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Sunday, January 22, 2017


A bunker, for those of you who missed World War Two, is a concrete and metal reinforced shelter, mostly underground, where troops can crouch and protect themselves from bombs or incoming artillery fire.  In modern times, every Presidential Administration has had a complex relationship with the press, and more broadly, with the world outside the White House.  On the one hand, the White House crew want to use the press to put out their positive, rosy message about the wonderful things they are doing for the American people, so the person charged with dealing daily with the Press, the White House Press Spokesperson, cultivates a personal relationship with the reporters regularly assigned to the White House, favoring them with inside tips, learning their names, joking with them, and wooing them in an effort to extract from them favorable coverage.  On the other hand, even the tamest of reporters has shark DNA, and circles for the kill if there is blood in the water.  When things are going smoothly for an Administration, a skilled Press Spokesperson balances these forces reasonably well, but when really bad things are going down, the White House loyalists form a protective circle around the President like African buffalo threatened by a pride of lions.  They are then said to be “in the bunker.”  The Johnson White House, as the Viet Nam War went bad, was in the bunker.  So was the Nixon White House during Watergate.

Yesterday, the newly appointed Press Spokesman, Sean Spicer, met the White House Press Corps for the first time, barely more than twenty-four hours after Donald Trump took the oath of office.  Did he walk in smiling, greet those reporters he knew by name, make a few jokes, lighten the mood, and generally do everything he could to gain the best possible press for his boss and the new Administration?  Fat chance.  He stalked in, read a prepared speech accusing the people in front of him of lying, warned them that he would be targeting them for attack, and stalked out.

One day, and the Trump White House is in the bunker.



Chris said...

The day after Trump won the election there was an anti-trump protest here in Athens, and many pro-trump people showed, revving their tires, peeling out, and trying to drench the protesters in engine exhaust.

At the anti-Trump rally in athens on 1/20, there were 3,000 anti-trump protesters and approximately 15 pro-trump counter protestors (conventionally all white teenage boys in khaki shorts and pollos, but I'm sure they're unique individuals capable of unique and independent thought...). Yeah, they looked in the bunker alright.

One of my main problems with Democrats in office is there is usually no organized resistance. Maybe in a way Trump is what the left in America finally needed to really wake up, and begin the real process of transforming society.

James said...

Note: I'm using "the plutocrat" to name *resident *rump. I have a hard time using his official name and title, and I feel that this word is a more accurate reflection of his character and role.

I'm disturbed by the CIA speech and press briefing the plutocrat has given since taking office, in a way that I have not been disturbed with any past president, no matter the party. I've tried to wrap my mind around this from a philosophical perspective here. But now an even more interesting thought has occurred to me, namely, who is the real actor behind this strategy to alienate the WH from all the institutions of democracy? Whoever is behind the plutocrat’s messaging seems to be an evil genius of a particularly remorseless and amoral breed. The plutocrat himself isn’t smart enough to know to wield the flags of “false news” and “alternative facts” to gain the upper hand with the media like he has. The malevolent specter at work here knows that nothing, not even an unprecedented media consensus against the plutocrat, will change the minds of an ignorant yet dangerously enraged minority that doesn’t believe in any higher ideal like truth or justice and much less in facts or science. Who is it? Is it Bannon behind all this?

Professor Wolff, I would be interested in your opinion on this matter, or if anyone else has some insight into the inner workings of this clearly authoritarian but apparently so far successful PR strategy that the plutocrat's administration is using.

Chris said...

I just assumed it was overdetermined by the whole cabinet and set of advisors and not some grand conspirator.

James said...

Hi Chris,

Certainly the whole cabinet is being molded to and aligned with the plutocrat's policies. But the messaging and speeches coming out of the WH are too contrived and too singularly focused on the issue of alienating the press and undermining ideas of established facts and objective truths, that I suspect there is one or two leading this intellectual strategy, in the way that Rove did in 2002/03. I just don't know enough about the players yet to judge. Call me Kantian, but I want to know who the architect here is.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I really do not know, but it does reek of Bannon.

DML said...

The media strategy has to be Bannon, he's a creature of the media himself. Spicer's rant sounded like it was written by Donald Trump himself though ("the biggest ever, period!)".

If the goal of the president is to use/manipulate the press to bolster his popularity, this brazen, ridiculous approach makes no strategic sense. This means that either: 1. Trump is too narcissistic to let this issue go; or 2. Their strategy is not to use the press for popularity, but to destroy the press as we know it. #1 is the hopeful scenario, but I fear #2 is more likely. Massive, impossible-to-ignore marches, can actually help mitigate the damage they'll cause by strategy #2.

James said...


I have no doubt that it's #2. Yes, the plutocrat himself is too narcissistic to let the issue go, but the overall strategy appears by all signs to be intentionally alienate the WH from the press (as well as from other democratic institutions), because they know that these are the same institutions that their most fanatic supporters hate.

You're right DML, massive mobilization of people in the resistance will be key to shoving the facts of the matter in their faces and delegitimizing the plutocrat in the minds of enough people that truth will win the day.

DML said...

You know, I thought so too, but on further reflection I have my doubts, and think that #1 is more in play than we think.

If you want to wage war on the press, it seems there are a million other more savvy ways to use the office of the presidency to do it. Why pick something so easily disproven on your first full day in the office?

It could still be #2 - in fact, its probably both at this point, but I'm not so sure he's the authoritarian mastermind we give him credit for. These are not really serious or competent people. That doesn't mean they won't do enormous damage, and ruin so much we take for granted, but this just seems like a really bad way to execute #2.

James said...

Not to belabor the point, but I think there will be a conflict between Trump's purely narcissistic interests and those of the policy architect(s) behind the scenes (Bannon?). The latter have long-term goals for which they will need to resist burning all bridges, as it were. The former can't think too far ahead and could care less what bridges are burned as long as he remains the center of attention. I can imagine him self-destructing in a way that leads to a successful impeachment, but he will not care as long as he brings people down with him and sow's enough discord and chaos to keep the attention on himself.

He seems to be truly incapable of reining in his own impulses. Although, as others have noted, he is at least capable enough to have created a facade of success in his businesses.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

James, I think you are right. I very much doubt that Bannon and company can control Trump, and it remains to be seen whether that frustrates their efforts to pursue their agenda.