Running on Resentment

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. Laugh-In 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 jokes. They weren’t supposed to. It’s almost as if they didn’t matter, and 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. Hee-Haw 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. And that war continues to this day. Save the Electoral College. Otherwise the Laugh-In crowd will take over the country. The Hee-Haw crowd would be exterminated.

Once again they’re playing victim, but they’ve always loved playing victim. If you’ve heard one my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country song you’ve heard them all, and 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.

Donald Trump rode that pony to the presidency. When whining self-pity turns to deep resentment and then white-hot anger anything is possible. Donald Trump can become president – and then what? Whining self-pity and deep resentment and white-hot anger look backward. They’re self-limiting. Donald Trump was bound to hit a wall, or several walls, and Politico reports that is just what he has done:

It was just last week that President Donald Trump and his allies euphorically celebrated what they called Trump’s exoneration after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The apparent absence of proof that Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with the Kremlin produced talk of a fresh start for Trump’s presidency ahead of the 2020 election.

But misfortune and mayhem almost immediately began piling up. Trump unleashed two new political crises – one on health care, one on the Mexican border – and then retreated on both of them. A brief lull in House Democratic oversight action ended abruptly when House investigators demanded his tax returns.

Nothing was working out and things got worse:

News reports revealed that Mueller’s soon-to-be-released findings may be far more damaging than Attorney General William Barr has publicly indicated, suggesting that the Russia scandal is hardly in the president’s rear view window.

The action reached a crescendo on Thursday when Trump backed down from days of threats to “shut down” the U.S.-Mexico border in response to what he calls an illegal immigration and drug-trafficking crisis. Facing intense opposition from congressional Republicans, business groups and his own senior aides, Trump said he would give Mexico a “one-year warning” to stop the flow of drugs into the United States.

He has said he always wins but this wasn’t that:

While Trump added a new threat to slap tariffs on cars manufactured in Mexico, he was effectively backing down for the second time in a week on an issue he had elevated. Trump overruled senior members of his administration last week and took legal action to invalidate Obamacare. Days later – again under pressure from members of his own party – he deferred any new action on health care reform until after the 2020 election, leaving fellow Republicans bewildered and fearing the political fallout over an issue that has proven toxic for the GOP.

But wait, there’s more:

Meanwhile, the White House has been responding to a seemingly nonstop parade of setbacks. On Thursday, the House approved a Senate measure cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, a plan the White House opposed. (Trump has vowed to veto the measure.)

A day before, the House released information that showed Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was denied a security clearance last year because of concerns about foreign influence, private business interests and personal conduct. The weekend arrest of a Chinese woman carrying a malware-laced device into Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, only added to the growing questions about presidential information security.

The hits kept coming, and so did the spin:

David Bossie, a Trump confidant who worked on his 2016 campaign, dismissed reports of bad news, insisting nothing has changed for Trump since Mueller’s report was concluded last month. He said mounting Democratic oversight requests are nothing new for the White House.

“They hate this president and they are trying to delegitimize him and impeach him,” he said. “Nothing’s changed.”

But the former aide, who requested anonymity to speak freely about internal West Wing dynamics, said the White House is eagerly counting down the days until Congress leaves for its two-week recess when Trump can be the only megaphone in Washington.

But that’s in the future:

Until then, the president will be saddled with problem after problem, most of them emanating from Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, House Democrats demanded six years of Trump’s tax returns from the IRS and a decade of Trump’s financial records from his accounting firm. They also green-lighted a subpoena for the full Mueller report.

The actions came amid reports that Mueller’s team was frustrated that Attorney General Bill Barr didn’t accurately portray their findings in his four-page summary released last week. Outside the White House Thursday afternoon, about 300 people, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, gathered to push for the release of Mueller’s report, one of 300 such “Nobody is Above the Law” protests that took place across the nation.

And things were going so well…

They were never going well. They will never go well. No government can run on resentment and nothing but resentment. Steven Benen sees where this is headed:

With no plan or strategy for success, the president thought it’d be a good idea to threaten to shut down the border between the United States and Mexico this week unless his demands were met.

Who, exactly, the president was threatening was a little murky. The Republican initially said Mexico had to satisfy his unspecific demands or he’d close the border. He then said Congress had to give him what he wants or he’d close the border. All of this, Trump said, would unfold over the next few days.

That is, until this morning. Neither Mexico nor Congress made any meaningful effort to meet the Republican’s demands, but Trump backed down anyway.

That went like this:

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would give Mexico one year to stop the flow of illegal drugs entering the U.S. before imposing tariffs or closing the southern border, backing down from previous warnings that a border closing was imminent.

“We’re gonna give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop, or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, in particular cars,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “And if that doesn’t work, we’re going to close the border.”

He added, “You know I will do it. I don’t play games.”

Benen rolls his eyes:

Everyone, here and around the world, knows Trump does play games. He makes threats, he thumps his chest, and he insists that we all marvel at his toughness – right before the president backs down and quietly slinks away.

It was just four days ago when White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News, in reference to Trump’s threat to close the border, “It certainly isn’t a bluff. You can take the president seriously.”

Really? How’s that quote holding up?

The same day as that interview, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said it would take “something dramatic” for Trump to back down from his threat. Four days later, nothing dramatic happened, and the president retreated anyway.

Benen notes the obvious pattern here:

If this were the first time Trump bluffed badly and lost, it would be a milder embarrassment. But this same dynamic has become a staple of his presidency.

Trump bluffed during his government shutdown. He bluffed during the fight over health care. He bluffed with North Korea. He tried bluffing with James Comey. He bluffed with China – more than once.

As a Washington Post analysis added in January, “Though the president routinely touts his abilities as a dealmaker, he often gives in when pressed…. From the war in Afghanistan to his family separation policy to threats to close the southern border, Trump will often float policy proposals with little strategy for how to implement them, and then surrender when the proposals flounder.”

The irony is, the White House goes out of its way to pretend this reality doesn’t exist. When Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran for reasons that never really made any sense, he declared, “The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.”

And the whole world shrugged. He will eventually back down, and say he didn’t back down, but he will back down.

It was a day for backing down. The Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez had the details:

Facing widespread opposition, President Trump backed down Thursday from his threat to close the southern border, instead giving Mexico a “one-year warning,” but also leaving his administration with no clear path to deal with a record surge of migrant families.

Trump had issued an ultimatum on Twitter late last week that he would move to seal the border to trade and travel if Mexican authorities did not halt illegal immigration.

The president’s pronouncement, coming amid reports that U.S. Border Patrol was at the “breaking point,” surprised White House aides and sparked fear among Republican allies and business leaders over the potentially devastating economic impact of closing the 2,000-mile border with the nation’s third-largest trading partner.

In the days after his tweet, Trump and his senior advisers issued conflicting signals about his intentions, with some aides privately expressing befuddlement over his strategy. The president offered no public details, and aides worked behind the scenes to craft a plan that would satisfy Trump but minimize the economic harm.

Those aides had a hard job, to come up with something that would assuage Donald Trump’s seething resentment and, at the same time, offer a sensible solution to the immediate problem, one which would allow all parties to calm down and work things out. And of course that was impossible. Seething resentment always wins out:

Those efforts were rendered moot Thursday when Trump, in an exchange with reporters at the White House, suddenly shifted gears, saying that if Mexico does not stem the flow of drugs and migrants into the United States within the next year, he will impose first tariffs on cars and then, possibly, close the border.

Those miserable Mexicans had better do what HE wants for a change, but then there was this:

Later in the afternoon, ahead of a trade meeting with Chinese officials, Trump praised Mexico for “doing a very good job in the last three or four days since we talked about closing the border,” even though Mexican authorities have said they have not altered their enforcement policies.

That was his usual flourish – his seething anger and seething resentment had cowed the other party into total submission to his will. They suddenly did do exactly what HE told them to do, quivering in fear and awe. And then the other party shrugs. They hadn’t changed anything. But they’re not going to argue about it. They’ll cede his fantasies to him. Those fantasies keep him happy, and they keep him quiet. Toyota will tell him they built that assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1986, because he told them last week that they had to build that plant, in the United States, right now, or else. He’ll claim victory. They’ll shrug. They’ll play along, to keep him out of their hair. Let him think that his anger and resentment can move mountains and alter time and space.

That’s harmless enough, but this isn’t:

Critics have said that Trump’s policies have failed to address the complex factors that have sparked the influx of migrant families, mostly from Central American nations, and adequately respond to the mounting humanitarian crisis. Trump this week announced that his administration would cut off some foreign aid money to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a move that analysts said could make the migration problem worse by hurting their economies.

Here his angry spasm of resentment makes matters far worse. Resentment is a lousy organizing principle for any government’s foreign policy. And that applies to closing down the entire border, because that cannot be done:

Although Trump said his threat to close the border aimed to put economic pressure on Mexico, experts said it would do little to stem the flow of migrants, many of whom cross between legal ports of entry and seek to surrender to authorities in hopes of winning asylum protections.

Here his angry spasm of resentment fixes nothing much at all, or fixes nothing really, and then there’s this:

Trump’s threats also exacerbated tensions with Mexico at a time when officials from that country have been trying to work with the administration to persuade Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal that the president announced last year.

That deal includes provisions that would spare the U.S. neighbors from new auto tariffs.

Trump wants that new treaty – NAFTA tweaked a bit and renamed – ratified right now. There will be no auto tariffs from now on – but there will be tariffs, damn it, because he’s angry.

None of this makes much sense, but Donald Trump ran for the presidency on whining self-pity and deep resentment and white-hot anger. He ran on resentment. He won on resentment. And now he has tried to govern on resentment alone. It’s all payback all the time.

That’s no way to govern. None of his looks forward and his presidency seems to have turned into one of those my-woman-left-me-and-my-dog-died country songs. If it weren’t for bad luck he’d have no luck at all. Hee-Haw is back, live from the White House!

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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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