The Corner

Politics & Policy

Reckoning with Trump

Yesterday, President Trump tweeted, “Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others.”

People take various attitudes toward statements such as this. Some say, “Great! He’s telling it like it is! Lock ’em up!” Others say, “It’s just bluster. Trump is just blowing off steam. Ignore the tweets and concentrate on actual policy.” Still others say, “This man is an authoritarian at heart. A danger.”

What is the right attitude? It’s possible to take presidential statements too seriously. And yet, a lot of us were taught that presidential statements matter. It’s awkward simply to cancel our understanding for the duration of the Trump presidency. To consider him some great amusing asterisk.

Last Thursday, Trump said, “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” But notice what he said yesterday: “Deep State Justice Dept must finally act?” Well, does Trump have “absolute right” over the Justice Department or not?

Further, is there truly a “deep state,” or “Deep State,” that governs us? Or is the phrase simply meant to excite a political frenzy?

Also yesterday, Trump tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Forget the strange capitalization: I think you have to forgive people who wonder about the president’s temperament — or who may wonder whether he is altogether well. They are not necessarily sufferers from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Some are perfectly un-deranged, simply concerned.

It’s one thing to brag about the size of your hands, let’s say — and another to brag about the size of your nuclear button. Nukes are no joke, especially when you’re dealing with psychotics such as the leader in Pyongyang.

And Teddy Roosevelt had a point about speaking and carrying (a stick).

More innocuously, Trump tweeted, “Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news – it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!” I would like to hear what transportation wonks have to say about the president’s effects on airline safety.

Last week, I had a column on “calling balls and strikes” — viewing Trump from the perspective of an umpire. It’s very pleasant to call pitches that are favorable to Trump, if you’re a conservative. The judicial nominations, the deregulation, the decision on the U.S. embassy in Israel, etc. But being an umpire means that you have to call the other pitches as well.

How do you call Trump’s statement about Abedin, Comey, and the “Deep State”? How do you call his statement about his “Button”? Some aspects of Trump don’t lend themselves to standard umpiring.

I will close with one more tweet, this one by Ross Douthat: “Nothing about Trump’s behavior in office has surprised me. What’s surprised is everyone else’s behavior – investors, foreign govts, even to some extent his opponents, all of whom have entered into a tacit conspiracy to act as if his behavior isn’t really part of the presidency.”

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