John Oliver takes apart Ivanka and Jared (20 min. video):

A picturebook on Jared Kushner’s trip to Iraq in April 2017:

“Impeachara,” a very funny take on Trumpian bad news:


What Might Have Been

The March issue of Harper’s carries a little story about Donald Trump’s grandfather that everyone can appreciate.  Friedrich Trump and his family emigrated to the US in 1885 at age 16, became a citizen at 23, and married at 33.  But Friedrich decided for various reasons to take his family back to Germany.  But the authorities in his home district ordered him deported back to the US for, among other reasons, failing to complete mandatory military service (!).  Harper’s carries Friedrich’s appeal in 1905 to the prince regent of Bavaria for restoration of hi citizenship—a letter full of extraordinary praise for the “adored, noble, wise, and just” lord.  But the prince said no! Damn that prince! And damn Friedrich for not teaching his future grandson the virtues of serving his country.


Finding Trump’s Breed

by George Guess

Daily we learn more about Trump’s personal and leadership depravities from: psychiatrists, political scientists, economists, finance experts, English professors, and sociologists. Long before the November election, experts prophesied from his daily tweeting and public statements that he would be a narcissistic, mis-educated bully. And he is. Note how to keep limber, he hurls random insults at leaders of lesser countries and former allies like Australia. As celebrity-in-chief, his daily routine is to snarl at reasonable people everywhere, firing up the resentful nativists who support him to try and preserve his vast self-image. Ho-hum–no surprises here. Trump derides experts in all fields, from climate science to statistics because he and his close aides know the right answers. But here the experts missed his real problem: he has no dog. Why not? My hunch is that he is very, very doubtful of their loyalty and suspicious of their unpredictability. Even extreme vetting might not reveal the point at which loyalty would end and violent retaliation could begin. Disruption yes but personal risk no. Dogs size people up fast. Much as dogs turn on cruel masters or trainers, he could not rest easy around a dog. As is known, they can see in the dark and what they can’t see they can smell. Most of us know that the prototypical dog is a portfolio of contradictory behaviors. Something triggers them, and humans who try to predict their reactions, do a lot of head-scratching. Dogs can’t help their unpredictability. They come from the factory with some combination of wily, clownish, loyal, sensitive, obedient, alert, switched-on, rebellious, aggressive, reflective, and mischievous behaviors. Trump needs something or someone to serve only the specialized functions of: loyalty, obedience, protectiveness and flattery. This is possible but dogs don’t gaze into mirrors and they don’t flatter.

For those of us used to watching past presidents cavort with their dogs, this is an additional piece of the general disruption he promised. It’s no alt fact that all U.S. presidents for the last 150 years have had dogs. Richard Nixon defended receipt of his cocker spaniel Checkers as a campaign gift even though it could have cost him a place on the GOP ticket in 1952 with Ike. He said his kids loved dogs and defiantly he would keep it! The dog was as important as his career! Elected and quasi-elected autocrats have also needed dogs and often projected qualities on them that they wish they had themselves. Despite their routine brutality to the masses, it showed that they were at least partly human. Hitler had at least two dogs, Blondi a German Shephard, and Fuchsl a Jack Russel he found during WWI. He loved and kept Blondi even though his mistress Eva often kicked him when the Fuhrer wasn’t around. The macabre mix of National Socialist genetics, animal husbandry and distorted Darwinism may have originated with Hitler’s secret wish to breed a master race of loyal Blondis. After all, in Bulgakov’s political satire, The Heart of a Dog, that was the Soviet plan. During Stalin’s reign, Sharik the dog was taken from a homeless man by a medical professor who experimented with him by giving him variety of new organs. The plan was to make him into a prototypical New Soviet Man with a new name, Sharikov. Though tyrants have long dreamt about creating new races and breeds, what he produced was actually a deceitful lout.

In real life, Stalin had a Russian Black Terrier. Despite the master’s ruthless practices purging of the disloyal, being a quick learner, the Terrier remained calm and attached itself to him, albeit perhaps partly out of fear, like Stalin’s infamous barber. It might not have mattered. As is well-known, dogs remain fiercely loyal to their masters—tragically even to those who mistreat them. A man used to walk his terrier near where I live and on my dog walks I often overheard the conversation between them. It was one-way of course but I was intrigued by their relationship. Snippets included: “I came downstairs today and where were you? On the couch as usual…You stupid, worthless piece of shit, haven’t I’ve told you repeatedly to stay off the couch?” The dog trotted alongside him looking at the ground with a bleak, worried expression. I could almost see large drops of sweat flying off its head. “It’s going to be another bad day,” he must have been thinking. That was several years ago. I no longer see either of them…

Note that even autocratic leaders have respected and needed their dogs. Some needed the emotional support and intimate trust. Others need them reinforce their self-images in public. Outdoor man Vladimir Putin has a black lab country dog named Koni. Their tough, pure, vigorous and friendly images together reinforce these themes in the public mind. Benito Mussolini owned two dogs: Charlie and Pitini. It was unclear how he treated the dogs but not how badly he treated most Italians. In 1945, Mussolini and his mistress Clara were beaten to death by some of his victims and other partisans who hung them upside down in Milan to be used as target-practice for stone-throwing. Savage dictators often operate on the hopeful assumption that the people will not retaliate and treat them like animals. Their cynical theory is that since people have deep affection for animals and their rights, they can expect to be treated at least as well as dogs. But this theory has limits. What the people often do to the savage dictators is beyond any concept of canine killing. The flaw is that in many cultures, compared to the savage dictators, even rabid dogs seem like saints or angels. So the people don’t kill savage dictators like dogs, but they kill savage dictators savagely as they did Mussolini, or “Mad Dog” Gaddafi (who had no dog but many of his educated Libyan subjects did) or Nicolai Ceausescu who along with his wife who was executed in 1989. These people were considered to be far beneath any dogs—more like vermin. But the dogs still remained dutifully loyal. After their deaths, Ceausescu’s loyal dog “Comrade” Corbu (a British Labrador) refused to eat anymore and died of apparent heartbreak. Ceausescu loved Corbu, slept with him, and even gave him a luxury suite during the day. He was made a Coronel in the Romanian Army, received biscuits from Sainsbury’s in London by diplomatic pouch, and often travelled around Bucharest with his own motorcade. The dog loved its master and adjusted to his whims. Nicolai loved his dog but had this little problem loving his people.

Dogs are survivalists and will do almost anything to gain a home and attach themselves to a family. They instinctively know what the penalty for anti-social behavior could be. But could a dog really adjust to Trump. Why not? Historically, they have performed their duties for tyrants even to the end. More commonly, dogs commonly perform vital functions and serve noble causes for people they respect and trust: blind people, soldiers fearing hidden bombs, patients with depression, airline passengers, families sleeping amidst fires, people falling into raging rivers, and those facing home intruders. Sacrifice and duty are instinctive to dogs in such instances and they react instantly. Mr. Bones knew that his homeless master and companion Willy didn’t have long to live and that soon he would be alone on the mean streets of Baltimore. As described by Paul Auster in Timbuktu, Willy was ailing and Mr. Bones was hungry as usual. But he remained loyal and trusted Willy until the end. Dogs have a long history of sacrificing themselves to save their families. Studies of pets in WWII London found that during bombing, cats were the first ones out while dogs stayed put with their masters and families. Conversely, people have always risked danger to save their loyal dogs, sometimes dying in the process. Konrad Lorenz told us in Man and Dog that “The fidelity of a dog is a precious gift demanding no less binding moral responsibilities than the friendship of a human being.” He also said, “The bond with a dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth can ever be.” This is where Trump’s dog problem arises. His lasting ties are with money, power and personal ego, not dogs or people. Any dog would sense that this is someone who would sacrifice nothing for them unless his ratings grew.

Any dog could sense that Trump for all his bluster is quite insecure. Humor, especially the self-deprecating kind, requires the confidence to give and take—to share a laugh at your own expense. He has no sense of humor other than a crude, wise-guy cynicism at someone else’s expense—such as the nearest dog. Conversely, as a read-by-ear egotist, Trump would sense any canine reserve. Disobedience to his basic commands would constitute betrayal. The dog would pick up on the trust-loyalty problem and worry that he was about to be jettisoned from the home at any time. Little routinized events like walks, feeding and filling the water bowl tell dogs whether they are valued. Does the master perform these tasks? Does he or she like doing it or is it obviously a bore and waste of their precious personal time? Dogs can tell. The fact is, most people trust their dogs and need them for their support and comic diversions. For example, many owners still enjoy being made fun of by their dogs. Trump doesn’t get comedy. He can’t laugh it off. Dogs are mischievous, with wry humor baked into their characters. My 9-year old lab often wrinkles his snout into a smile and impulsively runs away from me when I call him. It’s a game. Even treats can’t cure his whimsical responses. A sharp swat on the nose for this nonsense sends him into ecstasy; gyrating around and dancing for joy. He basks in the extra attention. But the clownish performances make my day and I feel relaxed for hours. The fact is, the dog and I enjoy each other’s foibles. But Trump has no foibles and is infallible. Just ask him! As “The Right Man” such canine cavorting would be a personal slight. Retaliation to get even could mean a Trump Twitter Tirade against his dog. Eventually, he could become violent and beat his dog.

Science-fiction writer A.E. van Vogt once described the “Right Man” as a person who “under no circumstances can accept that he is wrong. His need for self-esteem is so great and his grasp of it so tenuous that the slightest contradiction sends him into a rage. His belief in the absolute correctness of all of his actions is so unshakable—like the pope, he enjoys infallibility—that he treats any question of it as a personal betrayal.” Van Vogt also called the “Right Man” the “Violent Man”. Any Trump dog would have to adjust to this uncertainty.

Beyond the behavioral necessity of humor are the qualities of empathy and contrition. The leader needs to know how to balance of discipline and empathy for every issue. He or she also has to know when to be contrite about mistakes, whether they involve humans or dogs.  A major tragedy for most people is the loss of their dog from death or disappearance from the home. Adults still remember losses of their childhood dogs and how they often accompanied their families to have their old favorites put down. Try to imagine Trump showing empathy or emotional upheaval for his own dying dog. I can’t. A few years ago, we carried our son’s dog to a nearby vet’s clinic on a blanket. She was dying of cancer. Nothing could be done for the 10-year old lab and my decision based on their advice was to end her suffering. I hugged her tightly there on the floor. It was the last few minutes of our last time together. Finally, I went to the door and looked back at her. I had to. She looked at me expectantly as if it were time for the morning walk. I stupidly held her gaze at a loss of what to do. Slowly, she understood. Her gaze became less focused, and she turned away resting her head on her front paw. I left and cried for hours at this last flicker of loyalty, love and expectation and at my guilt for being able to do nothing to prolong them. I was humbled by my weakness and knew it was my fault. Trump may have hidden qualities but empathy for others and contrition for his mistakes are not among them.

Trump and his aides might term my canine concerns rediculous (sic). One can only infer why he has no dog of course. Maybe it is just the hair (theirs not his) and the dirt. My argument is that at a deeper level his reluctance reveals his shady and superficial character. But being an optimist, I know there must be a dog breed that can develop mutual rapport with Trump. Trump acts tough. But tough guys have pets too because there are breeds consistent with the most macho self-image. What type would fit the bill? A Pit Bull would be an obvious choice. Potentially vicious but tame for the right master, an ill-timed kick during a tantrum might just do it for the celebrity in chief. As they go for the throat and lock on with their fangs like steel vice-grips, it wouldn’t be pretty. Breeds matter. A small white Poodle might work for Melania but could destroy Trump’s image among his base of working class whites. That breed would be a symbol of precisely the phony, weak dithering country club elites that often claim solidarity with the downtrodden. For the sake of image, they would expect a Pit Bull or German Shephard and nothing less. The Hungarian or Magyar Vizsla would be another obvious candidate. Lean, muscular, this is a robust hunting dog that needs daily exercise and lots of personal attention. While the Vizsla could have the run of his golf courses, they do need personal attention. Trump could appear for photo-ops but delegate real attention to a handler. But, could an outside handler be trusted to care for his dog? Where would the dog’s loyalties lie? Possibilities of leaks and betrayals would create many sleepless nights for the master. A more basic problem with Vizslas is that the breed was a model for Disney’s Pluto. That could send the wrong signal of clumsy amiability to his followers.

There are other possibilities. Stalin had his Bull Terrier and that seemed to work for both of them. Mussolini had a Wolfhound. Things worked out for the dog but, as noted, not for Benito and Clara. Both Ceausescu and Putin had labs, British and Black respectively. Ceausescu loved and respected his dog and, as noted, had it promoted to Coronel in the Romanian Army. Putin is actually an outdoor man who hunts and wrestles, regularly engaging in activities that Labradors love. But other than occasional golf that involves mostly sitting in an electric cart, Trump is hardly an outdoor man. Again, he would need a handler with attendant problems of trust again.

No, Trump would need a low maintenance breed befitting a so-called celebrity. My vote would be for an English Bull Terrier. This is the breed used for the Bud Lite ads that increased their sales 20% in 1987-88 with its mascot known as Spuds MacKenzie. With policy chaos growing daily, the only danger here is that the dog could become more trusted and popular than Trump. Rumor has it that he will take on a Golden Doodle puppy. The advantage would be a dog that doesn’t shed but still has the qualities of a Labrador. If he risks all on this breed, the battle between them for control of social media and airwave attention should be one of the world’s great dramas. Pity the dog.


George Guess is Adjunct Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and author of the best-seller The Dogs of Bucharest (London: Athena Press, 2005).


1 Comment

  1. Mel,

    Jane Propane, the psychiatrist you pointed to, in a way illustrates how Trump is a symptom of a larger irrational malaise these days. Dr. Propane asserts authority as a qualified expert on asocial and otherwise insane behavior, then goes on to attack Trump from only that basis, without clear explanations for each point she makes about her assertions. Arguing from authority is a classical fallacy, is it not? More pertinently, such skewed thinking underlies our tragically flawed social propensity and is key to why Trump sneaked into real power and is now a finger’s push away from blowing civilization to smithereens.

    However, her point is taken. Nero was no nuttier than Hitler, but this guy Trump may top them both! The evidence fits. The President of the United States may be insane, and is clearly a menace on a catastrophic scale.

    Per The Guardian, quoting Rick Tyler, a political analyst: “The executive order… ‘created havoc and turmoil. The communications team are incoherent, inconsistent and contradictory to what the president says. And why not? The President himself is just so.

    We may expect the next four years–or whatever, since impeachment is each day ever more likely–to be more of the same craziness. If there is any good in this, it is that the people of this country may finally realize we rose to shine for awhile largely in part because of our stupendously good fortune in side-stepping inept leadership. Our luck is quite obviously running out.

    -Joe, Chengdu

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