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The Caligula Presidency: a Weekly Ovi Column - Week 7
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-07-29 10:55:28
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Week 7 - Columns 43-49 (23-29 July 2017)
(Columns written on a daily basis March 26 to April 1, 2017)
On: 43) a fake presidency, 44) impeachment or resignation, 45) Manafort and the pro-Putin project,
46) the alternate reality of the Health Care Act, 47) the naked emperor,
48) the beginning of the end of the Caligula Presidency, 49) John Adam’s republic of virtue.


Column 43 (26 March 2017)

Is The Caligula Presidency a Fake Presidency?


What remains trumped up and fake is Trump’s claim that his predecessor wiretapped his building in New York. Such absurd claim, like the emphasis on the leakers, is another rabbit sent among the media to cause distraction from the real probe.

The FBI and the Congressional probe of the Russia affair could drag on for months and years. It not making any easier the hard sell to those Republicans weary of Ryan’s health care package. While it has the president’s approval, strangely enough, he refuses to affix his name on it, as is generally his custom.

Trump’s approval rating is now down to 39% but Trump’s damage control team (its “pooper scoopers”) continue to valiantly deny Trump’s web of ties to Russia. Sean Spicer continues to argue that there is no evidence of collusion with Russia but then dismisses identical arguments by the same people about wiretapping allegations by former president Obama. A sure sign of derangement: a thing can be white and black at the same time.

Another example: Spicer now claims that Paul Manfort, a former associate had a “very limited role” in the 2016 election, when in fact he was, for a good while, Trump’s convention manager and then  his campaign chairman. Spicer also describes former foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn as a “volunteer” when in fact he was an insider in the President’s entourage during the campaign and delivered a high-profile speech at the RNC to then go on to serve as National Security Adviser. They were both subsequently fired by Trump after revelations about their connections to Russia surfaced.

Other associates to whom the Senate intelligence committee has asked to retain documents related to its Russia inquiry are Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, and Carter Page, an investment banker who was briefly in the campaign as advisor on foreign policy and a frequent traveler to Moscow.

Now the White House insists that the real controversy is how the investigation into all those advisors has become public. Trump and his pooper scoopers continue to insist that the leakers and whistle blowers are the real problem, not the Russia dealers hiding their nefarious political and financial deals.

Obviously there exist two parallel realities: one based on facts which are being investigated by the FBI, and the other an “alternate reality” rooted in the fantasy world of Trump and his deranged entourage in the White House. Which one ultimately prevails may well determine the fate of American democracy as we know it. Meanwhile more and more Americans are coming to the conclusion that what may be firmly in place in the White House is a “fake presidency.”


Column 44 (27 March 2017)

Impeachment or Resignation?


There is money being placed on the table on bets on Trump’s Presidency. This comes as no great surprise, given its surreal, circus-like, reality-show, unhinged style.

The betting odds indicate that Trump will likely be removed from office in the first term. What powerfully supports those odds are the following incontrovertible facts: Trump has been mired in controversy from day one of his presidency, there is presently an ongoing FBI investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia, a spate of controversial executive orders on travel bans for Muslims, the repeal of dozens of financial and federal regulations signed by former President Barack Obama. All of this within his first two months in office.

At the Ladbrokes betting house in the UK, for instance, the odds of Trump’s impeachment have gone from half to 10/11 and people continue to place odds on Trump’s removal. The flood shows no signs of slowing down. The betting house has taken five times the amount of bets that Trump will not see his full term vs. him completing it. The chances of him completing the term are, as of now, predicted to be slim to none.

The Senate is the body with the power to impeach a president. The charges have to be serious, ranging from treason, to bribery, conflicts of interest or other unspecified crimes and misdemeanors. Will Trump succeed in bringing about his own removal? Given the track record, I’d be willing to wager on it.


Column 45 (28 March 2017)

The Pro-Putin Project of Paul Manafort and the Caligula Presidency


In 2005 Paul Manafort, a veteran lobbyist, crafted a plan to advance Putin’s interests via a billionaire client, Oleg Deripaska, with ties to the Russian president. The plan was devised to influence media and politicians in the US. A memo by Manafort specifies that the strategy would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.” Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska which began in 2006 and lasted till 2009.

Subsequently Manafort became the Trump campaign top official as chief strategist and campaign chairman. He held the position for a total of five months.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer goes around decrying this digging by the media which he calls “speculation.” He also reiterates that Trump has no meaningful business ties to Russia. The problem is that such a statement cannot be verified since Trump has decided to break with past presidential tradition and has refused to show his tax returns.

Spicer insists that Trump was not aware of Paul Manafort clients from last decade and that it is “a bit insane” to suggest that Trump should have known about the deal with Deripaska.

When asked why Trump fired Manafort only five months after he hired him, Spicer replied that earlier headlines about some of Manafort’s foreign ties had become “a distraction” and there were also issues with his campaign performance: he was down in the twenties in women and was 16 points down overall.

When asked if Manafort had advised Trump about Cabinet picks between election and inauguration, Spicer said he had no knowledge on that and added that there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Manafort pushed Trump to take “pro-Russia positions” during the campaign.

What did Shakespeare say in Mac Beth? “The Lady doth protest too much.” Indeed, there are too many denials, too many dismissals, too many people thrown under the bus, overall a bit too much visible smoke not to suspect a covert fire somewhere. It is already known that the evidence of the Trump-Russia ties has gone from circumstantial to fool-proof. It remains to be seen what the FBI probe and other future investigations will uncover. It is getting more interesting by the day. Stay tuned. The best of the reality show (or “unreality” show, as the case may be), is still to come.


Column 46 (29 March 2017)

Assessing the Failed “Alternate Reality” of the Republicans’
Health Care Act


In order to repeal what they disparagingly call “Obama Care” the Republicans have had to create a whole mythology around their proposed health care replacement. In doing so they failed to notice that while some people may dislike Obama, they like the care and do not wish to lose it.

They tried to promote the lie that it was a mere repeal. It was not. It leaves in place the regulations of insurance companies, like those that protect people with pre-existing conditions and keep kids on their parents’ health-care plans into adulthood. It also kept  the expansion of Medicaid in place, albeit stingily depriving it of funds.

In the second place the Ryan bill (Trump refused to affix his name on it) was falsely  promoted as a health-care bill. It was not. It was more of fiscal bill. The Medicaid cuts and tax cuts for high-income earners were matched dollar-for-dollar. That’s to say, as per this bill, $900 billion in health-care-benefit cuts would have been converted into $900 billion in tax relief for the rich. Also, taxes would have been cut on medical device makers and other entities.

As it is, the US pays more for health care than any other country. The results are not very impressive, however. The bureaucratic mess is impressive, to be sure with a confusing and complicated set of third-party negotiators and payers. What did the Republicans have to say about those flaws? Not much. With their plan health-care coverage would have become more expensive for seniors, the ones who need it the most.

Only 17% of voters thought that the GOP was handling the health-care bill well; 43% counsel slowing down before proceeding with upending. But the GOP was in a rush and kept pressing on. They kept insisting that they needed to keep the promise to repeal and replace Obama Care, never mind that Trump was partly elected because he promised the opposite in praising universal coverage. The question arises: was that just another ploy to get elected?

The final self-deception and delusion of the GOP was that it was reforming health-care. What Paul Ryan and his entourage didn’t seem to have noticed is that they had already spent seven years urging the Supreme Court to obviate their desperate need to repeal and replace Obama care. Rather than junk the law, they’d rather the Court to do the dirty work. Why not do it themselves? Because they couldn’t, and they haven’t been able, so far.

All along the repeal and replace rhetoric was just a bait. They were unable to muster enough common sense to back down. They remain addicted to repeal and replace, and have refused so far to even consider the reality that by proposing laws that disrupt health coverage for millions of people end in political suicide. That would be logical and rational but let’s not forget that we no longer live in rational times. We live in the world of “alternate realities” “fake news” and “after truth.”

Truth is now what is convenient for me at the moment and the greatest representative of that philosophy is the man who sits in the White House and claims, illegitimately, to be president of the US. Indeed, greed and heartlessness are like terrible viruses whose effects on those unfortunate body politics so affected by them are ultimate delusions and self-deception. Once you catch those viruses, they are hard to get rid of.

The GOP has had to temporarily cease and desist from pushing their modified health-care act; but this is only a tactical step. They simply did not have the votes and so their proposed health care act for the people went down in flame. It’s not that they have learned anything or have had a change of heart and decided to proceed in a more wise bi-partisan mode.

 As mentioned elsewhere, they are like a used car salesman. First they attempted to sell a lemon of a car. They did not succeed in fooling the majority of the people. Now they go around predicting that the car they presently own (Obama Care) will soon explode and then they will need another car. At that point, they claim, they will need another car and they remain ready and willing to sell the people the originally proposed lemon car. That’s what used car salesmen do. It’s all part of the “art of the deal.”

You could bet on the fact that those are the kind of misguided people who, if they could, would eliminate tomorrow all the social programs for the poor and underprivileged enacted and implemented since the times of FDR. One begins to suspect that they are basically pityless, uncaring people, despite their frequent pious appeals to their vaunted Christianity. What an embarrassment for Christianity!


Column 47 (30 March 2017)

Will Anyone Dare Tell the Emperor That He Goes Around Naked?


“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it, so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late;
the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.”
--Jonathan Swift

“Facts are a stubborn thing”
                                             --John Adams

“People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.
I call it truthful hyperbole.”

                                                                              --Donald Trump in The Art of the Deal

“Truthful hyperbole” as defined in the last quote above by Donald Trump may go a long way in explaining, at least partially, why he won the presidency. It is a formula by which one gives oneself permission to lie. Truth is not objective, it is not determined by the stubborn facts out there staring me in the face, whether I like them or not, but what I say it is, what is convenient and useful for me at the moment. This is the mind-set that is convinced that the end always justifies the means, no matter how reprehensible those means are.

 It also explains the success of a used car salesman. This is a great car, you will be very happy with it; it’s a winner of a car. You will get tired of being a winner with this car. And so the car gets handly sold. The unpleasant surprise will come later when the unfortunate client realizes that he has been sold a lemon by a con-man.

The metaphor of the used car explains what happened a few days ago to all those who voted for Trump and expected a replacement of Obama Care. Yes, a replacement was presented by the GPO legislators but what it misguidedly proposed was to deduct 900 billion dollars from health benefits to the poor and transfer them to the rich in the form of tax relief.

Intriguing too the fact that Trump did not put his name on the bill. He refused to dub it Trump care. That would have been appropriate given that Obamacare was invented as an insult of sorts; the proper name of the original bill was and remains Affordable Health Care Act. The aim of the Republicans in the last seven years has been to make it unaffordable and a mere privilege for the well-to-do.

Be that as it may, the first legislative act of Donald Trump, the Health Bill that would have replaced Obama Care went down in flames and proved to be a big loser. Only 17% of the people approved of it. But the used car salesman is still enthusiastically selling his used cars by telling those disappointed voters that the car they presently still owe (that is, Obama Care) is a lemon and will soon explode in their face. Then they will be left with nothing and will have to walk to work. You get the picture: after it explodes, come back to me and I have a used car to sell you.

Let’s now briefly analyze this concept of “truthful hyperbole” under the light of the philosophical branch of philosophy called “epistemology,” that is to say: the investigation of how do we get to know anything and how do we know if what we do actually know is true or false; in short, how do we know that we know. Ultimately it is the question by cynical Pilate: What is truth?

It should be quite obvious that Trump’s conception of truth is quite elastic. Even relativism wouldn’t fit very well. Relativism says that everything is relative to the situation and the society in which one finds oneself; that truth is not something transcendent outside of time and space, but has to be determined existentially in the context of the real world in which we live and have our being. Truthful hyperbole, on the other hand, says that truth is what I wish you to believe. It really didn’t rain during my inauguration, even though the evidence is still on the ground and there are pictures with their umbrellas open, the crowds were more numerous at my inauguration than at President Obama’s, even though there are pictures that prove the opposite. I lost the popular vote by 3 million votes but I want you to believe that 3 million illegal aliens voted illegally. I want you to believe that Senator Cruz’s father was linked to Kennedy’s assassination, that president Obama tapped my phone during my campaign for the presidency; and the list goes on and on.

Recently Trump held an interview with Time’s Michael Scherer where he explains that instead of weighing evidence he much prefers to trust his gut. As Trump put it: “I am an instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right.” The question arises: how does one make instinctual decisions based on instinctual beliefs? With Trump there are three possibilities: one, he is already correct to begin with, or two, he will be proven correct at some point in the immediate or remote future, or three, he will correct the record of the past saying that he already subscribed to whatever view is proven right now; to wit, the Iraq War. In other words, when confronted with statements made without evidence, Trump will simply respond that what happened retroactively more than justifies the claims he made. That is to say, lies are magically transformed into truths after the fact. All you need is the magic wand called “instinctual decision making.”

If this again sounds like a used car salesman, it is because it is that, even though Trump wants us to believe that he is similar to the scholarly historian revising his judgment after studying the facts carefully, but he is no scholar even if he went to the Warton School of Business (another trumped up fact) and he certainly does not respects facts.

What Trump has discovered in his business career is that while truth may be real, it may be to one’s short-term advantage to disown it and present a contrary claim. To support those claims there is plenty of biased press on cable TV to tell him that he is always right. Fox news is an example; so it The National Inquirer which he reads dutifully.

 Mussolini came to believe that “Mussolini is always right!” That is to say, falsehood works much better for Trump and other assorted authoritarian personalities and dictators, and the fact that they sit at the pinnacle of power more than confirms it for them.

But this is far from being an original insight. As the initial quote above by the 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift, intimates, it is an age-old stratagem of all dishonest and manipulative people. Eventually, as Plato and Aristotle pointed out, the truth catches up, even after the damage has been done.

One can of course continue to sell used lemon cars as a successful business entrepreneur and accumulate wealth and even fame, and call it “art,” or one may, as an entertainer and expert in reality shows, rely on selective TV-edited reality, and people are usually willing to suspend their disbelief while they enjoy the show. One may continue to trust only the stories, like those in the National Inquirer, which affirm one’s biases and prejudices, but the “stubborn facts,” as John Adams put in in his defense of British soldiers who had to defend themselves against a mob, remain therefore incontrovertible, and will give pause to a wise man to make him aware of his limitations and the constraints imposed on one’s likes and dislikes by a reality-based truth.

Not so for Trump. He disregards rational consensus by experts and acts on emotions and guts. This is found liberating by many people, including Vice-president Pence who goes around praising the fact that Trump “tells it like it is.” They have never seen before the kind of president who simply disregards expertise and relies on instincts. It’s a strange marvelous phenomenon. But here the question arises: are issues of national security, say the initiation of World War III, to be decided on instincts?

Of course the confirmation of one’s biases comes easy to someone like a Caligula who was constantly surrounded by sycophants who served at his pleasure, catered to every one of his whims, who interpreted every criticism of the emperor as bad faith. He may even begin to think of himself as a demigod and have his guards kneel before him, even kiss his ass from time to time. We know what happened to Caligula.

In more democratic times a different scenario may ensue. Now presidents have to resist the temptation to think of themselves as demigods by relying on longtime friends and confidants. Those friends usually keep them grounded in reality so that they don’t end up saying that 2+2=5 because I the president say so. At that point, the only solution in enlightened democratic times is impeachment, or resignation, or perhaps an ambulance to the insane asylum, or perhaps jail.

John Adams had it on target. Facts are a stubborn thing. They tend to catch up with one’s lies and fantasies. The urgent question now is this: will enough journalists find the courage to do their job--which is that of searching for the truth--and have the backbone to shout to the four winds that “the emperor is naked?”


Column 48 (31 March 2017)

Are We at the Beginning of the End of the Caligula Presidency?


Donald Trump and his advisor Steve Bannon have been peddling conspiracy theories for a while now. It’s part of their political CV: “original conspiracy theorist.” Here is a short list of some of them: Obama was not born in America, three million illegals voted in the presidential election, Muslims are ready to invade America and establish Sharia law and destroy Western Civilization, Obama had Trump wire-tapped, and the list goes on and on.

Trump now finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy theory. It is tempting to consider this some kind of poetic justice; or as the saying goes: what goes around comes around. This one though may be the real deal and may portent the beginning of the end of a deranged delusional presidency.

Reports have surfaced that Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman had worked for a Russian oligarch, with the intention of furthering Putin’s interests in the US. That is just as bad as the news (at first declared “fake”) that Michael Flynn was fired because of his failure to disclose his Russian connections, or, for that matter the news that attorney general Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from any Russian investigation because of his lying under oath about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.

That’s bad enough. Lately however CNN has reported on the latest findings in the FBI investigation on whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the election. It looks quite bad for Trump, albeit it is still ongoing, but the more the press and the intelligence community dig into the matter the more malfeasance they seem to discover. If the pattern continues we may well be witnessing the beginning of the end of the Caligula presidency.

We can expect the pooper scoopers to be summoned for damage control. True to form, and imitating the boss, they will attempt to distract the press with garbage conspiracy theories and what Orwell calls “doublespeak.” Stay tuned. The story is still unfolding.


Column 49 (1 April 2017)

Will Adams’ “Republic of Virtue” also end up into the
Dustbin of History’s Great Empires?


Few, even among journalists, and so called Russian experts, are aware that Trump has been in business with Russian oligarchs for a minimum of three decades. In the 1980 the US Treasury Department fined him $10 million for significant, long standing anti-money laundering violations at Trump’s Taj Mahal. It is a well-known “fake secret” that the Taj Mahal was a prime vacation spot for wealthy Russian oligarchs.

It is also well known that Trump incurred into five bankruptcies because he ran companies whose specialty was rigging the game against their customers. It is not very likely that Trump could obtain the large credit lines that his unbounded business appetite required in the US. Yet, given that his business ventures persist till today, and he has in fact refused to divest himself of them upon becoming president, the suspicion persists that he obtained it abroad; from where exactly? From the people for whom he was laundering money in the Taj Mahal would be a good guess. They could easily find way to deliver it to him tax-free.

Given that no one gets rich in Russia without Putin’s consent, and given that Trump has been laundering money for wealthy Russians for years, it can also be suspected that many of his businesses are propped by Kremlin connected cash. Once the evidence of aiding and abetting a regime hostile to the US government is proven, that evidence will prove to be a gun to Trump’s head or his presidency as the case may be. That goes a long way in explaining why Trump refuses to speak in any negative way about the Kremlin. He is a self-interested actor and may be in fact wholly beholden to Russian interests. Moreover, he willingly accepted their help in the campaign for the presidency; in fact, he requested it publicly.

It needs to be stressed, moreover, that Russia’s economy is dependent on oil and it is not among the most advanced. Their military, despite its modernization, is not comparable to that of the US, or China, or NATO. The Russians have compensated by weaponizing a skill at which they have always been very good: manipulation of information, or better, disinformation. They consider that weaponized skill the equivalent of the acquisition of the atom bomb in the late forties which brought them at a par with the US.  Now disinformation  goes to by the less technical and more disingenuous term of “fake news.”

Russia’s manipulation comes in the form of surrounding Trump with people in its own orbit, the likes of Manafort, or Flynn, or Page. All that Russia had to do is align Trump’s interests with its interests. Trump’s interests are not ideological or very intellectual, they are purely financial.

In any case, ideology is not as important as it used to be during the Cold War, especially after the debacle of the Iraq War. Many Americans now believe that it’s quite ok to deviate from the policy which was pursued by the Atlantic Alliance from the end of World War II till today. Slogans thrown around by Trump such “NATO is obsolete” or “the EU is a fake union” or “Brexit was a good thing,” do no raise any eyebrows as they used to in the 80s or the 90s.

But of course there is the cover-up which is like an alarm bell alerting to the crime. Why was Devin Nunes rush to brief the White House with information he did not even share with his committee members? Why the backtracking on previous statements by Team Trump via the likes of Flynn, Manafort, Page, and Sessions?

The White House is now saying that their former campaign manager Manafort had a “very limited role” in the campaign, that Flynn who was appointed National Security Adviser was a mere “volunteer,” that Nunes has never even heard of Carter Page, the man initially appointed as one of the foreign policy advisors to Trump’s campaign; neither has he heard of Roger Stone, an adviser to Trump since the 1980s.

Why does the Trump branded tabloid National Enquirer assert that Flynn is a Russian spy caught by Trump? This is quite different from what the White House has been asserting all along that the entire investigation is “fake news” and a “Witch Hunt” and that those men were all great heroes and patriots being harassed.

Do blameless operatives act that way? Do these signs indicate a cover-up related to the Russian investigation on which the FBI is now intently focusing? These questions remain to be answered and clarified.

 As Adams found out, to his surprise, when he studied the history of Republics throughout the ages, republics usually self-destroy once they abandon virtue and embrace public corruption and power for power’s sake. Then the end justifies any means, ethical or unethical. We now call that mind-set Machiavellian geo-political thinking. This may be going on as we speak, and those who minimize the matter need to ponder Adam’s conclusions on the issue of republics of virtue which betray their ideals and journey downward toward tyranny and eventual extinction.

Contrary to those who insist on ridiculing and trivializing this story of the nexus between the Trump campaign and Russia, it may prove to be the most important story of our time. The response to the remarkable efforts by the White House to stonewall its investigation will either prove the resilience of the US Constitutional Democratic government, or it will accelerate its slow descent into the dustbin of history’s great empires. History will eventually render its verdict.


End of Week 7



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