Like the voters who put him in office, the rest of America seems to be of little importance to Donald Trump in the conduct of his very private presidency.
Take his meeting scheduled for Thursday with the Chinese president Xi Jinping. It will occur not at the White House, which represents the United States, but at Trump’s private club in Florida, which represents Donald Trump.
That could be seen as a gracious gesture or a personal preference leading to a minefield. Trump’s blunt criticism of China during the campaign and demands for trade concessions in advance of the visit suggest trouble. Instead of playing the gracious host he has already issued a threat.
“China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone,” Trump said in a Financial Times interview on Sunday. “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”
Or take his meeting on Monday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, where he suddenly, single-handedly, and with no public debate or warning turned nearly two decades of U.S. policy toward Mideast dictators on its head. Instead of seeking release of Americans held in Egyptian prisons, he fawned over a ruler whose troops gunned down hundreds of protesters, muzzled his country’s press, and sent his opponents to prison.
(It raises the question of whether, after blaming President Obama for the Syrian chemical attack on innocent civilians, how else will Trump respond–strongly, mildly, or not at all?)
“We agree on so many things,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Sisi. “I just want to say to you, Mr. President, that you have a great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”
In me, he said, not in the American people, but in me. As Louis XIV might have said: “L’etat c’est moi.” The state is me.
Or consider his decision to send his son-in-law instead of a seasoned diplomat to Iraq, another aggressive rejection of the uses of the State Department’s experience, learning, and institutional memory. As if to say, “We know what we want and we’ll get it our way.”
It was the same attitude that allowed him to seat his daughter Ivanka at the table next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the Washington business meeting though Ivanka had no publicly acknowledged official responsibility.
What was she doing there? No one knows but Donald. It’s his presidency. The public doesn’t need to know.
Then there’s the matter of the Trump team asking the intelligence agencies to provide them with more raw intelligence and less analysis. They’ll do their own analysis, thank you.
This would facilitate the fundamental goal of consolidating control in Trump’s own—or Steve Bannon’s—hands, allow cherry-picking of information to fit a preconceived idea or agenda, and offer another step in the repudiation of experience and expertise in favor of the anti-intellectual, do-it-yourself method. It avoids the seasoned intelligence analyst’s ability to evaluate sources, context and quality of information.
One can hear Trump saying he doesn’t need so-called experts; he can do it better.
There are many examples. But one more comes from Trump’s choice to fill Merrick Garland’s seat on the Supreme Court. (Yes, I know. But it should have been Merrick Garland’s seat.)
Trump’s nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch made it blindingly clear that he does not think the public has a right to know who paid for the $10 million advertising campaign supporting his confirmation by the Senate. “It is what it is,” he said with supreme arrogance.
In its first hundred days the private presidency of Donald Trump is moving more in the direction of a 19th century constitutional monarchy than a modern democratic republic.