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The Month of Trump

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Donald Trump’s personal pathologies aside, it has become obvious that the worst possible leader of a self-styled democracy is the patriarch of an enormous family business, especially one that likes to slap its name in huge gold letters on every item, whether skyscraper or towel – and to whom people inexplicably pay money to paste the name on their own wares. A Trump employee is loyal to Mr Trump, as he’s always called, and one disagrees with the boss man, however mildly, at considerable risk. A federal employee, below the top-level appointments, is loyal to the government. A patriarch rules by fiat; a president has to deal with all those annoying existing laws and the courts that enforce them, agencies full of hundreds of thousands of recalcitrant bureaucrats, know-it-all pundits in the media, a loudmouth opposition party, and contentious factions within his own party. Everyone has an opinion.

It’s no surprise, then, that Trump has done almost nothing as president, other than tweeting his rage at TV comedy shows, intelligence agencies, movie stars and department stores that drop his daughter’s fashion accessories. He has made a spectacle of signing ‘executive orders’ that are more like glossy prospectuses for a golf resort he hopes to build. They announce that he is going to fight drug cartels, reduce crime, end violence against the police, eliminate Isis, deregulate business, repeal Obamacare, build the wall and deport the undocumented, bulk up the bulky military, renegotiate trade agreements, rebuild the infrastructure, ‘enforce all federal laws’ and so on. The orders are either platitudes or vague proposals that are oblivious to their dependency on the legislative branch to pass the laws and raise the money. His one major concrete order, banning Muslim immigrants and visitors – which he reportedly didn’t bother to read – was quickly overthrown by the courts.

The first act of the newly empowered Congress on its first day was to virtually eliminate its ethics oversight committee, but this was withdrawn after the members were surprised by public outrage. Otherwise, the Senate has been immobilised trying to approve Trump’s bizarre collection of unvetted and unqualified or inappropriate crackpots and zillionaires for cabinet and other positions. And the House, after seven years and sixty votes to repeal Obamacare, is still clueless about replacing it, and is shocked that 20 million people appear to be unhappy about losing their health insurance. Existing trade agreements would take years to redo or undo (and Republicans are free-traders). Crime has been dropping for 45 years, regardless of who is president. It’s doubtful the Republican paragons of austerity will want to spend $20 billion on a new border wall, when they’ve already built 700 miles of barriers, let alone Trump’s vaunted trillion dollars on infrastructure – especially when revenue will shrink after the inevitable tax cuts for corporations and the rich.

Two things are certain about Trump: He sees the presidency primarily as a way to expand the Trump brand (and make a little money on the side) and he is in way over his head. An iconic moment of the first weeks was Trump’s dinner for the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, not at the White House, as is customary, but at his Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago (where the annual membership fee has just doubled to $200,000). Interrupted by news of a North Korean missile launch, Trump chose to display his presidential power to the wowed and tweeting club regulars by holding an emergency security meeting at the restaurant table. Aides used their cell phones as flashlights to read classified documents while waiters served entrees over the papers. One member even posted a selfie (‘Wow!’) with, he wrote, ‘Rick’, the guy who follows the president with the ‘football’ – the briefcase carrying the nuclear codes. Luckily, the missile landed harmlessly in the ocean before dessert. It would have been unfortunate to lose Alaska with the Baked Alaska.

It’s become a cliche to refer to the white nationalist fanatic Steve Bannon as ‘President Bannon’, but one suspects his days are numbered. Trump can’t stand to be upstaged. Michael Flynn – who was fired by Obama as director of national intelligence for his abrasive management style and propensity for what his staff called ‘Flynn facts’, now known in Trumpworld as ‘alternative facts’, and who led the ‘lock her up!’ chants at the Republican convention – was already on his way out two weeks ago, when, in the meeting with Theresa May, he wouldn’t stop talking. It was said that Mr Trump was not pleased. Bannon is far too visible as the unshaven devil whispering in Trump’s ear, and surely Jared Kushner, the trusted son-in-law and Orthodox Jew – whom Trump expects to broker peace in Israel-Palestine – is merely biding his time until the notoriously anti-Semitic Bannon is sent back to his Aryan media headquarters.

The tortoise in this race to the abyss is Vice President Mike Pence, patiently waiting for his ascendancy to the presidency, either in this term, if Trump flames out, or in the 2020 elections. Meanwhile, he is quietly filling administrative posts with like-minded evangelical theocrats who want to eliminate abortion and LGBT rights, give political power to the churches, and have the government pay for Christian schools – along with enacting the usual benefits for the rich and the (very Christian) drastic cuts in programmes that help the poor. In his way, the pleasant-looking and soft-spoken Pence is scarier than the blubbery and blustering Trump. Mr Nice Guy, after all, has the kind of mind that could invent, as he did while governor of Indiana, a law that women who have abortions must pay for a funeral for the fetus.

Like all scandals, this week’s revelations merely add concrete details to what was already intuited: the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russian intelligence to affect the election. The director of the FBI – besides illegally announcing ten days before the election that they were investigating new Clinton emails and waiting more than a week to admit that it was nothing – actively tried to cover up the Russian involvement until the CIA, NSA and DIA forced his hand. It is inconceivable that Trump – who, in campaign speeches, asked the Russians to hack Hillary’s personal emails – was unaware of what was going on.

It is known that Trump is billions of dollars in debt. He can’t sell his assets as presidents normally do – even Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm – because he needs the income from rents and branding licences to pay the interest on his loans. As the large American banks have refused for years to lend him money, it is presumed that Russian oligarchs are holding a great deal of that debt (as is the state-owned Bank of China, the biggest commercial tenant in Trump Tower, where the Department of Defense is also now renting a floor, profitably for Trump and conveniently for Chinese hackers). For their part, the Russians are losing billions on the oil sanctions, which Clinton was unlikely to lift. Not coincidentally, ex-Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, decorated with Russia’s Order of Friendship and opposed to the sanctions, has become secretary of state.

After the eight scandal-free years of Obama, it’s hard to keep up with all that has happened in less than a month. The money-grubbing and blatant conflicts of interest among most of the cabinet appointees, the Trump family – the pomaded sons, Uday and Qusay; Ivanka Barbie; and ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ Melania the Sphinx – and Mr Trump himself would have had the Republicans waving Obama’s head on a pike. Trump’s campaign collusion with a foreign government is already an impeachable offence, though it will take a lot more for the Republicans to send him down his gold-plated drain. And then we would be stuck with Pence, who, it will be assumed, probably wrongly, was in his room the whole time reading his Bible while the frat party was going on.

Comments on “The Month of Trump”

  1. Stu Bry says:

    “Like all scandals, this week’s revelations merely add concrete details to what was already intuited: the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russian intelligence to affect the election. The director of the FBI – besides illegally announcing ten days before the election that they were investigating new Clinton emails and waiting more than a week to admit that it was nothing – actively tried to cover up the Russian involvement until the CIA, NSA and DIA forced his hand. It is inconceivable that Trump – who, in campaign speeches, asked the Russians to hack Hillary’s personal emails – was unaware of what was going on.

    It is known that Trump is billions of dollars in debt. He can’t sell his assets as presidents normally do – even Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm – because he needs the income from rents and branding licences to pay the interest on his loans. As the large American banks have refused for years to lend him money, it is presumed that Russian oligarchs are holding a great deal of that debt (as is the state-owned Bank of China, the biggest commercial tenant in Trump Tower, where the Department of Defense is also now renting a floor, profitably for Trump and conveniently for Chinese hackers). For their part, the Russians are losing billions on the oil sanctions, which Clinton was unlikely to lift. Not coincidentally, ex-Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, decorated with Russia’s Order of Friendship and opposed to the sanctions, has become secretary of state.”

    Some good old fashioned fact free mud slinging. Is this the Daily Mail?

    The New York Review of Books published an excellent analysis of the intelligence linking Trump to Russia. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/01/09/russia-trump-election-flawed-intelligence/

    Conflating corporate secured debt and personal debt is below the LRB and why presume the debt is held by Russian oligarchs?

    • Timothy Rogers says:

      In his Thursday the 16th press conference Trump answered a question by unequivocally stating that neither he nor his family has any business interests in Russia (presumably this would include “financial sector” business such as loans from Russian banks or real-estate development groups). The record shows that in the mid-2000s he was fishing around for such business (hotel construction and renovations, with the Trump name to be licensed for such projects) but that they fell flat. What the truth of the matter is with respect to this issue at present, no one seems to know. However he did get involved in a Russian business around this time, licensing his name for the production and sale of “Trump Gold Vodka”, which failed after several years. None of this is terribly incriminating, but a release of his tax returns from those years might shed some light on them. Trump has more than one motive for not releasing these returns: (1) They will show his actual ownership or partnership in foreign firms. (2) They will show what his stated income (and its sources) and losses were and whether or not he paid any income tax during those years. This goes to whether or not Trump, as a possible non-taxpayer, is actually a “stakeholder” in American life, rather than just a skimmer of wealth. (3) They might document several more of his failures as a businessman (an idea he is very touchy about, since he believes he is always a “winner’) and wants you and me to accept that at face value).

      What, if anything, is he hiding? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. Curious folks would like to know.

    • Bob Beck says:

      Not only will no American bank lend him money, I believe the only one anywhere that will is Deutsche Bank. To judge from the massive fines they’ve been paying as punishment, their business model these days seems to be founded on laundering the money of… Russian oligarchs.

      Which of course proves nothing about the Donald’s finances, and is not even the basis of an allegation. But it provides yet another reason to be suspicious of both his personal and corporate finances, and for the relevant authorities, and for journalists, to investigate them thoroughly.

      Besides: we all know Trump. On the principle that few people are really self-contradictory, the tackiness and gaudiness of his personal style very likely carries over to his financial dealings. In other words: he’s a natural for gilt by association.

  2. alpan says:

    A fine sequence of sentences, but mostly comprised of frustration and semi-baseless speculation. In particular, you are very wrong to discount Steve Bannon’s future presence. If he does end up ousted it won’t be because of Trump but despite his best efforts to preserve him.

    The truth about Bannon and Trump lies somewhere in between the two extreme representations; one being the myth of Trump being Bannon’s puppet, and the other being the myth of Trump’s intolerance of rivalry; this piece revels in the former, many others in the latter. The reality is that the two men are partners, both well aware of each other’s agenda. Of course, this would require that Trump be treated as something more than a cartoonish oaf, which is apparently beyond the abilities of most concerned commentators.

  3. Gardiner Linda says:

    “It’s no surprise, then, that Trump has done almost nothing as president, other than tweeting his rage at TV comedy shows, intelligence agencies, movie stars and department stores that drop his daughter’s fashion accessories. He has made a spectacle of signing ‘executive orders’ that are more like glossy prospectuses for a golf resort he hopes to build.”

    You’ve already forgotten, it seems, about his reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule in an expanded form. Slate noted on January 24th, for instance,

    Trump, it eventually emerged, hadn’t simply revived the so-called global gag rule. Quietly, with so little publicity that activists weren’t aware until someone saw the new language in a tweeted image, Trump had massively expanded the rule. Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of the global reproductive health organization PAI, says it’s the global gag rule “on steroids.”

    Thousands of women worldwide will die as a direct result of this, but it seems to be massively insignificant in the eyes of much of the (dare I say male?) commentariat.

    • Stu Bry says:

      It’s clear from his cabinet appointments and the make up of Congress that every bad conservative idea is about to implemented simultaneously.

      It will be disastrous for the environment, for public education, for health and for the real economy. Those are the areas where Trump should be opposed and can be easily be opposed using facts and genuinely popular arguments. Focusing on fatuous conspiracy theories about Russian influence and the desire to create a dictatorship will lead to irrelevance. Opposition has to be based on reality.

  4. Graucho says:

    We had a con man on this side of the pond called Robert Maxwell. His technique was to threaten and bully and cajole and obfuscate and hire his relatives to look after the real money, all to the point where observers took their eye off the ball because of the hooha. It’s an all too common technique amongst the fraudulent classes.

  5. IPFreely says:

    Yesterday’s rant was a further indication that the man is incapable of doing the job. Aside from the repetition of his claims to be the most popular president ever elected (size of crowd, number of delegates) he seems intent on demonstrating every time he opens his mouth that he is a demagogue , spouting the nonsense that floats into his mind. It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t start threatening to use nuclear weapons on Iran, ISIS and North Korea for good measure .

  6. Bob Beck says:

    This is almost perfectly irrelevant, but: at first I misread the title as “The *Mouth* of Trump,” and thought immediately of the Mouth of Sauron.

    For which role the execrable Steve Bannon would, I suggest, be perfectly suited.

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