Our embattled but still legal occupant of the White House is notoriously bad at math. Donald Trump couldn't guestimate the crowd size of an inaugural parade for all the tea in China. As a beleaguered president, he is also having problems even counting the extent of the growing opposition to his tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Over-confident men in power often can't count. At the end of the 19th century, it appeared that Army Gen. George Armstrong Custer made the same mistake during a confrontation between Sioux Indians in Montana and desperate white men. At a certain point, however, it becomes strategically useful to get an accurate count of the forces gathering around you.
One tactic that has worked for Trump in the past has been spending money from his mountains of financial wealth to target or silence his enemies. In the midst of the battle of the Little Big Horn, General Custer didn't have that option. Custer simply ran out of bullets. Trump asserted he would "never settle" a lawsuit, for example, only to then agree to pay students at his so-called real estate college, Trump University, a $25 million settlement -- albeit without no admission of fraudulent practices.
More famously, Trump's stash of cash has proven useful to buy the silence of women who have had personal encounters with him. This has been true, up to a point, with both the adult film actress Stormy Daniels and with former Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal. But even in those two cases, payments of up to $130,000 to try to buy silence had unintended consequences. This is especially true after the president’s personal lawyer of 10 years, Michael Cohen, who pled guilty to a felony regarding campaign finance violations "at the direction" of the president in order to influence the outcome of the election.
Denying knowledge of, and then admitting knowledge of, such hush money payments raises the question of obstruction of justice at the highest level.
Having a stash of cash at the ready also comes in handy when, for the first time in U.S. history, the president refuses to disclose personal and business tax records. The implication is that people in power don't have to disclose such records, even when other presidents have done so in the past. Having such cash resources, without an accounting of tax payments, allows for greater flexibility for improper use of such resources once a candidate takes office.
What we do know is Trump can't count! In terms of the Mueller probe, the 16 felonies committed or pleaded already, including Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen -- don't appear to be 'adding up' in Trump's mind. Whether the Stormy Daniels situation gets 'added' to this math, or rises to the level of 'high crimes and misdemeanors' -- has yet to be decided.
There is an old German film, directed by the great Werner Herzog, about a conquistador under Juan Pizzaro in South America in the 1500s, called “Aquirre, the Wrath of God.” Klause Kinski portrays this character, a megalomaniac searching for El Dorado, "the lost city of gold" in the Amazon rainforest.
Unfortunately for the two Spanish women and a troop of 20 men under his command, this protagonist does not fare well. At the end of this epic film, Kinski's crazed character finds himself alone and adrift on a raft in the middle of the Amazon River. The women, together with his men, have been killed by the natives, or fallen ill in the Amazon rainforest. In the end, Aquirre goes round in circles alone, with only a crew of 30 monkeys to keep him company on his makeshift raft.
The lesson of the film seems to be: The Indians are coming, and they are coming for you! It helps to know your math, whether you are a general at the Little Big Horn, a fictional conquistador, or the president in a turbulent White House. General Custer suffered from this malady, and it did not end well.
Lew Church is coordinator of the Portland Gray Panthers and is founding publisher and editor of two Portland State University papers, the PSU Rearguard and PSU Agitator.