The Essence of Trump

People are having a hard time understanding Donald Trump.  Why is he so confrontational?   Why does he constantly troll the media?  When will he learn that foreign policy is complicated, and that policy-making requires tact and compromise?

The answers are actually easy to state; one only has to look at Trump’s life and his approach.  It is marked by consistency over decades, and that has carried over into how he runs his Presidential administration.

First, Trump is a very poor businessman who nonetheless has achieved great success.  His business record is actually one of bad investments, poor treatment of investors and contractors, and huge losses.  Legitimate banks will no longer do business with him.

Trump’s success comes from two factors.  First, he has been repeatedly bailed out by people who supported him despite failure (his family) or by people who saw that they could use Trump for their own ends (Russian money-launders and mafiosi).  Second, Trump is a great showman, and achieved considerable success in his television career on “The Apprentice.”  This career not only earned him money, but created an international brand for “Trump” that allowed the Trump organization to gain branding rights and attract development partners for projects to which Trump only contributes a name  but receives considerable revenues.

Second, to cover his anxiety about his underlying failures, Trump has developed in his own mind the persona of a brilliant, exemplary success.  He lies about and exaggerates his accomplishments because he must; to do otherwise is to start to admit doubts about his own role in his success.  In Trump’s mind, he will always be the smartest person in the room, always the greatest success, always the person who has done the most and more than anyone else in his situation.  This is how he presented himself in the past (“Star of the #1 show on television,” which it was not) and presents himself now (“biggest election crowd ever;” “Best speech ever given in [any given setting]”; “most accomplished by any president in first 6 mos.”; “Most presidential” etc.)

This view leads to a simple view of the world and policy-making.  If something is not going great, it must be because his predecessors, less smart and less skilled in business, made “bad deals.”   If these are just tossed out and replaced with “better deals,” then everything will be great.  And since he treats his predecessors as stupid people who made “incredibly bad deals,” it will be “easy” for someone as smart and great a deal-maker as Trump to come up with something “much, much better.”

For Trump, the details of history do not matter; the fine lines of policy are irrelevant; compromise is a dirty word and sign of weakness. What Trump believes works well, based on his own internal story of his business success, greatly reinforced by his fluke victory in the Presidential election, is demanding, bullying, playing to the crowds, pushing for a “better deal,” and then claiming victory.

Trump therefore treats the leaders of other countries (as shown in his transcripts of conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia) as he would a potential business partner or contractor in a real estate deal.  Their history, the complexities of their own situation, etc. do not matter.  All that matters is that Trump needs to make a better deal.  And they had better go along, or else.

The same is true in domestic politics.  In health care and tax reform, Trump believes his predecessor made bad, stupid deals.  It will therefore be easy to make much better ones and claim victory.  When such a simple-minded approach fails, he lashes out at those who won’t go along, accusing them of obstruction and cupidity.  He seems constitutionally unable to grasp that some things (e.g. achieving a political settlement in Iran, crafting national health care policy, making peace in the Middle East) are far more complex than signing a deal to put up a building in Chicago or Baku and getting credit for putting his name on it.

Much else follows from this world view.  Putting his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of China, the Middle East, government efficiency, and much else is OK because it’s just about making a better deal, and hence not that complicated.  No policy or international affairs experts are needed because they know nothing about making business deals.

Seeking out loyalists and family and running things in a fun, leisurely way, was a path to Trump’s business success and the Presidency, so of course he believes he is much smarter than the people in Washington who have “failed” to solve the important problems of Middle East Peace, providing health care, and restoring good-paying jobs to blue-collar workers.   That centuries of religious conflict, the problems of insurance in a market with asymmetric information, or automation make those problems highly resistant to solution are dismissed as excuses or a cover-up for weakness.

When Trump is faced with setbacks he does not see that he has to learn; he lashes out at scapegoats or seeks to distract attention (the Obama spied on me, Rice illegally unmasked people, and endless Hilary Clinton crimes gambits).  The more he faces setbacks, the more he exalts his accomplishments and blames others, and tries to get the media to frame him as the hero and others as villains.

This is what worked in his show-biz career and election campaign; I cannot imagine that he will abandon this approach now.

The result is that we have a President who is simply the person we elected — an overblown TV celebrity with ties to Russian money-launderers who thinks he is brilliant and all the US and world’s problems can be easily solved by making a better deal.   Truly smart and experienced advisors may try to get him on track, and occasionally frustrate Trump’s worst impulses.  But they are unlikely to last long, as Trump simply discards those whom he thinks do not fit into his story of his own brilliance and success.  So far, Trump has fired his Deputy AG, FBI director, National Security Advisor, Press Secretary, Director of Communications (twice) and Chief of Staff.  His Secretary of State has been largely marginalized and ignored; other cabinet secretaries (Ben Carson, Rick Perry) are figureheads wholly ignorant of the programs they lead, or as with Tom Price at HHS and Scot Pruitt at EPA, charged with dismantling the programs they head.  Whether it is appointing a family wedding planner to a major urban housing position or a talk radio host with no science background to the top science position in the Agr. Dept., this is a “no need for expertise” Presidential administration and is likely to remain that way.

Trump’s approach to governing has already done serious damage to both the US’s international standing and influence, and the capabilities of the US government.  It has not yet damaged the economy (which is always less dependent on the President than on myriad other factors) or caused a major international conflict.  We can only hope that Trump is somehow removed from active decision making before more harm is done to US influence and the US government.  And we must pray that the economy does not slide into recession or that a major international conflict arises; for if either eventuality arises, those deficiencies in US influence and capabilities will truly start to hit home.

 

 

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You know you are living in a Banana Republic when …

The United States, thank God, has a vibrant and effective federal system.  Every day, at the state and local level, fully independent, self-funding governments are enforcing laws, working to preserve the environment, providing support to the sick and needy, offering public education from primary school through university, and supporting business in making investments and enforcing good pay.  Local governments provide police and fire protection, insurance regulation, and a host of other vital services.  That is fortunate, because our federal government has become increasingly dysfunctional.

I had long predicted that President Donald Trump would play havoc with the federal government.  My last post discussed how his policies and actions have reduced US influence around the world.  In this post, I focus on actions at home.  Anyone who has spent time studying poor and kleptocratic authoritarian regimes — also known as “banana republics” because such dictatorships were once especially common in the tropical regions where bananas are grown for export — would recognize the many characteristics that the Trump administration shares with such regimes.

To sum up, let me offer a short (well, not so short) list.  You know you are living in a banana republic when:

1.  The top policy-making jobs go to the President’s children and in-laws, rather than to experienced, qualified professionals.

2. Second-tier jobs go to friends and hangers-on of the President (e.g. having the President’s family wedding-planner appointed to a top housing job in the country’s largest city; or appointing people with no scientific qualifications to critical jobs overseeing scientific/technical programs).

3.  Qualified professionals are reduced to window-dressing; they don’t attend key meetings and are not put in charge of key policy areas.

4. Across the government, loyalty to the President is the main qualification for getting and keeping your job; those whose loyalty is suspect or seem too independent are soon reassigned or fired.

5.  The President asserts that he and his family are above the law, as they can be pardoned for any crimes by the President.

6.  Prosecutors or investigators looking into crimes or corruption by the President and his family are dismissed.

7.  The President and his administration routinely make blatant lies to put themselves and their actions in the best possible light; then expect those lies to be accepted as fact.

8. The President and his administration repeatedly attack any media who criticize or seek to correct their lies as “Fake news,” while praising and promoting media who endorse their fictions.

9.  The President accuses political opponents (such as his predecessor and candidates who ran against him) of committing major crimes, calls them bad people, and urges that they be investigated, prosecuted, and locked up.

10.  The President treats opposition parties as irrelevant, excluding them from any serious role in political appointments or legislation.

11. The President treats his own party in the legislature as people who should do his bidding and work mainly to serve him.

12.  The President loves parades, displays of military force, and public adulation, but has no interest in policy details or patient negotiation and compromise to produce better policy.

13.  The President and his family operate private businesses on the side, and use their power and position to help those businesses increase their profits.

14.  The President routinely flaunts and violates ethics laws, and claims they do not apply to him or don’t matter.

15.  The President surrounds himself with people whose main duty is to flatter him and protect him from any criticism.

I think that’s quite enough for now.  But I may start to keep a running list!

Actually, it’s not funny.   American is going from a country that plays “Hail to the Chief” to one that panders to “El Jefe.”

 

 

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The International Results are in…

In this very interconnected world, how the US (or any country) is perceived around the world matters – it matters for national strategy (which countries will ally with you and how loyal will they be?), for economic growth (will people desire your products and workers, invest in your country, and expect you to honor your trade deals?), and for security (how much do your enemies want to take you down?).

Results are just in on the latest PEW survey of views on America from around the world.  In less than a year, those expressing “Favorable” views of the US have dropped from 64% to 49%.  Even more striking, when asked whether they have confidence in the President of the US to do the right thing in international affairs, those saying they “have confidence” fell from 64% to 22%, while those saying they have ” no confidence” rocketed from 23% to 74%.

Trump’s “America first” foreign policy has thus greatly weakened favorable views of the US around the world.  Only Israel (slightly), and Russia (significantly) have increased their confidence in the President of the US since Trump was elected; all other nations had moderate to very large negative changes.

How will this affect the US’s foreign policy?  It is hard to tell exactly what Trump’s foreign policy goals are, as he has laid out no strategic vision. He seems willing to retreat from influence in Europe and China and make concessions to Russia, wants to wall off Latin America from the US with a renewal of sanctions on Cuba and erecting a wall at the Mexican border, is hostile (but ineffectually) to Iran and North Korea, and is only interested in close partnerships with Israel or countries with Trump hotels (Turkey, the Philippines, the Persian Gulf states).  He seems willing to escalate the US military role in Syria and Afghanistan, but to what end is not clear.

Trump seemed to promise his supporters the US would be stronger, less burdened, and more secure in the world.  In fact, so far his policies have made the US look weaker, less popular, and more confused.

 

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Just saying…

Last week I said that the longer Trump stays in office the worse it will be for his reputation, for the Republican party, and for the United States.

It should be clear to everyone now that Trump lacks the emotional, judgmental, and intellectual qualities needed to lead the United States as President.

In the last few weeks, Trump has (1) arm-twisted House Republicans into passing a Health Care bill that was worse for most Americans than the bill that previously failed to pass, so that he could claim a win in an area in which he is so ignorant that he described health insurance in terms that only apply to life-insurance; (2) he fired his FBI Director, who was in the process of expanding a federal probe into Russian intervention in the US election and potential ties to the Trump campaign, in a callous and unconsidered fashion, expecting everyone to embrace this, having his staff lie about Comey’s status with his own FBI employees and then fabricate a false story about the firing that he then abandoned the next day; (3) he has threatened to wipe out protection for federal lands and national monuments; (4) has embraced heinous dictators and congratulated them on doing a great job; (5) has — along with his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom he appointed to high-level posts in his administration — continued to financially benefit from business dealings both overseas and at home that he promotes while in office; (5) invited the Russian foreign minister and Ambassador to the U.S. (the latter a known spymaster) into the Oval Office, giving Russian state media access to the event but excluding all U.S. press; and (6) apparently gave the Russians sensitive information derived from secret sources, either without grasping the significance of this or recklessly disregarding any consequences.  He also had his cabinet members issue blanket denials, then tweeted, less than 12 hours later, that he had in fact shared terrorist information with the Russians during that meeting.

Let’s be frank — if a fictional story was written that had a U.S. President acting in this way, it would be dismissed as not credible.   No one would expect behavior like this to be tolerated, much less defended, by other GOP and political and societal leaders.  If such behavior ever occurred, one might expect that such a president would be bundled off by his handlers for obvious defects in judgement and reckless and dangerous behavior.

But what are we in fact seeing?  No one is impeding this President, who continues to generate ever more egregious and frightening grounds for his removal from office.

Eventually, this will lead to Trump’s departure from the White House.  The only questions are how long it will take, and how much damage he will to do to himself and our country before that happens.  It certainly appears that the longer it takes, the worse it will get.

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Trump should resign now

It should now be clear to everyone, including Trump supporters in Congress and throughout the Republican party and even Fox news, that Donald Trump has something important to hide.

If he was confident that there was nothing that the FBI could discover, why not let FBI Director Comey go on with his wild goose chase?   If he wanted to change the leadership at the FBI, why not do it in an orderly manner, with a solid justification?

Instead, Trump fired Comey as dramatically and insultingly as possible, with no warning or preparation to the Bureau or most of the White House Staff.   Moreover, his reasoning was so poorly contrived that the person who was first offered as the official responsible for the decision — Deputy Attorney General Robert Rosenstein — threatened to quit over being fingered as the responsible party. 

The lie that Comey was fired for his mishandling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails was so embarrassingly and obviously wrong that most news organizations and commentators dismissed it out of hand.  So one has to ask — why would Trump lie so baldly about a major action, if not to cover-up the real reason that he dared not say out loud?  That is, that Comey was fired because he was closing in on the dangerous truth about relations between Trump’s staff and Russian intelligence during and after the election campaign.

We know that Trump and his surrogates have constantly downplayed the Russian interference in the U.S. election that U.S. intelligence services all agreed did take place.  We know that Michael Flynn lied to everyone, including Vice-President Mike Pence, about the substance of his meetings with the Russian ambassador.  We know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions misled a Congressional Committee — and possibly lied under oath — about his meetings with Russian ambassador.

Why would so many people take actions that threaten to undermine their own careers if simply speaking the truth would have been harmless, which would be the case if — as Trump insists — there is nothing there?  Firing Comey, and the explanation for that firing, simply continue a consistent pattern of hiding, dissembling, misleading, and lying about relations between the Trump team and Russian intelligence that has been going on since the election.

Let us assume that Trump knew nothing about attempts by the Russians to aid his election.  Even so it now seems crystal clear that Mike Flynn had discussions with Russia about removing Ukraine-related sanctions if Trump was elected, and that such actions were offered in connection with knowledge that Russia desired this and would assist by using its cyberwarfare to undermine Hilary Clinton.    If this was not the case, why would Flynn have lied to everyone about having one such conversation after the election?  Why would Flynn be seeking immunity?  Why would Acting AG Sally Yates have felt it necessary to personally inform the White House that Flynn’s lies opened a path for the National Security Advisor to be blackmailed by Russia?

At the very least, we know that Flynn lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and that the White House knew this for over two weeks and did not fire him.  What we do not know is why Flynn lied, and why his lies were tolerated by the White House after being detailed by the acting AG.

Mike Flynn may be a patriot, who misguidedly believed that working closely with the Russians, and promising them relief from sanctions, would be the best way to combat radical Islamist terror.  After all, Ronald Reagan’s staff was persuaded that working with the Islamic Republic of Iran to smuggle weapons was the best way to combat communism in Central America.  But in both cases, the actions were criminal.    In Flynn’s case, if he actually promised sanctions relief as a return on help in getting his boss elected, that would be treason.  And if Trump became aware of this, and did not fire Flynn immediately, and in fact has denied anything like this happened, then he is engaged in abetting treason and obstructing the investigation into it.

No doubt, Trump wants all of this to go away, which is why he fired an FBI Director who insisted on pursuing it.  It seems almost certain that while Trump and his team thought they were just engaging in a little smart diplomacy to improve relations with Russia, create a coalition that would destroy terrorism, and assist Trump’s election over Clinton all at one go, they in fact were engaging in treasonous collusion with an enemy of the the United States.  They now (and only now) seem to realize this and are taking whatever measures are necessary to prevent this from becoming known.

There is really no other explanation for the pattern of behavior we have seen from Trump, Flynn, Sessions, and others.  They have something to hide, it is big, and they need to keep it hidden.

Yet the truth will out.  It will eventually be documented that Trump’s staff had continuous contacts with Russian intelligence during the campaign, that the Russian hacking and Wikileaks and other cyberactions designed to undermine Clinton were at the least discussed, and perhaps even coordinated, with Trump staff, and that the Trump team sought to hide such contacts.   It will almost certainly be shown that Russia’s goal in working with the Trump team was not only to deny Clinton the presidency, but also to obtain relief from U.S. sanctions, and that Trump’s team — particularly Mike Flynn — had discussions with Russia of this topic prior to and after the election.  Someone will, at some point, admit that Trump’s team’s discussions suggested that if Trump won, Trump would be silent about the Russian role in his victory, but shift relations in a positive direction and seek to end the sanctions.

All of this is treason, and the cover-up of these actions is support of treason.  Eventually all this will come out, Trump will be forced out of office by one means or another, and he will go down in history as the most humiliated and disastrous, the worst-qualified and most bumbling, President in American history.  The longer this goes on, the worse the cover-up will be,  and the more severe the verdict of history on everyone involved. Trump should save himself the grief and simply resign now.

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Trump ends 100 years of American global leadership in the fight for Freedom

As the strongest power in the world, the U.S. has a responsibility to think of others in its actions.   It should never adopt a simple “America for itself and for itself only” attitude; to do so mirrors the polices of those who oppose the core American values of liberty, equality, opportunity, and security around the world.  Since the end of WWI 100 years ago, all American Presidents have accepted the responsibility of leading global aspirations for freedom.  Today a new American President has announced a sea-change in American policy, proclaiming his intention to put “America first,” imitating the narrowly nationalist strong-man politics we see in China, Russia, and Turkey, among others.

The new President has painted a picture of an America in ruins, destroyed by Washington elites who spent resources abroad while Americans suffered at home. He has promised his policy of “American first” will change that reality.

Yet it is America’s own economic elites who plundered the American middle-class, through misleading mortgages, the financialization of the economy, and their fierce opposition to all the rules and institutions that protected ordinary Americans – from unions and minimum wages to efforts to expand medical care, the funding of public colleges and universities, improved access to voting, and protections for the disabled and minorities. While all of America’s leadership and intelligentsia deserve blame for not seeing this soon enough and not doing enough to stop it, the new President has taken the traditional populist path of blaming our own shortcomings on others – on foreigners and “radical Islam,” who have in fact not been the agents of the loss of middle-class America’s well-being.

If history is any guide, the new President and his administration will enrich themselves while blaming foreigners and other enemies; they will incite conflict and possibly wars with other countries to distract from their own unwillingness to tackle the real root of the problems they denounce.

Already the Trump cabinet appears to be one of the most corrupt and incompetent that has ever been nominated – whether it is the future Treasury secretary “overlooking” $100 million in personal assets that he forgot to declare in his ethics report, or the future Energy secretary who lacks the credentials to even read the resumes of the nuclear experts that will be working under his command.

I know that millions of Americans will fight for a better vision of American responsibility, which we owe both to our own people and to those around the world who share our aspirations to enjoy a life of opportunity and freedom from tyranny.

The fight for freedom, truth and the American way begins today; sadly it must be a fight against the policies and principles of the new President, who appears willing to sacrifice exactly those values while going forth in search of dragons to slay.

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Vladimir Putin’s Wish List

Let us assume that the allegations of links between Russia and the Trump campaign are nonsense.  Grant that all that Donald Trump and his campaign have been doing are wholly motivated by Trump’s own plans and interests.   Can we then come up with some explanation or strategy behind Trump’s actions?

Let’s begin by being clear about Vladimir Putin’s world-view.  Putin’s chief strategic problem is that Russia is pinned between two giant militaries: China and NATO.   The latter is an alliance extending to Russia’s borders that combines the strength of Europe with the U.S. — the nation with the world’s largest and most technologically advanced military, and which is about to embark on a $1 trillion modernization of its nuclear arsenal.  Putin’s chief aim has therefore been to weaken or dissolve NATO by creating divisions within Europe and between Europe and the U.S.  For years, Putin has pressed the case that because the Cold War is over and Russia has no designs on Europe, NATO is now obsolete and should be ended, just as the Warsaw Pact has been.  His main goal is to sow distrust between the U.S. and its NATO partners and to destroy European unity.  If possible, it would also be helpful if the U.S. would back off its plans to update its nuclear arsenal and the extremely expensive competition that would trigger.

What else could Putin wish for to improve Russia’s geopolitical situation?  First would be for the U.S. to lose interest in the Ukraine, accepting the validity of Russia’s claims and actions there.   Second would be for the U.S. to pick a fight with China in the Pacific, to distract both the U.S. and China from Russia’s sphere of interest in the former U.S.S.R and the Middle East.  This is especially important as China’s “new silk road” investments in the Indian Ocean and Central Asia would impinge on Russia’s historical sphere of influence.  Finally, the icing on the cake – though long out of reach – would be if in the Middle East the U.S. would accept Russia’s position that all that matters is stabilizing governments, even if they are authoritarian, corrupt, and criminal human rights violators, and if the U.S. and Israel together would become so blatantly aggressive against Palestinians that it would stir up Arab nations and the U.N. against both Israel and the U.S., giving Russia a situation that it could leverage to gain influence throughout the region.

For its economy, Russia’s major problems are that American and European sanctions are biting, that its energy industries desperately need external financial and technological investments, and that it is being overtaken by the rapid rise of China, which is gaining international influence by its increased investments and trade throughout the world.  The solutions that Putin desperately desires are to have sanctions lifted without having to give up any important strategic or geopolitical gains, and also to get foreign investment to help grow and modernize its oil and gas industry.    Weakening or breaking up the European Union would help to undermine sanctions and weaken the European economy; and if the U.S. and China engaged in a trade war, that would weaken both of their economies as well.

Of course the U.S. remains Putin’s most significant adversary.  It is the richest and most powerful, and its institutions and history – in support of democracy, human rights, political freedoms, leaders accountable to law, an independent press and judiciary – stand in opposition to everything that Putin maintains to remain in power.  Thus Putin needs to weaken the U.S. and undermine its institutions to achieve his goals.  To that end, Putin would like to see disunity among America’s political leaders, its intelligence agencies undermined, and its free media lose their legitimacy and credibility as a source of factual information.  Ideally, the U.S. would adopt policies toward Russia that ignore Russia’s actions toward other nations and the conflict between American values and the Russian political system, and simply seek cooperation on bilateral issues.

Now that we know Putin’s goals, we can look more clearly at Trump’s actions and see how they differ from Putin’s agenda.  Since last summer, when Trump had clinched the Republican nomination, here are some of his statements and actions.  To review:

  • Last summer, while the Trump campaign generally stayed out of the drafting of the Republican party platform, they intervened strongly on one and only one issue – they “steam rolled” an attempt to put language in the platform criticizing Russian actions in Ukraine and promising aid to Ukraine’s military. Evidently, getting any mention of Ukraine out of the Republican platform was more important to the campaign than language on taxes, education, or health care.
  • In August, when questioned about Putin’s intentions in Ukraine by George Stephanopoulos, Trump’s response was hyperbolic: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”   Why would Trump make such an extreme and wholly inaccurate defense of Putin’s Ukraine policies?
  • In choosing his foreign policy team, Trump picked a Secretary of State with no prior government or diplomatic experience but whose most notable accomplishments include negotiating energy deals with Russia, and who has long-established relationships with Putin and Igor Sechin, the current CEO of the giant Russian oil firm Rosneft. Trump also chose a national security advisor who was paid to appear on Russia’s propaganda TV network and who has fixated on Islamic terrorism to the exclusion of any wider strategic view.  That advisor’s first policy-related call was to Russia’s ambassador to exchange Christmas greetings and plan a meeting for Trump with Putin.   Trump could hardly have made two major foreign policy appointments more pleasing to Putin if Putin had picked them himself.
  • Trump has repeatedly praised the United Kingdom for its vote to exit the European Union, calling it a great move and saying that he expects other countries to exit as well. Trump has met with and lauded Brexit leader Nigel Farage, and promised to fast-track a US-British trade pact to facilitate a “hard” exit.
  • Trump has sharply criticized the EU as a vehicle for Germany and attacked Germany’s chancellor, calling her policies on refugees a great mistake. He has even said there is no difference in his trust in the leader of Germany – the lynchpin of our NATO alliance – and Putin, and that his trust in the former might not last.  He has called NATO “obsolete” and said the U.S. should not honor its NATO obligations since some NATO members are not paying their fair share.
  • Trump has challenged the one-China policy, which has been the foundation of Sino-U.S. relations for decades. He has also talked about starting a trade war with China, calling them the worst cheaters and threatening massive tariffs, even raising the idea of using Taiwan as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations, something that China rejects as an existential threat.
  • Trump has refrained from any criticism of Russian actions in Ukraine, Syria, the Balkans, or eastern Europe. His nominee for Secretary of State, in his confirmation hearings, said that Trump had not even discussed Russia policy with him.
  • Trump has defended Russia against the conclusions of all U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in U.S. elections.   In doing so, he has impugned and criticized the credibility and objectivity of U.S. intelligence agencies, and has attacked political leaders on both sides of the aisle.
  • Trump and his team have repeatedly criticized mainstream U.S. media, calling them purveyors of fake news, while accepting as truth the propaganda on Clinton and himself put out by the National Enquirer, Breitbart, and other highly politicized media. They have thus undermined the idea that there is any difference between objective reporting and political propaganda, and that the U.S. has any reporting that can be regarded as objective and conveying factual news.
  • Trump appears to be planning a meeting with Putin as one of his first meetings with foreign leaders, with the goal of a deal in which the U.S. would drop sanctions in return for an agreement on reducing nuclear weapons.   Such a deal is remarkable in that it would give Putin two things he desperately wants – ending sanctions for his interventions in Ukraine and the U.S. elections, and ending the prospect of competition with an upgraded U.S. nuclear arsenal.  In return, Russia would have to give up nothing at all on Ukraine, Syria, cybersecurity or any other issue that it cares about.  One might say that it appears as if the goal of a nuclear pact – which is something that Putin desires for his own purposes – is being used as a pretext for the lifting of sanctions.
  • In regard to Israel, Trump has proposed moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and has chosen an ambassador to Israel who supports increasing settlements in Palestinian areas and is skeptical of any peace agreement or two-state solution. These policies promise to escalate Israeli-Palestinian tensions, distracting attention in the Middle East from Russian support for Syria’s dictator Hafez al-Assad, and inviting further condemnations of the U.S. in the United Nations and the Middle East.

We should dismiss the notion that Trump or his campaign had links to Russia or any financial or other motivations for his actions.  We are then left with just the list of Trump’s statements and actions to speak for themselves.

The problem then is that Trump’s actions, even before taking office, appear like the fulfillment of a long wish list of Vladimir’s Putin’s most desired goals.  Even Trump’s continued refusal to release his tax returns – which might have made sense during a campaign when his opponents might seek to use them – seems pointless now that he is the President-elect.   Why not end suspicion and criticism by releasing them now, when there is no longer anything to lose?

Unless, of course, there is.  For as Trump’s actions and statements continue, it is harder and harder to see them as anything but the fulfillment of a very lengthy wish list for the Kremlin.  On a wide range of issues, Trump has so far given Putin everything he could have dreamed of.  Trump may be wholly innocent of any links or pressure from Russia.  But it is becoming devilishly difficult to find any explanation of the actions listed above in which such actions are primarily a defense of America’s strategic interests and support American values and goals.

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