Trump went tweety again. Kelly, the new babysitter, couldn’t stop him.
Even if he could have, it’s too late to mask the undeniable: the “president” is not only a thief and alpha asshole, but on top of a psycho profile constructed of a mixed bag of symptoms usually called mental “illness” (not quite the right word, because he thrives on them) and his effective compensations, is now going crazy while simultaneously descending into a grouchy dementia. A psychiatric fireworks show.
Which props keep the show running? Is it the airplanes? The chocolate cake? The cheers at the Deplorables rallies?
Maybe narcissism kick-started The Trump Show and programmed it with the now familiar pugnacious vulgarity, ignorance and proud stupidity. Or maybe “narcissism” is just a sanitized, therapy-referent word for a particularly obnoxious kind of asshole that Trump turned into a brand. But those were amateur days. He has become a psychiatric virtuoso.
What happens to the poor old military empire when the President goes nuts, leaving behind the stance he made fashionable, belligerent victimhood? Those bombs won’t drop themselves. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, Trump’s Knights of the Twinkling Medals, will have to keep the flashbang show going while they keep Trump under discreet house arrest. A military takeover, America’s First Triumvirate.
Dumping on Trump is a crowded field. Why should NOLAscape get in it? In a prime corollary of the Philosophy of Cosmopolitan Bias, as expounded in dialogue between Yossarian and Doc Daneeka, if everybody is doing it, I would be crazy not to, right?
And crazy is just too Republican a look to be seen in.
Somehow through the kaleidoscopic lens of his array of symptoms, Trump spotted that out there among the apathetic were millions of practicing and potential Deplorables, and there might be enough of them. From beauty pageants, The Apprentice, Evangelicalism and WWE, he knew about people who liked to be in crowds sharing illusion and belief. They really loved believing. From the simple suspension of disbelief required to enjoy a couple of hours of wrestling to the dreams of “faith” he saw people he could talk to. People who like him had porous barriers between illusion and reality, and liked living in organized, manufactured, shared dreams.
He saw that some actually believed the mythologies, and that many more just liked the cuddly feeling of belief, and that even more were spiritual authoritarians, craving a lord to lead them and a subordinate to play lord over. They call that “freedom.” Believing and following just feels good. Wrestling story lines, Gods and angels, heavens and hells, mythologized history, identity-based supremacies – have a beer and settle into synchronized believing.
If you don’t share the Exceptional Nation dream, you’re not a real American. Like Nixon before him, Trump spotted the opportunity of grifters like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Mikes Huckabee and Pence, selling feelings and fantasies dressed up as religious nationalism. John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe gave people spaces for feelings and fantasies too, but if the actor sticks “Rev.” in front of his name, you get into the zombie zone of “religious freedom,” one of the cuckoo lands still inoculated against the American enlightenment’s imperfect attempt to get the churches out of the driver’s seat.
But for Marilyn and John Wayne and even Vince McMahon’s circuses, you only have to pony up the price of a ticket. The preachers want a lot more, and the congregations were ready to put it up, in money and in loyalty. With amazing intuition or luck, Trump realized that he would no more have to know anything about the interests and beliefs the megachurchers say are paramount than he had to know anything else. Just some lightly coded and padded flattery and they followed him home. And he delivered. Charlottesville is backfiring, but it is a version of what he thought they wanted.
In his commercial show days Trump took the ticket route. Now he does more damage at vastly higher cost on the government’s tab. Admission to the tent show is free. No money up front. He wants votes, adulation, and campaign contributions and turn a blind eye when he picks your pocket. Like cult members throughout history, like savage, carnivorous sheep, the Deplorables are ready to fork up.
NOTE: Deplorables does not mean rust-belt workers whose lives have been impoverished by the social irresponsibility of industrial neoliberalism or farmers shoved off the land by agro-industry. Deplorables are those who chose Trump as the route out of it, especially the prosperous middle-class idiots who vote for him to support racism, nationalism, protectionism, isolationism, identitarianism, the belligerent cruelty they think libertarianism is, authoritarianism; or the seriously powerful who wield corporations like automatic weapons in an armed robbery and support Trump as cover for piracy. Whether you got there by suffering the brutalism of the corporatist kleptocracy, or just by being a homegrown Fox-watching jerk, into the basket with you.
This week, as Trump makes a hash of the Charlottesville ugliness, we might be getting a glimpse of something he really believes in. Maybe the only thing outside of himself and the suppurating turmoil inside his head. Usually – pretty much always – he just seems opportunist, carrying a pocket full of dog whistles, trying them out until one gets the response he wants. But the neo-Nazis in Virginia got a different response. First, he gave them a pass. “Violence on many sides. Many sides.” Then back in the White House, the less tone-deaf of the nanny squad got him to read something critical about white supremacists. He didn’t look like he was paying much attention. Once out of their clutches, secure in his New York bling fortress, he walked it back.
He could be just reflexively clinging on to Alt-Right voters, possibly overestimating their numbers. Maybe he thinks when push comes to it, he can arm them up and get Ed Prince to teach them how to shoot down African Americans, Mexicans, Muslims and maybe some Jews, but not Mr and Mrs Kushner.
Isn’t it more likely that White Supremacy or White Nationalism is his real political homeland? Before the escalator show, he built his political base on his talent for free publicity and the “birther” BS, a racist concoction. It doesn’t matter as much whether he believed the story, as that he believed it was the right thing to do.
Then the “Central Park Five” stuff, calling for lynching black boys who would dare lay hands on a white woman, even if they didn’t. Paying government salaries to Bannon and Miller, white nationalist nut cases with civilizational armageddon in their plans, while their daily work is to subvert the state.
We let a guy in the White House who has been flying over the cuckoo’s nest for 70 years. Now under pressure of a job that he does not understand, with Mueller and a team of forensic experts breathing down his neck, he is going crazy on a new level.
How does it end? A quiet military coup, with Kelly sitting him in the Oval Office with a coloring book and soft crayons, and Nurse Ratched giving him his meds every four hours? Or the Republicans setting up impeachment or Article 25 to force resignation, so he hands over to Pence, laughing at us because Pence is as crazy as he is. Or some other possibility, which would risk turning violent, to turn the whole rat pack out and resume the serious political life of America, which mostly consists of letting neoliberals choose empire over people, “shareholder value” over real life?
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Anyway, let’s back-burner the indignation for a while and have some fun.
Lots of writers and broadcasters like trying to figure out this strange fake president who seems to be more a mess of symptoms wrapped in a navy suit than a real human, so while he was a bit less noisy for one whole day in a row, I rooted around in the amnesty discards in the Trumpster Dumpster, compared some of the junk with good ideas culled from Naomi Klein and David Cay Johnston, Paul Street and Juan Cole, Ryan Lizza, Keith Olbermann and even Rachel Maddow.
Trump has two interconnected main businesses, money laundering and brand hustling. We can sense the money laundering. I have been predicting for months, since before Muller, that that is what they will get him on. Now the fact checkers and editors on broadsheet papers like the Times, Guardian and Washington Post let their writers use the word. We can see its shadows and fuzzy reflections. We can see Paul Manafort and Wilbur Ross and the Mammadov deal in Baku. We can see how Trump’s casinos worked, and didn’t, and the meaning of the $10m fine levied on the Taj Mahal for insufficient care. We can sense the shadowy cash flows behind the licensed buildings and golf courses.
We need Robert Mueller to nail it down. Trump needs to get Mueller off the stage. Dum da dum dum. Act Three should be starting soon.
A caveat being brought into the light by the Rachel Maddow show: Mueller has brought in leading experts in taxation, forensic financial analysis. With Mueller’s team on the track of his career of financial and business crime, why is Trump keeping a legal team with no expertise in taxation and international money movement? He still has that New York guy that did his divorces and Sekulow, the weird lawyer who seems to specialize in fundamentalism as a business.
One possibility is David Cay Johnston’s assertion that Trump never thinks he did anything wrong. He might really believe and assert that if the oligarchs and dictators committed any crimes, that was nothing to do with him. He has no way to check the source of funds, nor means to control their businesses. Lawyers who actually know the field would tell him that that won’t fly. He probably doesn’t want to hear that yet. The current lawyers are racking up the billables, knowing the problem is going to get worse, and Trump is okay with it, because he won’t pay all of their bills anyway.
The brand business is more familiar. In Trump’s racket the upfront, noisy Joker act enables and masks the money laundering, which happens in shadows. The absurd Trump live-action figure on TV every day, the overweight, grimacing, brutalist bully CEO, with the fat-tailored navy suit, long red tie, comic book orange dyed hair, his name in larger than life caps all over the place – it slips into consciousness easily. It fits on the list of animated comic book icons with Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, Voldemort and Batman. Character shops like Marvel, DC and new ones coming up are highly valued treasure troves of illusions to sell. We are exposed to competing brand icons hundreds of times a day. Trump is one of them.
Trump turned himself into the cartoon, a comic book figure for grownups, targeting high income or rich people who had identified as assholes to qualify for the comfort zone. Because – come on, let’s face it – who but a high- or at least medium-rolling asshole would really want to belong to a Trump golf club or Mar-a-Lago, or play in a Trump casino?
A personal touch: my mother was an enthusiastic Atlantic City gambler from the beginning, who would turn into a slot machine junkie for a few days at a time. But after a first look, she wouldn’t go to a Trump place. Even under the low bar of Atlantic City casinos, Trump was a step too low.
Trump the life-size action figure, with toys of planes and big buildings topped with his own name in big caps, black limousines, ridiculous gilt ceilings and trophy wives is a construct vivid to the actor of the same name who plays it. Excessively vivid, the evidence now suggests, so that the mental separators between his human self and the brand character have frayed. The guy playing president on the news has been taken over by the comic book character he made up. You can’t be sure you are seeing it, because they look almost alike. Donald J. plays Trump plays president.
In her later years, Marilyn Monroe exhibited problems separating Marilyn, who was a character, from Norma Jean who played her, and sometimes from the character Marilyn played in the movies. Marilyn, of course, was much more pleasant to watch, and nobody took pleasure in her decline.
The descent into madness that we are watching is the result of shredded barriers between Trump the comic book character and Trump the little wizard inside the CGI costume/curtain, shouting to be accepted as real, and dangerous. As he turns up the volume, he and the diehard Deplorables think he is getting tough as the times get tougher.
But crafty and crazy are not mutually exclusive.
In the full flow of his insanity, he is challenging civilization and decency. He is creeping closer to his campaign challenge, that he could murder some people on Fifth Avenue without penalty.
Take him up on it.
Put him down.
© NOLAsxape August 2017