Have you noticed that nothing much has been happening in Washington since the attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare went down to defeat? Yes, there was the two day interest in the raid on the Syrian airfield, but that was a mild response not readily criticized because of the atrocity that had led to it and leaving everything in the middle east still unresolved. And there was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, which was never much in doubt, the Senate left in no greater disarray than it had been beforehand. But do you notice that Trump is not as much in the headlines as he used to be, when he dominated every news cycle with his tweets and outlandish claims? He may actually be trying to govern, but is finding that it is not that easy, “more complicated than anyone thought”-- which is to say, more complicated, it turns out, then only he thought. The legislative agenda is frozen. Trump people do not know how they can put together the Republican votes for a tax bill or for an infrastructure bill anymore than they could find a way to a health care bill. And so the tabloid papers no longer put Trump on the front cover but on the inside pages, leaving the usual crimes and accidents to attract the eyes of readers. The prison on Riker’s Island is scheduled to close and starlets show off their legs. It isn’t easy being President if you are not doing very much and if you have cut down on outrageous tweets in the hope of appearing more Presidential.
Another way to say this is that what has changed in the past few weeks is that foreign policy has returned to normal, to the central tendency it had taken from Bush 41 through Obama, the exception being Bush 43, who went off the rails in Iraq and had, earlier, been too unwilling to commit American troops in Afghanistan. The rest stays the same. Relations with Russia are testy, just as they have been ever since Putin took power. We cultivate Arab dictators, though Trump is more fulsome than Obama would have been in his support of Sisi, probably because Trump does not know how to modulate his tone. Trump nowhere acknowledges his campaign contempt for the Iran Nuclear Deal, perhaps because he has been told that no better deal could be forged. Syria remains the same dreadful civil war into which the United States will not intervene, even if Trump, like Obama, drew a line against chemical weapons. And the North Koreans continue to develop their atomic weapons, Trump no better able to stop that than any of his predecessors, and we shall see what happens when North Korea presents a clear danger to the United States, and whether the Congress or the American people are prepared for decisive action of one sort or another. And so talking heads give sighs of relief that nothing really bad has happened so far in foreign policy and are amazed at his surrender to the foreign policy establishment. Today, Trump said NATO was ok and that China would not be cited for currency manipulation. Hurrah! The standards are dumbed down since Bush 43. Just don’t be foolish, and from Trump something foolhardy was and remains a fear.