President Trump is the flim flam man.
He routinely takes credit for resolving crises that he himself created — and that, on closer examination, he has not really resolved. “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” he said in January, even though he was the one who raised the danger level with his reckless threats of “fire and fury” and he has not succeeded in stopping North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
After offending both Mexico and Canada with his steel and aluminum tariffs and blustery ultimatums, Trump claimed credit for negotiating “the USMCA, the spectacular & very popular new Trade Deal that replaces NAFTA, the worst Trade Deal in the history of the U.S.A.” — even though, in truth, there is scant difference between the two accords.
Then, on Friday evening, just days before the tariffs he had threatened to impose on Mexico were to take effect, Trump announced an agreement “to greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico.”
You would think by now that even the president’s supporters might be slightly skeptical when he claims spectacular achievements with details to come. But like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football that Lucy always snatches away, they immediately tried to score political points off the nebulous Friday-night announcement.
“The threat of tariffs got Mexico to agree to take unprecedented steps to control illegal migration,” crowed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who once called Trump a “con artist” before joining the sycophancy caucus. That caucus’s honorary chairman, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who once tweeted that Trump is “an opportunist” who is “not fit to be President,” chirped: “I appreciate President Trump’s bold leadership and applaud this agreement.” The New York Post — owned by News Corp., whose chairman, Rupert Murdoch, reportedly called Trump a “phony” before becoming his courtier — opined: “Trump left his Mexico critics stunned, speechless.”
Ah, if only Trump’s toadies had waited a few hours, they might have avoided an own goal. For on Saturday, the New York Times revealed that “the deal to avert tariffs that President Trump announced with great fanfare on Friday night consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the United States over the past several months.” And those actions — deploying Mexico’s ineffectual national guard to its border with Guatemala and allowing some asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated in the United States — are unlikely to have much of an impact on undocumented migration.
But what of Trump’s boast that “MEXICO HAS AGREED TO IMMEDIATELY BEGIN BUYING LARGE QUANTITIES OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCT FROM OUR GREAT PATRIOT FARMERS!”? The use of ALL CAPS — a little too insistent — and the employment of a description for farmers that sounds as if it was lifted from Pravda, circa 1935, should indicate that this fanfaronade, too, wasn’t quite on the level. And, indeed, Mexican officials told Bloomberg News on Saturday they never discussed agricultural purchases in the days leading up the ballyhooed accord.
Our Great Patriot Leader was reduced to claiming that somewhere out there — perhaps in an alternative universe where he really is an “extremely stable genius” — there exists a super-duper, top-secret accord that “will be announced at the appropriate time” but that, on this planet, neither Mexican nor U.S. officials seemed to know anything about.
The striking thing is that Trump’s con-artistry continues to find so many willing marks who will remain forever convinced, notwithstanding all that is reported otherwise, that he made Mexico bow before his awesomeness. They are abetted, these Trump dupes, by cynical Republicans on Capitol Hill who know this achievement is as phony as a degree from Trump University but pretend otherwise to flatter the mercurial and egomaniacal occupant of the Oval Office. They are secretly breathing a sigh of relief that Trump’s flimflammery averted a potentially catastrophic economic showdown. If they had a little more backbone, these Republicans would see that they have more power than they realize: It was GOP opposition, not Mexican concessions, that made Trump back down from his tariff threats.
What happens next? Well, if migration at the southern border declines in the next few months for any reason, Trump will claim credit, just as he claims credit for a fortune that he inherited from his father and an economic expansion that he inherited from President Barack Obama. And if migration doesn’t decline, Trump will holler that Mexico has betrayed him and will engage in another round of brinkmanship that might not have such a happy ending. Trump’s amnesiac supporters will not hold the success or failure of this faux accord against him; their faith runs too deep to be shaken by mere facts (a.k.a. “fake news”).
But other countries will look at this episode and conclude (a) that Trump is a bad bluffer and (b) that he is quick to declare victory even when he hasn’t won anything. The United States’ credibility is eroding as rapidly as the presidency’s dignity and decorum.