How’s He Doing?

November 19, 2017

4 min read

Ira Sharkansky

A friend responded to one of my recent notes with, “How many Trumps would it take for you to trade for one Bibi?”

We’ve recently passed through a year anniversary of Trump’s election. He’s only been in office for 10 months, but that provides enough for at least a tentative evaluation.

As with all senior politicians, or wannabe politicians who somehow got to an important position, it’s a mixed bag.

The noise associated with the extemporaneous Trump, and Trump the Tweeter, has been terrible. Bad enough lead his Secretary of State (the most senior of Cabinet positions) to describe him as a moron.

The President’s IQ may not been in question. Rather, his wisdom, self-control, knowledge and/or experience with respect to the upper reaches of government.

And the problem for all of us is that the US presidency is the most powerful office in the world. US wealth and weapons tempt or threaten sycophants or competitors wherever you look.

One of Donald’s latest wonders is a comment that the Texas church massacre had nothing to do with guns. He described it as a serious problem of mental illness, without acknowledging the problem of how a mentally ill individual could acquire the munitions to kill 26 people and injure many others in the course of a few minutes.

So far the worst has not happened. North Korean weapons are still in their bunkers, and Iran may be finding its limits in the complexities of the Middle East.

By some measures, the stock market is up by 20 percent since the election. However, the complexities of economic analysis may find that due in large part to what preceded Trump, and/or investors’ anticipations of a Republican President and Congress.

Headlines associated with his trip to the Far East have been gentle, with expressions dealing with negotiations rather than military action.

Not so encouraging were comments that he’s spoken with Putin, and is convinced that the Russians did not seek to influence the American election.

Israeli cynics are reminded of Bibi’s repeated slogan about police investigations, “There will not be anything because there is not anything.”

There were enough Trump one-liners in Asia to allow media doubters to continue portraying a flaky Chief Executive.

The lack of disaster is something to be taken into account.

Do we owe this to the skill of Trump’s minders or individuals who US law and practice place between the President and any meaningful activity?

Or maybe the guy is wiser than we’re giving credit. Supporters are saying that he’s pursuing the tactic that worked for him in business, i.e., threatening catastrophe in order to achieve concessions.

It’s more dangerous in world politics than getting his way in real estate.

If the man has so far avoided doing great damage, but he hasn’t accomplished anything dramatic.

As is even more clear with respect to his domestic agenda,  there’s no achievement for what he described as major intentions. Immigration reform has come up against the courts, and health reform can’t get enough votes in the Republican Houses of Congress.

His supporters point to lots of executive orders, but it’s not yet clear what, if anything, many of them will accomplish. Far below the President’s level, the details of implementation depend on underlings.

Now Americans are in the mode of tax reform.

George F. Will wrote in The Washington Post, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the tax code looked like it was designed on purpose?

That ain’t gonna happen. If anything passes, it’ll be a bit of this and a bit of that, reflecting which politicians and lobbyists can get anything through committee and full house votes. One can doubt that Trump will bother to understand it, much less take a leading role.

The polls are not looking good. They have shown an all-time high in public dissatisfaction, and projections of loss for Republicans in the congressional elections of 2018. Party losses in off-year state elections are not encouraging.

Democrats shouldn’t think of a sure thing. They can’t beat somebody with nobody.

They’ll have to do better than the 2016 face-off between the old and tarnished couple of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, or fighting as to who is more politically correct, in order to assure a majority in Congress in 2018 and fashioning a presidential campaign in 2020.

If he can’t get anything in Washington, Trump’s style faces even more awesome problems elsewhere.

The war in Syria may be winding down, but it remains as one of the Middle East’s nodes of conflict between several national governments, an underlying Sunni-Shiite split, the problem of the Kurds, Turkey’s internal and external issues, with Israel always maneuvering to gain advantage or minimize threat.

It’s not hard to imagine a renewal of civil war in Lebanon, with some degree of activity by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, with Americans squabbling among themselves as to their interests and options.

One or another part of the Middle East is too multifaceted, with too many conflicting interests for any professor, governmental technocrat, or politician to grasp it all and make useful predictions. It’s also fluid, currently upset by the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister and the threats of Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah, with Hezbollah always tempted to unleash its missiles against Israel.

The cluster of interests around North Korea is only slightly less complicated. They don’t involve the tinder of chronic tensions among Muslims, but they do involve the separate national interests of South Korea, China, and Japan. Each of them has been set on edge on account of threats between Kim-Jong-un and Donald Trump, and because of Trump’s pressures to get a better deal for America from its trading partners.

Can the President who doesn’t see a gun issue in the latest American massacre make a contribution to his country’s complex relations that involve not only money but the threat of warfare?

The best scenario may be Trump as a do nothing, or accomplish nothing President.

Given at least part of the Republican Party traditions, that would suit some of his voters. His style may keep his share of unhappy, unemployed, and underemployed Whites in line, even if they do not get anything tangible from him.

Trump and a lot of his supporters may lack an attention span longer than a Tweet or a one-line blast about whatever he thinks appropriate at the moment.

And given America’s problematic record abroad, whether Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon in Vietnam, GW Bush in Iraq or Obama in Arab Spring/Arab Winter, a US President who speaks with his fingers and does nothing may be the best we can hope for.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post

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