Surely Donald Trump is the least “presidential” Chief Executive of the United States we have ever known. And that, above all, may explain why he is likely to be re-elected in 2020 against the united opposition of Democrats and all mass media, indeed over the opposition of all “respectable” society who shudder at the sight and sound of him.
His merits were fully on display yesterday in his rambling, self-indulgent two hour address to the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, at a hotel venue outside Washington, D.C.
The speech was carried live on youtube.com by several pro-Trump organizations that promised viewers an uncut, fly-on-the-wall experience without intermediation by hostile mainstream newscasters. He reached American and global audiences that may have numbered in the millions. Like his daily Tweets to his political base, Trump is using the power of social networks and live streaming to run circles around old-technology, print and television broadcasters that are arrayed against him.
One commentator noted that Trump used in his speech a “very unpresidential word” – “bullshit” – when characterizing the oversight role of the Democratic House of Representatives. But the bigger point is that Trump’s choice of words throughout, his very prolixity and his demeanor at the lectern were all un-presidential.
What we saw was that when he lets himself go Trump has the “common touch.” Not by stooping down but by just being himself. We can put aside all the glitter surrounding the Trump fortune, all the gilt on the taps of his bathroom faucets. Trump is common in all senses of the word, including vulgar, crass, a braggard. He is in every way what your typical intellectual or other Establishment stuffed shirt will shun.
But at the same time, his being on a level with, and perhaps beneath the level of the broad public makes him loveable. The audience at the CPAC yesterday was enthralled. He was interrupted repeatedly by rhythmic chanting of “Four More Years.”
In the Obama days, the media played up the President’s education and supposed sophistication ( a cultivated myth). He was asked his opinion about absolutely everything and, fool that he is. he responded, never pleading ignorance, going well beyond any possible comfort zone or personal information base.
This does not happen with Trump. No one mistakes him for the Father of the Nation. He is the guy on the next bar stool with whom you can share a locker-room joke.
Trump’s speech had been announced as taking an hour. In fact, it went double that because so much of it was “off script,” ignoring the teleprompter and speaking what was on his mind, not on the mind of his handlers. As he observed, with good reason, he had won the 2016 election precisely by going off script. “There were 16 Republicans running for President plus me.” Aptly put, not just as a lead-in to his primary identity as a conservative and not just another Republican party card-holder.
Watching him in action yesterday raised issues not only about the present but about the distant past and whether such vicious in-fighting is a new development or an old feature of American democracy and the struggle for power, both on the way to Washington and in DC to retain power once on top. This was clear from Trump’s mocking Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General who recused himself on the investigation into Russian collusion during the 2016 election. In doing so, Sessions removed the main justification for his having been appointed: to ring-wall, to protect Trump against the oncoming witch-hunt that was intended to destroy his presidency.
Had he fulfilled the duties Trump intended for him, Sessions would have drawn upon himself all the wrath of Congress and tarnished his own reputation forever. Instead, he defended his own integrity at the expense of the President’s political fortunes. One more back-stabber, from Trump’s perspective.
Then as Trump went on to say yesterday, Mueller was installed, Mueller who was a buddy of….FBI chief James Comey. And there you have the real collusion, that of the intel bosses out to get Trump.
These seemingly offhand remarks by the President to his adoring supporters were not material for gossip columns. They are his insider description of the networking or collusion that makes Washington the treacherous swamp it is. If there is a Deep State, it is in what Trump was describing yesterday.
All of the connections around Trump’s mention of Jeff Sessions bring to mind something long forgotten: Jack Kennedy’s appointment of his brother Bobby to be Attorney General. At the time, the appointment was criticized as smacking of nepotism and dynastic ambitions of the Kennedys. But in retrospect, seeing what Trump has been undergoing at the orders of the “sleaze” whom he rightly says have been in charge of the FBI, it makes perfect sense that Jack appointed his brother precisely to ring-wall himself against the black-mailing sleaze-bag of his own day, J. Edgar Hoover. And these associations necessarily resuscitate the conspiracy theories that surrounded the Kennedy assassination, with red lines going back to the CIA.
But to return to the vivid and memorable present…
Watching Trump deliver the impromptu half or more of his CPAC appearance changed my understanding of his speaking abilities which was first formed during the televised presidential debates. I gave him low marks at the time. Not being a lawyer by training, not being a politician till he reached for the nation’s highest office, he clearly had no experience in political thrust and parry. He resorted to verbal aggression with all the subtlety of a cudgel.
Now it was clear that he is indeed an effective public speaker, but coming from a very different genre: the stand-up comedian of a Las Vegas casino show. His “throw away lines” yesterday were incredibly good politics. They were picked up and disseminated even by his enemies in the media because they were so well targeted and invoked unforgettable images that you just want to share with the first person you meet.
The top pick came early in his speech, when he talked about how he hoped the Democrats would keep their present infatuation with environmentalism, climate change and run their 2020 campaign on that plarform:
“I think the new green deal, or whatever the hell they call it The Green New Deal, right? I encourage it. I think it’s really something they should promote.
“No planes, No energy. When the wind stops blowing, that’s the end of your electric. ‘Let’s hurry up. Darling, darling, is the wind blowing today? I’d like to watch television, darling.”
In a situation where Trump’s every word is picked over for possible use in litigation against him, he has become a master of sarcasm and double entendre, language habits which belie the notion of mental laziness or, to borrow from the barrel of insults hurled his way, ‘low IQ.’
Thus, we heard yesterday from him about the “collusion delusions” of those “sick, sick” Democrats, who, upon realizing that the Mueller report will give them nothing to table a motion of impeachment in the House, turned on a dime and started demanding documents from his past dealings in private business hoping to find dirt there.
As for FBI director James Comey, the very bad cop, Trump made a short story long. He regaled us with his (surely imaginary) conversation with The First Lady on the day of the firing. He had told Melania that here, at last, he would find full bipartisan support. After all, Senator Schumer of New York and other Democratic leaders had been calling for Comey’s scalp ever since the days just prior to the November 2016 election when Comey briefly publicly considered reopening the investigation of her misuse of a private computer server to conduct State business,
Then, with reference to the line of questioning directed at his former private attorney Michael Cohen this past week during a Congressional hearing, Trump ripped into his enemies. “They say Trump was begging the Russians to give him Hillary’s emails. Begging the Russians!” Here again, his words were dripping sarcasm, as well they might.
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The CPAC is by definition all about politics. But the policy side of politics was absent in Trump’s speech yesterday. He spoke about partisan warfare, about a struggle to stay in power and survive the determined, vicious attack on his presidency being waged by the Democrats.
In that sense, it corresponds to the main point in an essay published by Pat Buchanan a couple of days ago, https://buchanan.org/blog/is-the-american-century-over-for-good-136596
Current American political life is extraordinarily vituperous and self-destructive. At the same time it is a menace to the world outside the country.
It is an old and true observation that for any given country, foreign policy often is just an extension of domestic policy. In the United States today, the Rest of the World has no reality in and of itself. It is merely a prop to be used at will in the struggle for power with political opponents.
The current US attempt at regime change in Venezuela is a case in point. Many critics of US foreign policy have spoken of the oil wealth of Venezuela as the factor driving American support for the self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido. No, with production booming at home, the United States gunboat diplomacy is no longer shaped by oil. The driving force is domestic voting patterns and how to lock in crucial states by identification with the issues that count there.
We are only four months past the midterm elections and all eyes are already focused on 2020. In the Venezuela play of the Trump administration, we see the issue on which he clearly hopes to win the State of Florida, with its very large Latino, particularly Cuban population. The fact that the US economic blockade of Venezuela, its seizure of Venezuelan assets may be causing enormous harm to the civilian population, may precipitate a bloody civil war there: that is all just collateral damage for the Trump administration. Moreover, the recent appointment of the veteran planner of the Iran-Contra policies under Reagan, Elliott Abrams has brought into play that old scenario, with Ukraine now starring as the chosen implementer of dirty work against Venezuela in the days ahead.
In the cynical use of a foreign policy issue, namely Venezuela, for the sake of political advantage in the domestic power struggle in Washington, Trump is no better than his Democratic opponents who have used Russia in the same way, as a cudgel against him. If there is any difference here, it is that the Democrats are raising the risks of Armageddon with the world’s other nuclear superpower for the sake of seizing power at home. Reality, truth about Putin’s Russia is not only irrelevant but stands in the way of scenarios dreamed up by the sophomoric political scientist hacks they employ in their assault on Trump.
In closing, let us take one more look at Trump’s successes as a public speaker dating from a couple of weeks ago when he was using all his rhetorical strength to promote The Wall. I have in mind his rally in El Paso, Texas, on the very border with Mexico.
In advance of that event, on the face of it Trump’s appearance in that city, with its heavily Latino (Mexican) demographics, given its symbiotic relationship with Ciudad Juares on the other side in a shared metropolitan area, should have seemed a losing proposition. All the more so, given that an up and coming, local charismatic Democratic star, Beto O’Rourke, was organizing a counter demonstration.
However, as reported by Dave Eggers in the Left-leaning and otherwise viscerally anti-Trump Guardian newspaper, Trump’s rally was an enormous success. Indeed a large part of the pro-Trump audience was Latino and people of color, a third of them under the age of 30. Meanwhile, O’Rourke’s counter-demo was pitiful failure.
It is perfectly clear from Eggers’ report that it is not just the “common touch” that Donald Trump has going for him, important as that may be. It is also economic figures that convey a reality of highest ever employment for disadvantaged America, in particular Latinos and Blacks.
The title of the article says it all. Yes, Trump may indeed win a second term whatever the Democrats try and whomever they put forward. The paramount question for those of us who hope to survive the Age of Trump is when will he finally act on the one pre-election promise that he has so far been unable to deliver: normalize relations with Russia and take us back from the brink of nuclear war.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2019