Missteps And Misstatements

Alan Zendell, July 19, 2018

I’ve been spoiled most of my life. I’ve had wonderful role models as my heroes, and with the exception of Harry Truman and Winston Churchill, none of them were politicians. They were my teachers, those special few who took the trouble to really recognize who I was, and they were scientists and writers. It’s quite a shock to my senses to have a president who is so inarticulate he can’t complete an English sentence unless it’s written down for him.

He is so directionless, his thoughts are scattered and contradictory, and he turns those unfiltered thoughts into words, without the benefit of forethought. He does it in every interview, speech, and press conference, and he did it most notably in Helsinki.

I can’t decide which is worse, being unable to confront Vladimir Putin on a world stage during a meeting he desperately sought, or expecting us to believe that he misspoke when he said he couldn’t think of any reason why Russia would hack our elections. And if he really did misspeak, how does the President of the United States make such an error live on worldwide television? Was his mouth moving with no connection to the cognitive part of his brain?

Even worse than the president’s abysmal performance is the White House Staff’s lame attempt at spin control. They apparently accomplished their goal of pacifying their base, as 68% of Republicans say they believe the president’s tortured explanations. As long as Trump didn’t lose his base, it simply doesn’t matter whether the rest of the world reels with laughter or shock at the spectacle of an American president bombing before the world. That may be the worst take-away from the Putin-Trump summit.

If we believe the media, including such conservative voices as The Wall Street Journal, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are somewhere between disappointed and furious at the way the president behaved in Europe. Prominent Republicans have been privately expressing their concerns, but confidential whispers in corridors won’t change anything.

After every Trump misstep we wonder if the most recent one will finally be enough to make those same people speak out in meaningful ways. We ask if our congressional representatives who are afraid that he will behave erratically or overstep his authority in ways that tangibly harm the country will finally take action to stop him. Congress has both the power and responsibility to pass legislation to limit the actions he can take. They can’t muzzle him, but they can greatly reduce the damage he does.

We’ve learned not to be too optimistic on that front, but the Congress at least seems inclined to use its voice (the non-binding resolution voice) to try to heal the wounds Trump has caused. They are contemplating a sense-of-the-Congress resolution that will reassure NATO that the United States can be relied upon to honor Article 5, which requires all member states to come to the aid on any member who is attacked. That would be the Congress begging Europe to disregard everything the president has said on the subject.

That would be a welcome first step, but at this moment, we don’t even know if, even bolstered by the strength of numbers, they will be willing to take it. Repudiating the president in this manner risks alienating his base, and would likely accomplish nothing here at home. It certainly won’t make Trump change his mind. The real test will be whether Congress can take any action with teeth. Can they behave in a bi-partisan way for the good of the country? Will those Republicans who badmouth Trump when the cameras aren’t rolling put integrity before politics?

If they can’t or won’t, they will simply enable him to grab as much power as he can and ignore the Constitution as long as he’s not stopped. His history is one of charging head on and bullying his way through all opposition until someone is willing to stand up to him. Financial analysts always warn that past performance is no guarantee of future success, but there’s never been a safer bet than assuming Trump’s behavior in the future will mirror what he’s always done in the past.

The rest of the world is watching, shocked at the spectacle of the most powerful nation in the world, the one they’ve always depended on to maintain international economic stability and military balance unraveling before their eyes. The German Foreign Minister said, after Helsinki, that Europe can no longer count on the United States.

If the damage is to be repaired before it worsens, it will be up to the Congress. They have the power to reign Trump in and restore order in our relationships with our allies. That’s true today and it will be even truer after the November elections.

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