Monday, February 6, 2017

Many of my friends and relatives...

...have been asking me what I think of President Trump so far and to most of them I've been answering something like:

It's still too soon to tell. Much of what he's done, like executive orders, is mostly talk. (And a judge, as we've seen with the Muslim travel ban, can easily overturn them; let's see what legislation he can actually get passed.) After a year or so in office Trump will have a record that we can talk about. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see.

Now, if that sounds like a cop-out, so be it. But after winning the election three months ago and after two weeks in office I think we can say at least three things for sure:

1. Trump seems to have five principal advisers, including (in no particular order) Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Mike Pence, Reince Priebus and Kellyanne Conway.

While Kushner, his son-in-law, is thought to be his closest confidant, Bannon appears to be the president's "brain," a la Karl Rove. Pence and Priebus are probably his liaisons to Paul Ryan and the Republicans in Congress, while Conway, finally, has the role of Minister of Propaganda.

2. Trump's cabinet, below the high-profile roles of, say, State and Defense, look like they were all "subcontracted" out to Pence and Priebus. "Here," I can imagine him saying, "Go throw some red meat to the base. Now get outta here!" Same with Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch should make pro-lifers, evangelicals, the NRA and the rest of the crazies happy.

(By the way, don't get your undies in too much of a bunch over people like Betsy DeVos. Once she's confirmed that's the last you'll hear of her until she steps down in a few years out of boredom or frustration. Don't believe me? How many former education secretaries can you name?)

3. Finally, while Trump's election night words were relatively "mainstream," his speech at the Republican convention and his inaugural address were pure Bannon.

Now, beyond that, I'm still scratching my head.

I wish I had a talk show like Charlie Rose; I'd have people like David Frum, David Brooks and Trump biographer Timothy O'Brien (who's seen the Donald's tax returns) on to answer some of my Big Questions, like:

1. Exactly why did Trump run for president?

I wish I could find it, but I read a piece just before the election in which the author wondered, "it's hard to know what Trump hoped to accomplish by running for president." It's a good question. Did he really think, when he descended that escalator in the spring of 2015, that someone with no experience in government would be taken seriously as a candidate for the highest office in the land? The common assumption was that he was just trying to bolster his "brand," but then he surprised everyone by running and winning the nomination. And then, even on the eve of the election, Trump expected to lose. So why did he do it?

2. Did Trump -- and does he still -- have some grand strategy for all of this, or is he doing everything by the "seat of his pants"? Does Trump really believe that trade, immigration and blue-collar jobs were three of the biggest issues facing America, or did he just recognize that there was a "market niche" for a candidate who ran on this? And is there a "method" to his current "madness," or is it just "madness"? Is Trump executing some well-thought-out plan, or was Jeb Bush right all along that he would just be the "chaos president"?

3. Following from question number two, what does Trump want to achieve as president? The corollary to this would be, what, if anything, does he really believe about anything?

Since Trump has been all over the map on practically every issue over the years, where is he now on health care, taxes, etc.? Does he have any core convictions, or is Bannon truly his "brain"? Or do he and Bannon just see the world in the same way? And will Bannon ultimately be dumped overboard when he's no longer useful, like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Corey Lewandowski, etc.?

I am seriously flummoxed by those three questions. (Kind of like, was Glenn Beck serious when he said all that crazy stuff during Obama's first term, or was he just laughing all the way to the bank?)

But that's where I am right now. I feel like while I know a few things about Trump, my questions still far outnumber my answers.

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