A Fine Mess

Less than five months into his administration, the state of Republicans and Trump-led America

"People who have been to the Oval Office have come away stunned by Trump's minimal attention span, his appalling lack of information, his tendency to say more than he knows (intelligence officials have been instructed to put as much of his daily briefing as possible in the form of pictures). Aides have been subjected to public embarrassment by his propensity for changing his story."

— Elizabeth Drew, New York Review of Books

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and even the Wall Street Journal — you know, the "fake news" outlets — all denounced President Trump's abdication of America's role as world leader, especially as regards NATO and climate change.

Regarding climate change, the President and his still-loyal Republicans now assert that U.S. technology and the free market will save us from global warming — a threat which until recently they claimed didn't even exist.

For eight years, President Obama made every effort to support solar and wind energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuel — the very policies and technologies necessary to address climate change — yet was attacked by Trump, who today is out and about trumpeting the return of coal burning, while trashing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But now that Trump and his Republican allies apparently accept (sort of) that the climate change threat is real, might we expect to receive serious attention? Doubtful. He's loaded his cabinet with climate change deniers: Scott Pruitt, EPA; Ryan Zinke, Interior; Rick Perry, Energy; Ben Carson, HUD; Mike Pompeo, CIA; Jeff Sessions, Attorney General; Tom Price, Health and Human Services; and Elaine Chao, Transportation (maybe not personally, but she worked for the Heritage Foundation, which has long opposed policies to fight climate change).

We now know that ExxonMobil, led for more than a decade by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, claimed for years that global warming was a hoax, while figuring out ways to make money off of global warming.

Having now acknowledged that they may have mostly been wrong about climate change, Republicans wrap themselves in their favorite totem — "Let the free market work and — presto! — all will be well." Put even more simply, "Privatize It!" This is an ahistorical claim, at best: Would the market have put a man on the moon? Would the market have created Social Security? Would the market have built a transcontinental railroad? Would the market have created national parks? If you believe it would have, well... the swampland beckons.

It's worth noting that our own Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has gone along with Trump and his GOP gangsters from the beginning.

Trump's speech before NATO was perhaps the most startling. He now claims that he didn't really mean what he said, that is, "Don't count on us." But whether it comes to geopolitical stability or climate change, no need to worry: America, about to become "Great Again," doesn't need international agreements, nor alliances. Through back channels, Trump's administration will continue to do (beautiful) deals with all countries; that is, deals which work to the immediate advantage of Trump's base.

First off, there's the right way and the wrong way to work through back channels. The wrong way is the Trump way — ad hoc, uninformed; see Elizabeth Drew's quote above.

Consider just one example of doing it the right way: Joe Wilson, of yellowcake uranium and Valerie Plame fame. Joe, whom I got to know when he was a graduate student at EWU during the '70s, went on to have an important career with the State Department. In 1990, as acting ambassador in Iraq, he located and negotiated the release of the American hostages that Saddam Hussein had taken, in an effort to dissuade the George H.W. Bush administration from taking military action in response to Saddam's takeover of Kuwait.

How did Wilson pull this off? Through back channels. He told me that German intelligence deserved much of the credit. And why did the Germans share with him that critical information? Because they trusted Joe, and they knew he spoke for the United States government, which they also respected. (Likely, some friendly tennis matches also helped.) The Germans might not have always agreed with the first Bush administration, but they respected its professionalism, discretion and intentions.

Trump has managed, in less than five months, to trash all this, including the mutual respect necessary to do back-channel work the right way. Worse yet, the President seems unable to keep his mouth shut. So today, if you're in German intelligence (or UK intelligence, or French intelligence or Israeli intelligence), you have to have second thoughts about helping out the next Joe Wilson. Abdicating world leadership is bad enough, but what's worse is that Trump can't even be counted on to be discreet, let alone trustworthy.

Apparently Trump is now going to once again put us through his pathetic and transparent "Lies! All lies!" counterattack strategy.

Donald Trump vs. James Comey? I know who my money will be on.♦

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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.