Getting His Way

No one wins all the time. No one always gets their way. That hurts, but Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this advice – “Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.”

That’s simple – don’t be an asshole – but that’s hard. Paul Brown, the famous NFL coach, once offered easier advice – “When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.”

That’s good advice too. Say nothing. Fix the problem. Win the next time, or the time after that – and even then say nothing. There’s no point in talking about any of it, either way. Fix the problem. That will speak for itself – everyone will get it.

That sounds a bit like No-Drama Obama, but he has said he now regrets not bragging about his successes. That meant that those successes disappeared in all the political chatter. That cost votes – other Democrats had nothing to work with – but he didn’t have it in him. He solved problems. That Osama fellow was suddenly gone, but there were no Mission Accomplished banners on aircraft carriers. Perhaps Obama had read a bit too much Chekhov – “One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake.”

George Bush understands that now. Barack Obama may understand that too – the success of his Affordable Care Act may be a failure in the end. It was always a mess – subsidizing the purchase of healthcare policies from private for-profit entities out to make big bucks. It was neither capitalism nor socialism and it may be gone soon. If the Republicans have their way, we’ll have market-based healthcare. The government will back away. Buy what you can. The Invisible Hand of Competition will generate the greatest good at the lowest cost, at least in theory. In practice, twenty-four million people will lose what health insurance they have now, because Obama’s hybrid system never did make that much sense. It’s damned hard to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake.

Donald Trump doesn’t read Chekhov, or much of anything else. He has said he doesn’t need to – he has common sense or a good brain or whatever – and that means he has considered none of this. When he wins, he brags and sneers. When he loses, he whines and lashes out. Obama didn’t get it. That’s where the votes are, and here we go again, with another loss:

A federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide order Wednesday evening blocking President Trump’s ban on travel from parts of the Muslim world, dealing a stinging blow to the White House and signaling that Mr. Trump will have to account in court for his heated rhetoric about Islam.

The ruling was the second major setback for Mr. Trump in his pursuit of a policy he has trumpeted as critical for national security. His first attempt to sharply limit travel from a handful of predominantly Muslim countries ended in a courtroom fiasco last month, when a federal court in Seattle halted it.

Mr. Trump had issued a new and narrower travel ban on March 6, trying to satisfy the courts by removing some of the most contentious elements of the original version.

But in a pointed decision that repeatedly invoked Mr. Trump’s public comments, the judge, Derrick K. Watson of Federal District Court in Honolulu, wrote that a “reasonable, objective observer” would view even the new order as “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.”

Judge Watson hung him with his own words, and he didn’t like it much:

Mr. Trump lashed out at Judge Watson during a campaign-style rally in Nashville late on Wednesday. Raising his voice to a hoarse shout, Mr. Trump accused the judge of ruling “for political reasons” and criticized the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the earlier decision against his administration and will hear any appeal to the Hawaii ruling.

“This ruling makes us look weak, which by the way we no longer are, believe me,” Mr. Trump said, to mounting cheers from a loyal crowd.

Mr. Trump even said he might reissue the initial version of the order, rather than the one blocked on Wednesday, which he described as “a watered-down version of the first one.”

So screw it. He really will ban Muslims next time, if it comes to that, or prove that this never ever was about Muslims at all, but that won’t fly:

Judge Watson flatly rejected the government’s argument that a court would have to investigate Mr. Trump’s “veiled psyche” to deduce religious animus. He quoted extensively from Mr. Trump’s campaign remarks that Hawaii cited in its lawsuit.

“For instance, there is nothing ‘veiled’ about this press release,” Judge Watson wrote, quoting a Trump campaign document titled “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Those were his words, and there was this from Judge Watson:

He lambasted the government, in particular, for asserting that, because the ban did not apply to all Muslims in the world, it could not be construed as discriminating against Muslims.

“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” Watson wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”

Hemingway once said that every writer needs a foolproof shockproof crap detector. Judge Watson has one of those, and Donald Trump doesn’t:

President Donald Trump railed against a judge’s order blocking his immigration restrictions on Wednesday, saying the ruling made America “look weak” – and drew chants from supporters of “lock her up!” when he attacked his former rival.

Yes, that made no sense, but little makes sense when someone lashes out and sneers:

While reading a legal code that the president said backed his authority to enact the travel ban, Trump interrupted himself to say that “fortunately” the former secretary of state was not in the White House.

“The law and Constitution give the president the power to suspend immigration when he deems – or she, or she. Fortunately, it will not be Hillary,” he said.

Chants of “Lock her up!” reverberated through the auditorium at the mention of Clinton. Trump walked from the podium and surveyed the crowd as they continued to chant – something that became a hallmark of his campaign.

He strutted around. It was one of those Mussolini moments – “Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.” The quote from the Italian guy was implied, and Trump won’t give up:

Trump promised to take the legal fight for his executive order “as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court.”

There’s no reason to think he’ll succeed there, but maybe Hillary will end up in jail. That might satisfy him, and of course Obama should be in jail too. Ten days earlier, sometime before dawn, alone in his gilded Florida mansion, he had sent out four tweets. Obama had been wiretapping Trump’s phones. Obama was a sick man.

This was odd. Mark Levin had ranted about that on his radio show. He had no proof or facts, but he was sure that had happened. Breitbart News had written that up. Trump’s “chief strategist” is Steve Bannon, who used to run Breitbart News, and seems to slip Trump a Breitbart article now and then, so Trump ran with this one.

The implications are dire, of course. If Obama used the FBI to “get” a political enemy, ordering that Trump’s phones be tapped, that was a felony. Richard Nixon had tried to do that sort of thing with his FBI and got impeached for it. Rather than face an impeachment trial, Nixon resigned and got the hell out of town. Obama’s already out of town. Maybe he can go to jail. Trump’s staff woke up a few hours later and found that they would suddenly have to say to the press that all this was true.

Trump was lashing out. The stories of all the Russian connections were getting too hot. He was losing. Yeah, well, Obama should be in jail! So there!

That worked, until it didn’t. Yochi Dreazen covers the next loss:

President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones during the election has been unraveling for so long now that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that no Republicans of any stature remain willing to defend it – and that even Trump’s closest aides are twisting themselves into pretzels to avoid having to explicitly concede that their boss seems to have made the entire thing up.

In the past few days alone, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer used actual air quotes to suggest Trump hadn’t literally been talking about wiretapping – even though the president’s own tweets had literally been talking about wiretapping – while Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway hinted that the real culprits were tiny cameras hidden inside microwave ovens (prompting this gem of a sentence from the New York Times: “Ms. Conway clarified on Monday that she was not accusing the former president of snooping via a kitchen appliance”).

A pair of even bigger blows came on Wednesday. First, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes – a devoted Trump ally and defender – flatly said that “clearly the president was wrong” if you take his tweets about Obama’s wiretapping “literally.”

“I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said.

Next, embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, already under fire for misleading a Senate committee about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US, pushed back at his own boss when a reporter asked if he’d ever given Trump “reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration.”

“Look, the answer is no,” Sessions replied.

This stumped Trump, so we got this:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his explosive and so far unsupported claim that former President Barack Obama ordered an illegal wiretap of Trump Tower.

“Wiretap covers a lot of different things,” he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in an interview set to air Wednesday night, according to excerpts of the transcript. “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

He wasn’t wrong. You’ll see. Just wait. Maybe it wasn’t wiretaps, exactly, but it was something big:

Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, seemed to walk back Trump’s comments on Monday, telling reporters that the president does not actually believe Obama personally wiretapped him. Instead, Spicer claimed, Trump’s tweets were alleging more general “surveillance” during the presidential campaign, even though the president had directly accused Obama of directing a wiretap. (The claim that Trump Tower was under any surveillance during the campaign also remains unproven.)

The transcript Fox released ahead of Carlson’s prime-time program suggests that Trump was making a similar argument – that “wiretap covers a lot of different things” – but it did not include the context surrounding his remarks.

Trump just doesn’t get it. When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less. But he wants to get his way, so there was this:

President Donald Trump has overruled a decision by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, to sideline a key intelligence operative who fell out of favor with some at the Central Intelligence Agency, two sources told Politico.

On Friday, McMaster told the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, that he would be moved to another position in the organization.

The conversation followed weeks of pressure from career officials at the CIA who had expressed reservations about the 30-year-old intelligence operative and pushed for his ouster.

But Cohen-Watnick appealed McMaster’s decision to two influential allies with whom he had forged a relationship while working on Trump’s transition team – White House advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. They brought the matter to Trump on Sunday, and the president agreed that Cohen-Watnick should remain as the NSC’s intelligence director, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

Trump hates the CIA. He seems to trust Russia’s FSB and Alex Jones’ InfoWars and Breitbart. McMaster now has to clear things with Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law. He should probably now clear things with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and Kellyanne Conway too. McMaster has been castrated, or at least properly humiliated, which seems to have to do with the guy who finally admitted that he had been working as a paid agent of the Turkish government all along:

Trump has questioned the intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia tried to boost his campaign by hacking emails from allies of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and some of his allies have leveled allegations – much derided in the media – that there’s a “deep state” of career intelligence officers who are looking to undermine the new president, and to consolidate their power in the Trump era.

Cohen-Watnick was brought onto Trump’s transition team and then the NSC by a leading critic of the CIA: retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was Cohen-Watnick’s boss at the Defense Intelligence Agency and preceded McMaster as national security adviser.

Cohen-Watnick and Flynn “saw eye to eye about the failings of the CIA human intelligence operations,” said a Washington consultant who travels in intelligence circles.

Trump will have his way, and Flynn was a great guy all along. Trump doesn’t lose.

Fred Kaplan has more:

Across the Potomac, in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense James Mattis had to withdraw his choice for undersecretary for policy after meeting disapproval from the same duo. (The official story was that a few senators would have opposed her nomination, but their concerns could easily have been overcome.) Mattis has been fuming since the inauguration over White House attempts to stack his deck with political hacks – and over repeated rejections of his own choices.

Remarkably, Trump has not nominated a single second- or third-tier official in the Defense Department. Obama’s deputy secretary of defense, Robert Work, agreed to stay on until a replacement was found. But all of the under- and assistant secretaries left on Inauguration Day – some by choice, others at the insistence of the White House – and the people sitting in their chairs in an “acting” capacity are very junior with no authority to speak for the Trump administration.

And that’s not all:

The State Department is an even more hollow shell. As with the Pentagon, Trump hasn’t nominated a single deputy, under, or assistant secretary. Rex Tillerson’s choice for deputy, Elliott Abrams, a former Bush White House official, was rejected by Trump after he learned that Abrams had criticized him during the election – and so Tillerson roams the globe alone, accompanied neither by the press corps nor by a Trump-approved entourage, assuring allies that the United States is still committed to their security. Meanwhile, Trump meets with foreign leaders in the White House or at his Florida resort accompanied by Bannon, Kushner, and sometimes a few others, but not by Tillerson or anyone else from Foggy Bottom (a nickname that has never been more apt).

Still, Mad Dog did what he could:

Mattis has exerted his leverage on at least two occasions. The first came early on, when he avidly opposed a draft executive order that would have resumed CIA operations at “black” detention sites and reopened the debate over torture. (Mattis learned of the draft from newspaper reports.) Trump backed down, saying that he disagreed with Mattis, but would defer to him, on torture policy.

The second incident occurred more recently when Mattis delivered an ultimatum concerning Mira Ricardel, a Trump defense adviser, now at the Office of Presidential Personnel, who has been blocking Mattis’ picks. Either she goes or I go, Mattis told the White House, according to Wednesday’s issue of Defense News. The White House backed down, moving Ricardel to another position – for now.

Mattis figures he has considerable leverage. The Senate confirmed him, even though recently retired generals are barred by law from becoming secretary of defense unless both houses of Congress pass a waiver, precisely because he was viewed as a counterweight to Flynn and, ultimately, Trump. If Mattis were to resign, national security experts on Capitol Hill, in the think-tank world, and among U.S. allies would panic. However, someone in this position can threaten to resign only so often, and his leverage diminishes – he’s viewed as less and less of a team player – each time he puts his fate on the line.

So that leaves this:

Mattis and McMaster are trapped. Looking around, they’ve probably sensed that Team Trump is even more unhinged than they’d expected. On the one hand, their sense of integrity, combined with the betrayals and the chaos, might tempt them to resign. On the other hand, their sense of patriotism might compel them to stay: When some international crisis does occur, better that someone with a clear head is close to power.

Trump wins this one:

We all hoped that Mattis, McMaster, and to some degree Tillerson would add a dash of sane, worldly wisdom to Trump’s unsteady narcissism. And maybe they still will. But Trump is a shrewd player of tight-knit power games. He seems to be rolling them more than they’re containing him.

There will be four more years of this, or eight. When Trump wins, he brags and sneers. When he loses, he whines and lashes out. No one wins all the time. No one always gets their way. Trump refuses to accept that, even if every other adult has. This won’t end well.

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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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