Washington opened its twitter feeds Saturday to find @realDonaldTrump on an early morning, evidence-free tear about his predecessor, Barack Obama, having done a Nixon and ordered a tap on his phones “just before the victory.”
This reinforced a growing sense across party lines that Trump should really not be president. The Republican party he crashed to get the job knew that all along, of course, but couldn’t bring itself to defy its mesmerised rank and file and deny him the nomination. Came the general election and most voters knew it too, even some who voted for him. But what’s done is done, and the nation and the world will have to put up with the character until January 2021. The constitution says so.
No need, though, to slit our wrists quite yet. The prospect may not be as terrifying as the alarums of the past few weeks portend. You have to remember that since failing in the casino and airline businesses and as a professional sports team owner, Trump has been more a simulated tycoon than the real thing. Now he is going to be a simulated president.
After his string of bankruptcies, Trump pretty much exited property development game as normally understood, aside from investing in a few golf courses. Instead he devoted himself to pumping up the value of his name — playing the highly playable media, having ghostwriters churn out books for him and, above all, starring in The Apprentice — in order to license it for display on other people’s projects (not a few of which tanked nonetheless).
In much the same way he is licensing his brand to the nation to put on its highest office. The fee may not net him as many millions as the Vito Corleone of Ajerbaijan paid to put TRUMP on luxury flats with Caspian views in Baku. But he has been able to double the initiation fee for membership of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach to $200 000 and, among other perks, does have Air Force One at his round-the-clock disposal. Besides, whatever happens, his spot in history, if not on Mount Rushmore, is secure.
Other than that, I predict he will be little more than a flamboyant figurehead. Sure, he will carry on playing the part of President Trump, tweeting away furiously, declaring himself to be the greatest president there ever was (save perhaps Abraham Lincoln to whom he does occasionally defer), all the while taking credit for anything positive that happens, the weather even, and blaming others, especially foreigners, for everything else. But in reality, the management will be in different hands.
Whose? Not, I think, those of the odd bods he has taken into the White House with him.
These include the rumpled Steve Bannon, former Goldman Sachs-er and publisher of Breitbart, the Pravda of the alt-right, who has variously compared himself with Lenin and Henry the Eighth’s Thomas Cromwell, and who sees himself as the chief ideologist of the Trump revolution to “deconstruct the administrative state”.
Then there’s Sebastian Gorka PhD (he insists on using the handle), a beetle-browed Brit of Hungarian stock who has described himself as one of Trump’s “alpha males” and is convinced that to defeat ISIS, we must begin with the correct incantation: “radical Islamic terrorism”. When not yelling at journalists, he threatens to sue national security experts who have genuine experience and know whereof they speak. He likes to pack a Glock which got him into a spot of bother last year when it showed up on an X-ray machine as he tried to board a plane at Reagan National Airport.
In the group also belongs Peter Navarro, an economist in charge of Trump’s newly minted National Trade Council, perhaps the only one who could do real damage if allowed out of the asylum. Navarro has written books warning that China is the new evil empire out to eat America’s lunch. Like a number of Trump’s courtiers, he does not enjoy unqualified respect in his field. Peers note that he has published little serious research in support of his crude mercantilism. Nevertheless, he feels qualified to tell his boss, and the Financial Times, that the US must repatriate its manufacturers’ global value chains. Were that to happen, SA could kiss much of is catalytic converter business goodbye.
But, as I say, I think this pack of eccentrics will sooner or later be sidelined as we move into what might be called the Trump Regency. The Donald may not be quite as mad as George III, but grown ups will move to take charge nonetheless. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior economic adviser Gary Cohn, with help for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the permanent civil service, will quietly make sure that, beneath the Trumpian bluster, we will get a pretty standard Republican administration. They might even find a way to get the US back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.