Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, International Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He turned his attention to international affairs.

North Korea. It was already known that Trump's reference to "Rocket Man" this week from the podium of the United Nations was a deliberate, scripted choice. But the Los Angeles Times reports that Trump's senior aides and what remains of his diplomatic staff urged him to delete that and other insulting references from his speech, out of concern that this would force Kim Jong Un into still more escalation of his missile and warhead tests. And while backchannel talks have been conducted between the US and North Korea all along, in spite of the rhetoric on the part of both leaders, Trump's staff feared his speech would shut them down altogether.

It did.

Russia. The independent counsel's investigation of Trump's connection to Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election moved much closer to its targets this week. There has been a steady stream of news reports about White House staff retaining lawyers--even Trump's lawyers have lawyers. Part of the story is the prohibitive costs this can impose on people making a government salary. Since Trump's identity is built around the fact (or fiction) of his enormous wealth, it might be tempting to conclude that his personal legal bills are the least of his problems.

But Trump's administration is determined to lighten the financial burden on Trump (and, perhaps, witnesses or co-conspirators within the White House). Trump's re-election campaign is footing the bill for Donald Trump, Jr. Last week, Trump's newly tame ethics office floated the idea of allowing anonymous donations to legal defense funds. This trial balloon was shot down fairly quickly when it was pointed out that this would allow, for example, Russian oligarchs to contribute anonymously to the defense of people with whom they were engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

But Trump seems to have found a way around that problem: there is no law forbidding Russian oligarchs or those with ties to them from openly contributing to the legal defense of those who may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Putin regime.

They are.

Slovenia. During a visit to Florida to be photographed with Hurricane Irma first responders, Trump expressed regrets on behalf of his wife, Melania, who he said "really wanted to be here."

She was.

Nambia. In remarks to a group of African leaders at this week's meeting of the UN General Assembly, Trump read a speech in which he praised the health care system of "Nambia." There is no such country. At first, it was unclear whether Trump meant Namibia, Zambia, or Gambia--all African countries which actually exist--or if he was imagining a new country. (The White House later clarified that he meant Namibia.)

Trump's praise for Namibia's health care is interesting because 85% of Namibians receive their health care via a government single-payer system--something he calls a "curse" when it is proposed for the United States.

The government of Nambia did not respond to Trump's remarks as it does not exist.

Why do these things matter?

  • Diplomacy and nuclear policy should be driven by something other than a president's temper.
  • A president taking large amounts of money for his own personal use is pretty much the definition of "appearance of impropriety."
  • It's not uncommon for elderly people to have brief moments of confusion, but it's significant when the elderly person is the President of the United States.
  • Slips of the tongue don't really matter, but a president not knowing from moment to moment where he stands on the major domestic policy issue of his presidency is a problem.