Trump: caught in the Chinese finger trap

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s taken a while but a few people are figuring out how to use Trump’s narcissism against him. Anyone with sufficient influence or power who criticizes Trump will get a reflexive set of double-down tweets. Trump will point out how they are the flawed one and he is never wrong; after all he is a very stable genius.

Chinese finger trap
Chinese finger trap

Trump also uses his tweets to change the subject, hopefully resetting the narrative. This week former CIA Director and Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan felt Trump’s wrath by having his security clearance revoked. Brennan of course has been regularly criticizing Trump from his secure perch in retirement.

Removing his clearance means nothing; Brennan doesn’t need one and hasn’t used it since leaving office, except to prepare to answer questions from investigators. It is possible that by taking away his clearance it will ultimately work to Trump’s disadvantage. Trump is working to remove a bunch of other senior security clearances too in response to their “rigged witch hunt” against him. All but one of them no longer work for the federal government, so they are effectively toothless too.

What really got Trump’s goat recently though was the release of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s book Unhinged. The unflattering tapes she has been slowly releasing methodically prove she is speaking the truth. This resulted in a predictable set of new rage tweets from Trump against Omarosa, one of the few blacks in his administration. She has been part of his orbit since she first appeared on The Apprentice in 2004. Omarosa has nearly fifteen years of experience working with Donald Trump and is intimately familiar with his strengths and weaknesses. In response, he called her a “crazed, crying lowlife” and “that dog” among other insults.

Obviously her book is not flattering to Trump and Trump felt betrayed because of her disloyalty. Trump never returns any loyalty, but he hasn’t made the connection that true loyalty goes both ways. Trump thinks he can buy-off people, but he only rents them until they just can’t stand working for him anymore.

Fourteen years of observing Donald Trump, plus Omarosa’s own character flaws, have produced a character uniquely qualified to help bring him down, bigly. This is because unlike most of The Apprentice contestants, Omarosa played by Trump’s own rules. So of course she had no problem making surreptitious recordings (and reportedly videos) of Trump and his aides. This is completely consistent with Trump’s break-all-the-rules-to-succeed philosophy. Apparently she has quite a collection of these and plans to keep doling them out regularly, at least until Trump’s bullying against her stops.

Her condition that these releases would stop only when Trump stops bullying her is brilliant. It will show in time that Omarosa knows how to best Trump in his own game. Here’s why:

As someone with an extreme case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Trump cannot control himself when someone criticizes him. So with each tape released by Omarosa, Trump’s ego will require him to lash out at her some more, mostly through rage tweets. That in turn will keep his faults and her face constantly in the news. Trump will try to find surrogate issues (like these security clearances) to change the focus, but they are unlikely to work. He must stop bullying Omarosa to bring the pressure relief he craves. But he can’t do that because he has NPD. What’s really interesting is that Omarosa has done the impossible with Trump: changed the power dynamics. She is now his Alpha, on par with Vladimir Putin. Trump just hasn’t figured that out.

No wonder then that Trump is so scared. No wonder he has put together an enemies list and is revoking security clearances. Aside from bullying, Trump really doesn’t have much in the way of power to frustrate his opponents. His best weapon is Brent Kavanaugh, if he gets confirmed to the Supreme Court, as is likely. If cases against Trump come before the court, Kavanaugh is likely to rule in his favor. Removing security clearances though is largely a toothless exercise in retribution. Trump may sense that removing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is another trap that will make things worse for him. His narcissism and the feeling that the walls are closing around him though may impel him to fire him anyhow.

To Trump’s critics though Omarosa is the gift that keeps on giving. Each release shows more flaws in Trump and his hapless administration. This will cause an inevitable reflexive series of outrage tweets by Trump, which keeps the pattern repeating indefinitely. Omarosa has Trump is caught in a Chinese finger trap, and Trump simply lacks the life experiences required to get out of the trap. He can’t even picture them.

It is possible that Trump will figure out that ignoring her is more productive, but it’s unlikely he will figure this out by himself. Someone on staff will have to surreptitiously suggest it and hammer it in again and again until it gets absorbed. With his case of NPD so advanced though, he probably won’t. It will probably grow to become an every bigger cyclone of fury and hate.

As for Omarosa, just as Trump got tons of free publicity during his campaign by giving the media something shiny and new to follow, Omarosa gets tons of free publicity too, stays constantly in the news and makes a name for herself. Copies of her books fly off shelves, and her recording and videos inside the Trump White House get constantly played. Her future looks bright.

So effectively Omarosa has out trumped Trump. Well played, Omarosa. The apprentice seems likely to topple the king.

Democrats and riding Hurricane Donald

The Thinker by Rodin

Thursday’s White House meeting between Trump and congressional leaders was surprising, but perhaps should not have been. During a meeting in which a Republican president should be counted on to follow a plan by his Republican congressional leaders (Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), Trump went off the rails again. He let his grievances with Ryan and McConnell get the better of him. He surprised everyone by agreeing with a proposal by House Minority Leader Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer instead.

So instead of an eighteen-month extension of the debt ceiling wanted by Republicans (which conveniently kicks this can down the road past the 2018 midterms), he agreed to a three-month extension proposed by Democrats instead. Emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey was also agreed to. Oh, and that must have border wall funding? Seems to be off the table again at the moment. It was just more Trump bluster.

Republicans were flummoxed and furious. Democrats were smiling but wisely sitting on their hands. Trump had gone off the rails again. He let his petty grievances against Ryan and McConnell get the better of him, and spoke of Pelosi and Schumer like they were friends, calling them Nancy and Chuck. I doubt Nancy and Chuck expected this outcome, but perhaps it should not have come out of the blue. For when he feels grieved Trump will use whatever powers are at his disposal to wreak revenge. Typically he lashes out on Twitter, but this time he had something better: must-pass legislation. He could get vengeance against Ryan and McConnell by using a legislative approach that Democrats wanted.

Pelosi and Schumer won’t ever be Trump’s friends. Republicans in Congress though assumed that because Trump ran as a Republican that he would support their agenda. In reality Trump ran as a populist, used the Republican Party as a vehicle for getting elected and now that he is elected he feels free to wing it as he goes along. Trump will seek to support his own interests, whatever they happen to be at the moment. Since even he doesn’t know what they are and they can change on a dime, they will be whatever takes his fancy at the moment. And most likely whatever he supports will be in part aimed at punishing his foes, real or perceived because that’s what bullies and narcissists do.

However, despite Trump’s tendency to throw in his cards and demand a new hand, you can figure what breadcrumbs Trump is likely to follow. He will follow any that appear to give him greater glory and recognition and that will punish people who have fallen out of his favor. In this sense he’s predictable. So it is quite possible, in fact even probable, that if you bait him with the right breadcrumbs he will follow your trail and can thus be used to some extent.

So with a narcissist Trump as president, being in the minority is turning out to be something of an advantage. The majority (Republicans) cannot govern. They are too factionalized but they are also too at odds ideologically with much of Trump’s agenda. Moreover, they can’t possibly satisfy Trump’s desire for instant wins because they must follow a legislative process that requires actual debate and votes and that takes time.

However, at least through the 2018 elections Democrats are in the minority. They can’t be blamed for anything because they don’t set the agenda. (Yes, they can filibuster certain legislation, something Trump obviously doesn’t like, which is why many bills taken up in the Senate are written to adhere to reconciliation rules that require simple majorities.) Trump can make them temporary allies but they bear none of the responsibility for failures. In the past Trump has railed at both Pelosi and Schumer and called them nasty names. Most likely he will again the moment they obstruct his agenda of the moment. But right now he sees them as friends because it is politically convenient. Moreover, he has an incentive to keep them as friends because he literally has no political friends left in the Republican congressional leadership.

Pissing off Republicans in Congress is deeply counterproductive, not that Trump can see this. Consider whether Speaker Ryan agrees to take a resolution of impeachment against Trump to a vote. If you are in good relations with Trump, you probably won’t. If you are in bad relations, then why not take a vote? If Trump is impeached, convicted and removed then Pence is going to be better to work with. Similarly, despite his taciturn face, Senate Majority Leader McConnell probably harbors resentment against Trump now too. He’ll be required to try Trump if the House impeaches Trump, but he and many Republicans in the Senate would have plenty of reasons to vote him out of office too.

And all of this is not just possible but even likely because we have an inconsistent and severe narcissist as our president. A politically astute president of course would be building bridges with Congress because that’s how you move your agenda forward: through persuasion. Bullies perhaps can persuade, but their only real power is the power of intimidation. In Congress, intimidation works only at reelection. If in the primaries next year Trump can influence Republican voters to vote out those Republicans he disdains, these incumbents may pay a price. Given the wreck Trump is making of his presidency, it’s pretty good odds that most of these incumbents will survive their primaries.

So if you are a Democrat looking to regain power though, this horror is all good. If a Republican incumbent can be voted out in the primary for a Trump sycophant, then in a general election you’ve just increased the odds that a Democratic candidate can flip that seat by appealing to moderates. Candidates toting the line of a president with a 37% popularity rating aren’t likely to win. If a Republican incumbent survives their primary, they are still facing odds of losing in the midterms if the election framed as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, which is the obvious and powerful frame Democrats doubtless will use in 2018.

Trump’s actions Thursday are thus is very good news for Democrats. Trump will find it hard to back away from his new friends Nancy and Chuck because by doing so he would lose face with people he officially dislikes, including Ryan and McConnell. Nancy and Chuck are smart to stifle their grins, but rest assured they are ebullient in private. Trump has fallen into his own trap made possible by his fixed personality and his narcissism.

Like Hurricane Irma about to hit Florida, while you can’t stop this natural disaster you can ride it for all its worth. Trump is the wrecking machine of his own agenda. Democrats need to hang on, ride it and hope that voters have had enough in 2018 to flip the House and maybe even the Senate.

It’s crazy not to be scared by a President Trump

The Thinker by Rodin

During the 1972 Democratic primaries, Senator Edmund Muskie (ME) was caught crying on camera at a news conference outside the offices of the Manchester Union-Leader. Muskie said it was just snow melting on his face, but he was heatedly responding to reports that his wife was addicted to a drug. It was enough to kill his campaign. His primary competitor, Senator George McGovern (SD) eventually won the nomination, but McGovern’s eventual choice of vice president Thomas Eagleton was later pulled from the ticket. Eagleton had a past episode of clinical depression. At the time this was considered disqualifying.

Forty-four years later we elected Donald Trump as our next president. It’s abundantly clear that Trump has mental issues of his own, most prominently his supersize case of narcissism. Rather than being disqualifying, it was a feature of his campaign. Wikipedia defines narcissistic personality disorder as:

A long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of understanding of others’ feelings. People affected by it often spend a lot of time thinking about achieving power or success, or about their appearance. They often take advantage of the people around them. The behavior typically begins by early adulthood, and occurs across a variety of situations.

You don’t have to be psychologist to see Trump’s evident narcissism. There is evidence every day in his Twitter feed. He’s a man so vain he attacks Meryl Streep for criticizing him at the recent Golden Globe awards. He told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd:

“I win, Maureen, I always win. Knock on wood. I win. It’s what I do. I beat people. I win.”

Trump obviously does not always win. He overleveraged himself with failed businesses in Atlantic City and elsewhere. His Trump shuttle between New York and Washington was taken over by creditors. He’s lost lots of lawsuits and most recently settled the Trump University class action lawsuit for millions of dollars. And yet he cannot acknowledge any of these many failures, matters of simple public record.

In ten days the American people are going to give this man the authority to use our nuclear weapons.

It’s thinking about this that makes my head hurt so much that simply to maintain my own sanity I have at times turned off my brain. I’ve avoided the typical ways people deal with stuff like this: booze and drugs, but I can certainly understand why a sane person would. At times I’ve avoided the news and deliberately sought out distractions. Most recently I’ve been playing a lot of online crossword puzzles.

If you are sane, you should absolutely be scared about a Trump presidency. Trump is super easy to read so it’s not hard to figure out how he’s going to behave and govern. He’s not going to reinvent himself. He will continue to lash out at critics over Twitter, but most likely he will use the levers of power to bully them too, perhaps tapping their phones, examining their computers and surreptitiously putting out dirt on them. He’s a natural fascist. He’s picked a cabinet of tone deaf bullies because he wants to change things, the same way a bull in a china shop will change things. As horrifying and illegal as these actions will be though, what keeps my heart skipping beats is his role as commander in chief.

Trump simply does not understand the complexity of our foreign policy challenges. When they occur rather than use back channels he will be inclined to go postal. Imagine what he would do if China closed off the China Sea to U.S. vessels, or if North Korea attacked South Korea, or sent an ICBM at Guam. Trump will go grand and he will go aggressive. He’d have the navy on the sea-lanes shooting at Chinese warships and aircraft. He might nuke North Korea. This is because he is a narcissist. When someone challenges your authority, you go grand. In the past this meant filing lots of lawsuits. In the future, this means using our military to maximum effect and quickly to prove you are serious.

Remember what his solution to ISIS was? “Bomb the shit out of them!” This got him great applause but it won’t solve the problem of ISIS anymore than Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia did much to slow the Vietcong. Dealing with ISIS is a multifaceted problem, but it’s much more a war of minds. Bombing the shit out of ISIS may cause lots of death and destruction, but it won’t change minds, only steel the resolve of those aligned with ISIS.

Trump is quite binary. If you suck up to him, he likes you. If you oppose him, he’s your eternal enemy and he will use whatever power he has to mow you down. He can’t deal with nuance or complexity. He is full of impatience and an “ends justify the means” sort of guy, typical of a narcissist. And he will never, ever admit a mistake.

One of these days he’s going to figure out that Vladimir Putin is playing him. Okay, maybe not. He may not be that self-aware. Right now he admires Putin, which is unsurprising as he and Republicans in general are drawn to strong people and really don’t care about our democracy. Putin though has an agenda and it’s likely he’s going to play Trump like a fine fiddle. Putin wants to restore Russia’s former glory. It’s not too hard to see how he can do this at some point: reoccupy most of Eastern Europe that the USSR used to control. I would not be surprised to see Putin send in the army to wholly occupy Ukraine. But why stop there? Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are so close too. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all used to be part of their empire. If any of these scenarios happen they are likely to catch Trump flatfooted. In fact they will be tacitly abetted by Trump, who sees NATO as obsolete. Maybe Trump would even approve.

But something will trip him up and Trump will go big because big and grandiose is how he operates. When he gets tangled in the invariable complexity of it all, he’s not going to be able to think out realistic options or realize he won’t be able to get his way. This is likely to lead to huge anger and a desire to hit his enemies with everything we’ve got. That won’t work either, but it will temporarily assuage his feelings.

If any president were likely to use our nuclear forces proactively, it would be Trump. And if he does it won’t be hard for other nuclear powers, principally Russia and China, to respond in kind. The point of diplomacy and foreign policy is to leverage power without resorting to extraordinary means. That’s not going to happen in a Trump Administration.

It’s entirely rational for rational Americans to be scared as shit by a Trump presidency. I sure am. If you are not, you are in denial.

God bless America, because Trump sure won’t.