Where Are We A Hundred Days In?

In a society ostensibly ruled by the whims of president Donald Trump, getting the lay of the land isn’t always an easy task. Zzyzx, Whiteside, LadyFabulous, ThePiedSpicer and Commissar try to get their collective finger on the pulse of the Trump administration one hundred days into… whatever this is.

Zzyzx: Donald Trump was inaugurated 100 days ago. The shift in governing style, intragovernmental chaos, attacks on women’s and LTBQT rights, the crackdown on immigration (both undocumented and legal immigrants), profligate deregulation, the bolstering of the carceral state, the Cold War against the Deep State, the atmosphere of open racial hostility and tacit of approval of same, the attempted repeal of Obamacare, the specter of World War 3 and the sheer exhaustion of having to pay attention to a megalomaniac day in, day out makes it feel like 1000 days. So innocent and carefree we were on January 19th – or even further back, November 7th. I’m not trying to romanticize the past, since America had myriad problems before Trump, but it wasn’t this. It’s time to reflect on what could be the first stage of an arduous journey and get a sense of where exactly we are now.

So – where the hell are we?

Whiteside: Apparently our entire federal government is now being staffed by homophobic Russian lizard hackers in bed with the Red Chinese.

Zzyzx: And billionaires, let’s not leave them out in the cold.

Whiteside: The billionaires couldn’t possibly be out in the cold. They have climate control.

Zzyzx: The only climate-related issue most of them believe in.

Commissar: I think many people have a good sense of what this moment means and its potential dangers, at least on the Left. However the Left has proven to be ineffective in confronting these forces.

A good example is what went down in Berkeley California recently. Fascist forces marched freely for hours, and the Left was forced into retreat.

Zzyzx: For all this talk about “the resistance”, there’s very little in the way of substantial large-scale organization to meet the material challenges of what that entails. I suppose we could differentiate between leftists and mainstream Democrats, but doing so leaves us with slim pickings numbers-wise. If there’s going to a mass resistance it requires more than we’ve seen so far. Does anyone here disagree on that?

ThePiedSpicer: I disagree on organization. I think it’s more a lack of a leader. You can’t watch all the political protests, marches and town halls and say there isn’t organization.

It may not be inspiring to everyone because they haven’t accomplished a lot but that doesn’t mean that are useless or lack organization. I’ve observed more than a dozen town halls and protests since the election: each one been exceptionally coordinated and effective at the local level of getting their message out. And while the Democratic party is less than reassuring, they still are making inroads. Again, their faults falls on a lack of a unifying leader to rally around and craft a clear message, but their organizational framework is already in place and arguably improving.

Whiteside: It’s same problem that lost the election for Hillary Clinton. Democrats haven’t done well providing the party with a clear leader. Bernie was a start but he didn’t unify everyone.

ThePiedSpicer: One of the reasons Dems lost with Hillary is they wanted to retain power without actually promoting any change. Which was why that recent reveal regarding Clinton’s team mulling using a slogan of “it’s her turn.” It was so astounding.

LadyFabulous: On the LGBTQ side, I see a lot of energy regarding the resistance. The gays are kicking and screaming the whole way through. It’s like the babysitter is here and we don’t like him and we’re going to make it’s super difficult for him until Dad gets back home. Big groups like GLAAD and the HRC are rallying around small situations and cases like Gavin Grimm’s to give them greater visibility.

Zzyzx: All fair points. There is energy both on a local and national level. And the emergence of a recognizable leader/several leaders may prove a catalyst to further success. I’m not sure I effectively communicated my doubts, so I’ll elaborate: I’m wondering about organization that meets the material challenges of being an effective resistance. By which I mean, people are organizing, they’re marching, but what is actually being accomplished other than leading Trump to send off a string of angry tweets? One exception I can think of that had a clear and immediate impact were the initially ad hoc protests at airports after the first travel ban executive order was issued. The groundswell of resistance showed they weren’t going to fucking take it, and after two days the courts reached the same consensus.

Full disclosure: both Commissar and myself would describe ourselves as hard Left, so our ideas of what constituted effective resistance may vary from your own. If something like a general strike was pulled off, there’s a very real chance the collective threat of people not showing up to work for a week and flooding the streets would more than nudge Trump out of power. Money is the great motivator in American politics, after all. Some of the organizers of the Women’s March held what they called a “general strike” a month or two back, except they were telling women if they couldn’t get off work they could be there in spirit… which defeats the purpose.

That said, there are encouraging signs in the examples you cited, and it’s only been a little over three months. I’m concerned with Cheeto Mussolini’s tendency to want to shut all criticism down, though. I wonder if I’m overreacting to wonder how much time we have to effectively protest. I hope I am.

LadyFabulous: Oh Jesus. I can’t even think about that ish.

Zzyzx: Unsettling, right?

Let’s turn our attention to the things that haven’t gone so well during the first chapter of this post-apocalyptic novel. We’ve talked about the Deep State battle and the administration’s dubious Russian connections ad absurdum, so I think it suffices to say it’s not a good look, but it also hasn’t brought down the whole operation (at least, not yet). What would you classify as failures to deliver on promises/threats? What, legislative or otherwise, have been his biggest blunders?

ThePiedSpicer: It goes without saying that Healthcare is by far the largest blunder so far. Trump’s handling of the executive orders come next.

Then you have to consider how awful the transition of power has been and the fact that a large portion of government vacancies still haven’t been filled, including vital positions in the State Department that include diplomats and ambassadorships.

And there’s a list of his 100 day plan and he’s largely whiffed or failed to deliver on. The exception is finding a Supreme Court justice, which, to be fair, he exceeded by successfully appointing Neil Gorsuch.

LadyFabulous: Yeah. And the Dakota Access Pipeline executive order was waaaay supervillainy.

ThePiedSpicer: Not to mention the big ones involving Muslims. Those will be bogged down in the courts for years.

He really can’t brag about much so far except Gorsuch and giving generals autonomy to drop bombs, call air strikes/raids (killing civilians). Even then, I wouldn’t call that last one a bragging point. He’s also backed out of calling China a currency manipulator through a bizarre display of learning politics on the fly.

Despite all this, he thinks he’s succeeding.

Zzyzx: Politico interviewed former Trump associates who pointed out that it’s classic Trump to crash a car, stumble out, watch the wreck burst into flames and claim he was building a fire so he could roast marshmallows all along.

The administration’s mad scramble to pass anything by the 100th day, anything at all, that they could pass off as an accomplishment gave lie to that outwardly projected confidence. But then, what is Trump if not a “confidence man”?

ThePiedSpicer: The Trump administration also urged business officials to release comments supporting administration ahead of 100 day mark.

Zzyzx: I feel like there’s a good word to describe begging the business community to give give him a pat on the back.

Oh, I know!

SAD.

ThePiedSpicer: “Please clap.”

Whiteside: I think the biggest blunder that the Trump administration made is optics. If you look at what they’ve actually accomplished it’s not very much, for good or for bad. They could have easily spun things so as to not appear as incompetent, evil or compromised. How hard is it to kind of keep your head down, try and get something done and not draw attention to your missteps? Instead the president crowed about the smallest achievements, drew major scrutiny from the press and made crazy hyperbolic statements which vacillated wildly depending on the last person Trump talked to. Sean Spicer has to be the worst press secretary ever.

Everyone expected a lot out of the first 100 days, but Trump set the bar so low for so many he could have easily gotten away with just doing nothing. His administration clearly came into power with no idea what they were doing. Half the executive orders he signed are for studies he could have conducted as a candidate while building his platform. If he could have curbed his ego and his intense desire for ratings for a couple months, the only thing he would have had to deal with is the Russian question. It wouldn’t have been the most productive 100 days but he would have avoided a ton of the terrible press he received.

And while he’s made some really questionable moves so far as president, the actual legislation he achieved is pretty minor and could easily be overturned by a different organization. The country as a whole has already moved past transgender rights. Those protections will be coming back. The Muslim ban won’t survive court. Silicon Valley and the green energy industry have plenty of money to lean on the admin over their treatment of the EPA and national parks system. He’s really achieved nothing besides making himself and his party look bad. I think a freshman communications major from the University of Fucking Nowhere on a cocktail of molly and cocaine could do a better job spinning this administration’s faults than they have done.

Zzyzx: I think, though, there’s a fatal flaw with the “first hundred days” yardstick. The fourth estate and new administrations fall into the trap of judging success or failure via this arbitrary tradition. 100 days is only the smallest part of the 1,460 days that comprises 4 years or 2,920 days for 8 years. If we look at Obama’s record in the first 100 days we have the passage of the stimulus package, true, but that was born out of the panic on both sides of the aisle that capitalism was collapsing around them. Most of his other achievements were undoing things the previous administration had done, a tact the Trump administration took as well.

Going back further to George W. Bush’s first hundred days, the consensus was that the 43rd president hadn’t accomplished a whole lot. History will offer many judgements on Bush the Younger’s legacy, but “not accomplishing a whole lot” isn’t one of them.

If Trump can stay in office a full four or eight years, he can effect a great swath of change. In fact, I would argue in some ways he already is.

ThePiedSpicer: Regardless of what you think about “the first 100 days” as a measure for success, Trump touted it repeatedly on the campaign trail and even throughout his first days as a unit of measurement. I think all the criticism is fair from that standpoint. You make your bed, you  sleep in it. I think it’s dumb but they walked right into this one.

Zzyzx: Right. The criticism is valid, but it the hundred days measurement had some severe limitations.

ThePiedSpicer: What’s even more ironic is the federal government almost shut down before the 100th day.

Whiteside: I’m not sure that doesn’t play right into the ideals of his administration though. A broken, shut down government is exactly what Steve Bannon wants. Trump ran on the idea of dysfunction in the federal government and a shutdown would have been perfect for his base. Who cares if that dysfunction is caused by his own administration, right?

ThePiedSpicer: I honestly think he’s been adjusting for a post-Bannon administration for a while.

Whiteside:  Without a doubt. But there’s still the ghost of Trump wanting to burn it all down.

ThePiedSpicer: You talked about optics before. This would be bad optics.

Whiteside: Right, but they don’t really have good optics or know how to have good optics. I could still see Trump causing a shutdown at some point. He’d get praise from his small base and equate that as the tone of the rest of the electorate.

ThePiedSpicer: Eh. The best thing he can do is blame Democrats for not wanting a wall.

Zzyzx: Trump’s attempts at optics were nothing short of manic ahead of the deadline (see: scrambling for comprehensive tax reform, which was always achievable in the span on two weeks!)

So it was messy. Chaotic, even. But until someone else comes along and maybe undoes what Trump is doing, he has the opportunity to corrode the things that have so far held him back. He may not have done it in 100 days, but it’s pretty clear that’s what he wants. Trump is an authoritarian, and we’re seeing things warp towards a legal/administrative positivism. He’s the leader and he thinks his word goes. We’ve been lucky so far that his lack of discipline has helped undermine him somewhat, and there are people especially in the courts resisting him. I do think barring his removal, he’s going to keep trying to force through his key issues.

Is there anything you’ve noticed Trump has been especially successful at?

Commissar: He’s changed culture, even at a smaller level. Local events have become extremely politicized. Something like what happened in Portland, Oregon recently wouldn’t have occurred pre-Trump.

ThePiedSpicer: I guess I would just point to this Atlantic article. It gives Trump credit for reducing immigration, which he has.

Zzyzx: Yeah, he definitely… reduced it. And had ICE agents deport Dreamers and nab people at courthouses. And did his best to discourage legal green card holders. But in the sense that this all falls under something he promised, it’s somewhat of a success for him.

LadyFabulous: He’s succeeded at motivating the opposition. People are educating themselves. The biggest mistake we made during the election might have been that the country assumed that the more politically savvy among us would be enough to save us. I don’t know a lot about Washington and I assumed my vote would be enough. Holy RuPaul, was I ever wrong. Citizens like me coasted and allowed this whole tangerine takeover to happen. If anything positive can be said about this insane outcome, it’s that more of us are trying to educate ourselves on how this fucking country operates and what we can do to support the kinds of changes that we want to see.

Whiteside: As I keep saying, don’t think that the Trump admin is incompetent. They just have no idea how to sell their brand of fascism to the American people and end up looking inept. Trump’s agenda isn’t lasting, but it’s still an attempt to transform our culture.

And I want to say that LadyFabulous’s point about coasting was poignant. I voted against Trump purely as opposition and was horrified when he won. If liberals can’t accept their culpability in allowing Trump to happen, we will be doomed to a full 8 years.

Zzyzx: Well put. Thanks, everyone!

All hail the lizards!

Commissar, LadyFabulous, Whiteside and ThePiedSpicer: All hail!

(Year Zero/Day One Hundred)

What’s Goin’ On?

In the detritus-strewn battlefield of public debate, parsing truth from fiction isn’t always an easy task. ThePiedSpicer, Whiteside and Zzyzx attempt to wrap their minds around the Deep State (as best as anyone without a security clearance can), Steve Bannon’s standing in the Trump administration and our relationship with Putin following America’s increased military involvement in Syria.

ThePiedSpicer: Picking up from our last conversation, how do you define the Deep State?

Whiteside: It really depends on the state’s elevation compared to sea level.

Fuck… wait… I blew it… come back to me.

Zzyzx: I touched upon this before, so if we’re going to start by diving into the topic of the Deep State it seems the natural place to start. It’s not a monolith, but a collection of shadowy state intelligence apparatuses that have been built up over time. They have their own agendas, as happens with any government bureaucracy. The difference here is these bureaucracies have extraordinary powers to spy on both foreign and domestic individuals, and they have a license to kill. The amount of control the executive branch actually has over them under normal circumstances is up for debate. Documents declassified 20, 30, 40, 50 years show that agencies are capable of taking rogue actions without approval, and in other cases bottlenecking the flow of information that the president gets.

As far as the new status quo is concerned, there are extremes in the discussion. Some are making the Deep State out to be The Shadow Government that runs everything – at the other extreme, you have pundits telling us the Deep State doesn’t exist. In Steve Bannon’s depiction of the DS, it’s elements of the Intelligence Community the administration is warring with, not the whole hog. That’s about the closest I’ll get to agreeing with Bannon, as I think it’s a gross oversimplification to characterize anti-Trump factions as pro-Obama remnants. More likely, there are people who think they’re standing up for a democratic society, even if some of what their agencies do has been explicitly anti-democratic long before Trump was in the picture. If even a majority of the IC opposes Trump, it’s hard to say how stridently they do, because again, they’re shadowy.

That said, deep states do exist. Most modern industrial countries have some combination of deep states, secret police and/or shadow leadership. We have some element of oligarchical rule in America, for example, with a narrow band of monied interests controlling the parameters of what is politically possible. There are historical deep states, like the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire, more recent examples like Turkey’s deep state’s failed coup against Erdogan… wait, the way I’m framing this makes it seem like Turkey is deep state central. It’s worldwide and pervasive. Why should America be exceptional?

In The Concealment of the State (2013), Jason Royce Lindsey posited that America’s Deep State doesn’t need to be a vast conspiracy to rule everything from behind the scenes, but they have amassed a great deal of power through their secrecy. No sunlight, much power. Now we’re seeing a part of that power expressed in the open.

Whiteside: I can’t beat that eloquent and factual look at the Deep State, so I’ll go a different route.

I think the actual “Deep State” label is more of an act of laziness than a structured, governed entity. You should never bet against a person’s desire to maintain the status quo. I think more than anything the threat of shutting down or defunding departments and costing bureaucrats their jobs is driving this wide-scale revolt against doing things as usual.

I hate to defend The Don again but every administration stuffs the cabinet with their guys. I don’t think that Obama’s guys and Bush’s guys and Clinton’s guys and so on did it for the experience, you know? I’m sure every administration has enough dirt to sink it, but this one showed up in D.C. talking about kicking everyone out. If I was a lifetime government employee I would definitely think “fuck that guy”. So this bogey man, the monolithic DEEP STATE could just be a bunch of pissed off cubicle rats.

Zzyzx: There’s something to that. Some objections to Trump are facile and whatever you feel about the president or the office of presidency, there are established precedents, some of which Trump isn’t painting so far out of the lines on. There’s still plenty of reasons to object to Trump and his either fascist or para-fascist transformation of the government – and by extension – parts of our society. Like, hasn’t anyone heard that cliche about a broken clock being right twice a day?

I don’t know what happens if elements of the Deep State win their crypto-war, but I don’t think it’s good. At best, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Trump resigns, we get Pence. Pence gets dragged down the drain, we get Paul Ryan. And if either or both get taken out, the tattered remains of whatever is left of the old system are thrown in the trash.

Whiteside: I also think when we are talking about the Deep State we should keep in mind the kind of oscillation of the hive mind between “the Trump admin is fully of incompetent morons” and “there’s a shadowy conspiracy of Trump administration officials collaborating with Putin’s regime”. The left, middle and even some of the right want to have it both ways. Especially in light of the recent loss Trump took on the ACA. There’s a lot of hyperbole out there in Internet in comments and blogs, especially from the left. And it’s tough to admit, but they won. They obviously can’t be complete fuck-ups. They have to have some bit of guile to perpetrate a conspiracy of the size that is shaping up right now in the news.

Zzyzx: Trump may not be especially sensitive to the views of others (an argument could be made that he’s clinically narcissistic) but he is educated. He graduated from Wharton – he may have not been a bright academic star in the vein of Obama, but so what? He’s especially adept at utilizing mass communication to connect with his movement. He’s lazy, temperamental, and in some ways short-sighted, yet it’s a gross oversimplification to brand him as stupid. He’s also surrounded himself with people who more or less know what they’re doing, even if they also happen to be close-minded and corrupt. The narrative does no good to anyone who actually wants to understand what’s happening here.

We’re also at a juncture where the president is likely using one part of the intelligence community against another part. Barton Gellman raises an interesting question: Is the Trump White House spying on the FBI?

What’s to stop him from doing that to any other agency? What’s to prevent a deeper divide among the IC? It’s impossible for me to say, but it’s clear not-stupid Trump and associates won’t take this sitting down. And the more that emerges about the web of connections to a certain world superpower, the further he might push a campaign to neutralize “The Deep State”, the parts of the IC that want his blood.

ThePiedSpicer: Steve Bannon has been at the center of focus for a large portion of Donald Trump’s presidency. Some have referred to him as a tactical genius in his implementation of mass media and willingness to attack when attacked. He’s even been credited with setting policy, drafting executive orders and in effect running the country. My question is, given his recent removal from the National Security Council, just where does Mr. Bannon sit these days in terms of influence and power? Does this latest move prove or refute the claims that he was essentially the power behind the throne?

Zzyzx: I don’t think it disproves that he’s a power behind the throne. Since most politically aware Americans reacted with justified alarm at Bannon’s influence in January, the narrative has complicated somewhat as pretty boy Jared Kushner has carved out some prime real estate for himself in the administration. This has been cutting into Bannon’s ability to focus the president towards his areas of concern, and boy, has he been feeling it. It came to a head recently when reports emerged a frustrated Bannon had talked shit about Kushner behind his back (in Bannonland, calling someone a “cuck” and a “globalist” are sophisticated insults). Trump had enough at that point and insisted the two try to hash it out, which they at least are pretending to do. Based on recent events some are ready to write off the whiskey-bloated racist’s influence; I’m not. People rise and fall and rise again around Trump so fast it induces motion sickness. And unlike others in the administration, if he spurns Bannon, he risks further alienating a prime mouthpiece of his movement.

Whiteside: There’s definitely a large number of people with less than ideal goals influencing what may be our most easily swayed president ever elected. There’s strong evidence that DeVos’s confirmation is tied to both political donations and the influence her brother Erik Prince has on the West Wing. It’s not a stretch to think that at any given moment Trump is being pulled from different directions by Bannon, Kushner and Prince. The question is where do their interests overlap?

ThePiedSpicer: This sounds much more like Bannon’s actually losing clout rather than smoke and mirrors. You could argue for both but the former seems to have far more available evidence.

Zzyzx: We’ll have to wait to see if it pans out, but Trump saying “I am my own advisor” is certainly meant to distance the president from a controversial figure. It wouldn’t be the first time an authoritarian has dropped a vitriolic figure once they’ve outlived their usefulness.

Speaking of powers that may or may not be behind the throne, are we seeing the last of Russia’s influence wear off with Tillerson’s visit to Moscow and strong language on Assad? Or have we entered the teenage rebellion phase of the relationship, with Trump angrily pushing back against Putin with something akin to “Screw you, man. You can’t tell me the best way to be an autocrat.”

Whiteside: We are seeing a lot of different ideas on why Trump bombed Syria from it being a diversion tactic to “Ivanka told him to”. The one thing that’s certain though is that Putin knew well in advance of our operation. I don’t think the honeymoon is over.

ThePiedSpicer: Then what do you make of this?

Zzyzx: If there’s one reliable thing in this administration, it’s Trump’s unreliability. And if one relies of the thesis that Trump is a nationalist (I do), nationalists don’t always get along with other countries very well.

I’m not sure this permanently severs their ties with Russia but it does make the situation rather more complicated, unless this is an elaborate behind-the-scenes gambit.

Whiteside: I think notifying Putin of the attack before hand really erodes the White House’s credibility on this story. I certainly don’t buy the idea that Trump was defending Syrians. I don’t think Trump has the moral fiber to be outraged by human rights.

It’s not hard to believe that Russia knew Assad had sarin or planned to use it, but I find it difficult to believe the White House is feeling any kind of outrage. Trump has no problem allowing the poisoning of Americans, and has not shown any emotion towards the plight of people of color before. It’s disingenuous now at best.

Zzyzx: Trump didn’t seem too bothered when his botched Yemen raid killed ten children. Is extinguishing the lives of innocents only evil when other people do it?

I think it’s possible that Trump is using this as a way to create perceived distance from Putin… but I’m not sure.

ThePiedSpicer: I think it’s more likely the Sarin came from Russia. I tend to believe inspectors got it right when they said the gas was removed in 2013. Which then leads to a question, who’s they get it from? Maybe the nation whose military they share a base with?

On the other hand,

Although some U.S. officials have strongly hinted they suspect Russia, which has a presence at Shayrat, may have known something about the planned attack, none have conclusively linked Moscow to the incident itself.

“Mattis suggested the United States did not have firm evidence that Russia had foreknowledge or was complicit in the chemical attack.”It was very clear that the Assad regime planned it, orchestrated it and executed it and beyond that we can’t say right now.

We know what I just told you, we don’t know anything beyond that,” Mattis said, when asked whether Russia had a role.”

Tom Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, just remarked on Tillerson’s press conference in Russia. Wright says it confirms the heated rhetoric was “all for show. Moscow was never going to give up opportunity of close relationship with Trump.”

And Trump is easily confused by some things…

Zzyzx: Trump’s confusion brings us back to where we started:

Still, the uncertainty and its effect on Trump provides a window into how the inexperienced commander in chief copes with major decisions. Aides and friends say the lack of clarity seemed to worry Trump, who is impatient and has sometimes expressed distrust of the intelligence community, while he faced his first military test.

This is a real-world effect of picking a fight with the Deep State: Trump isn’t sure who he can trust when it comes to the information he’s getting. He’s shown increasing signs of paranoia; I shudder to think how this continues to manifest itself militarily.

We leave you on that cheery note. All hail the lizards.

ThePiedSpicer and Whiteside: All hail!

(Year Zero/Day Eighty-Three)