Monday, June 20, 2016

Potemkin Campaign

"And God sometimes uses potěmkinium." (Necyklopedie, the Czech version of the Uncyclopedia, has an entry on potěmkinium, an element in the "Mareseyevian", as opposed to Mendeleyevian, periodic table. After the World War II fighter ace Aleksey Petrovich Mareseyev, whose life was portrayed in Boris Polevoy's novel, and sadly Sergey Prokofiev's opera, The Story of a Real Man.)
It's getting so bad the journos don't have the heart to counter it with a #DemocratsInDisarray number. Corey Lewandowski, the granite-headed little woman-whacker who has been sort of running the Trump campaign, was kicked out this morning, during a war council in Trump Tower with various captains and lieutenants including the 27-year-old spokesperson Hope Hicks, with whom Lewandowski has not gotten along very well—when he first became campaign manager, a year ago, and she rejected his ultimatum that she abandon Trump corporate for Trump political,
“He made her cry a bunch of times,” Nunberg said. In Nunberg’s telling, Lewandowski said to Hicks, “You made a big fucking mistake; you’re fucking dead to me.” Lewandowski declined to either confirm or correct Nunberg’s recollection. “I don’t recall the specifics of that,” he told me. (Olivia Nuzzi, GQ, via The Guardian)
Hicks gets along with Ivanka, who is the Trump she started off with, and it seems that Ivanka is the one who said Lewandowski had to go. She's the unofficial campaign manager now. Why not? She's already launched a successful line of handbags, fragrances, outerwear, eyewear, and shoes.

My favorite Lewandowski stories are the ones where he was busted with a handgun and ammunition in the Longworth Building when he was working as a congressional aide there, in 1999, when he was 26; and the 2002 losing campaign for New Hampshire Senator Robert Smith when he was primaried by John Sununu, and Lewandowski painted Sununu as a possible terrorist sympathizer because of his Lebanese ancestry (Wikipedia for both of these).

Lewandowski wasn't at the meeting but heard the famous Trumpian "You're fired" over the telephone. Nobody on the staff knew it was coming, and the press was startled at news like this coming out first thing on a Monday morning, as if intended to color the whole week's news cycle. He was escorted out of Trump Tower by the building's security staff.

He is also the chair of the New Hampshire delegation for the Republican convention coming up in Cleveland, a position from which the campaign can't fire him.

Apparently from Lewandowski's Facebook page, via Raw Story.
Although Lewandowski is plainly a dreadful and also incompetent person, getting rid of him will not solve all the Trump campaign's problems, which Jonathan Chait has been enumerating ("Trump's campaign is a garbage fire", via Lemieux): the facts that it has a total of 30 paid staff nationwide, for instance, that's three-fifths of a staffer per state, and that the Clinton campaign is outspending the Trump campaign this month by literally infinity % in eight battleground states, in the sense that the Trump campaign is spending zero dollars in each.

What's going on, I think, resembles the village that Empress Catherine the Great is said to have visited on her 1787 tour of territory in Ukraine recently conquered from the Turks, to admire the success of her enlightened development policy for the region, which was being settled by immigrants from Russia proper. But the policy was a failure; the village was made of cardboard, ordered up by Prince Potemkin, and carted down the Dnieper overnight from site to site, without her knowledge, so she would think there were prosperous villages all the way to Crimea.

There is no campaign.

There are rallies and press availabilities staged by the captains and lieutenants, and for quite a while they were pretty splendid affairs, and there's the fact of Trump winning all those primaries, which can't exactly be denied, but there's no campaign. Trump's victories are more or less an accident caused by the complete collapse of the Republican Party as a functioning political entity.

He conquered a territory with an imaginary army because its defenders were imaginary too. Voters had nobody to vote for, but the excitement of the show brought them out to join in and so they voted anyway, for the WWE heel who had enough sense to give them some robust trash talk, but it wasn't a real election because it wasn't a real party with a collective mind (where there was a real party it was in the horrible theocrat states where Cruz won).

It was a zombie party, going through the motions, but in fact dead, and Trump just carried off the prizes like a dude hunter for whom all the beasts have been drugged and laid out in advance. Only it wasn't the captains and lieutenants who had set it up for him; these beasts had drugged themselves and lain down, with a short prayer, in the grasses.

Just like that dude hunter, Trump thinks he won, and that's his real problem. No, his real problem is that he's that kind of person who is so jonesed for adoration that he's ready to believe any story in which he's the hero.

In today's business world this can absolutely be a recipe for success, or the appearance of success, where a billionaire's credit is always good no matter how often he cheats or fails, and the real job (with the financialization of the economy) isn't to make stuff but to create ever more credit for consuming the stuff that more or less makes itself. The great sociopath tycoon just arrogates credit to himself by asserting his greatness, and it works.

But it's got limits, you know, and outside the business world, in real life and politics, the limits are pretty severe. Once you venture beyond the zombie territory of the Republican party you have to do stuff, and I don't just mean learning to read from a TeleprompTer. Ironically, the one thing Trump is worst at is the biggest element of his brand: personnel management, hiring people, getting them on board with the mission, and knowing when to say, "You're fired."

Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were both pretty stupid men, but they were pretty good at personnel management (compared to irreparable assholes like Cheney and Rumsfeld), in the campaign phase anyway, able to trust their servants and make them feel good, and with a fair instinct for who they could work with. Trump can kiss around and make his peers feel good, but he's absolutely terrible at managing people; he's been unable to put together any kind of workable team. And he can't find anyone who can manage him, Trump, or manage himself either.

Because the Republican Party is such a toxic mess, it didn't matter through the primary, but now it's showing. These people are doing the most awful work, in everything from speechwriting to venue planning, fundraising (what fundraising?) to recruiting (what recruiting?). And the work atmosphere in Trump Tower is plainly pure poison.

I'm starting to think he really won't make it through the convention, not because of coup attempts like the one JEB! and Cruz are said to be mounting, but because Trump himself does not have what it takes. The cardboard is starting to fray, stained with guano and trembling in the breeze, and you can see the ooze of the unreclaimed swamp it stands on. I don't know what happens next, what candidate known or unknown will be able to profit from it, but before too long one of those buildings is going to unmoor itself, roar, and topple into the water.

By the way, that Catherine the Great story is almost certainly untrue (as is the story about the horse, you sleazeballs). The development policy was effective and well carried out. The rumor was spread by the conservatives of the time, who couldn't stand not just her progressive policies, but her identity: the fact that she was a German, a friend of the atheist Voltaire, a goddamned woman.

But it's one of the great metaphors, isn't it? Correctly applied.

Pitt Street, Auckland, rebuilding behind a heritage facade. Via the the Necyklopedie. (Also visible at Wikimedia Commons, thanks Smut).

aimai offers her own metaphor, of the Trump situation as a Melanesian cargo cult.

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