Donald Trump and his flexible mind
If chaos is the sign of growth — and sometimes that’s a fair description of progress — Donald Trump is on course to build an administration that can survive the fits, starts and mistakes of a drawn-out opening night. The rest of the world has to learn what we’ve learned in the land of the free and the brave, that Donald must be taken seriously but not literally.
The New York Times, ever on the scout for something to feed its delusion that the Trump presidency is but a nightmare and by extending a post-election sulk Hillary Clinton can at last be restored to the Oval Office, suggests that the financial wizards the president imported from Wall Street are pushing out Steve Bannon and the populists whose efforts largely enabled the Trump triumph.
It’s true that when a south wind is blowing just right there’s a definite Wall Street stink in the air over a certain Washington zip code, but with the Donald, you never know. He changes his mind in a New York minute. Not so long ago he was telling Janet Yellen that she should be “ashamed” of herself for her political bias, and now he’s dropping hints that he might reappoint her when her term as chairman of the Federal Reserve expires next year.
If a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, the Donald is proving to be the biggest-minded statesman on the world stage. Only a week ago he told London’s Financial Times that China is the “world champion” of currency manipulation, and now no longer thinks so. Hobgoblins rejoice with the astonished Chinese.
The president is no longer accused of making nice with Vladimir Putin, now that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has returned from Moscow with no coonskin to tack to the wall (as Lyndon Johnson might put it), and some Russians in high places are saying that U.S.Russia relations are at the lowest nadir ever, and that includes a lot of nadir.
The president nevertheless insists that he’s faithful to the deplorables, tweeting that “one by one, we are keeping our promises — on the border, on energy, on jobs, on regulations. Big changes are happening.”
Earlier in the day, however, he seemed to retreat further from the first of the tax reforms promised by Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican allies in the House of Representatives, specifically Mr. Ryan’s “border adjustment tax.” For example, if B.F. Goodrich sells tires to Mexico to be put on cars manufactured there, that’s an export, and it wouldn’t be taxed. But if Ford, for another example, buys tires made in Mexico to put on cars sold in America, the cars and the tires, being imports, are taxed. This would be something like the “value-added tax” imported from Europe, which, however tortured the explanation of economists, is a sales tax by another name and would be so regarded by everybody else. The Trump base expects tax reform, not more taxes.
However, Mr. Trump continues to bask in the warmth of Neil Gorsuch’s ascent to the Supreme Court. The president invited the full court — together with Antonin Scalia’s widow, Maureen — to the Rose Garden this week to watch Mr. Gorsuch take “the judicial oath,” his “constitutional oath” having been taken earlier.
There was a perfect spring day for it. “Spring is really the perfect backdrop for this joyful gathering of friends,” the president said, standing before the justices to wax all but poetic, “because together we are in a process of reviewing and renewing, and rebuilding, our country. A new optimism is sweeping across our land, and a new faith in America is filling our hearts and lifting our sights.”
Well, perhaps not everyone. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the most liberal voice on the high court and who in a moment of angry frustration considered moving to New Zealand if the lifted hearts elected Donald Trump, kept her hands clasped in front of her and a sour expression on her face as dark as her eyeglasses, as the other justices joined in applause. Bonhomie, even pinched bonhomie, can fade as quickly as a glorious early-spring day in Washington.
The president’s devoted conservative friends, including the millions of evangelical Christians who forgave his crudeness and vulgarity, have been to enough big towns to have heard an excess of big talk by Republican politicians. Conservatives are born with delicate antennae that can pick up intimations and insinuations of sell-out to the likes of Goldman Sachs. Such intimations are usually inaudible to others.
Donald Trump must be wary that hell hath no election-day fury like a voter eager to make amends for a foolish romance with a faithless politician. The proof lies all about Washington, in the ruins of the wishes and dreams of the foolish and the unwary.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg