Scamerica the Bountiful

Scamerica the Bountiful

Disclaimer: This piece is long, because … Brandolini’s Law. The shortest version is this: To understand the Trump phenomenon, you have to understand that he is a con man who has become political. He saw his opportunity to co-opt the Republican Party by inveigling their very large but malleable, culture-war-tested base, the Evangelicals, who have a strong nativist core. It was a kind of coup, but once that target group was acquired, the GOP fell in line without resisting. Details below. Please subscribe or at least remember how much time it takes to write. I don’t use AI… <3 But I’ll be posting this on Substack in a few weeks)

Since 2016, the legacy media in the United States has been scratching its collective head and waving its arms about trying to understand the strange, not to say toxic, relationship between Donald Trump and the “religious right,” which includes so-called evangelicals and a smattering of other denominations mostly found under the Protestant umbrella. Modestly, but frankly, I may have an answer.

How a super-moralist religious community could offer full-throated support to this odd, obviously flawed man, who lies and bullshits about everything, even petty things that really don’t “need” a lie, like the temperature in the New York courtroom, cheats on his wife, defrauds and steals from suppliers, has even had a number of brushes with the law ($25-million fine for Trump University fraud and $2 million for the fraudulent foundation, for example) , is quite fascinating in the way watching a building’s slow collapse after a controlled demolition is fascinating.  The term the legacy media like to use ad nauseam is “unprecedented.”

That, as the hackneyed expression goes, needs some unpacking, because it is far from true. But the explanation, like all things subject to Brandolini’s Law, does not fit into a few short paragraphs or the tight time slot between television advertisements.

 

Donald J. Trump is neither a new phenomenon, nor is he particularly original. However, to understand just how “precedented” he is, requires a deep dive into America’s political and religious customs and some basic grasp of the workings of the free market. Many erudite, articulate, and knowledgeable persons, nay, experts, on a thousand TV panels don’t “go there,” because religion is a sacred cow, ironically.

Trump with his Evangelical accomplices: Are they in the White House? Or is he in their bethels?

 The Donald

Donald J. Trump built up a brand based mostly on bombast, and having drawn attention to himself in myriad ways, he used his obnoxious celebrity status to sell shoddy products at high prices. As an “entrepreneur,” who managed to bankrupt a casino, he created a foundation and a university, both of which turned out to be fraudulent. He could have stopped anywhere on the way, and like a good “impostor-businessman,” taken his money and gotten out of the three-card monte game, played golf and slept with whomever he wanted for the rest of his life (as Melania told the world, she doesn’t care, the marriage appears to be for show as well). But Trump is a bitter man, and for many reasons, not least of which is his failed attempts at really being accepted by New York’s high society, whose members could smell the vulgarity on him, the cheapness, the arrivé.

Somewhere on the line, while rubbing elbows with various political and social poobahs, who tend to gravitate towards money real or fake like moths to the fire, because they must, and while becoming a brummagem celebrity himself, the Donald decided to fully unleash his Inner Snake-Oil Salesman that had always accompanied him on his highly litigious pathway to riches, real or fake.

(Chatty aside: I do not believe DJT to be as intelligent as he says he is, and he is embarrassingly ignorant and disinterested, but so are many who earn seven figure salaries and more. However, with a few exceptions (I’ll note Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project), everyone underestimates his feral instinct for people’s moral weaknesses. We all have them, of course, but he spots those who are either born with a weak backbone, or who have been groomed as such over generations), or crucially who are simply venal.)

DJT chose the Republican Party as his political turf, because, I suspect, the Democrats are usually herding their cats of many political hues under their “big tent,” and they do tend to be the educated class (the “elites,” the “experts”) and reject Trump’s inherent snobbism.  The GOP, on the other hand, was home to very wealthy ideologues with less democratic views of the USA and a willingness to spend their wad to get what they wanted (see the Supreme Court) rather than pay taxes.

More importantly, hower, was and is the GOP’s fairly homogeneous base that included the so-called “religious right” with its many evangelical denominations, run-of-the-mill conservatives (small government, low taxes), and, on the other end, extremists – from the KKK to the survivalists cosplaying in the wilds with camo and big guns or complaining about the ZOG, controlled demolitions, Klaus Schwab, George Soros, and other phantasma revealed in dubious newsletters – who would go along with anything that aided their conspiracy-laden cause.

But why would a man like Trump want political power? It was a question he, himself, asked rhetorically, as a way to justify his candidacy for the presidency and to suggest to his rally flocks that he was doing this out of the goodness of his heart. A bold assertion for a man who had, until that point, showed not a single sign of altruism. The shortest answer is this: money. And in his particular case the soothing adulation to nourish his very real narcissism.

What he had going for him was that he was not a politician. He rejected that label himself, and it might be one of the rare truths to come out of his mouth. First and foremost he is a glorified salesman, which informs everything he does and says, even his road into politics. That, too, was well hidden behind some of his little inserts into his speeches: I am very rich (subtext: I’m not selling anything); I’m not paid as president (oh, I am such an idealist); I’m doing this for you. He was actually doing it for himself.

The land of milk and honey

Consciously or unconsciously, Trump tested the political waters on his way to 2016. One milestone was surely his vicious call for the death penalty for the Central Park Five (later exonerated). He spent $85,000 on an ad in the New York Times, in which he wrote: “I want to hate these muggers and murderers.” The ad inflamed the issue and, as one defense lawyer of the five suggested, was in part responsible for the conviction of five innocent men.

Earlier Trump version, the strange prurience of Sarah Palin

No doubt he witnessed the bizarre popularity of Sarah Palin among certain segments of the population, notably religious people. She probably sank the McCain ticket in 2008, with her bizarre rhetorical stew of homey, “Main Street” talk, peppered with gun-nuttery and conspiracy theories about “elites.” It made her the darling of a crowd that had already been groomed for victimization by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who was openly racist, aggressive, dishonest, and vulgar. And lest we forget, there was the Fox News agitprop team, which shackled its viewers with a stream of outright lies, fearmongering, and angertainment well before Mark Zuckerberg and other tech bros had even discovered hate and anger as a source of cash.

All together, the GOP and its media mobilized quite a crowd in 2008 and earned a fortune off their captive audiences, mainly by attracting advertisers eager to sell to them. The GOP was now being wagged by the tail, however, as conservative columnist David Brooks wrote: “I don’t think he [John McCain] could have known it at the time but he took a disease that was running through the Republican party – anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts – and he put it right at the center of the party.” And the right-wing ecosystem also turned earlier dog whistling into a dog-fanfare. The nativists, who had always been in the party, but had been embarrassed into silence by the civil rights movement, could now rise from the shadows and begin spreading, anonymously, their arcane ideas, now began to emerge from the silent shadows.

Trump picked up on this and launched the notorious birther conspiracy theory (Obama is really a Kenyan!) as another test balloon to figure out whether he could coattail Palin and pick up the Tea Party support. He had certain assets that Palin lacked, like television fame. She stuck to salt-of-the-earth themes, he managed to project broader American myths from the glory days of the nineteenth century: the brash entrepreneur, the brazen businessman, the superrich ruggedly individualist risk-taker. And he projected wealth, always a good thing, even though it would have made old-fashioned Puritans squeamish. With all that fake baggage, he made his tack entry into the political fray in 201 and then proceeded to tear into the opposition during the primaries. He was addressing nativists, so he chose his issue: foreigners, Mexicans, the “other.”

The GOP candidates were all horrified, and they saw right through the game. Trump, however, was like Frankenstein’s monster (and there are lots of real parallels I cannot go into at this point). He made anger, violent rhetoric, lies and conspiracy theories a trademark. When needed, be dissed untouchables of American Mythology, like John McCain or Gold Star families. Nothing was sacred anymore. He was also fairly entertaining, what with his quirky nicknames and his repartee. The rivals collapsed one after the other, Li’l Marco, Lying Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Horse-face Florina, Rick Santorum, etc… This was reality TV become hyper-real, and the Republican electorate was having fun, and the media, too. They could not get enough of him, and reported his every Tweet and insult often incredulously, failing to notice that they were giving him enormous amounts of free advertising. They were trying desperately to hang on to an audience segment by being “fair and balanced,” but ended up embarrassing themselves with blatant both-sides dancing. Somehow, this madcap, ranting, vituperous, ignorant man started attracting the support from a segment of the electorate that had been convinced it was forgotten, ignored, and looked down upon. The eternal victims, the evangelicals.

The takeover

Receiving the religious accolade was not difficult,  in fact.  For one, throughout history, religious leaders have been known to keep their flock in a state of fear of something “out there,” Satan, witches, urban con men, sexy women (my M.A. thesis was on anti-Communist films in Hollywood) , Communists, atheists, death, the list goes on and on… Modern life itself, the natural progress of human society with science at the helm are a threat. This notion, that an “expert” is somehow a bad thing, can be traced way back to the Great Awakenings and the revivals and even further, maybe to the Copernican Revolution that almost got Galileo burned at the stake.

The other element Trump understood was the evangelical predilection for great and gaudy shows that have a kind of collective magnetism. Americans of all stamp love pageantry, one that eschews any subtlety, which, in turn, is the trademark of the “expert,” who has to explain everything painstakingly using data. Alternative facts, pulled out of the ether will do.

 

At any rate, thanks to some very patient and simple priming using culture war issues like abortion (Roe v. Wade), the old Moral Majority that Nixon had touted as his support had morphed into a large community of grievance-addled voters who were bound nilly-willy to the GOP for political representation. Some of their leading voices were well known, like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who along with fellow travelers like Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, had once blamed 9/11 on gays and feminists using some spurious theological justifications. Many of these preachers hollered darker things to their mesmerized audiences and created over time a  Jesus Christ twin promoting revenge, anger, violence against enemies real and imagined, and the gospel of greed, of course. Among them, the tiny but famous Westboro Baptist Church, by the way, once an outlier, now perfectly mainstream in the Trump  fog.

The enemies of this religious community were clearly defined, and Trump easily took up the sword in as God’s chosen agent of retribution. The fact that he was about as religious as a cardboard box made no difference. God moves in mysterious ways, they said, and this is the fellow He’d sent to smite the evil Democrats, the gays, the feminists, mainstream media demons, college professors, and other sinful bugaboos. Trump was the Kulturkämpfer par excellence, and so these people could now boldly show up in large groups, repeat the conspiracy theories he and his acolytes spread, including simple messages delivered by their guru, like “fake news,” and “lock her up,” etc.

Late-night comedians had a ball with these people, just as journalists like H. L. Mencken ridiculed them in the ‘20s and ‘30s. But humiliation feeds the fires of revenge. When Hilary Clinton, who was already considered a demonic force, referred to them as “deplorables,” she in fact solidified their  allegiance to Trump, who was their tool to tell the so-called elites to f*** off. They were the proud gueux, the downtrodden, the victims of a host of invisible hobgoblins, from Hollywood elites, to East Coast elites, to “swamp creatures.” With their strident leader, imperfect as he was, but who they felt understood them, they could now show everyone their power. The were going to drink liberal tears. They could now rant against science, against certain cities and civilization, against secular humanism, against modern medicine, Bill Gates, George Soros, against the progressives, or, in media shorthand: “the Left.” For Trump and his surrogates (like Steve Bannon), it was easy to feed this now untethered rage by offering up a buffet of conspiracy theories that were avidly heard and repeated. Particularly juicy was the almost prurient need to see pedophiles all over the place. Even if some don’t fall for them, getting a rise out of outraged “liberals” was worth the abandonment of all self-respect, an act facilitated by anonymity on social media platforms. *

Millionaires by God! The divine Ponzi scheme: Send me money, God will send you more, and if that doesn’t work, send me more…

Trump understands the evangelicals and especially their peripheral community. He understands them all too well. The subsequent relationship rapidly became  fusional and parasitical. Trump needed them for his ego, to keep the buzz going, but more importantly, as a source of easy cash. Any salesman knows that once you have a captive audience, you have to keep them fed with “good products,” and conspiracy theories and provocative ideas can be produced almost ad infinitum without need for manufacturing, design, quality control, or after-sales service. His audience became like Osgood at the end of Some Like It Hot, who, when Jerry takes off his wig and says “I am a man!” simply answers: “I don’t care.” As long as he was loving his “uneducated” flock and trouncing “liberals” verbally, they were happy.

As a political support group, the evangelicals rank and file  in particular, for whom I still have some compassion, because they have been suckered beyond belief, were the low-hanging fruit for the Republican Party, but especially for Donald J. Trump. Many were had become used to sending money for facile, performative blessings. I’m referring specifically to the myriad televangelists who promote the “prosperity gospel,”  which can be traced back to the Pentacostal movement that flourished in the 1920s, when get-rich-quick schemes were all the rage –  to be precise, that had roots in the show biz of the Baptist movements and the Great Awakenings and the periodical revivals that occasionally tried to inject energy into flagging religious enthusiasm. The basics are this: Send the preacher money, it will be returned to you ten- or hundred-fold. If it doesn’t happen, either wait, or consider yourself still unloved by God or unworthy. Same thing with the bizarre healings that might have had the preacher tarred and feathered in another era. If the healing of a very real health problem doesn’t work, consider yourself unworthy again, send more money … It’s a terrifying message for people who are in despair and who then get into a sunk-cost dilemma, like the gambler, who hopes that by putting more chips onto the table, he will get a big break. Meanwhile the casino is raking his money in. People like Hinn, Copeland, Osteen, Swaggart, Paula White, and many more, live in huge mansions and fly private jets thanks to this clever grift.

Conning, like selling, is a numbers game. You need a captive audience that is large enough to A) make it worth your while, and B) will produce a snowball effect. This is all the more important in the Online Age, when going viral is the way to success. In the world of ideas and news, the number of clicks counts more than the quality of the information or product, too. So here is the maths: USA has a population of about 320 million. There are 160 million eligible voters. If you can somehow convince just 10% of them to buy your nonsense and your merch with it, you’ll be in clover. And if they have been suckered into believing that they are all victims of a Great Conspiracy, or that you are going to fight the forces of evil for them, and that you are a martyr for their hallucinatory cause, they will disburse real fortunes. At an average of $50 per head, and later lots of merch, you can make billions at the game. All you have to do is dump your self-respect while you laugh all the way to the bank in the Cayman Islands: That’s an $800 million pool right there using minimal sums. Scams pay, and the Internet is full of them.

Trump no doubt saw this business model being used over and over again. He saw the charlatans and snake-oil salesmen like Glenn Beck (who only does it for the money, I can safely say thanks to a friend who knows him), or Alex Jones, or Steve Bannon raking in the clicks and cash. He saw the right-wing media like OAN, Newsmax, Townhall, and the Murdoch channels and papers like Fox News with their isolated audience being sold to advertisers as a legitimate product. He started hollering  “fake news,” to show that he could be of assistance in keeping the audience riveted to the channel that guranteed anger, hatred, outrage, legitimization of  the most absurd thoughts and theories. His lieutenant, Kellyanne Conway  created the “alternative facts” trope, which was brilliant in its own right.

And Trump demanded racketeering rights from all these con artists involved in that grift. It was a well-crafted and perfectly capitalistic enterprise, where raw material is cheap (essentially hot air, bullshit, outright lies, stream-of-consciousness ranting, conspiracy theories, incoherent rants, endless whining) as are the new distribution channels, like Twitter and Facebook. What a deal! You used to spend a whole lot on paper and printing, which had the disadvantage of sticking around so some people might actually decipher the BS. Our online life means that what I said a minute ago is already gone, and even if the “Internet never forgets,” it is full up, imagine a cesspool for all the cities in the USA… Where will you find the diamond ring you accidentally dropped in the toilet?

Anyway, he, Trump,  would become the focus of all power, the capo di tutti capi of the confidence economy, the Great Orange Toll Booth through which all the hustlers, fraudsters, fast-talking bull artists, and many a politician would have to go to reach the Promised Land, where a growing captive audience waited, anxiously, to be conned. Some people who sued Trump U successfully even went on to vote for Trump, a form of Stockholm Syndrome, it would seem. If the GOP would want to stay in power and make a good buck from a huge confab of suckers seething with anger, resentment, and a need for revenge against invisible enemies, they would have to toe the line.

Better than pills… send money, get touched, go home and hope you heal. If it doesn’t work, rinse, repeat.

The evangelicals, the pastors, the televangelists, the spontaneous preachers, and other opinion leaders, quickly realized, unconsciously perhaps, that this orange-faced city slicker, with his boring suits and absurdly long tie, was better at selling bullshit, fear, anger, self-victimization than even they were and was encroaching on their business. So, they blessed him and granted him his rights.

Madness takes its toll

Trump had a special schtick. Many politicians bend the truth or violate any number of logical fallacies when wooing voters. The Germans have a saying “Lies have short legs,” because the can’t run far and fast. Trump has found the solution: He lies and bullshits consistently and always, even about the most inane and easily provable  things. He also has his own style.  He did not rant insanely like Jones, or whine like Tucker Carlson, or use Vicks to cry like Beck, or even sound half-way literate like Bill O’Reilly or the late Limbaugh. He is always a bit disheveled, unlike over-groomed Hannity, he doesn’t sound inebriated like Pirro, or true-believer-serious like Ingraham. He’s more like some televangelist, sometimes sing-songing, sometimes yelling after a long sotto voce passage, always using his hands in the same way. A child of four could caricature him, and that is what he needed.

Of course, he embarrassed himself endlessly, barely hiding his ignorance of the Bible, just like he never hid his illiteracy, his absence of any culture. He became on the surface “one of them.” He even Tweeted day in, day out, giving the illusion of being “with the people.” This meant he could be in the consciousness of his base before even Fox News cranked up the their wind machine. And like a good scammer, he made sure he sounded like his audience did. His thoughts pour out of his mouth disjointedly, mantra-like. They are simplistic, even incomprehensible and incoherent. He does not need knowledge, or data, expertise. He doesn’t deliver policy speeches no one wants to hear, he simply feeds the masses with the most binding emotion, genuine Internet fuel: anger, aggression, resentment, grievance. Emotion! Gut feeling. His audience “feels,” it doesn’t think (this is the Frankenstein reference from above). He goes off on strange tangents, talks of Hannibal Lecter, boats, covfefe, makes mistakes, stumbles, crushes words in a foaming mouth, digresses, mixes up Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley. It might be real, it might be all fake. If attention on him seems to be dissipating, he will stoke the outrage machine with some blatantly violent statement. And the legacy media will react obediently.

The opposition trying to portray him as demented may be getting tricked as well. The pundits at MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and other more or less serious outlets remain perplexed, outraged. They have their overworked panels repeating the same lines over and over again trying to explain this man’s popularity, all the while talking about him 24/7, which, of course, is why he remains popular. They do not dare touch the religious stuff, and if they do, it’s to be nice (Tim Alberta wrote a book about this, but he experienced i differently). Every exegesis of his oafish lines takes days, and seem to prove that the media is against him. Several, like Van Jones, want to “engage the Trump voter,” or listen to their grievances. Have they ever tried? I have. It appears pointless. They confuse critical thinking with dissing and both-sides-ism often aided by obnoxious and stupid conspiracy theories. Then come the ad hominem  statements and some meme, and the conversation dies. Who has time for all that? One of the very few people who manages to talk with them is comedian Jordan Klepper, but even he, by force, ends up humiliating the “MAGA cult,” not because he wants to, but because they do it to themselves, with statements like “Obama was president during 9/11″ or “Trump was sent by god…”

The vortex

At first, the Republicans did try to resist. When Trump won the primaries, they entered into an uneasy alliance. They could (should) have dropped him then, lost the election, but cleaned up their act, which they should have done after the Palin disaster. However, they would have lost that key evangelical vote to a new Trump Party. He was going nowhere, now that he had them locked up and expanding. The turning point was the Access Hollywood tape. The entire GOP took a deep breath. Because you can shoot someone and get away with it in the USA, but sex? Never. Or so they thought. Many started tiptoeing towards the exit. But Trump, after a vague apology, cleverly chose the “flight forward full steam ahead” path. At which point he forced them into backing him.

They hate the blackmail, I am sure, but they could and can no longer escape it. Not with those venal spirits and marshmallow backbones.A few did, later on (e.g., Jeff Flake, Adam Kinzinger, and Liz Cheney), but they are out of politics now. Even powerful Fox News tried after the 2020 election. They dropped him for a moment, realized that they were losing ad sales to the other competing grifters, so they bowed and scraped, and got back on board. Even losing the defamation case against Dominion didn’t change their strategy. A “serious” right-winger, Erick Erickson, turned against Trump some time in 2016 and instantly lost thousands of subscribers, so he packed up his self-respect and resumed whooping up the Grifter in Chief. It is now a textbook cult.

It gets real real

Trump did not expect to win the 2016 election. Polling was against him. But none of that mattered. Had he lost, he would simply have continued grifting off the base. Few remember perhaps that he used the same “election rigged” conspiracy theory just to make sure his base would not drift away from a real loser. This also explains why Trump, as president, suddenly started promoting bleach as a cure for Covid 19 (he meant the industrial cleaner MMS, but that is another story: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/07/09/fake-coronavirus-cure-bleach/), and introducing UV light into the body and other nonsense in the midst of a dangerous pandemic. He also ranted against masks, played footsie with the growing online anti-vax crowd, and somehow blamed the pandemic on the Democrats. After praising Ch-ay-na’s response, he then turned on the country, when he realized they were an outstanding boogeyman to take the buck for his own failings. He caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to several studies, just to maintain his dominance over the minds of his base. This shameful fact has led to speculation that Trump might have lost the 2020 election because he literally killed off many of his voters in swing states, where his message was ingested like deep-fried butter.

When he won, surprisingly, he realized that he could now extend his reach globally. He did try to get some “serious people” into his cabinet. Many ultimately left the chaos and the embarrassment of having to support this “president” who seemed to be play-acting a parody of himself in the White House. And the lies and grifting began almost immediately, for example, with the number of people at his inauguration. There was even, I suspect, a bit of hanky-panky with the stock market earlier on, namely in early December 2016, when he attacked the planned  F-35 program and Boeing stock plunged. Great deal for short sellers if you know it’s coming.

The depth and extent of Trump’s corruption is probably going to come out in dribs and drabs in the coming years, if at all. Especially the deals he made with foreign governments. Has anyone thought to explain why this deeply corrupt man goes for dictators and other “strongmen?” Simplest answer: Because the risk of being exposed is too high when dealing with a democratically elected government with its various guardrails against corruption – that don’t always hold. The fewer people involved, the safer the crime. That led to his first impeachment. Dealing with a dictator, on the other hand, means having a mutual back scratch with a single person, one with access to his/her nation’s purse strings and no accountability. In other words, Trump, and by extension his family, is eminently corruptible.

2024

Making predictions is risky. What if, what if not, and what can we learn… The victory in 2016 threatened to force Trump to get to work, which is not his favorite activity, because daily work is constraining. If you read Obama’s Promised Land, which covers his years as president, you can sense the weight of responsibility he felt after the election and how it changed him. He clearly delineates a before and after, the difference between campaigning for his party and ideas, and then suddenly sitting in the Oval Office with the responsibility for ALL Americans and the planet, since the USA has nilly-willy lots of influence. … Trump has none of these “spiritual” problems, apparently. He figures out how to attract media attention, he improvises, says a few outrageous things, and goes to play golf. All reports suggested a disinterested president who hardly read anything, certainly not the all-important daily briefings, seemed eager to play golf whenever he could, and did just a bare minimum. The huge tax cut that ballooned the deficit was easy, since it had long been a GOP wet dream and all he had to do was sign it. His only real task was personal: Maintaining a connection to the hard core of his base, the Evangelicals, the Nativists, the unfettered Booboisie (Mencken) he had liberated from the straitjacket of political correctness. The result was such action like the “Muslim ban,” red meat for the Nativists, as was the “good people on both sides” comment after Charlottesville. Otherwise, no immense wall, no infrastructure week, no perfect health care, nothing. Helsinki was a national embarrassment, so was his encounter with Xi and Kim Jong Un. All the while, the media meticulously counted and reported with loud gasps every lie he and his groupies like Kellyanne Conway uttered and the right-wing media zoo, with Fox News at the top of the roster, amplified to keep their viewership angry and in fear of all manner of hobgoblin, because that always translates to advertising dollars.

By inviting televangelists and other pastoral ringleaders to the White House, he maintained the connection with the evangelical base, which has simply surrendered any semblance of believing in the core tenets of Christianity in favor of overt hatred and violence against its perceived enemies. Meanwhile, the Republican Party forwent several chances to rid themselves of this con man, but they also knew that they would lose their base now. January 6, 2021, was one of the last opportunities, and they failed, mainly due to the opportunism of Kevin McCarthy, who went on to become Speaker of the House.

Since then, more and more Republicans have gone through that toll booth to take part in the bountiful scam that Trump launched. In Congress, they are mostly paralyzed with fear of losing power. They are monitored and supervised by a small group of Trump devotees, MTG, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and the like. Now, more and more big names are investing their self-respect in this bustling market to profit from the MAGA base, like Russell Brand, and they are not exactly savory fellows. But the base accepts them, because they rile up liberals, and even pseudo-intellectual centrists, like “comedian” Bill Maher, bring them onto their shows as a way to express their political balance.

It is quite brilliant, I must admit. Because whatever happens in November, Trump is not going away. He has set up a grift that is like Nine Men’s Morris, he gets them coming and going. The only way to stop the game, would be a staggering defeat, and that would require the Evangelical base to really turn on him, to see the error of their ways. But they are proud of their achievement, of having had one of theirs in the White House, even though it is a total humiliation to have given into this city slicker, a type of con artists they have always been told to watch out for…They are in the throes of that sunk-cost dilemma, don’t forget.

I am not optimistic for the moment. The American electorate is, alas, far too disconnected and apathetic and fails to understand how fragile a democratic system can be. It’s not about flag-waving and yelling USA Number One. It’s about the rule of law. As for Trump, while he is still grifting, a part of him is now taking himself seriously as a potential dictator, and his team know that and approve. And that is a genuine threat for the nation and, by extension, the world at large.

(to be continued at some time, thank you for reading.)

*Interestingly, I have heard journalists speak of Trumpism coming to Europe. That, too, is not entirely accurate. Before Trump entered politics, there were men like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Beppe Grillo, founder of Italy’s Five-Star movement in 2009, and Silvio Berlusconi. And in the USA, you had many others, including Joe McCarthy, who waved papers allegedly listing the names of Communists.

Mueller and managing expectations

The Mueller Report is in… but is the real crime collusion, or has the president been using it as a rhetorical decoy to hide other crimes? There is a case to be made that the Trump administration, with GOP collusion, has been preying on the wishful thinking of those who loudly despise the president.

From the jargondatabase: To a large extent, people declare that a project has either succeeded or failed based on whether it met their expectations. Few projects fail in an absolute sense — they simply fail to meet individual expectations.

A scenario: Johnny comes back from an exam and says: “I think I really failed that one….” For days, the kid goes on and on about the failure, … Mom and Dad console him”, his jealous little sister expects, with some glee, and F minus… The result arrives. It’s a D…. Parents scold the sister for being so negative. Johnny, who had revised for 10 minutes, escaped a real scolding for being such a lazy bone. Johnny is an expectations manager.

So: Has anyone wondered why Donald Trump keeps drawing attention to the collusion issue? He repeats the word over and over again, tweets it, rambles on about the “Russia thing” and the fake news business… Anyone with the most basic communication skills would try to change the subject, or just let the matter go… if it really was a thing. So, is he really that furious? Or is it merely grandstanding and throwing red meat for his base to mitigate an eventual bad report card from the Mueller team?

One of the rules of communication is not to call attention to flaws, deficiencies and other warts, and especially to do that vociferously. There are a thousand reasons to oppose this president. But there is not one reason to underestimate the effectiveness of his strange communication, which keeps his base riled up, the GOP terrified, and above all, the media enthralled by so much cheap and flashy raw material, which delivers great product margins.

I’ve had a theory since the beginning of the Mueller probe, and it is this: Trump and his handlers, like Conway, have been engaged in expectations management. In its simplest form, it is like a person going to play a game of chess and mentioning repeatedly that he hasn’t played in 20 years. It may or may not be true, but it either justifies and mitigates the eventuality of a loss, or exalts a win, especially against a strong opponent.The slogan is: promise less, deliver more. This can hide the warts and weaknesses, or downright deficiencies, once the results are in. Anyone who followed the USA-Iraq wars carefully will have noticed how during the run-up to the wars, Saddam’s army was always described in apocalyptic terms, even though in the first war(1991) it had just come off an eight-year battle with Iran and was quite degraded. In  2003, it had hardly been able to rebuild, but the media scoured Roget’s to find the most terrifying words to describe this Incredible Military Force.  When the “coalition of the willing went in,” it cut through the the Iraqi army like a hot wire through butter. That victory was followed by a barely suppressed gloat fest … which then  hit the real wall of guerilla resistance and the totally predictable, bloody quasi-civil war that then broke out. But it, the victory, was enough to satisfy a critical mass of Americans and the media, for a while at least, while the Bush clowns rejigged their rhetoric and fumbled around in the country they had just invaded until things sort of arranged themselves.

So Trump’s yelling about the Mueller report could be a deflection in that vein, negative expectations. The Resistance expects treason, even the base does (they know their Leader is a criminal, they like him for it). But the report may more or less exonerate Trump of the “collusion thing,” which he’s been drawing so much attention to. This will effectively dash the expectations of all those who have been wishfully and blissfully thinking that Trump is deeply involved in some evil traitorous plot — that his base wouldn’t even care about anyway, because Trump is their weapon against their feeling of inferiority so carefully crafted by Fox News and others. Whit collar stuff is almost trite next to treason, isn’t it?

The GOP, for their part, with the support of said base, will commence howling about Trump having been right all along… about the collusion thing, so obviously he must be totally innocent… Even if he is not entirely exonerated….  That’s the general scenario: On the one side, Congressional committees trying to parse all the white collar stuff dug up by Mueller & Co. that are part and parcel of the Trump repertoire anyway and will be added to the porn payoffs, but that don’t really count for his base, like his moral bankruptcy. On the other side, the base drunk on a kind of false schadenfreude trying to out-holler the  Resistance, which will still be pointing out myriad Trump crimes in 280-character bursts. And Trump heating them up, as usual, keeping the country deeply divided.

It’s a little complicated, perhaps, but being simplistic is not a solution, even with this immature and transparent president. A well-conducted campaign of expectations management would explain why Trump has been hollering about collusion, when it would/should have been the last thing to do if he were really guilty.

You see how it works?  I may be wrong, but I’ll risk it. Just remember one thing with Trump and his punditocracy: Criminal behavior is unimportant; being in the spotlight at all times is.

This article was updated with material I had gathered two weeks ago.

Chicago Jiu-Jitsu: Obama’s Olympic bid

The distinct sense of glee felt in some of the more vociferous conservative circles at Obama’s journey to Copenhagen to promote Chicago as an Olympic city must have come as a pleasant surprise to the president and his advisers. Just as a cat, once it has caught sight of a moving finger, will follow it almost idiotically, so the right-wing blogs and network started ranting before, during and after the trip.

 

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©Tim Jackson, www.clstoons.com

There was talk of Chicago’s ghastly crime rate, as if Al Capone was still shifting his weight around the windy city. And when the IOC picked Rio de Janeiro,  Limbaugh whooped, Drudge gloated, and Lou Dobbs punned rather irrelevantly about the ego landing. As for Obama himself, he was no doubt sincere in his effort to promote his home city as the 2016 site of the Olympics. However, as any good strategist, he probably weighed the risk of failure and realized it could also be beneficial in some way. The grand and overpaid network poobahs started balancing the whole of his presidency on one silly trip to Copenhagen. They must have been kidding. Or they are truly underestimating him and his advisers.

The first point to make, of course, is that there was only a 25%  chance that Chicago would be it. Tokyo and Madrid were also in the offing, along with Rio. Secondly, the USA already hosted the Olympics, in fact several times: Atlanta, 1996, and Los Angeles, which had the honor twice already, in 1984 and 1932.  If memory serves me right, no artificially manufactured anti-Olympic brouhaha emerged prior to the decision to choose these two cities. Thirdly, Olympic Games are very costly, even if they do give some cities an opportunity to clean up their façades and maybe build a new stadium at exorbitant costs. Munich, in 1972, got itself a state-of-the-art subway, a great concert and events venue, a wonderful swimming pool and some esthetically dubious housing. It – and Israel above all — also endured a tragic terrorist attack.  Other cities are not such happy campers financially. Check here for some stats. And finally, it was time for South America to draw the crowds, and let’s face it, Rio is a great place to party … though I wonder what the conservative pundits have to say about the crime rate there.

Hoist with their own petard

The point is, though, the right-wingers once again turned up the heat and started firing with every loud but irrelevant argument they could find, encouraged, no doubt, by the usual crowd of publicity-seeking baggers and birthers. My suspicion is that the Olympic gambit was in fact a fairly obvious rhetorical trap for this pathologically angry crowd of naysayers. In chess, a gambit is the sacrifice of a pawn (or a piece) in the opening to attain an attack or a stronger position. It does not necessarily mean winning.  Obama, in fact, could not lose. By going to Denmark, he was showing a high degree of commitment not only to Chicago, but also to the USA, since, barring the financial burdens, being an Olympic host is an honor, apparently. The argument that he has better things to do in times of crisis is ridiculous. If the average Joe or Jane in the US can travel and work wirelessly these days, so can Obama in the comfort of Airforce One. As for results, had the president managed to convince the IOC, he would have effectively silenced  – at last for the space of a lunch break – those who obsessively and compulsively rave against anything he does…. Now that Chicago was nixed, these über-patriots are clapping and cheering and jeering. What they’re doing, actually, is approving of a US defeat, an absolute rhetorical no-no …  They could not approve or commiserate, owing to their previous stand. They were in a corner and Obama simply let them impale themselves on their own weapons. Though I am not sure whether these people realize this at all. “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill,” Sun Tzu dixit.

This might also explain Obama’s remarkable equanimity in the face of rather blatant and virulent attacks from the lunatic fringe-far right spectral range during the health care debate. It appears to be a tactic (I suppose there is really a will behind it) that he and his advisers often used during the campaign a year ago. For instance, every time Sarah Palin would start heating up the tin foil crowd with bizarre allegations that had nothing to do with the economy melting down, or when she allowed misfits to shout death threats against candidate Obama, support for the McCain-Palin ticket declined. She failed to see that most voters were not interested in conspiracy theory à la McCarthy. Obama would essentially wave it off as something fairly pedestrian. To see John McCain finally explain to some hysterical senior citizen that Obama is in fact an American citizen and an honorable man was almost poignant. Gradually, the opposition wound up on the fringe where it became highly identifiable. To this day, in those horrid forum comment fields, one can quickly identify those who are writing down the tinselly sounds in their heads fed by the far right, from Palin down to Savage. They keep repeating the same inHannities… Barack H. Obama, Acorn, socialism, etc… Tired old stuff that has about as much meaning as the muttering of some burnt-out preacher on Speaker’s Corner…

At the crossroads

After Chicago, the professional ranters will find themselves increasingly sidelined, I suspect, perhaps even where health care is concerned. Which will not deter them, just as the Palin fiasco did not deter them from just adopting the better part of valor and keeping a low profile for a while. Sure, the health insurance debate is far from over and given the millions spent by the insurance companies to produce scare-ads and convince senators,   Obama may well fail to get the entire package. But he will get something from it, and be that merely clarity about who is who. The American people, apparently, want reform, some 47 million are uninsured and that is shocking in a modern, industrialized country. But rather than engage in reasonable deliberation, the opposition has hitched its cart to fellows like Beck, who are cynically playing the lunatic fringe for all they can, because there is money to be made in them thar hills. It’s hardly astonishing that the Obama administration is now seeking support from the GOP, particularly the governors. Schwarzenegger is more or less on board. What this sounds like is a kind of methadone program for sections of the GOP that have become addicted to the simplistic, borderline rhetorical bilge being thrown daily at the US public by self-seeking radio hosts.  If the GOP wants to win presidentials again, it will have to change some of its political planks and above all unload all the loose cannons, professional peddlers of political hallucinations and sundry buffoons at the nearest port of call.

 

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