Assessing Team Trump
In the first three weeks of his Presidency, President Trump has doused gasoline on the system and lit the match. For both better and worse.
(a) His first press conference included a dismissal of CNN as “fake news”. (It was deserved on their end.)
(b) His Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, stepped in it by making inaccuate claims about the crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration. Part of his comments were correct, but he made false statements while trying to bolster his point. Kellyanne Conway, sadly, doubled down, handing the mainstream media with quite the sound bite: “alternative facts”.
(c) Trump’s Executive Order restricting immigration from seven countries–the same list that Obama used in a similar EO in 2011–sent his opposition into frenzies. They went court-shopping, and successfully shot his EO down in the Ninth Circus. Trump won’t appeal, because–due to the fact that SCOTUS will come down with a 4-4 split, thus upholding the Ninth Circus–it will be futile.
(d) Trump, keeping a campaign promise, nominated a hard conservative–Neil Gorsuch–to fill the spot vacated by the late Antonin Scalia.
(e) Trump, in an effort to revisit prior refugee deals made by the Obama Administration, had some contentious meetings with allies, particularly Australia.
(f) His first authorized military operation–an intelligence raid on an Al Qaeda outpost in Yemen–resulted in civilian casualties and the death of a Navy SEAL.
(g) His key cabinet appointees were narrowly-approved. Tillerson is in at SecState; Carson is in at HUD; Price is in at HHS; Sessions is in at DoJ; and–in a major upset–DeVos is in at Education.
(h) Kellyanne Conway misstepped by suggesting that people can still buy Ivanka Trump’s product line that was dropped by Nordstom’s. Conway, failing to remember that she now works for the PUBLIC sector, ran afoul of ethics rules. While I think that was an honest mistake, Team Trump did well to slap her on the wrist and tell her to go and sin no more.
(i) Kellyanne Conway got her wires crossed when defending Trump’s Executive Order, referencing the refugees from Iraq who gave us the non-existent “Bowling Green Massacre”. While it is true that two refugees from Iraq were arrested in Bowling Green for attempting to commit terrorist attacks–this is what led to Obama’s 2011 travel ban–there was no “Bowling Green Massacre”.
(She may have conflated that with the Islamist who shot up the military recruiting posts in Chattanooga.)
It was quite the gaffe; I found it entertaining. The quick-witted Conway needs to take this month as a lesson in thinking before speaking. Sometimes she is too quick-witted for her own good.
But what can Trump take away from this?
(1) He now has a better idea where the enemy is. There’s an old saying: bureaucracies live forever. Much of his fight is not about liberal versus conservative; there is no small amount of institutional pressure to keep the existing infrastructure, because many high money people are profiting off that structure.
This is why DeVos faced such hard opposition. Nothing for which DeVos stands will cause a disaster in education–in fact, children and parents will see their choices and quality materially improve–but she is a threat to two of the biggest rackets in the public sector: The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. DeVos is a champion for a new economy education model, in the midst of an establishment that is vested in the old, antiquated education model.
(2) No matter what he does, he will get the full-court press from the opposition. His immigration Executive Order showed the face of his opposition. Never mind that his EO was very similar to Obama’s EO in 2011.
What he should do: (a) rescind his EO, and (b) re-issue the exact EO that Obama issued in 2011, verbatim. It won’t be everything he wants, but the left will have no room to complain. And if any terrorists attack as a result of looser refugee policies, he will have the mother of all sticks with which to beat his opposition.
(3) He needs to tighten the quality control. While he is correct about mainstream media, his team has done him no favors with their missteps. Spicer has stepped in it; Conway has had three big gaffes, one of those coming while trying to defend Spicer. Trump needs to demand that they do their homework and ensure that they are better-prepared before speaking in public forums.
Rather than invent new sound bytes–“alternative facts”–Conway can simply speak to the larger issue rather than defend an obvious blunder by someone from Trump’s team. Conway should ensure that she understands the point about which she is going to speak before she actually speaks it: she was right about the two Iraqis captured in Kentucky, but there was no “Bowling Green Massacre”.
(4) He needs to learn the lesson of Joshua and the Gibeonites. In the Scriptures, Joshua and the Israelites were conquering lands decisively: Jericho and Ai. No survivors. Jericho was burned to the ground.
A nearby tribe of folks–Gibeonites–decided they did not want to fight the Israelites, because they actually feared what God would do to them. They dressed like a bunch of poor nomads and approached the Israelites, pledging to make peace with them. The Israelites–who were not supposed to make covenants with the people of the land–did not consult God and instead hastily struck a covenant deal with the Gibeonites.
When the truth came out, the Israelites were furious. They wanted to go in and punish the Gibeonites for what they did to them. But, at the end of the day, they realized that a bad covenant is still a covenant. As a result, they were still bound to the terms of that covenant.
Trump needs to accept this reality with respect to refugee deals made by Obama with other countries, particularly Australia. Don’t blame Australia for Obama making a bad deal. Trump didn’t sign that deal, but he inherited it. He needs to abide by it, even if it was not his deal.
(5) Tread carefully with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a shady figure in the international scene. A former KGB Colonel, he has shown himself to be intelligent, shrewd, and even dirty. If reports are correct, then he likely has blood on his hands, directly ordering the murder of former KGB Colonel Alexander Litvinenko as well as several media figures in Russia. At the same time, he has been a partner with the United States in fighting Islamists, as he has his own Islamist problem in Chechnya and Dagestan.
Trump’s seemingly-cozy relationship with Putin is a potential plus and a potential minus.
On the plus side: if Trump is seeking to “keep our friends close and our enemies closer”, his overtures toward Putin can be very good.
On the downside: if Trump is not careful, he could end up giving up too much in that relationship. In that case, Putin would be their Reagan while Trump played like Gorbachev.
But Trump is no dummy. He wasn’t born yesterday, and his enemies have, at every turn, understimated him.
As his Republican opponents–and Hillary Clinton–found out the hard way: dismissing Trump is something one does at one’s own peril.