# 109 Tweetocracy

On February 15, 2017

Hello Everyone,

At the end of last week, I was in Washington, D.C., for a board meeting.  I must say, I felt like I was visiting a foreign land this time.

On Friday morning, I had breakfast with my friend Valerie Jarrett.  We talked about how it felt to leave the White House and the grave concerns we now share.  In the end, we returned to the advice she gave me the day after the election: “grieve for a moment, but then get back to work from the most important office of all: Citizen.”

Then, President Obama called me yesterday to say hello.  I told him how much we already miss him.

Several of you have asked when I was going to offer some reassuring words.  Despite my optimistic bent, I regret that I don’t see any easy way out of the pickle we have gotten ourselves into.  I only hope that the country is simply going through a period of temporary insanity.  I am hopeful that steadfast vigilance and a pervasive sense of personal responsibility will ultimately help our democracy recover from the assaults it is currently enduring.

Two disturbing, but effective, calls to action are David Frum’s “How to Build an Autocracy” (he was a speech writer for the last President Bush) and Jonathan Rauch’s “Containing Trump.”  Both articles are in the current issue of The Atlantic.  For those who haven’t yet read them, please see attachments 1 and 2.

Frum paints a grim picture of Trump building either an “autocracy” (government by a single person with absolute power) or a “kleptocracy” (government by corrupt rulers who seek power and status primarily to enrich themselves.)

While Frum’s and Rauch’s warnings about autocracy and kleptocracy are convincing, I continue to think that Trump is driven by a basic need even more fundamental than political power (why didn’t he seek it earlier, and why doesn’t he have a coherent ideology?) or financial gain (he will never come close to being the richest person in the world.) I continue to contend that his needs are primarily psychological.  He is fundamentally driven by his narcissism.  He needs to be the center of attention at all times.  He tweets for attention, not to set policy, negotiate or anything else.

Appropriate to our tech-obsessed times, I believe that Trump is building a “tweetocracy.”  Shallow, self-centered, impulsive, and infantile, endlessly demanding that we pay attention to him.  His tweets are the written version of a selfie stick.

The greatest threat to our fragile democracy comes not from Trump the autocrat or kleptocrat, but from Trump the “chaotic clown,” an apt term coined by David Brooks.

Trump seems to be like a baby whale at Sea World, performing for nothing more than applause and fish.  The danger comes not from Shamu’s offspring, but from the parasites who attach themselves to him.  White supremacists named Sessions, Miller, and Bannon.

Regardless of his motives, we need to take heed of Frum’s and Rauch’s alarms because Trump’s parasites are starting to inflict great harm on our democracy, even if it is not their host’s intention.

Here are some snippets from Frum:

Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism…[The imagined horrors are] possible only if many people…agree to permit it…It can all be stopped if citizens and public officials make the right choices…‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’…‘Ambition must be made to counter-act ambition’…If the public cannot be induced to care, [Trump and his people will have their way]…If people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic, the corruption will slowly become more brazen, the intimidation of opponents stronger…[Trump] is so pathetically needy, so shamelessly self-interested, so fitful and distracted [think Twitter]…What happens next is up to you and me.

Rauch takes a decidedly different tack.  He starts his analysis by reminding us that, nearly fifty years ago, Richard Nixon engaged in a vast array of criminal conduct, presumably in the pursuit of power and maintaining his grip on it and driven by his paranoia (visit the Nixon library website to listen to the tapes):

Authoritarianism lies not in any individual presidential action but in the patterns of action…a civil-society mobilization involves multitudes of groups and people forming a whole greater than the sum of its parts…Nixon’s gift to American democracy was to inadvertently establish the infrastructure that will contain Trump.

As usual, David Brooks has analyzed our predicament better than I can.  That’s because he’s a professional, and I’m not.

In his column yesterday, he offers three resistance models tailored to the three types of threats he thinks that we may be facing: autocracy (referring to Frum’s article, too); stagnation and corruption; or incompetence and anarchy.

He concludes that, if the first three weeks are any guide, the principal threat is “incompetence and anarchy”, concluding that, “In this scenario, the crucial question is how to replace and repair [sound familiar?] The model for the resistance is Gerald Ford, a decent, modest, experienced public servant who believed in the institutions of government, who restored faith in government, who had a plan to bind the nation’s wounds and restored normalcy and competence.”

Let’s all ignore the tweets from the chaotic clown and keep working from the most important office of all: Citizen.

Please, as always, pass it on.  And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com


adobe pdf file   Attachment #1 — The Atlantic — D. Frum 3-2017


adobe pdf file     Attachment #2 — The Atlantic — J. Rauch – March 2017


adobe pdf fileAttachment #3 — NYT — D. Brooks — 2-14-17



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