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The 'Adults' in the White House Are Just as Dangerous as Trump
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Before his election as president it was understandable that Donald Trump’s critics should have vastly underestimated his ability as a politician. It is much less excusable – and self-destructive to effective opposition to Trump – that they should go on underestimating him almost two years after his victory.

Every week there are more revelations showing the Trump administration to be chaotic, incompetent and corrupt. The latest are the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times in which one of his own senior officials’ claims to be working against him and Bob Woodward’s book portraying the White House as a sort of human zoo.

The media gleefully reports these bombshells in the hope that they will finally sink, or at least inflict serious damage, on the Good Ship Trump. This has been the pattern since he announced his presidential candidacy, but it never happens. Political commentators, overwhelmingly anti-Trump, express bafflement at his survival but, such is their loathing and contempt for him that they do not see that they are dealing with an exceptionally skilled politician.

His abilities may be instinctive or drawn from his vast experience as a showman on television. Priority goes to dominating the news agenda regardless of whether the publicity is good or bad. Day after day, hostile news outlets like The New York Times and CNN lead on stories about Trump to the exclusion of all else.

The media does not do this unless they know their customers want it: Trump is an American obsession, even greater than Brexit in Britain. A friend of mine recently met a group of American folk singers touring the south coast of Ireland who told him that they had often pledged to each other that they would get through the day without mentioning Trump, but so far they had failed to do so.

This tactic of dominating the news by deliberately headline-grabbing behaviour, regardless of the criticism it provokes, is not new but is much more difficult to carry out than it looks. Boris Johnson is currently trying to pull the same trick with outrageous references to “suicide vests” but his over-heated rhetoric feels contrived. MP David Lammy’s jibe about Johnson as “a pound-shop Donald Trump” is apt.

Trump is never boring: it is a simple point and central to his success but is seldom given sufficient weight. During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton’s supporters complained that Trump got excessive amounts of free television time, while her speeches were ignored or were given inadequate attention.

The reason was not any pro-Trump bias – quite the contrary given the political sympathies of most people in the media – but because her speeches were boring and his were not. He has the well-developed knack of always saying something the media cannot leave alone.

An example of this is his tweeted retort this week to a claim by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon that he could “beat” Trump in a presidential election and is tough and smarter than him. This silly boast was not much of a news story, until Trump’s tweeted: “The problem with banker Jamie Dimon running for president is that he doesn’t have the aptitude or ‘smarts’ and is a poor public speaker and nervous mess – otherwise he is wonderful.” Not many politicians or journalists could put so much punching power into a single sentence.

Trump is regarded with a peculiar mixture of fear and underestimation by opponents across the board from the Democratic Party leaders to the EU heads of state. They believe – rightly – that Trump is a monster and hope – wrongly – that this means he will one day implode. This would be deeply convenient for them all because, until this happens, they do not have to act themselves. Trump will hopefully pass away like a bad dream. There is no need for the EU leaders or prominent Democrats to devise and explain policies that would divide them.

Sometimes this policy of sitting on your hands and doing nothing until your opponents make a mistake is the correct one. But it carries the grave risk of creating a vacuum of information that will be filled by your enemies. During the presidential election it was easy to deride Trump’s vague promises to bring factory jobs back to the US, but he did not have to say much about this because Hillary usually said nothing at all.

Trump is at war with the institutions of the US government. This is unsurprising: US presidents have invariably been frustrated by the sense that they reign but do not rule. A convincing explanation for the fall of Richard Nixon is that different branches of the bureaucracy used Watergate to frustrate his grab for power and get rid of him.

They may yet succeed in Trump’s case. Many Americans want to witness a sequel to Watergate with Trump in the starring role. But this is almost impossible to do without control of Congress and the ganging-up of bureaucrats against an elected president will not be palatable to a lot of voters.

The anonymous senior White House official of the New York Times op-ed says that he is part of a group within the administration pledged to thwart “Mr Trump’s more misguided impulses”. This is the latest emergence of “adults in the room” who are going to prevent the US government abandoning policies essential to its existence.

The problem is that these “adults” are promoting policies that are often just as dangerous as anything Trump has in mind, if not more so. For instance, Trump has periodically said that the US ought to pull its 2,000 troops, which are backed by the US Air Force, out of northeast Syria. This would be a sensible move to negotiate because the US has a weak hand in Syria and could not determine the course of events without a full scale war.

ORDER IT NOW

Trump is not “an isolationist” in the classic sense, but his instinct is to avoid wars or situations that might lead to one. Talking to Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin may not produce anything very substantial, but it does make war less, rather than more, likely. Yet, such is the bitterness of divisions in the US, that liberal commentators were furiously denouncing Trump as a traitor for meeting either man in terms that Senator McCarthy would have recognised 70 years ago.

It is easy to sympathise with their rage. Trump is the worst thing to happen to the US since the Civil War, but miscalculating his strengths and weaknesses is not the way to deal with him. His near miraculous ability to survive repeated scandals reminds me of what the diplomat, politician and writer Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote about Charlie Haughey, the Irish political leader, who was notorious for surviving against the odds in similar challenging circumstances. “If I saw Mr Haughey buried at midnight at a crossroads with a stake driven through his heart,” wrote O’Brien, “I should continue to wear a clove of garlic around my neck, just in case.”

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump 
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  1. Adrian E. says:

    “Trump is the worst thing to happen to the US since the Civil War [...]”

    Even though there are certainly many things I dislike about Donald Trump, I don’t agree with this. There have been quite a few bad presidents, and in my view, the worst thing that has happened is the takeover of US foreign policy by neoconservatives (gradually, it already started before Reagan, but for some time, they have been dominating US foreign policy).

    Now we have the odd situation that on one hand, the Anti-Trump resistance is dominated by neoconservatives from ideological think tanks and from secret services whose main criticism of Donald Trump is that he is not hawkish enough and does not escalate tensions with Russia enough, and on the other hand, the Trump administration itself, even though Trump from time to time says something that is not compatible with the neoconservatives’ desires, is dominated by neocons like Mike Pompeo and even contains a neoconservative extremist like John Bolton.

    With these two sides of neoconservative extremists ostensibly fighting each other mostly over matters of style and symbols, it makes no sense to side with one of these two similar sides. The neoconservative warmongers who dominate both the establishment Anti-Trump resistance and the Trump administration should be the ones who should be resisted most forcefully, whether they are anti-Trump or pro-Trump.

    • Agree: Digital Samizdat
  2. Anon[259] • Disclaimer says:

    Trump is the worst thing to happen to the US since the Civil War,

    I highly doubt that the author has the balls to defend this statement in the comments section.

    Thus, it merely represents more of the same ivory tower proclamations of disaster, made with an expectation of broad reach but without an expectation of having to mount a serious defense, that are ultimately undemocratic expressions of Leninist-Neocon and Jewish distaste for an implied White Nationalist (who, btw, has really only served Jewish interests since he’s been in office).

    Its a statement meant only to be “for the record” as (((historians))) move to demonize Trump in history as the decades tick by. That’s all that this is. Its an unserious statement by an unserious man. A covering of the author’s rear-ed. A ball of quickly expectorated vomit that is meant to be noticed as the author runs away from any and all reasonable accountability.

    • Replies: @Ralph Reed
  3. The worst things to happen to the US, happen when an activist President is combined with a compliant Congress. They can be from either party; LBJ and Dubya are the poster boys. The beauty of Trump is that he’s despised by the Establishment of both parties, so Congress won’t go along with him no matter which party controls it.

  4. Daniel H says:

    Donald Trump is the best president the United States has had since FDR.

    MAGA. Go Pepe.

  5. hetro says:

    Disappointing to see Cockburn’s glib commentary here. He should stick to reporting on the middle east. Additional to Trump as worst thing since civil war his comment on Nixon is also dubious and shallow. What brought Nixon down was Nixon, not a cabal of neo-con type sympathizers.

  6. Patricus says:

    Worst thing since the Civil War? I can think of some events in American history that are even worse than the Trump administration starting with WW I, the Great Depression, WW II, Vietnam, Iraq, the Bush/Obama financial crack up. So far with Trump the economy is improving. The federal government still spends too much but we might see improved lives for many.

  7. Anonymous[373] • Disclaimer says:

    Best column ever on unz. Because it’s music to my ears to hear the lamentations of bitter Hillary voters. Can you cry more liberal tears next week too? Pretty please?

  8. @Daniel H

    Donald Trump is the best president the United States has had since FDR.

    A strange statement, implying as it does that FDR was better. Certainly there are plenty of people who think FDR was a great President, but I thought those were all Trump-hating lefties.

  9. He is the best of a bad bunch. The only one who really stands out is Abraham Lincoln, but of course he died theatrically before he could mess up.

  10. @Anon

    Patrick Cockburn is not an “author,” but one of journalism’s courageous greats.

    Your personalized invective is misdirected.

  11. Renoman says:

    Everyone hates change especially those who’s jobs are at stake.
    Go Donny Daddy!

  12. Donald Trump is first and foremost a superb showman, but he’s been a surprisingly good President DESPITE the best efforts of the neocons, never-Trumpers, la Resistance, and his Nepotist appointments (like Jared and Ivanka) all working to derail a lot of the common sense that got him elected.

  13. This is a vapid column.

    Mr. Cockburn, if you’re going to engage us, you must offer up something better than bare accusations and ad hominems. You’re not preaching to the choir here. We value reason over appeals for universal empathy. It is neither immediately obvious nor is it self-evident why Trump is “the worst thing to happen to us”, unless, of course, by “us” you mean “anti-Trumpers”. And then your whole column is just a tautology.

  14. On April 7, 2017 on the orders of Donald Trump, the U.S. military attacked the Shayrat airbase in Syria with a barrage of 59 cruise missiles.

    According to Wikipedia, both civilians and Syrian military personnel were killed in Trump’s attack:

    “Seven or nine Syrian soldiers were killed,[2][3] including a general;[43] Russian military personnel were also present at the airbase at the time it was attacked.[44] According to Syrian state news SANA, nine civilians were also killed in the attack, including four children. SANA also stated that five of the civilians were killed in the village of Shayrat,[52] outside the base, while another four were killed in the village of Al-Hamrat, and that another seven civilians were wounded when a missile hit homes in Al-Manzul, four kilometers (two and a half miles) away from the Shayrat air base.[53] According to Russian defense ministry, four soldiers were killed and two soldiers were missing.[48]”

    How did Trump know that the Syrian government would not retaliate? How did Trump know that a third party (Israel) wouldn’t spoof a retaliatory attack by the Syrian government? How did Trump know that this act of aggression wouldn’t start a war with Russia? He obviously couldn’t have known any of these things beforehand. He obviously didn’t give a damn. Trump was not only willing to murder as many Syrians and Russians as might have been at the wrong place at he wrong time during the attack, but he was willing to risk an escalation of hostilities that could’ve killed many more people.

    Trump’s attack on Syria was illegal, immoral and unconstitutional; it was a completely indefensible crime.

    On August 8 1969, on Charlie Manson’s orders, the “Manson family” murdered Sharon Tate and four other people at 10050 Cielo Drive, Los Angeles, CA. On August 9, 1969, they murdered two other people, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, at 3301 Waverly Drive, Los Angeles, CA.

    Donald Trump’s mass murder of people in Syria on April 7, 2017, is morally indistinguishable from Charlie Manson’s mass murder of people in Los Angeles on Aug 8 and 9, 1969 in Los Angeles CA.

    Charles Manson’s attack on people in Los Angeles was illegal and immoral; it was a completely indefensible crime.

    Charles Manson = psychotic mass murdering psychopath = Donald Trump.

  15. @Daniel H

    I’m not a big fan of FDR, but Trump is most definitely the best President since Reagan, possibly better.

  16. @Harold Smith

    Agree only to the extent that practically every president in the US has been a murdering psychopath to some degree. Comes with the territory, unfortunately.

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  17. @Fidelios Automata

    What an absurd thing to say. So in your view, neither Charlie Manson nor the “Manson family” did anything wrong?

  18. Ace says:

    McCarthy was not the source of any vitriol but he would indeed recognize the vitriol being directed against Trump. He merely asked, quite sensibly, why so many communists were employed in the federal government. This unleashed the trademark leftist vitriol against him. Mr. Cockburn casually perpetuates the leftist lie about McCarthy.

    Trump’s opponents “rightly” believe he’s a monster? What kind of garbage is this?

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  19. @Ace

    Trump’s a mass murderer. How is a mass murderer not a “monster”?

    • Replies: @Authenticjazzman
    , @Ace
  20. @Harold Smith

    Harry S. Truman ( Democrat) ordered the employment of two atom bombs, with the resulting murders of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

    FD Roosevelt (Democrat) ordered the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, Mannheim, Pforzheim, Schweinfurt, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Köln, Würzburg, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf, Hannover, Dortmund, Berlin, Mainz, causing thousands upon thousands of civilian deaths, the list goes on and on, however because they were Democrats they are forgiven for these actions, as Democrats are permitted to commit any heinous action whatsoever, and then simply due to the fact that they are democrats, their actions will be justified and rationalized.

    You are talking shit, and have no clue as to the issues at hand.

    Authenticjazzman “Mensa” qualified since 1973, airborne trained US Army vet, and pro Jazz artist.

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  21. @Harold Smith

    “According toWikipedia”

    Yeah Wikipedia, a declared opponent of DT, is a bonafide source of information pertaining to DT.

    You are full of shit.

    AJM

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  22. @Authenticjazzman

    “Harry S. Truman ( Democrat) ordered the employment of two atom bombs, with the resulting murders of hundreds of thousands of civilians.”

    Did I say differently? And your point is?

    “FD Roosevelt (Democrat) ordered the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, Mannheim, Pforzheim, Schweinfurt, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Köln, Würzburg, Kaiserslautern, Karlsruhe, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf, Hannover, Dortmund, Berlin, Mainz, causing thousands upon thousands of civilian deaths, the list goes on and on, however because they were Democrats they are forgiven for these actions, as Democrats are permitted to commit any heinous action whatsoever, and then simply due to the fact that they are democrats, their actions will be justified and rationalized.”

    Well it’s your strawman so I guess you can have your way with it. Knock your socks off, chump.

    “You are talking shit…”

    Sorry chumpy but the incoherent babbling here is yours, not mine.

    “and have no clue as to the issues at hand.”

    The issue at hand is apparently your psychopathy, which is on display for everyone to see.

    “Authenticjazzman “Mensa” qualified since 1973, airborne trained US Army vet, pro Jazz artist, and morally incompetent fool.”

    There; I fixed it for you.

  23. @Authenticjazzman

    “Yeah Wikipedia, a declared opponent of DT, is a bonafide source of information pertaining to DT.”

    Yet you don’t actually dispute the substance of the Wikipedia article, you just don’t like it, right knucklehead?

    “You are full of shit.”

    You’re supposed to be looking at your monitor, not your mirror, as you type your infantile drivel, goofball.

    “Authenticjazzman ‘Mensa’ qualified since 1973, airborne trained US Army vet, pro Jazz artist, and morally incompetent fool.”

    • Replies: @Authenticjazzman
  24. @Harold Smith

    ” You don’t actually dispute the substance of the Wikipedia article”

    I most certainly do “dispute the substance” of the Wikipedia article, as I fucking know that they are going to automatically lie and distort any information pertaining to DT, the very same as would the NYT twist and mutilate anything relating to DT.

    Look I consider you to be a leftist moron and buffoon, so let us just agree to disagree and dispence with any further communication.

    AJM

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  25. The media does not do this unless they know their customers want it:

    We are not their customers. We are their subjects. The NYT editorial is a hoax. A lie. The Woodward book is also a lie.

    People who believe Trump’s enemies quoting anonymous sources have black mold and mouse droppings where their mind used to be.

  26. Bruce says:

    Mr Cockburn, if you read this, I’d like to see some reporting on two possibilities.

    1) Trump gets too much coverage. Sure he’s got a knack for snappy patter, and his women catch the eye, and there’s always a little extra patience for the rich and powerful, but he just gets too much coverage for me to think no money changes hands. He’s rich. He’s connected. Infotainment has payola scandals every time anyone looks.

    2) What about Trump’s NY real estate career? You hate Trump. St Francis of Assisi would have trouble spending fifty years in NY real estate without some juicy scandal. Well, where is it? It would be nice for US citizens to know something about our head of state’s business career.

  27. @Authenticjazzman

    “I most certainly do “dispute the substance” of the Wikipedia article, as I fucking know that they are going to automatically lie and distort any information pertaining to DT, the very same as would the NYT twist and mutilate anything relating to DT.”

    What’s wrong asshole, you’re too fat, ugly and queer to consult the references the article cited?

    “Look I consider you to be a leftist moron and buffoon,”

    Yo shit-for-brains (and everything else) the only way an animated pile of dog shit such as yourself could hope to insult me, would be if I somehow had your approval.

    “Authenticjazzman: ignorant, arrogant, stupid, feckless, fat, ugly and queer since at least 1973″

  28. To the admin : I am strongly suggesting that you folks ban from further posting, this lunatic posting under the name of “Harold Smith”

    Quoting him : “Fat ugly and queer”

    This crazed person is now using your site for the purpose of venting his homophobic urges, and you certainly are aware of how such anti-gay diatribe can end up causing you problems you did not bargain for.

    AJM

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  29. rivet says:

    Why do the alt-wrong frogs squat around the swamp croaking their denials to each other that all the neo-cons that Trump voluntarily appointed and with which he totally surrounds himself are not really anything to do with their orange messiah – that they’re some sort of plot against him which he will overcome at some hazy point in the future?

    The Pepe-s might not be very bright, but de Nile’s denouement is coming for their swamp…

  30. @Authenticjazzman

    First, you’re the one who started with the ad hominem, right? But now you don’t like it?

    Second, the word “queer” can mean “worthless” or “differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal.”

    queer adjective
    \ ˈkwir \
    Definition of Queer (Entry 1 of 3)
    1a : WORTHLESS, COUNTERFEIT
    queer money
    b : QUESTIONABLE, SUSPICIOUS
    2a : differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal
    b(1) : ECCENTRIC, UNCONVENTIONAL

    *(2) : mildly insane : TOUCHED*

    c : absorbed or interested to an extreme or unreasonable degree : OBSESSED
    d often disparaging + offensive
    (1) : sexually attracted to members of the same sex : HOMOSEXUAL, GAY

    (2) : of, relating to, or used by homosexuals : GAY sense 4b

    3 : not quite well

  31. Ace says:
    @Harold Smith

    The “mass murder” language is tendentious and pretty absurd when I read that its Democratic Party leaders to EU heads of state who rightly regard him as such. That’s rich.

    All or some of Germany, France, the UK, and Norway have been just as complicit in the killings in Libya, Syria, Serbia, and Yemen so clearly responsibility is rather narrowly assigned here. Obama’s in there as an active instigator of killing and destruction. Clinton was more than happy to bomb Serbia. Bush to lay waste to Iraq (for what reason again?) and Afghanistan.

    Trump is complicit in this disgraceful exercise in regime change so he can’t pretend he’s not as responsible as the others. Thus, your point is valid. My objection should be to “rightly” singling him out as a mass murderer when plenty of others stink just as badly. Mr. Cockburn unjustly implies that Trump has some kind of unique credentials here.

    • Replies: @Harold Smith
  32. @Ace

    “The ‘mass murder’ language is tendentious and pretty absurd when I read that its Democratic Party leaders to EU heads of state who rightly regard him as such. That’s rich.”

    Nonsense; 2 + 2 = 4 even if it’s “Democratic Party leaders to EU heads of state” that say it.

    Trump has killed people in Syria with missiles. That makes him a mass murderer by definition. Period. The end.

    • Replies: @Ace
  33. Ace says:
    @Harold Smith

    No flies on you, Mr. Nimrod.

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