a kid, there was an early Reality TV show called “Queen for a Day.” Host Jack Bailey introduced the studio audience (all or nearly all women) to the contestants. They were a set of middle class women who came to describe the recent emotional, financial or physical woe they experienced. Bailey interviewed them without evident empathy. The women often broke down talking of children’s illnesses, financial reversals, deprivation of basic necessities. Sometimes the women were simply unable to maintain their composure—the golden age of television. Bailey always had a handkerchief, ready for any emotional outburst. At the end of the presentations, the audience members were asked to evaluate each contestants by applause. An analog device, the Applause-O-Meter, measured the loudness of the applause. The “winner,” that is, the contestant voted to have the most miserable life, was awarded the title of “Queen for a Day,” and crowned and enthroned to the music of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstances.” She was then told what prizes she would receive, like a washing machine, carpet cleaner, etc. (In those days, even a queen was expected to do housework,) The show finished with the new queen smiling and waving through her tears, until the next day when another set of contestants would try to elicit sympathetic applause from the studio audience.

Yesterday a more recent Reality TV host was in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh meeting with a collection of medieval Middle Eastern royals and nobles as well as a modern military despot, who together with Saudi royalty seemed to make up a modern game show much like “Queen for a Day.” But instead of finding the stories of heartbreak and disappointment told so our hearts would near break with sympathy, these men came to flaunt their brutality, cruelty, offensiveness, greed and backwardness; in short, their personal likeness to the Reality Show’s host. So instead of vying for the title of “Queen for a Day,” they were more likely looking to become “Thug for a Day” before their genial host, Donald J. Trump.

We met the Saudis on Saturday. Yesterday, we met the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. What can we say about these Big Men?

Let’s start with Qatar: The current dynasty has reigned since 1825. That kind of family stability has got to impress our Host. Trump is so family-minded that he has had three so far, and he delights in promoting the projects of his children. Qatar is a Law and Order country. Our president would be impressed by the legal provisions for flogging and stoning. Capital punishment is available for apostasy and homosexuality. Blasphemy is punishable by prison terms. Like our President, Qatar strictly supervises its immigrant worker population, not allowing them to become the rapists and murderers that the immigrants here before the Trump administration became. Bribery and corruption also seems part of the culture, because Qatar, despite inhuman playing conditions and never having qualified to host a World Cup, in 2012 was awarded the 2022 World Cup by the supremely corrupt FIFA. All in all, Qatar made a strong case for Thug of the Day.

What about Bahrain? Bahrain is a monarchy with a vengeance. The King is not only supreme executive, he chairs the supreme judiciary, heads the military, appoints the higher house of parliament, has complete veto power and is uncle of the prime minister. Half of the government is composed of by his family. But nepotism, attractive as that is to the Trumps and Kushners, is not all. This monarchy is known for a history of arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture and forced exile. Although homosexuality is technically legal in Bahrain, don’t count on it: Given the lack of due process gays are routinely arrested. The press is cowed and self-censors. It looks like the complete package for our host and only audience member!

Egypt of course is a long-time favorite in all thug competitions. After a brief respite of a popularly elected president, he turned out a bit too Islamy for the military which swooped in to arrest him, re-installed a brutal dictatorship and engaged in mass arrests, show trials (with murder trials involving hundreds of defendants taking a day and accused having no lawyer) and best of all trumped up charges against foreign reporters. Torture, of course, goes without saying. As always, Egypt puts together an impeccable presentation.

But unfortunately for Egypt it seems our host was in a Medieval frame of mind and, in my view, inordinately swayed by conspicuous consumption. And that really did Egypt in. Nobody does plutocracy, gluttony, greed and disregard for the less fortunate like the Gulf States with their in-door ski-ing in the middle of a blistering desert, world-class hotels and artificial islands in the Persian Gulf. Water pumped in from god know where. Everything you could possible want, including booze (as long as you are a foreigner or member of the Family). Almost as classy as Mar-a-Logo. And of course Donald Trump just has to love how these people treat their women. They simply love women, just like he does. And that’s why they put them on a pedestal. Of sorts.

So of course, the winner had to be Saudi Arabia. Their violent reactionary Wahhabism goes back a century and was the basis for the country and their current hope against hope from being swept out of office into the dustbin of history. It is reactionary politics and religion par excellence. And god knows there is no talk of climate change in front of the Saudis. So after the big sword-dancing ceremony, the Saudi king was crowned Thug of the Day and given the prize of $100 billion of American weapons. This he can use to kill Yemeni women and children, or against his own people to stay on the throne, or just stored so that when the family is ultimately deposed, they can be used by Wahhabi-inspired fanatics against, guess who?, the Great Satan.

This trip to the Middle East has so far been extremely educational for Donald Trump. During the campaign he saw Islam as at heart evil. But now he realizes that one can practice Islam and still be fundamentally corrupt, greedy, ruthless and without morals. And still they will give him steak and ketchup! And personally, these guys are just fun to be with. General Sisti wore identical shoes to the President. Imagine that! And the President really got a kick out of that. Trump told Qatar’s emir to expect a shiny something for his Ramadam stocking, “beautiful” American hardware. What religiously-obsessed, reactionary plutocrat couldn’t use a fleet of fighter jets, I ask you? And he told the King of Bahrain that there would no longer be that “strain” in relations between his sovereign self and the United States that existed before the glorious present. Who needs human rights anyway?

So with all this education, Trump no longer had to use the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” which he told his followers was the single most important reason he, not Hillary Clinton, was qualified for the Presidency: He would use the term to their face; she would not. But it seems that not all Moslems are dirty, turban-headed, stinking terrorists. Some wear long flowing white robes and act like any other person you might meet in exclusive men’s clubs: corrupt, self-dealing, and willing to help other members of the club. So when our President took the podium to give his anti-Obama speech today, no mention of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” escaped his lips. I’m sure his supporters will understand.

And so, as they say in the Kushner family, “Next week in Jerusalem!”

Donald of Arabia

Our Id-in-Chief took the weekend off from his main occupation (disclosing his vile, loathsome and criminal impulses on Twitter and in televised interviews) to engage in his hobby, hobnobbing with immoral autocrats of politically repressed lands. Or as the President sees them, possible real estate investors.

The President was in Saudi Arabia to show how popular he is among legitimate powers, those who rationally conduct their affairs by distributing jobs among family members. Saudi Arabia is a country which, unlike Mexico in the President’s mind, has never, as far as we know, “sent their rapists.” And to the extent they “sent their murderers” these were not the kind that take American jobs. Indeed, they helped create jobs in New York’s financial district and Arlington County, Virginia. And these were of the real estate (re)construction type, something the President is well conversant in.

The President was pleased to announce a deal whereby American arms manufacturers would be able to sell more than $100 billion worth of weapons to the medieval kingdom, a deal that has the twin benefits of creating American jobs in a field that government encourages (instruments of death and political destabilization) and allowing Saudi Arabia to take a larger role in its own defense. And by defense, of course, we mean aiding Saudi Arabia in its brutal assault on one of the world’s poorest countries, Yemen, where the Saudis commit regular war crimes and are about to create untold misery by effecting wholesale famine. This too should create American jobs to the extent Americans are involved in famine and war relief, an industry not encouraged by the government. The inhuman slaughter that the Saudis are inflicting will undoubtedly fit within the President’s view of the war against ISIS. Or maybe not. Because, frankly, it’s unlikely he has a plan because he’s unlikely to have any clear idea of the situation. It is certain, however, that we will pay for allowing this uninformed, self-indulgent, hollow marionette and mouthpiece for vulgar and brutal strongmen and repressive regimes to come into possession of so much power. For, just as a blind sow finds truffles sometimes, the president is bound to stumble upon someone who will show him how to use his available powers to inflict lasting and far-flung damage.

While in Saudi Arabia, the President allowed former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to opine on Iran’s presidential election, where the country re-elected a moderate running against a fanatical hardliner. In other words, Iranians pursued a more responsible course this weekend than we did last November. This evidently did not sufficiently please this administration, which has been looking for a dustup with Iran because it is an oil producer where ExxonMobil has no rigs. So Tillerson lectured Iran on the free press. And he did so with a straight face, instructing that country (who elects its executive, unlike Saudi Arabia) to create what our president calls “the enemy of the people,” a press that is not government or party run. He also implored Iran to open up the country to political and social freedoms. No mention was made specifically of women’s rights. After all, he was speaking in a country (which will be getting $100 billion of US-made weapons) which does not allow women to drive and which regularly inflicts medieval punishments for theft and beheadings for political crimes.

Soon this crew will be on its way to Israel to visit another set of reactionary cronies who indulge in war crimes. Unfortunately, the President will not be allowed to land a helicopter atop the World Historical site of Masada, a site that Trump has longed been interested in. He one time wanted his Miss Universe pageant to be broadcast from the spot. Israel did not accommodate him then either. His interest is odd. He never applied to have the pageant at Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor. Or Thermopylae. Or Bataan or Philippi or Tours. The last three would have had deep symbolic meaning for his more fervently reactionary followers. But maybe he doesn’t know what happened at any of those places. Maybe he just heard the name and became fascinated with Masada. In any event, he will instead spend 15 minutes at a Holocaust Museum. I hope before he goes his staff gives him a one-page summary of everything he needs to know, in which his name appears throughout and plenty of pictures. Otherwise there maybe another horrific Trump open-mouth-gaffe. But maybe it doesn’t matter. His inner circle have become comfortable lying for him. Today, for example, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, told ABC News that he does not remember whether he called James Comey a “nutjob” during the president’s meeting with the Russian diplomat/spymasters in the oval office. Yet without recalling the president’s actual words, he was able to explain what the president actually meant. As for the terminology, either he’s heard James Comey being called a “nutjob” so frequently he can’t place where he heard it and when he did not or he is flat out lying. Either way, it will be no surprise when we hear someone next week say he did not remember hearing the president say that gas chambers weren’t so bad, but what he meant clearly was “we have to make sure that the ObamaCare death panels are stopped.”

Sum in charta ergo sum

I wonder if there is the equivalent of an Overton Window for incompetence, buffoonery and mental limitations. If so, that thing must be moving rapidly in the direction of utter absurdity. We have a president who cannot be evaluated in terms of political calculation, behavior of statesmen or policy beliefs. Frankly, we need behavioral scientists now to analyze his behavior. In view of the respect the office of the presidency is traditionally held in, let me respectfully request that reporters begin by asking researchers in bonobo behavior to explain Donald Trump’s actions. (I realize that there is nothing we have seen to justify expecting to find the highly developed social skills and peaceful behavior that bonobos exhibit. But as I said, respect for the office demands that we first start with the more sentient end of the animal behavior spectrum. We can later ask for other behaviorists to chime in when we see that the president cannot be compared with the “higher” primates.)

What triggered this reflection is the following quote in today’s Talking Points Memo:

“According to a report published Wednesday by Reuters, Trump is more likely to read national security briefing materials if his name is mentioned in as many paragraphs as possible.

“Unnamed officials who have briefed the President and others familiar with his learning processes told the publication that Trump still prefers one-page memos and visual aids.

“One unnamed source told Reuters that since Trump ‘keeps reading if he’s mentioned’ in briefing materials, officials on the National Security Council have learned to insert the President’s name into ‘as many paragraphs as we can.'”

This is beyond a narcissistic personality disorder. This is a fundamental inability to function at a level minimally functioning adults display. It is quite possible that Trump cannot be convicted of obstruction of justice (or any other crime requiring intent) because he simply lacks the mental capacity to form the “intent” that the common law requires (the so-called mens rea).

And yet he has the nuclear codes, the levers of the executive power in this country and the support of the still loyal (though worried) majority party in this country. Have we ever been in more peril?

Coup du clown: Day 3

OK, forget every official and authorized statement emitted over the last day-and-a-half from the White House. They are all, officially now, prevarications. Or perhaps, more precisely, the first draft of the official lie (which we are not yet sure has been determined on). Donald Trump still doesn’t quite get that this is not reality TV. He doesn’t get a chance to re-shoot something that didn’t turn out right. The pre-edited tape still gets to be seen by everyone. But so what? 40% of the country will ride through the gates of hell with him. What matters is that 8% more, strategically placed, who will determine whether representative democracy (such as it was before Corrupt-o-mania / Going-Out-of-Business-Sale-USA came to town in January of this year) remains or whether we will will continue in this poorly produced Reality TV Show where chaos, buffoonery, deception and vile and vulgar actors pretend to be running the government. The question is whether those folk buy into the explanation. And what had been offered up to yesterday didn’t cut it.

So forget everything that was in the letters released to justify the firing and the explanations of Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried yesterday. The new explanation, given from the horse’s ass’s mouth itself, is that Donald Trump, who played an executive on a long ago TV program, had decided to fire Comey, and it had nothing to do with the memo by Rod J. Rosenstein, assistant Attorney General, and acting Attorney General on those subjects on which Jeff Sessions has recused himself. (What those issues are seems to be a moving target.) It could not have been based on Rosenstein’s memo, of course, because Rosenstein evidently threatened to resign if he had to take the fall for the firing of Comey. Now that the story has been revised, however, he seems happy to be back into the center of Pandaemonium. Don’t expect Rosenstein to reprise the role of Elliot Richardson in this low budget revival of Watergate.

No, the new, old rationale is that Comey was “a showboat” and “a grandstander.” And if there is anything this buttoned-down administration hates, it’s a showboat and a grandstander. God knows that’s been Trump’s position from the beginning. That is no way to act with important executive responsibilities.

That interview aired before new celebrity apprentice Sarah Huckabee Sanders came out to continue her performance art before the White House press corps. When asked why the president’s explanation was different from what she said the day before, her answer was: “though she had conversations with Trump about the termination, she had not asked specifically about when Trump had made the decision.” So if she had had the foresight to ask him when he made his decision, she wouldn’t have offered up the howlers of yesterday, and offered some other lie which would have had to have been retracted when Trump extemporized his lies this morning.

Incidentally, after the President in his interview with Lester Holt explained that the FBI with a completely demoralized and dysfunctional organization under Comey and after Sanders claimed that she had “heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision,” the acting FBI director,Andrew McCabe, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” He added that “[t]he majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” Of course McCabe was acting under the constraint that his statements were under oath, something that you won’t catch Donald Trump or Sarah Huckabee Sanders doing. That tends to impede improvisation.

So three days out, this coup looks like it has been bungled, a surprising result given that minds as sharp as Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions were behind it. This doesn’t mean we are out of the water yet, but the thing to always keep in mind is that Donald Trump has brought down much bigger of his own empires than this administration. And although Donald Trump has lived his life in the swamp that is New York commercial real estate, the swamp he is currently swimming in has bigger predators and his mouth is his only protection. That organ is pretty paltry when he is not entertaining New York tabloids.

Trump’s Day After

I must say either Donald J. Trump is a politician, whose brilliance we have not seen since Talleyrand, or he is so subservient to his personality disorder that he is acting out the role of a Shakespearean tragic figure. Not, of course, like the ones we can sympathize with; perhaps more like Edmund in Lear. Either way, it’s insufficient to explain yet another highly unhinged day in Trumplandia.

It has been a little more than a day since Trump fired the man who is leading a counter-intelligence investigation into his Presidential campaign. (Has that really sunk in yet? The investigation is about either terrorism directed at domestic U.S. targets or espionage directed at our government. That is what the counter-intelligence part of the FBI investigates. Only those two thing. And the subjects are high officials in the campaign that successfully put Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office. And we are less than four month into this administration.) Because no one with any influence in the White House had thought through the consequences, the White House felt the need to bring back once-sidelined Kellyanne Conway and audition new-comer Sarah Huckabee Sanders to entertain us with their unique brand of performance art in which they offer up lies and nothing but lies. In this new art form, it doesn’t even matter that the various lies spewed forth are inconsistent with each other; the only important thing is that they are lies. What the president likes is the purity of deceit, not its coherence. Meanwhile the President wakes up (or stays up) and in early morning limbers his thumbs up by lashing out at a Senator—an exercise which Trump must consider some sort of political discourse. It’s is the kind of discourse that is more commonly heard in construction sites in New York City between contractors and building developers each trying to cheat each other than heard between statesmen. But, after all, the charm of Donald Trump, according to his ardent supporters, is that he is not a statesman.

That was just a warmup for the man who had been roundly described overnight as playing the role of President Nixon just as he was about to wallow in his greatest disgrace. Trump who received his professional education in construction sites in New York City where he was the developer trying to cheat someone, evidently doesn’t associate Richard Nixon with disgrace or doesn’t believe disgrace is all that bad a thing, for during the rest of the day he one-upped Richard Nixon. First, the man who greatly increased the suspicion that he had secret dealings with the Russians, had a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador at which, even for photo ops, the American press was not invited. But the Russian press was.  After the meeting Vladimir Putin (dressed in what looks like a hockey team uniform sold by an unlicensed internet merch site), responded to a question from a reporter (Putin evidently responds to his own country’s press) and opined that the American President had acted “in accordance with his law and constitution.” So there you have it; the ultimate authority on American law and constitutional issues, in Trump’s mind, has cleared him. What a coincidence that it is the same person that his campaign was being investigated for conspiring with. But Putin denied any involvement in that. He’s as innocent of that as Russia is innocent of invading Ukraine.

But Trump’s stage management had not ended. He had a private meeting today with the closest adviser of Richard Nixon back in the day, Henry Kissinger! It’s as though the man who saved himself from having to earn a living after he drove his real estate empire into insolvency by playing an executive on a television reality show wanted to ensure that the documentary makers filming the decline of the Trump administration had enough usable footage. After all, even the dumbest of documentary filmmakers will now be able to show Trump with Kissinger after firing Comey and then Nixon with Kissinger after firing Cox. (It was not the day after, however; Kissinger was in Moscow negotiating with the Soviets over the crisis in the Middle East when Nixon decided to create his own domestic crisis in Washington.)

Consider that in this crucial 24-hour period, when key members of his own party in Congress are trying to make up their mind how much to throw their lot in with his , Trump, instead of acting Presidential, continued his display of arrogance for all to see. And instead of leaving well enough alone with the hastily planned rationale for the firing (laughably incredible as it was), he gratuitously offered that Comey was fired because he was “not doing a good job.” This man that Trump needlessly keeps insulting, as though he were Gary Busey on the Celebrity Apprentice, is scheduled to testify about the nature of the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation of Trump’s campaign before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. Trump really ought to take some advice from a real lawyer, not the ghost of Roy Cohn from the 1970s.

Or maybe Roy Cohn was right. His advice deeply wormed its way into Trump’s psyche. (It is perhaps a poor metaphor to suggest that Trump has a deep psyche.) Always attack! Never explain or apologize! Everyone else is wrong, no matter what the evidence says! The unethical mob-lawyer profoundly affected Donald Trump’s worldview. That this was so is odd since Cohn achieved a very poor result in the racial discrimination case brought by the Justice Department against Trump, his father and their leasing businesses: record fines and a consent decree that required the Trumps, under pain of contempt citations, to do what they claimed their were not required to do. But Trump doesn’t live in a world where anything untoward happens to him, especially anything that results from his own decision, or maybe better put, his own will. So maybe Trump is right. If so, a new lesson will have been learned by our politicians. It, however, will not be a lesson that will benefit the mere citizens of this country.

Two-bit Nixon

If there was ever a proof about the adage about what happens when you ignore history, Trump just offered it up. The firing of FBI Director James Comey today has many of the hallmarks of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” except Trump and side-kick Jeff Sessions are too clownish to even act with the degree of prudence as Nixon did during his stupidest act. Nixon the arch-plotter had hatched (with the aid of Alexander Haig and University of Texas Law Professor Charles Alan Wright) what he thought was the perfect trap to either cause Archibald Cox (the Independent Counsel who had in process indictments of cabinet officials and high advisers to the President and was breathing down the neck of Nixon himself) to resign or justify his firing. (It involved setting up a “compromise” for independent review of the subpoenaed White House tapes instead of compliance with the court order to produce them.) Wright bullied Cox into a position of not accepting the deal, and the conspirators thought they could fire Cox while retaining public confidence (at a time the U.S. was facing down the Soviets in the wake of the Yom Kippur War) by insisting that Cox was being unreasonable while the President had national security issues to worry about. As it turned out, Cox took to TV and persuaded the American people that he was being reasonable, not Nixon. Nixon fired Cox, public wrath fell squarely on the White House in a way and to a degree that they never expected. Nixon’s lawyer, Leonard Garment, said of Nixon’s reaction to the public response: “He thought of little else except to marvel ‘over the mischief we had wrought and the public relations disaster we had brought on ourselves.'” (Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (New York: Knopf, 1990), p. 410.)

All it will take is someone with half the folksy charm and reputation for impeccable integrity of Archibald Cox to bring down this administration. Do we have such a person? Probably not. But the Republicans had spent much of the last year puffing up the integrity of James Comey. That faux-integrity might serve as well as the real thing these days.

Let’s not get to far ahead, however. In those days, the Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress and it still had a tough slog. And from the Saturday Night Massacre to the resignation was another 10 months of gut-wrenching daily agony spilled out from the news each day. And this after we had become sick of the daily agony of news out of Southeast Asia for nearly a decade. So for those of my much younger friends who long for the romance of the 60s-early 70s (without having lived through those days), welcome to the new (old) reality. If History is as vindictive as we think it is, Trump will learn yet that Andrew Jackson is not the President he should have read the Classics Illustrated story of.

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