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A President at War with Reality

Before Trump reneged on the nuclear deal with Iran, he repeatedly denounced it using false and misleading claims. There was no way for Trump to criticize the deal on the merits, because the deal’s supposed “flaws” weren’t really flaws at all. He couldn’t fault Iran for breaking the deal, because the IAEA had verified Iranian compliance ten times in a row. Besides, he didn’t know and didn’t care about the details of how it worked. All that mattered to him was that he considered it the worst deal ever made, and he saw it that way in large part because Obama was responsible for it. It didn’t matter to him that reneging on the deal would have negative consequences for the U.S. and the region, because he doesn’t think about the consequences of his policies. Everyone who knew anything about nonproliferation and arms control said that reneging on the deal was a serious mistake that the U.S. would come to regret, but Trump did it anyway. He did not permit reality to interfere with his self-serving story about leaving a bad deal.

The same hostility to expertise and self-serving delusion have been at work in the last few weeks since the summit in Singapore. Just a few weeks after Trump reneged on the nuclear deal, he had a meeting with Kim Jong-un that produced a weak boilerplate statement that included a vaguely-worded declaration of intentions. Trump proclaimed his triumph and asserted that the problem had been solved. Once again, it didn’t matter that practically everyone who knew anything about arms control dismissed the statement as meaningless. It didn’t matter that the summit produced no actual agreement or even the outlines of one. Trump was determined to say that he had “solved” the problem [1], and so he said that he did despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary. He is not permitting reality to interfere with his self-promotion.

The problem here should be obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway. Trump has terrible foreign policy judgment, and his decision to renege on the nuclear deal proves that. Based on his record of poor foreign policy decisions (e.g., increasing support for the war on Yemen, backing the blockade of Qatar, escalating the wars he inherited, imposing the travel ban, arbitrarily hiking tariffs on allies, etc.), he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. The president doesn’t understand any of the relevant issues and doesn’t make policy decisions for substantive reasons. He makes decisions based on how it plays with a few constituencies back home, whether it repudiates his predecessor, and above all on how it makes him look on television. Trump typically justifies his actions with dishonest claims, and then celebrates his decisions by telling lies about what has been achieved. A president that routinely lies to the public about major national security issues cannot be trusted to negotiate anything on behalf of the U.S., and a president whose primary concern is to promote himself cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the country.

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16 Comments To "A President at War with Reality"

#1 Comment By Frank D On July 2, 2018 @ 1:20 pm

It must be infuriating to have seen this coming and not be able to do anything about it.
30-33% of our citizenry will believe whatever this president says at face value and discount anything contrary as fake.

#2 Comment By sglover On July 2, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

In ordinary times I’d be getting a lot of laughs watching right-wingers break their brains and reputation, as they try to excuse or wish away the casino swindler’s constant lies. But now it’s just scary.

However, I’m cautiously optimistic that the Trump cult is a distinct minority. I think there’s a lot more revulsion than admiration for the casino swindler. As inept and self-dealing as the Dems have become, even they should be able to pull off a very basic “checks and balances” campaign for November. Now’s the time to start nudging our sane and decent neighbors, friends, relatives, to remind them to register and vote.

#3 Comment By Clyde Schechter On July 2, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

“However, I’m cautiously optimistic that the Trump cult is a distinct minority. I think there’s a lot more revulsion than admiration for the casino swindler. ”

Well, much as I would like to believe that, the polls show that his approval ratings are consistently around 40%, with only modest deviations following major events.

Also our electoral system produces an uphill battle for the Democrats: they will need to win something like 57% of the votes in November in order to get a majority in the House. And they stand almost no chance of capturing the Senate.

Also, the Democrats will be useless even if they win. In the Senate, when the chips are down, a few Democrats typically defect and support Trump’s agenda if a few Republicans waver. Really the only thing the Democrats held fast on is blocking repeal of Obamacare (with the help of a few Republicans). But even that they subsequently abandoned by passing the tax bill, which eliminated the mandate. Without the mandate, Obamacare will self-destruct in a few years.

So it really doesn’t matter which party is in control. They say different things on the campaign trail, but when it comes time to enacting policy they both do the same things.

#4 Comment By Lenny On July 2, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

Daniel says :

A president that routinely lies to the public about major national security issues cannot be trusted to negotiate anything on behalf of the U.S., and a president whose primary concern is to promote himself cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the country.

Where does that leave us? The idea that we can continue like this for another two and half years without a major disaster happening, is a pure fantasy. Something really bad is going to happen, the question is when.

#5 Comment By b. On July 2, 2018 @ 3:15 pm

See also UAE and MEK. Pay as you go.

#6 Comment By George Hoeflinger On July 2, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

I am old enough that I lived through Watergate. I’ve had to modify the saying regarding Nixon, “How can you tell if he is lying?…his lips move.” I’ve modified it to “How can you tell if he is not lying?… (he always is.)

#7 Comment By JLF On July 2, 2018 @ 3:25 pm

@ Lenny. Something really bad is going to happen and sooner rather than later. The real question, however, is not how soon, but what will the reaction be to the curtain falling and revealing The Great Oz for the charlatan he is? Since so many have placed so much of their hope on Trump, there is a real possibility that the collapse of Trump’s fantasy world will cause them to simply double down on the lies and corruption. And when the inevitable comes and another government takes over to clean up their mess, the Trump True Believers may not silently fold their tents and go away.

#8 Comment By Barry Keane On July 2, 2018 @ 3:36 pm

Of course Trump is dangerous. I can’t recall any recent president not blinded by ambition and fawning supporters. You’d have to dig back before Andrew Jackson to find a counter-example. Democracy may work well for a small polis or a small republic of highly educated semi-aristocrats, but in reality a democracy produces a very dysfunctional leadership. The French Reign of Terror discredited the dream of reconstructing a Roman republic in modern industrialized society.

Post-1793 societies have searched for measured democratization of capital to stave off revolution and protect civil society. The US has been a shining example: Henry Clay’s American System helped catapult us to unheard-off prosperity in a world dominated by the British Empire. Post-WWII the Asian tigers learned from that example to ascend in a world dominated by Pax Americana. Meanwhile the US lost the peace by focusing its economy and politics around the Cold War, whereas a limited policy of containment would have sufficed until the Soviet system collapsed on its own.

No modern economy can survive without an industrial policy, and – thanks to the Cold War – the military-industrial complex is our only industrial policy. We lack the prerequisites for fascism but politically we still need an arch-enemy to justify colossal military spending and arms sales. I’d much rather that arch-enemy be Iran than Russia. By this point Hilary would have pushed Russia against the wall with NATO 100% behind her. By contrast, Trump can only go so far against the multilateral Iran treaty before Europeans (not to mention China and Russia) call his bluff. If that humiliates and weakens Pax Americana, then that’ll be a victory for the American republic and Western civilization in general.

There’s a tiny hope Trump’s deal-making might help rebuild peacetime manufacturing: witness the multibillion deal with Foxconn. Until that happens there’s no chance of checking the power of war-hawks. I’d say the odds of success are far south of 1%. But then again it’s a miracle our republic has lasted this long.

#9 Comment By TheSnark On July 2, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

You have to feel sorry for our next President. Obama had a tough enough job cleaning up our foreign policy after Bush Jr (and Obama only did a mediocre job of it). Whoever comes after Trump will have a far worse mess to clean up, if it can be cleaned up at all.

It’s not just a matter of if can we survive two and a half more years of Trump without a major disaster. His policies will be causing disasters long after he leaves.

#10 Comment By Myron Hudson On July 2, 2018 @ 7:46 pm

JLF said: “@ Lenny. Something really bad is going to happen and sooner rather than later. The real question, however, is not how soon, but what will the reaction be to the curtain falling and revealing The Great Oz for the charlatan he is? Since so many have placed so much of their hope on Trump, there is a real possibility that the collapse of Trump’s fantasy world will cause them to simply double down on the lies and corruption. And when the inevitable comes and another government takes over to clean up their mess, the Trump True Believers may not silently fold their tents and go away.”

Correct. I expect that Conservative Inc will take Trump down. His base, egged on by their preferred media, will blame liberals. Conservative Inc will nod and wink or look the other way. Low scale but lethal civil war within a few years.

#11 Comment By sglover On July 2, 2018 @ 9:35 pm

@ Clyde Schechter — I doubt you can outdo me when it comes to despairing over Dem uselessness. But they’re all that’s available for now. I’m somewhat optimistic about younger people; they may even put together something like a genuine left party — which the Dems sure as hell are not.

Look, I hear the casino swindler stoking up bloodlust in his cult, calling groups of people “animals” who “infest” our sacred soil. As the saying goes, we have seen this movie before. This needs to be halted, through the consensual, legal mechanism of voting. This election the only thing I really care about is, Is the guy a non-Republican who can win?

#12 Comment By mopar4life On July 2, 2018 @ 9:44 pm

Oh, NKor is fixing up and expanding the nuclear and missile sites per photographic evidence. President Littlehands is making Obama look like Metternich.

#13 Comment By John Mann On July 3, 2018 @ 7:11 am

What Daniel Larison says about Trump seems to me to be absolutely true. The really scary thing is that if you look at many of the leading Democrats, they seem to be at war with reality, too. Think Russiagate.

#14 Comment By rayray On July 3, 2018 @ 9:48 am

@Barry Keane
Hate to burst your bubble, but foreign investment has declined approx. 40% since Trump took office, and the trend is accelerating. Fox Conn is both a blip and the exception that Trump uses to distract from the truth. Or he doesn’t know the truth.

#15 Comment By Barry Keane On July 3, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

@rayray
Where do you get your numbers on FDI? Please see [2].

#16 Comment By anon On July 4, 2018 @ 7:48 pm

“The really scary thing is that if you look at many of the leading Democrats, they seem to be at war with reality, too. Think Russiagate.”

“Russiagate” is a hoax cooked up by Trump supporters to impugn the work of American intelligence and law enforcement agencies that have unanimously concluded that the Russian government plotted, funded and executed a multi-pronged effort to influence the US election.

It remains to be seen how far-reaching that effort succeeded, but we know that it targeted Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman.

It remains to be seen how successful the Russian effort was, and Trump’s own serial dissembling makes it impossible to take him at his word.

Those who use the term “Russiagate” are witting or unwitting tools of the disinformation effort, and should be understood as such.