Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trump's Big CON: Time For the Enablers to Leave

As noted before:

"Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster are expected to be early alarms in the event that life in the Trump administration becomes untenable. If the White House fails to build an atmosphere in which they can work, Mattis and McMaster — both of whom are keenly aware that the world is watching their every move — could take their leave. The shock waves caused by their departure would be felt throughout the White House, Congress, and foreign capitals around the globe. The stakes couldn’t be higher — everyone knows that if they aren’t able to make it work, something must be seriously broken."

A prominent Republic critic of Trump's thinks it is time to acknowledge Trump can't be President:

"Maybe he was peeved there was no sword dance or lavish reception, as there has been in Saudi Arabia. Maybe he didn’t like French President Emmanuel Macron’s handshake. Whatever the explanation, a president who on the spur of the moment decides not to communicate a key commitment is also a president who might not keep it even if he said it. He repeatedly proves himself feckless and thereby undercuts the United States’ standing with allies and its image with foes. And once again, it demonstrates that when it matters most, top advisers serve up the appearance of sanity without prompting him to act more sanely. In other words, they are enabling him.

As I said before, literally to prevent nuclear war, [National security adviser H.R.] Mattis should remain, but the other two in his national-security triumvirate [Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson] have failed to constrain and guide the president when it mattered. Their leaving would be more beneficial than their staying at this point."

Read the Washington Post, The people who are supposed to be constraining Trump clearly aren’t.

Read also Trump's Big CON: His Enabler.

Trump's Big CON: It's All About the Show, Explained

UPDATE:  And re-read the Washington Post, President Trump wants to put on a show. Governing matters less., which noted that:

"Last spring, while reporting The Washington Post’s biography of Donald Trump, I asked an executive who had worked for Trump for more than three decades to help me understand a central contradiction about the man: How could he be at once the micromanager who in the 1980s would call an employee at 2 a.m. and order her out of bed to clean up litter he’d noticed in the lobby of one of his buildings, and also the boss who was so detached that he claimed to be ignorant of his hotels’ finances as they fell into bankruptcy?

The executive offered this guidance: 'If you’re ever confused about Trump’s motives, go to showman first.' The building lobby was a showcase for the Trump brand, requiring the close attention of the man behind the name; the finances were backstage stuff, easily ignored.

Those words keep coming back to me as the timeworn rituals of Washington are washed out by the bright glare of President Trump at center stage. News conferences, diplomatic summits, relations with Congress, campaign-style rallies — the public-facing aspects of the presidency are being blown up, flipped on their heads, transformed into platforms for the master marketer to play out his unique approach to brand enhancement.

What Washington has been trained to perceive as disorder — a blizzard of contradictions, a president saying one thing while his top appointees say the opposite — is actually a long-running theatrical event, The Trump Show, a time-tested method by which the star builds excitement, demands attention and creates soap-operatic story lines that at least superficially seem like success. The most important thing about this presidency, to the man in the Oval Office, is how it looks. . .

Great theater both entertains and confronts. Trump gets the first part — his brand of performance aims to deploy his audacity and his authority to rev up the audience and soak up attention. But neither at his campaign rallies nor in the opening weeks of his presidency has he challenged the crowds’ thinking. The Trump Show is, as ever, a spectacle, a cavalcade of provocations. It is designed not to prompt thought or even to persuade, but to sell tickets to the next performance."

"Let’s dispense once and for all with the fiction that Donald Trump doesn’t have a strategy. It may be a deeply-flawed strategy for reasons the neophyte president is not yet savvy enough to appreciate, but make no mistake: there is a strategy. . .

He cares less about winning the [travel ban] case than reassuring his base. . .

[T]he president is trying to maintain his populist street cred and show his true believers that he’s not going wobbly on them after five months in Washington, despite back-tracking on more of his campaign promises than he’s kept.

Trump has always been a flashy show horse. . .

[Now w]ith his agenda imperiled, Trump increasingly seems determined to create an aura of effectiveness in the hopes that core supporters already inclined to support him won’t be able to tell the difference between optics and substance. . .

Consider this: 'Trump employed all the trappings traditionally reserved for signing major bills into law as he kicked off ‘infrastructure week’ on Monday: the stately East Room full of dignitaries, a four-piece military band to serenade, celebratory handshakes and souvenir presidential pens for lawmakers, promises of 'a great new era' and a 'revolution' in technology. Yet the documents Trump signed amid all the pomp were not new laws or even an executive order. They were routine letters to Congress, relaying support for a minimally detailed plan in Trump’s budget to transfer control of the nation’s air traffic control system to a private nonprofit group,' the Los Angeles Times’s Noah Bierman reports.

But low-information voters may not be able to tell the difference when they see the b-roll of the ceremony on TV or an image in the paper.

It follows a pattern of Trump over-promising and under-delivering: 'He touted the unveiling of his tax overhaul in April but released only a one-page set of bulleted talking points,' Noah writes. 'Just last week, he tweeted that his tax bill is proceeding ‘ahead of schedule,’ though he has submitted no bill to Congress … Trump held a Rose Garden ceremony in May to celebrate House passage of a bill to repeal Obamacare … even as Republicans in the Senate served notice that the House bill was unacceptable. His promised ‘beautiful wall’ on the southern border is not yet on a drawing board. Likewise, many of the executive orders Trump has signed failed to live up to the president’s rhetoric.'

Bloomberg’s Toluse Olorunnipa noticed an amusing pattern and just posted a smart trend story about it: 'From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on NAFTA and the Paris climate agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just 'two weeks.' It rarely does. … Trump’s habit of self-imposing -- then missing -- two-week deadlines for major announcements has become a staple of his administration … The president has used two-week timelines to sidestep questions from reporters or brag to CEOs at the White House. But his pronouncements have also flummoxed investors, Congress and occasionally even members of his staff.'

Is this strategy gimmicky and cynical? Absolutely. Does it work? For millions of people, yes. . .

The president believes that, so long as grassroots activists back him, his adopted party’s lawmakers will have no choice but to follow. The fact that so many politicians have caved and capitulated over the past two years has taught him that he can get away with his unusual behavior. What the Republican governing class has never understood is that Trump doesn’t really respect people who kowtow to him; he sees it as a sign of their weakness. Seeing such timidity has only emboldened this president to pursue this bottom-up, outside-in approach. There is no evidence he will change until elected Republicans buck him en masse.

Read the Washington Post, Trump signals to his base that he is a man of action.

Trump's Big CON: Mexico Will Pay For His Wall

UPDATE:  Proving the great showman that he is by saying something to entertain his admirers and the masses:

"President Trump has come up with a new idea on how to cover the costs for a proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico: build it from solar panels."

Read the Washington Post, If you thought getting Mexico to pay for the wall couldn’t get weirder, you were wrong.

Of course there are all those pesky technical details that make the plan impossible.

But who cares, it's all 'bout the show, 'bout the show, stupid people!!! (Repeat til you get it).

"In the annals of pathetic climb-downs, this Sunday-morning tweet from President Trump deserves a special place of honor, or perhaps dishonor:

'Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.'

To put those weasel words in context, let me ask a question of all you small-business owners out there. If a customer brings some merchandise to the cash register and promises that one of his neighbors will pay you for it 'eventually .?.?. at a later date .?.?. in some form,' what are your odds of ever seeing that money? How likely is it that “in some form” means cash? Do you let him walk out with the goods, or do you remind him you weren’t born yesterday?

Trump apparently believes we are all hopelessly naive. With his presidency nearing the 100-day mark, he is desperate not to have to acknowledge that his outrageous, ridiculous, impossible campaign promises were, in fact, outrageous, ridiculous and impossible.

There was nothing ambiguous about his pledge to build a wall along the southern border, with Mexico footing the bill. This is what Trump said in August following his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has categorically denied that his country will pay a dime toward the barrier: “Mexico will pay for the wall, believe me, 100?percent. They don’t know it yet, but they will pay for the wall.”

Now, however, Trump is threatening to shut down the government or destabilize the health-insurance market if Congress does not appropriate $1.4 billion to begin work on the wall. So he wants U.S. taxpayers to pay for the thing, amid ever-more-vague promises that Mexico will ante up 'in some form' at some future date. Like, never."

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s border-wall fantasy is crumbling.

Trump's Big CON: Trump's $1B Infrastructure CON

UPDATE II:  "President Trump's "$1 trillion infrastructure plan” isn't $1 trillion and it isn't a plan. It's a $200 billion plan to have a plan that hasn't advanced beyond that stage for six months now.

The administration, though, has decided that this is “infrastructure week,” so this bare outline of an actual proposal is getting touted as if it's something that required more than five minutes of thought. Which is to say that it's not that different from the rest of Trump's agenda: bullet points that seem more appropriate for a tweet than for anything else. . .

It hasn't said how it would spend the $200 billion of its own, or how it would try to get corporations to spend the $800 billion of theirs, or how much that second part would cost in tax breaks. There's nothing to analyze, because there's nothing at all.

But it's not just that Trump doesn't have much of an infrastructure plan. It's that he doesn't have much of a legislative plan to pass it either. . .

Between replacing Obamacare and lifting the debt ceiling and cutting taxes, which, despite Trump's claim to be “moving along in Congress,” doesn't even exist right now, there isn't a lot of time for Republicans to do things before election season is upon us.

Trump has really had a Potemkin presidency so far. He stages elaborate photo ops for executive orders that, with the exception of his stalled travel ban, don't actually do anything of substance. He hosts celebrations for bills that have only passed one chamber of Congress. And he makes a big show out of unveiling half-finished policies that have been that way for a while.

In other words, Trump isn't a successful president, but he plays one on Fox News.

This is due to Trump's 140-character attention span; to his unfamiliarity with, and indifference toward, policy, and to his apparent cable TV-style belief that ratings matter more than results. You can see all of this in his approach to filling the government. The assistant secretaries and undersecretaries who don't make headlines but do make policy are almost entirely absent from the Trump administration. He just hasn't bothered to nominate anyone for those spots. He's been too busy feuding with the mayor of a city that's just suffered a terrorist attack to worry about having a team in place in, say, the Treasury Department. Which is why an infrastructure proposal that should have been fleshed out months ago is still stuck in embryonic form, perpetually “a few weeks away” from being ready.

Until then, make sure to compliment the emperor — I mean president! — on his new clothes.

Read the Washington Post, Trump keeps pretending his infrastructure plan is real. It’s not.

UPDATE:  "During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to spend $1 trillion on an infrastructure program that he likened to those of the New Deal era. When Hillary Clinton called for $275 billion in infrastructure investment, the Republican nominee vowed to spend at least twice that sum.

Last month, the White House released a budget that allocated $200 billion for spurring public-private partnerships in infrastructure investment — while cutting $144 billion from direct public spending on infrastructure.

The president has yet to release the full details of his new vision for repairing America’s crumbling roads and bridges. But a report from the New York Times on Saturday suggested that Trump’s new plan for federal infrastructure spending is to reduce it".

Read New York Magazine, Trump’s Big Infrastructure Idea Is to Privatize Air Traffic Control.

"When President Trump was running for the White House last year, his advocacy of a large investment in infrastructure was often cited as evidence that he wasn’t a traditional Republican. After all, would some doctrinaire conservative propose spending a trillion dollars of taxpayer money on government projects to shore up our roads, bridges and water systems?

But there was a bait-and-switch going on, one that becomes more evident as we get closer to seeing the details. . .

The problem with what the Trump administration proposes is that while the number $1 trillion gets mentioned a lot, that’s not actually what it wants to spend. The budget proposal the White House released called for $200 billion in new infrastructure spending, but Democrats noticed that it simultaneously made over $200 billion in cuts to existing spending. For the most part, the administration wants to pass costs on to state and local governments and hope that private investors come up with the rest of the money. . .

That might save some money in the very short run, but it means that consumers keep paying, basically forever. In the traditional approach, government spends the money to build, say, a bridge, and then it’s built and it belongs to the taxpayers. There are maintenance costs, but that’s it. In the Trump approach, the government gives almost as much money in tax breaks as it would have spent building the bridge, but it belongs to the developer, who charges tolls that everyone who uses the bridge has to keep paying. . .

[In other words this] the basic structure of the plan: having taxpayers give a huge amount of money to private developers, so that those developers can then turn around and charge people even more to use the systems that get built."

Read the Washington Post, Trump will never get help from Democrats in passing his infrastructure plan. Here’s why.

Trump's Big CON: He is The Child President

UPDATE III:  "It is possible that a strong White House chief of staff could help to bring some more order to the current clown car apparatus. And if one assumes that Donald Trump is like other politicians in that he wants to be reelected, this would be the rational course of action.

That said, there are two big honking problems with Bernstein’s argument. The first one is simple: Who would agree to the job at this point? . .

But even if there was some Manic Pixie Dream Staffer just waiting in the wings to be discovered, we get to the fundamental problem with Bernstein’s proposed plan to improve the Trump administration — the president would continue to be Donald Trump. As I’ve noted previously, “The best explanation for Trump’s erratic shifts in behavior is Trump-specific.” Venues ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Vox have concluded that the president is his own worst enemy. For this new structure to exist, Donald Trump would have to sign off on it. He would have to be mature enough to recognize his own management problems. . .

For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been chronicling when Trump’s staff describes him to reporters in terms that make him seem like a truculent toddler. There’s a lot of them. The fact is, the president appears to display massive insecurities, which causes him to turn on any staffer who rises to prominence." [Link in original.]

Read the Washington Post, Why it is impossible for Donald Trump to rise to adequacy.


Read the Washington Post, I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past., which explains:

"Why does Donald Trump behave in the dangerous and seemingly self-destructive ways he does?

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, 'The Art of the Deal,' and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. For me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise. The way he has behaved over the past week — firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision and then disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials — is also entirely predictable.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others. . .

Trump’s worldview was profoundly and self-protectively shaped by his father. . .

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear or you succumbed to it — as he thought his older brother had. This narrow, defensive worldview took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. 'When I look at myself today and I look at myself in the first grade,' he told a recent biographer, 'I’m basically the same.' His development essentially ended in early childhood. . .

Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump sees no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and then undermining the explanatory statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

Trump derives his sense of significance from conquests and accomplishments. 'Can you believe it, Tony?' he would often begin late-night conversations with me, and then go on to describe some new example of his brilliance. But the reassurance he got from even his biggest achievements was always ephemeral and unreliable — and that appears to include being elected president. On the face of it, Trump has more opportunities now to feel significant and accomplished than almost any human being on the planet. But that’s like saying that a heroin addict has his problem licked once he has free and continuous access to the drug. Trump also now has a far bigger and more public stage on which to fail and to feel unworthy.

Any addiction has a predictable pattern — the addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to recreate the desired state. From the very first time I interviewed him in his office in Trump Tower in 1985, the image I had of Trump was that of a black hole. Whatever goes in quickly disappears without a trace. Nothing sustains. It’s forever uncertain when someone or something will throw Trump off his precarious perch — when his sense of equilibrium will be threatened and he’ll feel an overwhelming compulsion to restore it. Beneath his bluff exterior, I always sensed a hurt, incredibly vulnerable little boy who just wanted to be loved.

What Trump craves most deeply is the adulation he has found so ephemeral. This goes a long way toward explaining his need for control and why he simply couldn’t abide Comey, who reportedly refused to accede to Trump’s demand for loyalty and whose continuing investigation into Russian interference in the election campaign last year threatened to bring down his presidency. Trump’s need for unquestioning praise and flattery also helps to explain his hostility to democracy and to a free press — both of which thrive on open dissent. . .

The Trump I got to know had no deep ideological beliefs, nor any passionate feeling about anything but his immediate self-interest.

Over the past week, in the face of criticism from nearly every quarter, Trump’s distrust has almost palpably mushroomed. No importuning by his advisers would stand a chance of constraining him when he feels this deeply triggered. The more he feels at the mercy of forces he cannot control — and he is surely feeling that now — the more resentful, desperate and impulsive he becomes."

UPDATE:  "Trump is a daily reminder of why presidents need protocols and talking points. When someone as inexperienced and impulsive as Trump tries to wing it, the result is chaos or worse. The Lawfare blog, one of the most fair-minded chroniclers of national security issues, reviewed the string of Trump’s recent actions involving intelligence and asked whether he was violating his oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President.” That’s a polite way of asking whether he should be impeached.

The threat to Trump’s presidency is deepening. His credibility is unraveling, with prominent Republicans now voicing concern about his erratic, impulsive decisions. Each new revelation builds the narrative of a man who has been trying to bully or cajole intelligence and law enforcement officials since his election. As one GOP veteran told me: “There are no guardrails for this president.”

Intelligence issues have been at the center of Trump’s troubles since before the election, animated by a strange mix of anxiety, insecurity and vanity. "

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s presidency is beginning to unravel.

"At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif. . .

The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

'We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?'

Read The New York Times, When the World Is Led by a Child.

FYI, the article describes the three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out:

"First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work.

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.

'In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,' he told Time. 'A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,' he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.

By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase 'priming the pump' (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself.

He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he’d be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies.

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much."

Read also Trump's Big CON: Our Boy President.