Notes on Trump 20

1. Gallup says:

Note: There will be no updates to the Presidential Job Approval Center from Jan. 8 through mid-February 2018. Until then, find weekly Trump job approval updates here. Approval by subgroups will resume on a monthly, rather than weekly, basis.

I’m only interested in GOP subgroups until November 2018 primaries so will only report those monthly unless I become aware of another poll that publicly provides that weekly. (In which case there would be a break from previous figures based on different methods and only future relative changes would be relevant).

2. Stephen Miller on CNN

At 6′:30″ Miller tries to mention that Bannon did not push the travel ban as claimed in the book. The interviewer and all reports I have seen didn’t even notice. This reminds me of the interview in which Trump tried to admit that he knew perfectly well that firing Comey would only prolong the “Russia thing” but they were so keen on the “Russia thing” that they didn’t get it.

3. I’ve now read (or rather “played”) “Fire and Fury” (link in Notes 19). Its well written and quite entertaining. Basically strings together all the gossip already “revealed” by “multiple sources” to indelibly imprint a picture of a completely disfunctional Trump administration heading for Trump’s removal as mentally incompetent. This is exactly what a large audience desperately wants to believe so I am pretty sure they will – and that is the biggest favour anybody could do for Trump.

4. New feature is that some of the “multiple sources” are now more identifiable. Reads like the author was himself the conduit for the vast industry of bizarre reporting of “White House officials” and “friends of Trump” confirming everything that the liberal media want to believe about him.

Main thing I don’t feel confident about is what is going on with Steve Bannon. My view was that Bannon leaving the White House only made it easier for challengers at GOP primaries to openly organize behind Bannon’s forces while White House continued to keep GOP incumbents paralysed. “Evidence” in the book strongly suggests I was (and still am) wrong about that. It worries me that continuing to think what I do continue to think amounts to a preposterously complicated conspiracy theory.

5. Especially puzzling is the reporting of Bannon’s belated walk back of apology for saying that Donald Jr’s attendance at meeting with Russians was “treasonous”:

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2018/01/07/steve-bannon-issues-statement-my-support-is-unwavering-for-trump-and-his-agenda/

Bannon says that his comments were aimed at Trump’s sacked campaign manager Paul Manafort, who attended the meeting with Donald Jr and the Russians (and notoriously  worked previously as a campaigner for a pro-Kremlin oligarch in the Ukraine and has now been charged with money laundering). That confirms Bannon was accurately quoted in the book (apparently based on dinner party hosted and presumably taped by the author). The point Bannon was quoted making very clearly in the book was that the three participants from the Trump campaign were unbelievably brainless.

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.

Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/03/donald-trump-russia-steve-bannon-michael-wolff

(Link is an ad for the Holiday Inn and headline is about “explosive” book).

This vividly argues that the Trump campaign could not possibly have been colluding with the Russians because its leaders were far too clueless and don’t even know how such things are done. (In general the book does not attempt to defend the “Russia thing” that most of the media has been obsessed with – it seems to be part of helping them to slide effortlessly into a substitute dead end).

Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner was also at the meeting. Bannon not mentioning him in the apology does rather more than hint that Bannon is indeed at war with “Javanka” as the book claims.

So far I haven’t noticed any media accounts drawing attention to this, although it screams for attention. My guess is that unlike me they don’t want to admit to not knowing what to make of it initially and will only start blithering when they have decided on a “line”. It was Donald Jr who organized the meeting but not apologizing to Jared combined with Vanity Fair interviews and large slabs of the book about Steve and Jared hating each other strikes me as quite ostentatious in announcing ongoing hostilities (whether honestly or deceptively I cannot be sure).

6. So I admit to not knowing what to make of it and that the best I can come up with at the moment is a preposterously implausible conspiracy theory involving the author, Bannon and Trump helping to provide the idiots with a substitute obsession for when the “Russia thing” peters out (while lulling Trump and Bannon’s paralysed opponents in the GOP into a more complacent state of paralysis).

Bannon’s main financial backers, the Mercers have called on Breitbart to sack him so, as Trump likes to say, “We’ll see”.

7. Meanwhile I will just continue blithering, dumping links here as I read them, not having a current theory that I am fully convinced about myself. (Except that I do not believe anybody mentally incompetent could be as brilliantly successful as Trump in persuading his enemies to “misunderestimate” him.)

Trump is clearly doing his best to publicize the book, following up on legal threats by tweeting about being a “very stable genius”.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-tweet-calls-himself-very-stable-genius-like-smart-slams-michael-wolff-today/

Wikileaks joined in with twitter link to book on Google Drive (which would be instantaneously overloaded). Described inaccurately by CNET as having then deleted the link.

https://www.cnet.com/news/wikileaks-tweets-then-deletes-link-to-full-text-of-trump-book-fire-and-fury/

ABC, Fairfax et al, dutifully describe wikileaks drawing attention to a book about leaks as “unprecedented” and an “attack” to undermine the book’s profits and gloats that the idiot Trump has stupidly promoted those profits by denouncing the book:

Now, in an unprecedented move, Wikileaks has posted a link on Twitter to a Google Drive document that appears to contain the entire manuscript, although it is unclear whether it is the final version that went to publication.

WikiLeaks has given no explanation for its move.

It is unclear whether it was seeking to undermine the book’s sales or simply provide an alternative copy of the book, since it sold out.

But it is the second time WikiLeaks has apparently supported the US President.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the whistleblowing site published a substantial number of embarrassing emails from Hillary Clinton that undermined her campaign for the presidency.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s own tweets appear to have contributed to boosting the book’s sales, at least according to some customers who bought it.

“I hate paying retail price for anything, but I made an exception buying this book because Trump wanted to stop its publication,” wrote one reviewer on Amazon.com.

“In essence, I bought the book precisely to spite Trump. Hopefully the author will donate a portion of the proceeds to the movement to impeach Trump.”

“Good Read. Probably wouldn’t have ever read thanks for the book suggestion Donald,” wrote another.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-08/donald-trump-fire-and-fury-posted-free-online-by-wikileaks/9311094

Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, also questioned the administration’s handling of the book.

“But the worst thing that you can do is flatter the book with attention and, even worse than that, threaten to sue the author,” McKinnon told CNN. “I guarantee, if you want to raise sales for a book, threaten to sue the author.”

The book skyrocketed to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list ahead of its release on Friday, and physical copies sold out in multiple bookstores.

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/367827-administration-rushes-to-trumps-defense-on-books-dramatic-claims

So there you have it. Trump is so stupid he doesn’t even understand that threatening to sue will raise the sales. There is nothing Trump could do or fail to do that would not confirm his stupidity to these people who “already knew”. After all they are, like, very smart….

This is what makes any complicated theory about Trump and Bannon conspiring to put on a show so problematic. There simply isn’t any need. What could possibly prevent the media from distracting themselves?

As Slate and the Guardian say, the book doesn’t reveal that Trump is incompetent

“We already knew”:

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/01/wolffs-fire-and-fury-doesnt-reveal-that-trump-is-incompetent-we-already-knew.html

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/07/fire-fury-donald-trump-michael-wolff-book

How could they resist this stuff?

Fairfax’s Matthew Knott actually has a reasonably insightful take on how “truthiness” suits the current zeitgeist:

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/michael-wolffs-shameless–even-morally-dubious–strategy-behind-the-riveting-but-sloppy-fire-and-fury-20180107-h0eu1x.html

It simply doesn’t matter that the author is a sleaze presenting “alternative facts”. As with Trumpists, the anti-Trumpists desperately need a rivetting story that feels “truthy” to their emotions, not their reason.

Fire and Fury seems to have been hastily edited – the names and ages of some participants are wrong – and the veracity of several details has been questioned.

Multiple White House reporters say some of the stories Wolff tells (like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell skipping a meeting with Trump to get a haircut) are apocryphal; former British prime minister Tony Blair has dismissed as a “complete fabrication” an anecdote about him telling Trump he may have been spied on by MI5 agents.

One suspects, though, that many readers will forgive any such errors. The book confirms their worst fears about the Trump presidency: it feels truthful, if not always factual.

(Emphasis added)

Knott also “gets” that the book is perfectly positioned for readers who need to maintain their sense of media omniscience as their hope in “obstruction of justice” follows the “Russia thing” in not providing a believable prospect that their nightmare will end soon.

More broadly though, the level of infighting and incompetence portrayed in the book makes systematic, high-level collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign seem unthinkable. The Trump operation, in Wolff’s telling, can barely collude with itself to achieve an outcome.

Throughout the book, Wolff uses an omniscient style that is both engaging and maddening. It’s impossible for the reader to tell what Wolff has observed himself and what he is hearing secondhand.

That of course is exactly how the people still willing to tolerate the media coverage of Trump like it. “Multiple sources familiar with the matter inside and outside the White House and the intelligence community” is becoming more and more redundant as a pretence. Mainstream journalism can now more or less openly just launch straight into fantasizing.

8. In other news black unemployment has hit a 45 year low.

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/05/black-unemployment-rate-falls-to-record-low.html

9. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/01/donald-trump-goes-full-fredo/549875/

Before the Saturday morning tweets, what should have been the biggest story of the week was Trump’s success at mobilizing the Senate and the FBI to deploy criminal prosecution as a weapon against Trump critics. The Senate Judiciary committee—the Senate Judiciary Committee! The committee that oversees the proper enforcement of the law!—formally filed a criminal referral with the Department of Justice against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous dossier about Trump’s Russia connections. The referral was signed by the committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, without even notice to Democrats on the committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said; a startling abuse of majority status and a sharp departure from the norms of the Senate, especially a 51-49 Senate.
The Department of Justice can ignore such a referral. It’s ominous, however, that on the very same day, the FBI obeyed Trump’s repeated demands and reopened a long-closed criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation. The FBI has come under relentless abuse from Trump, who complains about its refusal to do his will. Is it now yielding?We also learned this week from The New York Times that aides to the Attorney General sought damaging information on Capitol Hill about FBI director Comey, indicating close cooperation between the White House and Main Justice to exert political control over the country’s chief law enforcement agency

10. Time speculating on a run by Oprah

http://time.com/5093066/oprah-beat-donald-trump-president-2020/

Democrats may bemoan Trump’s empty-calorie celebrity campaign win, but there’s no reason to believe that they couldn’t face one of their own.

11. Michael Wolff, celebrity Trump vilifier, whining that he has been vilified by Trump:

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/donald-trump-couldn-t-stop-my-book-s-release-it-ncna835796

One does take note when the president of the United States is singling you out and vilifying you in as extreme a way as you could possibly be vilified.

New Republic’s Alex Shephard explains the Wolff phenomena with some insight:

https://newrepublic.com/article/146492/michael-wolffs-fire-fury-gift-donald-trump

They go way back in understanding what Wolff is. Here’s Michelle Cottle at New Republic in 2004:

https://newrepublic.com/article/67746/wolff-trapped

Now writing in The Atlantic, Michelle Cottle has not changed her view that Wolff is the same sort of scum as Donald, but is now utterly delighted to welcome him as our scum, perfectly suited for the perfect take down of Donald.

This series of articles makes it more plausible that Wolff’s book was not actually setup by Trump supporters to help consolidate the media’s next distraction, but emerged spontaneously from their natural inclinations. But at the same time makes it pretty clear that the bait would be taken by people like Wolff, whether the motive was under the counter cash or fame.

12. Quartz discovers the Hans Christian Anderson tale in which a large crowd of journalists that was previously chanting “The Emperor is a Russian stooge” switches to chanting “The Emporer has no clothes” and they all live happily ever after.

Donald Trump is the emperor with no clothes—and the media’s playing along

13. Today’s Age (Tuesday Jan 9) has a view of Trump’s likely macroeconomic policy that I agree with as likely. From wapo:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-trump-recession-is-coming/2018/01/05/2c5f2142-f23f-11e7-b390-a36dc3fa2842_story.html

My prediction is that he’ll throw open the government’s liquor cabinets and pour out every stimulating drop he can get his hands on in a desperate effort to keep the party going through 2020.

What a morning-after that is likely to be.

Basically if he doesn’t do that he has no hope in 2020. Everything he has done up till now reinforces my initial judgment that he is fully aware that he cannot do anything much until he has his own party in Congress and that once he does there will be a very different political situation in which a Democrat majority would be less of an obstacle than the present anti-Trump GOP incumbents to getting the “stimulus” (ie deficits) he needs for a second term.

So my excuse for spending so much time on Trump is that it is worth understanding the real possibility that the next Great Depression will break out with a populist authoritarian nationalist President Trump in office, and inclined strongly towards his unfulfilled program of trade wars.

Here’s a description from Fortune of the WSJ account of Ray Dalio’s analysis (also in Monday’s Australian, January 8, p17):

http://fortune.com/2018/01/05/bridgewater-ray-dalio-stock-market-bear/?iid=sr-link1

Ray Dalio is interesting because his hedge fund anticipated and profited from the 2008 financial crisis.

Specifically, he’s concerned about debt. Americans have more debt than assets – and the payments on that debt are growing.

In order to keep the cost of debt service affordable, the Federal Reserve will be forced to keep interest rates low, Dalio told The Journal.

“It may not be a problem in the next year or two, but the risk of not getting it right increases with time,” he said.

He also cautions that the incredible returns of the last 18 months are not the new normal. He believes inflation-adjusted returns on the typical stock and bond portfolio could be near zero in the next decade, thanks to the combination of debt and inflationary pressure.

Dalio – whose Bridewater Associates is the largest hedge fund firm in the world, managing $150 billion – is also concerned about the 60% of Americans who have almost no assets and aren’t directly benefiting from the soaring corporate profits and stock prices.

“If we do have an economic downturn, I worry we will be at each other’s throats,” he said.

Surviving another Great Depression might seem easy enough given the non-existance of a left. But it will certainly require substantial redistribution of wealth from the “elite” 5% or 1% or so towards the top and/or state capitalism, so an even more top heavy billionaire class can appease a larger and poorer working class by paying higher real wages. A populist nationalist alliance of billionaire Trumpists and workers against “foreigners” and “the elite” makes sense for survival of capitalism. The ruling class are at each other’s throats and have every reason to be concerned that others might be at all their throats if they cannot divide the workers by setting a large section of them against each other with a focus on “foreigners” and “elites” led by billionaires themselves rather than the usual flunkeys.

 

 

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