Not Quite Presidential

Donald Trump has said a lot of things. In late August 2016, after winning a few more primaries and pulling away from the rest of those hopelessly conventional Republican losers, to those who were worried that he might be a bit too unconventional, he said this – “At the right time, I will be so presidential, you will be so bored. You will say, ‘Can he have a little bit more energy?’ But I know when to be presidential.”

That was supposed to be reassuring, to the fools and losers out there. The statement was clearly ironic. Being wildly unpresidential was about to win him the Republican nomination, and he must have known that being wildly unpresidential would win him the presidency. He may have known when to be presidential, but he never intended to be presidential. Obama had been presidential – cool and calm and thoughtful and careful, and gracious – and Trump sensed that America had had just about enough of that. He’d be a wild man. He’d say or tweet out anything that came to mind – true or false, or dangerous or simply puzzling, or covfefe incomprehensible. Let others clean up the mess. He’d be pure energy, unfiltered. He sensed that was what America really wanted.

He may have been right. He did win the presidency – but it’s also possible that he had no idea what it meant to be presidential. Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs explain that:

For those like Bill Clinton, who campaigned almost from birth, there was a joy about the job even in the most brutal times, and in his final days it was hard for him to imagine giving it up. For others, like Dwight D. Eisenhower, who were more reluctant recruits, the powerful sense of duty made the Oval Office an extension of their other works, just a logical transition. For someone like George W. Bush or Barack Obama, whose paths to the Oval Office were relatively short – a detour in a life headed elsewhere – they did the job, all in, and then left it behind.

With Donald Trump, the nation is seeing something new. Although he flirted with running as an independent, decades ago, and as a Republican in 2012, he was never driven by a vision, an agenda or a set of goals. He gave every indication of wanting to win the presidency but not be the President.

That’s what is different here:

Trump didn’t expect to win and, if he thought about it, probably didn’t want to. The campaign itself gave him the power and the glory and the profits.

The office takes those away. In the terms he cares about – nuclear button notwithstanding – he is in many ways less powerful as President than he was a year ago. Candidates can say whatever they want about what they will do; Presidents are expected to go out and do it. There’s more ridicule and much less freedom. Harry Truman’s “great white jail” is spartan compared with a life pinballing between Mar-a-Lago and Fifth Avenue. The rewards of the office, such as they are, aren’t rewarding to Trump, other than the pomp, the crowds, the chance to show off the Lincoln Bedroom or to see in our response an awe he does not share but likes provoking.

The rest doesn’t interest him:

The fuel that powers the presidency – the passion for ideas, the attachment to allies, the give-and-take of practical politics – gives him no energy. So this is an exhausting, even debilitating, life for a 71-year-old, much less one with little curiosity or sense of mission beyond self-interest. The most thin-skinned public figure imaginable has been exposed to the elements. And he doesn’t like them.

All of this speaks to fitness, which is different than mental capacity or competence or proficiency with policy. It goes to wanting to learn, to grow into the role, to be tested by the office held by others in more difficult times, to make the best of the challenge history hands you.

And that leads to this:

Axios reports that his official day now starts at 11 a.m., with the bulk of the morning carved out for “executive time” – watching TV, tweeting and talking to friends. He’s spent one day out of three in his presidency so far at one of his ritzy properties; having ridiculed Obama for his time on the links, Trump played golf, by one count, 75 times in 2017. That means he golfed, on average, more than six times a month, which would count as a lot even if he were a nice Florida retiree – which he isn’t.

No, he’s not some nice Florida retiree. He is the president. Like it or not, now and then, he has to do something that looks presidential, but it would be nice if he understood the basic concept. Pure energy, unfiltered, can be nothing but trouble, and it was one of those days. Jonathan Chait explains how the day started:

During his morning Executive Time, President Trump took a well-deserved break from his long hours of document study to watch Fox News. The segment featured one of the talking heads urging Trump to oppose the House bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The president immediately tweeted out his alarmed confusion that the House was apparently on the verge of approving the very law the sinister Deep State had used to “tapp” his phones – “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”

That was pure energy, unfiltered, but Chait explains how dangerous that was:

Ideally, Trump would be posing questions like this to his own advisers, rather than to the entire world. The president’s alarm was unfortunate, since the Trump administration strongly supports reauthorization of this law. It has sent its highest-ranking security officials to lobby Congress for reauthorization, and reiterated its endorsement of the law as recently as last night.

The source of Trump’s confusion may be that he has taken seriously the Republican talking points about the Deep State, failing to realize that it’s disingenuous propaganda designed to cover up misdeeds by his campaign. Republicans don’t actually object to the counterintelligence functions of the government as a whole. They merely want to discredit their specific application to the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. They don’t want the president blowing up the bill right before the vote they labored carefully to assemble.

That’s why his staff sat him down and explained things to him. House Speaker Paul Ryan called him to explain the same thing – Nancy Pelosi, the shadow speaker from the other party, had publicly called on Ryan to pull the bill, because the president, Ryan’s president, opposed it. She was gleefully twisting the knife, and a few hours later Trump tweeted again – “I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!”

And then it was all over – the House passed the bill – and Donald Trump learned that being presidential isn’t that easy, and Kevin Drum adds this:

Trump’s initial tweet sent Congress into a temporary tizzy, but I think everyone is drawing the wrong conclusions from this. Sure, it’s yet more evidence that Trump is a moron, but more importantly it shows that Fox & Friends is not taking its constitutional role seriously.

These guys know that Trump is watching, and they know that Trump is easily confused. We all understand that he’s declined over the past couple of years, and America’s well-being depends on Fox & Friends switching to a simpler format and being more careful to explain to Trump what he does and doesn’t support. We all have patriotic duties in these difficult times, and Fox & Friends needs to make sure it doesn’t confuse the commander-in-chief early in the morning before his staff is ready to take over that job.

Drum was twisting the knife too, but someone’s got to be presidential here. Someone has to understand the issues, and understand the details of the pending legislation intended to address those issues, and then make a sensible judgment about the efficacy of that legislation. The three chatty hosts of that Fox News morning show really do need to be more presidential. Donald Trump won’t be. He doesn’t want to be presidential. That’s for losers. And he won the big one.

That should have been that. That was enough of Donald Trump being so presidential that America would be so bored and beg for a little bit more energy. No one was bored, but then the day ended with what the New York Times team of Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thomas Kaplan report here:

President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

This wasn’t exactly presidential:

Mr. Trump’s remarks, the latest example of his penchant for racially tinged remarks denigrating immigrants, left members of Congress from both parties attending the meeting in the Cabinet Room alarmed and mystified. He made them during a discussion of an emerging bipartisan deal to give legal status to immigrants illegally brought to the United States as children, those with knowledge of the conversation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting.

When Mr. Trump heard that Haitians were among those who would benefit from the proposed deal, he asked whether they could be left out of the plan, asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?”

But no one should have been surprised:

The comments were reminiscent of ones the president made last year in an Oval Office meeting with cabinet officials and administration aides, during which he complained about admitting Haitians to the country, saying that they all had AIDS, as well as Nigerians, who he said would never go back to their “huts,” according to officials who heard the statements in person or were briefed on the remarks by people who had. The White House vehemently denied last month that Mr. Trump made those remarks.

And this wasn’t surprising:

In a written statement, Raj Shah, the White House deputy press secretary, did not deny the account of the meeting on Thursday or directly address Mr. Trump’s comments.

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” Mr. Shah said.

In short, this was an America First thing. Certain Washington politicians seem to love other countries and hate America. Trump’s base will love that assertion, but that fixes nothing:

The president’s vulgar language on a delicate issue left the fate of the broader immigration debate in limbo and had the potential to torpedo the chances of achieving the deal being sought to protect about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. And they drew a backlash from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, many of whom called Mr. Trump’s utterances unacceptable at best and plainly racist at worst.

There was a lot of that:

Representative Mia Love, a Republican of Utah who is of Haitian descent, demanded an apology from the president, saying his comments were “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values.”

“This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation,” Ms. Love went on in an emotional statement that noted her heritage and that said her parents “never took a thing” from the government while achieving the American dream. “The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.”

And there was this:

“As an American, I am ashamed of the president,” said Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois. “His comments are disappointing, unbelievable, but not surprising.” He added, we can now “say with 100 percent confidence that the president is a racist who does not share the values enshrined in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence.”

Yes, Gutiérrez used that word – racist – but that’s not a stretch:

As a candidate, Mr. Trump, who rose to political prominence questioning the validity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, branded Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and was slow to disavow the support of the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

As the president, Mr. Trump has ordered a broad immigration crackdown while privately railing against immigrants from predominantly black countries and has repeatedly stoked racial divisions, denouncing “both sides” for violence after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and singling out black athletes for failing to stand for the national anthem before their games.

He did call those black NFL players “sons of bitches” after all, and this meeting was tense:

Mr. Trump grew angry as the group detailed another aspect of the deal – a move to end the diversity visa lottery program and use some of the 50,000 visas that are annually distributed as part of the program to protect vulnerable populations who have been living in the United States under what is known as Temporary Protected Status. That was when Mr. Durbin mentioned Haiti, prompting the president’s criticism.

When the discussion turned to African nations, those with knowledge of the conversation added, Mr. Trump asked why he would want “all these people from shithole countries,” adding that the United States should admit more people from places like Norway.

About 83 percent of Norway’s population is ethnic Norwegian, according to a 2017 CIA fact book, making the country overwhelmingly white.

Gutiérrez may have been right:

Mr. Trump has long argued that the United States should base legal immigration on merit and skills rather than family ties, seeking new entrants who are highly educated, capable of assimilating and unlikely to use government programs for the poor. Some people familiar with his comments argued privately on Thursday night that the president had only tried to press that point, using salty language.

But it was the language he used that shocked and appalled many lawmakers and created a public outcry – the vulgar phrase Mr. Trump uttered quickly began trending on Twitter – overshadowing the substance of the DACA talks, and with it, the future of the immigrants at risk of deportation should those discussions fail.

Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana and the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the president’s closed-door comments “yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views” and said they reinforced “the concerns that we hear every day, that the president’s slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’ is really code for ‘Make America White Again.'”

And there was this:

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, described the comments as “the most odious and insidious racism masquerading poorly as immigration policy,” and argued that they would make it more difficult for the two parties to reach consensus on an immigration deal.

“It inflames and encourages the worst instinct and the basest dark side of immigration issues,” Mr. Blumenthal said. He added that he had spoken with several Senate colleagues who expressed “a combination of disbelief and a sense of repugnance” at what the president had said.

And meanwhile, over in Norway:

It was already past midnight on Friday when the news arrived in Norway: A day after meeting with Norway’s prime minister in Washington, President Trump told members of Congress that the United States needed more immigrants from places like Norway and fewer immigrants from countries like Haiti.

Many in this prosperous Scandinavian country were already asleep, but several prominent Norwegians who were still online took to Twitter to vent their outrage and disgust, not only at Mr. Trump’s vulgar language but at what many saw as a racially tinged insult.

“The real White House: Trump calls Haiti and African countries ‘shithole’ countries to the face of members of Congress, and uses Norway to prove his racism,” wrote Andreas Wiese, a newspaper commentator who manages the House of Literature, a popular cultural center in Oslo, Norway’s capital.

Yes, they felt used:

This was not the first time Mr. Trump had rankled Scandinavians with off-the-cuff remarks. In February, he puzzled and alarmed Swedes when, in a speech discussing refugee policies in Europe, he suggested that a terrorist attack had occurred “last night in Sweden.” No such thing had taken place.

“Does Trump know that Norway is neighbors with what-happened-last night-in-Sweden?” a Swedish social worker, Ulf Fogelstrom, quipped on Twitter.

And in Haiti:

Raoul Peck, a Haitian filmmaker and former minister of culture, cast blame on Americans who were “enabling” their president.

He accused Republican lawmakers and Trump voters of “protecting even his most outrageous behaviors,” saying that if they do not “stand up to this sickening and suicidal pathology, they will go down in history as not only accomplices, but as James Baldwin would say, as criminals.”

Thirty-seven percent of all Americans, with Donald Trump cheering them on, will resent that, and there was this:

In El Salvador, where the government is still digesting Mr. Trump’s announcement on Monday that nearly 200,000 Salvadorans granted Temporary Protected Status in the United States since 2001 will have to leave by 2019, Carlos Calleja, a businessman and civic activist who is running to be the presidential candidate for the right-leaning Nationalist Republican Alliance, called for unity.

“Our relationship with the United States is a special, historic one, and it will continue to go on,” he said Thursday night. “We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by things like this. There are more important issues to address, specifically the millions of Salvadorans living in the United States that we care deeply about.”

He was hoping for the best, however unlikely, but there was this:

Mae M. Ngai, a historian at Columbia University who has written extensively on Asian immigration to the United States, expressed dismay at Mr. Trump’s remarks.

“His vulgar racism is exceeded perhaps only by his ignorance,” she said. “Countries like El Salvador and Haiti are in terrible condition in large part because of long histories of American support for right-wing dictatorships and crony capitalism. And why would anyone in Norway give up their social benefits – universal health care on a single payer system, no college tuition, and the like – to come to the U.S., which has none of it?”

That’s a good question – a matter of relative shitholes – but then things got worse:

Donald Trump has cancelled a visit to Britain next month to open the new US embassy in London amid fears of mass protests.

The American president claimed on Twitter that his reason for calling off the trip was his displeasure at Barack Obama having sold the current embassy for “peanuts” and built a replacement for $1.2bn. “Bad deal,” he wrote.

But the embassy’s plan to move from Mayfair to Nine Elms in London was first reported in October 2008 – when George W Bush was still president and Obama had not yet been elected.

Oops. But this had to happen:

Relations with the controversial president hit a low late last year when [Prime Minister Theresa] May criticized his decision to retweet material posted by the far right extremist group, Britain First.

Trump responded by tweeting directly to the prime minister that she should focus on tackling domestic terrorism.

The government was so concerned about his decision to share the extremist videos that Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, took the rare step of raising the issue directly with the White House.

Trump’s ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, subsequently insisted: “The president and the prime minister have a very, very good relationship. I know the president admires and respects the prime minister greatly.”

Woody Johnson also owns the New York Jets. He probably thinks they’re a fine football team. Things are not going well.

Donald Trump said that he knows when to be presidential. And when would that be, exactly? Everyone’s waiting.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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