Friday, August 4, 2017

"Walk Loudly and Carry a Small Stick"

If you're planning on calling the White House to tell President Trump what you really think of him, the leaking of transcripts of conversations between Trump and two world leaders is a warning to keep your comments to yourself, funny though they might be.

So, you and every other world leader has been warned and, while I've no doubt you're a powerbroker in the circles you travel in, it's the implications this could have on those other VIPs that most concern me.

A former National Security Council Spokesman sums
up the leaking of these transcripts quite nicely. 
Lots of commentators have focused on the nutty nature of Trump's chats and, since I'm no better, I'll start there.

Of course, there's plenty of the awkward Trump speak that's now burned into our brains (Gems like: "I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country," come to mind) and there's an awful lot of referencing of Jared Kushner too. From peace in the Middle East, to trade and immigration with Mexico, the President's son-in-law is nothing if not ubiquitous.

And what would any of his conversations be without Trump – apropos of nothing – shoehorning in the particulars of his election win, complete with the electoral vote count, as he did with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull?

The conversation with Turnbull concluded with some tense exchanges regarding an immigration agreement between the two countries brokered when Obama was president.

At one point it reads as if the Australian PM is dressing Trump down saying, "You can certainly say that it was not a deal that you would have done, but you are going to stick with it."

For what it's worth, and it might be a lot, Trump's performance in these conversations is being skewered by media and diplomats across the globe.

Mexican Dipolmat Jorge Guajoardo received the following text about Trump from a former Mexican official: "He's the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. He speaks loudly and carries a small stick."

I've never had high-level conversations with a world leader.

Malcolm Turnbull. Just looks like the sort of guy who
 doesn't care if you like or not. 
I shook Presidential Candidate Barack Obama's hand once. He asked how I was doing and I merely smiled, nodded my head and said nothing because I'd drank too much and was concerned my breath smelled like booze. (Don't judge. I had no idea I'd be anywhere near the guy when I drank that first beer.)

That regrettable story and press scrums with former Illinois Governor (and current jailbird) Rod Blagojevich are the extent of it.

But I have daily conversations I'd prefer no one, outside of the person I'm talking with, ever, ever, ever be privy. If you're a world leader speaking with the President of the United States, you should be afforded the same privilege. Of course, transparency dictates that those conversations should be documented and released when appropriate.

But now, just six months into Trump's first term, is clearly not an appropriate time.

We've likely got 3.5 years of this presidency remaining. From here forward, every world leader Trump talks to or attempts to cut one of his infamous deals with, should not feel free to speak their mind without fear their words could end up on the Internet the next day.

To be clear, private discussions between world leaders are kept secret so they can speak their minds and establish trust. The benefits of a rapport between world leaders are self-evident and the reality is that a true rapport between any two humans can only happen when there is some mutual trust.

Put more bluntly, President Donald Trump can no longer tell another world leader, "Just between you and I..." and be taken at his word.

For a President who's word isn't worth much to begin with, that's a troubling, troubling development.


How troubling?

To frame the answer to that discussion, I'll refer to former George W. Bush speechwriter, Canadian and all-around smart guy, David Frum, who suggested in the Atlantic that the chaos of Trump's administration is causing others within the government to reach for extraordinary measures that "violate basic norms of government" to combat the president.

"Trump’s violation of basic norms of government has driven people who would otherwise uphold those norms unto death to violate them in their turn," Frum wrote. "Contempt for Trump’s misconduct inspires counter-misconduct."

In Frum's view, the situation has created a cycle of mistrust in which Trump can't trust the government, which causes him to act more "irregularly." Those "irregular actions" then cause more "counter-irregularity from the rest of the government."

Frum concludes: "Donald Trump has launched the executive branch into a cycle of self-destruction for which he bears ultimate blame—but whose ultimate cost will be borne by his successors and the American nation."

Well, tell us what you really think David. Better yet, give me a call, we can have a chat about it, just between you and I.

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