Leaking Credibility

There’s something about speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet – sixteen battleships divided into two squadrons, and a whole bunch of cruisers and destroyers and escort vessels – all painted bright white – sailed from Hampton Roads on December 16, 1907, and headed south. They stopped at every possible port. The Panama Canal hadn’t been completed so it was on through the Straits of Magellan and out into the Pacific. They were cheered at every port on the West Coast – this would get the public’s mind off the nasty depression that had begun in 1907, and stir up a bit of patriotism, and this would teach Japan “a lesson in polite behavior” – because the fleet headed that way next. It was across the Pacific, and then through the Indian Ocean, up through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean, and then back home, across the Atlantic. On February 22, 1909, Roosevelt was in Hampton Roads to welcome them back. He saw this as a fitting finish for his administration. We had won the Spanish-American War and Guam and the Philippines and Puerto Rico were ours, and now we could rule the seas – but he never talked about any of that. He didn’t brag. He didn’t sneer. He didn’t have to say a thing. We had a Great White Fleet. That was his big stick. That was his credibility. He could speak softly. He was a sly bastard.

Donald Trump is not a sly bastard. He brags. He sneers. He says he’s the best at everything, and certainly the best dealmaker there ever was. He wrote the book on that after all, even if he didn’t write a word of that. No matter – he can bring anyone to their knees. They’ll give in. He’ll get what he wants – and now America will get what it wants too. He will make America great again – almost as great as he is. Trust him. Many did.

This was Teddy Roosevelt backwards. Donald Trump will not speak softly. He sees no point in that. No one bends others to their will by speaking softly, and in fact, he likes to talk about his big “stick” – which is why he’s the only candidate for president who ever publicly bragged about the impressive size of his penis.

That was metaphor. Talk about your prowess. Others will back down. If asked, he would probably say that Teddy Roosevelt had been a fool, wasting all that time and money sending his big fleet around the world. Teddy Roosevelt could have said “don’t mess with us or you’ll be sorry” and left it at that. The world would have backed down.

That seems to be the general idea. Assume credibility. No one will question you, and if they do, sneer at them (in tweets) and talk about that unfair “fake news” about your stumbles and failures. Say that none of that is true. Say that none of that is true often enough and those pests will cave, or get bored and move on. That works every time. That’s part of the art of the deal.

That’s also why so many have assumed that Donald Trump has credibility. No one is going to pull down his pants and check his stick, but of course that’s all hot air. In fact, think of this sort of credibility like a balloon – in this case a big orange balloon floating above America – and one that is leaking helium and getting oddly smaller and slowly falling to earth. In fact, Donald Trump is leaking credibility:

Congressional negotiators have signed off on a deal to fund the government through September, avoiding a shutdown of federal agencies over a dispute on President Trump’s border wall and other issues, according to two senior congressional aides.

The legislation does not provide funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or eliminate money for so-called sanctuary cities that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration law, according to a summary provided by a senior congressional aide.

Nor does it cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

These are major victories for Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who threatened to block the bill over what they considered “poison pill” riders.

They had the credibility so this was a disaster for Trump:

In a win for Republicans, the measure provides $1.5 billion for border security and $15 billion in additional defense funding – though it’s short the $30 billion in supplemental military funding Trump requested in his budget blueprint.

The defense increase is matched by a boost to nondefense programs for a total of $30 billion in additional funding over the sequester level set by a previous budget deal. None of Trump’s $18 billion in nondefense cuts were included.

The National Institutes of Health, a priority of Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, will see a $2 billion funding increase, to give it $34 billion total.

The deal protects 99 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and increases clean energy and science funding in spite of Trump’s calls to cut all three priorities.

It seems that Trump doesn’t have a big stick, and it was time for gloating:

Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, hailed the deal as a triumph for his party.

“I am especially glad this agreement does not include a single penny for the construction of a misguided wall along our southern border,” he said. “This bipartisan agreement eliminates more than 160 poison pill riders that would have been devastating for the environment, put restrictions on consumer financial protections and attacked the Affordable Care Act.”

Josh Marshall puts that this way:

For all the talk about Trump shutting down the government to get Wall money, holding Obamacare subsidies hostage or generally bending history or at least Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to his will, Trump got close to nothing in the funding bill meant to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. He ended up crying uncle or “no mas” on virtually all his demands.

Talking loudly without a big stick led to this:

The EPA was slated for massive cuts – roughly 31%. It will retain 99% of its funding.

Trump demanded funding for his border wall. He didn’t get any.

Trump wanted to cut funding for the National Institutes of Health. It’s getting $2 billion of additional funding.

Funding is included for the Obamacare subsidies Trump has threatened not to pay.

There’s no provision for “defunding Planned Parenthood.”

There’s no language to defund “sanctuary cities.”

Donald Trump is no Teddy Roosevelt:

There are obviously many other things included in the bill. And it’s not like Trump got nothing. But at least on most of the hot button issues he’s pushed as part of his agenda he folded like a cheap suit.

Yes, that’s a cliché. But he folded so bad, it’s really okay. Trump’s first mini-budget is largely a continuation of Obama’s last budget.

Marshall also adds this:

Late last week, the New York Times published a story describing how Mexicans and the government of Mexico have shifted their opinion on Trump pretty substantially. Basically they’ve taken his measure and decided he’s all bark and little or no bite.

From the New York Times:

His threats to build a border wall and make Mexicans pay for it would ignite firestorms of patriotic fury and resentment. His promises to deport millions of undocumented immigrants would send politicians off to draft contingency plans. His vows to re-engineer the North American Free Trade Agreement and bring Mexico to heel would shake the foundations of the state.

But on Wednesday, the suggestion from the White House that Mr. Trump was finalizing an executive order to begin the process of withdrawing the United States from NAFTA revealed a different, more experienced Mexico: one learning to live with what it considers Mr. Trump’s bluster and stagecraft, and not inclined to react publicly too quickly.

“It seems like he’s sitting at a poker table bluffing rather than making serious decisions,” said Senator Armando Ríos Piter, a Mexican legislator. “In front of a bluffer, you always have to maintain a firm and dignified position.”

And this:

Some [Mexicans] speculated that Mr. Trump was trying to look tough to appeal to his voting base, particularly considering his mixed record in achieving his goals as the 100-day mark of his term approaches.

“Clearly, in Mexico, this should be seen as a type of tantrum of a spoiled child who did not get the presents he expected for his birthday, for the 100 days,” said Rafael Fernández de Castro, an expert on United States-Mexico relations at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico in Mexico City…

Mexicans feel emboldened by the support they have received from prominent members of the American business community and elected officials, including Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have increasingly voiced their backing of NAFTA and of the United States’ alliance with Mexico.

Marshall:

Far from the terror to the North he appeared to be, Mexicans are concluding that Trump is low energy.

And as for the angry tweets, there’s this:

A number of senators shrugged off President Donald Trump’s decision to express his views on the latest government funding debate on Twitter, suggesting that the social media platform might not be the best way for the president to convey his views to Congress.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they did not pay much attention to the president’s Twitter missives, as talks to avert a government shutdown continued…

“It doesn’t help, but I don’t know that it makes that much difference,” Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake said of the president’s tweets. “I’m kind of used to it by now.”

Nearly all the credibility has leaked out of that big orange balloon now, and Marshall adds this:

None of this is terribly surprising. Trump presented himself as the consummate alpha-male ball buster, someone who speaks and embodies the ethos of domination his most ardent supporters instinctively crave and believe in. In practice, he’s repeatedly adopted what might be termed the preemptive fail, not only talking tough but failing to achieve his aims but actually jumping ahead of the process and unilaterally backing down or saying a metaphorical ‘nevermind’ before the supposed confrontation even arrives. As the Mexicans seem to have concluded, Trump is less a threat than a bullshit artist who caves easily and is best either ignored or treated with a stern, disciplined and unafraid response.

That seems to work just fine:

Democrats think they have set the stage to block President Trump’s legislative priorities for years to come by winning major concessions in a spending bill to keep the government open.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) secured nearly $5 billion in new domestic spending by exploiting disagreements between Trump and GOP lawmakers over spending priorities.

Democrats’ lopsided victory on the five-month deal, which is likely to be approved this week, means it will be very difficult – if not impossible – for the GOP to exert its will in future budget negotiations, including when it comes to Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint.

That’s because Republicans are hopelessly divided over how much to spend on government programs, with a small but vocal minority unwilling to support such measures at all. That has forced Republicans to work with Democrats to avoid politically damaging government shutdowns.

And that means Democrats are in the driver’s seat when it comes to budget battles, even with Trump in the White House.

That small but vocal Republican minority now knows that an angry tweet is not a big stick, and that the White House response was just hot air:

Republicans in Congress were unusually quiet about the deal. But White House aides sought to put a positive spin on areas where Trump fell short, including the wall.

“I think it’s great that the Democrats like the bill,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters during a Monday briefing. “We thought it was a really good deal for this administration as well.”

He said the White House agreed not to “push for bricks and mortar for the wall” but to instead focus on fixing existing fencing and installing new lights and sensors on the border. Mulvaney was one of several top Trump aides who insisted that plans for wall construction would soon begin anew.

“Make no mistake, the wall is going to be built,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at his daily briefing, adding that there is plenty the administration can do to plan for construction between now and when Trump gets his next opportunity to secure funding.

That’s going to be heard when the big sticks turn out not to be big sticks at all:

Democrats think that the White House created a public relations crisis when Trump threatened to end payments for the [Obamacare] subsidies, which help cover about 6 million people under Obamacare. The president later withdrew the threat, and the White House decided to continue the payments, in hopes of reducing the number of sticking points in the spending bill.

But the president put a spotlight on the issue just as public polls were starting to show overwhelming support for the subsidies and the ACA in general. Democrats were thrilled to add the attack on the health-care law to the mix in the spending fight because they thought the public would blame Republicans if a deal couldn’t be reached to fund the government, according to several Democratic aides familiar with the strategy.

The greatest dealmaker of all time seems to get everything wrong, and he seems to be losing his grip on things:

President Donald Trump questioned why the Civil War – which erupted 150 years ago over slavery – needed to happen. He said he would be “honored” to meet with Kim Jong-Un, the violent North Korean dictator who is developing nuclear missiles and oppresses his people, under the “right circumstances.”

The president floated, and backed away from, a tax on gasoline. Trump said he was “looking at” breaking up the big banks, sending the stock market sliding. He seemed to praise Philippines strongman President Rodrigo Duterte for his high approval ratings. He promised changes to the Republican health care bill, though he has seemed unsure what was in the legislation, even as his advisers whipped votes for it.

And Monday still had nine hours to go.

“It seems to be among the most bizarre recent 24 hours in American presidential history,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. “It was all just surreal disarray and a confused mental state from the president.”

This Politico item then dives into the details. Duterte has boasted that he has personally shot guys people told him were drug dealers – no trial, no nothing. Duterte has also boasted that he has thrown quite a few of them to their death from a helicopter. But look at his sky-high approval ratings! Douglas Brinkley was right, but this was the item everyone latched onto:

President Donald Trump on Monday questioned why the Civil War occurred: “Why could that one not have been worked out?”

In an interview with Washington Examiner reporter Salena Zito on SiriusXM’s show “Main Street Meets the Beltway,” Trump compared his campaign and election victory – now over for more than six months – to those of Andrew Jackson, an analogy Trump has courted since his inauguration.

“They said my campaign is most like, my campaign and win, was most like Andrew Jackson,” Trump said. “I said, ‘When was Andrew Jackson?’ It was 1828. That’s a long time ago.”

The comparison might be less apt than Trump would like. Before Jackson was elected president, he killed a man he accused of insulting his wife in a duel.

And it got odder:

Trump appeared to praise Jackson, a slaveholder who was accused of slave trading and who owned approximately 150 people at the time of his death, as a “swashbuckler.”

“Had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” Trump said. “He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart.” (Jackson engineered the deaths of thousands of Native Americans while he was in office.)

“He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this,'” Trump continued. “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

In fact, Jackson died in 1845, long before the Civil War began in 1861, when seven southern slave states seceded after President Abraham Lincoln won election on a platform opposing the expansion of slavery into the territories.

Oops. Late in the day Trump tweeted that he know all along that Jackson had died long before the Civil War, but that Jackson knew it was coming and he hated that it was coming. There’s no proof of that, but that cannot be disproved either, and Keven Drum thinks he knows what is going on here:

Listening to the audio, it seems like it’s just a case of Trump’s usual ignorance and free association. It went like this: 2016 was a nasty campaign -> Andrew Jackson also ran a nasty campaign -> Jackson was tough but had heart -> Jackson was angry about the Civil War -> What’s the deal with the Civil War, anyway?

But there’s another possibility: this is yet another shout-out to his base. After all, the usual lefty lies about the Civil War that infest our schools revolve around racism and slavery in the South. It’s political correctness run amuck! Isn’t it about time that we really ask what caused the Civil War? It was probably just a minor misunderstanding. You know – tariffs and whatnot. Maybe Lincoln couldn’t handle it, but Trump could have.

That seems about right. Steve Bannon has been telling Donald Trump that Donald Trump is just like Andrew Jackson, for years. Who knows? Maybe that’s so. Jackson was a very tough person. Trump is a very tough person. Jackson had a big heart – except for the Trail of Tears thing. Donald Trump has a big heart – except for the immigration thing tearing families apart and a refusal to accept refugees, even children. And no one knew how to make deals back then and work things out – which is true if the Missouri Compromise and all the rest is “fake history” of course.

That could be, and if so, Jackson, had he lived, as the consummate alpha-male ball-buster, someone who speaks and embodies the ethos of domination – a “swashbuckler” just like Trump – would have slapped people around and bent them to his will, and cut the deal. There would have been no Civil War. If so, Lincoln was a fool and wimp.

Steve Bannon should have told Donald Trump about Teddy Roosevelt. He didn’t brag. He didn’t sneer. He didn’t have to say a thing. He had his Great White Fleet. That was his credibility. He could speak softly.

What does Trump have?

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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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