Working For The Weekend

I’m not sure what to make of Liberal critiques of Donald Trump’s weekend retreats to his “Southern White House”. Case in point: Mary Papenfuss’s How Much Does Trump Actually Work At Mar-A-Lago? Maybe Not So Much! for The Huffington Post.

The criticism is in some sense understandable from a financial angle.

Trump’s frequent golf jaunts are becoming enormously expensive. Politico has estimated that each trip to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers at least $3 million. (Protecting wife Melania and son Baron back in New York has been estimated to cost an additional $1 million a day.)

The Washington Post makes the case that Trump could fund the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for nearly four years if he had skipped the resort trips he’s taken so far. But the newspaper also notes that estimating accurate costs is challenging.

…though the idea that Trump would fund the Interagency Council on Homelessness if only he weren’t golfing is highly dubious. Besides, the amounts in question may be larger than we’re used to, but any time any president goes anywhere it’s going to cost taxpayers money. The “Your travel is costing us money, Mr. President!” argument carries with it the parenthetical “(and I’m bringing it up because I don’t like you or your politics)”. The selfsame has been lobbed at Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, ad absurdum.

The main thrust of Papenfuss’s article, though, hinges on an ideology embedded so deeply in the American collective unconscious that any deviation from it causes reflexive reaction: the Protestant work ethic. Donald Trump isn’t working on the weekend! Donald Trump isn’t doing his job!

Good, I say. Do you want Trump to actually do his job? Every time he does with any sustained concentration, something kind of awful happens. If the president is uniquely terrible as some contend, he should do as little as possible. Not only should he be taking weekends off, he should take entire months off. How about a six-month furlough for the Steves (Bannon, Miller) while he’s at it?

(Year Zero/Day Fifty-Nine)

Supergluing The Broken Vase

Despite the president’s proclivity for shattering democratic norms like they’re a fragile vase, some members of the media really want everything to go back to normal. And so they gather up the fragments, superglue the vase back together and fill it with fresh water and flowers.

Never mind the leaks it’s sprung.

One school of thought, here embodied by Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank and Politico’s Zachary Karabell, finds comfort in the idea that Trump, stymied by his own ineptitude, has done little of substance and probably isn’t all that scary. Another school, to which Van Jones and Tom Brokaw belong, was overjoyed the president was acting so darn presidential. Amusingly, Jones was convinced he’d witnessed the transmutation of lead into gold during Trump’s speech to Congress.

Over at Medium, Amy Siskind has done a wonderful and consistent job of reminding us that we can’t normalize what’s happening here. Prima facie, we get the sense that at least a cohort of the chattering classes are doing just that, rationalizing hey, sure, Donald Trump is unpredictable, boorish and vindictive, but he’s the president for Pete’s sake, and the president can’t be all that bad.

Or is this self-preservation? Are media elites scrambling to put themselves in enviable positions when the Trump administration’s repression of the Fourth Estate intensifies? Too often, the cocktail circuit crew’s main concern is social climbing, which requires staying in the good graces of those in power.

Or does the political media get bored with the truth so readily that after 41 days, they need a new angle to keep them engaged? It needs a constant struggle to see what is in front of one’s nose, after all.

Whatever the root cause, their vicissitudinal shift from adversarial to reservedly fawning is already having an impact on the administration’s behavior. The revised travel ban, originally slated for its grand debut today, was rescheduled to some time in the near future so Trump can ride the wave of good press.

(Year Zero/Day Forty-One)

It’s A Day That Ends With “Y”. Trump Must Be At War With One Of The Pillars Of A Democratic Society.

It’s not difficult to imagine the president sitting in his bedroom late at night, bathrobe-clad, unable to divert his attention away from picking at the scabs on his legs. He never meant to let it get this bad, and he knows he has to let them heal, but the acute relief has driven him to *pick* *pick* *pick* until blood red intermingles with the Nor-rich Blend hue of his skin.

While the vision I’ve presented may cause distress, it’s no more disturbing than the metaphorical obsessive scab-picking Donald Trump can’t seem to stop himself from doing when it comes to perceived or actual slights. Whether by the judicial branch, the Democratic congressional bloc, the Deep State, ordinary citizens practicing their right to assembly or the news media, Trump finds dissent intolerable and will do everything in his power to quell disagreement.

In the case of the media, there’s been not so much a creep as an all-out offensive against the Fourth Estate meant to neutralize any impact their reporting might have. Trump’s style, and in point of fact the preferred method of modern authoritarians, is direct communication. Hence his ruining Twitter forever, hence taking progressively bolder steps to deligitimize uncomplimentary purveyors of information by branding them “fake” and “the enemy of the people”.‡ With the media no longer able to dilute or question his message with any efficacy, his consolidation of power will be that much harder to resist.

His latest affront is in some ways his most openly boundary-pushing to date.

The White House on Friday blocked a number of media outlets, including CNN and POLITICO, from an off-camera briefing with press secretary Sean Spicer, while allowing in a select group of journalists that included many conservative outlets.

The White House had earlier planned on having an on-camera gaggle with Spicer in the briefing room, but the administration later in the day changed it to a restricted off-camera gaggle in Spicer’s office.

As the administration’s controversies proliferate at an astounding rate, their need to bottleneck the flow of communication to preserve their legitimacy in the eyes of The Movement is ever more pressing. A secondary but no less vital function of icing out their critics is that the Trump faithful eat up a “ballsy” strike against the Liberal Media like it’s a plate of grilled red meat and potatoes. As long as they’re sating their appetite for symbolic violence against the enemy, they aren’t thinking about the reporting that led to the off-camera briefing in the first place.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.

The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.

The Deep State war rages on…

*  *  *

‡ Not to suggest that corporation-controlled media establishments are always on the side of the American people. That their interests seem to coincide with the public so closely right now speaks more to how unusual this moment in our country’s history is.