This is the week we’ll see Donald Trump for what he is, a failed president and Narcissist demagogue who seems not to know or care that his antics, tantrums, scandals and lies have turned Washington into a three ring circus and the United States into a nuclear-powered entertainment vehicle the world prays won’t explode while he has his finger on the button.
Just when you think, for decency’s sake, the Ringmaster might fold his tent and lay low for awhile, the Cirque du Trump comes roaring back with Trump covered in greasepaint, craving the limelight and applause.
Last week, while most Americans were tuned into the Democrats’ big-tent convention, Trump’s Greatest Show on Earth had a boffo week of its own.
The excitement began early in the week when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the final volume of its Report on Russian Interference in the 2016 Election, which Trump has said was a hoax (Russia’s interference, that is) perpetrated by the “dark state,” an imaginary cabal which he claims is trying to scare away his audience and run his brash and disruptive Cirque du Trump out of town.
The Republican-led Senate Committee, however, wasn’t buying the dark state stuff.
Its 900-page Report relied on facts the Senate Committee gathered on its own and with the help of the FBI and CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, not the alternative facts Trump uses when he’s clowning around with the inquiring minds at Fox News or performing for his aggrieved fans in the hinterlands, who believe every alternative fact he tells them about the vast conspiracy he claims is out to destroy him by proving he conspired with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Yet that’s exactly what any reasonable person reading the Report would conclude—that Trump knew of, approved and had his emissaries actively support, the Russian disinformation campaign that helped elect him. Although the Committee wouldn’t connect the dots without absolute proof, the facts speak for themselves.
The Report stated, as fact, that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager at the time, was helping to guide the Russian effort, by delivering detailed internal polling data to a Russian intelligence officer; that the woman Don Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with after being told she would have “dirt” on Clinton, was also a Russian intelligence operative; and that Roger Stone had a long conversation with Trump about the hacked DNC emails Wikileaks was about to make public, a conversation Trump said under oath he did not recall.
The facts presented in the Report could also lead a reasonable person to conclude that, in return for their help in 2016 and in anticipation of their help this year, Trump has done whatever he could to further Russia’s strategic interests since becoming President.
That, of course, if true, would blow the top off the Cirque du Trump’s big-top because working to promote the interests of a hostile foreign power while president of the United States is treason.
The Senate Report wasn’t the only juicy new scandal the Cirque debuted last week. On Thursday, the Ringmaster’s former senior counselor, Steve Bannon, presented a new and highly entertaining juggling act of his own when he was arrested while aboard a Chinese tycoon’s 150-foot yacht off the Connecticut coast and whisked to New York, where he was arraigned and released after posting a $5 million bond, not chump change even for a former partner at Goldman Sachs.
According to the indictment, brought by the storied Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Bannon is alleged to have fraudulently siphoned off nearly $1 million for his own personal use from what was supposed to be a non-profit effort to pay for building the Border Wall Trump promised but failed to get the Mexican government to pay for.
Bannon pleaded not guilty, of course. But his protestations of political retribution notwithstanding, those who’ve read the indictment say the incriminating emails and bank records make it look like a slam-dunk case for the prosecution. Like so many others in Trump’s orbit, it looks like Steve will soon find himself juggling the prospect of several years in jail with the temptation to rat on the Boss in exchange for a Get Out of Jail Free card. It promises to be a fun act to watch.
If that weren’t enough, Vladimir Putin, said to be a secret partner in Cirque du Trump, also previewed another of his daring high wire acts that could be a harbinger of acts to come in the United States if the Cirque hangs on to its Washington lease for another four years, or even if it decamps to Palm Beach.
Just as “it is what it is,” was Trump’s way of refusing to accept responsibility for his Administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus, “it is what it is” is also the way the Kremlin responds when one of Putin’s otherwise healthy political rivals suddenly falls ill, and usually dies, unexpectedly.
These sudden illnesses sometimes occur after the unlucky opposition figure is pumped full of unwanted lead or, more often, after he or she sips from a cup of spiked tea in Siberia or has one too many shots of vodka in London.
Last week, it was Putin’s most prominent and popular rival, Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned after drinking tea en route to speak at a protest march in the Siberian city of Omsk.
Until a few weeks ago, I would have said the Cirque du Trump would never have dared to bring one of Putin’s death-inducing high wire acts to the United States. But the Cirque’s been featuring some pretty bizarre stuff in recent months and no one ever wins trying to predict what the Ringmaster’s going to do next.
I’d say this, though. If you decide you must go to Cirque between now and January, enjoy the show.
But, for God’s sake, don’t drink the vodka or the tea during intermission.
Some random thoughts as the postwar era draws to a close
It has been 75 years since the end of World War II.
There are no celebrations to speak of. Does anyone remember?
The postwar period has come to its end.
We have exhausted the ideals, principles, wealth and power that
allowed us to create a New World Order in 1945
and to defeat the Soviet Union and end the Cold War,
46 years later.
We’re a much different country now than we were then.
The can-do spirit Americans were famous for is gone,
replaced by cynical materialism.
No one does anything for free anymore
or just because they want to.
Ours has become a no fault culture that makes decision-making
diffuse so no one gets blamed or is held accountable.
No one’s responsible, either.
We work in teams, which too often produce a homogenized result.
By and large, Corporate America has turned “Made in America”
into a question mark. It’s not the symbol of quality it used to be.
Our military power is real but we’ve forgotten why we’re at war
in Afghanistan. It doesn’t really matter, anyway.
Russia is resurgent on the cheap;
and with the election of Donald Trump four years ago,
Putin reversed the outcome of the Cold War.
He got his revenge.
We can’t afford to keep playing the way we used to.
Our infrastructure is crumbling; our public schools are
second-rate. Our health care system is expensive and over rated;
its priorities are all wrong. Americans were sick and dying
before the virus hit for lack of adequate medical care;
the pandemic has only uncovered the fault lines
and made things worse.
We’ve been living and consuming well beyond our means
for at least a quarter century. We will be bankrupt
the minute the world no longer accepts the dollar
as its reserve currency. Not if but when that happens,
the permanent dislocation
and economic hardship will almost certainly be
of the magnitude we’re experiencing now:
30 million unemployed will be the new normal.
We’ll have to live within our means
and I can assure you,
we won’t like it.
The World Trade Center attack was the beginning of the end of what
was called the American Century. It was devastating in many ways other than
the simple destruction of the buildings and loss of the lives
of people who were in them.
Osama bin Laden goaded us into endless wars in the Middle East and
Central Asia that have cost us trillions of dollars with little or no return.
Nine/eleven showed the world that we were vulnerable.
For all the money our intelligence services spend
and all the sophisticated gadgets they have,
they can’t sift through the mountains of raw data they collect,
to make it useful. I remember a British agent telling me
that when I was in Buenos Aires 40 years ago.
It’s still true.
Since then, we have lost our moral authority to criticize other countries
for failing to respect the human and political rights of their citizens.
Because it’s clear our government doesn’t respect the rights
of minorities and political dissidents at home.
We can’t talk about corruption the way
we once did, either, because we have a President who’s personally
corrupt and a political system that forces candidates
to sell their votes in order to get the campaign funds they need
to get elected and re-elected. Citizens United legalized bribery
and the result is most evident in the Senate,
where Mitch McConnell makes sure the interests
of the special interests take precedence over the interests
of the people he and his Republican colleagues represent.
The most recent example of this is his insistence that the next stimulus package absolve employers of liability if they re-open too soon,
without proper safeguards if their employees get sick.
Our economy is no longer the envy of the world, either,
because it has been hollowed out and de-industrialized
to such an extent that we couldn’t even produce the protective gear
our health care workers needed when the pandemic hit in March. .
The masks and Hazmat gowns had to be imported from China, too.
The well-paid factory jobs are long gone, along with much of the
middle class. Attempting to live the American Dream,
for those who once had it, has become a living nightmare
for more and more American families.
The disparity of wealth and income between the Very Rich
and the rest has reached banana republic proportions.
It wasn’t sustainable even before the pandemic
made it impossible.
It was Joe Stiglitz who observed that, throughout history,
the top 1 percent always eventually learn they’ve got to share
some of their wealth if they want to keep the rest of it.
Alas, Stiglitz says, history tells us they always do learn,
I think they missed their chance in the United States.
Income inequality in America has become obscene.
There’s very little upward mobility in the United States today.
Our post-industrial society has enriched a relatively small number
of fabulously wealthy financiers, entrepreneurs, inventors and speculators
who pay the workers who actually do the work, nothing.
We discovered during the pandemic who the “essential workers” really are.
If we continue to cheat them of the decent living standards they deserve,
somebody’s going to realize what it would take for them
to bring the system down, and they will.
Our government has been starved of the money it would need
to function properly. Every time the Republicans cut taxes,
they take another couple of bricks out of its foundation,
hoping it will collapse. With Donald Trump
in charge, it has been of little or no use to the states
that needed help. It fell to the governors
to protect their constituents.
They seized the day and are unlikely to give it back.
The United States is no longer one country.
Already, states are refusing to allow citizens from other states
cross their borders unless they’ve tested negative for the virus
within the previous 72 hours—or agree to spend 14 days in quarantine.
Some states have formed regional compacts
to fight the virus without reference to Washington or the White House.
The longer these regional compacts and restrictions continue,
the more likely it is that the United States will become a country of countries.
We will end up being more like the European Union
and less like the old United States.
These trends will accelerate after November, when a large percentage
of Americans will not accept the outcome, no matter which candidate
ultimately prevails. Only half the country, or a bit more, will think we have
a legitimate president. Trump’s strategy seems to be to use the Post Office
to create so much chaos and uncertainty that it will take years
for the courts to finally decide what should be done and which candidate won.
If enough ballots are “lost” or enough systems are hacked by the Russians,
or others, it’s possible neither candidate will have a majority
of the electoral votes, in which case the 12th Amendment
requires the House of Representatives to elect
the next President, with each state having a single vote.
Donald Trump could win.
If that election were held today, Trump would win because
25 states have a majority Republican delegation, 24 a majority
Democrat delegation, with one state (Michigan)
having a delegation that’s evenly split.
This, despite the fact the Democrats have a majority of seats
in the House (232), while the Republicans only
have 198 seats, with 4 seats vacant.
Trump loves military pomp and wraps himself in the flag whenever
possible but he is the only president since World War II,
if not in our history,who is fundamentally unpatriotic
and un-American. He doesn’t believe in rule of law or
the three part system of government
our Founding Fathers devised, precisely to guard against
a tyrant like him becoming president and seizing power.
We’ll see if he succeeds but much of the damage has been done.
No matter what happens this year, we begin a new chapter
as a much reduced country compared to the country we once were.
We are the “pitiful giant” Nixon said we would become.
Not that Nixon didn’t contribute to our decline.
But nothing like the Bushes and Trump.
We’ve lived for 75 years on the goodwill and political capital
we earned in another age at another time.
It would be best if we all recognize that time is now gone
and we’ll have to earn what we need from now on.
We need to give up our illusions.
We were great once, yes.
But we’ll never be anywhere near as great again.
This is how our postwar history ends.
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