We are told constantly, by Trump backers, not to take him literally. “Seriously but not literally,” is the line. The distinction can be murky.
What a U.S. president says is very important. More important than what the leaders of almost all other nations say. (Sorry.) Moreover, you should be able to trust what the president says. Americans want to believe their president.
“Trust is the coin of the realm in Washington, D.C.,” said Bryce Harlow.
Remember this one? “I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
More recently, here is President Trump: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
Also, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
It is no ordinary thing for a president to charge that his predecessor wiretapped him — or that his predecessor is a bad or sick guy.
Is President Trump’s charge of wiretapping true? If so, he should prove it. If not, he should withdraw it. That’s what Senator McCain says, and I agree. There’s a question of honor here, in addition to trust. In fact, they are related.
Further, did 3 to 5 million people really vote illegally in November’s election? That’s what the president claims. And again, people want to believe their president. They deserve to believe their president.
We all want our policy preferences to be shared by the president. But simple honesty — that’s key too.
‐Trump talks a lot about “fake news,” or “FAKE NEWS,” as he writes it. What about the claim that Obama had British intelligence wiretap the Tower, so there wouldn’t be American “fingerprints” on the operation? Is that fake news? Or news news?
‐Consider this, too: What if a Democratic president and his team pushed a story like the one about British intelligence? What would Republicans say? Excoriation City, right?
‐For eight years, Republicans (like me) said that Obama was alienating our allies and encouraging our enemies. Think about his treatment of Israel. And his treatment of Iran. Think about Trump and Britain, and Trump and Germany, in the last week or so. And think of his relative sweetness toward Putin.
What does the new GOP — Trump’s GOP — have to say about that?
‐Have another tweet from our president: “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!”
I assume that the word, or acronym, “Potus” refers to Trump himself. Also, the phrase “there is no evidence” is interesting. (It always is, from a person accused, or about whom there are suspicions.) Finally, have you noticed that Clapper is sometimes a black-hat in RightWorld or LeftWorld and sometimes a white-hat?
Same with the FBI director, James Comey.
‐Two months into his presidency, Trump is still pushing the line that NATO is some kind of protection racket, in which Germany and others are behind on their dues. He tweeted that “the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
During the campaign, he addressed a rally, saying, “I don’t want to get rid of NATO — but you always have to be prepared to walk. It’s possible. Okay?” He then did a comical reenactment of an interview he’d had with the New York Times:
“They said, ‘What happens if one of these countries’ — take a smaller one that nobody in this room’s ever heard of — ‘gets attacked by Russia? Are you saying you’re not gonna protect ’em?’ I say, ‘Well, let me ask you: Have they paid? Have they paid?’ Right? ‘Have they paid?’”
There is no general bill due, for which governments have failed to pay up. Each nation has a defense budget. It is certainly true that the U.S. has long been urging its NATO allies to spend more on defense. Even warning them. (Remind yourself what Robert Gates, then the defense secretary, said in 2011.) In 2014, after Putin annexed the Crimea and started war in the Donbass, NATO set some goals, at a summit in Wales. One of them was that each member would spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense by 2024.
Anyway, back to Trump, at his campaign rally: “So, we’re gonna save a fortune. They’re gonna pay. And if they don’t — sorry.”
A question: Is NATO in the American interest? If so, we should stay. If not, we should withdraw. What does President Trump think?
It’s one thing for a candidate — even a presidential nominee — not to know exactly how NATO works. Not great, but what the hell? I think a president, however, should know. And Trump has been on the job long enough not to say that “the United States must be paid more” by the likes of Germany.
‐“Russian Journalist Dies In Unexplained Circumstances.” (Article here.) These Russian journalists who are critical of the Putin regime: They’re extremely careless with their health, have you noticed?
‐In Sierra Leone, a pastor discovered an immense uncut diamond, one of historic size. One that is worth millions. He turned it over to the government, trusting that they would spend the money wisely, benefiting Sierra Leoneans as a whole. At least, that’s what he said. (Article here.)
What do you think? Will the country benefit from the dough? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.
‐I was amazed by a report from the Associated Press. A league of their own in … Gaza? Women’s baseball in that Palestinian territory? Yes. You have to read about it to believe it.
Let me paste the briefest of excerpts:
Tafesh [the coach of the team] said he found just one baseball glove in all of Gaza, at the Sports Ministry building, and took it to local tailors who used it to make replicas out of black fabric.
With no proper bats in the territory, the team took a piece of wood and shaped it to look like one.
‐Bill Buckley liked the story of Clemenceau meeting Paderewski, the great pianist, who had become prime minister of Poland. “You’re the pianist?” said Clemenceau. “Yes,” Paderewski replied. “And now you’re in politics?” said Clemenceau. “Yes,” admitted Paderewski. “What a comedown,” said Clemenceau.
I thought of this when I met Doug Ducey last week. He is the governor of Arizona. Before politics, he was in business, and he was — get this — the CEO of Cold Stone Creamery!
‐I don’t think there are any Cold Stones around me — wish there were — but there are several Subway sandwich shops. I like to go into them, and I’ve noticed something over the years.
Often, there are young immigrants working. Immigrants from every corner — South Asia, East Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, etc. And when they’re new, they can’t speak English at all. You speak in gestures to them. They are still learning “onions,” “mustard,” and the like. Every week, their English improves by leaps and bounds. Before you know it, they not only know the ingredients (duh), they’re jiving with their co-workers and customers, slang and all.
Amazing, how fast that happens. (Part of it, of course, is the sponginess of youth. Another part is necessity. Another part is willingness.)
‐That was kind of a language note. Want another one? I was reading an article about the composer Frederic Rzewski. He wrote a piece for piano called “De Profundis.” “While playing the dizzying solo part, the pianist also speaks the text, hits his or herself, whistles and seems to sob.” I would have said “hits him or herself.” Is “his” right?
(Actually, I would have said “hits himself,” not thinking it had anything to do with sex, or, as people insist on saying today, “gender.”)
‐A little music? Of the non–self-flagellating variety? Actually, there may be some self-flagellation in Idomeneo, depending on the stage director, who does all sorts of screwy things. Anyway, I jotted a little post at The New Criterion about a performance of this opera by Mozart at the Met.
‐Let’s end with some sports. Last week, I was watching LeBron James destroy my Detroit Pistons, almost single-handedly. (An editor friend of mine prefers “single-handed.” I think she’s right.) He was so dominating — so good, so versatile, so complete — it was almost unbelievable. There is a lot of hype about “King James.” I got to thinking, “Maybe he isn’t hyped enough.”
And I had a memory from many, many years ago. I was talking to a golfer about Jack Nicklaus — who was universally regarded as the greatest ever to play the game. The golfer (a pro) said that Nicklaus was underrated: “because not many people understand how good he really is.”
Thanks for joining me, sports fans — and others — and I’ll see you soon.
A word from the National Review Store: To get Digging In: Further Collected Writings of Jay Nordlinger, go here.