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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/28/20

Donald Trump, the Trumpidemic2020©, and His Magical Thinking, Part 2

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)

Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses.  And then came Trump.
Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses. And then came Trump.
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Restoration by trialsanderrors and Morn, Author: Restoration by trialsanderrors and Morn)
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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President . . . is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."

Theodore Roosevelt, Editorial in The Kansas City Star May 7, 1918


As we all know, Donald Trump has led a charmed life, managed by what I have called his "Box of Magic Tricks." This column delves into he contents of that Box in more detail than Part 1 in this series. There are six factors/elements/components/Magic Tricks, personal and procedural, which have created this charmed life for him. Although neither he nor very many of his political allies or his ruling class supporters are conscious of them, they have existed and do exist. They have protected him, and indeed have saved him, from situations one after another from his childhood which for others would have meant disaster. But they may finally be coming unraveled. This column explains what they are and why that unraveling might (and I say might with care) be happening.

1. He has always had one or more protectors, either personal, or financial or both. In the beginning there was Dad. One way or another he got the boy/young man into schools for which he was eminently unqualified. Over the course of his life, Dad gave him over $400 million. After his student deferments ran out during the Viet Nam War, Dad got him the famous "Bone-Spur" deferment from a local podiatrist who happened to be a tenant of Dad's. Later on, when no U.S. banks would lend him money, he received large sums (it is still not known how much and on what terms) from Deutsche Bank), from various Russian sources, and from Saudi Arabia.

Of the personal and professional protectors, first came Dad of course. He died. Then came the Joseph-McCarthy-NY-Mob lawyer Roy Cohn. He died. Then came his famous "lawyer-fixer" for ten years, Michael Dean Cohen. He had the mis-fortune of having his files [of all kinds] raided by agents from the Southern District of New York Federal Attorney's Office. As is well known, he went to prison. Trump of course dropped him immediately, but who knows what is in those files, particularly about Trump (and wouldn't he like to know that). And so, who knows what charges Trump might be subsequently liable to, once he is no longer President, and who knows, may no longer have a protector --- poor Donald!! (But that is a matter for another time.)

And then there is Alan Weisselberg, Trump's long-time accountant. He kept the financial secrets, but presented them in such a way, presumably, that they would survive those endless audits that Trump was always telling us about. However, what we don't hear about these days is what is happening with Mr. Weisselberg, the SDNY, and the immunity-from-prosecution that he has been offered. He is still very much alive but obviously out of the Trump orbit.

Further, there is Trump's current personal lawyer, one of his most powerful protectors. And no, I am not talking about Rudy Giuliani, who appears to be so addlepated that he probably couldn't defend a totally innocent man against totally trumped-up (get it?) charges. But that is another matter. His current personal lawyer, who holds protective-for-him powers much greater than any ordinary lawyer could ever hope to have, is of course the Attorney General of the United States, Bill Barr. Among other things, he may be slowing down anything that might be happening or might have happened with the Weisselberg investigation.

Finally, of course, is The Propaganda Channel and all of little side-bars (and big ones like Limbaugh), that have come over to Trump only in recent years.

So, for his whole life he has had a set of protectors, some coming, some going. But he has always had multiple layers of personal protection.

2. For decades he has had a standard operating procedure when he faces an adversary of any kind. He learned it from Roy Cohn (who learned it from Joseph McCarthy): "Always attack; Never defend." It is instinctive with Trump. Just watch him when he is being opposed on matters great or small, whether he is dealing with the media, with members of Congress, with Governors, with authors or entertainers, with opposing or simply questioning political commentators, to, let's say, the Speaker of the House of Representatives or the General Secretary of the World Health Organization on what he is or is not doing about the pandemic. Faced with anything that he either doesn't like or doesn't want to answer or doesn't want to deal with in any way, on the attack he goes, often at a personal level. He hardly ever deals with the substance (in the case of the Trumpidemic2020[C] in particular because he doesn't understand it anyway). He doesn't explain. And he certainly doesn't defend. He simply attacks.

3. Also learned from Roy Cohn is the mantra: "when you run into a problem, just sue." You may not win, and it may cost you some money. But a) you might win, and b) with the endlessness with which civil litigation can be drawn out in the U.S. legal system, the other side may just get worn out. (He also has been frequently sued, especially by contractors whom he has not paid or has short-changed.) Here is a partial list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lawsuits_involving_Donald_Trump. This is a strategy that he is currently using to attack the media, suing for this or that perceived slight. A variant of it, which he thinks that he can use since he is the President, is to sic the Federal Communications Commission on offending broadcast media.

(I have previously pointed out that to be successful a suit against the media has to pass a pretty high bar set by the Supreme Court in 1964. If Trump stays in office past 12:01PM on Jan. 20, 2021, by one means or another, he would presumably have both a Trumpublican House and a Trumpublican Senate. Then, pretty quickly, a new national libel law would be enacted, lowering that standard significantly. [Libel law is currently the province of the states.] It would of course be upheld by the TrumpSupreme Court.)

4. In the whole of his business life, Trump has never been responsible to anyone else, either above or even alongside. He has never had to deal with a board of directors. He has always had the final decision-making power, on his own. Even on "The Apprentice," when apparently the producers made the decisions about who would be on the receiving end of "you're fired," they managed to make him think that he was making the choices.

5. Trump has lived his life surrounded by enemies, whether in business, in his personal life, in his banking and financial life, certainly in politics, and not just now. That is whether they be the Central Park Five or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Adam Schiff or Robert Mueller (who he regarded as a political enemy) or Nancy Pelosi or various other political figures or anonymous-to-us business partners-of-whom-he-has-run-afoul or business rivals/enemies, the list goes on.

Trump has always seen anybody who has opposed him on any subject, at any level of intensity, not as adversaries to be dealt with, but as enemies. His "Art of the Deal" has not been deal-making, but opponent-crushing. (Just ask the book's author, Tony Schwartz.) That of course invariably brings Trump back to "always-attack-never-defend." Negotiation is just not his thing, unless he is somehow forced into a very tight corner, which has happened to him very rarely in either his business life or his personal life or his political life.

6. Finally, Trump is History's Greatest Con Man. Yes, even the famous P.T. Barnum or the equally famous Charles Ponzi or the not quite-as-famous Bernie Madoff pale beside him. I will not detail it here because I have devoted a whole column to the subject. As I said in the Introduction to that column:

"If you want to get a very good idea of what I am talking about in it just watch Trump's 9/26/18 "press conference" (.youtube.com/watch? v=g0yjTc3KiDY). It is really a Trump stump speech interrupted by questions, some of which he answered, many of which he didn't [sound familiar?]. The whole performance was simply used as a series of jumping-off points for presenting major elements of his standard 'always attack, never defend' persona."

Which brings us to the present time. Trump has lived his whole life being in one fix or another, any one of which would have brought to his knees virtually any other wheeler-dealer (which is really what he has been, if you examine his life in and outside of business). But whatever fix it has been, Trump has gotten out of it, whether it is a business failure --- see "the Casinos," or Trump Airlines or Steaks or Wines or University or what have you --- or affairs-while-married ---- or possibly committing sexual assault --- or the results of the Mueller Report (which were covered up to the extent possible by his current personal lawyer --- Judge Reggie Walton may have something to say about the full Report becoming public, but that remains to be seen) --- or Impeachment (sic) (since he has the Senate Trumpublicans in his back pocket) --- or what have you.

How has he done that? By using one or more of the strategies/tactics listed above. They have always worked for him. And thus, riding on a very solid base of racism/xenophobia, he conned his way all the way to the White House to fill a job for which by education, experience, and temperament he is uniquely unqualified. And so, now in his 70s he cannot be blamed for seeing this set of tools as sort of a Magic Kit for him.

He is totally unaware, of course, of what he is doing and how he is using his Magic Kit. For example, he does "always attack/never defend" so naturally, so automatically, that if one ever asked him about it, he would immediately attack the questioner, without even realizing what he is doing. He does all of this stuff without thinking. Indeed, it has worked like magic. Which is why I say that he has and does engage in magical thinking. If he just does what he always done when he is in some kind of a jam, he will just batter and battle his way out of it, on his own terms. Because that is what has always worked for him, just like magic.

However, and it is very big HOWEVER, Trump's problem this time around is that this enemy, unlike every one he has faced and faced down in the past, is not human. It would appear that his Set-of-Six will not and cannot work against a virus, particularly one that is as highly infectious and potentially destructive-of-human-life as this one seems to be (and I am saying this as a career public health physician). He can try to tell it what to do, like setting his deadlines for "opening up the country." But COVID-19 has its own timetable. And, as much as we know about infectious disease, even the specialists in this general sort of pandemic don't know what that timetable is.

He is, as he himself has demonstrated over-and-over again, totally ignorant, un-inquisitive, and lacking in any instinct or ability to learn. Nor has he any interest in learning. As of this time, as the comprehensive New York Times study published on April 12, 2020 showed, among other things, he is focused almost entirely on his prospects for re-election and how to improve them (since they ain't so good right now). BUT, to repeat, given that the enemy this time around is not a human being but a virus, he is having a very hard time making the magic work. A very hard time indeed.

BUT, on the other hand, one of course cannot be sure. Trump is a Master Con Man and a Master Magician. I should think that his chances against a virus are not too good. But there are the others, like the Governors, the public health authorities, and the U.S. health care delivery system that will eventually get us out of the COVID-19 horror that the Trump Show has placed us in. And then, even though HE would not have defeated the virus, and at the same time has already made achieving victory so much more costly in lives, livelihoods, ways of life, and money than it could/should have been, the Con Man/Magician, with all of his allies/protectors, might just be able to figure out a way to take credit for that victory.

Trump has bounced back so many times. Maybe, just maybe, his Magic will work again, even against a truly vicious virus. Trump himself certainly believes that the Magic and his Magical Thinking will work this time around, just as they have every time in the past. And if it does, against a virus, then one truly has to say, "man. He is SOME Magician!"


Post Script:

If you want to see for yourself what I mean by "Trump's Magical Thinking," just watch any edition of The Trump Show that goes on most days between 5 and 5:30 PM EDT. For all of his life, from the time he was a little boy (then aided and abetted by his father), using one or more of the six components of his box of magic tricks described above, Trump would say that something was going to happen (or not, as the case may be). Then in one way or another, including either having Trump lying about an outcome, or having something completely different happening but Trump claiming that it was just as he had said it would or would not be, Trump would come out on top.

And so, that's what is happening when, for example, Trump says that the economy, or a major chunk of it, will reopen by May 1 if not sooner, without any mass recurrence of the illness. After all, he knows that when going against humans, his magic has always worked. (Well, not always, and it didn't this time, for sure. But he has conveniently forgotten those other times when it didn't or denies that they ever happened --- like Trump Tower Moscow. And of course, he will be denying that he ever said May 1.) Once again, the main problem for Trump this time around is that the enemy is a virus. And it doesn't know about Trump's anti-human magic.


Note: A version of this column appeared earlier at: click here, on April 20, 2020.

(Article changed on April 29, 2020 at 02:25)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY). As well as having been a regular political columnist on several national websites for over 20 years, he is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of 37 books Currently, on the columns side, in addition to his position on OpEdNews as a Trusted Author, he is a regular contributor to From The G-Man.  In the past he has been a contributor to, among other publications, The Greanville PostThe Planetary Movement, and Buzzflash.com.  He was also a triathlete for 37 seasons, doing over 250 multi-sport races.  Among his 37 books (from the late 1970s, mainly in the health, sports, and health care organization fields) are, on politics: The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022; A Futuristic Novel (originally published 1996; the 3rd version was published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY, sadly beginning to come true, advertised on OpEdNews and available on  (more...)

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