The Sneer of Power

Reality is difficult. In 2006, a week before the midterm elections, Karl Rove predicted “a Republican Senate and Republican House” because all the polling was wrong. The “surge” in Iraq wasn’t working and Katrina had wiped out both New Orleans and George Bush’s reputation. The math was looking bad, but Rove said he had sole access to “THE math” and the Republicans would hold both the House and Senate. The Republicans lost both. Two years later, when Jon McCain ran for president, George Bush simply disappeared. And no one was paying attention to Karl Rove. They paid attention to reality.

And some things never change:

Polls from Fox News, NBC/WSJ and MSN have shown that nearly 50% of voters want Donald Trump impeached, but the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice made it clear that he feels that those numbers are not real.

During one of the many eventful interviews on the White House lawn, Trump spoke to reporters about the polls saying, “You’re looking at the wrong polls. I have the real polls. The CNN polls are fake. The Fox polls have always been lousy. I tell them they ought to get themselves a new pollster.”

So, Donald Trump has the “real polls” no one else has seen because the press is the enemy of the people and won’t let anyone see these real polls. Do they exist? One trusts Trump or one does not:

In the polls from Fox News and NBC/WSJ at the end of October, 49% of voters said that they wanted Trump impeached and removed from office. Meanwhile, a MSN poll showed that 52% supported Senate voting to removing Trump from his presidential throne if he was impeached. MSN also revealed that 62% of the country said America isn’t doing so well and is headed in the wrong direction. On top of that, 55% aren’t too happy with Trump and the work he is doing as president.

There are more details in this breezy account but Trump says he has the real polls and this isn’t that. Reality is difficult, and much more will be revealed:

President Donald Trump said Saturday that more information would be released shortly about Alexander Vindman, the U.S. official who told Congress he was concerned that Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader threatened national security.

Vindman, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and National Security Council official, has been targeted by Trump since his Oct. 29 congressional testimony was released. Trump tweeted that day that Vindman was a “Never Trumper witness.”

Asked whether he regrets calling the Vindman a “Never Trumper,” Trump told reporters on Saturday, “Well, you’ll be seeing very soon what comes out and then you can ask the question in a different way.”

Vindman sat in on the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that spurred the House of Representatives’ impeachment investigation.

And we’re about to find out he is a child molester or something – no one knows what. Trump knows. At last he’ll reveal all – the guy is a Never Trumper – and Trump has said those people are “human scum” – as is anyone who disagrees with him. But no one knows what Trump will reveal, if anything. He may say nothing more. He’s done the damage already.

It’s a matter of keeping people guessing:

President Trump said Sunday that he will not commit to keeping the federal government open past a late-November funding deadline, raising the specter of a shutdown battle as House Democrats expand their impeachment inquiry.

Several top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), have voiced concern that Trump may seek to shut down the government to divert public attention from the impeachment battle.

Asked Sunday about those concerns, Trump told reporters outside the White House that he doesn’t think Democrats “believe that at all.” In response to another question about whether he will commit to avoiding a government shutdown, the president declined to say.

“I wouldn’t commit to anything,” Trump said. “It depends on what the negotiations are.”

In short, he’d never do such a thing, but he could and he might, if these damned Democrats keep talking about impeachment. They’d better drop that. If they don’t, he’ll sign no budget stuff of any kind that they pass and the government shuts down, and they don’t have much time:

Members of Congress face a Nov. 21 deadline by which to pass the 12 appropriations bills that keep all federal agencies funded. Lawmakers passed a short-term spending bill in September, and it appears likely that they may seek to pass a similar stopgap measure this month.

Fine, but Trump won’t sign any such thing. Drop impeachment and he might consider it, but do not mess with him:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday plans to relax rules that govern how power plants store waste from burning coal and release water containing toxic metals into nearby waterways, according to agency officials.

The proposals, which scale back two rules adopted in 2015, affect the disposal of fine powder and sludge known as coal ash, as well as contaminated water that power plants produce while burning coal. Both forms of waste can contain mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals that pose risks to human health and the environment. The new rules would allow extensions that could keep unlined coal ash waste ponds open for as long as eight additional years.

This is rather nasty:

Environmentalists have sharply criticized the proposals, arguing that these containment sites pose serious risks to the public at a time when more frequent and intense flooding, fueled in part by climate change, could destabilize them and contaminate drinking water supplies that serve millions of people. The rules will be subject to public comment for 60 days.

During the past decade, Tennessee and North Carolina have experienced major coal ash spills that have destroyed homes and contaminated rivers, resulting in sickened cleanup workers and extensive lawsuits…

Lisa Evans, an attorney specializing in hazardous waste litigation for the environmental group Earthjustice, said allowing the electric industry to extend the life of coal ash pits represents a particular threat to low-income and minority Americans, who often live near such installations…

The EPA on Monday will also revise requirements for how power plants discharge wastewater, which contains some of the same kind of contaminants.

No one thinks any of this is a good idea, but it pisses off liberals and fills his base with glee and giddiness, as does this:

The big fires that hit Southern California last week burned expensive Los Angeles homes, swept through lush agricultural land, closed the 405 Freeway and threatened a presidential library.

But they did not burn through large swaths of forests.

Nonetheless, President Trump weighed in Sunday on Twitter with a new critique of California’s forest management practices.

Gov. Gavin Newsom “has done a terrible job of forest management. I told him from the first day we met that he must ‘clean’ his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers… Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor.”

Many out here have lost everything, which also fills his base with glee and giddiness, and the war continues:

Newsom shot back with his own tweet Sunday morning: “You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation.”

In a statement later, the governor continued his defense of California and noted that Trump’s environmental policies were only making fire conditions in the state worse.

“We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change while Trump is conducting a full on assault against the antidotes,” he said.

His spokesman Jesse Melgar underscored the point: “The reality is that while California has increased fire prevention investments and fuel management projects, the federal government has slashed its funding of those same activities.”

 And this was, of course, a continuation of what Trump had said eleven months earlier with the Paradise fires up north – Hillary Clinton had won California in a landslide and since Republicans out here had become few and powerless over the years since Pete Wilson stuck it to all Hispanics and thrown away that giant voting bloc – Donald Trump decided that he was going to get his revenge against this state. Many had died, and there were tens of thousands who had lost everything, but they’d get nothing. He kept saying that the Finnish prime minster had told him they had no forest fires over there because they raked the dead leaves under the trees. California should do that!

The Finnish prime minster said he never said any such thing. Everyone out here pointed out that the fires out here didn’t involve trees. These were brush fires. The chaparral was burning. And then someone talked Donald Trump down. Sure, his base hates California and everything it stands for and everyone who lives out here, but one can be too mean. These people had lost everything. Don’t kick them in the teeth. It’s a bad look. Be the good guy now and then. No one expects that. That’ll keep people on their toes. Mix it up now and then.

So nothing came of that, until now. He couldn’t let it go. Rake up the fallen leaves under the trees, damn it! And of course it was nonsense. Everyone knew that. But they saw him sneering. The sneer was the message, the only message. And sneering is power.

That may be what the Trump presidency is all about. The New York Times team of Michael Shear, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Confessore, Karen Yourish, Larry Buchanan and Keith Collins take a deep dive into that with their massive analysis of how Trump reshaped the presidency in over eleven thousand tweets:

In the Oval Office, an annoyed President Trump ended an argument he was having with his aides. He reached into a drawer, took out his iPhone and threw it on top of the historic Resolute Desk:

“Do you want me to settle this right now?”

There was no missing Mr. Trump’s threat that day in early 2017, the aides recalled. With a tweet, he could fling a directive to the world, and there was nothing they could do about it.

That’s real power and the Times item is about how Trump “has fully integrated Twitter into the very fabric of his administration, reshaping the nature of the presidency and presidential power” for better or worse. But go with worse:

After Turkey invaded northern Syria this past month, he crafted his response not only in White House meetings but also in a series of contradictory tweets. This summer, he announced increased tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, using a tweet to deepen tensions between the two countries. And in March, Mr. Trump cast aside more than 50 years of American policy, tweeting his recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights. He openly delighted in the reaction he provoked.

“Boom. I press it,” Mr. Trump recalled months later at a White House conference attended by conservative social media personalities, “and, within two seconds, ‘We have breaking news.'”

This is absolute power with no one to contradict him on anything:

Early on, top aides wanted to restrain the president’s Twitter habit, even considering asking the company to impose a 15-minute delay on Mr. Trump’s messages. But 11,390 presidential tweets later, many administration officials and lawmakers embrace his Twitter obsession, flocking to his social media chief with suggestions. Policy meetings are hijacked when Mr. Trump gets an idea for a tweet, drawing in cabinet members and others for wordsmithing. And as a president often at war with his own bureaucracy, he deploys Twitter to break through logjams, overrule or humiliate recalcitrant advisers and pre-empt his staff.

“He needs to tweet like we need to eat,” Kellyanne Conway, his White House counselor, said in an interview.

So this is the sum and substance of his presidency:

In a presidency unlike any other, where Mr. Trump wakes to Twitter, goes to bed with it and is comforted by how much it revolves around him, the person he most often singled out for praise was himself – more than 2,000 times, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

He regularly takes to Twitter to lash out at his perceived enemies. In fact, he attacks someone or something in more than half of his tweets.

Most of these attacks occur in the early morning or later in the evening, when Mr. Trump is more likely to be without his advisers.

That’s about it, a new way to exert power:

He has taken to Twitter to demand action 1,159 times on immigration and his border wall, a top priority, and 521 times on tariffs, another key agenda item. Twitter is an instrument of his foreign policy: He has praised dictators more than a hundred times, while complaining nearly twice as much about America’s traditional allies. Twitter is the Trump administration’s de facto personnel office: The chief executive has announced the departures of more than two dozen top officials, some fired by tweet.

But mostly this is a weapon:

More than half of the president’s posts – 5,889 – have been attacks; no other category even comes close. His targets include the Russia investigation, a Federal Reserve that won’t bow to his whims, previous administrations, entire cities that are led by Democrats, and adversaries from outspoken athletes to chief executives who displease him. Like no other modern president, Mr. Trump has publicly harangued businesses to advance his political goals and silence criticism, often with talk of government intervention. Using Twitter, he threatened “Saturday Night Live” with an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission and accused Amazon, led by Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, of cheating the United States Postal Service…

Twitter is the broadcast network for Mr. Trump’s parallel political reality – the “alternative facts” he has used to spread conspiracy theories, fake information and extremist content, including material that energizes some of his base.

So this is war, but the victories can be vague:

His more than 66 million Twitter followers have become his private polling service, offering what he sees as validation for his performance in office. But less than one-fifth of his followers are voting-age Americans, according to a Times analysis of Pew Research national surveys of adults who use Twitter.

And some of those victories are losses:

With a single tweet last fall, Mr. Trump sent his administration into a tailspin. “I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught,” he wrote in October 2018, angry about a caravan of migrants from Central America. “If unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”

Mr. Trump’s aides had tried for weeks to talk him out of shutting down the border – the logistics would be impossible and the economic pain extreme. The tweet prompted an emergency meeting down the hall from the Oval Office as aides scrambled to head off Mr. Trump’s impulse, according to people familiar with the frantic scene. Like others in this article, they spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering the president.

The aides succeeded in temporarily holding him off, but the tweet crystallized for cautious bureaucrats exactly what he wanted: to stop people from coming into the country. In the months that followed, Mr. Trump’s threat helped to set off an effort inside the government to find ever more restrictive ways to block immigrants. Nearly six months later, Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, was still trying to prevent a border shutdown when the president brought her resistance to an end.

“Kirstjen Nielsen,” he tweeted, “will be leaving her position.”

That didn’t go well, but at least that woman was gone, and that will do:

This is governing in the Trump era. For President Barack Obama, a tweet about a presidential proposal might mark the conclusion of a long, deliberative process. For Mr. Trump, Twitter is often the beginning of how policy is made.

“Suddenly there’s a tweet, and everything gets upended and you spent the week trying to defend something else,” said Representative Peter King, Republican of New York. “This person thrives on chaos. What we may find disconcerting or upsetting or whatever, it is actually what keeps him going.”

And that is power:

The press secretary has not held a daily on-camera press briefing – a decades-long ritual of presidential messaging – since March. Instead, Mr. Trump’s Twitter activity drives the day.

And Mr. Trump has removed any doubt that his tweets carry the weight once reserved for more formal pronouncements.

In summer 2018, his aides repeatedly tried to reassure Republican lawmakers that the president backed their hardline immigration bill, despite his remarks suggesting otherwise. But privately, Mr. Trump told several senators that there was only one certain sign of his support.

“If I don’t tweet it,” he said, according to two former senior advisers, “don’t listen to my staff.”

And this was his stuff from the beginning:

Many of the president’s tweets promoted conspiracy theories or tried to erode faith in democratic institutions. On his sixth day in office, he advanced the false claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, depriving him of a popular-vote majority.

He has tweeted 40 times about voter fraud and a “rigged” electoral system.

Less than a month into his presidency, Mr. Trump tweeted that Democrats made up Russian interference in the 2016 election to justify Hillary Clinton’s loss. He then accused Mr. Obama of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower during the campaign.

He has since sown doubt about Russian interference and the resulting investigations in more than 1,400 tweets.

Mr. Trump has also used Twitter to attack the credibility of journalists, intelligence agencies and the judicial system. He has spoken of a nefarious “deep state” undermining his presidency, a judiciary that puts the country in “peril” and a news media that is “the enemy of the people,” a phrase historically used by autocrats.

The president also pushed unfounded claims that Big Tech is biased against conservatives (102 tweets), stoked fears that caravans of migrants were going to “invade” the United States (43 tweets), and questioned the number of people killed in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria (5 tweets). All told, Mr. Trump tweeted conspiratorial language more than 1,700 times.

And no one will stop him:

A turning point came in fall 2017, at the height of tensions with North Korea, when Mr. Trump tweeted that the rogue nation might not “be around much longer!” The country’s foreign minister called that a declaration of war. On Twitter, users wondered if the company would allow Mr. Trump to tweet his way into a nuclear conflict.

The response came the next day. Referring back to Mr. Trump’s online declaration, Twitter announced in a tweet that it took “newsworthiness” into account when evaluating whether to remove a post that violated its policies.

In an interview, Twitter executives said that newsworthiness had long figured into the company’s internal enforcement guidelines and that officials there had been formulating the announcement, which applied worldwide, months before Mr. Trump’s North Korea tweet. But former employees said they understood the announcement to be Trump-driven. Twitter did not want to be in the business of censoring the president.

So now this is our government:

Mr. Trump’s Twitter habit is most intense in the morning, when he is in the White House residence, watching Fox News, scrolling through his Twitter mentions and turning the social media platform into what one aide called the “ultimate weapon of mass dissemination.”

Of the attack tweets identified in the Times analysis, nearly half were sent between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., hours that Mr. Trump spends mostly without advisers present.

After waking early, Mr. Trump typically watches news shows recorded the previous night on his “Super TiVo,” several DVRs connected to a single remote. (The devices are set to record “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on Fox Business Network; “Hannity,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “The Story with Martha MacCallum” on Fox News; and “Anderson Cooper 360” on CNN.)

He takes in those shows, and the “Fox & Friends” morning program, then flings out comments on his iPhone. Then he watches as his tweets reverberate on cable channels and news sites…

Over all, at least 15 percent of the content in Mr. Trump’s tweets seemed to come directly from Fox News and other conservative media outlets.

And that leads to this:

Sometimes the president’s apparent fury on Twitter is meant to troll his critics and get a rise out of them, many of his closest aides said. But they still brace themselves, knowing that they are likely to be blindsided by one of his tweets. Aides who gather for the early-morning staff meetings in the West Wing said their agenda was regularly blown up when their phones simultaneously went off with a tweet from the boss.

And then things settle down:

Once Mr. Trump arrives in the West Wing – usually after 10 a.m. – Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, takes control of the Twitter account, tweeting as @realDonaldTrump from his own phone or computer. Mr. Trump rarely tweets in front of others, those close to him say, because he does not like to wear the reading glasses he needs to see the screen.

Instead, the president dictates tweets to Mr. Scavino, who sits in a closet-size room just off the Oval Office until Mr. Trump calls out “Scavino!” Often, he prints out suggested tweets in extra-large fonts for the president to sign off on.

And that’s your government at work:

After a rally in Dallas in mid-October, Mr. Trump’s aides prepared a large-type printout of tweets gushing over his speech that day, including one from Tomi Lahren, a Fox News commentator and the host of a show on the Fox Nation site. Mr. Trump scrawled a thank-you note on one copy to Ms. Lahren – who then tweeted a picture of the letter back at the president.

Aides said they often compiled positive feedback for Mr. Trump. He revels in the stream of praise from his most loyal followers, on paper or as he scrolls through his phone early in the morning and late at night. He considers his following to be like the ratings on a TV show, better than any approval poll.

Karl Rove would say all those Twitter “likes” are “THE math” that matters here. Donald Trump says he has the “real polls” – not what everyone else sees – and he’s wildly popular and the most respected man in the world and no one at all wants to impeach him. And he sneers at anyone who says otherwise, because that’s real power.

Is it? Then why do they call it Twitter? And how did this happen?

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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