Saturday, 7 April 2018

Trumpocracy - An American president's desire to create an autocracy

Like other autocrats around the world, Mr. Frum argues that Donald Trump rules the United States with the intention of increasing the wealth and power and that of him and his family. That Donald relates well to other autocrats cannot be argued. He recently congratulated Vladimir Putin on his sham election victory in Russia and Abdel Fatah as-Sisi for his equally sham victory in the recent election in Egypt. Both ran for the presidency of their respective country without opposition.
Mr. Frum begins his book with a description of pre-existing conditions that made possible a presidential victory for an individual of such questionable qualifications and temperament as the Donald. Mr. Frum talks about those who first opposed Donald's candidacy such as Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz who both turned into appeasers. Mr. Frum explores the manner in which Donald has used his office to enrich the coffers for both him and his family. He describes Donald's petty vindictiveness such as not allowing Sean Spicer, an ardent Catholic to meet the pope or blaming Mitch McConnell for his failure to repeal Obamacare, how Donald has created an enemy of the press and popularized the term “fake news” with the goal of controlling of the press, the goal of every autocrat. 
Finally, Mr. Frum identifies the impacts Trumps leadership has had on the United States and its citizens. First, it’s alienated other nations so that they no longer can depend on America for support. For example, he's questioned the viability of NATO and whether the U.S. will support intervention against Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. He's concerned about the number of leaks coming out of the White House from bureaucrats who fear for the institutions they work for. Will this practice end up weakening the very office of the presidency? Will the divide between the left and right in America make impossible an end to divisive politics that brought him to power?
Mr. Frum ends with a chapter entitled “Hope” where expresses his belief that the reign of Donald has increased awareness of the importance of democracy and the professional bureaucracies that support them.
“Trumpocracy” provides a terrific summary of Donald’s rise to power packed with evidence that’s been carefully collected and presented in a thorough, easily understood manuscript.

Friday, 12 January 2018

"Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff - A tale of palace intrigue with an ominous open ending

Palace intrigue provides a particularly compelling form of story-telling. Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and Game of Thrones all feature family conflict and a struggle for power as central themes to their stories.
Centre to the drama in "Fire and Fury" is Donald Trump as president. All other characters in our story
curry favour except that he's like a "Delphic Oracle . . . throwing out prouncements that [have] to be interpreted." On one side of this battle for favour and correct interpretation stand his daughter Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner and their cronies while Steve Bannon and his allies advance from the other.
Except for a few interviews on the his Breitbart show and ten minutes of conversation, Bannon didn’t know Trump at all before the election. He may have been instrumental to Trump becoming president however to think he could win a battle against the Donald's favourite and her husband is a mystery. 
It makes me laugh to think that, during the transition period when Trump was elected and he became president, Bannon recommended that the Trump team read David Halberstam’s book The Best and the Brightest. The book is about the hiring of the best and brightest during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the failure that resulted anyway. All these men were Ivy League university standouts. They were literally, the brightest if not the best. Steve Bannon certainly wouldn’t have been included among that group. What he expected the rest of the team to get out of the book is a mystery because they too, were not among the best and the brightest.  
Of this group of not so best and brightest, Michael Wolff concluded that, “of the dominant characters in the transition, neither Kushner, Priebus, nor Conway, and certainly not the president-elect; had the ability to express an kind of coherent perception or narrative. By default, everybody had to look to the voluble, aphoristic, shambolic, witty, off-the-cuff figure who was both ever present on the premises and who had, in an unlikely attribute, read a book or two.”
Michael Wolff
According to Mr. Wolff, Trump can’t or won’t read or even skim. He couldn't stand listening to Retired General Kelly, who he hired as Chief of Staff after firing Reince Priebus, because Kelly showed Powerpoint presentations that were long with a lot of information that bored him. But according to Katie Walsh, one of Wolff’s inside informers, “Steve is careful about what he says, and there is something, a timbre in his voice and his energy and excitement, that the president can really hone in on, blocking everything else out.”
Steve’s problem was that he could never have enough power. Even when “Time” put him on the front page of their magazine
and an SNL sketch portrayed him as President Bannon, he still hadn’t had enough or heeded the obvious maxim that no one should ever out-shine the boss, particularly one like Donald Trump. 
Bannon went after the kids, Jared and Ivanka who he referred to collectively as Jarvanka. Likewise, Jarvanka went after Steve. The two groups were responsible for numerous press leaks meant to discredit the other. When the Washington Post reported that Kushner and the Russian ambassador had talked about setting up a private communication channel while the president was in transition, Jaranka blamed Bannon.
The battle did not only involve a clash of personalities. It was also a philosophical one. Ivanka and Jared sought to moderate Donald’s extremism while Bannon wanted only to encourage it. For example, the Donald chose to remove America from the Paris Climate agreement while Ivanka was trying to convince him to stay. Bannon sought a “radical isolationism, a protean protectionism, and a determined Keynesianism,” while Jarvanka attempted to moderate that inclination.
Bannon believed that Jared was behind Trump’s decision to fire James Comey which he thought would be stupid before it ever happened. Bannon warned the president that the Russian story was “third-tier” but if he fired Comey, it would become “biggest story in the world.” The warning didn’t matter. The Donald fired him anyway which Mr. Wolff considers perhaps “the most consequential move ever made by a modern president acting entirely on his own.”
I don't think I'm giving anything away if I say that Steve was also fired, blood being thicker than water. It didn't help that Steve was taking some of the limelight and much of the credit.  
Besides being an excellent tale of palace intrigue, this book is also a warning. The title of the book Fire and Fury comes from a speech made by Donald J Trump used to describe the form of retaliation North Korea can expect should it decide to attack the U.S. or one of its allies. The consequences of such an act would result in the death and injury of million of people. If Trump is capable of acting on his own when making a decision on the firing of the Director of the FBI, would he do the same with the launching of a nuclear warhead?
Combined his impulsivity and the possibility of his diminished mental acuity, (if it was ever that great) Trump could be the world’s greatest military, political and environmental threat.As Bannon puts it, “the debate . . . [is] not about whether the president’s situation [is] bad, but whether it [is] Twenty-Fifth- Amendment bad.” (The 25th Amendment refers to the president’s physical and mental capacity to remain in his position.)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Spoils by Brian van Reet - A tremendous achievement

Cassandra, a female soldier operates a 50-calibre machine gun atop a poorly equipped Humvee patrolling the streets of Bagdad shortly after the American invasion of Iraq. Despite warnings of an ambush and with little armour on their vehicle to protect them from improvised explosive devices, they continue up a street where they are attacked by mujahedeen militia.
Abu Al-Hool would be one of those militia. Originally part of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, he and his cronies have moved their operations to Iraq where they can face their American enemy directly. Having lost his one and only son in Chechnya, Abu feels little reason to live and therefore, acts only on a commitment to his faith.
As a member of the tank crew, responsible for responding to the distress call from Cassandra’s Humvee, Sleed must also be, at least partially responsible for the subsequent capture of Cassandra and her two comrades. When Sleed and the other tank operators should have been racing the scene of the IED explosion, all three had been attempting to open a safe they’d found in a badly damaged portion of Saddam Hussein’s palace considered out-of-bounds for army personnel.
Intense hardly defines the novel “Spoils” however that’s how I felt after completing the last page. Satisfying? Maybe not. In a war where none of the combatants originate from the country of conflict, how can it be? It’s the ultimate proxy war. Is that how people are finding meaning nowadays? In abstractions? Truly, a tremendous achievement.