Brat-in-chief

Two recent observations by Sen. Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman whose decision not to seek re-election next year has turned him into something of a truth-teller, are disturbingly spot-on. After being attacked on Twitter by President Donald Trump as a “negative voice” without the “guts to run,” the Tennessee senator replied: “It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."

Noticing the president’s childishness wasn’t what made the tweet so telling. It was nailing the sense that President Trump has to be restrained by the cooler, more grown-up people supposedly under his employ or else he poses a danger to himself or others. In the parlance of social media, the day was won by @SenBobCorker. But then the senator had another equally compelling but far more disturbing point to make at a different media venue. He told the New York Times that he feared the president was putting the nation on the path to World War III with his reckless threats and treatment of his powerful office as a television reality show as if he was still performing in “The Apprentice.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker was quoted as saying. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

Now, one can call the 65-year-old two-term senator a lot of things — successful businessman, former mayor of Chattanooga, deficit hawk and believer in climate change science — but what you can’t call him is wrong to be worried. An erratic presidential candidate has evolved into an even more erratic commander-in-chief. It’s one thing to insult your political enemies with labels like “crooked” or “little” or “nuts,” it’s quite another to put the Iran nuclear deal at risk or undercut your secretary of state’s attempt to negotiate with North Korea, also over nuclear weapons. These aren’t the brilliant machinations of a leader playing “bad cop” to his staff’s “good cop,” they are the petty dictates of a wanton, uncaring boy tearing wings from flies for sport, as William Shakespeare described in King Lear.

Just consider recent events. Last Thursday while appearing for a photo op with military leaders and their spouses, Mr. Trump suggested that now was the “calm before the storm” but declined to elaborate what he meant by that. Was a military attack against North Korea or some other country imminent? No explanation was given. Two days later, he was tweeting that North Korea negotiations have never, ever been successful. “Sorry, but only one thing will work!” He tweeted ominously. No more was said about that one, either. Does Mr. Trump seriously believe that Kim Jong-un is deterred by such threats? It’s probably much more unsettling to Americans (not to speak of anyone living in South Korea and Japan) than it is to Pyongyang.

And then there are the odd obsessions, most recently evidenced by his choice to dispatch Vice President Mike Pence to the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game on Sunday for the purpose of walking out when NFL players took a knee to protest social injustice during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. What nonsense. What a waste of tax dollars. If Mr. Pence wants to strike a blow against the constitutional right to free speech, let him do it on his own dime. Will Mr. Pence’s moral outrage and patriotic purity tour be headed to Baltimore next so he can walk out when sports fans shout “O!” during the national anthem? Or is this just a white privilege thing?

At least the stakes of anthem fervor are low enough to justify the attention of the fellow who holds the “bucket of warm” (insert your preferred bodily fluid here) job, as the nation’s 32nd vice president once described the post. Even Mr. Trump’s cringe-worthy behavior regarding Puerto Rican hurricane damage (from tossing paper towels to teasing debt forgiveness) may be appalling to most of the world, but boorishness isn’t fatal. It’s quite a different matter when nuclear weapons are involved. How many Americans have their smart phones set to text alert to notify them if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson resigns — an event so anticipated it’s now got it’s own nickname, “Rexit” — after the whole “Trump is a moron” flap? Mr. Tillerson may not have any real achievements to brag about for his time in D.C., but at least he’s an adult. Mr. Trump can only claim half that record.

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