Don­ald Trump and his flex­i­ble mind

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN Wes­ley Pruden is edi­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­berg

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