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A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

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Winning Friends and Influencing People, Trump Style

Some people voted for President Donald Trump because of his speak-first-and-think-later style, on the theory that all those carefully worded opinions that politicians tend to offer had led only to American carnage so surely some crazed off-the-cuff bluster would set things right, but we suspect that most of the people who voted for him did so in spite of it lest Hillary Clinton win. The prospect of a Clinton presidency remains horrifying, but Thursday offered reminders of how very bad the choices were in the last election.
The National Prayer Breakfast was awful enough, with Trump using the solemn occasion to get a couple of childish digs in against former action movie star and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s low-ratings on the “Apprentice” reality show that made the future president a national celebrity after years of New York tabloid fame. Except for making the President of the United States look petty and vain it didn’t do much harm, and the ongoing feud might help goose the ratings for a show he retains an executive producer credit on, but his reportedly testy telephone conversation with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is more worrisome.
Those reports suggest that Trump spent much of the call boasting in exaggerated terms about his election victory, then went sour when the talk turned to a deal that President Barack Obama had negotiated for America to take in 1,250 middle eastern refugees being held in Australian detention centers, and ended with Trump angrily telling Turnbull that it was the worst conversation he’d had with a foreign leader all day and then abruptly ending it less than halfway through the time that had been scheduled. Spokespeople for both leaders insisted it had all been very cordial and productive, but the reports from multiple media had multiple sources at both ends, the part about Trump’s exaggerated boasting seems altogether believable given his recent on-the-record and on-video speeches, numerous Republican officials did feel obliged to go on the record about their support for Australia, and the “tweet” Trump issued right afterward about the “dumb deal” lend further credence to the reporting, as does pretty much the entirety of Trump’s career.
The deal that Obama negotiated regarding the refugees is arguably dumb, as so many of Obama’s deals were, but given that it only involved 1,250 people, not the 2,000 that Trump claims, and that the agreement also allowed for American officials to screen out the riskier sorts, we can’t see how it’s dumber than giving offense to an Australian Prime Minister and all the people Australians who elected him. America’s friendship with Australia has included their stalwart support through two world wars and a cold war and the hotter wars in Korea and Vietnam and the more recent battles against radical Islam in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, and it makes an American president look vain and petty to cut short a conversation about such a relatively trivial matter. Despite the name Turnbull’s Liberal Party is the Australian counterpart of America’s Republican party, too, and undermining him helps the more anti-American opposition in the same way that Trump’s gruff approach to the Mexican President Pena Nieto helps the far-left Marxist who is lately rising in the polls. It might make Trump look tough to those who voted for him because of his talk-first-and-think-later style, but at this point the rest of the world’s opinion also matters.
No matter how dumb the refugee deal might have been it was an agreement that a longtime friend made with a duly-elected American government, too, and Trump’s penchant for suggesting that such agreements won’t survive our quadrennial elections can’t give his future negotiating partners much long-term faith in what he might come up with. The allies we’ve had in Europe through two world wars and a cold war and the more recent conflicts are already worried about his talk about not honoring the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations that have been so essential to the world’s relative peace and prosperity over the past 70 years, and an unnecessary spat with such a reliable ally as Australia over such a small matter as 1,250 refugees we’re allowed to vet will not be reassuring.

— Bud Norman