Explaining Donald Trump, Part V
Donald Trump has been such a disruptive agent during his first few months as President that it’s easy to dismiss him as hopelessly incompetent. That would be a mistake: one common way MEPs (mega-entrepreneurial personalities) prevail is because other people write them off as unhinged lunatics. I’ll get to the lunatic aspect of our MEP President in a minute, but, first, let’s give the devil his due. Lost in all the chaos is the fact that some of Trump’s bewildering behavior accomplishes useful things. For example:
Every President since George Washington has complained about having his every action and utterance intermediated by an often-hostile press. But for an MEP President it’s much worse because such a personality doesn’t ever “speak softly”—he speaks loudly and often and having that speech intermediated (or, as Trump would put it, disintermediated, or disinter-media-ated) is simply insufferable.
Fortunately for Trump, if not for the rest of us, he was elected during the heyday of social media, which means that he can bypass the press and speak directly to the American people. This is so powerful a weapon that we can be sure every President in the future will make use of it (albeit presumably more responsibly). Trump’s misuse of Twitter has gotten so bad that there is now talk of having White House lawyers review the tweets before they go out. Too hilarious! We all know how that will work, namely:
Trump (having summoned his lawyer to the Oval Office): Listen up, shyster, I’ve written a new tweet and I think it’s my best ever! Here it goes: @POTUS “Anti-American Dems and their traitor allies in the press will never prevail!”
Trump: Well? Pretty damn great, no?
Lawyer (swallowing hard): Uh, Mr. President, I think that tweet is, well, it’s…, it’s a very nice sentiment, but I’m wondering, you know, maybe if it sounded a little less incendiary, then…
Trump: A little less in-what?
Lawyer (wiping the sweat from his forehead): Strike that, sir, I was meaning to say that, well, let me just be as blunt as I can be. I think it would be a terrible idea to…
For four long decades every new American President has hardly sat down in the Oval Office before he was harangued by his foreign policy experts about the need to adhere to the so-called “One-China” policy. In other words, the President of the U.S. was always to pretend that there was only one China in the world. And so it was: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2, Obama. True, these Presidents asked awkward questions: Wait, aren’t there 25 million people living on Taiwan? Isn’t Taiwan a democracy, while the People’s Republic is a Communist dictatorship? Isn’t Taiwan our loyal ally? But never mind, it was crucially important (said the foreign policy experts) to kowtow to the People’s Republic because they were sensitive on the subject.
But the foreign policy experts forgot to reckon with the possibility of a MEP President. No sooner had Trump finished being harangued by the foreign policy experts than he was on the phone with the President of Taiwan. Jaws dropped all over Washington, D.C., and especially down at the Foggy Bottom part of it. Is this man insane? Is he trying to launch a nuclear war?
But the experts soon had egg on their faces the size of a Spanish omelet: the Chinese reacted mildly, as though to say, “Well, what the hell, we had it our way for 40 years, you can’t expect even the Americans to stay stupid forever!” And a few days later President Li was on a plane to Mar-a-Lago, where he talked sense about trade policy, currency manipulation and even North Korea.
What America now has is the One-and-a-Half-China policy: so long as Beijing remains constructive, Trump won’t throw Taiwan in their faces. But if the Chinese backslide you can take it from Your Humble Blogger—that is to say, you can take it to the bank—that Trump will be on the next plane to Taipei.
Health care repeal
I’m already on record as opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but for Trump and the Republicans repealing “Obamacare” was the signature policy initiative. Failing in the repeal effort would seriously undermine Trump’s credibility. And so it was that Trump went at the repeal with all the zeal only a MEP can bring to the party. But he didn’t have the votes—his own party, in the form of its Freedom Caucus, deserted him. Trump’s enemies had a field day. He failed in his major legislative priority! This means none of his legislative agenda will be passed! Trump’s Presidency is over!
Except that it wasn’t. A few weeks later the House voted to repeal the ACA, although of course the repeal faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. Still, Trump delivered on his campaign promise. His opponents had underestimated him because they forgot that, however, passionately a MEP pursues Plan A, a MEP will always, always have a Plan B.
Unfortunately for people who held high hopes for the Trump Presidency, Trump’s bizarre iconoclasm results more often not in success but in utter chaos. Can he turn it around? We’ll take a look at that interesting question next week.
Next up: Explaining Donald Trump, Part VI