Donald Trump is the real anchor baby in America—childish yet so outsized and unwieldy that he doesn’t hold the ship of state upright and in position like a good anchor should but causes it to sink like a stone.
Watching him over the last week or so, listening to the anti-immigration rant he delivered in the Rose Garden when he caved and ended his crippling government shutdown, reading his relentless, hallucinatory blitzkrieg of a Twitter feed . . . each is continuing evidence of what we already, sadly, know too well: that this is a blustering fool so out of touch with reality, so ignorant of facts and lashing out when that ignorance is challenged, that his continued presence as president feels intolerable.
Like the kowtowing minions with whom he surrounds himself, he does not know what he does not know. Before this administration, it would have seemed obvious that there always needs to be someone intelligent in the White House. God knows, history shows us that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the president himself, but any even halfway effective chief executive knows the importance of being in the presence of at least some people not blinded from truth by ideology and obeisance. You may not agree with the opinions or advice proffered—nor may they agree with you—but at least their beliefs are grounded in some semblance of fact and deserve a hearing.
Yet because he systematically has rid himself of virtually anyone with an ounce of common sense—or because they have used that common sense to run as far away from him as possible—Trump listens to no one but White House sycophants, his own freakish inner demons and the friendly folks at Fox News and other right-wing outlets who tell him he’s wonderful and to stay his erratic, uncharted course.
Just beyond the innermost circle, though, there are some in government who say things he does not want to hear. When Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray—all Trump appointees—spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, they sent up a volley of flares warning that the administration’s foreign policy, such as it is, ignores danger signals that run contrary to the president’s egotistical belief that he can do no wrong.
Coats and his colleagues were presenting the Worldwide Threat Assessment, an annual report that indicates dangers to the United States and the rest of the planet; everything from other nations to terrorist groups, pandemic disease and yes, Mr. President, global warming.
In fact, in many instances, we have met the enemy and he is us. As per David E. Sanger and James E. Barnes in The New York Times, “The 42-page threat report found that American trade policies and ‘unilateralism’—central themes of Mr. Trump’s ‘America First’ approach—have strained traditional alliances and prompted foreign partners to seek new relationships.”
Further, contrary to Trump’s insistence that as the result of his jolly relations with Kim Jong-un, North Korea is moving along the road to complete denuclearization, the report states that nation “is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons and production capability.” CIA Director Haspel told the committee that the North “is committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States,” and DNI Coats noted that Pyongyang’s leaders “ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”
And there’s more. Despite Trump’s insistence that Iran is not complying with the arms agreement from which he withdrew the United States last May, the intelligence report says that despite other hostile activities, Iran continues to live up to the deal’s terms and is not building nuclear weapons. And although the president sent a video victory tweet in December declaring, “We have won against ISIS; we’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly,” thousands of fighters remain in Syria and Iraq and ISIS terror networks are alive and well.
As for the national emergency Trump conjures over southern border security? No mention of the issue until deep into the global threat report. Higher priorities prevail.
Trump’s response to being so blatantly contradicted was, as usual, mature and even-tempered: he sent Twitter screams that his intelligence chiefs were “extremely passive and naïve,” and perhaps “should go back to school!” He canceled his daily intelligence briefing on Wednesday, told the press on Thursday, “I will be proven right, probably,” but by the end of the day, after a meeting with Coats and Haspel and other higher up spies, he said they told him that their testimony had been “totally misquoted” by the media (although it was public and televised) and was—of course!—“fake news.”
The history of America’s intelligence services is not one of perpetual glory and truth; horrors have been committed in their name. What’s more, their assessments are fallible and in the past have been notoriously wrong (WMD in Iraq, anyone?). But on a day-to-day basis they are more often right and a president ignores at his peril what experts with decades of knowledge and experience tell him.
In fact, there were points in the assessment report that aligned with Trump’s opinions. But what’s as disturbing as the president’s refusal to hear advice from experts that doesn’t gibe with his monocular worldview is the resulting lack of policy coherence and constancy manifest in everything from Friday’s suspension of the successful Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia to a southern border policy that refuses asylum to Central American refugees while denying aid to their countries that could help protect and keep them at home.
“The president can choose to be an unconventional statesman,” James Carafano, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation told The Washington Post, “but the direction of U.S. policy must be clear to friend and enemy alike. It’s his responsibility to make sure that happens.”
Clear? When it comes to statesmanship, there is no consistent Trump Doctrine but one: speak loudly, carry a big stick and keep tripping over your own two feet.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship