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Trump vs. the Trump Administration

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Sometimes clichés are that way for a reason.
Image by KC Green.

Not that long ago I found myself in a vigorous debate about whether Trump is “tough on Russia.” Like many of these sorts of discussions, the terms quickly became framed around the difference between Trump himself and the Trump administration—which often, but not entirely, overlaps with the “pay attention to what Trump does, not what he says (or Tweets)” argument.

Not long after, a related discussion crossed my Twitter feed.

I’d like to take a sharpie and draw multiple lines under Mount’s comments. Yes, American presidents routinely, for example, mouth platitudes about freedom and peace that are woefully out of step with their support for dictators, their covert operations, or their military interventions. But everyone expects such organized hypocrisy and everyone knows the game.

Instead, we’re talking about a yawning chasm between, on the one hand, the president’s rhetoric and signals and, on the other hand, the “actual” foreign policy of the United States. The very idea that we can have this debate, let alone that some people view it as evidence that ‘everything is okay’?

This is insane.

Think about the possible implications of nodding our heads sagely in agreement. One is that the president of the United States does not actually exercise very much control over his foreign policy. His own advisors frequently subvert him, and everything is okay because he hasn’t actually been able to get his way.

This is insane.

Another is that Trump does mostly get his way. He actually wants a strong commitment to NATO and thinks Putin has, in fact, sought to destabilize American democracy. But Trump misrepresents his views with abandon. He needlessly provokes conflicts, alienates democratic allies, and undermines his own intelligence agencies because reasons.

This is insane.

No matter how we slice it, the whole line of argument requires us to believe that ‘words’ are not in any way ‘actions,’ and that ‘actions’—which, remember, never consist of or involve words (they are totally separate things, actions and words)—are hermetically sealed from rhetoric.

Keep in mind that the same people peddling this argument also tend to think that, for example, Obama’s ‘words’ about a red line in Syria matter so much that his failure to subsequently bomb the Assad regime destroyed US deterrence. Words matter enormously, except when they don’t matter at all.

This is insane.

Of course, this leaves open another possibility: words do matter in general, but they don’t matter in Trump’s case. Perhaps they don’t matter because no one believes him anyway; his words are just never credible. Perhaps they don’t matter because administration officials, diplomatics, and career military spend a lot of time telling their foreign counterparts to ignore the president of the United States.

This is insane.

In conclusion, it’s not you. It’s them.

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