Friday, March 3, 2017
The Rocking Horse Presidency
Just when it seemed that the Trump administration had found its footing, one of its key figures turns out to be neck deep in what is quickly becoming Russiagate. The wily little former senator from Alabama wasn't forthcoming during his confirmation hearings for Attorney General and now finds himself on the hot seat. Not only that but Donnie Jr. and his son-in-law Jared are similarly being implicated in the confidence game the Trump campaign played with Russia to undermine Obama's sanctions back in December.
All this came after the news media essentially gave His Trumpness a free pass on his Address to the Nation, heaping all sorts of praise on him for having found his presidential bearing after one month. Van Jones, one of his fiercest critics, even opined that Trump could very well be a two-term president if he keeps giving speeches like that.
It wasn't like Trump offered any broad bipartisan plan. What the media reported favorably on was his tone, with many comparing the speech to that of Reagan. Music to Mr. Trump's ears, but he still chose to freeze CNN out of the loop the next day, with Mr. Pence skipping a stop at the cable news studio in favor of other news outlets. So much for playing nice.
CNN seemed willing to shift the narrative but allegations of Sessions' link to the Russian ambassador has forced the little weasel to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation. This opens the door once again for journalists to investigate this matter even deeper, as Congressional Republicans so far have dragged their feet. The media should have never dropped its guard in the first place, but those favorable polls following the speech probably had them thinking the public is tired of their critical stance and wanted them to look on the bright side of the Trump administration.
The address was riddled with the half-truths and lies we've come to expect from Trump. Politifact pointed out his whoppers, such as continuing to insist nearly 100 million persons are out of work, failing to consider that the vast majority of these persons are either retired or in school, and do not participate in the work force. He uses this hyperbolic rhetoric to try to convince Americans we are in a deep shit hole, despite conventional unemployment figures like the U4 and U6 that put the unemployment rate at 4.7 and 9.4 per cent respectively. This simply doesn't fit into his narrative so he continues to peddle the same campaign rhetoric that won him the presidency.
Unfortunately, the major news outlets refuse to hold him accountable to facts. Most of these outlets want to stay on his good side so that they don't get frozen out of the White House Press Corps as was the case with CNN, the Washington Post and other major news outlets. If Trump is trying to delegitimize these press outlets, it isn't working as the Washington Post and New York Times are both recording a spike in subscriptions and CNN is enjoying a surge in viewership. In other words, it pays to remain on the Donald's bad side.
Yet, the staunchest criticism is coming from late night comedy, as it was during the Bush years. MSNBC did manage to catch an unguarded Trump practicing his speech in his limo, which became instant fodder for jokes, but it too became the brunt of jokes by Seth Meyers, who skewered the media coverage of His Trumpness' speech, noting all the faux anticipation and salivation that followed. It was like a debutante ball for Trump.
Never mind that the guy signed an executive order to erode the clean water act earlier that day, while proclaiming himself an "environmentalist." Or, his brazen use of the widow of a Navy Seal to promote his strong relationship with the military, without owning up to the failed raid. He first blamed the military for the botched raid, then had Sean Spicer try to play it up as a "successful operation by all standards." It's this ability to play both sides of an issue that keeps the media off balance and leaves the public to wonder where Trump actually stands on the issues.
Nothing is more confusing than the Russiagate scandal that is unfolding. It is clear that Trump's campaign and congressional advisers met with Russian officials during the campaign and transition period, but Trump continues to insist it is no big deal. Everybody does it! As a result, much of his constituency feels the same way.
His advisers were actively engaging Moscow and giving Russian officials the impression that his administration would immediately move to lift the sanctions Obama imposed on their country in late December. This flies in the face of the Logan Act, and points to a clear attempt to undermine US policy that is in direct response to Russian aggressive acts over the past two years.
Because of the pressure put on him by the media and members of Congress, Trump has backed away from lifting the sanctions, which no doubt has left the Kremlin feeling uneasy. As a result, they are increasing military movements in the Baltic region. This has led Sweden to reinstate the draft, and other Baltic countries to increase military spending.
To a large degree, Trump feeds off this confusion. It has long been his modus operandi in the business world to create a volatile market which he feels he can take advantage of. However, when dealing with governments, such a tactic undermines confidence and gives foreign leaders false impressions that very well could plunge regions of the world into chaos. All we have to do is look at the lessons of WWI and WWII and most recently the Ukraine.
There is no clear idea who his most trusted advisers are. We hope that he listens to General Mattis and VP Pence, who both support a strong NATO and European stability. However, it seems he is drawn more to the rhetoric of his son-in-law Jared and his chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who both have used conservative media to promote conflict. Bannon undermined Pence's recent European tour by offering support to separatist movements in the EU.
Many of the high rollers that support Trump are profiteers and a war pays big dividends. There is a huge private military industry that profited immensely from the Iraq War and no doubt feels that it could profit even more from a larger global conflict. Trump himself has intimated war several times, even implied that maybe we would get another chance to seize Iraq's oil supply. Freudian slips?
Whatever the case, the media should never drop its guard with Trump. It should continue to challenge him on every issue and force him to define his overall policy, which to this point he has not done. His executive orders have largely been superficial, designed more to give the impression that he is a "decider." However, as Fareed Zakaria correctly pointed out, we shouldn't confuse motion with progress, comparing Trump's first month in office to a kid on a rocking horse.