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The Magic of Misdirection

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Even the best magicians never actually do magic—they give you a believable illusion that they are performing the impossible. Mostly, they do it by misdirection. After a literal or figurative “look over here!” …your attention jumps to the waving hand, or the flashing light, or the sound… while the real action is going on where you are not looking.

There’s an argument going around that Trump’s habit of issuing multiple Executive Orders is a deliberate act of misdirection. For instance, the travel ban versus Steve Bannon’s appointment to the National Security Council. The world marched and protested and litigated against the travel ban. Judges deliberated, and cable news is still pontificating.

Hey, I’ve almost got the first verse of a white rap…

We marched and cried and litigated
Judges then deliberated
Cable news pontificated
Behind it all, Trump masturbated

Meanwhile: What about Bannon’s appointment? You see reports and opinion pieces, but this significant event was completely overshadowed by the travel ban. No protests. No 24-hour vigil in the Senate. And Bannon didn’t just join the NSC, he displaced the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff! This political animal is not what he looks like—some unshaven bum red with rosacea who just abandoned rehab, again—he’s the friggin’ White House Chief Strategist. He’s quite likely the of author that travel ban as well as his own ascension into Advisor Heaven.

But his tin foil hat is showing, and then some. Bannon has a scary backstory, loaded with paranoia and conspiracy theories. This I can tell you: I’ve got people out there looking into it, and you won’t believe what they’re finding! Read the link.

The NSC is no place for any political animal, especially a creature that crawled from under a rock. Worse for us: Michael Flynn was already under fire for staffing the NSC only with military officers instead of a mix of military people and trained civilians. But that would have been “normal,” i.e., unacceptable in the Trump Administration. Bannon has no training or experience in this field; he’s self-taught.

There’s a thing about that master magician’s hidden hand, the one that performs the unseen manipulation while you look away. That hand has to be seriously good at what it does. At a minimum, readying the hidden coin to be plucked from a child’s ear. That’s a campaign. Governance is more complex. The owner of both hands must be good at thinking out an idea and researching its practicality. And hey, maybe even practicing a little.

But Bannon does not agree with the concept of trying out an idea on others before applying it. Because that’s when sensible people get to speak up, and stop things. For presumably similar reasons, he doesn’t believe in telling the government agencies—that will enforce an order—about the order ahead of time. You know, to identify possible issues, or unintended consequences. You do remember the highly predictable result that first week…

  • Families escorted off airplanes by authorities.
  • Iraqis at risk from helping the U.S. military in Iraq, sent back to Iraq upon their arrival in the U.S. Uncle Sam says, “Thanks so much!”
  • Clumsy, embarrassing, and tragic scenes around the globe
    – Green card holders denied reentry.
    – Students and professors on vacation denied reentry.
    – Children separated from their parents.

Is the administration really that clumsy? Or did they play the magician, distracting us with the left hand while doing something nefarious with the right? This article offers a chilling theory of how we’ve all been played by the immigration ban, a thing certain to be at least partially walked back. (See: green card holders/students denied entry.) So protestors get to celebrate a “gift” victory while the more threatening action—Bannon on the National Security Council—is grudgingly accepted by those few who even notice.

Even I am cheering Trump’s losses in court, after describing for you the political sleight-of-hand behind it. IMO, they are not that smart. But the damn strategy works even when bumbled.

There are other ways to misdirect our attention. One is to give us too much to look at. Consider Trump’s “Monday Night Massacre” firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend the ban. The flash and anger over that firing plummeted down the “this needs attention” list quickly, because so much else has happened since. Yes it was serious, but did you even remember her name? Yes it’s still news, and it should be. But just as during the campaign: each new day’s new offense drives yesterday’s news right out of short-term memory.

Trump’s statement in a Bill O’Reilly interview before the Super Bowl, claiming that the news media refuses to report terrorist attacks, probably drove his threats to invade Mexico and Chicago right out of your head. Those bits of braggadocio were, like, more than a week old. Now two. Get real.

But don’t feel helpless. There are still people called Reporters who track down pieces of reality to leaven the surreal, connected world that we live in. I’m going to list just some of the offensive stuff that went down, and with a nod to the amount of work needed to keep track of all that…

Remember how Trump urged the Republican-majority Senate to “go nuclear” (eliminate the filibuster) if Democrats do that to his Supreme Court nominee. I mistakenly thought that could be achieved only during the first week-or-so of a new Congress.

And I thought for sure that it would happen in January, when the new Congress was sworn in and voted on rules. That would remove Democrats’ ability to say no to anything. But it didn’t happen! Mitch McConnell has already ignored Trump over term limits, but this could become the first big disagreement. The filibuster’s all-time record abuser wants it around when he loses his majority again. Its a pendulum thing.

Trump’s first two weeks saw 22 official executive actions. This article lists every one of them, with a summary of its purpose and predicted effects. Let’s not forget those contentious phone calls and state visits with other world leaders. And of course, all the blather on Twitter.

Trump’s Muslim ban does not apply to countries where he does business.

Here are the most infamous executive actions:

  • In the National Security Council, Steve Bannon replaced the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • The travel ban against seven muslim-majority nations—that have sired no terrorist attacks against the U.S. No travel ban against muslim-majority countries (such as Saudi Arabia) that have sired terrorist attacks—because these are countries where the Trumps do significant business. And you thought we were already a plutocracy.
  • The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline approved. Trump has investments in companies working on the pipelines.
  • The U.S. backed out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In a stroke of Trump’s pen, we have ceded Asian trade to the Chinese.

These actions may have slipped under your radar:

  • Plans to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities. A serious threat, but cities have a powerful bargaining chip of their own: they provide 85% of the revenue that the U.S. Government takes in.
  • Instructing the Department of Labor to reconsider Obama’s “Fiduciary Rule” …a law that says financial advisors must act in the interest of their clients, not their own. I’m not sure what disturbs me more: the move to kill that law, or the need for such a law in the first place.
  • Fast-tracking of environmental reviews. Golly, who knew?
  • Require that both oil pipelines to use all American-made materials. I wanna hear about that one actually being enforced.
  • Government hiring freeze. At the start of a new administration. Amazing.
  • A regulatory freeze that appears to be apparent precursor to repealing many of Obama’s regulations.
  • The Mexico City rule (a.k.a. the “global gag rule”): if a foreign agency even mentions abortion during family planning, and they lose whatever U.S. funding we may have provided.

The following proclamations never got specific about solutions (as Trump never did during the campaign); they merely state an intent, lacking a plan and funding:

  • Rebuild the military.
  • Build the wall.
  • Develop a plan to defeat ISIS in 30 days. Unfortunately, the EO does not specify that the plan must work.
  • Reduce manufacturing regulations.
  • Kill Obamacare.This one is particularly galling. In addition to an Executive Order that weakened Obamacare and another that paved the way for Congress to repeal it, the Drumpf administration took pains to cancel several million dollars of already-purchased ads that would have played near the end of the open enrollment period. The so-called “last minute” is when many of the healthy younger people sign up, reducing the cost for insurers.And Republicans still have no health care plan replacement in sight. I wish the news media would get it through their naively optimistic heads: the people currently in power in Congress have no intention of replacing the ACA. They never did and they never will. The news media needs to start asking why they hate the millions of people who will lose coverage.
  • Here’s one that sounds like a playground dare: for every new regulation passed two existing ones must be repealed. AND… the new regulation is allocated $0 in funding. I can make that much briefer: No New Regulations. God forbid that the government protect anyone from financial predators.
  • I’m not sure I can even believe one called “Drain the Swamp”: Appointees to every executive agency must sign an ethics pledge saying they will never lobby a foreign government and that they won’t do any other lobbying for five years after they leave government.Wait, I just got it: it’s a pledge (like that “I will support the Republican nominee” pledge ) that no one will actually enforce. As they say: talk is cheap.

This Kabuki happens after each signing: Trump swivels in his chair to display the Executive Order, now graced with his seismic signature, like some craft project he just finished and don’t it look nice, Mom ’n’ Dad?

I could pummel you with numerous more offenses and we just finished the third week! But I’d rather conclude by offering you some hope: the unusual proliferation of leaks about White House conduct.

Some have offered details that wouldn’t make it into a bad screenplay: some White House meetings happen in the dark because people don’t know how to turn on the lights. Others about how many hours of his day Trump spends watching cable TV.

You may have read reports that the printed plan that Chris Christie prepared for a White House transition was pointedly, publicly dumped into a trash basket by a senior White House official. Crazy, but consider that Christie put son-in-law Jared Kushner’s father in jail, also quite pointedly and publicly. So on some days, there is justice.

What’s funny about the justice is that the administration seems to have cut off its own nose, to spite Christie’s face.

Remember the leaked recording of Republicans meeting and freaking out over actually repealing and (OMG) replacing Obamacare? That can is being kicked down the road, now that Drumpf promised an actual replacement.

Then there’s the anonymous tweeter @WhiteHouseLeak, who started off strong but is now laying low. Good move; don’t play all your cards at once.

 

Finally, I offer you the world’s most pitiful Trump rally. I’m proud to report that it took place in the city where I was born: Portland, Maine. The article about it with photos is fun, but do NOT miss the tweets within. Music to tired ears.

The Political Apprentice #8


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Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for www.RodSerling.com, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created www.NakedWashington.com, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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