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Trump and his Friends (Part 1)

Helmut Sorge | Posted : December 03, 2018


In a review about the novel, Night of Camp David, published by the New York Times in 1965, a critic called the book “too plausible for comfort.” Nineteen sixty-five, ironically, was the same year that the “American congress passed the 25th Amendment, which provides a mechanism for removing a president who is deemed unfit to serve,” as reminded Alexandra Alter in the NYT article. An unknown writer, a high-ranking advisor of the present president of the United States, not long ago, published - on the opinion page of the New York Times - an article in which he confirmed that some Trump advisors had discussed the probability that they would have to activate the 25th Amendment against their boss.

Author Fletcher Knebel imagined, in his bestseller, “a young Iowa senator who grows worried about the president’s mental health when he is summoned to Camp David (the head of state’s country retreat near Washington) in the middle of the night. During some deranged monologues, the president -- a liberal Democrat named Mark Hollenbach -- rants about his perceived political enemies and imaginary plots against him. He rails against the media and accuses a newspaper columnist of leading a 'conspiracy' to discredit him" (Alter, 2018). The president tries to “undo America’s longstanding alliances with Western Europe and arranges a high-level conference with the Soviet premier that could damage our national security” (Alter, 2018).

“Bizarrely,” the New York Times pointed out about the futuristic novel gliding into reality, “there’s even a supreme court justice in the manuscript whose last name is Cavanaugh (in place of C,  his last name is spelled out with a  K, just like the embattled judge promoted by Trump to the highest court of the nation) (NewYorkTimes Review).

How many of the fictitious episodes (conspiracy, fake news, manipulative media, imagined enemies, FBI plots, conspiratorial  judges, collusion with Moscow, removal of unworthy  advisors,  suspicious supreme court judges, criticism of war heroes) could easily be attached to the real life ,and imagination, of Donald Trump ? His hateful form of populism and mental stability, seen through the phantasms of a novelist more than half a century ago. The political thriller “Night of Camp David” will be reprinted these days by Vintage Books, New York, without any direct reference to the unrestrained and contentious President of the United States, not the invented Mark Hollenbach, but the real Donald Trump. The parallels between the novel of 1965 and the present head of state  seemed intriguing enough to reprint the political thriller shadowing reality  —an unhinged president who feels prey to his own paranoia and conspirational fantasies, as people around him struggle to rein in his worse impulses.


“What would happen if the President of the USA went stark raving mad,” asks the publisher on the book’s dramatic black cover flap. Yes, what would happen? Who could prove, dare to suggest, in his entourage, that a  President (why not the obnoxious  Donald Trump), is losing control of his mental faculties, diagnosing  agitation, aggression, rudeness, not as temper but symptoms of a mental disorder . “The book projects the perfect balance of escapism and that haunting touch of reality,” believes Anne Messitte, the publisher. The truth: headline stories are often more dramatic than anything a reporter, a screenwriter or novelist could dream up-- Trump is more than just fiction. The US president  could, despite all congressional controls and military procedures, not only threaten nuclear war against North Korea, but launch thousands of war heads, or just one, as witnessed in Hiroshima-- just one is enough to touch mankind forever. Donald Trump is the Commander-in-Chief, a president who enjoys giving speeches to veterans, but to this day never visited any of his warriors deployed in war zones.


The mid 60s bestseller judged the New York Times, “remains provocative and looks eerily prescient.” Trump is for real and makes certain that no day passes without a headline provoked by his rude and hurtful temperament, or the phantasms of his plutocracy. Not one TV news item in the US, where the head of state does not grab center stage. No trip abroad without confrontation or insult of world leaders or allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel excepted). No opportunity missed to compliment dictators. Paris, November 11. A historic day and date. The commemoration of the end of one of the most vicious, barbaric wars in modern history, the First World War. 100 years and 10 million victims ago. The sun of Morocco, the snow covered Atlas Mountains, the stars above the melancholic, unspoiled desert were far away, and rain and tears covered Paris. More than 60 presidents and prime ministers, kings and princes, gathered in sorrow and memory, a tribute of glory and sacrifice of soldiers and citizens, a celebration of forgiveness and clemency. King Mohammed VI in deep conversation with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, on whose other side walked the President of France, holding an umbrella. Moulay-el Hassan, the son of the Moroccan monarch, tall and dignified, accompanied his inspiring father towards the Arc de Triomphe, braving the puddles of water damping the Champs Elysees, ignoring the global TV reporters, observing each gesture and facial expression. Justin Trudeau, the svelte leader of Canada, braved the rain without umbrella; his citizens back home suffer minus 20 temperatures. Trudeau projected youth and resilience towards nature.


One man was missing, the one person the Canadian dislikes with passion, Trudeau and 94 percent of Germany’s citizens and 65 percent of the French neighbors, Donald Trump. The President of the United States chose the comfort of his limousine, flown in from the US, to drive the few miles to the ceremony. Aids cited security reasons. The president was absent the previous day as well, calling off a trip to honor the more than 2,000 Americans buried in the Aisne-Marne American cemetery, some fifty miles outside Paris. The helicopter could not fly, the President insisted later, because of the low clouds and a trip by car was considered too dangerous and opposed by the Secret Service—an explanation twittered by Trump personally. The storm that followed the excuses was fast and furious—Nicholas Soames, the grandson of the historically acclaimed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a conservative member of the British parliament himself, tweeted: “They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to the fallen.” 

Michel Beschloss, the Presidential historian tweeted a photo of President John F. Kennedy and the French President Charles de Gaulle getting soaked (without umbrellas) in Paris when they honored, in 1961, the war dead. The same day, the leaders of France and Germany managed to visit Compiégne-(also 50 miles from Paris and still raining) where the Armistice was signed in a railway  car a century ago. It was obvious, Robin Wright reported in the New Yorker, Trump flew his entourage four thousand miles to the memorial celebrations, but “showed little interest in most of it.” One visit at another US  cemetery, a prepared speech, read from the manuscript like a weather report by a local  TV anchor, was the input of a President, who was forced though to listen to harsh criticism by his assumed friend, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron about his “America First agenda:  Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying ‘our interest first, who cares about the others,' we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace, and what is essential, its moral values.” Trump also skipped the inaugural of the Paris Peace Forum, created by Macron to foster collective global action. “Will today be a symbol of lasting peace,” Macron asked at the opening, “or a last moment of unity before the world falls into more disorder. It depends solely on us.” Trump, “perhaps the least diplomatic President in American history” (author Susan B. Glasser) gave his answer: he ignored the assembly of the global community and departed with Air Force 1 towards the US. The president missed the declaration of the German chancellor also intended for him: “If isolation wasn’t the solution a hundred years ago, how can it be today, in such an interconnected world?”


The president arrived in the White House late that night, and just did not attend the observance at Arlington’s National Cemetery on Veterans Day the next morning, a must for a commander in chief. A day later, the president obviously had recovered from his jetlag because his famous tweets rained upon Paris, four in a few hours. Explanations, why he did not visit the US cemetery, complaints about high tariffs for American wines, critical words against Macron for a “very insulting proposal.” Trump insisted that Macron had suggested the creation of a European Army to prepare for a possible military confrontation with Russia, China and the US. At his arrival to Paris, the French president had explained to his restless colleague that his statements, reported after an interview with the radio station “Europe 1”, were not quoted correctly. Macron did say European forces were needed to allow the possibility of defending itself “without only relying on the United States.” Trump ignored the clarification. In his Twitter, he complained: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the US, China and Russia. But it was Germany in World War I and II. How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along.  Pay for NATO or not.”  Fake news by Trump. France pays 1.82 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and will raise its contribution to above the expected 2 percent by next year, unlike Germany, which is hovering around 1.3 percent, a low figure that provoked Trump to insult Berlin as “free riders.”

Apparently, the president cares little about his own loyalty or reliability. New York Times writer Ivan Krastev: “Peering through Mr. Trump’s twisted prism, one finds not friends and enemies, but fans and enemies. Fans are those who are loyal to you no matter what—they never expect reciprocity. Enemies are also valuable because they help you solve problems. You can assert your power by breaking or befriending them.” The Trump approach to North Korea is a perfect example of his method. Trump explained why Macron brought up the creation of European defense forces:  “The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26 % and an unemployment rate of almost 10%. He was just trying to get into another subject. By the way, there is no country more nationalistic than France, very proud people - and rightful so.” No, no Trump, whose work was recently disapproved by 60 percent of the American voters, chose the wrong day for his attacks. On this date, three years ago, terrorists had killed 150 people in Paris. Enough depressive memories without Trump’s uncalled insults .


When the two presidents met in 2017 for the first time at a NATO meeting in Brussels, their handshake took six seconds and what followed, the Washington Post commented was “more than its share of touching, kissing, and camaraderie  over the past year and a half.” Macron tried in vain to change Trump’s mind on leaving the Paris climate change agreement. Trump told the world, and his fans, he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh and not Paris.” During his Bastille day visit, Trump apparently had a reawakening: “France is America's first and oldest ally. It was a long time ago, but we are together. And I think together, perhaps, more so than ever. The relationship is very good.” Again, Macron hoped for his arguments to stop the self-righteous American president from abandoning the Iran treaty, agreed upon after years of painstaking negotiations. The French president was standing in the Rose Garden of the White House, the sparks of his intellectually wrapped charm  flying, unending kisses on the cheeks, but at the end Trump ripped up the Iran agreement as well, a historic deal, which had been signed and approved by China, the European Union and Russia. And-- by the United States.

That was prior to Trump, who conquered the White House without government experience, an egocentric without respect for traditions and institutions, a few days ago confronting the highest judge in the land, for no apparent reason. Insulting his predecessors, again and again, primarily Obama and his rival Hillary Clinton, whom he  threatened that - after his election - he would send her  to prison. “We will lock her up,” the President of the United States shouts at his rallies and the crowd responds to their idol “lock her up.” Removing distinguished civil servants from office, appointing his daughter and son-in-law to the White House has been accepted by his voters as normality. No Republican senator or member of the House of Representatives has moved to censure Trump, question the appointment of his unqualified family members, subpoena his tax returns (he is refusing to release) or question his conflicts of interests. No questions asked about hundreds of millions government dollars spent over the last two years for the presidents golfing weekends at his estate in Florida or his golf clubs in Virginia and New Jersey. More than a hundred days of expenditure, the millions accounted for Coast Guard coastal protection, not counted. No uproar. Agreements, treaties, laws are ignored, the American plutocracy governs by its own rules and the moods of the commander in chief are applauded. Congress, its politicians, are shying away from confrontation. “They are operating under the constraints of ambition and ideology,” wrote author George Packer, and have limited room to take on their own party, “short of committing some ritual act of suicide.”


Again, the provocative US president, and the mentioned rainy November day in Paris. Donald Trump apparently cared little about the war and victims, certainly not for tears, but the rain. For the socialist leader Olivier Faure, Trump’s declarations about France and its  president via Twitter, were “Insultants, incorrects, hors de propos, grossiers, tout cela releve, en realité, de la  pathologie” (translated roughly as "insulting, incorrect, off topic, rude, and reveal a pathological [behavior]). The lesson was clear: the United States of America, its president, will not honor treaties any longer, promises, and  its commitments. It is not THE nation signing the deal, but THE administration having been elected for four years. The shadow of the future, stated Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution, is “far  grimmer, as a commitment that binds one administration may no longer bind its successor.” Trump, a proven, if erratic, nationalist, is falling back on his familiar mix of belligerence and isolationism that fuels his “America First” campaign, cultivating his populism and at the same time his global reputation for being unreliable, temperamental and deceitful. In Mr. Trump’s world, there is no longer any concept of alliances. In a world where America is a disrupter and not a force for stability, allies are automatically a burden. "Macron only has to blame himself for the harsh, publicly shown disdain by Trump for his Presidency and himself," feels  Daniel Fasquelle,  member of the opposition party, Les Republicaines: “Il a voulu nouer une relation  particulierèment  avec Donald Trump pour  s’affirmer  comme l’un des grands  diregants  de la planéte, puis en realité  c'est un échec total puisque M.Trump le méprise complètement” (translated roughly as "He wanted [to establish] a special relationship with Donald Trump to assert himself as one of the great leaders of the planet, [but] in reality, it is a total failure since Mr. Trump completely despises him"). 

“Obviously Trump no longer sees America as the country that leads others towards a common purpose,” observed Ivo Daalder, co -author of The Empty Throne: America’ s Abdication of Global Leadership, a former US ambassador to NATO.  The consequence:  relationships with his foreign counterparts are  “crumbling,” analyzed the New Yorker, “the schism with Europe has arguably not been this deep since the First World War ended.” The Washington Post declared in a headline, “Trump Foreign Policy has devolved into Chaos.” The relative rationality that the Obama administration managed to inspire has disappeared. “The administration’s foreign policy,” wrote the liberal  newspaper, is “now a scattershot mess of improvised initiatives, some aimed at real problems, some not.”


Big challenges that would preoccupy a normal White House, the refugees crisis caused by Venezuela’ s implosion, millions saving their lives in Brazil or Peru, or the genocidal campaign  by Myramar’s army against its Rohingya minority, the internment of millions of Chinese Muslims, tortured and brainwashed, the barbaric war against Yemenite civilians - fueled by Washington’s military support - all ignored. “Instead” the Washington Post complained, “trade wars driven  by  Trump’s ignorance of elementary economics and vindictive campaigns to punish close allies,” such as Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel, singled out “for the presidents seething personal resentments.” Germany, historically one of America’s closest allies, is accused by Trump of being “captive” to Russia, and worse, causing an unacceptable trade deficit with the Americans. In 1990, Trump was still dealing in real estate, casinos, an airline, searching for the fast buck and trying to avoid bankruptcies, he declared to Playboy magazine that the United States is “defending wealthy nations for nothing-nations that would be wiped off the earth in about 15 minutes if it weren’t for us.” They, the allies, united in NATO, accepting dozens, if not hundreds of US military bases and nuclear weapons on their soil, “laugh at our stupidity.” “Trump’s views,” wrote the New York Times “don’t seem to have changed since then.” 

Like today’s other populist leaders, Mr. Trump knows that his standing with voters hinges on making good on his most radical promises. “For a populist leader to succeed,” claims Ivan Krastev in the New York Times, “he or she doesn’t need to solve problems nor outdo his or her predecessor. All the populist leader has to do is be different from the mainstream -- to do whatever mainstream politicians would never do.” For example, insult Germany. Use a state visit in the United Kingdom to promote the arch rival of Theresa May, Brian Johnson , declaring her then Foreign Secretary, would be an able Prime Minister if replacement was needed. His interview was published and reported on TV while the American president had dinner with Mrs. May. “Trump’s team has not been able to substitute for Trump’s lack of knowledge,” writes Elizabeth Saunders, Associated professor for political science and international affairs at George Washington University, “as a group, Trump’s advisers are neither constraining him nor channeling his preferences into coherent policies.” Most are so called enablers-- never contradict him and always praise.


One example: during his trip to Europe in the summer of last year, Trump removed a reference in his prepared speech to NATO’s article 5 at the last minute, surprising aides and the audience of NATO members. Article 5 is the assumption, that an attack on one NATO member is an attack against all. When the American president returned to the White House, he reassured his nervous allies—article 5 was still valid. Being in office has done little to moderate Trump’s cynical, vindictive rhetoric, improve his commitment to facts, or alter his views on trade and international agreements. “The results of his limited flexibility and imagination,” argues Eliot Cohen, professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of ‘The big stick: the limits of soft power and necessity of military force’: “The preexisting fissures in the international system are either the same or getting worse. No US adversary is noticeably weaker, and some are getting stronger, and the president’s behavior has devalued the currency of the United States reputation and credibility.”  One   recent example-Saudi Arabia.  An ally treasured by Trump, because in his imagination the men of the desert will buy military hardware or industrial products exceeding 400 billion dollars. A figure not accounted for and if yes, as a figment of his imagination.  Fake news, as Trump would scream. Only it is him who is making up the figures. In the kingdom the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is the man of power. Arrogant and ruthless, possibly a billionaire, as rich as Trump or more. A man Trump respects and his son-in-law, Jared Kuchner, admires. They are on the phone often. Kuchner supposedly is preparing peace in the Middle East, supported by Riyadh, which is causing a human cataclysm in Yemen and  is engaged  in a  war of suffocation with its neighbor Qatar. An adequate broker for a peace mission indeed. Soon Israel will join the troika of lasting peace.

For the moment, Jared and Mohammed may speak less and probably avoid a subject on the bugged phone, the crown prince is not enjoying these days. The future king is accused of having ordered the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, who used to write critical articles about the crown prince in the Washington Post. The prince, the Kingdom insists, did not know about the murder, apparently organized in the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul. 17 accomplices have been indicted, some may  be condemned to death. Among them trusted aids, just by chance, of Mohammed bin Salman. His death squad  flew  in two chartered jets  to the planned rendezvous. To hand Kashoggi his wedding ring? Supposedly, one of the Saudi’s carried a saw to cut the dissident to pieces. Initially, Riyadh denied any knowledge of Kashoggi’s disappearance. Then, they suggested he may have been accidentally killed in a fist fight. Not convincing? He was to be calmed down with a needle, and the soothing dose apparently was too strong? Not credible either? Not good enough because the Turks, competing with the Saudis for influence in the Middle East, happened to have some video material and  audio, which Trump was told about by his agents of the CIA. “It was very vicious. It was very violent. It was terrible.” The president did not want to listen to the tape, because "it’s a suffering tape." The CIA, whose leader, a woman, appointed by Trump and accused as “waterboarding junkie,” suggested that the crime was, probably, authorized, or ordered, by the crown prince. The body of the victim has disappeared. No trace. Nor an answer, which is not competing with the fairy tales of “thousand and one night.” The cartoonist Patrick Chappatte suggested, in a recent caricature, showing Trump with the CIA’ s Kashoggi report  the perfect  way out of the dilemma. The president declared: Iran did it!


Once the CIA came up with a credible, if incomplete conclusion, the political America was expecting an answer to the crime, a just punishment. Trump, who had accused the kingdom of a cover up, for once, would put aside his personal sympathy for the majestic bling bling and the billions glamorized in the desert. The president was not blind, and apparently not a friend of Islam nor its philosophies. Didn’t he order, personally, to keep travelers from seven Muslim majority countries out of America, only  to be forced by a judge to retreat his decision? Worse, pledged, several months prior to the 2016 presidential elections, a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Some polls showed that a majority of Americans approved the idea, despite the fact that they were less likely to fall  victim to a terrorist attack by  a refugee, Foreign Affairs noted, “than be hit by lightning, eaten by a shark or struck by an asteroid.”

Now a nightmare - his closest ally in the Middle East, a leader of the country who honored the US president with a display of great splendor after his inauguration in Washington, accused of involvement in an assassination! Murder of a journalist, a dissident, was not part of Americas idea of justice. Sanctions? No more sales of military equipment? Pressure upon the king, the father, to force his son to resign, since Washington would not want to deal with a man accused of plotting murder? Trump remained Trump. “An unacceptable and horrible crime,” the president deplored. “It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of the tragic event-maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.” His guilt or innocence was not the question, but the relationship with Saudi Arabia, “an important purchaser of US weaponry, an exporter of oil” and an ally in “our very important fight against Iran.” Trump’s conclusion: “The country is just too important to take punitive action.” The conclusions of the CIA, his intelligence service? No concrete evidence. Just a “feeling” Trump suggested. He spoke personally with the crown prince. You understand.. And he denied any involvement. An honest fellow, indeed. Not guilty.

“The American  president,” noted the New Yorker, “sounded more like a defense lawyer or lobbyist for the oil rich kingdom than a protector of American values.” Trump’s decision provoked scorn, dismay and outrage from human rights groups, politicians and foreign policy experts. Former NATO ambassador Nicolas Burns called Trumps seven-paragraph statement “beyond embarrassing. It is shameful.” Samantha Power, a former colleague of Burns at the UN, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book on efforts to halt genocide and other war crimes, tweeted that the president’s remarks were “an abomination that will define the ignorance, corruption, cruelty and recklessness of this Presidency for generations to come.” 

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