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The Caligula Presidency: a Weekly Ovi Column - Week 5
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-07-15 09:51:47
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Week 5 (Columns 29-35 (9 -15 July 2017))
(Columns written on a daily basis March 7-13, 2017)
On:  29)Trump’s Pinocchio nose, 30) Session’s recusal, 31) Trump’s amnesia at the fact that he is president,
32) the nexus between Trump’s wild conspiracy theories, 33) a tweeting feast, 34) rampant corruption,
35) the tweetstorms’ pooper scoopers.


Column 29 (7 March 2017)
Trump’s Pinocchio Nose Lengthens while
Baseless, Reckless Wiretapping Claims are Tweeted


“Certainly the Russians have to be chortling about the success of their efforts to sow dissension in this country” James Clapper, who for six years served as President Obama’s director of National intelligence, told Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

If the envelope’s was addressed to the Russians, the message inside was certainly intended for the present deranged occupant of the White House who has in the past has cavalierly charged, via tweet, that former president Obama tapped his phone while he was president elect in 2016. Clapper has denied that there ever was a FISA court ordered warrant for a surveillance operation on Trump’s Tower. So have spokespersons for Obama. In fact, no president can order a wire tap solely on his own authority.

The alleged charge echoed a Breibart article which detailed accusations made by conservative radio host Mark Levin. Meanwhile White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Press that the president will make no further comments on the claim. Obviously this is a ruse attempting to deflect attention; another rabbit sent out, a rather familiar pattern by now.

Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and CIA director perhaps explained it best  on Face the Nation when he speculated on Trump’s motives: "What I see here is that this president is making the same mistake past presidents made when they faced scandals, that he is trying to divert attention. They are trying to obfuscate. They’re trying to cover up. They are trying to somehow raise other issues. And, in the end, it is going to be the truth that will determine what is involved here, and not tweets, but the truth."

Even a number of Republicans are upset on this latest violation of public trust by a president who seems incapable of grasping the very concept of truth and honesty. Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska on Saturday called for nonpartisan statesmanship. "We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the president's allegations today demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots. A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health." 

Meanwhile Trump’s Pinocchio nose keeps getting longer and longer.


Column 30 (8 March 2017)
Trump’s Anger over Sessions’ Recusal from the Investigation of Russia’s Collusion


He thought it was unnecessary. His style is that of doubling down on lies and outrages. He thought that the recusal would only embolden his opponents whom he considers critics, not detractors. He kept raving: “We should have had a good week. We should have had a good weekend. But once again, back to Russia.” It’s almost as if Trump wishes Russia to just go away and never return. One wonders why.

After this display of anger, Trump left for a weekend at his Florida residence. However he ordered his chief of staff Priebus and his advisor Bannon, who had planned to come along, to stay behind, like two children who had just been grounded. Reminiscent this of Caligula’s reprimanding the praetorian guards by calling them “girls.”

But how is one to interpret this episode? Well there are several interpretations. One is that one can only contradict Trump at one’s own peril. One runs the risk of being bullied and treated like a child, or worse.

One wonders, though, who is the one with the mind-set of a nine year old here? The grounded or the grounder? One also wonders if the Republicans have begun to realize, belatedly to be sure, what they’ve bargained for. Hard to tell. Or, for that matter, if the country as a whole is now being served from the menu it ordered from, and now regrets what it  originally chose. What was ordered has not proven to be so appetizing after all. But it may be too late to send the food back. In any case, stay tuned, the best  of this bizarre movie is still in the making. For preview one needs to see another movie titled “Watergate.”


Column 31 (9 March 2017)
Could Trump Have Forgotten that He was President?


After President Trump’s evidence-free assertion that, just before the election, his phones were wiretapped by former President Barack Obama, Former Central Intelligence director Michael Hayden has suggested that Trump, during his week-end flurry at his home Mar-a-Lago, Florida, forgot something, namely that he was President.

As per Hayden, all he needed to do to verify what he asserts, and now wants investigated, is to use the powers of the presidency and ask the acting director of national intelligence, or the head of the FBI, to confirm or deny the story he had read from Breitbart, a publication formerly headed by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist.

Subsequently White House press secretary Sean Spicer asked that Congress investigate. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper categorically denied any suggestion that communications at Trump Tower were wiretapped before the election. Also according to the New York Times, FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s assertion.

Hayden has found Trump claim absurd. “After the mid 1970s the authority was taken away from the president,” he said. “The only way you get there, if you get there at all, is through a judge. He has to have probable cause.” The judge, Hayden explained, could then issue a warrant to the FBI under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

 “We’re off the map here,” Hayden said. “We are in unprecedented territory as well.” On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the former spy chief said he believes Trump’s tweeted wiretapping claim was strategic. “He’s trying to detract attention from what was a very, very bad news cycle,” Hayden said. “The president of the United States put his reputation, the reputation of his predecessor, and the reputation of this nation at risk to get at least a ‘draw’ out of the next 24 hours.”

In some way the above statement is reassuring: if there is a method and a strategy, we may still be in the realm of rationality. What if that does not happen to be the case? We would then be in uncharted territory. So the question arises: is there really a method to Trump’s Twitter compulsion, or is it just madness? And if it is that how much longer will the people around him continue to ignore it before they become complicit in it?


Column 32 (10 March 2017)
Is there a Nexus between Trump’s  Wild Conspiracy Theories,
Lying, and Abnormal Psychology?


After 5 turbulent months or so of “Caligula Presidency,” we have become accustomed to sudden “tremendous” tweet outbursts. Often the evidence for the allegations and the insults they convey is nowhere to be found. There is never an apology for declaring facts that turn out to be false when fact-checked, or for wild conspiracy theories, or for unsubstantiated ideas, or for fabricated “alternate facts.” If anything, doubling down occurs regularly.

Sometimes cleaner ups (what I call the “sycophantic pooper scoopers”) will be promptly dispatched to clean up the mess or backtrack, but they have strict orders never to apologize, for that may embolden the “detractors.” The strategy is to constantly remain on the attack. There also seems to be an inability to assume responsibility while living in an alternate universe concocted in one’s “brilliant” but slightly exalted mind.

Of course it is rather futile to explain or rationalize what appears crazy and deranged, but perhaps there is a method of sorts to the madness that can be analyzed. For this predictable pattern of conspiracy theory unsupported by facts and evidence has become all too familiar by now. We are expected to patiently grin and bear it, or risk becoming targets of the emperor’s anger, or worse, come under the intimidating range of his vengeful tweeters. Few have so far dared to tell the unadulterated truth and tell it like it is: that the emperor strolls around in splendid apparel but in reality he is naked.

Let’s briefly review a few of these cavalier promotions of conspiracy theories unsupported by any evidence. There is the claim that millions of undocumented migrants voted in the November election, which purports to explain why Trump lost the popular vote at the tune of three million votes. There is the claim that Obama was born outside the US, which has resurfaced recently. There is the claim that the refugees are not unfortunate victims of war but an army of invaders assaulting Western Civilization. There is the claim that Obama tapped Trump’s phone while Trump was president elect.

One of the more bizarre claims is that of the Deep State, which is sometimes called the “swamp to be drained,” consisting of disloyal members of the opposition (mostly Obama’s leftovers) still working in government agencies, in the sector of National Security, Judiciary, Military, the Liberal Media, especially the White House Press, needs to be drained by a drastic purge. All redolent, to be sure, of the purges conducted in the Nazi party and the civil government institutions in the Nazi party of the 30s in Germany.

One exemplar brought forth for dealing with this “swamp” so called, is that of Donald Reagan firing the Flight Controller for violation of federal law in the 80s, never mind that it was such an extreme anti-workers’ measure which began a tragic slide in America toward income inequality, the destruction of unions, the stagnation of middle class wages among workers; all regressions and discontents that came to a head in 2016, of which Trump has taken full advantage of, to win the election with the help of the Russians (for he lost the popular vote by 3 millions) and thus install his fat cats in the White House, the one percenter. Talking of Deep State!

In the field of psychology research has been conducted on people prone to those bizarre conspiracy theories, hence a tentative profile can be hazarded. They are usually the kind of  people at the edge of the political extremes. They distrust the government and people in power. They are usually disagreeable, unwilling to compromise and to get along, ready to pick up fights at the slightest provocation or disagreement. Paranoia is rampant: they see enemies everywhere. They have a weak sense of self-worth and need constant adulation and validation. They tend to find the cause for any of their problems outside their own actions. When they feel out of control of their own fate, they appeal to conspiracy theories for a ready explanation. They will assume the posture of knowing it all, while others have no clue.

And here lies the paradox, when it comes to somebody like Trump, arguably the most powerful man in the world, how can he possibly doubt his own ability to make things happen? If we look at his outbursts of anger, at least the ones which have surfaced, it is apparent that Trump finds it quite disquieting that he doesn’t seem to totally control the office of the presidency. It’s not quite like being a business CEO where you lift you hand and say, like captain Picard on the Enterprise, “make it happen.” In politics, the need for total control usually leads directly to dictatorship. Is that what Trump has imagined all along in his alternate universe full of alternate facts?

Psychological research has also discovered that those engaging in conspiracy beliefs in the face of their frustrations and setback are frequently those who are high on narcissism. This is quite apparent in Trump. When feelings of personal superiority are undermined, a scapegoat is sought, to bear the brunt of one’s rage. While in that state of rage the narcissist may sincerely believe that people are out to get him and that he is an innocent victim of unfair attacks. In turn that may produce negative feelings toward powerful opponents, especially those who refuse to be intimidated and are willing to challenge his overwhelming power. It may also produce cynicism about politics (“the swamp to be drained”), about human nature (“survival of the fittest” or the smartest) or excessive pride in one’s country, deemed better than any other.

Does the above explain “crazy like a fox” or is it a mere inadequate rationalization in an attempt to explain the unexplainable? Some insist that with Trump it is all a calculated strategy having nothing to do with psychological determinism or aberration, and we ought to understand it as such. It is simply a way of redirecting the conversation, of sending out a rabbit to distract from an investigation at hand too close for comfort.

So the question persists: crazy as a fox, or just plain crazy? Hard to figure even for a psychologist, but the telling signs are there in public view for anybody to behold and to reflect upon.


Column 33 (11 March 2017)
A Tweeting Fest, or Losing a Grip on Reality?


So far, the longest time President Trump has been able to stay away from Twitting has been four days, eight hours and five minutes. It began two days before his big speech to Congress on Feb. 28 (when he told us that “the time for trivial fights is behind us”), and ended two days later on March 2 when he sent a couple of accusations against Democrats: as having “lost their grip on reality,” and for engaging in “a total witch hunt.”

The next day he tweeted a picture of Vladimir Putin and Sen. Chuck Schumer having coffee and donuts with a mock demand for “an immediate investigation into Sen. Schumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!”

A few hours later a picture of Rep. Nancy Pelosi is sent, at a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Ambassador Kislyak in 2010 with this caption: “I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it.” He misspelled hereby two times: first he spelled it “here by” and then he spelled it “hearby” before finally getting it right. This despite the fact that, as he himself has repeatedly claimed, he has a “very good brain” and has gone to some of the best schools in the country.

Then came a tweeting bombshell: on Saturday March 4, from his week-end getaway Mar-a-Lago Trump tweets this: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

A few minutes later this bombshell was forwarded: “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!” (Here again two misspelling: “Tapp” and “Hearby,” despite the fact that the president still has the same “very good brain”).

Then this gem: “How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Only an hour later he sent out an insult to Arnold Schwarzenegger having nothing to do with the two previous gems: “Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t voluntarily leaving the Apprentice, he was fired by his bad (pathetic) ratings, not by me. Sad end to great show.”

What are we to make of this new false charge against president Obama?  So far no evidence has been presented by the White House. It appears that Trump got his motivating information from a Breitbart article long on insinuations and short on facts. That seems to be his preferred reading. He relies on “alternate convenient facts” and calls what is inconvenient “fake news.” That, it can logically be argued, is the real scandal.

The midweek meltdown may have occurred because on March 1 he was served with new revelations about the mysterious links between the Kremlin and his Administration; revelations rivaling those of Watergate. The first one to come out with those revelations was The New York Times.

All of this was followed by an article in the Washington Post revealing that Jeff Sessions had spoken twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the US, something he had not disclosed during his confirmation hearings for the post of Attorney General for Trump’s Justice Department. Then the Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump Jr. had been paid $ 50,000 for an appearance before a French think tank whose founder is an ally of the Russian government as an attempt to end the war in Syria.

J.D. Gordon, Trump’s national security advisor during the campaign, admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had directly intervened at Trump’s instigation to remove the language in the 2016 Republican platform which had called on the United States to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. Campaign advisor Carter Page admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had met with the Russian ambassador at the Republican National Convention. It is hard to imagine why so many people would lie if they didn’t have something pretty significant to cover up. Out of all of these revelations it was the news about Sessions — which may open him to perjury charges — that was the most alarming to the Trump entourage. Sessions was compelled to recuse himself from the Kremlin-gate inquiry.

Trump  was upset that he had not been consulted about that decision. With Sessions out of the picture, a special counsel could now be appointed by whomever might replace him. Independent counsels are appointed by, and answerable to a three-judge panel and they have the power to indict those who perjure themselves. This could not possibly be allowed to stand.

A distraction had to be found. What better than a concocted plot by his predecessor? After all, this was the same guy who, according to Trump, fooled the American people by hiding the fact that he was not born in the US. So the subject was changed by sending out another distracting rabbit promptly pursued by the press: the previous president had tapped the phone of the president-elect. No evidence for the charge has surfaced, as of now. Kellyanne, one of those advisors who does damage control and pooper scooping, now goes around saying that Obama did the spying by microwave oven. More and more people meanwhile are asking themselves the real relevant question what does Trump have to hide vis a vis the Kremlin? Stay tuned. The best is still to come.


Column 34 (12 March 2017)
The Caligula Presidency’s Rampant Corruption:
A Threat to American Democracy?


Here is a pundit’s interesting comment regarding the ongoing Trump presidency: “The man ran on chaos.  He won on chaos. And now he’s governing on chaos… He’s shaking up Washington! He’s exploding political norms! He’s also lighting his own pants on fire.”


Indeed. All one needs to do is substitute the word “corruption” to “chaos” and one will understand why the bureaucratic immune system of the entire American government is reacting as if it were being attacked by an invading virus. It can be identified as corruption. We’d be making a big mistake in treating it as a normal event of American history. It is not. It is unprecedented and highly perilous.


In the first place the man has surrounded himself with quacks and hacks that are unique in their approach to government and their disdain for democratic institutions. Take for example the sudden firing of US attorneys, specifically those appointed by the previous administration, considered integral part of what is egregiously dubbed “Deep State.” They are mere civil servants and bureaucrats suddenly accused of being the enemies and betrayers of the country. Steve Bannon, the strategist and puppet master in the White House wants to dismantle the very institutions which have well served the government logistics of the country for decades, simply to consolidate the power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judicial. He calls it “deconstruction” which sounds esoteric and academic but it’s only another Machiavellian ploy based on the assumption that might is right and the ends justify the means.

It’s all coming to a head. The question now is this: can the Republican majority in Congress hold out against this encroaching chaos till they pass their wish list for the president to sign? Considering how they have messed up Obama’s health care, it appears doubtful.

There are now serious questions about Trump’s violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. How serious is his claim that he has divorced himself from business interests? What about his relationship with kleptocrats all over the world, especially Russia. The sudden decapitation of the Justice Department makes one suspect a sinister motive for these flagrant violations.

Then there is the case of the swamp-drainer Preet Bhahara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where Trump’s business interests, including Trump Tower, are located. He has a number of investigations going, including one of Fox News. He was fired after he failed to return a call from Trump citing violation of Justice Department protocol and not wishing to give the impression of political interference. Obviously Bhahara was a bit too independent-minded and corrupt- free for Trump’s comfort.

It now remains to be seen if the various legislative intelligence committees of Congress investigating the Russia-Trump affair hand in that complex job to a special prosecutor where it properly belongs. Stay tuned, the reality show goes on, and the best is still to come.


Column 35 (13 March 2017)
The Trump Tweetstorms’ Pooper Scoopers


Only fifty or so days after president Trump’s inauguration we are at a point when it seems to be a new normal to be confronted daily with tweeted statements for which there is no discernible evidence. They simply seem to jump out of a mind that is unable to discern facts from imagined fiction. It all began with the assertion a couple of years ago that President Obama was not born in the US.

As long as he was a private citizen, Trump was not held accountable for the bombshell he regularly exploded on Tweeter. Now he is president and, in principle, he is responsible for what he tells the American people. But now he has an entire staff of White House assistants, counselors, spokespeople, press secretary, to defend, justify and explain away his habitual misstatements, impugn the credibility of his critics, and create distraction from additional inquiry. I have dubbed them “the White House Pooper-scoopers.”

It is not a pleasant job, literally or metaphorically. That’s because the usual base of Trump’s messages revolve around the cable news he happens to be watching at the moment. For a whole moment there wasn’t even a communication director coordinating the administration’s messages. Sean Spicer, the press secretary, filled that role at first.

When challenged on the veracity of the president’s bombshell, Spicer now has a ready-made answer: “The president’s tweet speaks for itself.” In other words, no further context is required to the 140 character messages dispatched by the August emperor Caligula. His word is almost equivalent of the law. Not once has he admitted that the White House might have made a mistake on anything.

One example is quite revealing: a Trump tweet blamed Obama for releasing prisoners from Guantanamo back to the battlefield. When confronted by the mathematical truth that the great majority of those released prisoners were under President George Bush, Spicer, rather than apologize and correct the record said that Trump “meant in totality the number that had been released on the battlefield” under both presidents.”

One of the “pooper scooper” is of course vice president Pence who finds the misstatements of Trump “refreshing” to the American people because “he always tells you what’s on his mind.”

But there is a cadre of pooper scoopers, former campaign surrogates and staffers, always at the ready to test the pliability and relativity of facts and of truth itself. These have managed to defend those three preposterous claims: that millions of people have voted illegally, that there is an imminent national security threat requiring an executive order restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, that President Obama personally ordered an illegal wiretap on Trump’s campaign. So far, there has been no legitimate evidence to support any of these claims and little movement to even begin an investigation.

Then there is Kellyanne Conway who on January 22 coined the famous slogan “alternative facts” in an attempt to defend the false claim of the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. She also invented the “Bowling Green massacre,” plugged Ivanka Trump’s fashion products incurring into ethics’ violation and then asserted, hours before he resigned, that Michael Flynn had “the full confidence of the president.” This open lying reached a point that Morning Joe TV show and CNN cut back on her appearances on the shows, not to speak of policy adviser Stephen Miller who called the voter fraud claim “a known secret in some states.”

Also at the ready on reserve there is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy press secretary and daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Her special tactic is that of citing mainstream outlets who allegedly have already reported what Trump has tweeted, which when fact checked turns out to be false.

When everything else fails there is always this one as expressed by Secretary of Security Kelly: “there is always a good reason for the president saying what he is saying.” That takes the price. Indeed, there is always a good reason why some people have contempt for the truth and why they speak as deranged individuals defending the indefensible and  the outrageous.


End of Week 5



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