It may look like Trump’s governing is a result of which side of the bed he gets up on before tweeting, but two themes are emerging.
The first is he must be as removed from life’s losers as possible. Everything, even his own words, pale next to winning, on whatever terms—as we saw with the House health-care vote last week that revealed his prior promise to provide better insurance at a lower cost while covering pre-existing conditions as a sham.
The second is his belief in flattery as a means to winning. That, too, was at work in Trump’s all-out effort to erase his first legislative defeat with a steaming mess that strips health care from millions, a “win” so bad that it’s headed for a mercy killing in the Senate.
But that’s tomorrow. Speaker Paul Ryan who’s wanted to slash Medicaid since he was drinking beer from a keg, wanted to wait —but not Trump. To shake that icky loser feeling, the Trump administration did its bit to cobble together a hodgepodge of a bill and set about flattering some members, and threatening others, with how smart they are, like Rep. Chris Collins who admitted he hadn’t even read the bill before voting for it and leaving town. If town halls were ugly before, imagine them now as people read estimates that under Trumpcare asthma sufferers would be paying $4,ooo more per year, those with diabetes, $5,500, and cancer, $140,000. By no means get pregnant as insurers can remove maternity coverage. It’s a boy! He just cost you $17,000.
But the strains of Rocky had hardly faded from the pep rally Speaker Paul Ryan held to rev up his troops before the president reversed field. By the time he landed in New York to meet Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whom he hung up on in February, he was flattering him, sincerely or not, for his single-payer system in the Down Under, declaring “You have better healthcare than we do.”
He may well believe that and not know that the bill he’s embraced wouldn’t help change that, because he doesn’t sweat the details and is always intent on flattering the one he’s with. Because buttering him up works—Trump’s said he likes people who like him—slathering Land o’ Lakes on others will too. Domestically, he tried it on Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer before realizing he’d barked up the wrong New Yorker.
In foreign affairs, flattery and insults constitute his entire policy: Trump withholds his approval (and handshakes) from strong women like Angela Merkel and accuses NATO ally Great Britain of complicity in Obama’s supposed spying on him, while showering praise on murderous strongmen like Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, whom Trump praised for fighting drug dealers (with summary executions), and for his high approval ratings. He capped it off with an invitation to Washington to continue their “friendly discussion.”
He hailed North Korean president Kim Jung Un as a very “smart cookie” for assuming power at a young age and keeping it despite “his uncle or anybody else” trying to take it away. He welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warmly last month on his first visit here since seizing power in a coup four years ago. He congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a referendum allowing him near dictatorial powers.
You can see how his embrace of China, who not long ago he called a currency manipulator, has had no success easing tensions with North Korea. But that isn’t stopping him from hugging the Saudis this week. You can hear the tweet forming:”‘They may have knocked down the World Trade Center but there are better people running Saudi Arabia now, and, wow, they still have kings! And gobs of money! I just signed an order on religious freedom and they don’t have any, but that’s a bee in Mike Pence’s bonnet because he hates a Groom and a Groom on a wedding cake. I can’t let that get in my way of friending the world’s biggest oil producers. Winners. Not sad!”
Holding a thought just isn’t his thing. Trump basked in the cheers of House Republicans after their health-care “victory” before switching horses just hours later to celebrate Australian health care. In the Rose Garden, he asked the nearly all-male chorus that had just trashed women’s health “How am I doing?” getting another pat of butter. “Hey, I’m president!” he exclaimed. “Can you believe it, right?”
That’s not a rhetorical question but Trump rubbing it in. Since you’re asking, here’s what else we can’t believe: That you don’t know that Andrew Jackson died 16 years before the start of the Civil War, or that Frederick Douglas is unable to do great things because he’s dead, or that you’re still falsely insisting your Inaugural crowd was the largest ever.
Trump switches positions like others change ties. If it’s Monday, he’s loving NAFTA, after hating on it for years. But on Tuesday, he may well be feeding the treaty into the shredder. Or not. It’s no shocker that by evening, Trump shouts out his approval for the sort of health-care system he’d just blithely cheered stripping away from millions of Americans in a bill that vastly favors life’s winners, with the savings going to fund tax cuts for the upper 10 percent.
As erstwhile populists have always done, Trump is tossing crumbs to the base: pro-life appointees to Health and Human Services to kill funds for family planning; Dr. Ben Carson, who believes slaves were happy immigrants, to cut assistance to the poor to save them from becoming soft; and hiring every fossil fuel advocate in America to bolster the claim that climate change is a hoax.
Trump won by convincing voters that he might be rough around the edges, slip into locker room talk, and not know what the nuclear triad is, but that was all part of being real. After a hundred rocky, feckless, bombastic, inconsistent days, it’s fair to ask who’s faking it now.