Trump’s Island

“No man is an island” – that’s how the famous John Donne poem opens. In the middle there’s this – “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” And it ends with a warning – “Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is a riff on that. His Robert Jordan is a young American fighting in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Someone had to fight the fascists, so many young Americans did. A bunch of liberals went off to war, far from home. They decided that they were involved in all mankind after all – but Franco, with the help of Hitler and Mussolini, won that war. Hitler got to try out his new air force. Mass civilian bombings worked pretty damned well. Picasso’s giant painting Guernica is about how well that worked, and Hemingway’s hero is gravely wounded and then his new young wife dies. That’s a sad tale, but the real thing was a sad tale too. Still, someone had to fight the fascists, even if back then it meant fighting alongside a good number of communists.

There would be hell to pay for that later when Joe McCarthy started asking questions. Many of those spry young liberals who went off to war far from home ended up as blacklisted balding middle-aged men no one would hire ever again, for any job – but they had once, long ago, heard the bell tolling, for them. They knew that they weren’t really communists. They knew that no man is an island. They had no regrets.

They knew, as everyone knows, that man is a social animal. Talk about personal responsibility and rugged individualism is fine – those are good things – but we’re all in this together. Only fools and Republicans try to go it alone. Elizabeth Warren once put that this way:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

That fell on deaf ears of course. At the time, Mitt Romney was running for president and privately talking to his donors about that awful “forty-seven percent” – the morally inadequate Takers, not the highly moral Makers. That talk became public and Romney backed off a bit, but the impulse on that side of things was always there. Republicans read Ayn Rand, not John Donne. Everyone’s an island.

That might explain Donald Trump. As the Washington Post’s Abby Phillip explains, he’s on an island all alone now:

President Trump has become more isolated than ever from the Republican Party, world leaders and the business community that once cautiously embraced him – a fissure that was growing for weeks but turned into a chasm following his response to the racist violence in Charlottesville last weekend.

Trump had to disband two corporate advisory councils after a slew of chief executives resigned from the panels. They criticized the president for blaming both white supremacists and counterprotesters for the melees that led to the death of a 32-year-old woman. Republicans continue to distance themselves from Trump as they call on him to more forcefully condemn the racist groups that gathered for the Unite the Right rally. And foreign officials lined up this week to make clear that they strongly disagree with Trump’s view of the events in Charlottesville.

Trump already had stoked tensions in recent weeks as he repeatedly attacked congressional GOP leaders for his stalled legislative agenda, and alarmed allies at home and abroad with threats of military force against North Korea and Venezuela.

Phillip doesn’t even mention the heads of all the armed services standing up to him – but the damage is real:

Trump’s reaction to last weekend’s violence, which roiled the nation at a time when a president typically provides comfort and guidance, has created deep uncertainty about whether he can effectively lead his party and focus on urgent tasks in the fall, including avoiding a government debt default and moving forward on the tax cuts he promised during the campaign.

“This has done irreparable damage in some ways,” said Joshua Holmes, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who remains close to him. “There has been lingering tension between the president and Capitol Hill here for months. This clearly made it significantly worse. I don’t know of any Republican who is comfortable with where we’re at right now based on the president’s comments.”

“His agenda was put at tremendous risk by being critical of Senator McConnell and alienating McConnell and McConnell’s entire operation,” said one Republican who is in frequent touch with the White House. “He’s now alienated a majority of rank-and-file members in the House and Senate.”

And there was this:

On Thursday, Trump continued to take aim at members of his party, targeting Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), both of whom have been critical of the president, and suggesting that voters in their states get rid of them.

“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He’s toxic!” Trump tweeted, referring to Flake’s primary opponent.

Trump may be wrong about who is toxic here, and there was this curious report:

Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz is predicting that the president is getting ready to call it quits – and that the resignation will happen soon.

He wrote on Twitter Wednesday: “The circle is closing at blinding speed. Trump is going to resign and declare victory before Mueller and congress leave him no choice. Trump’s presidency is effectively over. Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner.”

Schwartz predicted Trump would make a deal for immunity in the Russia investigation in exchange for his resignation.

“The Russia stuff will be huge,” he wrote. “He doesn’t want to go to jail.”

Tom Toles can’t wait:

Schwartz’s analysis is based on the assumption that Mueller has the goods on Trump, and Trump’s choice will be jail or bail out, and if so, I hope Mueller hurries up. Because otherwise, we will continue to be the victims of Trump’s other traits: his moral blindness, his incompetence, his unfamiliarity with concepts such as truth, self-reflection, guilt or apology. And his resulting tendency to double down on his own destructiveness – and down and down and down, and taking us and the nation with him.

This is the pattern that his sociopathic behaviors have inflicted on us so far, and it shows no sign of letting up. He is overwhelmed by his own sense of persecuted righteousness, and that if he just opens his puckered yapper a few more times, everybody will come to see how correct and brilliant he is, has always been and always will be. If only the people who question his diseased ramblings could be made to shut up and fall in line, that is.

This is getting absurd:

This is not a good set of traits for a president to have, to say the least. These are not problem-solving traits. They are problem-creating traits, then problem-magnifying traits. There is no self-correcting mechanism here, only a journey ever-deeper into the diseased rabbit-hole of his self-conception. We are a long way in already. The elephant following him is apparently too big to turn around.

Maybe we will be saved from Trump’s terrible personality disorder by his greater instinct for self-preservation.

Josh Marshall is more measured:

Everything we are seeing stems almost inevitably from the decisions the country made, collectively, last November. We elected a President driven by white racial grievance. That is the fulcrum and driving force of his politics. It’s no surprise that a big outbreak of white supremacist violence would lead us to a moment like this. We also elected a President who is an abuser and a predator. I’ve analogized him before to an abusive man in an abused household – only his house is now the country, now with all the cumulative exhaustion, warped perceptions and damage that are the common lot of people living with and trapped with violent predators, addicts or people with certain profound mental illnesses.

If so, expect escalation:

As things get worse, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled. He lashes out more aggressively. There’s no kill switch on this escalating aggression. It only builds. This morning he’s tearing into senators who’ve dared to criticize him and essentially declared war on one who is key to preserving the GOP’s senate majority next year. He compensates for ebbing support by redoubled aggression. It’s a self-reinforcing, self-accelerating cycle. Vicious people can be helpful in a cynical way. But vicious and self-destructive people are dangerous to everyone around them.

Trump will clearly and happily destroy the GOP if he feels the party has proven disloyal to him. Given what’s happened, it would be richly deserved. But Trump’s greatest powers are not as head of the GOP but as head of state of the country. He would happily destroy the country too, to sate his own anguished feelings of betrayal. Sound hyperbolic? Why would the pattern be any different written on so large a canvass?

His own party knows this, as Sean Sullivan reports this:

President Trump drew a new and forceful round of criticism Thursday from a leading Republican senator who asserted that Trump has not demonstrated the “stability” or “competence” necessary to effectively lead the country.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has been one of the most outspoken GOP Trump critics in Congress, expressed displeasure with Trump’s response to the deadly weekend violence in Charlottesville and warned that if the president does not change his behavior, “our nation is going to go through great peril.”

“The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” the senator told reporters in Tennessee. “And we need for him to be successful.”

Corker’s remarks came on a day when at least two other Republican senators – Tim Scott (S.C.) and Dan Sullivan (Alaska) – also faulted the president. Scott, the only African American Republican in the Senate, said in an interview with Vice News that Trump’s “moral authority is compromised.”

And as for that senator weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in the Senate:

Said Corker – “Senator Flake is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met. The White House would be well served to embrace the character, the substance of someone like Senator Flake.”

Trump really is on an island, and there was that editorial in The Economist:

Mr Trump is not a white supremacist. He repeated his criticism of neo-Nazis and spoke out against the murder of Heather Heyer. Even so, his unsteady response contains a terrible message for Americans. Far from being the savior of the Republic, their president is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office.

The rest is the detailed evidence of that, ending with this:

For Republicans in Congress the choice should be clearer. Many held their noses and backed Mr Trump because they thought he would advance their agenda. That deal has not paid off. Mr Trump is not a Republican, but the solo star of his own drama. By tying their fate to his, they are harming their country and their party. His boorish attempts at plain speaking serve only to poison national life. Any gains from economic reform – and the booming stock market and low unemployment owe more to the global economy, tech firms and dollar weakness than to him – will come at an unacceptable price.

Republicans can curb Mr Trump if they choose to. Rather than indulging his outrages in the hope that something good will come of it, they must condemn them. The best of them did so this week. Others should follow.

And the hits keep coming:

President Donald Trump, who boasted in January of his appearances on magazine covers, might not be so happy with cover art unveiled Thursday in the wake of violence that erupted over the weekend at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s own wavering rhetoric on the subject.

The Economist posted cover art featuring Trump using a KKK hood as a megaphone, which appears on its site under the headline, “Donald Trump has no grasp of what it means to be president.”

Time magazine revealed art of a figure draped in the American flag, giving a Nazi salute, under the headline, “Hate in America.”

And the New Yorker unveiled cover art titled “Blowhard,” featuring Trump propelling a sailboat with a KKK hood for a mainsail.

Donald Trump doesn’t care:

Despite ongoing rebukes over his defense of white supremacists, President Trump defiantly returned to his campaign’s nativist themes on Thursday. He lamented an assault on American “culture,” revived a bogus, century-old story about killing Muslim extremists and attacked Republicans with a renewed vigor.

Hours after a terrorist attack in Spain, Mr. Trump recalled a debunked event in which Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing supposedly killed Muslim rebels in the Philippines by shooting them with bullets dipped in the blood of pigs, which Muslims are forbidden to eat. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Barcelona, where the driver of a van crashed into a busy tourist boulevard, killing 13.

“Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” Mr. Trump tweeted, spreading a mythical story even as he again accused the news media of being “Fake News” in another tweet. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”

As when he trafficked in the same unproven legend during the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump ignored the conclusions of historians, who repeatedly have said it did not happen. Additionally, his claim that Pershing ended terrorism in the Philippines for 35 years is refuted by the violence that continued for decades after the rebellion that ended in 1913.

That sort of thing doesn’t matter anymore, and there was this:

Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump made clear that he has no intention of stepping back from his assertions about the Charlottesville rally that have drawn widespread condemnation. In three tweets, Mr. Trump defended Civil War-era statues, using language very similar to that of white supremacists to argue the statues should remain in place.

On Twitter, Mr. Trump called it “foolish” to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and mused that monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be next. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” the president wrote.

Actually, he may not really care, but that would piss people off, but that makes things lonelier on Trump Island:

There was new evidence on Thursday that the political crisis created by the president’s Charlottesville remarks was having an effect on Mr. Trump’s business. The Cleveland Clinic announced it was pulling out of a 2018 fund-raiser at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., and the head of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce urged businesses not to host events there.

The American Cancer Society, which had planned to hold its 2018 gala at Mar-a-Lago, announced it, too, would change the venue, citing its “values and commitment to diversity.”

“It has become increasingly clear that the challenge to those values is outweighing other business considerations,” the group said in a statement…

And Carmen de Lavallade, a dancer and choreographer who will be honored by the Kennedy Center in December, announced on Thursday that she will forgo the related reception at the White House.

“In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House,” Ms. de Lavallade, 86, said in a statement.

Maybe no one will show up.

What is going on here? Jane Coaston says Trump is Sarah Palin but better at it:

Nine years ago this month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) picked Sarah Palin as his running mate for his presidential campaign. Conservatives immediately fell for the popular Alaska governor, proclaiming her the new star of the right for years to come. Less than a decade later, Palin is a political nonentity. She largely keeps her thoughts to paid speeches, the occasional interview and Facebook, where she shares links to conservative clickbait farms.

And yet Palin remains critical: to a faction of the Republican Party, and to understanding the emergence of Donald Trump and Trumpism – the ideology created by the president’s most ardent supporters, though not necessarily by the president himself.

That was the trick:

Palin’s popularity with the GOP and the American right as a whole wasn’t based on her speeches or her conservative bona fides, her gubernatorial history or her political beliefs, but on what she could be made to mean. In his run for president, Trump was much the same. Now even as Trump’s base of support shrinks, those who remain, the truest of true believers, will never renounce him.

In short, never underestimate the power of a blank slate:

From the moment Palin entered the national scene, the praise for her on the right was heavily tied to her image. After the 2008 vice-presidential debate, National Review editor Rich Lowry described her as “so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing, [sending] little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.” In one of the earliest conservative critiques of Palin, written in September 2008, Post columnist Kathleen Parker said of her initial interest in Palin: “She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood – a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.” Nowhere in the piece were Palin’s conservative viewpoints referenced; her views on, say, health care or school choice, or even abortion, went unmentioned. Palin’s problem, in Parker’s view, wasn’t her beliefs but her tendency to ramble. What mattered about the governor was what she could reflect back to a hungry Republican base: an “attractive, earnest [and] confident” woman in a position of power.

And Palin said what the base was thinking. She accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” She praised those willing to “screw the political correctness.” She cheered the birther movement promoted by one Donald Trump. As the keynote speaker at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention in February 2010, she taunted Democrats, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out?” In turn, she was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of “Run, Sarah, run!”

Liberals condescended to Palin. Newspapers corrected her statements on “death panels.” “Saturday Night Live” satirized her relentlessly. That treatment infuriated her supporters. And none of it changed their minds anyway because Palin was an avatar for how her supporters felt about themselves and the world they wanted to see, one they saw rapidly slipping away from them. Sure, she might be wrong, they seemed to say, but she’s like us. She is us.

She also led the way:

Trump campaigned on the Palin model. In fact, he improved upon it. His identity was his trademark, rendering the constant shifts in policy goals and promises almost meaningless. His base saw in Trump what they wanted to see. Some saw a fighter who would stand up for them, others saw a vaunted truth-teller, and a few, truth be told, likely saw a potential white-nationalist hero. And he gave it to them: the image, the veneer, the blank slate upon which their deeply held dreams – for themselves as much as their country – could be written. His fans weren’t dissuaded by his past support for Democrats (including his 2016 opponent), or his lies, or his personal liberalism, or his crudeness, or his long history of mistreating small-business owners of the kind he claimed to champion, because his fans weren’t voting for Trump. They were voting for what Trump meant to them personally.

In turn, his base will not leave him, because to abandon Trump would not be to abandon the current president but to leave behind deeply held beliefs of their own. His popularity is cultural, not political, and resilient to the notions of truth and fiction and to Trump’s own failures. Even after his presidency, regardless of whether it ends in impeachment or in two consecutive terms in office, the image will remain undaunted.

Perhaps so, but a blank slate cannot govern the country. There’s nothing there. As Marshall notes, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled. He lashes out more aggressively. He turns on everyone, even his own people, and he ends up alone and proud to be standing alone, but unable to get anything at all done, which seems to be fine with him, because what he wants to get done was always a bit vague. One day it’s one thing. The next day it’s another, sometimes its opposite. But nothing will get done. No man is an island, and the bell is tolling for him now.


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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