Stuck in the Elevator

Don’t get stuck in the elevator. Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) is that 1958 French film noir thing directed by Louis Malle, his first feature film. Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet are lovers whose perfect crime begins to unravel when Ronet gets trapped in an elevator and it all falls apart. He can’t cover his tracks. All the clever planning was useless. The irony is heavy – think of it as Hitchcock set in Paris, in French, with a moody dead-cool score by Miles Davis, his only film score. It’s very late-fifties-hip. It’s also quite obscure, but there’s something about a dumb mechanical failure. It can ruin everything. Get stuck in an elevator and you can find yourself on the way to the gallows.

Donald Trump needs to understand this, because he had a bad day in Colorado:

Donald Trump tore into a fire marshal Friday after Trump’s campaign was apparently told more people could not be let in, accusing him of being a Hillary Clinton voter.

During a campaign stop in Colorado Springs, Trump lambasted Colorado Springs Fire Marshall, identified by The Hill as Brett Lacey, as soon as he walked on stage, saying restrictions on attendees at his rally that Lacey apparently imposed were why America “doesn’t work.”

“So I have to tell you this. This is why our country doesn’t work,” Trump said. “We have plenty of space here. We have thousands of people outside trying to get in. And we have a fire marshal that said, ‘Oh we can’t allow more people.'”

This was the usual bullshit. The Trump folks always hand out two or three times the number of tickets that any venue can hold. That means people are always turned away, left standing in the street, which makes Trump look amazingly popular. They always book the smallest room possible, for the greatest visual effect. It’s an old trick – Trump is not alone – and sometimes fire marshals have to do the public-safety thing and point to the “capacity” signs clearly posted on the wall, but Trump takes the old trick to new levels:

He went on to say while it “wasn’t his fault,” he was entertaining the idea that the reason why is because the fire marshal is a Clinton supporter.

“The reason they won’t let them in is because they don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” he said. “That’s why, okay? Too bad. That’s why our country has – hey, maybe they’re a Hillary person. Could that be possible? Probably. I don’t think there are too many of them. I don’t think there are too many of them.”

By that time no one glancing at Maximum Capacity signs on the wall, and Trump started his “limited government” riff:

“This is the kind of thing we have in federal government also, by the way, folks. Then you wonder why we’re going to hell,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to hell. You know what it is? It’s a thought process, right?”

Yeah, why the hell are there safety rules about how many folks you can jam into a room? What about freedom? This particular fire marshal is evil, or not:

Lacey did not speak publicly following Trump’s attack, but The Hill reported that he was named “Civilian of the Year” in February for his work after the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, citing a local newspaper report.

He rescued people under fire. He doesn’t seem that evil, but of course this all started with an elevator:

Now we learn that just a short time earlier a rescue crew from the Colorado Springs Fire Department had to rescue Trump and members of his entourage from an elevator stuck between the 1st and 2nd floors of The Mining Exchange Hotel. Trump and his entourage were reportedly stuck in the elevator for roughly thirty minutes before the rescue crew was able to lower a ladder down into the car.

An interview with the co-owner of the hotel suggests the stoppage may have been the fault of members of Trump’s staff who were given keys to control the elevators during their stay.

A statement released by the Colorado Spring Fire Department read: “The firefighters were able to secure the elevator, open the top elevator hatch, lower a ladder into the elevator which allowed all individuals to self-evacuate, including Mr. Trump, onto the second floor lobby area.”

He got stuck in an elevator, throwing off his schedule, and the fire marshal’s guys rescued him in a most undignified manner, and he did not laugh it off. He stuck back. The fire marshal in a Clinton supporter! The fire marshal is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with America! The man seems a bit unstable, somewhere between easily unhinged and paranoia, or somewhere between opportunistic and delusional. No other Republicans would comment on this. It was a bit embarrassing for them – this is their guy – but that wasn’t all:

As 400 wealthy conservative donors in the Charles and David Koch network gathered at a luxury resort at the base of the Rocky Mountains here, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump took to his normal form of communication, Twitter, to blast the activist brothers, saying he “turned down” a meeting request with them.

The Trump tweet:

I turned down a meeting with Charles and David Koch. Much better for them to meet with the puppets of politics, they will do much better!

The response:

Officials with Freedom Works, the Koch’s political arm, indicated that they requested no meeting. “We are not engaging in the presidential,” James Davis, spokesman for Freedom Partners, said.

Trump’s tweet comes after Politico reported Friday that Trump’s finance team asked for a meeting but that the request was denied by the Koch organization.

His pride was hurt, as Kevin Drum notes:

Have you noticed this about Trump? Nobody ever turns down a meeting with him. He turns down meetings with other people. Likewise, he never calls anyone. They call him. It doesn’t matter who it is. President, pope, CEO, whatever. According to Trump, they’re the ones who called first. His ego just can’t stand the thought of anyone thinking that he’s the guy who ever goes begging.

There may be a problem here. He flat-out lied. He’s a proud man. And then there’s the NFL. Josh Marshall explains that nonsense:

In his first effort to scuttle the fall presidential debates Donald Trump has suggested that Hillary Clinton is trying to rig the debates by scheduling them during must-watch NFL games. Is this true? No, of course not. The Commission on Presidential debates has overseen all presidential debates going back to the 1980s. The commission is bipartisan (co-chaired by one Republican and one Democrat) and announced the dates for this year’s debates on September 23rd, 2015. This year’s NFL schedule was announced in April 2016…

But some have suggested that even though the exact schedule wasn’t known until April, the commission knew what days and nights the NFL schedules games. Here’s where calendar knowledge comes in. Friday and Saturday are historically low TV viewership nights. If the debate commission wanted high viewership those two nights are out. Since 2006, the NFL has scheduled games on three nights a week, in addition to the main Sunday afternoon play: Sunday, Monday and Thursday. If the commission wants to work around the NFL schedule they are limited to two days out of the week: Tuesday and Wednesday.

Has the debate commission ever done this before? Of course it has. The four 2012 debates were held on a Wednesday, Tuesday, Thursday and Monday…

Did Donald Trump get a letter from the NFL complaining about the schedule? No. He lied about that. Earlier this week Trump told ABC News: “It’s against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous.'”

An NFL spokesman said categorically that the NFL never sent a letter about the debates to Trump.

Trump couldn’t produce the letter:

The Trump campaign now says “Mr. Trump was made aware of the conflicting dates by a source close to the league.”

They had to say something to cover the impulsive lies from their guy with that fragile ego, but Marshall sees something more:

Donald Trump gave his first hint last night that he might try to get out of the fall presidential debates. I have thought for months that he’d likely try to get out of them. I think he will be at a steep strategic and tactical disadvantage in any debate with Hillary Clinton – but from thinking he’d try to get out of the debates, I wasn’t clear how he’d do it without facing crushingly bad publicity and exposure as a coward. The latter is something that cuts apart everything his campaign is based on.

The NFL conflict thing was just the start of this:

The requirement is simple: get out of the debates, make them not happen without seeming to be the one who’s running away or tanking them. Here’s how. I suspect Trump will start claiming that that the process is “rigged” because Gary Johnson and Jill Stein aren’t included. For better or worse (I think better) the debate commission rules are crystal clear: You need to hit 15% support in a certain number of major polls to be included. It’s highly unlikely Johnson will meet that threshold; it’s almost impossible that Stein will. Inclusion over exclusion has an inherent logic to it even if it’s obviously self-serving and not appropriate in this case. So I think Trump will find this a comfortable position from which to attack the debates themselves.

Trump does better in multi-person debates than one-on-ones. They’re much less debates in any real sense. They’re more like parallel taunt contests. The multi-person format also makes it easier to avoid policy detail. What’s more, Stein would certainly work with Trump in tag-teaming Hillary Clinton, putting her under fire from both the left and right. Johnson’s role is more uncertain. He is less of an attack dog by temperament. And who he’d have more interest in attacking is less clear than it might seem. I’m sure Clinton would weather such a debate. But it’s clearly a less attractive option for her that a one on one with Trump.

What’s more, agreeing to such a debate in contravention of the debate commission rules and at Trump’s demand would show her giving into to Trump’s bullying, which would be extremely damaging quite apart from whether two person or four person debates are better in the abstract.

And there’s this:

The other thing to remember is that for all their flaws, presidential debates are fairly substantive. They have high caliber moderators like Jim Lehrer. Candidates are pressed on real questions. It’s nothing like primary debates with a dozen or more participants. Trump’s major liability is that a substantial majority of the public either believes or is inclined to believe that he is temperamentally unfit to be president. His natural path will be to try to bully or overwhelm Clinton. It’s the essence of his political mode and message. But Clinton does not rattle easily. He’ll have a very hard time throwing her off balance. Precisely the things he’ll try to do are the kinds of things likely to reinforce the perception that he simply lacks the temperament to be president.

His only choice is to say they’re rigged and he’ll have none of it:

For anyone really paying attention, it will be obvious what happened. But for his supporters, it will be enough of a hook to pretend he didn’t chicken out.

And that’s important:

Trump didn’t so much debate in the Republican primaries as use them with some skill to enact a series of dominance rituals at the expense of his opponents. Indeed, this is the key to understanding virtually everything Trump does. Whatever is actually happening he tries to refashion it into a dominance ritual or at least will not engage before performing one. You saw that in those numerous examples where he said he would participate in a debate but only after the other party wrote a major check to charity. It’s primal. He needs to dominate before he will engage.

Characterologically, Trump needs tension and drama. Fresh out of the conventions, he now needs to create a drama out of the debates. Like a bad-seed kid, he can’t help picking fights. He needs tension both to satisfy inner needs and to deal with other people. But even if he eventually agrees to participate in one or more of the debates, he will try mightily to force some change or break some dishes in order to assert dominance over the process. He’ll insist someone needs to be included, some part of the format has to change, some location isn’t sufficient. The substance will always be secondary to the need to impose his will. His initial volley making the nonsensical claim that Hillary Clinton scheduled the debates during football games is just the beginning.

Perhaps so, and that dovetails into the major story of this odd Donald Trump weekend:

Donald Trump’s criticism about the Muslim parents of a slain American soldier has generated – once again – a backlash within his own party.

Just 100 days from the election, Trump has responded in his standard fashion – dig in, claim he’s being treated unfairly and attack back.

But the swift condemnation of Trump’s response raises questions about whether this controversy is different from the ones that came before it.

This time, attacks from the Republican presidential nominee on the parents of a soldier who died defending America have put new pressure on GOP leaders to decide whether they will continue to stand by him. Already, the party’s leaders in the House and the Senate have distanced themselves from Trump’s remarks, and other Republican figures are attacking their nominee forcefully.

“This is going to a place where we’ve never gone before, to push back against the families of the fallen,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in a statement. “There used to be some things that were sacred in American politics – that, you don’t do – like criticizing the parents of a fallen soldier even if they criticize you.”

“If you’re going to be leader of the free world, you have to be able to accept criticism. Mr. Trump can’t,” Graham said. “The problem is, ‘unacceptable’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

The incident:

The controversy is over Trump’s response to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber in 2004. The Khans took the stage Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention, where Khizr Khan rejected Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States as unconstitutional, pulling a copy of the Constitution from his breast pocket and saying that Trump has “sacrificed nothing and no one.” Trump has since responded by criticizing Ghazala Khan’s silence and suggesting she wasn’t allowed to speak.

The incident recalls Trump’s attack last year on Arizona Sen. John McCain. Trump said at the time that McCain is not a war hero because he was captured and imprisoned in Vietnam. Many had speculated the criticism would spark Trump’s decline in the GOP primary race – it did not.

But there are two key differences: Trump was not yet the GOP nominee and McCain – himself the 2008 GOP standard-bearer – is a long-time public figure with experience parrying on the presidential level. The Khans are not.

“This is so incredibly disrespectful of a family that endured the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” Jeb Bush, a Trump rival in the 2016 GOP primary, said on Twitter Sunday evening.

On Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked him about this:

“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.” Pressed by Stephanopoulos to name the sacrifices he’d made for his country, Trump said: “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”

And there was this – “When asked what he would say to the grieving father, Mr. Trump replied, ‘I’d say we’ve had a lot of problem with radical Islamic terrorism.'”

Kevin Drum comments:

This is shockingly callous, but there’s a sense in which you can sympathize with Trump. Khan isn’t just some guy. He was speaking at a party convention on prime time national television. And he went after Trump in a very deliberate way. Surely Trump should be allowed to respond?

Maybe. But sometimes life just isn’t fair, and you have to suck it up. Republicans have used 9/11 survivors and Benghazi moms at their conventions, and there’s really nothing you can do about it except let them take their shots. That’s life.

Unless you’re Trump. He’s just congenitally unable to take a hit without hitting back. It could have been a seven-year old on that stage talking about how a Muslim fireman rescued her kitten from a tree, and Trump would have figured out a way to insult her back. He seems to literally have no control over his own actions.

Josh Marshall elaborates on that:

There are smart terrible people and dumb terrible people. While they’re both dangerous in positions of power, the dangers they represent are significantly different. We’ve been watching the now multi-day war between Donald Trump and the Khan family. Trump has managed the amazing feat of finding himself savaging the mother of a dead American soldier who literally had never said a word against him. What is most important about understanding what is happening here, however, is not the callousness or shamelessness of Trump’s behavior. It is that it all could have been so easily avoided – not the damage to the Khan family but the damage to Trump himself. This may seem like a perverse way of looking at what has unfolded. But it’s actually the most instructive for understanding Trump’s actions, how his mind works and the sort of danger he represents.

Consider this:

Any political operative or communications professional, indeed anyone with some moral imagination and common sense would know how to handle this situation. Assuming you wanted to maintain the policies blocking Muslim immigration, you would simply say: “I grieve for the Khans’ loss and I very much respect their opinion and their courage. But I believe the policy I have outlined is necessary for our national security for the following reasons …”

Simple. It wouldn’t solve the original offenses that lead to their speech against Trump. But it would cut off more damaging engagement and at least suggest (whether or not it were true) that Trump is a man of empathy who believes that harsh policies are necessary.

You will never win a fight savaging the parents of a dead soldier. So it’s a fight you simply don’t engage in. A smart terrible person would get this and say something along the lines of the quote I noted above. Trump doesn’t seem terribly bright. But this isn’t about intelligence as we test it with logic puzzles. Realizing that this would be the only way to respond requires a level of self-awareness a narcissist lacks and a degree of impulse control Trump simply does not have. Empathy or any moral consciousness would get you there too.

In the absence of those, there’s this:

When Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala appeared at the Democratic convention they attacked and shamed Trump. He no doubt experienced it that way and the chorus of approbation the Khans received from virtually every part of the political spectrum deepened his sense of humiliation and loss of status and standing. As I’ve noted in so many contexts, the need to assert dominance is at the root of all of Trump’s actions. His whole way of understanding the world is one made up of dominators and the dominated. There’s no infinite grey middle ground, where most of us live the vast majority of our human relationships. That’s why even those who are conspicuously loyal are routinely humiliated in public. In that schema, Trump simply had no choice but to lash out, to rebalance the equation of dominance in his favor. It’s an impulse that goes beyond reason or any deliberation. That’s what left so many would-be or maybe allies flabbergasted at how or why he would have walked straight into such a buzzsaw of outrage.

For a narcissist like Trump the rage and emotional disequilibrium of being dominated and humiliated is simply too much to bear. He must lash out. What he said in one of his tweets responding to the Khans is perhaps the most telling. “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond?” The use of the adverb “viciously” is a good tell that Trump is a narcissist – but setting that aside, most people would know that the answer is “No, you’re not.” Certainly you’re not allowed to respond in the sense of attacking back. Their son died serving the country. You don’t get to attack them. Someone with a moral consciousness who is capable to empathy would understand this through a moral prism. A smart terrible person would understand it as a matter of pragmatism. Smart terrible people spend time to understand human behavior, even if the moral dimension of it is invisible to them or a matter of indifference. Just as importantly, they have impulse control.

That’s what’s damning here:

A smart terrible person can be an effective, even a good leader, if the interests of the country line up with his or her personal interests. I’m not advising it. But it’s possible. Indeed, history shows various examples of it. But a dumb terrible person is almost always dangerous. Trump’s mix of rage and insecurity are so unbridled that it is not simply that he is unable to protect others from their impact. He cannot even protect himself from the damage they create.

Someone else agrees with that:

Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim US soldier slain in Iraq in 2004, said Sunday that Donald Trump has a “black soul,” indicating he lacks empathy and compassion.

Khan told CNN’s Jim Acosta on “State of the Union” that he hopes Trump’s family will “teach him some empathy.”

“He is a black soul, and this is totally unfit for the leadership of this country,” Khan said. “The love and affection that we have received affirms that our grief – that our experience in this country has been correct and positive. The world is receiving us like we have never seen. They have seen the blackness of his character, of his soul.”

But there was more:

Khan called on House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to withdraw their support for Trump.

“It is a moral obligation – history will not forgive them,” he said. “This election will pass, but history will be written. The lack of moral courage will remain a burden on their souls.”

He said those GOP leaders have a “moral, ethical obligation to not worry about the votes but repudiate him; withdraw the support. If they do not, I will continue to speak.”

Both McConnell and Ryan issued statements Sunday afternoon praising Khan’s son and reasserting their opposition to Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslim immigration, but neither mentioned Trump.

Well, he is their party’s candidate and thus must be the next president. They think they can live with that burden on their souls. Drinking heavily might also help.

Perhaps so, but Matthew Nussbaum points out something else from this off weekend:

All of that came before the airing of an interview Sunday in which Trump appeared to endorse the Russian annexation of Crimea, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” He also stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not going into Ukraine” before admitting “well, he’s there in a certain way.”

The series of events only complicates life further for those Republicans who have tied themselves to Trump.

There’s a bit of a problem with this:

This directly contradicts U.S. policy, codified in a 2014 law, that “condemn[s] the unjustified military intervention of the Russian Federation in the Crimea region of Ukraine.” That measure was approved by the Senate on a voice vote, passed the Republican-controlled House by 378-34, and was signed into law by Obama.

Jake Sullivan, one of Clinton’s top policy advisers, slammed Trump’s Crimea remarks.

“Today, he gamely repeated Putin’s argument that Russia was justified in seizing the sovereign territory of another country by force,” Sullivan said in a statement Sunday. “This is scary stuff. But it shouldn’t surprise us. This comes on the heels of his tacit invitation to the Russians to invade our NATO allies in Eastern Europe. And it’s yet more proof why Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be Commander in Chief.”

Okay, he agrees with Russia’s foreign policy, not ours, or with international law and the condemnation of Russia by all our allies – or maybe not. Maybe he was just talking, trying to sound like he knew things no one else knows. He’s a proud man. He ought to know more than anyone else, and he’s sure he does, and Nussbaum sums up the weekend:

With just over three months until the election, the weekend after the Democratic convention was a chance for Trump to steal back the spotlight. He did, though not in the way Republicans would have hoped.

That qualifies as understatement. Hillary Clinton said that a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons. And then there’s a man who lashes out at the vast Clinton conspiracy, and what’s so terrible about all of America, after he gets stuck in an elevator for a half hour. That’s who he is, but get stuck in an elevator and you can find yourself on the way to the gallows.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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