Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He signed into law sanctions against Russia for crimes he claims to believe Russia didn't commit, adding an official statement praising himself for his business acumen.

After a few days of stalling, Trump signed H.R. 3364 into law. The bill greatly restricts Trump's ability to revoke the sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its interference on Trump's behalf in the election that brought him to power. Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chair have already admitted to meeting with Russian agents in the hope of obtaining politically damaging material about his opponent, Hillary Clinton--a meeting he helped try to cover up. Nevertheless Trump still publicly maintains that Russia's attack is a Democratic hoax and that Russian spies could not have been detected even if they were involved.

The only explanation Trump offered for signing a bill he claims to believe is based on a factual mistake came in a statement he released today. In it, he claimed that his superior negotiation skills would allow him to overcome the limitations the bill puts on his power: "I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."

In venues where he cannot benefit from taxpayer bailouts, bankruptcy protections, inherited wealth, the ability to afford more lawyers than his opponents, or ghostwriters, Trump's "negotiations" have yet to bear much fruit. He assiduously courted China for what he believed was their ability to unilaterally "handle" North Korea, only to angrily denounce them when no such solution materialized. He threatened a trade war with Germany without realizing that all EU countries negotiate as a bloc. He gave his own party's Congressional delegation a very public ultimatum about his failed health care plan, only to be ignored. And on the subject of Russia, he pioneered the unique "deal-making" technique of demanding that his staff create lists of "deliverables" he could offer to Vladimir Putin at their first meeting, without asking for anything in return.

Who cares?

  • A president who was innocent of participation in a conspiracy to undermine American democracy would probably take this in better stride.
  • It's bad when overwhelming majorities in Congress feel the need to restrict a president's ability to help a hostile foreign power.
  • Virtually nothing a president does is anything like negotiating with contractors or TV producers.