Today I relate an extended anecdote taken from accounts by the New York Times and Jonathan Karl of ABC.
I thereby will demonstrate the sum of the style and soul of Donald Trump.
If you want to understand the preposterous Russian-endorsed second-place American president, it's all right there.
Amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was ready to talk to the American president, the White House summoned to the Oval Office an envoy from South Korea, Chung Eui-yong. South Korea had initially relayed the North Korean's unprecedented supposed willingness.
Chung began the meeting in the way foreign leaders have learned to begin meetings with Trump. The South Korean flattered the blustery American, telling him the world would not confront such a remarkable moment if not for the president's leadership, for which South Korea was most grateful.
The South Korean envoy said his country had concluded that Kim Jong Un was sincere about a substantive dialogue and that the proposition of a meeting was worth pursuing.
Trump said, "Let's do it."
Presidential aides were taken aback. They thought they were getting information, not deciding.
The generals--Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster--interjected that there were risks and downsides to proceeding apace. (It could elevate North Korea's world standing and reduce America's; it could buy time and provide cover for further missile development by North Korea; American eagerness could damage the nation's position.)
Trump said, yeah, yeah, yeah, he understood all that. Then he repeated: Let's do it.
Hours later, as Karl of ABC told it, the president encountered the network reporter in a White House corridor and said, "I hope you give me credit."
On an epic nuclear question laden with global worry, this president's context was not the delicacy of the challenge or the nuance of adversarial maneuvering. It was as simple as that a television reporter give him credit.
The ego and the precipitous declaration of action--those are, with Trump, inseparable. They are one.
It goes like this: Trump tweets indiscreet warnings to and about North Korea, crowing about the size of his nuclear button as if he were responsible for it, and as if to threaten manly action. Then, at the first inkling of a possible North Korean concession, while his reasonable and informed advisers are seeking information for analysis, the ever-impatient Trump sees an opportunity to serve his ego by claiming credit for the tactical success of that recklessness and braggadocio.
A man-child wants credit and wants it now.
Trump quickly seeks that credit from a reporter. Then he goes to a campaign rally in Pennsylvania and extemporizes that being "presidential"--more patient, more thoughtful, more reserved--would be "so boring."
He was talking to his base, the fortuitous geographic distribution of which--in places like Pennsylvania--delivered his second-place victory.
The Pennsylvania audience liked the sound of his ego-driven declarations of action that contrasted him with the ever-professorial, no-drama, globally conscious caution of Barack Obama.
Trump-base voters had endured quite enough inaction through Obama's objective, informed consideration of the world. How about some rash, biased consideration of America?
How about doing something even if it's wrong?
I submit that this analysis of Trump's presidential behavior will apply every time.
Consider: He's conducting a televised meeting with members of Congress on immigration, and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina encourages him to be bolder than his predecessors and champion "comprehensive immigration reform." And Trump, sensing ego sustenance, replies with a promise of action to pursue that very thing.
Then, privately, his aides explain to him that it's more complicated than that.
In a televised meeting with members of Congress on guns, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tells Trump about lost gun-reform opportunities in past administrations. And Trump tells him there's a different kind of president now--a new sheriff in town, just like in Blazing Saddles--and vows comprehensive gun reform.
Then, privately, the NRA and Republicans in Congress--as I repeat myself--explain to him it's more complicated than that.
We have steel and aluminum tariffs. Why? Because a Wall Street banker acting as Trump's economic adviser, Gary Cohn, told the man-child president that he couldn't impose them--that it was, you know, more complicated than that.
Now we've exempted Canada and we are talking about exempting the European Union and Japan.
It all reminds me of that adage about writing. You know the one: Write drunk, edit sober.
It means to transfer words from brain to page, or screen, impulsively, even recklessly, then carefully excise and polish.
Trump writes drunk. Let's hope enough sober people hang around him to edit.
Maybe the North Korean summit is a good idea. It is surely a potentially hopeful sign.
But the best hope of its working for good is for people other than Trump -- motivated by American rather than personal interest--to handle the preparation and write and control the agenda, soberly.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 03/13/2018
Print Headline: The sum of the man-child