Time to buckle your seatbelts, America

The Thinker by Rodin

I am back from our nation’s capital after having enjoyed two musicals, one movie, two ethnic restaurants, four American breakfasts (mostly omelets), barbeque, two museums on the Mall and a quick tour of the Capitol over three full days. I chose last Friday to go into D.C. It was odd to play the role of tourist considering I lived in the area for nearly 35 years.

DC weather rarely disappoints expectations in July. It certainly didn’t last Friday when the heat topped 95F and walking around the Mall felt like going into the sauna. Despite the horrid but predictable July weather, things felt, well, different. I remembered a time when you could get into the Capitol easily. You just passed through security and wandered around. Back then areas the public wasn’t supposed to go in were clearly marked off but otherwise you wandered around as you pleased. Now you go to the Capitol Visitors Center and get a ticket for a substandard tour. You won’t get to see either the House or Senate chambers. (There is a separate tour for that.)

Also new was the current occupant of the White House. During the Capitol tour the tour guide was agog over the slogan on our currency: E pluribus unum, or Out of many: one. I guess he couldn’t tell the truth: that our Congress has perhaps never been so undemocratic. It is so gerrymandered that moderates are nearly extinct in Congress. While we were there our narcissistic Cheeto-in-Chief was kicking off a special commission to look into the nonexistent issue of voter fraud. The only fraud is the actual intent of the commission: voter suppression so more of those people aren’t allowed to vote. Arguably these laws put Trump in the White House in the first place. Anyhow, the very limited access the public now gets to the Capitol is symbolic of our national dysfunction. It is harder than ever to meet your legislator unless you represent some interest with plenty of cash. Most likely the one giving the cash doesn’t even employ people in the legislator’s district. Congress critters are even giving up on town halls, unless the audience consists of prescreened partisans. To our new aristocracy, the rest of us are rabble and not worth their time.

Meanwhile, the acts in the Trump circus kept getting more bizarre. Trump’s interview with the “fake media” New York Times signaled a four-alarm fire. Trump clearly has no idea what he is doing, and has at best a minimal grasp of the issues. The acts kept changing when we were in town too. Gone is press secretary Sean “Spicey” Spicer, and in is former hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci as, of all things, White House Communications Director. I shouldn’t be surprised because apparently having no experience in a problem domain is a prime qualification for being chosen by Trump. Still, it was one more breathtakingly bad appointment amongst so many others. It’s also clear from the Times transcript and Trump’s latest tweets that he is obsessed with the Russian investigation, to the point that he has pretty much given up governing. Providing no national calamities happen, this is good news and explains why nothing is getting done even though Republicans control three branches of government.

In the Times interview, Trump made it clear that he reserves the right to fire Special Counsel Mueller and that his ability to pardon is unconditional, which apparently also includes being able to pardon himself. His lawyers are writing arguments to make the case, which suggests if push comes to shove he will pardon all his friends and family implicated in the scandal even though he continues to say there is nothing there. But if there is nothing there, why would he pardon anyone? Why is he so scared?

The answer is clear: it’s because there’s plenty of fire under the visible smoke. You don’t get this kind of response from someone who is innocent and confident that the facts will vindicate him. You get it from someone who knows he is guilty and is prepared to use every tool at his disposal to ensure no one pays a price, especially Trump. From all reports Trump spends most of his days obsessively watching TV to see how he is coming across in the media. Image is everything to him, but he can’t seem to make this Russia thing go away. So he is preparing for the nuclear option: pardon and fire his way out of it. The more scared he gets the more bizarre his behavior gets too.

From this we can reasonably infer things won’t get better, but they will get much worse as Trump senses a cage coming down around him. Which means that our country is at a moment of unique peril. The most perilous part of it is not whether Trump survives or not. It’s whether our enemies use this opportunity of national dysfunction to play their hand. We got a glimpse of it last week when we learned that Trump and Putin had an unannounced private meeting at the G-20 conference in Hamburg. Curiously it wasn’t log afterward that Trump announced that the United States would no longer give support to anti-Assad forces in Syria.

Trump constantly defends Russia so it’s not hard to infer that Russia has the goods on him, he knows it, and he is being blackmailed. All this is likely to come out in time as a result of investigations underway. As a narcissist Trump is driven into denial about his own failings, so he must project them elsewhere using a cast of predictable enemies: the “fake” news media, Democrats, disloyal Republicans and of course Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He’s also probably trying to figure out a way to exit this trap. He hopefully understands that can’t pardon himself out of this problem and remain president, although Trump may be delusional enough to think he can. Trump will look desperately for a face-saving solution that allows him to blame others. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin laid out the most plausible outcomes. It’s most likely #4 or #5, probably #4 as it’s the easiest path for a narcissist to deal with his cognitive dissonance.

One thing is for sure: it will be more than a bumpy ride. As a nation, we are going to go through months and years of airsickness, not to mention grave mortal danger to our nation. It’s quite unclear that Republicans will put country over party. We can hope for it but we should not expect it. The parallels with Watergate are murky at best. The best we can hope for is that Republicans will come to consensus that they are better without him, and vote to impeach and remove him. The hope then lies in Trump’s increasing franticness and that this turbulence will be very severe but relatively short.

Buckle your seatbelts folks and if you are a praying type, now is the time for fervent prayer.

Alternative facts and the puerile Trump Administration

The Thinker by Rodin

I went to bed January 20th having largely succeeded in tuning out Donald Trump’s inauguration. Mission accomplished, at least in preserving my sanity that day. Instead I read brief snippets of online news summaries and went to my comfort zone. My comfort zone is to watch Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings on DVD, but I felt increasingly uneasy every time I saw Sauron’s eye of fire.

“Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink, the walls of your bower closing in about you, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?” spake Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) to the lovely Lady Eowyn in The Two Towers which I watched that night. Around 4 a.m. I awoke to distant rumbling sounds that I could not place. In my fevered imagination it was the sound of nuclear weapons exploding and heading my way. Fortunately not even President Trump could act so rashly so quickly. My fears slowly faded, but I staggered through most of Saturday wondering if I was just unusually prescient. Time will tell.

Our newest president had bigger fish to fry on Saturday, mainly solving his huge case of cognitive dissonance. He had the biggest inauguration ever, the best! It was hugely huge but as usual the media were brazenly lying about it. Those must have been doctored photos of the Mall showing underwhelming crowds. Those many empty bleachers along Pennsylvania Avenue, must have been taken some time long before or after the parade:

Trump’s memories were completely different. After all he saw thousands of Muslims cheering as the Twin Towers went down on 9/11. On Saturday when up to a million protestors swarmed the Mall to protest Trump’s agenda, Trump sent out his newly minted press secretary Sean Spicer into the pressroom to tell the media they were lying about the crowd size at the inauguration. Sunday saw Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway telling NBC’s Chuck Todd that Spicer was presenting “alternative facts”, an opening oxymoron from an administration sure to be full of them. Monday found our new president fuming that he won the popular vote somehow because of three to 5 million votes that illegals cast for Hillary got counted, for which of course there is zero evidence.

Thankfully, at least at that moment, the press wasn’t having any of it. The media was rife with reports that this new administration was spewing lies. This of course only got Trump’s dander up more, which may explain why he wants to limit press briefings only to media friendly to him, as well as move the pressroom to the Old Executive Office Building. It’s much easier to believe in alternative facts when the press can’t confront you so easily.

This sure is plenty embarrassing, and it is likely to stay this way for the next four years, not to mention childish in the extreme. This is what happens when you put the crazies in charge, and when you populate your administration with “reporters” from Brietbart.com, that’s what you get. No fact that doesn’t agree with their prejudices needs to be considered. You simply change the facts instead or invent new “facts” that are in fact not even facts. Problem solved!

Except of course this is totally crazy. Imagine going to the dentist to complain about a tooth pain and they decide to amputate a toe instead. That’s his “fact”. It won’t do anything to solve your tooth pain except maybe put you in such agony that you forget about it for a while. But, hey, it fits the narrative! That’s what counts.

I doubt our enemies will be so anti-fact based. Instead they will take action based on observed reality. When the administration takes action based on false information, the results are unlikely to be effective. But perhaps to Trump is doesn’t matter. No failure no matter how objectively provable matters. You just invent some alternative facts. Your supporters will follow like sheep … until possibly they hit that point where actual reality intercedes with these alternative facts and it causes them huge personal pain, such as when they lose their Obamacare for Trump’s new non-existent health plan. Then maybe they will wake the hell up.

Women were certainly awake on Saturday, protesting in the millions nationwide and across the world. As they plot a political comeback, don’t expect them to follow our foolish president. Expect them to use facts and a provable strategy to wrest political power from our anti-fact-based oligarchy and back to the people.