After Helsinki, Trump Isn’t Up to the Job


By any objective measure, President Trump had a bad day in Helsinki. (68% of Republicans, according to a CBS poll, somehow think he did fine, but partisans are not always beacons of clear-eyed objectivity.) Trump put Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word on par with that of America’s own intelligence community. He mused aloud about turning Americans over to Putin for questioning (“an incredible offer!”). And the president also rambled on about the Electoral College. Hey, I have bad days too. We’re all human.

Well, Trump’s bad day also came at the end of a Bad Week. There was the cantankerous NATO summit, followed by a sloppy interview given to a UK tabloid, followed by a clumsy summit with UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

Hey, I’ve had bad weeks. Especially when I’m traveling.

I’d love to write President Trump’s foreign trip off as no big deal. I like much of what the Trump Administration has managed to do in a year and a half. America is at full employment, and if there are more jobs than workers I hope that means workers might be better positioned to get overdue raises. I’ll back any judge who thinks the Constitution says what it means and means what it says—so I’m loving Justice Gorsuch’s opinions so far.  I don’t support family separation whatsoever at the border, that needs to be sorted out and never repeated, but securing the border, cutting child smuggling and a crackdown on MS-13 is overdue. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, yes, nominally part of the Trump Administration (!), is getting guilty pleas and indictments.

But Trump’s disastrous trip can’t be written off—partly for what it was, and partly because the cleanup has been so inept. From the Walk-Back-That-Wasn’t re: the Intelligence Community to the extended pondering about turning US diplomats over to Putin, to inviting Putin to the White House in the fall without discussion, Trump’s incompetence just carries on. It’s unacceptable. We attribute a phrase to Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.” Thinking about this calamitous trip, it wasn’t even over then.

Then-candidate Trump tried to reassure people who doubted his own expertise by often saying that he’d hire “the best people…the best!” Of all the things he said on the trail, this gave me the most comfort. But it hasn’t worked out. Too often, the people Trump appointed have resigned over corruption allegations (cabinet secretaries Tom Price and Scott Pruitt; Ryan Zinke on deck), or he’s managed to hire competent people only to blithely ignore them and chase them away (I’d put Secretary Rex Tillerson and economic advisor Gary Cohn in that group).

I studied politics and have worked in it off-and-on for 20 years. On Inauguration Day I had enough self-loathing to think “Yeah—maybe an outsider can do much more good than harm.” I still loathe myself enough to think that might be true. The right person from the business world could make a lot of sense in the White House. Donald Trump is not that guy.

Why? I’ll let others decide. I have no information as to whether the Russians have something on Trump. And Goldwater Rule or not, I’m simply not qualified to comment on Trump’s mental state.  

All I know is what I see, and it isn’t pretty. Further, I’m not sure what’s worse: After Charlottesville and in subsequent rallies, it seemed like President Trump wanted to pull the country apart at the seams; after Helsinki, it looks like he wants to just fold it up and hand it over to the Russians. I was encouraged in March when sanctions were imposed on Russia and a consulate was closed in retaliation for the Novichok poisonings in the UK. That seems like a long time ago now.

The good news, if there is any, is that co-equal branches of government can check this President, even if he’ll never be balanced. The Senate’s 98-0 vote to support the Intelligence Community is a baby step, but a baby step in the right direction. More please--starting with more sanctions on Mother Russia who has not learned her lesson, and an all-out effort to keep the Midterm Elections clean.