U.S. Politics

Why Trump keeps doing the opposite of what he said he’d do

Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press on Air Force One on April 6, 2017 | JIM WATSON

MADDOW BLOG

When describing his vision on health care policy, Donald Trump, before the election and after, made a series of fairly explicit commitments. The Republican wouldn’t just repeal the Affordable Care Act, he said, he’d replace it with a system that brought insurance to all Americans, while also lowering premiums and deductibles.

‘Careening incompetence’ of Trump administration risks crisis

In practice, Trump abandoned every promise he made, embracing legislation that would’ve delivered the exact opposite results. The president radically changed direction without explanation, largely because House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told him the House Republican plan had merit, and Trump, indifferent towards policy details, accepted the assurances at face value.

Trump didn’t have any working understanding of the GOP legislation – by all appearances, he hadn’t even read it – but the president didn’t think it mattered. The Speaker told the White House it was the best available option, and Trump eagerly went along, promises to the public be damned.

To a very real extent, the president got played, and his ignorance made it easy. As Vox’s Ezra Klein put it a few weeks ago, “This is the problem with not knowing or caring much about the details of policy – it’s easy to get spun by people who do know and care.” It’s an often overlooked detail: Trump abandoned the course he promised voters he’d pursue because the president listened to allies who cared vastly more about the substance of the debate than he did.

If this dynamic sounds familiar, it’s because there’s ample reason to believe something similar happened last week – except, this time, Trump wasn’t ignoring his own promises and instincts on health care, he was ignoring his own promises and instincts on national security policy as applied in the Middle East.

For the three years leading up to Election Day, Trump was strikingly consistent: the United States needed to stay out of Syria. Missile strikes would be a costly and pointless mistake, he said. The risks associated with intervention against the Assad regime were enormous – Candidate Trump warned against “World War III” shortly before Election Day – and the benefits were few.

And yet, Trump was again spun by those who knew more and cared more. The New Republic’s Jeet Heer highlighted the Pentagon’s role.

As a candidate, Donald Trump swaggered about how he’d order the military to do what he wanted. “They won’t refuse,” he said during a Republican debate, defending his call for the military to “take out” terrorists’ families. “They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.” He also claimed to have unique expertise. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” he said at a rally in Iowa.

The U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base on Friday make clear a different reality: The Pentagon, not the White House, is playing the dominant role not just in military strategy, but in shaping foreign policy.

The New York Times’ Ross Douthat made a related case yesterday.
Most recent presidencies have been distinguished by tugs of war between different groups of foreign policy hands…. The Trump administration, though, doesn’t really have many normal foreign policy experts among its civilian officials. Rex Tillerson may have a realist streak and Nikki Haley a moralistic style, but neither one has been part of these debates before. Mike Pence has nothing like the experience of a Dick Cheney or a Joe Biden. If Bannon’s vision is getting sidelined, it’s not like Jared Kushner is ready with a deeply thought-out alternative.

What Trump has instead are generals – James Mattis and H. R. McMaster and the other military men in his cabinet, plus, of course, the actual professional military itself. And it’s this team of generals, not any of the usual foreign policy schools, that seems increasingly likely to steer his statecraft going forward.

It’d be overly simplistic, of course, to suggest that the brass are pulling Trump’s strings, shaping the entirety of the administration’s foreign policy. The broader dynamic is more complex: the president was reportedly affected by television coverage of Assad’s chemical attack and an apparent desire to do the opposite of whatever Barack Obama did.

But the real simplicity was Trump’s assumptions that an almost mindless commitment to “America First” principles could realistically become the basis for a functioning foreign policy. It was a placeholder vision, which the president would replace with whatever the people around him told him to do. Last week, that meant listening to his party’s orthodoxy and ignoring everything Trump has ever said, thought, or promised as it relates to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

On health care, it was Paul Ryan who effectively told Trump, “Never mind what your instincts tell you; my plan is the way to go.” On Syria, it was his national security team that did the same thing, effectively telling the president, “Never mind what your instincts tell you; this is an issue 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles can make better.”

It’s a safe bet Trump’s entire presidency will continue to unfold this way. It’s not that he’s determined to deliberately do the opposite of what he promised voters; it’s that he doesn’t seem to take any of those commitments especially seriously. Someone he knows and trusts – Paul Ryan, James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, et al – comes into the Oval Office, presents him with an idea, tells him it’s the smart thing to do, and Trump says, “Sounds good.”

He didn’t necessarily change his mind about his vision; Trump never really made up his mind in the first place.

2 thoughts on “Why Trump keeps doing the opposite of what he said he’d do

  1. I DID NOT VOTE FOR THIS MAN

    Let the record show:

    Let it show that I did not vote for this man, that he did not represent me, that I did not believe he was deserving of being here, that I grieved his ascension.

    Let History record my objection to him, to the ways he humiliated women and vilified Muslims and threatened protestors and disregarded people of color.

    Let it record my repulsion at his tremendous cruelty, his lack of compassion, his contempt for dissension, his absence of simple decency.

    Let witnesses mark down my disgust at the way he boasted of infidelity, at how he ridiculed a disabled reporter, at the way he attacked female opponents for their appearance, at the way he marginalized immigrants.

    Let it be remembered that I did not look the other way when women accused him of assault, when the reality of his Russian alliances came to light, when he refused to share his tax records—though large portions of the American media and its people chose to.

    Let it be remembered that I did not buy into the fear that he perpetuated of those with brown skin or hijabs or foreign birthplaces.

    Let the record show that I looked on with disbelief as he spent countless early morning and middle-of-the-night hours following the election on social media, broadcasting a steady stream of petulant, insecure, incoherent messages instead of preparing to do a job he was ill-equipped for and seemingly not all that interested in.

    Let the record show that I watched him assemble a Cabinet of billionaires and bigots, of people woefully unqualified to steward our children, our safety, our healthcare, our financial stability—and that I was horrified by it all.

    Let it be remembered that my faith would not allow me to fall in line behind this man while so many professed religious people did; that I saw nothing resembling Jesus in him, and that to declare him Christian would have been to toss aside everything I grew up believing faith in Christ manifested in a life.

    Let History record my grieving at the racism and bigotry and homophobia that characterized his campaign, marked his supporters, and is evident in his assembling Administration.

    Let it be known that I was one of the more than 65 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton; who understood that though flawed, she was an intelligent, experienced, passionate public servant with the temperament, commitment, and qualifications to lead and lead well.

    Let the record show that I greatly lamented the day of his inauguration, and that I promised to join together with other good people to loudly resist and oppose every unscrupulous, dangerous, unjust and dishonest act this new Administration engages in.

    History has been littered with horrible people who did terrible things with power, because too many good people remained silent. And since my fear is that we are surely entering one of those periods in our story, I wanted to make sure that I was recorded for posterity:

    I do not believe this man is normal.
    I do not believe he is emotionally stable.
    I do not believe he cares about the full, beautiful diversity of America.
    I do not believe he respects women.
    I do not believe he is pro-life other than his own.
    I do not believe the sick and the poor and the hurting matter to him in the slightest.
    I do not believe he is a man of faith or integrity or nobility.
    I do not believe his concern is for anything outside his reflection in the mirror.

    I believe he is a danger to our children.
    I believe he is a threat to our safety.
    I believe he is careless with our people.
    I believe he is reckless with his power.
    I believe America will be less secure, less diverse, less compassionate, and less decent under his leadership.

    And if I prove to be wrong, it will be one of the most joyful errors of my life. I will own these words and if necessary, willingly and gladly admit my misjudgment because it will mean that America is a better and stronger nation, and the world a more peaceful place.

    But right now I don’t see that happening.

    Right now I am worried for my country, concerned for our planet, scared for the future of my children, and greatly saddened that 62 million Americans seem okay with all of this.

    Let the record show that I was not okay with it.

    Not at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A statement of fact:
    Persons who intentionally do not watch “The Rachel Maddow Show” are failing their duty to understand what it takes to be a supporter of American Democracy..

    Liked by 1 person

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