During a tour of Latin America last summer, Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the world recognizes Donald Trump as “a leader who says what he means and means what he says.” Pence has made all kinds of unfortunate comments over the years, but perhaps none has been as ridiculous as this one.Because if there’s one thing the world has learned about this president, it’s that what Trump says and what Trump does are often entirely unrelated. Politico had a good piece on this overnight:
Wall Street, corporate America and the diplomatic world are settling on a strategy to deal with President Donald Trump’s rapidly shifting statements on critical issues like trade deals and Russia sanctions: Just ignore him. […]
All of this has led investors, executives and diplomats to the conclusion that trying to act on any single thing Trump says or tweets is a fool’s game. The more effective strategy, these people say, is to look for trends in the broad sweep of Trump’s approach to governance and ignore all the noise.
The “noise,” in this case, are public policy pronouncements from the sitting president of the United States.
The article pointed to a fair amount of recent evidence. When Trump signaled a willingness to re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, it should’ve sent shockwaves through economic and diplomatic circles – but it didn’t because most assumed the president would reverse course soon after, which is exactly what happened a few days later.
Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Wealth Advisors, told Politico, “He’s clearly proven that he tends to shoot first and ask questions later and that is very, very difficult for anyone on Wall Street or really anywhere to navigate.”
Clayton Allen, vice president of special situations at Height Capital Markets, added that people are starting to realize that Trump’s pronouncements “often signify nothing,” and as a result they are “learning to live with the sound and fury.”
I think that’s probably wise. I also think it’s a terribly sad state of affairs when the only responsible course is to treat pronouncements from the head of state for a global superpower as background noise that’s better left ignored.
As New York’s Jon Chait put it last summer, “It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence.”
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank published a related list this morning of “some of what we have learned lately from the Trump administration.”
We are imposing new sanctions on Russia. We are not imposing new sanctions on Russia.
China isn’t manipulating its currency. China is manipulating its currency.
We’re getting out of Syria. We aren’t getting out of Syria.
We’ll decide about bombing Syria in 24 to 48 hours. We might not bomb Syria for a long time. We bombed Syria.
The bombing of Syria will be sustained. The Syria bombing was a one-time shot.
Trump will be talking to Kim Jong Un. Trump may not be talking to Kim.
Trump fired James B. Comey because of the Russia investigation. Trump did not fire Comey because of the Russia investigation.
Note, we’re not just talking about the presidency’s affection for brazen dishonesty. Trump’s lies matter, of course, but this is something qualitatively different. In this case, we’re talking about a confused amateur president who seems to simply wander back and forth between positions, without any forethought or examination, routinely making random declarations that have no meaningful connection to his ultimate actions.
Trump “says what he means and means what he says”? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could read that quote without laughing?