The Amateur in Trouble

The History Channel has put its 2012 docudrama The Men Who Built America back in its broadcast rotation. So, once again, “Cornelius Vanderbilt grows from a steamboat entrepreneur to the head of a railroad empire, and gets into a heated rivalry with Jim Fisk and Jay Gould; the up and coming John D. Rockefeller founds Standard Oil. Many business owners lay their own rail lines which leads to the Panic of 1873. Later, Rockefeller starts to expand his wealth by diverting his business from the railroads to a new innovation, oil pipelines.”

And once again “Andrew Carnegie builds an empire around steel, but finds himself struggling to save face after the ruthless tactics of his business partner, Henry Frick, result in both the Johnstown Flood as well as the bloody 1892 strike at the Homestead Steel Works.”

And once again “J. P. Morgan proceeds to banish the dark with the direct current electric light of Thomas Edison, but the two soon face serious competition from the alternating current of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. As the 19th century comes to a close, the titans of industry must try to work together to stop a new threat in budding politician William Jennings Bryan, who threatens to dissolve monopolies in America.”

And once again “Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan team up to help elect William McKinley to the U.S. presidency by paying for his 1896 campaign, to avoid a possible attack on monopolies. However, fate intervenes when McKinley is suddenly assassinated, and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumes the presidency and promptly begins dissolving monopolies and trusts in America. Meanwhile, Morgan buys out Carnegie Steel to make Carnegie the richest man in the world, and Henry Ford designs an affordable automobile with his Model T and starts his own business, Ford Motor Company, which sets a new business model for companies to follow.”

And all of it is unwatchable – Hollywood’s latest unknown vaguely sexy young male actors chewing the scenery, hoping for a break that might lead to real roles, one day, speaking overwrought unlikely dialog created by some “expert” who had decided that this was what those rich old white guys must have been shouting at each other long ago.

That was the challenge. Make these guys sexy, and make business decisions tense and exciting and dramatic and sexy too. Pump it up. This would be a big hit.

It wasn’t – “Linda Holmes writing for NPR ridiculed the series for dull presentation, corny re-enactments and ineffective narration. She slammed the production for feeling ‘a lot like a tricked-out version of an elementary school filmstrip’ and suggested that the series might be popular among those who accepted Donald Trump as one of the experts.”

That alone explains why the History Channel put this back in its rotation, and why the American Heroes Channel brought back its parallel 2015 series American Titans:

The idea for the pieces (the birth of American capitalism) is certainly interesting, but the acting is amazingly bad. The guys who play Vanderbilt and Fisk, in particular, were as bad I have as any I ever seen on television; the worst part is that someone thought they were good enough to leave in the final product.

Who cares? This is greedy filthy-rich old white guys stabbing each other in the back and rigging elections and, on the side, without a second thought, screwing the little guy, or just killing him, and thus making America what it is today. And the greedy filthy rich old white guys are the heroes! That’s so damned cool. That’s so damned Trump. Ya gotta love it.

Americans would love to see Andrew Carnegie sneering at Henry Frick one more time, implicitly accepting the premise that this country was built by a small handful of only a very few amazingly rich heroes who were nasty and spiteful – and those are the only people who really matter in the world.

But there’s no Andrew Carnegie sneering at Henry Frick now. All we have is Donald Trump, sneering almost randomly. There seems to be no matching greedy filthy-rich old white guy there to challenge him, Carnegie to Frick, Cornelius Vanderbilt to Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, man to man.

But wait. Check with the Washington Post. There’s Michael Bloomberg:

Mike Bloomberg is lagging behind his Democratic competitors in the polls, and he will not appear on the next presidential debate stage or on the ballot in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina.

But the former New York mayor has attracted the obsessive attention of President Trump, who is annoyed by Bloomberg’s constant ads targeting him, concerned about the billionaire’s outsize spending, focused on his growing numbers in the polls and seemingly fixated on his TV appearances.

The president has repeatedly attacked Bloomberg on Twitter, calling him “Mini Mike” to insult his small stature, and frequently focused on him in conversations with campaign advisers and White House officials.

Those conversations with campaign advisers and White House officials might be tense. The ridicule and sneers and the insults and nicknames, and the devastating tweets, just aren’t working:

“It’s very clear that the ads we are running have gotten under his skin because they are effective,” said Howard Wolfson, a senior Bloomberg aide. “Mike’s poll numbers are improving, the president is screaming. Mike is a data-driven guy. When he sees data is working, he doubles down.”

Wolfson said to expect more blistering ads against the president in coming months. So far, Bloomberg’s spots have targeted Trump over impeachment, his position on vaping, his health-care-policy decisions and his relationship with the military. Many have prompted rapid responses from Trump, sometimes minutes after they air.

Trump’s advisers have repeatedly encouraged the president to focus on other opponents instead. Campaign manager Brad Parscale and senior adviser Jared Kushner have warned against giving Bloomberg more attention and do not see him as the threat that Trump does, aides have said. There is no plan for the campaign to target him with advertisements at this point, advisers said.

But forget that. Bloomberg gets to him:

Trump has repeatedly brought up Bloomberg – calling him “evil,” in the words of one close adviser – and said that he wants to destroy Trump with unrelenting money, even if the president does not believe Bloomberg can win, according to aides.

He has called Bloomberg’s ads “lies” that are unfair depictions of his record in the White House. Several advisers have said the president also references Bloomberg’s 2016 Democratic convention speech as a sore point and repeatedly asks advisers about his polling numbers, which have hovered below 10 percent in public surveys.

If so, why is Donald Trump worried? The New York Times reports on that panic:

For weeks, President Trump’s advisers have urged him to ignore Michael R. Bloomberg’s nationally televised needling, warning him that it would only help the low-polling late entrant to the Democratic presidential primary by elevating his standing.

Mr. Trump heeded the counsel for a while, according to several of his allies, even as he repeatedly expressed anxiety about Mr. Bloomberg’s spending. But as he has tuned into coverage of his Senate impeachment trial, Mr. Trump has been pricked by a deluge of television ads funded by the former New York City mayor – a far wealthier billionaire who has made clear in his public remarks that he doesn’t fear the president.

The ads have been everywhere, appearing when Mr. Trump catches up on television viewing in Washington and following him to Florida when he visits his new home state. But on Thursday morning, when the spending migrated to Mr. Trump’s favorite morning show on Fox News, Mr. Bloomberg’s aides all but spoke to the president through the television screen.

Fox News sold the open thirty-second slots to the Bloomberg campaign, and openly acknowledged that Bloomberg was running, and not a bad guy, and that messed up everything for Trump:

The show, “Fox and Friends,” aired without commentary a new ad from Mr. Bloomberg’s team that is based on reporting from a new book, “A Very Stable Genius,” describing the language Mr. Trump used to excoriate military generals during a Pentagon meeting in 2017. The ad described him as “erratic” and pointed to the “chaos” in his administration.

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign manager, Kevin Sheekey, appeared on the show to unveil the ad, saying the military is an “institution that everyone respects. I think people want our commander in chief to respect the institution, and I think he weakens the country by attacking it.”

The ad struck Mr. Trump with its focus on a topic he has often been concerned about – maintaining support among members of the military. So the president, who is notorious for reacting to what he sees on Fox News, did just that.

This called for one of those devastating attack-tweets:

“Mini Mike Bloomberg is playing poker with his foolhardy and unsuspecting Democrat rivals,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “He says that if he loses (he really means when!) in the primaries, he will spend money helping whoever the Democrat nominee is.”

He added: “By doing this, he figures, they won’t hit him as hard during his hopeless ‘presidential’ campaign. They will remain silent! The fact is, when Mini losses, he will be spending very little of his money on these ‘clowns’ because he will consider himself to be the biggest clown of them all – and he will be right!”

That wasn’t particularly coherent, which is a worry, but Trump was there to project righteous anger, and he did do that, not that it helped anything:

From Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to Brad Parscale, his campaign manager, to his polling team and other advisers, the president has been told repeatedly that Mr. Bloomberg isn’t worth his attention.

Meanwhile, even for some Democratic observers who are uncomfortable with how much money Mr. Bloomberg is flooding into the system, there is a relief in watching the candidate get into Mr. Trump’s head in a way that few have.

“Trump fears Bloomberg because Bloomberg is actually the guy who Trump played on TV – a fantastically wealthy, self-made success with unlimited resources and a willingness to spend it,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

The Trump campaign played down any worries about Mr. Bloomberg.

“It’s a free country and he can set his money on fire if he wants to,” said Tim Murtaugh, a campaign spokesman. “He’s still in a statistical tie with the back of the pack in the Democrat field.”

Trump was clear. Look how that idiot is wasting his money! That says it all! That’s all any voter needs to know!

Bloomberg, however, was in a different universe:

Guided by extensive internal polling, Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign first began directly attacking Mr. Trump with an ad on health care, accusing the president of ruining insurance for millions of Americans and undermining coverage of pre-existing conditions. The ad about pre-existing conditions immediately drew a Twitter rebuke from the president.

From health care to the environment to impeachment, the Bloomberg campaign has been running ads attacking Mr. Trump’s record nationally, particularly in key swing states. The ad about pre-existing conditions, for example, was backed by more than $1.2 million in the Orlando, Fla., market alone.

Trump was saying that it’s all about the money. That man wastes it. And that man talks about health care and the fires burning everywhere and everyday worries. Yeah, but who cares about that? He’s throwing his money away. He’s a fool, and of course that’s a matter of interpretation, because the fool knows all about the right, and about even more:

In a further tweak to Mr. Trump, the campaign is also running ads in his strongholds, such as $14 million worth of ads attacking the president in Texas. The state is also a Super Tuesday state, where Mr. Bloomberg hopes to amass delegates.

And the Bloomberg campaign confirmed that the ad about the Pentagon that set off Mr. Trump on Thursday morning would continue airing on Fox News.

Every television ad attacking Mr. Trump concludes with a contrast to Mr. Bloomberg, whose mayoral record and subsequent activism are portrayed glowingly; none of the ads are simply a takedown of the president.

That’s trouble, which the Associated Press’ Jonathan Lemire explains by stepping back a bit:

They are circling each other like wary boxers, with taunts on Twitter, snarky asides and belittling descriptions. They rose to prominence in Manhattan on parallel tracks, amassed wealth real and perceived and displayed a penchant for putting their names on things.

That’s where the similarities end. President Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg could hardly be more different as people, but now they both want the same job: Trump’s.

Bloomberg is making the case that he is many things that Trump is not: a builder of a financial data and media company that employs 20,000 people, a billionaire whose worth Forbes estimates at $60 billion, a problem-solver with a steady temperament who was elected three times as mayor of the nation’s largest city, one of the world’s leading philanthropists.

“Bloomberg is someone Trump would have liked to have been: to have invented something everyone uses, to have real wealth, to be seen as a creative person. Trump had to create an image for himself,” said George Arzt, onetime press secretary to former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Arzt knows both men professionally and personally.

He said Bloomberg is someone who likes to solve problems, someone who likes to be hands-on, even including the design of new Department of Sanitation trucks, while Trump is “basically a showman.” Arzt added that Trump always sought the limelight while Bloomberg shied away from it until he ran for mayor.

And that is the real contrast here. One of these two is a fraud. One of the two says that he’s a very stable genius, the smartest man in the room, the best president ever, for all time, the sexiest man alive and the smartest and everyone else is a damned fool, and everyone loves him, and then there’s this:

Trump, who said he once considered Bloomberg a friend, had a brutal assessment of his now-rival during a CNBC interview this week: “He’s spending a fortune. He’s making a lot of broadcasters wealthy. And he’s getting nowhere.”

That’s not quite true.

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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