Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Stage magicians call it “sleight of hand.” According to Wikipedia, the term “refers to fine motor skills when used by performing artists in different art forms to entertain or manipulate. … It makes use of everyday items as props, such as cards, coins, rubber bands, paper, phones and even saltshakers. A well-performed sleight looks like an ordinary, natural and completely innocent gesture, change in hand-position or body posture. In addition to manual dexterity, sleight of hand in close-up magic depends on the use of psychology, timing, misdirection, and natural choreography in accomplishing a magical effect.”
It’s become clear during the two years of Donald Trump’s political career — 19 months as a candidate and five months as President — that he’s perfected his own styles of sleight of hand, particularly involving Twitter. Every time his campaign or his political standing runs into trouble, especially when he’s trying to do something really unpopular like taking access to health care away from 22, 23 or 32 million people (depending on whether Congress adopts the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, the House of Representatives’ American Health Care Act, or nothing at all to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so-called “Obamacare”), he sends a bunch of nasty tweets about some totally irrelevant topic and gets the public in general and the news media in particular talking about it instead of the really important issues.
It happened at the end of June, when Trump sent a couple of tweets (he had to split the message in two because his invective was too long to fit in just one) attacking Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, co-hosts of a morning show on MS-NBC called Morning Joe. The combined messages read, “I heard poorly rated ‘Morning Joe’ speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
The tweets were vintage Trump, containing insulting nicknames for his targets (“Psycho Joe,” “Low-IQ Crazy Mika”), attacks on their popularity (just about any TV program Trump goes after is “low-rated,” just as every newspaper he attacks is “failing”), and manifestations of Trump’s weird (to say the least) attitudes towards women. A lot of commentators dragged out the mini-controversy from late 2015 when, asked a tough question by Megyn Kelly during a Republican debate about his history of insulting women, Trump responded with an attack on Kelly as a woman: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”
The story got weirder in the next few days, as Scarborough and Brzezinski put off their planned vacation so they could do their show June 30 and respond to Trump both on MS-NBC and in an op-ed column in the “failing” Washington Post. They claimed that the previous summer the National Enquirer had planned to run a story announcing that they were an off-screen couple. Scarborough and Brzezinski were both divorced and had started dating each other, but they hadn’t publicly announced that. In their typical style, the Enquirer was planning to “expose” their affair in breathless terms that would hint that there was something at best untoward and at worst immoral about two single adults who worked together having a romantic relationship.
According to Scarborough and Brzezinski, “This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.” That’s how they explained it in the Washington Post; on their show they were even more explicit, saying that various Trump aides had called them and implored them to make up with Trump, apologize for every criticism they’d made of him on Morning Joe and agree never to say anything bad about him again.
Of course, that’s not what Donald Trump said happened. He sent out — you guessed it — a third tweet, in which he said he’d just watched the “low rated @Morning_Joe for [the] first time in [a] long time.” Trump denounced Morning Joe as “FAKE NEWS” — his all-purpose denunciation of any media outlet that reports something he doesn’t like — and said Scarborough and Brzezinski had come to him to ask him to get the Enquirer piece about them suppressed. “I said no! Bad show,” Trump tweeted.
By starting a controversy over two amorously linked hosts on a morning talk show not that many people watch, Trump took attention away from the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass the health-care law aimed at “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act, as well as his own new suggestion that Congress simply junk the Affordable Care Act without replacing it — which would increase the number of people left without health insurance by another 9 to 10 million on top of the 22 to 23 million who will lose it under the bill the House passed and the one the Senate is considering.
Trump also took public attention away from the commission he formed to investigate so-called “voter fraud” but which is really, critics argue, an attempt to implement the Republican agenda of voter suppression nationwide. Chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence and vice-chaired by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who’s already pushed through his state one of the most aggressive voter-suppression efforts in the country, the commission is clearly part of a Republican campaign to stay in power forever by making sure groups likely to vote against them — poor people, young people, people of color — won’t be able to vote at all.
Astonishingly, the day the media were obsessed with Trump’s tweet war with a couple of talk-show hosts, the elections commission came up with a remarkable demand. It told all 50 secretaries of state in the U.S. to turn over vast quantities of personal information on all their registered voters, including names, addresses, party registration, which elections they’d voted in since 2006, military and criminal histories, and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. (This meant that Kansas Secretary of State Kobach cannot legally fulfill rhe request of Election Integrity Commission vice-chair Kobach because Kansas law forbids him from releasing data on Kansans’ Social Security numbers.)
When at least 19 secretaries of state said they would refuse to comply with this highly unusual and morally and legally questionable order, Trump fumed on Twitter. “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL,” he tweeted. “What are they trying to hide?” In other tweets, he claimed that MS-NBC had let show host Greta Van Susteren go because she refused to go along with the network’s “Trump Hate” agenda, and exulted that CNN had now been established as “Fake News and garbage journalism” since they’d had to retract a story about one specific Trump administration official meeting with Russians to discuss influencing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Trump’s Travels Abroad
All of this occurred on the eve of what was probably the most consequential foreign trip of Trump’s still-young Presidency: his scheduled meeting with the other heads of state of the so-called “G-20,” the world’s 19 most economically developed nations plus the European Union, in Hamburg, Germany. So far the coverage of the meeting in Hamburg has been mostly about the anti-globalization protesters that have massed in the streets, as they usually do at such meetings (and have since the World Trade Organization ministerial conference that was disrupted in Seattle in 1999), but the big news about Trump’s visit was his meeting not only with Putin, but the day before with President Andrzej Duda of Poland.
Duda won the presidency of Poland in 2015, in an election that saw his political party, Law and Justice, sweep to power in Poland’s legislature as well. One of the first things they did was pass a law putting all publicly owned media outlets under the government’s direct control, so Duda’s government can literally fire editors if they don’t like what their media are reporting. Did President Trump say this was a bad thing? Did he say, as U.S. Presidents generally do when they visit authoritarian countries, that granting freedom of the press not only helps the media, but helps the government avoid mistakes and get an early warning of what the people are thinking?
Not on your life. Instead he once again took up the cudgels against so-called “fake news,” which Trump seems to define as “any news report that makes me look bad.” Trump told Duda that CNN has “been fake news for a long time. They’ve been covering me in a very dishonest way,” and he added that “NBC is equally as bad” as CNN, “despite the fact that I made them a fortune with The Apprentice, but they forgot that.” That night, Lawrence O’Donnell tore into Trump over that assertion, saying Trump seems to think that since his show made NBC money, they owe him and have a moral obligation to be nice to him from then on. O’Donnell sarcastically asked if Trump would think NBC also had an obligation to comedian Bill Cosby to go easy on him in their coverage of the rape allegations against him, especially since The Cosby Show made NBC a lot more money than The Apprentice ever did.
Once again, Trump laid bare the authoritarian, dictatorial nature of his idea of government and how a president should be allowed to act. He does not and has never wanted to be a powerful but still limited elected leader, responsible to two other equal branches of government set up by the Constitution he swore an oath of office to defend (and which he knows so little about he doesn’t even know how many articles it contains). Rather, he sees himself as a plebiscitary dictator, and he gets along best with other national leaders who took power in previously democratic countries and turned them into authoritarian states: Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Poland’s Andrzej Duda, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
Trump’s visceral distaste for the whole idea of democracy has been in evidence ever since he started his Presidential campaign two years ago. His obvious comfort level not only with authoritarian presidents who run countries that used to be democracies until they elected them but with leaders like the king of Saudi Arabia, which isn’t a democracy and has never pretended to be, contrasts vividly with the way he treats leaders who got elected and take the whole notion of being “servants of the people” seriously. I’ve been fascinated by the pained expression Trump seems to assume every time he’s forced to be in the same room with Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, as if he’s thinking, “I already took down one blonde bitch who thought she was smarter than me. I’ll take down this one, too.”
This is also the secret behind Trump’s refusal to ackowledge publicly that the Russian government attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. After all, during the campaign he said he would accept the election result “if I win,” and after he did win in the Electoral College but still lost the popular vote, he made up the myth of “3 to 5 million illegal votes” cast against him, without which he would have won the popular vote as well. Trump sees himself in classic fascist terms as a “man of destiny” who emerged at precisely the time the nation was beset with such grave problems that only he could fix them, and thus he thinks that if Vladimir Putin’s government really did manipulate the election results in his favor, he did both Donald Trump and the U.S. (whose interests he regards as identical) a great service and he should be thanked for it, not excoriated. I suspect Trump also doesn’t want to alienate Putin over the election issue because he’s hoping Putin will do it again for him in 2018 and 2020.
Truth Is Irrelevant
Perhaps the most remarkable attribute of the Trump Presidency is how fiercely his supporters remain loyal to him even though on virtually every major issue except two — immigration and the environment — he’s done exactly the opposite of what he promised during the campaign. He ran as a sort of populist tribune, promising a fair shake for working-class America, and he’s governed as the child of privilege he is. Indeed, in his willingness to buy his way into public office and, once elected, use it to enrich himself, he’s exactly the sort of 1880’s ultra-rich politician the original Populists of the 1890’s were rebelling and organizing against.
Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of crony capitalists; in office, he let Citibank CEO Jamie Dimon write his policy towards the financial industry (and even paraded Dimon in front of his supporters and boasted about doing it!) and he became the fourth President in a row to appoint a Treasury Secretary who used to work at Goldman Sachs. He promised the American people he would replace the Affordable Care Act (so-called “Obamacare”) with something that would cover more Americans, charge them less in premiums and offer lower deductibles — and then he endorsed bills sponsored by Congressional Republicans that would cover fewer people and make the ones still covered pay more for less insurance.
Trump can engage in this sort of duplicity because he has never regarded “telling the truth” as a virtue. All politicians lie — hell, all people lie — but most liars do so from a consciousness that truth is morally superior to falsehood. Most people who lie construct their lies carefully, invoking as much truth as possible and deviating from it only to the extent they have to in order to achieve whatever they set out to do with their lie. Most people want to be seen as telling the truth, even when they’re not, if only because they believe the only way they can get people to believe them when they lie is if they carefully construct a reputation for not lying.
Donald Trump couldn’t care less about the veracity of whatever comes out of his mouth. To Trump, words are simply means of persuasion, weapons to get the suckers out there to buy his condos, visit his casinos, attend Trump University or vote for him. That’s why critics who say Trump is “violating his campaign promises” on health care by supporting the Republican health bills are, as usual, missing the point. Trump never had any intention of keeping his campaign promises. To him, they were just what he had to say to win enough votes to get elected. He couldn’t care less about the promises he made during the campaign or the people pathetic, naïve or just plain stupid enough to believe them. If they really believed what Trump promised them during the campaign — that they could have better health coverage than what the Affordable Care Act offered for a fraction of the cost — that only proved they were “losers” and he needn’t bother with them.
Indeed, one of the few topics on which Trump has been relatively honest is his contempt for his own voter base. During the campaign he famously boasted that he could shoot someone dead in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York and it wouldn’t affect his poll ratings one way or the other. After the election, he bluntly told attendees at a campaign-style rally in Louisiana, “I don’t need your votes anymore. Maybe in four years I will.” And it’s become clear, not only in his appointment of a panel to investigate “voter fraud” but his selections of who to put on it — including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as its vice-chair and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (widely accused of rigging his state’s voter process in 2004 to make sure President George W. Bush carried the state and therefore got re-elected) as one of its members — indicate Trump’s clear endorsement of the long-term Republican strategy to ensure permanent dominance of American politics by preventing people who would vote against Republicans from being able to vote at all.
Trump’s response to the critics who say he is “not Presidential” — i.e., that he’s not behaving according to the norms lived by the 43 people who preceded him in the office — was to tweet that his style is “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” (The all-caps are his, not mine.) It’s an indication that Trump sees himself as a world-historical transition figure who has divorced himself from the way things have “always” been done. He wants not only Americans but everyone in the world to divide future history into B.T. and A.T. That’s one reason German Chancellor Angela Merkel can’t stand him: not only has he made his visceral distaste for her as both a political leader and a woman abundantly clear, but her country has been run by people like Trump before: Frederick the Great, Otto von Bismarck, both Kaisers Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler.
Indeed, one thing people often forget about Angela Merkel is she’s actually lived in a dictatorship. Though Merkel was actually born in Hamburg, site of the recent G-20 meeting at which she and Trump clashed publicly over climate change, in 1954, when she was just three months old, her family moved to the town of Brandenburg, which was then in the so-called “German Democratic Republic” — the official name of the Communist-controlled state of East Germany. She lived in East Germany until the two German states were reunited in 1990, and when she came of age she insisted on a Roman Catholic confirmation ceremony instead of the secular Jugendweihe (“youth consecration”) most East German young adults accepted.
As a student at the University of Leipzig Merkel successfully organized a private student recreation center even though the East German government generally forbade any sort of independent political or social activity. When Merkel graduated from college in 1978 after having studied chemistry, physics and engineering, she was offered a prestigious engineering job but was told that to get the job she would have to become an informant for the Stasi, the East German secret police. She refused.
A woman who emerged from the country that produced one of history’s most notorious totalitarian governments and herself stood up to another authoritarian regime is obviously not going to be afraid to take on Donald Trump. And a woman whose entire education was focused on hard science is not likely to be impressed by the ignorant prattlings of a real-estate developer who’s decided, based on the loony conspiratorial ramblings of far-Right Web sites, that the idea of human-caused climate change is a hoax cooked up by sinister Chinese who want to get America to de-industrialize. If Trump really thinks Angela Merkel is another Hillary Clinton, someone he can bully, manipulate or politically eliminate, he’s got another think coming.
Democrats’ Own Sleight-of-Hand
Alas, no one in Trump’s domestic opposition seems to have either the commitment, the perseverance or the political skill of Angela Merkel. Indeed, the Democrats have been largely committed to their own sleight of hand, attempting with bizarre ineptitude to portray Trump as a pawn of the Russian government in general and Vladimir Putin in particular. They have got exactly nowhere with this.
It seemed like a good idea when they started this effort in the later stages of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Word had started trickling out from the U.S. intelligence community, despite their much-vaunted reputation for keeping secrets, that there was serious evidence that Russia was trying to use dirty tricks to affect the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election. The indications were that Russia’s motives were twofold: to make Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, the next U.S. President and to cast doubt on the whole idea of representative democracy worldwide.
Then-President Barack Obama slapped a few sanctions on Russia, singling out 35 individual Russians for currency controls and confiscating two Russian diplomatic safe houses, one in New York and one in Maryland. He didn’t do more because he didn’t want to be seen as himself trying to manipulate the 2016 election in Clinton’s favor. At a meeting between Democratic and Republican Congressmembers, the Republicans made it clear that any attempt on the part of Obama or Congressional Democrats to make the alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. election a campaign issue would be met with a furious attack accusing the Democrats of turning Russia into a partisan football to salvage Clinton’s foundering campaign.
When the election was over and Trump was President-elect, the Democrats still sought to use Russia as a campaign issue. Their reasoning was that for generations — at least since the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union emerged as the U.S.’s leading rival for global influence and power; and to some extent since 1921, when the four-year Russian revolution and civil war left Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party in total control of the Russian empire — Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, had been conditioned to hate Russia and everything it stood for. Therefore, Democratic strategists figured, if there was any wedge point at which they could split Trump from Congressional Republicans, or Trump from his voter base, it would be over Russia and Trump’s obvious sympathies for the successor state to what President Reagan had famously called the “Evil Empire.”
Only it hasn’t worked. Whatever they may think of his personal style, Congressional Republicans still see Trump as the President who will help them push through their agenda and who will sign it into law. And Trump’s voter base remains as fanatically devoted to him as ever. Indeed, as NBC foreign bureau chief Richard Engel reported on the debut episode of his new MS-NBC show On Assignment July 7, what’s happened is a dramatic turnabout in the attitude of U.S. Republicans towards Russia.
Engel’s reporter, Kelly Cobiella, cited a poll that showed 49 percent of all American Republicans have a positive view of Russia. Cobiella went to Nashville, Tennessee to report that “Christian conservatives are falling in love with Russia — and with Vladimir Putin.” She interviewed successful attorney and Christian conservative G. Klein Preston IV, who called Putin “fantastic.” Cobiella said what attracts people like Preston to Putin is that they share similar Right-wing cultural values, including support for private gun ownership and opposition to abortion and Queer rights. “We’re very similar people,” Preston told her. “In fact, you could take many Russians and put them in a room with people who were from Nashville, Tennessee, and they kind of look the same.” Cobiella showed Preston’s huge collection of Russian dolls and knickknacks, and mentioned his business ties with prominent Russian allies of Putin.
The U.S. Right’s shift in attitudes towards Russia in general and Putin in particular actually began well before Trump. Indeed, one Left-wing writer reviewed the 2015 Conservative Action Political Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. and joked that they were going to endorse Putin for President … of the U.S. The writer was being facetious, of course, but much of the rhetoric at that year’s conference was praise for Putin as the anti-Obama, the masculine, butch leader who wasn’t afraid to use his country’s power to advance its interests, and who went out and shot bears instead of lounging around the White House wearing “mom jeans” (whatever they are).
Indeed, one could argue that what a lot of the Republican voters who made Trump first their party’s nominee and then President were hoping for was a kind of American Putin: a tough, no-nonsense leader who would put “America First” (the phrase Trump adopted for his ideology, seemingly unaware that it had originated to describe the 1930’s isolationists, many of them secret or not-so-secret supporters of fascist dictators like Mussolini and Hitler, who organized campaigns to keep the U.S. out of World War II and duped many liberal pacifists and progressives into joining them) and wouldn’t wimp out on “red lines” in foreign relations the way they felt Obama had.
It’s become highly discouraging to watch MS-NBC, supposedly the liberal voice in the U.S. corporate media counterpointing Fox News, and hear its ordinarily intelligent hosts — Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hayes and others — belabor the Trump-Russia connection and go on and on and on about it as if it actually mattered. It doesn’t. Even the Right-wingers who haven’t totally drunk Putin’s Kool-Aid and moved from bitter enemies of Soviet Russia to staunch supporters of post-Soviet Russia couldn’t care less about Trump’s Russia connection.
To them, Trump is delivering the goods on immigration, ending economic and environmental regulation, wiping out the Affordable Care Act and promising “tax reform” that will, according to the Libertarian ideology that rules the Republican Party, be good because it will reward the “makers” at the top of the wealth and income distribution and punish the “moochers” and “takers” — i.e., everyone else. Indeed, much of the Republican voter base could describe itself thusly: “We are the 99 percent voting to make the 1 percent even richer, because they deserve it.”
The pathetic propagandists in the Democratic Party and on MS-NBC keep trying to compare the Trump-Russia scandals to the Watergate break-in and cover-up that brought down the Presidency of Richard Nixon. They needn’t bother. Watergate was far less complicated; when five people are caught breaking into the headquarters of one of America’s two major political parties, and one of the people arrested is the chief of security for the Presidential campaign of an incumbent from the other major party and he has a check in his pocket that came from a donor to the President’s campaign, it’s not hard for people to make the connection.
And even then, it took over two years between the arrest of the Watergate burglars and the end of the Nixon Presidency, largely because his supporters in the Republican Party remained blindly loyal to him for so long and couldn’t believe Nixon was personally involved in the cover-up of the connection between the Watergate burglary and the Nixon campaign. Only when the so-called “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972, which definitively proved that Nixon had ordered the CIA to say (falsely) to the FBI that they should abandon their investigation of the Watergate burglary because “national security” issues were involved, was finally released on order of the U.S. Supreme Court in July 1974 did Nixon’s political base finally realize that he was guilty of obstruction of justice and would have to go.
By contrast, no one really understands the Trump-Russia scandal. Though there’s virtually no room for doubt that Russia tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, there’s also no evidence that they actually affected the outcome. The spectacular ineptitude of the Russians’ attempt to sway the 2017 Presidential election in France to their preferred candidate, Marine Le Pen — who lost big-time — only reinforces a healthy skepticism that they did it to us any better than they did it to the French.
All we have from the Trump-Russia investigation so far is a bunch of shadowy “connections” — there is no actual evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians, and when CNN reported that there was the story got exposed as false and they paid for it big-time in their loss of credibility — and a vague allegation that Trump and his people are showing a “consciousness of guilt” by trying to stonewall the investigation. Yes, Trump fired FBI director James Comey and he admitted to NBC reporter Lester Holt that part of his motivation was his irritation that Comey hadn’t quashed the Trump-Russia investigation — but in the same interview he called Comey a “showboat” and a “grandstander,” which suggested that the real reason Trump fired Comey was the threat to his personal ego. In a Donald Trump enterprise, there’s room for only one “showboat” and “grandstander,” and that’s Donald Trump.
So far, Trump has not even begun to face the consequences of his behavior, whether or not it rises to the level of illegality, the way Richard Nixon had to. For one thing, he’s had an impregnable defense: his party controls both houses of Congress, and therefore they’ve been reluctant to investigate him. The chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have both tried to turn the investigation of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia into an investigation of the investigations of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia.
They’ve largely followed the Trump playbook that the real scandal isn’t the alleged Trump-Russia connection but the news media’s publication of stories about it, often based on anonymous sources which Trump himself has alleged don’t really exist. In Trumpland, the reporters are simply making this stuff up and attributing it to nonexistent “sources.” Indeed, this is one of many instances in which Trump attributes his own misdeeds to others: at least one reporter during the Trump campaign said that years before, he’d received an anonymous phone call from a “source” bolstering Trump’s view of a real-estate deal the reporter was writing about — and it soon dawned on him he was talking to Donald Trump himself.
More recently, news media have alleged that they’re being shopped false stories about connections between particular Trump associates or campaign officials and Russians. On her July 6 program, Rachel Maddow exposed one such document which her crew had been offered, pointing out that the paper it was printed on had similar, though fainter, watermarks to the ones on the genuine National Security Agency (NSA) document on Russian attempts to hack U.S. voting equipment and software leaked a month earlier by NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner. According to Maddow, the same tell-tale marks on the document, left by the printer Winner used to print it out, were on the fake document, indicating that whoever manufactured it had used Winner’s genuine leaked document as the template.
It’s unclear just where the fake document Maddow’s team got offered came from, but it certainly suggests that either Trump’s own team or some free-lance Right-wing media provocateurs are deliberately faking embarrassing Trump-Russia news stories which they can then expose as untrue and discourage the mainstream media from doing any more reporting on the issue. It suggests that the story CNN ran accusing Trump transition team member Anthony Scaramucci of having a secret meeting with Russian investment banker Kirill Dmitriev, which led to the resignations of three CNN staff members and a series of crowing tweets from Trump and his friends denouncing CNN as “fake news” and “fraud news,” may have been a similar setup, and CNN’s people, unlike Maddow’s, ran with it without taking the proper precautions to check it out first.
And President Trump isn’t the only Republican politician in the country who is using classic sleight-of-hand tactics to take on the media and discredit any attacks they may level against him in advance. The Portland [Maine] Press-Herald reported on July 6 (http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/06/lepage-blasts-media-for-inaccurate-reporting-on-his-vacation-plans/) that Maine’s controversial Republican governor Paul LePage had told a friendly talk-show host he frequently and deliberately feeds false stories to the media. “I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories,” LePage told the host. “They are just so stupid it’s awful. I tell you, the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.”
On January 16, 1787, Thomas Jefferson, then serving as U.S. Ambassador to France, wrote his friend Edward Carrington, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”
That is an indication of how far we have descended in this country — from Thomas Jefferson, who called not only for the protection of a free press but a robust public education system to make sure that everyone would be capable of reading and understanding news — to Donald Trump, who has called America’s media “the enemy of the people”; Paul LePage, who can’t wait to see newspapers go the way of horse-drawn carriages; and Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, billionaire campaign donor and “Christian conservative” activist Betsy DeVos, who wants to eviscerate public schools and turn U.S. education into yet another commodity you only get if you can afford to pay for it.
Make no mistake about it: Donald Trump is a master manipulator. It’s not that he has never known failure, but he has always been able to snatch victory from the jaws of disaster. He did it in 1991, when he got his bankers to avoid foreclosing on his bankrupt Atlantic City casinos by convincing them the casinos would be more valuable with his name on them than without it. He did it again and again during the Presidential campaign, when he came back from disasters that would have sunk a lesser person.
And he’s done it as President, carefully cultivating an image of a “disorganized” and even “chaotic” Presidency while he quietly goes about achieving every item on his real agenda — not the pie-in-the-sky one he sold his working-class and senior citizen voters, but to make himself and his rich friends richer and ensure the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry even if that means the long-term utter destruction of the world’s environment and ability to sustain human life.
The truth about Donald Trump is he’s a visionary who intends not only to fulfill his dark vision of his country’s — and the world’s — future, but to stay in power perpetually. It’s clear that he has no intention of letting the Trump family relinquish power when his age and the 22nd Amendment term him out of the Presidency in 2025. The extensive and wide-ranging portfolio he’s assigned to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is clear evidence he’s grooming Kushner for the succession — and his daughter Ivanka Trump Kushner to succeed him in 2033.
The perpetual power of the Republican Party in general and the Trump family in particular over American politics is not inevitable. But so far no one — not the Democratic Party, not the media, not the popular resistance that has assembled in the streets to challenge his insanely destructive policies — has figured out how to stop him. Ending the Trump regime and returning the U.S. to its former status as a bourgeois constitutional democracy is going to be an extraordinarily difficult process, requiring kinds of organizing no one in this country has yet conceived of, and the sooner we face that the better.