Last time around, I wrote about monitoring Trump consumption. That’s a tough thing to do when you see Trump as a something more than he is. Today, it’s time for a little leveling.
One of the first steps to kicking the Trump habit is to have a realistic idea of the man. Because we get so much Trump so fast and the media cannot decide what he is, we are confronted with too many Trumps. There’s Trump the Dealmaker, Trump the Businessman, Trump the Failed Businessman, Trump the Celebrity, Trump the Chump, Trump the Moron, Trump the Genius, Trump the Brave, Trump the Coward, Trump the Winner, Trump the Loser, Trump the Strongman, Trump the Bully, Trump the Liar, Trump the Master Strategist, Trump the Great Communicator, Trump the Babbler, Trump the Bumbler, Trump the Tantrum Thrower, Trump the Hero of Us All, Trump the Motherfucker. It doesn’t matter if you agree with all or any or even just one of the above, when all those Trumps are thrown at you, things blur.
The immigration-shutdown fiasco has given us a clear view of Donald Trump, one that tells us what Trump we are dealing with. Let’s start with Trump’s December 11 White House meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. In brief, Trump invited Pelosi and Schumer to the White House for a private meeting. Trump ambushed the two with a “meeting” open to the press. Trump immediately started bloviating. Pelosi called him on his bullshit, forcing Trump to fire blanks and, eventually, try to dismiss Pelosi. Doesn’t work. Makes Pelosi stronger, while Schumer gets Trump to own a shutdown.
At the time of the meeting, polling showed that most American do not the Wall, do not want a shutdown, and will blame Trump for a shutdown if one happens. Trump reads the numbers and backs off on both the Wall and the shutdown. The House and Senate pass funding bills without money for Trump’s Wall. Trump accepts the deal and starts talking about “artistically designed steel slats,” claiming, despite a heap of evidence to the contrary that he never wanted a wall or a concrete wall or anything other than “steel slats.”
Right-wing media throws a tizzy about the budget deal, no Wall, and steel slats. Trump reverses himself, claiming that he will not be responsible for a shutdown, even if he engineers one. Trump re-embraces the Wall, forces the lame duck Republican House to give him Wall money, and then shuts down part of the government.
Trump claims that the federal workers who won’t get paid during the shutdown not only support the shutdown, but they are egging him on. Federal workers and their unions call bullshit. Trump spends Christmas Eve in the White House complaining that he is all alone (he wasn’t). He shows up in Iraq, visits troops for 3 hours, and splits home. Meanwhile, his staff tries to resurrect negotiations with the Democrats, who correctly state that there are multiple messages coming from the White House, and that Trump does not negotiate in good faith.
Trump is frustrated. He floats the idea of declaring a State of Emergency though he hasn’t made a case for it. His underlings scramble and invent a “security crisis.” The southern border is being invaded by 4000 terrorists or maybe not or maybe a little, okay, one or two, maybe. Trump and his people start blaming Democrats for deaths caused by his zero-tolerance policy and its half-assed implementation. Crickets.
Trump stops calling the Wall a wall, cannot decide whether he is for concrete or steel, returns to calling the Wall a wall, stops calling the Wall a wall, decides that the Wall is now a fence made of steel but wall, fence, barrier, isn’t it all the same in the end? Well, it is being built or is almost built, maybe it’s not built but he will build it and Mexico will pay for it, perhaps indirectly or through savings we make on something, he isn’t quite sure but it will happen thanks to New NAFTA, some tweaks on a trade agreement that has yet to pass Congress and be signed into law. Anyway, it was the Democrats idea for a wall…and the shutdown that was also their idea, except that Trump supported it then and now and a few times in between except when he didn’t but had to do it/ Besides, the shutdown does have its fans, specifically the people not getting paid, who, by the way, Trump can relate to. He’s withheld paychecks from many, many people, good people, many good people and they tell him that they appreciate not getting paid. And, no one will mind it if he declares a State of Emergency and orders the Army to start building a wall with Defense Department money. Really, no one will mind.
And then we get Tuesday night’s speech, written — I assume — by Stephen Miller, miserably read by Trump. Trump/Miller starts off trying to build a case for the Wall based on a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” Fine enough, smart move. If it is a crisis, get right to it. So, tell us about the crisis?
Trump/Miller immediately hits on jobs. They make the oft-debunked claim that “illegal immigration” kills jobs and tanks wages — at a time of low unemployment, labor shortages, and slightly rising wages. No matter, the people who believe this crap, believe it all. He ends that paragraph (I am going off the transcript) with “Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic Americans.” Classic move: Use The Blacks and The Browns to humanize a racist policy. And, then Trump/Miller fuck up.
Writing for text and writing for speech are two different things. When we write for text, we are aided by visual space. The lesson that “each paragraph is a new thought” can be applied though paragraph breaks. We assume that the reader understands that the paragraph break means “pause, reset, read.” When we assume that the reader is with us, we can get lazy about word and paragraph order, and transitions.
The amateur or careless writer will go from paragraph to paragraph not realizing that a reader’s mind does not recognize the paragraph break as the writer does. A skilled or careful writer, in this case, a speechwriter, will make great pains to ease the transition between paragraphs, especially if the text is a speech to be read by someone who hates to read and is horrible working off a teleprompter. Real speechwriters know that while readers can see a paragraph break, listeners can’t.
So, Trump/Miller follow their feigned concern about The Blacks and The Browns with a paragraph break and a new paragraph of standard Drug War fear mongering. Thing is, when Trump read the words, he did not pause for a paragraph break. As usual, he sped through the text, pausing only to wheeze. What should have been two statements, one about The Bad Browns stealing jobs from the The Blacks and The So-So Browns, one about Rovin Dope Peddlers poisoning America is heard as:
Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic Americans. Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.
What was written as an appeal to The Blacks and The Browns is heard as The Blacks and The Browns are on meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The speech immediately takes on the racist tone it sought to avoid. One pause, or better yet more text on jobs and burying the drug scare stuff further down in the speech, changes everything. Neither Trump, Miller, Javanka, Mulvaney, Sanders, Conway, or others who are paid to catch these things caught it.
The next 500-words of the Trump/Miller speech is “proof” that we are in a “humanitarian and security crisis,” claiming that the Democrats are for a wall but are playing politics, and blaming Democrats for the shutdown. All of it lies, mostly rehash, none of it remotely persuasive — especially as read by Trump — but pretty standard right-wing talkshow hoo-haw, as linear as Trump gets, and good for a select audience of white bigots, old people who are easily frightened, and conservative lawmakers who need something to lay on their pissed-off constituency.
Had Trump/Miller stopped there, they’d have an empty speech with one blunder, a speech that did not persuade or do damage, a politically inert speech. The botched paragraph break would be a botched paragraph break, not a racist Freudian slip. However…
(You notice, how many however’s there are with Trump, how many exceptions and causes for explanation?)
However, Trump/Miller end the speech with their very odd, very stupid “Wait! Your house has walls! You hypocrites!” argument, and then slams into a Christmas-time cop killer, a hammer killing, and “killing and beheading and dismembering.” It’s those damn Murdin’ Rapin’ Molestin’ Mexicans again. God damn, if you are going to go golden oldie follow it up with Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Leatherface singing Leon Payne’s “Psycho” or at least a parody of “Psycho Killer.”
Trump/Miller bookend the speech with white supremacist rhetoric. At the top, the unintentional The Blacks and The Browns are on Drugs. And, in conclusion, a flashback to “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And, that’s that: A ten-minute struggle with language that results in one big racist turd laid on the Oval Office rug.
And, as this assault on language was going on, we learned that the Wall wasn’t always a Trump obsession. His campaign staff came up with the Wall as way to get Trump to talk about immigration in a way that made him distinct from his Republican opponents. Trump took what was to be a metaphor and turned it into an 18 or 30-foot tall wall, made of concrete, with windows or steel slats so that people hanging out next to the Wall could see and have a chance to dodge all the bags of drugs that would be thrown over the Wall, that is if the drug mules could get the bags of drugs over the barbed wire, spikes, or solar panels. The minute his fans started chanting “Build the Wall,” the Wall, beautiful barrier, fence, whatever became part of Trump’s development portfolio and, eventually, a monument to Trump himself, his very long, very flat Mt. Rushmore. Trump even talked of branding it!
The astounding thing is that what I just described happens again and again and again just with different issues: The Wall, Syria, North Korea, tariffs, repealing the ACA, the Federal Reserve, NATO, Charlottesville, Trump’s bad hires and revolving door of officials, every single of his administration’s scandals, and so on. There’s lies and backtracking, denials and threats, and a whole lot of bluster.
In the early Trump days, I thought the chaos was Bannon playing Art of War (“Rapidity is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots”). Were Bannon/Trump using frenzy and speed to overwhelm and confuse? Nope, Bannon is little more than a lucky armchair strategist with a big bank. When he tried to transition to real-time politics with Trump’s cast of morons, has-beens, sycophants, grifters, and opportunists, he ignored Sun Tzu’s most basic dictum (“If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”).
Reality check! Trump and his helpers have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They don’t know policy. They don’t know government. They don’t know the law. They don’t know the Constitution. They don’t know how things work or why they are set up they way that they are. They don’t know their own strengths or weaknesses. They don’t know the strengths or weakness of their opponents. They don’t know how to communicate. Yes, they don’t know how to communicate. They don’t know how to negotiate. They don’t know how to make a deal. They really don’t know much of anything. And they won’t read, study, or listen.
Trump’s people have accomplished a few things, sure, but only through destruction. They can break treaties. They can destroy departments. They can trash regulations and rescind protections. But, even the “accomplishments” are bungled. They’ve been handed a lethal weapon, but haven’t figured out how to use it. Every attempt at destroying something winds up in court where it is usually curtailed or stopped. When a Trump employee presents a good idea, a workable strategy, the boss feels threatened, throws a tantrum, and finds someone to fire the “smart” person…and even that is botched.
Yes, Trump is dangerous but by default not by design. He is a five-year old with a loaded gun. He likes to shoot in the air and sometimes a stray bullet hits someone. While that sucks, it doesn’t change the fact that his is five-years old. Know this.
It is hackneyed to quote Sun Tzu, but, in this case, it is apt. Here is full quote from Attack by Stratagem. Sun writes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
For a long time, we’ve given the “enemy” more credit than he deserves, we’ve called him a communication genius and mistook him for a master of four-dimensional chess. When he disproves this, we wonder about the shadows, “What dastardly deeds is Trump cooking up in secret and when will he strike next?” Answer: Blaaarrgggh. We are watching a shitty improv troop whose leader struggles to get out of morning TV time. Tuesday’s speech was pure amateur hour. Incompetents wrote and green-lighted that text. No one caught that bad paragraph transition. No one. Miller might as well dropped a motherfucker in the middle of the speech. When you start hyperventilating about Trump, step back and remember how absolutely shitty and slipshod he and his operation is.