Trump Recalibrating

Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsIt has been a rather remarkable week. We suspect there’s a lot of head scratching going on in Moscow, Damascus, Tehran, Beijing and Pyongyang, not to mention Washington, DC.

Donald Trump who many saw (and see) as a pretender; a pro-Russian Manchurian Candidate (think Vanity Fair, Huffington Post, New York Times) or a sort of Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford) in the 1988 film The Candidate who, upon getting elected to the US Senate famously asks, “What do we do now?” Some delighted in portraying Trump as a puppet on the end of strings being pulled by Steve Bannon (think Slate, Politico, NY Daily News, SNL, Daily KOS).

Not anymore.

Last week, and 59 tomahawk cruise missiles later, President Donald Trump delivered on an unkept promise former president Barack Obama made to Bashir al Assad of Syria five years earlier when al Assad gassed his own people—lesson: don’t cross a red-line America draws in the sand.

And this week America, with a nod from President Trump, destroyed a network of tunnels in Afghanistan inhabited by scores of ISIS killers by dropping a massive non-nuclear, air-igniting bomb on the terrorists’ sub-terranian hideaway. At last count nearly 100 ISIS fighters, including four commanders, were killed by the blast — and the bad guys now know that tunnels no longer provide sanctuary.

The fact that President Trump seems to have recalibrated from political circus barker to Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful fighting force has not been lost on friends or foes alike. China abstained  rather than veto a UN resolution condemning Syria, and then actually sent a message to Pyongyang by blocking a shipment of coal headed to China from North Korea. Kim Jong-Un also seemed to get the message that this was a different America, as Trump sent the navy steaming toward the Korean Peninsula and warned China that if it didn’t rein in their man-child-dictator then we would.  Kim Jong-Un then suddenly and uncharacteristically called off a threatened nuclear weapon test, and instead fired off a missile that exploded upon launch.

Trump’s actions also earned praise from our allies most of whom have been scratching their collective heads ever since Donald Trump became the West’s senior partner.

A spokesperson for the U.K. said their “government fully supports the U.S. action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime and is intended to deter further attacks.” Additionally, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the airstrikes were “wholly appropriate” and that Prime Minister Theresa May had been “informed throughout” the U.S. military response.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed his country’s support for the U.S. retaliation in Syria. Turnbull described the airstrikes as “a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response” and said Australia will remain “fully committed as a coalition partner to our ongoing military operations in Iraq and Syria.”

Fellow NATO member Turkey also backed the US action in Syria. A spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said the airstrikes were “an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished.” Turkey is also calling for Assad to be immediately removed from power in Syria.

And while Trump was busy collecting rare, but well-deserved accolades from our allies, he took time out to deal with the west-wing provocateur, Steve Bannon.

President Trump yanked senior strategist, Steve Bannon, from his role as a principal member of the National Security Council. Describing Bannon with a classic Trump put-down as “a guy who works for me,” he was clearly telling his top disrupter-in-chief, who once described himself as a Leninist, to shape up or get out.

We see Bannon’s apparent fall from grace as more significant than merely an intramural dust up with a White House advisor. The worst kept secret in Washington has been Bannon’s ongoing face-off with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and most trusted adviser. Kushner and his wife (and the President’s daughter and uber-trusted advisor), Ivanka, and economic adviser Gary Cohn along with deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, are known to be coaxing Trump toward the center, where American policy has traditionally resided and where it is most apt to succeed.  Bannon, of course, is first and foremost a populist and nationalist rabble rouser. While he might be beloved by the so-called alt-right (whatever that is), he is (and belongs) incredibly out of place at the center of American government.

The reader should not misinterpret our nod to President Trump this week. We continue to lament that our President is unread, intemperate, imprecise, inarticulate, and rather shockingly unqualified compared to nearly all leaders of liberal democracies (as distinguished from liberal parties) which are, by definition, open societies, characterized by the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for everyone.

Nonetheless, we found the almost uniform criticism of President Trump’s actions this week in much of the liberal press to be remarkably partisan and unsparingly critical. That there is a sizable swath of the American body politic that is committed to criticizing anything Trump does, lest someone see something positive in a Trump decision, is unfortunate and, ironically, it risks engendering a huge backlash among uncommitted voters.

A generation ago, a similar “anti Nixon” movement energized what Nixon called the Great Silent Majority—voters who were uncommitted, fair minded and offended by attacks on the president that they saw as rabid and irrationally antagonistic. They delivered the biggest landslide in American history to a president who presided over violent protests throughout the country during the infamous summer of rage, the use of lethal force against protesting students at Kent State University, and the cover up of one of America’s greatest political scandals (Watergate), and a president who served as Commander-in-Chief during the extremely unpopular Vietnam War, in which more than 21,000 young Americans died in combat during his first term in office.

So Never Trumpsters beware.  On balance, the last two weeks have been good for the Trump Presidency.  That’s reality—not a bitter pill.

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2 thoughts on “Trump Recalibrating”

  1. I don’t understand the “Recalibrated” theme. Trump has been consistent beginning with his 1996 Oprah interview and the early Time piece. Both were long before Steve Bannon. For those who take the time to listen to him in the context of the milieu his fundamental principles seem unchanged.

  2. While we’re not certain we really understand what his “fundamental principles” are, he proved to be decisive in sending a message to al-assad in Syria and ISIS in Afghanistan, and to China and their ward Kim Jong Un. We believe Putin also understands that this is a different America than he has been dealing with for the past eight years. In this respect, President Trump has “recalibrated”, successfully we think, everyone’s assumptions of who they are dealing with. Trump has shown the ability to progress from tweets to action, and we think in the process, he has the serious attention of world leaders.

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