Posts Tagged ‘ Richard Nixon ’

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.

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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.

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.