What’s He Blathering About Now?
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What’s He Blathering About Now?

‘Trump Has Created an Ocean of Words that Mean Nothing’

Let’s talk about sticking by one’s word or not. In many ways, words being meaningless seems to be the story of the Trump administration and beyond, and certainly in recent days.

Trump has promoted himself as a brash speaker of what people want to hear—whether even remotely true—and, if his words offend the “deep state,” so much the better.

All of which brings us to the week that is unfolding:

  • Exactly contrary to his word during the campaign and many times since, Trump tweeted his intentions to lob missiles into Syria, even tweaking the Russians along the way. Then this morning he seemed to retreat a bit, saying a decision still looms. Repeatedly, Trump has criticized Barack Obama for letting the enemy know what was coming militarily, but in the last days, Trump has vowed withdrawal of U.S. troops, and now has pre-saged missile strikes. Go figure.
  • Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg now has spent two days testifying to mostly strangely fawning senators and representatives, serving up generalized, positive, forgive-me remarks to questions that largely were softballs. While owning up to “errors” by Facebook and offering to participate in creating some light oversight legislation, Zuckerberg largely avoided dealing with Facebook’s central business practices of selling access to names and private information of its two billion users to anyone with a dollar—or a ruble—or to defining hate language. He did offer instead to make privacy controls easier to use. In any event, Zuckerberg sort of stood by his word, but the business largely escaped untouched. My question is this: Based on his words, do you believe Facebook won’t share your private information?
  • Paul Ryan’s retirement announcement actually was confirmation of what long has been rumored, that he found enough reason in Washington and at home to return to Wisconsin and a life without Trump on his back every day. I suppose you could say that he was living up to his personal word, but I find his continuing silence about violations of ethics, standards and caring by the president to be more important. It does seem clear that Ryan finds Trump the person to be even more problematic than Trump the political leader, yet he has decided not to separate himself in order to achieve long-held legislative goals. You wouldn’t expect it, but it would have been nice to hear Ryan offer the real reasons for stepping down, including the reports of an anti-Trump election wave in November. Expect more Republican departures.

In his continued campaign for disruption, Trump has created an ocean of words that mean nothing. In report after report, we keep hearing that foreign leaders are unsure about what the U.S. really is after in any particular discussion because Trump lies so much in his public language, and publicly undercuts those who try to speak for the country’s policies as part of their cabinet posts.

When Trump talks about Syria, he points out that we are “getting nothing” from our involvement and need to withdraw; days later, Trump announces imminent military response to a reported chemical attack against Syrian rebel areas, killing civilians, including children.

The sheer volume of possible problems that can result from a botched missile attack or an escalating tit-for-tat military response from Russia or Iran, as well as Syria, is enormous. To go beyond symbolic missile strikes, the U.S. would have to rely on air strikes flying over contested boundaries, and would need to commit to more than a one-hour attack, instead probably lasting several days. The Russians were reported to be sending troops to the Syrian town where the orders to launch chemical weapons were reported to have come, making it likely that there will be Russian or Iranian casualties. In addition, the questions in the minds of Syrian rebels who have depended on secret help from the U.S. military must be throbbing. The plot-making abilities of ISIS fighters in hiding watching the United States twist in these questions must be delicious.

Making all this worse was the president tweeting again—yesterday morning—that “Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”

That Trump is conflating (not colluding) the investigation of Russian involvement in the U.S. elections with Russian actions in Syria is frightening. What is needed right now is a president who is seeing the whole chessboard of strategy, world military forces and national provocations, not someone who must define everything in terms of his personal legal status.

Yes, we should be ignoring the president’s tweets, but it seems that too often they reflect his demeanor and his weighting of values in a way that we cannot reap otherwise. Daily, the remarks of the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, prove to be generally unreliable about what is going on in the White House, about changes in direction, about our national intentions. She has become—or always has been—a personal shill for Trump’s image rather than a strong presenter for our national aspirations. Her word is unreliable.

Pronouncements by most cabinet members also have proved over time to be pretty dismal. All the ethics problems that have arisen and prompted several departures came and went with little acknowledgment of dispute. Even the dismissals of department heads like Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson were made known by presidential tweets welcoming the incoming replacement rather than owning up to whatever problems had prompted the action in the first place. Ben Carson of HUD, Betsy DeVos of Education, Wilbur Ross of Commerce, Steve Mnuchin of Treasury and Budget Director Mike Mulvaney all speak in ovals in describing what their policies will do; Scott Pruitt at the EPA talks of protecting clean air and water at the same time he eliminates regulations and policies aimed exactly at doing so.

Let’s allow Shakespeare to weigh in from Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

How about: #Make American Mean What It Says.

April 12, 2018