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Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

So Sean Spicer is out as White House Press Secretary and Anthony Scaramucci is in as Communications Director.  Well, good for Sean. I suspect he’ll finally be able to slash his evening whiskey budget. The guy had to have taken a few stiff ones after some of those briefings. He was a regular Republican, not a President Trump loyalist. He was trying to please a demanding, distrustful, unappreciative boss.  And yet …

Spicer did see the legitimacy of some (not all, but a fair amount) of President Trump’s complaints about the White House press corps, and saw at least part of his job as pushing back against manifest unfairness. While it’s a safe bet that the majority of the press room hasn’t voted Republican in at least thirty years (and probably far longer), there was at least some modicum of evenhandedness , if only as a requirement of professionalism, when covering previous Republican administrations. Trump’s victory seemed to unleash a visceral reaction from the press corps, the members of which occasioanlly seem most concerned with impressing their colleagues in the room by being the most aggressive and/or confrontational with Spicer or his deputy (and presumed successor) Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Spicer gave them the rope to hang him with at that first press conference when he (at the President’s prompting) insisted that the Trump inaugural crowd was larger than Obama’s crowds – a statement that was demonstrably false to anyone who with functioning eyes. But that day aside, Spicer’s not Trump, and over the past six months, he tied mightily to square the circle of being straight with the press while aggressively defending his oft wayward boss. Alas, that was a task he could not accomplish. Maybe no one can.

Mr. Scaramucci is going to try. It’s almost defies belief that for his Communications Director, Mr. Trump chose a guy whose name translates to “little skirmishers”, and the singular of which was used for an Italian clown puppet with an expendable neck. You, dear reader, probably think I’m making that up; I’m not. Plus, Mr. Scaramucci has no press secretary experience, although he does have some skill at self-promotion on various business TV channels pushing his mediocre hedge fund.  I’ll be praying for him, but folks, this is unlikely to end well.

It has at least ended at last for Sean Spicer, and I’m actually happy for him. He’ll pick up what’s left of his reputation – (and that’s not nothing; most reporters know he was in an impossible position) and probably move on to the land of corporate communications, where hopefully he can find a position that will allow him to feel good about going to work again. This writer wishes him well.

1TF

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A last thought on the general election in the United Kingdom.

Take a good look at the Labour party ads, particularly two that went up near the end of the campaign. The first one uses the a cover of the Keene song “Somewhere Only We Know”. The visuals look like a takeoff on the old Reagan “Morning in America” ads, but whereas the narrator in the Reagan ads talks about how far America had come in four years, these ads had an aspirational quality, “Look who we are, look who we can be, and look who really cares about us.” The song strikes a sad but hopeful tone; if it’s patriotic, it’s of the “look what we could be” variety.

The second has candidate Corbyn quoting Shelley’s “Masque of Anarchy”:
“Rise like lions after slumber,
In unvanquishable number ,
Shake your chains to earth like dew,
That in sleep had fallen on you.
Ye are many,
They are few.”
That first line “Rise like lions …” is an inspiring summons of the trumpet, and then the commercial builds with scenes of teeming crowds gathered for Corbyn. He starts the poem alone, but by the time he gets to the end, some in the crowd are reciting with him. The ad makes you feel the momentum of the Labour campaign, and the tag line, “For the many, not the few” is an effective way of making a class-based argument. Without being angry itself, it appeals to the same rage that motivated the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump movements in the United States.

The ads wouldn’t work if there wasn’t an actual groundswell; those teeming crowds shown in the ads are real. I still find it hard sometimes to see the appeal of a candidate as far to the left as Corbyn. I think that, like Bernie Sanders, Corbyn is peddling a utopian economic plan where the numbers don’t work. So I for one underestimated him, or maybe overestimated the policy realism of the British public. But it was something to see him increasing in both strength and confidence near the end. And – other than Brexit where he switched to being pro-Europe – Corbyn’s been offering the same political philosophy for decades. In an age where people are desperate for authenticity, that sort of consistency can be attractive; it turned his stale bread socialism into French toast. He didn’t win – people seem to have forgotten that – but he wildly exceeded expectations, strengthened his party (especially his wing of that party) and weakened his opponents. He is to be congratulated.

I return to the ads to say this – Americans take note of them. You’re likely to see ones quite similar to them in our country next year. They were quite good.

-1TF

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Over the coming weeks, we may be getting an object lesson in the importance of a person’s reputation. Reputation matters. Reputation is something that is built up by years of discipline and habit. Reputation is not character – character is what you are; reputation merely what people think you are. However, if one is in the public eye enough, so that the public has had a sufficient amount of actions to judge a person by, than reputation can serve as a rough approximation of character.

James Comey has a strong reputation built through three decades of diligent service in the law. Perhaps the most dramatic example of James Comey’s independence and willingness to go where the evidence lay was in 2004 when as Deputy Attorney General, he faced down the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff and refused to agree to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program

I’m not a President Obama fan, but I was impressed by his decision to appoint James Comey to the FBI Directorship; it showed Mr. Obama was serious about the FBI investigating alleged crimes without fear or favor. Mr. Comey had built a reputation for fair play that both parties appreciated.

Then there’s President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has built a reputation over the course of the last three decades too. It’s one of brashness, attention-seeking and ignorance.

Yesterday, Mr. Comey said accusations the White House had made about him and the FBI “were lies, plain and simple.” Today, Mr. Trump answered in kind, saying what Mr. Comey said wasn’t about their meeting wasn’t true. Whom to believe? It’s times like these that you wish you had built up a reputation for integrity and truthfulness. Mr. Comey has; Mr. Trump hasn’t. And in the next few weeks, Mr. Trump may come to wish he had.

-1TF

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I’m still trying to process President Trump’s speech pulling out of the Paris Accord. I found the speech to be a bit of a Rorschach Test. Those inclined to like Trump and espouse an “America First” ideology thought it great; I can see Pat Buchanan and company standing up and applauding. Those instinctively set to dislike him were probably horrified.

The most memorable line of the Trump speech was “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That was going to be a winner amongst his supporters, many of whom, like the Brexit supporters, have an understandable concern about their country’s sovereignty being usurped by unelected technocrats. However, the Pittsburgh Trump hails is the Pittsburgh of history. There are no steel mills left within the Pittsburgh city limits (although some remain in the surrounding area). The citizens of Pittsburgh are far more likely to be freezing in an overly air-conditioned office park than they are to be sweating it out by a blast furnace. The mayor of Pittsburgh responded to Trump’s speech by saying the city would still abide by Paris.

Trump’s pithy Pittsburgh comment is really more about the small mountain towns of western Pennsylvania and the West Virginia panhandle, where folks are desperate to hear that better times are ahead. But Trump is offering sandcastles in the air to those folks by making coal workers think that brute force by the federal government can bring back coal. But it can’t. While the previous administration was unfriendly to coal, the main reason for coal’s demise isn’t in Washington, it’s in the market. Coal has new competition in the form of natural gas. Take away the fact that natural gas is safer to extract and cleaner to burn (or any other advantage it may have), and you’re still left with the fact that currently, and for the foreseeable future, natural gas is less expensive than coal. The market is speaking loudly, and President Trump can’t change that.

I’m a little puzzled by what Trump expects to get out of this. He is exasperating much-needed allies. And my admittedly limited understanding is that much of the Paris Accord is voluntary anyway. Trump could have pointed to certain parts of it and declared we wouldn’t abide by those parts. Instead, he junked the whole thing. Again, I respect that he’s fulfilling a campaign pledge. But I think that pledge may have been unwise in the first place.

– 1TF

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After last year’s presidential election, Forbes magazine printed a story on how Jared Kushner helped Donald Trump win. The key insight was that Kushner had somehow created a 100-person data mining operation outside of San Antonio, Texas. I remember thinking that all of this sounded awfully sophisticated for a political neophyte. There seemed to be something incomplete about the story. Who were those 100 people? Why did we never hear from anyone who had been there?

Now comes word on MSNBC and CNN that Kushner is “under FBI scrutiny” in the federal Russia probe. Reportedly, Kushner is merely a person of interest, not the target of the investigation. I hope that’s the case. But I also hope the feds ask a few questions about that operation in Texas. I’m not saying anything underhanded happened there.  I am saying that the explanation provided in the magazine was unsatisfying and left me curious as to who was working at that site.  Citizens have a right to know whether that truly was a gravity-defying political operation operated by first-timers or if they got a little clandestine help from some discreet old pros.

– 1TF

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It is striking how much more liberal the Washington Post has gotten recently. I don’t know if it’s the Jeff Bezos purchase, Donald Trump’s election or something else. But it’s palpable.

A Washington Post article today discussed how President Obama’s photographer trolled President Trump by printing pictures of the Obamas holding hands after Melania had apparently swatted Trump’s hand away during Trump’s overseas trip. It was bad form on the photographer’s part, but I suppose he can do what he wants. But why on earth is that news? For the Post to prominently post that story tells you something about their relaxed journalism standards. I’m not a Trump fan – I find him remarkably uninformed and self-centered – but the reaction of many in the media to Trump borders on the hysterical. There are many points of concern with this President. Fine. Take him on on legitimate issues; that’d be good for the country. But printing this ridiculously small and petty story about the photographer says more about the Post than it does about the President.  I get it – you hate him.  You hate yourself for being part of media machine that helped drive him to the Republican nomination, and now you’re trying to make up for it.  Fine – but that’s not news either.

One complaint I had with Hillary Clinton is that she brought out the worst in both Republicans and Democrats. President Trump appears that way. Many Republicans are troubled by him, but a sense of party loyalty causes them to pull their punches, even when punches are called for. Democrats meanwhile are at risk of becoming deranged. Their rage at him are causing them to do things they may not be proud of in the future. That includes Democratically inclined media outlets like the Post.

– 1TF

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President Trump has announced he is not going to attend the White House Correspondents Association Dinner this April. Some mainstream journalists have said that the dinner is a relic that should be discarded. I respectfully dissent on both counts.

It’s not news that the President’s relationship with much of the mainstream press is seriously dysfunctional. He distrusts journalists and they distrust him. This contrasts with the veritable fandom that greeted the last President.

For decades, the WHCA dinner has offered one night when a president and his erstwhile tormenters could lay down their arms, have a meal and a little fun before returning to battle the next day. That appears to be more needed than ever this year. It is ironic that this is the year some media folks are saying it should end. During the Obama years, the dinner was just one more opportunity for hero worship. NOW, when the President and the press are at each others’ throat, is when the dinner serves a purpose.

Rather than have the President skip the dinner, the WHCA should consider having a comic who is less likely to lambaste Mr. Trump. Most major comics these days seem to feel it is their moral duty to ‘speak truth to power’ by ripping President Trump (and this after leaving the President Obama virtually untouched for eight years). Someone like Adam Carolla or Bill Burr is likely to spray comic abuse upon the whole room, rather than raining down exclusively on Mr. Trump. If the Association is graceful enough to invite a fair-minded comic and the President finds the grace to attend, it may do the town and the country some good.

– 1TF

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