A Spectacle of Public Degredation

It is ironic that on both sides of the Atlantic conservative governments are trapped with leaders they would change in the blink of an eye if they could. Here Theresa May is in office but not power and only remains so because the Conservatives cannot identify a leader who would not result in the party tearing itself apart. In the States however the position is much, much worse.

This is a holiday weekend in America and it was preceded by an unprecedented attack by President Trump on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The twitter attack has broadened into a general attack on “fake news” and the “biased media” but the initial tweets did not just challenge the views of the two people involved, they were personally offensive.

There is a risk that familiarity breads indifference. This must not be allowed to happen. Another MSNBC  presenter, Rachel Maddow made two very good points about the attack. The point Ms Maddow’s makes is that it gives some insight into the political method of this President and also the contempt in which he holds the office he holds and the Nation he leads.

In terms of political method it is suggested the twitter storm was consciously created to take the eyes of the American people away from two bad news stories. One is the assessment by the Congressional Budget Office of  the latest Senate proposals for the repeal of Obama Care. As may have been anticipated the cuts are even worse than the Congressional proposals. They have to be in order to fund the tax cuts for the wealthy that the neo-liberal right want to get through.

The second was a story about a Republican supporter called Peter W Smith. In 2016, after it was confirmed the Democratic Party had been hacked by the Russians, Mr Smith pulled together a group to try to make contact with those that had done the hacking with the aim of asking for any emails of Hilary Clinton’s which could be used to undermine her credibility in the election. This would have been collusion with a foreign power who it was known was trying to undermine the US election. More significantly Peter Smith implied he was working with Mike Flynn, President Trumps first National Security advisor who had to be sacked after it was discovered he had lied about contacts with the Russians during the campaign and transition.

There are a number of links in this chain which need to be tested. However, if the Trump campaign was working with Mr Smith and he was trying to get hacked material from a source he knew to be acting on behalf of a foreign government to attack Hilary Clinton then this looks like collusion to undermine the electoral process in the US.

It is clearly true these are two bad stories for the President and provide motive for deflecting the public’s attention away. However, I think Ms Madders overestimates the guile of the President. This man does not think he tweets. He tweets about whatever comes into his head that he gets exercised about with no consideration of the consequences. There is a trap lots have fallen into which is trying to make sense of what this man says. Myself, I think inside of his head ideas roll around with all the logic of fridge magnet letters that have been dropped.

There is however one thing I suspect does provide a thread of consistency through his thoughts and actions. Follow the money. His actions to date in terms of avoiding conflicts of interest by handing over control of his business interests to… his two sons should have been branded outrageous. It is difficult to understand how he has got away with it. Partly it confirms Shakespeare’s line, “If money go before, all ways do lie open”. He uses his wealth as a testament to his ability and his avoidance of  tax as evidence he is smart.

Where I believe Ms Maddow’s is bang on the money is in relation to his disdain for his office and for the consequences of his actions on the standing of the United States of America. There are a number of ultra rich, ultra libertarian individuals in the States who will be happy Trump is in power as it goes to their agenda of undermining popular support for democracy. They need to be careful what they wish for.

Since he was elected Trump has bee driven by his narcissistic personality to confirm he gained the majority of the popular vote despite all evidence to the contrary. He has talked a lot about voter fraud  and indeed has set up the Presidential Election Integrity Commission the vice Chair of which is a man called Chris Kobach. He wrote to all the States Attorney Generals asking for a list of all the voters registered in their State, their address, the party they vote for, their voting history, their date of birth, their social security number, any convictions they have had.

The separation of powers is a testament to the wisdom of the founding fathers and never has it been a more positive benefit. To date the response of all the states has been… NO! In fact the State of Mississippi in its official response to the request said that the Commission could “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico”. This push back is important.

Mike Rogers, Head of the National Security Agency has complained to lawmakers he is frustrated at his inability to get the President to accept Security Agency information about the the Russian attack on the election. At the same time budget proposals put forward by the President propose to withdraw funding ($4m) from the Election Assistance Commission who’s role it is to protect the American voting system that the Russians have just attacked.

President Trump is an uncultured and loutish boor who is undermining the office of the President. That would be bad enough and is a matter for the American people. To the extent that his actions have repercussions around the world and undermine the foundations of democracy it is a matter for all of us. His behaviour is a public spectacle of degradation, worse it is a degradation of his public office.

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I have no idea what the Rachel Maddow show reported prior to the advent of the Trump presidency but since his election, this highly respected show in the US has been devoted to nothing else. It is a testament to the incredible news machine Donald Trump has proved to be that they fill an  hour every weekday night from 9.00pm wholly focused on his Whitehouse.

If we take this past week. On Monday the Washington Post claims Trump revealed classified information to the Russian Foreign Secretary, Sergei Lavrov, in the Oval office.

On Tuesday the National Security Advisor HR McMasters desperately tried to limit the damage claiming the conversation had been “wholly appropriate”. His carefully worded rebuttal then undermined, in a way which is becoming quite familiar, by the President saying he had the “absolute right” to share information with the Russians.

Still on Tuesday, as this story is running, the New York Times reports about an alleged memo written by James Comey, Sacked head of the FBI about a meeting at which President Trump is claimed to have said “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go,” referring to the investigation in to Mike Flynn, Trump’s first National Security Advisor, who was sacked purportedly for lying to the Vice President.

On Wednesday the Acting Attorney General, (Acting because his boss the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from all matters Trump and Russia because of a potential conflict of interest), appoints Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor to take over the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Shades of Archibald Cox, Special Prosecutor of the Watergate scandal. Whilst this is going on Vladimir Putin bizarrely offers to “help” the President by providing a transcript of his meeting with Lavrov.

These are only the headline stories. In parallel there are now a series of formal legal investigations into Mike Flynn and former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort about their long standing business and other connections with Russia.

For someone who professes to hate the media so much President Trump is proving to be a golden goose that can be relied on to lay an egg every day. Some have suggested his current trip out of the country, firstly to Saudi Arabia, will provide a period of respite and a chance for the White House to get onto the front foot. That is the triumph of hope over experience.

Sinclair Lewis’s book, It Can’t Happen Here, is about the election of a rogue populist president in the 1930’s who adopts increasingly authoritarian measures creating a totalitarian, fascist state. At the moment we have a frightening, fictional tragedy being echoed as a sadly, real farce which is making the US a global joke. If the Republicans do not wake up soon that farce may become a tragedy.