The word “brinkmanship” is probably not in the vocabulary of the self-proclaimed genius who is president of the United States. But Donald Trump certainly seems to get his jollies from creating crises, setting deadlines and then, just before time to make good on his threats, swooping in with a postponement that, in his own mind, makes him the great humanitarian.
The scenario is as predictable as his choice of Twitter to announce major presidential decisions. But it is also alarming. Will we soon be at war with Iran? What about his tweet that in two weeks “big Deportation begins”?
Consider the Iran situation. The president vowed to get even with Iran for shooting down a surveillance drone last Thursday morning. Iranian officials say it was in their airspace; the U.S. denies that. By Thursday night planes “were in the air and ships were in position,” the New York Times reported. In the president’s words, they were “cocked and loaded” to strike Iranian targets when, “10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” he tweeted. Why? Because he had just learned that at least 150 Iranian people might be casualties. The Washington Post soon debunked that timeline, raising questions about his “decision-making process” and “concerns about the Trump administration’s credibility at a time of military crisis” that should alarm even his most ardent Make America Great Again (MAGA) acolytes. After all, they and their loved ones would be called to fight this battle for angry old men in suits in Washington and robes in Tehran.
Was he truthful about when he learned about potential casualties? “I talked to a former top national security official in an earlier Republican administration who says this just doesn’t add up,” Chris Wallace said on Fox News — yes, Mr. Trump’s favorite network. Like journalists at newspapers the president despises, Mr. Wallace cast doubt on whether a mission could have advanced so far before the president learned of the potential loss of life.
There’s no need for sugar coating: Mr. Trump’s benevolence is, to borrow one of his favorite words, “fake.”
So is the statesmanship for which he credits himself. On June 17, he tweeted: “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens… They will be removed as fast as they come in.” Church leaders and politicians in Baltimore and other cities scrambled to protect vulnerable immigrants. But four days later, at “the request of Democrats,” the president swooped in to save people from his own Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents by postponing the raids.
In his mind, he’s a bipartisan humanitarian. From where I sit, he’s more like the pyromaniac who deliberately sets fires and then becomes a hero as a first responder.
He still promises Iran “obliteration like you’ve never seen before” and mass deportation that would tear apart undocumented immigrant families in cities across the nation. Oh, by the way, more than two years into his own presidency, he blames his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the Trump administration’s inhumane treatment of migrant families with children. He conveniently glosses over the images of detained children being held in cages on his watch and the chaotic record-keeping of his immigration officials that has led to the misplacement of children who may never again see their parents.
This president has a short supply of what is needed in times of crisis: credibility. Apparently, he and truth are not well acquainted, as various fact-checking services have attested. How can we believe him if he says that war is unavoidable? How can we follow a commander-in-chief who, when it was his time to serve, claimed his privileged rich boy’s bad feet excused him from marching off to war in Southeast Asia? How can we believe him when he says that immigrants at the Mexican border pose more of a threat than those at the Canadian border? How can we not wonder whether his saber rattling is a campaign gambit? Or is meant to divert our attention from escalating investigations into his conduct as a businessman and as president?
Deciphering the president is a tedious necessity that makes these questions paramount: When will diehard MAGAs see that, like the fabled emperor, their leader has no clothes and, moreover, has no respect for the values that they, as conservatives, should be conserving? Will the self-satisfied resistance movement of 2017 rally around candidates who can bring an end to the madness of King Trump in 2020?
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.