Unsettling Early Days of Trump’s Presidency

By Kollengode S Venkataraman             thepatrika@aol.com

People are incapable of rationally responding to frequent, erratic changes even in their personal lives — in their careers, health, marriages … — all occurring around the same time. They become numb and focus on how to get through the day. When these changes do not immediately affect them, people ignore them even when these changes have long-term consequences for them personally. That is what is happening since Donald Trump became the president. Ordinary folks — not people in the news business, politicians, partisan types or news junkies — simply have withdrawn, as if this is happening in some other country far away. But late-night comedy shows are having a field day with grains of hard truths underneath the supposedly humorous quips in these shows.

Trump’s harshest critics are not only liberal writers of the New York Times and the Washington Post, but also traditional conservatives like the Wall Street Journal’s editors, David Brooks, Bill Kristol, and many others. GOP members of Congress are adrift, thinking about their own survival in next year’s mid-term elections. Only right-wing radio and TV talk shows are singing the paeans of praise for Trump.

With his erratic management style, Trump’s White House staff work under fear, insecurity, and embarrassment. These are the most loyal people willing to be the fall guys for their boss. When they try to shield their erratic boss — we understand this is in their job description — they contradict themselves often within the same day and  become caricatures. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer is one example. His Secretaries of State and Defense are in the dark on key foreign policy decisions till they see them in the media.

With Trump’s obsession over not getting favorable news coverage,  he runs his administration by nocturnal tweeting. His staff wake up each day wondering which bizarre comments of their boss they need to defend.

Nearing his six months in office, thousands of jobs in the Trump  administration are vacant, many needing Senate approval, including ambassadorships, usually given as return favors to big donors in the election. Many offices of federal prosecutors are also vacant. People have withdrawn their nomination; many don’t even want to be considered for key appointments. These are normally jobs coveted by people driven by commitment, ideology, ambition and adrenalin.

When in Europe in May, Trump castigated publicly his NATO allies for not paying their share of bills, something many US presidents have done, but in closed-door meetings. Savor the irony. Trump, in running his business, was not a model for financial or professional probity. His businesses centered on gambling filed for bankruptcies several times.

After WW II, the victorious US formed the NATO military alliance, driven by its national self-interest, willingly footing the bill to achieve its two geostrategic objectives. The first was to contain the inevitable military power and political influence of the Soviet Union, its WW-II ally. Remember, Soviet Union too was a victor in WW-II after suffering the biggest loss* in the war. The second unstated objective was to prevent the re-emergence of Germany as a military power, and keep Germany on the its side. After all, Germany’s military growth culminated in the disastrous war*. The US achieved both with NATO. The alliance was  against the Soviets; and the US kept Germany within NATO, with its largest military presence (outside the US) in Germany, nearly 50,000 troops.

Trump’s disastrous public performance in Brussels — targeted to satisfy his domestic audience — might have sowed the seeds for the re-emergence of Germany as a third military power in Europe having its own geostrategic interest that may not align with US interests. Listen to what Angela Merkel said in Berlin the day after Trump’s Brussels speech:

“The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days. And so, all I can say is that we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands… Of course we need to have friendly relations with the US and with the UK, and with other neighbors, including Russia… We have to fight for our future ourselves, for our destiny as Europeans. Where Germany can help, Germany will help, because Germany can only do well if Europe is doing well.”

The Trump presidency hastens the US decline as the sole Super Power, which was already declining slowly. The US’s dependence  on its military muscle rather than on diplomacy to retain its global influence has the opposite effect. The simultaneous rise of other global power centers and alliances are already challenging the dominance of the US.

* Note: 80 million deaths, totally. 26 million in Soviet Union alone, 8 million in Germany, 6 million in Poland, 2 million in India, 18 million in China, 3 million in Japan, and a minuscule 0.45 million in the UK and 0.41 in the US.   ♣


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