Monday, July 31, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 31.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Spain's Guardia Civil will now allow you to complete certain processes via the internet, as reported here. Of course, you've long been able to pay your incessant driving fines via your computer. Helpful folk.
  • Spain is not a de jure federal state but, as I've occasionally said, it sometimes seem to be a de facto one. My latest discovery is that social security payments differ from region to region. The national average is 23.1% of income but Navarra and Galicia top the list with 24.3 and 23.1%, respectively. And, to add insult to injury, I suspect that benefits are lower in Galicia than elsewhere.
  • Another discovery this weekend . . .  You can't buy contact lenses in Spanish pharmacies, parapharmacies or supermarkets - as you can do in other parts of the world. Your only port of call is the optica shops which have always seemed rather numerous to me. Now I know why so many of them can operate profitably. Unless they're just money-laundering fronts, of course.
Vast Scandinavian forests are being felled to provide paper for the numerous commentaries on the terrifying farce of the Trump administration. I've collected a few articles together and added them at the end of this post. Some are from right-of-centre UK papers and some from left-of-centre papers. The common ground is large and all of the commentaries seem apt to me. Especially this final para from the final article:- The common factor in all these situations is Trump’s self-induced powerlessness and ignorance, his chronic lack of credibility and presidential authority and consequent perceptions of US and western weakness. And in the case of all three actual or potential adversaries – North Korea, Iran and Russia – these perceptions are highly dangerous. Precisely because US responses, actions and reactions can no longer be relied upon or predicted, by friends and enemies alike, the potential for calamitous miscalculation is growing. This uncertainty, like the chaos in the White House and the extraordinary disarray of the American body politic, stems from Trump’s glaring unfitness for the highest office. As is now becoming ever plainer, this threatens us all.

Tomorrow, I'll post a 5-part guide to the Trump White House. Meanwhile, from the same author, here's a (dis)organisation chart, showing the various factions which are waging their internecine war. Of course, it's changed in the last few days, with the sacking of Reince Priebus and the appointment of Gen. John Kelly as Chief of Staff:-

Meanwhile, back in the real world . . . . 

Another day, another Galician fiesta gastronómica. This time in nearby Moraña, where 3,000 people were expected to attend the annual lamb-roasting event. Most of whom appeared to have parked their cars on the outskirts of the town:-

We were not down to eat at the main event - which centres on large groups who've won their places by lottery - but easily found a bar which was roasting meat on its terrace:-

And eventually got our 2 raciones of lamb and 1 of octopus. Without snouts, ears, tails or arses:-

Leaving Moraña around 3pm, we immediately met something which I doubt would have been there 15 years ago - a police alcohol checkpoint. Where this slightly surrealistic conversation took place:-
Cop: Have you had any alcohol?
Driver: No.
Cop: OK, on your way.

I can't help wondering if the negative answer would have been accepted if the driver hadn't been female and in a car with Dutch licence plates. 

Anyway, shortly after this, I climbed up a roadside grass bank to have a look at these (rather phallic) stones, wondering if they were ancient menhirs:-

But the board next to them suggested they were the work of a local wall-building company. I then carefully clambered back down the grassy slope but twisted my ankle on the not-so-flat tarmac of the road . . .

Finally . . . A conversation between my guest and her teenage son:-
Are you awake, son?
Yes, mum. Could you make me a coffee?
Can you bring it up to me?
No, you lazy Dutch bastard. Come down and get it.

OK, I fabricated a bit of the last line. But nothing strange about this exchange, you might think. Except that it took place via text messages . . . 

By the way . . . I sleep between 6 and 7 hours a night; my guest sleeps around 8; but her son, aged 15, has managed 12 every night so far. And even then has to be woken up. In the case of the above conversation, by a phone call . . . . Naturally.

Today's Cartoon:-

Somewhat less amusing:-


1. Under this president, loyalty and populism trump the rule of law Janet Daley

The White House is run by crazy people. That’s official. President Trump’s new director of communications has stated in the most memorably unambiguous terms,that the man who was until a day ago, the administration’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, is a “paranoid schizophrenic”. Or, to quote him more precisely, a “f------ paranoid schizophrenic”. The rest of what Mr Scaramucci said in that same interview about another influential White House adviser, Steve Bannon, is too scatological to put in print. If this were not terrifying, it would be funny.

The headline stories may vary from day to evermore startling day: Scaramucci’s obscenities and threats, Trump’s own highly personal attempts to bully Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General, into resigning, and the failure to pass any piece of legislation that would fulfil the electoral promise to repeal and replace ObamaCare. But there is a common factor underlying them all that is testing the limits of America’s political system – which was, you may recall, a product of the Age of Reason.

What the bizarre behaviour of Trump and his acolytes suggests is that those now governing the country lack a basic understanding of the Constitution or the rule of law. This exceeds anything we have seen before even in the desperate lawbreaking of a Richard Nixon or the famously crude abusiveness of a Lyndon Johnson. This is in another league: not just thuggish populism or crass bravado but a flouting of the fundamental principles that have made the United States the most stable democratic republic in the world.

To take the most outrageous example: the President is now relentlessly demeaning Jeff Sessions – a senator who was fiercely loyal to Trump from the earliest days of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. But once Mr Sessions was appointed attorney general – that is, the chief law officer of the nation – his personal loyalty to Mr Trump had to be relegated to his duty to the country. 

This is something that Trump and his coterie seem not to grasp. In fact, not only do they fail to understand it, they regard it as an infernal impertinence. The President apparently believed that putting good old reliable Sessions in place was like hiring a mafia consiglieri whose chief function would be to protect his back.

That Sessions has, in fact, been very effectively supporting Trump’s contentious policy on illegal immigration is being ruthlessly discounted. The unforgivable transgression is that the attorney general recused himself from that endlessly troublesome Russia investigation and therefore failed to deliver the quick fix – the sacking of Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the inquiry – which might have put the whole grumbling matter to bed. The hapless Sessions is determined to carry on through the flood of Trump invective partly because he is receiving considerable support from conservative Republican figures among whom he is immensely respected. Even ferociously faithful 
Trump allies like Newt Gingrich have pitched in for Sessions. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who admittedly has never been much of a Trump fan, went about as far as it is possible to go: some of the things the President was saying about Sessions, he stated in an on-camera interview, “go way beyond what is acceptable in a rule-of-law nation.”

The discrediting of Sessions creates a bigger threat to the Trump presidency than any of the wilder embarrassments that the White House has survived by maintaining its war cry against the mainstream media. Because Sessions has impeccable credentials as a committed conservative stalwart, the President’s vendetta raises the suspicion among his electoral “base” that Trump is not sincerely on their side. He isn’t just making a fool of himself in ways that working class America might accept as deliberate anti-establishment buffoonery: he is attacking one of their own. This is serious. Keeping a strong hold on his base has been the Trump insurance plan – the absolute protection against removal from office or defeat at the next election either of which would make him, in his own inimitable terminology, a “loser”.

So long as he can hang on to the voters who put him in power, he believes he has nothing to fear from his favourite enemies: the #failingfakenews merchants. But his approval ratings are now at 36 per cent, a historic low for a president in what should be the honeymoon first year in office. So that base on which he has staked everything is shrinking and however undiminished its fervour might be, the numbers tell an alarming truth. Which is why he suddenly sprang into action last week with that startling, unexpected decision to bar transgender people from the military. Here was a gesture of solidarity to that conservative working class constituency that might have been wondering whether Trump – who was until very recently a New York social liberal – was actually one of them. To appreciate the impact of this unilateral decision (which caught the joint chiefs of staff quite unprepared and on which they have no intention of taking immediate action) it is necessary to understand its symbolic significance. Gender equality issues in the US are the civil rights arena de nos jours. So this was a move that took considerable nerve – and politically incorrect defiance – for which Mr Trump clearly expects to be rewarded by that indispensable base.

The question that enlivens Washington conversation now is – who will get thrown under the bus next? Sean Spicer is gone. Reince Priebus whom Mr Scaramucci described only days ago as being like “a brother” (in the “Cain and Abel” sense, he later clarified), is out too. Trump’s Rasputin figure, Steve Bannon, we know to be also on the Scaramucci hit list. For Trump, loyalty yesterday counts for nothing: usefulness today is all that matters. As I said, the US Constitution embodies the principles of the Age of Reason. Confronted by an insoluble problem, it responds with temporary paralysis then recovers. It has survived some outrageous shocks but its most dangerous enemy is wilful ignorance. I hope it hasn’t met its match.

2. 'The president is a pyromaniac': The week Trump set fire to the White House

What went wrong? Take your pick: healthcare, transgender troops, the fallout from his savaging of Jeff Sessions, the Boy Scouts speech – it was the worst week in Trump’s short presidency: David Smith

Donald Trump began the week by turning a national scout jamboree into something resembling a youth rally. He ended it in front of more massed ranks in uniform, telling police officers “please don’t be too nice” to suspects they arrest in what sounded to many like an endorsement of police brutality.

And then, amid a blizzard of stories about White House infighting, chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned, becoming the shortest-serving occupant of the post in history. Though he seemed blithely unaware of it, it was a fitting finale to the worst week of Trump’s short political career. 

In five torrid days, the US president alienated conservatives by savaging his own attorney general; earned a rebuke from the Pentagon over a rushed ban on transgender troops; watched impotently as the Senate dealt a crushing blow to his legislative agenda with the fall of healthcare reform; ousted Priebus; and threw a human grenade – the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci – into his already dysfunctional White House.

“This is certainly the week in which the Trump administration went off the rails,” said Bill Galston, a former policy adviser to Bill Clinton. “And it’s going to require some heavy lifting equipment to get it back on the rails and off down the track.”

Where to start? The most tangible defeat was over healthcare. Trump had repeatedly promised during his campaign to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s signature law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But when it came to the tough part, arm-twisting members of Congress or making landmark speeches, the self-proclaimed deal-maker was notably absent.

In the early hours of Friday, after months of wrangling, senators voted on a bill to undo major parts of the ACA, popularly known as Obamacare. In a moment of reality TV suspense that Trump might otherwise have appreciated, John McCain of Arizona, who had returned to the floor after brain surgery, was decisive in sinking the bill.

McCain is an old adversary. The 80-year-old is a decorated navy veteran who was tortured during more than five years of captivity in the Vietnam war. Just over two years ago, Trump, who received five draft deferments, mocked him as “not a war hero”. McCain has become something of a conscience for his party, and nation, as Trump tramples and trashes every norm.

His vote – along with those of Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – left a seven-year Republican promise in ruins and Trump with zero legislative achievements after more than six months in office. The president had tried to intensify the pressure on Murkowski during the week, tweeting that she “really let the Republicans, and our country, down”.

His interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, phoned Murkowski and her fellow Alaska senator, Dan Sullivan, with a threat to withhold federal support for major economic development projects in the state. The dirty trick failed and Zinke may have cause to regret his actions: Murkowski is chair of the Senate energy and natural resources committee, with power over the interior department’s budget.

Meanwhile, poison was seeping in at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Scaramucci, a mouthy Wall Street financier, publicly declared war on Priebus and Trump adviser Steve Bannon in an expletive-laden interview with Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker magazine. He described Priebus as a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac”, and predicted his imminent demise as chief of staff. Yet far from being punished, “the Mooch” was vindicated on Friday when Priebus confirmed his exit. He will be replaced by Gen John Kelly, who moves over from leading the homeland security department.

The arrival of Scaramucci was, observers said, the moment the White House went full reality TV. Galston said: “It’s off the charts. Both the president and the communications director have really defiled the temple of our democracy.”

Dangerously for Trump, the critics of Scaramucci’s invective included loyalists such as the former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Fox News and Breitbart, which described the interview as a “rambling rant that was so outrageous and discordant that reporters wondered whether Scaramucci drunk-dialed Lizza, was drunk with power, or, reveal[ed] he was unqualified for his communications director job”.

The Trump base had another reason to be upset. The president spent several days publicly humiliating Sessions, his attorney general, over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia during last year’s election. Sessions refused to quit, perhaps consoled by conservative voices of dissent.

Kenneth Starr, a former US solicitor general who served as independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations during the Clinton administration, wrote in the Washington Post: “Mr President, please cut it out. Tweet to your heart’s content, but stop the wildly inappropriate attacks on the attorney general.

An honorable man whom I have known since his days as a US attorney in Alabama, Jeff Sessions has recently become your piñata in one of the most outrageous – and profoundly misguided – courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital.”
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, told CNN: “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.” If Trump tries to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Graham added, he will be crossing a “red line”. “Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong.”

Sessions, a hardliner on criminal justice and immigration, is seen as the most Trumpist member of the administration. Taking on the former Alabama senator could prove a huge political miscalculation. 
Galston said: “He has managed to alarm and alienate a substantial element of his conservative base. Sessions is the conservative standard bearer in the administration.”

Trump faced blowback on yet another front. On Wednesday morning he tweeted, out of the blue, that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender people from serving “in any capacity” in the US armed forces. He claimed he had consulted his “generals” but the Pentagon was blindsided and a day later it pushed back, insisting the policy would not be overturned until it received formal direction.

In a sign of how much America has changed, a decision seemingly calculated to rally the base played badly in media outlets in socially conservative states. The TV station WCIV in Charleston, South Carolina, reported: “Lowcountry transgender veteran ‘stunned’ by President Trump’s transgender military ban.” The Rapid City Journal in South Dakota said: “Retired Ellsworth sergeant says transgender ban hurtful.”

There was also rare defiance from Republicans in Congress. Senator Orrin Hatch, up for re-election soon in Utah, hardly a liberal bastion, said: “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them.”

After months of bending over backward to accommodate Trump, Republicans gave other indications that they had run out of loyalty or fear. The Senate voted 98-2 to pass a bill increasing sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, blocking Trump’s ability to cut a deal with Vladimir Putin. The White House bowed to political reality and announced that Trump intended to sign the bill.

Ever more isolated, with even Republicans turning against him, Trump went to feed off the dark energy of crowds. But his rambling speech at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia was widely condemned as inappropriate for its overt political content (along with a reference to a party with “the hottest people in New York”), prompting an apology from the head of the Boy Scouts of America.

And as all these dramas unfolded simultaneously, handing Trump a week of unmitigated disaster, North Korea conducted a new intercontinental ballistic missile test that landed in the sea off Japan. Experts have warned that North Korea will have the ability to strike the US mainland with a nuclear weapon as soon as next year. It was a sobering reminder of the high stakes facing a White House in disarray.

Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and strategist, said: “It’s fair to say Trump has lost control of the narrative. What I don’t know is how and when he can regain it.”

It might have been so different. Figures showed that US economic growth rebounded to 2.6% annual rate in the second quarter. Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer, announced plans to invest at least $7bn in the US and create between 30,000 and 50,000 jobs with a massive factory in Wisconsin. Trump buried his own good news.

Charlie Sykes, a conservative author and broadcaster, said: “It could have been one of his best weeks with the Foxconn announcement. But this has been his worst week ever and everything that has happened has been self-inflicted. 

You have a White House in meltdown because the president is a pyromaniac. The thing that’s got to rattle Republicans is the damage he’s doing to the administration, to the party and to the country.”
Scaramucci is “Trump’s id”, Sykes said. “A friend said to me today, in a rational world, Scaramucci would have been fired for that interview. But in a rational world, Scaramucci would never have been hired. And in a rational world, Donald Trumpwould not be the president of the United States. We’re well past the rational world.”

It is far from certain whether Trump has actually hit rock-bottom. With Priebus’s departure, he appears to be severing his links to the Republican establishment, even though he will have to work with Congress on tax reform in the hope of a better result than was achieved on healthcare. The potential for conflict between Kelly, a career marine, and Scaramucci seems high. And Trump has not yet been tested by a major international crisis.

Rick Tyler, a political analyst, warned: “It could get a lot worse. North Korea just fired off a ballistic missile today that landed 230 miles from Japan. There could be a lot of worse things and we’ll be lucky if we survive them.”

3. Why Trump diehards are blind to reality David Aaronovitch

From communists to right-wing populists, it is human nature to ignore all the evidence that your beliefs were wrong

At what point do you, I, anyone or any group committed to a certain view admit that we were wrong?
On Tuesday, at a rally in Ohio, up to 7,000 people were told by Donald Trump that “with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln . . . I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office!” And they gave him a great cheer.

President Trump’s point was that he has little time for “being presidential” (ie dignified, measured and unifying) because he is too busy actually doing things. But he could be if he wanted to be, believe him. More than Reagan, more than the Roosevelts, more than Washington. It was possibly the least presidential thing any American ever heard uttered by a president. And his audience still cheered.

So what would stop them applauding him? Obviously not his Twitter vendettas, nor the absence of any concrete achievement (apart, of course, from the ban on transgender people serving in the military). Not his bizarre disavowal of his own attorney-general Jeff Sessions, nor even the attempts at collusion between his campaign team and agents of the Russian government. Polling of Trump supporters suggests that they see all these problems either as part of an attempt to persecute their hero, or as utterly unimportant. Worse, the criticism entrenches their view.

So I invite Trumpites to try out this scenario. Suppose that, last year, Iranian intelligence had procured information about Trump’s business deals. Imagine that Chelsea Clinton, her husband and five or six other Clinton advisers had met an intermediary linked to the Iranian government to explore what that person could offer by way of dirt on the Trumps. Would his supporters have (a) dismissed this as flimflam or (b) demanded immediate punishment?

OK. It’s a rhetorical question and the example I’ve chosen suits my prejudices. Some other examples don’t. For a start, I come from a family that got some very big things spectacularly wrong. My parents were motivated by a desire for the meek to inherit the earth before and not after they died. Mum and Dad became communists and communists understood that the Great October Revolution in Russia, 100 years old this autumn, had brought a new world into existence.

They fought for workers’ rights and better conditions and an end to racism and exploitation and so on. They sacrificed a lot: money, careers, time. And they embraced some of the biggest lies of the 20th century. They believed that the show trials of the Thirties and late-Forties were proper processes and that the purges were a regrettable necessity. People who said different had been duped by the “bourgeois press” (these days known as the “mainstream media”). Then in 1956 the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, told the world that almost everything the bourgeois press had said about Uncle Joe Stalin was true and all the stuff the loyal British communists had been saying was utterly false. And even then some communists wouldn’t believe it. I had a little red soft spot for Fidel Castro until the turn of the millennium.

In her 2010 book Being Wrong the American writer Kathryn Schulz examined the problem of admitting error. There were the usual problems of “confirmation bias”: actively looking for things that help your argument and dismissing things that don’t. Take the tendency of partisans to complain that polls are wrong or even rigged when they go against you, and to cite them approvingly when they’re favourable.

But Schulz looked beyond this to the strategies that people devise to avoid an admission of outright error. Her great example was the fate of the Millerites, a sect of Christians who convinced themselves that the world would end on October 22, 1844. So they stopped planting and harvesting, gave their houses away and prepared to be received into the bosom of the returning Redeemer. They called what happened next, ie nothing, the Great Disappointment. But what they did not do was declare themselves to have been wrong.

Instead they adopted, says Schulz, five defences. And I invite readers to ask if any of them seem familiar. The first was the “time-frame” defence: the Second Coming is still coming so I was just out by a little in my calculations. Let’s see how it turns out, time will tell, and so on. I’ve used that myself over the war in Iraq, I’m afraid.

The second was the “near-miss” defence. It almost happened as I said it would, or as Schulz puts it, “if I hadn’t been wrong I would have been right”. This is a close relative to the third, the “out-of-left-field” defence. It was going just as I said it would and then something utterly unexpected happened. But, as Schulz says, “just about any event can be defined as unforeseeable if you yourself failed to foresee it”.

Fourth is the “I was wrong but it’s your fault” defence. I was badly advised, trusted the wrong people, failed to act on my own best instincts. And fifth is the “better safe than sorry” defence. Thinking what I did and seeing what I did, it would have been wrong for me to act otherwise. You might summarise this as “I did what I thought was right”. Remind you of anyone?

I’d add one of my own: the “it would have been just fine if it weren’t for you” defence. If Brexit fails it will have been the fault of the naysayers who talked down the country. The saboteurs, uncrushed, will try to turn my rightness into wrongness.

If pointing out to someone that they’re wrong merely confirms their sense of rightness, what are you to do? Tell them they’re right and make them think that because it’s you saying it they must be wrong? Nudge them through an affirming niceness into an unnoticed change of mind?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so pessimistic. Often people who are less committed than my parents were deal with wrongness by deciding that they weren’t as bothered over the big question as others assumed. So they ease themselves into a mental accommodation. The historian James T Patterson likes to point out that John Kennedy received 49.7 per cent of the vote in the 1960 presidential election. Shortly before his assassination in 1963, nearly 60 per cent of Americans recalled voting for him. After his death that climbed to 65 per cent. We can be obstinate but we can also be agile. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover in a year or two that most of the people at that rally in Ohio on Tuesday had gone to see Trump out of mere curiosity.

4. Is the American republic built to withstand a malevolent president?: Michael Goldfarb

The Trump administration, having passed the six-month milestone in office, kicked off the next phase of his presidency with an explosion of crazy, spread over the past seven days.

Like sweeps week on The Apprentice, every day saw some headline-grabbing event to garner ratings. It started with leaks against his former bosom buddy, attorney general, Jeff Sessions. President Trump, “sources” said, was planning to fire him. It moved on to a speech to the Boy Scouts of America jamboree, where Trump told the story of a property developer who lost a fortune and was lurking at a New York party with the “hottest people”. Later, there was a tweet announcement banning transgender people from the military.

This explosion of crazy concluded with his new White House chief of communications, Anthony Scaramucci, calling the New Yorker’s political correspondent Ryan Lizza to trash virtually everyone in the White House. He compared himself positively to the president’s dark lord and special adviser, Stephen Bannon: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the president.”

Doesn’t Scaramucci, or “the Mooch”, as he was known on Wall Street, have a mother? Won’t she be ashamed to see him talking like that in public? The week ended with a big name fired: White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

And up on Capitol Hill things weren’t a lot less calm. There was the closed-door interrogation of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, on Russian connections to the Trump campaign. Then came the Republican Senate majority’s inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, featuring John McCain voting yes, to debate the bill, then no, to kill it stone dead – until The Apprentice goes into reruns.

All of these events, and a dozen more I don’t have space to mention, create a picture of utter chaos across the American government. Trump has ridden roughshod over not just the customs and norms of presidential behaviour but also basic standards of human decency.

In doing so, he has forced journalists and the institutions they write for to change their basic standards of acceptable language. We use the words crazy and stupid now in our reports because some of the behaviour and actions of Trump and his team are crazy and stupid. We debate whether to refer to the Trump administration or the Trump regime, with all the pejorative connotations that word carries. The New York Times is still the Grey Lady, but it has to print “sucking his own cock”, because that’s what the president’s top communications official said.

People on the outside wonder where the famous checks and balances are that have made American democracy function for more than 230 years? They are still there and, up to a point, still working. For example, presidential power was checked when Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Muslim nations was halted by the courts. The ban is now mired in a legal process.

However, what the madness, abnormality or whatever you want to call it emanating from the White House does draw attention to is the real problem in American politics – the Republicans are no longer a political party but a political faction, a much more dangerous thing.

The danger of factions was recognised at the foundation of the United States. In The Federalist Number 10, a highly influential essay on political theory published in 1787, James Madison defined faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”.

Madison understood the most dangerous thing that can happen in a society is for a group and its political representatives to act as if their view alone represents the nation. This leads them to think that they alone are the nation and the views of those who disagree with them not worthy of consideration.

Republican factionalism has led their elected representatives in Congress to upend existing constitutional customs as thoroughly as Trump has destroyed the existing norms of presidential conduct. They have defamed the design of Madison and Thomas Jefferson by refusing to co-operate with the Democrats in any meaningful way. In fact, the idea of a pluralist society is anathema to them and they have been trying to crush it for decades.

The design of the Founders balanced the inevitable competing points of view that would grow in a society where people were free to follow different religions and debate ideas openly. It was for a society that encompassed the competing world views of urban dwellers and farmers. Without respect for these rules the system cannot work.

The result is that the US has, over the past quarter of a century, become ungovernable at the national level. Sadly, Madison, having identified the threat in the 18th century “that either a minority or a majority” might become a faction, was unable to think of a solution to the problem that might work in the 21st. The minority in the country – the Republican faction – is now the majority in both houses of Congress and in the state governments. It holds the White House, although neither of the last two Republican presidents gained office while winning a majority of the popular vote.

Trump’s overall approval ratings may be historically low but his support in the Republican faction remains remarkably high. And for a reason – Trump has delivered for them. He appointed Neil Gorsuch, a hard-right judge, to the seat on the supreme court the Republican faction wouldn’t allow President Obama to fill. Immigration from Mexico has slowed dramatically. And in a wave of executive orders, he overturned many Obama-era environmental rules and reinstated the Dakota pipeline project. What’s more, Trump daily drives liberals absolutely crazy with his politically incorrect tweets. The base of the Republican faction, roughly 36% of the population, will stay loyal to him.

Ultimately, the supreme constitutional checks on presidential behaviour remain article 1, section 3: impeachment, or the 25th Amendment (which deals with succession). If the Republicans were a political party as they were at the time of Watergate, that would have to be a consideration for Trump and his team. It might moderate the administration’s behaviour if there were a genuine threat of being constitutionally removed from office. But there isn’t. The Republicans are a faction and the president is one of them.

So Trump carries on in office, unchecked and unbalanced. A majority of Americans, and most of the planet, watch and say, this can’t go on. But it can. For a while, at least.

5. 'The Observer' view on Donald Trump’s unfitness for office

The sense of things falling apart in Washington is palpable – and a matter of growing, serious international concern. Donald Trump’s latest asinine act of gesture politics, the forced resignation of his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has shone a spotlight on the extraordinary chaos inside the White House. Even normally sober, experienced Washington observers now refer to the West Wing as a viper’s nest of seething rivalry, bitter feuds, gross incompetence and an unparalleled leadership vacuum.

Like some kind of Shakespearean villain-clown, Trump plays not to the gallery but to the pit. He is a Falstaff without the humour or the self-awareness, a cowardly, bullying Richard III without a clue. Late-night US satirists find in this an unending source of high comedy. If they did not laugh, they would cry. The world is witnessing the dramatic unfolding of a tragedy whose main victims are a seemingly helpless American audience, America’s system of balanced governance and its global reputation as a leading democratic light.

As his partisan, demeaning and self-admiring speech to the Boy Scouts of America illustrated, Trump endlessly reruns last year’s presidential election campaign, rails against the “fake news” media and appeals to the lowest common denominator in public debate. Not a word about duty, service, shared purpose or high ideals was to be found in his gutter-level discourse before a youthful gathering of 30,000 in West Virginia. Instead, he served up a sad cocktail of paranoia and narcissism. It was all about him and what he has supposedly achieved against the odds.

Which, for the record, is almost precisely nothing. After more than six months in office, and despite full Republican control of Congress, Trump cannot point to a single substantial legislative achievement. The bid to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which finally went down in flames in the Senate last week, was the most spectacular and telling of Trump’s failures. His executive orders, such as the racist ban on Muslim travellers and last week’s bigoted attack on transgender people in the military, have mostly run foul of the courts or been pre-emptively ignored by those charged with implementing them.

Trump has instead squandered the political goodwill that traditionally accompanies a presidential honeymoon, shocked and outraged many middle-of-the-road voters who initially gave him the benefit of the doubt, thoroughly alienated Republican party traditionalists, who had tried in vain to swallow their doubts, and undermined the authority of the office of the president. Trump, a supposedly ace chief executive, has now lost a chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff, a national security adviser, a communications director and a press secretary in short order. To lose one or even two of his most senior people might be excused as unfortunate. To lose all five suggests the fault is his.

Perhaps John Kelly, the retired general hired to replace Priebus, can restore some semblance of order to the White House. It looks like a tall order. Kelly has no political experience beyond his brief tenure at the department of homeland security. Perhaps he will find an ally in HR McMaster, another army veteran, who is Trump’s national security adviser. But there is no good reason to believe the internal feuding, and Trump’s inability or disinclination to halt it, will end.

Anthony Scaramucci, the recently appointed, foul-mouthed communications director, has unfinished business with Steve Bannon, Trump’s top strategist. Trump seems determined to undermine his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Then there is the self-interested leverage exerted by Trump family lightweights Ivanka Trump, Donald Jr and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. On top of all that, Kelly must work out how to handle the ever-expanding investigations of special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. A good start would be to halt scurrilous White House efforts to dig up dirt on Mueller and his team.

Yet even if Kelly succeeds in cracking the whip, curbing the in-fighting and containing the Russia scandal, he still has to deal with Trump himself. He has proved far more interested in settling scores, berating adversaries and showing off than in advancing a coherent domestic policy agenda. The next prospective car crash, following the Obamacare pile-up, is a September deadline for a federal budget and linked tax reforms and increased military spending promised by Trump. A budget deal proved impossible last spring and may do so again. If there is no agreement, a government shut-down looms, an outcome in line with current Washington trends. Lazy, feckless Trump has no interest in the onerous business of lobbying Congress or working the phones. He wants quick, easy wins or else he walks away.

This latter is one of several disturbing truths about Trump absorbed, to varying degrees, by Washington’s friends and allies in the past six months. Naive, misguided Theresa May and Liam Fox, the Brexit trade secretary, still seem to think Trump’s word can be trusted and that he will deliver a favourable trade deal. It is one of many delusions explaining why Britain’s government is so disrespected. In sharp contrast, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, heads the realist, pragmatic group of leaders who are learning to deal with a post-Obama world where the word of the American president cannot be trusted. In this new world, longstanding US commitments and treaties may not be honoured and future collaboration on key policies, such as climate change, Russia and Chinese military expansionism, is held hostage to presidential whim and the blinkered perspectives of the Ohio bar-room.

Merkel suggested earlier this year that the US (and Britain) could no longer be wholly relied upon. While not entirely true, for instance in the case of Anglo-American security guarantees for Germany and its sheltered exporters, it was plain what she meant. And this lesson has been understood by America’s enemies, too. In provocatively firing off another long-range, possibly nuclear-capable missile last week, North Korea seems to be testing how far it can go, geographically and politically. It is counting on Trump proving to be the blowhard that, until now, he has appeared to be.

Recent months have produced a litany of Trump threats and boasts over North Korea. There was no way, he said, that Pyongyang would deploy an ICBM capable of hitting the mainland US. “It’s not going to happen,” he tweeted. Wrong again, Donald. It did. By conducting its own satellite launch last week, ignoring western concerns, Iran has similarly thumbed its nose at Washington. Iran’s leaders should understand there would be “very serious” consequences if they pursued their ballistic missile programme, Trump had warned. Additional hints from Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, Pentagon chief, about regime change in Iran further darkened the strategic horizon. But guess what? Tehran took no notice at all. It went ahead anyway.

Or take Russia. Having played Trump to its advantage, Moscow’s open hand is turning into a clenched fist as it threatens reprisals over a new Congressional sanctions package. It was not hard to see this tactical switch coming, once it was clear Trump could not deliver the sort of concessions on Ukraine Putin craves. Except, in his fecklessness and blind vanity and courting Putin to the end, Trump didn’t see it coming at all. You can almost see Putin’s lip curl.

The common factor in all these situations is Trump’s self-induced powerlessness and ignorance, his chronic lack of credibility and presidential authority and consequent perceptions of US and western weakness. And in the case of all three actual or potential adversaries – North Korea, Iran and Russia – these perceptions are highly dangerous. Precisely because US responses, actions and reactions can no longer be relied upon or predicted, by friends and enemies alike, the potential for calamitous miscalculation is growing. This uncertainty, like the chaos in the White House and the extraordinary disarray of the American body politic, stems from Trump’s glaring unfitness for the highest office. As is now becoming ever plainer, this threatens us all.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 30.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • Here's more on the macro/micro divide in Spain that I bang on about.
  • I regularly receive short promotional videos from Tur Galicia, highlighting the delights of our lovely region. But, as they're all in Galician/Gallego, I can't help wondering who the target audience is. It surely can't be the folk who already live here and might able to understand the soundtrack. Here's the latest one anyway. Given what you're about to read, it's rather appropriate.
  • One night last week here in Pontevedra, we had a Blues concert starting at 10.30, a large temporary fairground and fireworks at midnight. So, a busy night. And obviously the perfect time to close the city's largest free carpark adjacent to the fairground for re-tarmacing. If I were a cynic, I'd say this must have been beneficial for the owners of our underground carparks. Oh, I think that's the same people - the local council - who ordered the re-tarmacing . . .
Life in Galicia

My two Dutch guests and I travelled north yesterday, for one of Galicia's numerous summer gastronomic fiestas. This one, in Cerceda, offered spit-roasted suckling pig. Cochinillo in Spanish and Cochiño in Galician. Not something I associate with this region, as it happens. More so with Castilla y León.

Anyway, having eventually found the Parque Aquatico where it was being held, we established where to buy the tickets for 3 portions and then joined the shorter of the 2 queues near the serving counter. And then unjoined it, after I'd discovered it was for octopus.

After 20 minutes or so we reached the counter, to be told we'd been queuing for ribs and should have been in a 3rd queue.

I say 'queue' but, in fact, we were directed to an empty table near the spits:-

There I was given a large dish of roasted piglet:-

Finding seats and a table at the bar - after being ejected from the fully booked marquee - we then discovered that, among the pieces of meat, there was . . . .

An ear:-

A snout:-

And a tail plus accompanying arse:-

So, either all of these are considered delicacies by the locals, or the guy dishing it all out saw this guiri coming. Given that absolutely none of said locals was queuing for the roast piglet, I suspect it was the latter.

Either way, we declined to consume any of the above and gave most of them to the dog we'd brought with. So, at least one of us was happy. But it was something of a waste of €30 for the 3 humans among us.

I've been warned more than once over the years never to go to a fiesta gastronomica for the local speciality, as this would alway be of lower quality but higher price than at any other time of the year. Pity I was never told: But, if there any any available, always go for the delicious ribs.

Which reminds me . . . The worst aspect of all was that the portions of ribs and sausages which all the locals were buying looked stupendous.

Happily, though, we could see the funny side of things and chalked it up to life's experiences.

Moving on to a wider perspective . . .

Trump: How on earth to understand what's going on in Washington? Here's a couple of apposite comments:-
  • A friend said to me today that in a rational world, Scaramucci would have been fired for that interview. But in a rational world, Scaramucci would never have been hired. And in a rational world, Donald Trump would not be the president of the United States. We’re well past the rational world.
  • If all this really were the plot of a television show, critics would say it was unfeasible. Perhaps only Shakespeare could have described Washington over the past week. “Hell is empty,” he wrote in The Tempest. “And all the devils are here.”
Below this post is a valuable 5-part Guide to the feuding factions behind the President, from the Daily Telegraph. It's fascinating but bear in mind as you read it that some of the actors might have been chucked off the stage by the time you finish it.

Finally . . . In the normal Spanish disjointed way - you can displease all the people all the time - a couple of gardeners have been laying turf in my neighbour's garden during the last 2 weeks or so. The grass looks very good. I'll have to check but I'm sure it isn't the bloody gramón that I moaned about recently. The horrible stuff that's taken over my lawns that was much lauded by my other neighbour, Ester, and her visiting plumber.

Today's cartoon:-

"Well, so much for Plan A"


Inside Trump's White House Part I: Your guide to the feuding factions behind the President

Donald Trump came to power promising to shake up Washington and so revolutionise America. So far his biggest impact has been on something very different – the way the White House operates.

He has brought his distinctive management style, developed at the Trump Organisation, to the West Wing, where competing factions battle each other for influence and the chance to shape policy.
The result is a complex web of alliances and enmities, where key players build their own internal organisations, complete with chiefs of staff and spokesmen, all arranged in five factions:
  • An inner circle of family members and former Trump Organisation staffers 
  • Anti-establishment radicals
  • Establishment figures from the traditional Republican Party core
  • The "Generals"
  • Wall Street
Best known among the groups, largely because of the way their animosity has spilled into the press, are the competing anti-establishment and Trump family wings of the White House.

Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, arrived late in Mr Trump’s campaign but his brash brand of economic nationalism had long informed the candidate’s populist worldview.

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,”   he once told a Daily Beast reporter(in a conversation he claims he does not recall).

Although he once worked for Goldman Sachs, he was never going to see eye-to-eye with the bankers and billionaires that fill other key posts in the White House.

Take Jared Kushner, a politically moderate multimillionaire who inherited his family’s business and has donated to the Democrats in the past. His internationalist outlook could not be more different from Mr Bannon’s, but having married Ivanka, his position as Mr Trump’s son-in-law makes him untouchable and puts him at the centre of a close-knit inner circle, alongside loyal retainers carried over from the Trump Organisation.

To supporters, the result is the sort of creative, chaotic tension that has been the hallmark of Mr Trump’s businesses. To detractors, the chaos is hampering Mr Trump’s ability to get things done. The first weeks of this administration were dominated by damaging reports of bitter infighting as the two big players butted heads over strategies for replacing Obamacare, intervening in the Syrian war and efforts to tackle immigration.

There are moderating influences among the alpha males that the president admires so much. The grown-ups include his generals – Jim Mattis at the Pentagon and HR McMaster, his National Security Adviser – and the pragmatists among the bankers brought in from Wall Street (or Goldman Sachs to be more precise). Anthony Scaramucci, brought in to replace Sean Spicer as Communications Director, is the latest Goldman graduate to join the Trump White House. 

And there are the political insiders from the Republican establishment perhaps best represented by Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff. Their job is to liaise with the Party leadership in Congress, translating the president’s agenda into legislation.

Those competing power centres make this White House unlike any other in history. Although clashes over policy inside an administration are nothing new, such deep divides over tone, direction and philosophy are unprecedented so early in a presidency. The fortunes of the factions will dictate the direction of the Trump presidency. 

But will Trump allow just one group to dominate the others? Or is his plan to maintain competing, creative tensions,  while taking obvious delight in his status as the ultimate disruptor. 

 Over the next five daily instalments, I will introduce the factions, their ideologies and temperaments, their backgrounds and politics, and explain how this very unconventional presidency makes a topsy turvy sort of sense.

Inside Trump's White House Part II: The untouchable inner circle of Donald's family and entourage

When Donald Trump fired James Comey, the director of the FBI, he knew it needed a trusted hand.
So he turned to Keith Schiller, his director of Oval Office operations, to deliver the manila envelope to FBI headquarters in New York.

At six foot four with a buzzcut, he still looks like the transport cop who used to travel back and forth everyday on the number three subway line from Harlem to deepest Brooklyn, shuttling between what were then two of New York’s toughest neighbourhoods. He joined the Trump Organisation in 2004 as bodyguard, before expanding his role to be Mr Trump’s body man and sounding board.

Today that gives him a powerful position at the heart of the White House – an unofficial gatekeeper known as a trusted confidant and something of a Trump whisperer. Win him over, say insiders, and you have the ear of the President.

His rise is emblematic of the way Mr Trump has organised his White House. Among the competing factions, the biggest, most powerful bloc is made up of friends, family and employees from the Trump Organisation. People he knows and trusts.

Their value lies in their history. They fought alongside Mr Trump through his turbulent business life, the legal challenges and bankruptcies, the marriages and divorces, then the primaries and the polls that wrote off his presidential run.

So when Donald Trump launched his campaign to become president two years ago with his promise to build a wall on the border with Mexico, the core of his White House team was already in place watching from positions stage right in the atrium of Trump Tower.

His daughter Ivanka stood out among the sober business suits in a striking ivory dress. Beside her, fiddling with his tie, was her multimillionaire husband Jared Kushner.

And among the crowd of journalists and professional cheerers (hired at $50 a pop) stood assorted loyal retainers from the Trump Organisation, who had descended from its headquarters on the floors above to support their boss in what many must have thought would be nothing more than another brief vanity project.

Instead many of the family and Trump employees have followed their patriarch and employer to the White House where they have formed the most powerful faction in his administration.

Mr Kushner has perhaps the most consequential post as an unpaid senior adviser. His portfolio is extraordinarily broad. He shuttles back and forth to the Middle East trying to broker peace between Israel and Palestine. He also heads Mr Trump’s delivery unit, the White House Office of American Innovation, as well as co-ordinating with visiting heads of state.

His wife is one of the highest ranking women in the White House, and has an almost unlimited portfolio, from women’s rights to business and foreign policy. Although first daughter is not an official title, she has recruited a chief of staff adding to a sense that she is building her own power centre.

It is difficult to know how effective either can be. Both were associated with Democratic politics in New York, making them political outsiders in this administration. And while both have recruited staffs around themselves, they don’t head the sort of agencies that might easily serve up policy wins.
However, their status as daughter and son-in-law give them softer, hidden influence across almost all the President’s thinking.

Ivanka has let it be known that she sees herself as a moderating influence on a president elected on a nativist, nationalist vote. Officials have let it be known she has taken to reviewing draft executive orders, for example, in order to avoid the furore over initial attempts to ban travellers from certain Muslim countries.

And she is thought to be one of the few people who can deliver bad news or criticism to a famously thin-skinned president.

In addition, Mr Kushner’s support was thought to be crucial in persuading Mr Trump to launch punitive missile strikes on Syria after its use of chemical weapons at a time when Steve Bannon, the other major power centre, was arguing such a move would not advance the America First agenda.

That axis has provided most of the clashes inside the White House so far. Mr Bannon and his allies have referred dismissively to a “New York” internationalist and liberal tendency.

At one stage things got so bad – with Mr Bannon calling his rival a “cuck” (a favoured alt-Right term of abuse) and a “globalist” behind his back – that the President had to intervene and demand a truce.
That leaves a festering struggle at the heart of the White House between two sets of outsiders who would never have been appointed by any other administration.

Mr Bannon’s friendship with Mr Trump goes back further than the campaign. But he cannot compete with blood relatives or Trump Organisation stalwarts.

Take Dan Scavino, who runs White House social media, but got his start caddying as a teenager for Mr Trump and became one of his golf club managers. Or Jason Greenblatt who works as Middle East envoy despite his main qualification being that as company attorney his office was two doors away from Mr Trump’s (and one of those doors was a supply cupboard).

The one thing to understand about this White House is that Mr Trump’s family and company loyalists hold the advantage in an administration run by a thin-skinned president whose lack of political experience means he is reliant on personal allegiance alone to get things done.

As one insider put it to me: “Analysts keep talking about clashes between conservatives and liberals, or putting people on a nationalist-internationalist divide, moderates and revolutionaries and that sort of thing.
“That’s all wrong.

“The only thing that matters – the only thing – is how long have these people been part of the team?”

Inside Trump's White House Part III: The Republicans struggling for influence and the party line

Sean Spicer’s wild ride through the first six months of this White House tells you all you need to know about the place of the Republican establishment in this administration. From day one as press secretary he found himself cast as kicking dog for both president and press, forced to defend indefensible claims about the inauguration crowd size.

He became both a TV show punchline – lampooned by a merciless Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live – and a Washington celebrity, sought out by tourists for selfies. The journalists who had once hung out with him when he was a useful source of gossipy titbits in previous Republican posts on Capitol Hill came to pity him, wondering how many times he could get up after being put down.

The final straw came on Friday. When Mr Trump appointed a New York financier with no communications experience as communications director Mr Spicer finally said enough was enough and quit.

The appointment of Anthony Scaramucci, a long-time Democratic donor, demonstrated Mr Trump’s attitude to the wing of his staff with a traditional Republican background: It is utterly dispensable.

Mr Spicer, who had served as spokesman for the US trade representative under George W Bush, was one of them. Another is Reince Priebus, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee before becoming White House chief of staff. Few other party figures made the jump. There was too much mutual suspicion to overcome.

Mr Priebus’s calculation was different He feared the party would take the blame if Mr Trump lost heavily in the election and threw his weight behind the brash New Yorker once he had clinched the party nomination with 14.5 million primary votes, more than any previous nominee.

After the election, his reward was a plum job at the heart of the White House (bringing with him Mr Spicer, his strategist) and his role has largely been to act as conduit to Republican leaders in Congress, the men and women who must try to deliver the President’s legislative agenda.

The still leaves the party apparatchiks with a problem inside the White House: they are outsiders to the small crew which launched Donald Trump’s campaign.

That, according to one veteran Republican operative, is the best way to understand the under currents of this White House: Not by considering conservatives and moderates, or establishment versus anti-establishment but by measuring time served.

It’s the Band of Brothers syndrome. Observers compare the late arrivals with the new faces arriving to serve in 101st Airborne's Easy Company, well after it had forged a camaraderie through training for and then fighting in months of warfare. The replacements were never going to fit in easily.
“It’s great that you are with us now but you didn’t fight your way off the Normandy beaches,” is how he put it.

The result is that Mr Priebus has taken more than his fair share of blame for White House blunders. The president reportedly took to asking Oval Office visitors for their opinion on his chief of staff’s performance as the Republican healthcare bill struggled to make it through the House of Representatives.

It is a case of last in, first out – as Mr Spicer has discovered.

To survive this far they have had to build alliances with Steve Bannon’s anti-establishment faction to fend off the rising influence of Jared Kushner and the family wing. But that’s a micro thing, backing each other on a case by case basis, rather than a macro move, according to an administration source.
That offers a survival strategy inside the White House. But outside they are still viewed with hostility by Mr Trump’s hard core who are intent on draining the swamp.

The Republican stalwarts are blamed for diverting Mr Trump from his populist agenda and replacing it with a conventionally conservative plan, cutting taxes for the rich and focussing too much time and attention on Obamacare.

In particular they reserve maximum ire for another of the Republican apparatchiks – John DeStefano, who serves as director of presidential personnel.

His position gives him extraordinary power across the administration, identifying picks for senior positions that need Senate confirmation as well as the more than 3,000 lower level posts that don’t.
His background, in traditional party politics before becoming political director for former House speaker John Boehner (an establishment figure ultimately toppled by the forces that gave rise to Donald Trump), means he is suspected of using the recruiting office to stymie their hopes for upending federal government.

The economic nationalists see every vacancy – of which there are still thousands – or incumbent left in place as a victory for inertia and an entrenched elite.

Government on autopilot, is the frequent cry from American Firsters who want their revolution now.
That leaves Mr Priebus and what is left of his Republican cadre in a precarious position. Their motives are scrutinised and their loyalty questioned.

And so long as Mr Trump’s strategy is to rile up his narrow base against a “fake news” media and biased establishment, the party apparatchiks inside his administration will find themselves in the firing line.

Inside Trump's White House Part IV: The Wall Street millionaires fighting the globalist corner

There aren’t many people in this White House who would have served under any other president. Misfits, outsiders and political neophytes make up the bulk of appointments.

One of the outstanding exceptions is Gary Cohn. His 25 years at Goldman Sachs, history of political donations, and personal connections mark him as a typical appointee. But in this topsy turvy administration, those three qualities also count as handicaps.

Those donations were to Democrats, those connections were to liberal causes (his wife served on the board of Planned Parenthood) and his career has been spent at the bank depicted as the centre of a global political conspiracy by his new boss.

Throughout the campaign, Donald Trump echoed the imagery of a Rolling Stone writer who once described Goldman Sachs as a “vampire squid”. The candidate’s populist rhetoric blamed bankers in general for the great recession and that one bank in particular for its hold on American politicians, such as Ted Cruz and his Democratic opponent.

“I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over [Cruz]," he said. "Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton."

Things became so bad that the bank banned its employees from making donations to the campaign.
So it was something of a surprise to see the bank’s chief operating officer arriving at Trump Tower in November – scheduled between boxer Floyd Mayweather and rapper Kanye West – and heading up the golden elevator to a meeting with Mr Trump.

After an hour explaining such basics as why a strong dollar was not necessarily good for the American economy, he was offered a job as director of the National Economics Council, the central White House policy forum.

As such, he has been at the heart of almost every big political decision.

For now, the Wall Streeters are on the rise

During the run-up to the G20 his was the loudest voice arguing against the protectionist populists who wanted tariffs on steel imports of as much as 25 per cent. The consequences, he warned, would be a trade war with China.

He was opposed to withdrawal from the Paris accords, disputing publicly Mr Trump’s claim that it would help keep the US coal industry alive.

And he was among the group of internationalist and pragmatic figures who successfully urged the president to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement rather than torpedo it (with an executive order drafted by Steve Bannon and his economic nationalist allies).

As such, Mr Cohn and a handful of others carry the hopes of optimists who still believe Mr Trump might be nudged to more centrist positions.

They are the grown-ups, the people who know how the world works and have the expertise to resist the isolationists in the White House.

Among them are Steve Mnuchin, another Goldman Sachs alumnus who founded several hedge funds before being appointed Treasury Secretary. At $300 million, he has the sort of eye-catching wealth that impresses Mr Trump. Anthony Scaramucci, a luxuriantly coiffed Democratic donor and financier, arrived on Friday as the new director of communications. And there is Dina Powell, one of the most senior women in the White House. She headed Goldman Sachs’ charitable foundation before being approached by Ivanka Trump to become an adviser to the president on entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment.

Since then she has been profiled repeatedly as a rising star, promoted quickly to become Deputy National Security Adviser and was the only woman present with Mr Trump and his core team at Mar-a-Lago on the night he launched missile strikes on Syria.

Her Republican bona fides – she served in George W Bush’s White House – and friendship with Ivanka, mean she bridges some of the divides within the White House, insulating her from the barbs of the Bannonites who see the New York contingent as Democrats, globalists and late arrivals to the Trump project.

Even so, they could yet prove crucial to Mr Trump’s success. In particular this is the wing most anxious to press ahead with tax reform and deliver a much needed legislative win.

They have numbers on their side. Mr Cohn’s NEC has about 30 staff, giving it the sort of weight other factions lack. And there is the New York alliance with the Kushners to fall back on.
Mr Cohn himself is spoken of as a possible future chief of staff, should the president finally decide to put Reince Priebus out of his misery.

For now, the Wall Streeters are on the rise. The recent arrival of The Mooch – as Mr Scaramucci is known – suggests that when Mr Trump is in trouble he returns to his roots, bringing in talent from New York City whatever their past political leanings might be.

Inside Trump's White House Part V: The retired generals holding the isolationists at bay – for now

Moments after being sworn in as America’s 26th defence secretary, Jim Mattis stood behind the president’s left shoulder, his face fixed so as to betray no emotion. Donald Trump sat before a giant mock-up of the Medal of Honour in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes signing an executive order banning the arrival of travellers from seven mostly Muslim nations.

As a retired Marine general, Mr Mattis knew the costs. He had fought in Iraq alongside local troops and translators who would no longer be allowed into the country they had served.

It was day one in the job, but the bargain he had just made with the Trump administration was clear.
So when the Pentagon issued a statement later in the day it made no mention of the ban.

The pen used to sign the ban was given to Mike Pence, the vice president, who had nodded along enthusiastically to Mr Trump’s sales pitch. Poker-faced Mr Mattis accepted a second pen used to sign a second executive order committing the government to building up military forces.

The episode illustrates two aspects of this administration: Mr Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of the military, its alpha males and its symbolism; and their reluctance to endorse the president’s more extreme pronouncements.

The generals (former and current) in this administration – including HR McMaster, National Security Adviser, and John Kelly, another retired Marine general who runs the Department of Homeland Security – bring prestige, credibility and know-how. They provide ballast to a White House filled with officials whose main qualification is friendship or kinship with Mr Trump.

But, like the Wall Street faction in this White House, their can-do success story is accompanied by lessons learned the hard way, making them a check on the president’s wilder impulses.

So although introducing his defence secretary by the nickname of “Mad Dog” may give Mr Trump a TV thrill, it misses the fact that few of Mr Mattis’s friends use it.They know him as a sober scholar-soldier, whose world view is shaped by three wars and the lives lost in them.

He made that clear in his confirmation hearings, laying down a clear red line in his relationship with the commander in chief.

“History is clear,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Nations with strong allies thrive, and those without them wither.”

That sets the generals at odds with the isolationist, anti-interventionist America First sentiments of Steve Bannon, which did so much to propel Mr Trump’s election. – despite what Mr Trump may have said about Nato, for example.Instead the generals find themselves working to reassure allies that America is not trying to break down the post-war international order

They are harder on Russia, softer on China and more inclined to commit American troops around the world than their boss. In short, their outlook brings a more conventional foreign policy than might have otherwise been expected.

And they have already scored wins. Mr Trump has denounced Russia’s support of Syria and reaffirmed America’s commitment to Nato, last month confirming his backing for the alliance’s mutual defence pact (despite the opposition of the Bannonites).

The generals’ role in national security and foreign policy have had conflicting impacts on another senior figure. Their portfolios overlap with that of Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State who finds himself in danger of becoming the forgotten man in this administration.

At times he has worked with Mr Mattis on trying to heal divisions in the Middle East, reining in Mr Trump’s angry rhetoric on Qatar (blamed by the president for supporting terrorists) in an effort to end the Saudi-Emirati blockade of Doha.

The generals, it seems, can get away with diverging from their president, protected by the epaulettes that Mr Trump finds so appealing. When Mr Tillerson, on the other hand, has tried to row back the more extreme White House positions he has been contradicted in public for his trouble.

Already there talk of a Rexit, with growing whispers in Washington that a disgruntled secretary of state could jump before he face further humiliation.

Exactly how the foreign policy dynamic plays out will become clearer this summer, as the White House finalises its Afghanistan strategy.

Gen McMaster is pushing for a mini-surge of several thousand troops with a long-term commitment to increase pressure to force the Taliban to negotiate – a sort of status quo plus. Mr Mattis and Mr Tillerson have quietly cautioned against the plan, telling their colleague that the proposal won’t fly with a president who wants a more outside-the-box solution. To Mr Bannon's American Firsters sending more soldiers sounds like a step down the slippery slope to nation building, the trap that ensnared previous presidents.

The outcome, when it finally arrives, will provide a Litmus test of whether the generals have been able to keep the isolationists at bay. Fail and they will be compared with Colin Powell, a respected and popular general who as George W Bush’s secretary of state was ultimately squeezed out of the big policy decisions.

Inside Trump's White House Part VI: The watch-it-all-burn, America First Bannonites

Steve Bannon has been many things: an officer in the US Navy, investment banker, director of the research project Biosphere 2, Hollywood mogul, media executive and part of a company mining and selling virtual gold in online games.

His peripatetic career, jumping from one fad to the next, made him easy to dismiss as he circulated through the world of Republican politics. A “political grifter seeking to profit from the latest trend,” was how the journalist Joshua Green saw him in 2011, dismissing him as just another chancer looking for an empty set of coattails.

Six years later he is chief strategist to the president of the US, and very possibly the second most important person in the White House.

​Mr Green’s new book, Devil’s Bargain, details how Mr Bannon found in Donald Trump the perfect vehicle for his synthesis of blue-collar values, apocalyptic philosophy and sweeping historical analysis. His genius was to harness the candidate’s anger and name recognition in pursuit of a populist programme of economic nationalism.

With it, he brought an understanding of the electorate and the modern political landscape, informed as much by that odd venture into online gaming (“These guys, these rootless white males, had monster power,” he later said about an underground economy that was getting 1.5 billion page views a month) as much as his time as head of Breitbart News.

So when the Trump campaign was accused of running a TV ad riddled with anti-Semitic triggers – complete with nods to a global financial conspiracy and namechecks for Jewish money men and women such as George Soros – it was Mr Bannon who whispered in his boss’s ear to double down. “Darkness is good,” he told his candidate. “Don’t let up.”

His reward in power was to be appointed chief strategist, keeper of the populist flame inside the White House. Around him he has allies who are wedded to his belief that protectionism, restrictive immigration policies and non-interventionism represent the future of the Republican Party.

He has long been close to Jeff Sessions, going back to the years when the Senator from Alabama was kept at arms length by much of the Republican Party for his outlying views on immigration and history of racist comments. At one time he was the figure Mr Bannon wanted to run for president: He would not have won but he would have reset the debate on immigration that seemed to be tilting towards a liberal win.

Instead, as Mr Green’s new account describes, he persuaded Mr Sessions to endorse Mr Trump’s run, ensuring that immigration rose to the top of his candidate’s agenda.

And it brought Stephen Miller, who worked for the senator, into the team.

While Mr Sessions is now attorney general, busily toughening controls on illegal immigrants, Stephen Miller is Mr Trump’s senior policy adviser and author of some of his most notable speeches.
Bannonite blood course through this administration.

Sebastian Gorka, for example, joined the campaign team as a national security expert with an understanding of radical Islamist terrorism. His clash of civilisations analysis chimed with Mr Bannon’s worldview and he worked for a time as an editor at Breitbart News.

But in power, he has been kept away from national security by the generals who dominate the portfolio and are intent on pursuing a more conventional policy. Instead, his throaty British accent is a fixture on cable news networks where he has frequently been Mr Trump’s go-to defender when times are tough.

In May, speculation swirled that he was on his way out, dogged by allegations that he was a member of a far-Right order in his father’s native Hungary. That he survived was in part down to the patronage of Mr Bannon plus the golden rule of this White House: It does not matter whom you anger – the media, the opposition, the Republican hierarchy – just so long as you display sufficient loyalty to the President himself.

Mr Bannon too has learned how to ride the ups and downs. At one time his celebrity threatened to overtake that of his boss (remember that Time magazine cover headlined “The Great Manipulator") and rumours of his impending downfall swirled.

But by last month, he was back taking a prominent position in the White House rose garden soiree, where a jazz band played as Mr Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreements – a big win for the Bannonites.

So although his clashes with Jared Kushner and the family wing overshadowed the early weeks of the presidency, he has since managed to find common cause with the fragile Republican establishment faction to consolidate his position.

With a shake-up of the administration expected over the summer, he has learned the great lesson of political gurus and practitioners of the dark arts. The best place to be is not in the headlines, but operating quietly in the shadows, managing and manipulating rival factions.

“I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors,” is how he put it in an interview last year.