North Korea, White Nationalism, and Reality TV: The Key To the Fake King

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Look, I’m sorry, I love this image.

In Deadspin today, Burneko talks about why he doesn’t think Trump is a real ideological Nazi or Confederate or even an actual white supremacist. I sort of disagree, but this is a solid point.

Honestly, even his white supremacism is a second-order thing, an artifact of the coincidence that he, himself, is white, and cannot tolerate less than personal supremacy. He likes the things in the world that gratify him, and those things happen to be good for preserving the power of white people, men in particular, literally any of whom he’d run over with a combine harvester in a moment if it got the New York Times to treat him like a True New York Big Shot.

There’s a lot to that, I think, especially about how he’d uncaringly destroy the people who for whatever reason adore him. He has no problem crushing the people closest to him, his advisors and staff and defenders. Indeed, he likes cruelty, probably because it reminds him that, despite being a mush-headed coward, he still has unearned power.

He clearly doesn’t care about any of his voters. As Burneko puts it, ““Nazi” and “Republican” and “fork” and “war” and “hello”: For Donald Trump these are just noises you make with your mouth. You make the ones that get people to look at you; if they also smile, fine, but if their eyes widen in shock or horror or disgust, that’s fine too, so long as they don’t look away.” I do think he’s a pretty old-school Queens/Staten Island racist, but he played it up more to get the people cheering. He’s a wrestling heel and a reality show savant (that’s not a compliment). He knows how to gin up conflict for the cheap seats.

Indeed, that’s confirmed by a post late yesterday in the Times.

The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.

In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.

First off, people who are stunned: you’re idiots. This is who he has always been. It isn’t like he somehow became a different man over the 200 days of his Presidency. Everyone knew this was exactly how it would go, so don’t act surprised. When Gary Cohn resigns because his conscience was rocked, don’t treat him as a hero. He’s a goddamn dope if he ever thought differently.

But it’s the last line that’s key. The political establishment is trying to “tame his impulses”, and that’s why he feels great. It doesn’t matter what he said, it doesn’t matter how divisive it was, it doesn’t matter that he broke up his precious CEO conclaves or emboldened Nazis or hurt his chances of passing policies. He was able to be Trump.

That’s what it is all about. That’s what it has always been about. He wants to be the swaggering anti-PC cowboy he envisioned back in his old draft-dodging days, and wants to be seen as the big man who tells it like it is because he’s the only one smart enough to know that George Washington owned slaves, and because all he really wants is attention.

The key to this is his reality show days, which are the main reason he is now President, as terrible an indictment of the United States as that is. On his show, he pretended to be the titan of business and the guy in charge, deciding on the fates of supplicants depending on if they pleased him or not. In reality, producers decided who came and went. At least, according to Clay Aiken, but come on: does Trump seem like the guy who makes real decisions?

He doesn’t. He just likes the trappings of power and fame. A perfect example of this was the North Korea showdown. Trump blustered and blathered, but the DoD played it straight, and Nikki Haley did her job, and we didn’t move to DefCon 1 or anything. Indeed, Trump’s statements seemed outside the process. He was the fake President.

The problem is that he is still the real President, and he made the situation more tense, and could have made it catastrophic. On TV, he could pretend to be the boss and say stupid shit, and it didn’t matter. But here, all you have is people trying to do their jobs under a guy who has no concern for protocol or the right way to do things, because they constrain Trump from being “Trump”.  He doesn’t know anything, doesn’t make actual decisions, doesn’t care to handle things, but wants to be seen as the boss. Wants to be seen as the swaggering tough. And that’s enormously dangerous.

When he adopts the language of white nationalism because he likes to be seen as anti-PC, it is dangerous. When he threatens North Korea because he likes to be seen as bold, it is dangerous. When he is willing to say anything because he can’t stand being anything other than his own stupid caricature, it is dangerous.

The entire Donald Trump candidacy and presidency has been about serving this empty ego. It’s about propping up his fraud. Maybe that’s the only way to get through to his most stubborn supporters. Just keep pointing out that at no way, in no form, has this ever been about them. It never will be.

In Asking About Washington and Jefferson, Trump Stumbles Onto One Interesting Point

 

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“Great guy. Owned slaves. Doesn’t bother me. I’m more Presidential than him”

 

I don’t think there is much more to say about Trump’s raving belligerence, his hideous instincts, and his incoherent tirade against decency yesterday. As Pierce pointed out, he was a guy who was clearly angry about having to release a second statement on whether or not Nazis and racists are bad, and stewed about it for 24 hours, then let the world know how he really felt. To say it was un-Presidential is to pretend that this guy is a real President.

But he did inadvertently stumble onto a good point, albeit from the wrong direction and with the wrong intent. He brought up a normal right-wing Confederate talking point, bringing up the fact that many of the Founding Fathers were indeed slave owners.

“Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Mr. Trump said. “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down.”…

“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? …Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down his statue, because he was a major slave owner. Now we’re going to take down his statue. So you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally — but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

Obviously, the “there were a lot of good people carrying torches alongside the Nazis and white supremacists!” line that has people talking. But the Washington/Jefferson part is really interesting. This is a common sneer among the right, an unlettered attempt at logic, and, to them, an attempt to get us to consider how much we’re “changing” history.

There are a few obvious rebuttals here. The first is the easiest, which is: we’re not changing history, you dolt, we’re just not honoring terrible people anymore. The second is related, which is: sure, we have a complicated history, but maybe we’ll draw the line at honoring people who committed treason against the United States in order to defend slavery.

That one is worth unpacking. We can point out the obvious hypocrisy in the idea that the right wing is telling us that some Founding Fathers were bad, as an excuse for maybe worse behavior by CSA leaders. When the left points that out we hate America, remember. But I think we should actually happily accept those terms.

One of the worst parts of this country, and one of the wells from which a lot of contemporary poison is drawn, is Founding Father worship. We do tend to deify these man, and the end result is really pernicious.

For one thing, it has partly led to the contemporary cult of the Presidency. After all, of all the Founding Fathers who are worshipped, most were Presidents. Franklin is really the only non-President who is deified, until Hamilton the last couple of years. Men like Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine are more known than understood, and tend to get lumped together, even though they were remarkably different men with remarkably different ideas.

And that’s sort of the point. The Fathers were a fractious bunch with a hell of a lot of competing ideas, and barely worked out a compromise to set up the government. That’s a good thing. The problem is that their ideas, and indeed their lives, have been dipped in a sort of amber. The differences are smoothed out. And they are lumped together into a sort of cult.

Really, the fact that not capitalizing “founding fathers” looks sort of weird is a tell. They are almost gods, and that is really pernicious. It is literally undemocratic, and it has infected our politics. We parse the text of the 2nd Amendment to see if it is ok for you to carry a bazooka to a Nazi rally. We ask what the Fathers would have thought of internet pornography (Franklin: Thumbs up). We try to imagine what 18th-century farmers would have done today.

That’s really antithetical to their whole project. The people who created this country believed in common law and progress. They didn’t intend for their word to be Gospel. This isn’t just an argument against “originalism”, which is an obvious intellectual fraud, but against the whole idea that we should be beholden to a bunch of flawed dudes from 240 years ago.

And so maybe we should look at our history. Maybe we should say “Oh yeah- George Washington would have been super weirded out at civil rights, and just seeing an airplane would have fucking blown his heart up. Let’s not look at them as gods. In fact, let’s examine the whole history of this country, and not pretend it was uniquely moral. Let’s not pretend that the slavery was an aberration. Let’s not pretend that we didn’t literally wiped out hundreds of nations in order to colonize the continent. Let’s not pretend that the monuments to men like Lee weren’t to honor soldiers, and not put up by Jim Crow politicians to remind blacks of their place. Let’s not pretend about anything, and maybe we can fulfill the promise inherent in our creeds.”

This obviously isn’t what Trump meant. In his mind, and the mind of his Confederate-loving Nazi-humping Lowes-shopping patio-torch-wielding white supremacist jackass buddies, Washington isn’t bad because Lee is, but rather Lee should be fine because Washington is great, and they are both great because they are both white. So why question their greatness?

But just because that isn’t what our idiot President meant doesn’t mean we shouldn’t run with this in another direction. I argued yesterday morning that maybe Trump will inadvertently help tear down the cult of the Presidency. I didn’t know he’d do it that afternoon.

When the President Matters

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How many times over these last few horrible days have you heard a variation of the phrase “Donald Trump failed to act like the President when the nation needed it.” I’m guessing a lot. The POTUS faced universal and happily bipartisan outrage for his mealy-mouthed avoidance of the true nature of this weekend’s horror, for merely conjuring up vague images of violence and bigotry from “many sides”.

The condemnation was of course correct. This is a man who pulls out the knives for literally anything that displeases him, from Gold Star families to newscasters to suspected Islamic knife attacks in Turkey. For him to be vague was a deliberate choice.

What’s more, it isn’t like he has been reticent to plunge into matters of racial violence beforehand. Last year, after the horrifying and sickening murders of police officers in Dallas by Mich Johnson, Trump consistently repeated the lie that Black Lives Matters activists called for a moment of silence for the shooter.

There was literally no evidence of it. As far as I was ever able to tell, no one (not even O’Reilly, who also repeated this) ever even found like a stray comment on an obscure message board that could get conflated to BLM “calling” for a moment of silence. It was something that was just made up.

But that didn’t matter to Trump. So not only was he legitimately angry and sickened at the murders (as we all were), but he added to it an incredibly divisive and dangerous lie. Those are his instincts.

And then we saw his instincts again this weekend when he refused to condemn anything except vague violence. Yeah yeah, he gave a “firm” statement yesterday, but the damage was done. His white nationalist allies know whose side they are on, and they are emboldened because of it. They all know that yesterday’s statement was pro forma and forced.

There is a chance that their hands are forced. There’s a chance that Jeff Sessions, who grudgingly admitted that the car attack “met the legal standard” of terrorism, will have to crack down on white nationalist militias and gangs, because it is politically impossible not to. My guess is that not much will happen. My guess is that a conviction of the driver will be touted as a major win, and be used to say “get off our backs.”

This is why the President matters. His appointments and his priorities matter. Jeff Sessions matters. Trump’s de facto approval of white nationalism matters. His using the phrase “cherish our history” was a direct homage to the ostensible goals of the white nationalist movement, to protect Confederate monuments, because liberals are trying to erase white history, which is, of course, “our history”. He encourages them because his only political ideology above and beyond the cult of self is vague white nationalism.

But then, there’s that phrase: “when the country needed the President”. To me, that’s super pernicious, and it is shown to be so because of Trump. The country doesn’t need a father-confessor, and we shouldn’t pour our hopes and dreams into the Presidency. We shouldn’t have an elected public official be our moral guidance counselor.

That’s a problem we have had for generations, and it is dangerous. Sure, we’ve had some good compassionate people. Barack Obama was incredibly empathetic and eloquent, and could channel grief into something productive (like in his Charleston eulogy). George W. Bush wasn’t as eloquent, but was able to speak to the country in times of grief. Bill Clinton could do it well, but never seemed totally sincere; seemed more like a man in love with his voice. George HW Bush was distant and patrician and saw the Presidency as a job, not a calling. Reagan was a gifted storyteller.

And HW was the only one who served one term, because we have a need for the President to be the Boy Scout leader of the nation (that’s not the only reason he lost, of course). That need we have is sometimes filled when we have a Reagan or and Obama, but it clearly isn’t when we have Donald Trump, a paranoid racist tiny little man. Because then the opposite happens. We feel more adrift, and the worst get filled with even more passionate intensity.

But maybe that’s changing. Maybe that’ll be Trump’s one positive contribution to this country. No one even really expected Donald Trump to do the right thing. No one, I think, except pundits and other Green Room creatures, turned their lonely eyes to Washington. We know we can’t rely on him. We know we have to fight these bastards locally, city by city, message board by message board. Maybe breaking the feeling that the president has to be the best of us will make it matter less when we elect the worst of us.

 

Shooting Irrelevance “Classics”: THE TRUMP NUCLEAR TERROR SHOWS THE GODLIKE POWER OF THE PRESIDENCY

 Obvious accompaniment to the post

(We’re probably not going to have a nuclear war with North Korea. Probably. But it is a good reminder that the Presidency in invested with literally godlike powers, essentially unchecked control over life and death on the planet. I’m linking back to an article I wrote last June about how this is power nobody should have, especially not Donald Trump. Denuclearization may be a pipe dream, but it is one worth fighting for.)

“But then…who should have that power?  Even by being asked, the question quickly reveals itself to be ‘nobody.’ Merely by dint of winning over undecideds in Ohio, one person can end civilization. A human being, woken up at 2:00AM, and told that the bombs are coming, and most people they’ve ever met may be killed, and they themselves might die horribly tonight, have to decide what to do. They have 5 or 6 minutes in which the literal fate of humankind rests in their hands. Even Ronald Reagan, rarely a deep thinker, couldn’t believe that the most important decision a human could ever make- the most important decision any human ever made- could come down to those few moments.”

Read the full post here, kids! And never sleep again.

Life in a Sebastian Gorka Moment

 

Sebastian Gorka is pictured.

Don’t be fooled by his “thinking face”. It’s uh…a bit misleading

In his classic obituary of Richard Nixon, the late and lamented Hunter S. Thompson said that Watergate read “like a textbook on human treachery.”  Of the Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s Veep, he wrote:

 

He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon’s vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

Agnew was the Joey Buttafuoco of the Nixon administration, and Hoover was its Caligula. They were brutal, brain-damaged degenerates worse than any hit man out of The Godfather, yet they were the men Richard Nixon trusted most. Together they defined his Presidency.

Not having been alive during that time period, that was always my impression. Nixon, a snake and a crook, a classic paranoid, and a deeply human monster, surrounded himself with people like him. They brought out the worst in him, but his own personal pathologies empowered thuggish neo-fascists like Haldeman and Tex Colson and G. Gordon Liddy. It was a wholly criminal administration, and that starts at the top.

The Current Occupant has all of Nixon’s terrible tendencies, but absolutely zero of his redeeming qualities. Nixon worked his way up from the bottom, and certainly seemed to think that government existed for a reason. Nixon was also smart, and paid attention to the world, and thought about how to maneuver America as a superpower.

Don’t get me wrong: all of Nixon’s instincts were cheap and cruel, and his adminstration gleefully perpatrated war crimes throughout the world. I also don’t buy the glassy “Nixon would be too liberal for Republicans today!” nonsense.  He’d be leading every Blue Lives Matter March.

He was venal, but he wasn’t an idiot. Trump is a venal idiot. And with like attracting like, he’s surrounded by venal idiots, crawling out of the lowest rungs of American public life. Few embody that more than “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka.

As someone on the fringe of the counter-terrorism community for a while, back in my Yemen days, the name Gorka would float across the radar now and then. I was not in the upper echelon, and far from it. This isn’t pulling rank. But holy cow: everybody knew how dumb this guy was. He was a joke. Nothing he said made sense, and literally no one took him seriously as a counter-terrorism thinker.

Please don’t think this was because Gorka was a “conservative” or even because he is a bigot and an absolute Islamophobe. It was because he didn’t know anything. His ideas were half-baked talk radio nonsense, without any actual knowledge of the subject, the region, the religion, anything. He couldn’t answer basic questions.

This wasn’t a liberal field, anyway. Sure, maybe in our idiotic politics the idea that we should understand the actual causes of terrorism, and maybe try to figure out what is happening in the areas where it thrives, is seen as “liberal”, but that’s nonsense. It’s a field filled with ex-military types, warrior scholars, people who spend their whole lives trying to stop AQ and ISIS and other militant groups. They are people who take things seriously. Gorka spoke apocalyptically, but never, ever seriously.

And now he’s some kind of security advisor (though no one really knows what he does). He is somehow talking about North Korea and nuclear exchanges, and perhaps influencing the President of the United States on matters of life and death. He has the gall to pull rank on the Secretary of State, and then blame the fake news for quoting him.

He’s all over the news. Earlier this week he decided to drop some knowledge of the idea of lone wolf terrorists.

“There’s no such thing as a lone wolf,” Gorka said.

“That was a phrase invented by the last administration to make Americans stupid … There has never been a serious attack or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or al Qaeda,” he continued.

“At least through the ideology and the TTPs, the tactics, the training, the techniques and the procedures that they supply through the internet.”

This is perfect Gorka. A lot of CT Twitter and the internet has disproven the idea that there haven’t been any lone wolf attacks, but that’s sort of beside the point. Absolutely  no one claims that attacks happen in complete isolation. No one would imply that people wake up and decide to kill in the name of ISIS without ever having heard of ISIS. Everyone agrees that ISIS deliberately inspires people to become radicalized, taking advantage of people lost in our weird dissolved modernity. That’s their goal. They’re really good at it.

But that doesn’t mean these are all coordinated attacks. Very few are! The term “lone wolf” is inelegant and misleading and probably stupid, but Gorka is arguing against a point of view that doesn’t exist. But he doesn’t care. I don’t even think he is deliberately lying. I think he just doesn’t really understand the issues, and doesn’t know how to think about them, except through the narrowest fake tough-guy lenses.

I don’t even think he’s lying when he says the last administration invented the term to “make Americans stupid.” I think he actually believes that. Maybe because, in his specific case, it worked? I don’t want to delve into that.

My point is, Trump empowers these guys. There are very hawkish CT figures who I disagree with, but who are serious thinkers. Trump isn’t bringing them on. He’s brought on the worst of Fox News cannibals and Breitbart culture warriors who think every issue is entirely about liberals. He’s filling his administration with every sexless geek and vicious carny in the world of American bigotry. It’s an administration perfectly in his image.

And because of that, they are all over the news. Puffed up bigot and know-nothing dope Gorka gets to go on TV and be called doctor while spouting his nonsense. We’re in a timeline where nuclear war with North Korea and all fates depend partly, even slightly, even infinitesimally, on Sebastian Gorka. That’s enough for impeachment to me.

A Scattering of Summer Thoughts on the Orange-Moon Night of August 8th

This post has like, zero politics, and is just discursive and recursive and indulgent ramblings, so feel free to skip. 

 

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This wasn’t tonight, but that’s what it looked like!

 

You set out on an eastward walk as darkness begins to stretch a light blanket over the sky and crickets warm up their chittering symphony.  You’d say it is still light out when you leave the door, but by the time you’re a few blocks away from the lake, where the air takes on a subtle sweetwater perspiration, cars have their lights on and faces are indistinct until they pass you, barely preceded by snatches of conversation.

“If there was going to be a rule about where to stand, there should have been a sign.”

“We have enough space, but we don’t have enough room.”

You don’t know the signs or the rule, and you can’t help them with their space issues. The conversations are all couples right now, older than you, settled in, comfortable in the minutia of their observations. Relaxed and unhurried as they disappear into the strengthening night. But you’re unsettled.

Continue reading

“Fire and Fury”: With North Korea, Trump Plays To The Brink In A Game He Doesn’t Understand

 

First 30 Cities To Be Nuked

The Badlands seem nice this time of year

 

It is hard to say the world has been peaceful over the last 6 months, but it has more or less maintained the status quo. That’s been the only sigh of relief in the Trump Administration. The terror has been his rampage against our democracy, both by who he is and the actions of his administration, namely the DOJ. He hasn’t, as we say, been “tested”.

That’s over now.

North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

That Washington Post story was just the first terrifying news of the day. The second was the reaction of Donald Trump.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Now. North Korea having the capability to launch nuclear missiles is not Donald Trump’s fault, despite his belligerence and incompetence. It was not Barack Obama’s fault. It wasn’t even absolutely the fault of George W. Bush, who pulled out of a treaty and essentially ignored NK while they developed their first weapon.

In some ways, this was inevitable. There is a limit to the force the international community can put on a country that is content to be lawless and ignore, when needed, the basic needs of its citizens. The regime calculates exactly what pressure it can withstand internally and externally. It knows China doesn’t want it to collapse, and the military might it projects, no matter how briefly, onto Seoul makes the thought of war nearly unbearable.

That isn’t to say it had to play out this way, and I am sure that actual NK experts could have gamed out other scenarios. But what happened, with NK consistently pushing the envelope and withstanding sanctions, was probably the most likely one. Options were very few.

To say that Donald Trump doesn’t understand this is redundant; he doesn’t understand anything. He knows nothing about North Korea except that he could maybe get a better deal there, whatever that means. And he knows nothing about history or military strategy. He just knows that he needs to sound tough.

In a way, there is a case to be made for his rhetoric today. Right now, we are playing a very delicate game, where the regime needs to be appeased, and hopefully back down. In order to do that, they have to be convinced that they have crossed a very dangerous line and that they are in existential danger. Because Kim Jong Un isn’t a madman. He’s done an incredible job of maintaining and consolidating power despite being seen as a weak poof when entering office. And he’s not suicidal.

So the trick is to convince him that he needs that pushing this further would be suicidal while hoping that new sanctions, including by Russia and China, work (getting them on–board with sanctions is more a matter of North Korean intransigence and menace, but if the Trump admin wants to claim a diplomatic victory, I’m happy to give it to them. It isn’t entirely unearned). But you want to do this without stumbling into war.

That’s what frightens me. Going to the brink only works if you think the other guy is going to blink. It only works if you know the exact level of menace you can enact without crossing the line into actual nuclear war. You have to understand your enemy, and you have to act with a level head while pretending not to.

Both sides are doing this. One is led by a child dictator (who while not a madman can’t be seen as a genius, either). The other is led by a monomaniacal know-nothing who thinks he’s tough. This is very delicate, and I don’t know if Un has the ability to play it right. I know Trump doesn’t.

There are a few mitigating factors. One is that, despite some hysteria, I do think Trump knows that nuclear war is bad. He’s not eloquent about it, and he sometimes likes to talk about it like it is NBD, but that’s just to seem tough. I think he’d be too scared to pursue things. I also think he’s too lazy to really want to do anything other than issue tough-sounding statements. He wants to outsource actual problems to other people.  that Kelly, Mattis, McMaster, et al have a protocol to keep him from doing something

And, if I am wrong on that, I’m banking (hoping, even praying) that Kelly, Mattis, McMaster, et al have a protocol to keep him from doing something catastrophic.

But even these comforts are really very cold. He is the President, and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He has to be taken seriously, even if he shouldn’t be. What he says and does matters, and he doesn’t know anything, refuses to learn anything, and acts entirely based on how he thinks it will make him look.

This is the real horror of the idiot Presidency. That nuclear war depends, to a large or small extent, but inarguably to some extent, on the most shallow, vain, and ignorant man in American public life, and maybe overall. This is the terror wrought because some people want to piss off liberals.

They’ll cheer for him with this. They’ll think this ridiculous baby is tough. I hope it works, obviously. I hope that the new sanctions force Un to back down while saving face. But Trump is making it nearly impossible for him to have a face-saving out. And that’s when things start to explode.