This is hardly a one-time occurrence. (“It was the latest instance of the president making an unscripted remark with far-reaching implications that prompted a behind-the-scenes scramble by his advisers to translate blunt talk into a workable policy. White House and administration officials also spent Monday and Tuesday trying to translate a series of confusing presidential tweets and comments on immigration into a coherent strategy, including a new legislative push and the deployment of the National Guard to the southern border.”)
There are several ramifications from this erratic, irrational and uniformed style of “governing,” if you can even call it that.
First, we see that Trump’s “gut” — what he wants to do — is invariably wrongheaded and dangerous. Trump’s “gut” tells him to put troops on the border, leave allies in the lurch and reward Russia and Syria by bugging out of Syria, start a trade war with China and other harebrained schemes that must be walked back — after Trump flunkies try to justify Trump’s initial, disastrous pronouncement. The Trump apologists who said all would be fine should be eating crow.
Second, neither allies (e.g. Europeans in the context of the Iran deal), Congress or foes such as Russia, Iran and China can tell if Trump’s grand pronouncements will translate into policy or be miniaturized and minimized. Given that, two equally troubling responses might be expected: Either do nothing (e.g. the European Union won’t agree to Trump’s attempt to revise the Iran deal, Congress won’t move forward on any immigration plan) or to overreact (e.g. a trade war), creating new conflicts that cannot always be defused. Yes, this is how wars (trade and military) start and how the United States loses influence.
Third, White House chief of staff John Kelly has obviously failed completely in his quest to impose discipline on the White House and create a rational decision-making process. It was always a fool’s errand with this president, but now it is worse than ever with Trump consulting Fox News whackadoodles and springing major personnel decisions (e.g. Larry Kudlow, John Bolton) on his staff. The same malady will hamper Bolton, who soon will be charged with re-creating the process of making foreign policy (or managing the existing one). Kelly should have quit long ago. Now he is now subject to daily humiliations that come from holding the title of chief of staff but exercising no real authority. He’s a figurehead in an administration operated by the equivalent of a mad king.
Finally, it behooves those who have left, in particular H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson, to advise Congress about what is going on. We don’t need another gossipy tell-all book with thin sourcing. We need an accurate assessment from those in senior national security positions: Is the president rational? Does he absorb information? Can he think two or three steps ahead? Does he think wild conspiracies are true (i.e., can he assess fact from fantasy)? Tillerson and McMaster (and Kelly, if he departs) owe the country the benefit of their eyewitness accounts. It’s time to decide whether Trump, quite apart from any medical diagnosis, is fit to run the government and serve as commander in chief. It is no longer possible to pretend that everything is fine. It’s not.
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