Beyond the Madness of King Donald
President Frankenstein, Donald Trump, has been pretty much the bizarre “insane clown president” (Matt Taibbi’s phrase) that I and many others expected. He’s only shocked me twice: his weird Twitter meltdown alleging that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones and his appallingly timed firing of FBI Director James Comey on grounds that seemed to take us all for complete idiots.
“Banana Republic” President
Does Trump’s dismissal of Comey prove that the president is in cahoots with Russia? No, it shows that Trump was incensed with Comey for cooperating with the Senate investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, for ramping up the FBI’s inquiry into the same matter, for drawing too much media attention and for contradicting Trump’s wacky wiretapping charge.
Lack of outward devotion to the new commander in chief is what got Comey canned. His sin was insufficient fealty to Herr Donald. In a sharp New Yorker essay published one day before the Comey discharge, Evan Osnos reported on an instructive dialogue he had with Jerry Taylor, president of the libertarian Niskanen Center:
It is not a good sign for a beleaguered President when his party gets dragged down, too. From January to April, the number of Americans who had a favorable view of the Republican Party dropped seven points, to forty per cent, according to the Pew Research Center. I asked … Taylor … if he had ever seen so much skepticism so early in a Presidency. “No, nobody has,” he said. “But we’ve never lived in a Third World banana republic. I don’t mean that gratuitously. I mean the reality is he is governing as if he is the President of a Third World country: power is held by family and incompetent loyalists whose main calling card is the fact that Donald Trump can trust them, not whether they have any expertise.” [emphasis added]
Comey was shown the door because he failed to obsequiously kiss the ring of the orange-haired beast, who shows great admiration for authoritarian strongmen like Vladimir Putin (Russia), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (Egypt) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey).
Whatever his motives and intentions, Trump has, if anything, poured fuel on the Russiagate fire. Recall that it was the cover-up, not the Watergate burglary itself that undid Richard Nixon—another strange and paranoid authoritarian with a knack for cloistering himself off from reality and surrounding himself with frightened yes men.
The firing certainly looks like a Russia-related cover-up to many, especially to political and media actors who are locked into a neo-McCarthyite Russia witch hunt. Many top Democrats and corporate news elites are fiercely determined to tar Trump with a Kremlin brush. Now they can probably enlist some key Republicans to join them in calling for an independent special committee or special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election.
“Fortress Trump: His Drug Is Himself”
Trump fanned the flames further with his preposterous initial claim to have acted because of how Comey reignited the Hillary Clinton email scandal on the eve of the election. As anyone who pays remotely serious attention to U.S. politics knows, candidate Trump praised Comey’s disturbing October surprise, which may have inflicted significant damage on the Clinton campaign. Now Trump is angry at how Comey helped undermine “Crooked Hillary”? It doesn’t wash.
Did Trump really think that Democrats and others would fall for his pretext for firing Comey and not see Comey’s removal as an effort to derail federal investigations into his real and/or alleged Russian connections—and into whatever else might come up in the process? Is he really surprised, as he tells Fox News, that his move sparked a huge backlash? Could he really be that out of it? Seriously?
Yes, it’s quite possible that he is that clueless. Look at what Osnos discovered from his in-depth research on the young Trump presidency:
By this point in George W. Bush’s term, Bush had travelled to twenty-three states and a foreign country. Trump has visited just nine states and has never stayed the night. He inhabits a closed world that one adviser recently described to me as “Fortress Trump.” Rarely venturing beyond the White House and Mar-a-Lago, he measures his fortunes through reports from friends, staff, and a feast of television coverage of himself. Media is Trump’s “drug of choice,” Sam Nunberg, an adviser on his campaign, told me recently. “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t do drugs. His drug is himself.”
It’s not clear how fully Trump apprehends the threats to his Presidency. Unlike previous Republican Administrations, Fortress Trump contains no party elder with the stature to check the President’s decisions. “There is no one around him who has the ability to restrain any of his impulses, on any issue ever, for any reason,” Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican consultant, said, adding, “Where is the ‘What the fuck’ chorus?”
Trump’s insulation from unwelcome information appears to be growing as his challenges mount. His longtime friend Christopher Ruddy, the C.E.O. of Newsmax Media, talked with him recently at Mar-a-Lago and at the White House. “He tends to not like a lot of negative feedback,” Ruddy told me. Ruddy has noticed that some of Trump’s associates are unwilling to give him news that will upset him. “I don’t think he realizes how fully intimidating he is to many people, because he’s such a large guy and he’s so powerful,” Ruddy went on. “I already sense that a lot of people don’t want to give him bad news about things. I’ve already been approached by several people that’ll say, ‘He’s got to hear this. Could you tell him?’ ”
The madness of would-be king Donald is no small matter. It’s all very Czar Nicholas- and Richard Nixon-like.
Malignant “Dunning-Kruger Narcissism”
It is the on-record opinion of many mental health professionals that Trump exhibits hallmark characteristics of the psychological condition known as “malignant narcissism … characterized by grandiosity, a need for admiration, sadism, and a tendency toward unrealistic fantasies,” Osnos reported.
Malignant narcissists live in bizarre defiance of reality and of anything that doesn’t fit their lavish sense of their own superiority and excellence. They delight in the humiliation and even the crippling and killing of others.
I would add another psychological dimension here: the “Dunning-Kruger effect.” As Wikipedia explains: This is “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately.”
It’s not just that Trump is stupid. It’s that he thinks he’s really, really smart, something the outside world has certainly been telling him for decades by showering him with absurdly undeserved riches and power. And he’s got nobody around him with the standing or courage to tell him otherwise to check either his folly or his hubristic taste for ruling with sheer impunity.
On this last characteristic, recall Trump’s “locker room” comment: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Remember also his campaign statement that he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue “and shoot somebody” and still not lose voters.
Removal Prior to 2020?
Could Trump be removed before the end of his first term either through a 25th Amendment ejection (on grounds of incapacitation) or impeachment (on criminal grounds)? Given Republican control of both the U.S. House and the Senate, I would have put the chances of that at less than 10 percent before the Comey firing.
Now, the chances have gone up significantly, especially if Democrats take back the House in 2018. Trump is counting on keeping enough of his base supporters—people who would let him “do anything,” even shoot somebody in broad daylight—so Republican legislators will not feel compelled to abandon him.The most likely scenario is that Trump will just limp through three and a half more years as a badly damaged and epically ineffective president and not be put up again in 2020. Look for “deep state” actors from the intelligence agencies he so foolishly antagonized to undermine his waning legitimacy with a steady drumbeat of crippling revelations. The stress of the presidency (for which he is clearly not fit) may elicit a stroke, heart attack or some other health crisis that will finish him off as president. He already shows significant signs of dementia.
For “a New Organizing of Institutions”
How excited should we on the left be at the possibility of Trump being removed prior to the next presidential election? It is certainly desirable that we not have a wicked moron and malicious narcissist with his fingers on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. From that perspective, Trump cannot be defenestrated from the Oval Office soon enough. Yes, Mike Pence is a dangerous white nationalist and Christian fascist, but he would be a very weak caretaker for whatever period he occupied the White House.
Of course, Nixon’s forced resignation did nothing to change the dark and neoliberal trajectory of United States history after 1974. Jimmy Carter got four years to advance the corporate and Wall Street agenda and hand the ball off to the monstrous right-winger Ronald Reagan.
The real (democratic-socialist, environmentalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-imperialist) left is no great friend of the FBI and the CIA, the intelligence and police state agencies with which Trump has been tussling. It is not about to hit the streets in support of these repressive agencies or for the dismal dollar Democrats, who have been using the Russiagate ruse to deny their own responsibility for putting a neofascist in the White House and the white nationalist GOP in control of Congress, the Supreme Court and most of the state governments.
For any left movement worthy of the label, Trump should be removed because of his racism, his ecocidalism, his fake-populist arch-plutocracy, his sexism, and his murderous militarism, not because he’s a friend of Russia and has ticked off the FBI, the CIA and the neoliberal masters of the Democratic Party.
All this talk about how Russia supposedly intervened to undermine our supposed great “democracy” is quite childish. You don’t have to be a Marxist to understand that U.S. politics and policy have been subject to an “unelected dictatorship of money” over the past three-plus decades. Six years into Obama’s presidency, the liberal political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) reported the U.S. political system has become “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule.” Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of (or even against) the will of the U.S. majority, and regardless of which party holds the White House or Congress.
“The central point that emerges from our research,” Gilens and Page wrote, “is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.” (Maybe it’s not “their government”?)
That would be no less true if the “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton (as Adolph Reed Jr. described the Democratic presidential nominee last summer) occupied the White House instead of Trump.
Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S.—what Noam Chomsky calls “RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked.’ ”
I was very impressed by this comment from Yasser Louati, talking to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! about the election of the neoliberal investment banker Emmanuel Macron as president of France one week ago: “France does not need an umpteenth new president; it needs a new republic, a new constitution, a new organizing of institutions.”
Much the same can be said about the United States. Political institutions that claim to be “democratic”—offering voters a binary choice between regressive and dissembling neoliberal shills like the Clintons, Obama, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel, on one hand, and neofascist, white nationalists like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Frauke Petry and Donald Trump, on the other hand—do not deserve our respect.
Impeaching or otherwise removing the Clockwork Orangatun won’t alter that basic reality. The United States doesn’t need a new and 46th president as much as it needs a democracy, a new constitution, a new organizing of institutions—including its frankly absurd and plutocratic election and party systems.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the end of his life with the belief that the real faults in American life lay not so much in men as in the oppressive institutions and social structures that reigned over them. He wrote that “the radical reconstruction of society itself” was “the real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters. He had no interest, of course, in running for the White House.
There’s also the matter of time, what King called the “fierce urgency of now.” Impeachment or 25th Amendment removal will have to evolve over many months and even years. But we need to be building great social and political movements for King’s project now and cannot be distracted from that endeavor by intra-ruling class power struggles.
The environmental clock telling us to undertake a radical and eco-socialist “reorganizing of institutions” is ticking with each new carbon-warmed day.
If Trump gets dumped, good riddance to him. He’s a despicable ogre.
The ruling class is divided. Good. Let us build the organizations that might carry out the great popular and democratic revolution required to save the social and ecological commons and thus preserve chances for a decent and democratic future. Given capitalism’s systemically inherent war on livable ecology—emerging now as the biggest issue of our or any time—the formation of such a new and united left-wing popular and institutional presence has become a matter of life and death for the species. “The uncomfortable truth,” the Hungarian Marxist philosopher István Mészáros rightly argued 16 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”