Media (233)


The First Hundred Days

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Like many Americans I wake up every morning in the vague awareness that there is a dark cloud hanging over the country, and once I’m completely awake I realize that we’re still living in the nightmare of the Trump presidency.  I cannot remember ever having spent my first waking moments thinking about who is the US President, except maybe the morning after an election, but with Trump it’s a different story.  In my lifetime there has never been a president who is so blatantly unqualified and simultaneously so convinced of his superior judgment, at least externally.  Similarly, I have never seen or heard anybody, whether president or not, who is so existentially dishonest.  You cannot even call Trump a liar, because lying is a deliberate act, a conscious divergence of the truth.  Trump doesn’t know truth, facts that can objectively be verified, and therefore cannot diverge from it.  The only reality he can recognize is the chaos in his own head, where contradictory and unfinished thoughts and impulses are constantly competing, until a winner emerges to be blurred out in an ad-lib or a series of tweets.

And yet, large numbers of Americans don’t have the same problem.  According to an ABC News poll that came out today 96% of Trump’s voters still support him, and 42% of Americans approve of Trump’s presidency so far.  That is the lowest approval rate for any president almost 100 days into his presidency since this kind of polling started, but it’s still very generous towards a madman who has not achieved anything except having an Associate Justice confirmed by violating a longstanding Senate tradition.  It makes you wonder what the mindset is of diehard Trump supporters.  Do they have a similar chaos in their heads to the one that flourishes under Trump’s rug?  Some of them undoubtedly do, but they cannot be the majority.  Do they only care about the man, and not about his policies, and feel gratified by his stupefying unpredictableness? Again, some undoubtedly do, but the majority probably believes that Trump will still deliver on his wildest promises, in spite of his failures to impose a Muslim ban, to repeal Obamacare, to implement comprehensive tax reform, and to build a wall, as will become clear next week.

In fact, Trump’s failures so far explain why most of his voters still support him.  Had the American Health Care Act replaced Obamacare and had massive tax cuts for corporations and the ultra-rich been signed into law by Trump, at the expense of entitlements that benefit the poor and the middle class, he would have lost a significant percentage of them, who would have been hurt badly by the new policies.  Paradoxically, only by continuing to fail can he keep their support.

Trump of course is not aware of this, and his failures come naturally.  He is still suggesting that Congress is close to passing a health care bill, something members of the House are not aware of, and he will announce major tax cuts by the middle of next week.  His main problem though is that next Friday, the 100th day of his presidency, the government will run out of money.

Seasoned political hands know that a government shut-down always hurts the party in power, but Trump insists that a budget bill contains an allocation for the border wall before he signs it.  Unless someone talks him off the ledge we could see him fall real hard next week.

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Why Trump Plays Golf

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

According to some media Donald Trump became US President at least two times, depending on the pundits’ criteria: the first time when he succeeded in reading a relatively short speech to Congress off the teleprompter without ad-libbing and making major mistakes, and the second time when he took credit for attacking a Syrian airport with Tomahawk missiles.  Although there is ample competition, these are some of the dumbest statements made since Trump moved into the White House, because if anything, Trump has become less of a president during the now almost first hundred days of his presidency.  He has delegated all military decisions to ‘his’ generals, almost all foreign and domestic policy to his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Angela Merkel to his daughter Ivanka, Korea to Mike Pence, and the Easter egg roll to Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who are trying to get Sean Spicer to resume the role of Easter Bunny he played during Dubya’s administration.  In the meantime the president is playing a lot of golf, now in total eighteen times, every time inappropriately advertising one of his own courses.

It should not have been surprising.  Long before the election it was obvious that Trump is a pathological narcissist who spent his whole life making, and occasionally losing, money in often shady ways, and who was woefully unprepared for the presidency, both intellectually and attitudinally.  After the failures of his Muslim ban and the American Health Care Act, and with only one minor achievement in the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court – for which the credit really goes to Mitch McConnell – the air has slowly been leaking out of Trump’s tires.   Instead of the bluster of his campaign language he is now down to barely more than a whisper when he says that China is not a currency manipulator, the NATO is not obsolete, and the military has ‘full authorization’ to commit any acts of war it considers appropriate.  It is an interesting psychological case study to see someone who believes he’s omnipotent and perfect confronted with his own blatant inadequacies, which he cannot recognize and therefore not compensate for, other than by escaping his responsibilities and distributing blame to others.

This morning the New York Times published an editorial that lists fifteen issues on which Trump has had ’10-Second Convictions,’ ranging from Syria to the Import-Export Bank, with Russia, NATO, China and NAFTA in between.  In his few introspective moments the president likes to talk about himself as a ‘very flexible person,’ but in reality he’s like a scared rabbit caught in the headlights that doesn’t know where to run and nervously jumps back and forth, left and right.

Unfortunately all the flip-flopping doesn’t imply that nothing gets done.  Trump has put cabinet secretaries in place who are dead set on abandoning sane environmental policies, destroying public education, eliminating students’ rights, and, most recently, start a review process that will result in the termination of ‘Consent Decrees’ aimed at improving police-community relations.

In the meantime the president plays golf.  I have long been convinced that most corporate executives play golf because on the golf course they have bigger problems than at work, but not Trump.  He plays golf to get away from problems on the job he has no clue how to handle.

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Wag the Dog

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Trump and his closest associates – whoever they may be today, because that changes rapidly – believe that this week was a very good week.  It ended with a feel-good bombardment of the airfield in Syria from where a sarin gas attack had been launched, but earlier the White House had found an imaginary culprit in former National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the fake news story that Obama had spied on the Trump campaign, and in the Senate Mitch McConnell went nuclear to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed as Associate Justice. 
      As NSA, Susan Rice had occasionally asked for the ‘unmasking’ of Americans who had been communicating with foreign agents under surveillance, and the White House sees this as proof that the Trump campaign was being monitored.  There is, however, a serious flaw in its logic.  The reason why Rice asked for the unmasking of individuals was that she didn’t know who they were, and if she already knew they were Trump associates, as the White House implicitly asserts, she wouldn’t have had to ask for their unmasking and thus risk that the suspicion of spying on the Trump campaign would fall on her.

In the Senate, logic was challenged in a different but no less incompetent way.  For weeks the Democrats were told that if they used the filibuster against Gorsuch McConnell would go nuclear and they would lose the chance to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees.  The argument that even in Democratic circles had convinced some players came down to ‘don’t use the filibuster, because if you do you’ll lose it.’  The notion that if you cannot use something for the risk of losing it you have already lost it escaped these philosophers, but fortunately Chuck Schumer had no illusions that Republicans would not go nuclear with future confirmations and preferred clarity, something that was also demanded by a large part of the Democratic base.  It is mind-boggling and laughable that a few Democrats apparently figured that McConnell, who practices hardball politics, would think ‘this seat is ours, because it belonged to Scalia, and therefore Gorsuch should fill it, but the next seat is anybody’s, and if let’s say Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s seat is the next to become available we’ll have to fill it with an equally progressive Justice.’

With regards to the bombing in Syria, it is obvious that the Trump administration has no strategy and therefore no idea how to follow up other than with militant rhetoric, which makes this an isolated act of war that, however deserved, should have been pre-approved by Congress.  The fact that Russia had been informed in advance to minimize collateral damage and that the airfield was back in operation one day later gave food to some interesting conspiracy theories.

In the first theory Putin was the mastermind who convinced Rex Tillerson to suggest that the US would accept Assad as legitimate ruler of Syria, and subsequently gave an emboldened Assad permission to use some of his sarin gas, that Russia was supposed to have removed, all with the purpose of giving Trump a reason to cautiously bomb an airfield and get his popularity poll numbers up.
      In the second theory there was no bombing at all, and the TV images of Tomahawks being launched from US Navy vessels were just that, images that had been recorded much earlier on a different occasion.  In a fact free world, this Wag the Dog scenario is as plausible as any other.

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(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

This week Donald Trump issued executive orders that will do irreparable damage to the environment and signed a law that will take away the existing access to health care for one in five American women by partly defunding Planned Parenthood, but Russia is again front and center in the news.  After Trump had tried to throw a wrench into the investigations of Russian interference in the election by tweeting that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the presidential campaign, fake news of which the debunking by FBI director Comey seemingly ended the distraction, the political acrobatics of Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, became the next curveball aimed at the congressional probes.  It soon became clear that the ‘new’ information with which Nunes first ran to Speaker Paul Ryan and then to Trump had been provided to him in the middle of the night on the White House grounds, which made his return trip to the White House to brief the president as absurd as it was improper.  It was obvious that Nunes and the White House were in cahoots, with Ryan’s implicit blessing.

The goals of Nunes’s antics were first to vindicate Trump, who had basically been exposed as a liar by Comey, and then to derail the congressional investigations into the Russian interference.  However, the fact that three mid-level White House staffers had given Nunes the names of Trump associates who had incidentally been swept up in intelligence operations didn’t exonerate Trump, but showed him and his immediate advisors to be a bunch of creepy connivers.  As for the second goal, by bypassing the members of his own committee, including the ranking Democrat, and not sharing any information with them, Nunes has effectively halted the investigation by the House, and it is unclear if it can ever be resumed.  So far two hearings have been cancelled by Nunes, and it is noteworthy that at one of those hearings Sally Yates was supposed to testify, the former acting Attorney General who informed the White House about the communications during the transition period between Lieutenant General Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Kislyak, which eventually led to Flynn’s being fired as National Security Advisor.

The White House, via Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s briefings, makes it very clear that it stands by Trump’s accusation towards Obama, and that it considers the fact that some of the president’s associates – and possibly Trump himself – can be recognized in reports on the communications of foreign agents, who may have mentioned them or been on the phone with them, far more serious than the Russian interference, which Spicer only mentions to downgrade its importance.

In an effort to keep the distraction going the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been invited to come to the White House and see what Nunes saw.  Fortunately the investigation conducted by the Senate committee has not been sabotaged so far, and the FBI investigation that started in the summer of 2016 is ongoing.

And then there is Michael Flynn.  He offered to talk to both committees on the condition that he is granted immunity.  Flynn, who talked about the US sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, can testify about similar conversations with Trump.  If anything keeps Trump awake at night, that’s it.

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That Was the Week That Was

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Last week was not a good week for Donald Trump.  On Monday FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers testified before the House Intelligence Committee that they had no information confirming that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, a frivolous accusation Trump had launched two weeks earlier.  Comey added that the FBI had been investigating contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian agents since July 2016.  In an attempt to help Trump the Chairman of the Committee, Devin Nunes, ran to the White House to tell Trump that names of some of his associates, and most likely also his own name, had come up incidentally in communications monitored by the intelligence services.  Without Nunes’s action Trump could also have known that, because it would have been very unlikely that foreign agents monitored by the CIA had never mentioned him, and Nunes acknowledged that all appropriate legal procedures had been followed.  The effect was not that Trump was exonerated, but that Nunes compromised himself and increased the chance that a Special Investigative Commission would be formed.

And that was only the beginning.  During the rest of the week it became clear that the American Health Care Act, the Republican replacement of Obamacare, would not have enough support to pass the House.  The AHCA, a product of flim-flammer Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is essentially a $300 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, in exchange for which health care provisions for the poorest Americans would be gutted.  In spite of attempts by Steve Bannon to strongarm congressmen and concessions that would have reduced insurance policies to empty shells, the Freedom Caucus of the GOP could not be convinced, and on Friday the bill had to be pulled.  Trump’s initial response, to blame the failure to pass the bill on the Democrats, was amusing, because apparently he expected them to support a bill that screwed their constituents out of the most basic services, but since then he has moved on and blamed the Freedom Caucus.  So far Trump has not directly blamed Paul Ryan, but yesterday he strangely recommended that people watch a Fox News show in which anchor Jeanine Pirro demanded that Ryan step down.

The question is: what’s next?  Contrary to the known facts Trump maintains that Obamacare will implode in 2017, and it is feared that he will make his prophesy come true with the help of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, by taking as much money as possible away from health care.  There will be many victims, not only patients but also doctors and hospitals, but for Trump no price is too high if he can retroactively make Obama look like a failure.

Conservatives argue that there has also been good news for Trump last week, because his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, sailed through his Senate hearings without any obvious damage. Gorsuch, however, was slick and evasive, and probably turned off enough Democrats to make his confirmation questionable, unless Mitch McConnell unilaterally changes the procedure.

And the worst news may be yet to come for Trump.  There are strong rumors that General Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor for two weeks, is ‘singing’ to the FBI about collusion with the Russians by the Trump campaign. If true, what went wrong for Trump this week is only the beginning of the end.

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