America

Man of the 36 Percent

By Andrej Mrevlje |

In the last couple of weeks, important steps have been taken towards uncovering the truth of whether the 45th President of the United States was elected with the substantial help of a foreign power. According to FBI Director James Comey, investigators began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the “bureau had gathered a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

Acknowledgment by the FBI director of an ongoing investigation that scrutinizes possible collusion between Trump’s campaign staff and the Russian government may represent a turning point and may help regain some clarity and stability in the country. No matter what the outcome, the conclusion of the investigation will have to clear the Russian cloud above Washington D.C. and stop the continuous smokescreen operations of a young White House. It may also halt political gossip and wind down some of the crazed media speculation. Or, as many now hope, these revelations may force President Trump to resign and allow us to go back to our normal work, work that dedicates our attention to topics other than Donald Trump. It is almost becoming an issue of mental health. But, as director Comey says, the end of this charade might not be immediate, as the timeline of investigation is impossible to predict. The line has been drawn, at least.

 

Judging by the polls, Americans are growing tired of this government. As CNBC reported, ”not all the polls show President Trump at ‘burn the house down’-bad levels. But Gallup does indeed have him at 36 percent public approval, which is not only dangerously low for any president at any time, but is shocking for a president in his first 100 days.” According to previous data, this has never happened before in a U.S. presidency. How did the 45th president spend his political capital so fast? According to CNBC, the cause for the extremely rapid downturn in polls was Trumps early morning tweet on March 4th:

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

As we know, the assertion of President Trump that his predecessor spied on him has been denied by everyone outside the White House, including Director Comey himself in a public hearing with the House Intelligence Committee. But it took the time to clear the smokescreen.   

Trump’s accusation that President Obama was wiretapping him was a terrible mistake, a tipping point for a rich real estate mogul who improvised himself into the role of president of the most powerful country on the planet. The reactions to this fake accusation were passionate and sometimes exaggerated, as in the case of The Chicago Tribune:

And accusing the past Democratic president of an impeachable offense is every bit as harmful to democracy, assuming it isn’t true. Obama is the best-known and most popular Democrat in the country. The effect of attacking him isn’t just to weaken him personally but to weaken the political opposition to Trump’s administration.

Given how great the executive’s power is, accusations by the president can’t be treated asymmetrically. If the alleged action would be impeachable if true, so must be the allegation if false. Anything else would give the president the power to distort democracy by calling his opponents criminals without ever having to prove it.

But, where rage and passion are known to blur the vision and the memory, experienced individuals like former CIA Director General Michael Hayden provide an antidote. Hayden, who explained Donald Trump’s false accusation as a maneuver intended to distract the public from issues he cares about, said Trump was specifically “trying to avoid the public debate on Secretary of Justice Jeff Sessions, who lied to Congress about ever meeting the Russian ambassador,” he said.

Accusing President Obama of a criminal act (ordering wiretapping when not part of an official judicial investigation e.g. Watergate), Donald Trump almost managed to deviate the attention of the nation from a more sensitive topic. Though it took two weeks to clarify that there was nothing behind those early morning tweets of the media-hungry-media-hating president, the accusation was at last debunked, and public opinion started turning against Trump while becoming increasingly perplexed about his apparent improvisations.

As I arrived back to the capital after ten days of absence, I found it vibrant and energetic. Despite a frost that destroyed most of the early cherry blossoms that every spring turn the political and military capital into a romantic city, people were not downtrodden. Failure of the government’s “repeal-and-replace” attempt to subvert Obamacare (the president’s anemic proposal never even made it to the floor for lack of votes) make the D.C.’s bureaucracy invigorated and aware of its power. Now conscious of the pliability of many vehemently signed and GOP-lauded presidential orders, is now learning how to operate the country’s machinery under the new executive, and where to throw its wrenches.

The powerful Trump clan, though, is still trying to deconstruct that machinery. How successfully will be more clearly determined in the coming month, as the president attempts another health care plan, overhaul tax reform and the finalization of his budget.

Americans are very patriotic people. Not nationalist, but patriotic. They are convinced they know well the values at the core of American exceptionalism. When Trump, only three months ago, took the center of the political stage, however, I began to notice an interesting phenomena. It appeared to me that, suddenly, the Americans were becoming less patriotic, confused in attempting to reconcile their ideas of their nation with the rude, All-American frontman now in its executive house.  Consequently, political discourse moved from the center of political power toward the importance of civil society and social values, the debate on the importance of the defense of the republican institutions the U.S. was founded on (first most eloquently observed by a European, Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America). Since American people have no immediate experience with a homegrown dictatorship, they do not consider Trump as such. Not yet anyway, though the fear that the country may turn into an authoritarian regime is on the mind of many.

When the budget substantially cuts education, research, climate change initiatives, and other vital sectors of modern society to produce more arms and amass bigger and stronger warfare capability, we’re reminded of past regimes that have started global conflicts. So when the President of the U.S. announces a 29 percent cut in the budget of the State Department (that department dedicated to global diplomacy) in exchange for a 23 percent increase in spending on Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs, it means only one thing: that foreign policy, once manifest in diplomatic efforts, is now the mandate of the military. While this president’s cabinet is preparing a military parade, many understaffed, underfunded departments will be paralyzed.

By his third month in office, the Trump administration still hasn’t filled 2,000 vacancies in the administration, including 197 in the State Department and 63 in the Department of Defense. But ProPublica observes:

While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.

Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

The list we obtained includes obscure campaign staffers, contributors to Breitbart and others who have embraced conspiracy theories, as well as dozens of Washington insiders who could be reasonably characterized as part of the “swamp” Trump, pledged to drain.

As in the best traditions of the “serail”–palatian–culture Trump has scattered his eunuchs across the land with an order to be his ears and his eyes. Those beachhead teams are not there to replace 2000 missing officials needed for the normal operation of the federal machinery.

“While all the heads of departments have been filled in by the president’s most trusted friends and associates, the bodies (of Departments) are missing their necks,” said Susan Hennessey, of the Brookings Institution, during a conference in the capital on The Future of Truth. In other words, the experts and staff of federal bureaucracy have no one to report to. The White House simply does not know enough qualified people the president could trust and appoint for the jobs that are vital to the life of the government; he planted spies instead. The consequence, Hennessey argued, is that the missing cogs–officials that usually run and oil the machine–disrupt the upstream of data and information that normally feed the heads of the departments, not to mention the White House. Simultaneously, there is no top-down input since even the trusted secretaries, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has no special access to Trump and does not participate at meetings between foreign dignitaries and the president. Instead, there’s Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who have both acquired advisory roles at the White House despite well-established ethics regulations.

The “Future of the Truth” conference is one indication of increasing resistance to the government’s manipulation of the truth, and a mounting defense of the democratic values imperative to the function of state institutions. The speakers were particularly concerned with the embattled situation of journalists and media writ-large, science, and national security, areas in which the government is concentrating its attack.

“The government is attacking media, accusing us that we are producing fake news. The fact is that many people who used to run or report all sort of right wing media, or even blogs that generated an incredible ring of conspiracy theories…are now sitting in the government,” said Glenn Thrush, a White House correspondent for The New York Times, perhaps alluding on the ProPublica report.

The discussion became even more interesting when it moved to the topic of national security. Once again, it was General Hayden, the country’s former super spy, with the sharpest words. “What I’m seeing is a straight-out attempt to delegitimize the bearers of the facts,” he said, adding that he’d never experienced it before. “It’s a de-legitimization of those presenting you with something you’d rather not be presented with.” Illustrating the president’s rejection of principle institutions and their expertise, Hayden mentioned that President Trump never bothered to call the FBI or any other intelligence agency when he started to suspect that he was being wiretapped.

“The climate in Washington undercuts Americans’ confidence in their national security,” argued Vikram Singh, a former senior Pentagon official under President Barack Obama, now with Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress. “It’s not new to have a public skeptical of government’s talking points,” Singh said, but today’s level of distrust is unprecedented. “We’re facing a crisis in confidence that is rather unparalleled.”

This president will soon be tested and the most formidable challenge will probably come from outside of the country said David Sanger, another Washington correspondent for The New York Times. “Every American president has been tested by an external crisis. It will happen in a month or two. And I dare to predict that it will be in the Middle East, but I fear more that it might be North Korea,” said Sanger, adding that the current government informs nothing and nobody of its consequential actions. A week from now the Chinese president Xi Jinping will visit the U.S., not that the press knows nothing about the visit. White House staff are also clueless as to what will happen when the two presidents will meet, said Sanger.
A week ago or so, Ezra Klein, the founder of Vox Media, interviewed Denis McDonough, President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, on how to run the White House. Klein and McDonough must know each other well since the podcast is an unprecedented indication of how Barack Obama operated in the Oval Office. There was no space for improvisation, no page unturned, no person not listen to before a decision was made, McDonough said. Fascinating. Even more so considering that these two administrations have only seen three months between them. And so much has changed.

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