Posts Tagged ‘ Donald Trump ’

The story couldn’t hang together for even one day

Yesterday we noted that the White House’s amateurish modified limited hangout would not fly because it was inherently unbelievable. It required the listener to believe:

(a) The President didn’t know that his campaign’s foreign policy advisor and soon to be National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was going to (and did) call the Russian ambassador to advise them on how to respond to the United States’s sanctions on Russia for interfering with our national elections.

(b) Even though he didn’t have any knowledge of what Flynn did, he “instinctively” knew that it was not illegal. And in fact it is not (per Spicer).

(c) Shortly after Flynn falsely told Vice President Pence about the phone calls, Trump receives information from the Justice Department advising that Pence had made compromising calls to the Russian ambassador.

(d) After receiving that nonpublic report, Trump fires the acting Attorney General and tells reporters he never heard anything contrary to Flynn’s false description of the phone calls to Pence.

(e) Three weeks after Trump received the intelligence from Justice, newspapers publish the information, and Trump fires Pence noy because he did anything wrong, but because the president had lost trust in him.

Now this cover-up has the weakness that several of the premises can’t be believed at the same time by a rational person, because they cause cognitive dissonance. But cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant feeling that can be understood only by those who are trained not to lie to themselves, something that the Cover-Up planners evidently have no understanding of.

But they couldn’t even float this boat for a day, because the chief actor, Donald Trump, blew the whole premise—that he lost confidence in Flynn—by characterizing Flynn as a “wonderful man” done in by the press, during a joint press conference with the Israeli prime minister today.

Now far be it from me to offer advice to professional liars in how to lie, but why didn’t they follow this line: At first hint of trouble, Trump issues statement: Yes, I told Flynn to talk to Russia because I thought Obama was being precipitous. I would be in office in less than a month and I did not need an unnecessary confrontation with a world power—one precipitated by a president who worked to defeat me. We will get to the bottom of this, but the answer is not throwing a world power’s diplomats out of the country at a sensitive time: during a transition of government. If this was technically illegal, then you can blame me. Frankly, I did it to secure this country from needless hostilities. Particularly when I knew for a fact that Russian did not offer any kind of help to my campaign.”

Could Trump have pulled that off? Maybe. It would still hard to believe that Trump was not acting nefariously. But it would have cut the legs out from under the opposition because it is plausibly related to our national interests. It would have gotten Flynn off the hook, and it would have given Trump the much needed patina of a guy in charge. It would also explain his December 30 tweet, which the modified limited hangout did not.

So why didn’t he do it? My suspicion (and I used to examine people in depositions and courts for a living) was that he could not carry out the deception part: namely, that his campaign had no dealings with Russia. So the usual route had to be followed: Throw underlings under the bus and pretend that the jefe had no knowledge. It is very unlikely, however, that Trump has the self-discipline to have conducted himself to maintain plausible deniability. This, after all, is a guy who tweets in the middle of the night when celebrities are mean to him. But one thing is for sure. Whatever involvement Trump had is far worse than the Cover-Up I propose (even though it probably included his ordering Flynn to make the calls). Anyone who thinks that a rouge general (even one as loopy and delusional as Flynn) did this on his own will probably be in the minority. And in any event will have to explain why Donald Trump still says he is a “wonderful guy.”

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.

The Liar in Winter

Last night I was finally able to see the new 4K restoration of The Lion in Winter on a large screen. What better time than now after the Inauguration, to watch a film with old actors in a drama of the dark ages in which all the characters are only interested in personal goals and are willing to break all civilized norms to achieve them (including making deals with avowed national rivals)? In the middle of things, Henry II (Peter O’Toole) even says, “God I love winning” (or something to that effect) and he is constantly telling other people how he has just won. Owing to the need to preserve the 12th century atmosphere, however, the King did not use twitter to express himself.

Henry’s family is also surprisingly contemporary. All of his children are unattractive schemers. I won’t involve our current ruler’s wife in comparisons, because my suspicion is that her own gold-digging would have been satisfied being the wife of the owner of the hideous tower on Fifth Avenue where she would happily live. (Like Eleanor in the London Tower?) But if anyone is like her in the film, it is the innocent pawn Alais (Jane Merrow), mistress of Henry, who by treaty with France is require to marry her off to one of his sons. That would make Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) who? Marla Maples?

The movie itself is quite entertaining, and you owe it to yourself to re-visit it. The acting is the kind of mid-twentieth century stage-for-screen type acting (as in Streetcar Named Desire and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) that we see no more. Today’s substitute is the pretentious mannered dramas, usually period pieces, where acting is designed to garner awards and burnish a star’s seriousness cred. (Independent filmmakers, of course, don’t have the capital to purchase rights to plays, so the field is left to the majors,. who see these as prestige projects—Hollywood’s version of pro bono work.)

What separates the film (and the play it was based on) from our current tragico-farce is of course the language. The stage- and screen-play by James Goldman is witty and intelligent. There are just enough references to the age of Henry and before to anchor the play in the middle ages, but there are intentional anachronisms designed to advise the viewer not to become too concerned about the historicism of the work. Disregard of factual and historical accuracy is a hallmark of the current administration as well, but our present day actors on the national stage have no wit and are not playing to an intelligent audience. I could not bring myself to watch the inaugural address, but reading the text impressed on me how verbally stunted and rhetorically challenged our new president is. If the goal was to impress upon his followers that he was not among the elites of the country in terms of intellect, gracefulness, eloquence or knowledge, he surely accomplished that with his speech. Big ideas generally cannot be expressed by one simple declarative sentence after another. But even the small ideas which he had seemed uncomfortably confined.

In the end of the film we grow to respect, if not admire, both the ancient king and queen, even after we acknowledge Eleanor’s confession that “we are jungle creatures.” Henry discloses to his wife that he wants to control succession because he has learned that peace and honest government are preferable to war, something he spent his life pursuing. . And so even though the ambitions of both Henry and Eleanor seem checkmated in the end, we have some sort of sympathy for both of them. Having seen the nominees of our current leader, his advisors and confidants and watching him act the snarling bully and ungrateful recipient of nearly a plurality of the nation’s vote (short by 3 million or so), breaking tradition, however quaint, that requires the new president to at least act humbled by the responsibility, we have no similar admiration or sympathy for this vulgar egoist. So when the movie ended, the faint good feeling from watching professionals act in a polished and eloquent production, the dark reality of our current situation returns. This is the beginning, not the end, of a national nightmare. And it’s going to get much uglier and more tragic before it’s over. And it won’t be amusing or edifying to watch.

Here’s looking at you, Megyn

I’m sure, like me, your heart swelled with pride and affection as those two great Americans and power couple Megyn Kelly of Fox News and Donald Trump of Donald Trump last night made great television as well as history.

I was a bit disappointed, however, that some of the most inspiring lines were edited from the broadcast. Perhaps someone could explain why the following bits were not included:

TRUMP: Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.

KELLY: Well, I was right. You are a sentimentalist.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI to TRUMP (offstage): I know a little about women, my friend. She went but she knew you were lying.

TRUMP: Anyway, thanks for helping me out.

LEWANDOWSKI: I suppose you know this isn’t going to be pleasant for either of us. Especially for you.

KELLY: Well, Donald, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.

TRUMP: It seemed like a good time to start.

KELLY: I think perhaps you’re right.

TRUMP: Our expenses? Megan, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

KELLY: Donald, we will always have Cleveland.

Rupert Murdoch’s Legacy

I just caught up on my Ted Cruz reading (which I fell behind on since the pre-ticket of Cruz-Fiorina suspended their one-week campaign, the thing that Carly Fiorina called “an amazing run”), and what I found amazing was the one and a half truthful things said by the junior senator from Texas. See for yourself:

“There is a broader dynamic at work, which is network executives have made a decision to get behind Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at Fox News have turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network,” Cruz told reporters at a press conference in Indiana.

That’s one. Here’s the one-half from the same source:

“Rupert Murdoch is used to picking world leaders in Australia and the United Kingdom running tabloids, and we’re seeing it here at home with the consequences for this nation,” Cruz said of the News Corp. and 21st Century Fox chairman.

I score the second sentence as ½ true, mainly because I think Murdoch never had any intention of picking world leaders; his only concern was to debase journalism, and politics was just a means to that end. From the beginning his politics were confused. He started out supporting the moderately right wing Country Party only to abruptly switch to the Labor Party, a party that would clearly be defined as too socialist for our narrow political spectrum in the U.S., supporting as it did universal health care and nationalization of the extractive industries. Then he went silent on Australian politics, like a submarine. His overt politics in the U.S. have mainly tracked whatever business interest he was pursuing at the time. He even flirted with Hillary Clinton for a while, probably attracted by her own characteristic opportunism.  Probably deep in his soul (if that metaphor even makes sense when applied to Murdoch), he instinctively is a right winger because that is most consistent with his devotion to his own self-interest.

If Murdoch had any personal, developed political philosophy, however, it is not apparent from the output of his newspapers. In fact, his guiding hand has caused most of the papers he acquired to reduce or eliminate news coverage and increase the big three: celebrity, sports and titillation. Politics must be discussed in terms of one of those three to make it into one of his papers. That tendency is so prominent that if he had died before this year, his legacy would have been: “He debased journalism, possibly beyond repair.” But happily for him, he did not die before this year, and we now see clearly what his more important legacy is: “He debased the U.S. Republican Party, possibly beyond repair.” And for that he didn’t need an international newspaper empire, simply one cable network: Fox News.

Just like his strategy for “saving” the New York Post, a once respected newspaper founded by an acolyte of Alexander Hamilton in 1801, Rupert Murdoch embraced the U.S. GOP with his desiccated tentacles and “revived” it by driving out everything decent about it and reducing it to a carnival freak show. This would have rendered the network, like his other properties, a reasonably profitable, if irresponsible, endeavor but what made Fox New a prominent player in our national political discourse was the addition on one man: Roger Ailes. Ailes cut his teeth in the media work for the Nixon-Agnew crew, and there he learned the key to Nixon, and Agnew’s, particular genius: self-pitying resentment. And when Ailes took over Fox News and added this to the mix, the network developed a devoted audience of people who think their lot in life is not what they deserve and who know, because Fox News tells them, who is to blame: libruls, the blacks, illegal aliens, Mooslims, those fighting a war against Christmas (Jews?), scientists, and other media. The technique was quite simple. Say the same thing over and over and over despite the evidence and you win. So to enforce message discipline, the producers of the various shows meet n the morning and are given marching orders: what issues to push, what facts to deny and even what phrases to use. It’s been documented in books, and you’ve seen the on air proof on the Daily Show. Because it opened its portals to the Republican Party, and only the Republican Party, that party became addicted to the sugar pushed by Fox News. It got to the point that the GOP came to believe that the only “fair” treatment it got was on Fox.

And this year Fox News proved its muscle. It gave over all its most popular shows to Donald Trump. It probably wasn’t a political decision to do so. No, Trump, as a practiced media manipulator and incipient demagogue, was good for Fox’s business. The Fox formula of subordinating truth to profit fit perfectly with Trump’s own logic and theirs was a symbiosis much like between the clownfish who lives among the tentacles of the sea anemones. They both disregarded truth, looked only to self-promotion and were utterly devoid of scruples. But what made their symbiosis complete was how they thrived on resentment as a political-commercial tool.

All of this is so undeniably obvious that even Ted Cruz saw it and said it.

There has been much debate whether the “party decides” perspective needs revision or should be chucked all together. The fact is that Fox News had become a significant part of the party. So significant, in fact, that the party deferred to Fox for its publicity, perspective, “facts” and outlook. Fox News probably never saw itself as part of the Republican Party, at least not a member that had any responsibilities. And when self-interest diverged from party interests (let’s not even consider patriotic interests) Fox News felt free to go its way. And that way was to incubate the Trump phenomenon.

While Rupert Murdoch’s legacy is probably now set in stone, a stone that hangs around the neck of the Republican Party this year, something like Trump was bound to happen eventually. Maybe it would even have been Ted Cruz. It is, in fact, quintessentially Repulican to its core. The party that believes that self-interest is the only genuine motivator has now discovered what unbridled self-interest eventually results in. Let’s just call it Trump or perhaps Murdoch’s legacy, because they are both the same thing.





The GOP’s brand new national strategy

Mitt Romney, the failed GOP Presidential candidate in 2012, today outlined the new Republican strategy to win the Presidency this year (full text here):

Step One: Stop Trump by any means necessary.

[As examples he suggested voting for Rubio in Florida and Kasich in Ohio. And then whomever you want, except Trump, everywhere else.]

Step Two: ???????

Step Three: Win White House.

It’s hard to believe that with strategic thinkers like this in their ranks the Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last 6 presidential elections.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf [Blitzer]?

I can’t blame anyone for not watching CNN’s reality show involving the four five (I forgot either Ben Carson or John Kasich; I’m not sure which, both were blurs) remaining GOP Presidential hopefuls in Houston last night. After all, how much can one person take of the “policy” discussion of these candidates? I would not have reminded you of it today except for one thing. Throughout the proceeding last night I was vaguely reminded of Mike Nichols’s film version of the Albee play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (except the Republican’s remarks weren’t witty and a hapless Wolf Blitzer was not present to “moderate” the discussion at that party). But once Donald Trump revved up, the comparison was clinched for me. He sounded just like Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) when she said:

“I’m loud and I’m vulgar, and I wear the pants in the house because somebody’s got to, but I am not a monster.”

Simply to admire the absolute perfection in vulgarity (hurled at two chaps, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, more than deserving of it), I urge you to take a look at the performance of the New York billionaire with the working vocabulary of a fourth grader. And fortunately, the Washington Post has published a transcript of the proceedings, so that you don’t have to risk experience the stomach churning performance of three characters who are by temperament, experience and political philosophy thoroughly unqualified to be President of the United States, but, because Providence has long ago ceased guiding the afairs of this nation, may become President. (The experience in Houston was perfectly summarized by Nick in the Nichols’ movie: “I’m tired, I’ve been drinking since nine o’clock, my wife is vomiting, there’s been a lot of screaming going on around here!”)

I will tease you only with a few examples (almost all the good lines came from Donald Trump):

On Ted Cruz being crazy:
TRUMP: When you [Ted Cruz] say crazy zealot, are you talking about you? Crazy zealot — give me a break.
(Compare: George: Well, you make me sick. / Martha: That’s different.)

On Rubio’s “performance” in the New Hampshire debate
TRUMP: I watched him meltdown on the stage like that, I’ve never seen it in anybody…

TRUMP: … I thought he came out of the swimming pool…
(Compare: George: Be careful, Martha. I’ll rip you to pieces. Martha: You’re not man enough. You haven’t the guts!)
(And for the not-so-subtle phallus reference, compare: Martha: Some men would give their right arm for the chance! George: Alas, Martha, in reality, it works out that the sacrifice is of a somewhat more private portion of the anatomy.)

On Rubio’s lack of business experience:
TRUMP: …  — well, you [Marco Rubio] don’t know a thing about business. You lose on everything…
(Compare: Nick: To you, everybody’s a flop! Your husband’s a flop, I’m a flop… Martha: You’re all flops. I am the Earth Mother, and you are all flops.)

On Rubio’s business and ethics:
TRUMP: Here’s a guy — here’s a guy that buys a house for $179,000, he sells it to a lobbyist who’s probably here for $380,000 and then legislation is passed. You tell me about this guy. This is what we’re going to have as president.
(Compare: Martha: I looked at you tonight and you weren’t there! Finally snapped! And– and I’m gonna howl it out! And I’m not gonna give a damn what I do, and I’m gonna make the biggest goddamn explosion you’ve ever heard!)

To show that other characters have interesting lines, here is Rubio’s response to the last one:
RUBIO: Here’s a guy that inherited $200 million. If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now?
TRUMP: No, no, no.
RUBIO: Selling watches in (inaudible)
(Compare the follow up to the last comparison: George: You try and I’ll beat you at your own game.
Martha: Is that a threat, George, huh?
George: That’s a threat, Martha.)

Last night was not as intelligent as Albee’s dialogue, but then again there was no intelligence available on that stage. Anyway, we shouldn’t be surprised at a Republican debate descending into vulgarity. It’s just as George said to Nick:

So you get testy, naturally, don’t worry about it! Anybody who comes here ends up getting testy, it’s expected. Don’t be upset.