Political Counterprogramming

Not everyone watches the Super Bowl. The other networks provide an alternative – “chick flicks” on Hallmark and Lifetime – a first run movie somewhere else – or something ironic like the Puppy Bowl and the Kitten Bowl. This is basic counterprogramming. There’s no need to watch that. Watch this. And sometimes it’s nasty. On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Comedy Central broadcast an all-day marathon of the twentieth season of South Park – where Mr. Garrison is elected president, a parody of Trump and his campaign. There was a lot of that – Turner Classic Movies aired King Vidor’s 1949 adaptation of “The Fountainhead” with its script written by Ayn Rand herself, and then Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd” – a folksy and narcissistic and quite ruthless political outsider rides a wave of populism from television stardom to real power – a bit of a warning – and then they aired “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – because Audrey Hepburn isn’t Donald Trump. There’s always an alternative to what others say is important.

Donald Trump Knows this. He’s a television guy. He needed to do some counterprogramming, because others were saying this was important:

He was a war hero who survived more than five years of torture as a prisoner in Vietnam and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, but it’s John McCain’s role as a legislator that may have most defined his public life.

A two-term congressman and a senator for more than three decades, McCain shaped US policy on everything from immigration to foreign policy, spoke out against the country’s use of enhanced interrogation practices during the George W. Bush administration and irrevocably changed the very body in which he served.

On Friday, McCain came home to the Senate one last time, becoming only the 31st person to lie in state in the US Capitol, a rare honor reserved for government officials and military officers. While minutes before the sun had shone over the dome, as McCain, carried by an honor guard, ascended the steps, the clouds opened and rain poured down.

Even the heavens wept on cue. That must have infuriated Trump. How the hell did McCain pull that off? And then it got worse:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a man who at times fought on the opposite side of McCain on issues like campaign finance, remembered McCain as a tough political opponent.

“He had America’s fighting spirit,” McConnell remembered. “I will miss a dear friend whose smile reminded us that service is a privilege.”

“We thank God for giving this country John McCain,” McConnell said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan remembered McCain as a man who made a “tremendous difference,” “a man of conviction” and a “man of state.”

“What stands out about John McCain is what he stood for,” Ryan said. “No one was stronger at the broken places than John McCain.”

And then there was Vice President Pence:

“He held fast to his faith in America through six decades of service. We are here today to honor an American patriot who served a cause greater than himself,” Pence said. “We will forever remember that John McCain served his country and John McCain served his country honorably.”

McConnell and Ryan and Pence said what Donald Trump couldn’t possibly say. He’d been sneering at McCain for years, systematically belittling him. He was a hero, McCain wasn’t ever a hero, and now Trump looked like a jerk – but he would have looked like an even bigger jerk if he took it all back, now. Who would believe him about anything? He was trapped.

And there was the other funeral:

Visitors to Buckingham Palace who came out to see the famous Changing the Guard ceremony were given a surprise Friday.

The Queen of England gave a tip of the crown to the Queen of Soul by having her honor guard play Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect.”

The Band of the Welsh Guards, dressed in bright scarlet tunics and tall bearskin hats, belted out an upbeat, brassy rendition of Franklin’s 1967 hit in the courtyard of the palace, before the usual August throng of tourists… A military spokesman called the song “a declaration from a strong confident woman who knows that she has everything.”

That’s what the Queen of England wanted, because she was unable to attend the actual funeral:

They laid Aretha Franklin to rest with a funeral fit for a Queen.

A week of tributes and public mourning – which included a massive concert, tributes from some of the nation’s most prominent public figures and four final, glorious outfit changes – ended with a day-long funeral Friday in Detroit, the vibrantly musical city that launched her career and remained her home for much of her life.

“The secret of her greatness was she took this massive talent and this perfect culture that raised her, and she decided to be the composer of her own life’s song,” former president Bill Clinton said. “And what a song it turned out to be.”

Yes, the old white guy loved this woman. Everyone did. This was the other America, the one Trump hasn’t made great again, the one where respect and affection have nothing to do with race, the one where people try to understand each other and eventually do just that. This was a celebration:

Franklin, who died Aug. 16 of pancreatic cancer at 76, inspired an eight-hour send-off that reflected the impact of her career… The Rev. Al Sharpton called Franklin a “civil rights activist and freedom fighter.” Former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. said her “status as a queen, unlike others who inherit a title, was earned.”

Two other former presidents – Barack Obama and George W. Bush – sent remarks that were read…

The service ran several hours over schedule. All the while, Franklin lay in a casket made of solid bronze and embroidered with her name and “Queen of Soul” title, according to the Detroit Free Press. The very same 1940 Cadillac LaSalle hearse that carried her father and Rosa Parks at their funerals transported Franklin to the Greater Grace Temple.

America did get better over the years, an America that Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand:

Several speakers also rebuked President Trump, who in paying tribute to Franklin, said that she “worked for me,” apparently an oblique reference to the time she performed at one of his casinos.

“She ain’t work for you,” said scholar Michael Eric Dyson. “She worked above you. She worked beyond you. Get your preposition right. Don’t sully the memory of our great queen.”

The Queen of England would agree. She had the Band of the Welsh Guards blast out the appropriate tune. And the heavens had wept for John McCain, right on cue. Trump was getting hammered.

This called for bit of counterprogramming. Don’t watch that. Watch this. Watch your president humiliate Canada:

High-stakes trade negotiations between Canada and the U.S. were dramatically upended on Friday morning after inflammatory secret remarks by President Donald Trump were obtained by the Toronto Star.

Trump’s comments were viewed by Canadian negotiators as evidence for their suspicions that the U.S. was not making a legitimate effort to compromise. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s officials confronted the president’s officials with the leaked quotes at a high-level meeting on Friday morning.

Did he say that? Yes, he did:

Trump’s words caused a U.S. media firestorm. By the end of the day, Trump had confirmed the accuracy of the Star’s report, said he was fine with the leak because now Canada knows his true feelings and also complained at length that the leak was a breach of his trust.

But there are his true feelings:

Trump made his controversial statements in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday. He said “off the record” that he is not making any compromises at all with Canada – and that he could not say this publicly because “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.”

In short, they get nothing, they will bend to his will, but he can’t say that out loud. That’s so insulting that they’d walk away from any “negotiations” – but he’s in control. America gets everything. Canada gets nothing, and there’s not a damned thing they can do about. And now that this has been said aloud, he doesn’t give a damn what they think:

In another remark he did not want published, Trump said that any deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He suggested he was scaring the Canadians into submission by repeatedly threatening to impose tariffs on imports of Canadian-made cars…

Trump corroborated the quotes in an afternoon tweet.

“Wow, I made OFF THE RECORD COMMENTS to Bloomberg concerning Canada, and this powerful understanding was BLATANTLY VIOLATED. Oh well, just more dishonest reporting. I am used to it. At least Canada knows where I stand!” he said.

In a speech in Charlotte later, Trump said: “These are very dishonorable people. But I said, in the end, it’s okay, because at least Canada knows how I feel. So it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s true.”

They do know how he feels. He made that clear. They’re pathetic. There’s nothing they can do now. They will bend to his will. America gets everything and Canada gets nothing. If they don’t bend to his will, then he’ll crush their stupid little country. They’ll have no economy. They will submit, on their knees. They’ll beg like dogs, and still get nothing. America wins! He wins!

And there was only this in response:

Trudeau, who was in Oshawa as the drama unfolded, said, “We will only sign a deal if it is a good deal for Canada.”

Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland maintained their practice of refusing to respond directly to Trump’s regular incendiary statements.

He wins. That’ll make people forget those stupid McCain and Franklin funerals. He just totally humiliated Canada. That was the counterprogramming.

Others were not impressed:

President Donald Trump risks seriously damaging the relationship between Canada and the U.S. as he pushes toward a new North American Free Trade Agreement, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman told CNBC on Friday.

“The definition of insanity, just listening to the president there, is how the president has been treating Canada all this time. You know, this is our best trading partner in the world,” Heyman said on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street.

Trump was being a jerk:

With an economy 10 times the size of Canada’s, the U.S. clearly has all the leverage in these trade negotiations, said Heyman, who served under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017. But that doesn’t mean the U.S. should use it.

“The U.S. has all the leverage in the world, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. When you take your best friend, your greatest ally in the world, and start squeezing them, you can win, but I will tell you, the relationship will be damaged much longer than it will take the ink to dry on a new NAFTA deal,” said Heyman.

“You look at this, and it’s not just trade. They were with us in 9/11, like no other country. They were on our side in Afghanistan. They helped diplomats come out of Iran,” Heyman said.

Sure, but all of that is the kind of thing John McCain talked about for decides – allies and international cooperation, and mutual respect in fighting the good fight – but John McCain is dead. This is Donald Trump’s television show now. What would John McCain do? Who cares?

That was Trump’s counterprogramming to the McCain and Franklin funerals, but he’ll have to find some counterprogramming to this:

A senior Justice Department lawyer says a former British spy told him at a breakfast meeting two years ago that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump “over a barrel,” according to multiple people familiar with the encounter.

The lawyer, Bruce Ohr, also says he learned that a Trump campaign aide had met with higher-level Russian officials than the aide had acknowledged, the people said.

That would be Carter Page, who seems to be Putin’s guy in the Trump camp, and this is serious stuff:

The previously unreported details of the July 30, 2016, breakfast with Christopher Steele, which Ohr described to lawmakers this week in a private interview, reveal an exchange of potentially explosive information about Trump between two men the president has relentlessly sought to discredit.

They add to the public understanding of those pivotal summer months as the FBI and intelligence community scrambled to untangle possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. And they reflect the concern of Steele, a longtime FBI informant whose Democratic-funded research into Trump ties to Russia was compiled into a dossier, that the Republican presidential candidate was possibly compromised and his urgent efforts to convey that anxiety to contacts at the FBI and Justice Department.

Now add this:

Trump this month proposed stripping Ohr, who until this year had been largely anonymous during his decades-long Justice Department career, of his security clearance and has asked “how the hell” he remains employed. He has called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

This seemed odd. Bruce Ohr was just another guy at the FBI. Trump may have not known him from Adam, but Ohr was the top FBI expert on Russian organized crime. He knew, and knows, who is who and how it all works. So, if Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump “over a barrel” they might have told Trump to deep-six this Ohr guy – he knows too much about how things work over there, and internationally. Dump him, or else. Trump may have been just following orders.

That’s possible, and just speculation, but possible. Trump needs some counterprogramming here too. Look! Canada!

And then there’s this:

An American lobbyist on Friday admitted brokering access to President Trump’s inauguration for a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch in a scheme that highlighted the rush by foreign interests to influence the new administration.

As part of a plea agreement under which he pledged to cooperate with federal prosecutors, the lobbyist, Sam Patten, pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent for a Russia-aligned Ukrainian political party, and to helping the Ukrainian oligarch who had funded that party illegally purchase four tickets to Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

That’s not much, but this is a full-cooperation agreement. Patten had promised to tell all about the rush by foreign interests to influence the new administration, with lots of money, which ties back to this:

The case sketched out by prosecutors encompassed Mr. Patten, a respected Republican operative and consultant whose family was once part of Washington’s social elite; money transfers from a Cypriot bank; and a Russian national who had also worked for Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, and been accused of maintaining ties to Russian intelligence.

This is bad news:

Mr. Trump’s inauguration came at a moment when some international figures were paying large sums to Mr. Trump’s associates in an effort to curry favor with an administration that came into office with few ties to established players on the world stage, and with an uncertain foreign policy agenda. That was particularly true in matters related to Russia and its neighbors.

Trump needs some counterprogramming here too. Look! Canada! Again!

Trump can’t keep doing that. Americans just don’t loathe Canada enough, or at all, and only Trump’s base loves the idea of humiliating every other nation on earth, and anyone who questions anything about them or Trump or America or NASCAR or country music, but Trump’s base is small, and shrinking. And there was McCain’s funeral. That man did not believe in humiliating anyone, ever. Everyone but Donald Trump is with McCain on that now, even Trump’s vice president. McCain’s death reminded everyone that common decency is a good thing, not something for total losers. Aretha Franklin’s death reminded everyone of that too. Even the Queen of England agrees.

Trump needs powerful counterprogramming now, but it may be too late for that:

President Trump’s disapproval rating has hit a high point of 60 percent, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that also finds that clear majorities of Americans support the special counsel’s Russia investigation and say the president should not fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

At the dawn of the fall campaign sprint to the midterm ­elections, which will determine whether Democrats retake control of Congress, the poll finds that a majority of the public has turned against Trump and is on guard against his efforts to influence the Justice Department and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s wide-ranging probe.

But wait, there’s more:

Nearly half of Americans, 49 percent, say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings that could lead to Trump being removed from office, while 46 percent say Congress should not.

And a narrow majority – 53 percent – says they think Trump has tried to interfere with Mueller’s investigation in a way that amounts to obstruction of justice; 35 percent say they do not think the president has tried to interfere.

But wait, there’s more:

Trump has complained that Paul Manafort was treated unfairly by Mueller’s prosecutors, and after a jury convicted Manafort last month, the president tweeted that he felt “very badly” for him.

But 67 percent of Americans think Mueller’s case against Manafort was justified, while 17 percent say it was unjustified, according to the poll.

Trump’s praise of Manafort has stirred speculation that he might pardon his former campaign chairman, but the poll finds that it would be a political land mine for the president. Two-thirds of Americans oppose Trump pardoning Manafort – 53 percent strongly oppose it – and 18 percent support a pardon.

There was no question about whether Canada is an evil nation that America should crush, but there’s always counterprogramming, as Olivia Nuzzi notes here:

You may be wondering why, throughout the second half of August, the president of the United States has been standing in the Rose Garden and yelling.

On August 17, he yelled about manufacturing. On August 18, he yelled about trade and, later that day, he yelled about meeting with foreign leaders. On August 22, he yelled about the stock market. And on August 24, he yelled about the economy. The resulting video clips, which range from 23 to 60 seconds in length, are like stream-of-consciousness infomercials…

With his hands conducting dramatically at his sides, he began the first episode like this: “Made in America is back! Now, some people would say ‘Made in the USA’ – I personally don’t care. The fact is, we’re back.”

Yes, this is odd:

According to – I swear to God – five current and former officials from both Donald Trump’s White House and campaign as well as one former official from the Trump Organization, the purpose of this on-camera exercise is simple: It makes him feel (and, he believes, look) good.

“The president didn’t like the sitting down, read prompter, lights-inside-a-room at the White House. So, he told the digital guys at the communications shop to come up with a couple of new ideas, and this was one of them. The president liked it, and we’re trying it out,” one senior White House official told me.

“He is the most TV-savvy president in history. Somebody said to me today, ‘Reagan was, too!’ Well, Reagan was a little bit more movies,” the senior official said. “Because of The Apprentice and everything else this gentleman has done in his life, he understands all of this – he understands lighting and, to some degrees, in some rooms of the White House, he’s not a big fan of it. So, we’re just trying to help him.”

So this is the counterprogramming:

To a TV producer, a place like the Rose Garden – a lush patch of greenery that, lit by the sun, looks like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting – was an underutilized set. Upon joining the administration, he made it a point to tell associates inside and outside the government that he would be making changes to improve the production value of official President Donald J. Trump content, and, according to the senior White House official, he has helped with the “choreography” of the Rose Garden videos.

What? There are those who spoke eloquently at the side of John McCain’s coffin, about common decency and doing something for others, something bigger than just you. The same thing was said, and sung, at Aretha Franklin’s funeral. And Donald Trump has been standing in the Rose Garden, yelling. Maybe this television guy doesn’t understand counterprogramming at all. Maybe it never really works.

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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1 Response to Political Counterprogramming

  1. barney says:

    Good read. Thank you.

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