R. E. S. P. E. C. T.

Alan Zendell, November 11, 2017

Aretha Franklin belted it out loud and clear.

The president’s Asia trip has more than anything been a test of how much powerful foreign leaders respect him. The media has been filled with reports and opinions, almost since the day Trump was inaugurated, that they were shocked by him and personally viewed him as an unqualified buffoon. That doesn’t mean they could disregard him. One year into the current administration we’re still the most powerful nation in the world militarily, and he is the Commander-in-Chief.

There’s an interesting parallel with North Korea here. Most leaders consider Kim Jong Un something between crazy and irresponsible, but they don’t deny that he’s capable of doing a lot of damage if he chooses to. Kim may well be playing an exaggerated version of the game Trump loves so much. Act crazy, say anything that comes to mind, and hold your cards close to your vest. No one really knows what goes on in the mind of Kim Jong Un, and the same may be true of Donald Trump’s.

Last month the president claimed to have a wonderful relationship with Congress, though he is routinely criticized in the media by some members, and in private by many more. Now he claims he has wonderful relationships with the leaders of other countries, in particular with Xi Jinping. People I respect believe that may be true, though as I  have said before, my sense is that they’re playing him, and the sport they’re competing in is one in which Trump is seriously overmatched.

If in the face of the press releases about deals with China I still had any doubt of this, Trump resolved them with his statements about Vladimir Putin today. Despite everyone in the American intelligence community, including Trump’s appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo asserting strongly that Russia meddled in our election last year, Trump says that Putin claims he didn’t do it and “when he tells me that he means it, and I believe him.” That statement was so outrageous it was hard know whether it was just another item in the administration’s tangled web of fake news or if Trump actually believed it.

It raised so much consternation in Washington the president accepted a question about it at today’s press conference in Hanoi. When asked if he really believed Putin, Trump said he thought Putin believed Russia hadn’t meddled in our election, but he (Trump) believed the intelligence experts who were sure Russia had done it. His staff had clearly informed him that he had to walk back his original statement, but what he said in Hanoi only made it worse. It implies Trump believed Russia could have done it without Putin’s knowledge and approval. If that’s true he’s even more overmatched than I thought.

Many people like to label our president as a habitual liar, but he can’t hold a candle to Putin in that regard. Putin has been using lies as propaganda and diplomatic tools all his life. He’s the consummate grand master. What are we to think when our president tells us that when Putin whispers something in his ear he’s telling the truth? It’s hard to imagine what he expects to gain by it. A large majority of Congress believes Russia is guilty, and they control the sanctions Putin wants lifted.

There was no doubt that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe worked very hard to play up to Trump for the media. But realistically, if North Korea does go completely rogue, Japan is directly in its crosshairs, and American anti-missile defenses are the best chance it has of defending itself against Kim’s missiles. I can’t help but take Abe’s over-the-top welcome of Trump with a grain of salt.

Am I being unduly negative? Does it seem that I refuse to give the president credit for anything? It may sound that way, but I believe that Trump is basically a con artist. He has repeatedly lied and contradicted himself, and I find it difficult to take anything he says or does at face value. With someone like Trump I need some kind of proof of his sincerity before I can place any trust in him.

His behavior from day to day still makes him appear unfit for the job. The question I continually wrestle with is whether even an accomplishment like turning Kim Jong Un, should he pull it off, would be enough to offset that. I’m afraid I don’t think it would be. His morally repugnant value system is like his Mexican wall. I don’t think I can get over it no matter what he does.

If I turn out to be wrong about him I will happily acknowledge it, but for now, I’ve seen nothing that changes my view of him.

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