Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

10 May 2017

Trump’s “Threefer”

[For comment on our weak Yankee defense against information warfare, click here. For some popular recent posts, click on the links below:
To understand Donald J.Trump, you must recall three things about him. First, his most successful businesses involved selling himself: his name, hotels that hawk his personal style, and his aura of being a “winner”—an aura that sometimes only he can see. His TV reality show was and is far more successful than his Trump University, which tried to teach students something real, namely, how to become a real-estate mogul like Trump without his massive start-up inheritance.

Second, Trump lies a lot. He probably lies more than any politician of national stature, let alone any president, in American history. What’s more, he doesn’t seem to care much when called on his lies. He’ll even confess to lying, as he did in recanting his “birther” lie about Obama’s supposed alien birth.

Third, Trump doesn’t seem to care much whether everyone accepts his lies or his fantastic promises (Wall, anyone?), as long as some do. He seems to be self-satisfied with having his national popularity drop off a cliff as long as 96% of the 40% or so who voted for him still like him. He’s happy with his die-hard loyalists, who will follow him anywhere, even into the jaws of Hell.

Put these three facts together, and you quickly come to the conclusion that perception is far more important to Trump than reality. It’s not what is that matters to him, but what the people he cares about (his fellow rich and his dupes) can be made to believe. He’s a president made for Fox, just as Fox was made for him. His presidency is the natural consequence of an entertainment business’ dominance of our national media.

And so it is with the firing of FBI Director James Comey yesterday. To serious people, only one thing about the firing mattered: what’s going to happen now with the investigation of “Russiagate”? But Trump and his crew made a triple coup, a “threefer,” in public perception.

First, Comey’s firing offered after-the-fact “proof” of Hillary’s criminality, the “rightness” of Trump’s constant charges against her, and the legitimacy of his lose-the-popular-vote election. It wasn’t Comey’s premature and public revelation of the Huma Abedin-Andrew Weiner e-mails, which probably cost Hillary the election, that Trump emphasized in firing Comey. It was Comey’s unilateral decision not to indict Hillary, while criticizing her vociferously in his premature, unilateral public statement. Firing Comey for deciding not to indict Hillary was manna from heaven for Trump’s “Lock her Up!” crew.

But Trump (or his cleverer advisers) didn’t stop there. They didn’t fail to mention Comey’s second gross breach of DOJ protocol: his premature disclosure of confidential evidence (the Abedin-Wiener e-mails) without any analysis or conclusion, leaving conclusion-jumping to Trump’s red-meat crew. The Trump statement cited this breach as an additional reason for firing Comey, as if to say, “Aren’t we even-handed? We fired Comey for both the breach that might have hurt us and the one that gave us the election!” The resulting perception of being “fair and balanced” was the second coup in Trump’s “threefer.”

All of this matters much to Trump’s self-perception as a “winner,” and to vindication of his lies. But in the real world where the rest of us live (and sometimes die for lack of access to health care), none of this matters.

What matters is that Comey, for all his warts, is a highly trained professional of widely acknowledged skill who was leading the most powerful and effective investigatory institution in our federal government in a thorough investigation of “Russiagate.” Now he’s not.

That fact, dear readers, completes the “threefer.” And in the real world where most of us still live, isn’t it by far the most important? Hillary has lost not just the presidency, but her leadership of the Democratic Party. No one is going to relitigate her loss. Comey will go on to a cushy job in a private law firm, an academic sinecure, or a conservative think tank. But who will save America, or even Germany, from the next Russian hacking or cyberattack against the roots of popular rule? Who will even notice the subversion?

That sad fact is that the GOP-controlled Congress appears to be doing nothing. It might be doing something secretly, behind the scenes. But the news we get suggests that that “something” is delaying, denying and obfuscating, not finding, subpoenaing and interviewing even the most obvious witnesses. Indeed, Comey himself was just two days away from testifying before Congress when he was fired.

The only institution that most of us trust that looked as if it were investigating seriously was the FBI. Now it is leaderless. Not only that. The primary target of the investigation has the constitutional power, subject to Senate confirmation, to pick its next leader.

Motive is a slippery thing to gauge. It will be so until advances in fMRI imaging allow us to read minds. But in the absence of mind-reading, we can still assess consequences. Isn’t retarding and perhaps halting the investigation the chief consequence of Comey’s firing, while all else is show?

Think back to our Founding, or to our two American centuries, the nineteenth and twentieth. Wouldn’t any attempt by a foreign power to flip our presidential election and fix our national destiny have been a cause for war? You could almost see an American Cato the Elder inveighing against the perpetrator, saying “Russia delenda est.”

But today, what do we have? We have divided and bickering people’s representatives, who’ve done nothing but posture for sixth months after a successful foreign cyberassault on the foundations of American democracy. We have a GOP more interested in fighting Democrats and preserving a presidency that it once opposed from the beginning than in seeking the roots of the greatest scandal in American history—one far bigger than Watergate or Teapot Dome.

This, gentle reader, is what decay and decline look like. When a society fails to protect itself against blatant foreign threats, can it long survive? when it is so divided among itself that an inimical foreign power can presume to choose its leader with no effective response? without even an effective investigation?

Yes, Trump got his “threefer” of red meat for his base. Yes, his erratic and incompetent administration continues as if all were normal. But deep within the Lubyanka, Vladimir Putin and his KGB cohorts are laughing uproariously while, having failed in France, they turn their cyberguns and fake news on Germany. Neither Donald Trump nor anyone else can “make American great again” until their laughter stops.



Post a Comment

<< Home