On the 12th of Never.
He says he’ll withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization.
When the sun rises in the west.
He says he’ll label antifa a terrorist organization.
When fish climb poplar trees.
He says he’ll force states to reopen, or to close.
When the hen grows teeth, the frog grows hair and the crawfish whistles on the mountain.
This has always been a presidency of empty threats. But as the country spirals into ever lower depths of disaster — health crisis, economic collapse, racial strife, violence in the streets — Trump’s trademark combination of tough talk and woefully ineffective action has become his standard M.O.
Americans are crying out for a steady hand, not the gassing of peaceful demonstrators so a Bible-waving president can stage a churchyard photo op. All Trump offers in answer to the nation’s epic calamities are bluster and weakness. What problems he doesn’t cause he makes worse.
“Preening” is how his presumptive opponent, Joe Biden, accurately described him Tuesday. Preening and impotently bullying while the nation reels.
Withdrawing the United States from the WHO? He hasn’t met the legal standards, which require him to wait a year, among other things.
Labeling antifa a terrorist organization? No law allows for a domestic organization to be so designated.
Asserting the “absolute authority” to force states to open commerce (and churches) during the pandemic? No such power exists.
Shutting down Twitter because it pointed out he was factually inaccurate? Overruling state governors and sending in U.S. troops to police U.S. citizens on U.S. soil?
Believe it when you see it.
But first he’ll have to make good on his threat to pull the Republican convention from North Carolina. The deadline for his decision is Wednesday. (Trump said Tuesday night he’ll “seek another State” after Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, refused the president’s demands.)
Maybe he’ll make good on his threat; occasionally he does. Based on his history, the far likelier outcome is he’ll do nothing. He threatened a quarantine on the New York metropolitan area, then backed down. He threatened to adjourn Congress, then retreated. He threatened to cut off “ungrateful” governors; he didn’t. He threatened to invoke the Defense Production Act; nobody’s quite sure what he did.
As The Post’s JM Rieger pointed out a year ago, Trump had by that time made at least 32 threats for which he wound up with little or nothing to show, including: placing tariffs on certain Mexican, Chinese and European goods, closing the border with Mexico, demanding General Motors open a new plant in Ohio, taking away NBC’s broadcast license, changing tax law for the NFL, withdrawing from NAFTA and NATO, pulling troops out of Syria and South Korea, boycotting AT&T, cutting fire aid for California and ending foreign aid.
And before all that, Politico’s Jack Shafer reminds us, Trump directed Michael Cohen to make at least 500 threats to businesses and journalists over 10 years, according to his convicted former lawyer’s congressional testimony.
Friends and foes alike have learned that his threats are hollow. When Trump in 2018 threatened Iran with “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED,” the Iranian president said there was no need to respond to “empty threats.” North Korea continues its nuclear program without Trump’s threatened “fire and fury.” During trade negotiations, Trump said a deal with China was contingent on respecting Hong Kong’s status. China made the trade deal and is now quashing Hong Kong’s autonomy.
When Trump declared that “American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China,” nobody paid him much mind. And when Trump said he has “the absolute right” to send illegal immigrants to sanctuary cities and “we hereby demand” that they be taken in, states and cities ignored him, and nothing came of it.
He seems to derive satisfaction from verbally asserting his unlimited authority rather than actually using his limited authority. He claimed the “absolute authority” to overrule governors on stay-at-home orders, to interfere in criminal proceedings for cronies, to close the southern border, to fire Robert Mueller and to end, by executive fiat, the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship. He didn’t do any of it.
“And yes,” he said, “I do have an absolute right to pardon myself.”
Sure he does. The question is whether his countrymen will pardon him for his failure during this hour of need. When we most need strong and steady, he has given us weak and mouthy.