The impossible world of Donald Trump

Counterfactuals are speculative ‘if … then’ scenarios. Grammatically, they are conditional subjunctive statements. At larger scales or in literary form, they are often described as parallel universes or parallel worlds. They can be elaborate depictions of other possible worlds that fork off from the modification of a single, past event in the course of events. The Man In the High Castle is an elaborate, literary counterfactual, such as what if the Axis Powers had won the Second World War? Or they can be simplified logical exercises: ‘if x had occurred rather than y, then would z have been more or less likely to occur in the way that it did?’ Counterfactuals can make it possible to interrogate a theory of causes from the imaginative deployment of what is uncontroversially understood to be a false antecedent. The the difference between a lie and a counterfactual is that no one is under the impression that the counterfactual is true or is seeking to persuade anyone that it is true. We all know that it is false. There is nothing particularly mysterious about counterfactuals. But, they are not part of the repertoire of formal logic. In formal logic, the truth of a categorical premise is key to subsequent inferences. In counterfactuals, a knowingly untrue statement forms the basis of a claim about what is true, or more likely to be true, or just makes it possible to reset the terms and status of causal associations we make.

What I’m going to call the explosive counterfactual, by contrast, is rigorously treating a false antecedent as if it were true so as to shatter the theory of causal associations that constructs not a possible world but, rather, an impossible world. An impossible world is, to put it bluntly, bullshit, a con. The simple version of an explosive counterfactual is catching people out in a lie by taking that lie and the resultant impossible world it constitutes at face value. Here is an example of the explosive counterfactual: If one were to treat it as true that the-then US National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, lied to the Vice-President Mike Pence about the scope of his discussions and involvement with the Russian Ambassador, then the then-Acting Attorney-General, Sally Yates, was rigorous in informing the White House Counsel that Mike Flynn was compromised and open to blackmail. If Pence knowingly lied, then Flynn would not be open to blackmail. Since the far Right is invested in presenting Pence as unimpeachable, as the fall-back of the white evangelical investments in Trump’s election, then the explosive counterfactual becomes not only possible but powerful. It is the logical equivalent of pulling on a string in woven material or toppling a load-bearing wall. When it was first reported that Yates had met with the White House Counsel to inform them that Flynn was open to blackmail, I doubted that Pence was unaware that Flynn had lied. Why else would he qualify his statement with ‘this is what I have been told by Flynn’? I also doubted that Yates believed Pence was unaware that Flynn had lied to FBI investigators, and Yates (unlike Clapper) would have had access to FBI analysis since the FBI operates under the DOJ; but acting as if Flynn had lied is the only condition under which Flynn is open to blackmail, and the trigger for subsequent events.

The chain of events went something like this: Jan 24: Flynn is interviewed by FBI; Jan 25: Yates receives FBI report; Jan 26: Yates requests a meeting with the White House Counsel; Jan 27: Second Yates meeting with WH Counsel; Yates writes memo saying that the DOJ will not defend the WH travel ban; Trump has dinner with Comey; Jan 30: Yates fired by Trump, publicly only reason given is the memo on the travel ban; Feb 13: Flynn resigns; May 8: Yates and Clapper testifies before public hearing, Clapper and Yates hint/confirm that FBI investigation has information that other agencies had not seen, Trump informs WH that he intends to fire Comey; May 9: Comey fired, reasons given by media spokes collapse when Trump opens his mouth in an interview, et cetera.

I really do like political thrillers. I also like logical puzzles, a lot, particularly non-classical logic. I also happen to hate one- or two-dimensional theories of causation; subtraction, in my view, always amounts to stupefaction or metaphysical dross. Reductionism only gets us so far in understanding the course of events. Much of the above leaves out the proximate stakes, of which I think there are three: Russian finance; the detention-prison industry, and the white evangelical investment in Trump’s presidency. As I mentioned elsewhere, it is likely that Trump LLC was bailed out of its financial wreckage by Russian (and quite possibly some Chinese) financiers; and it is doubtful that this would not also bring an element of racketeering charges on Trump’s head given the circuits of Russian money. Racketeering is, I think, the least of what could be uncovered. US Attorney, Preet Bahrara was fired by Trump at the beginning of May, Trump LLC fell within his NY jurisdiction and he was rumoured to be overseeing an investigation into Trump’s Secretary of Health, Tom Price, over stock trades, if not also Trump LLC. I also it’s likely there’s collusion that follows the line of petrodollars and pipelines, namely, Exxon, not to mention Blackwater and the Prince/Devos clan. Secondly, aside from instructing the DOJ to not defend Trump’s travel ban because it was unlawful, Yates is also responsible for issuing another memo, this one on immigration detention, which resulted in the immediate collapse of the stock price of immigration detention and prison contractors. The stocks of those companies did not recover until the announcement that Trump had won the election, and rose again on the news that Sessions had been appointed as Attorney-General. Thirdly, the evangelical investment is not simply about policy (changes to health care, insurance and criminalisation being at the top of the list), but also connects the fortunes of Pence to Bannon/Conway to Mercer to Cruz and back around to Prince/Devos etc.

So, my prediction is that Trump is unlikely to survive past 2018. The Watergate investigations took some two years to play out before the smoking gun of the tapes. Even so, Trump is expendable; Bannon will survive because his links to Mercer and the evangelical Right run deeper and longer than they do to Trump.

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