The Boss from Hell

Everyone knows the boss from hell, or at least the Human Resources Manager from hell, from the comic strip Dilbert – Scott Adams has been at that since 1989 – the clueless Pointy-Haired Boss and all the rest. Adams also correctly predicted that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. He then predicted that Trump would win the general election in a huge landslide. He was wrong about that, but Trump did win. Men would feel emasculated by the nomination of a woman for president – “If you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men.”

There was that, and Trump’s persuasion skills. Hillary Clinton had none, and Conor Friedersdorf offered a complete analysis of Adams’ views on Trump, including what is obvious now:

As Adams tells it, Trump targeted voters who’d be attracted rather than repelled by calls for policies that would inflict great suffering; he told those voters things that he didn’t really mean to gain their emotional trust; and all along, he probably intended to go to Washington and do something else. That sounds a lot like the way that Trump voters describe the career politicians who they hate: emotionally manipulative liars who will say anything to get elected, get to Washington, and betray their base by moving left on immigration.

That didn’t matter:

Adams hypothesizes that Trump would not back down even if he were in the wrong and innocents were hurt as a consequence, because it might hurt him personally.

And that’s a good thing:

Adams’s case for Trump amounts to this: Trump is a master persuader, as evidenced by his success manipulating voters with morally odious positions that he didn’t believe and never intended to execute – but Americans shouldn’t be bothered by the vileness or the hucksterism, which Adams regards as mostly harmless, because it’s in Trump’s personal interests to be successful, and as Adams later argued, Americans should want a guy who will succeed in the White House more than a guy who is moral or honest.

In short, Americans wanted that boss from hell, out for himself and no one else, willing to inflict the maximum pain and humiliation on anyone who does anything to make him look bad, even those who have been doing their best to be loyal to him. It seems that Evil Human Resources Manager in the comic strip, drawn as a small devil with horns, and a mean and overweight small housecat, gleefully crushing the souls of those hapless cubicle workers, is pretty cool – the real hero in Adams’ ongoing tales. Who knew?

Adams knew. Success is everything. A guy who is moral or honest is a loser. America wanted a winner. A guy who was manipulating voters with morally odious positions that he didn’t believe and never intended was a pretty damned cool guy after all. He was a winner – and Trump did betray his base by moving left on immigration. So what? Winners do that.

Winners also leave chaos in their wake, as the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters chronicles here:

President Trump came under withering attack on Thursday from some of his strongest supporters, who were outraged and unforgiving about his decision to set aside, for now, a fight over building the border wall he has long promised as part of a deal with Democrats on legislation to protect young, undocumented immigrants.

The tentative arrangement, which the president hashed out over dinner on Wednesday night at the White House with the top-ranking congressional Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, set off accusations of betrayal and renewed nagging doubts about whether Mr. Trump was in jeopardy of alienating some of his most ardent backers on the right.

No promise was more central to his campaign than building the border wall. And no constituency was more passionate in defending Mr. Trump’s pledge than the conservatives who believed he would be uncompromising in his approach toward illegal immigration.

Well, as a winner above all else, he gleefully screwed them, and they weren’t happy:

“At this point, who doesn’t want Trump impeached?” said the conservative writer Ann Coulter as she took to Twitter to excoriate the president. “If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence,” added Ms. Coulter, who met recently with the president in the Oval Office and warned him of the perils of not keeping his word on immigration, and most notably the wall.

Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host who has until now been sparing in her criticism of the president, told her listeners on Thursday that the political cost Mr. Trump and the Republican Party would pay would be steep. “He’s going to get creamed for this,” she said, reminding her audience of all the times during the campaign that Mr. Trump chanted – and his crowds repeated – “Build the Wall!”

Ms. Ingraham mocked Mr. Trump’s statement on Thursday that parts of the current border fence were being reinforced under his direction. “We’re doing a lot of renovation,” he said before leaving Washington to tour hurricane damage in Florida. “I don’t remember,” Ms. Ingraham said, “hearing ‘Repair the fence! Repair the fence! Repair the fence!'”

That’s brutal, but pointless. Donald Trump doesn’t answer to Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham. He doesn’t answer to the American people either. As Scott Adams noted, the cool thing about Donald Trump is that he answers only to himself.

Trump’s base should be happy with that, but they’re still working that out:

Now, twice in one week, Mr. Trump has gone around Republicans to reach a compromise with Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi. This week it was to agree in principle to move forward with legislation that resolves the legal status of the 800,000 immigrants who came here illegally as children. Last week it was an agreement to forego a fight over raising the debt ceiling to ensure quick passage of hurricane relief funding.

On conservative talk radio programs Thursday morning, listeners called in to voice their disapproval. Some said Mr. Trump had confirmed what they suspected all along about the insincerity of his conservative convictions. Others said the president, a self-proclaimed master negotiator, had been rolled by the Democrats. The comments mostly added up to a damning conclusion: Mr. Trump had tricked his voters.

“I always figured Trump would go Schwarzenegger on us,” said one caller into the Hugh Hewitt program, invoking the former California governor whom many conservatives believed sold them out.

And meanwhile, in Washington:

Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican who is perhaps the leading voice in Congress advocating the hard line on immigration that Mr. Trump has voiced, predicted that the president’s base is “blown up, destroyed, irreparable.”

“No promise is credible,” Mr. King wrote on Twitter.

No, give them time to process this – they’ll come around – but Steve King is part of a larger group that Trump left hung out to dry:

What many more Republicans seemed to find so objectionable was that Mr. Trump would so brazenly cut deals with Democrats.

His sudden embrace of politicians that Republicans have spent years fighting in intense political combat – especially Ms. Pelosi, whom Republicans have made into an avatar for the liberal, coastal elite – sowed confusion and seemed to raise questions about how effectively Republicans could continue to demonize the people they assumed were their sworn enemies.

“Republicans have spent so much time and money targeting Nancy Pelosi as the enemy over the last few cycles, the idea that you’re now going do a deal with her has to rub people the wrong way,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican consultant who has worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. “Doesn’t it hurt all these Republican congressmen who want to use her as the liberal foil in their campaigns?”

“It is just confusing,” Mr. Schriefer added.

Get used to it. As president, Donald Trump is the de facto head of the Republican Party – their boss. Republicans just discovered that they now work for the boss from hell. Somewhere, Scott Adams is smiling.

Donald Trump did what he did, for himself. That’s what a boss from hell does, but as the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker notes, no one is quite sure what the hell he actually did:

At 6:11 Thursday morning, President Trump tweeted that despite news reports to the contrary, he and Democratic congressional leaders had reached “no deal” on protections for young undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

At 6:20 a.m., after a night of fretting by his supporters, he tweeted that the big, beautiful border wall he had long promised “will continue to be built.”

Then, at 6:28 a.m., he tweeted a duo of missives outlining the very deal he claimed didn’t exist.

Confusion reigned.

The tweets underscore the sense of chaos the president brings to bear on just about everything he encounters – a Midas touch of low-grade uncertainty he seems to sow in others and exhibit himself while operating comfortably from within the maelstrom.

Low-grade uncertainty was the “order” of the day:

Often, Trump’s underlings, friends, foes and allies never know quite where he stands – in part because of the president’s penchant for telling his immediate audience exactly what they want to hear in any given moment. People who meet with the president frequently leave buoyed, an optimism punctured by a nagging question mere hours later: What just happened?

That was a reasonable question to ask:

On Wednesday evening, as news of the agreement trickled out, Hill staffers sat glued to Twitter trying to discern that very query as aides to both sides scrambled to explain what, in the end, turned out to be disagreements that were largely semantics.

Referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects the dreamers, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took to Twitter after 10 p.m., writing, “While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.”

This prompted Schumer’s spokesman to reply to her tweet with a further explanation: “The President made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement,” he wrote.

Which is it? Go fish. And try to make sense of this:

On Thursday morning, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump traveled to Florida to view damage caused by Hurricane Irma, a White House spokeswoman further muddied the already confused situation, saying: “The president has been clear that there will be no amnesty” before adding that the administration’s plan for immigration changes “could include legal citizenship over time.”

Which is it? No one will ever know:

“Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?” he wrote early Thursday morning. “They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own – brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security.”

Once in Florida, he weighed in again, saying, “No, we’re not looking at citizenship. We’re not looking at amnesty. We’re looking at allowing people to stay here.”

On the flight back to Washington, he reiterated that he still plans to build a wall – Democrats, he said, “can’t obstruct the wall” – even if it isn’t part of the DACA deal, and he said he has Republican support for his plans.

“My relationship with Republicans is excellent,” he said. “Many of them agree with what I am doing.”

That was news to them, but all will be well, as Vanity Fair’s Tina Nguyen reports this:

With his base apoplectic, Trump’s most reliable cheerleaders strained to defend his latest ideological contortion. Steve Doocy, a host of Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends, suggested that the wall was just a metaphor. “Congressman, has the wall almost become symbolic?” he asked Jason Chaffetz. “I know the president ran on it. It was a mantra. But at the same time, border crossings have gone down dramatically and you were talking about how the wall exists in certain forms and there’s money to go to it, that has to come from Congress, but do you think we’re going to get to the point where maybe they won’t build the wall?”

Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, another guest on Fox & Friends, echoed the sentiment. “At the end of the day, Trump may be moving to a position in which he says the wall is symbolic,” he said, suggesting that Trump could put together a deal that enhances border control without a large, physical wall. “What people voted for is this, they voted for a principle and the principle is we can’t fix domestic immigration without stopping the porous border in which, in a sense, people keep streaming across.”

Donald Trump watches Fox & Friends every day and almost every day tweets about what is said there – the British secret service wiretapping Trump Tower as a favor to Obama and whatnot – so he now knows his base is with him, and so is the cartoonist:

Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert and an ardent Trump supporter, wrote a long blog post arguing that Trump was actually employing a “persuasion technique” to bring the conversation towards enhanced border security, and that “build the wall” was simply a conceptual campaign slogan.

Give them time. They’ll come around. His base always does. His base has already come around. The wall was always a metaphor. They knew that. They just didn’t know that they knew that. Now, suddenly, they know that they always knew that. Donald Trump is safe.

But he’s still the boss from hell. The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman chronicle that:

Shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said he should resign, according to current and former administration officials and others briefed on the matter.

The president attributed the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation – a move Mr. Trump believes was the moment his administration effectively lost control over the inquiry. Accusing Mr. Sessions of “disloyalty,” Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general.

Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, according to four people who were told details of the meeting. Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.

Yes, the boss from hell, out for himself and no one else, is willing to inflict the maximum pain and humiliation on anyone who does anything to make him look bad, even those who have been doing their best to be loyal to him, and that’s what happened here:

The Oval Office meeting, details of which have not previously been reported, shows the intensity of Mr. Trump’s emotions as the Russia investigation gained steam and how he appeared to immediately see Mr. Mueller’s appointment as a looming problem for his administration. It also illustrates the depth of antipathy Mr. Trump has had for Mr. Sessions – one of his earliest campaign supporters – and how the president interprets “disloyalty” within his circle of advisers.

Mr. Trump ended up rejecting Mr. Sessions’ May resignation letter after senior members of his administration argued that dismissing the attorney general would only create more problems for a president who had already fired an FBI director and a national security adviser. Mr. Trump once again, in July, told aides he wanted to remove Mr. Sessions, but for a second time didn’t take action.

Trump’s staff talked him down – don’t do anything stupid – but Trump got his revenge anyway:

Mr. Sessions played a prominent role announcing the end of the Obama-era program that provided protection to the children of undocumented immigrants, only to see his boss backtrack on the policy. On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump confirmed he had reached a deal with Democrats to provide protections for the so-called Dreamers.

That was twisting the knife, but the narrative of the original meeting is more telling:

The president’s outburst came in the middle of an Oval Office meeting that Mr. Trump had with top advisers on May 17 to discuss candidates to take over the FBI after the president fired its director, James B. Comey, earlier that month. In addition to Mr. Sessions, Vice President Mike Pence; Donald F. McGahn II; the White House counsel; and several other aides attended the meeting.

In the middle of the meeting, Mr. McGahn received a phone call from Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who had been overseeing the Russia investigation since Mr. Sessions recused himself from the inquiry months earlier. Mr. Sessions had stepped aside after it was revealed he had not provided accurate testimony to Congress about his meetings with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign.

In the telephone call to Mr. McGahn, Mr. Rosenstein said he had decided to appoint Mr. Mueller to be a special counsel for the investigation. Congress had been putting pressure on Mr. Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to put distance between the Trump administration and the Russia investigation, and just the day before The New York Times had revealed that Mr. Trump had once asked Mr. Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser.

When the phone call ended, Mr. McGahn relayed the news to the president and his aides. Almost immediately, Mr. Trump lobbed a volley of insults at Mr. Sessions, telling the attorney general it was his fault they were in the current situation. Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an “idiot,” and said that he should resign.

This was the boss from hell:

An emotional Mr. Sessions told the president he would resign and left the Oval Office. That evening, as the Justice Department publicly announced the appointment of Mr. Mueller, the attorney general wrote a brief resignation letter to the president that was later sent to the White House.

Or this wasn’t the boss from hell:

A person familiar with the events raised the possibility that Mr. Sessions had become emotional because the impact of his recusal was becoming clear.

In short, Sessions knew that he had screwed up, by following the law in such things, recusing himself as required.

That’s one view, not that it matters much:

For Mr. Sessions, the aggressiveness with which Mr. Trump has sought his removal was a blow. The son of a general store owner in a small town in Alabama, Mr. Sessions had long wanted to be the nation’s top federal law enforcement official or to serve in another top law enforcement or judicial post. He earned a reputation in the Senate as someone tough on immigration, and was the first senator to back Mr. Trump in the presidential campaign.

That didn’t matter:

The president spent months stewing about the recusal. In a July 19 interview with The Times, Mr. Trump said he never would have appointed Mr. Sessions to be attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump called the decision “very unfair to the president.”

Days after the Times interview, Mr. Trump told aides he wanted to replace Mr. Sessions. Some of the president’s aides, not sure if Mr. Trump really wanted the attorney general gone or was just working through his anger, were able to delay the firing until the president’s anger passed.

But Mr. Trump continued his public attacks in the days that followed.

And with this DACA business he finally got his revenge:

The president agreed to terminate the program, and on Sept. 5 Mr. Sessions stood alone at a lectern – a moment that seemed to be a significant victory for the attorney general.

But his satisfaction was fleeting. Mr. Trump quickly undercut Mr. Sessions in a tweet by saying he would reconsider whether or not to end the program, leading the attorney general to tell allies that he was frustrated that the president had muddled months of work leading to the announcement of the new policy.

Somewhere, Scott Adams was smiling. This is the boss from hell that America wanted in the White House. Trump’s base will love it too. Inflict great suffering. That’s what winners do.

There’s a vicarious thrill in that – Trump’s base feels that thrill every day – but Scott Adams should not be confused with the late Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and all its sequels:

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover…

There you have it. The second Adams says, when one looks at the vast odd random oddness of everything in the universe, in detail, don’t panic. Things will be fine, somehow. If so, when looking the vast random oddness of the Trump presidency, one should not panic. Things will be fine, somehow, even if no one now can see how.

On the other hand, there’s this from the Hitchhiker’s Guide:

What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can’t move with no hope of rescue: Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far.

Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far (which, given your current circumstances, seems more likely): Consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.

Okay. Go ahead. Panic. America has the boss from hell.


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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