One of our goals here is to bring you news and analysis that is “outside the box.” What are serious people saying that is different from popular opinion? Thursday, we found an article that sees Donald Trump’s bluster as an attempt to hide weakness.
In Yahoo News, Matt Bai, says, “Forget Trump’s Bluster. The world is walking all over him.”
. . . all this focus on Trump’s tweets and the stories about his boorishness abroad should please the White House no end. The more the narrative focuses on Trump’s toughness and bluster with our allies, the less anyone focuses on what’s really been exposed in these opening months of his presidency.
Trump is weak, and our rivals have figured it out. They’re walking all over the American president in a way we haven’t seen since at least the days of disco and Space Invaders.
Trump, weak? How can you say that??
Trump punches down. Like all bullies, he prefers to flex his muscle with those who are inherently smaller, or where the stakes are impossibly trivial. . .
A few weeks ago, just after Erdogan visited the White House, a bunch of Turkish goons kicked in the heads of [AMERICAN] protesters outside the country’s embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. Thanks to this excellent video analysis from the New York Times, we know that several of these thugs had ties to Turkey’s security service, and they could be seen conferring with the Turkish president himself before deciding to plunge into the crowd. . .
What did Trump, who talks so tough with other NATO allies, have to say about any of this? Where was the outraged tweet blasting back at a foreign incursion in the American capital? How many Turkish diplomats were expelled?
The answers are nothing, nowhere, and none. Erdogan flipped his middle finger to the White House, in full view of the world, and Trump hid in the West Wing, whining about his press coverage.
You can bet that Erdogan had been watching the way Trump handled Vladimir Putin, after Russian planes and subs showed up to menace the coasts off Alaska and Connecticut. A stronger leader might have politely put the Russians on notice that we take our borders seriously, and the next Russian pilot who wandered into our airspace might not be coming home.
So Turkey’s thugs beat up Americans on our soil. What else?
Then there’s Kim Jong Un, who’s setting off a new rocket every week now, boasting about his intention to reach American targets. . . Why are Trump’s competitors so confident they can brush him aside? Probably they can see that he doesn’t have much grasp of world affairs, or a ton of interest. . . But the better explanation is that other world leaders can sense something essential about Trump. The one thing they share is probably an innate ability to size people up. . .
And what they see in Trump is insecurity. The carrying on about his ratings and poll numbers, the impulsive tweets on a sleepless night, the childlike boasts and pleading diatribes — all of it betrays a need to be loved, rather than feared.
They look at how Trump sucks up to a miniature authoritarian like the Philippines’ [murderous] Rodrigo Duterte (who Trump gushed was doing “an unbelievably good job” during an embarrassing phone call in May), and they see a man who admires steel in others precisely because he doesn’t possess it himself.
But we only have ONE “superpower” in the world, now, right? Who cares what anyone else does or says?
All of this creates an opening for a leader like Merkel or France’s Emmanuel Macron, who see a vacuum emerging in the West. Macron made a point this week of demonstrating what spine in a statesman looks like, condemning Russia’s anti-gay bigotry and state-controlled media while standing next to Putin himself. (And this was after Macron gripped Trump’s hand as if he meant to pulverize and eat it.) . .
It’s one thing for the Russians to have poked our border patrol with no response. But what happens when their troops are crossing the border of a Baltic nation instead, because Putin figures no one will stop him? What happens when North Korea finally gets a rocket to Guam — because, you know, why not?
Meanwhile, the conservative Chicago Tribune warns that a weak president is also a risk at home.
Since Trump tends to lash out when losing, he remains a danger to democracy even if he is weakened, Ezra Klein argues. He could do plenty of lashing out in ways that tend to de-legitimize important democratic institutions such as the courts, Congress, the media and political parties.
On the other hand: As Politico’s Tara Palmeri reports, while Trump needs to be carefully managed in order to keep him from saying and doing inappropriate things, it’s not especially difficult to manipulate him. . . . For one thing, presidential weakness is bad for the nation. Without a strong president to push hard on executive branch departments and agencies, they’re liable to atrophy. . .
When you hire people who brag that they want to destroy the department they’re about to lead (most notably Betsy DeVos and Rick “Oops” Perry), matters are even worse when the president isn’t strong enough to stop the destruction.
For another, presidents who get frustrated because they can’t get Congress, the courts or even the executive branch to do what they want may turn to those within the presidential branch (that is, the White House staff and other agencies within the Executive Office of the President) to do their bidding. That’s the story of Watergate. . .
More likely, however, is the possibility that one or another faction within the administration will be able to manipulate the president into doing something destructive, or carry out big policy initiatives without his knowledge. The former is the story of the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq policy; the latter, Iran-Contra.
One sign of weakness is when a person values image over substance. In a recent article, we reported that while members of the GOP were beginning to talk about impeachment, Trump was only concerned with “how it played on TV.”
Note also that Trump’s response to the court’s rebuff of his Muslim ban was to say (in the headline), “It Makes Us Look Weak,” according to Fox News.
Meanwhile, Russia says Trump is weak.
The Chinese president also says Trump is a weak leader.
President Theodore Roosevelt famously advised, “Walk softly. . .and carry a big stick.” The Trump version, apparently, is, “Wave the stick and hope somebody cares.”