With the reign of Trump set to befall us in a matter of hours, he is beset by his own difficulties, and what he can wring from them.
The recent publication by Buzzfeed of the 35 page intelligence dossier on Donald Trump by a British ex-MI6 agent has, not surprisingly, stirred controversy. In today’s echo chambers of news that mix up fact with post-truth, information with propaganda and accuracy with falsity, releasing a dossier whose contents are “unverified” is counter-productive.
There is much to challenge about Trump’s character, modus operandi, bigotry, bullying and generally reprehensible pronouncements about women, minorities and the handicapped. But when the US media obsesses about this kind of disclosure, it entangles America in the tactics of Putin’s Russia, whose currency, the “kompromat”, has always been worth a lot more than the ruble. Russia is not only manipulating western public opinion through “fake news” but is successfully moulding western mainstream media into behavioural models similar to theirs.
However, what the intelligence dossier reveals with certainty is the danger of underestimating Trump’s Darwinian instincts. He may be short on attention span, intellectual capacity and psychological maturity, but he displays the ability to sniff out something that just doesn’t smell right. It is credible that he refrained from accepting offers to invest in Russia, whose economy is smaller than Britain’s. More compromising and plausible would be Trump’s business conflicts in Asia and the Middle East, as yet to be fully explored because of his reluctance to disclose his tax returns. Instead, reporters spent their time being swatted away from relentless questioning on his alleged and sexual adventures.
Efforts to find evidence to impeach him could threaten sound media reporting. A conflict of interest for a Trump supporter is an American company training a Mexican to take his job in Mexico, and reproductive choices mean being able to provide for one’s children.
The dossier gifted Trump the chance to seethe and appear masterful over an issue that is as complex as pouring breakfast cereal – that hotel rooms are bugged in Russia. Filling up time by sharing with the press his sagacious advice to his employees to be careful when traveling there allowed further deflection from the fact that his sons Donald, Jr. and Eric will now take control of his business empire with the seal-proof proviso that they are “not going to discuss it with me”, even as they vet candidates for his administration.
Trump supporters revelled in his performance. America’s tundra heartland has more in common with the steppe of Russia than it does with its closest cities. Humiliation is a strong impetus to right the wrongs of the past. Trump, the socially jilted realtor and forever the outsider to New York’s chattering elite, empathises with those crying to compensate for their own loss of status, whether it be Russians for their past empire or many white Americans for their declining economic supremacy. And authoritarian methods, in contrast to power through consensus, nuance and detail, promise to deliver results. Trump’s supporters are tired of being strong in the face of neglect. They look for a leader who channels the unfairness of exclusion, not the injustice of race discrimination or minorities’ rights.
And a man who looks like them continues to sound like them. At the press conference, he aimed with his finger and fired journalists of the liberal mainstream with a “not you”, telling one news organisation that it was “terrible”. Even his AbFab habit of prefacing any mention of his business ventures with their marvellousness has become background noise, like shrugging off an elderly relative who can’t help but go on about the war.
Efforts to find evidence to impeach him will fall on deaf ears in the short run, yet could threaten the propriety of sound media reporting. Trump could have an inappropriate physical encounter with a donkey and it would have zero impact on his fan base. A conflict of interest for a Trump supporter is an American company training a Mexican to take his job in Mexico, and reproductive choices mean being able to provide for one’s children. And how can it be bigotry when the rusted interiors of an impoverished post-industrial heartland bask in the reflected glory of Trump’s gold tower?
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What further seduced his voters was the certainty with which he gave time lines on the next Supreme Court nomination (two weeks), wall building (right away), an alternative health insurance (to be repealed and replaced within the hour, in marked contrast to the two to four years Republicans aides have suggested), and the completion of a “report” on how to stop cyber hacking to be delivered within 90 days. And he has yet to turn his mind to the spectre of open-carry gun laws, armed schools and military weapons in private hands.
And exacted from a nation of special interests will be “respect” (the key word for those seeking retribution) which Trump repeated more than a few times towards the end of the press conference, no doubt in reaction to Meryl Streep’s drubbing last week in which she contented that his disrespect of others “invites disrespect”. Trump might gesticulate with thumb touching forefinger, but it might as well be with the pinky raised to the corner of his pursed lips.
In his first press conference since winning the US Presidential election, Trump was like the bull being goaded in the ring that tossed aside the matadors’ best efforts. His most savvy appointees will soon learn how to dodge a goring by waving their capes of self-interest with varying degrees of success, depending on what corrida they think is worth winning. Objective reporters should adjust their own methods in order to hold the new “Unpresident” to account.