Quick Takes: Trump Really Is This Shallow

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* After Trump’s remarks leading up to his announcement about not certifying the Iran nuclear deal, it is impossible to imagine that he has even the slightest knowledge of what is contained in the agreement. So why is he so determined to end it? Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security advisor, answers that question with this:

The best reporting in this case suggests he became annoyed that Iran’s compliance—and America’s obligation to certify its compliance—contradicts his campaign rhetoric, and makes him look weak. When he was running for the presidency he called the Iran deal “the worst deal ever negotiated” and promised to withdraw. To save face, he has apparently ordered his team to rationalize an irrational and damaging decision.

Yep, based on what we’ve seen, I have no doubt that the president really is that shallow.

* Heather Hurlburt has an interesting take on how this particular announcement was staged.

If the theatrics of today’s speech reminds you more of a reality-show season premiere than high diplomacy, it’s not accidental. Trump and his team are stage-managing Iran policy as if it were an episode of The Apprentice. He intentionally built drama for weeks — from his September taunt to the United Kingdom, our closest ally, that he’d made a decision but wasn’t willing to share it, to a steady drip of leaks and time changes in the lead-up to today’s announcement. European ambassadors were called to the State Department days ahead of time, then told the State Department had nothing to tell them.

Tune in for the season opener, right?

* Michael Gerson has a must-read column in which he suggests to fellow Republicans that it’s time to panic.

It is no longer possible to safely ignore the leaked cries for help coming from within the administration. They reveal a president raging against enemies, obsessed by slights, deeply uninformed and incurious, unable to focus, and subject to destructive whims. A main task of the chief of staff seems to be to shield him from dinner guests and telephone calls that might set him off on a foolish or dangerous tangent. Much of the White House senior staff seems bound, not by loyalty to the president, but by a duty to protect the nation from the president. Trump, in turn, is reported to have said: “I hate everyone in the White House.” And also, presumably, in the State Department, headed by a secretary of state who apparently regards his boss as a “moron.”…

The time for whispered criticisms and quiet snickering is over. The time for panic and decision is upon us. The thin line of sane, responsible advisers at the White House — such as Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — could break at any moment. Already, Trump’s protests of eternal love for Kelly are a bad sign for the general’s future. The American government now has a dangerous fragility at its very center. Its welfare is as thin as an eggshell — perhaps as thin as Donald Trump’s skin.

Any elected Republican who shares Corker’s concerns has a political and moral duty to state them in public. If Corker is correct, many of his colleagues do have such fears. Their silence is deafening and damning.

* A column by David French in the National Review wanders a bit, but makes a couple of points worth noting. The first is an interesting commentary on rural America:

Contrary to the stereotype of journalists who live in the Beltway and spend their nights at those allegedly omnipresent “cocktail parties,” I live in rural Tennessee, deep in the heart of Trump country. My travels mainly take me to other parts of Trump country, where I engage with Trump voters all the time. If I live in a bubble, it’s the Trump bubble. I know it intimately. And I have never in my adult life seen such anger.

There is a near-universal hatred of the media. There is a near-universal hatred of the so-called “elite.” If a person finds out that I didn’t support Trump, I’ll often watch their face transform into a mask of rage. Partisans are so primed to fight — and they so clearly define whom they’re fighting against — that they often don’t care whom or what they’re fighting for. It’s as if millions of Christians have forgotten a basic biblical admonition: “Be angry and do not sin.” Don’t like the media? Shut it down. Don’t like kneeling football players? Make them stand. Tired of American weakness overseas? Cheer incoherent and reckless tweets as evidence of “strength.”

Unlike Gerson, who zeroes in on elected Republicans, French is calling out Trump’s base of supporters.

On a vast scale, members of the Republican base are defending behavior from Trump that would shock and appall them if it came from a Democratic president…

Even worse, Republicans are — to borrow my friend Greg Lukianoff’s excellent phrase — “unlearning liberty.”…

It’s been said countless times because it’s true: Politics and law are downstream from culture. For the sake of short-term political victories — for the sake of protecting a single American president — Republicans have shown themselves willing to help change the culture to one that declares, with one voice (Left and Right), “Free speech for me, but not for thee.” Unless the GOP base changes course — there’s still time, by the way — and demands that its president embody the constitutional values that are supposed to define the party, the degradation of our culture and of long-standing respect for the Constitution will outlive even the memory of any given political debate.

* Do you remember a few weeks ago when the New York Times published an especially memorable piece with the headline: “Bound to No Party, Trump Upends 150 Years of Two-Party Rule?” Steve Benen does, and he documents us of how wrong they were.

…a month later, the “Trump the independent” meme looks even more misguided.

The president, for example, has already moved to kill the immigration deal he reached with Democratic leaders. He followed that up by taking unprecedented steps to gut the nation’s health care system, motivated almost entirely by spite and partisan rage.

All the while, Trump has been pushing a partisan tax plan, written in secret exclusively by Republicans.

On Twitter in recent days, Trump has said Democrats “don’t care” about the nation’s safety, are pushing an imaginary tax increase, and “are fighting so hard for Sanctuary crime.”

If this president is trying to “upend 150 years of two-party rule,” he’s not trying very hard.

* Finally, here’s the song that really spoke to me today.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.