Donald Trump’s Putin-shaped rabbit hole

Maureen Dowd: Steve Bannon wants to cut taxes for the poor. But the president’s too busy being played for a sucker

Trump: “Did you do it?” Putin: “Nyet.” Trump: “Whew! Glad that’s out of the way. So let’s do a joint cybersecurity program and share our passwords.” Putin: “Da.” Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Trump: “Did you do it?” Putin: “Nyet.” Trump: “Whew! Glad that’s out of the way. So let’s do a joint cybersecurity program and share our passwords.” Putin: “Da.” Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

 

Hark! What light from yonder West Wing window breaks. A bright idea has somehow emerged from the dysfunctional, dystopian Trump White House. And from the Grim Reaper, no less.

Steve Bannon has not been partying in the Hamptons with Jared, Ivanka and Kellyanne. He has instead been lurking in his lair, scheming about a plan to raise taxes on the richest people in the United States and give tax cuts to the people who need them. As Jonathan Swan wrote when he broke the story in Axios, “It’s classic Bannon – pushing a maximalist position that’s reviled by the Republican establishment.”

Banon has been scheming about a plan to raise taxes on the richest and give tax cuts to the people who need them. Conservative craniums are exploding all over town

Conservative craniums are exploding all over town. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader in the United States Senate, had already been worried that Donald Trump might revert to the pragmatist who donated money to Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, and to Hillary Clinton, and triangulate with Democrats.

And Bannon’s fellow former Goldman Sachs money men Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, who are now Trump’s chief economic adviser and treasury secretary, are rushing to strip away the tax burdens on the rich and corporations because, in the immortal words of Mitt Romney, “Corporations are people, my friend.”

As Grover Norquist, the anti-tax evangelist, howled, “It’s a particularly cruel thing for Bannon to do.”

In his role as Keeper of the Essence, the one who tends the flame between Trump and his base, Bannon has been guilty of plenty of cruel things, from the botched travel ban to “American carnage” to the fixation with the wall to the offensive tripe in Breitbart when he ran it. As the rumpled hero to white nationalists likes to say, “Darkness is good.”

But while this idea is going nowhere, it’s not cruel. Bannon is right to challenge his colleagues’ claim that the rich pour money from tax cuts back into the economy. If you give a tax cut to people who make $1 million a year or more, they save the money. But if you give a tax cut to working-class and poor people, they spend the money. So the multiplier effect for the economy is much higher with tax cuts for people who don’t have a lot of money.

Bannon understands that if  Trump gave a raspberry to plutocrats, including all the ones in his own administration, he would grow more popular

Bannon understands that if President Trump gave a raspberry to plutocrats, including all the ones in his own administration, he would grow more popular. (It would be hard to grow less popular.)

For all Trump’s insanity, he is in a unique place to do some interesting things because he’s not beholden to the usual suspects. He’s barely even a Republican, so it would be a smart strategy to work with Democrats on the things that he agrees with, that Democrats can’t say no to.

Why doesn’t Trump indulge his predilection for acting against expectations in a way that could be a boon to his base, or “my people”, as he calls them? Why squander all that combativeness and impulsiveness on Twitter insults? Why settle into an angry standoff with a majority of the country? It’s an exhausting dynamic that breeds a siege mentality – a mindset that was succinctly described by Kellyanne Conway at a recent Washington dinner as “they hate us and we hate them.”

Why doesn’t Trump channel all that bile against the establishment and show us his purported negotiating skills by sitting down and working out an actual deal that could benefit a lot of the people in Trump country who need healthcare rather than backing the “mean” plans of the senate and the House of Representatives, which are going to hit the rural United States particularly hard?

Instead he is down the rabbit hole with Vladimir Putin. Much of his base does not appreciate it when the American president stands in the Oval Office yucking it up with Russian diplomats, oversharing our secrets and calling the FBI director he just fired “a nut job”.

Even a lot of Trump voters are mystified about why Trump can’t put a lid on his id long enough to acknowledge that Russia besmirched the US elections

Even a lot of Trump voters are mystified about why Trump can’t put a lid on his id long enough to acknowledge that Russia besmirched the US elections.

“It could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries, and I won’t be specific, but I think a lot of people interfere,” President Trump said in Warsaw. “Nobody really knows.”

He inanely tweeted from the G20: “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!”

Even for a UFO believer like Podesta, Trump’s claim was out of this world.

In his attenuated first meeting with his side bae, Trump staged a kabuki show of confronting the former KGB agent.

Their conversation boiled down to this:

Trump: “Did you do it?”

Putin: “Nyet.”

Trump: “Whew! Glad that’s out of the way. So let’s do a joint cybersecurity program and share our passwords.”

Putin: “Da.”

He should have had a showdown to rival the one Adlai Stevenson had at the United Nations with the Soviet ambassador on the Cuban missile crisis. “I am prepared to wait for an answer until hell freezes over,” Stevenson snapped.

Trump should have slapped down the evidence and doled out the punishment. Instead he and Putin commiserated about bumptious journalists

Trump should have slapped down the evidence and doled out the punishment. Instead he and Putin commiserated about bumptious journalists.

“Polonium works well,” Putin was probably saying.

Spasibo,” Trump probably replied.

In the end Trump and his fellow bumbling neophyte Rex Tillerson opened the portal wider for Putin to sneak through in coming elections.

I don’t know how much information the tyro pol in the Oval has absorbed, or even wants to absorb, in his dumbed-down briefings. But, brainwashed by his father’s exhortation that the world belongs to “killers”, Trump clearly doesn’t recognise the danger before him.

This is a simple fact he might want to let sink in: the Russians do not have the United States’ best interests at heart. They are conjuring Trump’s worst “1984” fear: playing him for a sucker.

© New York Times

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