Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A Tale of Two White Houses

George III, anonymous contemporary etching, British Museum, via StreetsOfSalem

Longer™ David Brooks ("The Decline of Anti-Trumpism"):
I'll just start off with some observations that may startle you if you haven't been spending time at Washington dinner parties, think-tank lecture-recitals, and early-morning Stairmaster gym sessions with a lot of Republicans in the course of the past year (as I implicitly have, though I'm not giving you any details):
First of all, people who attend meetings with President Trump (of whom I implicitly know a lot more than you do, peasant) report that he is not the screaming maniac you might expect from watching his rally performances and reading his Twitter feed. He is kind and friendly. He never bites anybody. I can't deny what Michael Wolff's poorly sourced and unethical book reports, that he keeps telling the same stories in identical words, at a rate of around three times in ten minutes, expecting listeners to be just as surprised and delighted the tenth time as they were the first, but he seems well-informed enough to run a meeting successfully as long as everybody there is careful to agree with everything he says.
Second of all, different people have different perceptions of what Trump is like. Some say he is a relatively gentle maniac, subdued and affectionate; others that he is merely strange, remote, and mercurial; some say he is clearly in the last phase of tertiary syphilis, others that he is a very stable genius. I'm as anti-Trump as ever myself, but but it's clear that he is a Protean figure, all things to all people. Many report that as long as you ignore all the crazy stuff he says and does, it's just as if he was perfectly sane. So I hope that's clarified.
I get the impression (through my implicit special access) that everybody who works in the White House is miserable and frazzled, but that's only because of the constant conflict at the lower levels and lack of direction from the top as the president's "executive time" or TV hour stretches out to upwards of 12 hours a day as the senior staff jockeys for time on Fox so they can tell him what he wants to do. It's not that they think the president is a psychopath or senile, for goodness' sake.
Third of all, the White House is getting much better at doing stuff. If it weren't for Trump's tweets, you wouldn't have any idea that it's a sink of mutual hatred and corruption (though I would, of course, with my privileged contacts, but I would never tell). You'd just be impressed with all they've accomplished in recent weeks to realize their goals, breaking the alliance with Pakistan and turning it over to the Chinese sphere of influence, working to open up the entirety of our coastal waters to oil drilling (just in the wake of last October's 672,000-gallon spill in the Gulf 65 miles from New Orleans evoking memories of the Deepwater Horizon disaster), watching Obama's policy for defeating ISIS come to fruition, nominating incompetent and reactionary federal judges, and making South Korea mad enough to invite North Korea to the Winter Olympics.
It's almost like two White Houses—the imaginary White House you see on the TV, in which an apparently insane President Trump fulminates and digresses, lawyers try to manipulate the Trump-Russia investigation, and everybody competes in backstabbing their enemies by leaking scandalous stories to the press, as if the picture painted in Wolff's book were true; and the real White House you don't see, where staffers manage to get by in spite of their lethal internal feuds by ignoring the president altogether, as if the picture painted in Wolff's book were true. Which is not to say the picture painted in Wolff's book is true, it's just all I can think of (with my own special knowledge that nobody else apparently has).
While we in the anti-Trump movement, to which I am proud to belong, seem to be getting dumber, sad to say. I'm just about the fiercest anti-Trumper you want to meet, but I'm afraid our movement is getting lowbrow and vulgar, attached to a smug, fairy tale version of reality in which Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by morally inferior sycophants (instead of the nuanced and highbrow picture you could get from people who go to the dinner parties where you can find me). Like "The Madness of King George". (Oh, that's not a fairy tale? Who knew?) ....
And so on. This is one of those Brooks columns so awful everybody wants a piece of it, and Steve and Drifty have already been there, so there's plenty to read.

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