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The Caligula Presidency: a Weekly Ovi Column - Week 6
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-07-22 09:46:07
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Week 6 (Columns 29-35 (16-22 July 2017)
(Columns written on a daily basis March 19-25, 2017)
On: 36) The Cleverness by Half of the Master Puppeteer in the White House, 37) Satire, Self-Parody, Derangement, 38) The New Normal, 39) White Supremacy and Objectivist Capitalism, 40) The Deeper Question of a Shallow Analysis, 41) The Caligula Presidency Budget, 42) An Illegitimate President?


Column 36 (16 March 2017)
The Cleverness by Half of the Master Puppeteer in the White House


In my daily column “The Caligula Presidency,” and elsewhere, I have attempted to delineate the background of Steve Bannon’s egregious conspiracy theories as well as his political convictions. Here, I’d like to further delineate the intellectual profile of the man.

There is no doubt that he likes to be perceived as a serious intellectual with a vast scholarly horizon who reads deep impenetrable books not accessible to regular, slightly stupid people. Somebody, in other words, who wants to dismantle (he calls it “deconstructing”) the Deep State or the established institutional bureaucratic order, a la Lenin; one who governs by chaos. But is this mere cleverness by half, a pure myth, and a dangerous one at that? Let’s see.

Since he is the master-mind, the man of ideas in the White House, to understand Trump’s insane and dangerous beliefs, we may need to understand Bannon’s first, then decide if what they are selling is rational and normal or highly toxic. For, to normalize Bannon is to normalize Trump; there is no two way around it. In other words, we need to decide whether or not we wish to buy what they are selling; in other words, make a deal. And what, pray, might that be?

For one thing, he wants to be seen not as a conspiracy theorist but as a bright ideologue eager for a Big Ideological Battle. What might that battle be? Nothing short than a global holy war against Islamic fascism, never mind if this entails resurrecting nationalism and fascism of old, which is not a Moslem invention but a Western product.

Having insinuated himself into tremendous political power, he is now realizing that he might be able to do something with it, not just write about it in a conspiracy theory blog. It’s dawning on him that some of his ideas on white supremacy and extreme fascistic nationalism might be brought into the realm of the possible. He imagines he is writing his own clever by half conspiracy book and that people in general are stupid enough to read it and be persuaded. His only obstacle as of now is the media which he perceived as “the enemy of the people” and part of the Deep State.

He supposedly has already outlined a three part movie wherein the Muslims invade America and establish the Islamic States of America based on Sharia law. All made possible by the enablers who constitute the Deep State, or the establishment, if you will, and which need to be eradicated by any means available. If it sounds deranged, so it is. That kind of scenario is actually physically impossible, given today’s geo-political facts. But since when did facts stop a Bannon or a Trump.

Another surprising find is that Bannon, like Paul Ryan, considers himself a good Catholic, a theologian of sorts who consorts with the likes of Cardinal Raymond Burke in the Vatican, a severe conservative in open opposition to Pope Francis. What would a Burke and a Bannon chat about in the Vatican? Well, for one thing that Western Civilization is in the midst of a perilous decline. What it desperately needs now is the Christian militant wing of the Catholic Church to call for a new crusade against the infidels. This view has nothing to do, by the way, with Ayn Rand’s brutal form of capitalism that creates wealth for the few and uses people as commodities. In that sense he differs from Ryan or even Trump’s political-economic ideology. His ideology is grounded in an idealistic, if racist, vision and world view and is therefore more fanatical and extreme, and therefore more dangerous.

It is important to keep in mind that this Christian civilization that Bannon and Burke have in mind is not based on traditional universal Christian principles based on the Fatherhood of God vis a vis all human beings, but it is racial, based on white supremacy and extreme nationalism often parading as populism and concern for people’s welfare. The populism makes it easier to present it as Christian but on closer examination it looks neither Christian nor peace oriented.

Consider the executive orders on travel bans from Muslim nations, which are understood to have been drafted by Bannon, the man who has zero experience in foreign policy but now sits on a permanent seat as a permanent member of the National Security Council. Trump signed the order without even bothering to read it carefully. Trump reads nothing and therefore what you are hearing in those executive orders is Bannon, the puppet master. One can hear Bannon’s voice and disruptive ideology in most of Trump’s campaign speeches.

Even the inauguration address was mostly written by Bannon with some help from Miller. Later Bannon praised the speech in an interview with the Washington Post saying that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.” And he said a mouthful. Jackson was a populist and a racist who passed the Indian Removal Act defying the Supreme Court ruling against it, relocating the Cherokees to reservations. A few days later a picture of Jackson appeared in the oval office. Remember the expression “American carnage” which the speech contained?

So Jackson is the president Bannon wants Trump to be. But the courts stopped them both. They served notice that they just can’t do what they wish with immigration and that the judicial branch has a pivotal voice in it. A rewrite was necessary; one that has taken Bannon a whole month. Even Trump got a bit impatient.

So Bannon has proven intellectually that while he can be clever, by half, he seems to be unable to be wise and that his world is not so visionary and large as he’d like us to believe. He is not a builder. He is a mere destroyer. Most of what he writes about is dark and negative with no real vision or plan visible. And what is his motive? The need to be right, which he shares with his puppet: the president of the US. The crucial question then is this: have we become their enablers?

In one of his addresses, at a prayer breakfast speech Bannon made the following disturbing statement: “It may not be pretty for a little while.” What was he referring to? He might have been thinking of what he announced a few months ago while explaining his conspiracy theories, that the US and China will eventually fight a war over islands in the South China Sea. This will happen relatively soon, over the next decade. As he put it: “there is no doubt about that.” He also announced a shooting war in the Middle East.

Some two thirds of America now believe those “prophecies” of sorts, and that is troubling indeed. Here again, will we, the public and the citizens who put those two con-men in the White House become his enablers? Will the media, at least, continue to be skeptical and investigate the truth no matter where it leads, or will it succumb to the intimidation of the true believers, or worse, begin to discuss their wrong-headed ideas as rational and plausible? That is to say, will genuine intellectuals and journalists continue to indulge and feed their delusions of grandeur? It all remains to be seen.


Column 37 (17 March 2017)
Satire, Self-Parody, or Derangement?


To watch Sean Spicer at his daily media briefing and his lame defense of Trump’s latest tweets, is to watch an exercise in self-parody that can only be matched by satire. It’s like watching Inspector Clouseau investigating himself. It would be funny were it only a reality show, but it is tragic when it portents the destruction of a whole polity.

We now witness daily an attempt to clarify what, more often than not, ends up more unclear and muddled. Take Trump’s evidence-free allegation that, prior to his election, his phone in the Trump Tower was wiretapped by former president Barack Obama. Spicer simply explained it away by claiming that the word “wiretapping” in Trump’s tweet broadly meant surveillance and other surreptitious activities.

That kind of “clarification” has convinced few, if any, people. Most intelligent people, on both sides of the political spectrum, have arrived at the ineluctable conclusion that this cavalier allegation about a former president is an affront to the entire democratic political system of the country; a system that has been in place for more than two hundred years and has served the country well.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice which is allegedly looking for the evidence to support the Trump allegation has asked for more time from the Congressional Committees conducting the investigation. It has received an extension till March 20. Kellyanne Conway, on the other hand, goes around explaining away the “surveillance” (it’s no longer the original phone tapping) by referring to microwaves that turn into cameras.” 

The question naturally arises: when will these “funny” tragi-comedic characters, claiming to be our guides and leaders, end this abominable charade?


Column 38 (18 March 2017)
The New Normal: No Tax Returns plus Retention of Conflicts of Interests


The mystery of Donald Trump’s tax returns thickens despite the fact that a partial copy of his 2005 federal filing has mysteriously surfaced, and then published by journalist David Cay Johnston of MSNBC.

The document sheds little light on the financial dealings of the self-proclaimed art of the deal expert. It feels cherry picked, to make a point, hence the suspicion from the outset that it was the same Trump who has decided to disclose it surreptitiously.

Be that as it may, it was authenticated by the White House. It shows that in 2005 Trump paid about $38 million on an income of $150 million at a tax rate of 25%.

What is intriguing is that the document has drawn outrageous protests from the White House, never mind the protection of such publishing by the first amendment of the Constitution unless obtained by force, stealth or solicitation.

Johnston, in fact, obtained them unsolicited; he found them in his mail box, but the White House, nevertheless continues to reiterate its cavalier accusations of  “media’s dishonesty,” implying that the partial returns were stolen (a tweet by the president the next day, said as much putting in doubt the way Johnston obtained it). Somebody with a black hood on, perhaps former president Obama, went into trump tower at 3 at night and stole the document…Inspector Clouseau to the rescue…

At the same time a tweet by Trump junior asserts that this will put to rest once and for all the charge that his father evaded showing his tax returns. Even inspector Clouseau must feel that this is like having the cake and eating it too.

But the fact is that the document, such as it is, remains awfully inadequate. It does not include what is most important: the sources of the income, the partners, to whom were interests paid, other relationship which will help an investigator determine whether or not Trump faces unprecedented conflicts of interests. Meanwhile the stubborn refusal to disclose his tax returns stands. The lame excuse continues to be that he cannot show them because he is under audit.

This was the rather self-serving official comment of the White House: “Before being elected President, Mr. Trump was one of the most successful businessmen in the world with a responsibility to his company, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required. That being said, Mr. Trump paid $38 million dollars even after taking into account large scale depreciation for construction, on an income of more than $150 million dollars, as well as paying tens of millions of dollars in other taxes such as sales and excise taxes and employment taxes and this illegally published return proves just that.”

What is also undeniable in this latest nefarious corruption episode of the Caligula Presidency is that the potential for unethical conflicts of interest remains as high as ever. Both the president and his immediate family have retained interests in their business thus violating the Constitution’s prohibition on receiving foreign payments while in office, and of eliminating even the appearance of impropriety.


Column 39 (19 March 2017)
The Caligula Presidency:
Between White Supremacy and Objectivist Capitalism


Steve Bannon is undoubtedly one of the greatest influences on the erratic policies of the man who currently sits in the White House. Those who follow the political news closely know Bannon as a conservative Catholic Crusader of sort, a white supremacist out to save Western Civilization from Islam and Sharia law. When looked at close quarters, it sounds more like the language of White supremacy and less like the language of the Christian gospels, to be sure. Less well known are his views on modern capitalism.

Bannon’s vision of capitalism comes quite close to that of an aspiring kleptocrat who would probably define it as “knowing how best to fleece investors, workers and consumers. That plays quite well for the puppet view of business and reality, the one who wrote “The Art of the Deal.” They both think of it as “enlightened” capitalism. To their way of thinking, it’s a win-win situation, in as much as it works well for both the exploiter and the exploited.

But there is a problem. The American political system still has two other branches besides the executive: the judiciary and the legislative, and Trump cannot yet rule by fiat; that may come a bit later. For the moment Bannon and Trump need to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress, which under the leadership of Paul Ryan, is more devoted to Ayn Rand’s “Objectivist” unregulated capitalism than to Bannon’s “enlightened” capitalism. Ryan is proud of having grown up reading Rand’s philosophy and sees no problem in also considering himself a good Catholic. In that attitude toward Catholicism the two are alike.

So, it is not exactly correct to say that only the ignorant white working-class voted for Trump. It includes the likes of Paul Ryan, college educated. But what is intriguing is that those educated fellows reject Bannon’s “enlightened” capitalism. What they wish to do is gut social spending, reverse progressive taxation, and deregulate business.

Given that there are a number of racists in Congress, as well, they have found little opposition to their anti-immigrant laws and the weakening of civil rights promulgated, so far, by executive order. After all, “objectivism” when translated into policy is implicitly racist: the reductions in social spending affect mostly the poor and the minorities who are mostly public sector employees and beneficiaries of program serving the poor and the underprivileged.

There seems to be harmony between White Supremacy and Objectivistic Capitalism, but it is deceptive. A point of tension is health care. Ryan wants subsidies for those with insufficient income pruned as much as possible, if not completely eliminated. Elimination remains the ultimate goal. Not a very Christian vision, to be sure.

Bannon, on the other hand, knows, even by personal experience, that whites have expensive medical problems, despite the fact that their claim to be the superior race.” So this heart-less pruning operation has to proceed carefully, or there might be a terrible backlash at the polls in 2018 and 2020. Consequently Bannon has been advising Trump not to support Ryan’s proposals too enthusiastically; pretend to do so, but let them die on the grapevine.

There is another bone of contention: infrastructure. The GOP’s traditional inclination is to spend money only on the military and law enforcement. Trump and Bannon, on the other hand, wish to introduce temporary construction jobs to rural white communities: new bridges, roads, repairs. The Republicans, while not rejecting those outright, are demanding an offset: deep cuts in expenditure benefiting the poor, mostly non-whites. That, however, may not be a sufficient offset against a trillion dollar’s worth of infrastructure.

There is a place, however, where both sides agree, there should a brutal and uncaring decimation, namely the “Administrative state,” or the government employees that supervise the economy. If deeper cuts are needed it may become problematic in as much as they may infringe of white folks’ quality of life.

 So, the Caligula presidency finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The dilemma is especially acute when it comes to the President’s Russian connections, a problem that simply will not go away. Did Trump illegally collaborate with Russia’s interference in the US presidential elections? Should impeachment proceedings be initiated?

Some Republicans are resisting a non-partisan inquiry into the Russia matter. They are mindful of the fact that had the Republicans controlled Congress during the Watergate scandal, Nixon might have survived it. Trump, far from admitting anything, is doubling down with his Obama wiretap fantasy, another rabbit to throw to the media and create distraction.

Trump and Bannon probably already suspect that Pence and Ryan are now waiting in the wings. Nevertheless, the above delineated struggle between Congress and the White House, which has been going on mostly behind the curtain, is now surfacing with the heated discussions around health care.

The saddest thing of all is this: whether Bannon’s or Ryan’s social philosophy prevails, most Americans will have to suffer, if not immediately, in the long run, unless they are willing to raise the stakes against those who reject a more humane perspective on government. That possible outrage may be the only consoling silver lining on an horizon gathering dark menacing clouds.


Column 40 (20 March 2017)
The Deeper Question on the Shallow Analysis, Deep State, Fake News, of Trump’s Presidency


I keep bumping into the expression “Deep State” in reference to contemporary American and Western politics. I have seen it referenced repeatedly in this very magazine. What is it exactly?

It seems to have become synonymous for dark government forces. It is employed any time a negative news story about President Trump surfaces. But who might those dark government forces be? Well, the usual explanation, by those in the know, is that they are a cabal left over by the Obama administration, mostly liberal bureaucrats and intelligence workers who, in collution with the liberal media, are out to undermine the Caligula presidency. Moreover, they are accused of being un-American and enemies of the people.

As Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., R-Calif. Has aptly put it: “overall, I think that the Trump presidency is dealing with seditious people within the Department of Justice, within the FBI, within the Department of Interior, within the CIA. There are people that do not approve of the Trump presidency, and I think they are trying to take him down from the inside.”

As Sean Hannity, of Fox News has been advocating recently: “Trump should be purging these saboteurs before it is too late.” This is reminiscent of the Hitler purges of the 30s within the Nazi party at the beginning of his nefarious regime. After that suggestion by Hannity it did not take long before Trump unceremoniously fired every US attorney appointed by Barack Obama.

Does a Deep State really exist or is it a fabrication of paranoid right wing extremists? Let’s look at some facts: there are actually some 4,000 federal government positions appointed by the president. The vast majority of those who work for the government, however, some two million employees, are not appointed and spend their entire career  in government independent of their party affiliation.

So, the deeper question beyond conspiracy theories is this: is the Deep State a real and present danger or it an imagined danger? Is its purpose to subvert a “legitimate” president, or is it a mere diversionary tactic to distract people and Congress from pursuing important inquiries about the innumerable conflict of interests Trump is involved in? That question deserves an honest answer.


Column 41 (21 March 2017)
The 2018 Proposed Caligula Presidency Budget:
Culminating Thirty years of Reaganomics?


It has been pointed out that if you wish to know the value system of a society, all you need to do is look at its budget. A budget proposal reveals, as no other rhetorical tool will, what is really important to a society and what is not.

Some have called the 2018 budget proposal extreme. That might have been true for Reagan’s 1981 budget proposal. This one is uncaring and cruel, almost sadistic toward those who need the most help in our society. It is also stupid and barbaric, imbued with the sadly erroneous and flawed notion that the only function and purpose of government are the provisions of guns and the serving of the rich. It caters to greed, ignorance, and retrograde policies. All that one needs to do is look carefully at the above chart of federal spending.

It is the culmination or ideal of conservative governance; the logical, dystopian end of Reaganism and Tea Partyism. It’ is a swamp fed by all the tributaries of modern conservative thought. Those who end up in that swamp, die in it; they drown in sinkholes of bigotry and class anger. It viciously attacks the NEA, the NEH, the CPB; it determines that rural museums, Ken Burns, Antiques Roadshows are too elitist for regular people. It takes away programs such as “lunch on wheels” for the elderly, the hungry and the shut-in.

The Chart reflects thirty or so years of Reaganism, which has seen ongoing stagnation of wages for the middle class while the rich have doubled and tripled their incomes. It has seen distributive justice, one of the functions of any just state, made a mockery of. It has seen labor unions intimidated, often eliminated or considerably weakened. It has seen health, education and economic opportunity restricted and deemed a privilege rather than a right. This is hardly progress; it is more like sadism. It is the stuff that imperils democracy, engenders discontent, and promotes popular revolutions.

It now remains to be seen, if the budget is passed and implemented, how the vast majority of people will react to the latest fraud to which a savage Randian kind of capitalism, so called objectivist capitalism, will condemn them. For shame!


Column 42 (22 March 2017)
Is Trump an Illegitimate President? Most young People think so


It is a measure of poetic justice that the man who a few years ago went around accusing President Obama of being an illegitimate president (because allegedly he was not born in America) now finds himself branded as illegitimate by the vast majority of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 (see the GenForward poll below), at the tune of 74%.

Overall, only 22% of young adults approve of the job Trump is currently doing as the 45th US president. The mere thought that he is president doesn’t sit well with them. They are a diverse group but more than half disapprove of the job Trump is currently doing.

We need to keep in mind that Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote by a whopping 3 million votes. Also, that his legitimacy has been questioned by a popular House representative, John Lewis, D-Ga, with this statement: "I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton."

Of course Trump, who considers winning as the all-important consideration on any issue, declares himself a winner all the times, never admits to any weaknesses or mistakes, and never apologizes about anything, continues to vehemently deny Lewis’ statement.

It remains to be seen what a Congressional investigation uncovers, whether or not it is capable of a non-partisan probe, and whether or not it has the backbone to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, and eventually start impeachment proceeding if corruption and malfeasance are uncovered. Stay tuned! It’s getting more and more interesting by the day.



End of Week 6



Week 1 -Week 2 - Week 3 - Week 4 - Week 5 - Week 6


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