Preemptive Explanations

Something was happening. Someone was worried. The press may be the enemy of the people, but the press can be useful. It was Tuesday. It was time for preemptive explanations, so the president actually used the press:

Facing the prospect of bruising electoral defeat in congressional elections, President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he won’t accept the blame if his party loses control of the House in November, arguing his campaigning and endorsements have helped Republican candidates.

In a wide-ranging interview three weeks before Election Day, Trump told The Associated Press he senses voter enthusiasm rivaling 2016 and he expressed cautious optimism that his most loyal supporters will vote even when he is not on the ballot. He dismissed suggestions that he might take responsibility, as his predecessor did, for midterm losses or view the outcome as a referendum on his presidency.

“No, I think I’m helping people,” Trump said. “I don’t believe anybody’s ever had this kind of an impact.”

That was the preemptive explanation – if the Republicans held onto the House, he was the one who made that happen. If they lost the House, well, that was their problem. They’re losers. He isn’t. He wanted to make that clear. He wanted to make a lot of things clear:

Trump spoke on a range of subjects, defending Saudi Arabia from growing condemnation over the case of a missing journalist, accusing his longtime attorney Michael Cohen of lying under oath and flashing defiance when asked about the insult – “Horseface” – he hurled at Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who accuses him of lying about an affair.

Asked if it was appropriate to insult a woman’s appearance, Trump responded, “You can take it any way you want.”

It seems he will insult any woman’s appearance. “God, she’s ugly! Look at her!”

That’s fair game. His base loves it – even Republican woman love it when he mocks ugly or fat or stupid woman. That was preemptive explanation too. This will continue. This was a formal session to set things straight:

Throughout much of the nearly 40-minute interview, he sat, arms crossed, in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk, flanked by top aides, including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and communications director Bill Shine. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway listened from a nearby sofa.

This was the official “resolute” word, including this:

The interview came as Trump’s administration was being urged to pressure Saudi Arabia to account for the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Instead, Trump offered a defense for the U.S. ally, warning against a rush to judgment, like with what happened with his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault.

“Well, I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump said. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”

The king over there, and the crown prince, said they’d done nothing – they didn’t know a thing about any of this – and he believes them. The only concession was this:

Trump has been campaigning aggressively in a blitz of rallies aimed at firing up his base. He said he believes he’s doing his job, but allowed he has heard from some of his supporters who say they may not vote this November.

“I’m not running,” he said. “I mean, there are many people that have said to me ‘I will never ever go and vote in the midterms because you’re not running and I don’t think you like Congress.'” He added: “Well, I do like Congress.”

People had misunderstood him, but that’s okay:

If Democrats take the House and pursue impeachment or investigations – including seeking his long-hidden tax returns – Trump said he will “handle it very well.”

He left that undefined, but this was curious:

The president declared he was unconcerned about other potential threats to his presidency. He accused Cohen of lying when testifying under oath that the president coordinated on a hush-money scheme to buy Daniels’ silence. Trump on Tuesday declared the allegation “totally false.”

But he’s on tape talking about that. Oh well, things are not what they seem:

On the ongoing Russia investigation, Trump defended his son Donald Trump Jr. for a Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer offering damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump called his son a “good young guy” and said he did what any political aide would have done.

Trump again cast doubt on climate change, suggesting, incorrectly, that the scientific community was evenly split on the existence of climate change and its causes. There are “scientists on both sides of the issue,” Trump said.

“But what I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows,” Trump said.

He added: “I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

None of that is a surprise, other than that new preemptive explanation, that he has a natural instinct for science. Who knew? And the rest was what it was:

He said he has given no consideration to pardoning Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was convicted of numerous financial crimes.

He suggested that his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un would happen after next month’s midterm elections and would likely not be in the United States.

He broke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed changes to Social Security to control the deficit.

And he defended his decision to break from his predecessors and not yet visit a military base in a combat zone, claiming it was not “overly necessary.”

That last item was odd but there was this from the Military Times – Support for Trump is fading among active-duty troops, new poll shows – so staying away makes sense. They might not cheer. Forget them.

But some of this didn’t make sense:

President Donald Trump lobbed a crass insult at Stormy Daniels on Tuesday, calling the adult film star “Horseface” after a federal judge dismissed her defamation suit against him.

“Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer in the Great State of Texas,” Trump wrote in a tweet that also referred to a news article about the suit being tossed.

“She will confirm the letter she signed! She knows nothing about me, a total con!” Trump added.

He was messing with the wrong woman, a woman who tweets right back at him:

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present your president. In addition to his…umm…shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self-control on Twitter AGAIN! And perhaps a penchant for bestiality. Game on, Tiny.

And he was messing with the wrong lawyer:

Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti shot right back, calling Trump a “disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States.”

“Bring everything you have, because we are going to demonstrate to the world what a complete shyster and liar you are. How many other women did you cheat on your wife with while you had a baby at home?” the attorney tweeted.

This got ugly, but Jack Shafer can explain it all:

They’re hopelessly in love, aren’t they?

On the surface, the two have nothing in common. He was to the tax-evading manner born. She grew up the child of a single mother. But look at what the pair share. Both love publicity. Both favor the vulgar. Both regard sex as an Olympic sport, or maybe even as a form of battle – he once compared his sexual exploits to the dangers of the Vietnam War. She gets her blonde hair from a bottle. So does he. Stormy says he told her that she reminded him of his daughter Ivanka (!!!!!). And both are headstrong, lippy characters, quick to fashion their words into swords to do battle.

They were made for each other, and they both know it:

Though Stormy outwardly spurns Donald, she can’t give him up, either. She says she wasn’t attracted to him – “would you be?” – but that she was “fascinated” by him. “We had a really good banter,” she said of her night with him. “Good conversation for a couple hours. I could tell he was nice, intelligent in conversation.” All the sniping they’ve done in the press stands as a Shakespearean testament to their attraction. Her ongoing legal struggles against Trump can be read as courtship by other means…

This isn’t to argue that Donald and Stormy are perfect for each other, only that love seeks to reunite them. What would it take?

Let’s start a whispering campaign that makes Donald believe Stormy adores him and convinces Stormy that Donald fancies her so they can overcome their petty hostilities and discover their love.

That’s a thought, but this doesn’t matter much. This president likes to do the dirty with porn stars. This president, when challenged by a smart and strong woman, dismisses her by calling her ugly or fat or stupid, or all three. She’s not worth listening to. Look at her. And that’s that. And half the country loves it when he does that. None of that will change. None of that makes much difference in anyone’s life.

One of the other matters does matter more, as Steve Benen explains here:

Nearly a year ago, as the debate over Republican tax breaks for the wealthy was near its end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted that the tax cuts didn’t need to be paid for – because they’d pay for themselves.

“I not only don’t think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral,” McConnell said in December 2017. “In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap.”

Whether the GOP leader actually believed his own rhetoric is an open question, but either way, we now know the Kentucky senator’s claim was spectacularly wrong. The Republican tax breaks have, as Democrats and those familiar with arithmetic predicted, sent the nation’s budget deficit soaring.

So this had to happen:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and said he sees little chance of a major deficit reduction deal while Republicans control Congress and the White House.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. “It’s a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

Benen disagrees:

During the debate over the Republican tax package, Democrats made a fairly obvious prediction: GOP policymakers would blow a giant hole in the budget and then use the shortfall as an excuse to target social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security (often referred to as “entitlements”).

That is, of course, exactly what is happening. Larry Kudlow, the director of the Trump White House’s National Economic Council, recently said he wants to take aim at “entitlements” as early as “next year.” A few months earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he wants to see policymakers bring the budget closer to balance by cutting “entitlements.” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who currently chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, made the same argument in August.

And now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is making the identical pitch.

And then there’s this president:

The election season has ushered in a head-spinning debate over which party truly supports pillars of modern American life such as Medicare and Social Security. Donald Trump has repeatedly said, reality be damned, voters should look to Republicans as the champions of these programs.

“We’re saving Social Security; the Democrats will destroy Social Security,” the president inexplicably insisted last month. “We’re saving Medicare; the Democrats want to destroy Medicare.”

But looking past Trump’s bizarre nonsense, leading Republican officials – from the White House, the Senate, and the U.S. House – keep admitting that they’re eager to cut programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Maybe the public should believe them.

Donald Trump believes them, and decided to preempt them, or at least to disagree with them, at the moment. He may change his mind, but defending Medicare and Social Security sounded good, at the moment – but that wasn’t that big news that came out of this odd Associated Press interviews. Slate’s Fred Kaplan covers that:

America’s top diplomat has just told the world’s tyrants that they can do anything they want, even murder a prominent American resident, as long as they’re generous to President Trump.

The message was sent in the form of an official readout from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting on Tuesday with Saudi King Salman:

“The Secretary thanked the King for Saudi Arabia’s strong partnership with the United States. The Saudi and the King discussed a number of regional and bilateral issues. The Secretary also thanked the King for his commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance.”

They said they didn’t do it and that’s that:

Pompeo, you will recall, was dispatched to Riyadh to tell King Salman in no uncertain terms that he had to come clean on what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist who hasn’t been seen since Oct. 2, when he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. It is now all but certain that Khashoggi was tortured and killed.

Yet now we see – from the State Department readout and from the photos of the meeting, which show the secretary and the king shaking hands and smiling broadly – that Pompeo’s mission to Riyadh was nothing more, or less, than a visit of reassurance that everything will soon return to normal as long as the key players devise a cover story that isn’t quite 100 percent inconceivable (and 99.4 percent is good enough).

And that story seems to have been written:

It started with Trump’s remark that maybe Khashoggi was murdered by “rogue killers,” as if rogues could somehow infiltrate the Saudi Consulate. (Many on Twitter instantly wondered if these rogues were related to the 400-pound couch potato who, Trump once said, might have hacked into Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails.) Now the Saudis are putting out the word that Khashoggi was killed, but by accident, during an interrogation that went wrong. Even if one were disposed to believe this, it amounts to an admission that he was tortured – which, by itself, is nothing that a U.S. president should shrug off.

But the king and crown prince “could” be innocent, right? Kaplan doesn’t think so, and he has his reasons:

Lest people suspect Trump has personal motives for brushing this under the rug, he went out of his way Thursday morning to tweet, “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter).” Trump has always framed this denial in uncharacteristically careful language – he doesn’t have financial interests in Saudi Arabia or Russia. He has never disputed reports that the Saudis and Russians have investments in him.

At a 2015 campaign rally, Trump boasted of the Saudis, “They buy apartments from me. They spent $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!” CNN recently reported that a Saudi lobbying firm paid Trump’s hotel in Washington more than $270,000 for stays in the five-month period between October 2016 and March 2017. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago have had a rush of visitors from Saudi Arabia in recent months.

Then there is the blatant button pushing. The Saudi royals feted Trump with plush carpets, sword dances, and a major arms deal during his first visit there – which was also the first foreign trip of his presidency. The deal listed $15 billion worth of U.S. arms, not $110 billion, as Trump has claimed, and only $4 billion worth of actual contracts have been signed. Even so, it’s worth noting that one purpose of U.S. arms sales over the decades has been to bind the customer to America’s geopolitical interests – not the other way around.

Yes, Trump may have that backwards, but still Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is Brett Kavanaugh – innocent until proven guilty – and he WILL be proven innocent. Trump knows that, and Kaplan knows this:

Trump has shrugged off North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s heinous treatment of his own people, saying that he’s a “tough guy” who took over a “tough country,” and, besides, he’s written Trump “beautiful letters.” At a rally not long ago, Trump said of his relationship with the Pyongyang dictator, “We fell in love.”

Trump has also discounted the murder of Russian ex-spies, at the hands of current Russian spies, on British soil, noting that the killings didn’t take place in the United States. So much for close allies, so much for international law, so much for values of any sort that transcend a buck and a round of genuflection, however disingenuous – and so much for the notion that a secretary of state should pursue interests broader or deeper than those of the president’s all-too-malleable ego…

President George W. Bush let a planeload of Saudi citizens make a quick exit from the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when most other planes were grounded, but neither he nor Condoleezza Rice thanked them for their service on the way out.

Trump, however, has his preemptive explanation. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is Brett Kavanaugh and is innocent. He said so, forcefully. Just wait. You’ll see.

That seems absurd in this case, but William Saletan tries to explain this sort of thinking:

To understand Trump, you have to start with a distinction drawn by psychologist Thomas Gilovich in his book, How We Know What Isn’t So. Gilovich explains that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves whether, despite contrary evidence, we can believe it. When we don’t want to believe something, we ask whether, despite supporting evidence, we must believe it. Each of us sometimes cheats this way, alternating between the two standards. But Trump cheats constantly and spectacularly.

The evidence:

Consider his interview on Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes. Under interrogation by Lesley Stahl, Trump defended autocrats against every accusation. Did the Saudi government kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi? “They deny it, and deny it vehemently,” said Trump. Did Russia interfere in the 2016 election? “They meddled, but I think China meddled too,” he said, adding: “China is a bigger problem.” (Trump refused to affirm Russia’s interference when he met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.) Is Kim Jong-un denuclearizing North Korea? “I do trust him, yeah, I trust him,” said Trump.

To these dictators, Trump applies the can-believe standard: Is it possible they’re telling the truth? If so, Trump believes them. But when the conversation turns from tyrants to climate change, Trump switches to the must-believe standard. Stahl asked Trump: “What about the scientists who say it’s worse than ever?” Trump replied, “You’d have to show me the scientists, because they have a very big political agenda.”

An agenda of ecology makes your assertions suspect. An agenda of mass murder doesn’t.

That too seems absurd, but much of this is absurd:

Confronted with evidence that challenges his beliefs, Trump retreats to agnosticism. Video shows Khashoggi going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. No video shows him coming out. From the moment Khashoggi disappeared, intelligence has indicated that the Saudi government targeted him. Did they kill him? “Nobody knows yet,” Trump told Stahl. What about satellite images that show North Korea continuing to build missiles? “We don’t really know,” Trump shrugged. What about all the people who have pleaded guilty or been convicted in the Russia investigation, often for hiding contacts with Russians? “It’s a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind,” Trump insisted

And that leaves a situation where nothing is certain:

There’s always a definition or a standard of certainty that will let the president believe what he wants to.

There’s no objective way to decide which standard – can-believe or must-believe – should be applied to a particular proposition or piece of evidence. Nor does Trump’s pattern of switching between them tell us which of his beliefs are false.

But the pattern tells us a lot about Trump. It tells us that when he’s applying the can-believe standard – for example, to Putin, Kim, and the “very fine people” who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, to defend Confederate statues – those are the people Trump likes. Conversely, when he’s applying the must-believe standard – to the birthplace of America’s first black president, for instance, or to women who claim to have been sexually assaulted – those are the people Trump doesn’t like.

Still, Saletan says that this is certain:

The way a man chooses to use his brain tells you everything about his heart. Believe it.

Perhaps so, but this president took the time on a Tuesday afternoon to offer his preemptive explanation of what seems like his black and nasty heart. Whatever happened, it’s not his fault. Whatever might happen won’t be his fault. He just needed to explain that one more time.

Oh yeah? Game on, Tiny!

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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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