That Fog of Doubt

Step aside for two days. Step back. Gain a bit of perspective. Pause. Things will make more sense.

Nope, that doesn’t work. Things now make even less sense:

When President Trump displayed a large map of Hurricane Dorian’s path in the Oval Office on Wednesday, it was hard to miss a black line that appeared to have been drawn to extend the storm’s possible path into the state of Alabama.

That might have been intended to bolster Mr. Trump’s claim on Sunday when he tweeted that “in addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.”

Never mind that the Alabama office of the National Weather Service quickly responded to Mr. Trump’s original claim by insisting that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

“We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama,” the office tweeted. “The system will remain too far east.”

So did Mr. Trump – who frequently uses black Sharpie pens to sign legislation – add the mark to justify his unfounded claim about the dangers faced by residents of the Cotton State?

Or did someone else in his administration clumsily modify the map so that it would appear to back up the president?

No one knew. No one cared. This was stupid stuff, but this was an extension of a twitter feud Trump had been in with an ABC reporter who had first pointed out that there had been no reports at all that Alabama had ever been in the path of this hurricane, not ever. Trump had shot back in ALL CAPS his rants about FAKE NEWS and how everyone in the dishonest treasonous press treated him unfairly and something had to be done about that. And again, no one cared. Trump gets into these virtual screaming matches all the time and nothing comes of them. He is who he is. His base loves this. Everyone else shrugs.

But this is a man who will let nothing go:

Asked about the marking on the map, Mr. Trump told reporters that he did not know how it got there. “I don’t know,” he said on Wednesday while insisting that his assertion about the dangers that Alabama faced had been right all along.

“We had many models, each line being a model, and they were going directly through. And in all cases, Alabama was hit, if not lightly, then in some cases, pretty hard,” Mr. Trump said.

“They actually gave that a 95 percent chance probability,” he said. “It turned out that that was not what happened. It made the right turn up the coast. But Alabama was going to be hit very hard, along with Georgia. But under the current, they won’t be.”

The president did not say where he got that information, which is directly contradicted by days of reports from the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, neither of which publicly reported any threat to Alabama from the hurricane.

Yeah, he pulled that “95 percent chance probability” out of his ass. He’s the president. No one will check him. They wouldn’t dare, but it seems he had second thoughts:

Later in the day, Mr. Trump tweeted a map from the South Florida Water Management District that he said supported his contention that Dorian heading for Alabama.

“This was the originally projected path of the Hurricane in its early stages,” he said. “As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida also hitting Georgia and Alabama. I accept the Fake News apologies!”

However, the map came with a warning that information from the National Hurricane Center and local emergency officials superseded it: “If anything on this graphic causes confusion, ignore the entire product.”

His one source, his only source, the obscure South Florida Water Management District, had said that they were kind of making this up, and the Washington Post’s Philip Bump adds this:

Any other president – or, really, nearly any other person – might have simply admitted a mistake in the original tweet and deleted it. Trump can’t do that: Admitting one error means admitting that more might exist out there. Trump’s strategy, mirrored by his allies, is generally to insist that he’s never wrong and has never done the negative things of which he stands accused, whipping up a fog of doubt around everything he does, however minor.

So there can be no errors. Those are impossible, but that leads to some dark places:

President Donald Trump wanted to double tariff rates on Chinese goods last month after Beijing’s latest retaliation in a boiling trade war before settling on a smaller increase, three sources told CNBC.

The president was outraged after he learned Aug. 23 that China had formalized plans to slap duties on $75 billion in U.S. products in response to new tariffs from Washington on Sept. 1. His initial reaction, communicated to aides on a White House trade call held that day, was to suggest doubling existing tariffs, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer then enlisted multiple CEOs to call the president and warn him about the impact such a move would have on the stock market and the economy.

Trump was angry. The Chinese have no right at all to impose their tariffs in response to our tariffs! He was right! They were wrong! Mnuchin and Lighthizer knew there was no point in their arguing with him. They called in CEO after CEO to talk him down – but not to say he was wrong. They had to tell him if he doubled his existing tariffs the markets would crash, and he didn’t want that. He was right. But he didn’t want that. And he calmed down:

He settled on a 5% hike in tariff rates on about $550 billion in Chinese products, which he announced in an Aug. 23 tweet after the market close.

And the next day the Dow dropped eight hundred points. Oops. He’ll never listen to any CEO again, and there was this:

The news that Trump wanted to go nuclear on China comes days after aides confirmed that the president was lying about Chinese negotiators calling his “top trade people” and saying they wanted to “get back to the table.”

There he lied to move the markets, which were up a bit for a few hours, until it became clear that he had been lying all along. But it had been a sweet little bounce for a few hours. But these things never last:

President Trump said on Tuesday that Chinese manufacturing would “crumble” if the country did not agree to the United States’ trade terms, as newly released data showed his trade war was washing back to American shores and hurting the factories that the president has aimed to protect.

Days after new tariffs went into effect on both sides of the Pacific a closely watched index of American manufacturing activity fell to 49.1 from 51.2, signaling a contraction in United States factory activity for the first time since 2016. The companies responding to the Institute for Supply Management survey, which the index is based on, cited shrinking export orders as a result of the trade dispute, as well as the challenge of moving supply chains out of China to avoid the tariffs.

No angry tweet is going to fix that, and Politico sees this:

President Donald Trump is staring down a series of trigger points that will determine whether he enters the 2020 campaign backed by his most valuable asset – a healthy U.S. economy – or empty-handed and further on the defensive.

The White House faces a time crunch on several major policy fronts this fall. The president will need to appease farmers and factory workers about his ongoing trade standoff with China, in which he shows no sign of backing down. His administration is trying to cajole the Democratic-controlled House to approve a renegotiated trade deal covering the U.S., Mexico and Canada. And the Trump team must find a way to calm Wall Street to prevent investors from denting one of his proudest achievements – a surge in the stock market since his election.

More than at any point in his presidency, Trump’s biggest asset looks like it could become a liability.

He may be losing it all, and that calls for the appropriate metaphor:

“The state of the economy is the single biggest factor in determining whether the president is reelected, and right now, it feels like they are riding a rubber ducky into alligator-infested waters,” said Michael Steel, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and former top aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

That vivid image will generate a political cartoon or two, and maybe a t-shirt and poster, but this is serious:

Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi said the U.S. will fall into a recession if the president keeps escalating the trade standoff with China, including another round of tariff hikes in December. “The president has until the end of the year to turn it around with China,” Zandi said.

The president and the White House are on the offensive to fend off any growing narrative about a potential recession – blaming worrying economic data points on the media, Democrats and the Federal Reserve.

But this may be the real problem:

Current and former administration officials acknowledge the ultimate fate of the tariffs against China lie solely with the president, who has not been swayed by the pleas of business leaders, or even his own advisers, to cut a deal with China.

A former senior White House official said Trump does not view a protracted trade war with China – even if it means reduced manufacturing and another summer of farmers slammed by retaliatory tariffs – as a political negative.

What? Something is wrong here:

“Frankly I don’t think he really understands any of this,” the former official said of the economic impact of the trade fights. “The manufacturing slowdown, the lack of corporate investment, what’s happening to confidence – all of this was totally predictable based on what he’s done. But he sees it as a political advantage, that he can tell people he got tough on China and needs to finish the job.”

The official added that there are few senior advisers left in the White House who will push back strongly on Trump’s pugnacious approach to trade. “The sad reality is that in the first 1,000 days of his presidency he managed to get rid of everybody who would tell him the truth or anything he didn’t want to hear.”

No wonder there’s a fog of doubt around everything. Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker reported on that, framing all of this as a lost summer:

When President Trump presided over the battle tanks and fighter jets, the fireworks and adoring fans on July 4, he couldn’t have known that the militaristic “Salute to America” – as well as to himself – would end up as the apparent pinnacle of the season.

What followed was what some Trump advisers and allies characterize as a lost summer defined by self-inflicted controversies and squandered opportunities. Trump leveled racist attacks against four congresswomen of color dubbed “the Squad.” He derided the majority-black city of Baltimore as “rat and rodent infested.” His anti-immigrant rhetoric was echoed in a missive that authorities believe a mass shooting suspect posted. His visits to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso after the gun massacres in those cities served to divide rather than heal.

Trump’s economy also began to falter, with the markets ping-ponging based on the president’s erratic behavior. His trade war with China grew more acrimonious. His whipsaw diplomacy at the Group of Seven summit left allies uncertain about American leadership. The president returned from his visit to France in a sour mood, frustrated by what he felt was unfairly negative news coverage of his trip.

The man had a bad summer. These things happen. But this is a matter of perspective:

The two months between Independence Day and Labor Day offered a fresh and vivid portrait of the president as seen by Trump’s critics – incompetent, indecisive, intolerant and ineffective.

White House officials promote the summer of 2019 as one of historic achievement for Trump, offering up a list of more than two dozen accomplishments. But privately, many of the president’s advisers and outside allies bemoan what they consider to be a period of missed opportunity and self-sabotage.

No, there were no two ways of looking at this:

A Republican operative in frequent touch with the White House described the mood from the “staff guys and gals” as one of weariness. “Exhaustion, fatigue, wake us when it’s over,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to summarize the sentiment of private conversations. “They’re just tired.”

Yeah, well, everyone is tired, and the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser knows why:

President Trump ended August as he began it, with a blast of angry tweets, ad-hominem insults, and bizarre fulminations that have become so standard that they no longer receive the attention they deserve – emanating, as they do, from the world’s most powerful leader.

In between retweeting hurricane-preparation warnings, Trump spent the final day of the month attacking the “Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa” Manigault, his former adviser, who wrote a tell-all book about her short time in the Administration; the “Crooked Cop” James Comey, the former FBI director, whom he fired; and the “even dumber” former CIA director John Brennan. He bragged about low Labor Day gas prices, although they were actually lower on the Labor Day before he became President. He congratulated his friend Sean Hannity for the ratings on his Fox News “shoe.” A day earlier, he had tweeted what appeared to be a classified image from his intelligence briefing of “a catastrophic accident” at an Iranian missile-launch site, a Presidential leak of secret information on social media that would have been, needless to say, unthinkable in another Presidency.

All of this took place when Trump was supposed to be in Poland, for a somber commemoration of the beginning of the Second World War. He cancelled the trip, however, citing the need to monitor the progress of Hurricane Dorian, which was threatening Florida. Instead, he watched Fox News; tweeted nearly two dozen times before noon on Saturday, August 31st; and then motorcaded to a Trump-branded golf course for his two hundred and twenty-sixth day on the links at one of his own properties since becoming President.

The Poland trip wasn’t even the first foreign visit that Trump cancelled last month. He was supposed to have gone to Denmark earlier in August, but he refused, in a fit of pique, after the Danish government mocked his efforts to buy Greenland – which was, of course, another Oval Office antic that, had it occurred a few years ago, no one would have believed.

And all of this adds up:

Trump not only makes us believe it now but, as we approach the three-year mark of his upset victory, in 2016, his project has succeeded in such a confounding way that it seems as though Americans will now believe anything – and nothing at all.

But they might consider that the guy is barking mad:

If it seems as if Trump is wackier, angrier, more willing to lash out, and more desperately seeking attention, that is because he is. This, at least, is my conclusion after reviewing his Twitter feed from the past month, along with his public statements, remarks to the press, speeches, and rallies. To revisit a month in the life of this President was exhausting, a dark journey to a nasty and contentious place. And, while Trump’s performance raised many questions that we can’t answer about just what is going on in his head, it was also revelatory: the thirty-one days of August, 2019, turn out to be an extraordinary catalogue of Trump’s in-our-faces meltdown.

Glasser then chronicles that, in detail, but she also notes this:

The Trump of two years ago was different – to a degree. He was provocative and insulting and fact-challenged, of course, but to a much lesser extent than he is today. Then and now, he was boastful and braggadocious. He picked fights. But there was much less of that behavior over all – the Trump Twitter archive records two hundred and eighty-seven Trump tweets and retweets in August, 2017, compared to six hundred and eighty in August, 2019 – and the volume seems to have been turned up along with the frequency. Today’s Trump is not just more prone to misspeaking and stumbling, he is also more overtly confrontational more of the time, more immersed in a daily cycle of Presidential punditry, and more casually incendiary with his words and sentiments.

This is deterioration:

Like his insults, Trump’s praise has become more flamboyant, and the list of those whom he Twitter-flattered this August included populist nationalists, such as India’s Narendra Modi and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro; the “great leader” and “good man” Xi Jinping, of China; and the shambolic and duplicitous new pro-Brexit British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

The naïveté of his praise is sometimes as alarming as the vitriol of his hatred. On August 15th, with fears rising of a Chinese crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong, Trump tweeted, “If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!”

On August 10th, he revealed a letter from Kim Jong Un in which the North Korean dictator “very nicely” asked for a meeting while offering a “small apology” for his latest missile tests and claimed that the tests would end when U.S.-South Korean military exercises did. (They did not.)

It seems that the man is losing it:

We’re barely forty-eight hours into September, and the President has already claimed that he’s never heard of a Category 5 hurricane; got into a public spat with the star of the sitcom “Will & Grace”; congratulated Poland on the anniversary of the Nazi invasion, in 1939; and played more golf at a Trump resort.

But he may not be losing it. Jonathan Allen suggests that Trump has a master plan:

The most powerful man in the world prefers to portray himself as a martyr. President Donald Trump says he’s been beset on all sides by sinister forces that are oppressing him and depriving him of the authority he needs to deliver on his vision for America.

That might work, but not if anyone thinks about what he’s saying:

Often, the villains in his narratives work for him.

First, it was the CIA and the FBI, then Democrats, members of his Cabinet and Robert Mueller. Lately, his enemies list includes his hand-picked Federal Reserve chairman, Jay Powell, and Fox News. The cable network “isn’t working for us anymore,” Trump declared in a tweet last week, a few days after calling Powell an “enemy” of the United States.

Trump’s persecution complex is an essential part of his brand – one that resonates deeply with a political base that believes anti-Trump liberals run the federal government and the news media. But as he seeks re-election in 2020, Trump is banking heavily on his ability to blend it into a coherent narrative with a version of his presidency, in which he’s been a commanding force, steamrolling adversaries to get things done.

“This election is not merely a verdict on the amazing progress we’ve made,” Trump said when he kicked off his re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida, in June. “It’s a verdict on the un-American conduct of those who tried to undermine our great democracy, and undermine you.”

And many of those “who tried to undermine our great democracy and undermine you” were appointed by him and still work for him, which makes no sense at all:

“Playing the victim card in politics is pretty tough when you’re president of the United States,” said Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist and message-testing expert who has worked on presidential campaigns. “You can’t have it both ways. You either have control over the destiny of the country or you don’t. I think it’s that simple.”

The Washington Trump is running against, critics note, is filled with people he appointed to run agencies that are under his control. The Senate has been in Republican hands throughout his presidency. And the Supreme Court has a conservative majority featuring two justices he appointed.

And he wants his base to hate those people, and by implication, to hate him too? That makes no sense, but nothing makes sense now:

To the extent he’s been frustrated by what he calls “the swamp,” it has arguably been as much a result of his inability to get people in his own administration and in his own party to go along with policies that sometimes cross the border of seriousness – like nuking hurricanes – as it has been from an opposition Democratic Party that has held very little formal power since he swept into office in January 2017.

Yes, the Democrats aren’t his problem. Democrats are generally useless anyway. It’s him, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, his detachment from the job:

President Trump’s daily Twitter feed in recent weeks has been a torrent of personal attacks, news commentary, weather reports, unfounded claims and congratulatory notes. But when it comes to his day job, the American people have seen little of him.

This week, aside from daily intelligence briefings and private lunches with Cabinet members, Trump has only one event on his public schedule – on Thursday he will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Lakers legend and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West.

Last week, Trump also held just one public event – a Rose Garden ceremony to authorize creation of the U.S. Space Command, a reshuffling of military responsibilities for space operations.

Something is up:

Barbara Res, a longtime Trump Organization executive, said Trump appears less active now than when she managed construction projects for him in the 1980s and 1990s.

“He’s working less. He seems to care less about his job now than he did back when I was working for him,” Res said. “Maybe it’s because he has more confidence or a greater sense of power sitting in the Oval Office. He thinks he can say and do anything now, or not do anything.”

She added, “It looks like he’s not even trying, but he thinks he’s trying. To him, all the watching TV and tweeting is work, so he believes he’s on the clock 24-7, 365.”

Maybe he just misunderstands the job. Whipping up a fog of doubt around everything he does is not the job.

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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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1 Response to That Fog of Doubt

  1. Rick Brown says:

    So in the original “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story, nobody in the empire had the guts to tell him he’s naked, but in our version — that is, the one the planet is being forced to endure presently — EVERYONE is telling him what he needs to hear, but he just refuses to hear us!

    And so what’s the moral of this version?

    The lesson here is, President Fruitcake — who not only imagined someone told him Dorian would probably hit Alabama, but is now imagining that he heard the so-called “fake” news media apologize for doubting his word! — is even more delusional than we originally thought! Maybe someone should start dusting off those “25th Amendment Remedies”.

    Have you noticed that just about everything everyone has been observing lately about Trump only serves as evidence that he’s suffering from some mental disorder? For example, those words of Barbara Res: “To him, all the watching TV and tweeting is work, so he believes he’s on the clock 24-7, 365.”

    Do totally bonkers people even know they’re bonkers?

    He seems to never be in touch with reality. He seems to act on the assumption that there is no actual reality until he himself creates it, such as the whole business that all the experts were 95% sure the hurricane would hit Alabama. Doesn’t he realize that this sort of thing can be checked out? No, he doesn’t, because in his mind, all that’s needed is for him to say all these people were saying this back then, and Presto! They were saying it!

    No joke, this guy is seriously ill!

    But you know, his mental health notwithstanding (I don’t like the idea of picking on mentally ill people), I might be persuaded to favor the nuking of those hurricanes, but only if it could be guaranteed that Trump himself would be personally hand-delivering the bombs.

    And as for the great stock market that Trump is riding to victory in 2020?

    I’m surprised that nobody’s talking about today’s economy as being a huge bubble, kept afloat by speculators who are misplacing their faith all these Trump-supporting Tinkerbells who naively believe, for example, that coal is coming back, and so is manufacturing, and that Donald Trump, being a highly experienced businessman, not to mention a “stable genius”, will WIN the trade war he’s waging on the rest of the planet!!

    Our fate, once again, totally depends on the Wall Street Bubble People! We’d like to think they don’t know what they’re doing, but they do! The Bubble People only pretend to be ignorant of the fact that they’re invested in a bubble that will sooner or later burst. In truth, they are only gambling that they’ll know how to time it so they can sell out before the high prices come tumbling down.

    As for me? It’s the same thing! I’m just hoping that our financial guy, the man in whose hands my family’s investments are trusted, will know what to do once that long-overdue Apocalypse finally comes to town.

    Rick

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