The Other End of The Bar

He’s the guy at the other end of the bar pontificating. But he’s not the “infallible” pontiff in Rome – he’s just the guy at the other end of the bar saying that everyone’s got it all wrong – this is really true and that is really false and he knows it, and no one else seems to know it, but they ought to know it, if they know right from wrong, which he does, even if no one else does. And then he gets angry, and sneers, and then smirks and dismisses everyone around him as hopelessly naïve. He knows. No one else knows. And the other guys at the bar stare forward and say nothing. They just want to drink in peace and dull down their own troubles for a bit. They’ll slip out one by one. Maybe the guy at the other end of the bar won’t notice. Maybe the guy at the other end of the bar won’t scream at them as they leave, shouting out that they’re cowards and fools. Maybe it’s best to drink alone.

And of course the guy at the other end of the bar is Donald Trump and the dive bar is America. And that guy is pontificating to a nation feeling stuck in some dive bar with “the man who says he knows everything about everything” – and keeps saying that over and over again. But no one can slip out unnoticed. He is the president after all. Everyone has to listen to the nonsense, nonsense that informs him, nonsense that will determine policy and war and peace and all the rest.

No one slips out. But few listen. And the New York Times’ Michael Shear covers what they just missed:

President Trump on Sunday shrugged off the brutal dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi – a Washington Post columnist – just days after a United Nations report described how a team of Saudi assassins called Mr. Khashoggi a “sacrificial animal” before his murder.

The U.N. report urged an FBI investigation into the slaying. But in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Trump said the episode had already been thoroughly investigated. He said the Middle East is “a vicious, hostile place” and noted that Saudi Arabia is an important trading partner with the United States.

“I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” the president told Chuck Todd, the show’s moderator. “I’m not like a fool that says, ‘We don’t want to do business with them.’ And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”

He is right – this is about business and everyone who thinks the murder of a journalist by a nasty government that wanted to shut him up is a big moral deal is just wrong. People are murdered all the time. These things happen. We need to close sales. Chuck Todd is the fool.

In fact, Donald Trump is misunderstood:

Just days after pulling back from striking Iran for its downing of an American surveillance drone, Mr. Trump also said he was “not looking for war,” but added that if the United States went to war with Iran, “it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”

He added: “But I’m not looking to do that.”

What? But he is who he is:

Mr. Trump said that he was willing to meet with Iran’s leaders without preconditions, saying: “Here it is. Look, you can’t have nuclear weapons. And if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise you can live in a shattered economy for a long time to come.”

That’s an “agree with me or die” statement, not likely to make things better, but he is that loud guy at the bar, sneering:

Mr. Trump also said he might not raise the issue of election interference when he meets with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia next week, and he complained that the “fake news” media misreported whether he would accept help from Russia or China during his re-election campaign.

On the question of whether he would address Mr. Putin directly about election interference when they meet, Mr. Trump said, “I may.” Mr. Todd asked Mr. Trump if he would tell the Russian president not to do it.

“I may,” he said. “If you’d like me to do it, I’ll do that.”

And then he and Putin will have a good laugh about Chuck Todd, and then, next, there was this:

During the interview, Mr. Trump repeatedly refused to take responsibility for desperate conditions at the border, where migrant children are being detained in dirty, disease-ridden conditions because of a surge of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

Instead, the president once again falsely blamed his predecessor for routinely separating families at the border, saying that “under President Obama you had separation. I was the one that ended it.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly made that assertion, which is not true. Mr. Obama’s administration – like others before it – only separated children from their parents at the border on a case-by-case basis when they feared abuse by the parent or there was a question of parentage.

The Trump administration last year began a policy of routinely separating all migrant children from their parents at the border so the adults could be criminally prosecuted for crossing the border. Mr. Trump ended the policy that he created only after global outrage condemned it as inhumane.

Here the New York Times’ Michael Shear may have gone too far. What he says is not true the president says is true. Shear has the evidence, documentary evidence of what was said and done. Specific things did happen. People saw them happen. They’re on tape and all the rest. The president says none of that is true, in spite of the overwhelming evidence. And he is the president. Grant that he says that what he says is absolutely true and leave it at that. Don’t say he’s lying. Suggest he’s confused, or misinformed, or there’s some pathology involved. Everyone saw this and he saw that. Or, what the hell, say he’s lying his ass off to fool the nation, or to fool himself. It’s hard to deal with the guy at the other end of the bar.

Chuck Todd got stuck with him:

NBC’s Chuck Todd was bewildered by President Donald Trump again claiming he did not actually lose the popular vote in 2016, and appearing to cast doubt on the vote total.

“You didn’t like the fact that you lost the popular vote. That bothered you didn’t it?” Todd asked.

“There were a lot of votes cast that I don’t believe. I look at California,” Trump said before Todd cut him off saying “Mr. President.”

Trump has often bristled in interviews when it is mentioned he lost the 2016 popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

“Excuse me,” Trump continued “Take a look at Judicial Watch. Take a look at their settlement. California admitted to a million votes.”

That’s what he heard, but he may have heard wrong:

Trump appeared to be obliquely referencing a settlement announced by the conservative watchdog group, which aimed to have Los Angeles County remove inactive voters from voting rolls.

However, the lawsuit did not expose widespread voter fraud as Trump suggested. And Todd was still confused by what Trump was talking about.

“Million votes of what? What are you talking about?” Todd asked.

Trump was trapped there, with no good answer, so there was this:

Trump soon moved on to talk about how he could have won the popular vote, but that he “didn’t campaign for the popular vote.”

“You didn’t see me campaigning in California and New York. If it was up to the popular vote, I would have done, I think, even better,” Trump argued.

He likes to daydream, but the Chuck Todd interview was Friday, and its broadcast Sunday, so that left a day in-between for this:

Donald Trump has said that if Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, it will be prosperous and have the US president as “a best friend” – but also warned that the Islamic Republic would be “obliterated” in any war between the two countries.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday morning came in the wake of his eleventh-hour decision to call off airstrikes in reprisal for the downing of a US surveillance drone. They are significant in that they differ starkly from the official line of his own administration: that Iran must fulfill a list of 12 US demands before sanctions can be lifted…

Last May, secretary of state Mike Pompeo laid down 12 conditions for the normalization of US-Iran relations, which included nuclear demands but also limits on missile development, withdrawal from Syria and an end to support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. Trump, who has been seeking to start a dialogue with Tehran, made no mention of non-nuclear conditions.

There’s only one demand now:

“They’re not going to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump told reporters before leaving the White House for Camp David. “We’re not going to have Iran have a nuclear weapon.”

“When they agree to that, they’re going to have a wealthy country. They’re going to be so happy, and I’m going to be their best friend. I hope that happens.”

No one knew what to make of that, because no good can come of that:

The combination of dire threats and openness to freewheeling dialogue echoes Trump’s approach to North Korea in 2017.

“Trump is notoriously mercurial but one thing he is consistent on is that he does not want to drag the US into a new war,” said Thomas Juneau, a former Canadian diplomat and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

“His face-saving solution is to say he called off a military strike on Iran. We have avoided direct violence, but the underlying issues are still there with no off-ramp or process at this point that could lead to de-escalation.”

The situation is complicated, but the guy at the end of the bar added this:

“I come from New York City. We have a lot of Iranians. And they’re great people. I have friends that are Iranians. They’re very smart. They’re very ambitious and tremendous high-quality people. I don’t want to kill 150 Iranians. I don’t want to kill 150 of anything or anybody, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

But it might be necessary. You never know. These things happen. If necessary he’ll kill them all. What can you do?

You can try to make sense of this man, and Patrick Kingsley reports on that:

Some framed it as another empty threat from a leader whose bark is consistently worse than his bite. Some saw a method to the perceived madness – a potentially shrewd act of brinkmanship.

And others considered it simply the latest act of an America that, long before President Trump, has often oscillated from isolation to intervention, and back.

This is just more of the same:

Mr. Trump’s order to attack Iran on Thursday in retaliation for its downing of a spy drone, and his abrupt reversal minutes before American forces carried it out, have intensified global doubts about the president’s judgment and the power wielded by the United States.

The appearance of erratic decision-making “adds to the confusion of his allies and adversaries,” said Nigel Sheinwald, a former British ambassador to Washington who once conducted hostage negotiations with the Iranian government.

But it is also part of “a continuing picture of American uncertainty about the use of power,” Mr. Sheinwald said.

The first “America First” movement was Charles Lindbergh and most Republicans trying to keep the United States out of that war in Europe – not our fight – Hitler and Mussolini were running things just fine over there. Those isolationists were the face of America too, back then, long ago. But that’s a problem now:

Thomas Gomart, the president of the French Institute of International Relations, a Paris-based research group, said that “what’s going on now is decisive in terms of the evolution of American leadership.”

“The consequences are incalculable,” Mr. Gomart added. “They give the impression of a loss of control that is tied to President Trump and his entourage.”

But more widely, Mr. Trump’s about-face was portrayed as the continuation of a familiar pattern of unreliable behavior.

But some have learned to live with that:

If Mr. Trump’s sudden de-escalation nevertheless surprised those who had taken his threats seriously, it was greeted with a shrug among South Koreans. They have seen this act before.

In 2017, Mr. Trump threatened North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it endangered the United States. But Mr. Trump ultimately made a dramatic shift to diplomacy, going so far as to say that he and North Korean leader were “in love.”

In Seoul this weekend, officials and analysts said they had grown inured to the back flips in Mr. Trump’s attitude to Korean geopolitics. There were no official reactions from the South Korean government, nor newspaper editorials or commentaries.

They were ignoring the guy at the other end of the bar, but there was this:

Perhaps counterintuitively, analysts in China said the country’s government might also have felt somewhat relieved by Mr. Trump’s reversal – but for less flattering reasons.

Mr. Trump wants European governments to block China’s involvement in the rollout of new mobile-phone technology in Europe by the Chinese technology giant Huawei, citing security risks. But his unreliability over Iran might reinforce distrust of the American insistence on keeping Huawei out of Europe, said Yan Xuetong, the dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

“The uncertainty about Trump means no one trusts him, and it means China will benefit,” Mr. Yan said. “The U.S. will no longer be able to get the allies to make collective action against China.”

The bet is that everyone else will now ignore the guy at the other end of the bar on all issues. That may be a good bet given this analysis from the Washington Post:

Trump’s approach on three issues – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, Mexican tariffs and Iran – is politically risky for the president, who is increasingly employing brinkmanship in an effort to achieve key policy goals.

Trump is getting hammered for that:

With the first Democratic debates of the 2020 presidential race days away, several White House contenders seized on Trump’s calling off of the Iran strike as the latest in a pattern of reversals.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) described Trump’s actions as similar to “somebody setting afire a basket full of paper and then putting it out.”

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) struck a similar note, telling CBS’s Ed O’Keefe, “I don’t believe that anyone should receive credit for a crisis of their own making.”

And Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) argued that Trump’s handling of Iran has meant that “even when there are strikes on tankers, we see again our allies very skeptical to even believe us right now.”

“This has been folly,” Booker said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” “There is no strategy here. We have a president that seems to be doing this like a reality TV show and trying to build more drama and trying to make foreign policy by tweet.”

But it wasn’t just them:

Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said that Trump’s behavior has generated confusion about what the country’s positions are.

“Ronald Reagan was very clear, there’s no ambiguity about his views about the world and his willingness to pursue them. None,” he said. “Sometimes he was criticized but there was a clarity and a consistency and a pattern that was established.”

With Trump, in contrast, “both our allies and our enemies are at a loss to understand what the president means,” he said.

Everyone is at a loss:

Last month, he abruptly threatened to impose tariffs on all Mexican goods entering the country to force Mexico to tighten its southern border against migrants fleeing Central America. He gave Mexican authorities 10 days to show progress or face a 5 percent tariff on the roughly $346 billion in goods Mexico ships each year to the United States.

Trump drew criticism for using trade to address an unrelated issue and for contradicting the spirit of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, designed to facilitate trade among the North American neighbors.

But the threat prompted Mexican officials to race to Washington to negotiate tougher border security measures, ultimately including deployment of about 6,000 Mexican national guardsmen to the country’s border with Guatemala.

But that was what they had agreed to months ago, and their new national guard has yet to be formed, so nothing much changed, and there was this:

Trump has also engaged in serial rounds of tariff-heavy diplomacy with China. He threatened last year to increase tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion in Chinese goods starting Jan. 1. But one month before the deadline expired, over dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires, Trump agreed instead to give negotiators 90 days to reach a deal.

Days before that deadline, Trump again delayed, citing “substantial progress” in the talks. He set no new deadline, but in early May after talks collapsed, he implemented the tariff hike.

He also began the process of imposing tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese imports, potentially creating a fresh obstacle to reaching a trade deal with Beijing. Chinese officials have insisted that all tariffs be removed as part of any deal that addresses the president’s complaints about China’s trade practices.

“Now it’s more complex,” said one executive familiar with the trade talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential discussions.

And that won’t end well:

“Trump’s threats work to some extent against weak targets, but not against stronger ones. Canada and Mexico – which are so dependent on exports to the United States – have been willing to make tough concessions rather than risk serious harm to their own economies. Korea, which is so dependent on the U.S. security umbrella, was also willing to do a quick deal,” said Edward Alden, an economics professor at Western Washington University. “But bigger trading partners – China, the EU, even Japan – have proved far less compliant.”

They’re big enough and secure enough that they don’t have to deal with the blustering blowhard at the far end of the bar, and there’s this:

Trump’s announcement that he had directed ICE agents to conduct mass arrests of migrant families that have received deportation orders – and subsequent two-week delay of the operation – appears to have fallen flat so far. Democrats have responded not by scrambling to the negotiating table but rather by accusing him of government by hostage-taking.

Some Democrats on Sunday pointed out that Trump’s advance declaration of the raids appeared to inadvertently violate his administration’s guidance. They noted that in a statement Saturday night, ICE spokeswoman Carol Danko said in part, “Any leak telegraphing sensitive law enforcement operations is egregious and puts our officers’ safety in danger.”

Others, such as Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), balked at Trump’s demand.

“President Trump gives millions facing deportation two weeks before his next tweet attack,” Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in a Sunday tweet. “Their fate depends on whether Congress will allow him to indefinitely jail children. This is America?”

No, this is a dive bar and Max Boot calls for this:

Trump needs to either put up or shut up. But he won’t do either. He continues to run his mouth – or, more accurately, his Twitter account – without making good on his threats. This is the worst of all worlds.

And that’s why everyone is drinking heavily.

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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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