The Revenge of the Lesser Trumps

They’re imitators. They’re operators. And they’re turning their teacher’s lessons against him.

The problem with being Donald Trump isn’t just being Donald Trump. It’s all the other, lesser Trumps around you. It’s the versions of yourself that you create, the echoes of yourself that you inspire. They’ll devour you in the end.
.. From the master she learned how to draw and hold the spotlight: Mete out revelations. Hurl accusations. Contradict yourself. Leave everyone gasping, gawking and coming back for more.
.. “Trump and Omarosa Are Kindred Spirits” reads the headline on a new Bloomberg column by Tim O’Brien
.. The president, he notes, was “fascinated by her self-absorption and nastiness.” Trump stares into every mirror he passes.

“She may be the purest of all the Trump characters,” an unnamed former Trump administration official told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “She may be the most Trumpian.” No maybe about it.

She made secret tapes, just like Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer. No one should be surprised, least of all Trump. When you grease the walls of your sanctum with lies and put fun-house mirrors everywhere, is it any wonder that the dazed people inside try to protect themselves with a lifeline like proof?

And didn’t Trump himself record people who called him at Trump Tower and later taunt James Comey by suggesting that he had audio of their conversations? Imitation isn’t just the sincerest form of flattery. It’s the cleverest kind of revenge.

Ask Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’s lawyer. He’s flirting with a presidential bid or at least realizing that such a flirtation is a brand multiplier. Last week he visited Iowa, and not for the soybeans. He made a big speech. Said that when they go low, he’ll go subterranean. He’ll tunnel. He’ll spelunk.

He’s not just Trump’s adversary. He’s Trump’s analogue, with a similar timbre and bag of tricks. Like Trump, he vents his scorn in crude put-downs. Like Trump, he views media ubiquity as a credential in its own right.

.. Avenatti was “a perfect foil for Trump, because he actually sees the world just like Trump does.”
.. In a way, Cohen sort of is Trump, too, with shady ties, bendy rules and limber ethics. His exposure is now Trump’s vulnerability. There’s actually a scene in Manigault Newman’s book where she and Cohen watch Trump eat a piece of paper rather than leave it around for presidential record-keepers.
.. Manafort faked an altitude of affluence that he no longer possessed, forgoing any salary as Trump’s campaign chairman, because he suspected that this would impress Trump, who has exaggerated his own wealth.
  • His hunger for attention became Rudy Giuliani; his
  • thirst for pomp, Scott Pruitt; his
  • taste for provocation, Avenatti; his t
  • alent for duplicity, Manigault Newman.
They’re an army of emulators, adding up to Trump. And they’re on the march.

Will Mexico Get Its Donald?

Mexicans are mad as hell at a system they see as self-dealing, under-performing and corrupt. That should sound familiar to Americans — not to mention Italians, Britons, and those in every other nation swamped by the populist tide. In Mexico’s case, they’re largely right.

.. Enrique Peña Nieto, the outgoing incumbent, came to office promising to cut the crime rate in half. Instead, Mexico suffered more than 25,000 murders last year, a modern record. He promised an end to corruption. His administration is suspected of spying on anti-graft investigators, and his wife was caught buying a $7 million mansion from a government contractor. He promised economic growth of 6 percent a year. It hardly ever got above 3 percent. The average wage fell by about $1,000 during the Great Recession and hasn’t recovered since.

.. American president, who is also on record saying he couldn’t care less whether his policies hurt them. If AMLO wins, Trump will deserve him.

.. AMLO’s popularity rests on the belief that he will end corruption, bring down crime, and redistribute ill-gotten gains to the people. How, exactly? Just as Trump declared at the 2016 Republican convention that he “alone” could fix a broken system, AMLO seems to have convinced his base that he can just make things happen. “Everything I am saying will be done” is how he punctuates his pledge

.. It’s the way of demagogues everywhere.

.. Trump promises to build border walls, win trade wars, keep us safe from terrorism, and end Obamacare, all at the snap of a finger

..  AMLO promises to fix social inequities that date back 500 years in a single six-year term.

.. compares himself to Benito Juárez, Mexico’s answer to Abraham Lincoln.

.. The idea of steady improvement and gradual amelioration isn’t for him. In Mexico’s current anger he seems at last to have found his moment.

.. it isn’t clear whether the softer rhetoric is anything more than an attempt to allay the fear (which factored heavily in his previous defeats) that he’s a Mexican Hugo Chávez.

.. It especially doesn’t work out well when populist policies collapse (as they generally do) on contact with reality. What typically follows isn’t a course correction by the leader or disillusionment among his followers. It’s an increasingly aggressive hunt for scapegoats: greedy speculators, the deep state, foreign interlopers, dishonest journalists, saboteurs, fifth columnists, and so on.

That’s been the pattern in one populist government after another, from Viktor Orban’s Hungary to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey to, well, Trump’s America. Now Mexico risks being next.

Elon Musk, the Donald of Silicon Valley

He is prone to unhinged Twitter eruptions. He can’t handle criticism. He scolds the news media for its purported dishonesty and threatens to create a Soviet-like apparatus to keep tabs on it. He suckers people to fork over cash in exchange for promises he hasn’t kept. He’s a billionaire whose business flirts with bankruptcy. He’s sold himself as an establishment-crushing iconoclast when he’s really little more than an unusually accomplished B.S. artist. His legions of devotees are fanatics and, let’s face it, a bit stupid.

I speak of Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, the Donald Trump of Silicon Valley.

Stormy Daniels’s lawyer is a media star. So why is he threatening journalists?

He has proved to be irresistible media catnip : flamboyant and fast-talking with a bottomless pocketful of scoops and quotes.

.. stories circulated of Avenatti threatening or harshly criticizing three media organizations: the Daily Caller, the Hollywood Reporter and Law & Crime, a legal website.

.. “If you and your colleagues do not stop with the hit pieces that are full of lies and defamatory statements, I will have no choice but to sue each of you and your publication for defamation,”

.. Here is the charismatic ratings-meister who thrives in the spotlight, but when the coverage turns negative, he goes on the attack against the very press that benefits him.

.. “Avenatti seems quite Trumpian in both loving media attention and acting quite contemptuously toward the free press.”

.. Identifying errors, and asking for corrections, is always legitimate, of course.

But should a fit of pique really include threats to sue journalists and their news organizations for defamation?

.. he sees Avenatti being treated as a hero because a lot of people agree with his anti-Trump agenda.

But he says he shouldn’t get that kind of a pass.

.. Liberals’ faulty thinking about Avenatti goes like this, he said: “It’s okay if he acts badly because he’s accomplishing things.”

.. White sees a clear parallel to the way avid Trump supporters defend the president’s unsavory behavior: “Take him seriously, not literally” — simply because it’s someone whose agenda you like.

.. “I generally support standing up to Trump and Cohen,” White said, “but when Avenatti makes frivolous legal threats, he’s acting just like them.” (Trump is well known for threats to sue journalists, very few of which have come to pass.)

Avenatti is effective, in part, because he plays the same game as Trump, with a gleeful willingness to attack and an instinct for manipulating journalistic appetites.

Michael Avenatti is using Trump tactics to battle Trump, a strategy that comes with risks

“Nothing he has been doing in the last four to six weeks with his multiple television appearances advances the interests of his client in the California action,” said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who specializes in ethics. “He’s catapulted himself to be the story. There are dangers when a lawyer becomes so publicly vocal.”

Gillers described Avenatti’s media presence as highly unusual for an American lawyer, not only because of his frequent television appearances but also because his arguments are more sweeping than his client’s narrow complaint. “I really cannot think of an equivalent,” he said.

.. Last week, Cohen said that because Avenatti published his private banking transactions, he should not be permitted to represent Daniels in a federal court in New York. Daniels is seeking to intervene in the case

.. “He comes across as consistent and credible and single-minded in his concern for his client’s interest.”

.. Mark Penn, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, last week asked in the Hill publication whether Avenatti is truly representing his client as a lawyer or “just using her as cover to wage a political operation.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked the same question on her show, all but accusing Avenatti of acting as a Democratic operative.

.. Perhaps his most un­or­tho­dox move involved the decision to publicize the details of Cohen’s banking transactions. Under the old rules of Washington, a lawyer might have leaked that sensitive information to a trusted journalist who would vet it and publish it, perhaps in a way that could not be traced to the lawyer.

But this is the Trump era. Avenatti turned to Twitter.

.. Cohen’s lawyers noted in their court filing, the dossier contained mistakes, including several transactions by other Michael Cohens. That meant Avenatti had publicized details about the banking histories of people who had nothing to do with Daniels.

.. Not unlike Trump, Avenatti is loath to apologize.

.. He has declined to identify the source of his information. The Treasury Department inspector general is investigating whether the confidential Suspicious Activity Reports that banks submit to the federal government were leaked.

.. Unlike journalists, he said, lawyers may not use or disclose documents that they know were illegally obtained even if the lawyer does nothing unlawful to get them.

.. While in college and later in law school, Avenatti spent five years working for a political consulting firm run by Rahm Emanuel

.. After law school, Avenatti worked for lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, who had represented the family of victim Ron Goldman in the O.J. Simpson case

Review: ‘Fire and Fury’ in the Trump White House

The author writes as if he were the omniscient narrator of a novel, offering up assertions that are provocative but often conjectural. Barton Swaim reviews ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff.

Inside the Trump White House” is thus in a class with Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”—by itself a forgettable book, certainly not Mr. Rushdie’s best, but remembered forever as having provoked a death sentence from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

.. Mr. Wolff is known in New York and Hollywood for his withering takedowns of popular public figures; he was only ever going to write one kind of book.
.. “Fire and Fury” is a typical piece of “access journalism,”
.. Mr. Wolff takes the genre to another level, and perhaps a lower level. If he has employed objective criteria for deciding what to include or exclude, it’s not clear what those criteria are. By the looks of it, he included any story, so long as it was juicy.

.. “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House,” Mr. Wolff writes, “are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”

.. what to do when two sources make contradictory claims. A responsible reporter, or one more scrupulous than Mr. Wolff, would seek out corroborating evidence or do more research. Mr. Wolff simply “settles” on his preferred version.
.. Mr. Wolff often writes as if he were the omniscient narrator of a novel.
..  “Sessions was certainly not going to risk his job over the silly Russia business, with its growing collection of slapstick Trump figures. God knows what those characters were up to—nothing good, everybody assumed. Best to have nothing to do with it.”
..  It seems unlikely that Mr. Wolff interviewed Mr. Sessions, and unlikelier still that the attorney general told him any such thing about his own thoughts on recusal. How does Mr. Wolff know then?
.. Reporters, especially though not exclusively political reporters, are more interested in the meaning of facts than in the facts themselves. They’re concerned with interpretation rather than accuracy, with “narrative” rather than detail, with explaining rather than disclosing, with who’s happy or angry about a story rather than whether it’s true, with what’s likely to happen next week or next year rather than with what happened yesterday.

Another classically ‘Trumpian’ theme is the idea that, while the liberal international order has helped advance U.S. interests in some cases, it has also hurt the United States.

a Trump administration staffer who reviewed a draft of the document—and shared key excerpts with me—describes it as “divorced from the reality” of Trump’s presidency.

.. A few classically Trumpian themes are there—the wall, concern over trade imbalances—but much of the document reflects the values and priorities of the president’s predecessors.

.. These discrepancies render the document practically meaningless—enough so that it’s likely to be “widely ignored,”

.. In the end, Trump’s actions will matter far more than his words. And no matter how much fanfare this strategy document gets, foreign governments will likely continue to take their cues from the president himself.

 .. broken into four pillars:
  1. defending the homeland,
  2. American prosperity,
  3. advancing American influence, and
  4. peace through strength.

.. It was spearheaded by Nadia Schadlow, senior director for strategy on the National Security Council (NSC). Schadlow is regarded as a conservative foreign-policy expert based on her experience in the establishment think-tank world, including stints at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Smith Richardson Foundation. She joined the NSC at Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster’s request

.. a section on promoting the rule of law is undermined by Trump’s own persistent attacks on the U.S. judicial system.

.. Trump’s NSS, like Obama’s, identifies the security of the U.S. homeland, particularly against terrorist threats and weapons of mass destruction, as a priority;

  • both recognize that promoting economic prosperity is core to sustained U.S. global leadership;
  • both highlight the value of preserving an open and liberal international order that has often times benefited the United States; and
  • both underscore the importance of preserving core American principles and values.

.. The draft NSS also highlights “enhanced intelligence sharing domestically and with foreign partners” as a priority for disrupting terror plots. But Trump, through his own words and actions, has done much to undermine these relationships.

.. once accused the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, of helping the Obama administration wiretap Trump when he was running for president

.. He has undermined the rule of law repeatedly, personally attacking specific judges, the federal judiciary more broadly, as well as the FBI, the Justice Department and their leaders, some of whom he picked.

.. there’s been too much in the past year designed to stoke fear and sow schisms to make credible language of unity, however much I do crave such unity.”

.. Another classically ‘Trumpian’ theme is the idea that, while the liberal international order has helped advance U.S. interests in some cases, it has also hurt the United States.