Reading Andy Divine’s review of four books on Trump at the TLS is experiencing him in a more rational key. His political hysterics sometimes muted, and sometimes argued at a frenetic pace, hint at paranoia. As this review is quite long, I will highlight what I think is most relevant.
The first book: Amy Siskind’s THE LIST: A week-by-week reckoning of Trump’s first year:
So which is it – an extinction level event for liberal democracy or business as usual? The truth is: we just don’t know for sure. The case for catastrophe, given what Trump promised and what he has delivered, and how he has reshaped American politics thus far, is a strong one. Amy Siskind’s list of horribles, The List, sadly, is a weak attempt to chronicle this. It is an endless summary of everything she doesn’t like about the administration, from the environment to immigration. The rationale is provided in the dust jacket blurb: “Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember”. And such a list, focusing on the signs of emergent strongman rule, would be helpful. Siskind’s, alas, has no such coherence or consistency.
The second book: by David Frum is TRUMPOCRACY: The corruption of the American Republic
On all this, David Frum’s Trumpocracy is immeasurably better. Frum, a Bush speech-writer who coined the term “axis of evil”, is a member of a small group of Republicans who describe themselves as Never Trumpers, and whose opposition to Trump’s foreign policy instincts, authoritarian impulses and outright kleptocratic gall has been rock solid from the beginning. He’s perhaps best when dealing with his conservative peers’ willingness to prostrate themselves before their tangerine tribune of the plebs: “Trump has contaminated thousands of careers and millions of minds. He has ripped the conscience out of half the political spectrum and left a moral void where American conservatism used to be”.
Frum also rightly worries about the leaks from the intelligence agencies pushing back against Trump, because some obviously compromised US secrets, and because intelligence agencies at war with their own president is a dangerous precedent. Yes, Trump was the first offender. But he is the duly elected president.
That Mr. Frum and Mr. Divine were, at one point, ardent supporters of the Iraq War, and members of the Neo-Conservative coterie, offers some credible proof that they share a certain World View.
The third book is Hall Gardner’s WORLD WAR TRUMP: The risks of America’s new nationalism
World War Trump is a rather cranky realist meditation on the dangers of Trump’s assault on America’s traditional alliances. But it suffers, as it must, from being written too soon. Hall Gardner assumes a coherent realism from Trump, which would mean the withdrawal of the US from enforcing the rules of the international system, the collapse of NATO and the emergence of a potential anti-Western alliance of Russia and China. Full of conjecture, and worst case scenarios, Gardner could not foresee the astonishing fecklessness of this White House. Trump vowed to get tough on China, then swooned for President Xi, then launched a limited trade war, and now seeks to expand it further, even as it is wrecking the economies of several heartland states.
Full of conjecture, and worst case scenarios, this sentence fragment might well be used to describe Mr. Divine’s operative strategy that he uses in his regular New York Magazine essays.
The fourth book is Seth Hettena’s TRUMP/RUSSIA :A definitive history
Hettena writes that Trump Tower was one of only two buildings in Manhattan to allow buyers to conceal their true identities. Money-launderers flocked to it. Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City was found to have “willfully violated” anti-money laundering rules of the Bank Secrecy Act, was subject to four separate investigations by the Internal Revenue Service for “repeated and significant” deviations from money-laundering laws, and was forced to pay what was then the largest ever money-laundering fine filed against a casino. The Trump World Tower, by the UN headquarters in New York, had a large number of investors connected to Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Trump’s consigliere, Michael Cohen, was found by a Congressional Committee to have “had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union and . . . seemed to have associations with Russian organized crime figures in New York and Florida”. His campaign manager for a while – Paul Manafort – made a fortune channelling Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine. Trump’s new towers in Southern Florida were also humming with Russian buyers. Over a third of all the apartments in the seven Trump towers were connected either directly to Russian passports or to companies designed to conceal the owners. Hettena finds a prosecutor who spelled it out: “his towers were built specifically for the Russian middle class criminal”.
That Trump and Manafort were involved with money laundering and other form of graft and corruption, not surprising, but there is the most tenuous, even non-existent connection with Russian Meddling in the US election! The cases of the ‘Russian Trolls’ has yet to come to court, nor will the two separate indictments of the GRU operatives ever reach a Court of Law. Mueller will not invest his time and reputation in two meaningless Show Trials. These indictments have propaganda value for Mueller!
If these investigations yield nothing, and if Mueller’s report doesn’t have the goods, then the United States will have dodged a constitutional crisis. But if Trump is revealed as a businessman who consistently violated the laws, and if Mueller fully exposes a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign in 2016, the President will be shown to be both criminal and treasonous. Impeachment is the only legal recourse against a president, and it was designed by the Founders precisely for this occasion: to get rid of presidents who were in league with foreign powers. They were understandably paranoid that their fledgling republic could be corrupted by far more powerful countries, such as Britain and France. And that’s why it will be difficult for the House of Representatives to give Trump a pass in these circumstances, especially if the Democrats regain it in November. There’s no question, it seems to me, that Trump will fight this, rally his base and propaganda outlets, like Fox News, and put extraordinary pressure on Republican senators to acquit him. If the Republican base retains its cultish worship of Trump, those senators would have to be true patriots to do the right thing. And we now know, after more than a year of total capitulation, that they aren’t. And, as Trump enjoys overwhelming support from a shrinking Republican Party, they won’t. Even now, senators like Bob Corker or Ben Sasse, who publicly lament the President’s unfitness and mental instability, have not cast a single vote against him.
The reader is back to the charge that Mr. Divine makes against Hall Gardner’s book , Full of conjecture, and worst case scenarios! If ,if, ifs don’t just litter the closing paragraphs of this essay. Conjecture is the very animating rhetorical force of these preceding and remaining labored paragraphs!
If these investigations yield nothing, and if Mueller’s report doesn’t have the goods, then the United States will have dodged a constitutional crisis.
If Trump avoids impeachment, he may turn on his prosecutors, and appoint a new attorney general who dutifully shuts down the Mueller investigation and launches others against the Clintons
If the Republican base retains its cultish worship of Trump, those senators would have to be true patriots to do the right thing.
Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.