Literally, Seriously, Word Salad

Allahpundit noted that when Pres. Trump cast doubt on whether Moscow is backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, he was disagreeing not only with the international consensus, but also with his own UN ambassador.  He asked whether this represents: (a) deliberate strategic ambiguity; or (b) Trump and his cabinet essentially running two distinct foreign policies.

Allow me to propose: (c) Trump opens his mouth and says stuff.

Moreover, enough people have been fine with Trump opening his mouth and saying stuff.  That’s where the notion of “taking Trump literally vs. seriously” comes from.

Most people aren’t policy experts.  They really didn’t care whether Trump knew what he was saying.

The “literally vs seriously” school will assert, for example, that Trump voters didn’t care whether Mexico was going to pay for his border wall.  They cared that Trump was going to be tough on immigration.  And this is probably right.

Trump nevertheless embroiled himself in a conflict with Mexico’s president over paying for the wall.  Trump, not a man to back down, then threatened to raise the money through taxes.

What followed was a confused attempt to explain Trump’s threat by WH spox Sean Spicer.  He seemingly embraced the House-proposed border adjustment tax, which Trump dissed days earlier as “too complicated.”  Spicer claimed the tax would be targeted; it can’t be.  He ultimately claimed border adjustment was just “one way” to achieve Trump’s goal.

Some blamed the press for misreporting this story.  But how do you correctly report Spicer vamping in an attempt to reconcile Trump’s statement with what’s actually happening?

Senior administration officials now claim Trump has warmed to the House plan…but who knows what Trump would say in another interview?

Trump also has claimed his healthcare proposal would insure “everybody” and “the government’s gonna pay for it,” as he did during the campaign.  Congressional Republicans aren’t taking it literally or seriously.  But I wouldn’t rule out Trump saying it again.

On foreign policy, Trump voters probably surmised that Trump sounded tough on terrorism, but less interventionist than the Bush administration (perhaps easier said than done).  They want to believe it for the same reason they didn’t care about Trump’s claim that Mexico would pay for the border wall; cost-free choices always feel good.

Thus, on Russia, he will absolutely avoid any perceived conflict with Putin.  So Trump doesn’t care whether he sounds worse than Howard Zinn in defending Putin, claiming the same moral equivalence between Russia and the US he asserted in the campaign.  He’ll do so even though his cabinet takes a tougher line on Russia.  It’s ambiguity, but it’s not deliberate or strategic.

The problem is that further accommodation of Russia may embolden Putin.  Moreover, Trump’s seemingly hard line toward Iran conflicts with his personal softness on Russia.  This is the problem with a President given a pass by voters on speaking literally, i.e., having to have thought through what he says.

Trump will probably continue to schmooze Putin until he is seen as being the beta male to Vlad’s alpha.  If that moment comes, some rash decisions could be made.  So we are left wishing that Putin takes Trump’s cabinet literally and seriously, in the hope that moment does not arrive.

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