Saturday, May 20, 2017

Seven days in May: House Trump
and the Dumpster fire of the inanities

“Do not ask me about how this looks, we all know how this looks,”
                               -- senior Trump aide to The Daily Beast on May 15.

HOMEOWNERS of any long standing will know that feeling of hyperadrenalized dread when, inexplicably, there’s a fire to be contained in your home — and fast. When you discover the flames that are way bigger than any you’ve seen before that were under control, you move almost in an autopilot mode: isolating the conflagration, looking for any smothering material nearby, moving the burning object as close to the tender mercies of water or a fire extinguisher as fast as possible ... and always being careful not to be a part of what’s going up in smoke.

Working at the White House must feel like that right about now. On steroids. As if it hasn’t been bad enough over the last 120 days or so — with one self-inflicted distraction or another affecting the agenda of President* Donald Trump — a period of seven more or less consecutive days have thoroughly cemented the meme of willful chaos upon the Trump administration. Day after day, one face palm-worthy event after another has come out of this White House, misstep upon misstep, layer upon layer, a misbegotten parfait. There’s been more than one costly screw-up to be minimized. There’s more than one fire to be contained.

The Trump Hotel at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in flames today, from the West Wing to the East Room to the White House lawn, as staffers weep and wail through broken teeth cowering behind the oaken doors of their offices, never far from the bellicose orange cartoon dirigible leading them, the mango Napoleon cursing and shrieking the instructions of a man who may be in the grip of the dark triad of malignant narcissism ... or maybe just a man in thrall to arrogance for the sake of arrogance. No one can say for sure. The halls of the White House are jammed with Dumpsters on fire; senior advisers scream at underlings who quake and dissolve in tears; a Brueghelian vision of rage and lamentations straight outta “The Triumph of Death” ... and somewhere amid the Brobdingnagian shitshow of the Trump White House, over the loudspeakers, the music we might have expected ... the inescapable strains of the Russian national anthem.

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The events of the last seven-eight days have come on us so fast, cascading over us in such dizzying fashion, it begs for some way to boil this madness down to something we can get our heads around. We need a scorecard.

Start with what happened on Tuesday, May 9, when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, in a fit of the petulant, defensive pique the president-presumptive is known for. Days later, The Daily Beast reported, “Multiple White House sources confirmed ... that the president was ‘furious’ in the aftermath — causing aides to spend the rest of the week drawing as little attention to themselves as possible.

“An exasperated White House staffer on Friday described a different dynamic, saying the West Wing often struggles to keep up with Trump’s kinetic and unilateral public messaging operation and tweets and interviews that often diverge from the official White House line on the day’s events.

“The resulting tension between Trump’s statements and those of the press office charged with maintaining his public image have some frustrated at their apparent inability to nail down a coherent narrative ...” Which makes sense: You can’t be any more coherent than the boss giving you your instructions.

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WEDNESDAY, MAY 10. The White House lets the Russian government steer the public narrative of Trump’s meeting with two top Russian diplomats by giving the Kremlin-sponsored media exclusive access to the event. Not The New York Times. Not The Washington Post. Not NBC News. Of all the unforced errors of the Trump administration, of all the events connecting Russia with the integrity of the 2016 presidential election, this one was easily the most easily avoided. It’s also the one most likely to yield malign dividends.

The Daily Beast reports: “The White House did not allow American press into the meeting between President Donald Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. But it did admit a photographer from TASS, a state-owned Russian news service. Its photos were subsequently posted on TASS’s website, giving that outlet a monopoly on publishable visuals of the meeting. ...

“Two senior administration officials, one an Obama holdover and the other a Trump appointee, told The Daily Beast that the resulting reliance of U.S. media on a propaganda arm of a foreign government let Russia set the public tone of the meeting and embarrassed the administration amid already contentious discussions with Russian diplomats.”

Trump, a senior administration official told The Beast, is “either in bed with the Russians or too stupid to understand the severity of this mistake. Either way, the implications are truly terrifying.”

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It didn’t advance the Trump meme-let of financial invincibility when the markets cratered on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell through the floor, shedding more than 370 points.

And there was concomitant fallout elsewhere in the economy: The 10-year Treasury yield made its sharpest decline since last June; gold futures kept rallying; and the dollar, almighty greenback, declined to a point it hasn’t touched since Trump was named the winner of the 2016 election.

It’s not just a domestic matter, either. The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of global economic turbulence, made its biggest jump since the Brexit vote.

“After a protracted period of dormancy, financial markets are beginning to react to developments in Washington in a more unified manner,” reported Robert Brand and Jeremy Herron of Bloomberg News. “The U.S. currency now sits at its lowest level since the day of Trump’s shock win, a retracement some blame on perceptions his legislative agenda faces deeper challenges.”

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WE GOT THE MOAB of House Trump revelations on May 15, when it was reported that Trump knowingly, deliberately, eagerly shared classified information with Lavrov and Kislyak in the Oval Office.

The Beast: “Communications staff and senior staffers at the White House were literally ‘hiding in offices,’ according to a senior Trump aide, as a gaggle of White House press stormed White House hallways just after The Washington Post story broke on Monday evening.” And there was more: When Trump met with his two Russian pals, he talked about firing Comey in terms that couldn't have been less sensitive, or even patriotic. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” he said. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” (The Times reported it on May 19th.)

Some of those “deeper challenges” the Bloomberg News reporters wrote about involve persuading an increasingly skeptical public that Trump has the stones, the brain and the heart to do what’s required to right a badly-listing ship of state. A wave of the latest poll numbers suggests that won’t happen anytime soon.

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According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on May 19th, Trump is auguring in. In this poll, Trump's approval rating with the public has dropped to 38 percent, one of the very lowest it's been since his installation in the White House on Jan. 20th.

That’s Reuters’ take. Gallup’s daily tracking poll was even worse; it reported on May 19th that Trump was underwater with only 37 percent approval. A May 19th Politico/Morning Consult poll, on how The Donald handled Russian-related intel, wasn’t any more charitable.

A May 11 survey from Quinnipiac University had already said much the same, with Trump sustaining serious erosion of support from independent voters, white men and white voters with no college degrees, a major source of his voter base last November. That survey, conducted over the phone with live interviewers among 1,078 voters nationwide from May 4-May 9, gave a Trump a 36 percent approval rating, compared to the 58 percent who approved.

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THERE IS NO way to spin or sugarcoat these sagging numbers,” Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said in a statement. “The erosion of white men, white voters without college degrees and independent voters, the declaration by voters that President Donald Trump's first 100 days were mainly a failure and deepening concerns about Trump's honesty, intelligence and level headedness are red flags that the administration simply can't brush away.”

More unspinnable reality: Thanks to Trump & Co., the GOP is losing millennial voters at a dizzying clip. According to a May 17th Pew Research Center analysis, 23 percent of Republican voters ages 18-29 have switched parties since 2015, compared to 9 percent of Democratic voters in the same cohort. As many as half of Republicans 30 and under walked away from the GOP at one point in that two-year time frame.

And then there’s the big poll, the one that matters right now: A May 16th Public Policy Polling survey found that 48 percent of respondents support impeaching Trump, while 41 percent are opposed. The same poll found that 45 percent don’t think he’ll finish his first and only term as our most deeply asterisked president. Forty-three percent think he stays the course.

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With the leadership of House Trump out of the country on its first foreign trip, now we can take stock of those recent seven days in May ... while we get ready for the next seven days, as the reports come back from various foreign capitals alerting us to the embarrassment we just know is coming.

Students of American political history try to make sense of where a president’s going based on where he’s been and what he did when he was there. Trump’s first presidential overseas trip takes place later than any administration since President Johnson. On Sunday, Trump will meet with leaders from Gulf states, and deliver a speech to the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations. From there, the trip continues with stops in Israel, the West Bank, Vatican City, Belgium and Italy.

What could possibly go wrong.

Image credits: Trump: Drew Angerer/Getty Images. James Comey: via NBC News. Trump and Kislyak: Russia in the USA. VIX index chart: Bloomberg. Quinnipiac logo: © 2017 Quinnipiac University.

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