Is Trump Merely Unconventional?

Peter Baker published an article in the New York Times that was promoted with this on Twitter:

The same guy that spends his time either watching “Fox and Friends” or playing golf at one of his own resorts is somehow bringing accessibility to a once-aloof presidency. The groans all over Twitter were audible.

Reading the piece, it became clear to me that Baker’s main point was basically that Trump’s approach to the presidency is “unconventional,” with the bothsiderism of quotes from those who think that this is either a good or a bad thing. In other words, Baker played it the way that mainstream media has typically handled presidents, which happens to be dangerous when we’re talking about Donald Trump.

I’d like to contrast that with the way that Susan Glasser summed up the Trump administration’s foreign policy during his first year in office. Her piece for Politico is titled, “Donald Trump’s Year of Living Dangerously.” It is exactly the kind of journalism we need in this era, because “unconventional” could mean anything from refreshingly updated to off the rails. As Glasser demonstrates, Trump is clearly the latter. Here’s just one example, which occurred when the president hosted a dinner with the leaders of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panama:

To Trump’s left was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. “Rex tells me you don’t want me to use the military option in Venezuela,” the president told the gathered Latin American leaders, according to an account offered by an attendee soon after the dinner. “Is that right? Are you sure?” Everyone said they were sure. But they were rattled…

By the time the dinner was over, the leaders were in shock, and not just over the idle talk of armed conflict. No matter how prepared they were, eight months into an American presidency like no other, this was somehow not what they expected. A former senior U.S. official with whom I spoke was briefed by ministers from three of the four countries that attended the dinner. “Without fail, they just had wide eyes about the entire engagement,” the former official told me. Even if few took his martial bluster about Venezuela seriously, Trump struck them as uninformed about their issues and dangerously unpredictable, asking them to expend political capital on behalf of a U.S. that no longer seemed a reliable partner. “The word they all used was: ‘This guy is insane.’”

When “idle talk of armed conflict” is not the worst of it, we’ve gone far beyond unconventional and arrived deep inside the danger zone.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.