The Oval Office has ‘An Idiot Surrounded by Clowns’!



by Selvam Canagaratna

"The hardest thing to cope with is not selfishness or vanity or deceitfulness, but sheer stupidity."

– Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, 1954.

The most comical observation I've come across so far on Michael Wolff's just-released book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is this: "Trump let the wolf in the hen-house. What did he expect?"

I guess that says it all, especially the chaos that has apparently characterized the day-to-day operations inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC over the past year.

Maya Kosoff, a staff writer at Vanity Fair magazine, recalled a very crucial point – one which was also mentioned in Wolff's book – about the Trump presidency that has been all but forgotten one year later: "On the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was already looking ahead to the publicity opportunities that would come in the weeks and months following his inevitable loss to Hillary Clinton."

"I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won," she quoted Donald as telling his longtime friend Roger Ailes on election night. Then, of course, they actually won, shocking not only the nation but their own campaign, and catapulting a man into the White House whom many of his own staffers saw as unfit.

Trump’s shock election win also swept up an unlikely eyewitness in the form of writer Michael Wolff. Just after the inauguration, Wolff said he was given "something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing," conducting hundreds of interviews with White House aides, including "most members of [Trump’s] senior staff." The result of that is this book that depicts vivid scenes of Trump’s ineptitude, and the quagmire of infighting that has bogged down the White House since his ascent.

Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. "Well, it would only be a problem if we won," Flynn assured them.

Those close to Donald knew going in that he was startlingly ignorant, but dismissed that fact as irrelevant – after all, he would never be President! Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance.

Things did not improve when, after Trump won, it came time for the president-elect to choose a Chief of Staff.

When Trump floated Jared Kushner for the job, it was conservative pundit Ann Coulter, of all people, who reportedly talked some sense into him. "Nobody is apparently telling you this," she told him, according to Wolff. "But you can’t. You just can’t hire your children!"

Paul Street, an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, historian, and a regular contributor to CounterPunch magazine, noted that most of the media’s attention on journalist Michael Wolff’s "explosive" new book has focused on the disclosure that Trump’s former political strategist Steve Bannon used the words "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" to describe Donald Trump, Jr. and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner’s infamous June 2016 meeting with Russians claiming to possess damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

"But what really leaped out at me from The New York Times’ write-up on Wolff’s book, however, is the total contempt that Boss Tweet’s own associates and advisers have for him."

The book presents Mr. Trump as an ill-informed and thoroughly unserious candidate and President, engaged mainly in satisfying his own ego and presiding over a dysfunctional White House. It reports that early in the 2016 campaign, one aide, Sam Nunberg, was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. ‘I got as far as the Fourth Amendment,’ it quotes Mr. Nunberg as saying, ‘before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.’

The book also asserts that Mr. Trump’s advisers and associates deride him in private, calling him an ‘idiot,’ a ‘dope’ or ‘dumb’ as dirt. Thomas J. Barrack, a friend and adviser to Mr. Trump, was quoted telling a friend that the President is ‘not only crazy, he’s stupid’.

'Stupid' may be putting it mildly, writes Paul. "Recall the description of Trump that his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to disavow: "f***ing moron."

The real question is how an "idiot surrounded by clowns" got into the White House, wrote Street. "The Democratic Party establishment wants people to think that Russia did it – a charge as moronic as Trump’s claim to have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal immigrant ballots."

In Paul's view, the neo-McCarthyite Russiagate gambit is calculated to distract attention from the dismal, demobilizing, and dollar-drenched Democrats’ own responsibility for putting Trump in office by (a) making policy (under both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) in cringing accord with the regressive, state-capitalist and corporate-globalist commands of Wall Street; (b) crushing progressive, social-democratic forces in their own party; and (c) mounting a horrific 2016 presidential campaign that made numerous unforced errors, like failing to visit Wisconsin after the Democratic National Convention and calling (however accurately) half of Trump’s backers 'deplorables'.

Trump won because of underlying historical and structural factors that are part and parcel of the onset of the long neoliberal era. Even an "idiot" like Trump was able to exploit the onset of corporate globalization, automation, increased international competition, austerity, extreme (New Gilded Age) wealth concentration, and accelerated plutocracy to promise economically squeezed voters a restoration of the vanished middle-class American Dream. His call to "Make America Great Again" resonated with mass white nostalgia for the long lost Golden Age (1945-1973) of unmatched US economic prosperity.

'Hair Furher' also reaped a windfall, in Street's view, from the spilling over of partisan polarization into crippling political and policy gridlock after the 2008 financial crisis, the election of the nation’s first Black President, the passage of Obama’s signature health insurance reform, and the rise of the Republican Tea Party. Trump exploited public disgust with the resulting epic dysfunction of the paralyzed federal government by posing as a great outsider/saviour who would "clean up the mess" and "drain the swamp."

For the fifth time in United States history, the Founders’ Electoral College system allowed the installation of a president who didn’t win the majority vote in the quadrennial election. Remarkably enough, the nation that proclaims itself the homeland and headquarters of global democracy does not elect its powerful chief executive on the elementary democratic principle of 'one person, one vote'.

"The dismal Dems want you to blame it all on Russia and James Comey", wrote Street. The truth of the matter is that Russian 'interference' was a very minor matter in relation to the forces and factor discussed above – forces and factors in which the Inauthentic Opposition Party (the late Sheldon Wolin’s incisive description of the Democrats) are deeply complicit and involved – in explaining the ascendancy of a dangerous "f***ing moron" to the White House.

"Now the US and the world are saddled with a juvenile, stupid, pathologically narcissist POTUS who poses grave environmental and thermonuclear dangers to humanity. Thanks to the absurdly deified Constitution bequeathed to us by wealthy and anti-democratic aristo-republican slaveowners and merchant capitalists 228 years ago, it is hard to imagine him being removed from office except by death or (further) disability prior to January 20th, 2021. We continue to be screwed by the Founding Fathers. Hold on to your powdered wig."

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