Following this simple adage – with anything Trump, appearances deceive, I conclude that whatever “investigations” occur, they are now less likely to indict Trump for a serious crime. Maybe for being a Russian stooge, but not as knowing benefactor or active co-conspirator. Those dreaming of unearthing impeachable offenses will have to look elsewhere (like nepotism, blackmail, conflicts of interest and more).
For this projection to work, I must presume a Trump not so idiotic (or ignorant of the law) that he’s blind to personal criminal over-reach. I offer this model because otherwise his parade of unforced blunders looks stupefyingly self-destructive. I welcome alternative explanations, happily returning to my conviction Trump is both fool and knave.
But here goes. If there’s a smoking gun, exposing Trump as criminal operative in Russian malfeasance, he must fear he’s doomed, leaving him only exit strategies to cut losses to his brand. Yet what criminal party, however blockheaded, would fall over himself this week by channeling Nixonian disgraces? By firing Comey – crudely and ill-timed – just before partying with Russians (shockingly, with only Kremlin press present), then getting photographed with (Nixon-crony) Kissinger, Trump maximized giving his critics the finger.
Lying as art form
Why be so obvious? While Trump tops White House history, stumbling with record fiascos across three months, his NY career indicates he can escape imminent ruin and, though bloodied, survive intact. Thus, a thesis that answers to the facts: Trump flunks government, but not Machiavellian self-protection, especially the art of fabricated public relations. His high-risk, bankruptcy-loaded misdeeds demonstrate how loyalists, investors and partners are readily sacrificed to serve the Trump brand, or the illusion of winning.
My slant confirms this week’s scam (covering-up the initial cover-up that denied all) as a calculated Trump variation on obstruction. Believing his misdeeds fall short of impeachment, Trump uses misdirection to make himself appear guilty as hell, even out of control. Then, if the now damped down Russian inquiries are not able to sting him with an indictment, imagine Trump’s triumphant victory march – simply for evading high crimes and misdemeanors.
What if final results deem him merely unwise or indiscreet (even ignorant), the witless benefactor of Russian largesse? A “verdict” of not guilty (hardly the same as innocent) saves his hide. Not only will he then bellow for the millionth time his victimhood by the establishment blitz, he becomes the heroic martyr who survived fiery torments. Further, this mock redemption immunizes him against other, more legitimate high crimes, like tax evasion, financial lawlessness, plus gross nepotism and matchless conflicts of interests. If he escapes this “Russian thing,” won’t he naturally then kick off a new deceptive pitch that works to invalidate future (equally “unfair”) inquiries? A not-guilty verdict may even prompt more centrist voters to give him the benefit of the doubt. His gulled fans will shriek with such righteousness heaven far above will need ear muffs.
This stratagem works because otherwise the magnitude of unforced blunders look bizarre even by Trump’s deviant standards. Why the next day did Trump compound the scandal by threatening Comey with illusory tapes if not to hype up the melodrama? Ditto, constant lying by Trump and staff amplifies the incident, as if he’s taunting handcuffed investigators to try and trap him. Why, for goodness sake, is the equally-tainted (hardly recused) AG Sessions still charged with picking the next (loyal, slavish) FBI chief? By what ethical logic should Sessions decide who’s tasked to assess whether his favored boss is a small-time crook or a Benedict Arnold?
Trump is hardly religious but he understands the evangelical payoff when a would-be sinner is born-again, even if “winning” only means not being a criminal. As this week re-invokes serious doubts about Trump’s moral, intellectual and leadership fitness, he looks more vulnerable than ever. That makes it all the more dramatic were he to eventually rise from scapegoated victim to exonerated victor.
Trump must hate his stubbornly high disapproval numbers, even being mightily distrusted by a big majority. Dishonesty plus incompetence, without legislative wins, sabotage all hopes of making America work, let alone great again. He knows egregious pandering to his base won’t make him more re-electable in ’20. He should realize if his massive unpopularity continues, he’d be mid-term GOP poison — unless he finds a conspicuous redemption.
So how does a discredited president, readily turning into the Liar-in-Chief and under FBI scrutiny, reverse this humiliating situation? By concocting a wow redemption pageant by which his besieged character is salvaged if he simply evades the worst outcomes. Hardly a high bar. Such marketing “corrections” are standard ploys after indefensible fiascos (think Volkswagen and United Airlines) so they’d be familiar to Trump, who imagines himself a PR genius.
Perilous vs. worse
So, let’s posit Trump evades the impeachment noose. Typically, Trump gloats and sneers at targets he abuses: imagine, armed with this club how he will pommel all those sleazy, lying, bad faith accusers. Trump will love demonizing harsh critics, all those legal wizards, millions of Democrats who hate his guts, even dissenting House members mulling over impeachment clauses.
Look, Trump may well be in bed with Putin, beyond current projections. But what if hard evidence he knowingly broke the law is hard to establish? What if Trump was just smart enough to keep arm’s length from national betrayals by his four American-Russian staffers (defending himself as naive outsider).
What does Trump have to lose? If he’s a criminal, this week only delays the showy fraud (and not well done). But if he escapes the worst, why not push this “redemption” scam? Tainted underlings like Manafort and Flynn are looming jailbirds in any case. And what wannabe kings impede a little nasty punishment as a gesture to administration justice?
Trump is an improbable majority president, but this masterly misdirection, with a high-risk, wow finish, could secure his four years, whatever the injury to the presidency and whatever American greatness is driven into the ground. A higher value than public service or being presidential rules – Trump self-interest, from which his schemes never swerve, whether he looks smart or dumb, erratic or crazy, a rank showboater or hypocritical grandstander.