Why Trump's Dangerous Media Mania Is (Mostly) Smart Politics

What we do know is that Trump is going to extreme lengths to try to distract us.

By fall 2016, Americans’ trust in the news media had, according to Gallup, sunk to historic lows. Just one of several reasons why I always felt Donald Trump could win the election.

So there is an extremely good reason why, when he gets in trouble again and again as president-elect and now as president, Trump attacks the media. Just now, it is an at least somewhat effective way to distract from the unprecedented first month meltdown of his National Security Council in the stunning departure of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn amidst a welter of accusations around untoward links to Russia, the elevation of extreme ideologist Steve Bannon to the NSC Principals Committee over the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the disastrous first week special ops raid in Yemen, and Trump’s unheralded escalation on the Saudi side of the Yemen civil war. The latter being a disaster which must settled before it descends into even greater humanitarian horror.

Now, to his credit, not that he really had any other choice, Trump has rather assiduously gone about recruiting a well-balanced, highly qualified replacement for Flynn as national security advisor. After retired Navy SEAL Vice Admiral Robert Harward turned down the position, one of the best posts in the world, Trump made some adjustments before offering the job again, this time apparently giving control over staffing and access to Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. A very fine officer and intellect, McMaster is a good pick, though he has some issues, too. More on that another time.

Trump’s presidency would have melted down had he not found a good new national security advisor to replace Flynn, a brilliant intelligence officer who saw the threat of ISIS long before Barack Obama and his problematic National Security Council, but was clearly infected with Islamophobia. Something decidedly not the case with McMaster.

And Flynn, like many around Trump, not to the mention the president himself, had odd, still unexplained linkages with Russia.

So, we have McMaster. But we don’t have answers on the multifaceted meltdown of the Trump NSC around Russia, Yemen, and Bannon.

Which is probably why we have multiple Trump distractions, so outrageous to many, including me, on the media, immigration, and transgender issues.

Calling the news media, incredibly flawed as it has become in its devolutionary cycle, “the enemy of the American people” is, of course, monstrous. Not to mention a sign of the neo-fascism I’d warned of from the beginning of 2016. That’s why I’m so taken with the new Washington Post motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

But it is also a distraction. As are the attacks on immigrants (with the silly talk of “military operations” and a “wall ahead of schedule” and the absolute absence of the oft-promised appeal of San Francisco’s 9th Circuit Court ruling against the idiotic Muslim ban) and of course on the vulnerable tiny minority of transgender individuals.

Each such bully boy act, even if largely an act, must be vigorously opposed. But if we become consumed, as I’m sure Bannon expects, in our respective identity politics, Trump wins. Even if his unpopularity is not improved. Because potentially lethal threats to his presidency fall from focus. He won’t lose office because he’s a racist or a transgenderphobe or because he hates the media. He just might because of these other matters.

Now, as longtime readers know, I am against another foolish cold war with Russia. Having been in one that was more exaggerated than it needed to be, I really don’t think we need another against a nation which, while again a great power to be respected as such, simply hasn’t the wherewithal to be a superpower and which, in any event, can be worked with in selected areas. And there will be plenty of time to say much more about all that. Here’s a link to my piece last July explaining the decades-long background for Russian efforts to delegitimize Hillary Clinton, a longstanding champion for NATO encirclement of Russia.

Having said that, however, it is also clear that the Putin government has gone way over the top in its blatant efforts in the US and in other parts of the advanced industrial world. While I respect the Russian president as a geopolitical actor, having personally seen the blizzard in his eyes in the late ‘90s while trying to help the sort of Russian liberal reformers now squashed in an authoritarian Russia, it is alarming to see the starry-eyed declarations about the man from our new president.

We can do some business with Putin, just as FDR did with Stalin. Though, to be clear, Putin, who brandishes his own brand of sinister cool, is neither a Stalin nor the Hitler that Hillary, in her foolish bear-baiting, made him out to be in that fateful UCLA lecture I attended in spring 2014.

Trump clearly doesn’t want us looking into his odd idolatry of Putin. Just as he clearly doesn’t want us looking into his snap decision to mount the disastrous special ops raid in Yemen...

I don’t know what Trump World has been up to with Russia. The Trump campaign, despite being outspent 2 to 1 by the Clintons, didn’t need Russian money and would have found it hard to use.

Political advice? Maybe. And Russia has historically had some real experts on US politics, despite what you see written by some angry Russian expats in American media.

But what Trump needed to do to win was pretty obvious. I refrained myself from writing it, for obvious reasons, but the likes of Bannon, Conway et al ultimately got Trump on the right track, as I feared when they came aboard last August.

So what then? Some secret cyber hocus pocus? Perhaps of the sort discussed in this intriguing Guardian take-out on Trump’s secretive cyber billionaire uber-backer Robert Mercer? Maybe.

But let’s not forget that the Wikileaks cut-out was used in essentially haphazard fashion.

In any event, all this is just the thing. We don’t know.

What we do know is that Trump is going to extreme lengths to try to distract us.

Not only is he employing diversionary tactics against unpopular groups, he had his White House chief of staff try to get the FBI to debunk the controversy.

Quite unsuccessfully.

Trump clearly doesn’t want us looking into his odd idolatry of Putin. Just as he clearly doesn’t want us looking into his snap decision to mount the disastrous special ops raid in Yemen ― the father of the SEAL killed there refused to meet Trump and wants an investigation ― or of his unpublicized escalation of Yemen’s disastrous civil war.

It’s important not to play into this guy’s hands. Again.

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