Trump’s Amateurish Modified Limited Hangout

Before Donald J. Trump took the oath of office (which seems like two years ago at this point), there was another U.S. President who was addicted to lying as policy—Richard M. Nixon. There are many similarities between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Both are thoroughly dishonest; both are contemptuous of their enemies (which group consists of anyone not showing unquestioned loyalty), and both think they are much smarter than they really are. But there are important differences. While not as smart as he though he was, Richard Nixon was vastly smarter than Donald Trump. And while they both surrounded themselves with men who were bad for the country, Nixon’s men only wanted to enrich his friends a little bit, not bankrupt the country so that they could roll around naked in money, which seems to be Trump’s singular goal. And while their regard for the truth was probably equally nonexistent, Nixon at least understood that other people had some, maybe even a lot of, regard for the truth. It’s uncertain whether Trump’s chronic narcissism allows him to believe that other people exist, let alone concern himself with what they think.

The difference manifests itself in how they go about deceiving the public. Nixon was smart enough to know how things work. Trump’s one bit of knowledge is that he has fallen into bucket-loads of problems all his life and by lying he has always gotten himself out and with a couple of showers he almost didn’t smell bad. So he leads his life believing in his unceasing luck. Nixon on the other hand knew that luck had to be prodded, and he spent his life plotting his deceptions. He was smart enough to surround himself with men who liked plotting grand deceptions, and on March 22, 1973, two months after his second inauguration and less than a year after the Watergate break-ins, his inner circle was plotting what deception would fly that would extricate them from the tightening noose. With Nixon were Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Counsel John Dean, and two of the most loyal hatchetmen ever to act as White House yes-men. They were plotting The Cover-Up. And the theoretical question came up, How much deception was necessary? They borrowed a concept from the world of spooks, “the limited hangout.” The phrase involves a spy whose cover has been blown. His backup plan is the “limited hangout”: where he admits some minor inculpatory information while hiding the major crimes. The theory of it is that the opponent will jump on the limited information and forego the more damaging rest.

The Nixon people decided that they were going to give a little bit of information to the Senate Watergate Committee that might look politically bad, but deny the truth, saying that none of them were involved in any crime. Nixon hesitated, concerned about what bad stuff they were giving up. Dean tells him that it is really limited. Haldeman jumps in and describes it as a “limited hangout.” Dean agrees. But to mollify the President Ehrlichman tells him, “It’s a modified, limited hangout” because it is really only going to go to the committee, not the public. And hence the most psychodelic phrase of this square but delusional administration was born.

The Flynn case has birthed another modified limited hangout. But this time it was created by a group who really are not skilled at the game, headed by a leader who doesn’t play well with others anyway. Now the chronology that we know is this: Flynn lied about what he spoke about to the Russian ambassador on the day that Obama ordered sanctions in retaliation for Russian interference in the U.S. elections in favor of Donald Trump. (Once you state the issue like this, the question is: Why go on? Shouldn’t this be the end of the Trump administration, without more?) A little more than 3 weeks ago Flynn lied to Vice President Pence about what was discussed. Almost immediately thereafter, the Justice Department advised the White House that Flynn has been compromised, because he discussed the sanctions, contrary to his statement to Pence (would he would continue to insist upon publicly thereafter). the discussions were potentially in violation of the Logan Act and possibly evidenced other felonies. For three weeks the President did nothing. Indeed, Flynn was given access to all national security material in the interim and as late as Monday White House Counsellor (the John Dean equivalent) Kellyanne Conway was telling the press that Flynn had the full confidence of the President. That evening Flynn resigned.

Today White House spokesman Sean Spicer, a man who really is in over his head and maybe (I know you will balk when you read this) even less articulate and intellectually on-the-ball than Donald Trump, was tasked with explaining how the president could have allowed Flynn to remain in his sensitive position given what the Justice Department told him three weeks ago. Here’s the story that came out: The president didn’t know anything about what Flynn discussed with the Russians. But “instinctively” (a word he used five times in the press conference) Trump knew that whatever Flynn talked about (namely, that the sanctions would be re-visited once Trump, the candidate the Russians helped to win the election) was not illegal. And Spicer maintains vehemently that nothing illegal happened. But because over the three weeks the president’s trust in Flynn eroded, he was forced, against his will, to ask Flynn to leave.

Now, given that they had 3 weeks to concoct a story (and that’s if you believe that Trump and Pence first heard of the talks three weeks ago), this would be a pretty flimsy cover-up. What does instinct have to do with it? Why didn’t the President listen to Justice? Why was there no further investigation? The answer might be that these guys are so sure of their ability to come out sweet-smelling from any muck they pour on themselves, that they thought it would go away. Especially since Trump fired the acting Attorney General. (This shows a tragic flaw in narcissism—not understanding that making an enemy unnecessarily will cost you.) So when the New York Times disclosed what Trump knew (at the latest three weeks ago), they finally saw the noose tightening. And they had to come up with a story. Instead of a limited hangout (like: Trump just couldn’t believe the intel because of other signs of honesty by Flynn; it was clearly a mistake) they reached too far. They wanted to make Trump look good coming out of it (intuitively knowing that what Flynn did was legal, even though he did not know what Flynn did) and avoiding any further scrutiny.

The fact is they modified this limited hang-out so much, that it doesn’t work. No one can rightly believe this story. Especially, since the acting Attorney General, the messenger, was fired.

But there is one little thread that might unravel the whole story if it’s given a little tug. The conversation between Flynn and the Russians took place on December 29. We can speculate that he advised the Russians not to retaliate against expulsion of their diplomats and other sanctions in like manner, because Trump would undo them. In fact, the Russians did not retaliate. The very next day, the compulsive Twitter-in-Chief pushed the send button on this message to Twitterdom:

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

Richard Nixon was undone after careful, long and intense scrutiny by dozens of lawyers in several branches of government and relentless investigative journalists turning over every rock. He was never dumb enough to create his own incriminating evidence.

We are not alone

For those who might be saying, I’m probably over-reacting, nobody believes this is for real, here’s some crowd-sourced information that might both assure you (that you are not the only one) and terrify you (that it probably is for real):

Amazon’s top 12 editions of political fiction as of right now (Feb 10, 12:50 .m. EST):

1. 1984 by George Orwell (Signet ed.)
3. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (Signet ed.)
6. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (Kindel ed.)
7. Animal Farm by George Orwell (Signet ed.)
10. 1984 by George Orwell (Berkley; 60th anniversary ed.)
11. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
12. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (Audible ed.)

Bird Lives!

Several decades ago I was looking for a specific book. This was before the internet was known outside the military-academic complex, and so obtaining an out-of-print book was somewhat complicated. In those days, if you wanted to find a rare book, you approached a rare book dealer and made a request. He would tell you that for some amount of money he would “make inquiries.”  The amount was usually nominal, because the chance of obtaining the book was so low.

The book I was looking for was Bird Lives!: The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker by Ross Russell. This may seem like an easy “get” these days because amazon.com claims that it was published in 1996 as a “first edition.” But Amazon is selling a reprint by Da Capo (which did not exist when I was originally looking for the work).   In fact the book was originally released in 1973, published by a quirky British independent press called Quartet Books Limited, whose website claims it was founded on socialist principles. A search of its web presence reveals no institutional memory of having published Bird Lives!, but it is quite proud of having published the same year The Joy of Sex when others refused it. (I would guess the sales of the book floated the company for quite a while. Even in socialists circles sex sells.) It was that book (Bird Lives! not Joy of Sex) that I spent much time looking for. And I eventually found it. Not because I paid $5 to the used book dealer (who 30+ years later seems not to have found a one), but quite by chance at a used book sale (which particular one it was I don’t remember).

Once I had the book, I, for some reason, decided not to read it. There was much discussion by the circle of jazz “experts” I then travelled in that Russell was quite sloppy and the work was inaccurate. (I suspect part of this had to do with a record producer stepping out of his element into the rarefied world of writing.) Since I am easily dissuaded from launching on a new endeavor this nonspecific criticism was enough to make me simply put the book on the shelf for later review at a date when all the masses of unread books on my shelves would be read.

Well, this week I took it up again, and I made two interesting discoveries. First, the book in my possession has an inscription by Peter Pullman (an engineer and production guy for Verve and Mercury Records) giving the book to Max Roach! Occasionally one finds odd comments by Roach throughout the book. (He seems to have given up before he himself shows up in the story.) So I now own a copy of the work that was once owned by Parker’s greatest drummer. (One of the three or four greatest jazz drummers ever.)  So the book has an “authenticity” that I never imagined. And while Max has nothing good to say about either Dean Benedetti or Ross Russell, he never contradicts any factual statement in the book (at least as far as he got).

But more importantly, whether the book is accurate in factual details or not, it contains surprising insights into the work of Bird. As for the rest, who knows? And frankly, what is there to know in the details anyway? Bird was a troubled personality, self-absorbed, driven, and addicted. Many of the problems he suffered from were imposed on him by the racist society he had to endure. It is not useful to debate whether he added to those problems by defects in his personality or conduct. It was simply too much to expect anyone to overcome the arbitrary limits that society imposed on African Americans then. Music was one of the few avenues an ambitious and talented young black man could pursue. Of course, it had to be popular, or more specifically “race” music, because other avenues were cut off. Russell tells the story of one of Parker’s early band leaders; in fact, the first one after Parker bought his first real saxophone. His name was Tommy Douglas, and he became one of the major Kansas City band leaders after Count Basie left. Douglas was known as perhaps the most knowledgeable musician around. He not only could play all the reed instruments, but he understood music theory. He had somehow obtained a scholarship to attend the Boston Conservatory of Music. He applied himself for four years, working summers in the dance bands of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington, and after he graduated he even got an interview by a major symphony orchestra. But once he appeared, he couldn’t hide the fact that he was black and did not get the job. It was not a hidden fact that no classical orchestra in the country had a single African American member. So he came back to Kansas City whee he faced the opposite prejudice. Jazz musicians thought he was “dicty”—too “uppity” for his fellow “race” musicians. He was subject ot minor indignities for having stepped outside his circumscribed pale.  He spent the rest of his life playing night clubs and social events in Kansas City and nearby Topeka and St. Joseph, and he never spoke of Boston Conservatory.

If anything Russell does not emphasize enough the real obstacles to those who tried to contribute to an art form that could not escape from mob control, drug infestation, official racism and other pathologies of the underworld. He is not interested in investigating that pathology, beginning with the political corruption and mob connections of political boss Tom Pendergast, who by virtue of being Chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party dominated the Kansas City clubs where jazz was played. Perhaps Russell could not completely investigate the exploitation of Parker, because he himself, as record producer of his own label Dial arguably participated in it. He after all was the one who produced the record of Lover Man, where an utterly strung out Bird struggled to even play his notes, rendering his solo an agonizing listening experience. That night Bird set fire to his mattress, was arrested and spent six months in California’s Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Russell stood bail for Parker on his release and is reputed to have put Parker under an exclusive contract as his part of the deal. Even if that were true, and even if russell squeezed Parker’s royalties as a result, it probably would have not even amounted to a misdemeanor in the record industry. Jazz musicians made almost nothing for their recordings.

But nobody would read Bird Lives! if he were interested in an academic biography. (Those interested in academic biographies probably would not be interested in Charlie Parker.) The main interest is finding out how someone, born dirt poor with essentially no break given by anyone, clawed his way into the center of what is now considered one of America’s great cultural achievements—modern jazz, which Parker along with Dizzy Gillespie and one or two others essentially invented. The answer, as the headline of an article published yesterday in the execrable New York Post proclaimed: “Charlie Parker’s heroin addiction helped make him a genius.” (If Sigmund Freud were black, the New York Post would tell us that Cocaine helped Freud invent Psychoanalysis.) The answer is found how he drove himself to seek out whatever music theory he could, from band leaders, fellow musicians, and especially by memorizing the music he heard on records, particularly the solos of Lester Young. Because of the vagaries of record production in the days of Parker’s coming of age, particularly the strike by the American Federation of Musicians which precluded record making by its members (including Parker) from 1942-1944, we have no recorded document of his (or any of the Bebop pioneers’) development right before the breakthrough. But occasionally Parker left a bit of evidence. And here it is that Russell is particularly perceptive. So let me give a little example. It comes from a record date on April 30, 1941 in Dallas.

Decca records had agreed to record six “sides” (songs of about 3 minutes which fit two to a side of a 78 rpm recording) of the Jay McShann orchestra in Dallas as part of a tour it was making throughout the South. Jay McShann was a band leader who filled the void that Count Basie left when he moved from Kansas City north as part of his deal with the race label of Columbia. McShann (who was still playing in New York, albeit it with a small group, and who I heard in New York four decades later) was the perfect successor to Basie as foremost proponent of the Kansas City jazz style. He could evaluate talented musicians, he himself was a competent pianist, and he could handle all the business necessities of keeping a big band employed which required negotiating the tricky business of observing all the Jim Crow rules of the South when the band was on the road. Not the least of this required a repertoire of music that spanned the variety that audiences across the Midwest and South might take to. the bulk of McShann’s music was riff-based Kansas City inspired music (much as it was for Count Basie’s orchestra). But he also had a sizable collection of ballads, on which Al Hibbler sang, backed by obligatos of Parker, and another  batch of pure Kansas City blues, which were the bailiwick of blues singer Walter Brown.

Decca was not Columbia, but it was nonetheless the big times. It was big enough to ensure that its records would be included on juke boxes around the country, which was the principal means of exposure in the days before radio took over that role. The recording coincides with the first maturation of Parker as a musician (at a time when he was entirely unknown in the country at large.)  One of the six sides was a blues that Brown sang on, “Hootie Blues.” the song was destined to be the B side of the song that Decca (rightly) hoped would be a best-seller, Brown’s “Confessin’ the Blues.” But “Hootie Blues” had a twelve bar solo by Parker, which, Russell says, “sent a shock wave” through the jazz musicians who discovered it. Short as it is, it has almost all the characteristics that Parker’s music would have for the rest of his life. It is liquid and crystalline at the same time; lilting but firmly rooted in a particular structure. In short, it has the characteristics of something that was thrown off without thought but at the same time it strikes one for its inventiveness. The harmonic inventions were still largely in the future, and they were a crucial (perhaps the crucial part of the bebop revolution). But given how radical those departures would be and how much resistance established jazz musicians, older critics and record companies would be to those advances, it was essential to sell the music with an beguiling tone and rhythmic approach, and Parker provided that, as did other key figures in the jazz upheaval of the 1940s, notably Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk. This brief solo shows how early Parker acquired his signature approach, and how assured he was even in early 1941, a time he had never been heard on a major lable. Here is how Russell describes the solo:

To all intents and purposes Hootie was another Walter Brown vehicle. Sandwiched in between the opening orchestral chorus and the lyric are twelve bars if alto solo, occupying an interval of about thirty seconds (metronome♩= 100). Those twelve bars were heard as a sermon from the mount. The sinuous line and the stark, pristine architecture of sound reveal a totally new jazz concept. There are seven cadences, a line of buoyant updrafts and tumbling descents. with the rests not on odd or unusual intervals of the scale but on the very common ones for jazzmen, the third, the fifth and the tonic, arrived at in a new way. Each note is shaped, and the plastic quality of the sound is unique. True pitches are more often suggested, or just touched upon, than played. The loud/soft dynamics are manipulated against the carefully controlled variations of pitch. And, as a final stroke, Charlie brings the line to rest at precisely the point required to cue the vocalist into the first line of the lyric. Hootie is a miniature, yet a performance so rounded, assured, and musically right, that it constitutes a landmark among the literature of jazz. It is a Pandora’s box of things to come.

Forty or so years ago it would not have been possible to hear this solo unless you knew of someone who had the old 78s. Brunswick in 1957 issued a 7 inch LP (bootleg?), which included the original “Hootie Blue,” but I never found that disc. The 1958 LP re-issue by Decca, called Jay McShann And His OrchestraNew York  (Decca Jazz Heritage Series DL 9236) had a version of “Hootie Blue” but it was the one McShann recorded in New York the following year (and notably had Al Hibbler, not Walter Brown, as vocalist). Most record labels, even Columbia (which was the best of the lot until the 1960s), were careless with their old collections and driven by new fads, rarely issued its past library in any coherent or systematic way. Even when bootlegs began appearing in the 1970s (which provided most of us the means to understand early modern jazz), they were incomplete and the information they provided was unreliable. Spotlite Records, a British Company, in 1968 begun reissuing Bird’s Decca material (the sessions that Ross Russell produced in the second half of the 1940s). It soon branched out, but when it released the LP The Jay McShann Orchestra Featuring Charlie Parker Early Bird (SPJ120), ostensibly covering the 1941-1943 period, the LP did not include “Hootie Blue.”It wasn’t until 1992 that I was able to get hold of this music, when at the end of the jazz re-issue craze of the 198s Orrin Keepnews had GRP re-issue the early Kansas City Bird as Blues from Kansas City (GRD-614) as part of GRP’s Legendary Master’s of Jazz series.

But nowadays it is possible to hear this music with the click of a mouse owing to the miracle of YouTube. (The miracle resides in the fact that Google hosts a platform  where blatant copyright infringement is practiced on an unprecedented scale, but no one is sued, there has been no legal effort to shut it down, and no criminal proceedings have been instituted. I guess we should not pay attention to those warnings at the beginning of DVDs about how serious a crime copyright infringement is and how the FBI will prosecute it. Or maybe we should conclude that it’s not a crime when Google does it.) I have included a popup to a YouTube reproduction of the tune as well as  a work from the very end of Parker’s career that shows his liquid lines and slightly acid tone remained a signature part of his sound.

On “Hootie Blues” Parker’s solo follows a four bar piano introduction and a 12-bar chorus by the band in unison. It picks up around the 38 second mark on this recording.

“Hootie Blues”
(Jay McShann, Walter Brown)

Buddy Anderson, Harold Bruce, Orville Minor (trumpet); Joe Taswell Baird (trombone); John Jackson, Charlie Parker (alto sax); Harold Ferguson, Bob Mabane (tenor sax); Jay McShann (piano); Gene Ramey (bass); Gus Johnson (drums); Walter Brown (vocals).
Recorded: Decca Recording Studio, Dallas, Texas, April 30, 1941. Catalogue number: Decca 8559.

The other tune is from a 1953 recording. This small group session was the last one on which Max Roach performed with Bird. You can hear the light touch of his stick on the cymbals behind the brief piano introduction. Roach was a master of nuance on all percussion instruments. The undulating, rhythmic lines with an assured sense of architecture is still a hallmark of Parker’s solos.

“Chi Chi”
(Charlie Parker)

Charlie Parker (alto sax); Al Haig (piano); Percy Heath (bass); Max Roach (drums).
Recorded: Fulton Recording Studia, New York City, July 28, 1953. Catalogue number: Verve MGV 8005, 825 671-2

What’s Poland among us autocrats?

I promised myself I wouldn’t obsess over the insanity of the fringe characters our new madman has assembled.  Really, it’s not possible to keep it up. When the inmates are running the asylum, one could spend his entire time pointing out how insane they are. But the leaks are coming so fast and furious, and they reveal a mind-set that is so antithetical to those few bits of bipartisan axioms that we have left that I really have to remark on them to see if other people see what is going on or whether I’m just a lunatic screaming in the wilderness.

The latest outrage (or at least the latest outrage that I have had time to read and consider) comes from an AP report today entitled “On foreign policy, Trump still speaking campaign language.” It is about how the new “national security” team is settling in with the real professionals (the deep state, so to speak). And as you would expect, the Trump team, headed by Michael Flynn, a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, equally dangerous but not nearly as smart, is seen with their pants down, making fools of themselves and showing they are in over their heads. But one paragraph is astounding, even for this group, and even knowing how much Trump admires the one global leader who assisted him to salvage his flailing international real estate ventures, Vlad the Impaler. Here is the paragraph. And consider that AP says its report is sourced by “three U.S. officials and three others” (!):

“According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist. Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump’s friendlier tone on Russia.”

Consider this: Our president’s main security advisers are asking for evidence that Poland, a NATO ally, is making border incursions into a neighbor that is currently ruled by a Putin-styled autocrat. And no one has ever heard one credible shred of evidence about this. But it is precisely the kind of unfounded accusation that have “justified” Prussians, Austrians, Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union from repeatedly carving up the country since the last part of the 18th century through the last part of the twentieth. (Note that all the partitioners were cut from exactly the same kind of authoritarian stripe that our current Strong Man has been cut from.) Did Trump hear this from Putin? Or was it just the scuttle-butt passed between Russian and Trump campaign officials when they were cooperating during the election?  We now live in a world where “alternate facts” are becoming the basis of policy. Perhaps the only possible response is for “other facts” to become the basis of the resistance. I keep having to check when the Inauguration was, because clearly this level of surreal lunacy unmoored from our established worldview could not have happened in less than two weeks.

I keep wondering where Trump developed this Russian-authoritarian-mobocratic view of the world. It had to come from a deal. Deals are the only thing Donald Trump thinks exist in this world. It’s the only thing he has done in life. (Except calling New York tabloid reporters, claiming to be Trump’s press agent, to notify them of what models he was out with the night before.) So it had to come from some sort of “deal” involving his Russian business interests. But this could not have been one of his more successful negotiations. Because it looks like whatever he walked away with, Putin kept his balls, the organs which, for Donald Trump, perform the same function that brains do in other people.

Week 2: Benghazi #1

According to reporting by Reuters, our severely impulse-control-challenged President launched a covert military operation, resulting in the death of one Navy SEAL operative and an undetermined number of civilians including children, without adequate preparation or intelligence. The tragedy took place in Yemen amidst a three-way conflict that we were dragged into during the Obama administration when the U.S. blindly sided with Saudi Arabia in its religiously-driven strike aimed at severely hurting, if not eliminating, a Shi’a-oriented party regardless of civilian casualties. The dispute in Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, is complex in itself, and it’s layered over with the Saud family’s need to placate the Wahabi faction that could topple it in its own country. So it has always made Iran (a Shi’a majority country) as the boogeyman. Yemen, however, practices a different form of Shi’a than Iran, and the evidence that the two countries were allies before the Saudi intervention is slim.

Given how complicated the situation in Yemen is, there is absolutely no possibility that Donald Trump has any idea of what is going on. Nor does he care. His contempt for understanding a situation was given its right title last week by Kelly Conway: “alternate facts.” Nor does he have much affection for America’s intelligence services. Why should he when he is, after all, “um, like a smart person”? When you think you are like a smart person, what need is there for intelligence?

Trump’s lack of interest in details (or even correct general points of view) is made lethally dangerous by his impulse to lash out rather than understand. And that is made chillingly clear in this part of the Reuters report:

“U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.”

This sentence is remarkable for two reasons. First, it shows that the President ordered a military operation apparently knowing that it was poorly prepared and without the necessary assurance that it would succeed. This is not an indictment of his lack of policy knowledge (although it will also undoubtedly show that). It is an indictment of his judgment as an executive. Wasn’t this supposed to be his big selling point? Moreover, it shows that he is not even minimally responsible enough to be in charge of the largest armed forces in the world. This is something that requires Congressional investigation. What is the chance of that?

If I were not cynical, I would point to four years of multiple Congressional investigations into the possible responsibility of Secretary Clinton into the deaths during the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Repeated failure to find any evidence of culpability didn’t deter these Republican patriots. Over and over they plowed the same ground, looking for just one hint. Why wouldn’t these faithful watchdogs of the Executive branch not want to get to the bottom of these charges? After all, they are far more damning and more worrisome because they condemn as unfit the president himself.

But of course we know the answer. It all depends on whose ox is being gored. You might as well expect the Republican party to care about the public welfare rather than their plutocratic masters as expect an investigation into Trump’s handling of the military. Of course, to be fair to the Republicans, there are differences between Benghazi and the Yemen fiasco, most prominent of which is that the former was a scandal of their own making and the latter a cause of serious international concern over the fitness of their own party leader.

But the second thing that is remarkable about the quote is that “U.S. military officials” are already leaking their discontent with their new master only two weeks into the new term. And they are criticizing not the policy that put their men in harm’s way, but the competence of the Commander-in-Chief. When “U.S. military officials” believe the president is acting recklessly in deploying force, there is serious cause for worry. People have already died needlessly because of the impulsiveness of this man-child. And it’s going to get worse, because he has already signaled that he wants less intelligence and more covert actions. Something he has already shown he’s not good at. It’s as though Trump has decided that he is presiding over the end of the American Empire and wants to use everything in his power to cause as much damage as possible before he’s gone.

To catch a thief …

The Trump posse doesn’t have much to recommend itself, but it sure is loaded with irony.

Trump, who cannot otherwise explain how he could not achieve a plurality of the vote (he missed by about 3 million), has laid it to the feet of those who engaged in voter fraud.

And to prove it he has promoted one Gregg Phillips, who has been diligent in rooting out, as he said, “thousands of duplicate records and registrations of dead people.”

Today the AP reports that Mr. Phillips himself may have a unique insight into these “duplicate records” inasmuch as he himself is registered in 3 different states:

The AP found that Phillips was registered in Alabama and Texas under the name Gregg Allen Phillips, with the identical Social Security number. Mississippi records list him under the name Gregg A. Phillips, and that record includes the final four digits of Phillips’ Social Security number, his correct date of birth and a prior address matching one once attached to Gregg Allen Phillips.

I guess we should pay more attention when Trump starts braying about alleged illegalities. He’s likely to have a close advisor who is an expert.

Ten days in. Is anyone surprised?

Well, the new president has hardly had the time to finalize the security arrangements at Tromp Tower, but here we are. And it’s everything his supporters could have wished for. No messy policy wonkery, just policy bombs. Hurling monkey wrenches into the machinery of government is going to be the theme of this administration: The Screw You Deal.

The Executive Directive on the affordable Care Act (screw it up to the extent possible) didn’t generate enough Reality TV level outrage. So he had to fling excrement at the press (“the most dishonest human beings”); it’s what non-hominid primates do. Even that didn’t have enough WOW factor. (The Republicans have been repeating this lie for years, how does one more clown repeating it cause a general panic?) For pure brazen lying (probably the greatest of the great talents of this minimally talented president) the speech before the CIA should should get a lifetime acting award. (That would show Meryl!) Only a very practiced liar, one surrounded his whole life by yes-men, could tell the CIA that he didn’t call them liars and (get this) Nazis, something he did only the week before. He used the occasion once again again stress a fact that few if anyone else would: “Trust me. I;’m like a smart person.” In what respect he is “like” a smart person, he did not explain. Perhaps they are similar to him because they say things he doesn’t understand.

None of this, however, could deliver what his most fervent supporters wanted: Some that really causes pain to people not only unlike them but also unable to fight back. This is the central core belief of Trumpism: Pull wings off flies and say you are studying biology. And so for the most dramatic step so far, he issued an “order” banning travel from seven countries. The action is called “temporary” because it only expressly lasts for four months for six of the countries. But there is no termination for travelers from Syria. By its terms it applied to persons with permanent residence status in the U.S. The blowback over that outreach has since caused the Secretary of Homeland Security (soon to be renamed Heimatschutzministerium) to deem green card holders not a threat to national security (at least not now). This maneuver has all the hallmarks of Trump as we learned during the campaign: brutal, lacking in human decency, pure right wing theater, and, above all, not attended with even a minimal of thought. As a result, confusion reigned at the nation’s airports, our closest allies are shocked, left holding the bag, spontaneous protests arise, and Trump announces how “beautiful” the plan is in its implementation.

If anyone believes that this “approach” to governing (it can’t actually be called governing) will be smoothed out when this presidents becomes more experienced, he is indulging in the practice of putting hope above experience. Donald J. Trump has not learned anything since his days on the Apprentice. He there discovered a secret to his peculiar form of “popularity”—a buffoonish ogre-like persona, unrestrained by any principles and unleashed without warning, brutally if at all possible. Given that at least the buffoonery is a comfortable mesh with his conduct for his entire adult life, he is unlikely 70s to give it up. Moreover, Trump has never been one for accumulating information. He doesn’t have the patience, desire or need (“I’m like a smart person”).

Before any successful opposition can arise, it’s necessary to confront this reality: Trump is interested in minimally planned theatrical effects. He really has no interest whatsoever in policy. He is now a right-winger because the reactionaries are the party that celebrates rudeness, cruelty, minimal thought and spectacular destruction. If there were the equivalent of the Khmer Rouge in this country, he would probably be equally comfortable there (provided he were in charge).

Not since the dangerous days of Watergate (played out against a potential U.S.-Soviet confrontation in the Middle East) has there been so much discussion about whether the president is psychologically fit for the office. And we are not even two weeks in.