The Brooding Birdman

Burt Lancaster was pretty good as the Birdman of Alcatraz but Donald Trump is another matter. Donald Trump tweets. He’s the Birdman of the White House. Twitter was named appropriately. Tweets are random chatter from the small feathered descendants of once-mighty dinosaurs. They’re not to be taken seriously, but they won Trump the presidency. They were authentic. America got the raw unfiltered real man, not the carefully considered amalgam of the advice of consultants and pollsters and experts on this and that – Hillary Talk. That was new.

That was also sad. The angry tweets came at odd times – in the middle of the night – at dawn when his staff hadn’t yet shown up for work. The man watches endless hours of late-night television and early morning news – alone, brooding. His children have their own lives. His wife has yet to move into the White House – she stayed in Manhattan. Trump seems to have no friends. He prefers people who are useful to him, who assure him, directly or indirectly, that he’s right about things. That comforts him. That’ll do. But that leaves a lot of empty hours. So he watches endless news about himself, and tweets about it. Burt Lancaster played a man in prison for life. Donald Trump is in prison too.

As for the absent wife, Paul Schwartzman reports this:

The paparazzi no longer stake her out at her son’s private school or search for her on the streets surrounding the black tower that her husband, the president of the United States, named for himself.

Like legions of New Yorkers who hibernate in their apartments, Melania Trump is a virtual shut-in, her refuge 58 stories above Manhattan’s hoi polloi and laden with enough gold to embarrass a Saudi prince.

“She’s the great white whale,” said Miles Diggs, a paparazzo, as he and his partner hunted celebrities in Soho on a recent afternoon in a Chevy Suburban equipped with cameras and a laptop. They were searching for the actress Emma Watson, whom, unlike Melania Trump, they were confident they could find.

No one will find Melania, and Schwartzman discusses those who have sympathy for her – she didn’t expect this and she didn’t want to yank her ten-year-old son out of the school where he was doing just fine. She’s a good mother. She’s shy. Cut her some slack – but Schwartzman also notes that there are those who point out that she really is costing the federal government and the City of New York a ton of money keeping a second residence, and running the Secret Service ragged. And she’s not doing anything for the country. She’s not Eleanor Roosevelt. Hell, she’s not even the highly-decorative Jackie Kennedy. She stands for nothing, as far as anyone can tell, and there’s this:

“Melania Trump is as ugly on the inside as she is pretty on the outside” was how Dan Savage, the sex columnist and gay activist, put it in a recent podcast. He flayed “folks on the left” who “view her as some sort of sympathetic figure – the pretty princess in the tower locked up by the orange ogre with the bad comb-over.”

That’s harsh, and Christina Cauterucci notes something else:

There are a few appropriate responses to the news broken by US Weekly on Wednesday that Donald and Melania Trump allegedly sleep in separate bedrooms. One is anger: How dare this magazine make me think about the president of the United States in the snoring, bed-headed, pajamaed state of slumber or in any proximity to conjugal activity?

Another is boredom. Of course the Trumps don’t share a bed – nothing about their body language or verbal references to one another has ever telegraphed anything approaching affection.

There is none of that:

Trump used a big-powerful-rich-daddy persona to win the presidency, and he painted that persona with the help of the ever-younger string of women he’s married and claimed to sleep with. All three of his marriages generated press “leaks” that suggested Trump was great at sex and had a lot of it with his respective wives, sometimes multiple times a day. The implication to anyone with eyes is that a past-his-prime man uses money and power to get sex and arm candy service from traditionally beautiful women. The US Weekly report turns that implication on its head.

It seems that she really is the pretty princess in the tower locked up by the orange ogre with the bad comb-over:

According to one of US Weekly’s anonymous sources, though, the Trumps don’t just have a case of late hours or sleep apnea. Melania, who refused to even move to D.C. when her husband got the city’s most important job, “wants as little to do with Donald as possible” and “is not interested in Donald, the presidency, or anything involving him.” The magazine’s cover says the two “give each other lots of space”; another source said the two sleep in the same bedroom but different beds, calling the setup “very ‘royal’ of them!” This is an excruciatingly generous description of the relationship that produced Melania’s infamous Inauguration Day smile-frown hybrid expression of existential despair.

There’s a lot of that existential despair going around these days. Donald Trump’s weekly angry tweets about how unfair and unfunny and awful the latest episode of Saturday Night Live just was have tapered off. Those were depressing. An angry old man alone in the middle of the night lashes out against something that doesn’t matter a bit in the great scheme of things, assuming there is a great scheme of things. The jury is still out on that, but those tweets were depressing, and now that’s spreading:

Alec Baldwin has stated again that he might soon ditch his Donald Trump impersonation on “Saturday Night Live,” this time because he predicts viewers will be too depressed to see the humor.

Baldwin confirmed to the British Press Association on Thursday that he will continue his Trump shtick when he is available this season on “SNL,” which has seen a ratings revival due in part to Baldwin’s antics as commander-in-chief.

But all bets are off for next season.

“After that, I don’t quite know,” he says in the clip above. “I don’t quite know if people want to continue with that. If everything stays the same in the country as it is now, I don’t think people will be in the mood to laugh about it come September.”

Viewers will be too depressed, just like him:

Although Baldwin is reportedly writing a book as Trump, spoofing the president in yet another medium – perhaps in film or onstage – doesn’t appeal to the actor.

“I don’t know if I’d want to be Trump for more than a five-minute slug of time on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” he said. “You’d have to pay me like an ungodly amount of money because it would be exhausting. It would be tiresome.”

Some agree with that:

After more than two months in office, America’s new president, Republican Donald Trump, got a grade of F from 1 in 3 voters, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

By contrast, the same number graded predecessor Democrat Barack Obama’s performance a B as he approached his 100th day in office.

“Every time he speaks… it is so negative,” said Whitni Milton, 31, a professional singer from Atlanta who participated in the poll. “I have never seen someone who has riled up so many people.”

Milton, who generally votes for Democrats but was so disgusted with both candidates that she sat out the presidential election in November, said she would gladly take the last Republican president, George W. Bush, over Trump. “I am not a Bush supporter,” she said. “I will take Bush 10 times over.”

This is not going well:

“There’s no honeymoon,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the survey. “He’s spending political capital that he didn’t acquire on Election Day. And he hasn’t done anything to cultivate it.”

In fact, Mike Allen reports this:

President Trump brought his chaos-and-loyalty theory of management into the White House, relying on competing factions, balanced by trusted family members, with himself perched atop as the gut-instinct-decider. He now realizes this approach has flopped, and feels baffled and paralyzed by how to fix it, numerous friends and advisers tell us.

“Trump is thinking through his frustrations,” said one Washington wise man close to the West Wing. “The team didn’t put the windows in right.”

It’s that existential despair that’s going around these days:

The chaos dimension has created far more chaos than anticipated. Come nightfall, Trump is often on the phone with billionaire, decades-long friends, commiserating and critiquing his own staff. His most important advisers are often working the phone themselves, trashing colleagues and either spreading or beating down rumors of turmoil and imminent changes.

This has created a toxic culture of intense suspicion and insecurity. The drama is worse than what you read.

David Nakamura and Ashley Parker document that:

President Trump entered his 11th week in office Friday in crisis mode, his governing agenda at risk of being subsumed by escalating questions about the White House’s conduct in the Russia probe – which the president called a “witch hunt.”

Trump and his senior aides spent much of the day on the defensive, parrying the latest reports that senior administration officials had potentially acted improperly in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. elections and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

They can’t get out from under this cloud:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the actions of three senior White House aides who, according to media reports, helped facilitate the visit of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), to the White House grounds last week to view classified intelligence documents.

“What he did, what he saw, who he met with was 100 percent proper,” Spicer said of Nunes.

The chairman later briefed the president on the information and declared publicly that the documents showed Trump campaign aides were swept up in U.S. intelligence surveillance of foreign nationals. That prompted the president to say he felt “somewhat” vindicated in his unsubstantiated allegations that President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him.

But this was not proper and no one was vindicated and there was that other matter:

Trump, meanwhile, weighed in again Friday via Twitter by suggesting that he supported a request by his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, for immunity from prosecution in exchange for offering to testify in the probe…

Spicer said the White House was not concerned that Flynn might reveal damaging information even though Trump fired him in February over revelations Flynn misled senior officials, including Vice President Pence, over his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, called it a “grave and momentous step” for a national security official to seek immunity.

Schiff said the investigation “grows in severity and magnitude by the day,” and he said the committee has “much work and many more witnesses and documents” to review before any witness can be considered for immunity.

This is not going well, unless it is:

In many ways, the first weeks of the Trump White House have resembled a chaotic tech start-up. Inside the West Wing, according to White House officials, each new crisis and mishap, including the botched rollout of the president’s travel ban and the failure on the GOP health-care bill, has been viewed as a learning opportunity, to better understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as which staffers can perform under pressure – and, perhaps more importantly, which can’t.

That’s some impressive spin there, but Joy-Ann Reid isn’t impressed:

Not 100 days into the Trump presidency, one thing is abundantly clear: it is completely unsustainable as it is operating today.

There are even rumblings in the seams of Washington that Trump may not last the summer, including Republican consultant Michael Steele, the former RNC chairman, reportedly telling clients to prepare for President Pence.

Yes, he did say that – and Reid sees why:

Something fundamental seemed to shift in the zeitgeist this week with General Michael Flynn’s Hail Mary offer to testify about Russiagate in exchange for immunity. The Senate intelligence community has already turned down Flynn’s offer, and it’s hard to imagine the House committee, led by the thoroughly compromised Devin Nunes, having the political capital to say yes. For the FBI to agree, Flynn would have to offer up someone bigger than him to make it worth the agency’s while. One wonders who that could be. Paul Manafort? He’s been around the political block much longer than Flynn and knows where more bodies are buried. Wouldn’t he be a better immunity target if you’re an elected Republican? Donald Trump? What would Flynn claim Trump personally did to advance Russia’s interference in our election, other than dutifully repeat Kremlin talking points, which we already know? Does he have some proof that Trump took a bribe? Broke a law? Made an incriminating phone call?

And if he doesn’t, what would be the point of merely hearing the “story he has to tell.”

There is no point, not with this guy:

Flynn is in trouble, by his own admission. He, of the “lock her up chants,” has said in the past that seeking immunity means you probably committed a crime. And while that’s not true in a legal sense, in a moral sense it applies to him.

Here is a man who was forced out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 for his apparent belligerence, rashness, and fondness for crank conspiracy theories. He then sought income from Russian state-run TV and the Turkish government, where according to the former head of the CIA, Jim Woolsey, he took a meeting to discuss illegally renditioning a U.S. green-card holder who the Turkish autocrat would very much like to have sent to him.

Woolsey said that Flynn and the Turks were talking about kidnapping the guy, so Woolsey walked away from the Trump crowd, and there’s more:

Flynn is known to have communicated with the Russian ambassador, and to have lied about it. If his name showed up unmasked in the monitored communications of foreign entities that could well be because he was the subject of a FISA warrant, and a national security probe. Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told the White House, including Vice President Pence, that Flynn was at risk of being blackmailed by the Russians. It was his former staffer at DIA who was among the two, or perhaps three people, including a former Nunes staffer said to have rummaged around in the sensitive files he had access to as a top National Security Council staffer to try and find backup for Trump’s false claims about President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower.

And there’s even more up in Manhattan:

Trump Tower tenant Manafort remains out there too, and is reportedly under investigation by the Treasury department and the FBI for various business dealings. And that’s just for recent stuff – not Manafort’s long history of flacking for the world’s worst despots.

It may be time to pull out the famous Occam Razor. The simple explanation works best:

The notion that Trump’s inner circle is so laden with Russian nationals, Russian mob figures and people affiliated with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin by accident is a hell of a stretch. Even his chief TV flak, Boris Ephstein, is a Russian émigré, who entered Trumpworld through his collegiate friendship with Trump’s son Eric. Ephstein was recently let go from the White House without explanation, and sorry, but it’s hard to believe that it was because of his bullying personality in TV greenrooms, which has been Boris’ MO since he popped up on cable news in 2010.

Can all that we have heard thus far been a series of coincidences? Can it all be mere happenstance? Much simpler is the notion that members of Russia’s spy services saw an opportunity to recruit a useful idiot in Trump, given that his greed and lust for power matched that of the Russian oligarchs themselves.

That makes sense:

They had an assortment of people in Trumpworld to use as potential conduits. There was Trump’s longtime crony Roger Stone, Manafort’s old lobbying partner, who pushed Trump to favor the U.S.S.R.’s point of view over Ronald Reagan’s during the 1980s, when Vladimir Putin was still a KGB agent, and has bragged about his “back channel” to WikiLeaks. There’s Flynn, for whom Russia had provided financial rescue and who was inexplicably brought into the inner sanctum of the White House despite the many clouds swirling over him. There’s Donald Jr., Trump’s son and namesake who was eager to ink condo deals with Russian buyers. And of course, there’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a sort of mini-Trump whose morally promiscuous business dealings include canoodling with a sanctioned Russian bank.

We know that Russian media outlets and their cutouts fed Trump conspiracy theories and fake news about Hillary Clinton to repeat and retweet. We know that Carter Page went to Russia last July just before the first WikiLeaks oppo dumps. We know that Stone had an uncanny ability to predict the oppo dumps before they happened. J. D. Gordon by his own admission was dispatched to Cleveland to flip the Ukraine plank at the RNC. And we know that Flynn brought his people with him to the National Security Council (for a while, including his conspiracy theory-loving namesake son). And when he was forced out, he left that former DIA aide, Ezra Cohen Watnick, behind, over the objections of his successor.

Trump may be right to brood alone in the middle of the night:

The Trump presidency is permanently tainted by the implications of their clear use of Russian propaganda to batter Hillary Clinton and her campaign. Trump’s legitimacy will forever be questioned because of his personal enthusiasm for WikiLeaks’ peddling of Russia-hacked emails.

Even if he survives, Trump’s leadership in Washington is in tatters. The Freedom Caucus doesn’t fear him. What’s left of the Republican moderates doesn’t respect him. The Democrats will have nothing to do with him. And his fair weather friend, Paul Ryan, is a disaster as speaker of the House who is fighting harder for tax cuts for the top one percent than for anything in the Trump campaign agenda and making enemies of the Breitbartians in the process. The Senate Intelligence Committee is showing signs of conducting a real investigation into Trumpgate, and there are fewer and fewer Devin Nunes’ professing a willingness to destroy themselves on Trump’s behalf. Republican partisans are openly advising the GOP-led Senate to cram through their Supreme Court nominee and then wash their hands of Donald J. Trump forever.

Barring some dramatic change – and we should seriously worry about what Trump and Bannon might cook up in that regard – this only goes in one direction, and that’s further downhill.

And meanwhile, in midtown Manhattan, as Kathleen Parker puts it:

It’s been ages since New York City’s paparazzi have been able to capture the queen – her lapis lazuli eyes and haughty cheekbones mere recollections from snapshots past. These days, Melania Knauss Trump keeps mostly her own company, touring the cells of her vast tower prison, tending the king’s son and remembering colder days in Slovenia when she knitted her own sweaters.

Who knows what Melania really thinks? Perhaps only her parents, who reportedly spend much of their time between Trump properties in New York and Palm Beach – her father’s years as a member of the Communist Party all but erased from a résumé that features the creating of the first lady of the United States of America.

She may be in despair too. How did it come to this? But she’s not alone. Alec Baldwin asks the same question. Everyone does. And the brooding Birdman, alone in the middle of the night, tweets.

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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