The Killer Elite

This is not about that 2011 movie Killer Elite – Jason Statham as the conflicted mercenary haunted by one of his assassinations, with Clive Owen hanging around and Robert De Niro being Robert De Niro. That movie sank like a stone. This is about Donald Trump. He hasn’t sunk like a stone yet, and he has a problem with that word – elite. Donald Trump seems to fear he will always be that insecure wannabe loutish guy from Queens who could never impress the old money in Manhattan, no matter how many gold-plated toilets he had installed in his gold-plated penthouse high over Fifth Avenue. He was still vulgar.

Nixon had the same problem with the Kennedy crowd – those Ivy League bastards who, he thought, always considered him a rube. Nixon hated the Kennedy crowd. He hated them, because he thought they hated him. Trump has Obama and Hillary and the pro-science, pro-facts, pro-thoughtfulness, pro-common-decency crowd. He hates them, because he thinks they hate him – and some do – but about a third of the country, like Trump, has a problem with those damned “coastal elites” and Hollywood stars and “experts” telling them what they should think and feel. To them, Donald Trump is a hero.

Others have said that Donald Trump is “a stupid man’s idea of a smart man, a poor man’s idea of a rich man, and a weak man’s idea of a strong man” – but he won the presidency, and now that insecure wannabe loutish guy from Queens finally showed them all. He still has his gold-plated penthouse high over Fifth Avenue and now he has the White House too. That proves his awesomeness. He may get us all killed, but now he is one of the elite, in his way.

But he’s still angry. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson note that. Trump was angry in Duluth:

President Trump feels wronged.

Standing at center stage in a hockey arena here, delivering a rollicking speech that harked back to the glory days of his 2016 campaign, Trump was simmering with frustration.

Trump said he felt wronged that he was not given more credit for his historic meeting last week in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Wronged that his administration’s move to separate migrant children from their parents at the border garnered round-the-clock news coverage.

Wronged that the media is not instead focused on this week’s congressional hearings over a Department of Justice inspector general report, and wronged that the report backed up the FBI’s decision not to charge Hillary Clinton with crimes.

Wronged that he has to share some of the credit for the good economy with his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Wronged that the media does not focus enough attention on the size of his crowds.

Wronged that a handful of protesters interrupted his rally speech.

And wronged that, after defying the predictions of political experts to become elected president as a populist hero, he still is not considered part of the nation’s elite.

None of this was in his prepared remarks. He had gone off-script. He spoke from the heart:

“You ever notice they always call the other side ‘the elite’?” Trump asked. “The elite! Why are THEY elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t.”

The crowd roared. He didn’t have to say any of that. He really does have nothing to prove now. He has no need to be defensive now, but the crowd roared. They’re the ones who feel wronged and defensive. He needs them to feel wronged and defensive. He’ll be them, in this instance, and there was more:

Many of Trump’s frustrations were about the way he is covered by the media – “those very dishonest people,” as he put it, gesturing toward the press riser and eliciting loud boos and chants of “CNN sucks!” from the crowd.

“I just got back, as you know, from Singapore, where I met Kim Jong-Un, and we had a great meeting, great chemistry. We got along very well,” Trump said. “At first, everybody was amazed – amazed! – that we had the meeting. They couldn’t believe it.”

Then, as Trump told it, the ­media turned on him. “They said, ‘the president gave away so much!'”

“I got along with Kim Jong-Un and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said.

And then there was Hillary:

Trump accused the media of focusing on family separations and the detention of children at the border to distract the public from congressional inquiries into a Justice Department watchdog report. The report backed up the FBI’s decision not to bring charges against Clinton after its investigation of her use of private emails as secretary of state.

“Have you been seeing this whole scam?” Trump asked. “No matter how many crimes she committed, which were numerous, they wanted her to be innocent.”

“How guilty is she?” Trump asked.

The crowd replied with chants of “Lock her up!”

She should be impeached, right? No, wait – Trump defeated her. She’s not the president. She holds no public office. She’s left public life. She says little. No one sees her much at all. Democrats have moved on. They have no use for her. She had been a terrible candidate. No one cares about her at all now, but Donald Trump does. So did this crowd. She’s one of the elite. Why are THEY elite?

She’s not, but then Trump decided to channel the ghost of Richard Nixon:

He lashed out at the media several times, prompting his fans to boo the reporters in their midst, and demanded to know why television news networks don’t pan his crowd, showing its mass and might. He mocked the protesters who dared to interrupt him.

When one young man was escorted out by authorities, Trump yelled, “Going home to his mom.” A few minutes later, when another man with long, straggly hair was led out of the arena, the president asked, gleefully, “Is that a man or a woman? I couldn’t tell. Needs a haircut.”

It was late 1968 again. It was those damned hippies. Those damned hippies are in their seventies now – but no matter. It was late 1968 again and there was this:

When the president vaguely alluded to the Senate’s unexpected vote against repealing and replacing Obamacare, a man in the stands bellowed, “John McCain!” and a woman shouted, “Coward!”

Trump is the war hero here? Whatever – and there was this:

One of the president’s loudest applause lines came after he mentioned reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs and bragged that federal officials can now tell underperforming medical center employees: “You’re fired!”

Celebrity Apprentice had to come up. This was just another episode, and back in August, 2015, Kevin Drum explained what that was about:

Here’s how the show works. A bunch of C-list celebrities compete in teams each week at tasks given to them by Trump. At the end of the show, Trump grills the losing team in the “boardroom,” eventually picking a single scapegoat for their failure and firing them. As the show ends, the humiliated team member shuffles disconsolately down the elevator to a waiting car, where they are driven away, never to be seen again. This is the price of failure in Trumpworld.

Now, picture in your mind how Trump looks. He is running things. He sets the tasks. The competitors all call him “Mr. Trump” and treat him obsequiously. He gives orders and famous people accept them without quibble. At the end of the show, he asks tough questions and demands accountability. He is smooth and unruffled while the team members are tense and tongue-tied. Finally, having given everything the five minutes of due diligence it needs, he takes charge and fires someone. And on the season finale, he picks a big winner and in the process raises lots of money for charity.

Do you see how precisely this squares with so many people’s view of the presidency? The president is the guy running things. He tells people what to do. He commands respect simply by virtue of his personality and rock-solid principles. When things go wrong, he doesn’t waste time. He gets to the bottom of the problem in minutes using little more than common sense, and then fires the person responsible. And in the end, it’s all for a good cause. That’s a president.

But it’s not:

Obviously this is all a fake. The show is deliberately set up to make Trump look authoritative and decisive. But a lot of people just don’t see it that way. It’s a reality show! It’s showing us the real Donald Trump. And boy does he look presidential. Not in the real sense, of course, where you have to deal with Congress and the courts and recalcitrant foreign leaders and all that. But in the Hollywood sense? You bet.

That’ll do:

He’s commanding, he’s confident, he’s respected, he demands accountability, and he openly celebrates accomplishment and money – but then makes sure all the money goes to charity at the end. What’s not to like?

Nothing has changed since then. This is a form of populism, but Jeet Heer sees this as an odd sort of populism:

Unpacking Trump’s statement, it turns out he’s not, as populist heroes traditionally have been, the avatar or even the tribune of the common man. Rather, Trump is the true elite, a caste of one, the übermensch who is smart, rich, and able to become president. His followers, meanwhile, are “the deplorables” who are, pointedly, not elite in Trump’s manner but have their own form of greatness and smartness which is displayed in their willingness to subsume themselves (“the most loyal people on earth”) to Trump.

This is not the creed of populism, but of the strong man with an army of loyal followers. It helps explain why the economic populism Trump occasionally voiced (as with his attacks during the campaign on the banks) has mostly not been enacted. Trump was never selling populism per se but rather a faux-populism that masked a defense of aggrieved privilege, with the selling point being that Trump was the tough guy who could protect the social status quo his followers loved.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog puts that this way:

All along, Trump’s followers have hated the “elites,” and all along they’ve known that Trump is a rich One Percenter – in fact, since they believe everything he says, they probably think he’s richer than he actually is.

It’s not surprising if they hate “elitists” while believing that Trump, whom they love, is one himself. They don’t like black people, but they like their black people – Ben Carson, Candace Owens, maybe Kanye West. They don’t like Hollywood celebrities, but they like their celebrities, starting with their other favorite president, Ronald Reagan. (See also James Woods and Scott Baio.) They don’t like gay people, but they like their gay people – Milo Yiannopoulos, Tammy Bruce, Jim Hoft.

Also, they believe that people on their side aren’t recognized as the superior beings they are, while people on our side are given way too much credit for being superior.

I recall a widespread belief on the right during the 2012 campaign that Newt Gingrich was much smarter, much better educated, and a much better debater than Barack Obama, and that he’d be the runaway winner if he ever had the chance to debate Obama.

That would have been interesting, but it’s all nonsense:

The “elite” class as it is defined now is bad not because there’s anything wrong with elitism, but because the wrong people are considered elite. In a better world, elite status would go to people who deserve it. Six years ago, the established elite failed to recognize Gingrich’s obvious intellectual elitism. Since 2015, according to Trump, they’ve made the same mistake about Trump’s all-around elitism. Trump wants to join this club that won’t accept him as a member – and probably wants to kick all the current members out.

It would be better if he just worried about running the country, but this is a deeply insecure man, and insecure men say dumb things:

United States President Donald Trump offered a misleading characterization of his deal with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un on Thursday, insisting the nation had agreed to begin “total denuclearization” right away.

In reality, the document he signed with Kim at their June 12 summit in Singapore only reiterated North Korea’s previous commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Sitting in the Cabinet Room next to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Trump insisted the document read: “We will immediately begin total denuclearization of North Korea,” an opaque phrase that the United States and North Korea view differently.

Trump also said North Korea had begun destroying test sites.

Ah, no, not really; given the day before:

Wednesday, Mattis said he was “not aware” of any indications that North Korea had taken concrete steps to dismantle any more of its infrastructure for the launching of ballistic missiles or any additional steps to fully denuclearize following the June 12 summit in Singapore between Trump and Kim.

“Obviously, we are at the very front end of the process, the detailed negotiations have not begun,” Mattis told reporters on Wednesday. “I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis must have been squirming at the Thursday meeting, but at least Trump didn’t say he had a much better apartment than anyone else in the world. He didn’t say he was smarter than anyone else, and richer than anyone else and that he became president and they didn’t. He was just saying Kim had agreed to begin “total denuclearization” right away, and was doing just that, right now – he might finish up soon – and thus he, Donald Trump, had brought peace to the world. There was no more threat. It was over. He, Donald Trump, had done that. He’d shown them all. He was the real “elite” now. We could pull our troops from South Korea. We could end our defensive treaties with Japan. We could stand down the Pacific fleet and send all the ships elsewhere. He was awesome.

He wasn’t awesome:

Trump’s comments come as South Korean President Moon Jae-in is in Russia, where he is pitching the economic benefits of peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“A great historic transformation is now underway on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said during a speech at the Duma, the Russian Parliament on Thursday.

“A solid peace regime between the two Koreas will also be able to develop into a multilateral peace and security cooperation regime in the region.”

Maybe Russia can help with that. The United States won’t. Trump won’t. President Moon will work with the real elites.

Trump isn’t one of those:

Time magazine has published a variety of covers about President Donald Trump, but few have struck a chord like the one released on Thursday.

Against a red backdrop, the image of a crying immigrant child – a cutout from a Getty Images picture from photographer John Moore that has come to represent the ongoing border crisis – is juxtaposed next to the president. Trump looks down at the child alongside the words, “Welcome to America.”

That was deadly:

The cover comes a day after Trump signed an executive order to stop his administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the U.S. border. The policy has become a flashpoint across the U.S., drawing extensive media coverage and fundraisers for nonprofits dedicated to helping immigrant families.

Time’s previous covers have portrayed Trump in a variety of ways, including one from earlier in June in which Trump saw himself in the mirror as a king. No other cover, however, has so plainly questioned the morality of a Trump policy in a visual context.

Many journalists have pointed out that the separation of immigrant families is a policy owned by the Trump administration. But with its new cover, Time puts the issue, quite literally, at Trump’s feet.

Chris Cillizza adds context:

The image, taken by photographer John Moore, showing a girl crying as her mother is searched has instantly become the touchstone of the family separation crisis. That scared little girl juxtaposed against the towering Trump – looming over her in a black suit – is a startling image.

But it’s more than that. It’s a telling image. It shows the compassion gap that exists between the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” border policy and the real-life people that are affected.

Some people just aren’t elite:

The best example of the administration’s decided lack of compassion came Monday night in a press briefing by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Nielsen, inexplicably, said she was unfamiliar with the photos of children being detained in cages. She repeatedly insisted that all the administration was doing was enforcing the existing law when a) there is no law forcing family separation and b) the rise in family separation is directly attributable to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

Nielsen never once said that she understood how difficult it must be to have a child taken from you – even temporarily. She never acknowledged that this isn’t some dry debate in a think tank in Washington, that these are real peoples’ lives.

Trump himself has paid lip service – barely – to the human element of this whole crisis.

“Ivanka feels very strongly,” Trump said after signing an executive order Wednesday that allows families to be detained together. “My wife feels very strongly about it. I feel strongly about it,” Trump said. “I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don’t like to see families separated.”

And that was about it.

Some people just aren’t elite:

Trump isn’t changing. You don’t just suddenly develop an empathy gene. And the Time cover is a stark reminder of how much empathy matters in a president.

Empathy may be what distinguishes the real elites from those deeply insecure jerks with their gold-plated toilet seats in their gold-plated penthouse high over Fifth Avenue – but Trump has finally shown them all. He’s shown he’ll never be one of the elites. He’s one of those hapless Killer Elites – like in that dumb movie.

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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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One Response to The Killer Elite

  1. Rick says:

    This all seems so complicated that nobody seems to be able to find a way to explain it. The White House, in many more words, claims they’re only enforcing existing law, and the really stupid thing is, they’re mostly right.

    In a nutshell:

    If you are arrested anywhere in America, and you have young kids, they take your kids away, and that’s all they’re talking about doing here.

    The only difference with Jeff Sessions’ new “Zero Tolerance” policy is, before they enacted it, border officials could use their discretion to not arrest you — after all, the “crime” of illegally crossing the border is only a misdemeanor, not a felony, and doesn’t really require detention anyway. Under the old policy of exercising discretion in making arrests, families didn’t get separated; under the Trump policy of guaranteed arrests, they do.

    It’s that simple.

    Forget about asking some judge somewhere to grant an exception on how long we can hold some kid — to “keep the family together” — since that just takes us back to square one. Instead of kids in a cage, crying for their daddies and mommies, we’ll see kids locked into cages along with their families, and for how long? Probably until Donald Trump can dream up something else to entertain us with.

    One might suspect that Trump benefits from all the confusion he is creating, since if everyone understood how truly simple the whole thing is, he couldn’t blame it on the Democrats.

    But something else all this Trump-generated confusion achieves is non-stop discussion of it on Cable TV and right-wing radio, which not only reminds his base that he’s at least trying to be the heartless bastard he’d always promised he’d be, but now we’re hearing reports today that all that audio of crying children has made it down across the border, and it seems that the northern movement of parents and children has now begun to slow, which is exactly what the Trump crowd has been hoping for all along.

    A bunch of us, including me, keep saying this guy is stupid. Can we all be that wrong?

    Rick

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