Archive | US President RSS feed for this section

The Truth about Trump

1 Nov

The Truth About Trump, Michael D’Antonio (St Martins Press,2016)

 

During the reconstruction of the building that would eventually become Trump Towers, workers destroyed two art deco friezes. There had been on going debate about the value of the friezes and Trump had agreed to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Facing criticism for having broken this earlier agreement, the Trump organisation were coming under increasing public pressure. Enter John Barron who defended the decision based on economics. John Barron was vice-president of the Trump organisation.  However, his existence was not a physical one, Barron was a construct of Trumps imagination played by none other than Donald Trump. It may have been a shield, some form of protection or a way to throw legal threats and deal with rumours. But it was Trump pretending to be someone else. Trump also employed the services of John Miller, another character of his imagination, to inform the press of Trumps dating history with celebrity women.  Michael D’Antonios book “The Truth About Trump” contains this story and many others about the odd world of Donald Trump up to November 2016.

 

In reading the book you are never quite sure that Donald Trump really exists. Or perhaps its which Donald Trump exists. Trumps relationship with reality is difficult to comprehend. D’Antonio sees the Trump performance as similar to a slightly off-beat comedian. His slow dead beat delivery chipping away an insult at a time. Whether its potential rivals for the Presidency, potential Mrs. Trumps or just his business rivals, the combination of over the top insult, innuendo and fear mongering have been consistent for decades. This has accelerated in recent years with Trump taking to social media for additional delivery. His Twitter storms are referred to as “shitposting”. An inoculation against the facts and perhaps even against reality. The benefit for Trump in doing this is that he always leaves one foot on the edge of the post. The character of Donald Trump might say these things but the real man is somehow hidden a little further away. Maybe though this is the real man, and D’Antonio leaves enough pointers for us to understand that the irrational, inconsistent and at times insulting behaviour is part of Trumps truth.

 

Examples abound. Trump’s business activities form the main part of this book. Trumps debt funded and ego fuelled deals rarely make commercial sense. It perhaps explains also why, as someone who was overly keen to ensure the media reported his wealth in billions, when he applied for a gaming licence in 1982 he could only demonstrate cash assets of $400,000. His empire was heavily indebted with insufficient available cash. The solution for the Trump organisation was to continue doing deals, to free up some more cash to prolong the inevitable payback. When in the early 1990s this all started to go horribly wrong for Trump he managed to bluff and bluster his way out of it. His Taj Mahal resort-casino went bankrupt and with it a number of his other ventures. As part of the arrangement with creditors Trump continued to receive $1 million per year for use of his name on the complex. In trying to salvage something from the continued operation of his businesses, the creditors avoided lengthy court processes. They also allowed Trump to ride to a position of power from his corporate disasters. He reduced many of his own liabilities but retained a significant asset base. His major financial restraint was a $450,000 per month expenses allowance. In exchange he walked away from over half a billion dollars of debt.  Or as he later said” You have to be strong enough to not pay”.

 

None of this stopped his image of being a success. A winner as he often calls himself. Trump didn’t feel constrained by just being a business man he became something of a celebrity. Brand Trump expanded itself beyond real estate, it was a lifestyle, a statement, a monogrammed gold plated high interest junk bonded one. Like his business deals though the personality needed to do further deals to fund the ego. Not content or able to just be the promoter of Trump steaks (and who would) he needed to go further. Leading a successful television show takes him further. As does his almost comical “invasion” of a Scottish coastal town to build a golf resort.  Sadly, it was not comic for those on the receiving end of the abuse and bullying that went with it.

 

However, niggling away was the idea of the biggest promotional deal he could possibly do. Run for President. Having looked at it in the late 80’s, though not in a serious way, he returned in a more serious manner for the 2000 election and the possibility of being the Reform Party candidate. He offered the party “a business mans eye for the bottom line” just as his organisation posted a $34.5-million-dollar loss for the last 3 months. Timing in politics can be everything. Much of his exploratory campaign was built around negative comments about other contenders. D’Antonio lists many of them. Too many to repeat. He managed to turn the campaign though into a book and speaking tour. His campaign eventually ended but not after extensive promotion of Trumps assets.

 

His 2011 attempt to gain momentum for the Republican nomination was backed by what is now becoming an all too familiar Trump trait, racial ignorance. Trump led the “Birther “charge. A name he rejected on the grounds that being a “Birther” seemed to imply anyone who questioned the Presidents birth details was an idiot. You can judge this statement for yourself. Trumps version of Birther was something else though. It wasn’t that Obama was born overseas (though he didn’t accept this entirely) it was that Obama had a secret. The secret may be that he is a Muslim, maybe something else. Obama, according to Trump, went to a school where no one remembers him and gained an education on the back of being a poor student. Of course it may just be that Trump didn’t like having a non-white President. Though different versions of Trump may have had different views. Trumps campaign ended when he decided to film another series of “The Apprentice”. It wasn’t over though. His 2011 testing of the waters included some strong stuff on Mexicans, and on foreign leaders laughing at America. His next attempt would, to use a quote from a Trump book “Think Big and be paranoid”.

 

Sadly, we all know where D’Antonios book is taking us. The 2016 General Election win for Trump built on his concepts of thinking big and paranoia. He advocates violence, exploits racial tension, seems comfortably misogynist and creates a climate of fear around immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans. He wants global trade and local news to be on his terms. Trump makes a political deal with those left behind, the unemployed, the Birthers, the white supremacists, climate change deniers and many more. As with his commercial deals there’s too much inherent debt and their wont be enough ability to pay all these political creditors. When the inevitable payback comes what kind of deal will emerge? Will it be more elaborate than the original? A bigger wall? More Walls? Will it cut deeper? What we do know is Trump doesn’t like to lose out in these arrangements. In avoiding Trumps political bankruptcy, we may all feel the pinch.

 

But are these images of Donald Trump that D’Antonio shows us our real issue to deal with? D’Antonio is certain that Trumps characteristics are known even if the characterisation is murky. The bigger question is what are we going to do about it?

Advertisements

Memoirs of a Political Bag carrier

26 Jul

 

Political bag carriers and gatekeepers have a new patron saint. Step forward Alyssa Mastromonoca. The inside cover of her book claims  “ if your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Obama, her behind the scenes political memoir would look something like this …” and with that she nailed it.

Mastromonaco writes in a fluid style and takes us all over the place, not just in a geographic sense but in her own world as well. She’s open and honest about herself ( there is no such thing as too open and honest ) and takes you inside the world that seems both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

If you ever find yourself undertaking a job like this ( even if its for a small place local body politician ) you will benefit from Mostramonaco’s guide as to how to explain your job. Don’t go into detail just say it slowly, in hushed tones and with some inclusive hand gestures.

The human side of the book is wonderfully self-deprecating and funny. How could fighting the urge to need the toilet whilst waiting to meet the Pope not be both ? How could you possible end up married when your first date is gate-trashed by Jim Messina ?

Behind this though are some more serious points. She is put down in the press mainly as a scheduler because, well hey she’s a Woman. And the stress and strain of the job remind me of Stephanopolousis also wonderful insider memoir. They burn them out in the White House. It may not be intentional, it may be it craves a certain type. Not just funny older sisters who pretend to be hedgehogs. And even if you don’t share her love (obsession) with lists, you’ll still find something wonderful in this book.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea ? Alyssa Mastromonaco, twelve books,2017

Notes on Gramsci,Fascism and Trump.

12 Feb

 

Many in the West are now experiencing for the first time what a Fascist Government may look like. There is debate over whether the Trump regime is a proto-fascist or some other classification which seems at times pointless and sterile when the pace and projection of events is clearly giving concern the world over.

We are though living in an era of “Populism”. Populist may be the new fascists ? Certainly the ultra nationalist ones give lots of indications. I have written before on the idea that the likes of Farage and Powell before him, send off the all the smells of fascism, all the signs and signals even if they couldn’t pull all the levers. It makes little difference but these debate go on and on. Normally to agree nothing more than we don’t like it, and how unpleasant and incompatible with liberalism it is. But I don’t look to Liberals and Liberalism to resolve it. I have no real desire to make sure potential Fascists are, or are not, filling in all the boxes on a matrix.

I am reminded at the present time of the debate a few years ago around the work of Michael Mann. Mann had written a second significant book on Fascism and “ the dark side of Democracy “ (Mann 2005). The idea that a failing in Democracy may sustain the conditions for Genocide. Democracy was no longer a bulwark against the rise of violent tyranny. Was it ever one might ask ? Indeed the failings are in our narrow concept of Liberal Democracy, of which the USA is seen as the mothership. The pushing of the neoliberal boundaries within a democratic context has led to the conditions of collapse. When politicians and the public feel the local supermarket owner understand them better than the political class then we are going somewhere else. The events in Greece in 2015 were a stark reminder of how financial markets and the associated administrators react to the will of the electorate.

America as we all know has a constitution that starts “ We the People”. Now we are letting politicians decide who “We” are and who the “People” are. These are never expanded nomenclature, always retracted ones ! They just ripen the conditions for discontent. Global organisations and international groups are easily badged as “them” and the WTO has failed us all. In other directions “we” are born here, or sometimes something even more complicated ( as in the current referendum in Switzerland giving third generation immigrants voting rights). But these are the empty politicians. Not only those selling us the “populism” with its neat, to them, models of the Demos and who is harming who. It’s also those holding the supposed mainstream and the middle-ground. They have been complicit in the suicide of liberal Democracy.

Trump has played this tune all the way to the White House. Now he’s there he’s not stopping. Those , and lets call them idiots for argument’s sake, who said that Trump was merely sending a signal that his voters knew wouldn’t be acted on,how are they feeling now. Like idiots I hope. But were all complicit in the idiocy to some extent.

And what idiocy it is. Not content with building a wall across the Mexican border,or of accusing the media of being liars, indeed even having a senior adviser who sees himself as Darth Vader doesn’t seem to be the ends of the lunacy. We are left with random immigration bans, state agencies working a gale force 11 and a world of alternative facts.

It’s at times like this then that I turn to Gramsci. His legacy as a writer who understood the nature and challenge of Fascism and how it poses problems that Liberal Democracy cannot easily answer is often unduly neglected. Attempts have been made to re-stake this claim but they still fall short.(Adamson,1990) I am not skilled enough to finish the job, but maybe leave a few signposts on the way.
Gramsci lived through the rise and implementation of Fascism in Italy and Western Europe. Something we hoped had been an event consigned to history. With each step in the development of first the party then the state, lines were drawn which survived only until the next move. From an Industrial lobby to totalitarianism in a series of remarkable unchallenged moves. Italy represented a microcosm of world capitalism. It was urban and rural, developed and backward, it hosted fragmented national elements, was fast dealing with industrialisation and a declining agricultural sector. Its relationship with the power of the catholic church also illustrated the wider political cultural dominance that can come into play. Gramsci saw this through the lens of hegemony. I have borrowed heavily from Hobsbawm here and will note his comment that Italy was a “laboratory of political experiences” (Hobsbawm ,2011)

Gramsci also understood in a remarkably prescient analysis the role of “subversive”. This was a negative class position, the “people” define themselves by empirical enemies. In the Italian context this was a dislike of country over town, of appearance standards and of officials and officialdom. Peasants and small farmers hating the civil servant.Not the state for they don’t understand that but they do understand its functionaries. (Gramsci,1971)

Gramsci saw the rise of Fascism as something more than Mussolini and something more alarming than the next phase in capitalism’s destruction. Writing in 1921 his analysis was brutally honest. The Fascists were involved in criminal activity, had moral and material accomplices in the state functionaries and a military hierarchy and command structure. In the face of this great threatening development, Gramsci was horrified at the lack of response from the Socialist party. Well that’s not wholly true, he called it a low moan. ( Gramsci,1921).

Like Trumps proto-fascism, Italian Fascism had a flaw. Unlike the death star it was not one so easy to explode. Though it carries the potential for its own destruction. The middle class disgruntled white-collar workers and small business owners on one side and the disposed rural class on the other. Both had come together under Mussolini’s umbrella but both had fundamentally different resolutions to their grievances. The parliamentary element will make political allegiances, the working class element will be left floundering. This coming split is, for Gramsci, an opportunity. We will no doubt see this with Trump. The quick wins for deregulated bankers wont help the New Hampshire underclass. They need something to turn up to take advantage of real class struggle ( Gramsci,1921 b) This is more than the broad alliances that any political movement or party makes and needs to be numerically successful. The two demands are contradictory. The current debates about the disconnected or “leftbehinds”, the white social conservatives of the Brexit vote, angry at not having a voice amongst a more educated elite provides another view of the people. They are the outcasts of the modern capitalist world, without a role or either perceived political or economic power. In a sudden moment they seem to have an outlet and a change to exercise some political power if not some economic power. Do they consider that the exercise of one may further hinder the other ? Perhaps not.To get their needs met requires entrenchment on “liberal” values. The commercial service elements to this support group need to continue exploiting them to make a profit. Otherwise they wont trade out of the situation. The two groups can’t be winners without the rules and social structure fundamentally changing. A trade war with China is not likely to benefit unemployed Americans to any great extent.

In 1926 Gramsci widened this debate again. The two elements were a set of tensions but actually Fascism had another split. Another group with even darker motives. This group wanted to merge the party with the state and create a bourgeois position of strength against all other political parties. Fascist action then becomes a totalitarian regime. Gramsci is still convinced that the other faction is represented by two contradictions. The first between landowners and capitalists in particular over the issue of tariffs. The second between the petite bourgeoisie and capitalism. (Gramsci 1926) Keep this in mind as we see movements towards a Trumpian judiciary, a battle between those who will be stymied by the raft of tariff and trade deals that are, or are not, entered into. When the media are taunted for being in opposition to the President were moving into Gramsci’s dark space.Creating industrial jobs, something Trump has promised his dispossessed, left behind supporters, is going to be done in an environment of pro-america trade deals. Quite who and how these new jobs will trade their output with remains to be seen, unless America will manufacture and trade only within its one borders, then everything else falls at the feet of capital(ism).

This of course leads to Gramsci’s much wider political point. In dealing with the “crisis” that has arisen, the traditional ruling interests will still be at an advantage. The Fascist challenge, however badged, still leaves a swamp with many of the same inhabitants before the proposed draining. We may be experiencing what Gramsci observed as the masses moving from political passivity to certain activity.The demands they present may seem revolutionary ( banning immigrants, tearing up trade deals, full employment) . However watch carefully how the traditional ruling class will solidify around this new position. Will big business and the corporate banking sector lose influence over trade deals ? Will the insurance companies be impacted if Obama care vanishes? Of course not, they have numerous “trained cadres “ ready to reabsorb control. (Gramsci,1971)

The debate moves then to what is to be done ?

Once the airport protestors go home ( or get arrested ) do we carry on a low moan and turn to TED talks and Facebook comments. Indeed a website designed to help people complain about Trump policy has been created. All you do is click the issue you don’t like. It has 100,000 visits in Trumps first 10 days (Vara,2017). Is it likely to do anything other than make people feel better ? Gramsci would wonder if registering your unhappiness online will really undermine the power structure. It might make a minor addition to the war of position, the tactical civil society focus needed to bring about change. However its going to need more than this. Ultimately if Trumps Presidency isn’t to take the world into either an American Fascist state superpower or a disjointed return to the corporate elite, it will require a vanguard leadership to bring together the war of position and deliver the war of manoeuvre. If these forces come together then Trump will have to resort to force. Gramsci saw the revolution taking place against a backdrop of economic catastrophe only when the counter-hegemonic revolution had been undertaken. (Mahoney,1995) What remains to be seen is if a couple of websites, John Oliver and a raft of Academy award speeches will be enough.

Bibliography
Adamson,WL (1990) Gramsci’s Interpretation of Fascism, Journal of the History of Ideas,41:4
Conversi,D (2006) Demo-Skepticism and Genocide. Political Studies Review 4:3
Gramsci,A (1921) Socialists and Fascists 11 June 1921
Gramsci,A (1921 b) The Two Fascism 25 Aug 1921
Gramsci,A (1926 )A study of the Italian situation
Gramsci,A (1971) Selections from Prison Notebooks ,Lawrence & Wishart
Hobsbawm, E (2011) How to Change The World, Abacus
Mahoney,S (1995) Gramsci’s Theory of Revolution, .
Mann,M (2005) The Dark Side of Democracy, Cambridge University Press
Vara,V (2017) To Complain about Trump,just click, Bloomberg, 11 February, 2017

Listening to my inner Trump ?

25 Dec

This is something I wrote in April which I abandoned at the time, I wish he had as well ….

 

Listening to my inner Trump?

 

In August 2015 I abandoned myself to the idea that Trump for President was more than a marketing gimmick. This was going to be real. Trump did what only a serious contender could do. He went to the temple of the farm people of Iowa and paid his thanks at the feet of its rancid butter cow.

 

Now let me explain, over the period since then I have returned to the question, and asked anyone else who cares to listen (which isn’t many people) , how is a candidate that in any other time would not be taken seriously making the political weather? Or am I wrong? Do I need to learn to love my inner Trump? Trump the stand up populist, Trump the clear crowd tickler, Trump the Rancid butter cow worshipper.

 

So there he was in August 2015. He wore his cap with his name on, looking like a man who may be escaping from a rest home, clear identification being helpful to assisting his safe return. In 2015 American politics may be run on smart data, the gurus of world electioneering fall at the feet of data geeks like Jim Messina. While Indian Premier Modi does 3D virtual campaign speeches in multiple venues at the same time, Trump aspires to more simplistic methods. Building a wall being a prime example. Let’s return to that though.

 

The pre-primary phase saw all the potential candidates descend on a farm fair and seek the endorsement of the butter cow. Sculpted some say from Butter that in parts is over 100 years old. The cow represents, well butter and farming I guess, but mainly votes. A very basic, rural and small town matter yet everyone comes. It used to be to have a photo taken with some Beer and Chicken Wings, chatting to happy farmers. Now this is seen as a starting point for serious candidates, for who would dare defy the Cow. The butter cow even has its own twitter account. It has several. Hang on it’s a sculpted Cow, made from butter that is rumoured to be up to 100 years old. It doesn’t really have a twitter account does it? It was even claimed that candidate O’Malley (no I don’t remember him either) had a selfie taken with the butter cow.

 

 So reality is suspended. This is Democracy in the electronic age. Newspapers built up democracy with a growing literacy, social media may be dumbing us down and asking us to suspend our reality. But for how long? I can suspend my reality and imagine the Cow is tweeting, I can even assume that the politicians and public join me in this. But from that point on the reality has stayed suspended.

 

Trump has been suspending our reality on a daily basis – but am I being unkind. Do I need to look for my inner Trump?

 

Here’s some examples – The Wall. Of course no ones going to build a wall between the US and Mexico. And if they were they would need to be more debates about joint construction standards, what materials would be suitable? maybe advertising could be displayed, but no its not going to happen. We know it, he knows it, we know he knows it and he knows we now he knows it. Yet he persists, should I just laugh at being in the know? Should I trust a politician who is clearly telling me something he wont do, but pretending he will, more or less than a politician who deludes himself into thinking he will deliver on something that I clearly know he wont-gun control for example.

 

How about another example? Well I heard Trump talk the other day about American companies using Indian call centre works. That Trump told the audience is going to stop. Of course it isn’t going to stop, how could it? If American businesses can’t employ cheap labour from India they will just become Indian businesses selling cheap services back to America. But we know he has fired another prejudice at us and it scatters like a water bomb a splash here, a soaking there. Its no longer dog whistle politics, its Pavlovian.

 

By giving us the far fetched unreal version of reality Trump takes a whole group of people with him, those who perhaps want to believe. Or simply don’t care. Indeed 30 years ago Trump wrote “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest…I call it truthful hyperbole”. Ponder that – a truthful extreme statement not to be taken truthfully. Cheering Muslims, criminal Mexicans, Obamas schooling, Tax. Is this what populism looks like? Get a statement that is clearly wrong out in the open and stare at it until enough people become convinced it has merit. It’s the blue/grey dress of the political world.

 

Michael Parenti used to argue that entertainment concealed political statements because we were too busy being entertained to challenge it. At a time when many election campaigns are driven by concentrating on a few people who may be persuaded to change their vote, whose thought process may be more susceptible to an advert during a soap opera than a sports program along comes Trump with a roller brush and a pot of paint and just daubs across our vision. Its hard to see behind the zig-zag lines. Now we are left peeking into the unknown. I blame the Cow.

Son of Super Tuesday

18 Mar

So its mid March , in fact its nearly Easter. We’ve had Super Tuesday and Son of ( child of ?) Super Tuesday, we’ve said goodbye to some good money – Bush and Rubio.

Trump, he’s still trumping along. Trumpets,trumpety, trumpets Trump.

Beep beep he swears , he trumps, he scores. HE gets attacked by some odd places

 

he scores , he trumps, he just keeps going…

Did I wake up in 1968 or something ? is this ad for real

but first he has to win the nomination

 

will he ? Everyone is now an expert. an expert in Republican convention making even though we are in a strange place. A place where Trump makes Cruz and Katich ( who he ) seem like they could be reasonable compromise candidates when they would normally be wild eyed swivel heads. he trumped and did that.

The trilema facing the Republicans is this, he leads but it needs a roll call vote ? Will they support a loser , a person who couldn’t get there own party to support them, then if he wins ( one way or the other ) will they be able to forget all this and unify (NO) and thirdly (tri u see ) if he goes his own way ( or some other right wing candidate does ) its splitting the outside chance they have to beat Hilary anyway.

Hilary who is just slowly accumulating, will need to make peace with Sanders and then wonder how you campaign against someone who makes you out to be a dog .

For me though the highlight of the campaign has been that guy who dresses up as the Mexican wall. I wish dressing up as policies had been something in previous elections it would have been fun. Imagine dressing up as the Iran-contra policy, an invisible man with one arm around his illegal friend buying a drink for his public enemy . Or imagine dressing up as a health care cut, or gun control ? I would like to see someone dressed as a flat tax rate , but only 25% not this 15% rubbish.

 

 

Iowa and the US President

31 Jan

It used to be that some candidates didn’t even declare if they were running until the caucus and primary season were out of the way. JFK didn’t know what was happening after his Primaries and Nixon had to fly to New York to sweeten Rockefeller during the Convention. Then the Primaries became everything, and momentum in the early races and states was everything. Think back to Clintons 3rd place in New Hampshire in 92 or even Obama getting a “result” in 2008.

Yet this year things seem different. The pre-primary season has been long, it was nearly 6 months ago that these candidates showed how little self respect they really have and stood in front of the Iowa butter cow, a rancid 100 year old matured milk statue. Any yet we are still none the wiser that there is momentum. Two candidates who no one expected to keep going are still making the Political weather. The republicans have the biggest challenge. Trump can’t win the Presidency but the more the party tries to stop him, the stronger he gets. It seems in stopping Trump the whole edifice may come down. A lose-lose scenario if you like.

Then there is Saunders. Again we are likely to hear his voice , even if he doesn’t make it, all the way to the election. How does America look at this ? It seems odd that these differing views are all being pushed through some 18th Century voting system in the hope of getting a result that works. They will get a result, will it work ? I suspect not, and perhaps now is the time to look at voting reform in the US. Let Trump stand against Saunders and Clinton and Rubio. The Obama campaigns ( and many others in recent years in different countries ) have been focussed on the marginal middle. Those likely to vote with a slight amount of uncertainty who get very direct messaging. 2016 may change the way these micro campaigns are managed. Those with strong views on the margins are making a load noise. They can’t be silenced yet at the same time they have no real chance of winning …or maybe they do.

I would rule anything out except this. After New Hampshire I suspect we will still be none the wiser, and this topsy turvy world may continue until Easter and beyond. Its been a crazy election so far, but I suspect its only just starting !