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Saturday, May 20, 2017


Sometimes nothin' is not a real cool hand

by Tom Sullivan

The world is laughing at us, Donald Trump tells audiences. Long before he took to the campaign trail, he was obsessed with the notion that the world was laughing at our country, the USA, American leaders. Over 100 times in public statements going back as far as 1987, the Washington Post found. It is another of Trump's "tells." Every time he repeats it, one can't help but feel it is he who fears being laughed at.

Contrary to Adam Gopnik's account, it was not jokes from President Obama and Seth Meyers and the actual laughter at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner that launched his bid for the presidency. Trump considered running for president since the 1980s, perhaps once and for all to silence the laughing in his head. Now, as he embarks on his first foreign trip as president himself, that project is not going so well.


Those were just a few of the comments I heard in Berlin this week from senior European officials trying to make sense of the meltdown in Washington at just the moment when a politically imploding President Trump embarks on what he called “my big foreign trip” in this morning’s kickoff tweet.
Politico's Susan B. Glasser continues:
“People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid,” a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. “Now they see the clownish nature.” Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, “People here think Trump is a laughingstock.”

“The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, told the meeting at the German Foreign Office here while moderating a panel on Trump’s foreign policy that dealt heavily on the difficulty of divining an actual policy amid the spectacle. Heilbrunn, whose publication hosted Trump’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Washington during last year’s campaign, used the ‘L’ word too. “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock.” Michael Werz, a German expert from the liberal U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, agreed, adding he was struck by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.”
For the man whose business is, primarily, his brand, the laughter is now real and not just in his head.

Foreign Policy reports, “NATO is scrambling to tailor its upcoming meeting to avoid taxing President Donald Trump’s notoriously short attention span. The alliance is telling heads of state to limit talks to 2 to 4 minutes at a time during the discussion ..." to Trump-proof the event:
“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” one source told FP. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing. They’re freaking out.”
Trump may have nothing, but he nevertheless holds the presidency and his party controls the Congress and most state legislatures.

Der Spiegel describes the Trump presidency as "a vortex of scandals, chaos and lunacy." Mathieu von Rohr continues:
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the only goal of Trump's candidacy was the victory itself - demonstrating that he could win - rather than living up to his promises to his voters regarding health care reform or job creation. This is why Trump is obsessed with the critics he sees as trying to diminish his victory by reminding him that he didn't win a majority of the votes. This is why the investigation of Russian influence in the election makes Trump so angry. He sees it as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his triumph, something for which he believes he is not being praised enough.

Bloomberg reports that the joke is not on Trump alone:

This week, however, the Russian jokes at the expense of the U.S. got positively unpleasant. First, President Vladimir Putin offered to provide the U.S. Congress with a recording of Lavrov's conversation with Trump, in which the U.S. president allegedly revealed highly classified information (the word Putin used, zapis, cannot really be translated as "transcript", as the Kremlin later claimed). The suggestion, of course, was sheer mockery -- it's impossible to imagine the Congress making such a request of Putin, and U.S. legislators tried to answer Putin in kind, Senator Marco Rubio suggesting that if Putin sent the information by email, he "wouldn't click on the attachment."
It goes on. Short of dying in office or FBI indictment of the president's closest associates, this circus is not pulling up stakes anytime soon. Even though a recent poll finds Americans in favor of impeaching Trump 48-41, the GOP holds the reins in the congress, making impeachment highly unlikely. Their base won't stand for it. But the GOP is also running out of time to complete its 2018 mid-term calculation: Are we more at risk by running with Trump or by trying to distance ourselves? If the economy continues to chug along, Trump's base may stick with him however loud the laughter from foreign quarters, and maybe because of it.

The Denver Post reports:
John McKager “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime GOP campaign operative in Florida, said he fears numerous other Republican losses in his state and around the country if the party cannot deliver on promises to repeal Obamacare and cut taxes.

“If after all of the talk, after all of the chest-thumping, we can’t get anything done, we may get clubbed like baby seals in 2018,” said Stipanovich, who was an early Trump critic.
After Trump did a fundraiser for Karen Handel, the GOP candidate running in the June 20 GA-06 special election against Democrat Jon Ossoff, Handel has distanced herself, the Denver Post reports. "During a fundraiser this week with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Trump’s name was not mentioned by either Handel or Ryan."

That clubbing and distancing is what Democrats are hoping for. Trump's Seinfeldian presidency about nothing is doomed to fail. But his failure is not Democrats' success. They'll need more than Trump backlash to win in 2018. And their track record with wishful thinking lately isn't impressive.

The Democratic base appears energized and prepared for to fight. Whether they will actually turn out for midterm elections is anybody's guess. (Famously, they don't.) With the Russia investigation dominating the news and daily scandals from the White House, it is not just Trump's agenda that is being lost in the shuffle. Whether or not they have anything substantive (or at least, inspiring) to offer, anti-Trumpism is the only message seeing the light of day, and that is a whole lot of nothin'. "Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand," Paul Newman said famously on film. That didn't work out too well either.