Pirouetting

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen…Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

So wrote the thoroughly inconsistent Ralph Waldo Emerson in an essay entitled “Self-Reliance”. Donald Trump appears to have been channeling the 19th century American transcendentalist.

As he approaches the symbolic 100 day mark of his presidency, his pirouettes have both dazzled and baffled. CNN’s political staff reported, “Hazarding a guess at the mercurial president’s plans is roughly as fruitful as predicting an earthquake, a person in close touch with the White House said… “Who the hell knows?” another senior Republican source in frequent contact with the White House said. “It’s Donald Trump”.”

On the campaign trail and since, Trump has spoken and tweeted many hard words. Lately he has been eating them.

He threatened trade war with “world champion currency manipulator” China, called NATO “obsolete” and threatened not to honour US commitments to the alliance unless its members pulled their fiscal weight. He was ready to shutter the US Export-Import Bank (Exim) and cashier Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen after a single term. Having failed to muster the votes to “repeal and replace” his predecessor’s signature health care initiative, Obamacare, he announced that, to hell with it, he was moving on to tax reform.

On all these things, and more, the president has changed his mind. A couple of days with Xi Jinping and his “lovely wife” at Mar a Lago, the Palm Beach White House, has improved Trump’s understanding of reality. For now, at least, he accepts that, one, without China there is no solution to the problem of the nutty nuclear-armed Kim dynasty in North Korea and, two. the only currency manipulation Beijing is currently engaged in involves propping the yuan up against the dollar, not pushing it down.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came to the White House. Trump, reminded that the alliance was fighting terrorism shoulder to shoulder with the US, and had been since 9/11, decided that it was “no longer obsolete”. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney stopped by and explained how Exim helped him sell aircraft to foreign customers who might otherwise shop elsewhere. Another Damascus moment for the president. Exim, he told the Wall Street Journal, was “useful”. In the same interview, he endorsed Yellen for a second term, having earlier said she should be “ashamed” for holding interest rates down under the Obama administration to create a “false” impression of recovery.

Unendorsed, on other hand, was Steve Bannon, propagandist for the America First Trumpism of the election campaign which, for now at least, seems to be going the way of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, though with more of a scowl than a smile.

Trump, as confidence man, has alway seen strategic value in being misunderstood. One can see why, in his current predicament, he would reckon consistency foolish. As vain as he is, he has to know his presidency is off to a terrible start. He’s in danger of being lumped with real duds like Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover.

The Republicans he nominally leads have majorities in both chambers of the national legislature. Thus far, they have proved unable to govern together.

To get things rolling, all he wanted them to do was get rid of Obamacare and put something, anything, in its place. Just let him have a bill to sign for the cameras which would, on paper at least, free up funds for the other things he promised — the Mexico wall, a trillion dollar infrastructure spend and tax reform to broaden the revenue base while cutting rates. No, said the true believers who believe that no one who cannot afford it has a right to life saving medicine any more than they have a right to own a car or an iPhone.

Now Trump is discovering that next to reforming the tax code, so many and so well-organised and financed are the entrenched interests that replacing Obamacare should have been child’s play. He wants to go back and try again.

Polls show that most Americans, working class Trumpsters included, would like to see Obamacare replaced, not with the unrestricted market Darwinism favoured in varying degrees by Republicans, but by making available to all the socialized medical benefits that already exist for retirees, children and military veterans

A mind that wanted to be though big and unfettered by hobgoblins might be willing to work with Democrats for such a solution, especially if the alternative was to go down as a loser, fired after one term.

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A cancer on the presidency?

Is Kremlin-gate a lethal cancer on the Trump presidency, the way the Watergate cover-up was for Richard Nixon? Or is it more akin to Whitewater, the pseudo-scandal named after a failed property development that blighted, but did not destroy, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s tenancy of White House.

Just as many Democrats question Donald Trump’s legitimacy today, so many Republicans rejected Clinton’s in 1992. They went hunting for skeletons Billary left behind when they came to Washington from Little Rock, Arkansas, where Bill had been governor and which was by no means the ethics capital of America.

Smelling smoke from the Whitewater deal and other Clintons schemes to improve their then scant net worth, the haters blew as hard as they could to coax up a flame. Vince Foster, a friend and law partner the Clintons brought with them from Little Rock, committed suicide under circumstances readily construable as mysterious, and, voila, you had the makings of an inferno.

Then, as now, there were plenty of fake news artists at the ready with phony inflammables. Before long, journals like the American Spectator with funding from well-heeled right-wingers were spinning ripping yarns. One set had Governor Clinton running drugs and guns from a clandestine airbase called Mena.

Special prosecutor, Senate hearings and all the other trappings of a really good Washington -Gate followed. But the Clinton funeral pyre refused to light, at least while built on Whitewater. Then the Big Dog torched himself by “not having sex with that woman”, the intern Monica Lewinski, which got him impeached for lying under oath. He survived, nonetheless, and would be remembered as one of the better ones.

I am beginning to think that Kremlin-gate may turn out to be a squib as damp as Whitewater would have been without the stained blue dress to keep Republican hopes alive.

For the FBI to be officially investigating whether a sitting president and/or members of his entourage colluded with an unfriendly foreign power to secure his election is without precedent. Only Nixon’s intrigues to derail Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Vietnam peace efforts comes close, and that involved collusion with friend rather than foe.

However, as much of a first as the present investigation may be, there is as yet nothing that points to any kind of active or conscious conspiracy between Trump himself and the Russian government to nobble the election.

The US intelligence community is on record as having a high level of confidence that the Kremlin was involved in hacking and leaking internal Democratic Party communications in a manner calculated to prejudice the chances of nominee Hillary Clinton. Beyond that, there are plenty dots but no firm connection between them. Trump’s publicly stated admiration for Vladimir Putin over the course of the campaign may tell us something about his character and instincts but is not proof of treason. When Trump invited Putin to share any emails he had hacked from Clinton’s personal server, he was clearly being flippant.

We know that Team Trump at one point included in the swamp creature of all Washington swamp creatures, Paul Manafort, and the weird one time Robin to Manafort’s Batman, Roger Stone. Manafort, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press, had a $10 million a year contract to influence US policy financed by an oligarch close to Putin. Stone, who cut his incisors as a political dirty trickster or “ratf..ker” for Nixon, bragged about knowing in advance what Russian-hacked documents were going to strike the Clinton campaign next.

But this also needs to be remembered: when Manafort’s work for Putin’s gauleiter in Ukraine became known last August, Trump dumped him as campaign chairman. As for Stone, best one can tell he’s a legend in his own, not Trump’s mind.

So where does that leave us? I’m inclined for now to go with the judgement of Mark Cuban, a real self-made billionaire who built a successful computer business, owns the Dallas Mavericks, a top tier pro basketball franchise, and stars in his own reality TV show, Shark Tank. Cuban knows Trump. They talk. There was even thought of him as Trump’s running mate. On Saturday, he delivered, in a stream of tweets, his verdict on Trump and Russia.

Trump’s abiding focus, he said, was his wallet which was under growing stress, “Businesses from Trump steaks to Trump U(niversity) were awful. His kids probably saved his net worth. What he did care about was his cash. He spent almost all of it in his campaign.” Russians were willing to buy his condos, invest in his branded buildings and host his Miss Universe beauty pageant. So “he spoke favourably about Putin to get $ out of Russia and into Trump deals”.

Putin “recognised Trump’s greed and took advantage by back channelling coordinated misinformation in an attempt to influence voters.” Trump didn’t care much, one way or the other. “I talked to him…(and) people close to him during the campaign. He never thought he would win.”