By Kenneth Tiven
A nation without shared truth will be hard-to-impossible to govern. While this seems pertinent in India, it is becoming a major issue that has America perplexed by the behavior of President Donald Trump, a man for whom the phrase “doubling down” was seemingly invented.
As a severe hurricane (what a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic is called) headed toward Florida with sustained winds well in excess of 200 kilometers an hour, Trump first tweeted Alabama would be hit by the storm, “most likely … (much) harder than anticipated”.
Georgia and Florida are between Alabama and the coast.
How Alabama got into this is a mystery and the US Weather Bureau quickly tweeted that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
In fact, some storm tracks project it veering northward, putting much of America’s heavily populated east coast in danger.
Even after the weather service correction Trump said it again, adding, “I have – not sure – I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of a category 5,” said Trump. “I knew it existed. And I’ve seen some category 4s; you don’t even see them that much. But a category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve even heard the term other than I know it’s there. That’s the ultimate. And that’s what we have, unfortunately.” Fact checkers were quick to point out at least four other occasions, one as recently as May when Trump said he was astonished to discover category 5 hurricanes existed.
Consider that the man who controls the nuclear attack codes was reported last week by the political website Axios to have asked homeland security officials about hurricanes: “Why don’t we nuke them? They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?”
Strenuously denied by Trump who tweeted, “I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!”
The word salad speeches and easily debunked lies have mounted up so that taking the president at face value is difficult. For example his Twitter attack on Fox News, which has uncritically supported him since he first announced he was a politician in 2015.
That Fox fought back was applauded by many media organizations. However, it’s all part of a fake reality show, said Jack Shaffer, the media critic of the website Politico, making note of Trump’s long involvement with pro-wrestling on television.
“The man knows how to stage a fake fight…In the world of pro wrestling, “kayfabe” is the code of secrecy that demands all players stay in “character before, during, and after shows” to maintain the illusion that a real fight is happening. Trump’s trash talk and the raspberries that Fox functionaries like Hume and Cavuto blow back at him are pure kayfabe…. Trump’s faux-fight with Fox is designed 1) to add drama and excitement to where there is none; 2) make him the primary focus of events; and 3) temporarily complicate the storyline so viewers keep watching. “
The past six weeks offers a snapshot of why an increasingly erratic President Trump’s reelection is questionable. His intemperate behavior rages at any apparent slight, or he reverses himself under pressure. His core voters appear solid, although farmers may be wobbly, as they have seen the entire China market for agricultural products disappear. His fringe voters, and those who failed to vote in 2016, appear energized by the chaos and white nationalist appeals. Democrats increasingly suggest a majority can coalesce around a nominee who is “ABT” (anyone but Trump) in the 2020 election.
Several U.S. mass murder episodes left more than 50 people dead in August. Trump reversed his support for expanding background checks for gun buyers, which polling shows are heavily supported. Why? Because the NRA, speaking for the gun lobby, warned him he’d lose live voters.
Trump apparently finds the federal regulations governing construction and spending a serious impediment to his proclaimed “builder’s mindset”. Go ahead, he told subordinates build the border wall with Mexico. If you break the law I will pardon you. White House officials suggested Trump was joking. That redefines a walk back as a laugh back.
Same excuse again when he defended his trade war with China, ‘I am the chosen one’ and claimed it would not start a global recession. After much criticism he said he was joking.
There was no joking around at the G-7. A sullen Trump kept, for him, a low profile and skipped the climate change meeting. A few days later it was clear why: his administration rolled back regulations on methane gas released during fracking, which even the fracking industry wanted to keep in place. Methane is a major greenhouse gas problem.
Trump had nothing to say about the Hong Kong demonstrations. His China view is one-dimensional— trade. He ordered American companies out of China, which he doesn’t have the power to enforce. None seem anxious to leave. He wasn’t joking when he called Chinese leader Xi Jinping an enemy but hit reverse gear in 48 hours, calling him a great leader. Trump claimed he had spoken with high officials in Beijing to resume trade talks but Chinese officials did not confirm any such calls. Two Trump aides told CNN he had lied to calm markets.
The 2020 G-7 meeting is in the USA and Trump floated the idea of holding it as his Florida golf course. The optics are bad because the Constitution’s emoluments clause prohibits enriching yourself while president.
Trump, clearly not worried about making himself a caricature of a real estate shark, offered to buy Greenland from Denmark, which treats the island as a self-governing territory. The Danish prime minister tossed cold water on the idea calling it absurd, to which Trump responded by calling her “nasty.” He canceled a Danish visit, which was paired with a speech he was to give at a commemoration of the start of World War 2 in Poland, Skipping that too and stayed home and played golf.
This administration may be clueless on many issues of global importance, but few can deny they have refined the art of being erratic, cruel, crazy and letting incompetence shine.
Saving U.S. democracy from a mad king matters more than the specific policies of his successor. Democrats are suggesting if a person sees what the Republican Party has become the vote must go to a single candidate. No third party votes, no abstaining.
— The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels