January 17, 2017 14 Comments
During the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump had an insult for every rival. Marco Rubio was “little Marco” and Jeb Bush was “low energy Jeb”. These jibes were more than just debating techniques to unsettle his opponents. They were carefully designed to draw a contrast between The Donald and The Others. Because when you meet him you realise there is nothing, absolutely nothing, small-scale or low-wattage about America’s president-elect.
Donald J Trump appears like a man who has been plugged into some power source where the dial has been turned up to levels well beyond what the safety regulations would recommend. His skin glows a sodium orange, his hair is blonder than any human you will have encountered and his clothes are in primary colours so bold they make everyone else in the room seem dowdy.
Ever since a Virginia farmer called George Washington launched his bid for glory, the British have had a tendency to underestimate American presidents. Especially Republicans. When Abraham Lincoln was in the White House, our government sympathised with the Confederacy. When Ronald Reagan was commander-in-chief, the British foreign policy establishment derided him as a trigger-happy cowboy who was in danger of pitching us into a third world war.
But no Republican, indeed no president, has come to office facing anything like the level of scorn and condescension from British politicians and commentators as Mr Trump. When we talked last Friday, however, he had nothing but kind words and generous sentiments for a nation he believes will be his strongest ally.
It’s true enough, the British do tend to denigrate beyond reason American (especially Republican) presidents. I’m inclined to think it’s at least partially because British conservatism is built on the shifting sands of governing efficiently rather than based on bedrock principles, but there is also a bit of condescending in it.
And, ultra-competitive as he is, the president-elect was particularly keen to remind me that, almost alone among international figures, he had had the natural good judgment to foresee our departure from the EU.
“I sort of, as you know, predicted it. I was in Turnberry [his Scottish golf course] and was doing a ribbon cutting because I bought Turnberry, which is doing unbelievably, and I’ll tell you, the fact that your pound sterling has gone down? Great. Because business is unbelievable in a lot of parts in the UK, as you know. I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing.”
And would he, as our government hoped, move quickly to seal a new trade deal with the UK? “Absolutely, very quickly. I’m a big fan of the UK, we’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides. I will be meeting with [Theresa May] — in fact if you want you can see the letter, wherever the letter is, she just sent it. She’s requesting a meeting and we’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and . . . we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”
The president-elect is much less sanguine about the future of the EU itself. A combination of economic woes and the migrant crisis will, he believes, lead to other countries leaving. “People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it . . . entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. . . I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe . . . I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it.”
Kind of strange those two paragraphs, that’s exactly what I think. Brexit, if they do it properly may be the greatest thing in 150 years for Britain, and the EU has basically committed suicide. And yes, they have created some huge problems for themselves, that I see few solutions for.
While he expresses admiration for Angela Merkel, Mr Trump believes that she made “one catastrophic mistake” by welcoming an unlimited number of Syrian refugees. More than one million migrants from north Africa and the Middle East arrived between 2015 and 2016. He adds that he believes the West should have built safe zones in Syria — paid for by the Gulf — to limit the surge. “I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.”
And that mistake will echo in Europe for decades, very debilitating and possibly fatal. We will see.
Mr Trump’s view is that Europe is dominated by Germany, and Britain was wise to extract itself: “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.”
Well, there’s a reason some of us call it the Zollverein. In other words, he’s right. Once it was Germany and France, but France is declining and so now it is mostly about Germany.
Mr Trump’s hostility to the EU has been matched by his scepticism towards another pillar of the postwar order, Nato. But the president-elect was at pains to emphasise that he is committed to the defence of Europe and the West. His concerns are, principally, that Nato had not reformed to meet the main threat that we face — Islamist terrorism — and its members had relied too heavily on America. “I said a long time ago that Nato had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said Nato was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right. […]
He’s no Kissinger and you’d no more expect him to discuss Clausewitz and Kennan than set fire to his own hair. But intelligence takes many forms. And Mr Trump’s number-rich analysis of defence spending reflects a businessman’s ability to cut through jargon to get to the essentials of a case.
The same Trump who uses gladiatorial press conferences and CAPITALISED tweets to hurl huge crude blocks of rhetoric at opponents is also the master of the P&L accounts and the determined negotiator who sees government as a failing corporation ripe for re-engineering.
I don’t know about you, but I think that a fair description of the swamp.
“Well I don’t want to say what I’m gonna do with the Iran deal. I just don’t want to play the cards. I mean, look, I’m not a politician, I don’t go out and say, “I’m gonna do this” — I’m gonna do, I gotta do what I gotta do . . . But I’m not happy with the Iran deal, I think it’s one of the worst deals ever made, I think it’s one of the dumbest deals I’ve ever seen . . .
It is not just foreign leaders at whom he vents spleen. The invasion of Iraq, he argues, was “one of the worst decisions, possibly the worst decision, ever made in the history of our country. It’s like throwing rocks into a beehive.”
Despite a strong desire to improve relations with Russia, Mr Trump was unequivocal in his condemnation of its role in Syria. He was also implicitly critical of President Obama for failing to restrain President Assad and Mr Putin. “It’s a very bad thing, we had a chance to do something when we had the line in the sand and . . . nothing happened. That was the only time.
Talking of Russia inevitably brings us to the allegations that the Kremlin has compromising material garnered during a Trump visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe contest. The president-elect is, unsurprisingly, dismissive of the allegations but he did express disquiet at the involvement of a former MI6 officer.
“That guy is somebody that you should look at, because whatever he made up about me it was false. He was supposedly hired by the Republicans and Democrats working together. Even that I don’t believe because they don’t work together, they work separately and they don’t hire the same guy. What, they got together?
Sounds pretty sensible to me. And yes, why this clown of a former MI6 officer has clients would bear looking in to.
Mr Trump’s conversation flows like a river in spate, overwhelming interruptions and objections, reflecting the force of nature that is the man. But it would be a mistake to think that he is all instinct and impulse. He wants to bring to governing the same calculating business style that he has brought to communicating. While he has been criticised for tweeting attacks on everyone from Meryl Streep to the civil rights hero John Lewis, he has no intention of abandoning Twitter because he believes it gives him a direct connection to the American people.
He’s right, Twitter has become a direct channel for him, and one of the keys to success for an even moderately successful president is to find a way around the media, if he doesn’t they will destroy them, and him.
There’s lots more at the link, I took out lots of interesting things here, so do read it.
All in all, Donald Trump sounds like a pretty capable guy, and more or less ready for the job. One hopes so, his watch begins at noon on Friday.