Media (421)


Trump’s Looks and Sounds

(Door Hugo Kijne Te Hoboken USA)

Long before he became president I was already fascinated by the changes in Trump’s facial expression.  During the primaries his face was pompous and aggressive, especially when he was attacking one of his opponents, but he would occasionally smile or laugh and look almost human.  During the presidential campaign, and in particular in the debates with Hillary Clinton, he looked more aggressive but less pompous, in fact somewhat concerned, because he knew that she had superior knowledge about every subject that could possibly be brought up, and that he had to try and keep the focus on her vulnerabilities, the e-mail server and the Clinton Foundation.  And then he won the election and his expression changed again.  In his mind, becoming US President and the most powerful man in the world confirmed his status as a uniquely talented and successful human being, and he mistook the formal authority the presidency comes with for an intellectual and moral authority.  His facial expression now became a combination of arrogance and disdain, and even more aggressive when his talents or achievements were questioned.

One hundred days into his presidency we have seen a couple more faces.  Arrogance and disdain is still the default, but Trump has added a sheepish grin when he’s being asked about something embarrassing he doesn’t want to talk about, like how in the world Michael Flynn ever became National Security Advisor, and a somewhat comical expression of mental emptiness when he’s holding up an executive order he has just signed that he may or may not have read, like that time when Steve Bannon put himself on the National Security Council without telling the boss.  And just like the looks have changed, so have the sounds.  During the campaign, speaking at mass rallies, Trump was basically a screamer.  With a high pitched voice he would hurl the insults towards his opponents, the accusations towards the press, and what turned out to be mostly lies about his future policies into the halls and hangars where his events took place.  But when his staff finally got him to use the teleprompter to keep him on message and avoid his freelancing his speech became sullen, often with wrong intonations, and sometimes reduced to a whisper.

Trump knows that fully prepared speeches he reads off the teleprompter are not his strength, and lately he has returned to his screaming mode to try and conceal that thus far his presidency has brought about only destruction by reversing sensible policies of the Obama era.  He has not been able to get any legislation passed, and all his initiatives have stalled either in Congress, like the health care bill, or in the courts, like the Muslim ban, without much perspective of getting out.

According to Trump, no other president has achieved as much as he has during his first hundred days.  This morning the New York Times has one full page listing those ‘achievements.’  The thrust of the article is that Trump’s main accomplishment is shattering the protocols and customs of the presidency, and replacing them with a mixture of secrecy, vulgarity and ignorance.

Some pundits think that Trump is learning on the job, and that his flip-flopping on a host of issues is a sign of growing political maturity, rather than spur-of-the-moment opportunism.  For them, there is a bridge in Brooklyn for sale, with a warrantee from the Trump organization.

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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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