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The Caligula Presidency: a Weekly Ovi Column - Week 2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-06-24 11:46:45
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Week 2 (18-24 June 2017)
(Columns written on a daily basis from Feb. 14 to Feb.  2017)
On the Kremlin connection, damage to Democracy, leaks 


Column 8 (Feb 13-20)

The Caligula Presidency Persistent Ties to Russia


Retired Gen. Michael Flynn had to resign from his position as as President Donald Trump's national security adviser amid reports that he discussed sensitive national-security information with Russia's ambassador to the US while he was still a private citizen. He was the third Trump adviser — and second top Trump official — to resign over his ties to Russia. 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 White House has dismissed the dossier as fiction, but some of the dossier's material has been corroborated by US intelligence officials who have been looking into potential contact between Trump's team and Russian officials when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to retaliate against sanctions introduced by President Barack Obama in December.

According to the unverified dossier, 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 to Manafort 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.

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 traveled Moscow for three days in mid-July, when he gave a speech at the New Economic School and, according to Yahoo, met with the sanctioned CEO of Russia's state oil company, Igor Sechin. The dossier, meanwhile, alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of the sale of a 19% stake in Rosneft if he pressured Trump to lift sanctions on Russia. 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 set up last year by the CIA. The investigation is ongoing and is examining 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.


 Column 9 (10 Feb. 2017)

How Much Havoc to Democracy can a Deranged Presidency Create?


Recently I had a robust discussion with a colleague on the predicament of American democracy. I was told that I should desist from my obsessing with President Trump and focus instead on the damage already done. Trump is merely filling the vacuum created by such damage. He kept reminding me that it is not him who is crazy, it is us who are crazy for electing him.

He went on to characterize the nature of the damage created previous to Trump’s election: in the first place there is the failure, after the Cold War, to establish a working, cooperative, trustworthy relationship with Russia, at least on common grounds. In the second place, there is the failure to properly assess and appreciate the existential threat which global warming represents.

As a result of those failure the world may be a much less safer place today than it was before 1991. This general feeling of insecurity (or malaise, as President Carter would call it)  actually began with President Clinton, followed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. After 1991, instead of working with Russia, the US asserted its military power, expanded NATO toward Russia’s borders, and proceeded to invade several Middle East countries. In effect the Cold War was revived rather than ended once and for all.

While during the Cold war the existential threat was felt to be from powerful nuclear weapons, something that was easy to perceive, today that threat seems to come from human-induced climate change which is not as easy to perceive. It requires at a minimum, a basic knowledge of the dynamics of quantum physics, earth’s climate, economic history. Our politicians, unfortunately, are more versed in receiving money from lobbyists, gas company and billionaires out to throw regulations for the sake of profits. Thus we are gambling with our very survival as a human species.

My response was that while all that is undeniable, the fact remains that there is an element of recklessness and even derangement in Trump’s attitude toward nuclear weapons and climate change. He has been known to suggest casually that Japan and South Korea ought to become nuclear powers; that a new nuclear-arms race would not be a bad idea, that when it comes to ISIS they ought not be put off the table, that the most disturbing thing in all that is the sheer denial, the fact that Trump has turned over environmental policies to the oil and gas industry (think of Exxon Mobil at the State Department, and Scott Pruit, someone financed by the fossel-fruit industry, not to speak of the Koch brothers.

What in fact continues to be exhibited at the White House is a bully whose bluster is designed to intimidate. An attitude that seems to imply that everybody is a rival or a foe. There are killers and there are losers, and the bluster insures is meant to place the killer ahead of the loser.

My point to my colleague is that faced with this unique pathological situation, just reasonable arguments may not do the trick. Perhaps facing down the bully when his emotions get the better of him. This man, like emperor Caligula, is not within the box and perhaps one has to think outside the box and resort to satire. Fortunately there are courts (the judicial) and a Congress (the legislative) to help us out.

We finally agreed that the issue is not simplistic and needed further reflection on our part. In the meantime we attempted to define the ways by which a narcissist’s recklessness could be kept in check, or at least mitigated. We came up with those: the judiciary who will quash many of those ill conceived executive orders.

A few patriotic Republican senators who refuse to stand by while our imperial president recklessly brings us to the brink of nuclear war? One thinks of McCain, Graham, Collins, Portman, Murkowsky. Would they allow the gutting of the Paris Climate Agreement? They too have children and grandchildren.

There may be silver lining in the rampant confusion we notice only after one month of Caligula presidency. It has managed to unite the world in some perverse way. It has managed to have the president of the EU declare the Trump administration, alongside Russia, China and the Middle East threats to the European Union. China’s Xi Kinping wants to pick up the internationalist mantle what Trump wants to relinquish. The UN is more resolved than ever in urging nuclear weapon countries to honor their solemn obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Millennials may now lead the way in unison with leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in making people aware of distributive justice and climate change, in putting brand names on notice that if they play along with Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, or American Petroleum Institute, or General Electric, or Pepsi, Walmart, IBM, Walt Disney there will be a price to be paid.

My colleague and I remain hopeful that people will refuse to be bullied and intimidated, for Trump is no Caesar or Augustus, he is more like a deranged Caligula and America is no Roman Republic on the verge of succumbing to mad emperors. We also remain hopeful that the system of check and balances will hold, even when weakened by the enemy of democracy. That is already happening: people are not willing to accede to bullies and insane inept politicians.


Column 10 (17 February 2017)

President Trump’s About-face on Leaks


“The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”
                                                 --A tweet from President Trump

The latest on the deranged Caligula presidency: Trump continues unhabated his gratuitous attacks on those who leaked information about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s phone calls with Russia, and the media for publishing it.

The attacks against leaks are striking as Trump attempts to shift the focus of his administration’s controversies over to what he calls the “real scandal” of leaks. At the same time, he has demanded an apology from the media for reporting on the disclosures, while also branding the information “fake news.”

This is indeed a newfound philosophy for Trump, who during the campaign enthusiastically embraced leaks that damaged Hillary Clinton.

“Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years,” Trump tweeted early Thursday. “Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!”

He characterized his administration’s performance in the first month in session as that of a “fine-tuned machine.”

Buckle you seat belts. Severe turbulence ahead is expected.


Column 11 (20 Feb. 2017)

A President who does not Read: Returning to Plato’s Cave?


“I never read a book from cover to cover”
       --President George W. Bush, while at Yale University

The quote above was overheard by a Yale professor when the future president of the US was still attending that renowned institution as an undergraduate young student. It does not portent a future scholar, but neither does it by itself, disqualify him from running from high office and eventually becoming president. There are other necessary talents besides the passion for books and the ability to read them from cover to cover to become president. But what mitigates the schlock of that quote is that at least it does not proclaim oneself proud of never reading anything. 

That is not the case any longer. We are now much further down the slippery slope of ignorance. What we have today in the White House is the sorry spectacle of somebody who is not only not embarrassed by that fact, but he is proud of it. When asked some time ago about the last book he had read, he replied that “I don’t have the time…I read areas, chapters, passages. I inform myself by watching TV shows” And of course he writes via tweets. In other words, his tweets are important as his oral words, but he does not much care for the words of others. Perhaps he does not have the adequate attention span to write anything over 140 characters. Let’s not forget, also, that he gave a 70 minute convention speech but failed to quote one single person other than himself.

This president has shown an extraordinary lack of interest in reading anything on anything. He has acknowledged never reading a presidential biography. He has at times declared the Bible his favorite book but has had difficulty quoting from it, and revealing a favorite verse, saying that it is too personal of a question to anwer. Then in a radio interview he suddenly remembered one verse; this one: “An eye for an eye.” You get the picture.

To be sure, in American history we have had plenty of presidents who were hardly intellectuals in any shape or form. But most of them admitted to cracking open a book for sheer pleasure, from time to time. For example Ronald Reagan loved military fiction. Moreover, just about all the founding father had vast, well cultivated personal libraries, not to speak of Lincoln who read voraciously all his life. That is to say, a love for reading has always been considered an essential endowment of being an American president. Alas, that is no longer a requirement. We may reach a point when it will be a liability.

Be that as it may, take a leader of a country who is not engaged with its literature, and I’ll show you a leader who will not have the foggiest idea about the initial founding vision on which that country is built, nor will he know where the country is headed to.

Indeed, books are part of the Great Conversation that in Western Civilization begins with the ancient Greeks. They show us how diverse and multi-cultural the world is. They provide us with an historical sense and an appreciation of the complexity of the life which becomes boorish and meaningless without them. But is appears that Trump has a different agenda, indifferent to any Great Conversation, unreflective, contemptuous of others’ ideas except one’s own.

I’d like to suggest that this kind of contemptuous anti-intellectual attitude presently running the country, one never fully tried before, threatens the idealism and indeed the very survival of our country as our founding fathers conceived it. It’s like standing Plato on his head and declaring that having tried life outside the cave by the light of the sun, we now find it more convenient to return to the dark cave dimly lit by fire that we came out of; that is to say, the cave of vulgarity, boorishness and ignorance. For shame!


Column 12 (21 Feb. 2017)

Assessing Management in the Present White House


President Trump has been in the White House very briefly. He came in reassuring us all that he would be a strong, efficient CEO who would hire the best and manage successfully just as he had managed his business empire (never mind tax return disclosure or a half a dozen filings of bankruptcy). So, perhaps as assessment is already past due.

Were one to ask an efficiency or management expert to settle on one adjective to describe Trump’s performance so far, he would probably opt for “tumultuous,” and he would not be too far from the target. The team Trump has assembled seems hardly equipped to produce a coherent management philosophy. It is no dream team able to withstand internal debates geared to solve complex political problems. Why is that?

For one thing, most CEOs and executives would advise against management by chaos accompanied by the berating of constituencies as an effective mode of running any kind of business.

Bottom of Form

In a little more than a month, the Trump administration has seen a key Cabinet secretary sunk by bipartisan opposition, a national security adviser asked to resign after misleading the vice president and potentially lying to the FBI, and a refugee and immigration travel ban hastily written then halted by courts. Also, a rambling news conference.

These questions arise: given that those mistakes were eminently preventable, is anyone able to say no to this president? How will the administration react to a real and unpredictable crisis? Is dissent allowed or are the only points of views permitted the ones that Trump wants to hear? Are there any checks to an impulsiveness characterized by the firing off of bizarre tweets declaring the media the enemy of the people? Is the White House really running “a well-tuned machine” as it claims?

Are there mechanisms in place to deal with an acute crisis? In that case, who would Trump bring in from the outside for help? Right now Trump relies on a small group of aides, his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared. What can be observed are diverse personalities jockeying for influence, chief among them Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Kellyanne Conway, and Rick Dearborn. There seem to be two competing groups with competing ideologies: the Bannon radical right-wing which wishes to pull out of trade agreements, strongly nationalistic, championing anti-immigrant sentiments, and the Priebus and vice-president Pence faction, on the right ideologically but more pragmatic and even more rational, focused on tax relief, cutting down regulations, reassuring foreign allies alarmed by Bannon’s far right nationalistic ideology. 

Bannon’s former news organization has published an anonymously sourced piece alleging that Priebus is on his way out. It is no wonder that, faced with such a tumultuous spectacle, Vice Admiral Robert Harward refused the offer of replacement for Michael Flynn as head of the National Security Council.

If one looks at Trump’s business career, that seems to be the way he has run his business: by pitting one group against the other. That may work if each group represents a different area of expertise. They can offer a different perspective from that of the opponent. But it will not work very well if debates turn ugly and competing factions emerge. Then boundaries become hard and sub-groups become toxic.

This invariably happens when the boss on top does not welcome diverse points of view and favors sycophants who tell him what he wants to hear. Too many have seen Trump fire those who disagree with him, to feel safe in doing so. Take the example of acting Attorney General Sally Yates who declined to defend Trump’s immigration order believing it unconstitutional. She was right, of course in her civil disobedience, as confirmed by a panel of federal judges that came to the same conclusion and halted the order. She got fired anyway and Trump called the judges “so called judges.”

What Trump does not have the foggiest notion of, is that it’s not about searching for sycophants who tell the boss what he wants to hear, but about searching for truth and creating an environment that permits such a search, wherein all angles can be explored and discussed. That does not seem to be happening in the present White House, which is why some historians are giving us a year at best to turn this tragic trajectory around, or we might as well kiss goodbye to democracy and the Republic, as we know it.


Column 13 (22 Feb. 2017)

Horror, the EU, and the Trump Administration: Cleaning up the Mess


EU policy makers are increasingly feeling as if they are trapped in a Hollywood horror story as they watch horrified an American administration govern with a split psychotic personality. One personality is sociable and even reasonable, represented by Mike Pence, the other is impulsive and redolent of the monster Frankenstein, represented by Donald Trump. Or is it Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Hard to tell.

This is going on as the credibility of NATO and even the existence of the EU hang in the balance under the pressure of far-right populists like Marine Le Pen in France, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands who are positioning themselves to win big at the upcoming elections.

The Europeans have interpreted the arrival of the likes of Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense John Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, as perfectly reassuring, in as much as they are trying to find a way to say the President does not really mean to say what he keeps saying. No, NATO is not obsolete, yes, the US supports the EU.

They want to take those reassurances seriously, till they tune in the latest news and hear the latest adulation of Donald Trump at a staged rally in Florida. That rally had little of the reasoned discourse we heard in Europe. So, Europeans are beginning to suspect that they are assisting at an incoherent circus where the above mentioned rational individuals have all been assigned the menial job of pooper scooper to clean up the messes left by the popular strutting elephant.

They see this baffling incoherence as confirmation that Disrupter-in-chief in the White House Stephen Bonner is still pushing his radical agenda which aims at the break up of the EU, the withdrawal from NATO, the exaltation of Putin’s authoritarianism which plays right into the hands of his “divide and conquer” strategy.

The issue for the EU now seems to have come down to this: how do we hedge our bets? If that’s what’s needed, they may be forced to cut deals with Putin; that in turn may compromise their participation in the Atlantic Alliance. This stance may even be taken by allies outside the EU, such as Australia, who may start to curry favor with China or Russia.

It is no wonder that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov now goes around proclaiming a “post-West world order” while McCain at the same Conference in Munich asserts rather unconvincingly that America will not be “laying down the mantle of global leadership" any time soon. It sounds unconvincing because Europeans need still to be convinced that adults are in charge in the While House and that English grammar and syntax there still has subjects and verbs. Judging from the daily deluge of tweets one can no longer tell.

Some historians are beginning to get the sense that Mike Pence may be a repetition of Gerry Ford, the vice-president who became president after the collapse of Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1974. One may hope for that final outcome, but I am afraid that the scooping will be necessary in the foreseeable future.


Column 14 (27 Feb. 2017)

Did Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen Discuss a pro-Russian PeacePlan
for Ukraine with Andrii Artemenko in January 2017?


Andrii Artemenko                                      Michael Cohen

Below are the latest revelations on the Russia-Trump Affair which have surfaced in the Media. It seems that the media is for a narcissist like the original mirror (or lake) of the original Narcissus. Without a mirror there is no Narcissus. Without the media there is no Trump. All his life he has had an indispensable relation with the Media, beginning with the times when he would call anonymously disguised as a public relation man to promote himself. The media is Trump’s necessary mirror.

It appears that in January of this year a meeting took place in a Manhattan restaurant which lasted 25 minutes between Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and a Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko. As per the same Artemenko’s revelations to CNN what was discussed was a proposal for Ukraine which found its way to the Trump administration in the White House.

Allegedly the deal revolved around leasing the whole of Crimea, already annexed by Russia in 2014, to Moscow for some 100 years. In exchange Russia would offer to withdraw its troops from the separatist regions in Ukraine’s east. Talking of the “art of the deal”!

Artemenko has said that Cohen had suggested that he would take the plan to Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, since disappeared from the stage. In a text message to CNN, Cohen denied delivering any documents to Flynn, and disputed Artemenko's recollection of their January conversation. Recently he stated that "I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn; something I stated to the New York Times." Yet, according to the Times Cohen had said that he left a sealed envelope with the proposed peace plan in Flynn’s office, which he later denied.

As it was to be expected, the White House has vehemently denied any knowledge of such proposal. Flynn did not respond to CNN's request for comment on this story. Cohen has told CNN that although he acknowledges having dinner with Artemenko, they never discussed peace in Ukraine. Also, Russia and Ukraine have rejected the alleged plan, and Artemenko has become the subject of an investigation for treason.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Russia refuses to discuss the lease of a region it already controls: "How can Russia rent its own region? This question itself is absurd."

A White House spokesman had this response to CNN's request for comment: "No one in the White House -- including the President, Vice President and senior members of the NSC -- has spoken to Mr. Cohen about any Russia-Ukraine peace proposal, and no one has spoken to Andrii Artemenko at all about any matter. The NSC keeps comprehensive records of documents received, and we have no record of receiving any proposal from Mr. Cohen. This is another absurd, misleading attempt to distract from the real reform taking place under President Trump."

The question arises: where is the truth here? Either the protagonists of this story are lying or they are living in an alternate reality. Of course there is a third alternative, which the White House would like us to accept, that the news is fake news.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that Narcissus necessarily needs his mirror (the media) or he will cease to be Narcissus. We are likely to see more of those acute psychotic narcissistic episodes in the future. Brace yourselves.


End of Week 2



Week 1 -Week 2 -


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