How can we take a president at his word when we can’t understand them? Once upon a time — 2008 — we all met Sarah Palin, she of the Alaska “Word Salad” Palins. Her inability to construct a coherent thought was the first time we, the public, met this new anti-establishment-type politician — a “real” American, as Palin likes to call herself. After we were subjected to three months of her campaigning and incessant rambling, it became clear and obvious that she had no idea what she was talking about nor did she seem to care. Palin was constructed out of high heels, slogans and bumper-sticker policy.
How could a barely literate, willfully (woefully?) ignorant person get that close to the White House? How could she be so popular with a certain type of voter? Voters who like that she “tells it like it is” (also known as code for rude, thoughtless remarks), who doesn’t use fancy words, who liked to mock community organizers. These were the same voters who didn’t think Palin was drunk when she taped a response to a speech by Sen. Elizabeth Warren voicing support for workers who were striking against minimum-wage fast-food jobs.
After Palin’s disastrous (yet hilarious) performance as Sen. John McCain’s running mate, most of us thought we’d never have to see the spectacle of an incoherent candidate for high office. After all, the GOP tried to right their sinking ship with the ever-stoic, never-out-of-line Mitt Romney, he of the Utah Billionaire Boys Club. Surely Romney would carry the gravitas and stability so desperately needed for the GOP to win back the White House.
But Romney lost bigly to Barack Obama, he of the Kenyan Muslim Obamas. Then along came Donald J. Trump, he of the Queens Real Estate Trumps, a fast-talking showman and reality TV star — a man who never uses big words, reads books or has a thought any longer than “Can I grab her pussy”? Trump, in other words, is the male Palin. He’s what a poor man thinks a rich man should be: glitz and glamour, smoke and mirrors, substance be damned. His forte: going to campaign rallies and telling crowds of supporters whatever they wanted to hear so he could bask in the glory of his name being screamed in adulation; using slogans instead of policy; telling lies instead of sharing actual plans for the future; reveling in mocking and attacking anyone who dares to speak against him and his supporters. He invents history, such as Andrew Jackson making a deal to avert the Civil War (“Why could that one not have been worked out?”).
Thanks to Palin introducing us to ignorance masquerading as “real America,” the GOP and the far-right now had a man who might just win the Oval Office. Then he did. Trump is President. So I ask once more time: what does it mean to have a President who prefers bullet points and charts on a single-page document rather than having to read the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB)?
I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.
When we have a President who chooses not to read the PDB, we have a huge cause for concern. After Trump started getting the PDB, he could not, for an interview, articulate what was in. He called them “scary,” which is actually scary:
‘I’ve had a lot of briefings that are very … I don’t want to say ‘scary,’ because I’ll solve the problems,’ Trump told Axios. ‘But … we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies — very big and, in some cases, strong enemies.
Trump’s first 100 days was marked on Apr. 29. Since his inauguration, he has changed course on many of his campaign promises and given strange, disjointed interviews to The New York Times and, just this week, The Associated Press. I think most rational people won’t find these interviews funny or Trump being Trump — they’ll find it horrifying. A President who cannot string together two cohesive thoughts isn’t just frightening for the US, it’s frightening for the world.
Take Trump’s precious wall. The AP interviewer asked how he would get the $20 billion in funding for it (which apparently is off the table). His response is a doozy:
I think $10 billion or less. And if I do a super-duper, higher, better, better security, everything else, maybe it goes a little bit more. But it’s not going to be anywhere near (those) kind of numbers. And they’re using those numbers; they’re using the high numbers to make it sound impalatable (sic). And the fact it’s going to cost much less money, just like the airplane I told you about, which I hope you can write about.
These are the terms our President uses to describe something as complicated as the construction of a 2,000-mile concrete barrier between two sovereign countries. “Impalatable” isn’t even a word.
Here is Trump backtracking on his characterization of NATO as obsolete:
They had a quote from me that NATO’s obsolete. But they didn’t say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn’t in government. People don’t go around asking about NATO if I’m building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO’s obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, ‘And the reason it’s obsolete is because of the fact they don’t focus on terrorism.’ You know, back when they did NATO there was no such thing as terrorism.
Trump had no idea what NATO did when he called it obsolete, when he called for its dismantlement during his campaign? Hey, he’s just some guy wandering around in Manhattan — who’s NATO? He clearly had no idea NATO countries took his statements at face value — and very seriously. And NATO didn’t just think he was pretending to understand their purpose: world leaders didn’t know that Trump didn’t know what NATO was. They assumed he understood the basics — that NATO had held Europe together for decades, keeping partner countries safe from totalitarian aggressors, chiefly Russia and the Soviet Union before it. These aren’t little things. Then Trump invited more confusion was he was asked about the role of Russia and Syria:
Well, I think it’s a very sad day for Russia because they’re aligned, and in this case, all information points to Syria that they did this. Why they did this, who knows? That’s a level — first of all, they weren’t supposed to have this. Obama said, ‘It’s all cleared away.’ Well, that’s another thing he didn’t do. This was a big moment, a big moment in the Middle East was when Obama drew the red line in the sand, and it was immediately violated, and did nothing. That was a big moment in the Middle East. I know you’re not going to report it, but — that was a big, bad moment in the Middle East.
Why is it a sad day in Russia? Is Trump sympathetic to Russia’s support of Bashar al-Assad? Is he expressing remorse that the bombing makes Russia look bad? Whose side is he on? Can Europe trust Trump to side with them against Vladimir Putin’s designs on Eastern Europe?
We can all laugh at the incoherent ramblings of a President who is ignorant of his very office, and at his Palin-esque word-salad declarations. We can laugh at his pathetic need to be liked and admired. But all of it comes at a cost. Trump has two luxury buildings under construction in Istanbul, so he called Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President, to congratulate him on consolidating power through a close vote and therefore establishing the first Middle East dictator democracy. Trump wants Erdogan to like him. How will that play out with the fight against ISIS?
We only know what Trump thinks when he tells us. We can only parse his interviews and take his words at face value. When you can’t understand what he says, when his statements make no sense, what is the world to think? How do we trust a man flip-flopping on every campaign promise he made? Flip-flop on the wall: Mexico will pay for it; Mexico will reimburse us; the US taxpayer will pay for it; now the wall isn’t priority. NATO is obsolete; NATO isn’t obsolete. Let’s stay out of Syria; let’s lob missiles at Syria. “We should not be focusing on Syria,” Trump told Reuters last October. “You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.” China is a currency manipulator; China isn’t a currency manipulator after sharing the greatest piece of chocolate cake ever and getting schooled by President Xi on the history of China and Korea. But apparently it wasn’t enough schooling as Trump still thought the Korean peninsula was once a part of China, which set off a diplomatic situation with a furious South Korea. The Iran deal should be ripped up on day one! Trump will probably continue with the Iran deal. Climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and the US will leave the Paris Climate Accord; we’re staying in the Paris Climate Accord.
It should concern every American that our current president is unhampered by ideology or facts. It should worry us that he doesn’t know how to speak clearly and with forethought. It should be scary that he can have one foreign policy one day and, by the end of Fox and Friends, completely changed his mind. How can our allies trust anything he says? How will Germany or France or the UK, our biggest and best friends, include the US in any discussion of global interests? He cannot understand the complexities facing our world, doesn’t care to educate himself and takes the side of the last person with whom he spoke. Our allies can’t discern his thinking by reading transcripts of interviews — they are nothing more than the jumbled thoughts of a man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Having a male Palin in the White House will keep world’s major players from even considering the US position on many issues. No respect for Trump means no respect for the US. My advice? Let’s talk to the real President, Jared S. Kushner, and see how coherently he speaks.