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The Caligula Presidency: a Weekly Ovi Column
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-06-17 10:41:26
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Introduction: This is the first installment of a weekly Ovi column dubbed “The Caligula Presidency.” It will appear in Ovi every Saturday and will include 7 columns, one for each day of the week collapsed into one weekly section. It will remain in place till the current circus maximus of the Caligula presidency has come to some kind of conclusion.

Obviously such a title collapses into one the ancient and the modern. The similarities are uncanny. In both the Caligula reign (which lasted three years and 10 months) and the Trump presidency. We can observe at the pinnacle of power two deranged individuals who accelerate the demise of republics which had begun as “republics of virtue.” The rampant corruption leaves a deficit in ethics, freedom, equality and democracy. Their personalities verge on the psychotic and their deeds are a constant incitement to confusion and dissension.

Those columns attempt to document the bizarre events of the Trump presidency since its inception in January 2017. A documentation which will be needed when the final chapter is written. I have already written a number of essays on this sad  state of affairs which have already appeared in Ovi. I’d now like to share those daily columns written and disseminated in the last five months or so with the concerned Ovi readership.

The literary genre employed is satirical and with good reasons. Philosophers and literary writers have only one weapon with which to oppose what they find stupid and ugly: their pen. They can employ it to write well-reasoned philosophical arguments aiming at the attainment of the truth; or to write poetical-philosophical tracts. However when they are confronted with madness and chaos, the kind observable in both Caligula reign and Trump presidency, sometimes the only instrument left is that of irony and satire. They are a last desperate frustrating attempt at attracting attention to one’s message and sounding the alarm, so to speak. One thinks of Cassandra and her warning about the Trojan horse.

In fact, while the form is satirical, the spirit is Cassandrian. Those columns are meant to sound the alarm: a warning that democracy as we know it is in grave peril. People get the government they deserve; and unless they self-correct their mistakes, which sometimes democracies can and will do, they may end up with a tyranny while all the trappings and appearances of democracy carry on. 

Let those who have ears, let them hear!


Week 1 (11-17 June 2017)
(Columns written on a daily basis in January 2017)
On Incompetence, derangement and incoherence


Column 1

Is the Emperor Naked?


Interlocutor 1: Have you heard, the emperor has signed an executive order banning all traveling Moslems with visas and previous vetting from entering the country. Some are being detained at US airports, where there are protests as we speak. Colleges are sending out letters to prospective Ph.D. foreign students with study visas  to delay their plans to travel to the US.

Interlocutor 2: yes, I’ve watched on TV as he signed the order on the 27th of January and then showed the document to the world so that it could admire his beautiful signature. Did you notice that he passed on the pen he signed with to General Maddox behind him, the former general now heading the Defense Department?

--Yes, and he seemed puzzled as he received and pocketed it.

--Indeed, for a general is more familiar with the sword than with the pen.

--Ah, does that mean that Caligula redivivus is giving a signal to the head of the Praetorean guards that it is his sacred duty to execute the emperor’s orders and maintain law and order, with the sword if necessary?

--It could be, but I don’t think his psychological deviancy is so subtle. To maintain law and order one has to rationalize the concept of law and order and give an example. This emperor is rather selective in applying the law.

--How so?

--Well, for one thing, the law specifically proclaims that those born in this country from illegal aliens are automatically citizens. He wants to change the law and strip all those born here from illegal aliens of their automatic citizenship; moreover, to add insult to injury, he is contemplating the deportation of those not born in this country, the naturalized citizens that he considers pseudo-Americans. Also the present order banning the entry of Moslems from seven selected Moslem countries (only those which have no business deals with the Trump corporation), smacks of pure conflict of interest, not to speak of racism and anti-Islamism. Minority religions from the same countries are not included in the ban.

--But he probably will not be able to carry that out by mere executive order. At least, not yet. We have courts and check and balances in this country.

--Quite right, if he truly respected the law then his wife Melania would have to be deported to Slovenia for working illegally in this country as an alien.

--Be that as it may, at least a third of this country was not born in this country. Between undesirables and illegals he would have to deport half the country.

--Indeed. Only American-born white supremacists, the so called genuine Americans, will be guaranteed a stay. He would have no place to deport them. Or maybe he could eventually arrive at “the ultimate solution.”

--It all sounds slightly deranged to me. Have we not seen this movie before?

--Indeed we have. But remember that an emperor-god (no, not the one in Japan, the one here) is not only beyond the law, but also beyond rationality and common sense.


Column 2

 Six Men Connected to the Trump-Russia “Steele Dossier”


Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn,
at an RT party with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

As already mentioned in my last column, some political science and intelligence experts continue to deny any importance to the Trump-Russia Steele Dossier, branding it as gossip or amateurish propaganda tool devised by those who wish to console themselves for losing an election. Yet, they have provided few clues as to the whereabouts of five men connected with said dossier.

One would have thought that a document which practically accuses Mr. Trump and some in his former campaign staff of nothing short than treason against the US would have been granted a bit more attention by those experts.

One wonders why that is not the case; one wonders even more when one considers that the ones who revealed it were not the Russians, not Putin or his cyber-space warrior hackers (who, it stands to reason had no compelling reason to do so before it could be used for blackmail) but a former high-ranking agent for Britain’s M16 service, the head for that intelligence service’s Russia desk: Christopher Steele, with the reputation of high competency and credibility.

Steele is now in hiding and nobody knows where he may be. Speculation is that he is in hiding for fear of his own and his family’s safety. Another one of the five men was fired from his job, another was promoted, another was found dead in the back of his car the day after Christmas, and a fifth met Vladimir Putin a few weeks ago.

That list does not include Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort who, for some reason or other, was fired by Trump, right after reports emerged that Manafort assisted with the Crimean invasion in the Ukraine.

It is very interesting that in July 2016 a certain Carter Page traveled to Moscow to deliver a speech at the Higher Economic School. According to the dossier in question, the CEO of Russia’s national oil company, Igor Sechin, offered Page brokerage of a 19% stake in the oil company, if he could convince Mr. Trump to lift US sanctions on Russian oil.

Why was Page asked for such a favor? Because four months before Trump had mentioned him (to the editorial board of The Washington Post, to be precise) as a key member of his foreign policy team. By coincidence, four days after Trump’s inauguration Russia sold 19.5% stage in its oil company to a yet undisclosed buyer. So far, the media has done precious little investigation of this strange coincidence.

Interesting to note that Page’s Moscow speech condemned the US for its purportedly “hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change’ in its Russia policy. Two months later Page was dumped from the Trump campaign, and Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary now says that Trump does not know Page.

This wouldn’t be the first time high-level officials in the Trump administration have lied about who they know or have talked to. Lately, as discussed in my previous column, we have learned that Michael Flynn—Mr. Trump’s top adviser on Russia policy—lied to the Vice President of the United States, the chief of staff, the Press Secretary and the President himself about whether he was negotiating with the Russians prior to Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Did Mr. Flynn go rogue? Or did Mr. Trump—who claims to know nothing about Flynn’s pre-inaugural conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.—order the conversation and then deny knowledge of it, much like he had many conversations with Carter Page and then denied knowing him at all?

Moreover, now that what’s in the dossier is getting more and more confirmation by the day, the question arises: will the media change its attitude and begin a serious investigation?

Let’s return to Christopher Steele. How did he get the news of the Page-Sechin meeting in Moscow? Via a trusted compatriot, Oleg Erovinkin. So Steele is no longer the only person to report on the meeting. The source was probably a US intelligence source who had spoken to Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff.

Politico reports that Page may also have met with Sergei Ivanov, who was then chief of Putin’s presidential administration, as well as with Igor Diveykin, a senior Kremlin internal affairs official.

Steele’s dossier contends that it was at this meeting with Diveykin that it was revealed to Page that the Russian government held compromising material (so called Kompromat) on Donald Trump.

Meanwhile Diveykin has been promoted to deputy chief of the State Duma Apparatus and chief administrator of Duma Affairs. He has informed reporters that he wants to sue the US media outlets that revealed his alleged meeting with Page. So far no lawsuit has ensued.

Sechin remains the head of the state oil company in good graces with Putin. Not so Erovinkin, the closest associate of Sechin and a key liaison between Sechin and Putin. As per The Telegraph, he is suspected of helping Christopher Steele compile the infamous dossier. He is now dead; found dead in his car the day after Christmas and immediately removed to a morgue run by Russia FSB, the successor of the KGB. Multiple media reports in Russia allege that the death was by murder. Another coincidence?

And then there is Christopher Steele himself, the one accused of concocting “fake news” by Donald Trump. Were it so, why would Mr. Steele be in any danger? Indeed, he could conceivable be a very valuable witness in any criminal investigation. It would then be important that he provide no additional information on his dossier and its sources.

So, Christopher Steele is now on the run for his life, and that of his family. Nobody knows his whereabouts.

The fate of those men seems highly inconsistent with Donald Trump’s insistence that the dossier is “fake news.” It is also inconsistent with Putin claim that the document is “clearly fake.”

Finally, a preliminary crucial questions arises (and there will be others after the investigation is complete): why so much drama, death and threat of death, fear and anguish, for a document which according to Trump is a fake, almost a joke?

To answer that question in a reasonable mode, one has to keep in mind that both presidents, that of the US and that of Russia have been repeatedly been caught in lies, seem to have a proclivity to put their personal interests ahead of those of their nations. It remains to be seen how this drama ends. The omens are not good.


Column 3

The Russian Bear Roaming Outside the White House


There is a Russian bear roaming around the White House. It just will not go away. The alarm inside the house is palpable and growing. He keeps poking his nose at the windows, seems to know quite well some of the people inside, and wants to gain access at any cost and become part of the dream team.

After all, it has managed to put its paws on the scales of the US presidential election of last November, as per US intelligence community which is carrying on an investigation.

The bear was also previously connected with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and, as it has just surfaced, it has also been in close contact with Trump’s top aide, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, even before Trump took office on Janurary 20; thus violating federal law.

Flynn too, like Manafort, may be headed for Siberia, so to speak, but that remains to be seen, given that the pathologically narcissistic ego of the Caligula-like President does not easily allow him to admit to any missteps. In fact, he usually doubles down on them.

Is this the first staff crisis of the new presidency in its making as we speak?

As is well known, despite denials by the Kremlin and some geo-political experts who have somehow minimized the whole incident, Russian intelligence agencies created havoc in the US presidential race by hacking into the email accounts of Democratic and former national security leaders and then releasing what they stole. The candidate Trump himself went around encouraging them to do so.

President Obama retaliated by expelling some Russian spies operating under diplomatic cover and imposing economic sanctions on Russia’s military intelligence agencies.

On Christmas day, when he was still a private citizen, and before Obama had announced his punitive measures, Flynn communicated with Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Flynn said that he called to wish the ambassador Merry Christmas. How cute! More likely, it was a warning to the ambassador about the pending sanctions and a reassurance that Trump, once in office in a few weeks, would reverse them.

If that happens to be the case, despite the reassurances of vice-president Pence on CBS Face the Nation that Flynn did not talk about sanctions with Kislyak, it would be against the federal law provisions of the Logan Act. In any case, charges of secret collusion with the Kremlin are now in the air, while the bear is still anxiously hanging around. He seems to expect something that was promised him.

Let us remember that what brought about the menace of a Nixon’s impeachment in the mid-seventies (avoided when he decided to resign) was not so much the crime itself of a bungling burglary by inept party spies, but the attempted cover-up and denial by the Nixon administration.

Flynn is now back-pedaling. He is going around saying that he may, after all, have talked about sanctions, but he doesn’t remember. In other words, Flynn, the man with his finger on the nuclear button (you need two fingers to activate and launch nuclear weapons) has suddenly discovered that US intelligence agencies monitor conversations by private citizens with heads of foreign powers. Oh my, does it get complicated.

 As with Nixon, the question now is: did Trump know, and if so when did he know it?

What remains bizarre is that Putin responded to Obama’s sanctions by doing nothing. He took the high road; he could afford to do so after Flynn’s warning. Immediately Trump resorted to his twitter and called Putin “very smart.”

As Caligula redivivus exclaims from time to time: “What’s going on”? Given what is regularly leaked from the White House on a daily basis, and the counter-leaks in the press and TV, what may be going on in Trump’s inner circle is a struggle for who gets access to the “brilliant” emperor strutting around with invisible clothes; who gets the authority to speak for him outside the White House. Bannon, as is well known, is a top contender for that coveted position, but there are others. In other words, it’s an intense internal Machiavellian struggle for power and influence.

You may now ask: what do we know for sure? This much: Flynn has in the past traveled to Russia after he left his DIA job. There he appeared on Russia’s state-rum propaganda arm, the RT. He was seen sitting at the same table with Putin.The new US secretary of state is the recipient of a Russian medal of honor from Putin.

We also know, as reported by Reuters that Trump did not have the foggiest about the 2010 new START treaty when he spoke to Putin on the phone recently. We know that the top US commander in Afghanistan has warned Congress of recent Russian meddling there, all intended to undermine NATO. We know that Russia has increased its military attacks in Eastern Ukraine.

Is Trump losing control of the story? It appears so. The Senate’s Intelligence committee is set to investigate the ties between Trump and Russia, so is the FBI. The best of the story may still be coming. Meanwhile fasten your seatbelts.


Column 4

Power, Derangement, and Delusion: Caligula, Pius XIII, and Trump


One of the first signs by which the Praetorian guards began to suspect that emperor Caligula was deranged was that of the nomination of his horse to Senator of the Roman Republic. Another one was that of his insistence that they kneel before him not as the undisputed emperor of the Empire, but as a god of sorts. We see the same in the fictional story of a future American Pope, Pius XIII who thinks of himself as above God and demands the confessions of his cardinals from the Vatican’s father confessor.

One of the signs in the case of Caligula reincarnated, known as President Donald Trump, is his continued insistence that widespread fraud occurred in the 2016 presidential voting and that such fraud explains why Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by some three million votes and he came in second. He wishes us to see him as a victim of widespread voting fraud, despite the fact that he won the election. There is an “alternate” reality which he expects us to accept. The “dishonest” media is refusing to report on it.

Perhaps his entourage believes it. That the American people as a whole believe it, is a much less certain proposition. What the American people may in fact already suspect, is that he too, like Caligula may be exhibiting telling signs of derangement. His abysmal approval rating, still going down as we speak, points to it.

In a recent meeting with ten senators regarding Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Trump once again went off on a tangent on the topic of voter fraud. According to a Politico article, the president told the attendees that he would have won New Hampshire had he not been the victim of thousands of illegally cast ballots. He also stated that those illegal aliens who cast illegal votes were brought in on buses from Massachusetts.

Those sources also mention that an uncomfortable silence followed that clearly deranged statement. He has so far refused to launch an official government investigation into this allegedly massive fraud. So, there is silence. No other response is appropriate, given the lack of compelling evidence. With no evidence presented, not only does the statement appear ludicrous, but it makes the one who utters it appear deranged.

What’s worse is that this is part of a by now familiar pattern. He throws out anecdotes that supposedly validate his imaginary assertions and then expects people to accept the deranged conclusions to be derived from the anecdotes. What usually follows is an embarrassed silence.

For example, the anecdote that of a 59 year old man from Bavaria Germany, a  champion golfer who was standing in line at a polling place in Florida on election day, and was informed by an official that he would not be allowed to vote, but ahead of Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, but they were nonetheless allowed to do so. The president even threw out the names of Latin American countries from where the fraudulent voters might have come from. Where is the evidence? Nobody knows.

What is intriguing is that this anecdote too was greeted with silence. The fact is that a man from Germany is not allowed to vote in the US; while the men who did not look like they should be allowed to vote is pure fantasy, a delusional conspiracy theory by somebody living in a parallel universe and resentful of the fact that he came in second with the popular vote.

What is further proof of the derangement is that somehow the clues of the silence following those stories are not picked up. The anecdotes and the conspiracy theories go on unabated. The gap keeps growing between those stories and reality, between his deranged ideas and our sober reality. When challenged his staff may resort to “alternate facts” but the derangement remains apparent to all those in possession of their rationality. Perhaps psychologist Andy Frances is on track when he insists that it is not Trump who is crazy, it is us who elected him.

Perhaps it’s high time for a national debate on whether or not the emperor struts around in fake clothes. Where is that little boy who in Andersen’s tale shouts “The Emperor is naked”?


Column 5

Characteristics of Being an Emperor and being a President


President or Emperor?

What may be some of the necessary qualities needed to be a president of a democratic republic, independent of party affiliation and ideological leanings?

Were we to take a sounding in an attempt to answer that question, I think we’d find the following widely listed by most people: good attention span going beyond that required for the 140-characters of a tweet, a commitment to understanding others’ point of view, a willingness to compromise, respect for expertise, diplomacy, curiosity, sincerity, honesty, an understanding of the Constitution, the balance of power, the make-up of Congress, the Courts, their rights, obligations and powers.

That is to say, a president has to work within a democratic framework, accept responsibility for his decisions, the bad as well as the good ones, keep his promises and meet his obligations.

If one were to rate the present president by those criteria, one can wager that most people would give him a grade wavering between an F and a D. Some, who have voted for him and continue to support him, are still fooling themselves and keep pretending that Donald Trump has the intelligence, integrity and understanding to be president. He doesn’t. He is not as smart as he claims to be, not a good person, not even a good businessman, or he would have released the tax forms and other records to prove it.

What he is quite good at is something which made him successful on reality television: he is famous for being a famous kind of celebrity. It catapulted him into the present job, one for which he is unqualified and inadequate; and he knows it, but has neither the will or the ability to reverse the situation, learn from his mistakes and rise to the occasion.

His ego and narcissism (which in psychology goes by the name of pathological narcissism, when it reaches extreme proportions) simply will not allow it. For one thing, he has collapsed the image of an emperor who governs by fiat (Caligula comes to mind immediately) or the captain of a spaceship (Captain Picard) who simply says “let it be so,” and it is done, with the image of a president. He simply does not know the difference. In other words, he is Emperor Caligula of the Roman Empire re-incarnated.

But besides this psychological comparison, there is something that is unique to all narcissists: the ability to externalize and make others pay for their unethical or reprehensible behavior, their misguided choices and mistakes. This is somewhat different from Jung’s projection technique: the projection unto others one’s own vices and faults.

The technique of “externalizing” is used as a response to criticism. For example, in business it means externalizing costs in order to make money by using bankruptcy and tax laws, underpaying one’s contractors, in other words, to force others to pay the costs of one’s failures while one keeps the profits; profits that are most probably less than what he claims or he would have shown his tax returns.

Thus he deflects criticism and failure by behaving like a bully, blaming others, externalizing responsibility and simply disregarding the truth. The truth is what’s convenient at the moment. There is also disregard for consequences. He does not care so much in succeeding (albeit he is perfectly willing to drive his own show into the ground to prevent Schwarzenegger from doing well in it), as he cares in “winning.” Winning is everything. Winning means keeping others down and blaming them (be it the media, Democrats, China, the CIA, or anyone else who fails to pay absolute fealty and praise) for his own failures. Thus he remains the winner takes all.

When Sen. McCain criticizes his characterization of the Navy SEAL mission in Yemen as a winning mission he countered the criticism with a tweet: “Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He’s been losing so…long the doesn’t know how to win anymore.” None of those words, of course, have anything to do with the facts which are what they are.

Insults invariably become arguments for sociopaths of various stripes. Rather than explaining why their particular view is different, they simply disparage their critics and accuse the other side of bad motives. They offer alternative facts which they make up as they go along to obfuscate an issue. One of the alternative facts is that the murder rate, as he told a group of sheriffs, has gone up, when in fact it has gone down. Another is that a Broadway show (Hamilton) that he has not seen is “overrated.” The implication is that he knows something the rest of us dummy do not know yet. Another alternative fact is that of voters’ fraud to the tune of 5 million. Illegal aliens went to vote for Clinton. And so did the zombies, one supposes. It’s a delusional world and we may soon inherit its whirlwind.


Column 6

Why is Russia Worried about Trump’s Erratic Performance


Recently, general Michael Flynn, National Security Advisor to Donald Trump, has resigned over the revelation that he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump’s installation as president. Meanwhile the Russians keep denying that such conversations ever took place.

Flynn, a loyal surrogate for Trump during his presidential campaign, is now the third Trump adviser — and second top Trump official — to resign over his ties to Russia throughout the course of Trump's campaign and nascent presidency.

Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, was first. Carter Page, an early foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, subsequently took a leave of absence from the campaign amid scrutiny over his dealings with Russia.

All three are mentioned in a dossier alleging serious misconduct and conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia's government. The document's findings were presented by top US intelligence officials to President Donald Trump and senior lawmakers last month.

The White House has dismissed the dossier as fiction but some of the dossier's material has been corroborated by US intelligence officials, CNN reported last week.

The Kremlin began cultivating Flynn in 2015, when it funded his trip to Moscow and paid him to speak at a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of the state-sponsored news agency Russia Today. Top Democrats are now calling for an investigation into whether Flynn violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting money from a foreign country.

Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager who advised a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine for nearly a decade, resigned five days after The New York Times reported that the party had earmarked $ 12.7 million for Manfort for his work between 2007-2012.

The dossier claims that Manafort "managed" the communication between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and was receiving "kickback payments" from deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych throughout 2016. Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 and has lived in Russia under the protection of the Kremlin since.

"When campaign chairman and NSA [national security adviser] both resign over Russia ties there is more," Ben Rhodes, a former top national-security adviser to Obama, tweeted on Tuesday. "Manafort and Flynn had nothing in common except Russia and Trump."

As happened with Manafort, Page's role within the Trump campaign changed after news of his Russia connections became public. Page, whom Trump named as early foreign policy adviser to the campaign, served as an adviser on key transactions   for Russia's state-owned energy giant Gazprom before setting up his own energy investment fund, Global Energy Capital, with former Gazprom executive Sergei Yatesenko.

Page denied meeting with any sanctioned individuals during his trip, but he took  a leave of absence from the Trump campaign shortly after the Yahoo report was published. The Trump campaign subsequently distanced itself from Page, claiming it never worked with him.

Page's extensive business ties to state-owned Russian companies were investigated by  a counterintelligence taks force set up last year by the CIA, according to several media reports. The investigation, which is reportedly ongoing, has examined whether Russia was funneling money into Trump's presidential campaign — and, if it was, who was serving as the liaison between the Trump team and the Kremlin.

The crucial questions that now arise are: why did Michael Flynn resign as National Security advisor if the conversations never took place, and if, on the other hand the conversations indeed took place, did the President know it, and when did he know it?

The Russians are clearly worried at what they consider an inept diplomatic performance by the new administration. It appears that political elites in Moscow have stopped cheering enthusiastically for the new “revolutionary” president. After all, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, and certainly the idea of a new revolution is not being encouraged by the likes of Putin, despite his lip service to it. Revolutions usually mean change of regimes.

Trump was expected to be a complying ally, a sort of puppet of the Kremlin, somebody who would assist Putin in making Russia great again. instead he is proving to be politically inept likely to create a mess of Putin’s vision of a greater resurgent Russia. Hillary Clinton does not look so bad any longer.

Most disturbing for Putin is that Trump and not Putin is now the most mentioned name in the Russian media. Unlike most Europeans, most Russians seem to be sympathetic toward Trump. They seem to share his aversion to win-win politics and Bannon’s vision of apocalyptic politics.

They do not mind Machiavellian ploys, of which they seem to be masters; what they are witnessing instead, is an erratic, vindictive, simplistic, narcissistic, insecure, delusional personality bordering on the pathological with delusions of dismantling America’s “old regime.” That comes too close for comfort. What if the Russian people also got the idea that the time has come for a new regime?

They are also witnessing with alarm that the chances are growing that eventually a rattled judiciary and Congress may react with impeachment procedures in defense of a violated constitutional system.

White House strategist-in-chief Stephen Bannon is surely worried about that prospect, and so are the Russians. They do not mind the populist anti-elitism, but they do mind, with Bannon, its anti-establishment and the ultra-nationalistic aspects. The establishment right now are Putin and Trump. After all, the Russians remember well that in 1917 the Russian revolution was encouraged by the Germans with the aim of pulling Russia out of the war, and it worked.

The Russians had hoped for normalization. What they are getting is political incompetence, ushering turmoil and confusion, possible trade wars, and global instability. Trump is beating Putin’s penchant for creating instability, thrashing international rules in order to play an oversized international role. Even anti-Americanism does not seem to work as well any longer.

It is also beginning to dawn on the Russians that if Trump is impeached, as it looks likely, it may unleash an anti-Russian reaction in Congress, to wit Sen. McCain and Graham, among others. That would certainly restrict the Kremlin’s geopolitical options. They are worrying that their eagerness to ensure Trump’s election the presidency may have resulted in a bad bargain after all. But stay tuned, the best of this geopolitical mess may still be in the making.


Column 7

The non plus ultra of Incoherence and Incompetence


The Imperial President Donald Trump

What has been the response of President Donald Trump to the revelations on the Russian connection to the US presidential election of 2016? Simply a flurry of tweets minimizing the problem and blaming it on those who lost the election. In other words, what has ensued is an attempt to explain away incompetence, blunder, even illegality. But never in a coherent rational way.

In fact, even before his inauguration, “Caligula redivivus” was strutting around claiming that he’d be the greatest president this country has ever had, because he was not a political expert; he was outside the system. Some 46% of voters somehow bought such an inane idea and now we are beginning to get the nasty results. It’s like saying: we have tried knowledge and expertise, it hasn’t worked, now, let’s try ignorance and incompetence.

We are presented with a White House whose staff, like the Commander in chief, seem to be abysmally ignorant of the processes governing the executive branch of the government vis a vis the other two branches. E.g., the process leading to the executive order on travel for a selected group of Muslims was bungled. Apparently its overseers were Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller. They requested no input of relevant agencies, no official legal counsel besides the advice of Rudy Giuliani. Results? The whole thing was unbalanced and disorderly. As it was to be expected, the judicial, which in the US has equal status with the executive and the legislative, found the order unconstitutional and put it on hold.

This is a president who has exhibited a tremendous lack of concern about policy and bureaucratic details; incapable of clear directions on how things should run and how his staff should comport itself. He already seems to be under water. All the more he needed an experienced staff around him. What has he done instead? He has staffed the upper echelon of government with people with little or no government experience. Bannon, except for a stint in the Navy, has never worked in government. Neither have Priebus, Kushner, Conway. Miller has some experience but not in the executive. The same goes for cabinet positions.

The results of this lack of expertise are quite apparent. We now have an administration less interested in governing, and more interested in disruption and confusion but deluding itself that it is “a well-tune machine” as Trump refers to it. In reality, it is careening at high speed toward a wall, but it is not the one envisioned by Trump .

There is an incredible amount of jockeying for position and influence to get the ear of the imperial president. Results: leaks galore, in an attempt to undermine one another. The person for whom those leakers are working for watches a great deal of cable news. In one instance he called former security counsel Flynn in the middle of the night to have him clarify whether it is better to have a strong dollar or a weak dollar. In another instance, he declared being unaware that an executive order he had signed put Bannon on the “principals’ committee” of the National Security Council.

He has demanded that briefing papers be limited to a single page with many graphics and maps. One must suppose that for someone used to 140 characters tweets, and a commensurate span of attention, one page must appear quite voluminous and undounting.

Several top advisers, all with sycophantic tendencies, describe him as a living god with infallible judgment and superhuman accomplishments, which is all music to Trump’s ears. One hears comments such as “we have a president that has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration” (Miller). What immediately jumps to mind is another such imperial personality of long ago, emperor Caligula of Roman Empire fame. Even his horse was “brilliant,” so he nominated him to be a senator of Rome with all the privileges and prerogative of a Roman senator. I suppose we may console ourselves that the derangement has not reached that stage, yet.

In any case, the spectacle has become comical and conjured up a Fellini surreal circus atmosphere, but it is also frightening. For example, recently as Trump was dining with PM Abe at Mar-a-Lago with club members, (what’s even more frightening for me personally is the fact that it is only two or three miles from where I live) he took a phone call about a North Korean missile lunch as the Club, and as members looked on from their tables, he proceeded to transform the evening into a strategy session. We know this because those presents, which of course excluded the press, who needs them, revealed the event to CNN. Then, when the press reports the story, they get accused of leaking classified information. It must have felt that way at the Roman imperial court of Emperor Caligula. Even the praetorian guards assigned to his security must have felt confused and disoriented.

The question arises: what will happen when a real crisis ensues? And it will, sooner or later. We can attempt to imagine it, but I doubt that the antics of a slightly psychotic individual can ever be rationally analyzed and explained away, even by a brilliant geo-political mind.


End of Week 1 (11-17 June 2017)



Week 1 -


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Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
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