Thursday, February 2, 2017

From our Friends Down Under at Justinian

Trumpian fantasies

A wrap of where we are now with the Trumpian ascendency ... Already talk about presidential replacement as evidence of mental instability emerges ... The administration's "corruption premium" ... 41 prisoners left at Guantánamo, costing $10.85 million each per year ... Roger Fitch files from an anguished Washington 
Caesarian democracy [is typified by] its direct appeal to the masses: demagogical slogans; disregard of legality despite a professed guardianship of law and order; contempt of political parties and the parliamentary system, of the educated classes and their values; blandishments and vague, contradictory promises to all and sundry; militarism; gigantic blatant displays and shady corruption. Panem et circenses once more – and at the end of the road, disaster  – Sir Lewis Namier, "Vanished Supremacies” 
It is generally easy to identify which of Trump's assertions are, in one way or another, unworthy of belief. What is somewhat more difficult to establish is whether his unmistakably dubious statements are deliberate lies or whether they are just bullshit - Harry Frankfurter, Princeton philosopher
In the US presidential election just ended, Donald Trump lost the popular vote by about three million votes, even after his party suppressed another 7 million.  
His 46.1 percent support on election day was at 40 percent (Obama's: 84 percent) by the time he took office.
Even so, on January 20th, as George HW Bush - the last Republican elected president without cheating - lay in intensive care, Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States.
He promptly delivered an inauguration speech whose crude nationalist tone harkened back to European rallies of the 1930s, a resonance others found as well.
Erratic rants tumbled out in the days that followed, and within a week, there was talk about presidential replacement under the disability provisions of the 25th Amendment, more here and here
Early evidence of a disturbing mental instability could be found in his delusional and demonstrably untrue claims that the audience who attended his inauguration was the largest in history; soon thereafter, the new president's press flacks were reporting a rapturous reception for the Great Leader at the CIA, of all places. 
The president made an embarrassing appeal to the assembled CIA officers, assuming they'd voted for him and were partisan allies; this, also, was a Trumpian fantasy. More here on Trump's alarming CIA visit.
The new chief's imaginary triumph at Langley was yet another case of "alternative facts", as presidential counsellor Kellyanne Conway called them, an expression quickly seized upon as Orwellian by Eric Blair scholars. 
Conway: comments examined by Eric Blair scholars
The Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt - author of On Truth and the influential 1986 essay On Bullshit - was the first to identify the essential nature of Trump's disconnect with truth. A number of writers (here and here) have cited "bullshitting" to explain Trump's fantastic lies, but as Lawfare's Quinta Jurecic notes, disregard for truth "could easily become disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law". 
For some, the Trump transition conjured up images of the fall of the Roman republic and its aftermath, and the man himself was compared to assorted authoritarian leaders in history, eg Augustus, Napoleon III, Mussolini, Hitler and even Erdogan, though George III seems more apt. 
It's true that Trump has an affinity for tasteless Louis XIV knock-offs, consistent with his not-so-elegant heritage.
As for the rise of America's very own authoritarian figure, the Atlantic blamed Trump's ascent and Clinton's fall on movies, TV and pop culture, while a Salon writer credited reality TV for liberating Americans from a "hobble of shame" that had heretofore hindered the elevation of Trump-like beings to leadership positions.
The Guardian's Polly Toynbee meanwhile provided historical context, dusting off her 1988 interview with a man who appeared pathological even then.
*   *   *
Kushner: nepotism
Cabinet appointments are proceeding. The Republicans insisted that Senate confirmation hearings be carried on before the government's Office of Ethics had completed its review of the mostly-dodgy nominees.
When the government's Chief Ethics Officer spoke up on Trump's own derisory ethics compliance efforts, calling them meaningless, he received a threatening summons from the House Republican leadership, reminding him that his term was up for renewal. The Post commented here.  
Ethics officials from both the Bush and Obama administrations professed themselves shocked by Trump's conflicts. More here on ethics. 
The House, perhaps anticipating its representatives' crimes, tried to bring its own Ethics Office under partisan Republican control, but backed off after public outrage. They still managed to move government records useful for ethics investigations from executive control to (privileged) Congressional custody, thus defeating future subpoenas. 
Michael Dorf has described a "corruption premium" in the Trump administration. 
Tweets aside, Mr Trump is holding highly improper private meetings with heads of companies that are contemplating mergers - a great opportunity for pay-to-play and personal enrichment, not to mention insider trading.
If hackers can make millions on inside trades by stealing inside information from merger and acquisition legal firms, what's to stop friends and cronies of Trump family members who know in advance of their leader's next bizarre tweets
Happily for Trump, the very first legal opinion issued by the Department of Justice under the new regime has given its blessing to Trump's appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior adviser, anti-nepotism laws notwithstanding. 
Trump's unresolved emoluments problems have meanwhile resulted in a lawsuit by CREW regarding his foreign investments, more here.
*   *   *
Gitmo: 41 left
January 11th marked the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay prison and, in the parallel universe that is Gitmo, it seemed perfectly natural that two men held in mistaken identity were among the last of the men released by the Obama administration. One of these was the only one still held who had been captured by Americans on a battlefield.
The final Gitmo transfers began in late December and continued right up to Obama's last day in office
The final count as the clock ran out on 20 January was 41 prisoners; the cost of maintaining them now works out to $US 10.85 million each per year.  
The Post reported on the five men cleared for release who were still at Guantánamo when the Obama administration expired. There were last minute court challenges in Washington on behalf of two of those stranded, but both (here and here) were unsuccessful.    
Among those released on the last day was the only remaining European prisoner, Ravil Mingazov.  
Mingazov is the former Russian ballet dancer-soldier that Fitch once paired for exchange with the US ballet-dancing soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Rejecting Fitch's advice, the Pentagon exchanged five other Guantanameros for Bergdahl, who now faces a court martial for desertion in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl is currently seeking dismissal of the charges in light of the highly prejudicial comments on his case made by the new commander-in-chief - unless the 25th Amendment facilitates another person playing that role. 

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