Not Fading Away

Last year, when there were movies, and movie theaters, and those Oscars handed out here in Hollywood, and that Korean movie won Best Picture, Donald Trump was firing up his base:

The audience booed when Trump mentioned the Academy Awards and then cheered when he said: “Can we get like ‘Gone with the Wind’ back please? ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ so many great movies!”

This was just a throwaway line. Hate those foreigners and hate Hollywood, and hate subtitles – the usual – but some noticed that first movie was about the heroic Old South and how the slaves down there loved their masters, and their masters were kind to them – they were almost family. Trump’s mostly white base needed to be reminded of that. Slavery wasn’t all the bad. MGM proved that. But that other movie was an odd choice. That was a movie about a delusional old women who didn’t realize she was no longer a lithe and nubile young movie star. She had no idea that was all over long ago.

Consider that famous final scene in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) – William Holden is Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter, and Gloria Swanson is Norma Desmond, a former silent-film star who draws him into her manic fantasy world, where she dreams of making a triumphant return to the screen. Erich von Stroheim plays Max von Mayerling – he’s her despairing devoted butler – and there’s been trouble. In that last scene the house is filled with police and reporters. Norma, having lost touch with reality, believes the newsreel cameras are there to film her as Salome in a movie she imagines is being made right there.

Max and the police play along. Max sets up a scene for her and calls, “Action!” As the cameras roll, Norma dramatically descends her grand staircase. She pauses and makes an impromptu speech about how happy she is to be making a film again, ending with, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” as she steps toward the camera. Max isn’t Cecil B. DeMille. And she’s quite mad.

The framing is important. Her face fills the frame as she steps toward the camera, closer and closer, finally right there in high-resolution extreme close-up – every hair and every pore. She’s suddenly utterly horrible. Billy Wilder didn’t like what Hollywood did to people. And if, as they say, Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, Washington has turned Donald Trump into Norma Desmond, and has turned Mar-a-Lago into that crumbling old mansion here on Sunset:

Many once-loyal members of Mar-a-Lago are leaving because they no longer want to have any connection to former President Donald Trump, according to the author of the definitive book about the resort.

“It’s a very dispirited place,” Laurence Leamer, historian and author of “Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace,” told MSNBC host Alex Witt on “Weekends with Alex Witt” Saturday. He said members are “not concerned about politics and they said the food is no good.”

Trump likes well-done steaks smothered in ketchup with a Diet Coke on the side. They just noticed that, but this is really about an unpleasant man who just became irrelevant:

Leamer said he spoke to a number of former members who “silently walked out” after Trump left office. Trump moved to the Palm Beach, Florida, estate after his term ended last week. But without the cachet of the sitting president of the United States working at the estate, guests are finding Mar-a-Lago lost a step. There isn’t any entertainment on the property during the pandemic, and Leamer added, “It’s a sad place… it’s not what it was.”

Now it’s a place where Trump will sit quietly and talk about what a big star he still is, if anyone even cares anymore:

Mar-a-Lago has long been ridiculed by critics as a stodgy, stuffy club filled with Trump memorabilia – some of it fake. Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel on Friday recounted a visit to the resort just before Trump became president.

“You could not possibly exaggerate how comical it is,” Kimmel said on The Ringer’s “The Bill Simmons Podcast.” “Everyone there is 100 years old.”

Kimmel told Simmons he went to the resort about six years ago to have dinner with Howard Stern, who lived near the property at the time. He described the Mar-a-Lago attendees as “hunched-over people who are eating soft food” and he said the place is covered in Trump photos.

“It was just quiet and a terrible place,” Kimmel said. “And now he lives in this terrible place.”

He might as well be Norma Desmond now, but that’s not him:

Former president Donald Trump threw himself back into politics this weekend by publicly endorsing a devoted and divisive acolyte in Arizona who has embraced his false election conspiracy theories and entertained the creation of a new “MAGA Party.”

In a recorded phone call, Trump offered his “complete and total endorsement” for another term for Arizona state party chairwoman Kelli Ward, a lightning rod who has sparred with the state’s Republican governor, been condemned by the business community and overseen a recent flight in party registrations. She narrowly won reelection, by a margin of 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent, marking Trump’s first victory in a promised battle to maintain political relevance and influence after losing the 2020 election.

Everyone hates Kelli Ward. Trump loves her. It’s all part of the plan:

In recent weeks, Trump has entertained the idea of creating a third party, called the Patriot Party, and instructed his aides to prepare election challenges to lawmakers who crossed him in the final weeks in office, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), according to people familiar with the plans.

Multiple people in Trump’s orbit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, say Trump has told people that the third-party threat gives him leverage to prevent Republican senators from voting to convict him during the Senate impeachment trial.

That’s the plan. Let every Republican senator know that a vote to convict him ends their career. He is NOT irrelevant!

No, he’s quite dangerous:

Former President Donald Trump’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial poses a security concern that federal law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week requires as many as 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in Washington through mid-March, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The contingency force will help protect the Capitol from what was described as “impeachment security concerns,” including the possibility of mass demonstrations coinciding with the Senate’s trial, which is slated to begin the week of Feb. 8.

They might storm the Capitol again and win this time, or at lest kill a bunch of government folks, before they themselves are killed. But the National Guard troops have other issues:

Despite the threat, the citizen soldiers on the ground say they have been given little information about the extension and wonder why they are being forced to endure combat-like conditions in the nation’s capital without a clear mission.

“Quite frankly this is not a ‘combat zone,’ so combat conditions shouldn’t apply,” said one Guard member on the ground in D.C. who has deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Several National Guard units have seen their deployments extended involuntarily, though a majority of Guardsmen remaining in Washington will do so on a volunteer basis. Around 7,000 troops will continue to provide riot security through the beginning of February, with that number decreasing slightly to 5,000 by the time Trump’s impeachment trial begins.

“We are not going to allow any surprises again,” said one Guard member, referring to the widespread lack of preparedness for the insurrection on Jan. 6.

So they have to prepare for this:

There is also some concern over potential unrest surrounding March 4, the date some QAnon conspiracy theorists believe Trump will be inaugurated for the second time.

That is a worry, and the Associated Press has more:

Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.

The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump’s trial, the official said.

The insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob prompted federal officials to rethink security in and around its landmarks, resulting in an unprecedented lockdown for Biden’s inauguration. Though the event went off without any problems and armed protests around the country did not materialize, the threats to lawmakers ahead of Trump’s trial exemplified the continued potential for danger.

Law enforcement officials are already starting to plan for the possibility of armed protesters returning to the nation’s capital when Trump’s Senate trial on a charge of inciting a violent insurrection begins the week of Feb. 8.

And assassinations are a worry, contract assassinations:

At least five people facing federal charges have suggested they believed they were taking orders from Trump when they marched on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 to challenge the certification of Biden’s election victory. But now those comments, captured in interviews with reporters and federal agents, are likely to take center stage as Democrats lay out their case.

More than 130 people have been charged by federal prosecutors for their roles in the riot. In recent weeks, others have been arrested after posting threats against members of Congress.

They include a Proud Boys supporter who authorities said threatened to deploy “three cars full of armed patriots” to Washington, threatened harm against Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and who is accused of stockpiling military-style combat knives and more than 1,000 rifle rounds in his New York home. A Texas man was arrested this week for taking part in the riot at the Capitol and for posting violent threats, including a call to assassinate Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY.

Were they taking orders from Trump? That may not matter:

At least four governors say they’re ordering National Guard troops out of Washington, D.C., after thousands of Guardsmen were sent from the U.S. Capitol outdoors or to parking garages earlier this week.

Republican governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Greg Gianforte of Montana all now have said they’re calling Guard members from their states home…

DeSantis called the deployment a “half-cocked mission at this point” and said it was time to bring the Guardsmen home.

“These folks are soldiers,” DeSantis said on Fox News on Friday morning. “They’re not Nancy Pelosi’s servants…”

She doesn’t need them. No one needs them. Things are just fine, but the Washington Post’s assessment of the situation suggests otherwise:

Democratic members of Congress are pressing ahead with preparations for the second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, saying there is a “compelling” case for Trump to be convicted of inciting an insurrection and arguing that moving forward with a trial is imperative for the country’s healing.

Meanwhile, the fractures within the Republican Party were evident Sunday as GOP senators appeared split over whether it was constitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a president who had already left office. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of Trump’s most outspoken GOP critics, stopped short of saying he would vote to convict Trump, while Republican allies of the former president continued to argue that an impeachment trial should be abandoned for the sake of “unity.”

Members of the Republican National Committee also were in a heated debate over the weekend on how to respond to impeachment – and how fiercely to defend Trump, who maintains support among a majority of the 168 committee members, party officials and members said.

In short, this is a mess:

House impeachment managers are planning to send an article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, alleging “incitement of insurrection” after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a violent riot that left a Capitol Police officer and four others dead. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that the second impeachment trial will start Feb. 9 after reaching a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that will allow the Senate to focus on President Biden’s agenda and also for Trump to put together a defense.

When asked whether the trial’s two-week delay would cost Democrats the little Republican support they had for impeachment, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) balked and said the events of Jan. 6 went far beyond the many other norms Trump had broken in office.

“I can’t imagine how Republican opposition to insurrection would fade over the space of a couple of weeks,” Warren said on CNN’s “Inside Politics” on Sunday. “We’re talking about a president who stood in front of a mob and told them to go to the Capitol and invade, told them to go to the Capitol and stop the lawful business of government so that he could try to stay in the White House. That is so fundamentally wrong. We need accountability, accountability for Donald Trump and accountability for everyone who participated in that insurrection.”

And then there’s Mitt:

Romney, who clashed frequently with Trump, said there was a “preponderance” of legal opinions that supported moving forward with a trial even though Trump’s term is finished. He said he hoped the impeachment process would be over quickly.

Romney did not say whether he would vote to convict Trump, but he did say “there’s no question” that the article prepared by the House suggests impeachable conduct. He said he wanted to hear the president’s defense before deciding.

“It is pretty clear that over the last year, there has been an effort to corrupt the election in the United States, and it was not by President Biden, it was by President Trump,” Romney told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

Or it wasn’t won by Biden:

Later on the same show, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called a second impeachment trial of Trump “stupid” and “bad for America.” On ABC’s “This Week,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) refused to say outright that the election was not stolen, echoing a number of other Republicans who have called for unity but refused to acknowledge that Biden won fairly, thereby perpetuating the falsehood that fueled the Capitol riots.

Or none of this matters:

On “Meet the Press,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said whether Trump had committed an impeachable offense was a “moot point” because he is no longer president. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has argued that holding a trial after the president left office is beyond the Senate’s constitutional authority, said on Fox News that “the more I talk to other Republican senators, the more they’re beginning to line up behind the position I announced a couple weeks ago.” He did not specify which senators.

And then there’s the Republican National Committee:

RNC member Demetra DeMonte of Illinois sent a mass email to dozens of RNC members praising Trump and urging the RNC chairwoman and others to embrace a resolution she drafted opposing impeachment.

In a recent interview, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told The Washington Post she opposed impeaching Trump. McDaniel declined to comment on the resolution.

But Bill Palatucci, a committee member from New Jersey and a close ally of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, responded to the email, opposing the resolution. He said there was a constitutional argument that a trial could go forward.

“The RNC can best contribute to that healing process by acknowledging the role former president Trump played in the insurrection, condemn it and promise that we will do our best to make sure it never happens again,” Palatucci wrote.

That’s a thought, but on the other side there was this:

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), one of the House’s nine impeachment managers who essentially will serve as prosecutors during the Senate trial, said Sunday that the fact that 10 GOP House members voted for impeachment gave her hope that an increasing number of Republican senators will come to the same view.

“Ten was an historically high number,” Dean said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I find that to be heartening.”

Dean declined to say whether the allegations against Trump will be expanded to include recent revelations that he may have tried to do more to overturn the election results, including having considered ousting the acting attorney general to install a Justice Department official sympathetic to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

“I think you will see that we will put together a case that is so compelling because the facts and the law reveal what this president did,” Dean said.

That’s hard to hide. Trump is not irrelevant quite yet. The New York Times’ Katrin Bennhold is their Berlin bureau chief. Michael Schwirtz is their investigative reporter based at the United Nations. The two of them put Trump in the middle of this:

When insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in Washington this month, far-right extremists across the Atlantic cheered. Jürgen Elsässer, the editor of Germany’s most prominent far-right magazine, was watching live from his couch.

“We were following it like a soccer match,” he said.

Four months earlier, Mr. Elsässer had attended a march in Berlin, where a breakaway mob of far-right protesters tried — and failed — to force their way into the building that houses Germany’s Parliament. The parallel was not lost on him.

“The fact that they actually made it inside raised hopes that there is a plan,” he said. “It was clear that this was something bigger.”

He should know:

Adherents of racist far-right movements around the world share more than a common cause. German extremists have traveled to the United States for sniper competitions. American neo-Nazis have visited counterparts in Europe. Militants from different countries bond in training camps from Russia and Ukraine to South Africa.

For years far-right extremists traded ideology and inspiration on societies’ fringes and in the deepest realms of the internet.

And now the Capitol attack here has made that clear:

In chatter on their online networks, many disavowed the storming of the Capitol as amateurish bungling. Some echoed falsehoods emanating from QAnon-affiliated channels in the United States claiming that the riot had been staged by the left to justify a clampdown on supporters of President Donald J. Trump. But many others saw it as a teaching moment – about how to move forward and pursue their goal of overturning democratic governments in more concerted and concrete ways.

It is a threat that intelligence officials, especially in Germany, take seriously. So much so that immediately after the violence in the United States, the German authorities tightened security around the Parliament building in Berlin, where far-right protesters – waving many of the same flags and symbols as the rioters in Washington – had tried to force their way in on Aug. 29.

It seems that Trump is relevant over there:

For now, no concrete plans for attacks have been detected in Germany, officials said. But some worry that the fallout from the events of Jan. 6 have the potential to further radicalize far-right extremists in Europe.

“Far-right extremists, corona skeptics and neo-Nazis are feeling restless,” said Stephan Kramer, the head of domestic intelligence for the eastern German state of Thuringia. There is a dangerous mix of elation that the rioters made it as far as they did and frustration that it didn’t lead to a civil war or coup, he said.

But maybe it’s not Trump:

It is difficult to say exactly how deep and durable the links are between the American far right and its European counterparts. But officials are increasingly concerned about a web of diffuse international links and worry that the networks, already emboldened in the Trump era, have become more determined since Jan. 6.

A recent report commissioned by the German foreign ministry describes “a new leaderless transnational apocalyptically minded, violent far-right extremist movement” that has emerged over the past decade.

But leaderless or not, it real enough:

Extremists are animated by the same conspiracy theories and narratives of “white genocide” and “the great replacement” of European populations by immigrants, the report concluded. They roam the same online spaces and also meet in person at far-right music festivals, mixed martial arts events and far-right rallies.

“The neo-Nazi scenes are well-connected,” said Mr. Kramer, the German intelligence official. “We’re not just talking about likes on Facebook. We’re talking about neo-Nazis traveling, meeting each other, celebrating together.”

The training camps have caused anxiety among intelligence and law enforcement officials, who worry that such activity could lay the groundwork for more organized and deliberate violence.

That is a worry:

In 2019, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, warned that American white supremacists were traveling overseas for training with foreign nationalist groups.

And meanwhile, back here:

Several members of the Proud Boys, whom Mr. Trump famously told to “stand back and stand by,” were among those who stormed the Capitol.

On Oct. 19, the Proud Boys shared on one of their Telegram groups that they had seen “a huge uptick in support from Germany over the last few months.”

“A high percentage of our videos are being shared across Germany,” read a message in the Telegram group that was also translated into German. “We appreciate the support and we are praying for your country. We stand with the German nationalists who do not want migrants destroying their country.”

Over the past three months, the Proud Boys posted several videos of German police officers confronting left-wing protesters in Berlin. In two of the videos, which feature the police violently beating a protester, the Proud Boys cheered the violence.

Although they mocked Mr. Trump as “a total failure” after he disavowed the Capitol rampage and left the White House, they have voiced support for far-right groups in other countries including France, Poland and Turkey.

It may be that Trump can ride this tiger too. He may never fade away like that aging movie star pretending to be admired, as wonderful, after all these years. But all those years are the problem. He will be tried for them.

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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