In General Mattis I Trust, Sort of.

Given my anxiety about our ignorant, thoughtless and unpredictable president, I have treasured the presence of General Mattis as Secretary of Defense in the cabinet.  He is known as a scholar/general with great integrity.  As such, I have thought of him as a leveling influence to our impetuous president, whom I think of as the boy king.

I was going to laud the general in this space, but feel the need to hang back a bit after seeing reports of his defense of the president’s European visit.

In only a week or so Trump shoved decades of common cause to the curb with his tentative public commitments to NATO and withholding backing to common causes of the G7 such as the international agreement on climate change and free trade.

This is the down side of having a president who prides himself on being unpredictable.  It may have been a useful tactic in real estate, and at times of use in foreign policy, but it can’t be its corner stone.    In a “world of disarray,” as described by foreign policy analyst Richard Haas, order is in demand not the chaos of unpredictability.

Trump’s words and actions prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to warn European nations in striking fashion that it could no longer depend on others (namely the U. S. and the brexiting Britain) in deciding their future.

Decades of unconditional support wiped away in a few days.  Nice job Don.

I expect Trump to make a mess of such things, so I was not shocked.  Trump is a storm that must be weathered.  What did bother me is that the guy I was just about to laud for his wisdom and strength in this space, Secretary Mattis, tried to slap some lipstick on Trump’s piggish claims of a successful European visit.

In a TV interview last Saturday Mattis claimed there is “no doubt” the United States is committed to its fellow NATO member countries.  General, as shown by the Merkel statement above, which has been parroted to some degree by the leaders of France and Italy, there’s plenty of doubt among the Europeans of our commitment.

General, you also defended Trump’s emphasis on the need for many NATO nations to pay their fair share, saying this is something previous administrations have pressed as well.   “We’ve all got to be willing to deal with it like a bank. If you want to take something out of it you’ve got to put something into it.”

Setting aside the fact you are not speaking to kindergartners, general, you undercut  your own argument when you stated that the pressure to get Europeans to spend more has been working as this is the second year in a row that there was an increase in military spending.

Well, general, if the pressure has been working why did the president feel the need to embarrass the Europeans right off the bat?

It’s like having your first dinner with your in-laws and you criticize the menu and how the food was prepared.   It is no way to stabilize a relationship.

And you know that, general.  That is what bothers me.  I understand you are in a very tricky position and applaud you for contradicting the president on other occasions.  And you didn’t really lie in this case.  However, some of your impeccable integrity got chipped away by giving the  impression that this European debacle was actually a positive for U. S./European relationships.

In other words, you helped Trump create some more fake news.  Just giving you a heads up Mr. Secretary.  It is hard being around the nasty boy king who loves playing in the mud without getting yourself dirty.

If we can’t count on you, who can we count on?

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Trump’s Hollow Honoring of the Fallen

For a few minutes I watched Donald Trump give a Memorial Day address and that’s all I could take.   His displays of pseudo sincerity are always sickening, but worse yet when he pretends to care about those who lost their lives protecting our shores and our way of life over the years.

Donald Trump cares little about anyone but himself and maybe some of his family to some extent.  Ivanka, yes. As for the others?  I realize that is exceedingly harsh, but I have spent hours and hours reading, watching and thinking about him over the past year and I have no doubt about it.  There is something basically wrong with this guy.

Tony Schwartz,  the “co-author” of the Art of the Deal, sees Trump in the same way.  And he actually spent much time over the course of a year with Trump, so I doubt few know the man better.  I put co-author in quotes because Schwartz says he actually wrote the book, with Trump making a few minor corrections.

Schwartz also has said that Trump could not sit still for an interview for more than a few minutes, so he had to follow him around and listen in on phone conversations and piece together the book from that.  Fairly recently, he said that if he could rewrite the book, he would call it:  The Sociopath.

Many have debated whether Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder or he is a sociopath.  Hey, why not a bit of both?   Both cases share an extreme preoccupation with oneself and a lack of empathy and care for others.  Most thought provoking to me about the rise of Trump is that so many of his fans still don’t see this, but as he said, he could shoot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue and they still would vote for him.

A wave of public insanity that will foster many a book in coming years.

Schwartz has expressed regret many times over this past year or so for helping Trump produce a winning public image through the book and he finds it truly “frightening” the man is president with the nuclear codes in his possession.

I share the uneasiness to be sure, which is why I meant to write this post to examine what seems the most stable element of the Trump administration, Secretary of Defense James Mattis,  I want to share some highlights of a recent article on him because while Trump is ignorant of history and so much else – shallow to the core – Mattis is knowledgeable and thoughtful which means a lot given the inexperience and toadyism of so many of those around him.

Think of this post as a preamble to the next one.

Come Home Donald Trump Before your Coach Turns into a Pumpkin

Donald Trump is about to return from his Mid-East/European jaunt which one NPR commentator has called “big hug diplomacy”.   That was totally true at first in Saudi Arabia, but the hugs were less lavish in Israel, even less so with the Pope – more photo ops with the latter pair – and nonexistent at the NATO summit in Brussels and G7 meeting in Sicily.

At NATO Trump publicly lectured the assembled leaders about not paying their “fair share” of NATO expenses (23 of the 28 nations do not), which is not the way to cement relationships.  Even though he makes a good point, it is not the way to lead off the gathering, a situation made worse by the president’s ignoring Article 5, which is that all- for-one-and-one-for all clause that binds NATO together in common defense.

A clause only invoked once, by the way, in support of our invasion of Afghanistan in response to 9/11, as the other member nations like to point out.  Trump surrogates argue that the we-have-your-backs message was implied, but nations next to Russia, in particular, would likely want to hear it emphasized because Trump said little about the danger Russia poses, a seeming continuation of his policy to go soft on that nation in hopes of developing a better relationship, a likelihood most European leaders doubt.

Then at the G7 it is reported Trump lectured the Germans about flooding our market with their cars, which could not have helped our relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he also refused to shake hands with on her visit here.

That Trump continually acts more warmly to Russia (those recent photos of him smiling with Russian diplomats in the oval office being but one example) than he does to Germany, the strongest democracy in Europe with Merkel Europe’s strongest leader, is just plain strange.  I think no one knows what he is really up to.  Not even him, unless he actually does have hidden ties to Russia.

It prompts thoughts of Trump liking autocrats more than democrats.   He admires their ability to get things done, while ignoring the often brutal, unjust nature of their strength.  We could make a list starting with Putin, and on it would be the King of Saudi Arabia (not so much the elderly king but his royal family).

And, yes I will get back to that visit to Saudi Arabia because it illustrates how whatever actions Trump takes with foreign powers they will be devoid of any moral component and friendly to any despot he can make a deal with.

His own brand of realpolitik.

Donald J. Trump: King or Criminal?

Since my last post President Trump has been treated like royalty in Saudi Arabia and  like a criminal at home.  Even more than usual the news makes my head spin in circles like that girl possessed by the devil in The Exorcist.

First, the Comey vs. Trump battle over truth which I wrote about in my last post promises to get real lively as Comey has agreed to speak in an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing after Memorial day.  He seems to have picked that committee because it appears to be the most bi-partisan in congress when it comes to the Trump/Russia investigation.

However, there might be a complication.   Since my post a “new sheriff” is in town.   Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General handling the Trump campaign Russia connection, has surprised many by appointing a special counsel to investigate this whole matter of the Trump team and Russia, not only as a matter of foreign interference in our election but for possible criminal activities.

He appointed Robert Mueller, former FBI director in both Democratic and Republican administrations, whose apolitical competence is one of the few things agreed upon on both sides of the aisle.  In his new role “sheriff” Mueller might play some kind of role in Comey’s testimony.

Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel seems tied to how Trump fired Comey.  Trump made the decision impetuously and then asked Rosenstein to write up a rationale (which few bought) which then Trump used as the cause for the firing (1).  Eventually, Trump came clean, but he tarnished Rosenstein’s stellar reputation by first making the firing seem like Rosenstein’s idea.  It is rumored that Rosenstein threatened to resign if Trump didn’t straighten the record.

Trump did admit the truth but apparently that wasn’t enough to satisfy Rosenstein.   Appointing a special counsel seems like Rosenstein’s way of fully grabbing his integrity back.   Take that Mr. President.

So, with his unique ability to make matters worse for himself, Trump now has the immediate threat of Comey to deal with and the threat of Mueller’s investigations down the line.

At least this gives many Republican legislators in swing districts some cover from constituents who want to see this Russian connection fully investigated.  Now the congressmen and women can say Mueller is on the case and we don’t want to interfere.

With all of this turmoil at home Trump must have loved Saudi Arabia where he was welcomed as a king.   Yesterday he gave a speech that seems to have tread tricky territory  quite well.   Sticking with the teleprompter of course.  There are many angles to explore, but I’ll save that for later.  For now let’s just go with TV commentator emeritus Bob Schieffer saying at least the address was “presidential” and not “the rant of some angry guy at the end of the bar.”

I know, I know…….   There is something very odd when our president acting presidential merits praise, but we have fallen down the rabbit hole into Trump world.  His acting presidential may be the most we can ask for while he and we are sorting out what his foreign policy actually is.

For a start I’ll dissect that Saudi Arabia speech in a future post.


(1).  This article shows that Rosenstein stands by that memo.  He thinks Comey should have been fired for abusing his position, but he resented being made the fall guy in Trump’s story (you have noticed, haven’t you, that Trump always has a fall guy, so he can’t be blamed for anything).

As for few people buying the memo, much of it chided Comey for his public treatment of Clinton.  That would be fine were it not for Trump cheering every step Comey took that cast doubt on Clinton, hardly a true reason to now fire him.

Trump vs. Comey: A Showdown Over the Truth

On May 12 Donald Trump tweeted:  “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”  This in response to fired FBI Director Comey’s indicating that Trump had asked for a pledge of loyalty, two or three times it seems.  Not what a president should request from someone whose position dictates independence, with loyalty only to the constitution and to the truth.

I’m wondering if Trump is simply unraveling…..

This may be the president’s strangest tweet because, unlike those hundreds of others that have garnered attention, it makes no sense.   Of course, he has said plenty of outrageous things, many of which he just made up, but they helped his situation in creating an image of a strong decisive leader, a guy who would shake up Washington, or in providing a distraction from topics he no longer wanted to talk about.   Here it only draws more attention to the lingering sore issue of whether his campaign colluded with the Russians during the election.

It is the same as the firing of Comey, with Trump’s team giving false reasons for doing so and then the president admitting it was largely Comey’s refusal to let go of the “fake Russian story.”   Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Many commentators suggest that email above was a threat to Comey.  That would only be true if Comey is lying.  I think Trump is the one who is lying.   If so, talk of tapes is like you threatening someone with a gun pointed at yourself.

And mentioning the tapes (unless they actually exist and prove his point) has only served to prompt calls from congress to see them and left Trump’s surrogates, like national joke spokesman Sean Spicer, to feebly admit the president doesn’t want to talk about it.  Some threat.

Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Unlike so much else in Washington that just seems to drift a long, this specific conflict over the truth figures to come to a head.  It will be settled somehow.  It comes down to who you think is fundamentally more honest and, unless you are a Trump Fanatic, there is no question.  Comey has spent decades developing a reputation for integrity.  Trump has spent decades developing real estate deals saying and doing whatever it took to succeed.

The Trumpites like to point to the criticism the Democrats have had of Comey’s handling of the Hillary email mess, some even calling for his resignation.  But for the most part, it was his judgement that was criticized not his integrity.  After all this is a guy who wouldn’t even play basketball with President Obama as it might imply too close of a relationship.   And this is a professional who has been keeping detailed memos in FBI files of all of his exchanges with Trump and his team.

Like the gunfight at the OK corral, it will come to a head.  And I think Comey is looking forward to it.

Comey’s host of memos may come out like a series of poison darts, or he might reveal a bunch of them at a public hearing.  The initial one yesterday details Trump asking Comey if he “could see fit” to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House says “this is not a truthful or accurate portrayal” of that conversation.  One side of the other is lying and the truth will out.

The president is probably happy to be leaving town this weekend for visits to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.  You have to give it to Trump.  He knows how to put on a show.   Who knows what will actually be accomplished, but those meetings should provide some great optics (handshakes with three great religions) and of course Trump will tell us of the great meetings he had all around.

But whatever happens abroad the Comey problem will still be here on his return and if anything, it will look bigger not smaller.


P. S. – Of course I’m aware of the meeting of Russian diplomats with Trump in the oval office and the controversy that has ensued.  You want to bury the story line of the Russian connection?   So, right after firing Comey you host key Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, allowing jovial photos to come out?  Really?  I mean really?

Besides national security implications, it just seems like another poorly thought out tactical mistake reinforcing questions as to whether Trump really wants this job.

After all he has admitted it is harder than he thought.

Trump’s First 100: Little done and who knows what’s begun?

When thinking of the Trump presidency I alternate between viewing it through one lens looking for what is being done and another that focuses on the show, aimed mostly at grabbing our attention like a good advertisement.  Through the action lens Trump’s presidency looks willy-nilly, featuring much incompetence in his staff and their relations with congress, including the failure to fill many top vacancies.

Add a titanic sized boat load of conflicts of interest by the Trump family and the tendency to flip flop, including often doing exactly the opposite of the populism he campaigned upon.  Oh, and there is that lingering Russian connection under slow-mo investigation.

But as a show it is one display of fireworks after another and while many of us can only gag and shake our heads his followers, according to polls, are holding strong.   They are willing to cut him loads of slack given “the mess” he inherited in Washington and the frenzy of activity he engineers.   They see him tirelessly working for them, an image Mussolini achieved in Italy prior to WWII, by leaving a light on in his office all night.  Simpler times.

Trump is surely a whirlwind of activity though even that gets exaggerated by the bomb dropping impact of his tweets.   It might take him a few minutes to think through and pop off about Obama being “sick and  bad” for wire tapping him, but it sends reporters scurrying around for weeks.

Recently a TV reporter pressed Trump on the “sick and bad” comment and Trump called the interview over rather than explain himself.  Basically he left with “we all have our opinions.”  “But you are the president”  John Dickerson reminded him to no avail.   Dickerson was indicating the obvious, that we should be able to expect our president to explain what he meant by such an outrageous statement.

Turns out that’s not true in Trump world, a fantasy realm propped up by the Republican party in hopes it will get them what they want.  I doubt Trump ever knew exactly what he meant.  What he knew was it would be an attention grabber, just like all of the other personal attacks that have gotten him this far.  Who knew how wrong Jeb Bush could be when he told Trump at a debate:  “You can’t insult your way to the White House.”

Besides the tweets Trump is always signing something or meeting with someone, but judging what he actually accomplishes is tough.  Most of those executive orders either cut back on something Obama backed or proclaim a review of something that will likely be cut back.

Surely the national government can be trimmed, but the Trump team seems eager to cut before a review, such as the case of the State Department.   The goal  there seems to be to cut the staff by 30%  despite warnings by the likes of Secretary of Defense  Mattis, perhaps the most widely respected member of the administration.

Trump’s domestic successes can mostly be grouped under the heading:  Deconstructing the Obama Legacy.   From the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to his domestic cabinet picks, they share an agenda to reduce government.  Sometimes to the point of absurdity, like the EPA, which now seems to stand for the Environmental Pollution Agency.  How could it be otherwise with a secretary who continuously battled the EPA when a state attorney general?

That reminds me of the novel Fahrenheit 451, a dystopia in which the job of the firemen was not to fight fires but to burn books.   Think of the other cabinet positions and you’ll see reflections of that as well.

You may have noticed I have said almost nothing about the foreign policy aspect of the brief rein of King Don.  That’s because I see no policy, just a lot of showboating.  Bombs dropped here and there to show the world Trump’s willingness to get tough.  But along with this is Trump’s flirtatious ways with strong men rulers, the targets of dire threats one day and praise the next.

Most of us would not say we’d be “honored to meet” with the prominent dictators of our day.   As if oblivious to their collective brutal suppression of others, or more likely, Trump just doesn’t care.

If you are a true blue America Firster, no one else really matters.

That’s a topic for another day.  As far as Trump’s success so far, David Horsey of the L. A. Times  has summed it up well:  “Perhaps Trump’s biggest accomplishment in his first one hundred days has been his ability to capture the constant attention of the country and the world.”

A huge win for our Narcissist-in-Chief.