As a Trump-watcher, what kept striking me this week was the president’s pattern of targeting issues as hot crises that he then almost ignores, while looking askance at actual problems and just ignoring them.
That there are plenty of examples should give us pause about whether we are simply hurtling along as a country or actually aiming the country’s might toward some obtainable goals. Here’s what I see:
- Iran and its nuclear program, a real problem, was a target, but only for a day for Trump. He unloosed a tweet threatening the destruction of that nation, then offered to meet unconditionally with its elected president, then simply dropped the whole idea. Meanwhile, Iran is doing business with Russia and Europe. What’s our plan?
- Heath care. While continuing to attack Obamacare, another real problem, the president moved to allow companies to sell low-cost healthcare policies that don’t actually cover most health care, including maternity costs, treatments for pre-existing illnesses or prescriptions. It may look good, but really does this address the problem? The White House seems content to just leave it there.
- Election meddling. With reports of hacking that looks a lot like Russia’s effort starting to flow from Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) and New Hampshire’s Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), this real problem is drawing a most meandering reaction in the White House. There were more questions than answers about the White House trotting out intelligence agency heads yesterday meant to assure voters that voting systems are being properly protected this year, but unable to explain why Trump doesn’t seem to agree. After seemingly embracing Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin in Helsinki, the president has called a single meeting about election meddling for less than an hour. Generally, the issue that has prompted a year’s worth of special counsel investigation has drawn pretty much of a yawn from the president. Does this issue matter or not? Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security say yes; Congressional Republicans this week let a bill to provide more money for states to be ready in November to die on the floor. It doesn’t take much strategic head-scratching to recognize that cyberwar efforts ought to rank pretty high in America’s defense.
- There are real problems here and made-up problems. In pursuit of his fantasy southern border wall, for example, the president this week said he would shut down the government if Congress, which he identifies as the minority Democrats, doesn’t fully fund the construction of a 3,000 mile barrier and adopts rules to upset legal immigration. It is a major issue only for the president and a handful of very conservative advisers bent on American nationalism. Meanwhile, the idea that the government had to scramble to undo separations at the border of children from their migrant parents, especially those who had followed legal niceties in seeking asylum, escaped serious comment. The president dismissed those humanitarian concerns with a backhanded slap at those who would seek to sneak into the country, saying essentially that losing their children is a price that they should expect to have to pay. Picking up on Trump themes, the Republican-majority Congress declined to pass any bill to address separation of children at the border or what happens to them. Meanwhile, with no significant congressional debate, the administration now is moving on the made-up problems of legal immigration with a proposal to cut in half the already reduced legal immigration limits. This is a response to a made-up problem.
- Republican Politics. That the otherwise politically conservative Koch brothers support policies for global trade while the president is putting tariffs in place to upset standing trade arrangements is cause for a split in the Republican Party is curious. This is a made-up problem over a difference of opinion not worth the president’s time and effort. But efforts to work with Congress to form practical coalitions or to work to broaden the appeal of his government are not. Meanwhile, the president seems to be encouraging the appeal of the so-called Q faction among Republican voters, folks who are edging toward violence in their assertive attempts to drown out anyone perceived not to be a Trump supporter. It’s his choice but I think we can all agree that Trump is putting his own standing before that of his party to say nothing of the nation’s needs.
- 3-D Guns. This is a real problem, of course. What the president did was to tweet that the concept doesn’t make much sense. That’s it. Indeed, when he turned for advice, it was not to the Justice Department for how this home-made, non-traceable gun manufacturing might affect crime or even to Homeland Security and the TSA to determine the effect on airport security, but to the National Rifle Association – lobbyist for more and more guns. But this time, the NRA is sitting out this issue because there is nothing to gain for the gun manufacturing industry that fuels the lobbying group. And that was it. So, once again, we have a real issue with no solution in sight and dissension in Congress.
- Enemy of the People. The loudest non-issue the president raises regularly is his distaste for journalists, producers of “fake news” if any article or question seems critical to him or about him. Whatever he thinks about this made-up issue, the president is not about to take action, other than berating networks other than Fox News, because there is no real problem here. There seems little question that his followers take it all seriously enough to edge close to violence against journalists. Even his daughter Ivanka split with the president in an interview yesterday, saying she does not see the news media as the enemy.
In each case, our TV-reality show president raises issues congruent with the television news cycle and drops them as soon as any practical response is needed.
He is threatening this week to raise tariffs with China on a variety of product lines – apparently all as a goad to re-open negotiations with China about trade practices and how much more American goods he wants China to buy. There are no new reported negotiations being scheduled. Meanwhile, there is actual economic harm across the Midwest about planning among farmers and those dependent on affected supply lines. Trump’s answer is to offer $12 billion for farmers who lose sales, a concept that they broadly have rejected. Still, nothing seems to dissuade Trump from pursuing his gut need to punish the Chinese. Where is the thinking about solutions here?
Even in his tweets demeaning Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigations and calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the probe today, which may prove an element in any obstruction of justice charge to follow, the president is speaking about perceived hurt to himself, not about being a leader who wants to get to the bottom of whatever Russia did to interfere with American elections. These are real problems turned into made-up “witch hunt” complaints. No wonder there is no resolution.
This is not leadership. This is adulation politics.