The Toxic Arrogance of Rumsfeld

“Toxic” and “arrogant” are two words that writers have continually cited in reviewing Donald Rumsfeld’s career in government. How fitting and revealing they are. The man was also wily and supremely confident in his views, as if confessing there were “unknown unknowns” could explain how deeply wrong he was.

Rumsfeld, who passed on Tuesday, was two years older than I, grew up in the same North Shore Chicago milieu, went to New Trier High School and was a wrestler, then on to Princeton and, later, flew for the Navy. In the ‘50s he got to Washington, worked for four presidents, and “did everything well.” Another ‘50s golden boy, another Robert  McNamara.

When I was working for the Navy in 2003-2006, Rumsfeld was W’s Secretary of Defense and the war in Iraq was raging. Our PR shop naturally tuned into the many press conferences, which the Secretary often treated as his own personal extravaganzas. The ever-worsening war effort was blithely written off with phrases like “stuff happens.”

My boss liked to give a half-day seminar on media training so the Navy folks would know how to deal with the press. He had rather different ideas about this than I had, yet my opinion was not solicited although media training had been my business for some years. Finally, at the end of a long-winded seminar, he showed a video of CNN’s Greta Van Susteren interviewing Secretary Rumsfeld and tossing him puffball questions. Rumsfeld’s tortuous replies were offered as examples of finely crafted answers.

The insane war with Iraq and its consequences have been with us to this day. What happened at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib has never been forgotten. What developed in Syria and made Iraq a shell country has made Iran powerful and created persistent enemies of the U.S. Biden’s recent withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan has been a tacit confession of defeat, and the country will now belong to the Taliban.

Rumsfeld, with the connivance of Cheney and Bush, set all this in motion. The process was well documented in 2013-2014 by Mark Danner’s pieces in the New York Review of Books; now available here, here, and here. You, or some of you, will remember such odious names as Paul Bremer and Douglas Feith, Ahmed Chalabi, Paul Wolfowitz. These were Rumsfeld’s boys.

Finally, the hostility to Islam took on a new and powerful form, which Trump and his cohorts pursue to this day. Danner writes:

Rumsfeld is first and foremost a patriotic midwesterner, a politician who nourishes in his soul a primordial and undying belief in the manifest need for, and rightness of, American power. To him this truth is self-evident, imbibed at an Illinois breakfast table. Who do we want to lead in the world? Somebody else? The idea is plainly inconceivable. And it is because of that plain necessity for American leadership that after September 11 American power and credibility must at all costs be restored.

Sound familiar? As Rumsfeld later told the press, “I don’t do quagmires.” Well,

It did not turn out that way. Having watched from the Oval Office in 1975 the last torturous hours of the United States extracting itself from Vietnam—the helicopters fleeing the roof of the US embassy in Saigon—Rumsfeld would be condemned to thrash about in his self-made quagmire for almost four years, sinking ever deeper in the muck as nearly five thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. He was smart, brash, ambitious, experienced, skeptical of received wisdom, jealous of civilian control, self-searching, analytical, domineering, and he aimed at nothing less than to transform the American military. The parallels with McNamara are stunning.

And, just as surely, he defined the world that Trump inherited.

N.B. How Rumsfeld charmed the press, and how his doctrine of warfighting has continued to cost us.

Gaetz, Trump, and Fred Hersch

The besotted nitwit Matt Gaetz is under investigation, and the libs are cheering. Why not? It may be the only way we can call such idiots to account. Here is Salon’s somewhat overheated account of the Gaetz interview with Tucker Carlson, part of which I watched and giggled over.

You know the story by now, in particular how the Repubs have all walked away from him. So has Fox News, on which he was formerly a fixture. Gaetz has absolutely no talent except for parroting Trump’s lies, so why would anyone buy an ersatz product when the original was still available?

This piece just came my way and says it all:

Donald Trump may be a man with a very limited set of talents, but he has learned to apply those talents to masterful effect. His talent is to employ shameless lies to create an image of himself in the media, and then use that media to bilk people. . . .

Shane Goldmacher reports at the New York Times that Trump’s campaign bilked donors out of tens of millions of dollars. The scam was not complicated. When people gave them money online, the donations came with pre-checked boxes authorizing the campaign to take donations every single week. They needed to uncheck the box to stop the automatic transfer.

Gaetz is into young women instead of money, and apparently is just as reckless as his boss was and just as addicted to lies. And to sex.

Why are we all so intolerably tired of this? Because, number one, it’s vapid and boring. After so much media exposure to rampant malfeasance and misdeeds one has to retreat and change focus. I did that today by watching and listening to Fred Hersch on one of Jazz Standard’s virtual concerts. It was great music that helped cleanse my politically overtaxed mind.

I’ve spent many evenings listening to the Mingus Big Band and others at the Jazz Standard, now closed owing to Covid. Those nights have always been highlights of my trips to New York, restocking my jazz life and renewing connections with musicians. Fred Hersch is one of those people who constantly redefines jazz, and he did that for me today.

A few years ago he wrote a gripping memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, which defined his life as a gay white man who brought new elements to the music and gained him respect as a true innovator. How utterly different a story from the political crap we feast on today.

I cite this musical experience to say that many people are fed up with the far-right horseshit that we are overexposed to. Or the cheap pop culture that too many feed on. Real art has too few followers, but it can be the vaccine to inoculate us from the many poisons in the political air.

Disbelief and Ignorance, Blindness and Monomania

The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter

After this I am really going to stop with the Trump posts. But the Washington Post did us all a great service by running the above piece documenting Trump’s most stunning breakdown. It’s long, so I summarize and comment here on the salient points. Also, I’m going to take a few days off from this blog, back after the New Year. We’ll hope for a much happier one this time, of course.

Trump’s incredible mishandling of the Covid pandemic in all likelihood cost him the election. The recent Post article documents not only his failure but his administration’s. However history comes to record the pandemic, it will be seen as a gigantic breakdown in presidential responsibility.

The catastrophe began with Trump’s initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits — his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.

Contradicting his task force
As he refused to accept the reality of the pandemic, it became clear to Trump’s advisers that, despite frequent attempts, they could not penetrate the president’s delusions. They would contradict him at their peril. The Fauci-Birx taskforce made no real impact and was frustrated from the beginning.

Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.

Communications failures
From the beginning, the team had no strategy and no consistent messaging. They were attempting to put out fires with untrained people and ill-advised tactics. Jared Kushner got some ventilators dispatched but his volunteers played whack-a-mole with other problems. They faked models for disease propagation, punted on the involved question of testing, and ultimately turned their backs on properly dealing with the states.

They did not communicate in any effective way with the public or with the private sector that tried to help. The Post tells us about a failed plan to enlist the country’s underwear makers, like Hanes, to make and distribute masks nationwide. This was at the beginning of what could be called the mask debacle, which Trump and his blind administration continued to foster.

Paul Offit, a member of the FDA vaccine advisor council called Trump “a salesman, but this is something he can’t sell. So he just gave up. He gave up on trying to sell people something that was unsellable. . . . What the Trump administration has managed to do is they accomplished — remarkably — a very high-tech solution, which is developing a vaccine, but they completely failed at the low-tech solution, which is masking and social distancing, and they put people at risk.”

When Trump stepped in to replace Pence at the task force briefings, it was a signal of defeat, as the president proposed bleach and other nonsensical remedies. He looked at Covid as some kind of bothersome issue you could defuse with a TV advertising approach. He was like the Ron Popeil of Covid. “What he’s saying there is, ‘I’m going to will the economy to success through mass psychology. We’re going to tell the country things are going great and it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ ” Offit said of Trump.

The Accomplices
Mark Meadows lied to the press, confused every issue he discussed, and still couldn’t please Trump. Birx and Fauci hung in there on the periphery but basically gave up, though Fauci continued to broadcast his sentiments. Scott Atlas, the phony doctor, preached a line that pleased Trump because it let him off the hook. That is, promote herd immunity, forget testing, keep up the anti-mask façade, advance the economy over basic CDC safety, etc. Then there were the rallies and the continuing White House super-spreader parties, all basically mocking the potency of the disease.

Yet it is impossible to mock the 324,000 deaths that have occurred to date. Theatrics are basic to Trump’s reality and, unfortunately for us all, there’s no business like show business—until the curtain comes down.

Really, I Wouldn’t Have a Beer with Either of Them

Trump at the Debate Was Like America in 2020: Not Winning

 ‘The Debates, Like Everything Else in 2020, Were a Dumpster Fire’

 Malaika Jabali: ‘A frustrating debate that ignored big issues’

Trump would be insulting and contentious; Biden would bore you with policy and his accomplishments. That’s pretty much what they did last night at the last (thank God) presidential debate.

For many of us the race has become old and hackneyed, the participants frayed. I spent this morning looking for new insights on the internet and didn’t find many.

Of course I will vote for Biden, but that doesn’t mean he’s an appealing candidate. The man needs a shot of mezcal, not a beer. In the debate he was focused but often bland and wordy. He fumbled on answers regarding the 1994 crime bill and fracking. In his debate prep he could have done more work on sharp, memorable responses, though he did get off a few. Per Susan Glasser in The New Yorker:

“He’s a very confused guy,” Biden said of Trump when the President claimed, per usual, that Biden was some sort of radical socialist pawn. “He thinks he’s running against somebody else. He’s running against Joe Biden.”

Trump babbled incoherently about Hunter Biden’s emails, overriding the moderator, and frequently going off the deep end: “Who built the cages, Joe?” John Neffinger in Politico:

Having set the bar ridiculously low in his last few appearances, President Trump impressed just by not seeming out of control Thursday night. But if he was more conversational, it made it easier to hear him clearly when he declared himself the least racist person in the room, or criticized a public option, or talked about the great care the children he orphaned get, or made fun of Joe Biden talking to Americans about their own families, or declined to answer good questions from Kristen Welker about Covid or the Talk [that Black parents must have with their children about racism].

Malaika Jabali in The Guardian was angry about what she didn’t hear:

There was no discussion about potential domestic voter suppression, less than two weeks before the election. Nothing about far-right white supremacists, who pose the deadliest terror threat in the country. Nothing about policies to reduce racial disparities in unemployment, essential work, Covid-19 deaths and cases, or small business closures.

And not much about climate change except a lot of smoke. Anyhow, as to having a drink with either of these guys, Trump, who doesn’t drink, would be most likely to get in a bar fight and Joe would most likely put one to sleep. We all need better forms of entertainment, something like the new Borat movie which shows Rudy Giuliani in a delightfully compromising position. He too would be among the last guys to have a drink with.