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April 15, 2017


Print and electronic media are full of stories this past week about how Trump has flip flopped his positions on NATO (one day it’s obsolete and the next day it is not obsolete) to I’m going to rough up China on trade to (“I got along with the Chinese president and they have to help us with North Korea,”) and from (“the Mexicans will pay for the wall I am going to build” to “maybe a fence to be built and with taxpayer money”) etc. etc. etc. This man who tells us all of the things he is going to do is clearly flip flopping on these and many other matters, most of which ad hoc decisions are not based on considered policy but made on the run and out of the blue, all accompanied, of course, with his barrage of early morning tweets about what a great job he and his administration are doing. Great at what? Healthcare? Chaos in the West Wing? Bringing jobs “back from China?” Making America safe with his tough guy posturing in Syria and North Korea? Bills passed? Defeat of ISIS? This guy is in my view a one-man propaganda machine. As we used to say, where’s the beef?

Just lately he has found that exercising America’s military muscle with Tomahawks and mother of all bombs attacks earns him with the predictable praise of the defense industries and hawks both right and left, praise and adulation which his narcissistic personality craves above all, even though such attacks did nothing to end the wars in Afghanistan or Syria and, on the contrary, probably contributed to recruitment of many more fighters to bulwark ISIS. He may have bullied the Republican Party into electing him, but he is going to find out that bullying on an international level presents different problems than those found in real estate and branding deals and pushing politicians around, a world where insults and threats are counterproductive and his business experience is worthless.

He is also going to find out that as commander in chief you cannot abdicate your responsibility to the generals to make both policy and war so that you can say someone else is responsible if things go awry. He should look at history. Truman fired McArthur, a war hero, because the general wanted to make policy in the Korean War on the issue of crossing the Yalu, which was certain to ignite a war with China. That was not McArthur’s job; his job was to execute policy and not make it per the Constitution, as Truman rightly said when he fired him. Trump wants to have it both ways; to bask in the glory of military strikes thought to have gone well as commander in chief but to deny responsibility for strikes that have not gone well which, of course, is part of his narcissistic world of I never make mistakes and it’s always someone else’s fault. He cannot do that; the acts of his generals are his acts. He’s in charge.

He seems to glory in his reputation as unpredictable (like the young and insecure dictator of North Korea) which he apparently thinks serves as an excuse to allow him to do as he pleases from one minute to the next, like erasing many years of hard-earned policy and trade efforts with a tweet. Sometimes when I see a headline about a psychopathic dictator who possesses atomic arms I have to read further to see if they are writing about the North Korean dictator or Trump. So far it has been the former.

The trouble with flip floppers, as my title of this essay suggests, is that a flip flopper today can become a flop flipper tomorrow. Thus what Trump proclaims as new policy today stands to be reversed tomorrow and again reversed the day after that. This is plainly destructive of consistency and continuity, essential to both policy making and carrying out of policy thus made. Policy made on the fly today thought to fit an exigency of the moment may be changed tomorrow when the old exigency has been replaced by a new one demanding yet another change and a subsequent change and yet another ad nauseam after that.

This is, of course, putting the cart before the horse and making policy captive to events when it should be the other way around. Trump and members of his administration have apparently been too busy with their braggadocio and war games to engage in policy making, and it shows, with inconsistent positions announced by his free lancing advisers and cabinet members. They literally don’t know what they are doing and have no policy directives to help them sort out responses to accruing problems of the day both domestic and foreign. There is no compass, no roadmap, a sure recipe for chaos.

As I sometimes lament, what a mess! You have a disturbed man living part time in our world and part time in his own world of narcissistic fog and alternative facts (which apparently cannot be reversed without couch time, if then), and those who work for him who have to live in a bureaucratic wilderness without policy roads to traverse. Indeed, what a mess!       GERALD       E







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