The Physiognomy of Trump’s Inner Circle

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Over her lifetime, my mother, bless her soul, accumulated an abundance of spurious wisdom based on a combination of unscientific observation and intuition. Sometimes she’d have forebodings and forbid me from doing rather pedestrian things like riding my bike home from the gas station where a flat tire had been patched. “No, I just have this awful, awful feeling,” she’d say. “Something’s bad’s going to happen if you ride that bike.” In other words, I was doomed to be flattened by an 18-wheeler or smack into a tree and spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. So we’d cram the bike in the back seat and drive on home.

Undoubtedly, her sense of doom has contributed to my rather pessimistic view of the world. You know, irrational thoughts like thinking your team’s going to lose the Super Bowl even though they’ve racked up in the third quarter an insurmountable lead the likes of which has never been overcome in a half-century of Super Bowls.

Sometimes, though, I think Mama did hit the mark with her unscientific conclusions — for example, her contention that time etches people’s ultimate personalities onto their faces by their habitually assuming certain telltale expressions, e.g., the angry, scowling malcontent’s mouth carving a perpetual frown, the bland sweet matron’s pleasant expression blanking away wrinkles —  the equivalent of the warning I received as a young child that my “face was going to stick like that” if I kept making grotesque faces.

[Warning: Neck-breaking Segue]

Just for the hell of it let’s take my mother’s theory and apply it to President Trump’s closest advisors.

Ladies, first. Kellyanne Conway.

Okay, I know I’m pulling a Trump here, criticizing a woman’s looks, but I’m not saying Kellyanne’s unattractive, just that she looks mean.  She’s a brittle-looking 49 to me, and no doubt being the target of so much ridicule will only harden her more, turning sinister those ersatz smiles aimed at the cameras of MSNBC.  Perhaps once she possessed a “sunny disposition” but something has soured it.  Working for Trump can’t be good for your soul.

To me she looks like she could be the illegitimate daughter of Phyllis Diller, though without Diller’s self-deprecating wit – a commodity that seems to be lacking across the board among Trump and his staff.

phyllis-conway

I’d cast Kellyanne as the wicked stepmother in the Snow Whites of New Jersey.

As far as looks go, I think Steve Bannon comes off as the coolest.  I like the way his abundant whipped-back hair sometimes falls in his eyes.  He’d, make a great character in a Tennessee Williams play, the rugged terrain of his face blotted with gin-blossoms, his eyes puffy, his spinal fluid pumping white supremacy.

 

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 20: Stephen K. Bannon looks at his computer to see who will be the next caller he will talk to while hosting Brietbart News Daily on SiriusXM Patriot at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Banner’s the absolute opposite of Mitt Romney – disheveled, disorganized, paunchy, atheistic, hungover.*  Sure, he’s evil, but if I had to have 10 beers with one of these dark apostles, he’s be the one I’d choose.

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Would definitely choose him over Steven Miller.  I don’t know a thing about Steven Miller, who supposedly works hand on hand with Bannon, but certainly he and Nosterafu share a common ancestor.  His vulture-like demeanor precludes the possibility of empathy.

miller

Then there’s Reince Preibus.

Reince Priebus

I predict he’ll age in warp speed like Abe Lincoln.  Like, I say, working for Trump’s toxic.


*Full disclosure:  *Psychologically it could be that I’m projecting my own self-description on Bannon the way that Trump kept calling Hillary crooked.

3 Contrasting Visions of the Trump Presidency

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Boy, I really didn’t realize how dark Trump’s vision the US is until I read his inaugural address:

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories, scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge . . .

I first Trump may have actually written this himself. I couldn’t think of a professional speechwriter who would come up with a simile so imagistically clunky as “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  But it turns out Miller and Bannon are to blame.

Anyway, are you visualizing the image?

Florida National Cemetery, Headstones, war heroes

tombstones

rusted-out factory

rusted-out factory

 

scattered

scattered

Perhaps there are more than a few rusted-out factories in Michigan, but down here in South Carolina where I live I couldn’t locate one to save my life. I asked my son who drove up from Orlando yesterday how many rusted-out factories he’d see during the seven hour trip, and he said that the only factory he saw had smoke coming out of the smokestacks.

Also – and I’ll move on – the children in South Carolina suffering from poverty aren’t huddled in inner cities but eking out their existence without Medicaid expansion in shacks that litter the landscape.

Okay, now that I got that off my chest, I’d like to offer brief synopses of how three thoughtful pundits perceive the Trump presidency, and I’ll go from darkest to brightest for sanity’s sake.

Sarah Kendzior

skSarah Kendzior, the author of The View from Flyover Country, is an anthropologist who specializes in authoritarian states and writes for various newspapers. She considers the accession of Trump as nothing less than catastrophic. She foresees a coming kleptocracy as a fragile democracy succumbs to fascistic institution-gutting by Trump and his mob-like nationalistic white-supremacist cronies.

In 2014 she served as an expert witness for an Uzbek refugee. Here is her account:

My job was to tell the judge about Uzbekistan: a country ruled by a dictator who abuses executive power to obtain personal wealth, threatens independent media and protesters, spies on real and perceived enemies, packs his administration with lackeys and relatives, refuses to disclose his financial holdings, molds public opinion through media domination, persecutes innocent Muslims under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and distracts the citizenry with pageants and spectacle, often proclaiming that he is making Uzbekistan great again.

She goes on to note

American authoritarianism will not be a carbon copy of other states. Mr. Trump’s authoritarianism will exploit pre-existing vulnerabilities – corporate corruption, institutional rot, systemic racism, a weakened economy, a struggling media, celebrity worship – and exacerbate them until our nation is no longer recognizable.

Should this occur, it may look like home, but it will not feel like home. What may be wrenched from us is a fundamental sense of security and sovereignty. When cable outlets are not promoting white supremacists or debating the humanity of Jews – yes, this is what our media airs now – they occasionally document Mr. Trump’s kleptocratic behaviour.

It’s almost dark enough to drive me to the nearest burnt-out strip mall to see if I can score some smack; however, Dr. Kendzior preaches resistance, not submission, and yesterday’s massive protests offer some hope that we’ll not take Trump lying down.

But we are still here, we the people, the inconvenient background players in Donald Trump’s self-serving shakedown of the American dream. We the people have been calling our representatives, demanding to know what is going on. We the people never did form that more perfect union, but we are not about to trade in the red, white and blue for the gold-plated facade of a tyrant tycoon.

We the people look out for each other – even when no one looks out for us.

David Brooks

brooksChances are you’re familiar with David Brooks, the affable guy-next-door conservative columnist for the NY Times and frequent contributor to the soon-to-be privatized PBS.

Brooks is considerably more upbeat about the survival of our democracy:

Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.

He sees hope in the possibility that the polarization Republicans and Democrats will end as the two join forces to quell the megalomaniacal maelstrom that will be Trump’s governing style:

We’ve wondered if there is some opponent out there that could force us to unite and work together. Well, that opponent is being inaugurated, not in the form of Trump the man, but in the form of the chaos and incompetence that will likely radiate from him, month after month.

Brooks ends his most recent column with this Panglossian hope:

With Trump it’s not the ideology, it’s the disorder. Containing that could be the patriotic cause that brings us together.

Peter Leyden

d6qgkbh_400x400According to his by-line, Peter Leyden “is the founder and CEO of Reinvent, a media company.” He sees Trump’s inauguration not as “the beginning of an era – but the end.”

He posits that Trump’s atavistic wish to flip the calendar back to the USA’s manufacturing heyday is doomed because of the evolution of technology into an ever-increasing interconnectedness of digital technologies, which “will be totally global and operate on a planetary scale.”

Whereas Brooks sees Trump uniting the Right and Left, Leyden foresees him being the “vehicle that will finally take down right-wing conservative politics for a generation or two” by “completely and irrevocably alienat[ing] all the growing political constituencies of the 21st century: the Millennial Generation, people of color, educated professionals, women.”

He goes on to say suggest that it’s actually ultimately fortunate that Hillary lost because she “would not have been able to finally bring down the conservative movement and its archaic ideology.”

Wesley Moore

meWesley Moore is a very confused and woebegone blogger. He has no earthly idea what’s going to happen. You can find him at any number of Folly Beach drinking establishments or loitering in the parking lots of burnt-out strip malls.

 

Trump and Hitchcock’s Birds

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I fear that the sheer overabundance of disinformation/information that Trump generates overwhelms the capacity of the media to focus and fixate.  With Hillary, we had the relatively stable narrative of her untrustworthiness, and her private email server coupled with questions about the foundation provided her enemies and the press witha slow-moving target — if not a sitting target — like a hippo sunning on the banks of a muddy river. No matter that compared to Trump’s malfeasance, the emails – literally misfeasance – seemed like a bigger deal because we heard about them constantly. To switch metaphors, each day brought a new e-mail story, and the stories were stacked like blocks throughout the months until they formed a sort of Potemkin monument of mal – as opposed to – misfeasance.

Trump’s issues, on the other hand, remind me of the avian swarms we find in Hitchcock’s The Birds.  They are legion:  Trump University, Trump’s Foundation, stiffing contractors, pussy grabbing, bankruptcies, phantom tax returns, international intrigue, colossal debt, criminal associations, overt cruelty, the deluge of demonstrable false statements.

A flock of these issues comes at us fast furious squawking in a terrible cacophony, then dart away, before another, different swarm descends.  Meanwhile, via Twitter, Trump spews provocative or petty phrases that further distract those whose job it is to place things in perspective and then render them clearly visible.

For example:

 

Literary Prototypes for Trump

joker

I’ve been rummaging through the dusty book-lined, cobweb-covered garret of my mind trying to find the literary character who most resembles Donald J Trump.

First, we need someone who is not particularly articulate.  Sure, Trump is quick-witted, capable of an occasional laser-guided zinger, but no one would ever mistake him for Macbeth (though the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor does share with the Emperor of Orange a lack of restraint and total unfitness for office).  What Angus said of Macbeth, Lindsey Graham could say of Trump, “Now does he feel his title/ Hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe/ Upon a dwarfish thief.” However, no way does Trump possess the depth and eloquence to mutter, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more.”  When Macbeth is out for revenge, he says, “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”  Instead, with Trump we get, “If I win-I am going to instruct my AG to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation bc there’s never been anything like your lies.”

There’s perhaps a closer cousin to be found in Dickens, but the sad truth of the matter is that my moth-ridden mind only houses three volumes — Great Expectations, The Tale of Two Cities, and Hard Times — and I can’t think of anyone from those tomes who really reminds me of the Donald – though when it comes to holding grudges, Mr. Trump could give Mrs. Havisham a run for her pound sterling.

The best I can come up with his Michael Henchard from Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.

the-mayor-of-casterbridge

Henchard, in the likely case you haven’t read the novel, gets drunk and sells his wife and daughter to a sailor, awakens the next day, suffers remorse (a very un-Trumpian emotion), swears off hooch, builds a thriving business, goes into politics, and is elected mayor of Casterbridge.

Here’s Wikipedia’s patched together character analysis:

Henchard has a very impulsive temperament, although he also has a tendency to depression. He tends to take a sudden liking, or a sudden dislike, to other people and can be verbally aggressive even when sober. Henchard is respected in Casterbridge, having built up a strong business almost from nothing, but he is not well liked, and when he drinks, he can be abusive. Indeed, one of the reasons he does so well in business is because, after he sells his wife and child, he swears an oath not to touch alcohol for twenty-one years. When he decides Farfrae [a former business partner] is his enemy, he wages an economic war that, at first, is extremely one-sided. A risk-taker, Henchard eventually lets his personal grudge against Farfrae get in the way of his reasoning abilities. He takes too many risks, gambles too aggressively, and loses his credit, his business, and most of his fortune.

Nevertheless, although Henchard is exasperating, you somehow can identify with him.  You – or at least I – was terribly moved when I read Henchard’s last will and testament:

“That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.

“& that I be not bury’d in consecrated ground.

“& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.

“& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.

“& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.

“& that no flours be planted on my grave,

“& that no man remember me.

“To this I put my name.

MICHAEL HENCHARD

To cut to the chase, Trump lacks the stature to be tragic and is too dangerous and mean-spirited to be truly comic.  Perhaps if we’re looking for a literary doppelganger, we’re better off searching comic books.  In fact, with his outrageous hair, orange complexion, and out-sized ego, Trump would make a fairly cool Batman villain.  The terrifying thing, of course, is just how close this Joker has come to being elected President of the United States.

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Ominous Clouds, Tangerine-Tinted Dumpster Fires

trump and putinThe trope that the Republican presidential nominating process has been a parody of a reality TV show has been superseded with a more pernicious general election scenario – now we’re watching a neo-Cold-War thriller, The Apprentice having morphed into Bridge of Spies.

You can read about the controversy here, but the SparksNotes summary of the conjecture goes like this: Trump’s companies are in hock to Russia, which explains Trump’s odd embrace of Putin, which explains the removal of a pro Ukrainian plank from the Republican platform. If you consider these unusual geopolitical stances in light of the increasing likelihood that the hacking of the DNC’s emails is the work of Russians, it looks as if Russia, our erstwhile mortal enemy, is manipulating the presidential race to favor Trump.

Meanwhile, the leaked emails reinforce the Sanders deadenders’ belief that the election was stolen by Hillary, who, through the fogged-up glasses of their fanaticism, looks like the fraternal twin of Donald, so they demand “a choice not an echo” and would just as soon see the tangerine-tinted-dumpster-fire Donald elected as Hillary.[1]

They even booed Bernie himself, who is certainly old enough to remember this:

So, all and all, not a great start to the Democratic Convention when several polls have come out to show Trump ahead in the general election.

I say, invest in radiation suits.

[1] To paraphrase Samantha Bee’s too apt description.

Trump, the Ultimately Unfunny Buffoon

 

Donald Trump caricature, creative commons via Flickr and Jay Ward's Snidely Whiplash photoshopped by WLM3

Donald Trump caricature, creative commons via Flickr and Jay Ward’s Snidely Whiplash photoshopped by WLM3

I hate to admit it, but during the Republican primary season, I found Donald Trump to be amusing, his buffoonery charming in a counter-intuitive way, the way you might find yourself chuckling at Fyodor Karamazov or Snidely Whiplash.

Take for instance, Trump’s Low-Energy-Jeb shtick. Here is a man who embraces his wealth like a teddy bear, a man who flashes his net worth like a grandparent sharing photos of his progeny, a man in his 69th year who on national television mocks the physical posture of a former governor as if they’re running for student council representative for the 8th grade.

But let’s face it: Trump lacks the charm to remain amusing for very long because he lacks the ability to be self-deprecating. Imagine his delivering a speech at the end of a White House Correspondents Dinner or a Don Rickles Hollywood Roast, Trump’s tangerine complexion gone red-orange in rage, drool dripping from the lower left arc of his sphincter-shaped mouth as it arse-belches vengeful rebukes.

No, ultimately, Donald Trump is about as amusing as the Battle of the Somme, and it’s time that we start the very serious business of making sure he’s not elected President of the United States – and that we includes the neo-Manicheans of the Never-Hillary Bernie Brigade.

 

Bible Study with Donald Trump

donald-trump-750x455Hey, I’m an author. Did you know I was an author? Well, I am, and I’ve written the second greatest book out there, The Art of the Deal. If you haven’t read the book, you need to grab a copy because it’s tremendous; there’s an enormous amount of wisdom in that book, but you know what, there’s even a better book out there, and that’s the Bible. Nothing beats the Bible. It’s my favorite book. And this might surprise you, but the Bible is an excellent textbook when it comes to showing you how to make a deal. Let me tell you, the God of Hosts was no slouch when it came to making a deal.

Ever heard the story of Dinah and Shechem? You can find it in Genesis 34. Now this is the kind of story they skip over in Sunday school cause it’s not politically correct, but you know what? I’m sick of political correctness. I’m going to share this neglected story with you because it’s one of the greatest deals ever made in the history of the world.

Okay, Dinah’s the daughter of Jacob and Leah, and on her way to visit some women, Hamar’s son Shechem sees her, finds her attractive, and rapes her. Now, I’m against rape because I love women. I cherish them. Unless they’re whores like Jezebel or bitches like Noah’s wife. Anyway, that’s not the norm. Most women are wonderful, and anyway, rape’s a terrible thing.

But get this. This rapist Shechem falls in love with this Dinah, the chick he’s raped, and his old man Hamar approaches Jacob with a deal. I’ll go ahead and quote from the Contemporary English Version. It’s much better. None of those thees and thous and smiteths and all those archaic words that irritate the hell out of you. You agree, right? Of course, you do. Archaic words have no place in the modern world. Anyway, here’s the scoop: Here’s what Hamor says to Jacob:

My son Shechem really loves Dinah. Please let him marry her. Why don’t you start letting your families marry into our families and ours marry into yours? 10 You can share this land with us. Move freely about until you find the property you want; then buy it and settle down here.

Shechem’s right there with his old man. The gall of these people, asking favors from the father of a daughter you’ve just raped. It’s terrible. Even Bill Clinton wouldn’t do something like that. Anyway, Shechem adds, ““Do this favor for me, and I’ll give whatever you want. 12 Ask anything, no matter how expensive. I’ll do anything, just let me marry Dinah.”

Okay, guys, if you’re ever trying to make a deal, never say you’ll do anything. Makes you look weak. It’s pathetic. You gonna get took. Just watch and see. Here’s what Jacob sons say:

You’re not circumcised. It would be a disgrace for us to let you marry Dinah now. 15 But we will let you marry her, if you and the other men in your tribe get circumcised. 16 Then your families can marry into ours, and ours can marry into yours, and we can live together like one nation. 17 But if you don’t agree to get circumcised, we’ll take Dinah and leave this place.

Well, Hamor and Shechem swallow the bait hook, line, and sinker. They decide to talk all the men of the tribe in getting circumcised so they all can intermarry with the Israelites, thinking they could cop their crops and flocks, to create a merger so to speak.

But here how it goes down. Again, I’ll let Moses do the talking.

25 Three days later the men who had been circumcised were still weak from pain. So Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers, attacked with their swords and killed every man in town, 26 including Hamor and Shechem. Then they took Dinah and left. 27 Jacob’s other sons came and took everything they wanted. All this was done because of the horrible thing that had happened to their sister. 28 They took sheep, goats, donkeys, and everything else that was in the town or the fields. 29 After taking everything of value from the houses, they dragged away the wives and children of their victims.

Now that’s what I call one great deal. Not a lousy 50/50 proposition. Not an eye for an eye, but a village complete with farms and widows and slave children for a hymen. Like I say, I’m not for rape, but you have to admit the compensation for this deal was out-of-sight.  Maybe if we had some deal makers like Jacob’s sons in Washington we wouldn’t be getting taken to the cleaners by China and Mexico.  It’s a disgrace.

Okay, that’s it for today. I got to go out and make America great again.   But join me next week, and we’ll talk some more Bible. King Nebuchadnezzar. He was rich. Maybe not as rich as me but rich. I’ll talk all about him next time.

Simeon Levi