From 1969 to 1971 CBS had a big hit with Hee-Haw – which was a slap-back at Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – the “irreverent” hit show for the hip antiestablishment counterculture. Not that “Laugh-In” spoke truth to power– it was just a comedy-variety show and only intermittently topical, and even then never biting. But it was urban and almost urbane – the product of smart and witty people in New York and Los Angeles. Those from anywhere in-between, from the fly-over states, might not get the humor. They weren’t supposed to. It’s almost as if they didn’t matter.
They resented that, so CBS created a show for them – the real folk, the simple unsophisticated but good folks, the rural folks, the folks who drove pick-up trucks. Buck Owens and Roy Clark hosted the new show from Nashville – it was country music and rural Southern stuff the folks in the city just wouldn’t get. They weren’t supposed to – now THEY were the real outsiders. This was war, even if a war of lame jokes. Hee-Haw lasted for twenty more years in syndication.
Maybe they won that culture war, but they would always be victims. They loved that. That’s part of that culture. On “Hee-Haw” each week, the male chorus would sing this:
Gloom, despair and agony on me-e!
Deep dark depression, excessive misery-y!
If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all!
Gloom, despair and agony on me-e-e!
That was either a sly critique of those saying, over and over, that the whole universe is against them, that they are the victims in this world – the message was get over your damned self – or this was a weekly celebration of those notions. Those were not going to change. If you’ve heard one my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song you’ve heard them all, but something did change a bit. The self-pity slowly turned to anger. The anger turned political. Now, much of country music is simply America-Fuck-Yeah! It’s all anger at Muslims or Mexicans or gays or fancy-pants city folks or all of it mashed up together – “These Colors Don’t Run” or Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the USA” – with Sarah Palin humming along. The tone is defiance. It’s the same culture war, but with the whining self-pity turned into defiant anger.
Donald Trump fits right into that world. His whining self-pity turns into defiant anger every single day. Only the issues change. And he’s got the worldview right – everyone is out to get him and it’s just not fair. And sometimes he seems like a walking-talking my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all.
Sometimes everything does go wrong. Donald Trump was having one of those weeks. Politico’s Christopher Cadelago explains that:
President Donald Trump spent Friday confronting the deadly landfall of Hurricane Florence – only to have that disaster eclipsed by the revelation that his former campaign manager cut a cooperation deal with special counsel Robert Mueller and that a growing #MeToo crisis is surrounding his Supreme Court nominee.
The trifecta culminated a week of the president careening from one fiasco to another, before he had fully recovered from the publication of damning excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new White House account “Fear” and an op-ed published anonymously by The New York Times claiming that senior staff are working to undermine him.
But wait, there’s more:
Trump drew criticism for double fist-pumping as he greeted supporters en route to a Sept. 11 memorial in Pennsylvania. He fumed at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Wednesday while defending his response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, amid replays of him tossing paper towels at storm victims during a visit to the island last year. On Thursday, he questioned the Maria death count, effectively minimizing the pain and suffering of millions of Americans with ties to the island – and undermining his own defense of his administration’s response.
Everything had gone wrong, but things can always get worse:
The president remained out of sight and off Twitter for most of Friday, focusing on hurricane warnings, as aides inside the White House retrenched, telling themselves and one another that the president was being unfairly targeted by his political opponents in every instance, according to conversations with half a dozen people close to the White House, including current and former officials.
That doesn’t mean things will get better:
“Two things motivate almost 100 percent of his behavior: self-preservation or self-aggrandizement,” said Trump biographer Tim O’Brien. “There never is a strategy because he’s not a strategic thinker.”
He’s not a strategic thinker because he’s a professional outraged and defiant victim.
That won’t serve him well this time:
Paul Manafort agreed on Friday to tell all he knows to the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, as part of a plea deal that could shape the final stages of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The deal was a surrender by Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, who had vowed for months to prove his innocence in a case stemming from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine. And it was a decisive triumph for Mr. Mueller, who now has a cooperating witness who was at the center of the Trump campaign during a crucial period in 2016 and has detailed insight into another target of federal prosecutors, the network of lobbyists and influence brokers seeking to help foreign interests in Washington.
Everything did go wrong for Trump:
Mr. Manafort’s decision, announced at a federal court hearing in Washington in which he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges, was likely to unsettle Mr. Trump, who had praised Mr. Manafort for standing up to prosecutors’ pressure and had hinted that he might pardon him.
Donald Trump is not a strategic thinker. He hardly knew this Manafort guy. This Manafort guy was only with the Trump campaign for a few days. None of this had to do with Trump anyway – and then this Manafort guy was a great guy. He wasn’t going to fold. He wasn’t going to flip. He said so. He had real courage. He’d go to jail for the rest of his life to protect Donald Trump – and that’s loyalty! What a guy!
And now he’s flipped:
In court on Friday, Mr. Manafort agreed to an open-ended arrangement that requires him to answer “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” questions about “any and all matters” the government wants to ask about.
The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, quickly sought to distance Mr. Trump from the plea deal.
“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” he said in a statement. “The reason: The president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”
Giuliani quickly cleaned that up – the words “Paul Manafort will tell the truth” were scrubbed from any further copies of the statement. They’re worried that he WILL tell the truth. They’ll have to say that what Manafort says is NOT the truth. Giuliani is not a strategic thinker either.
He needs to worry about this:
Mr. Manafort was a participant in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower that had been arranged by a Moscow lawyer who said she was delivering damaging information about Hillary Clinton on the Kremlin’s behalf. His cooperation could help Mr. Mueller establish how much, if anything, the Trump campaign knew about Russia’s efforts to boost Mr. Trump’s candidacy.
Manafort may know quite a bit:
Of all Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers, Mr. Manafort arguably had the deepest ties to Russian operatives and oligarchs. He worked for years in Ukraine with Konstantin V. Kilimnik – a Russian citizen who prosecutors have said had ties to a Russian intelligence service that continued into 2016.
He also had a business relationship with Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. At one point, Mr. Deripaska lent Mr. Manafort $10 million that prosecutors suggested was never repaid.
In July 2016, just before the Republican National Convention when Mr. Manafort was heading the Trump campaign, he sent a message to Mr. Deripaska through Mr. Kilimnik that he was ready to provide “private briefings” about the presidential race.
Manafort “was” the collusion. Trump hired him. What did Trump know and when did he know it? Manafort can explain. That’s his best option:
Mr. Manafort, 69, had insisted for a year that he would not help the special counsel’s office. But after being convicted on eight felony counts in a federal court in Virginia last month, and facing a second trial on more felony charges in federal court here, Mr. Manafort was confronted with the very real prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
Under the agreement announced on Friday, prosecutors replaced a seven-count indictment with one that charged two counts of conspiracy that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years behind bars. No sentencing date has been set for those charges or the ones he was convicted of in Northern Virginia.
Mr. Manafort also agreed to surrender most of his once-vast personal fortune including three houses and two apartments – one in Trump Tower in Manhattan.
That has to sting. A modest two-bedroom apartment in Trump Tower sells for two to five million dollars. Half of the units are sold and stand empty – they were sold to strange people for faraway countries, for cash, no questions asked – and sometimes sold at ten times the amount anyone would normally pay. Trump Tower has always been a place to park vast amounts of money from questionable sources, converting it into a wholly legitimate rather boring physical asset. These strange people from faraway countries don’t actually live in the building. Why would they? Very few actually people live there. Trump Tower is no more than a cash cow – and now the Department of Justice will own one of the units – one that they got for free. It will generate no money now. That’s the sort of thing that drives Trump crazy.
That’s the least of his worries, as Politico’s Christopher Cadelago explains here:
Trump allies, exasperated by the succession of events, said they were most concerned about the new threat to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after The New Yorker published details of claims by an unnamed woman that the judge tried to force himself on her at a party when they were both high school students, drowning out her protests by covering her mouth and turning up music.
White House aides began hearing about the allegations a week ago, according to a White House aide, but the specifics – contained in a letter sent to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein – only landed on White House counsel Don McGahn’s desk on Thursday.
Trump was briefed on the letter, and the White House made the quick decision to push back hard against the Democrats, framing the matter as a Hail Mary and purely political attack against a respected judge.
It’s not that simple:
The anonymous allegation against Kavanaugh, whose team carefully scripted his reverent approach to women – including a statement describing his respect for his mother – in anticipation of efforts to paint him as a threat to the right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade, casts a shadow over the nomination ahead of the midterm election.
Hill Republicans on Friday pushed out a letter signed by 65 women who knew Kavanaugh during his high school years attesting to his good character.
White House aides expressed hope that efforts to take down Kavanaugh would ultimately backfire amid questions about Feinstein’s handling of the allegation, and they expressed optimism that he will still be confirmed. “If this stuff was credible,” one White House official told POLITICO, “the timing renders it extremely suspect and raises serious credibility questions about the nature of the release.”
People handling the Kavanaugh hearings remained confident that the allegations – which echo last-minute harassment claims lodged decades ago by Anita Hill against Justice Clarence Thomas days before his confirmation vote – would not preclude his confirmation.
Okay, that might work, and might be beside the point:
People close to Trump were instead worried that it would be the guilty plea and cooperation agreement by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort that would do the most lasting damage. The plea deal on federal conspiracy charges in Washington, D.C., three weeks after his conviction on separate federal tax evasion and fraud charges in Virginia, open the door to a stunning betrayal by someone whom the president has considered pardoning, according to people familiar with Trump’s thinking — and signal that the Russia investigation is far from over.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the plea had nothing to do with the campaign. “It is totally unrelated,” she said.
That may be so, but no one knows that yet, and Paul Waldman lists the possibilities about what Manafort knows:
He has information about crimes, but they have nothing to do with the Trump campaign. For years, Manafort was deeply involved in a shady world of Russian oligarchs, possible Russian intelligence operatives and post-Soviet corruption. He may have information that would help prosecutors bring cases against other figures from that world, and perhaps help American intelligence officials understand it better in ways that assist American national security.
He has information about what happened in the Trump campaign, but that information doesn’t touch the president directly. There were multiple people on the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians during the campaign and who may have been entry points for a Russian attempt to develop a cooperative relationship. Those included Michael Flynn, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions. Manafort could shed more light on how those Russian contacts came about, what they amounted to and what kind of cooperation, if any, actually took place.
He has information about Trump himself. This would obviously be the most explosive possibility. So far we have no direct evidence that Trump was involved in an attempt by his campaign to coordinate with representatives of the Russian government, even though he did publicly implore Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails, which it apparently began doing that very day.
Furthermore, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with representatives of the Russian government before it happened, which he has denied. Manafort could shed light on this question, in addition to others that we may not yet have even heard of, since it’s a fair bet that Mueller is investigating some matters that have yet to be publicly revealed.
Trump should worry. His sons should worry. Things just keep getting worse and worse, which, oddly enough, may be one additional reason Trump’s base loves him. He really is a walking-talking my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all. He’s their kind of guy, the guy whose whining self-pity turns into defiant anger day after day – the guy who has no luck at all, ever. And now we’re all out of luck.