With Donald Trump as President, one thing Thinking Man assumes that everyone agrees on is that the important and significant news changes almost hourly. Trump seems to thrive in this ‘managed chaos’, but it does mean that the most relevant topic has often changed by the time the next news cycle comes along. And even more, it seems as if we sometimes have two Presidents who bear only a passing resemblance to each other in demeanor and speech. Such has certainly been the case over the last seven days.
This time last week, we the Trump Administration was battling the almost daily potential scandals breaking the news media. Trump had just fired FBI Director James Comey, several news organizations had lead stories that said that Trump had asked the FBI to drop its investigation into former Trump advisor Michael Flynn, and there were also stories that Trump had discussed classified information on Islamic terrorists with the Russian Ambassador (which is in his authority to do) but had also revealed the source of that intelligence. And as an aside, Trump admitted as much this week when he told the press while visiting Israel that he never told the Russians the information came from Israel—thus likely revealing the intelligence source to the world, whether he did earlier to Russia or not. But the top story of the week was that a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, had been appointed by the Justice Dept. to take over the Russia investigation. And then word came out that the President had hired a personal lawyer and had staff researching the odd chance of what would happen if the President got impeached. And that comes after less than five months in office.
When President Trump–while visiting Israel no less—told the assembled press that he had never mentioned Israel as the source of the intelligence on ISIS that he shared with Russia, it just served as an example of the amazing lack of judgment that he has as a head of state. And while we need to get facts and make sure we have them before rushing to judgment off news reports, if even some of the stories are true about the President’s conduct and conversations and that of some of his campaign advisors, then it’s just more poor judgment for a person holding office. Even if you wouldn’t agree with that opinion, at a minimum it’s safe to say that the country’s business can’t be conducted effectively when you have ‘a scandal a day’.
However, this week the President has been visiting the Middle East. Most of the time, he appears to have stuck to ‘his script’ and the trip has had some positive feedback so far, and a number of highlights. Most significantly was the first country on his itinerary, Saudi Arabia. Under President Obama, relations with this longtime ally soured to the point that the Saudis openly started to turn toward Russia. In making Saudi Arabia—a regional power and site of the two most revered places in the Muslim religion—the first country he visited on his first foreign trip as President, Trump was making a statement to the Saudis, and to others.
In addition to several trade deals worth tens of billions of dollars that were signed while he was there, President Trump also spoke to a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council, a meeting with leaders of more than fifty Muslim nations. In that speech, President Trump did something President Obama never did. He spoke clearly and directly to a Muslim audience about the need to forcefully combat religious extremism and terrorism. There was no question about what was being asked—that the all-Muslim audience join in the fight against Muslim extremism, which he candidly labeled a battle of good vs. evil. And the speech was received positively, to the surprise of many.
The President then went to Israel, with whom relations under President Obama had reached an all-time low. Trump met with the Israeli Prime Minister, and was the first US President to visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, showing his support for Jerusalem as part of Israel. Yet he also met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to try to lay groundwork for new peace efforts, before flying on to the Vatican.
With the exception of the off the cuff gaffe at the press conference in Israel about sharing intelligence sources with the Russians, there have been no big blunders and no wild-eyed statements during the President’s overseas trip. It’s almost as if there are two personal demeanors we are seeing within the same several day stretch. One can only speculate that his advisors have him well-prepared and have told him how sensitive international relations can be to even a small misstep. But it certainly seems like a different personality and temperament while he has been in outside the US.
Either way, a lot more of the direct but measured and even-tempered President that we have seen during his overseas trip would be welcome even to his domestic audience.