Insecurity, Insecurity, All Is Insecurity

The Preacher said there is one wellspring to human folly. “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” And the aphoristic Duc de La Rochefoucauld echoed the sentiment, deciding all human behavior came down to amour propre, that is self-love. But those, like our president, who are insecure about their worth are particularly prone to a grotesquely exaggerated search for validation. The signs are everywhere. For example, as La Rochefoucauld notes, “men talk little when vanity does not prompt them.” And Trump never shuts up.

At first Trump’s neediness seems like a peculiar problem for a boy born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but his bullying, judgmental millionaire father who saw the world divided into killers and loses bent this twig into the warped shape of today.

So, Donald was driven to please the old man by emulating him, by being a killer while his weaker, less pliant, alcoholic brother was doomed to play the loser in this family drama. Trump has spent his life trying to surpass his father – Manhattan instead of Queens, billions instead of millions, conspicuous consumption rather than penny pinching.

But no amount of striving, conniving, bragging silences the critical voice of the father’s ghost in his head. So, he is ever needy for praise, fawning sycophants, wins. And he is ever touchy about real or imagined slights, contempt for his gaudy buildings and tawdry behavior, sneers about the size of his hands, of his intellect, of his fortune.

Those around Trump have discerned the key to manipulating this needy child. Flatter his vanity. Obviously, it works. As Trump admitted about Putin: “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.” Emotion, not rational analysis, governs his behavior.

So, on his recent trip abroad, the Saudis were no dopes. They gave him a parade, a military flyover, a sword dance and extolled him in excessive, flowery terms. Trump ate it up, pronouncing his welcome “tremendous,” and sold the principle enabler of Islamist extremism $110 billion in weapons. What could go wrong?

By contrast, he met with less adoration in Europe. The Pope gave him an autographed copy of his encyclical on the need to protect the environment. Trump said, “I won’t forget what you said.” But as it turned out, that didn’t mean he would heed the pope’s warning, but that he would remember who his enemies were and get even.

At the G7 and NATO meetings, the attendees regard themselves as members of an exclusive club, which ought to be up Trump’s alley. But they think of this club as a gathering of equals which is not nearly as welcome to our Miles Gloriosus who has to think of himself as unequalled by anyone. After all, he knows more than the generals, the Congress, the press and certainly the Europeans.

So, when they didn’t bow and scrape, he shoved a representative for Montenegro out of his way, he rode a golf cart alone rather than walk with his peers, and still he was subjected to the kind of aggressive, big boy handshake he practices, from French President Macron.

He immediately headed for home where he could do a favor for his fossil fuel rich pals in Saudi Arabia and Russia, and poke a finger in the eye of green Europeans, blue states like California, smarty pants scientists, snotty journalists and loser Democrats by pulling the plug on the Paris Climate Accord that they all love so much.

He justified this in a speech filled with his usual falsehoods and fictions. His statistics largely came from NERA, one of those consulting firms that jigger data to prove whatever those paying the bills want to prove. It was founded by a minion of right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdock and is best known for slanted economic and environmental studies funded by and favorable to the coal industry.

But the real motive for the withdrawal had little to do with climate science or economic forecasting since those issues are murkily hard to figure, like healthcare and taxes as Trump has belatedly recognized. And he isn’t into studying anything beside his own face on television. His aides have learned to put his name in every paragraph of anything they want him to read. Something the Pope’s encyclical neglected to do.

No, his decision had to do with winning. In Trump’s brain, if other countries are for something, American should be against it. If Obama helped build something up, Trump should knock it down. In short, the reason Trump decided to pull out of a global effort to retard climate change has very little to do with policy.

Like Michael Corleone, he may insist “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” But we know better. With him, everything’s personal. He did it so he could say to his enemies, “You people may think you are oh so smart, but I just beat up your climate accord and left it for dead. I win. You lose.” He did it, as he admitted in his prepared remarks because “we don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore.” You can’t get any more unintentionally self-revelatory than that.

You can expect him to appear soon in Kentucky or West Virginia coal country where he isn’t treated like Rodney Dangerfield but can find crowds he can rely on to cheer and cheer and cheer his biggest errors. But such vanity often backfires, as La Rochefoucauld warned. “There are few people who are more often in the wrong than those who cannot endure to be so.” And that’s a vicious circle. The harder they try, the more they err.

The Consigliere Lawyers Up

In an old country song, the singer knows his lover has been unfaithful. He just doesn’t know how luridly, flamboyantly, incessantly unfaithful. “How many, how many, I wonder, but I really don’t want to know,” he laments. Republicans must be feeling a similar dread as they contemplate the spreading stain engulfing the Trump administration. How many, how many are implicated, they may wonder. But they really don’t want to find out.

In the latest episode of this telenovela, Jared Kushner has taken his turn on the hot seat. Many have been taken in by superficial aspects of this princeling. He is quiet, polite, neatly turned out, has dimples so it was assumed by the naive that he was a moderating influence on his father-in-law, the mad king.

In fact, Kushner is far from as squeaky clean as he appears. Yes, he has Harvard and NYU degrees, but classmates describe him as a mediocre student at these institutions whose matriculation was greased by a cumulative $5.5 million in donation’s from his felonious father.

And Kushner is actually an acolyte, a willing henchman in this White House version of the Court of the Borgias. Like Trump, Jared’s father is a crooked real estate tycoon. Unlike Trump, Kushner failed to wriggle out of his crimes — including illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering. He served 14 months in federal prison and paid $500,000 in fines.

Close observers of the Kushner saga believe the lesson Jared took from his father’s downfall was not to be honest, but to not get caught and to get even with your enemies. So, since Chris Christie had a hand in jailing Kushner pere, he and everyone friendly to him have been banished from the Trump orbit by Jared.

But in a telling glimpse of the Kushner style, when Christie was caught in the act of punishing a political opponent by blocking traffic from his town, Jared sent Christie a note congratulating him on a nifty bit of payback.

When Trump was young he sought out a mentor on how to succeed in Manhattan rather than in his father’s Queens. That was Roy Cohn, the ruthless, implacable,vicious attorney who taught him to lie, stonewall, litigate but never to settle. When Jared sought mentors to help him succeed beyond his father’s New Jersey habitat, he chose the piratical media mogul Rupert Murdock and Trump, who made fortune at the expense of suppliers, customers and lenders. Thus, Jared’s rise amounts to a sort of satanic version of the apostolic succession.

Now Jared appears to be up to his neck in the rising slime of the Trump famiglia. He lied about his Russian contacts to get his security clearance. He had secret dealings with Vladimir Putin’s corrupt banker, whose institution is the subject of U.S. Government sanctions. He bizarrely sought to establish a secure communications channel with Moscow via the Russian embassy in order to prevent American intelligence services from knowing what passed between the Administration and Putin.

Clearly none of this was undertaken on Jared’s initiative but on the orders of his Don. He is a consigliere who serves a master. And in this role he has encouraged Trump’s worst impulses, telling him to fire FBI director Comey, for instance, because he wouldn’t pledge his loyalty. He has also encouraged Trump to ignore the press because “if they had any power your approval rating would be at one percent.”

Like Trump himself and Ivanka, Jared has business interests that conflict with his role as a public servant. It is not farfetched to suppose that he too is wetting his beak by profiting from the opportunities his position presents. However, now that Robert Mueller is on the case, he may wind up like his father and Al Capone before him, hoist on his own cupidity. The special prosecutor has the power to subpoena business records, tax returns and bring to light not just the Trump dynasty’s contacts with Russia, but its financial entanglements and conflicts.

Will Jared be loyal to the boss or save himself if push comes to indict? It is worth recalling that the witness against Jared’s father was his sister’s husband. To keep him from testifying, Charles Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce him, taped the encounter, then sent the tape to his sister with the instructions to clam up, or else. That earned him the extra count of witness tampering. What lesson did Jared learn from that? We shall see.

Death Wish Budget

One seeks in vain for any strategy, logic, or consistency in the actions of the Trump administration. Only three guiding principles seem to have emerged: 1) Do the opposite of anything Obama did or Hillary would have done (or at least say you are), 2) break any promise made during the course of the campaign, and 3) betray especially the populist, older, white, blue-collar, working-class voters who provided the electoral edge that won the presidency for you.

Case in point, the budget proposal that is now dead on arrival in Congress because its members do not have a death wish. Trump promised to provide help for the constituency cited above by brining jobs back, but also by using the government to provide help in combating the ravages of an opioid epidemic that has hit economically disadvantaged regions hard. He also promised the same folks to preserve their safety net of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and to generally ameliorate their economic woes. So what does he do?

He turns over the design of he budget to OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, a Freedom Caucus, anti-government zealot who announces the budget by saying it doesn’t “measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs.” How? By eliminating the programs. Feel better now, people in need?

He said the Trump budget’s focus was not on compassion for recipients of government programs but on compassion for taxpayers, indicated by how many programs they won’t have to pay for. In short, it is an extreme version of the usual Republican attempt to give tax breaks to fat cats and corporations at the expense of everybody else, particularly those under the most economic duress.

So the budget proposes cutting $1 trillion in social programs in exchange for Social Darwinism. The savings would fund tax cuts for people in Trump’s bracket. All government departments other than Defense would face cuts of up to 40% in their budgets.

Those impacted disproportionately would be those populist Trump voters. Medicaid, the government health programs for the poor would be cut by $600 billion. Mulvaney says this would replace dependency with the dignity of work. But half of Medicaid recipients are already working and many of the rest are disabled or too sick to work or unable to find a job, exactly the kind of people Trump promised to help in West Virginia and Michigan.

The earned income tax credit and child credit for poor families would be slashed. So would farm subsidies, school lunches, student loans and a whopping $200 billion from food stamps that help feed 44 million people. Luckily for Trump, most of those are children so they can’t vote to throw out the people who aim to take bread out of their mouths.

The list of programs that protect people that Mulvaney proposes to cut goes on and on, including the Centers for Disease Control, The National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration. And in a real insight into the Mulvaney mindset, he proposes huge cuts to the Social Security program for people who are disabled. Why? Because by taking away the financial crutch for the disabled people “you can help people take charge of their own lives again.” In short, he expects the disabled to stand up on their own two feet, even if they haven’t got two feet.

Not only is the Mulvaney budget callously designed to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, it is also either incompetent or a con game, as became clear shortly after it was released. The Management and Budget director apparently can’t do math, which would seem like a needed skill in his job, because he used the supposed savings from his draconian program cuts twice — first to balance the budget, and a second time to pay for those tax cuts for the superrich.

This is innovative thinking. I plan next month to use my house payment not just to pay he bank, but also to fund a vacation. I would have had a lot more fun in life if I’d known sooner that you can spend the same money twice. It is reminiscent of Reagan’s magic asterisk which proposed to sidestep a huge budget shortfall by means of revenues to be discovered later.

And then there’s the fact that we are back to same trickle-down, supply-side nonsense of Republican fantasy. Supposedly, the giant tax cuts for the rich are going to juice the economy so thoroughly that it will grow by 4% a year instead of the 2% every reputable analyst predicts. And that effervescent growth will translate into jobs for all hose people who no longer have government programs to rely on. So the programs are no longer necessary. See?

Reagan tried this nostrum, that George H.W Bush correctly characterized as voodoo economics. So did George W. Bush and more recently Gov. Sam Brownback in Kansas. Guess what, all it created was greater inequality and budget deficits as far as the eye could see. Yes, the rich may have invested their windfall, but not in West Virginia coal mines or Michigan auto plants, but in Philippine furniture factories or Chinese electronic assembly plants or Indian call centers. The result: deepening poverty for the poor, bigger yachts for the rich.

Will the hard-times voters who put Trump in power notice that their obsolete jobs aren’t coming back and that their safety net is being stolen away, that the tax cuts are still promised, but not for them? Rank and file Republican office holders get it. They recoiled in horror from this budget atrocity because they want to be re-elected and fear rightly that their opponents will hang the Trump-Mulvaney budget around their necks. You can almost see the TV ads already, with spooky music and black-and-white visuals of hungry children, dispossessed disabled people, and jobless workers deprived of a safety net. And the theme song of this attack won’t be “Happy Days Are Here Again.”