And his aides are not rolling their eyes at his stupidities. One of my recent columns at The Guardian:
Whatever the Trump era represents, it surely marks the dawn of a golden age of satire. But beware of laughing too much: the joke might be on us. Yes, Trump tweets like a buffoon. But we should not assume that all the missteps by the petulant president-in-waiting are down to ignorance: they aren’t.
Too many of Trump’s troubling tweets aren’t actually gaffes. He is intentionally blowing up global stability for the sake of an extremist agenda concocted by hawkish aides who make Dick Cheney look like Kofi Annan. That’s why the strange case of the Taiwan telephone call is worth examining because it is surely a sign of things to come.
At first, Team Trump dismissed the call with the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen as an innocent congratulatory message. Mike Pence, the vice-president elect, suggested it was no big deal, telling ABC it was “nothing more than taking a courtesy call”.
These excuses seemed weak after foreign policy experts predicted the Taiwan call would lead to a major breach with US policy, which has been in place since 1979. Then, they fell apart after the New York Times reported that the call was the result of a long-planned and well-funded lobbying effort by the Taiwanese themselves. According to the New York Times, it was all orchestrated by its paid foreign agent, Bob Dole, the former Republican presidential nominee and Senate leader.
“It’s fair to say that we had some influence,” Dole said. “When you represent a client, and they make requests, you’re supposed to respond.” That influence included special attention at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, attended by a Taiwanese delegation, where the party platform was changed for the first time to include several commitments to Taiwan’s security.
Another president-elect might consider such money-making from national security dangerous, disloyal or worse. But Taiwan newspapers have reported that the Trump Organization itself is interested in a possible hotel project close to Taiwan’s international airport. According to the report, a sales manager visited Taiwan as recently as October, although a spokeswoman for the business said there were “no plans for expansion into Taiwan.”
Perhaps the Taiwan phone call is as innocent as Trump’s meeting with his Indian business partners just days before his business signed a new deal in Kolkata. Perhaps his phone call with the Argentine president has nothing to do with the re-starting of a long-stalled Buenos Aires tower.
Trump could sweep aside such questions by divesting himself entirely from his ownership of the Trump Organization, and not just stepping away from its operations, as he has suggested he will do at a big league press conference next week.
Anything short of full divestment – even a blind trust – will be meaningless. Under the US constitution’s prohibition against payments and benefits from foreign powers to the president, every piece of planning permission and investment would be grounds for impeachment.
In any case, these phone calls and policy shifts are beginning to follow a pattern, whether or not Ivanka Trump is taking part.
First there is a stunned reaction from foreign policy experts and the media at the brazen disregard for protocol and national interest. Then there is an attempt to explain away the dramatic shift as an inexperienced gaffe. Finally there is a realization that we have all been gamed by a manipulative and secret coterie that is in fact Trump’s inner circle.
So it was that Trump himself explained the Taiwan call initially as him casually picking up the phone. “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency,” he tweeted last week. “Thank you!”
It wasn’t clear who he was thanking in that tweet, but it was clear soon afterwards that the story was falling apart.
At which point, Trump’s excuse on Twitter turned towards punishing China: “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”
We could argue all day about international taxes, and how the US actually imposes tariffs on Chinese goods. But what’s the point of talking about the factswith a man like Donald Trump?
What matters much more are his motives, and for now they go far beyond the notion that he’s a simpleton. We may have returned to the satirical heyday of Will Ferrell’s George W Bush, but the jokes don’t tell the full story.
Trump has a personal and political agenda that are far from the clueless caricatures that puncture his wafer-thin skin. The sooner we wake up to that punchline, the better.