As I write, it is Good Friday, 2017, at the end of the twelfth week of the Trump Administration. This was the week of the great flip flops. I don’t purport to have any definitive list, but here are some of them:
- NATO is no longer obsolete
- China is no longer a currency manipulator
- China can easily “take care of” North Korea, but, after listening to President Xi for ten minutes, the North Korean problem is really hard
- Projection of American military power for humanitarian ends unrelated to an immediate national interest is OK
- He may reappoint Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve
- Russia is a now a bad actor
- Ryancare must be passed; I’ll move on from Ryancare to tax reform; but we have to do Ryancare before we can do tax reform; I’ll sabotage Obamacre; I won’t sabotage Obamacare; maybe I’ll work with the Democrats on health care
- The Ex-Im Bank is a good thing
- Climate change is a hoax, but maybe human activity has something to do with it
- There will be a federal hiring freeze; there won’t be a freeze
All this in the context of Trump’s celebration of unpredictability and chaos as tools of negotiation.
How are we to understand this bizarre behavior? For me, four points stand out.
First, though Trump is profoundly ignorant of policy matters and lacks actual views on many subjects on which a president should have views, he does have some persistent attitudes, and will default to policies that are consistent with those attitudes. Foremost among these is a fear of alien influences: germs, black and brown people, foreigners, foreign competitors, Muslims.
But, second, his ultimate goal is not to advance any policies but instead to aggrandize himself. Thus, where a policy grounded in his deeply entrenched attitudea conflicts with his goal of self-aggrandizement, he will choose self-aggrandizement over instinct. Thus, he chose to bomb Syria to aggrandize himself, contrary to his instinct to avoid foreign entanglements and promote America First.
Third, lacking the ability to distinguish reality from delusion, unable to reason logically from a complex set of facts, failing to grasp the difference between strategy and tactics, Trump latches onto inconsistency and surprise as a substitute for actual strategy. In Trump’s distorted mental world, the assertion that consistency is for wimps and losers explains away the fact that he cannot form a rational strategy.
Fourth, for these reasons and others, Trump is not a person with whom you can do business. You cannot do business with him because his word cannot be trusted, and if you place any reliance on it, if you think he will not throw you under the bus at the first opportunity, then you will deserve the result you will get.
He is a liar and the truth is not in him.