In the past week or so, Donald Trump has decided not to be totally Donald Trump. He has changed his positions on many issues, often by simply contradicting himself and sometimes by repudiating what he once said. However he does it, it comes down to this: If policies were gender identities, Trump wouldn’t know which bathroom to use.
The president has reversed himself on NATO. Where just recently he pronounced it “obsolete,” he now has changed his position by cleverly reimagining it. He gave NATO a role in fighting terrorism, which it has been doing all along.
Similar feats of mental prestidigitation got Trump to change his mind on China, Russia and Syria, where the one which was once almost a buddy (Russia) is now a foe and the one which was once a foe (China) is going to help contain North Korea and the one for which he had no policy (Syria) has been whacked by Tomahawk missiles. And for the moment, the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv is not moving to Jerusalem.
These reversals represent nothing less than a retreat to the status quo ante — that halcyon era before Trump and his cast of mental munchkins started messing with foreign policy. The policies that now seem to be in place are ones that even former president Barack Obama might support. In fact, with the exception of hitting Syria, he did.
But before we start celebrating Trump as a drunk who has suddenly gone sober, additional reversals are in order. The president might want to declare that it is wrong to mock persons with disabilities. He might want to say something nice about Mexicans, and he might want to retract his belittling of John McCain’s heroism — acknowledge how the man suffered as a prisoner of war, choosing to undergo torture and confinement rather than accept freedom without pride.
Trump might also want to praise the Khans, the couple who lost a son in Iraq and whose sacrifice he mocked by likening it to what it cost him to build his business. He might also want to say he was wrong to suggest a certain judge could not fairly preside over a case involving Trump University because he was of Hispanic ancestry. Trump was wrong, too, to turn the presidential race into one of schoolyard taunts — “Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary” and the rest. In short, Trump might want to institute a policy of acting presidential. Now, that would be a reversal.
His foreign policy 180s are welcome, but those were not what won the hearts of his ardent supporters. They wanted something more — jobs, affordable health care and a general sense that Washington would once again be their capital. But NAFTA remains in place, Obamacare is still the law of the land, tax reform ain’t coming soon, and the swamp that was supposed to be drained has been replenished with, among others, former Goldman Sachs executives — most prominently Gary Cohn, once No. 2 at Goldman and now, for much lower pay, apparently No. 2 at the White House.
That’s fine and dandy with me. I do not demonize Goldman Sachs. But Trump did. During the campaign, he lambasted both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for their relationship with the bank. “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs,” Trump said. “They have total, total control over [Cruz]. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.” Now, though, the total controllers are prominent in the administration — Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and, in the White House itself, Dina Powell, the aforementioned Cohn and even the odd-man-out, Stephen K. Bannon.
This reversal by personnel was not triggered by unforeseen events — Syria’s use of a nerve agent, for instance. It is, instead, a strong indication that Trump’s campaign was a lie. His wooing of the American working class was insincere. For instance, he put more effort into denouncing Obamacare than he did in preparing legislation to replace it. Those who thought Trump was somehow going to pay their doctors’ bills simply got taken. They were — as were the students of Trump University — suckered.
Sooner or later, Trump’s supporters will realize they have been seduced and abandoned. The easy solutions he promised — the return of manufacturing to the Midwest, the restoration of King Coal to its traditional throne — will not materialize. Maybe then these voters will seek an accounting and they will turn, with appropriate fury, not just on Trump but on the coterie of the craven who jumped on his bandwagon. Trump is not the only one who can reverse his actions. So can the voters.
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