From the moment he took office, President Trump has repeatedly experienced buyer’s remorse.
In the last week, the president has undermined a key member of his administration and reversed course on his own foreign and economic policies. This should come as no surprise. It’s standard operating procedure for the Trump White House. President Trump promised to “Make America Great Again” and to put America first. By acting in a wishy-washy manner, he demonstrates he is incapable of doing either.
On the campaign trail, the president promised he would be tough with our adversaries. That he would pull out of NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). That he would punish those he believed were treating the U.S. unfairly. He did so by slapping tariffs on international trade partners, including some of our closest allies.
When it was explained to President Trump - repeatedly - that tariffs might provoke a trade war, he walked things back by carving out exemptions - allegedly temporary - for fellow NAFTA members Canada and Mexico. He’s now considering trade “exceptions” for Australia. Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and the European Union are seeking similar treatment. The president is thinking about it.
Days after taking office, the president signed an Executive Order withdrawing the U.S. from the TPP. After doing so, China launched a full-court press in hopes of becoming the dominant trade force throughout the Pacific Rim. The result could be a weakened American economy and a diminished role in international trade.
Someone must have schooled the president on this. Last week, he took steps toward tearing up one of his signature economic policies, and reconsider whether withdrawing from the TPP would be as advantageous - or intelligent - a choice as he’d originally believed. Until he decided he wasn’t sure.
The president now says he wants to “renegotiate” the TPP. Hard to do when it’s an agreement you’re not a party to. No matter. Late this past Tuesday, the president changed his mind yet again, saying he doesn’t think the TPP represents a good deal for the U.S. Well, which is it, Mr. President?
Should the tax plan he so strongly supported begin to falter and the deficit skyrocket, he will likely disown that as well.
What’s next? Will he soon repudiate EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, acknowledge that climate change is a reality, and renounce his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord?
When it comes to foreign policy, the president doesn’t fare any better.
The Washington Post has reported that, after expelling 60 Russian diplomats in response to the Russian government’s attempts to poison one of its former spies who was quietly residing in England, he exploded in anger. While being briefed, he was apparently “distracted” and didn’t realize how large the number would be or what exactly he was ordering.
Anything related to Russia or Vladimir Putin is subject to presidential flip-flopping.
After dumping hundreds of millions of dollars of ordnance on Syria last week, President Trump announced that he was also imposing new sanctions on Syria’s benefactor, Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said as much last Sunday morning on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
Though Haley apparently made her announcement after consulting with the White House, the president, by proxy, hung her out to dry, denying further sanctions were on the horizon. His economic adviser Larry Kudlow - no expert on foreign policy - later told Fox News that “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.” Haley, who is no shrinking violet, had none of it, stating “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
Unfortunately, the president of the United States does. Frequently.
The issue at hand is not one of policy. It is one of erratic behavior; of competence and determination. About the president taking a position and sticking to it rather than Namby-pamby around and walk it back.
President Trump, given to hyperbole, has talked about the “big button” that sits on his desk. Here’s the thing. Once you push the “big button” and nuclear warheads are halfway to their destination, it’s a little too late to reconsider your decision and call your missiles home. Because they ain’t comin’ back. No matter how “smart” they may be.
Blair Bess is a Los Angeles-based television writer, producer, and columnist. He edits the online blog Soaggragated.com, and can be reached at BBess.firstname.lastname@example.org.