Trumpy Bear

When writing “Remembering Teddy Roosevelt in the Era of Trump” almost two years ago, I made mention of a certain, ahem… item:

The Trump teddy bear, only $79.95 from vermontteddybear.com. Vomitorium not included.

I assumed it was the worst piece of kitsch that Trumpists could come up with. Boy, was I wrong! What is kitsch, anyway? Google’s quick retort:

Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.

This definition helps explain why Trumpy Bear is so popular with liberals, despite being marketed to the Trumpistas who watch Fox News:

Firstly, liberals thought it must be a parody or hoax cleverly put over to make Fox News look like an even stupider platform than it already is. Surely this can’t be for real!

Secondly, once it turned out to indeed be a real product marketed to Trump TV viewers, it reaffirmed the notion (widely held by Eastern liberals) that Trump supporters simply have no taste whatsoever! Thus, it (ironically) manages to please both camps in wholly different ways. As a prospective Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa gift, it definitely has crossover appeal. It’s also cheaper by half than the Vermont teddy bear, while packing twice the kitsch.

To paraphrase an old saw attributed to actor Edmund Kean: Dying is easy, satire is hard. In fact, it’s almost impossible now, because Trump is arguably the first American Dada president (though Nixon came close). The Guardian’s Australia columnist Van Badham says it best: “A thousand satirists with a thousand typewriters could not invent this in a thousand years.”

Nevertheless, see “Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer,” in which Kirstjen Nielson has disappeared, Trump has resorted to cannibalism, and Sarah Sanders defends him to the bitter (too much mustard?) end. Also featured: “Sheriff” Sean Hannity as Trump’s new Chief of Staff.

The commentariat class keeps getting hoodwinked by Trump’s tweets etc., convinced they must be from The Onion, but turning out to be real Trump comments claiming that people who buy cereal need to show ID. (Not usually true, except for R. J. Reynolds branded cereals, or certain communities where there are large concentrations of cereal abusers.)

No teddy bear jollity in Paris, though, where leaders of European nations were met by a broody Trump having a bad makeup day. (Melania applied too many coats to the left cheekbone.)

Angela Merkel channels Chandler Bing: “Could I BE any more uncomfortable?”

Only one question remains: How could Trumpy Bear be made into an even more over-the-top expression of right wing kitsch? Maybe it could come with a free AK-47 and a self-burning cross that doubles as a nite lite.

The elderly gent billed as “Corporal Frank Warholic” lends himself to the obligatory MST3K riffing:

“My name is Frank, and I’m a warholic.”
“Hi Frank!”

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Alan Dershowitz Funny #2

Dershowitz on the Mueller investigation…
The Alan Dershowitz Funnies – Collect them all!

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The Trump-Cohen Reptile Fund

Have you heard enough confusing statements from Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and Sarah Sanders about the Stormy Daniels payoff?

Oh, you want more? Well, here’s Jimmy Kimmel’s wrap-up of last week’s events:

These multiple versions of reality begin to feel like slow torture. But the insanity doesn’t end there. Here’s a paragraph from Rudy Giulani’s walkback statement of May 4:

My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.

Now, if I didn’t know better I’d swear these guys are taking a page from the old Monty Python Confuse-A-Cat playbook, making an organized effort to produce inane results. (“I hope to God it works!”)

I’m also reminded of Schrödinger’s cat. It’s like in one version of reality, you open the box and Stormy Daniels is dead, traces of catnip trailing down her blouse; in another version of reality you open the box and she’s live and well, strutting her stuff.

In one version of reality, Donald Trump doesn’t know anything about a payment to Stormy Daniels; in another version of reality he and Michael Cohen have gamed it all out as early as February 2016, with Cohen taking out loans against his property to start a reptile fund that couldn’t be traced back to Trump, and Trump later reimbursing him via structured payments disguised as a “retainer.” Welcome to the Reptile of the Month Club! Only one in fifty reptiles makes it through our exclusive screening process…

As consumers of information, we are like readers of Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip, in which a character experiences a schizophrenic break with reality, and keeps reliving the same event multiple times — each time with a different outcome. (An aside: Someone uploaded the audiobook of Martian Time-Slip to a media site, and end users complained that there seemed to be something wrong with the audio — some parts repeat. They didn’t get it that the character is reliving the same event over and over again…)

In political dictatorships — whether left-wing or right-wing — reality is determined arbitrarily by the dictator.

In the spiritual realm, if we voluntarily seek the counsel of a teacher who embodies truth, then it can be very beneficial to see the truth through his or her eyes.

But in the realm of politics, when we are saddled with an uncouth and ignorant leader who keeps changing reality under our feet day after day, this is meant to wear us down and break our spirit as a people. It’s similar to interrogation techniques where a captive is subjected to psychological manipulation such that he must parrot the views of the interrogator (even knowing they are wrong), or else face torture. Take this Orwellian tableau:

O’Brien stands beside the bed, and Winston feels that O’Brien, who is the torturer, is also somehow a friend. The aim of O’Brien is to teach Winston the technique of doublethink, and he does this by inflicting pain of ever-increasing intensity. He reminds Winston that he wrote the sentence: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four.” O’Brien holds up four fingers of his left hand, and he asks Winston how many there are. Winston answers four a couple of times, and each time the pain increases (this is not done to make Winston lie, but to make him really see five fingers instead of four). At the end of the session, under heavy influence of drugs and agony, Winston really sees five fingers. Now Winston is ready to enter the second stage of his integration…

— from “Work: Summaries & Interpretations: Nineteen Eighty-Four”

This concept was borrowed for a very disturbing two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Chain of Command.” There, Captain Picard is tortured by his Cardassian captor in order to get him to say he sees five lights when there are only four. At this stage, the purpose is not to extract any particular information, but simply to enforce a relationship in which the interrogator controls the reality experienced by the target.

In a similar vein, Trump’s tweets and Sarah Sanders’s press briefings are meant to drive home the message that Reality is whatever we say it is. Facts don’t matter. What we said yesterday doesn’t matter. If we say the opposite today, that’s not changing our story.

It’s also like the Donovan song that toys with Zen Buddhism: “First there is a payment, then there is no payment, then there is.”

The president spoke to the NRA on Friday, and I saw no indication that he would keep his promises to families affected by the rash of school shootings:

(See also Trump’s America: Teachers With Guns.) So, we know that Trump doesn’t just lie about personal matters, but about substantive policy matters as well. We’re used to politicians lying, but sometimes a difference in degree amounts to a difference in kind.

This brings me back to a point I made in Trump’s Mental Fitness: An Expert Opinion. Impeachment is a political process. A political leader who lies constantly, who saps the strength of the nation, who cheapens truth, and who uses the mammoth megaphone of the presidency to say, in effect, that I alone determine the nature of reality, is not a fit leader. Whether or not he’s been found guilty of a crime is beside the point. In a democratic nation which values truth, he must be removed from office by constitutional means, because truth matters.

Sidebar: A Chinese mystery

In a post about Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant and other views of the immigrant experience, I mentioned Wayne Wang’s outstanding film Chan Is Missing. There, the main protagonist laments: “This mystery is appropriately Chinese. What’s not there seems to have just as much meaning as what is there.”

The same is true of Trump’s infamous Air Force One comments of April 5 to AP reporter Catherine Lucey. The video is usually truncated, omitting Lucey’s final question and what Trump does not say in response. Transcript:

Catherine Lucey: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

President Trump: No. No. What else?

Catherine Lucey: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her allegations?

President Trump: Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Catherine Lucey: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

President Trump: No, I don’t know. No.

Catherine Lucey: Did you ever set up a fund of money that he could draw from?

President Trump: [Silence — no response — ignores the question]

Trump seems extremely eager to issue vocal denials about the Stormy Daniels payoff; but when Lucey asks a question designed to get at whether there was a slush fund Cohen could have used to make the payment, Trump suddenly falls silent. We now know why.

While the details are still emerging (and the spinners are still spinning), today’s version of reality is that circa February 2016 (just after Trump had significant primary wins and began to look like a serious candidate), Michael D. Cohen may have begun setting up a campaign-related slush fund. He may have used personal funds from home-equity lines of credit as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

Later, as stated by Trump’s new personal attorney Rudolf Giuliani, President Trump reimbursed Cohen by means of monthly payments of $35,000, which Giuliani alleges were a “retainer” for Cohen’s services, even though (according to Giuliani) Cohen did “no work” for Trump during this later period in which the “retainer” (or repayment) was being serviced.

The possible implication is that in February 2016, Cohen (and/or Trump) recognized that one or more people would need to be paid off to get Trump through the election, and that the funds should not be directly traceable to Trump. Cohen therefore set up a slush fund using his personal finances, expecting to be reimbursed covertly by Trump later on, which appears to have been done.

While both Trump and Giuliani claim that the so-called “retainer” was legitimate and represented common practice, investigators might view it as a “structured payment” intended to hide financial irregularities, or even crimes.

Common sense suggests that the payoff to Daniels a few days before the election was campaign-related, and is therefore subject to campaign finance laws. Such laws often treat innocent oversights with no more than a fine; but where there appears to be a willful conspiracy involving multiple persons, multiple payments, intentional concealment, and possible bank fraud, criminal prosecution does not seem so farfetched, at least to this non-lawyer.

What tomorrow’s version of reality will bring, who can say? One hopes, the truth — but with this administration, one learns to expect the lie du Jour.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Links

Trump Is Said to Have Known of Payment to Stormy Daniels Months Before He Denied It (The New York Times)
Trump and His Aides Have No Idea What They’re Talking About (The Atlantic)

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On Fox News, Giuliani Confirms Slush Fund, Plausible Deniability

slush-trump-cohen-giulianiSquaring the facts, and calling b.s. on Trump’s ghosted tweet…

In Drain the Swamp or Pad the Reptile Fund? (April 9), I offered what I thought to be the most likely explanation for Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels a few days before the 2016 presidential election.

I suggested that Cohen had standing orders from Trump to pay off women who might blackmail Trump or write “true confession” stories for the media, and that Cohen had access to a general purpose fund — sometimes called a “slush fund” or “reptile fund” — from which to make such payments. If the fund ran dry, Cohen knew it would be refilled or “padded” later. He fully expected reimbursement.

A key point in my theory was that Cohen’s witting role was to be the cutout man, so that Trump himself would not know the details of such settlement(s) involving payment, and could therefore maintain plausible deniability when grilled by reporters.

I included video and analysis of Trump’s answers (and non-answers) to reporter Catherine Lucey aboard Air Force One on April 5. There, Trump seems eager to issue vocal denials that he knew anything about the payment to Daniels, but suddenly clams up when Lucey asks if he ever set up a fund which Cohen could draw from. (That last bit is important, but is usually not played.)

Appearing on Fox News on May 2 and May 3, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani has now largely confirmed this theory. Like most spinners for Trump, Giuliani is discursive. He nevertheless claimed or implied:

– That Trump only learned the specifics of the payment to Daniels quite recently.

– That the payment to Daniels was “funneled” by Trump to Cohen through Cohen’s law firm.

– That Trump paid Cohen a “retainer” of approximately $35,000 a month to take care of matters like “some Stormy Daniels woman” and not bother him about the details, just as Giuliani would do for his clients (who are “busy people”).

– That the $130,000 payment to Daniels was covered by this monthly “retainer.”

– That the payment had nothing to do with politics or the election, but was rather a personal payment by Trump to Daniels to help save his marriage.

– That Trump paid Daniels this large sum despite her claim of a sexual affair being false and extortionate.

– That no campaign funds were expended, and no campaign finance laws were criminally violated.

– That at worst reading, Donald Trump simply failed to report this contribution made from his own pocket, funneled through Cohen as part of a standing arrangement.

– That Trump spent $100 million of his own money on the campaign, compared to which the $130,000 payment to Daniels is insignificant.

– That such a failure to report is not usually treated as a criminal matter, and should not have resulted in “storm troopers” “breaking down” Cohen’s door.

Overall, Giuliani’s statements conform to the general theory of a slush fund from which Cohen could draw, giving Trump plausible deniability about payments made. Quite a few of Giuliani’s claims nevertheless remain suspect. For example:

– A general retainer doesn’t usually cover specific large settlements.

– In aboveboard operations, the client isn’t intentionally kept in the dark about settlements reached and large payments made by his attorney.

– Giuliani is invoking the “John Edwards defense”: that Trump paid off Daniels a few days before the election for personal (rather than political) reasons. This defense worked for Edwards, but may not work for Trump.

A rather pressing question is: Why did Trump and Giuliani decide that at this juncture in time it’s better for Trump to be seen as an outright liar than to continue to deny making the payment to Daniels? The volte-face is, after all, one of the most difficult public relations maneuvers to pull off. (Fox News tastefully avoided showing Giuliani’s feet. Was he wearing flip-flops? Regardless, this stinks to high heaven.)

The most likely explanation is that the court-authorized raid by the FBI on Cohen’s various premises turned up hard evidence that Trump was funneling money to Cohen to facilitate the Daniels payoff, so the previous claim that Cohen had “gone rogue” was no longer even vaguely tenable.

This is only speculation on the part of this lowly blogger, based on reading news accounts and listening to statements made by the various protagonists. But if you read my post of April 9, you’ll see I pretty much nailed it.


Sidebar: Trump tweet seems to have been ghosted

If you know Trump’s bombastic, emotional (not to say illogical) style, you may seriously question whether this 3-part tweet dated May 3 was really written by Trump, or by one of his attorneys:

The complex sentence structure, legalese, lack of typos (bar one), and correct use of capitalization all point to a ghost writer with experience drafting legal briefs. (Maybe we should call him “Little Docket Man.”)

I suppose some bright young thing could write a Twitter app that would mangle an otherwise cogent statement, turning it into a Trump tweet, adding elements of mania and illiteracy, and pasting NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! NO COLLUSION! in appropriate (or inappropriate) places. Ain’t science wonnerful?

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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