Trump Adjusts "Reality" As His Reality Emerges

So, just how clever are Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and the rest of the pirate crew which imploded the "Blue Wall" of the electoral college and took down the fabled Clinton machine en route to seizing the White House?

Last Friday, Trump did what he claimed repeatedly he would never ever do, i.e., commit to a massive pay-out to make the "Trump University" fraud case go away. His lawyers spun the $25 million (!!) as just the cost of clearing his busy schedule as president-elect. A big trial in the case was due to start at the end of the month here in California, which Trump just lost by a whopping 29 points, the biggest shellacking of a Republican presidential nominee in the Golden State since Franklin D. Roosevelt's election 80 years ago. No one was going to buy the spin on the huge settlement, something that, had it occurred in the campaign, would have doomed Trump's chances. (Just as an indictment of Hillary Clinton for her amazingly slipshod handling of her sensitive e-mails as U.S. secretary of state would have sunk her.)

Not to worry, though, because Mike Pence promptly popped over to Broadway, about a mile from Trump Tower, to take in a performance of 'Hamilton." Not surprisingly, he was lectured by the cast and booed by the crowd, thus handing Trump an extremely effective Twitter war distraction.

Similarly, when Rudy Giuliani decided to unleash his inner Churchill in a speech outlining his approach as a potential secretary of state, leading the media to very vigorously try to equate the 9/11 mayor's past lectures and international security consulting with the problematic Clinton Foundation, Trump tossed out another shiny object. A sudden rapprochement with one-time friend Mitt Romney, who had so vociferously attacked Trump during the campaign just past as unworthy of support even against Clinton. Why, Romney might even be the next secretary of state. That, despite his lack of foreign travel, policy chops, and the prospect of having to admit that nothing he says can really be taken seriously.

President-elect Donald Trump laid out his policy priorities in this two-and-a-half minute address that may be as interesting for what it does not say as for what it does.

But it worked like a charm. And, on the off chance Trump might have to end up appointing Romney, who certainly looks the part, and put Giuliani in another big slot (national intelligence director?), hey, the ex-Massachusetts governor would hardly be the first secretary of state superseded by other top hands.

Not that Trump has been a fast-shuffling card sharp in all his efforts at changing the perception of reality. When he summoned much of the East Coast-based media elite to Trump Tower -- and isn't that an unbelievably showy setting right out of a science fiction movie about a dystopic American future? -- for what they imagined was a discussion of media access to the new regime, he delivered a bark-stripping harangue about how badly they had understood and reported the election all along.

So that's one emerging reality about Trump himself. He is not going to be endlessly indulgent, especially of people for whom he has little respect.

What else are we learning in the emerging moves and appointments?

Well, he would certainly prefer to be seen as a latter-day Andrew Jackson rather than a latter-day Benito Mussolini.

But, given how much know-nothing, neo-fascist stuff Trump put out during the course of the campaign, I'm holding on to every warning I made about his then coming ascendance since the summer of 2015. An old Russian saying goes, "Trust but verify." I'm not trusting yet.

That said, new information is to be assessed seriously, and some of it ain't half-bad.

*** Jail to the Not-Chief? Nah. Trump is now against any prosecution of his vanquished rival, both on the national security case and in the matter of the Clinton Foundation's intriguing dealings. She certainly has suffered enough, blowing an election which almost everyone in the media said over and over again was already in the bag.

*** No Massively Mass Deportation. Trump is now talking about deporting "only" a couple million illegal immigrants. Which, by an odd coincidence, is about how many the Obama administration deported. No nation can have an open border policy without risking its security and character. But a border can be secured without turning pretty good neighbors into enemies, and without throwing back folks who can be productive members of American society.

*** What Trans Pacific Partnership? Obviously that had to go. The time for secret trade deals tied to elite corporate interests has clearly passed. But trade in what is an interconnected world needs rules of the road. Let's see what Mr. 'Art of the Deal' can come up with.

In that regard, a piece in the paper Trump so loves to hate even as he devours it, the New York Times, briefly and cogently laid out the stakes for an international system that has largely kept the peace and promoted prosperity for 70 years.

On the anniversary of the assassination of the best president of my lifetime, old compadres Gary Hart (whom Trump once backed for president) and former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen made it clear that a reversion and retreat to Fortress America makes no sense.

And what about personnel?

*** General Mike Flynn as national security advisor. Risky but not without a lot of promise. While the Obama National Security Council was simply not getting it, as I wrote repeatedly, then Defense Intelligence Agency Director Flynn, who got fired for his trouble, was right very early on about the rise of Isis. But he's since gotten awfully hot, perhaps indiscriminately so, on the nature and magnitude of the threat from radical Islamic fundamentalism. (More on this, and Flynn's alarming, tight linkage with an old acquaintance of mine, after the holiday.)

*** Mitt Romney as secretary of state? As longtime readers know, I'm not a fan. He looks great in a suit, but there is the matter of what is or is not inside that suit. Yet he would reassure many. And his longtime chief political strategist Stuart Stevens, an old colleague on an NBC TV show, is a very good guy.

** Rudy Giuliani as secretary of state?! Hey, maybe not so crazy. I kinda like Giuliani, whom I've interviewed a few times, mixing it up on torture, excuse me, "enhanced interrogation." He is quite knowledgeable and has command presence. Certainly not the most polite guy around, but also not one of those guys who shuts down when he is seriously challenged. He's been to a few places, too.

*** Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist. Well, let's put it this way. I am a reader. Now that America has hyper-partisan media on all fronts, not unlike a Third World country, you can no longer rely on just a few sources for reliable baseline open-source intelligence. Trump, for example, could save a small child from a burning building and much of the media would find a nefarious downside to it.

When I look at Breitbart, I go "crap, crap, crap, interesting if true ... oh, that is very interesting." It's extremist in tone and frequently hyper-alarmist, but it's smart.

Evidently like Bannon himself. When he joined the Trump campaign three months ago, I wrote that it was a smart choice on Trump's part.

And that, if Trump just watched Bannon's 'Clinton Cash' documentary and used that as a basis for what he would say, he would be halfway home. As in halfway home to the White House.

But I also support protest against Bannon's more extreme stuff. Let's not pretend it's all normal, because it is not.

Trump and his capable pirate crew did what they needed to do to dissuade the over-hyped "Obama coalition," which only ever really came through for Obama as I've mentioned a few dozen times, and implode the "Blue Wall" in the Electoral College.

But if they imagine that they have a national mandate for extremism, for know-nothingism, for neo-fascism, all of which were front and center at various points in the Trump for President campaign, they have another think coming.

The Democrats lost in part by having too great an emphasis on "identity politics" rather than actual material conditions. That doesn't give the winners license to do the same thing on their end of things.

Because, while Trump won the election, he also lost. Hillary Clinton is the national popular vote winner for president of the United States. She has a 1.6 million vote edge and that will only get bigger, as I wrote last week, as the last of the votes are ever so slowly counted.

Sure, 3.5 million and counting of those 1.6 million votes in her lead come from California, but we are not seceding from the Union. That's a Confederate thing.

Which makes Trump's potential shift on climate change today -- he no longer thinks it's "a Chinese hoax" -- noteworthy.

Does Donald Trump want to be the man who cooked the planet? Does he want to be the man who tore the Republic apart?

Or does he want to be a man, as Jack Nicholson's Joker put it in the first 'Batman' movie, who acted on a thoroughly logical impulse: "This town needs an enema!"

It's up to him.

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