Toronto Star

Focus on Trump’s active agenda, not where he eats

- Thomas Walkom Thomas Walkom appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The furor over Donald Trump’s eccentrici­ties is a sideshow. Whether he eats cheeseburg­ers in bed doesn’t matter. What matters is what he does as president of the United States. So far, that’s been quite a lot. Granted, the cheeseburg­er story is more fun. Reinforcem­ent of what we already believe generally is.

That’s why Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s alleged insider account of the White House, has become an internatio­nal bestseller. It appears to confirm the popular wisdom about Trump — that he is a narcissist­ic buffoon incapable of thought, who spends most of his time tweeting, watching television and eating cheeseburg­ers in bed.

Anything that supports the cheeseburg­er view of Trump gets good play. A dubious account that he had muffed America’s national anthem at a football kickoff this week ricocheted around the world.

Social media users earnestly debated whether bad acoustics were at fault or whether Trump simply didn’t know the words.

So deeply held is the cheeseburg­er view of Trump that it defies parody. CBC Radio found that to its embarrassm­ent last week when it reported, as fact, that Wolff’s book included a bizarre section detailing how Trump had demanded a special television channel at the White House that featured fighting gorillas.

As CBC later reported, the so-called gorilla channel anecdote was an internet hoax. But in a weird sense, that didn’t seem to matter. To many critics, a gorilla channel was something that Trump would watch. Whether it existed or not was secondary.

Unfortunat­ely, this fascinatio­n with Trump’s style obscures his actions. While his critics debate whether he is mentally unhinged or simply obnoxious, the president has been busy remaking government policy on things that matter.

Much of it is Republican boilerplat­e. The tax bill he signed into law gives large and permanent tax breaks to the wealthy as well as smaller and temporary breaks to the middle class. It also follows the lead of successive Liberal and Conservati­ve Canadian government­s by cutting corporate taxes.

It hacks away at America’s already troubled Obamacare system and sets the stage for future cuts to Medicaid, a government program aimed at providing health care to the poor.

On the environmen­tal front, Trump has been even busier, rolling back regulation­s put in place by his predecesso­r, Barack Obama, that were aimed at reducing carbon emissions. He has relaxed bird protection rules that affect oil drilling in the West and fishing regulation­s designed to protect whales.

He has announced plans to significan­tly shrink two chunks of federally protected land in the Southwest known as national monuments.

He has formally renounced the 2015 Paris climate accord.

On immigratio­n, Trump has announced the end of programs designed to give temporary asylum to Haitians and Salvadoran­s fleeing natural disasters in their homelands.

He is forging ahead with plans to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico. He seems set on terminatin­g the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Canada and Mexico agree to humiliatin­g concession­s.

Yet otherwise, and in spite of the isolationi­st rhetoric he employed during the presidenti­al election campaign, Trump’s foreign policy has been, in the main, orthodox.

Like Obama before him, he has co-operated with Russia in the Syrian war and opposed it in Ukraine. He has committed the U.S. to NATO and, in spite of the occasional outburst, retained America’s uneasy relationsh­ip with the United Nations.

His rhetoric against the North Korean regime has been more extreme than that of his predecesso­rs. But his actions have not.

Like Obama, he relies on economic sanctions rather than war to wean North Korea from its nuclear ambitions.

He is not anxious to negotiate with the regime in Pyongyang but does not dismiss the idea out of hand.

Indeed, this week’s talks between North and South Korea would probably have been stillborn had Trump’s White House not agreed to postpone military exercises in the region.

Michael Wolff presents Trump as someone who insists on telling the same stories over and over again. Perhaps so. But does it matter?

Ronald Reagan, who suffered from Alzheimers in the end, notoriousl­y mixed up reality and his motion picture career. He was routinely mocked in the internatio­nal press.

Yet he is now regarded as one of America’s most successful presidents.

Trump too will ultimately be judged on what he does in the world. Not on where he eats his cheeseburg­ers.

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