THE BLOG
01/19/2017 08:07 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2018

Trump's Shell Game Gets Much Harder Now (And the Best Thing About Trump)

It's been all to obvious for a very long time, long before his "shock" election as President of the United States, that Donald J. Trump was far more than an entertaining carnival sideshow. But it has also been obvious that Trump is a sort of political carnie, a larger than life character always out to get the best of the marks. Perhaps he learned a lot with his failed Atlantic City casino project after all.

There's a now longstanding pattern to this political carnie's approach to policy. It's a kind of perpetual short con -- thus a de facto long con based on the media culture's ADD nature, which Trump understands better than anyone -- called the shell game.

What, precisely, is Donald Trump's policy on anything? You may think you know, based on where you think the metaphorical pea (i.e., the policy never laid out in concrete detail) is. But Trump is constantly moving the shells about. A provocative tweet here, a comment there, an applause line in a speech over here, a subordinate disagreeing or "clarifyinging" over there and there and there.

You know the drill by now.

Dealing with that is like shadowboxing with a will o' the wisp.

Where did things get off track? Well, the tabloidization of the political and media cultures is as good a place as any to start. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young satirized it early on with 'American Dream,' title song of a 1988 concept album that was to have been a hopeful look at the state of America. But the project curdled in the harsh light of reality. It was CSNY's last platinum studio album. Trump is a case-hardened product of the tabloid culture.

In part, this is Trump's particular genius as an ultimate product of our present media era. And in part it's Trump's psychological and intellectual deficiency.

In any event, Trump's game is about to get a lot harder.

His inaugural address is a policy statement. Whether he likes it or not. His forthcoming executive orders -- and not surprisingly it looks to me like he's still figuring out what he's actually going to do -- are policy itself.

As president, Trump must at last put up or, well, he would never shut up, would he? He's constitutionally incapable of that. Which makes one wonder what ever did come of his dad sending teenage Donald off to learn some discipline at military school in the first place.

Having said all that, and having warned of his ascendance, his know-nothingism, his neo-fascist tendencies, since I realized in summer 2015 that the Vietnam War draft dodger had not only gotten away with dissing famous war hero John McCain but was actually flourishing in the aftermath, I do expect a few very interesting and potentially good things with the guy.

He sure ain't wrong about everything. In fact, his not all that surprisingly successful career helps illuminate the realities of our situation. Whereas President Barack Obama, as much as I continue to like him, tended to distract from some harsh realities. His presence has made things seem better than they were.

A year after the curdled satire of CSNY's once hopeful 'American Dream' album, Neil Young in solo mode released the corruscatingly angry rock anthem 'Rockin' In the Free World.' He and Trump feuded ferociously over Trump's seemingly bizarre attempt to use it as his 2016 presidential campaign theme song.

Now we know we're in trouble.

Meanwhile, Trump's transition is staggering into his presidency. Aside from the headliners at Defense, State, and the National Security Council, Trump is amazingly going forward with virtually no subcabinet for his geopolitical team.

Ideological infighting and Trump's own rather uninformed indecision seems to be the cause for an unprecedented situation. It makes Obama's problems in that area, and those will be discussed in "All the President's Generals," about both Trump and Obama, appear relatively minor.

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