Me Orange Hulk! On Managing a Child President

El Presidente needs to feel strong and liked.  He wants to feel like a popular man of independent action. He doesn’t like feeling weak and hated, like a hemmed-in punk and loser. He doesn’t like being told what to think or do by fancy-shmancy know-it-all professor and lawyer types.

Boss Tweet is his own man. David Dennison (the president formerly known as Donald Trump) does things his own way.

He’s Dennison, I mean Trump, being Trump!

This is something that concentrated power structures have to manage.

After the latest National Rifle Association (NRA)-sponsored gun massacre to disgrace the nation – the terrible assault weapon assault on a high school in Parkland. Florida – support for gun control spiked to 68 percent,  its highest level in 25 years.

At a high-profile televised gun summit in the White House, the longstanding NRA ally El Donito was moved to sound like a leader of that sane super-majority.  In an hour-long televised gathering with Congresspersons, Trump freaked out Republicans by voicing openness to a variety of Democratic Party gun proposals. He appeared to embrace a reform package including a prohibition (supported by 77% of Americans) on the “bump-stock” devices that “turn legal weapons into machine guns” (Trump’s words), the raising of the minimum age for assault weapon purchase from 18 to 21 (supported by 81%), and a significantly improved system of background checks (supported by 88%).

It even sounded like Trump was ready to call for bringing back an assault weapon ban, which is backed by two-thirds (68%) of the populace.

“Take the guns first, then go to court,” Trump said on the topic of crazy people with deadly weapons.

What a man!

As chiefs of the nation’s most powerful fascist and white-supremacist organization, the NRA honchos knew what they had to do. Exerting “grassroots” pressure from outside, the NRA went on the public relations offensive to call Trump’s liberal gun moment “surreal” and an un-American – threat to “freedom” and “due process.”

Then the NRA went inside the White House to work on Trump himself. El Donito huddled in the Oval Office with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox. LaPierre and Cox certainly reminded Trump of the significant backing the NRA gave Trump in 2016 – and of the remarkable passion with which its “fifteen million” members will resist even the slightest “socialist” abridgement of their cherished “right to bear arms.”

It worked. On Thursday night, NRA leaders triumphantly tweeted that “POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.” By Friday, a White House official told reporters it was unlikely the president would push for raising the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons because of a “lack of support” for such a change – a curious reflection on the citizenry’s 81% support for precisely that reform. Trump’s scowling press secretary Sarah Sanders announced that “nothing had changed” in the President’s views on policy. Thrown into “full scramble mode” by Trump’s strange spasm of liberal-sounding comments, the White House failed to deliver on its promise of a comprehensive gun policy package by the end of the week.

Reporters were confused. “Nothing had changed” from what? A CNN report last Friday was titled “No One Knows Where Trump is on Guns – Perhaps Including Trump.”

Beneath Trump’s “mixed messages” and the by now standard, “new normal” White House dysfunction lay some harsh political realities. Given the intense personal, cultural, and political hold that guns possess for much of the Republican Party and Trump’s heartland, white-nationalist base, a drift “left” on gun policy could cost the president support from a significant component of the small but so far durable group of Americans (from 32 to 40% of the U.S. populace depending on which poll you consult) that has backed him no matter how idiotic, dangerous, and clueless he has shown himself to be. And, so, the orange beast reverted to quiet puppy mode as the NRA won its latest policy shootout at the right-wing Tombstone called Washington DC.

What a punk!

You could sense the sullen disgust among the two-thirds of the nation that wants some elementary gun control measures so that the country could be less of an armed madhouse.

The orange beast might have felt a little chastened and weakened (though who really  knows if or what it feels?) after all that – even if it did announce that it personally would charge a mass shooter even without a gun in its hands (a curious claim for a Vietnam-era draft-dodger who claimed that bone spurs kept it from wreaking havoc and dodging bullets in Southeast Asia).

With gray skin ominously encircling his beady eyes and itself surrounded by scary tangerine coloring beneath yellowish white super-freak hair, Agent Orange needed to feel strong and loved again.  “Hey,” he thought to himself, “didn’t I campaign as – what did Bannon call it? – an economic nationalist, telling all those forgotten white ‘heartland’ workers I was going to make America great again by bringing back the manufacturing jobs we lost to evil China with the help of bad Wall Street?”

The political policy course was clear. David Dennison could move the news cycle off the loser gun issue and reclaim proper action-hero manliness by slapping down some tariffs on steel and aluminum. “That’ll show all those fake news liberals who say I like Xi Jinping too much,” Trump blurted to (he thought) Hope Hicks (wait, she’s gone). “Plus, we can stop all that gun talk. Call in Peter Navarro [his special trade advisor] and build some tariff walls.”

Trump strangely announced new duties on imported steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) without even consulting with or telling numerous top White House staff.  The declaration came half way through a “listening session” with befuddled U.S. steel and aluminum executives.  It was bizarre.  By CNBC’s account:

“On Thursday  morning [March 1st],  a White House official told CNBC the president would announce tariffs. The administration later backtracked, saying Trump would only hold a listening session with steel and aluminum executives, who support tariffs, without making an announcement. The delay came as the free trade wing of the White House, led by [now former top Trump economic adviser Gary] Cohn, disagreed with trade hawks in the administration on whether to impose tariffs. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, trade advisor Peter Navarro and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer all backed the measures. During the meeting with executives Thursday, Cohn argued against taking action, according to a person in the room. He warned about price increases for steel and aluminum products.”

“Trump let Cohn have the floor, then rebutted him, the person said. ‘That’s not the real world,’ the president said, adding the cost increases were a ‘small price to pay.’”[Take that, Gary Cohn, you know-it-all punk!]

“Ross also spoke during the meeting, but only when Trump addressed him…During the White House meeting, Trump said he had made his decision, but the paperwork to enact it was not finished. ‘We’re going to get those papers done, Don?’ he asked [White House chief counsel Don] McGahn.”

“Halfway through the event, Trump told the attendees he would impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports, the person in the room said. The president left the event to attend a meeting on school safety for more than a half-hour. When Trump returned, the White House assembled reporters to film the conclusion of the meeting. The president prompted executives to explain why they supported the tariffs. When asked by reporters, Trump announced the 25 percent and 10 percent tariffs on the metals himself.”

“Trade wars,” Boss Tweet added maniacally and for good and measure, “are good and easy to win.”

Inside his malignant “stable genius” brain, fading gray cells flashed “Me Orange Hulk! Me Strong! Me and Xi, presidents for life!” (Then came brief memories of “David Dennison”’s head buried in the ample bosom of Stephanie Clifford)

Some other presidential gray cells may have flickered with political calculation regarding next week’s special open-seat election in steel and aluminum country – Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, where Republican Rick Saccone faces Democrat Conor Lamb.  As Reuters reported four days ago:

“If Saccone loses, it would be a blow to Trump, the first loss by Republicans of a seat in the House of Representatives since he took office in January 2017. …Trump has endorsed Saccone and is scheduled to visit the Pittsburgh area on Saturday for a campaign event. Saccone met Trump on arrival for a similar event in January…Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Trump’s stance on steel and aluminum tariffs could help Republicans, not only in southwestern Pennsylvania, but across the industrial Midwest.”

Did the notion that trade toughness would help him politically in the Pennsylvania race influence his strange tariff announcement? We can reasonably surmise that the ascendant White “populist”-protectionist faction led by Navarro was sure to remind the Tangerine Caligula of the partisan and electoral logic.  Trump will certainly brandish his tariff package when he speaks in the heart of the long-faded U.S. steel industry this weekend.  (Just how far it will go in helping the Republicans and Trump is not clear given the fact the Western Pennsylvania Democrats have long championed steel protectionism.)

But, of course, the actual owners and masters of the United States, big multinational capital, are globalists and not nationalists.  They have no interest in sparking real or potential trade wars. Many of the goods imported into the U.S. are produced by American-owned corporations producing abroad. U.S. corporations both domestic and multinational sell goods and (especially) services to a global market in a world where the 95% of people live outside the U.S. The “American” capitalist class also invests heavily abroad.

Congressional “free-trade” Republicans have denounced Trump’s hastily and weirdly proclaimed tariff proposal.  Neoliberal economists went on cable news and spoke to reporters to observe that Trump’s “tariffs, if applied without exceptions, would harm allies like Canada, South Korea and the European Union (EU), which export more steel to the United States than China does” – and to warn that the EU was already working up retaliatory tariffs on (Make )America[n] (Great) products like Harley motorcycles, blue-jeans, whiskey, peanut butter, Wisconsin cranberries, and Florida orange juice. (The sanity of European gun laws mean that threatened duties on U.S. mass-manufactured rifles and pistols would not carry much weight.)

Joshua B. Bolten, the head of the Business Roundtable (a longstanding leading ruling-class policy formation group) and a former George W. Bush chief-of-staff, went on no less a white nationalist venue than FOX News to calls Trump’s tariff tantrum “a huge mistake.” Bolten observed that Trump tariffs would cause “huge damage across broad sectors of the economy” and provoke global trade retribution.

MSNBC and CNN rooted for great Goldman Sachs-minted people’s champions like Steve Mnuchin (Trump’s billionaire Treasury Secretary) and Gary Cohn (a Clinton globalist Democrat and Trump’s top economic adviser until two days ago) to set the Rodrigo Duterte Admirer-in-Chief straight on the need to dial down the dangerous duties and save the world from trade tribalism.

Cohn resigned on Wednesday, March 7th – a major story among the many late-breaking bulletins that kept cable news talking heads spinning even faster than usual this week. (Cohn helped get the arch-regressive, uber-plutocratic tax cut for the wealthy Few through last December.  It’s time for him to go cash-in back in “the private sector.”   He’s not going to hang around while protectionists seem to hold sway over the royal brute in the White House).

The trick was to find a “lane” for Hair Fuhrer to drive down the path of trade de-escalation while still looking like the big smart driver behind the wheel.

Trump’s Commerce Secretary knows the royal Romper Room rules. “Whatever his final decision is, is what will happen,” Ross proclaimed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday. “What he has said he has said. If he says something different, it’ll be something different. If he for some reason should change his mind, then it will change.”

El Presidente can change his mind anytime he wants! Capisce? The “globalists” could still win.   Who knows what the “fucking moron” might see on Fox & Friends tomorrow morning? Or what one of his billionaire buddies might tell him during an evening phone call from his lonely, no-Melania White House bedroom? (It appears, by the way, that one of those fellow oligarch pals, Carl Icahn, got an advance heads-up on the tariff announcement. Newsweek reported that Icahn “unloaded nearly $31.3 million in a steel-related stock company just days before President Donald Trump announced he would impose steep tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum—news that sent stock markets tumbling around the world.”)

By the evening of Wednesday, March 7th, it was clear that Trump would the following day roll out an adjusted tariff measure containing special exceptions for Canada and Mexico.  The New York Times reported late that:

“More than 100 Republican lawmakers implored President Trump to drop plans for stiff and sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs as the White House prepared to formalize the measures on Thursday afternoon. Officials said late Wednesday that the plan would initially exempt Canada and Mexico and could ultimately exclude other allies.”

“Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, said on Wednesday night that the president would hold a signing ceremony on Thursday afternoon in the Oval Office. He said the tariffs would go into effect in 15 to 30 days”.

“The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico,” Mr. Navarro said in an interview on Fox Business Network. A permanent exclusion will hinge on those countries agreeing to a “great” trade deal in the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, he said [adding that] ‘We’re going to open this up for our allies to just see if we can work through this problem.’…”

“Mr. Trump has said the tariffs would apply to countries across the board and that any exemptions could open a Pandora’s box of requests for special treatment.”

But who cares what David Dennison said?  Capital rules this world, not some senseless, orange-tinted porn star-banging reality television and real estate magnate who Hillary Clinton helped install atop the visible state while the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire coordinate the final ruination of the commons.

Meanwhile, off the media radar screen, the world continues to slide ever closer to environmental collapse thanks to the Great Global Crisis led by the capitalogenic climate catastrophe. That little crisis (the biggest issue of our or any time) is a non-topic in the commercial corporate media, whose Trump obsession does not extend to the most dangerous aspect of his administration – his geocidal determination to escalate the no-holds barred Greenhouse Gassing to Death of Life on Earth.

“In all fairness,” political consultant Jeff Upthregrove writes me, “producing aluminum is ridiculously high in carbon output and it really should be banned outright.”

But who can expect the so-called mainstream media (more on that flawed phrase in my next CounterPunch essay) to cover the ever more imminent carbon-capitalist extermination of our species (along with the remaining ones we haven’t already swept into the dustbin of evolutionary history) when there’s so much else going on?  Along with Russia-gate (including now a Russian “sex coach” imprisoned in Thailand), there’s Jared Kushner Security Clearance-gate, United Arab Emirates-gate, the latest salacious chapter in Stormy Daniels-gate, and Carl Icahn-tariff-gate.

These are Stormy Times! Who can keep up? The Parkland, Florida gun massacre already seems like ancient news cycle history.

Here’s another key point you won’t hear much about in “mainstream [corporate, commercial, and imperialist] media”: the main job-killer in the steel industry is automation, the profit system’s longstanding drive to replace living labor power with constant capital.  (I was reminded of this basic fact by a recent Caleb Martin segment on RT, which no doubt marks me to MSNBC-types as a Putin puppet)

A radically democratic 19th century German anti-political-economist and workers’ control advocate named Karl Marx wrote about that drive.  More on him and his ideas – supposedly (according to Wayne LaPierre) embraced by Obama-inspired “European-style socialists” like Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, and Cory Booker – in my next dispatch from Chicago.

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Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).