Please stop talking about the “Trump policies” or Donald Trump’s “ideas.” And this means you, Joe Scarborough — do not suggest that there is anything resembling a Trump “doctrine.”
Donald Trump does not have ideas. He does not have a doctrine. He has no theories, policies, no understanding of history, and no concept of the future. All he has are impulses, grudges, panics, meltdowns, and — his greatest strength and his greatest weakness — an almost-feral ability to focus on whatever will get him what he wants in this exact moment. Not a minute from now, not a minute ago. The past and future have no meaning. Neither do expertise or experience. What he said or did or will say or do or tweet never matter to him a minute later; he does not remember or care. He lives in the consequenceless world of the everlasting now, where any worry or slight can be tweeted at and then forgotten. Unfortunately, the rest of us plan to be around for the future.
Donald Trump is good at reading the room in a purely transactional mode. In person, he has the real estate developer’s horse-trading sense of his audience’s vulnerabilities, whether they are most likely to respond to flattery, braggadocio, threats, or some toxic mix of all three. We saw that in his debates and rallies during the campaign. But that is entirely unsuited to any elective office, much less the most powerful elective office of the world.
The recent trade scramble is a perfect (storm) example. To recap: President Trump has kicked out the immigrants we need to pick and process the food we grow. China is retaliating against his tantrum of a trade war by pricing out the customers we need to buy the food we grow. And the result will be to impose on American farmers and consumers price hikes and shortages that will operate as a form of tax wiping out any slight benefits to anyone who is not a billionaire already from the tax legislation that President Trump claims as one of his greatest achievements.
Another example is the response to mass shootings, most recently the murder of 17 teenagers in just over six minutes in Parkland, Florida. Bolstered with a large-print crib sheet reminding him to listen, President Trump met with students who survived the shooting and, as is his pattern, made comments that suggested he would support their requests for better background checks and going further than they had even asked for with the extreme — and probably unconstitutional — suggestion that weapons could be confiscated from people with mental illness. “I like taking the guns early,” he said, adding, “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
Then almost immediately, without any apology or explanation, he went in the opposite direction. One likely reason: an intervening meeting with representatives of the NRA. On March 12, 2018 the New York Times reported:
After the Florida high school massacre last month, Mr. Trump explicitly called on live television for raising the age limit to purchase rifles and backed 2013 legislation for near-universal background checks. He later told lawmakers that while the N.R.A. has “great power over you people, they have less power over me.”
But on Monday, it was the president who seemed to knuckle under, again dramatizing the sway that the N.R.A. still maintains in Republican circles.
He ran as a populist, promising to do away with the loophole that hedge fund managers use to sharply reduce their tax payments. He did not. Instead he created even more tax breaks for the wealthy and, in part due to a botched attempt to get rid of Obamacare, ballooned the deficit he promised to eliminate.
Donald Trump’s two most popular promises during the Presidential campaign were to build the wall, paid for by Mexico, and to “drain the swamp” by getting rid of Washington insiders making deals on behalf of special interests. He has failed in every possible way on both due to his resolute ignorance, sheer incompetence at every level, and utter lack of any actual understanding of or commitment to any kind of policy, values, or even consistency. There is no wall (other than the repair to a Bush/Obama-eras fence that President Trump tried to take credit for). As Scarborough points out,
Campaign cries of “Build that wall!” have devolved into the low-energy whispers of “Add one coat.”
The president’s preposterous immigration proposals come, remember, at a time when border crossings from Mexico into the United States sit at a 46-year low.
Instead of draining the swamp, President Trump has presided over, enabled, and participated in the most corrupt administration in the history of this country by many orders of magnitude. For example:
- He lies more than he tells the truth.
- He has broken his promises that he would not profit from or participate in running his businesses while in office. He spends much of his time at his own properties, with taxpayers funding the expenses for the staff and security details.
- His administration is in constant chaos, with more scandals and departures in disgrace than his four predecessors combined. Many of his appointees are in trouble for ethical violations or just monumental bad judgment.
His staff is so frustrated with his inability to pay attention to briefings that they have resorted to getting their talking points to him via the only information source he seems able to process: Fox News. Their function is straight from The Emperor’s New Clothes. They are there to tell him that his suits fit and his tie is not too long. How many stories praised Hope Hicks for being the “Trump Whisperer” (while literally steaming his pants)? The job of the President is not to be whispered to; it is up to him to “whisper” Congressional leaders and heads of state on behalf of our country.
As I have noted before, Donald Trump has only one trick up his sleeve, externalizing costs onto anyone else: employees, suppliers, contractors, creditors, and taxpayers. This does not work when your job is to be responsible for everyone. He comes from the “rules are for chumps” world of New York real estate. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes,
In New York Real Estate Land, Multiple Divorce Land, and Repeated Bankruptcy Land, one can string together a lifetime’s worth of mandatory arbitration clauses, nondisclosure agreements, prenups, and frivolous lawsuits. The only legal system Trump can comprehend — and the only legal system the Cohens and the Kasowitzes are good at navigating — is one that consists entirely of loopholes and workarounds. That system, which runs on threats and intimidation and huge sums of cash, has made a lot of men who look and sound like Donald Trump obscenely wealthy. It is, like it or lump it, the American way.
In this transactional world, everything is negotiable, and every interaction is about coming out on top.
It is time to tell the emperor he has no clothes. There is no method to this madness. Only madness.