Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Gaggle: A Poem

Today's Doonesbury strip:

Since November Donald J. Trump has spent his whole life in this situation, or worse, in the sense that it's not only what he hasn't done, the homework, but also what he has done, whatever criminal baggage he's carrying, and the vulnerabilities it gives him, not only from the law, but also from whatever thugs he's employed or who have employed him, foreign and domestic.

That's a big part of why he sounds as if he's suffering from dementia. Between trying to hide that he doesn't know what he's talking about, which requires bullshit, and trying to hide his rich and varied personal culpabilities, which requires lies, he can't possibly speak coherently.

Thornton was asking on the Twitter this morning, "what if set of topics that press might ask about AND Trump is knowledgeable about is null?" He's not safe talking. No wonder he wants to spend so much time on the golf course, it's the one place he can be where nobody's expecting him to explain himself.


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Gaggle
or, The Silent Ambassador
by Donald J. Trump

I actually said today,
let's not ever do any more press briefings.
They're getting tremendous ratings. And,
especially the fake media, they're going crazy.
Speaking to Judge Jeanine Pirro on Fox News, Saturday, May 15, via Media Matters. The characteristic note of surprise at himself, what "I actually said", and the statement of a three-part theme—the concept of a permanent end to White House press briefings, the idea that the briefings are good for "fake media" ratings, and the craziness of the cable channels and newspapers—that seem connected but don't add up quite right, as in the exposition section of a sonata-allegro movement, where the point is to set up the tension that will be resolved in the recapitulation at the end.
They are going crazy.
And they'll be in the room,
and you have to see, the way
they ask questions, I want, I want,
screaming and there's never been anything
like this. To get like a question out.
Develops the third part of the theme, of the media's craziness, with illustrations from the gaggle, with the mad lengths reporters will go to to get their questions to the press secretary, as if if were some kind of god-given right. 
And in all fairness to Sean, and in fairness
to Sarah Huckabee, and in all fairness
anybody who stood up there, they don't know me.
Another mysterious thematic complex: the fair thing to do about the press secretaries, to Spicer and Huckabee Sanders, and indeed to all those who represent Trump in the briefing room (put your hands together for the abominable Stephen Miller) is to recognize that they don't know Trump.
I'm a very active president. I'm dealing
with China, I'm dealing with Japan,
I'm dealing with North Korea. I'm
dealing with all of these different things.
Yet another theme: Trump is active, and dealing, and aware that East Asian countries are different things, at least from one another.
Russia came in to see me,
the foreign minister, the other day.
And right after that, they didn't say this,
but right after that the foreign minister
from Ukraine came in. I said,
fellas you got to make peace.
You got to get peace. They only talked
about Russia coming in, OK.
Adding to the picture of Trump's irrepressible activity, two additional countries whose foreign ministers have paid him a call. Particularly important, because of evil tongues suggesting that he's in some way in the thralls of Russian power, when the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, visits Trump the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, does too, though the fake media never report this, except for The Daily Mail, Radio Free Europe, USA Today, CNN, Foreign Policy, the Ukrainian Weekly, NBC News, Fox News, Deutsche Welle, Breitbart, New York Daily News, ABC, and 1.4 million other venues. Actually maybe not CNN, I can't find a story of theirs that has mentioned Mr. Klimkin since March sometime. People are so unwilling to see how hard our president works for peace! Getting the fellas to make it, or get it, whichever works.
And we took pictures, they took pictures.
We released the pictures. They made
a big deal out of it. Everybody knew
he was coming. And he was scheduled to come.
But they didn't talk about Ukraine.
It was the day after the Comey firing, and the "big deal" was related to that, and to the way the US press was not permitted into the Oval Office, but the Russian press was. Theirs are the pictures, which makes you wonder what Trump means with the pronoun "we" in this section. Also, while you're wondering, you may wonder about the presence of the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak—who everybody did not know was coming and who was not scheduled to come, but was invited at the last moment on a special request from President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin—well known to us from his many meetings with interesting people like Michael Flynn, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Jared Kushner, J.D. Gordon, Carter Page, and Walid Phares (and even some Democrats, we're told by Fox News, though the source for that, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, did not know any of their names). We only found out that Kislyak was present in the Lavrov Oval Office meeting because the Russian Embassy released a photograph on Twitter, while, as CNN reported, "A White House statement after the meeting omitted any mention of Kislyak's presence, instead focusing on Trump's conversation with Lavrov, which the President described as 'very, very good.'" Nor does Trump mention it in the poem, you see, an enthralling example of how silence is a central part of his poetic arsenal.
You see the ratings. They're blowing away
everything, on just about, I think, everything,
on daytime television. What I'd love to do
is stop them. It's not fair to the people.
Returning after this long episode to the original theme, parts 1 and 3, in inverted order, though the reference to halting the daily White House briefing is so subtle that you could easily miss it (where the meaning of "them" in the fourth line trembles and tips into the dark). Sean Spicer's briefings, broadcast on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, did indeed outdo the afternoon soaps on the traditional networks in early February at least, though I don't know if that's still true. "It's not fair to the people" is either a strange echo of "in all fairness to Sean" in III above, or else a reference to Sean and Sarah and "anybody". Perhaps "the people" means "the press secretaries". 
I’ll give you—look, I am a very active person. I have a lot of very positive things going on right up here for this country. It's impossible for a person or two people or three people who are press people to cover every aspect of what I'm thinking or what I am doing. And I think it's unfair. And, if they get it just a little bit wrong, they don't mean to, they're liars, they're liars, they're horrible people, they're liars, the press goes. And it becomes a big story for two days or three days. And it's very, very unfair to a person in that job. I think that’s really a tough job, to be honest. Especially for me because I'm having meeting after meeting, I'm cutting the price of the airplanes with Lockheed. I'm cutting the price of airplanes with Boeing. I'm doing all of these things. I'm making deals for China, with China. I'm trying to solve a problem in North Korea, which by the way is a really big problem.
This section at last brings the main thematic areas of the press gaggle and the active Trump together. The president's activity becomes so strenuous, so volcanic that even three dedicated people can't follow it. This is the source of the "unfairness" to he press secretaries. Incapable of understanding the president's protean efforts, they inevitably find themselves making erroneous reports of what the president is thinking or doing, and the vicious press calls them liars, horrible people, and liars again, very unfairly. The president is cutting prices on airplanes! (Not really.) The president makes deals for and with China, and tries to solve a problem in North Korea, and not just any problem! How can you expect three press secretaries to keep up with that? Structurally this is remarkable, the way the outburst is structured like an arch at the crown of the poem's entire structure, with the mirroring of activity, press people, unfairness, lying, being horrible, lying, unfairness, press people, activity. 
And here’s the thing.
The difference between me
and another president,
I won't use names.
But another president doesn't
do what I am doing. They really don't.
I think that's indisputable.
I'm not saying that in a bragging way.
I'm not saying it any way.
Another president, Jeanine,
will sit in the Oval Office and
do practically nothing all day.
I'm doing—every minute of the day,
I'm doing something. I'm cutting prices,
this nation has such unbelievable potential.
Does he mean Pence? There's a sweet childlike quality in the way he claims not to be using a bragging tone—or any tone at all. With the return to the theme of presidential activeness, the poem as a whole begins to wind back to the beginning, where the primary material will return in the right keys, as it were.
The thing is, they can't keep up
with it. And I'll be honest,
they do their best. If they give an answer
and if it's a little bit off,
they're liars and horrible things.
It is really unfair. So I would
recommend we don't have it.
The resolution being, in the end, almost logical: Trump's incredible levels of energy and doing things like going to meetings, cutting airplane prices, and thinking about North Korea, so unlike other president, literally makes press secretaries unable to do their jobs, and their inevitable mistakes, however minor, get them accused of lying and being horrible. So obviously ending the custom of the gaggle is the only way of remedying the situation—it's not as if you could get the president to stop moving. And the ratings?
They will be very unhappy,
because the ratings are so high
that I don't know what these networks
are going to do.
Deprived of the Spicer impetus, the cable companies will lose their entire audience. Not to mention Saturday Night Live with nothing left for Melissa McCarthy to do, They will collapse. Sorry, Jeanine, but you can't make a Trumpian omelette without breaking friends.
They're going to start to cry. They get
free ratings because of me
and yet they don't treat us fairly.
The musical structure is a little like the first movement of the Brahms symphony no. 2, especially the kicky little bit at the end.

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