Trump can dish it out — but he can't take it
The gap that Donald Trump continually shows us between word and deed is remarkable. He lets words hurt while ignoring the substance of what the words mean.
That public words that various people, from both in and out of government or politics, say about him seem to matter a whole lot more than actual events, scandals or bad governmental behavior reflecting on his presidency. We’re used to it by now, numb really, so, it seems useful to step back and look at the pattern.
Even so, his tweets on Sunday telling four rebellious first-year congresswomen, citizens who are all of color, that they should return to where they came from “to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came” is an insult that crosses all borders. As it happens, three of the four are American-born, and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mich.) has been a naturalized citizen since age 12.
The words came as federal border agents were fanning to several cities to start rounding up undocumented immigrants whose court appeals time has run out. The irony is too great to overlook. It is easy to dismiss his rude remarks as politics in the age of the tweet, but they were racist, hurtful and personal—a line that most politicians respect.
Less severe, but equally appalling, the unwanted words about his presidency had come from British Ambassador Kim Darroch, whose private memos back to the British government ended up being leaked to British newspapers, who published them. Darroch had described Trump as “insecure” and his administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional.”
Not only did Trump lash out at Darroch, but he turned his anger on the British government, and let it be known that his unhappiness could affect trade policy with Britain. That strikes me as a little excessive in response to sentiments, if not specific words, that Trump hears daily from everyone but Senate Republicans and Fox News. I’d add in ineffectual, biased, un-planful and fact-resistant to the list of descriptors.
Darroch resigned, recognizing his private words had erased his effectiveness and despite backing by outgoing Prime Minister Teresa May and at least one candidate to replace her.
The British Ambassador
It just strikes me that of all the things currently swirling around the Trump administration at the moment, that it is the critical words of an ambassador that gives Trump fits and sends him off to make hurtful public policies.
By contrast, Trump is basically silent or supportive about the cruel treatment of migrants in detention centers on the border, or on the press for the Justice Department to join in efforts to throw out the Affordable Care Act, currently law for which you would expect government support, or to heed the exponentially increasing numbers of natural disasters that would otherwise seem to point to the dangers of climate disruption, or even to notice that the poor are getting poorer as the rich are getting richer.
In other words, it is the power of the insult, of the words, that seem to matter to Donald Trump more than the growing number of actually harmful events that arise from his own policies.
Just as Prime Minister May was right to note that “good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice,” in defending her ambassador, so too should we be defending and amplifying the voices of scientists being silenced in this administration, of farmers and businesses hurt by tariffs and trade wars, by those speaking on behalf of minorities, women, gays, trans people and others whose rights are being trampled or ignored, by voices that call for some strategic thinking in how we approach foreign affairs and nuclear weapons development.
In other words, we need a president with hide tough enough to take an untoward remark from a woman soccer team captain or a first-year Democratic congresswoman, or a Democratic presidential candidate without resorting to the full weaponry of government that was never intended for use against individuals. Leadership includes the invitation of voices with whom you don’t agree, so as to be more inclusive in understanding the problem at hand.
American Envoys Acting Badly
Just for the record, Trump-appointed American ambassadors overseas have offended hosts in multiple countries. Richard Grenell in Germany was castigated for appearing to lecture his hosts about Iranian trade, Pete Hoekstra in the Netherlands had to apologize for saying publicly that parts of the country were unsafe. David Friedman, the ambassador to Israel, is so pro-Netanyahu and pro-settlement as to make himself off-limits to Palestinian voices in the region. All are still in their jobs, by the way.
I hope and expect our ambassadors in Russia and China to be offering full and frank assessments, just as I expect our ambassadors in Britain and Israel to be measuring the effects of actions among our friends. I expect our intelligence services to actually know what’s happening in North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, as well as among the dark corners of ISIS that outlive the caliphate. How else can the leader of this nation make intelligent decisions about issues of common concern?
Oh, I forgot. Trump deals on the basis of gut, and only in the moment without reference to his selective memory. So, rather than kicking himself for not fully exploring the stupidity of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta before naming him to the cabinet, the selective memory only sees loyalty. And rather than acknowledge that our country is being manipulated in his political views by Russian operatives, the selective memory can only remember that a two-year investigation of serial bad behavior by his people only resulted in a never-offered total exoneration of obstruction of justice.
Even Fox News, his standby buddies, came in for their use of words—not even their own words—in reporting the News rather than offering unfiltered praise for him.
Trump’s words have become his only deeds.
And they are inept, insecure and dysfunctional.