In The New York Review of Books 11 months ago (22 February 2018), Michael Tomasky, a former colleague of David Frum at the The Daily Beast, wrote a review of David Frum’s new book, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic entitled, “The Worst of the Worst.” That review also covered Michael Wolf’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House which I reviewed in a blog last year. Tomasky’s review began with two initial remarks:
- After one year in office, Donald Trump had just offered his one-thousandth lie; a few were old standbys – about how quickly the border wall could be built, about ‘the worst of the worst’ gaining entry to the United States through a visa lottery, and about his wall’s ability to curtail the drug trade.” (including misleading statements as well as lies, the total of anti-facts more than doubled – 2,140; by the end of 18 months, the total increased by 50% again to 4,229; the half-life of the truth for Donald Trump means that the number of lies double every six months.) Donald Trump’s first two outright lies concerned migration and the southern border:
- Concerning the first two months of 2017, “there’s never [been] so many apprehensions in our history.” It was a lie. In 2018, there were about 450,000 apprehensions of alleged illegal aliens, the most since 2014, but still well below the numbers in the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century when there were about one million per year on average. More significantly, the numbers from 2014 to 2018 jumped because of a dramatic leap in family apprehensions as the movement north began to include large numbers of women and their children – not the murderers, robbers and gang members Trump portrays.
- “When I say Mexico is going to pay for the wall, that’s what I said. Mexico is going to pay. I didn’t say they were going to write me a check for $20 billion or $10 billion.” But that was precisely what he did say.” It is true that most of the 13 ways he suggested Mexico would pay were indirect, but also not feasible. However, on 31 March 2016 he did say, “Mexico would make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion flows to their country every year.”
- Trump’s never-never land continues day-by-day, repeatedly amplifying lies and mis-directions, driving us crazy in the insane world in which we now live.
Tomasky’s review highlighted the issue of ingress and egress from membership in the U.S. and building a wall to control access discussed in Monday’s blog. Frum also put that issue within a conservative policy framework. Frum promoted “a conservativism that can not only win elections but also govern responsibly, a conservativism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive and environmentally responsible,” in contrast to the mad world of lies and distortions of Trump who “has contaminated thousands of careers and millions of minds. He has ripped the conscience out of half of the political spectrum and left a moral void where American conservatism used to be.” Where once the disruption of governance had been stealthy, it has now taken a leap forward with the longest government closure in American history.
I have argued that, in this mad world of tweets and lies that is driving us nuts, we can and we must not only re-establish rational control, but do so by tracing the pattern and the path of Trump’s self-destruction since he became president. If we return almost two years back to the second month of his presidency, February 2017, then the presidency took a step further towards the abyss, though the abyss was still too far away to be visible at the time. Decisions on membership in a state split into two open tracks, Previously, the foreign government influence issue had been hidden beneath the exclusion policy. The influence of a foreign and alien government on the ability of Americans to freely and knowledgeably choose their leaders provided one track. Secondly, the first open display of racism towards Americans by Donald Trump since he assumed the presidency offered the other track.
On 9 February 2017, The Washington Post cited nine sources verifying that Michael Flynn had discussed lifting sanctions from Russia prior to Donald Trump becoming president. On 13 February 2017, Donald Trump fired Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, not because he had discussed anything substantive with the Russian ambassador during or after the election campaign, but ostensibly because Flynn had lied about his conversations to Vice-President Mike Pence. Flynn and Pence met a day after The Washington Post published a story a month earlier, before Donald Trump was inaugurated. By mid-February, Trump had known for three weeks that Flynn had lied. Just three days before the firing, Trump openly lied and said that he had been unaware that Flynn had spoken to Kislyak about sanctions.
News reports claimed that on 29 December 2015, Flynn, had several discussions with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, echoed Pence’s assurance that nothing of substance had been discussed. While possibly offering sanctions relief, White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, repeatedly denied that sanctions were discussed and insisted that only the logistics of the inauguration constituted the gist of the conversation.
Within less than a month following his inauguration, Trump had fired his acting Attorney General and his National Security Adviser. He waited with his most important firing of FBI Director James Comey until 9 May 2017. Trump had met Comey on Valentine’s day, 14 February, a day after he had fired Flynn. Trump learned that Comey would be unlikely to accede to his request that, “I hope you can go easy on him (Flynn).” Further, it was highly unlikely that Comey would stop an FBI probe into possible collusion of Russians and Americans regarding the conduct of the elections. Trump did not fire Comey in mid-February because he felt he needed more time (three more months as it turned out) to try to undermine the credibility, not only of Comey, but of the FBI.
Recall that Sally Yates, five days before she was fired in January, had met with White House counsel Don McGahn and told him that, contrary to Flynn’s claims to White House officials, intelligence agencies had definite information that sanctions had been discussed in the calls of Flynn with Kisylak and that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on the subject. She also warned that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.
All the while, in the last two weeks of February, another controversy was beginning to sprout out of Donald Trump’s indifference to the largest protest march in American history. In a press conference on 16 February, just two days after Trump had met Comey in that critical meeting that set the stage for an eventual charge of obstruction of justice, Donald Trump held a 77-minute press conference. During that press conference, he announced his nominee for Secretary of Labor, celebrated the confirmation of Mick Mulvaney as head of the Office of Management and Budget and, very ironically as it turned out, boasted, “I don’t think there’s ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we’ve done.”
His statement in that press conference that his government had placed “a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government” was most ironic. He did not say that you would not need such lobbying if the head of that government was in the pocket of America’s oldest enemy. Trump lauded his own withdrawal from the Transpacific Partnership, his first salvo into the trade wars that would mark the first two years of his presidency and that proved to be the greatest economic threat to his presidency. Trump announced that we “are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border,” an announcement that would be repeated many times over the next two years.
Trump cited a discredited polling service, Rasmussen, to prove he was supported by 55% of Americans. When fifteen pollsters’ results were analyzed – by FiveThirtyEight in 2018 – Rasmussen was slotted in the bottom one-third of polls noted for their inaccuracies. Nate Silver, America’s best pollster, described Rasmussen as “biased and inaccurate”; the 105 polls released in Senate and gubernatorial races by Rasmussen/Pulse Opinion Research missed the final margin between the candidates by 5.8 points in Senate and gubernatorial races. In the 2018 midterms, according to Nate Silver, Rasmussen “badly missed the margin in many states, and also exhibited a considerable bias toward Republican candidates.”
“In 2018, Rassmussen Reports predicted that Republicans would win the generic ballot by 1 percentage point while the actual election results had Democrats winning by approximately 8 percentage points. The 9 percentage point error was the largest polling error out of major firms who polled the national generic ballot. It should be no surprise that Trump repeatedly cites only the Rasmussen poll.
In February 2017, the stock market continued to rise, but the mention of continuity in that rise was omitted by Trump. Factories and plants, whose relocations had been planned for years before him, were already, Trump declared, moving back to America. He announced that, “Since my election, Ford announced it will abandon its plans to build a new factory in Mexico, and will instead invest $700 million in Michigan.” Not “instead”!
The plant in Mexico was slated to cost $1.6 billion while the investment in Flat Rock would total less than 45% of that amount. However, the reality of the Ford decision was quite different than the one portrayed by Trump. Ford continued its plans to move production of its compact Ford model to Mexico, but to an existing plant in Hermosillo rather than a new one. The plan to invest in the Flat Rock plant in Michigan had been part of another plan of Ford, to use Flat Rock as a base to build electric and self-driving vehicles. Trump’s blather had zero effect on the Ford decision, except perhaps in the way it was framed.
“This administration,” Trump asserted, “is running like a fine- tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved.” He could have added, but did not, “by a Republican dominated Congress.” Yet, at the very same time as he was making these declarations, he noted that the press had become very dishonest, that “many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you [the American public] the truth” because the media in Washington, New York and Los Angeles speak “not for the people, but for the special interests and those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system.”
As it turned out, Flynn’s lies, and Trump’s lies about Flynn, and Trump’s lies about the resurrection of the American manufacturing system, were part of the same fraud. In the pure rarified air of the GOP, governance is an extra, an extravagance we can do without. In reality, governance is the core of government. And the two most important issues of governance are – who is accepted into membership (and how they are accepted) and how those who already have membership are treated.
To be continued.