19 December 2017

The Quickness of the Mouth Deceives

The actions of Mr Trump

by J.R. Thomas 

American Bald Eagle in front of flag looking fierce

A reader of the Shaw Sheet gave us some good advice the other day.  “Don’t listen to what Mr Trump says” he said sagaciously.   We nodded over the prawn cocktail; but he had not concluded his remarks. “Look at what he does”.  That is a wise insight; especially if you include with what the Donald says, what the Donald tweets.  Those tweets are what cause so much of the turmoil around the President.  But indeed, ignore them.  Disregard the off-the-cuff remarks and angry short speeches.  Or, perhaps, treat them as something else.  Humour perhaps?  Or mischief making? Or distraction from what the President is really doing, maybe aimed at some of those voters who almost a year ago decided they wanted a big change in Washington?

Mr Trump is not, we should remind our readers, a career politician.  He does not think or act or behave like a seasoned professional denizen of Washington.  He is a businessman, and we deliberately say “is”.  This is not to suggest that Mr Trump is up to anything improper in business whilst he is running the country but, like Hillary promoting a book, Donald does at every opportunity try to weave awareness of Trump businesses  into the public consciousness.  He is a natural salesman, as you might expect from a man who wrote, or co-wrote, or commissioned the writing of, “The Art Of The Deal”.  Mar-a-Largo, the Florida White House, his resort hotel and residences on the Florida keys, is always the Trump Mar-a-Largo,  (great value folks, deals always available); Scotland always comes  with a mention of the Trump championship golf courses at Turnberry and in Aberdeenshire (best golf courses in Europe, folks); in New York  the Trump Tower always edges into the picture (the best residential offering in New York, folks).

And he is, as real estate tycoons tend to be, naturally competitive.  Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State and a long time Trump associate, is rumoured to have called Mr Trump a “moron” over some Presidential musings on North Korea.  This would hardly be novel and most people think it of their bosses at some point.  Mr Tillerson won’t quite say he didn’t, but the two men seem to remain close and Mr Trump appears relaxed about it, saying he would be happy to take an IQ test in competition with Mr Tillerson and adding “I can tell you who is going to win”.  The media has got itself in a wonderful state of excitement over this big beast headbutting stuff, but seemed to overlook that this just might be, might just be, a bit of White House team humour, to say nothing of a media wind-up.  Certainly Mr Tillerson remains in the job and Mr Trump has not been seen doing the Mensa practice papers.

So, taking that sage advice, we ask a question; what has the Trump administration actually being doing whilst the roars of laughter and outrage cause us all to look the other way?  Well, the President has been making friends with the Democrats for one thing.  This began a few weeks ago with a deal to get a temporary extension of federal spending authority while a bigger and more comprehensive deal is hammered out, but then continued with discussions on Mr Trump’s plans for a big tax regime amendment and also with talks over how to deal with a problem we have touched on here before, that of the Dreamers, those born to illegal, mostly Hispanic, immigrants who have no citizen rights in the United States – or in their parents’ countries of origin.  Mr Trump has made various noises on this, both on the lines of “something must be done” and “not our problem”, but his continuing conversations with the Democrats suggest that the President does want a resolution.

In a similar way the Administration has made hostile noises on so-called Obamacare, the Obama reforms to the health insurance system to create, or least move towards, a universal health care entitlement.   But the President’s attempts to reform the scheme, widely but not universally supported by the Republican Party on the Hill, supported by some Democrats, and a key plank of the Trump electoral platform last year, have got nowhere so far.  So the current quiet strategy is simply to reduce funding, induce erosion round the edges, slowly shrink the scheme away.  This too is in discussion with the Democrats, who are sensitive to the cost implication of the current structure and, more cynically, have never quite worked out whether universal health care is an electoral winner or loser.  The President has turned out to be good at turning up at disaster scenes, federal cheque book in hand (not so much in Puerto Rico , but then, it is not a state).  He has made the right noises about recent shooting tragedies (though not yet calling for gun control) and has even attacked the major drug companies for gross profiteering.  Here too legislation is apparently been discussed – with stronger support from Democrats than from the GOP.

So the noise has been considerable, but the reality has been quiet modest action, with more of a Democrat edge than a Republican one, or so a Republican politician might say.  Which, as the President was a Democrat most of his life…but we won’t go there.  Maybe this is why Hillary is so cross, as she stomps her way round America and now Britain, on her promotional book tour of “What Happened” (or “What the fxxx Happened?”).  Mrs Clinton has confessed to drinking much white wine and reading a lot of bad fiction, neither of which the current President could get away with, we suspect.  But what may really be upsetting the good lady is that she sees Mr Trump doing quite a lot of what she might have wanted to do herself.

Except maybe in one area.  That is where Mrs Clinton would be putting into action that Churchillian precept of “Jaw, Jaw”, whilst Mr Trump seems inclined to prefer “War, War”.  Or does he?  Mr Tillerson (and Mike Pence, the vice President) are doing a lot of talking  and travelling, whilst the boss stays home on Pennsylvania Avenue and makes blood curdling threats at Kim Jong Un, the beloved one of North Korea.  There he has serious competition.  Mr Kim’s ability to curdle blood is truly of a very advanced nature, though whether his underlying threats are aimed west, or closer to home, at Beijing, is still open to debate.  Also on Mr Trump’s little hit list is Iran; Donald’s view is that Mr Obama’s deal with the Iranian government (to lift sanctions on Iran whilst Iran ceased and desisted on its nuclear programme) was too easy on Iran, who in any case are thought not to have ceased or desisted as agreed.  Adding to the complications of relations with Iran are the US’s longtime friendship with Saudi Arabia, whose never happy relationship with Iran is deteriorating ever further.  And also the muddying of the western alliance, the European Union some of whose member states have built a large export business with Iran and do not want renewed sanctions. (Sell them BMW’s today and worry about the nuclear strikes tomorrow, you might say.)  But again, Mr Trump talks loudly but there is not much sign of Mr Tillerson waving any big sticks.

Maybe there is a lesson here from The Art of the Deal.  Do not let your opponent know what you are really thinking. Try to divert him to matters which are not of great concern to you.  Have many other things to deal with so he knows you are busy.  Let him think you can really walk away from this one.  Consistency is not always helpful.  We assume Donald has read the book, but has Mr Kim?  And the Ayatollahs?


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