The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump, Jerusalem and the ‘no consequences’ presidency

A Palestinian mother on Tuesday holds her 8-month-old baby who, according to the Palestinian health ministry, died of tear gas inhalation during clashes in East Gaza the previous day. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)
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Last week, Post White House correspondent Anne Gearan wrote about how President Trump “has become increasingly confident in his gut-driven, out-of-the-box approach to international relations and dismissive of the warnings from establishment critics.” The president has reportedly cited the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as a case where “dire warnings against something Trump wants to do seem like hollow threats after the fact.”

On Monday, Israeli soldiers killed at least 60 Palestinian protesters and wounded thousands more. It was the bloodiest day in six weeks of demonstrations triggered in part by that same decision Trump believed would have no consequences.

That dozens have been killed and thousands wounded in what Human Rights Watch described as a “bloodbath” is tragedy enough. That the move of the embassy to Jerusalem will prolong the Palestine-Israel conflict, including the brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, is a tragedy further. And there’s a third failure that compounds the previous two: This president will not recognize that his mistake has repercussions.

Palestinian American human rights attorney Noura Erakat says protesters in Gaza aren't pawns of Hamas; they are struggling for the freedom all humans want. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

The broader administration is ludicrously claiming that Israel acted with “restraint.” But Trump’s myopia goes deeper: Where other White Houses might privately reckon with their foul-ups and reconsider, this president will actively hide — with his staff’s help — from the fallout. New York magazine reports that Trump regularly speaks to Fox News host Sean Hannity, as the latter’s show has become a “daily stream of assertions serving to prop up Trump,” and that his top advisers have actively encouraged him to watch Fox News “with the hope of calming him down.” Instead hearing genuine criticisms, Trump has swaddled himself in the comforting narrative that he does nothing wrong and everyone is persecuting him.

One of the most notable aspects of the Trump White House is the administration’s refusal to apologize for anything. In rationalizing why “not apologizing is a core operating principle for Trump,” a senior White House official told Axios that “the basic belief is that you never actually get ‘credit’ — from the Left, the media, political opponents, etc. — for apologizing, so why do it?” But this “credit” explanation ignores that Trump had refused to apologize long before entering politics, and that other administrations of both parties have apologized despite not getting “credit” (without hurting their standing with their bases). So why not do it? Because Trump sees no consequences; therefore, he’s done nothing wrong and there is nothing to apologize for. Indeed, hiding from responsibility has been central to Trump’s life.

As with any president well over a year into office, we no longer have to only speculate about the real-world effects of Trump’s policies. While he may not feel the consequences, they are coming into view — and this week in particularly bloody fashion.