Donald Trump is wearing thin. He is inherently boring. Everything he says or tweets is so familiar, no matter how offensive, that it’s hard to pay attention to him anymore.
He generates crisis, offence and chaos every day, and yet he is devoid of information. He doesn’t tell us anything that we haven’t already heard. He is like a political thunderhead giving off rolling thunder, but in his case it is rolling chaos.
Nevertheless, let us examine where this chaos may be heading in 2018. There are signals in the madness that do contain information.
Trump’s Asia tour was novel and renewed our attention. To the surprise of many he proved capable of reading from a teleprompter without giving vent to his inner impulses.
At the time, Kim Jong Un held his tongue, possibly because three U.S. aircraft carrier groups were stationed right off shore. Afterwards, an official from Beijing visited Kim and he began to spout insults at Trump again.
Later in Da Nang, Putin said he was insulted by the Russia investigation. What Putin likely meant is that Trump had botched Putin’s plans for him: Lifting sanctions, rescinding the Magnitsky Act and recognizing his annexation of Crimea.
Now other nations, 29 in Europe by one count, are investigating the hitherto comfortable money-laundering schemes of Putin’s cronies. The pyramid of money and power upon which Putin is perched is suddenly shaky thanks to Trump’s ineptitude.
Think Michael Corleone and his brother Fredo, the one who screwed up everything.
Subsequent phone chats between Trump and Putin may have offered some solace to the president. It seems that his Russian pal considers the effort to subvert the U.S. election as, on balance, a great success. Nothing really new here: Putin is playing Trump like a fiddle.
As an expert in Caucasian languages and also politics, and someone who advised the Bill Clinton White House on Russia at various points in my career, I can attest that this is a classic move from the Russian playbook. Usually it fails. With Trump on the scene, it succeeded.
Sometimes information can come from negative signals, as in silence when there should be a signal.
The silence I refer to is the inaction of Congress. No one seems to be acting in light of the one overarching fact that shapes everything said and done since election day: Trump, through the Electoral College, is a minority president to an unprecedented extent, and Congress, through gerrymandering, is a minority Congress.
Neither represents what the majority of Americans want. Given a figure like Trump, incapable, abusive, narcissistic, misogynistic, morally empty and inarticulate, (read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump for a tour of all that is wrong with this grossly distorted man), you could be forgiven for expecting a prompt remedy to this miscarriage of democracy. Most nations, in fact, might have declared the election null-and-void and tried to get it right a second time.
We even hear now of the adjective “Trumpian,” a distillation of the parochial and damaging policies of Trump.
Some, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, may be able to play up Trumpian values to a following with a longing for a “simpler” past, for values based on heritage rather than self-fulfillment and replete with regional and racial resentments.
As Bernie Sanders showed us, however, the youth of America seem to be looking in a different direction. This message of the young seems unexpected to the GOP, and as such carries a good deal of information — information that the Republicans should be scrutinizing.
And then there is Alabama, a signal from a deep-red state that was utterly unexpected by some Republicans as Roy Moore, an accused pedophile, was defeated by the Democrat, Doug Jones. The voters of Alabama, many of them Black, seemingly cast their ballots for simple decency, to have repudiated the moral squalor into which the GOP, both at state and federal levels, had slid by endorsing Moore.
Bannon, Trump, lose credibility
Both Bannon and Trump lost their credibility and political clout by going all out with their endorsements of Moore. There is no obvious way now for them to regain these intangible powers. The signal here is easy to read: The expediencies of political chicanery will not fool a populace that has been exposed to almost a year of rolling chaos seasoned with the occasional dash of Trump’s depravity.
Other Democratic victories are being scored at the state level, not just in Virginia, but in numerous other venues as well. These developments do not bode well for the GOP.
Alabama, however, makes the most recent moves of Congress all the more puzzling.
I refer here to the effort by Republicans to denigrate Mueller, his team and the entire FBI. Not only is this an unprecedented assault on a man of integrity, it is also an assault on an entire institution that represents the federal policing function.
It seems that the Republican-controlled Congress has betrayed its function to uphold the Constitution.
To what end? So that they can pretend that Trump is not a puppet of Putin, when manifestly he is? Is there something so profoundly wrong with Pence that the entire Congress would rather wreck the republic than remove Trump?
The Russia investigation is expanding and drawing ever closer to Trump’s inner circle. There will be more indictments, followed, one must assume, by eventual presidential pardons.
Most likely we will see revelations on Russian bank loans in 2008, Russian money-laundering, dirty Trump movies, Trump advising the Russians not to retaliate with diplomatic expulsions so that they will look reasonable and justify Trump lifting sanctions when he becomes president (an act of potential treason) and the forever lingering inducement of a Trump Tower Moscow.
Mueller will wrap up probe in 2018?
I hear the occasional media speculation that the Mueller investigation will last at least another year before winding up. I doubt that for three reasons:
Firstly, Republicans traditionally pay little heed to the reactions of their supporters and run roughshod over these trusting souls in their scramble to satisfy the interests of their donors.
The new tax law demonstrates this quite plainly. If they fire Mueller, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and whatever is left of the FBI, Republicans seem to think that no one will care. I would suggest otherwise.
The U.S. military, for example, might care. Americans are fond of thinking they are exceptional, but politics has its own laws and the current course set by congressional Republicans leads directly to the sort of disintegration of norms and institutions that are typically rectified by martial force.
Americans might scoff at the suggestion of a military coup annulling the 2016 election and calling for a new one, but in any other nation this would be a real possibility, and I do not see American exceptionalism somehow standing outside the political forces that shape all other nations.
Secondly, Trump has had two episodes of slurred speech. I speak now as a linguist associated with colleagues who deal in speech pathology. In January, Trump is slated to undergo a physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
I cannot predict their diagnosis, but I shall offer mine: Fronto-temporal dementia, with a variant of progressive non-fluent aphasia (inability to speak).
In other words, Trump acts in an impulsive, vulgar fashion and eats compulsively because the machinery in his brain to inhibit such behaviour is disintegrating. Further, his speech production area — known as Broca’s area — is also affected, resulting in limited speech and slurred pronunciation. Onset is insidious, but once symptoms are manifest with this disorder, the course is rapid. By next spring, Trump could likely be unable to speak at all if my suspicions are correct.
Third, and perhaps most interesting, is the tectonic shift in cultural values spearheaded by women, a shift of the sort seen once or at most twice in a century.
This tidal wave is immediate, surprising, and hence loaded with information. After decades, perhaps millennia, women are sick and tired of being fondled, groped, invasively kissed, sexually harassed and raped. And they are speaking out with justifiable anger.
This is a remarkable revolt against the male conflation of power with passion.
In the court of public opinion these women are believable. Why? Because so many women have suffered precisely such indignities on a routine basis. Here Trump is utterly exposed by his own words as well as by at least 14 women who accuse him of harassment.
History will be damning
Most of us live our lives in the obscuring murk of anonymity, with its impending oblivion, buried in a fog of information.
Those in government, however, because there are so few of them, bear the risk of having their names carried forward to be judged by those yet unborn. Curiously, with a few exceptions, no one in Congress, or anyone associated with the White House, seems to be pondering this future.
I predict that the judgment on Trump and those who cleave to him and his ways will be damning, regardless of the political orientation of those in judgment.
Trump will not only have destroyed liberal norms and laws, he will have utterly discredited conservatism and the wealthy class that supports it.
He will have made of a great nation a small and irrelevant thing. And “Make America Great Again” will take on the tone befitting a Greek tragedy.