Sidney Blumenthal (yes, he's back) slams Trump

Good morning.

Critique by "Sid Vicious" not pretty

If things had gone differently, Washington would now be gossiping about the role of Sidney Blumenthal within a Clinton White House.

A congressional inquisition over his much-publicized emails with then-Secretary of State Clinton, his longtime friend, now seems so distant, doesn't it? But it's still fitting the journalist-activist and historian should weigh in on Donald Trump.

A cerebral but tough-minded soul tagged "Sid Vicious" unloads with characteristically acerbic verve in "A Short History of the Trump Family" in The London Review of Books. Well, at 10,000 words, it's not that short an opus by the onetime chief Washington correspondent of The New Yorker and an old New Republic mainstay.

Blumenthal (who I profiled in July), opens his latest effort by declaring that "the most enduring blight" Trump will leave behind will be books straining to make sense of him.

"It will outlast the pundits holding forth on TV, collecting lecture fees and cranking out bestsellers that retail inside dope gleaned, single-sourced and second-hand, from somewhere near the elevators of Trump Tower. It will not be stemmed even after the memoirs of Trump’s associates, unreliable narrators in the spirit of their leader, have been removed from the remainder bins in used bookstores."

To begin to understand Trump, he says, consider his rich-boy upbringing in Queens and his craving to become Big Heat in Manhattan. It's why Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" sees relevant due to that line about "little town blues." Trump couldn't ever really make it in Manhattan (he lost 87 percent of the vote there in November), his outsized national reputation aside. He's always been deemed a self-aggrandizing jerk by many, even coming up ethically short by the low standards of New York real estate world.

Blumenthal writes, "His humiliation at his failure ‘to make it there’ is at the heart of his vengeful compulsion to wreak humiliation on those he fears will belittle him. The uncontrollable anger that unleashes a regular flood of insults derives from his profound feeling that he has been, is being and will be diminished."

"In a constant state of alert and hurt, he victimizes others because he burns with the feeling that he is the true victim. Every time his outlandish behavior turns him into the butt of a joke, especially at the hands of sources associated with New York, from Spy’s jibes to Alec Baldwin’s impersonation on "Saturday Night Live," his rage is stoked."

It seems hard to dispute Blumenthal that "winning the presidency was never a deep desire, more a branding scheme that spun out of control, but Trump has tried to turn his victory into a means to compel New Yorkers finally to genuflect. Washington had never held the slightest allure for him — until now when it is leverage over New York."

Blumenthal, who's about to publish the second volume of a three-volume Abe Lincoln biography (the first was very good), finds ample historical, literary and sociological tracts to explain. One is Thorstein Veblen's 1899 classic, partly about robber barons, "Theory of the Leisure Class."

There's one that many have employed, namely P.T. Barnum. It doesn't enthuse Blumenthal. "The hackneyed comparison is demeaning to Barnum." Barnum was witty, a writer, educator and philanthropist.

Another is Herman Melville. He ends with Melville's last full-length book, "The Confidence Man: His Masquerade," which followed Melville's poorly received "Moby Dick" and itself got thumbs down from critics and the market. It was about a con man who boards a Mississippi steamboat and takes one various guises as he exploits passengers.

As the great literary critic Perry Miller put it, "the only character who escapes the confidence man’s swindle, the only one to lack confidence, is the steamboat’s barber, who refuses to wield his scissors without first being paid and has hung a large sign in his shop reading: 'NO TRUST.'"

Blumenthal's point is that, when it comes to Trump, we best follow the barber. It's probably good counsel, even if offered frustratingly as more the outsider than we would have imagined.

Arrest and arraign Conway?

Hmmmm. "Punish Kellyanne Conway. Do it now. She broke the law on live TV." (Slate)

Don't hold your breath. But amid the rhetorical hyperventilating is this New York Times editorial conclusion:

"Whatever happens to Ms. Conway, the deeper concern here is over the administration’s insistence on treating the White House as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization. If Mr. Trump truly cares more about his new job serving the American people than about serving the family empire, he knows what to do: release his tax returns and sell his businesses." (New York Times)

Extra innings, extra bad idea

Major League Baseball is considering experimenting in some minor league games with rules to cut short extra-innings games, such as starting extra innings with a runner on third.

The new cottage industry of baseball metrics suggests why this is stupid. As The Ringer notes, "Most extra-inning games end relatively quickly anyway, even without the intervention of an automatic runner in scoring position. Last season, two-thirds of games that went to extra innings ended in either the 10th or 11th inning, and only 63 games total lasted until the 12th; the year before, there were just 63, too. That rate extends back further — over the past decade, teams have averaged just about four 12-plus-inning games each year." (The Ringer)

MLB thinks that 15-inning games are really a mess. But "those are even rarer, with just 82 total coming since 2007. That works out to five or six per team over a full decade, and at that rate, each of those games becomes even more memorable, even more of a classic, than the average nine-inning contest."

Baseball's problems, especially with a younger generation, doesn't really involve extra innings. It's the somnolent pace of nine innings, too many tactical moves by managers, too many commercials between innings and the fact that about 30 percent of outs do not involve a ball even hit into the field of play i.e. lots of strikeouts.

CNN goes high, it goes low

The network reports with wire service subtlety, "Trapped beneath his 3-ton excavator in a watery pit, Daniel Miller survived by a nose." (CNN)

"The Australian man spent hours contorting his body to keep his head barely above the muddy water before rescue teams arrived to free him. It happened Tuesday when Miller, 45, was riding his excavator around his property 180 miles north of Sydney. He was riding beside a dam when it gave way, tumbling the excavator into a muddy pond and pinning Miller beneath one of the bars attached to the machine."

Well, give them a pass. They did put on a good health care debate between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz the other night.

Headline of day (if X-rated)

Here's a topic that The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have seemingly missed in reporting and critiquing the upcoming IPO of Snap: "Miranda Kerr and Evan Spiegel aren't f*cking until marriage because post-virginal chastity is all the rage." (Jezebel)

The point?

"Kerr and Spiegel are the latest high-profile heterosexual couple to be involved in an openly sexless relationship wherein the woman is the mother of a child from a previous partner (aka a confirmed sex-haver), and the man is described by the woman as 'traditional.'”

The Daily Show with Sean Spicer

Said a regular attendee after the latest yesterday, "If the lying — call it mendacity — continues, real and concerned journalists will simply stop attending, what does that say about our future?"

If snowed-in

Making video virtue out of atmospheric necessity, here are family friendly videos to download if you're among those snowed in throughout the Northeast. (The New York Times)

Looking for conspiracies, like most of the West Wing these days? It urges "The Code." Want "funny workplace TV comedy," like those in the James S. Brady Briefing Room starring Sean Spicer? It goes with "Party Down." There is much more.

Long before "alternative facts"

I'd wondered what if the new notion spread throughout sports coverage and people just refused to agree that, say, Duke beat North Carolina last night. A reader reminds me of the great Harvard Crimson headline after a classic 1968 Harvard-Yale game.

"Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29." (Crimson)

It may remain the most famous Ivy League game. (Wikipedia)

Pete Souza (cont.)

"Obama White House photographer Pete Souza is curating a cleverly subversive Instagram feed" (Quartz) He's photography version of a government in exile, hammering Trump with contrasting images of his predecessor.

What might that immigration ruling really mean?

Journalists should check University of Chicago Law professor Eric Posner's blog, where he fasts-forwards to the upcoming court hearing on the real substance of the issue. That hearing "will consider evidence regarding President Trump’s 'intention' or 'purpose.'" (Posner)

"The state of Washington will seek emails, documents, and testimony from people in the White House (including Steve Bannon), Rudolph Giuliani, and others...In the end the court will make a determination as to whether Trump deliberately targeted Muslims with no national security justification."

"Suppose the court makes just such a determination. That means that whenever Trump in the future orders a national security action that burdens Muslims in any way, challengers will be able to cite a judicial opinion finding that Trump has acted on anti-Muslim animus."

"The Ninth Circuit has placed Trump on probation." It's why his blog head is "The Presidency Shrinks."

Viacom freebies

"Do you like watching shows from MTV, Comedy Central and other Viacom-owned networks? Then Viacom has a message for you: You’re going to have watch them via a pay TV company." (Recode)

"The message comes from new Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, who is trying to overhaul/save the cable TV conglomerate. It’s meant to assure pay TV providers that they can keep doing business with Viacom — without having to worry about Viacom cutting into their business by offering their newest shows to people who don’t have pay TV subscriptions."

Last night

Surprise! The immigration ruling was more prominent on "ABC's World News Tonight" even as David Muir brought out the handy bag of telepromter reader clichés to inform of "a major system slamming the East Coast — Philadelphia, New York, up through Boston — dumping more than a foot of snow. Hundreds of accidents, tens of thousands without power tonight and thousands of flights canceled coast to coast." Then came Conway.

But wait. CBS' Scott Pelley, too, went with the appeals ruling and "dangerous storms hammer both coasts...Thousands of flights cancelled." Then came Conway.

One more time. NBC's Lester Holt started with the appeals ruling. Then "monster snowstorm blanketing major metropolitan areas, cities paralyzed, highways buried, thousands of flights grounded." Then came Conway.

The iconoclastic "Vice News Tonight" on HBO? Yes, the appeals ruling was first. Then came suggestions that it's a bigger world out there: the Romanian justice chief resigned after mass protests followed his decision to reduce corruption penalties for political officials; Paris building a bullet proof glass wall around the Eiffel Tower; and a fistfight among lawmakers and guards in South Africa's parliament.

Breath of fresh air or tone-deaf in not aping the homogeneity of its famous competitors? It's the big challenge of Vice on a nightly basis.

A very big story in Maine

Yes, there was a lot of snow. But also this: "LL Bean offers employee buyouts, ends contributions to company pension plan" (Bangor Daily News)

It's the state's fifth-largest employer and it's also mulling changes in free shipping on all items.

The morning babble

"Fox and Friends" went right to the Drudge Report headline of the moment: "APPEALS COURT KEEPS DOORS OPEN, RULES AGAINST TRUMP REFUGEES FLOOD IN, ASSAD: SOME ARE TERRORISTS." (Drudge) But, alas, co-host Brian Kilmeade urged Fox's hero to stop tweeting on the immigration fight and get on with other business.

CNN's "New Day" underscored (rather uninspiredly and initially via a cadre of White-guy pundits) issues in and politics of an upcoming hearing on the dispute's underlying merits.

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" had law professor Jonathan Turley, a go-to quote meister who appeared via Skype from what looked like a coat check room with pale orange curtain in a poorly lit club. He didn't find the ruling compelling. Co-host Joe Scarborough urged Trump to simply redraft his poorly crafted order and "clean up the mess" brought on by aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.

Who's less popular, Trump or the press?

"A poll conducted by Emerson College shows voters see the Trump administration as more truthful than media. A majority of registered voters, 53 percent, said the media are untruthful, while 39 percent said they were untruthful." (Breitbart)

"When it came to the Trump administration, 49 percent said they were truthful, while 48 percent said they were untruthful."

Self-absorbed journalists

"Journalist wondering where to mention getting yelled at by U.S. president in article."

Seriously?

Does Columbia Journalism Review really think that's a story? Ah, well, it doesn't. It's The Onion (which mistakenly thinks Mike Allen is still at Politico, rather than at Axios).

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.

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