“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen…Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
So wrote the thoroughly inconsistent Ralph Waldo Emerson in an essay entitled “Self-Reliance”. Donald Trump appears to have been channeling the 19th century American transcendentalist.
As he approaches the symbolic 100 day mark of his presidency, his pirouettes have both dazzled and baffled. CNN’s political staff reported, “Hazarding a guess at the mercurial president’s plans is roughly as fruitful as predicting an earthquake, a person in close touch with the White House said… “Who the hell knows?” another senior Republican source in frequent contact with the White House said. “It’s Donald Trump”.”
On the campaign trail and since, Trump has spoken and tweeted many hard words. Lately he has been eating them.
He threatened trade war with “world champion currency manipulator” China, called NATO “obsolete” and threatened not to honour US commitments to the alliance unless its members pulled their fiscal weight. He was ready to shutter the US Export-Import Bank (Exim) and cashier Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen after a single term. Having failed to muster the votes to “repeal and replace” his predecessor’s signature health care initiative, Obamacare, he announced that, to hell with it, he was moving on to tax reform.
On all these things, and more, the president has changed his mind. A couple of days with Xi Jinping and his “lovely wife” at Mar a Lago, the Palm Beach White House, has improved Trump’s understanding of reality. For now, at least, he accepts that, one, without China there is no solution to the problem of the nutty nuclear-armed Kim dynasty in North Korea and, two. the only currency manipulation Beijing is currently engaged in involves propping the yuan up against the dollar, not pushing it down.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came to the White House. Trump, reminded that the alliance was fighting terrorism shoulder to shoulder with the US, and had been since 9/11, decided that it was “no longer obsolete”. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney stopped by and explained how Exim helped him sell aircraft to foreign customers who might otherwise shop elsewhere. Another Damascus moment for the president. Exim, he told the Wall Street Journal, was “useful”. In the same interview, he endorsed Yellen for a second term, having earlier said she should be “ashamed” for holding interest rates down under the Obama administration to create a “false” impression of recovery.
Unendorsed, on other hand, was Steve Bannon, propagandist for the America First Trumpism of the election campaign which, for now at least, seems to be going the way of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, though with more of a scowl than a smile.
Trump, as confidence man, has alway seen strategic value in being misunderstood. One can see why, in his current predicament, he would reckon consistency foolish. As vain as he is, he has to know his presidency is off to a terrible start. He’s in danger of being lumped with real duds like Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover.
The Republicans he nominally leads have majorities in both chambers of the national legislature. Thus far, they have proved unable to govern together.
To get things rolling, all he wanted them to do was get rid of Obamacare and put something, anything, in its place. Just let him have a bill to sign for the cameras which would, on paper at least, free up funds for the other things he promised — the Mexico wall, a trillion dollar infrastructure spend and tax reform to broaden the revenue base while cutting rates. No, said the true believers who believe that no one who cannot afford it has a right to life saving medicine any more than they have a right to own a car or an iPhone.
Now Trump is discovering that next to reforming the tax code, so many and so well-organised and financed are the entrenched interests that replacing Obamacare should have been child’s play. He wants to go back and try again.
Polls show that most Americans, working class Trumpsters included, would like to see Obamacare replaced, not with the unrestricted market Darwinism favoured in varying degrees by Republicans, but by making available to all the socialized medical benefits that already exist for retirees, children and military veterans
A mind that wanted to be though big and unfettered by hobgoblins might be willing to work with Democrats for such a solution, especially if the alternative was to go down as a loser, fired after one term.