September 19, 2018

Why We Can’t Talk About Trump

I have a dear friend who feels nauseated anytime she hears the word “Trump.” It’s a physical reaction. She feels so disgusted by the man that she’s unable to consider whether he’s capable of doing anything good. Her Trump Derangement Syndrome is rooted in the man’s character flaws — all of the offensive, impulsive and mendacious behavior that has dominated American airwaves for the past two years.

The truth is, we’ve never had a president like Donald Trump. It’s not even close.

In May 2017, I wrote a column quoting historian Max Boot: “The problem with writing about Donald Trump is that the outrages come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up.”

My point was that Trump was still mired in the “emotional staples of reality television, the junk food of entertainment, where cat fighting, backstabbing and manufactured drama rule the battle for ratings.”

Having been the star and executive producer of “The Apprentice” for 14 years, Trump couldn’t seem to shake the habits of a world where the greater the chaos, the higher the ratings. “That was the lesson Trump inhaled from reality TV,” I wrote. “Outrage is not just the norm, it’s the key to success.”

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

Of course, it’s one thing to act like a narcissistic loudmouth when the stakes are television ratings, and quite another when the stakes are the welfare of your nation and the world.

Whereas his old antics might have offended a character or two on his reality show,” I wrote, “today, those same antics could lead to nuclear war …  and other such unpleasant things.”

In fact, for many months after I wrote that, there was talk of Trump’s impulsiveness triggering a nuclear war with North Korea. Even my hairdresser — who never talks politics — asked me if we were headed for a nuclear war.

On the food chain of Trumpian nightmares, a nuclear war takes the crown.

So, you can imagine the cognitive dissonance last week when we got word that North Korean President Kim Jong Un might be interested in negotiating nuclear disarmament. Talk about a reversal: from fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

Needless to say, we’re still far from success. As you’ll read in our in-depth analysis by Larry Greenfield in this week’s cover story, there are many complex questions to consider, among them:

“Did the North Korean regime commit to a pre-summit conditional freeze on launching missiles or to a firm promise to negotiate denuclearization of its weapons program, or was the South Korean national security adviser’s representation of Kim Jong Un’s oral offer a bluff?”

“What would a ‘good deal’ look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality? … Even if the regime relinquished its ‘treasured sword,’ the nuclear program it believes guarantees regime survival — would North Korea continue its brutal human rights oppression, illicit global drug activity, supplying of chemical-weapons-production materials to Syria and others, and counterfeiting of currencies?”

“How can we ‘trust but verify’ future inspections of closed reactors and the promised cessation of weapons production and testing, when North Korea has previously cheated on prior framework agreements?”

So yes, it’s complicated, but it’s still far better than the nuclear brinkmanship we had a few months ago. As Greenfield reminds us, Kim Jong Un must have paid attention to Trump’s policy of maximum pressure through “increased sanctions, cyberhacking, freezing of North Korean assets in foreign banks, aggressive military drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier along with the South Korean navy, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and plenty of bluster (‘rocket man’ on a ‘suicide mission’ who will face ‘fire and fury’).”

Maybe Trump’s unpredictability was just what was needed to get a brutal dictator’s attention. Maybe it takes a coarse bully to scare off another coarse bully. But now that he’s got Kim’s attention, will Trump have the tenacity and patience to follow through? And if he does pull off the ultimate deal, how will Trump haters react?

Talk about a reversal: From fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

When I bring up “positive outcomes” with my Trump-hating friend, it makes little difference. Her disgust precludes her from entertaining any positive thoughts about Trump, even a Trump who would pull off a near-miraculous deal to disarm North Korea.

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

And yet, having said all that, it would still be amazing to see Trump pull off a deal to denuclearize North Korea. And, while he’s at it, it’d be equally amazing if he could renegotiate the Iranian deal that currently allows an evil regime to build nuclear weapons at the end of the agreement.

When the stakes are so high, it’s OK to hope for results, even from a rude and impulsive TV star who craves ratings.