For reasons I shan’t go into, I spent most of Friday trying to undo the damage caused by a piece of software going haywire at work and am really not of a mind to spend a lot of time preparing breakfast this week. A quick skim round a number of outlets reveals that they’re just about all featuring just one story — Trump’s press conference — and they all have just about the same reaction — WTF???!?
So here’s a few English-language bits I’ve managed to throw together.
I’ll start with something boringly sensible, the opinion of the ever-reliable Patrick Cockburn:
Self-absorbed and irrational Donald Trump may well be, but on Thursday he held what was probably the most interesting and entertaining White House press conference ever. These are usually grimly ritualistic events in which select members of the media establishment, who have often come to see themselves as part of the permanent government of the US, ask predictable questions and get equally predictable replies.
For now, Trump reminds one more of a theatrical populist like Silvio Berlusconi than anything resembling a proto-fascist or authoritarian demagogue like Benito Mussolini. This perception may change as he secures his grip on the levers of power as he promises to do, blaming leaks from the US intelligence services on holdovers from the Obama administration.
Sound advice on this was given 300 years ago in Dr John Arbuthnot’s wonderful treatise on “the Art of Political Lying”, published in 1712, which warns that once a false fact or lie is lodged in the public mind, it may be impossible to persuade people that it is untrue except by another lie. He says, as an example, that if there is a rumour that the pretender to the British throne in exile in France has come to London, do not contradict it by saying he was never in England. Rather “you must prove by eyewitnesses that he came no farther than Greenwich, but then went back again.” He warns against spreading lies about a political leader which are directly contrary to their known character and previous behaviour. Better to give credibility to a lie by keeping within realms of credibility, by blackening the name of a prince known to be merciful “that he has pardoned a criminal who did not deserve it.”
Arbuthnot assumes that political parties lie as a matter of course, and that the only way for the public to limit the power of governments is to lie as much as they do. He says that, just as ministers use political lying to support their power, “it is but reasonable that the people should employ the same weapon to defend themselves, and pull them down.”
Could this be the fate of Trump? He became president because false facts fatally damaged Hillary Clinton – and now the same thing is happening to him.
In the Irish Independent, Dan O’Brien also plays down the comparisons with 1930s fascists:
Although history can always provide context and sometimes sounds warnings, its lessons can also be mislearnt. Badly learnt lessons often result in bad analysis. Bad analysis usually leads to bad decisions, something other countries need to consider when weighing up how to respond to the very considerable threats and challenges Trump poses.
To see why the Nazi parallel is ill-judged, consider what Trump would have to do in the short term to match Hitler.
Among the first things he would have to do is to convince Congress to enact laws allowing for the closing down of media organisations he claims propagate ‘fake news’, such as the ‘New York Times’ and CNN. He would have to use parts of the police and security apparatus to imprison, torture and ‘disappear’ political opponents. He would have to fire or intimidate not one but thousands of federal and state-level judges so that the US’s independent judiciary cannot check illegal and/or unconstitutional executive orders and legislation. He would even have to cancel next year’s congressional elections. These are exactly the sorts of measures Hitler implemented within a short period of coming to power.
But because the US today is not Germany of the 1930s in many profound and important ways, such outcomes are unlikely. Perhaps the most important difference is the strength and durability of democracy in America.
How the American people respond to Trump is one thing. How countries like Ireland respond is another matter. For long-time allies of the US to start acting towards it as if it were Nazi Germany would push the world in a more dangerous direction than it is already going, playing into the hands of those around Trump who seek escalation, conflict and permanent crisis.
The time to act against the Trump administration will be if it takes measures which go against the interests of Ireland and other friendly countries and if he continues down the path of actions which do not chime with democratic values.
Trump poses very real threats and challenges to his own country and the rest of the world, but at this juncture drawing parallels with Hitler are at best a distraction and at worst counter-productive.
Robert Fisk is a very erratic pundit — he’s wonderful if you want a wholly incorrect analysis of events in the Middle East, for instance — but here’s a piece which makes the odd useful point:
That’s what disqualifies all the Hitler parallels, even the Mussolini comparisons, although the comical side of Italian fascist imperium is clearly there. It’s not that Trump is no longer terrifying. He should be. Nor that he is mentally unstable – he clearly is. It’s that his performances are so rivetingly zany, so absolutely inside the prison of the absurd that I swear some of the human race will commit suicide when he’s gone.
I’m still not sure why the Trump shows have such depth. Maybe it’s because of the revolting seriousness of all around him. This thing, after all, has a cast of thousands. While the Chief Clown froths in the East Wing, his Attendant Lords blather away at immensely important conferences in Europe, desperately trying to assure the EU, Nato, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the World Bank, Isis, al-Qaeda, you name it, that nothing has changed. Everyone, both the American panjandrums and the European leaders and the Nato generals, even poor Sergei Lavrov, all pretend that this is quite normal. They act the part.
One of them, only slightly less insane than Trump since she is leading her own country over the Brexit cliff, has even told the Chief Lunatic that Her Majesty the Queen is inviting him for a state visit. There has been nothing like this since Alice in Wonderland. Across the globe, they all shake hands and curtsy and grovel and fawn just as they did when Good King Obama ruled the world.
For none of these creatures must give the slightest clue that they know. That’s why the whole thing is so addictive. Everyone – Mad Dog Mattis, Rex Exxon Tillerson, Angela We-Can-Do-This Merkel, Theresa Goodbye May – all have to pretend that absolutely nothing unusual is taking place.
They must not for a moment even hint that they know what we all know: that back at the White House, the President of the United States of America has dressed up in a green smock, stood on his head, smoked a joint in front of CNN and proclaimed that his hutch of performing rabbits are capable of playing Beethoven on three pianos at the same time.
And that’s why the whole thing is so addictive. This is not the ultimate reality show – and it’s not Adolf in the West Wing or Benito in the Rose Garden. It’s Punch and Judy set to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.
For how much longer can our colleagues stand in front of the White House or freeze in front of Nato conferences, parroting to us about what “officials say” (the most overused clause in US media history) with their usual self-assurance and self-regard when we all know that the game is up? For they, too, are still pretending that everything is normal.
But now we know they know nothing – because the President of the United States of America is completely bonkers, crackers, insane, out-of-kilter-in-the-brain and certifiably over the top. He’s not only a disgrace to the nation. Far worse, he’s a disgrace to the press. So it’s obviously in the national interest that he goes.
Sean O’Grady has a mildly different view:
Amateur psychology, maybe, but one can easily detect the same sort of inner fragility in Nixon than in the outwardly bombastic and ever-boastful Trump. The current President, too, over-estimates the power of his office (Nixon went so far as to try to develop a doctrine that “if the president does it, it’s legal” when he was in power).
Why else, other than some deep-seated insecurity, does Trump keep wanting to remind everyone about how he won the campaign, despite the media? Why does he feel the need, long after the campaign proper is over, to carry on appearing at rallies to adoring, chanting crowds? Like his poring over his media coverage, or getting wound up about Alec Baldwin’s hilarious renditions of him on Saturday Night Live, President Trump should have better things to do. He seems to be forgetting to get on with his sometimes tedious day job, and, as a result, making the sort of elementary errors that Nixon did, albeit in a different sphere.
Nixon was an experienced figure who had met and learned much from most of the world’s leaders, from Winston Churchill to the Shah of Iran, before he was elected President, who had served as Vice President, Congressman and Senator, who was a gifted lawyer and debated with Nikita Khrushchev on TV, and had a much surer touch about his cabinet appointments – Henry Kissinger, for example. Trump doesn’t have quite the same experience, skill or credentials. Both men would keep a faculty of psychologists busy, but essentially Trump is Nixon without the brains. That’s not so smart, as Trump himself might say.
Brian Klaas in the conservative Telegraph has another slightly different angle (you can tell I’m scraping around, can’t you?):
Thursday’s press conference was a remarkable moment in American history. It showcased something new: the White House of one. Trump made a series of false claims, berated the press for doing their jobs, and returned to the boisterous and combative back-and-forth that delighted his base on the campaign trail. He amped up his labeling of legitimate media outlets from “fake news” to “very fake news.” He trumpeted his electoral victory. And all along, the only thing that seemed to matter to him was Donald Trump. There was no talk of policy solutions to help a single mum raising three kids on two jobs. There was no talk of the downtrodden middle class, robbed of their American Dream by festering inequality. Instead, Trump’s overriding theme was that he was a winner, unfairly victimized by the losers in the press.
This arena – jousting with the press – is Trump’s comfort zone. Unfortunately, his return to his comfort zone pushed everyone else – Republicans, Democrats, foreign leaders – out of theirs. Republicans are panicking behind closed doors. World leaders are panicking in the open. President Trump looked way out of his league for the hardest job on Earth.
Of course, partisanship is a hell of a drug. Trump’s combative authoritarian approach to attacking the press will play exceedingly well in Rust Belt Ohio and Deep South Alabama. There is no question that his hardcore supporters will cheer the attacks on the mainstream media as long overdue. But the problem for Trump, and the world, is that economies don’t thrive, national security isn’t achieved, and justice is not served based on galvanizing a political base.
The campaign is over. He won. And yet Thursday’s press conference showed that Trump is not yet ready to govern. For anyone who understands the complexity of running the most powerful government on the planet, it was a 77 minute advertisement of Trump’s woeful unpreparedness. But as Trump sets off to Florida today for a campaign-style rally on Saturday, he will trade a tough crowd in the press room for an adoring one outside Washington. And the crowd noise he is sure to encounter, the chants, the cheering – those are the lifeblood that sustains the White House of one.
In the Herald Scotland, Kevin McKenna is concerned that exposing Trump’s lies will do no good:
Mr Trump knows that his claim about his margin of victory in the electoral college even now is being accepted as fact in a bar-room debate somewhere in Indiana in a community where sales and online subscriptions to The Washington Post and the New York Times are not high. Ah, we liberals are wont to point out, Mr Trump’s approval figures in the first month of his presidency are the lowest since Richard Nixon’s.
I doubt these will cause The Donald to have many sleepless nights. Despite his claims of vote-rigging, he rests secure in the knowledge that he accessed the White House with around three million votes fewer than his opponent and contrary to the predictions of opinion polls right up until his moment of triumph.
If he lasts the full stretch of even one term it’s the fond belief of the liberal elites that the Republican party will have sustained such grievous damage in the process that it will be virtually unelectable for a generation.
Yet, what if it’s the reputation of the American press that suffers most damage, to the extent that it is simply dismissed by that section of the American electorate that opted for Mr Trump?
Such an outcome will give succour to every reactionary right-wing Republican demagogue who fancies a shot at running the country. “To hell with the facts,” will be the strategy. “Facts are for the Post and the Times that will twist them to suit their liberal agendas. We deal in the truth, and the truth is what we say it is, thanks to Donald J.”
This would be the real tragedy of Mr Trump’s alt-right adventure. The independence and authority of the American press helped bring an end to the Vietnam War. During Watergate, the Post withstood a barrage of officially-sanctioned threats to its future and to the lives of its ace reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein before finally bringing down a crooked president.
Yet, without the scrutiny of its robust press, it would be more tempestuous still. This is where Mr Trump wants to take us and why he is constantly chipping away at the one estate that might yet arrest him on that wretched journey.
Again in Herald Scotland, Catriona Stewart looks forward to Trump’s planned UK visit:
I have a confession to make. I signed the petition calling for your invitation to come to the UK on a state visit to be rescinded.
It was a big mistake. The bigliest. On reflection, we don’t like bans. Maybe the other 1,857,847 signatories feel it was a tremendous mistake too. Such a mistake.
In fact, I speak for all of us when I say that we are looking forward to greeting you. There will be lots of greeting during your visit. The most.
Just this month, thousands of people, millions of them, came out across Scotland with special banners hailing your presidency. Around 1.5 million, the same as your inauguration. They came out in the rain. It was a hurricane.
They’ll definitely do it again. Thousands, I didn’t say millions.
You might see people carrying signs calling you a roaster. A roaster is a real compliment in Scotland. The highest compliment, actually. It means that you’re so hot you’re nuclear. And Donald, if I may, you sure are a nuclear option. You may also hear yourself called a rocket, a zoomer, a screamer, a nugget and a bam. These are all terms of respect, particularly President Bawbag. Or, for short, SCROTUS.
You don’t have to worry about FAKE NEWS in Scotland. We’re already alert to it. We have a dedicated consortium of patriots who attack the media and uncover conspiracy theories. They too would like to build a wall along the country south of the border.
Please, Donald, come to Scotland. We’ll all be waiting with a Glasgow kiss.
David McWilliams thinks that the economy will prove to be what really puts the skids under Trump:
Mr Trump’s team believes that the economy can grow to 3pc or 4pc and therefore believe that the Fed shouldn’t raise rates too soon. But if the Fed goes along with Mr Trump and is seen to be captured by his will and is seen to be soft on inflation, the US bond market will sell off, driving up long-term rates.
But here is the dilemma.
This conflict between the Federal Reserve and the Treasury in the US is one of the oldest in the book. In 1981/82, Paul Volcker hiked interest rates in response to Ronald Reagan’s tax-cutting start. Mr Volcker said he had to beat inflation and the ensuing recession blighted Reagan’s first three years.
Reagan backed down.
In 1992/3, Bill Clinton was pitted against Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Mr Clinton fought the election on the promise of tax cuts for the middle classes.
Mr Greenspan took Mr Clinton’s economic guru, Robert Rubin, aside and told him firmly that if Mr Clinton cut taxes, he’d raise rates in retaliation. If, on the other hand, Mr Clinton reneged on his electoral promise, Mr Greenspan would do nothing and long-term interest rates would fall, driving up stock and house prices and driving the Clinton boom via higher asset prices.
Mr Clinton backed down.
Now will Mr Trump back down, or will he see this as yet more technocratic, unelected insiders – the central bankers – frustrating the people’s president?
What would this mean?
It would mean Mr Trump interfering in the appointment of future Fed governors and ultimately Ms Yellen’s successor. If he is happy to go after the spooks in the CIA, I’m sure he will not be scared of a few economists in the Fed. After all, they represent to him the ultimate insiders – civil servants who are unelected. He may well make them his next target.
If that happens, all hell will break loose on Wall Street because, after all, the near 30-year boom in American asset prices has been driven on the understanding that the Fed always wins.
What if that no longer holds true?
Then all bets are off.
In the Scotsman, Thomas Smart reflects on life as an expat:
I’m an American. I now live in the United Kingdom. Eleven years ago, I left the baking red heat of the Arizona desert for the soggy green hills of Scotland. The reason for my emigration was an excuse as old as humanity: love. I’d met a girl from Scotland. We got married in a cross-Atlantic swirl of confused accents and too much whisky. We bought a house. I got a job. We now have two young children.I like living in the UK. I like the people and I like the place. Yes, February is bleak and my tan has long since faded, but Great Britain has offered me opportunities which I would have never had in the United States. I can see a doctor – for free. I was able to pursue a postgraduate degree for a very reasonable price – free. When I went to get a prescription for an infection the pharmacist told me the cost, “Free”. I still remember when my first employer told me my holiday entitlement was 30 days. I was baffled. I wondered, do these people realise they’re giving me over a month off, paid? Beyond the constant drizzle, I began to understand that there was a cultural divide I would need to work hard to bridge.
The America I left didn’t feel xenophobic and isolationist. Admittedly, racism is a part of American history and still very much exists. However, I never thought the American people would vote to literally wall themselves in. The America I thought I knew wasn’t misogynistic and mean. Yes, equality was a long way off but I never believed a politician could openly bragg about abusing women and still win power. In short, America has always had its flaws, but the radical now seems to have become mainstream – it’s as if those on the fringe have somehow gotten hold of the microphone.I’ve not been back to the United States for four years. Between the cost of flights and the kids, it’s been too difficult to make the journey. The election of Trump has made me wonder, if I do ever go back to the US, will it be anything like the country I remember? It’s very easy to view the past through rose tinted spectacles, and perhaps, over the years, I’ve created a sanitised view of the America I want to remember. But I do remember it as a happy place, as a place which was, for lack of a better word, good. It seems like, somewhere between the mass shootings, violent police officers, and a megalomaniac in the White House, everything has changed. I wonder where all the kindness went? While I’m sure that the earth is the same size it was eleven years, ago, it just feels like home is much further away.
I’ll finish with an important piece from the Southend News Network, one of Britain’s premier news sites:
A spokesperson for Donald Trump’s administration has confirmed that the CIA’s list of approved methods of torture has been replaced by an executive order that authorises the use of Stacey Solomon voice recordings.
According to the new ruling, this means that all levels of suspects will be subjected to 60-second audio files of the Essex TV personality’s many appearances.
the President decided that it was time to look for a new mental or emotional method that would be just as effective, and at that point somebody handed him a tape of an episode of The Xtra Factor.’
‘He noticed that her vocal delivery of ending one thought and beginning a new thought simultaneously at varying speeds was ‘giving him the motherf*cker of all headaches,’ and just 20 seconds later he was crying on the floor and getting ready to email our nuclear missile launch codes to The Kremlin.’
‘Thankfully someone was there to turn off the recording and intercept him.’
‘We carried out a test interrogation on a registered terror suspect last night, and within three cycles he had denounced Allah, shaved off his beard and was preparing for a new career selling bicycles and spreading the word of The Good Book.’
Although Washington is delighted at the success of the trial, there may be some difficult times ahead after the United Nations confirmed that the move may be violating a number of clauses in the Geneva Convention.
You may find it interesting to peruse some more of SNN’s stories, which often give an interesting new angle to current events. It’ll be one way to occupy your Sunday.