Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Trump-Variations

What the fuck is going on with Trump?

This question--even with the vulgarity--is something that even nominally sane people are asking now. On the anti-Trump or the #NeverTrump side of the equation the suite of answers are straightforward:

  • He's incompetent
  • He's compromised
  • He's corrupt
These--or some combination or variant of them--explain just about everything we've seen. He leaks data to Russia because he's incompetent. He fired Comey because he's corrupt. He / his team are compromised by various financial entanglements from doing the right things, etc.

But that's not the only side in play here.

Trump-Supporters Also Have To Answer The Question

If you voted for Trump and are not in the position of "Of course he's an utter, humiliating disaster--but he's not Hillary Clinton" you have to have some set of beliefs that account for the current state of play. What does that narrative look like? What explains the leaks, the flailing, the contradictions, etc.

1. He's "Shotgunning It"

Presented by an Omni-Friend is the explanation that Trump is managing--with more success than the #NeverTrump faction would agree to--by sheer force of personality / will. Thus: Trump shares classified data with the Russians--that's okay, it might be unwise in a given particular but it's not stupid / out of bounds. Trump fires Comey? Hey--he fires people. That's what he does.

In this model Trump's competency is obscured by (a) the drama around his actions and (b) the fact that some of his actions are just plain wrecking-balls. Hey--Comey had to go. He goes. Fuck whatever people think.

EVIDENCE FOR THIS: Observation. Trump is doing what he wants without caring about the dramatics of it. There's little question of that. The evidence that beneath a flailing exterior there is a core of managerial competency is less clear. The Omnivore would place it as:
  • Gorsuch
  • Gorsuch
  • Possibly a move towards School Vouchers
  • Gorsuch
  • Passing the AHCA (Kiiiiinda)
  • Illegal Immigration at a serious low
  • Gorsuch
THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THIS: The evidence against this is that Trump's agenda is completely falling the managerial execution element. He isn't exhibiting leadership (getting people on his side with charisma, having bi-partisan appeal to any degree). He isn't exhibiting an understanding of the domain (healthcare turned out to be unexpectedly complicated??). His successes, Gorsuch and Immigration being down, are not related to managerial skill. Gorsuch was thanks to nuking the filibuster for SCOTUS and Illegal Immigration is due to ICE raids and messaging that's going to play badly.

2. There's A Coup

In this view the IC (or some of it) is running a literal coup against Trump. The FBI and CIA and NSA (etc.) are working in concert to make it look like Trump is compromised with respect to Russia. They want the public to demand he be removed on the basis of zero evidence and a bunch of anonymous innuendo. These people include the Clappers, Comeys, and other high-ranking people.

EVIDENCE FOR THIS: The main evidence for this is "lack of evidence." For people who believe there's a literal slow-moving coup attempt, the idea is that (a) I haven't seen anything yet. The big report is just an Iraq-Like lie. (b) The DNC didn't let the FBI search their servers--that's clearly some kind of cover up. (c) The Wikileak shows that the CIA can fake a bunch of shit to make it look like the Russians did it. (d) The Democrat's IT guys, Crowdstrike, backed off some of their findings.

Basically, if you don't see any evidence you believe then you conclude it's all bad actors.

EVIDENCE AGAINST THIS: The big report. You have to conclude that the heads of every agency are willing to lie to Congress and everyone else--without this leaking--to remove Trump because [ reasons ]. This makes no sense and would explode on contact if they tried to recruit one of a number of people (high ranking people) who just said "Uh, no, guys." It also posits that for some reason the scores of analysts and agents and operatives who are "providing" this research aren't leaking for some reason even though they would presumably know their work is being misrepresented.

Finally there's evidence that this stuff did happen--independent researchers confirm the presence of Russian methods in the FakeNews spectrum. The URL shorterner that got Podesta has been shown to have been used for large-scale anti-West hacking directed at government and political targets (sure sounds like Russia). The DNC refusing the FBI is also pretty easy to explain: they weren't told the scale of the problem and had their candidate under investigation by the FBI. The DNC-CIA conspiracy makes no sense anyway--the CIA hacks Podesta, releases the data to Wikileaks, and then blames Russia . . . in order to . . . what? If they wanted Hillary to win, why not just not-hack her to begin with?

3. It's The Media

In this view Donald Trump is still learning the ropes--but isn't actually making a fool of himself. That's the media narrative. You can add into this unprecedented obstructionism by the Democrats and some entirely made up "anonymous sources" and you have an attack by the Democrats and the 4th Estate.

EVIDENCE FOR THIS: The, uh, media bias? That's pretty clear. Add some potential hard feelings about their coveted elites being proven wrong by Trump's win and you get at least a semi-solid motive. Also look at stories that were wrong or kinda wrong. Did Rod Rosenstein threaten to quit? Sources say "yes"--he, when accosted in a hallway, said "No." Clearly "sources" are liars! Also, it's pretty clear that the press is, in fact, casting Trump in the worst possible light--it's hard to say he's getting the benefit of the doubt no matter whose side you're on.

EVIDENCE AGAINST THIS: Anonymous sources for major publications are not just made up. They are known to the journalists, they are vetted, corroborated, and so on. A conspiracy of the Washington Post, the NYT, and Buzzfeed fabricating stories whole cloth is a larger more unweidly conspiracy than an IC Coup.

Secondly, while there is definite bias against Trump, it is unclear just how much of that is earned vs. unfair. Word choice may well go against him on the basis of the author's and editor's bias--but the raw facts? The raw facts aren't with him either. His Immigration EO was called a "Muslim Ban" up until like a few weeks ago on his campaign website. When they (hastily) deleted it, the URL still showed 'Muslim Ban' on the page. Before that Rudy Giuliani gave an interview talking about his subterfuge to make it legal. After his first EO was shot down, Trump-on-the-Stump said his second was basically the same as the first. It's hard to argue that people pointing out that a Muslim Ban is unconstitutional are just doing it to put a thumb in Trump's eye.

Ockham's Razor: What Should We Think?

Ockham's Razor holds that the argument with the fewest assumptions is preferred. How do we score these?

What We All Agree On: Team Trump has made a fair number of mistakes. His Muslim Ban may or may not be constitutional given the aims espoused around it--but he'd have made it a LOT harder to advance the court's order if he'd have kept his trap shut.

Michael Flynn might not be a Russian Agent--nor Manafort--but having those guys at high levels on your team was clearly not a good idea. Trump has some very dodgy people at high levels of visibility and staffing. He has, by all appearances, ignored warnings and good advice.

Trump's mode of operation is combative. You can argue that the press would be on his back no matter what--but you cannot argue that he is not actively in combat with them. It is quite possible that if he didn't keep changing his story on things, undermining his Communication's shop, and telling fairly outrageous lies (inauguration crowd size) he could at least blunt some of that assault.

The entire IC and LEO community has stated that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump and hurt Hillary. They have stated that there is no evidence (maybe with some caveats) that Trump, himself, is in collusion with the Russians. That should be the main talking point. Trying to call the whole Russian interference thing #fakeNews means the whole IC And FBI are lying badly.

We can all agree that Trump's Tweeting causes him trouble for no real upside. His tweets certainly appear undisciplined and in some cases petty. They are the voice of a Hollywood celebrity who is having a bad stretch--not a president. We can disagree on how material this all is--but The Omnivore thinks most Trump supporters would agree that Trump should stop tweeting--at least until he has more wins under his belt.

What We Don't Know: We don't know what Trump (and Pence, for that matter) knew--and when they knew it. We don't know if Trump knew what he was doing in talking to Comey (and we don't know for sure what was said--but in the absence of other evidence, as David French put it, "Comey lied to his diary is the defense of the doomed.").

We don't know if Trump's discomfort with the Russian investigation is feeling it's a waste of time--or fear of getting caught. We don't know what the IC knows. If they have something really damning--why haven't we seen it yet?

Therefore: Smaller conspiracies are preferred to larger ones. So the overarching press conspiracy (that all the major outlets are hopelessly corrupt or so biased they will print baldfaced lies) is out. The conspiracy of the IC + the FBI is questionable. The preferred conspiracy is between some of Trump's staff and the Russians (where the conspiracy is no longer a theory).

The idea that Trump is being successful and it's just not being reported is fixed by looking at his supporters. It's unfair to say that he hasn't done anything--but even his most generous supporters don't give him much. Rolling back Obama's EOs is fine as far as it goes--but these aren't "managerial successes." No major plan regarding coordination has come together and some of Trump's trumpeted home-runs are taking credit for things companies announced several years ago.

His "shotgunning approach" may or may not be a reasonable one for a celebrity president--but his particular execution of it leaves almost everything to be desired.

The Omnivore is certain the press is salivating to give Trump bad press--but argues that this falls well short of a conspiracy. Trump invites bad press constantly and a White House is chaos is going to leak under the best of circumstances. This is better explained by cause-and-effect than a driving agenda.

What The Omnivore Thinks

The Omnivore's personal conspiracy scenario goes like this:

  1. The Russians wanted to hurt Clinton. That meant helping Trump and Sanders voters. They preferred Trump to Hillary (at first)--but didn't think they'd get that.
  2. Trump had people who were tight with Russia (Manafort, Flynn, Page). Trump saw that as an asset because he likes Russia too--on a personal level. He was okay with lifting Obama's sanctions if he won. He figured that wasn't illegal (and he's probably right, Logan Act aside).
  3. Russia has a developed Information Operations machine. They just needed to know where to point it. I think Team-Trump gave them targeting data from their intel-shop Cambridge Analytica. Maybe through the Alfa-Bank data transfer. Maybe not.
  4. These meetings (if, indeed, they occurred) need not have involved Trump at all. If he did know something, he might have okayed a high-level, low-touch operation. If you were told that if you gave another country some of your private data, they'd help you? Why not? The Omnivore isn't even completely sure this is treason--The Omnivore, though, is not a lawyer.
  5. Trump's insecurity and belligerence has led him to make enemies of the IC, the FBI, the press, and Democrats to an unnecessary degree. Trump's instincts about being "the boss" led him to see Comey as an employee rather than a patriotic civil servant. Trump was rebuffed and didn't like it. When Comey turned up the heat and wouldn't say he was loyal, Trump, thinking he could get away with it, fired him (note: Trump probably expected a bunch of blow-back--but he may have thought that Democrats, having condemned Comey, would be tongue-tied when it came to his firing. This would be stupid--but it explains the behavior perfectly).
In this case the obviously guilty suspects were surveiled talking to Russian spies. The Trump Campaign is probably guilty of crimes--maybe--but Trump does not rise to the level of a Russian agent. On the other hand, an American president getting help from the Russians would be grounds for impeachment--and a disgrace of historical proportions. 

In short: Trump is shady--but not entirely corrupt (not a Manchurian President). Trump is undisciplined and does not "do the home work." He is impulsive, petty, and has an over-active ego. He also seems to suffer from thinking everyone else is stupid and corrupt and therefore our problems will be easy to solve. 

The worst of this is that he doesn't seem to have learned otherwise quickly--or, indeed, at all.


  1. Shorter version: Trump is an idiot

  2. Or, to put it another way: Дональд Трамп - идиот.

    I prefer the Yosemite Sam version, to be honest. Maybe I just like the thought of someone following Trump around, hollering "Ya idjit!" every 20 seconds.

    Failing that, the Ren Höek version also has its appeal.

    -- Ω