Friday, July 3, 2020

Literary Corner: It's Gonna Be Gone

Arshile Gorky, Untitled, 1944-45, via

Putting Out the Fires
by Donald J. Trump

It’s gonna go.
It’s gonna leave. 
It’s gonna be gone.

It’s gonna be eradicated.
It might take longer, it might 
be in smaller sections. 

It won’t be what we had. 
If you have a flare-up in a 
certain area—I call them burning
embers—boom, we put it out. 
We know how to put it out now....
Some areas 
that were very hard hit 
are now doing very well. 

Some were doing very well, 
and we thought they may be gone, 
and they flare up, and 
we’re putting out the fires. 

But other places were long 
before us, and they’re now —

it’s got a life, and we’re putting 
out that life, because 
that’s a bad life that we’re talking about.

I can't even. But...

... the Monty Python dead-parrot tone of the opening makes me think weirdly of T.S. Eliot, the rhythm not the meaning, and the uncertainty of the meaning, that is where there's any there, down to the end, and the metaphysical tone of the end—"other places were long before us"—reminds me of Wagner or something (Brünnhilde says to Siegfried, "Dich Zarten nährt ich noch eh du gezeugt", I was already nursing you, sweet one, before your begetting), and even harder to figure out what he might mean (I actually know what Brünnhilde means, and it makes perfect sense in context—she was literally saving his parents' lives around the time they had that one-nighter before the father got killed). The metaphor of the wildfire would make more sense if the pandemic hadn't come roaring back at considerably greater force than it previously exerted. Texas and Florida don't look like embers. As you already knew.

What I really wanted to bring into play was another CNN piece, which you likely have heard about already, this one by Jim Sciutto, who has a book coming out in August: The Madman Theory: Trump Takes On the World What Sciutto reports is that Trumps's claim not to have heard anything about the Russian bounties (of as much as $100K a head) on dead Americans in Afghanistan is possibly a bit more plausible than we thought in that TRUMP'S AIDES ARE AFRAID TO TELL HIM STUFF LIKE THAT:
Early in his term, Trump's briefers discovered that when his oral briefing included intelligence related to Russia's malign activities against the United States, including evidence of its interference in US politics, Trump would often blow up at them, demanding to know why they kept focusing on Russia and often questioning the intelligence itself, multiple former administration officials said.
"The President has created an environment that dissuades, if not prohibits, the mentioning of any intelligence that isn't favorable to Russia," a former senior member of Trump's national security staff told me.
Which is a fairly interesting fact, not that we didn't pretty much know it already. We've known it since—when did Trump first contradict a report that Russia did something bad? 

Not (working through this CNN timeline) from the leadup to the Miss Universe festivities in November 2013, when he was fondly expressing the wish that Putin might be his "new best friend", or through 2014, when acknowledged misbehavior from time to time, by way of denouncing Obama (Ukraine invasion was sometimes bad but Putin was "eating Obama's lunch", similar for Syria), and he approves of the Crimea conquest ("he’s taken it away from the President, and you look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, OK, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit”). Often adding some whataboutery ("Putin said, ‘Who do they think they are saying they’re exceptional?’ And I understand that. You know, he said, ‘Why are they exceptional? They have killings in the streets. Look at what’s going on in Chicago and different places") or blaming Obama (telling Neil Cavuto that Putin is like a "wounded animal" due to the Obama administration’s actions, he adds, "wounded people and wounded animals can do lots of strange things and we’d better be a little bit careful").

I think he only began denying Putin's guilt of this and that crime after 17 December 2015, when he got the impression that Putin had said he was "brilliant" (sadly, no; Putin said he was "colorful" or "flamboyant" and "talented"):

the next day, the 18th
Trump said on Morning Joe that Putin was a better leader than Obama, and dismissed Joe Scarborough’s allegations that the Russian president “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump said.
He added: "I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing going on, a lot of stupidity."
or the 20th:
“As far as the reporters are concerned — as far as the reporters are concerned, obviously I don't want that to happen. I think it's terrible — horrible. But, in all fairness to Putin, you're saying he killed people. I haven't' seen that. I don't know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he's killed? Because I've been — you know, you've been hearing this, but I haven't seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven't' seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”
and by 26 January 2016, on the 2006 murder of Andrey Litvinenko:
"Have they found him guilty?” Trump said. “I don't think they've found him guilty.”
“If he did it, fine. But I don’t know that he did it. You know, people are saying they think it was him, it might have been him, it could have been him. But Maria, in all fairness to Putin—I don’t know. You know, and I’m not saying this because he says, ‘Trump is brilliant and leading everybody’ —the fact is that, you know, he hasn’t been convicted of anything.”
Like how come UK hasn't even arrested him?

So I guess around then. What's newish is the way this affects the information flow to the Oval Office and the way that affects policy formation:
In response, his briefers -- who must make difficult judgment calls every day on which intelligence to highlight to the President -- reduced the amount of Russian-related intelligence they included in his oral briefings, instead often placing it only in his written briefing book, a document that is provided daily and sometimes extended to several dozen pages containing the intelligence community's most important information.
But his briefers discovered over time that he often did not read the briefing book, leaving him unaware of crucial intelligence, including threats related to Russia and other parts of the world.
Trump's aides are willfully keeping him ignorant (director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and national security advisor Robert O'Brien have denied this), because they fear that's the only way to get him to pay any attention to anything they say:
One former senior intelligence official who served in the Trump administration explained that the agencies' job is to present the President with the broadest view of all the threats facing the United States. If the President was obsessed with just one threat, this official continued, he wouldn't listen to intelligence on other threats, in which case a key line of communication between the intelligence agencies and the commander in chief would be damaged or lost.
The end result was the President now heard less, not more, about the threat posed by one of the nation's most dangerous adversaries. Among his national security staff, this approach led to fears that the President was becoming less and less aware of the threat from Russia, even as the intelligence confirming the country's misbehavior mounted.
But the main question, unasked in the CNN report, is why Trump finds it so necessary, since December 2015, to insist that Putin has never committed a crime and refuse to hear a suggestion that he has, from the murder of Andrey Litvinenko through the mounting of a massive intelligence operation against US elections to this thing about the bounties. Why?

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