Saturday, March 24, 2018


The New York Times reports:
President Trump decamped to his oceanfront estate here on Friday after a head-spinning series of presidential decisions on national security, trade and the budget that left the capital reeling and his advisers nervous about what comes next.

The decisions attested to a president riled up by cable news and unbound.... He seemed determined to set the agenda himself....

Inside the West Wing, aides described an atmosphere of bewildered resignation as they grappled with the all-too-familiar task of predicting and reacting in real time to Mr. Trump’s shifting moods.

Aides said there was no grand strategy to the president’s actions, and that he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do. Much as he did as a New York businessman at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump watched television, reacted to what he saw on television and then reacted to the reaction.
I'll repeat what I've said in the past: Trump doesn't believe he needs well-developed policy positions on anything because Trump thinks Trump is a genius -- and Trump's notion of intellectual brilliance has nothing to do with careful and thorough absorption of information. A genius is just a person with a high IQ (Trump thinks his is extremely high), and high IQ comes from good genes (Trump thinks his genes are excellent). I'm convinced that Trump thinks he's smarter than people who read and think and arrive at well-developed positions on issues as a result of their study -- if they're so smart, why aren't they rich? Trump doesn't need to do all that because he's smarter than the people who do all that.

The Times report reminds us that Trump is driven by a few pre-existing beliefs. We're worried that the staff is losing all ability to steer him away from trouble, but it can still be done, if barely:
The president, furious over the failure of Congress to pay for his wall on the southern border with Mexico, began Friday by threatening in a Twitter post shortly before 9 a.m. to veto a $1.3 trillion spending bill passed hours earlier by Congress. That raised the specter of another government shutdown at midnight, this one precipitated entirely by Mr. Trump.
We can assume that this panic was set off by Trump's top outside advisers:

By 1:30 p.m., Mr. Trump had begrudgingly signed the bill....

In the frantic hours before the signing, two senior officials said they were uncertain whether the president would veto the measure....

John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, in the meantime swung into action to pull the president back from the brink of a veto. Mr. Kelly summoned Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to the White House, aides said, to make the case for the military funding included in the bill.

In the Oval Office, Mr. Mattis; the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen; and Vice President Mike Pence ... told Mr. Trump that the military spending level in the bill was historic and urged him to sign. Mr. Trump finally agreed.
Military! Military good! More money for military! This is a simple, primitive notion in Trump's head. His aides reminded him of this simple notion and he was able to let go, at least temporarily, of all the other simple, primitive notions planted there at the crack of dawn by Doocy et al. Crisis averted.

It's the "reacting to the reaction" part of Trump's method that will save us, if anything does. Trump seeks out the opinions of the people around him (he thinks that's brilliance, but it's really a lazy man's substitute for reading), and it's still possible to talk him out of at least some of his most dangerous impulses, if you tell him that the safer course is even more Trumpian.

With John Bolton in the administration, we probably are on the brink of World War III, but I hold out a slim hope that Bolton's bellicosity will someday be in conflict with Trump's belief that he's a genius negotiator who can talk rather than bomb his way to glorious victory for America. Trump as a negotiator scares me almost as much as Trump with his finger on the nuclear button, but humiliation in negotiations with Kim Jong Un would still be preferable to mass death in a nuclear war. Let's hope the staff still has the skill to manipulate Trump in the direction of the somewhat less awful choices.

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