Friday, May 26, 2017

Trump: The Inscrutable, Promotional President

With rare exceptions most people have public and private faces, revealing the latter only to their closest confidants or under extreme duress. Countries and political movements operate similarly.

Saudi Arabia, for example, professes to oppose radical Islam but through its funding of madrasas throughout the world it is the number one propagator of extreme Wahhabi Islam that is anti-Semitic, dismissive of any infidels and behind much of the carnage by radical Islamic terrorists.

It is useful and instructive to assess a politician’s, a government’s, a movement’s true intentions by monitoring their words and deeds expressed to and understood by their primary audiences. Take the PLO, for example. Even as some of its leaders say they accept Israel’s existence, it continues to teach children hatred of Jews while lauding terrorists who kill Israelis, even rewarding their families with payments if they die in their efforts. 

It’s a two-sided street. Over the years Bibi Netanyahu has expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but almost everything his government has done in the West Bank territories has undermined the prospect of that ideal becoming a reality.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. Casting himself as the great dealmaker Trump envisions being a peace broker between the Palestinians and Israel as well as a coalition builder of “moderate” Arab states to defeat ISIS.

With an oversized Santa Claus bag of military goodies, Trump curried favor with the Saudi royal family and the dictators of other Sunni lands, but how credible is he in their eyes? Did the rhetoric their ears heard in Riyadh erase what they witnessed and heard for nearly two years, months upon months of attacks on Islam, including in March 2016, “I think Islam hates us”?

Which are his baseline beliefs—his diplomatic use in Riyadh of the phrase “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires,” or the catchphrase “radical Islamic terrorism” featured in all his rallies and in his attacks on President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their failure to similarly identify Muslim attackers?

One wonders if the Arab Sunni world will be as discriminating as U.S. courts have been concerning Trump’s candor on the campaign trail. In restraining implementation of Trump’s travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries, courts have determined candidate Trump’s words are a more realistic reflection of his inner beliefs than his post-election public posturing.

Trump shows his true, unfiltered face when he tweets or departs from prepared remarks. 

Apparently under duress from the probe of alleged Russian influence on his campaign during the election, Trump seemingly revealed his lack of understanding of constitutional restrictions on the powers of the presidency. If James Comey is telling the truth, Trump asked the then-FBI director to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. It has also been reported that Trump asked the director of national intelligence and the director of the National Security Agency to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion with Russia during the 2016 election. 

Under duress to score political wins, Trump has turned his back on campaign promises never to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid funding. His proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget might not get passed as is, but it is instructive as to Trump’s true feelings. 

His budget calls for an $880 billion cut in Medicaid, a $191 billion cut in food stamps, a $72.5 billion cut in aid to the disabled, and a $21.6 billion cut in welfare over the next 10 years. Many of those reductions would impact the very voters who propelled Trump into the White House. 

Trump also promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with a better, less expensive health care program that would cover more people. But the bill he supported that passed in the House of Representatives would reduce coverage by 23 million over a decade, be more costly and provide less coverage, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (

Again, Trump’s core voters would be deeply affected by Trumpcare, if passed as is. 

So how to gauge the true Trump? Might I suggest this measuring stick—consider him the “promotional president” not bound to any rigid doctrine or philosophy. He cares only about the optics of winning, of promoting himself, without regard to those who may be adversely affected by his waffling positions and advocacy for legislation or executive orders that are detrimental to millions of Americans, many of whom voted for him in the expectation he would improve their lives.

We have always had wheeling and dealing presidents, perhaps none better at closing the deal than Lyndon Baines Johnson. Trump, however, does not seem to be rooted in any political principle other than his personal aggrandizement. Perhaps that’s why he reacts so quickly and violently to any slight, real or perceived. Perhaps that’s why he is eager to share the perqs of his office with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, why he is willing to bow down, even curtsy, before the Saudi king, why he could not help himself but risk a constitutional crisis by firing Comey, the man responsible for leading the investigation of his administration. 

Trump is a man of limited vocabulary, limited attention span, limited fealty to the truth, limited appreciation of historical context, limited loyalty to principle. It is not a compliment to say he is inscrutable. One would hope a president of the United States stands for values long forged in the American experience, not someone who favorably compares our values with those of Saudi Arabia where, among many repressive actions, public dissent is illegal, women are considered chattel with few rights, slavery still exists, religions other than Sunni Islam are not tolerated and where the press is restricted. 

Saudi Arabia practices Sharia Law. But that’s okay with Donald Trump. After all, they extended to him a welcome fit for a king, complete with a gold medal, showering him with praise. To get a $110 billion package of military hardware, the Saudis knew just how to appeal to his ego. 


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