Friday, October 20, 2017

No Soul, No Courage

Donald Trump and Mike Pence," Paul Waldman recognized in early September, "are united in the belief that strength is a performance, not a characteristic,."  For example

North Korea detonated what may have been a hydrogen bomb, a follow-up to a series of tests seeming to show that they could reach the United States mainland with a missile. They seem completely undeterred by a regular stream of taunts and threats from President Trump, who among other things promised just before taking office that they wouldn't be able to do what they've now demonstrated they probably can. It's almost as though they don't take him seriously.

Not only that, Kim Jong Un was not deterred when back in April, Vice President Mike Pence went to the DMZ and made a stern face across the border to show them we mean business. That sounds like something out of a comic satire, but it actually happened. "I thought it was important that people on the other side of the DMZ see our resolve in my face," Pence said afterward.

That look of resolve should have been replaced by a bout of laughter. It's six weeks later, threats from Pyongyang have only been ramped up and the Administration continues to mistake bluster. for resolve and not only as pertains to Korea.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Slate's Fred Kaplan explains,

requires the president to certify, every 90 days, that Iran is still in compliance. If he certifies otherwise (in other words, if he acknowledges that Iran has been caught cheating), Congress could vote within 60 days to reimpose the sanctions.

Both as candidate and as President, Donald Trump has condemned the Iran deal in the harshest of terms, most recently as "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into." Therefore

In his speech on Friday, Trump said, “Based on the factual record I’ve put forward, we cannot and will not make this certification.” But there is no such factual record. The Iranians have terminated all the programs that the deal has required them to terminate at this point, and the “violations” that Trump cited are fiction. If anyone is in violation of this deal, it is Trump.

So what will he do about it? At this point, as he has done on many other issues, Trump abrogated his responsibility; he doesn’t want to take the heat for taking any steps that might turn out badly so he put the burden on Congress. He can’t rewrite the Iran nuclear deal, much as he’d like to; so he told Congress to rewrite the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

That's the Donald Trump of reality, once we get past the bluff and bluster. In July 2015 he pledged to "eliminate immediately" President Obama's "illegal executive order" on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Early last month, he announced that he was ending the program. He then made a deal with Senate Minority Leader Schumer and House Minority Leader Pelosi to continue it, only later to remark that he still wanted his Mexican-American wall and other concessions.

Bill Clinton once remarked that voters prefer a politician who is "wrong and strong" rather than "weak and right."  When Trump backs down from his earlier positions on Iran and on individuals brought to the USA as children, he is weak and (somewhat) right, turning Clinton's observation on its head. Trump boasts Kim Jong-un  "best not make any more threats against the United States" and sits idly by as threats are made; makes a deal on DACA, then backs out of it: and shirks his responsibility as Chief Executive on the Iranian nuclear deal by shoving the issue onto Congress.

Still, Trump's gift and advantage is that he appears- both to opponents and supporters- as strong and  reasonably resolute.   But he is cowardly and soulless, the latter trait most recently observed by  Cowanda-Jones Johnson and Representative Fredericka Wilson.  And so he may have been best described by the NBA's greatest active head coach, Gregg Popovich, who recently concluded "this man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward."

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