John Colson: Our very own ‘man behind the curtain’

John Colson
Hit & Run

And the shell game goes on.

I’m referring, of course, to the tendency of the current, hapless and hopeless occupant of the White House to treat every obstacle to his reign — whether major or minor — as an opportunity to obfuscate and distract public attention from the obstacle at hand by offering some kind of new target for the public to worry about.

This tendency is something I call the “man behind the curtain” dodge — as in the famous line from the old “Wizard of Oz” movie, in which the flim-flam man posing as the Wizard shouts to Dorothy and her friends, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” while putting up a literal smokescreen and noise in an attempt to keep his scam from being discovered.

Just like the fraud of a Wizard, Donald Trump has come to rely on his ability to come up with new crises or claims — however insane, vapid or outright false his pronouncements might be — in order to shift attention from the main issue at hand.

He’s been doing it since he first started his march to the White House back in 2015, at least.

For instance, he might perceive that the public was getting upset about his latest outburst of misguided and ill-informed policy proposals, or some misogynistic or racist dogma he spouted at a campaign rally. To combat any criticism, he would instantly come out with, say, a renewal of his obsession about former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, or Hillary Clinton’s supposed criminal conspiracy involving her use of a private email service while secretary of state under Obama, or the size of the crowd at the Trump inauguration, or any one of a number of other distractions.

The news reporters covering the campaign (and now, the presidency) can be counted on to dutifully record his sudden change in attack strategy. The public would respond, and for a time the aforementioned scandalous outburst might well fade from the front pages and daily television news, and Trump could justifiably congratulate himself for dodging another political bullet.

This technique is vastly aided, in my view, by the increasingly short attention span of the American electorate, who have been unable to keep up with Trump’s fast-and-furious scrambling to get off one hot seat or another.

Trump has employed this set of tactics for months over the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which nearly everyone (outside of the Republican party and far-right “base” who elected Trump) now believes is a real and scary thing.

The recently revealed “memo” from Trump loyalist and party hack Devin Nunes, a congressman from California, is just the latest example of this strategy.

The memo, which was released to the public last week, has been touted by Nunes and other political nuts as proof that that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Justice Department and other supposedly shady participants are engaged in a “deep-state” conspiracy to humiliate and perhaps topple Trump from his perch in the Oval Office.

The main basis for this absurd set of claims is the so-called “Steele Dossier,” penned by former British spy Christopher Steele, who looked into Trump’s links with Russia and alleged that Trump had been completely compromised by Russian intelligence operatives and, as a result, was a potential target for political blackmail.

Trump has maintained that the alleged ties to Russian oligarchs and banks are no big deal, despite reports that they have been funneling money into the Trump organization since his many bankruptcies and shady real estate dealings convinced U.S. banks he was a bad risk for loans and other financial support. His standard reaction is that the Russia probe, like global warming, is nothing but a hoax or part of a broader “witch hunt” to discredit him and his election.

But there are facts here that don’t support Trump’s self-serving narrative.

For one thing, the supposed top-level “conspirators” in the FBI and DOJ are mainly Republican loyalists, some of them appointed by Trump himself, and they are hardly likely to have suddenly switched allegiance to the Democratic Party’s anti-Trump efforts.

For another, the FBI first started looking into links between Russia and one-time Trump adviser Carter Page back in 2013, after learning of Page’s close ties to Russian operatives — long before the Steele Dossier was even conceived, even predating the Trump bid for the White House.

And while Trump and his supporters contend that Steele was on the payroll of the Democratic party, in fact there have been reports that the hiring of Steele has been traced to another rather shady outfit called Fusion GPS, and that Fusion GPS was first hired by an unnamed Republican politician in league with the “never-Trump” wing of the GOP back when the Republican presidential primary battle was in full swing in 2015.

Suffice it to say that there is a sufficient political smoke here, although no actual fire has yet been uncovered, to warrant continued investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller and others.

And, given the extreme fear that Trump and his coterie have long shown regarding the Mueller probe, it seems fair to conclude that they know something that has them very worried.

And they do not want the rest of us to learn what that something is.

Hence, the ongoing shell game by the president and his handlers, in which the standard tactic has become the undermining of Mueller, the FBI (and the entire intelligence apparatus of our government, apparently) with an endless series of criticism and misdirection.

Trump’s goal seems to be that, even if Mueller does uncover a fire that is the source of all this smoke, no one will believe him or his findings.

Remember, if you can, that this is the president, whose basic job is to run the government for the benefit of the citizenry, not delegitimize it and weaken it.

And then ponder, if you will, the idea that of all the things on the wish list of Russian President Vladimir Putin, getting the American people to distrust their own government must be at or near the top of that list.

And our president, in many if not all of his actions on this matter, seems to be doing all that he can to help make Putin’s wish come true.

There’s more to this matter, so stay tuned.

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