Trump’s Grand Slam

With Biden safely ensconced in the Oval Office, the most vocal concern of the political classes is redirect the passions of the dispossessed electorate that Trump seized from the GoP in 2016. This is not principally a political concern, as factors have aligned to undermine the Republican strategy of minority rule. Trump did not certify the census, and with control of the both houses of Congress and the White House, Democrats can act rapidly to impose standards on election and apportionment procedures in the States. Power will tip to the Democratic Party, and the Republicans will confront the necessity of re-inventing themselves.

What are the forces that will define that re-branding? Politically, we focus on the ethno-nationalist minority of the party. As forgotten citizens, they – like seniors – have both motivation and time to organize politically, which brings them disproportionate power in the primary process. But they do not share the motivations that seal the loyalty of most Republican voters. For most Republican voters, the principal drivers are financial entitlement and resistance to reproductive self-determination. The latter is going to be resistant to reform, but the former is far more dangerous. They have money.

While most retrospectives on Trump’s presidency focus on his abusive manipulation of his adoring codependents, I think that we need to remember why Trump sought power in the first place. Trump’s twisted amplification of ethno-nationalism was almost a parody, but he was born into financial entitlement. That concerns provides a fairly coherent explanation for his policies while in office.

Remember that Trump did not enter the race intending to win. He wanted to build his brand. What was the nature of that brand? Trump leases his name to real estate developers around the world. Unfortunately, the brand was not compelling. Investigations of his business dealings in the Arab world showed that they were largely money laundering operations for organizations such as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. This was also true of many of the investments made by Russians in the US property market.

But it was the only game he had. Remember his nominating convention, with “TRUMP” in 90,000 point font over the stage. This was not vanity. It was a branding.

Trump’s Administration was full of people like him. Mnuchin, Tillerson, Zinke, DeVos, and Ross were all of this mold. Others, such as Ben Carson, played the sport of presidential politics largely for the speaker’s fees. Among them were those who had come under scrutiny by the Obama Administration for consumer fraud or violation of foreign trade restrictions (Tillerson in Russia).

Trump and Tillerson were unique, however, in the global scope of their entanglements. The State Department hosted investigators sent out to scrutinize their activities, and attracted nationals seeking to curry favor by reporting on a man who had made himself Obama’s enemy. At home, the Department of Justice was the principal danger, with numerous investigations in Federal Districts underway. Treasury, auditing Trump’s tax returns, was another threat. All of these institutions were eviscerated or suborned for corruption.

And finally, there was the rest of corporate America, who considered Trump a buffoon. What we saw in Trump’s Administration was lifted directly from Vladimir Putin’s playbook in the aftermath of Boris Yeltsin’s abdication. Yeltsin was abused by the post-Soviet oligarchs, but Putin used his control over the levers of justice to slowly strangle them, eventually becoming de facto owner of Russia. This was Trump’s aim as well.

He almost succeeded. The financial markets soared, and the Wall Street Journal joined FOX News in giving Trump credit. What the market manipulators didn’t count on, though, was the method seized upon by Putin. There is no honor among thieves, and behind every wealthy man are ten underlings that would be happy to take his place. Trump cultivated them, and was perfectly satisfied that the Senate refused to take action on his appointees to vacant Cabinet positions. As for those beyond his reach: Trump’s attack on Jeff Bezos was a fascinating set-piece of global character assassination, and I assume that his Saudi Arabian allies participated with the aim of securing the arms they needed for their war in Yemen.

I am working on a craft project that will eventually manifest as a “Memorial to the Abuse of Privilege.” The foundation evokes the 400,000 COVID deaths in the last year of Trump’s term. The narrowness of the Biden victory should give us pause. It was not superior campaigning or a compelling vision of the future that propelled Biden to victory. Trump’s botched COVID response carried heavy financial consequences. The Lincoln Project sprang up to lead the opposition to his second term. I believe that without COVID, Trump would still be president, and American democracy would have died.

But talk to a Trump voter and QAnon conspiracist and you might be shocked. They want to go back to work because if we don’t, small business will die in America. They are not classically ethno-nationalist; they believe that the aggrieved ethnic and racial minorities have forgotten indentured servitude and corporate towns and the labor abuses of industrialization and violent suppression of unions and fighting in foreign wars and the deflationary gold standard and corporate welfare and globalization and think “Well, if you deserve restitution and opportunities, what about us?”

In other words, they recognize that the enemy are those that abuse privilege. They bet on Obama, and felt betrayed by his lax treatment of Wall Street raiders in 2009. If the Democrats choose to expose and fight global corruption, they’d win them back, and the Republican Party would have to drag its libertarian corporate pay masters back into a sustainable social contract.

Remember to Heal, Learn to Protect

At the Capital Mall memorial for the 400,000 dead of COVID, President Biden opined that remembrance is necessary to healing. This reflects the institution of Holocaust memorials, and the Vietnam Memorial wall. Great tragedies reflect a tearing apart in human nature, a locus in which dogmatism (Nazism, Colonialism, or Trumpism) tries to force society to conform to its views. To remember, as a psychic practice, is to confront lies with truth. Upon that foundation, we can then project the love that heals.

But healing is not enough.

We are on the “path of the knowledge of good and evil.” We cannot just paper over the past. Our burden is to understand it, and prevent its repetition.

Prior to the Sack of the Capitol on January 6th, Biden promised that he would “focus on the future.” That is an error. The perfidy of the last four years must be exposed, analyzed, and measures taken to guard against its repetition. While the Republican caucus – led by McConnell, Grassley, Nunes, Rosenstein, Graham, Sessions, and Trump – managed to squash full investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the DoJ must be tasked with completing a full national security and financial review. The FEC (Federal Election Commission) must be reconstituted and tasked with a complete review of campaign finance during the Trump Administration. Every Cabinet officer must be tasked with exposing self-dealing by their outgoing predecessors. Congress, which is allowed to define the framework under which States conduct their elections, must expose bias in existing practices and ensure all voters are represented. And apportionment, manipulated by the GoP’s “Red Map” algorithm following the 2010 census, must be constrained by fairness algorithms that prevent gross bias in favor of any political party.

Much wrongdoing will be exposed, and it might be politically importune to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators. But without knowledge, we cannot learn, and the last four years will be repeated.

Biden’s desire for comity is laudable, and the olive branch should always be held out. But that olive branch should not be a used as a shield by the enemies of democracy to prevent exposure of their wrong-doing. At the very least, Biden must allow Kamala Harris, long known as a lion in the fight against corruption, to exercise her skills to maximum effect.

Beaten from the Inside Out

In Revelation 11, Christ hands John the little scroll, humanity’s portion of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, with the words “It will be sweet in your mouth, but make your stomach bitter.”

This is how sin defeats us. It adorns itself in pleasant expectations, then eats us from the inside out.

Having surrendered myself in the service of love, I expect nothing. But every now and then Sin sends an emissary in human form. I extend my compassion, and it gains a toehold.

When the blasted waste of my father’s brilliance was evident in the collapse of the company founded by my brother, the investor that consumed it sought to turn me to the realization of his dreams. The setting was an insurance information systems conference in Reno. He invited me out to dinner, sharing that his years in the open-cry pit of the NYSE had oriented him to an experience of personal energy that he wanted to share with people through online gambling. Confident in my capacity to create value, I redirected the conversation. As we walked back to the elevators, he offered to stake me at the blackjack tables, saying that he wanted me to know the feeling that comes with winning.

I demurred, and headed back up to my room. That night, I had terrible cramping in my gut, and voided everything that I had eaten. Headaches followed, and I tossed in my bed, unable to sleep. As is my habit, I asked “Where is this coming from?” Absorbing the casino with my mind, I perceived a blue field of energy that was trying to consume me. Returning to the bathroom, a woman’s voice advised, “Let your body do its work.” Squeezing the last contents out of my stomach, the demon was purged.

Recognizing the power of the thoughts carried in my prefrontal cortex, the resistance attacks me through my sinuses. When I become dispirited, I do not maintain my schedule of sinus rinses. My upper sinuses become blocked and the bacteria turn septic.

This was my condition on Thanksgiving. I woke with a headache early in the morning and began the unpleasant drainage, starting with an essential oil rinse. The septic fluid upsets my gut, and violent purges are expected.

But this occasion was worse. A deep part of me was committed to full expulsion. The vomiting continued until only a few tablespoon of yellow paste were produced. Below the appendix, powerful spasms in the colon and abdomen forced everything toward the rectum.

And the images, in this case? Entering through virtuous intentions of our forefathers, having occupied the institutions we inherited: Mnuchin, the profiteer of suffering; Trump, the catalyst of chaos; and Miller, the tormentor of the weak.

You are beaten, boys. Time for you to go.

Box Score: Money 2, Value 1

Coming of age in the Reagan era, I failed to understand what I was witnessing. America abandoned manufacturing for services and ended up in a time warp.

As a corporate-level software consultant, my father Karl saw elements of this up close. Invited as a fellow traveler by the president of Wiley & Sons (the journal publisher), Karl sat in on the annual shareholder meeting. A careful investment plan charted growth in assets and employment. During the discussion, the CFO queried, “And what is the annualized rate of return on your plan?” With the follow-on to the response, “I can take that same money and make three times as much in the stock market.”

In that era, the stock market still reflected an investment in other people’s ingenuity. This year, as we approached the election, one Trumpie threatened, “Well, if Biden wins, you can be sure the stock market is going to tank!” The inescapable corollary is that the stock market is no longer an economic bell-weather but an instrument of political influence.

That influence is maintained through the ties between the Federal Reserve and the large banks. We are in the mind-numbing reality that the people that take care of our money no longer profit from making it grow, they profit by making it move. That may seem impossible, but the volume of real estate, trade, and government debt is so enormous that simply the placement fees run into the tens of billions of dollars annually.

The bind for the public is that the money center banks hold no interest in seeing the debt reduced. In fact, the Dow weathered recent financial crises because the Federal Reserve issued borrowing authority that the banks loaned to corporations to buy back stock. The value of stock is now linked to corporate debt.

And in the chaos only the financial system has a guaranteed benefit.

Was this intentional? Hardly, but it was inevitable. This is trumpeted by the liberal economists, but they misdiagnose the problem. I hope with this post to steer them in the right direction.

The liberal economists blame “capitalism.” Capitalism, coined by Adam Smith, is a recent innovation, seeing an effective implementation only in the industrialization of the Western world in the late 1800’s. Capitalism was actually a liberalizing social contract. It held that money and labor could collaborate to improve productivity. Higher productivity meant more money for investors and lower costs for labor. It was a win-win scenario.

Capitalism disproved the precepts of Malthus, who held that population growth would always overwhelm the benefits of productivity gains. In part, however, Malthus was proven right because political power was held by the moneyed noble class. Market control was awarded by royal writ, and once secured ensured resistance to innovation that might lead to diversification of supply. Stability of prices was also important to the nobility and their retinues, often sustained by stipends.

The crack in this hermetic system was warfare, and it was to finance their conflicts that the nobility turned to the banking system, leading to the coupling of political and financial interests that suppressed the development of liberal societies.

So the “Box Score” reads as it is because capitalism is now revealed as a brief interlude in the narrow marriage of politics and finance. It was an interlude during which finance married itself to the production of value and the growth of liberal societies.

Regardless of the outcome, the 2020 election proves at least one thing: that Donald Trump is a symptom, rather than a cause. The disease that created him is a return to the festering myopia of political and financial calculations freed from a concern for value or sustainability. Trump is used as a tool by that system to distract attention from the wizards behind the curtain. He is a live facsimile of the special effects in the Wizard of Oz.

How does this manifest in practical terms? Consider real estate. I was told recently that I had to get in the market, because prices would only go up. Looking over the finance package, I noted with surprise that is allocated 50% of my income to real estate costs, rather than the 30% typical of my youth. So the reason that real estate prices are going up is because the Federal Reserve, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is issuing loans that allocate more of our income to the payment of interest. The increase in home prices has nothing to do with value – it follows from a systematic manipulation of political and financial levers to ensure that we are indebted.

But the fault is not with capitalism. Capitalism was a God-send. The fault is with something I would call “monetarism” – the pursuit of wealth in the absence of any concern for value.

The economic historian should recognize this plague. What should give pause to the rest of us is the proof, in the results of the 2020 election, that the disease is worse that an out-of-control pandemic that has the potential to kill millions of Americans.

I hope that our democracy survives while our liberalizing politicians adapt to that lesson.

Donald Trump, Really

Working overtime on Wednesday as a Census enumerator, I caught only a glimpse of the debate. Picking through the analysis the next day, I shook my head.

They still don’t get it.

The best thing about that debate was that the Trump-loving GOP finally confronted the daily reality experienced by those working in the White House. For the last eight years, the MAGA faithful have seen only what Fox News and heard only what Rush Limbaugh wants them to know about Trump. The man at the center of the MAGA cult is a media fabrication.

But the White House staff knows that to get anything done Trump has to be kept away. He doesn’t golf only because the Secret Service costs fund his country clubs, Trump golfs because they won’t give him anything meaningful to do.

Trump’s career was built upon his willingness to project himself into the public sphere. Until his father’s death, he was the public face of the Trump real-estate empire, and government and investors gave Donald access to get access to Fred. They heard Donald out.

But behind the blather was a team of people that prepped Donald with talking points and figured out which of the promises could be made true. Donald was happy to take credit for what worked, and quickly exorcised his failures.

This tendency was amplified on the set of The Apprentice, where he would explode arbitrarily during the meetings, and the producers would write and film a back-story to justify his performance. This is the true Trump: a man who expects that the world will conform itself to his will. The end result of coddling him, however, is a total divorce from reality.

I look at his signature, and feel only pity. He has no internal life, and overwrites himself in every moment while annihilating his past.

To understand Trump, read “The Autumn of the Patriarch.” Unless you are in Putin’s circle, because they recognized Trump’s malleability a long, long time ago.

A Hill of Beans to Die On?

Just finished listening to Maddow’s interview of Mary Trump.

I find the juxtaposition with Trump’s promotion of Goya beans to be unnerving. Hayes profiled the polling that shows that while Trump is heading for a disastrous loss in November, the majority of self-identifying Republicans consider their loyalty to be to Trump rather than the GoP. Trump’s falling poll numbers are thus an indication that those loyal to the GoP are exiting the party.

In this context, the only rational goal of the man who promised to “run the nation like a business” is to seek to cash in on his position. Investigative reporting shows that Trump is laundering money of uncertain origin through his golf courses. Given the misappropriation of inaugural funds, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Trump is siphoning money from his re-election campaign into his private accounts.

The promotion of Goya beans from the Oval Office is of a piece with this hypothesis. How much has Goya contributed to the Trump campaign?

I suggested here that bookies would find it profitable to run a lottery on Trump’s state of refuge following his departure from the White House. His lack of attention to the COVID crisis may reflect his acceptance of the fact that his loss is inevitable, a vicious punishment for the electorate that is betraying him. I think that following his loss, his only interest, between November and January, is going to be arranging his flight to a state that will guarantee him non-extradition.

Foaming at the Mouth

The degree to which the Republican grandees have abandoned the Constitution is revealed in their justification for suppressing mail-in voting:

If we allow mail-in voting, no Republican will ever be elected President.

Hello: last I checked, the United States was a representative democracy. That means that dogmatists can expected to be checked by the will of the people. When your policies make you unelectable, you need to change your policies.

In other words, what the Trump, McConnel, and their ilk are saying is “if we want to have another Republican president, we will have to abandon our corrupt crony-capitalism Federal racket.”

Which, actually, is just fine by me.

Indentured to Incompetence

When the Clinton Administration briefed the incoming Bush team, they emphasized the importance of sending a clear response to the bombing of the USS Cole. The Bush foreign policy team sneered, proclaiming the Cole a “Clinton failure,” and went merrily about strong-arming Russia and China to modify nuclear weapons treaties to allow the design, test, and deployment of a nuclear missile shield. Remembering the inanity of the designs promoted during the Reagan and Bush era, I shook my head. Some in positions of influence tried to trumpet warnings: Tom Daschle, Democratic head of the Senate majority, stood on the Capital steps late in the summer of 2001 to voice his concern that the Bush team was baiting the wrong bear.

Daschle’s priority was international Islamic terrorism. It took only a month for his fears to be realized, horrifically, with the event known now simply as “9/11.”

The cost multiplier for inaction was astonishing, and certainly enormously satisfying to bin Ladin and those inspired by his an example. A meaningful response to the Cole would have cost perhaps $10 million. The response to the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Congress – involving two wars, time-consuming and costly restrictions on travel, and interruption of international commerce – mounted into the trillions of dollars. For every dollar not spent on prudent prevention, we spent nearly a million dollars.

Swallowing their criticism, the rational party accepted the outcome of the Bush Administrations incompetence as “the new normal.”

Today, with the nation’s economy smothered by pandemic, the apologists for the Trump Administration insist that this is “the new normal.” But step back into the last Democratic executive, a man excoriated by Trump’s “Birther” movement, and we see that this is nothing normal at all. The Zika and H1N1 threats were effectively neutered by the Obama Administration. The total number of lives lost was in the low thousands, with no significant impact on the economy.

The lessons learned from those efforts were institutionalized in protocols for international cooperation led by a team directly in the White House itself.

While I respect the Office of the Presidency, my scorn for Trump is complete due to his utter contempt for the office itself. The Presidency is not a man, it is an institutional process for coordinated decision-making and action. Information is fed into the White House and plans flow out. Trump has not only besmirched the office, he has decimated the processes built over two hundred years to empower presidents to accomplish the nation’s goals. The motivation for those willful acts is Trump’s record of corrupt business dealings, evidenced even during his campaign as he attempted to wield his political prominence to influence civil cases already in progress. Once in office, he systematically bent the powers of his office toward destruction of the institutions assigned to prosecute his corruption.

While the politicization of the security and foreign policy services may be the longest-lasting of those institutional rapes, in real time we are finding ourselves again indentured to incompetence in the Executive Branch. Elimination of Obama’s pandemic action team left the world without a leader in the reaction to COVID-19. The early response to the disease has already cost trillions of dollars, and we can expect the death toll to rise toward 100,000 American lives. Millions of jobs have been lost under the weight of business failures. The obligations of missed payments and unfulfilled contracts will take years to unravel in the court system.

And Trump’s supporters shrug their shoulders and mourn “This is the new normal.” No it’s not. It’s the old abnormal. Wake up, and if you’re unwilling to vote for a Democrat, at least stay home until your party can prop up a candidate with at least minimal competence. I, for one, am tired of being indentured to your blind loyalty.

“We Will Get Through This”

No we won’t, Donald. Hundreds of thousands of us will get sick, perhaps 100,000 will be unable to resume their previous life because of lung damage, tens of thousands will die.

All because you did not act when the Democratic caucus advised you on February 5th that you needed funding to plan for the outbreak. All because you downplayed the danger and allowed people to continue to congregate. All because you did not act to ensure supplies and equipment were in place.

You can “play by instinct” and do your word salad and monitor your Tweet likes to find out what plays well with your base. You may escape blame. But the hospitals and governors will assemble the numbers and you will be called to account in the next election.

You said we’d “win so much you’ll get tired of winning.” Well we’re dying instead, and even Twitter won’t save you from that contrast when November comes around.

WTFU

I’ll re-iterate yesterday’s point in secular terms. Prior administrations, recognizing the disastrous costs of a future pandemic, established an office directly within the White House to ensure international coordination when new diseases are detected. This reflected recognition that the primary spawning ground is currently Southeast Asia. It is in tracking Asian outbreaks of influenza that we build our current flu vaccines.

Prior administrations used the White House office to prevent the spread of MERS and SARS and Ebola. The Trump Administration, in some kind of “Make America Great Again” isolationist pique, dismantled that office. Thus when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, there was no one to lead the response. Worse, the President downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, and deflected blame to others when it began to make inroads in American communities.

The end result of this strategy was visible in yesterday’s CDC press release. In the most ridiculous display of sycophancy imaginable, the CDC head spoke fawningly of Trump’s initiative in helping to “flatten the curve” of infection. What this means, people, is that they recognize that the disease is out of control. 60-70% of Americans will be infected, with fatalities up in the high hundreds of thousands or low millions. Their only goal is to slow the rate of infection to avoid saturating the American health care system. If that happens, fatalities could reach into tens of millions.

To characterize this as a laudable outcome is simply absurd. That it is being touted in press conferences is tantamount to admission that Trump behind the scenes is threatening to fire anyone who does not flatter his leadership. He is holding the American public hostage to his ego. Obviously the President does not recognize that he abdicates leadership with statements that he’s “not responsible for anything.” Followed by “someone in my Administration did it,” it’s clear that his paranoia has grown from the “Deep State” to blanket his own people.

Those in the Republican Party who projected this faker into the Oval Office have much to answer for. You should have helped the Democrats throw him out on his ear.