Trump’s Universe

It is a testament to the creativity of the human mind that it can identify patterns in the random distribution of stars in the night sky. As a heuristic device to identify the location of stars and planets such patterns are helpful. To believe, however, there is some intelligible logos to the distribution of the stars and that indeed they contribute to our understanding of events on earth, nay help predict them is, at best, mistaken.

Over the years many people have made a living out of  interpreting what is written in the stars. Soothsayers, oracles, priests, astrologers have all claimed to discern the shape of events from their careful observation of celestial movements. A more enlightened time has dismissed such claims as nonsense.

However, our own time does have a new priestly cast, they sit around the Trump cabinet table, inhabit the Whitehouse press office and some of the global media. They all claim to be able to discern a strategic direction to US policy on defence, the economy, international relations, immigration and a great deal more from the random tweets and off-the-cuff pronouncements of the Commander in Chief. Some of these are paid to do it, some are ideologically determined to do it but some are just falling prey to the natural human desire to uncover patterns in random observations whether they be of tea leaves, hens entrails, clouds or the disposition of the stars in the sky.

Of course Newton was able to describe a force that shapes the course of the stars in his theory of gravity. In the Trump universe the equivalent is money. If you really want to determine the logic behind the random acts of Trump follow the money. Clearly, the multi-billionaire never loses site of the money he has, refusing to effectively divest himself of his business interests, using his own properties to host government events, allegedly using foreign policy to secure loans for his son-in-law and securing patents for his daughter.

However, just as theoretical physicists could not identify enough gravity to explain the movements of galaxies it seems there does not appear to  be enough visible money to explain all Trumps behaviour. The physicists came up with dark matter. They are sure it is there but they haven’t been able to find it yet. In the Trump universe the equivalent is dark money. Money which has been laundered by Trump for a price. People are pretty sure it is there and Special Councel Mueller is busy searching for it. Many think it emanates from the Dark Star of Putin’s Russia, in a whole range or real estate investments by Russian oligarchs. We will see.

Of course our universe is animated by a force which overwhelms gravity and matter which again is invisible and labeled by the scientists as dark energy. This is a force which is making our universe expand at an accelerating rate. The animating force in Universe Trump is of course the man himself, Dark Tump. Dark Trump has the same single, self regarding purpose as dark energy. He has the same moral consideration and empathy for others, for the avoidance of doubt – none.

Just as dark energy pushes all before it with mindless abandon and disregard so Trump, the man, barges around the world expanding the realm of chaos from which he expects to profit. He has one focus of interest which is himself and his wealth and he does not, and indeed cannot, distinguish between them. They are one and the same.

With Trump, it seems that presence makes the brain go softer. Seventeen months in to his Presidency people are still trying to make sense of him, or still hoping that “adults in the room” will eventually tame him. His campaign was outrageous and Dark Trump has been accelerating that outrageousness ever since he got elected. He has increased our tolerance of venality and corruption with his appointment of like minded people to major offices of state. The sacking of Scott Pruitt should not be seen as a high water mark more a way station to further excess.

Trump is an existential threat to the US and worse. He is currently propped up by a supine GOP which is beholden to the providers of dark money who gain from Trump’s tax reducing agenda. If his actions in relation to the global economy trigger a financial crisis he will be dropped like a hot stone. However the Democrats need to reach out to the so called “basket of deplorables” with credible policies to address their real concerns if Trump is not to be replaced by Trump 2 who may be slightly less boorish but no less divisive.

I mentioned earlier that there some of the new priestly caste are in the global media and some of these are people who should know better. One who does is Martin Wolf of the FT who started a recent article about the growing trade wars with, “The leader of the world’s most powerful country is a dangerous ignoramus.” Clear sighted as ever Wolf sees the the essence of Dark Trump.

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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.

 

 

President as C E Ohhh!

Many of those that elected President Trump voted for him because he was a business man. They thought if he could run a successful business empire, 4 bankruptcies notwithstanding, he should have transferable skills to run the country efficiently. The case is often made that people successful in business will almost certainly be better at running government than career politicians and it is clear President Trump believes this also.

Whilst there may be superficial similarities and some overlapping skill sets, such as managing people and negotiating there are profound differences which in truth mean the two jobs are not just quantitively different they are qualitatively different as well.

Firstly, there is a level of accountability in government that is far in excess of that of both public and private companies. It is one thing to give a motivational speech at the staff conference to a group of people who’s careers depend in large part on your view of them. It is a wholly different issue to have your every utterance picked over by your peers who have a career interest in demonstrating that what you are doing is wrong.

The relative power and ability to challenge of, on the one hand, staff, customers and shareholders and on the other Congress, pressure groups and the media is immense. In the former case the executive has an information resource which translates into a real power advantage. In the latter it may often be the case that citizens, think tanks and pressure groups are much more informed about an issue than the President. Worse they can demonstrate in public his ignorance.

There is also an important difference in the relationship between means and ends. In most businesses there is a fairly well defined objective in terms of growth and profit. There may be debates about how this is achieved but those debates are largely within a relative well defined area. In politics the ends are often in question and the means so diverse and contested as to reignite challenge as to the nature of the ends.

Another huge difference lies in relation to the transparency of the processes of government and business. Even where there is not out and out secrecy there is much within business which remains behind the corporate veil. Intellectual property law, commercially sensitive data, compromise agreements for staff leaving organisations all provide more (or less) legitimate protections of corporate information. In liberal democratic governments the presumption is of the peoples’ right to know and only in clearly specified areas, such as national security, is there an ability for the state to limit transparency. Even then there is often oversight by independent individuals to ensure policies are not being breached.

Leading a country is about persuasion, consensus building and the ability to compromise. Running a private business you are the principal owner of is unlikely to be a good learning environment for those skills. Indeed it is very unlikely that direct challenge of any kind is going to flourish. From his behaviour in the course of the campaign and his month in office no one is going to describe President Trump’s management style as collegiate.

He clearly cannot tolerate anyone questioning his view of the world. His behaviour in the recent press conference confirmed this. He is hectoring and plain rude when he deals with people who do not simply say “Yes, Mr President”. His style betrays a lack of real confidence. He seems to need approbation and confirmation of his brilliance.

His continued attacks on Hilary Clinton are instructive, they are those of someone who, despite having won the election, is not convinced he has beaten her. At one point in the press conference he felt compelled to state. “I won the election.” Who was he trying to convince? Himself?

It looks very unlikely that President Trump will learn from his mistakes. Difficult when you do not think you have made any. He will plough on as he has started. As time goes by more and more people will say no to Mr Trump, eventually even those within his “team” will start to abandon him. He will become ever more beleaguered. The outcome is unlikely to be good. There is a chance he may resign in a fit of pique and speak to “his people” about how he has been undermined by the Washington establishment.

Alternatively he may start to manufacture reasons for dismantling the bulwarks of liberal democracy. He has already started undermining the legitimacy of the courts, the press and the opposition in Congress. With a divided America the opportunity for authoritarian action should not be underestimated. The idea that “it can’t happen here” was challenged by Sinclair Lewis in the 1930’s when populist right wing parties were growing across Europe. His warning has a new currency which should not be ignored.

Many see President Trump as an outrageous clown, a gift to the satire industry, a reason to open Twitter to see what latest irrational rant he has supplied for our entertainment. This is a mistake. President Trump is a dangerous liability.

He has identified a genuine and difficult problem. The existing political elite of Republicans and Democrats have failed to protect the interests of many millions of ordinary Americans. That issue will remain after President Trump has gone. Once he has gone if the narrative of “elite conspiracy” gets hold there are a lot of very angry and very well armed Americans who’s remaining faith in democratic change might be destroyed. If he does not go he may well become a genuine threat to American democracy.